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Business Of The House

Volume 173: debated on Thursday 24 May 1990

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11 am

With permission, I should like to make a short business statement. I apologise to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) for cutting into the time for his Adjournment debate.

The business for Wednesday 6 June will now be as follows:

Opposition day (14th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on the welfare of children on an Opposition motion followed by a motion on the Education (School Teachers' Pay and Conditions) Order 1990.

The business for the rest of the week remains as announced.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. Next Wednesday we shall seek to demonstrate the Government's betrayal of the younger generation and the lack of support for families throughout the decade of Conservative Government. We also welcome the opportunity afforded by the order to demonstrate the Government's shabby treatment of the teaching profession over the past decade, not least the removal of the basic democratic right to negotiate their own wages.

Can the Patronage Secretary tell us whether the Prime Minister has informed the deputy Prime Minister of the major change in Government policy that she will announce tomorrow on the Government's U-turn—

With the greatest respect, Mr. Speaker, this is a business statement. We have learnt only today that the Government are making a statement—

Order. I must draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to page 296 of "Erskine May". This is a Back Benchers' day and he should not ask questions that go wide of the statement.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, the Government have chosen to interrupt today's business to make a business statement. Today the Government announced from No. 10 Downing street that tomorrow the Prime Minister will make a major policy statement on global warming, but not in the House. Clearly, the Government have changed their policy. When the Government's business manager comes to the House, the Opposition are entitled to ask when the House will have an opportunity to ask the Government about their change in policy and the implications that it has for a whole range of policies.

If, as the hon. Gentleman says, he will tell the House next Wednesday about the Labour party's views on teachers' salaries, he will find the House empty, because we shall all be on holiday. Perhaps there is a slight mistake in his calendar. He is wrong to say that the order demonstrates shabby treatment of teachers by the Government. On the contrary, it gives effect to the teachers' pay settlement for 1990–91. Many authorities have not felt able to pay the new rates until the parliamentary process is finished. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is simply anxious to get the teachers' new salaries into their pockets as soon as possible and preferably in time for their July pay. That is why we are arranging for the order to be debated as soon as possible.

Particularly since the Bank of England has had the report on the House of Fraser since August 1988, and in view of the Select Committee report, is there any possibility of the House having an opportunity to find out why the Bank of England has not yet decided whether the Fayeds are fit and proper persons to hold a blanket licence?

I note my hon. Friend's remarks. As I said in my brief business statement, the business for the rest of the week when the House reassembles after the Whit recess remains unchanged. I shall certainly see that my hon. Friend's remarks are passed on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

On 6 June, the Secretary of State for Scotland will answer Scottish questions. There is widespread anxiety at today's announcement that Nirex is planning to drill 6,000 holes in Caithness and Sutherland in its exploration to find a dump for nuclear waste. People are fed up with that part of Scotland being seen as the repository for nuclear waste, with all the dangers that it entails. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement on 6 June to give Scottish Members from all parts of Scotland and from all parties an opportunity to ask questions about this matter of great concern?

It is perhaps fortunate that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is sitting close to me on the Front Bench. He has reminded me that these are testing holes only and that Scotland is not alone in having this privilege. I understand that similar testing holes are being drilled in Cumbria. Nevertheless, I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks are referred to the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Does my right hon. Friend share my surprise that, on 6 June, when the Opposition have a Supply day, they will not give the House a first opportunity to scrutinise the Labour party policy document issued today? Does that not show that the Labour party continues to wish to hide it from proper scrutiny by this House?

At the risk of enlarging the subject slightly, I note that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) referred to the shabby treatment shown by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in not making a policy statement to the House tomorrow, although the House is to be in recess. Indeed, my hon. Friend is right: if there is to be any policy statement in the House, it should be a Labour policy statement. We have heard a great deal about it on the news this morning and a certain amount about it from Conservative Back Benchers yesterday, but we have not heard anything about it from the Labour Front Bench.

I appreciate the Government's desire to have extra pay put in the July pay packet of teachers in England and Wales. Could such a facility be extended to Northern Ireland, and perhaps even Scotland, by an early statement to that effect?

The draft order that we shall debate on Wednesday 6 June follows a pattern similar to that of the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1988. I shall certainly ensure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks are passed on to the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Scotland.

My right hon. Friend will have been in the House yesterday when my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) moved the Second Reading of his excellent Bill on the roof tax. He will undoubtedly have noticed that no Labour Member voted in favour of it, although two voted against it. Will he take an opportunity to talk to his opposite number during the first week after the recess and suggest that perhaps the Labour party could use time on its Opposition day to introduce a debate on the roof tax so that the rest of us and the country can find out what it has in mind?

I thank my hon. Friend for that interesting suggestion. It is possible for the Opposition to split their Supply day on Wednesday into two halves. I note that the Opposition Chief Whip is sitting opposite. He will undoubtedly inform his colleagues of the suggestion that the Labour party might decide to debate the roof tax on the first half of Wednesday afternoon.

After we have dealt with the business proposed for the evening of Wednesday 6 June, may we have a debate on the future of the footwear industry? Yesterday it was announced in Cockermouth in my constituency that a famous footwear manufacturer was in financial difficulties, a receiver had been appointed and 400 jobs were at risk. The reason for that dreadful news is that interest rates and imports are damaging the industry severely. May we have a debate on that important matter, because I have many anxious families in that area at this time?

I am sorry, as the House will be, to hear the news about the firm in the hon. Gentleman's constituency going into receivership. I shall pass his remarks on to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will find an opportunity to raise this in an Adjournment debate after the Whitsun recess.

