§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)
With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.
MONDAY 29 MARcH—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Bill.
Motion to approve the White Paper entitled "Prospects for Coal: Conclusions of the Government's Coal Review".
TUESDAY 30 MARcx—European Communities (Amendment) Bill: Progress in Committee—19th day.
WEDNESDAY 31 MARCH—Until seven o'clock, motions on the Legal Aid Regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report.
Motion to take note of EC document No. 4608/93 relating to the common agricultural policy.
THURSDAY 1 APRIL—Motion for the Easter Adjournment, followed by debates on the Adjournment.
FRIDAY 2 APRIL—Debates on the Adjournment.
The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet on Wednesday 31 March at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows:
Documant No. 4439/93 relating to guaranteed prices for cane sugar.
Document No. 9910/92 on co-operation with developing countries over demography and family planning. [Wednesday 31 March:
Legal Aid Regulations
- 1. Civil Legal Aid (Financial Conditions and Contributions) (Scotland) Regulations 1993.
- 2. Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1993.
- 3. Advice and Assistance (Scotland) (Prospective Cost) Amendment Regulations 1993.
- 4. Advice and Assistance (Assistance by Way of Representation) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1993.
- 5. Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 Amendment Regulations 1993.
- 6. The Civil Legal Aid (General) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 (S.I. 565)
- 7. Civil Legal Aid (Assessment of Resources) (Amendment) Regulations 1993. (S.I. 788)
- 8. Legal Aid in Criminal and Care Proceedings (General) (Amendment) Regulations 1993. (S.I. 789)
- 9. Legal Advice and Assistance (Amendment) Regulations 1993. (S.I. 790).]
§ Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)
Does the Leader of the House recall that the Opposition have repeatedly asked for a statement on the coal industry, which the House has been promised from the early part of this year? We consider that it is an outrage that the statement should be left so late that the House has only between now and Monday to consider the White Paper and the options that the Government have put before the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that amendments to the Government's motion must be tabled tomorrow to be in order? When do the Government expect to have the motion ready so that we can scrutinise and amend it?
1270 As it is inevitable that there will be less than 24 hours for hon. Members to consider what amendments they may wish to table, may I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, with all the force at my command, that it is the duty of the Leader of the House and his colleagues to table a business motion—which it is only within their power to table—to allow Madam Speaker to consider selecting more than one amendment for debate and Division? That is the only way that we can be certain that hon. Members will have the chance, in the brief period open to them, to draft their amendments and to acquaint themselves with the range of options that might be considered by the House. As the President of the Board of Trade made such a feature of his approval of the Select Committee's report, I am sure that the Lord President will find it easy to accept such a request as, in effect, this is the only way in which we can be sure of a Division on that report.
Secondly, in view of what has been said in the House about stock-taking on the developments in Scotland—the way in which Scottish business will in future be handled—I ask the right hon. Gentleman to find Government time for a debate in which we can follow up the statement and consider its implications.
Will the Leader of the House give serious consideration to early-day motion 1596?
[That this House notes that the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs has not met since 26th July 1978; finds it inconsistent that there is a forum for English regions within the European Community but not one within Parliament; and calls upon the Lord President of the Council to refer appropriate matters to the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs, as provided by S.O. No. 100.]
It draws attention to the potential existence of a Committee of the English regions. There is considerable support from the Opposition side—and I suspect from the Government side—for the reinstatement of the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs, which has not sat since 1978. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that.
Will the Leader of the House tell us when it is likely that we will have another Opposition day, and when he will be in a position to tell us the business of the House for the week after the Easter recess?
§ Mr. Newton
Taking first the right hon. Lady's remarks about the coal statement and intended debate, I hope that she will acknowledge that the statement on which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has just completed answering questions reflected a huge amount of work in a very complex area, and it understandably took more time than I suspect even he would have wished. The work needed to be done thoroughly, and it was right that he should make a statement in the House before the Easter recess. If that has meant a little less time than the right hon. Lady would have liked between the White Paper and the debate—I am sure that the House would have wished to have had that debate before the recess—I think that that is preferable to not being able to proceed before the Easter recess. We are now proposing, in the light of today's statement, to have the debate on Monday.
I hope that the motion will be tabled tonight in order to ease the problem to which the right hon. Lady referred. I will undertake to reflect on the other points she made, but that is very much without commitment and there will be discussions through the usual channels.
As to the Select Committee report, it is clear that the interrelationship between my right hon. Friend the 1271 President of the Board of Trade's statement, the White Paper and the Select Committee report, and what my right hon. Friend said about it—subject to your judgment, Madam Speaker, at the time—means that reference to the content of the Select Committee's report would be bound to be in order in the course of the debate.
