House Of Commons
Thursday 22 July 1993
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]
London Local Authorities Bill Lords (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
Read a Second time, and committed.
East Coast Main Line (Safety) Bill (By Order)
Woodgrange Park Cemetery Bill Lords (By Order)
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 21 October.
Oral Answers To Questions
Secure Accommodation (Juveniles)
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is his estimate of the current shortfall in the number of places available in local authority secure accommodation for juveniles whom the courts wish to send to such accommodation.
Under the present law, the courts have no powers to require that any juvenile should be detained in local authority secure accommodation either before or after conviction
Is not it accepted that there is a shortfall of places available in secure units? Why do not the Government give local authorities the funding that they need to provide the places that have been identified as necessary? In Birmingham, it costs over £2,200 a week for each of the eight places that are provided and currently occupied and it is estimated that at least another 16 places are needed in the west midlands. Why do not the Government give that support? I have a letter from the local police who say that, as well as more secure units, they want to see more supervision of young people on bail and more support for offenders' families. If the Government are really committed to tackling crime, why—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Lady has put her question.
Local authorities have the powers that they need to provide secure accommodation. If Opposition Members think, as they should, that local authorities should give greater priority to the provision of secure accommodation, they should make those representations to the local authorities concerned, many of which are now controlled by the Labour party.
What plans does my right hon. and learned Friend have to ensure that staff in children's homes—even those in non-secure children's homes—keep a reasonable measure of control over the children in their care? Is he aware that some of the children cause absolute misery and mayhem to nearby residents?
My hon. Friend has identified a particular problem which needs to be addressed. It is a problem which will be addressed to some extent when we legislate. as I hope to do at the earliest opportunity, to give the courts the power to make orders so that young, persistent offenders can be detained in secure accommodation.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that it is now two years since the Home Office promised additional secure places for juvenile offenders and not one of those places has been built? Will he also confirm that the revenue funding for such places has not even been agreed? Does he understand that local authorities, the police and local communities do not want to wait another two or three years before those places in secure accommodation and elsewhere are available? They want action now, as it is now that crime is being committed.
The particular places to which the hon. Gentleman has referred are in the course of being provided. Why does not he address the question that I raised in answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) a few moments ago? Local authorities have the power to provide secure accommodation and there are many examples, such as Leicestershire, where the Labour party has refused to open secure accommodation that was originally provided when those counties were under Conservative control.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures his Department is taking to deal with rapists.
Courts have been empowered to impose longer sentences on persons convicted of violent or sexual offences and to require that they should be supervised for longer periods when released. The Prison Service runs programmes for sex offenders aimed at tackling the roots of their behaviour and preventing reoffending.
While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him whether he recalls that when a provision was introduced to enable the prosecution to appeal against over-lenient sentences, it was opposed by both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party? What does my hon. Friend think that the public should conclude about those who talk tough on law and order, but who shy away when they have the opportunity to turn the rhetoric into reality?
Time and again, the Opposition have voted against measures that we have introduced which have proved absolutely essential. Since we introduced those powers, the Attorney-General has referred 16 cases in which people have been sentenced for rape and 12 of those sentences were increased by the Court of Appeal. Other cases are pending.
Is the Minister aware that there is serious concern about the bail conditions given to rapists? Is he aware that in parts of Nottinghamshire cases are taking about nine or 10 months to come to court either because of the incompetence of the Crown Prosecution Service or because of a lack of funding? In that time, because of weak bail conditions, too many of those accused visit the areas in which the attack has taken place and they often abuse and harass those whom they are alleged to have raped. That is not good enough. The bail conditions must be tightened in such cases. It is the Minister's neglect in controlling the Crown Prosecution Service that is allowing such problems to occur.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman that it is the fault of the Crown Prosecution Service. I am, of course, aware of the concern about people who commit other crimes on bail, but I remind the hon. Gentleman of the provisions of the Bail Act 1976 under which bail can be refused in all cases if the court is satisfied that the person might abscond, reoffend, threaten witnesses or pervert the course of justice. That is what the law says. Judges and courts have the powers to deal effectively with anyone who appears before them and who might reoffend on bail.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the case this week in a court in my area in which Judge Starforth Hill released on bail a person who was being tried for three rapes? He gave the man bail against the advice of the police and the man now resides in southern Ireland. There is no way in which we can get him back. Is that not a travesty of justice?
My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment on that particular case at present. I merely repeat that the Bail Act, if it is enforced properly by the courts—we have circulars designed to draw the law to the attention of magistrates and judges—provides that if the court is satisfied that someone might abscond or reoffend, it does not need to grant bail. In each case, the decision is at the discretion of the courts and judges.
Obscene Publications Acts
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to review the provisions of the Obscene Publications Acts.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has received concerning the working of the Obscene Publications Acts.
We are not reviewing the central provisions of the present law on obscenity, but we are examining ways in which to make existing legislation work effectively. We continue to receive representations on the general subject from hon. Members and others.
A unique twinning, Madam Speaker.Does my hon. Friend agree with me and with the Prime Minister that the book "Juliette" by the Marquis de Sade, which glorifies child abuse and murder, is "truly horrific"? As the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Attorney-General have said that no prosecution is possible because no conviction could be guaranteed, will my hon. Friend and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary come to the House as soon as possible to announce an amendment to the Obscene Publications Act 1964, something which is long overdue?
It is a very nasty book, but it is for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether to bring forward a prosecution. The law that my hon. Friend complains of explicitly states that it is the harm that the material can do that is the nature of the offence. I do not believe that there is any form of words that could improve the law to deal with the case.
Will my hon. Friend take time next Tuesday to watch "The Cook Report", which exposes the evil, secretive and lucrative trade in computer pornography? Will he tell the House what actions he intends to take to review the obsolete test of obscenity and also the Obscene Publications Act 1964, which forces the police to operate against the vile trade with one hand tied behind their backs?
We are looking carefully and urgently at the subject of computer pornography. The systems that are on sale and that can be exchanged come under the present law. We are also examining whether self-constructed systems come under the law.
Does the Minister support the introduction of custodial sentences for the possession of child pornography, because at the moment some people who possess child pornography are given minimal fines?
The effect of the law in that area is one of the things that we are looking at and is at the top of our list.
Does the Minister agree that the most pernicious form of pornography in recent years has been that which has been communicated through the telephone service following the Telecommunications Act 1984? Does he welcome the measures that have been proposed by the independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services and Oftel?Will the Minister also note that the pornographers are putting together a fighting fund which they reckon will total about £1 million to fight the proposals? Will the Government take note of that and, when the matter subsequently reaches a public debate, will they do something about it?
The hon. Gentleman has taken an interest in the matter for a long time. The law is being examined with great care and the hon. Gentleman knows that the codes of practice are currently being revised also.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that the test for obscenity—that the material has a tendency to deprave and corrupt—shows that, objectively, there is a fearful latent detriment in pornography? Since the test clearly is not stopping the damage of pornography, will my hon. Friend reconsider the proposition that there is no need to supplement the test with a further and more effective one?
We have examined the law and there have been a number of private Member's Bills on the matter. My right hon. Friend clearly stated that the test is whether the material will deprave and corrupt, or do actual harm. That is what the test is all about. It is essentially the same test as we have had since 1868. It was regarded by many people as over-effective for 100 years, but people now say that it is under-effective. What my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members must realise is that jury attitudes have changed. I do not believe that we can compensate for that by changing the wording of the law. We are willing to consider any suggestions for improvement.
Does the Minister accept that tinkering with the edges of law will not deal with the problem? While we recognise that the matter relates to the moral climate, is not it true that the Government and their advisers are not prepared to tackle the problem?
The Government are anxious to tackle the problem. The hon. Gentleman should suggest a better test. The problem, as I have stated twice from the Dispatch Box, is that material that the hon. Gentleman and I and other hon. Members may think of as obviously harmful is often not thought harmful by juries.