Could my right hon. Friend assure me that the time allowed for debate on teachers' pay will be adequate to rebut the misleading statements we have just heard from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)? Will it also include an opportunity to review briefly the Government's new arrangements and proposals for the restitution of teachers' pay rights? Perhaps we could also discuss the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has agreed to the excellent results from the interim advisory committee on teachers' pay?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend's second point. The simple purpose of the order is to ensure that all education authorities can proceed immediately to pay the new rates of pay. Some have already done so without waiting for the outcome of the parliamentary process, and others are hesitant to do so. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is anxious to get the salary increases into the pay packets as soon as possible. Given my hon. Friend's customary ingenuity, I am sure that he will find an opportunity to widen the debate slightly on that Wednesday evening.

After announcing the business for Wednesday 6 June, would the Minister be kind enough to consider having a debate on crowd safety? In June there are two major pop festivals at Glastonbury and Knebworth and at a recent concert of a group rejoicing in the name of New Kids on the Block—

which I assume from my hon. Friend's reaction is an excellent group. Nevertheless, that concert resulted in 30 people being taken to hospital and between 600 and 700 being injured. After the problems at the Donington race course concerts in the county of Leicestershire, when youngsters were killed, the time has now come for the Government not merely to ask the Health and Safety Executive to produce guidelines that no one must follow, but to take urgent action. We should have a debate on that matter swiftly.

Although I appreciate the seriousness of the subject that the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised, I would again point out that Wednesday 6 June is an Opposition day. It would be possible for the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen to decide to have half a day only on the welfare of children and to devote the other half, if not to Labour's roof tax, to the subject of crowd safety. That apart, I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity to raise this serious and important subject during an Adjournment debate.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the debate on 6 June will enable the Government to confirm that teachers' pay is 30 per cent. better in real terms than it was in 1979 when the Government came to office? There are now more teachers per pupil than ever before. Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that the Secretary of State for Education and Science is having firm negotiations with teachers unions within recent days, according to my inside knowledge—

Inside, in the sense that I have heard from the unions concerned of discussions with the Secretary of State about the restoration of their negotiating rights. That is supported by all of us.

My hon. Friend, with the precision and accuracy that befits an ex-headmaster, puts the case very well. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be pleased to confirm the precise point my hon. Friend has made about the beneficial treatment of teachers at the moment.

Does the Patronage Secretary realise that it is important that we have an urgent statement on the current report from the Select Committee on Members' Interests in which a particular lobbyist has said that he has been paying undisclosed sums to unnamed Members, but has refused to give information about that on the ground of commercial confidentiality? We need a statement as soon as we come back from the recess, as we cannot have a situation in which lobbyists use commercial confidentiality to subvert the purposes and intentions of our Register of Members' Interests.

My understanding is that the Select Committee on Members' Interests, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), is looking into the question of lobbying. It is for that reason that the evidence to which the right hon. Gentleman has just referred was given to that Select Committee. I do not believe that the Committee's report is ready yet, but it is actively looking into the subject, and I am sure it will lay a report before the House as soon as it is ready to do so.

Further to the call by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) for a debate on crowd safety, would my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that the Opposition opposed the football safety measures we put before the House and the requirement in many local authority byelaws that adequate notice should be given of processions? Does my right hon. Friend agree that they should do a great deal more to ensure that events such as anti-poll tax protests do not get out of hand and cause not only a great threat to public safety, but a great deal of commercial damage?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The Opposition's attitude to crowd safety, particularly at football matches, is dominated by hypocrisy in their regular resistance to the positive measures that we have sought to introduce. The real worry about the anti-poll tax campaign is that, if it continues, there will be fewer and fewer Labour Members left on the Opposition Benches, as we presume that more and more of them will resign the Labour Whip because they will feel that they cannot, in all conscience, remain members of the parliamentary Labour party.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to raise an important matter with you. Yesterday the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities, in reply to a question, said that he was holding urgent investigations into allegations about the allocation of resources in the Bradford metropolitan district council. Despite the fact that the outcome of that investigation was unknown to him, he went on to urge community charge payers in those areas to examine

"whether they have some recourse under the law as it now stands."—[Official Report, 23 May 1990; Vol. 173, c. 280.]
The Minister holds quasi-judicial responsibilities in relation to local government, including my district council of Bradford. It is clear that he will also hold a pivotal position in reaching decisions about the allocation of resources to local authorities, including my own.

Is it not extraordinary for a Minister in that position to make a statement urging people in Bradford, including my constituents, to examine whether they can take legal action against an authority on matters that are still under investigation by that Minister? Obviously that will bear an important relevance to decisions he will make shortly about the distribution of resources to Bradford.

I am constantly asked to monitor answers to questions, but that is not the role of the Chair. The Minister must take responsibility for any answer he gives; it is not a matter for me.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) asked my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary about the Knebworth and Donington concerts. The implication was that the Government are doing nothing about that matter. However, the hon. and learned Gentleman misled the House, because, the Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Bill, a private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright), which was debated in this House and is now in the House of Lords, proposed that anyone with a licence to hold an entertainment event should be fined a maximum of £20,000 or be subject to six months imprisonment if they were in breach of that licence granted by local government. The Labour party opposed that clause tooth and nail in Committee and—

Order. We must not have a debate on this; the Bill is not yet law and it has not had its Third Reading in the House.

I appreciate that, but I am making the point that, far from doing nothing about it, the Government supported that Bill and—

Order. This is a private Members' day and the hon. Member should bear in mind the fact that he is taking time from other hon. Members.

I am wondering whether you would be prepared, Mr. Speaker, to censure those hon. Members who on 12 January of this year shouted "Smear" at me when I raised the question of payments made by Mr. Greer to Members of Parliament, since what I alleged at that time has now been proved to be correct. Is it not now—

Order. The hon. Member is taking up time. That and other matters will no doubt be raised legitimately when we debate the Select Committee's report.