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Business Of The House

Volume 264: debated on Thursday 19 October 1995

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3.30 pm

May I ask the Leader of the House for details of future business?

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

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 23 OCTOBER—Debate on a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion to take note of EC documents Nos. 7596/95, 7465/95 and 8817/95 relating to the common fisheries policy control system. Details will be given in the Official Report.

TUESDAY 24 OCTOBER—Opposition Day (19th allotted day). Until about 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Current Environmental Concerns in Scotland" on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Followed by a debate entitled "The Plight of Pensioners in Wales" on a motion in the name of Plaid Cymru.

WEDNESDAY 25 OCTOBER—Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Opposition Day (20th allotted day). There will be a debate on the national lottery on an Opposition motion.

THURSDAY 26 OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Mental Health (Patients in the Community) Bill [Lords].

Motion on an order relating to the salaries of Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and Opposition Whips in each House, and the Officers of both Houses.

The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

FRIDAY 27 OCTOBER—Debate on sport on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 30 OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords amendments which may be received to the Disability Discrimination Bill.

Remaining stages of the Law Reform (Succession) Bill [Lords], the Private International Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill [Lords], the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill [Lords] and the Civil Evidence Bill [Lords].

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet as follows:

Tuesday 24 October at 10.30 am: EC document No. 6591/94 relating to comparative advertising.

Wednesday 25 October at 10.30 am: EC document No. 6871/95 and the supplementary explanatory memorandum submitted by the Department of National Heritage on 5 July 1995 relating to tourism.

I am sorry that at present I am not able to be as forthcoming as I would normally wish about business after Monday 30 October, but I think hon. Members will understand some of the difficulties at this time of year. I should tell them—it would certainly be for the convenience of the House—that Government business will be taken in the week beginning 30 October and will also be taken in the week beginning 6 November for some time in that week, subject to the progress of business in another place.

[Monday 23 October—European Community documents: (a) 7465/95, Fisheries enforcement: financial provision; (b) 7596/95, Common fisheries policy control system; (c) 8817/95, Fisheries: log book records. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: (a) HC 70-xxi ( 1994–95); (b) HC 70-xxi (1994–95); (c) HC 70-xxv ( 1994–95).

Tuesday 24 October—European Standing Committee B. European Community document: 6591/94, Comparative advertising. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: HC 48-xxi ( 1993–94), HC 70-xii (1994–95).

Wednesday 25 October—European Standing Committee B. European Community document: 6871/95, Tourism. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: HC 70-xix ( 1994–95) and HC 70-xxiii ( 1994–95).]

Monday 23 October

Reports Session 1993–94

No.

Report title

HC No.

Date of publication

40Property Services in the English Occupied Royal Palaces3167 September
42The Renewable Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Programme3878 September
43The Industrial Injuries Scheme36821 September
44British Army in Germany— Drawdown of Equipment and Stores40817 November
45Export Credits Guarantee Department Appropriation Accounts 1992–93: Irregular Payments to Exporters4063 November
46Registers of Scotland: Service to the Public3943 November
47The British Film Institute49123 November
48Management and Sale of Houses in Borders Region30324 November
49National Health Service: Hospital Catering in England4271 December
50National Insurance Fund Account 1992–934197 December
51Auditing Clinical Care in Scotland3758 December

Reports Session 1994–95

No.

Report title

HC No.

Date of publication

1Ministry of Defence: The Major Projects Report (1993)4214 December
2The Sports Council: Initiatives to Improve Financial Management and Control and Value for Money9311 January
3Merseyside Development Corporation: Grand Regatta Columbus and Fanfare for a New World Concert9412 January

Reports Session 1994–95

No.

Report title

HC No.

Date of publication

4Inland Revenue: Getting Tax Right First Time and Dealing with More Complex Postal Queries10519 January
5Council Tax Valuations in England and Wales1378 February
6Wolds Remand Prison1389 February
7Excess Votes28014 March
8NI Excess Votes28114 March
9Improving Social Security Services in London: The Provision of Services to Customers1453 May
10Appropriation Matters 1993–942154 May
11English Nature: Protecting SSIs37510 May
12Property Holdings Leaseholds10611 May
13Management in NHS Trusts in England15517 May
14MOD: Management of Telephones18818 May
15Resource Accounting and Budgeting40724 May
16The Privatisation of NI Electricity2425 May
17Department of Agriculture NI Science Service—Research and Development2525 May
18NHS Day Hospitals for Elderly People in England957 June
19Fraud on the Business Sponsorship Incentive Scheme2008 June
20Appropriation Account Matters 1993–9420714 June
21Financial Health of Higher Education in England13915 June
22Management of Intellectual Property23721 June
23Value for Money at Grant Maintained Schools: A Review of Performance22522 June
24Dtp: Land and Property for Road Building4328 June
25Administration of the Crown Courts17329 June
26Management of the Trident Works Programme4865 July

Reports Session 1994–95

No.