Offending On Bail
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received regarding offending on bail; and if he will make a statement.
We receive representations from time to time; we share the concern about offending on bail. We have supported the Bail (Amendment) Act introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) and we have introduced an amendment to the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to give courts powers to increase sentences for those who offend on bail.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that by supporting that Bill, the Government have declared that they intend to deal with bail bandits, a subject which worries many hon. Members? Is not it the case that Conservative Members are convinced that my hon. Friend is endeavouring to deal with the problem, unlike Opposition Members, who have difficulty expressing a united opinion?
My hon. Friend comes straight to the point. We are determined to tackle those who offend while on bail. Bail is a right, but it is also a privilege. We cannot tolerate for much longer those who offend on bail, when there may be no good reason for them to do so. We have already taken measures. We keep the law under constant review. If my hon. Friend has any suggestions of sensible further improvements, I shall look forward to hearing them.
What action is the Minister taking on a case that I have twice referred to the Minister of State of a Bradford man who had a disgraceful history of breaching bail conditions, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, was granted home leave and has since absconded? The prison authorities tell me that he would not have been granted home leave if they had been told of the breaches of his bail conditions. What action is being taken to ensure that such a disgraceful incident does not happen again?
We have revised the rules on home leave, but I shall be happy to receive the detailed information of that case from the hon. Gentleman and look into it personally.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what powers he has to review custodial penalties for offenders under the age of 18 years.
The Government keep all penalties under constant review and propose changes when we judge that it is necessary. We have decided to introduce as soon as possible a new secure training order to deal with the hard core of persistent juvenile offenders for whom other court-imposed sanctions have failed.
In welcoming the secure training order, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that the peak age for offending in Britain is 16 for boys and for girls? Is he aware that the lives of our constituents are made miserable and inconvenient by the activities of a small minority of people who deserve custodial sentences because of the scale of their activities? Does he agree that the cautioning system in Britain, use of which has increased significantly in the past few years, certainly needs review so that adequate deterrence is provided in cases of burglary and other offences?
It is clear from my discussions with magistrates, judges and the police that there is a need for a secure training order for those 12 to 15-year-olds who have already been through all the community sentencing procedures and are still determined to continue in a life of crime. There is overwhelming evidence of the need for a secure training order, but there is deafening silence from the Opposition on accepting that need.
Does the Minister agree that if we are to have secure training orders and people in security, we must deal with the need for secure accommodation? The Minister says that there is no evidence that the Opposition are concerned about the problem. Will he acknowledge that in Leeds, where there are 27 secure places, discussions were held two years ago between the authority and his Department about the addition of 10 places? It was agreed that the extra places should be pursued. Yet no money has been produced by the Home Office, as it promised since that date. How can we have more people in secure accommodation when we do not have the places?
It is clear that the Opposition are dodging the point. Secure training orders are specifically designed for 12 to 15-year-olds who will be sent to units directly by the courts. The Opposition know—if they do not, they should—that the courts have no power at present to send to a secure unit directly anyone under the age of 15. Will the Opposition support the demands of magistrates throughout Britain to give them that power? Yes or no?
Is my hon. Friend aware that today in Yorkshire a 17-year-old youth has been convicted for his third joyriding offence in 18 months? Unfortunately, I cannot name him because of the absurd Criminal Justice Act 1991. Suffice it to say that when the arresting officer caught hold of him, the youth said that he was prepared to kill to make good his escape. That was no idle threat because the young man has killed before. In 1991 he ran into a 57-year-old nurse in my constituency. When will my hon. Friend change the law so that eventually the punishment fits the crime, not the criminal?
Of course, while we are looking at the law on the sentencing of 12 to 15-year-old persistent juvenile offenders, we shall at the same time look at the law for other age groups, to ensure that sentences are proportionate to those in the younger age group. I hope that my hon. Friend will not be disappointed when we have concluded our discussions.
Is not the Minister failing to learn from past mistakes? Is he aware of his Department's own evidence that under the old approved school system the vast majority of young offenders had reoffended within five years and that children leaving approved schools had a reoffending rate that was 49 per cent. above that which would otherwise have been expected from their records and characteristics? He should take note of the consensus and demands of my hon. Friends that the present system needs to be better operated. Secure places should be provided by local authorities, where people can be detained close to their families and given support to try to reduce the reoffending rate.
It is clear from what we have said so far that the new secure training orders will be nothing like approved schools or borstals. The Opposition cannot hide much longer behind the myth that we are re-establishing old borstals; we are clearly not. Sooner or later, the Opposition will have to come clean. Will they vote for secure training units or not?The hon. Lady had better explain that to magistrates and to the police who have arrested 14-year-olds, some of whom have 30 previous convictions. Such youngsters have been through the whole range of community sentences and now the only other sentence for them is a secure training unit. The Opposition cannot ignore the fact that for a small number of young people community sentences are not appropriate.
Police Officers (Injuries)
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many police officers have been injured in the course of their duty for the last 12 months that figures are available.
Information on the number of injuries is not held centrally. In 1992, 14,946 police officers were assaulted on duty in England and Wales.
In the light of that response, I thank the Home Secretary for allowing the trials of the extended baton and telescopic baton throughout the country. Unfortunately Lancashire, where I live, is not an area where the trials are taking place. I have figures that show that in 1991 the number of police assaulted on duty was 439; last year, it was 466. That is an appalling figure. Once the trials have been completed, if they are as successful as I believe they will be, will the Home Secretary widely extend the issue of extended batons and telescopic batons and ensure that the police have the tools to do their duty of protecting the public against the criminal?
I have made it clear that I am determined to ensure that the police have the equipment they need to protect themselves from the attacks and assaults to which they are increasingly subjected. I saw on Monday, in Poole in Dorset, a demonstration of the Arnold baton. I share my hon. Friend's hope that the evaluation that I have authorised will soon be successfully concluded, so that the batons that are currently being tested can be used more widely across the country and give the police the protection that they need.
Does the Home Secretary recall that six months ago in my constituency, WPC Lesley Harrison was viciously attacked? Does he agree that the bravery shown by policewomen and policemen deserves our admiration and practical support? Given that more than 20,000 police officers came to Wembley this week and that in areas of difficult policing there is grave disquiet about the effects of the Sheehy report, will the Home Secretary take seriously their concern that the number of police officers will be reduced as a result of the report, leaving many communities under-policed?
Of course, I understand and am aware of the concern that has been expressed. I have made it clear that I intend to consult the police and not confront them on the question of change; but change is necessary. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look again at the report. He will see that, far from reducing the number of police officers available for policing duties, the object of the report is to increase the number of police constables on our streets.
In the light of my right hon. and learned Friend's information about the number of police officers injured, will he assure the House that in the coming weeks he will work closely with the police staff associations to reach agreement on proposals for reform, which both they and he desire?
I can indeed give my hon. Friend that assurance. I have every intention of engaging in a constructive dialogue with the police over the next few weeks. The consultation period will not expire until the end of September; I have made it clear that I will listen very carefully to the views of the police and others, and take them into account before reaching any final decisions.
Are not the police under tremendous pressure as a result of the appalling statistics revealed by the Home Secretary? The Sheehy report has led to a complete disintegration of morale, and the proposition that there must be a link between performance and reward has not helped. Will the Home Secretary now repudiate that statement and give the police a clear assurance that the basis of market testing in the Sheehy report is not acceptable to the Government?
No. I will not prejudge the outcome of the consultation in any way. The Sheehy report was designed to strengthen the links between responsibilities and rewards; that strikes me as a thoroughly worthy objective. The report sets out one way of achieving it, but I will take into account any other suggestions. I intend the consultation period, which is currently under way, to result in fruitful and constructive dialogue with the police and all others with an interest in these matters.
