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Business Of The House

Volume 228: debated on Thursday 8 July 1993

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4.30 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Tony Newton)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.

MONDAY 12 JULY—Report stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Motion on the International Development Association (Tenth Replenishment) Order.

TUESDAY 13 JULY—Remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Motion on the Education (Assistend Places) (Amendment) Regulations.

Motion on the Partnerships and Unlimited Companies (Accounts) regulations.

WEDNESDAY 14 JULY—Assuming that Scottish Labour Members are back from Downing street, Opposition Day (17th allotted day).

Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate on Scottish local government and water privatisation, followed by a debate on debt, trade and development after the G7 summit. Both debates arise on Opposition motions.

THURSDAY 15 JULY—Until about seven o'clock, remaining stages of the Welsh Language Bill [Lords]s.

Motion on the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Irealand) Order.

FRIDAY 16 JULY—Debate entitled "Tackling Fraud and Abuse in Social Security" on ass motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 19 JULY—Supplemental timetable motion on and consideration of Lords amendments to the Education Bill.

I regret that I am not in a position today to announce the precise dates of the summer recess. However, it may be for the convenience of the House to know that Government business will be taken in the week commencing 26 July.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet on Wednesday 14 July at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows: Committee A, document No. 6744/93 relating to non-rotational set-aside and document No. 7033/93 relating to arable land set-aside. Committee B, document No. 4148/93 relating to the legal protection of biotechnological inventions.

[Wednesday 14 July:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community documents: 6744/93, non-rotational set-aside; 7033/93, arable set-aside. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: HC 79-xxix ( 1992–93 ) and HC 79-xxx ( 1992–93 ).

European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: 4148193, patenting of biotechnological inventions. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: HC 79-xix ( 1992–93 ).]

I thank the Leader of the House for telling us the business for next week. Will he consider again the amount of time being allocated to the Education Bill? As I understand it, there are 622 Government amendments and 14 amendments that have been tabled against the wishes of the Government. Apparently the amendments include 34 new clauses. If the Education Bill is so bad that it already requires so many amendments, surely it is a mistake to try to bulldoze it through the House by force of numbers. Surely it would be better to get it through by force of reason. That would require more discussion than the Leader of the House seems to be willing to allocate. However, at least we shall have some discussion on education matters.

The Government tell us that public expenditure is the largest single concern of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, yet we have not been allowed to discuss the details of the Government's public expenditure plans for last year, let alone for this year. A debate is long overdue. I reiterate the Opposition's call for such a debate.

May we also have a debate on some of the reports now emanating from the Public Accounts Committee? There is a report on major defence projects and especially on the AR1 scandal, or HMS De Lorean, as I understand it is known in the industry. May we have a special debate on the National Audit Office report on the Welsh Development Agency, which will be considered by the Public Accounts Committee?

In particular, I ask the Leader of the House how it is possible for a man with three previous criminal convictions for deception to be appointed to a senior post in the Welsh Development Agency. Does the Conservative party regard that as qualifications? How can a former international director of that agency not only work as a private consultant as well, but be paid off with a £230,000 golden handshake? Those are outrageous states of affairs which the National Audit Office has uncovered. The House should discuss them at an earlier moment. Will the Leader of the House at least assure me that Doctor Gwyn Jones will be suspended from his other public appointments, pending a further inquiry into the matter?

Finally, I wish to raise an issue that ought to command consensus in the House. May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the Opposition's support in principle for the unified budget statement and for the investigation into the procedures that will be adopted by the Procedure Committee? However, I deplore the fact that the Government are trying to pre-empt the Procedure Committee's work by making amendments to this year's Finance (No. 2) Bill that effectively take some of the major decisions well before the House, or even the Procedure Committee, has had a chance to consider the matters. Even at this late stage, I urge the Leader of the House to persuade his colleagues on the Treasury Bench to drop the offensive clause 202 from the Finance (No. 2) Bill pending its consideration by the Procedure Committee.