As to the right hon. Lady's request about Supply days and Scottish stock-taking, it is manifest that I cannot undertake to find time for either before Easter, but I will consider what possibilities there may be afterwards, particularly in respect of her understandable request for some Supply day time.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I ask my right hon. Friend, for the second time, to find time next week to debate early-day motion 1222, which has been signed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
[That this House deplores the growing number of vicious and mutilating attacks upon horses; notes the appalling suffering this causes to the dumb animals in question; and calls upon all who have a responsibility for or care about the welfare of horses and other animals to spare no effort to stamp out this sick and evil practice forthwith.]
Attacks on horses are increasing and are now happening from Yorkshire to Land's End. Horses are being killed, maimed, and brutally assaulted, including an attack yesterday on a racehorse that had its tongue cut out. These attacks are causing much concern all over the country and great distress to animal lovers and others.
§ Mr. Newton
Again, I am conscious of the persistent and proper interest that my hon. Friend has taken in the matter. I noticed another report of an horrific incident in the newspaper either this morning or yesterday—after last night, I am having a little difficulty in distinguishing between the two. I note my hon. Friend's request, but I cannot add to what I said in response to him last week.
§ Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)
When can we expect an announcement about assisted area status? It is particularly important for the people of Rochdale who already have assisted area status, the loss of which would make it difficult to attract new businesses. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on that subject next week as a matter of urgency?
§ Mr. Newton
Again, that is a subject about which I have been asked several times in recent weeks when I have referred to the review to which the hon. Lady herself referred. Clearly, the Government are in no way anxious to delay the outcome on those important matters, but they, too, demand careful consideration. I regret that at present I cannot give the hon. Lady a clear indication about timing, let alone about the timing of a debate.
§ Sir Roger Moate (Faversham)
Will my right hon. Friend find some way whereby the House can consider early-day motion 1489, on worldwide unitary taxation?
[That this House deeply regrets the continuing delay in resolving the use, by the State of California, of worldwide unitary tax; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to implement the retaliatory provisions in section 812 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988, if the issue has not been satisfactorily resolved by 31st December 1993.] The matter is of such importance that it was initialed by leading Members of most parties in the House and has been signed by no fewer than 210 Members from all parts of the House. There is a general understanding that, if 1272 anything goes wrong, there could be grave consequences for British companies in the United States, for American corporations trading in the United Kingdom and for international tax treaties. Can we get the message through to the United States Administration that we must have President Clinton's support if things go seriously wrong in this important respect?
§ Mr. Newton
I am aware of the importance of the matter and my hon. Friend is right to say that the continued imposition of worldwide unitary taxation on United Kingdom-owned companies in California has been of great concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House for many years. My hon. Friend will well know that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary have all, within the recent past, impressed on their opposite numbers and others in the United States Administration the importance of an early solution to the problem.
I cannot at this moment promise a specific debate, but it occurs to me that the House is likely to spend some time in the not too distant future discussing the Finance Bill, and my hon. Friend's ingenuity will probably permit him to work out a way of raising the matter in the course of those proceedings.
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)
Will the Leader of the House answer the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) about early-day motion 1596 on the Standing Committee for the Regions?
§ Mr. Newton
I was conscious, even as I sat down, that there was something that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) had said of which I had failed to make a note and had therefore missed in responding to her. I promise the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Lady that that was not a deliberate attempt at evasion. However, I am afraid that they may find rather less than satisfactory my reply, which is that I am not persuaded at the moment that there is a sufficiently strong case for bringing back into use this procedure which, as the right hon. Lady said, it has not been found necessary to use since 1978. I do not rule it out, but at the moment I am not persuaded.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
Bearing in mind that it is just over a year since the report of the Select Committee on Sittings of the House was ordered to be printed, and that that Committee, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), made excellent suggestions on the timetabling of Government legislation and other matters, some of us are disappointed that we cannot make progress or have a debate on the matter. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that we will be able to make some progress at the earliest possible time?
§ Mr. Newton
I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that I have in no way forgotten or ceased to be concerned to make progress in the direction suggested by the report. He will know also that there is, as I have said several times in recent weeks, continuing interchange in the usual channels on the matter, but it has not yet been possible to make as much progress as I would like. In case it is the most recent events of parliamentary proceedings that are in my hon. 1273 Friend's mind, I remind him that the proposals in the report did not relate to proceedings on Bills that are taken in Committee of the whole House.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
The Leader of the House and your good self, Madam Speaker, know that early this morning five of my constituents perished in a house fire in Auchendarroch street in Greenock. Four of those who died were brothers aged four, three and one, and their infant sister aged four months. I am sure that the House will extend its deep sympathy to the family, my constituents. The Strathclyde firemaster, Mr. John Jamieson, said that it was a tragedy and that they had all died for the sake of £5—the cost of a smoke detector.