Asylum (Fraudulent Applications)
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress his Department has made in preventing fraudulent applications for asylum.
New procedures designed to deter bogus asylum applications were introduced in November 1991. Since then, the number of new asylum applications has nearly halved. The new Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act will also help significantly.
Conservative Members welcome the new asylum legislation. Will my hon. Friend join me in praising Dover immigration service for yesterday's highly successful raid on illegal visitors to this country? Will he confirm that one way of reducing the incidence of social security fraud would be to reduce the number of bogus asylum seekers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that a number of bogus asylum seekers have been involved in social security fraud. There have already been 26 successful prosecutions, and a number of other cases are being investigated. One case involved a family of four from Zaire who had submitted more than 50 applications for income support and had been given 50 allocations of council housing. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the immigration service on yesterday's successful operations near Ashford.
Does the Minister agree that reducing the time allowed for certain appeals against refusal of asylum to 48 hours is not only unfair and unjust, but a contravention of natural justice, resulting in judicial reviews, which in turn lead to yet more delay? When do the Government expect to meet their own pathetic target—set last November—of providing a safe haven for no more than 1,000 Bosnians? Or does the Minister consider such people, whom we see nightly on our television screens, to be nothing more than fraudulent claimants?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, and as he has been told time and again, the selection of ex-detainees and other vulnerable people in Bosnia is a matter for the experts on the ground—the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross. After the weeks and months that he has spent debating asylum during the current Session of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman really should have learnt that the 48-hour rule applies to those who have made manifestly unfounded applications and have been detained at ports. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to realise that by allowing such people to prolong their stay he would be delaying the consideration of genuine refugee cases in which people suffer genuine traumas.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people were granted British citizenship in (a) 1974, (b) 1979 and (c) 1992; and if he will make a statement.
In 1974 and 1979 respectively, 69,657 and 29,500 people were granted citizenship of the United Kingdom. In 1992, 42,241 people were granted British citizenship, excluding the number granted that status under the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990.
Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures show that Conservative Governments operate firm and fair controls on immigration? Is it not the case that Opposition parties would abolish some of those controls, which at present reduce the flow of people coming into this country and ensure better race relations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Opposition Members have consistently opposed our legislative proposals and the Asylum Bill, which is now the Asylum Act. The Government will maintain their firm but fair immigration controls on non-EC nationals, and in so doing underpin good race relations in this country.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further proposals he has to deal with persistent young offenders; and if he will make a statement.
I intend to bring legislative proposals before the House as soon as possible.
I thank the Home Secretary for that reply. May I also—this may surprise him—welcome the initiatives that he has taken so far, particularly on behalf of the residents of the Saffron Lane estate in my constituency, who have been subjected to a great deal of criminal behaviour and hooliganism in the past few months? Does it cross his mind that a contributory factor to that criminal behaviour may well be the political thrust of the Government's policies over the past 14 years, which have emphasised selfishness and greed as opposed to collective action and responsibility?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the first words that he uttered, but I must tell him that the rest of his contribution was absolute nonsense from beginning to end. What we must never do is obscure the difference between right and wrong. That difference is well understood by the vast majority of people in this country. Making such absurd accusations is an affront to ordinary, decent, law-abiding people in all walks of life throughout the country.
I remind my right hon. Friend that it is about 25 years since Lord Kilbrandon in Scotland made a constructive distinction between the principles governing the way in which the commission of a crime is regarded and the punishment or treatment that is required after that has been done. Will he therefore look again at the whole concept in England of the age of criminal responsibility, because many of my constituents find it quite intolerable that there should be an automatic assumption that some hooligans and young children are too young to be scooped up by the law?
As my hon. Friend is well aware, we propose to take measures as soon as parliamentary time permits to enable persistent young offenders to be detained in secure accommodation and to receive the education and training which I hope will lead to a permanent change in their habits of behaviour.
I, too, welcome the measures being taken, because many people in Wolverhampton are tormented by the level of youth crime, but it is nonsense for the Home Secretary to believe that Opposition Members do not wish to see the difference between right and wrong. The atomisation of society by him, his party and his leader, and the belief that there is no such thing as society, has caused the uprising in young crime. It is a disgrace. Measures need to be—
Order. I have not yet heard a question from the hon. Gentleman. Does the Secretary of State wish to reply?
It is utterly disgraceful that week after week Opposition Members get up and protest against crime when they voted against the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Public Order Act 1986, the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and the Criminal Justice Act 1991, and they continue to vote against the prevention of terrorism Act every time it comes before the House.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the work of special constables.
Special constables play a valuable role in supplementing regular officers and strengthening the partnership between the police and the public. I have recently announced a new target of 30,000 special constables.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. The chief constable of Leicestershire is making intelligent use of special constables and, as a result of the additional target that my right hon. and learned Friend has announced, will make even better use of them. May I commend to him proposals for parish constables, which will increase the partnership between the public and the police so that villages in rural areas can feel safer? May I also commend the proposals of the high sheriff of Leicestershire, Mr. Robin Murray-Philipson, for a Leicestershire crime beat scheme bringing young people together with the police—
Order. Question Time is becoming a debating period. Members are asked to put questions to Ministers, not constituency cases. Has the hon. Member finished his question?
I was asking the Home Secretary to commend the high sheriff's Leicestershire crime beat scheme, which brings young people together with the police.
I will certainly look at the high sheriff's proposal with much interest. I am grateful for the support that my hon. Friend expressed, in particular for the possible introduction of parish constables throughout rural areas. We have payed all too little attention to rural crime, which requires determined and effective action. I hope that parish constables will be able to play a part in dealing with it.
Is it not likely that the target set by the Home Secretary will not be reached due to low morale among the regular police force following the Sheehy proposals? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not think it outrageous that he is proposing payment by results, short-term contracts and sacking policemen when they represent the thin blue line resisting the rising tide of Tory crime?
It is hardly surprising that the hon. Gentleman was unable keep a straight face as he asked that question.
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's statement on special constables, but does he accept that the majority of crime in this country is committed by the same small group of people in each police division, who are doing it again and again? Does he accept that we have to focus on those people and keep them locked away for a long time so that they physically cannot burgle our constituents' houses, steal their cars and rape their daughters.
I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. I congratulate him on the measures that he has taken to give the prosecution powers to appeal against bail orders when they are inappropriate. I will always listen to the point of view that he represents.
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions will take place with the police before any of the Sheehy recommendations are implemented.
I announced on 30 June that full consultation would take place on Sir Patrick Sheehy's report. As part of the process, written comments on the report have been invited by the end of September. Before reaching my decisions, I intend to take full account of the views of the police and of others with an interest in these matters.
I hear what the Secretary of State has to say, but he must be aware of the massive opposition to the Sheehy report among all ranks of the police force, based on experience that payment by results and short-term contracts are a recipe for disaster in the force. Does he therefore agree that the way forward is to shelve the Sheehy report and to concentrate on developing a community police force based on a partnership between local authorities and the police?
I am aware—it is a point of view that I have heard expressed by police officers up and down the country—that there is a widely recognised need for change. During the consultation period on Sir Patrick Sheehy's report, I propose to explore ways in which we can achieve lasting and beneficial change in the police service for the benefit of the police and of everyone who lives in this country.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that for every 100 recorded crimes only four alleged offenders are brought to court? Since it is the job of the police to bring offenders to court, surely it would be a dereliction of duty if the Government were not considering ways to make the police force more effective and efficient.
I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend, who has identified the reason behind the various proposals that we are considering. The police have been operating within an out-of-date framework and we must bring it up to date in a sensible way, after consulting and entering into constructive dialogue with them. That is exactly what I propose to do.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.