I cannot guarantee to find more time for discussions on the Education Bill, but of course I am, as ever, content for the matters to be further discussed through the usual channels. I say that with perhaps some scepticism about what the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) said about allowing the forces of reason to prevail. The Government, of course, always allow the forces of reason to prevail. There has not been much reason shown by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends on this and other matters.

I cannot add to what I have said about public expenditure on previous occasions. But I draw attention again to the fact that there will be a substantial opportunity to debate those matters on Third Reading of the Finance (No. 2) Bill next week. The hon. Gentleman's

points about the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office will be noted, I am sure, by my right hon. and hon. Friends. They may also be noted by the Chairman and the members of the Liaison Committee in considering what other subjects should be recommended for any estimates days at some future stage.

I would not want to pre-empt the consideration that my right hon. and hon. Friends will give to the various reports, and they will respond in due course. In return, I hope that the Opposition will acknowledge that, while it is right that the report should be studied, it should not detract from the fact that the Welsh Development Agency, for example, has a record of outstanding achievement in promoting new investment and jobs to the benefit of the people of Wales.

I will make sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends are made aware of what the hon. Gentleman said about the unified budget. It must be right to take advantage of the fact that we are passing a Finance Bill to make changes that are seen to be necessary to the process on which we are embarking. That is without prejudice to my right hon. Friends having their attention drawn to what the hon. Gentleman said.

Is any progress being made towards the implementation of the all-party Jopling report? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the way that we conduct our affairs in the House is regarded with derision by the public and with bewilderment by other countries? Most hon. Members want the reforms—

With the exception of a minority of jurassic dinosaurs, hon. Members of all parties want the reforms. It is high time that they were put into effect.

My hon. Friend speaks for many hon. Members on both sides of the House. He will be aware, as I mentioned last week, that there have been disturbing reports of the proceedings on the matter in the parliamentary Labour party.

The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) has written to me about the matter, although not with the straightforward yes that my hon. Friend would have wished to hear.

Does the Leader of the House accept that the statement about local government in Scotland made this afternoon by the Secretary of State for Scotland was deeply controversial, to put it mildly? Notwithstanding the welcome half Supply Day that the official Opposition will have next week, will the right hon. Gentleman give us an undertaking that, in the spillover Session when we return from the summer recess, once people have had a chance to digest the proposals for local government in Scotland, and before Second Reading, there will be a debate in Government time? That would enable the force of feeling in Scotland to be brought to bear on the Government about the results that some of the proposals will have.

I assume that the Government will give an assurance that, if local people demonstrate beyond peradventure that they are against the proposals, their objections will be borne in mind before the proposals are finalised and the Bill is introduced.

I can safely observe at least that I did not need the hon. Gentleman to tell me that the proposals were controversial. I had observed that in the past few minutes. In response to his specific question, I cannot give him the undertaking that he requests. Let us see how we get on in the debate next week. Then we can give further consideration to these matters.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a full debate on the proposal to extend the selected list scheme for pharmaceuticals? The matter has not been discussed in the Chamber since the Government proposed the scheme in November last year. It is widely rumoured that the Government intend to lay three orders next week which will extend the list. The methods used by the committee are causing considerable anxiety to doctors and patients and, indeed, to the pharmaceutical industry. I remind the House that I have an interest in the matter.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment. His interest in the matter is well known. The proper thing for me to do is to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Given that an event took place yesterday which has fundamental implications for the rule of law and for justice and democracy in this country, and that an action was taken by the Home Secretary which is usually taken only by dictators, why has no statement been made to the House and why has no time been allowed to debate the issue? I refer to the case in which a young constituent of mine who had been held for months on a serious charge with no evidence was told by a magistrate in Britain's so-called respected courts that he left the court without a stain on his character. Before he got to the door he was handcuffed. The Secretary of State for Home Affairs had signed an exclusion order. There has been no debate of any description on the matter.

More than 3,000 people have died on the streets of Northern Ireland. Does the Leader of the House agree that if that were happening on the streets of Britain, it would be discussed every day of the week by a packed House until the problem was resolved? Does he agree that the fact that it is discussed only occasionally late on a Thursday night to let British Members have a long weekend shows clearly that, in spite of the repeated guarantees that the Government give—such guarantees were given often in the past week to buy votes on 22 July—[Interruption.] No, on 22 July—the social chapter. Is not the lack of discussion a clear sign that the Government have psychologically withdrawn from Northern Ireland?

No, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of those matters. I can only say, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has said, that for him to make an exclusion order he has to be satisfied, in accordance with criteria laid down by Parliament, that someone has been involved in the commission, perpetration or instigation of acts of terrorism connected with Northern Ireland. My right hon. and learned Friend reviewed all the information before him, including material that would not be admissible as evidence in court proceedings. On the basis of that information, he was satisfied that the statutory criteria were met.

My right hon. Friend will recognise that the defence White Paper published on Monday was one of the most important documents published in the post-second world war era. Does he agree that Britain is at a crossroads in defence terms? It either remains a global power with a right to a seat on the Security Council or it becomes a backwater—a small island off the north coast of Europe.

Bearing in mind the importance of that defence White Paper and the implications for Britain's defence needs in the future, does my right hon. Friend accept that there is an urgent need to debate the issue? Will he give an assurance to the House that he will break with convention and that we shall not have to wait for 12 months to have such an important debate?

May I make two points which echo something that I said last week? I think that I am right in saying that the convention is that, following the publication of the defence estimates—I entirely accept that the White Paper is a significant document—the first step is for the Defence Select Committee to consider it and, if it wishes to do so, to make a report. That is appropriate in this case. I shall certainly make every endeavour—I underline that—to ensure that the new defence estimates are debated rather more rapidly than proved possible with the previous set of defence estimates.

Will the Leader of the House invite the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House next week following the statement made by the High Court about Derek Bentley? I believe that it is the wish of the House that the Home Secretary makes a statement about the case. There is widespread support both in the House and outside for a posthumous pardon.

The hon. Gentleman will understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is considering the text of yesterday's court judgment and will decide what action to take in the light of it. He clearly needs to give it proper and careful consideration. I would not want to go beyond that this afternoon.

Will the Leader of the House prevail on the Secretary of State for Defence to come to the House next week to make a statement on the ammunition ordering programme for the next five years in the light of the short-time working announced today at the royal ordnance factory Birtley?

I cannot undertake to bring my right hon. and learned Friend here to make such a statement next week, but I understand the reasons why the hon. Gentleman raises the point. I shall ensure that it is drawn to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Does the Leader of the House recognise the urgency of the need for a debate on the Welsh Development Agency? The Public Accounts Committee report is a remarkable account of corruption, incompetence and nepotism in a public body. The great urgency arises because the two men responsible still hold public office. One is the chairman of the Broadcasting Council for Wales. The other is the Secretary of State for Employment. We must root out those two people. The report proves that neither of them is fit to hold public office.

I made some comments on that matter earlier in these exchanges and I shall not add to them. The report has been published. The hon. Gentleman referred to it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has issued a press release today in which he makes it clear that he will examine carefully what the report says. That must be the right course.

Will the Leader of the House think again about the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) for a debate on the WDA and the report published today by the Public Accounts Committee? While I endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about the excellent industrial record of the WDA, will he bear in mind the fact that it had that excellent record before it introduced rip-off, expensive, private motoring schemes for executives, before it introduced a quarter of a million pound redundancy package complete with gagging clauses, before it spent a third of a million pounds on privatisation proposals that were concealed from Parliament and before it appointed a professional conman as marketing director to join the amateurs who were already at the WDA?

Whatever may be appropriate in terms of careful examination of the recommendations and comments made in the report, it is rather unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman should use language of that nature about people. He would probably have to be rather more careful with his language if he were speaking outside the Chamber. Leaving that aside, I repeat that my right hon. Friends, not only in the Welsh Office but elsewhere, will carefully study what the report says. That is the right course.

Will the Leader of the House press the Prime Minister to make a statement next week on the Government's policy on Bosnia quite separate from any statement on the outcome of the G7 conference? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that, bearing in mind the fact that the people of Sarajevo have been hit by an average of 500 artillery shells a day over the past year and are now without water or electricity, his description of Government policy at Prime Minister's Question Time will be judged as pathetically inadequate?