Report title

HC No.

Date of publication

27General Practitioner— Fundholding in England2646 July
28Severance Package for the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield24212 July
29Welsh Development Agency37613 July
30Home Office: Entry in the United Kingdom35519 July
31Scottish Courts: Administration of Scottish Courts30120 July
32ODA: Management of Programme Aid33726 July
33FCO Irregularities33027 July
34Green Form Legal Aid Frauds2823 August
35Administration of Retirement Pensions4153 August
36VEM at Colleges in the Further Education Sector3099 August
37NAO Estimate 1995–965310 August
38NAO Estimate 1995–965210 August
39Sale of Forward Civil Service—Catering34416 August
40Suspension of Dr. O'Connell32217 August

I thank the Leader of the House for that information, and accept his point that, at this time of the parliamentary year, there must be some uncertainty in future planning. Will the Leader of the House ensure that, during the debate on Wednesday 25 October on the national lottery, the Secretary of State for National Heritage is able to resolve the inconsistency between her junior Minister's answer to a parliamentary question on 27 June this year, and the statement earlier this week by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury? Perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us whether the Government regard lottery funds as public money, as seems to be the case from what the Chief Secretary was saying.

As for the business after next week, will the Leader of the House assure us that time will be found before the end of the Session to debate the Procedure Committee's report on our trial of the Jopling proposals on the management of parliamentary time? Will he ensure that there will be time for a debate and decisions on the report which is expected from the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life? I know that he is anxious that that Committee should report as soon as possible. Will he guarantee that time will be found for such a debate?

On related matters, will the Leader of the House tell us when he will be tabling the appropriate resolution to establish the new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges to which the House has agreed in principle? Will he also give an assurance that the Select Committee on Employment will continue?

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the position on Question Time involving the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)? Will he confirm that hon. Members tabling questions to that Minister before the recess were told that such questions should be addressed not to the Deputy Prime Minister but to the First Secretary of State, but that, when he himself found out that that was the case, and despite the fact that questions appeared on the Order Paper addressed to the First Secretary of State, the Order Paper was changed, so that the questions were addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister? As the Deputy Prime Minister then declined to answer the first question to the Deputy Prime Minister, is that not a case of his making a mockery of the House's proceedings, and should not the Leader of the House be stopping that?

My gratitude to the hon. Lady for the generosity of her acknowledgement of the difficulties, expressed in the early part of her comments, was rather dissipated by her later remarks. My right hon. Friend is Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State.

The National Lottery etc. Act 1993 makes it clear that lottery funds are ultimately under the control and management of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage. I am advised that, because it is ultimately under ministerial control, lottery money must be classified as public money under internationally recognised standards for national accounts, but I shall of course bring the hon. Lady's apparent confusion to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

As for Jopling, the hon. Lady has good cause to know that I am undertaking the usual consultations, with her among others, with a view to bringing appropriate resolutions before the House during what we call the spillover.

As for Nolan—again, the hon. Lady has good cause to know this because we are spending a great deal of time in Committee on the subject at the moment—the aim is to bring forward proposals and give the House the opportunity to debate them before Prorogation. All of us on the Committee are working hard to that end. I also hope to make progress with the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. I am more than willing to listen to representations, but I should have thought that the convenient time to deal with it would be when we debate the matters to which I have just referred. I have not, however, made a definite decision about that.

As for the Select Committee on Employment, the hon. Lady knows that I am currently consulting, as is appropriate on new arrangements. However, I find it difficult to see a reason for departing from the long-established practice of matching Select Committees to Government Departments, and changing them when there are changes in the structure of Government Departments.