This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Is it not a fact that the Government's position on the social chapter is totally at odds with the views and real interests of the British people? If the Prime Minister loses the vote tonight, will he do the honourable thing: resign, go to the country and let the people decide?
That was a brave stab in the dark at the beginning of Question Time. I think that the hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong about the social chapter. Perhaps I may quote to him what the president of the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe has said of the social chapter that, if it were enacted, it
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to see that in his constituency or any other."would result in the closure of many small and medium-sized businesses, creating even higher unemployment".
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave some moments ago.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures released yesterday, which show that retail sales are now at a record high level, are good news for British high streets and further evidence that our economy is recovering and that prosperity and confidence are being restored?
I believe that it is good news for everyone, not just retailers. Retail sales were up 1¼ per cent. in June, up yet again to another record level. and have been on an upward trend for more than a year. They follow a run of good economic figures and are further compelling evidence of the fact that we are coming out of recession into recovery, with sharply brighter prospects than many imagined some weeks ago.
Following the collapse of Astra Training Services less than three years after the privatisation of the skill centre network, what do the Government intend to do to clear up the shambles that privatisation has caused to skill training?
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is wholly wrong about the position of skill training in this country and about privatisation. One of the matters that the President of the French Republic will wish to discuss with me next Monday is the success of our privatisation programme, as there are plans to introduce a similar programme in France.
Bearing in mind that Group 4 recently delivered a prisoner to a museum instead of a court, does the Prime Minister think that it might be time to review the mania for privatisation?
I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would like the Government to own everything, control everything and determine everything, but we believe in private enterprise, private ownership and privatisation, which has served this country well. Although the British Labour party does not like it, countries all around the world are following the privatisation trail blazed by the Conservative party in the 1980s.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government today face two problems—first, the budget deficit and, secondly, over-regulation, much of which comes from Europe and which is destroying many of our small businesses? Will he make an announcement that will help both those problems and announce a reduction of 10 per cent. in the number of inspectors, which would not only save money, but would show that the Government are serious in reducing the burden of regulation on business?
I do not have an announcement to make of precisely the sort urged on me by my hon. Friend, but we are looking at regulation—domestic regulation, European regulation and the enforcement of regulation in this country—in order to reduce the burdens on businesses, both large and small. Regulation has got out of any reasonable context, there is a need for action, and we propose to take it.
Are Her Majesty's Government prepared to allow the city of Sarajevo to fall to the Serbs?
The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of what I have said to the House on a number of occasions. He may be an enthusiast for putting British troops in the middle of Bosnia; I am not.
Has my right hon. Friend seen today's survey by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce and the Lloyd's bank commercial service review, which show that in 180,000 firms throughout the country confidence and orders are improving, output is up and investment is being generated? Is that not a massive vote of confidence in Her Majesty's Government's economic policies?
Yes, I have seen that survey and I agree that its message is very encouraging. I am delighted that the good news seems to be shared by both service and manufacturing industries. They have gone to great efforts to shake off the problems of recession. It is now clear that economic recovery is under way—there has been no help from the Labour party, but recovery is nevertheless under way.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.
I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.
Can the Prime Minister tell the House of any occasion on which a Government have ratified an international treaty against the wishes of the House of Commons? Does he agree that a Government adopting such a course of action would deservedly lose the confidence not just of the House but of the whole country, and would not such a Government rightly stand condemned for acting as an elected dictatorship?
On the understanding that the hon. Gentleman is talking about a contemporary treaty, may I say that the Act carrying that treaty into law has been passed with massive majorities on Second and Third Readings, both here and in the House of Lords.
When my right hon. Friend meets the French Prime Minister on Monday, will he congratulate him on the launch of the French privatisation programme? Will he assure him that privatised companies are better companies once the dead hand of state control has been removed?
I entirely share my hon. Friend's view, which is increasingly shared by companies, countries and Governments in every part of the world.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.
I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.
Is the Prime Minister aware that an all-party group of which I was a member went to visit the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation headquarters recently and were told that preparations are being made for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution on safe areas, which only requires 8,000 troops and changes in the rules of engagement? That has not been done and Sarajevo will fall. Has not the Prime Minister allowed that to happen?
As the hon. Lady knows, we have had a substantial troop presence in Bosnia for some time. A large number of other countries said in the past that they may be prepared also to put troops into Bosnia. We have made our contribution. A large number of other countries were signatories to that particular Security Council resolution. I think that it is right for them also to make their contribution to the collective carrying out of that resolution.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the social chapter issue is a red herring and that if we sign up to Maastricht the European Court will have the power to impose the conditions on us, whether we vote in this House for them or not, and that therefore those people who do not want the social chapter conditions should vote tonight to try to defeat the ratification of the Maastricht treaty?
This is one of those rare occasions when I am unable to share a view with my hon. Friend. I believe that she is entirely wrong and I hope that she will reconsider her position before 10 o'clock. [Interruption.]
Order. Save that for later.
Given that the Prime Minister has informed us of his official engagements for today, can he inform the House of his plans for tomorrow?
I am looking forward to tomorrow immensely.
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.
My right hon. Friend will have seen yesterday's trade figures, which show that our exports to non EC countries have improved once again and are hitting record levels, and that our trade gap has narrowed for the fourth consecutive month. Are not those figures the clearest possible evidence of the underlying strength of British industry and of the rapidly improving strength of the British economy?
I think that my hon. Friend is right, both on the specifics of exports and on the general point. [Interruption.] Exports to non-Community countries were up 15 per cent. last year. [Interruption.] That is a real credit to British industry.[Interruption.]
Order. The House must settle down now.
That is a real credit to British industry. [Interruption.]
Order. The House is using up valuable time. Members are waiting to put important questions to the Prime Minister.
I am delighted to see the support for British exporters. British industry is becoming more competitive and I think that British industry can take great credit for it.
Can the Prime Minister tell us whether he believes what he says about the social chapter? What do he and his Government believe will happen to this country if we endorse the social chapter? Does he believe that the Governments of the 11 other member states are mad?
I do not think that I would put it in precisely that way myself. What I can do is to repeat what the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe has said about the impact of the social chapter. In case the hon. Gentleman did not hear, it said that it would
That is the view of every CBI employer group across Europe."result in the closure of many small and medium-sized businesses, creating even higher unemployment."
To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the largest chamber of commerce and industry in the country is in my constituency, which is the centre of a vital industrial area, and that the opinion of the entire west midlands industrial community is that we must stick to the principles that he negotiated at Maastricht and assure the industrial sector that we will not have the social chapter?
I think that the business men in my hon. Friend's constituency share the views of business men right across the country about the social chapter. They know that it would be a serious mistake, that it would add to costs, that it would cost jobs and wreck our competitiveness. It is not a chapter that is of any use to the British at present or in the future and it should not be part of British law.
Business Of The House
Will the Leader of the House state the business for the first week after the recess?
Yes, Madam. The business for the first week after the summer Adjournment will be as follows:MONDAY 18 OCTOBER AND TUESDAY 19 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on a Government motion to approve the Defence Estimates 1993 (CM 2270). WEDNESDAY 20 OCTOBER—Opposition Day (19th allotted day). There will be—a debate on an Opposition motion; subject to be announced. THURSDAY 21 OCTOBER—Proceedings on the European Economic Area Bill [Lords]. FRIDAY 22 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on Northern Ireland issues on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. It may be for the convenience of the House to know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be delivering his Budget statement—the first unified Budget statement, setting out the Government's tax and spending proposals together—on Tuesday 30 November.