Will he impress on the Prime Minister the fact that it is now time for the British Government to press on the international community a course of decisive action that will lift the siege and allow the people of Sarajevo to overcome the attack on them by Serbian forces over the past year?

As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, the issues to which he adverts have been discussed at the G7 summit in Tokyo and have been the subject of comments and statements from there. It would seem to be appropriate, if the hon. Gentleman so wishes, to raise the matter in relation to any statement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may wish to make about the G7 summit as a whole. I am certainly not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman undertakings beyond that at present.

Will the Leader of the House give us some Government time to discuss the coal industry, and in particular the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation? If the coal industy is privatised, many dependent disabled miners and others will lose out if that organisation is dismantled. When the right hon. Gentleman provides that time, could he drop a little note to the leader of the Liberal Democratic party, who made that special effort in Hyde Park in October to support the miners, and tell him to turn up to vote for the miners because, on a vital vote last Monday, he was nowhere to be found?

The second part and punchline of the hon. Gentleman's question appeared to be directed at the Liberal Democrat Bench behind him, where I see that there is an appropriate messenger in the form of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), the Liberal Chief Whip, to transmit that message to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), and no doubt he will do so. As to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I am sure that he will be able to raise that matter further in the context of any discussions we may have in due course about the Government's privatisation proposals.

May I press the Leader of the House about the need for a statement from the Home Secretary in respect of the case of John Matthews? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Opposition Members who have consistently made clear their total detestation of all forms of terrorist violence, not least from the provisional IRA, nevertheless remain very concerned indeed about the exclusion order made against Mr. Matthews, bearing in mind what was said earlier—that that person left the court without a stain on his character? The case is very serious and it concerns civil liberties. I hope that the Leader of the House will try to persuade the Home Secretary to come to the House on Monday and explain precisely why he decided on the exclusion order.

I will, of course, in line with my usual practice, draw the Home Secretary's attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said. However, I must repeat what I said earlier—that Parliament provided the power of exclusion as an exceptional measure against the grave threat of terrorism. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has set out how he has acted in accordance with the requirements of the law in that case.

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate when the Government reply to the report of the National Heritage Select Committee on privacy? As I am sure the Leader of the House is aware, that report deals with the work of the Press Complaints Commission. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me and take this opportunity to congratulate a member of that commission, Mr. Gerald Isaaman, on his 25 years as editor of the Hampstead and Highgate Express, which is a very fine local newspaper?

While I cannot immediately undertake to arrange another debate in that area at the moment, I am happy to join the hon. Lady in her tribute to the editor of the "Ham and High". As it happens, in the interval in my life when I did not live in Essex, I lived in Hornsey. My children started their schooling in Highgate, and I am well aware of the standing of that newspaper and its editor in her part of London.

About a year ago, the House debated the excesses of cowboy wheel clampers and the end of May marked the closing date for submissions to the Home Office. Will the Leader of the House prevail on the Home Secretary to bring proposals to the House before the summer recess so that the clampers know, during the summer, that they are on notice?

I cannot undertake that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to do that, but I am sure that he will wish to reach conclusions as soon as possible in the light of the consultation and announce them in an appropriate way.

Some of us were privileged to hear in the House my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) describe the plight of two of his constituents, the London taxi drivers whose taxis were turned into living bombs, and their brave and public-spirited action. Some of us are very concerned that the right people should be convicted for those offences.

According to the magistrate in the case of John Matthews, there has been no stain on his character. However, the Home Secretary then immediately placed a massive stain on his character. That assassination of character is very worrying. Indeed, even more dangerous might be the assassination of John Matthews himself, as the Home Secretary may have pointed the finger at him so that Protestant paramilitaries might take action against him. The Home Secretary should come to the House to answer questions on this very serious subject that affects an individual's civil liberties.

I make no complaint about the fact that the hon. Gentleman has felt it right to raise that matter again. However, quite clearly, I cannot add to what I have already said on two previous occasions.