My right hon. Friend may be aware of the mounting criticism in certain organs of the press about the amount of legislation going through the House under statutory instrument powers. I wonder whether he shares my concern that too much legislation is going through under such powers and is not receiving sufficient scrutiny by the House, and that the matter should be debated. Or does he have news for the House that the Government are already considering the problem?

I cannot quite answer my hon. Friend in the terms which he would no doubt like because, if we are to have the debate on procedural matters that I am hoping for, he may be able to advert to that matter. On his general point, he will know that the Government are working very hard to reduce the amount of regulation.

Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate on the rise in teenage smoking which has just been announced? It is particularly important in the light of the new survey that links tobacco advertising and teenage smoking.

I cannot arrange for an urgent debate—certainly not during the spillover period—but I shall of course draw the hon. Lady's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Will my right hon. Friend consider whether the House should debate VE and VJ day, not only because it would be right in itself in this particular year, but because there is a risk that many thousands of people will feel that the House has not adequately honoured them?

The case of a constituent of mine in Finchley illustrates the point that I would urge on the Leader of the House. A lady who lives there was bombed in her house in 1944. She was blinded at the time, and has lived and is still living in the same house. Many thousands of people lived blameless and supportive lives way behind the soldiers' ranks, and feel that they too played an important part, which we could recognise in the House.

I am sure that the whole House would want to join in paying tribute to, and indeed expressing respect for, my hon. Friend's constituent and many others who no doubt have similar experiences. On the question of recognition of these events, I thought that the rather splendid ceremony in Westminster Hall at the time of VE day—but very much recognising VJ day as well—was a proper and fitting tribute from the House.

The Leader of the House will recall that I wrote to him many weeks ago as chairman of the managing trustees of the parliamentary contributory pension fund about the independent review body's recommendations in relation to the fund. Word has reached me—it is a welcome word—that the Leader of the House is proceeding with all speed to give effect to the decision of this House of 17 July. In anticipation of an early statement from him, can I thank him for the work that he is doing?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. If he has not had a reply, I apologise for that. The work that has been required in relation to translating the thoughts of the House and the Senior Salaries Review Body into regulation form has proved extremely complex.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are approach and departure flight paths from Manchester airport over my constituency. He will therefore be aware that aircraft noise is a constant problem for many of my constituents. Currently, airports do not have the statutory power to fine aircraft which stray from designated corridors without the permission of traffic control. Manchester airport, and indeed my constituents, would like that to be made a statutory right, so that the fines may provide some meaningful control over such aircraft movements. My talks with the Department of Transport suggest that it accepts that such action is necessary, and would require primary legislation. Will there be any opportunity at an early date for such legislation to be implemented?

My hon. Friend will appreciate that, by tradition, I cannot anticipate the Queen's Speech. Nor, at a time when there are many demands, would I want to excite his hopes too much, even having said that. I shall bring his question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

The Leader of the House has always been careful about the duties and support of the House of Commons. He will be aware that, when he is thinking about the Jopling report and the reforms that he will bring forward, a number of hon. Members will want to say that they are not overly impressed with some of the changes that have taken place, which have enabled the Government to escape proper scrutiny. I hope that he will not rush forward just on the basis of a fashionable change in hours, without thinking of the implications for legislation.

The hon. Lady was kind enough to use the words that she did at the beginning of her question, and I hope that I have shown that I do not seek to ride roughshod over people's reservations. However, there appears to be wide, and probably overwhelming, support in the House for changes along the lines of those with which the House has experimented this year.

Notwithstanding the narrow debate scheduled for later today, may we have a debate next week on the prison building programme? That would give me an opportunity to recognise the decision by all parties on Salford city council to reject the Prison Service's proposal to build a prison next door to my constituency, and to ask the Prison Service to think again about that disastrous proposal.

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will note that question but, for my part, I cannot promise another debate on prisons in the near future.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House on Lord Donaldson's assessment of the sinking of the Derbyshire? The House and the families of the Derbyshire bereaved should hear from the Secretary of State what Lord Donaldson had to say.

As ever, I shall remind my right hon. Friend of the hon. Gentleman's long-standing concern about that matter. I suppose that I could claim that I have arranged for the Secretary of State to be here to answer questions on Monday, but I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman would regard that as an adequate opportunity.