I thank the Leader of the House for his answer, and in particular for giving notice of the date of the Budget.I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will recall that he was pressed last week, I think by members of all parties, for a statement to be made on assisted area status before the House rises for the summer recess. I am sure that he has not forgotten, and I hope that he has ensured that his colleagues have not forgotten, either. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the very strong rumours that it has already been decided that the Local Government Commission may not proceed with a structural review of further tranches of local authorities once it has completed the first tranche on which it is presently engaged. Does he recognise that it would be extremely serious if Ministers encouraged the commission to take such a step, or if Ministers decided that the commission should take such a step, especially because, as I understand it, the timetable for the review of local authority ward boundaries, which are the basic building blocks of our democracy throughout local government and parliamentary and Euro-constituencies, would be reviewed only following the tranches which are already being dealt with on a structural basis? It could mean that only Labour areas would have their structure reviewed, that only Labour areas in the first tranche would have their basic ward boundaries reviewed. Having had experience of the way in which the Government have blatantly gerrymandered local government boundaries in Wales and Scotland, none of my hon. Friends can be filled with confidence that it would be a sound way of dealing with the issue. I therefore hope that the Leader of the House recognises that it is absolutely essential that we have a statement before the House rises if the Government have made such a decision, and that it would be an outrage if such a decision waited until the parliamentary recess. We are pleased that the Leader of the House has given us the date of the unified Budget, but I remind him of the strong concern that we have repeatedly expressed about the failure to schedule a proper public expenditure debate this year. Members of all parties will want to ensure that, whatever procedures are adopted for debating the unified Budget and consequent economic measures, no time is lost to the House for a debate on economic issues as a whole.
In answer to the first of the right hon. Lady's three questions, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry is well aware of the need to make a statement on the assisted area map. I believe that he assured the House yesterday that he expects to make a statement before the recess.Secondly, I assure the right hon. Lady that there is no question of abandoning the local government review process. My right hon. Friend is considering ways of improving the review procedure in the light of the work of the Local Government Commission so far. The objective remains the same, to secure an effective local government structure responsive to local needs, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend neither intends nor expects to do what the right hon. Lady, with uncharacteristic acerbity, described as gerrymandering, of which I have seen no suggestion. I shall bring to my right hon. Friend's attention the request for a statement. Thirdly, I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for welcoming my announcement about the unified Budget, which, although it was no more than a confirmation of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee yesterday, was evidently helpful to the House. I note what the right hon. Lady said about timings. She will know that the Procedure Committee expects to make recommendations, and obviously we shall consider those with great care.
In view of the fact that a great European city and a recognised independent nation are on the verge of extinction, will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement to the Hosue tomorrow on what Her Majesty's Government intend to do to ensure that United Nations resolutions are properly imposed?
Once again, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's persistent interest in such matters, which does him great credit, but I cannot immediately promise him the statement that he seeks. However, I can point out to him that you, Madam Speaker, have said that no less than three hours will be available to debate the situation in the former Yugoslavia during the Consolidated Fund debates next Monday.
Will the Leader of the House tell us what changes would be made to the business of the House in the first week after the recess if the Government lost the second vote, or indeed both votes, at the end of the debate on the motion tonight? As, despite the request yesterday by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, the Prime Minister has refused to reveal what legal advice has been given to the Government, and has also refused to tell the House what the Government believe the legal requirements on them are, will the Leader of the House, at least, practise open government and tell us what the parliamentary options are, both before we go on holiday and when we come back?
The hon. Gentleman seems to be anticipating the debate that we are about to have. I could do no more than repeat what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said both last Tuesday and last Thursday, which I thought was absolutely clear.
May I remind my right hon. Friend, in the kindliest terms that I can summon, that it is now over a year since the Jopling Committee reported? It is perhaps understandable that while we were debating Maastricht that subject could not be considered, but if it is still impossible for the Government to make recommendations, would it not be possible for the Committee's recommendations to be put to the House so that, for the benefit both of the Government and of the Opposition hon. Members could express their views on how much of the report should be acted upon, and in what way?
In my experience, there is no one more capable of being kindly than my right hon. Friend. and I am grateful for the way in which he put his question. He will know that I have been having further discussions with the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett). I cannot now pre-empt the outcome of that further consideration, but I note what my right hon. Friend has said, which is in effect a request for a debate soon after we return from the recess.
I endorse the request by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) for a statement on the situation in Bosnia.If the Leader of the House cannot give us a date on which the House will be permitted to debate the report of the royal commission on criminal justice, can he at least give us an undertaking that we shall be permitted to debate that report, as the rest of the nation has already done?
I cannot add to what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South about the position in former Yugoslavia, except to draw the attention of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. too, to the debate due to take place on Monday.With regard to the royal commission, as I have said before on such occasions, the right course is for the Government to consider the report and to decide how to proceed. Obviously, that must include consideration of a possible debate.
Will my right hon. Friend give us an idea of when we will debate the Sheehy report? May I have an assurance that it will be fully debated before any action is taken? It is essential to put that message across to the police forces of this country because some of them have the idea that we are going to implement the report lock, stock and barrel, and nothing could be further from the truth.
The answer to that is very much the same as it was to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). The royal commission report and the Sheehy report are not reports by the Government or conclusions of the Government. They are reports to the Government which the Government can, should and will carefully consider.
May we have an assurance that the House will be recalled if the situation in the former Yugoslavia deteriorates to the extent that an internationally recognised country is finally erased with the immense suffering that that will entail for the Muslims, particularly in view of the fact that the Government have consistently misrepresented the view of the military both in Britain and at NATO about the feasibility of effective action in that country?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand when I say that I would not accept his suggestion that my right hon. Friends have made persistent misrepresentations of the kind he suggests—
It happens to be true.
The hon. Gentleman makes that judgment; I do not accept it. It seems to me that that is the kind of point that the hon. Gentleman might seek to develop in the debate to which I have already referred twice.
I know that the Government are sympathetic to the idea put forward by Unionist Northern Ireland Members of Parliament about the creation of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland. Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on that important matter in the near future?
Not in the first two days of next week.
Has the Leader of the House had a moment to reflect on the worrying and delicate issues encapsulated in early-day motion 2352?[That this House, noting recent publicity about Stella Rimington, Director General of the Security Service, recalls her central role in operations against the miners during and after the coal strike of 1984–85, in particular, her deployment of agents provacateurs within the National Union of Mineworkers, including Roger Windsor, Chief Executive Officer of the NUM 1983 to 1989, an agent of MI5 under Mrs. Rimington, sent in to the NUM to destabilise and sabotage the Union at its most critical juncture; notes that in 1984 he made contact with Libyan Officials through Altaf Abasi and staged a televised meeting with Colonel Gaddafi, causing immense damage to the striking miners; that Windsor's actions led to serious and expensive internal disputes, notably a £100,000 libel damages settlement as a result of a letter Windsor forged in the name of David Prendergast of the U.D.M.; further notes that in March 1990, under Stella Rimington's guidance, Windsor was the sole witness, paid £80,000 for his testimony by Robert Maxwell, behind allegations of corruption against the NUM leadership, published in the Daily Mirror, later proved to be entirely untrue; and considers that notwithstanding recent cosmetic changes to its image, the Security Service, including Mrs. Rimington, has been responsible for the subversion of democratic liberties in Britain and should be brought to account.] Since the Government have insisted on making Mrs. Rimington so high-profile, may we have an independent inquiry into what the lady's role was during the miners' strike?
I sometimes think that that kind of question is quite a good illustration of the no-win position in which my right hon. Friends find themselves. As there is greater openness about those services, we are now accused of having a high profile on the matter. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the director-general of the Security Service is responsible to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I will bring the hon. Gentleman's question to his attention.
As the Secretary of State for Transport will announce this afternoon that the Government intend to go ahead with the effective doubling of the M25 in parts of Surrey through my constituency and the constituencies of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) and my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) which will have catastrophic and devastating effects on hundreds of thousands of homes, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on the matter as soon as we return from the summer recess so that the House can consider the plan in detail because we believe that it has been considered only superficially?
I will certainly bear my hon. Friend's request in mind, but I can equally clearly make no promise at this stage.