The Secretary of State for Scotland has plans to lay regulations before the House concerning the installation of mains-operated smoke detectors in new houses. In the immediate aftermath of that terrible tragedy, may I ask the Leader of the House to impress upon his right hon. Friend the need to lay those regulations next week and to extend them, if he can, to existing houses in the public sector where most of these terrible tragedies take place?
§ Mr. Newton
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for courteously giving me notice that he wished to raise that matter if he had an opportunity to do so. I share entirely his sadness at this morning's tragic incident in Greenock when four young children and one adult died in a house fire, particularly as it comes so soon after a number of other fire fatalities in Fife in recent weeks. The Strathclyde fire brigade is investigating the full circumstances of the incident. In the meantime, I, on behalf of the Government, and I am sure on behalf of everyone in the House, endorse the expression of sympathy that the hon. Gentleman included in his remarks.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has the issue under consideration and will bring forward regulations as soon as possible to make the fitting of wired-in smoke detectors compulsory in all new dwellings, but I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an immediate promise that that will happen next week.
§ Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the excellent progress that we are now making on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill? What comfort can he give me about the prospect of time for debates on a wide range of other equally important issues which have been squeezed out by the disturbing delaying tactics used, I regret to say, by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am thinking in particular of an early debate on law and order and a review of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, the shortcomings of which are becoming daily more apparent.
§ Mr. Newton
I share my hon. Friend's satisfaction at the further progress that we have been able to make in recent hours, or recent days, however one wishes to describe it, on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. I would wish to have a little more evidence of continued progress before responding as openly as my hon. Friend would like, but I shall bear his request in mind. However, despite the pressures to which he has 1274 referred, I have found time—I accept that it was on a Friday—within the recent past for a full day's debate, effectively, on law and order matters.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
I remind the Leader of the House of a request for an early debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and myself on the recent television revelations about the origins of the Provisional IRA, which confirm the widespread belief that successive Irish Governments assisted in the creation and support of that organisation and that successive British Governments knew about that and did not make an adequate response. Does the Leader of the House realise that his actions in building a wall of silence round this by refusing a debate and by blocking questions, confirmed by a letter that I received today, will only lead to the conclusion that the Government still have something to hide?
§ Mr. Newton
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I do not for a moment accept the implications that he chooses to read into what I have said on one or two occasions in recent weeks, what I think some of my right hon. Friends have said and what I have just written to him. I certainly shall not seek to add to that this afternoon.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
May we have a debate next week, before the Easter recess, on the rates of council tax set by individual local authorities for next year? During that debate we could highlight the fact that the average council tax set by Labour-controlled authorities is £100 higher than the rate set by Conservative-controlled authorities.
§ Mr. Newton
I need hardly say that nothing would please me more than to be able to respond to my hon. Friend's request, but I am afraid that I literally cannot find time for that specific debate. However, he is not doing badly himself in drawing attention to that important fact.
§ Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)
Is the Leader of the House aware that there are groups of dreadful people who spend much of their time looking at and exchanging photographs of naked children in obscene poses? To get even more compromising poses, some sick people, who should be banned and locked up for ever, are using digital imaging techniques to create ever more terrible, obscene pictures. Will the Leader of the House co-operate with the Metropolitan police and with other police forces to get this practice stamped out and, more importantly, to get the perpetrators caught so that they can be locked up for life?
§ Madam Speaker
Order. That is barely a business question. The hon. Gentleman should be asking the Lord President whether there will be a debate on the matter.
§ Mr. Newton
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that I have known him a long time. I not only bear him no ill will, but understand the spirit in which he has asked his question. He will understand that the proper response is for me to undertake to draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, which I shall do.
§ Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)
The duty of the Leader of the House is to uphold the rights and privileges of the House. Does he think that he has carried out that duty with regard to the White Paper, "The Prospects for Coal: Conclusions of the Government's Coal Review"? Does he have any plan to improve the House's powers of scrutiny? If he has, will he make a statement?
§ Mr. Newton
The hon. Gentleman makes his own point in his own way. I think that I have demonstrated in recent weeks a number of ways, some of which are better known in the usual channels than more openly, in which I have considered the interests of the House as a whole and of the Opposition parties in particular. I do not apologise for having contributed to the statement having been made before Easter and for having provided an early opportunity, on Monday next week, to debate it. I do not regard that as a failure of my responsibilities to the House; I regard it as the fulfilment of those reponsibilities.
§ Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)
Will the Leader of the House consider providing an opportunity as early as possible, preferably next week, for the House to discuss the role of receivers and liquidators in cases in which factories have closed and an alternative bid has been made? That would give me an opportunity to discuss the case of Pendleton's Ice Cream in my constituency. Following the closure of Clarke Foods, a viable business plan was put together by myself and others. The plan has been financed, and it has been supported by the Department of Trade and Industry and by the local authority, yet the receiver Robson Rhodes, headed by Mr. Ipe Jacob, has refused to reach a deal over a licence on the lease for the site. At this very moment, Nestlé is ripping out the machinery, plant and equipment, although there could have been a viable business on the site.
§ Mr. Newton
I cannot promise a debate on that matter next week. There are substantial opportunities for a wide range of matters to be raised within the business announced because we are due to have a number of Adjournment debates towards the end of the week. The hon. Gentleman may prefer not to or may be unable to raise the matter in that way. As he acknowledged by the direction of his gaze at one stage, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs has heard his remarks and will no doubt reflect on them.
Mr. Brian Donohue (Cunninghame, South)
Will the Leader of the House make time next week for a debate on early-day motion 1669?
[That this House condemns the decision of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary in intervening in the long standing successful pay formula adopted by the Fire Fighters National Organisation which has meant many years of trouble free operation; and calls on the Government to support its continuation as failure to follow this advice may lead to a damaging unnecessary dispute.]
The motion has been signed by more than 170 Opposition Members. Given the long-term industrial peace among the fire brigades, does the Leader of the House agree that it is important that, at the very least, a statement on that important subject should be made by the Home Secretary?
§ Mr. Newton
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, as I recall because the subject was raised 1276 at business questions last week, made a number of points in the wake of his meeting with a number of members of the firemen's union in the middle of last week. He made it clear then, and I make it clear now, that my right hon. Friends have made no decision to do away with the fire service pay formula, to which the Government are not a party. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the Government's policy is that, in the current pay round, the pay rises of all public sector workers should not exceed 1.5 per cent. The Government do not consider that fire fighters should be an exception to that policy.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
In contemplating future business of the House, will the Leader of the House have regard to the fact that this week alone the Government have made two major announcements which affect millions of people in south-east England—the statement in the House on the channel tunnel rail route, and yesterday, without coming to the House, the announcement of the east Thames corridor proposal? Does he agree that both those announcements justify a separate debate in Government time? If he feels unable to agree to that, will he contemplate a debate in Government time on south-east England, which was the battleground at the 1992 general election and will be at the next? A debate would give hon. Members on both sides of the House an opportunity to refer to the high levels of unemployment and of business failure in south-east England, and to discuss the proposals, parts of which are quite absurd and not in the best interests of the 10.5 million people living in south-east England outside Greater London.
§ Mr. Newton
I do not accept, despite the county we have in common, the thrust of the last part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. The major infrastructure improvements about which we are talking are an advantage to many parts of south-east England and not simply to Essex and to Kent, although they happen to pass through those two counties and through parts of London. Leaving aside whether or not I agree with the hon. Gentleman, I cannot undertake to find time as he requested, but I shall bear his request in mind. I suspect that his request may interrelate with some of the suggestions made earlier about the Standing Order concerning a regional committee, or whatever one wants to call it.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
When will the Leader of the House be able to implement the recommendation of the Procedure Committee that we should have two weeks' business in one announcement? That would bring a little less chaos into our lives. Next Tuesday we are to have what is described as progress on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill—the 19th day. Last night, I saw Ministers with folding beds in their rooms in the House. Who pays for those beds? Are they available to Opposition Members? We may need them in future.
§ Mr. Newton
I regard it as progress, whether the hon. Gentleman does or not. I managed to snatch an hour or two's sleep in a chair and not on a bed, folding or otherwise. I slightly envy those to whom he refers.
§ Mr. Newton
It is probably the relatively modest amount of sleep I had in a chair that is leading me to miss some of the questions. I do not seek to evade the hon. 1277 Gentleman. I made some comment on that matter when we debated the Jopling report last July. It was not a report by the Procedure Committee in the technical sense. There are real difficulties about going as far as the Committee suggested in terms of the way in which we deal with Government business and the planning of the House's programme. I hope that it has been clear in the period since July, although I accept that this may be masked a bit at the moment by the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, that I have been making every endeavour to move in the direction that the Jopling report recommended in a number of matters, including having announced the Easter recess so far in advance that some people did not realise that I had announced it.