Is the Leader of the House willing to postpone the three fishing orders next Monday for a week? As he knows, the Fisheries Council will meet next week to see whether it is possible to change those ridiculous control measures, which would oblige our fishermen to make 170,000 individual reports, costing them £1.2 million, which would cost the average fishing vessel up to £5,000. How can we debate the orders next Monday without knowing the outcome of the review until about Thursday? Could we not simply delay the debate for a week? What is the problem?

I am mildly puzzled by that question, because the suggestion usually made to me is that the House should have opportunities for debate before a Fisheries Council. That is the purpose of that debate.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement and debate on the repair and replacement of system-built schools? My constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) have a number of Derwent schools, which have been given a limited life, but we have never been able to get out of the Government a programme to fund their replacement. Birley Spa school in my constituency has been given only a two-year life, but the Government will still not commit themselves to funding a replacement for it, thereby blighting the lives of hundreds of children in my constituency. May we have a statement on precise Government policy in that regard?

I cannot promise a statement, but it is classically a question that I should want to draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

May we have a debate on local government finance, so that we can consider the decision of Ealing's Labour council to cut £6 million off Ealing's budget, sack 100 people and virtually eliminate adult education, which it has a statutory duty to provide? It has done so in a totally careless way, blaming next year's gram settlement, which has not even been made.

I am always keen to satisfy my hon. Friend's appetite for revealing the iniquities of his local authority. I cannot assuage it at the moment, but in five or six weeks' time, there will be a statement on local authority expenditure.

The Leader of the House will be aware that, for the past six months, the Government have said that only one person, Nick Leeson, was responsible for the collapse of Barings. This week we have received an authoritative report from Singapore detailing collusion and a cover-up at the London end. We also now know that Barings gave £900,000 to Tory party funds in recent years. May we have a debate soon on the collusion and cover-up in London, above all to restore some confidence that the regulation and supervision of overseas trading banks in the City of London is now in safe hands?

We will obviously study the report of the Singapore Ministry of Finance carefully. It appears to me to confirm the main conclusions of the report published in London in July by the Board of Banking Supervision.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early opportunity to debate the governance of Scotland? He will be aware that the Labour party, the Liberals and others have come forward with their crackpot proposals for Edinburgh. With four Scottish-based Scots in the Cabinet and the possibility of many more Scots in any future Labour Cabinet, including a Chief Whip, is it not about time in this Parliament that we got down to the serious business of finding out how well Scotland is governed?

We will be short of time in the next week or two even to debate such important subjects. I do not know whether there is any chance that my hon. Friend might manage to weave that subject into the debate next Tuesday on environmental concerns in Scotland, but he might have a try.

In view of what happened yesterday, when several hundred carers came to lobby their Members of Parliament, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made about what use can be made of Westminster Hall?

Those people were unable to go into the Grand Committee Room, because a private Bill was being considered. They assembled in Westminster Hall, but were then told that they could not use the microphones because of reasons that the establishment had made clear on other occasions. Given that the VE day celebrations took place in Westminster Hall—in fact, it was a meeting which made use of microphone facilities and everything else—why is it that disabled people, many of them in wheelchairs, were not allowed to use microphones there to have a meeting with their Members of Parliament? Can we sort this out?

A number of my constituents were also here yesterday, so I am aware of some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I am not responsible for the arrangements in Westminster Hall, although many people sometimes think I am, but I will bring the hon. Gentleman's comments to the attention of those very elevated people who are responsible for them.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the operation of the European Standing Committees? As I understand it, it was originally intended that there should be far more of those Committees, and that far more people with specialised interests should be involved in considering the various directives that are passed by the House under delegated legislation. I served on one of those Committees for four years and I enjoyed it greatly, but the difficulty now is that those Committee sittings clash with the sittings of Select Committees and other meetings. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the way in which those Committees are arranged, or would he reconsider the way in which they are constituted and operate?

I am always willing to consider constructive suggestions, but my hon. Friend has put his finger on one of the problems: quite apart from the great demands on Members of Parliament created by those Committees, it is a fact that the more Committees one sets up, the more likely they are to clash with other Committees. It is a question of trying to find the right balance.

I should like to add my voice to the concerns expressed already by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I urge that something be done to resolve the long and continuing vexed issue of access by and the treatment of people with disabilities in this place. What happened yesterday was even worse than my hon. Friend made out, because efforts were made to send many of those people in wheelchairs to a Committee Room upstairs, access to which is virtually non-existent.

