§ 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 to be taken tomorrow.
The business will be as follows:
WEDNESDAY 19 MARCH—Until 2 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Remaining stages of the Police Bill [Lords].
Committee and remaining stages of the Police and Firemen's Pensions Bill.
Consideration of Lords amendments to the Protection from Harassment Bill.
Motion relating to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee.
Motion on the Northern Ireland (Entry to Negotiations etc) Act 1996 (Cessation of Section 3) Order.
Motion on the Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order.
Motion on the Public Order (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order.
Motion on ministerial accountability.
At 10 pm, the question will be put on all outstanding estimates.
Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.
Remaining stages of the Police (Insurance of Voluntary Assistants) Bill [Lords].
Remaining stages of the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill [Lords].
The House may also be asked to consider any Lords amendments which may be received.
As all hon. Members can attend, I should remind them that on Wednesday 19 March, there will be a debate on structural funds and cohesion policy in European Standing Committee B. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.
I expect to make a further statement tomorrow about business on Thursday.
The House will also wish to know that Prorogation is intended to be at 11 am on Friday 21 March.
§ [Wednesday 19 March 1997: European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community Documents: 11382/96, Structural Funds; 12614/96, Cohesion Policy. Relevant European Legislation Committee Report HC 36-xi (1996–97).]
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
I thank the Leader of the House, but I believe that there will be some disappointment that he has made such a limited statement, and that we do not yet have the business for Thursday.
On a minor point, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the private Members' Bills to which he has referred will be taken in the normal way at this stage and that what is being proposed is not that Government time be given for such Bills, but that the House simply be given an opportunity to accept or reject Bills that have reached the appropriate stage?
766 Many hon. Members will feel that the programme over the next two days is not very balanced, because so much business is to be completed tomorrow. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the only three items outstanding from those that he has announced today are the Crime (Sentences) Bill, which is in another place today, the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill and the Education Bill, all of which may be subject to Lords amendments?
If there is no further clarity today on those issues, hon. Members will be placed in a difficult position. Some may wish to participate in debates on those issues, and there may be votes. It will be difficult for Members to plan and to ensure that they are present in the House if they do not get the longest possible notice. We all accept that this is a difficult situation, but I believe that hon. Members have the right to as much warning as possible. I hope that the Leader of the House will accept that we have been co-operative, but that there may have to be votes on some items of outstanding business.
On a different note, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) is particularly pleased that co-operation has extended to the Government dropping clauses 1 to 19 of the Education Bill. That will allow us to make progress.
§ Mr. Newton
First, I say straightforwardly that I share the hon. Lady's disappointment at the fact that I have not been able to make a statement covering Thursday as well. In a way, that point links with what she said about the Crime (Sentences) Bill and the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill, and perhaps to a slightly lesser extent with what she said about the Education Bill, and the difficulties of planning. She will know that proceedings are proceeding in another place at this very moment on the Crime (Sentences) Bill. Inescapably, there are a number of uncertainties which put me in the position of not being as clear-cut with the House as I would otherwise wish to be. I take note of the hon. Lady's point, however, about the desirability of gaining certainty as soon as possible. I will do anything I can to achieve that.
I can confirm what the hon. Lady said about the private Members' Bills. We think that it is right to give the House a chance to express its opinion on the two Bills that have completed all stages in the Lords and are awaiting final stages in the Commons.
I agree that the Opposition have been co-operative in facilitating the passage of business in this unusual period. I note the hon. Lady's point about votes, and I also note her rather more political point about the Education Bill. I can say only that the Government are pleased that we have agreement to proceed with all the measures on discipline and standards, which account for three quarters of the Bill. We shall come back to the selection and grant-maintained deregulation measures at the earliest possible opportunity.
§ Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)
There were some rumours earlier today about the Adjournment slot tomorrow morning. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the debate will proceed on the basis of titled debates rather than involving a generality of subjects as it used to do when we had the debate on the Easter Adjournment and the rest? It would be for the convenience of the House if the right hon. Gentleman could clear up that matter.
767 I was pleased to be able to contribute to the agreement on the Education Bill; that is substantial progress. However, I must contrast that with the lack of the Official Opposition's continued opposition to the crime Bills. May I say in no uncertain terms so that there is no doubt that my right hon. and hon. Friends will resolutely use every opportunity that the dying hours of this Parliament afford us to oppose both the crime Bills and the Police Bill? Can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that amendments to the two crime Bills will not be tagged on to the Lords amendments at the end of Wednesday's business to which he referred in his business statement, and that they will be dealt with in a proper, substantial debate on Thursday?
§ Mr. Newton
If I may take those points in reverse order, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the clear-cut undertaking that he asked for at the end of his remarks. The matter must inescapably be considered in the light of progress in another place. Apart from that, I note what he said on those matters. I am rather less able to confirm the co-operation of the Liberal Democrat party in these unusual days, as I have called them, because it is being totally unco-operative on Bills to which many people outside as well as inside the House attach very considerable importance in maintaining the fight against crime. I can confirm his understanding that the debates tomorrow will be of the kind that he indicated.
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
Will my right hon. Friend give some assurance that, if not tomorrow at least on Friday, the recommendations dealing with tax simplification and the revision of Standing Orders will be put to a vote in the House so that they can be dealt with before Parliament is prorogued?
§ Mr. Newton
The basic answer to that question is yes. I hope that there will not be a vote, because the basis on which I am putting forward my right hon. Friend's Committee's proposals is that there is general agreement on them.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Will the Leader of the House explain why the Government in their last few days are subject to all this dither? This is the third business statement in two days in the last few days of this Parliament. Is it any wonder that "The Soaraway Sun" has deserted the tired, old Tories, who cannot even manage the last few days of this Parliament? It has obviously reckoned that it is time that they were gone. Get on with it, and let us get this other lot in.