Does the Leader of the House recall that the Government's "taking stock" proposals promised many more meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee? However, over the past two weeks, when we would usually have half a dozen or so such meetings, we have had none. Does that not make a laughing stock of taking stock, or is the Secretary of State for Scotland in a huff because he was caught out attempting to gerrymander Scottish local government?
We have already had this rather silly point about gerrymandering made once today. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's point about the Scottish Grand Committee, he—perhaps above all the hon. Gentleman—will know very well that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is at this very moment seeking to advance the detailed consideration of the follow-up to his stocktaking proposals.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is aware, many representatives of the arts and sport are anxious to have the National Lottery etc. Bill on the statute book. The Third Reading debate in the other place will take place tomorrow. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, if amendments are made in the other place, there will be time to consider them as messages from the House of Lords on Monday and Tuesday of next week so that we can have the Bill on the statute book?
My hon. Friend correctly decribes what will take place tomorrow in the House of Lords in respect of that Bill. I cannot give him precisely the assurance that he seeks, but I have no reason to suppose that the Bill that he is anxious to have in effect will be seriously delayed.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the British people do not want a continuation of the fiddling around with local boundaries and reviews of that nature? The whole thing should be scrapped, and the Government should concentrate on providing jobs for people in the shire counties and elsewhere, including Scotland. What is needed in Derbyshire, where not one deep mine remains, is assisted area status in order to provide jobs in the area. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman announce that a statement about assisted areas will be made, drop the local government reviews, and stop fiddling the boundaries and gerrymandering on behalf of the Tory party?
There seems to be some slight tension between the hon. Gentleman's request in relation to the reviews and that of the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett). Leaving that matter aside, I see no conflict between the two points. We shall seek to advance the local government review and make the statement that I have already said will be made on assisted area status.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging the Opposition to debate employment opportunities on the first Tuesday after the recess so that I can point out what a tragedy it is that hundreds of jobs are to be lost in Dundee as a result of closure of the Timex factory? Following the Ford fiasco of a few years ago, does my right hon. Friend agree that the responsible trade unionists and Labour Members involved should be thoroughly ashamed of their job-destroying tactics?
My hon. Friend makes a point on which I am sure that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) will wish to reflect. In that connection, I draw the right hon. Lady's attention to the fact that the subject for the Supply day debate on Wednesday 20 October has still to be announced. My hon. Friend's suggestion might be considered.
Does the Leader of the House recall that, last week, he announced that we would debate London affairs on Friday 23 July and that, virtually as soon as it was announced, the debate was cancelled? Why was that decision taken? When can we have the London debate that he has been promising us for so long? Among other things, we could discuss bus deregulation, which was proclaimed by the Transport Select Committee as a leap in the dark, and the very interesting proposition that was put forward by the Secretary of State for the Environment about having an elected mayor for London. I would like to debate that issue because I have an ideal candidate in mind.
I see that the list of debates on the Consolidated Fund includes at least one debate in which points about transport in London might be in order. It might be reached at a rather inconvenient hour, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's energy and assiduous attention to duty will keep him in the Chamber.
Will my right hon. Friend find time soon after the recess or even sooner to debate the recent Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on the greatly expanded role of the United Nations in peacekeeping and the major implications for this country's policy on that matter?
There is no doubt that that is a serious and important subject. The Government will carefully study the report that my right hon. Friend has mentioned. I will of course keep in mind his request for a debate, but I do not think that I can make a promise at the moment.
It is expected that, during the next few weeks, the Government will publish their proposals on changes in mine safety regulations. In view of the assurance that was given to the House by the President of the Board of Trade and echoed by other Ministers that the Government would take no action which would threaten the splendid safety record of our mining industry, will the Leader of the House ensure that we have an adequate opportunity very soon after the recess to consider those proposals?
I will bear that in mind, and will also immediately draw the question to the attention of my hon. Friends in the Department of Trade and Industry.
As, following the unilateral decision of the European Commissioner Mr. Van Miert to reduce the percentage eligible for assisted area status, Her Majesty's Government have been obliged to submit a second list excluding five areas of Britain, including Southend-on-Sea, do the Government not think that it would be wise to have a debate when we return on the dangers of ceding more authoritarian power to Brussels bureaucrats, who are not answerable to anybody?
I think we have here an extremely ingenious attempt to pre-empt both the statement on assisted area status and the debate this afternoon. I will leave my hon. Friend to pursue those points on one or other of those occasions.
Will the Leader of the House reflect on early-day motion 2364, in which it is stated that the chairman of the Northumbrian water authority has increased his salary by 18 per cent. over two years and been given a perk that will net him £160,000?[That this House notes with concern the pay rises and perks given to the company bosses of Northumbrian Water Group; notes that the Chairman received salary and pension benefits of £102,000, an increase of 18 per cent. over the previous year, the Director and Chairman-designate received £120,000 in salary, bonus, pension and other benefits and that he exercised his option to buy 58,475 ordinary shares in Northumbrian Water Group at a discount of £2·72p on the market value of each share, netting him a profit of £159,052 in addition to his salary and perks at a time when customers are struggling to pay a 9 per cent. increase on top of a 10·3 per cent. increase in water and sewerage charges last year; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that such blatant profiteering and exploitation of Northumbrian Water Group customers ceases forthwith.] Is this not a disgrace, when the Government are asking the working people of the country to accept a 1·5 per cent. increase in wages? Where is the fairness in that in this society?
It is, of course, the case that pay in the private sector is a matter for companies and their shareholders. But it is very much the Government's view that they should follow the lead that the Government have set for the public sector and exercise restraint in agreeing salaries for directors and senior management.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the statement on assisted area status will fully reflect the seven discussions that I have had in recent months with Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry, and that Dover and Deal will receive favourable treatment despite the attempts by the Labour party to sabotage it?
I am sure that my hon. Friend's representations, which will have been delivered with vigour on behalf of his constituents, will have left their mark on my right hon. and hon. Friends.
As the school holidays have begun, will the Minister be kind enough to assure the House that there will be an early debate on the safety of children in playgrounds? As so many playgrounds in so many parts of the country, including the city of Leicester, are dangerous and disgraceful, will he at least draw this matter to the attention of the Secretary of State for whatever Department takes responsibility and ask for, at the very least, a statement in the House on this matter?
I will certainly do what the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests, but I presume that he has also brought this matter to the attention of the various local authorities in Leicester, which would seem to have the immediate responsibility.
Has my right hon. Friend seen from the Order Paper that statutory instrument 1626, which is designed to introduce regulations for sheep and suckler cow premium quotas, has been prayed against by a number of hon. Members? Is he aware that this regulation may provide for the transfer of quota from one farm to another with no compensation payable to the landlord? This is causing great concern among landowners, who see the value of their property depleted, and among tenants, who see landowners very reluctant to bring forward farms to let.I appreciate that we cannot have a debate before the House rises, but may we have an undertaking from my right hon. Friend that, as soon as the House comes back, there will be a debate, either in Standing Committee or on the Floor of the House, to remove the anxiety?
I cannot give my hon. Friend any undertaking beyond saying that further consideration will be given to the point that he has raised. I must tell him, however, that, as I suspect he probably knows, the Government have used fully the discretion available within the regulations to include measures to safeguard the position of landlords. They do not have the power to introduce a scheme whereby tenants would compensate landlords for losses on land values resulting from the introduction and allocation of quotas.