Why on earth is there unwillingness to allow meetings to be addressed in Westminster Hall, when Heads of State from all over the world have addressed both Houses in it? In fact, Parliament sat in that hall for a long time. It appears that petty tinpot bureaucracy is standing in the way, and means that, yesterday, many people went home feeling extremely disappointed at being unable to lobby their Member of Parliament whom they had come to meet. Why on earth can something not be done to ensure that in future when people with disabilities come to lobby their Members they are offered the use of Westminster Hall, microphones and other facilities to enable them to do so?

The hon. Gentleman has raised two separate points. On the main point, in support of Bolsover, if I may put it like that, I shall not attempt to add to what I said. On the earlier point, which is about facilities for disabled people in the Palace generally, the hon. Gentleman knows that a substantial programme of work is under way to bring about modifications to help solve that problem.

Is my right hon. Friend willing to arrange in the near future a debate on the middle east peace process, so that I might mention yet again in the House the plight of Ron Arad, who was captured many years ago in the Lebanon and whose family have been denied access to him or letters from him for at least eight years?

I assure my hon. Friend that we want the release of Ron Arad, and indeed all those people in that part of the world who are held outside the due process of law. We continue to mention the matter to everyone who might be able to help, whenever we have the chance to do so.

Further to the question asked by the shadow Leader of the House about the tabling of questions to the Deputy Prime Minister, will the Leader of the House investigate why a question that I tabled before the recess, which was accepted by the Table Office, was removed on Monday from the Order Paper? In my opinion, it was a legitimate question to the Deputy Prime Minister. It asked him what proposals he had to promote equal treatment for men and women. I should have thought that, as one of his responsibilities is the working of government, that is a question that he should have answered.

I will look into that, but, as it happens, I am Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Women's Issues. The question may have been transferred to me but, if so, it has not yet reached me.

Will my right hon. Friend consider an opportunity for an early debate on the assisted places scheme, so that we may explore the Government's plans to extend that scheme, and so that we may give the Opposition an opportunity to explain to my constituents—especially parents and pupils of the King's school and indeed the Queen's school, which the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) attended—why they should be denied the opportunity of an outstanding education at two outstanding schools in the city of Chester?

As we shall be treading parliamentary water for a little while, would it be possible to hold a debate on the future of the BBC world service? There is enormous support on both sides of the House for the world service yet somehow, apparently, it continues to be confronted with cuts all the time.

The BBC world television service may be one of the few national institutions that has an international reputation, but it is a belt and braces show. Surely we should give further financial support to both those services. Perhaps, if the Government listen to the overwhelming opinion of both sides of the House, they might be persuaded of the case.

We all hold the work of the BBC world service in high regard, but not even that enables me to promise an early debate.

The Leader of the House will be aware that the Scottish Grand Committee will meet in Aberdeen on Monday. Does he accept that meetings of that Committee in different parts of Scotland are little more than an expensive charade, as the Secretary of State for Scotland is not accountable to Members elected in Scotland? Does he accept that what people in Scotland require, and what they will have, is an elected parliament to control their Government within the United Kingdom?

The very fact that the Scottish Grand Committee is to meet in what I believe have been widely welcomed arrangements in Aberdeen in Scotland is a measure of the importance that we attach to those matters. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman will be there, but perhaps he can make his speech there.

I welcome what the Leader of the House said about holding an early debate on the national lottery. However, will he ensure that, by the time that the debate is held, the confusion between the Welsh Office, the Department of National Heritage and the Treasury about double funding is cleared up?

I say that in the light of the conflict between the current guidance note from the Welsh Office, which has led to the Wales tourist board withdrawing a grant already offered to the Brecon jazz festival because it has now been successful in obtaining money from the national lottery, and the answer that was given by the junior Minister at the Department of National Heritage to my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), which said:
"Applicants are required to provide an element of partnership funding which can come from a variety of sources, including public funding."—[Official Report, 27 June 1995; Vol. 262, c. 598.]
Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that, once and for all, the three Departments get their act together and do not issue totally contradictory instructions to innocent applicants for Government funding and national lottery funding?

Taking together the original points of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and those made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), I repeat my assurance that I shall bring to the attention of those participating in the debate the fact that there is confusion in the minds of Opposition Members.