Adjournment (Summer)

Part of Bank of Credit and Commerce – in the House of Commons at 8:49 pm on 22nd July 1991.

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Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Chair, Privileges Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House Lords (Privy Council Office) 8:49 pm, 22nd July 1991

One difficulty of this debate is that, in order to enable as many hon. Members as possible to speak, those who sum up give themselves a very short period in which to do so. I cannot, therefore, cover all the points, but those that I fail to cover will be passed to the appropriate Minister.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), and my hon. Friends the Members for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) asked about salmon fishing. They know that I have more than a passing interest in the subject. May I point out to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking that I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food following our previous exchange on 11 July. The Minister told me that he will be in a position to make a statement during the overspill period. One problem is that the latest figures are not available now. If, therefore, a statement were made this week, it would not include the latest figures. I hope that my right hon. Friend will feel that the fact that a statement will be made when the House returns after the summer recess is an advance.

The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) referred to publicans. The hon. Gentleman fairly said that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had set out his position in a recent letter, so I shall not waste valuable time by quoting it again. He will know, however, that my right hon. Friend said that he has already urged the brewers to keep to a minimum the number of notices to quit and to explain that the notice to quit is simply a technical step which is designed to open up negotiations on new leases, which I understand is one of the problems. The hon. Gentleman also made it clear that he is to have a meeting with the brewers, in the light of the representations made to him.

The hon. Gentleman asked for an undertaking that legislation would be introduced early in the next Session. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has made the position clear: legislation on the subject was enacted only recently. The Beer Orders have not yet been laid before Parliament. Therefore, it would be premature to expect new legislation in what I can assure hon. Members will be a busy and crowded fifth Session of Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) referred to housing associations in the north-west and the Housing Corporation's programme. That is set to rise significantly, from about £1·1 billion in 1990–91 to over £2 billion in 1993–94. My hon. Friend referred to the north-west's share. He will know that resources are now being distributed between regions on the basis of need, as measured by the housing needs indicator, not on the basis of past expenditure. That is a fairer way to distribute the increased resources.

Although the northern regions stand to gain from the Housing Corporation's expanding programme, their share of it may fall. However, the gain is the important point. This year, the north-east, north-west and Merseyside regions received allocations that enabled them to approve new schemes for rent and for sale worth £346 million. The Housing Corporation's projections show that next year that figure will rise to £502 million, and in the following year to £564 million.

My hon. Friend also asked about one part of the follow-up to the Ibbs report. There will be consultations with representatives of the staff who work here about any implications of the Ibbs reforms for staffing in general, which the House has welcomed. I do not want to refer to the specific case that my hon. Friend raised, but I shall write to him about it.

The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) asked about Yugoslavia. He knows that last week the economic summit participants supported the Community's involvement in the Yugoslav crisis. We must hope that all the parties can use the breathing space provided by the ceasefire agreement on 8 July to reduce the tension and begin talks on Yugoslavia's future. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that British representatives are included in the European Community monitoring that is taking place. I can assure him that the United Kingdom will play its full part. I am also sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that in the longer term it is for Yugoslavia to decide its own future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) asked about a number of local cases. I appreciate the issues involved in the sale of land. My hon. Friend showed that he is well informed. I noted that he has written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Local authorities have powers to dispose of land in whatever manner they wish, but where they are selling for less than the best price reasonably obtainable they will need the Secretary of State's consent under the Local Government Act 1972. That is reasonable. It is important that the best prices are obtained for land which has been acquired with public funds. Planning status is a different question, but I am sure that my hon. Friend is well equipped to follow up that point.

The hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) asked about Rover and its decision to lay off staff and go to a four-day week, which reflects its desire to reach productivity levels similar to those of the Japanese and also the great pressures in the car market worldwide. I fully share his disappointment about that, but I hope that he recognises the improvements that are taking place in the car industry. It is to the credit of our car industry that the volume of car exports is 45 per cent. up to the previous year. In particular, the hon. Gentleman will have noticed in the latest trade figures, out today, that, compared with May, car exports are up by some 22 per cent. Therefore, the car industry is doing extremely well by improving its exports.

That enables me to refer to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson). He referred to the fact that we do not concentrate enough on the good news. No Opposition Member drew attention today to the fact that the June 1991 figures show a small current account surplus and a surplus in manufactured goods. The export performance of the car industry is particularly impressive. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out today, there is every prospect, given present trends, that we shall be running a surplus in car exports by the mid-1990s, compared with a deficit of about £6 billion in 1989. Therefore, I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the performance of the car industry. Had I the time, I should have liked to say much more about it.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) again referred to the three Grenadier guardsmen. He knows that I have frequently expressed great sympathy for the three guardsmen concerned. He knows that there was a full and useful discussion of the merits of the case at the meeting on 9 July to which he referred and to which I have referred before. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Ministers are continuing to give this matter their urgent attention. A further meeting with the solicitor took place last Friday. The discussions are continuing and we must hope for a successful outcome.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West referred to use class orders, with which I recall having something to do myself. I understand that the purpose of the change is to enable businesses to respond to the changing patterns of consumer demand. As my hon. Friend requested, I shall draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister of State to his particular lack of satisfaction in this case, but I shall also draw his attention to my hon. Friend's considerable tribute to him in every other respect.

The hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) raised two points about the education reforms. I totally disagree with her views about them. I believe that the education reforms are excellent and that they will contribute greatly to the improvement of standards. They are much welcomed in many respects by the schools.

The hon. Member for Halifax mentioned local management of schools and actual salaries versus average salaries. There is no doubt that the greater freedom and responsibility that LMS gives schools is broadly welcomed. It leads to better funding decisions and to a considerable improvement in morale. Pupil-led funding is an important part of the citizens charter, because it enables parents to express their views, and schools can respond to them. Listening to the hon. Lady, one would not think that resources for education had been increased. What is important is how they are deployed by schools.

Testing and the standard assessment tasks at the age of seven are important for schools, pupils and their parents. This has been the first year of national testing. I knew when we were conducting the pilot survey of 2 per cent. of schools that we could not expect to get everything right from the outset. I share the view of many schools—I still visit many schools—that there have been some problems in managing tests in the classroom and that the work load was too heavy. This summer's tests are being evaluated extensively. We acknowledge that next year the tests must be more straightforward for teachers to administer and mark. I am sure that the principle is right.

I detected a note of desperation in the voice of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) at the thought that we might be rising very shortly and that that would enable Ministers to make much play over the summer. We shall not be on holiday for the whole period. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not wish to take a holiday, but quite a lot of hon. Members wish to go on holiday with their families. The party conferences take up much of September and October, and that must be taken into account.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West asked whether the timetable for the parliamentary year could be considered by the Procedure Select Committee. The answer is yes, the Committee can consider that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) commented on hay fever. I read in one of the Sunday newspapers that research suggests that hay fever is something to do with sexual excitement. I do not know whether that links with his earlier comments or whether there is any validity in the argument, but I could not resist saying it.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) made much of the citizens charter. He ignored the tremendous strides that have been made in the past 12 years by contracting out and privatisation in increasing choice and in lowering costs and prices to consumers. Many other initiatives have been taken in the past 12 years. The 70 measures in the citizens charter, which the hon. Gentleman ignored, are building on that record. We shall develop that firmly over the summer.

In this Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has firmly established himself on the national and international stage. His leadership during the Gulf war—