Is the Leader of the House prepared to arrange a debate on two early-day motions, Nos. 2369 and 2370?[That this House notes the grave allegations in Yorkshire Television's exhaustively researched investigation into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, in which 33 people lost their lives in 1974, and notes in particular that the Garda Siochana rapidly discovered the names of eight suspects (based on eyewitness identification) all of whom were members of the paramilitary loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force Mid-Ulster Brigade based in Portadown, that 12 further suspects were identified based on intelligence reports (four of whom were former or serving members of the Ulster Defence Regiment), that all this information was passed tothe Royal Ulster Constabulary where two Special Branch officers investigated and confirmed the Garda list of suspects but were never allowed to interview or arrest the suspects, that Garda Commissioner Eamonn Doherty, believes that the bombers 'must have been helped' as no 'loyalist group could have done this on their own', that two of the suspects were paid informants of the British Army, that the British Army and MI5 also know the names of all the suspects, that the bombers were being 'run' by the Special Duties team, a group of SAS-trained undercover soldiers operating from Castledillon (under the cover of 4 Field Survey Troop), controlled by MI5 and led by Captain Tony Ball and Captain Robrt Nairac, that 4 Field Survey Troop were involved in cross border raids without political authorisation and that Nairac supplied the Portadown UVF brigade with arms and explosives and assisted in planning their illegal activities.] They relate to the horrifying revelations in Yorkshire Television's investigation of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which left 33 dead, and to the view of the head of the British Army's bomb disposal unit, Lt. Col. George Styles, who was awarded the George Cross for his work, that members of the British Army were using captured IRA explosives and detonating them south of the Border?
As I understand it, these are clearly matters for the authorities in the Republic of Ireland. Any investigation in the light of the allegations made in the programme to which the early-day motions refer is a matter for the Irish authorities and the Garda in the first instance.
As the House is preoccupied again today with the country's position in the European Community, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should bear in mind our special relationship with the United States? Will he ensure that, before the House rises for the recess, a special message of goodwill is sent to the tens of thousands of families in the mid-west of the United States who have been seriously devastated by the worst flooding in America in modern times?
I am sure that all hon. Members will want to express their sympathy for the difficulties—to put it mildly—being experienced by so many people in such a wide area of the midwest. I am glad to note that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is here: he can certainly ensure that the feeling in the House is conveyed to the American authorities.
The Welsh Office is due to make a statement on the future of Neath and Port Talbot hospital before the recess. Can the Leader of the House find time for a statement to be made to the House on that matter? The previous Secretary of State gave a commitment that it would be a full district general hospital, but there are disquieting reports that it will be only an outpatient day hospital with all of the major surgical facilities transferred elsewhere. A statement should be made to the House so that the Minister can be questioned and challenged on that announcement, if it proves to be accurate.
I will draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. If such a matter, important though it undoubtedly is to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, were the subject of a statement, we might well have nothing but statements in the House.
Will my right hon. Friend consider scheduling a debate on the payment of large sums of money, in many cases, to criminals by the press, bearing in mind the return to this country of drug runners from Thailand?
My hon. Friend well knows that the Government deplore situations in which people make money effectively from the exploitation of criminal activities for gain. He also knows that there are great difficulties in framing legislative restraints. I am sure that he will wish to draw his feelings on this matter to the attention of the Press Complaints Commission.
When can we have a debate on the reasons for the delay in the announcement of the closure of Trawsfynydd nuclear power station? Trawsfynydd has not produced a single watt of electricity for two and a half years at a cost of £80 million to the country and a delay in the plans for reskilling the work force. Why is there such harsh treatment for the coal mines and such gentle treatment for the set-aside nuclear power industry?
The issues raised by the hon. Gentleman are a matter for Nuclear Electric. I understand that the company is carefully considering the implications of the decision for the staff of the station.
My right hon. Friend is aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) has already raised in business questions the matter of the White Paper on the police and the Sheehy report. Will my right hon. Friend encourage my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to come to the House at an early date to accept the total opposition of the police service to the Sheehy report and announce that he is prepared to set up a royal commission into the police, their remuneration and their status in society?
Happily, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is by my side and will have heard the message communicated direct. He may also have had reports of the large meeting at Wembley stadium during the week.
In view of the fact that my constituents in Rochdale are uncertain about the question of assisted area status, will the Leader of the House confirm or deny that the press have been informed that there will be a statement in the House tomorrow on assisted area status? If the press have been told, why were we not told first?
I have already made it clear on a number of occasions that a statement will be made before the recess.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the proposal to deregulate the Weeds Act 1959? That Act outlawed the cultivation of five species of weed, including ragwort, the spread of which is already seriously out of control. That is causing great concern to country men and horse owners because ragwort is increasingly responsible for poisoning horses, and action needs to be taken.
It is fortunate that so many of my right hon. Friends are present today, and I note that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is sitting a little further down the Front Bench, nodded her head vigorously to me to communicate that she will reflect on what my hon. Friend has said.
Has the Leader of the House seen this month's issue of "Euro Briefing" from the Conservatives of the European Parliament, which calls for greater openness in the affairs of the European Community, especially the Council of Ministers? It recommends that what is decided in the Council of Ministers should be made available and that the votes should be detailed. Several answers to written questions have revealed that the policy of openness has started in our Parliament. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that policy should be extended so that the openness called for in that document is extended to everything that takes place in the House?
I have a lot of sympathy for the general request for openness in the Community. That was one of the main objectives of the British Government, during our presidency, at the Birmingham and Edinburgh Council summits. I do not wish to add to the points that were then made, except to say that I have been told that it is the hon. Gentleman's birthday and I would like to wish him many happy returns.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the planned early debate on the defence estimate. I wonder whether we could have before we rise for the summer recess an emergency debate on the new 2,300 jobs that will be created by the Ministry of Defence in Dorset, not least because all those jobs are within easy travelling distance of Christchurch?
That certainly sounds a very helpful suggestion. I am glad to hear what my hon. Friend says. He may find some opportunity during the Consolidated Fund debate, for example, or during the debate on the summer Adjournment to make further reference to that matter.
Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Scotland makes a statement to the House to guarantee that the report from the Argyll and Clyde health board on the blunders that were made concerning the smear tests on 20,000 women in the Inverclyde area will be released to the public and those women and that they will not have to wait for it to be sent to the inquiry? My hon. Friend the Member for Port Glasgow and Greenock (Dr. Godman) and I are desperate to ensure that our folk get peace of mind by seeing that report as soon as it is printed and available.
It is, of course, everyone's desire to ensure that clarity and greater peace of mind are established on those matters as soon as possible. I will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.
Will the Leader of the House read again my excellent Bill, the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) (Wales) Bill? Does he accept that it has been carefully drafted and that it has the overwhelming support of the majority of hon. Members who represent Wales? Is he aware that tens of thousands of people in Wales suffer from serious disability? I should like to know when my Bill might be debated in the House.
I believe that the hon. Gentleman might have to do his own research on how the Bill might be discussed again in the spill-over period. He will, of course, have further opportunities in the new Session to debate the Bill, if he wishes to take them up. He will know that, as a former Minister for disabled people, I share his aims, but we are not convinced that the Bill is the best means of achieving them.
May we have a debate after the recess on the standards of conduct in public life so that we can discuss questions of procedure for Ministers? At least four Ministers are directors of companies in contradistinction to the requirements of the list of rules. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that security firms, secretarial firms and similar activities are not connected with family estates? There is no excuse for a Government who impose laws and tight rules on the poorest of the poor governing income support and all other aspects of life to be sloppy about their Ministers.
I commented on that last week. I see no reason why the hon. Gentleman raises it again, unless he wants to engage in muck-raking. I shall not add to what I said last week.
Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate in Government time on the thousands of victims of holiday companies that collapse every week because of the Government's legislative incompetence? Will he ensure that there is an investigation into the collapse of Global Link and SFV Villa Holidays, which happened because of ministerial negligence?