§ Mr. Newton
All that I can say is that, on this occasion, if those on the Liberal Bench behind the hon. Gentleman were as co-operative as he is, we would not be having all these difficulties.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Albeit that it was drowned in ribaldry, during Prime Minister's Question Time the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) asked a perfectly legitimate question on cash for questions. Having now looked at—I will not say that I have read the entire thing—the complaint against the Home Secretary to which the Leader of the House referred me yesterday, may I say that some of us think that Mr. Mohammed Al-Fayed is something of a fantasist? If that is true, may we have an interim report for the 768 protection of the good name of the House from what I gather is an absolutely massive amount of evidence in front of Sir Gordon Downey? Will the Government at least make an interim statement especially in relation to Mr. Mohammed Al-Fayed's claims, which were seen by so many people?
§ Mr. Newton
For reasons that I have rehearsed on a number of occasions in responding to the hon. Gentleman, I am not in a position to speak on behalf of the Government, as distinct from the Committee on Standards and Privileges, concerning the matter. Equally, were I to respond in quite the way that he has suggested, I would, in effect, be going beyond my powers as Chairman of a Committee whose reports have been the reports of a Committee and not produced at my dictation. I shall, however, certainly bring his remarks to the attention of the Committee. Indeed, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who is a distinguished fellow member of it, has heard them.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
Can the electoral registration figures for England and Wales be published in the Library tomorrow? I understand that they are to be made available on Thursday. Whether any hon. Member may approach Madam Speaker about trying to use a procedural device in order to debate the figures depends on the time at which they are made available.
§ Mr. Newton
This is a little uncharitable of the hon. Gentleman in view of the efforts that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, the Director of the Office for National Statistics and I have made to meet his concerns. After what has been said on a number of occasions about the expectation that the statistics would be made available on 26 March, they will in fact be made available in the Library on Thursday 20 March in a pre publication version entirely to respond to his pressure. What is more, the Office of National Statistics wrote to him very courteously and told him so.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North):
Is the Leader of the House aware that these daily piecemeal statements are totally unsatisfactory? The responsibility undoubtedly lies with the prime Minister, who refused to disclose the date of the election, despite the fact that everybody knew that it would be 1 May. The Government are clearly ending in the same shambles in which they have been for past five years-although I do not put any blame on the Leader of the House. If this is to be my last business question of this parliament, may I thank him for the courteous manner in which he has dealt with business?
§ MR. Newton
Those last remarks have completely blocked the answer that I was about to give the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)
I reminded the Leader of the House in last week's business question of the statement by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that efforts were being made to table an all-party view of ministerial accountability in the form of a resolution. Has there been progress on that matter? Will there be such a resolution?
§ Mr. Newton
I realize that I announced so much that, as it were, hon. Members' eyes and minds may have 769 glazed over during it. I said that there will be a motion on ministerial accountability tomorrow, but I cannot say that it will necessarily be on an all-party basis because I understand that, as on a number of other issues, the Liberal Democrats have taken an idiosyncratic view.
§ Mrs. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The Leader of the House has responded to me on more than one occasion, the most recent occasion being Thursday, about the House debating the best option for dealing with the grotesque stockpile of the remains of more than 1 million cattle. Half an hour ago, I received a written answer that said the remains were beingincinerated or stored safely pending destruction by the best practicable environmental option".We have still not had the opportunity to debate or hear a ministerial statement on the best practicable environmental option for such destruction and what that might mean for future generations, who may be put at risk by the horrible stockpile that is building up all over the country.
§ Mr. Newton
I am not in a position to promise a debate tomorrow—unless you, Madam Speaker, indicate something about the debates you have chosen or the changing of them on the motion for the Adjournment. Once again, I undertake to draw the hon. Lady's concerns to the attention of my ministerial colleagues, although the answer that she was given seems reasonably clear.
§ Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South-West)
Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary to make a short statement tomorrow on the chaotic evacuation of over 65 British citizens—including a constituent of mine—from Albania on Wednesday? They were kept on the quayside in Durres for 14 hours without food and water and under constant threat of being killed by gunfire. I understand that HMS Birmingham, which was supposed to be there at the time, did not arrive until two days later.
§ Mr. Newton
I shall bring that request to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, 770 although I cannot undertake to see that a statement is made. Without revealing any state secrets, I can confirm that I have read the telegrams from our people in Albania. It is clear that they have made every effort, in a difficult situation, to assist British citizens to the best of their ability.
§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
Will the Leader of the House comment on the complaint by Lord Justice Ackner earlier this afternoon in another place? He complained about the way in which the Government are bouncing through some of the criminal justice legislation without due consideration by either House. He called the Government's actions unconstitutional. While I recognise the need for collaboration by both sides of the House to get business through, we have a massive backlog of legislation because the Leader of the House has not properly programmed Parliament's time. Too much is going through in too short a time, without due debate. That is unfair and unconstitutional, and makes a mockery of the work of Parliament which is supposed to debate legislation and vote after due consideration.
§ Mr. Newton
In view of the attitude that the hon. Gentleman's colleagues on the Front Bench have taken to the legislation, his remarks might be directed to them, not to me. Beyond that, I have enough difficulty commenting on what is said in this Chamber, without committing the offence of commenting on what is said in another place.
§ Sir Michael Grylls (North-West Surrey)
Will my right hon. Friend find time tomorrow to debate the excellent state of the British economy? I am sure that everybody in the House, and people outside, would like a debate so that they can understand the great strength of the British economy and how it is the best in Europe.