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Mr. Howard: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I agree with the points that he made. No suggestion made by the Opposition would surprise me. I should not be at all surprised if they did think that I should check every test tube personally.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Has not it crossed the Minister's slippery mind that the public are getting more than a little weary of Governments blaming the Opposition for the Scott report, for BSE, and now for this, and throwing in a few scientists and blaming them at the same time? Should not he be big enough, now and again, to carry the can? He is the Minister; he is in government. He has been in court more often than anyone else in Britain. He is a recidivist, and it is time that he resigned.

Mr. Howard: As it happens, I am not the Minister who is ultimately responsible for the agency. I am answering this question because that agency, which is a Ministry of Defence agency, was carrying out work under contract for the Home Office, and I am interested in the implications for the cases where there just may have been some information affecting the verdict of the jury in those cases. I am concerned about that. That is why I have come to the House. That is why I, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, have commissioned this independent scrutiny. We have done exactly what we should have done in these circumstances.

Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East): Given that the Home Office knew about the contamination on 15 March--as the Minister has just told us--can the Home Secretary explain why the information has not been made public until now?

Mr. Howard: If the hon. Lady had listened to my answer to the question asked by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), she would have realised that what she has just said is arrant nonsense. Moreover--if she had got the date right, which she did not--she would have heard a full answer to her own question.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham): My right hon. and learned Friend will know that samples of blood or urine taken from persons suspected of drunken driving are divided into two parts. One part is analysed on behalf of

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the prosecution, while the other is given to the defence so that it can be subjected to independent analysis if the defence so wishes. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look into whether a similar procedure is used, or should be used, in the case of other criminal offences, especially those involving the handling of explosives?

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I shall see that it is drawn to the attention of Professor Caddy.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West): At least 12 convictions may be declared unsafe as a result of the Home Secretary's statement today. Will he ensure that he makes a statement to the House at the earliest opportunity--certainly before the summer recess--identifying the specific cases concerned? I hope that, if he can do nothing else, this sorry episode will provide conclusive evidence enabling him to make a decision about the remaining prisoners, who have now been waiting for seven months to be repatriated to prisons in the Irish Republic. I hope that he will make that decision today: it would provide some recompense for the extraordinary dilatoriness that he has shown so far in regard to this urgent matter.

Mr. Howard: I find it impossible to follow what passes for logic in the hon. Gentleman's question. There is absolutely no connection between one matter and another.

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Points of Order

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have given notice of my intention to raise with you a matter of major concern. I understand that you have copies of the offending material to which I shall refer.

At 4.40 pm yesterday I received a call from my local newspaper, the Irvine Times, asking me to comment on answers given to questions raised by me about the Irvine development corporation's housing transfer. I had been given only a holding answer, dated 13 May, which I supplied to you. The local paper, however, had been faxed full answers. You must understand, Madam Speaker, that this is a highly critical period. The housing stock is being transferred from the development corporation, and tenants are shortly to be balloted on whether they want their new landlord. Moreover, as the local paper's deadline was yesterday evening, I have no chance of putting my case to the local people.

I feel that you, Madam Speaker, must condemn what I would describe as disgraceful action on the part of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and call him to the House to explain his conduct. After all, he has withheld information from the House and from me in particular.

Madam Speaker: The Minister is present to give an explanation, and I appreciate his presence.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Kynoch): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The information came to my attention less than two hours ago: that was the first that I had heard of it. I understand that information was released to the media without the authority of any Minister, and I have asked the permanent secretary at the Scottish Office for an urgent inquiry into how the administrative error occurred. I apologise to you, Madam Speaker, and to the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe). No discourtesy was intended, and I will get to the bottom of the matter.

Madam Speaker: This should not have happened. The hon. Gentleman has been given an apology and assured of a full explanation as soon as an inquiry has been carried out, which I appreciate.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have often admonished hon. Members for visiting other hon. Members' constituencies without their consent. Could you take action against the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) who, this morning, visited my constituency for a futile, anti-Government media stunt, at the expense of me and my constituents, entirely without my consent?

Madam Speaker: I have no authority to take action against any hon. Member. I have merely made a plea, on numerous occasions across the Floor of the House, for hon. Members to give notification. The matter should be resolved between hon. Members; after the numerous statements that I have made on the matter, it should never come to the Chair of the House. It is a petty matter, although I understand that it is irritating to hon. Members

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when other hon. Members appear in their constituencies without their knowledge. Hon. Members should give notification of such visits, if only as a matter of courtesy.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: I have no further comments on that point of order.

Mr. Skinner: It is a different one.

Madam Speaker: In that case, I shall hear it, but it must be a different one.

Mr. Skinner: I read in the paper today that the Government have put up a poster in Vauxhall, in Lambeth--over the bridge--saying that although it has hurt, supposedly it is now working. That constituency does not belong to John Major or the Chancellor of the Exchequer or any of those on the Treasury Bench. I do not think that they ever tell the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) what they are doing.

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is fully aware that that is not a point of order for me. I have not seen the poster, but I shall make a point of doing so during my walk tomorrow morning.

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National Savings Pension

4.11 pm

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): I beg to move,


The long title explains the Bill's purpose, but it is customary for hon. Members to take a few minutes to explain the measure to the House.

This century, this country has made some major advances in extending pension coverage. There is a state retirement pension and, in addition, many employers have extended occupational pension coverage to their employees. But it was apparent, long before this Government's recent initiatives, that occupational pension coverage has stopped short at coverage of about 50 per cent. of the population. Despite the last Labour Government's attempts to gain universal coverage through the state earnings-related pension scheme, large numbers of people remained outside a second pension coverage. Even with this Government's personal pensions measures, a growing proportion of the working population is not covered by either the state retirement pension or a second pension. My modest Bill does not aim to tackle that major problem; I hope that, at some stage, the House will deal with it. The debate is between those who believe that we shall gain coverage on a voluntary principle and those of us who believe that we shall need an increasing element of compulsion.

The Bill makes a simple amendment to the National Savings Bank Act 1971 so that the Post Office can do two things. First, it can sell index-linked, inflation-proof bonds to those people who wish to save towards their retirement in that way. Secondly, the Post Office can, for those who wish, sell bonds that are linked to share issues and merely track the FT index. There will be two ways for individuals to save simply and cheaply.

When considering the cost of pension proposals, it is well worth looking at the cost of national savings generally, which charge, in administrative terms, only 0.5 per cent. of the cost of the savings themselves.

The Bill is a modest measure. It aims to help those on low incomes and on fluctuating incomes so that at their convenience they can make regular or irregular contributions towards their pension retirement savings. As I have said, the measure itself will not solve the problem of the growing number of people who do not have even state pension coverage, let alone occupational or personal pension coverage. However, it gives a resounding vote of support to the millions of our fellow citizens who wish to provide for themselves in retirement rather than rely on means-tested assistance. With that theme in mind I hope that the House will give me leave to introduce the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Frank Field, Mr. Stephen Day, Ms Angela Eagle, Mr. Clifford Forsythe, Miss Kate Hoey, Mr. Alan Howarth, Mrs. Jane Kennedy and Mr. David Shaw.

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