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House of Commons

Thursday 16 November 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

PRAYERS

[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Business of the House

2.34 pm

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the details of future business?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton): As the House is aware, the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech will be brought to a conclusion on Wednesday 22 November.

It may be helpful to remind the House of what you, Madam Speaker, said yesterday about the pattern of debate so that all the information about the next fortnight is conveniently available in one place. The debate today is on foreign affairs and defence. On Friday 17 November, it is on health; on Monday 20 November, on investment-- that is trade, industry and transport; on Tuesday 21 November, on social affairs, embracing education and home affairs; and on Wednesday 22 November, on the economy.

The business for the three days following the conclusion of the debate on the humble Address will be as follows:

Thursday 23 November--Second Reading of the Chemical Weapons Bill.

Second Reading of the Hong Kong (Overseas Public Servants) Bill.

Friday 24 November--Debate on earnings top-up on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Monday 27 November--Second Reading of the Student Loans Bill.

Tuesday 28 November--My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Wednesday 29 November--Continuation of the Budget debate.

Thursday 30 November--Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 1 December--The House will not be sitting.

Monday 4 December--Continuation of the Budget debate, which will be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 5 December.

[Thursday 28 November: Budget Statement

The following document is relevant: The unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by Her Majesty's Treasury on 26 July 1995 relating to the Council recommendation to the United Kingdom with a view to bringing an end to the situation of an excessive deficit in

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the United Kingdom, prepared in regard to Article 104c(7) of the Treaty establishing the European Community.]

Mrs. Taylor: I thank the Leader of the House for that information. During the last parliamentary Session, he assisted Members very much by giving early notice of business and recess dates. I hope that, in the spirit of Jopling, he will be able to do that and to improve on it during this Session.

With regard to next week's business, may I ask the Leader of the House about the debate on Wednesday morning on water supplies in west Yorkshire, a debate in which, of course, I have a special interest? Will the Leader of the House ensure that a senior Minister responds to that debate, because Yorkshire Water has shown itself to be utterly incapable of dealing with the crisis? We need to hear what action Ministers intend to take to ensure that water supplies remain available to my constituents and people throughout west Yorkshire and to local industry. Will the Leader of the House take steps to ensure that we get not just sympathy from Ministers, but action to tackle the crisis?

The Chemical Weapons Bill has its Second Reading on Thursday 23 November. The Leader of the House will be aware that there is a general welcome for this measure. Will he confirm that the Bill will be committed to a Committee of the whole House following Second Reading as that would meet with the general approval of Members on both sides of the House?

On Monday 27 November, the Leader of the House has announced the Second Reading of the Student Loans Bill. Will he confirm that the proposed student loans legislation will be an enabling Bill, and that its implementation will consist of nothing less than an auction among the banks to try to find someone to finance the scheme? In light of the banks' rejection of the previous Government-inspired private student loans system, should not Ministers satisfy themselves that the latest scheme commands enough support to be viable before introducing the Bill? Or is this another example of the Government legislating in haste only to repent at leisure later?

Finally, on the matter of the asylum Bill, the Leader of the House will be aware that the Prime Minister said yesterday


As that is common ground, and especially as the Government are introducing the legislation a mere two years after the last asylum Bill, would not it be wise to ensure that Parliament gets this attempt at legislation right? Will the Leader of the House give full and proper consideration to the constructive proposal made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition-- which, I understand, some Conservative Members also consider worthy of serious consideration--that the Bill should be considered by a Special Standing Committee?

Mr. Newton: It may be convenient if I take those questions in reverse order.

Of course I recall the exchanges yesterday, and I remind the hon. Lady of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about considering what the Leader

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of the Opposition said. That consideration will be given. However, I am not in a position this afternoon to add to what my right hon. Friend said.

The hon. Lady or other hon. Members will have their opportunity to develop their arguments on the Student Loans Bill in due course, but the Bill will be designed to provide a better loans system and a better deal for students, and I hope that the private sector institutions will take advantage of the opportunity that we plan to provide.

On the Chemical Weapons Bill, I hope that I may take the hon. Lady's remarks as a more public than usual representation through the usual channels about the way in which business should be handled. I would expect to respond positively; that is to say, we shall propose that the other stages beyond Second Reading are taken on the Floor of the House.

On water, I had noted the debate next Wednesday, which I believe is in the name of the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). I am not in the business of ordering my colleagues about, but I will bring the hon. Lady's request to the attention of my colleagues in the Department of the Environment. I hope that it will be recognised that a massive operation has been mounted to move water into that region by tankers--probably the largest exercise of its type ever undertaken.

I had harboured some ambitions of announcing the dates of the Christmas and Easter recesses today. Those have been frustrated by one or two bits of further consideration that we need to give, but I shall use, as the phrase goes, my best endeavours to say something at the conclusion of the debate on the Address next week.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton): Will my right hon. Friend take into consideration the recommendation of the Procedure Committee, which affects the debates on the Queen's Speech and on the Budget? The Committee felt most strongly that, now that the Budget is no longer in March or early April, there is a considerable need for a two-day debate on the economy at that time, and that we could find the time for such a debate by cutting a day off the Budget debate and a day off the debate on the Queen's Speech. Can my right hon. Friend carry that further, perhaps through the usual channels, so that he can give us an assurance when he next comes to the Dispatch Box?

Mr. Newton: I am not sure that I will be able to give any assurance the next time that I come to the Dispatch Box, but I will discover whether it is possible, through the usual channels, to give further consideration to that very constructive suggestion.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Following the answer that the Leader of the House gave about water, will he acknowledge that anxiety exists on both sides of the House--and is widespread throughout the country-- about the regulation of all the privatised utilities? Will he give us an undertaking that there will be a statement and, if possible, a debate following, specifically, the Ofwat criticisms, which appear to suggest that at least three water companies and sewerage companies are "cheating their customers"? Will he acknowledge that that is a matter of considerable concern?

No reference was made to that matter in the Gracious Speech, so we would have difficulty introducing it in the current debate. Does it not demand a debate on a wider

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scale than the one that has been mentioned, which is simply about Yorkshire? In that connection, perhaps the Leader of the House would like to read early-day motion 37:

[That this House notes the criticisms made by the Director of Water Services of the management of North West Water, South West Water and Yorkshire Water; especially notes the application by the latter company for a 24 hour drought order, potentially leaving half a million domestic customers and many industrial users without water, despite promises to reduce leakage and introduce a grid to improve the supply; believes that all three water and sewerage companies should be the subject of a full public investigation under the auspices of the Environment Select Committee; and urges the Government to review the powers of the regulator, particularly with reference to penalising companies for inadequate performance with mandatory compensation payments.]


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