I do not for a moment accept the hon. Gentleman's allegations, but I will, of course, draw his somewhat overheated statement to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
Points Of Order
On a point of order, Madam Speaker.I have given you prior notice of this matter which is in connection with the ruling which you gave yesterday and which is reported in columns 353 and 354 of the Official Report. As you know, Madam Speaker, article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689 does not apply to Scotland. Yet the ruling given yesterday seemed to imply that that Act was binding on the whole House. It is important that, before we embark on today's debate on the social chapter and the future of the Maastricht treaty, you give a clear ruling of the implications for the constitution of Scotland and for the constitutional legal position of Scotland in the context of that ruling. The Bill of Rights defined clearly that parliamentary sovereignty in England existed in Parliament. The Claim of Right, the equivalent document in Scotland, which was passed one year prior, defined clearly that sovereignty lay with the Scottish people. The Act of Union of 1707 incorporated neither the Bill of Rights nor the Claim of Right—[Interruption.] Despite the noise from Conservative Members, there is an important constitutional point to which they should listen. Those documents were not incorporated in the Act of Union. Therefore, in the context of Scottish constitutional law, we cannot be bound to a ruling that is based on the Bill of Rights of 1689 in the context of parliamentary sovereignty. I refer to a ruling made in the Court of Session in Scotland in 1953 when the matter was clearly spelt out in a case between John MacCormick and the Lord Advocate. The Court of Session papers of 1953 said:
Your statement yesterday, Madam Speaker, indicated that English legislation was binding because it related to English courts of justice. Does that mean—this where I seek your clear ruling—that Scottish legislative rights, the Scottish legal system and the jurisdiction of Scottish courts can be ignored by this place? Surely, if it were so desired, the Scottish courts could seek separate and distinctive representations on issues pertaining to the Maastricht treaty and the social chapter. I realise that it is not an easy issue for you, Madam Speaker, or for the House, but I seek the clear ruling that the statement did not apply to Scotland, that the ruling did not either implicity or explicitly suggest that Westminster is the English Parliament in continuation, and that the democratically elected members of Scottish constituencies should not be tied to an English system."The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law … I have difficulty in seeing why it should have been supposed that the new Parliament of Great Britain must inherit all the peculiar characteristics of the English Parliament but none of the Scottish Parliament, as if all that happened in 1707 was that Scottish representatives were admitted to the Parliament of England. That is not what was done.
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Before you gave your ruling yesterday, did you have regard to the terms of the case of MacCormick against the Lord Advocate and especially to the fact that the judgment was delivered by Lord President Cooper, who is renowned as an expert in Scottish constitutional law? If your ruling applies only to the English courts, does it follow that those who wish to challenge, as they have already sought to do in England, may opt to do so at the Court of Session in Edinburgh rather than in the High Court in the Strand?
On a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Is this further to the point of order?
In that case, let us hear it.
During business questions, Madam Speaker, we—
Does it relate to this matter?
In that case, let me clear up the matter. My statement yesterday stands complete. I have nothing further to add.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I appeal to you as the defender of the rights of Back Benchers. As a Member of Parliament who represents a constituency outside London, you will be familiar with the fact that many of us have full constituency engagements on a Friday. We have just heard a suggestion in business questions that a matter of supreme importance to my constituency and to other constituencies will take place tomorrow: there is to be a statement on assisted area status. It has also been claimed that that information has been given to the press. Even this afternoon, that information has not been given to us. Why on earth can we not be given that important information at least at the same time as it is given to members of the press?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that, whether Fridays, Tuesdays or Thursdays, all sitting days are precious to me.
Treaty Of Maastricht (Social Protocol)
Before we move to today's motion, I must tell the House that I have been made aware of an interest in the possible application of the House's sub judice rules to today's debate. The rule operates subject to the discretion of the Chair. It is by no means clear that any current case is directly relevant to today's proceedings, but to avoid any uncertainty, I wish to announce at the outset that I have decided not to apply the sub judice rule today.A number of hon. Members want to take part in the debate, so there is a time limit on speeches between 6 pm and 8 pm of 10 minutes. I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
I beg to move,
The debate we have in the House this afternoon is without precedent. After months of discussion, Parliament has passed the European Communities (Amendment) Act with huge majorities. In this House, there was a majority of over 240 on Second Reading and of 180 on Third Reading. In the other place, there was a majority of well over 100 on Third Reading and of 269 in the showpiece vote over a referendum. Rarely in recent history has Parliament shown its will so effectively. Today's debate is an attempt to frustrate that will. I believe that ratification of the Maastricht treaty is in the interests of this country. I negotiated the treaty because I believed that it was in the interests of this country, and that is why I signed it. That is why I refused to ditch it or to change it, even though there was plenty of opportunity to do so over the past year. Let me set out to the House the reasons why I regard it as vital for this country, for the reasons do not just relate to what is within the treaty itself, but go wider than the treaty and relate to the general position in the European Community. We took the decision to join the Community—the right decision, I believe—over 20 years ago. From the day we took the decision, across both sides of the House, it has often been a matter of controversy. Sometimes it has been bitter, sometimes it has flared up, and at other times, for a while, it has been quiescent. Always that schism between the parties has rested there, and it has damaged the influence that this country has been able to exercise within the European Community. Too often, as a result of those divisions within this House and sometimes beyond it, this country under successive Governments—I make no party point—has allowed itself and its interests to be sidelined. If it had not been for those disputes, and if we had been able to play the full part in the Community that I believe we should have done, it might not have developed in the way it has., and many of the concerns that some hon. Members have might well have been dealt with. In that period, we have had many successes in the Community. The British rebate was a great negotiating success. The single market was one of the greatest changes in the EC since its conception. The reform of the common agricultural policy, the enlargement of the EC—each and every one, in its own way, is a big issue that has affected every aspect of the EC. All of them were British successes. It shows that we can win the arguments at the European table. Despite that, we have still not exercised the influence that we should have, or shaped the EC in the fashion that was possible.That this House, in compliance with the requirements of section 7 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, notes the policy of Her Majesty's Government on the adoption of the Protocol on Social Policy.
Will the Prime Minister give way?
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I wish to deal with serious matters rather than frivolous interruptions at the moment.Too often over the years, the dominant political attitude has been to object to the ways others have wanted to develop the EC, rather than to set out our plans, our prospects and our hopes and then fight for them to deliver the type of community that is right for this country. Many hon. Members are right in their opposition to the way in which the EC operates. Some of the ways that it operates need to be changed—I strongly support that. I want to see the EC reformed, as do my hon. Friends and many Opposition Members, but if we are to reform the EC, Britain must have influence in the EC. We will not have influence if we do not ratify the treaty that we have agreed after consultations in the House. I did not initiate the negotiations. I have made it clear that I thought that they were premature, and I said so to our partners during our negotiations. I did seek to negotiate what I believed to be the best outcome for Britain. I did so within a remit I had obtained from the House, and after seeking the views of Parliament and negotiating within them. I believe that, as a result of that discussion and debate within the House, it was right for me to decline to accept the social chapter—and the single currency without the express will of the House. I believe that the events which have followed the conclusion of the negotiations have proved that judgment to be correct. As I have told the House before, in my judgment Europe is not yet remotely ready for a single currency, and the present economic circumstances across Europe mean that it cannot afford the ambitions of the social chapter. The House and the Government must accept the obligations we entered into and that Parliament approved in the European Communities (Amendment) Act. There is a straightforward self-interested reason for this country why we must do that. If we fail to do that, no British Government will have influence in Europe for many years. Europe is a market of vital interest to our companies, and to this country's future prosperity and future employment. If we wilfully throw away our capacity to defend our interests and promote our policies in that market, I believe that this country will pay a dear price for that folly in the years to come. I would ask every hon. Member—including some of my hon. Friends—to reflect deeply on that point before they vote this evening.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. He has forcefully and clearly made the argument for our remaining within the EC in order to argue our case and develop our position. Surely the same argument exactly applies to the development of social policy. How can this country influence the development of European social policy by opting out?