The business for next week will be as follows:
MONDAY I0 FEBRUARY—Until about seven o'clock Second Reading of the Offshore Safety Bill [Lords].
Motion on the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order.
Consideration of timetable motion on the Further and Higher Education Bill [Lords].
WEDNESDAY 12 FEBRUARY—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.
Consideration of Lords amendments to the Severn Bridges Bill.
Second Reading of the Museums and Galleries Bill.
Proceedings on the Social Security Consolidation Bills. Details will be given in the Official Report.
Motions on Welsh revenue support grant reports. Details will be given in the Official Report.
THURSDAY 13 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Army Bill.
FRIDAY 14 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.
MONDAY 17 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Transport and Works Bill.
The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee A will meet on Wednesday 12 February, at 10.30 am, to consider European Community document No. 4496/91 relating to allocation of slots at Community airports.
[Wednesday 12 February—Social Security Consolidation Bills.
Has the Leader of the House seen the sad and apparently serious announcement about errors in the treatment of many patients at the North Staffordshire royal infirmary? Can we be assured that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is inquiring into the matter? When the Secretary of State has had an opportunity to do so, may we have early next week a statement in the House about what is to be done in the interests of reassuring people, if that is possible, and of ensuring that the errors are not repeated?
Why are the Government railroading another Education Bill through the House with a guillotine? Why has the Secretary of State for Education and Science got into such a terrible mess with his legislation? Should we not have proper and adequate opportunities here to consider in detail the Further and Higher Education Bill. especially as it proposes to give draconian powers to the Secretary of State? Is this not further evidence of the Government's hidden timetable for a general election on 9 April? Why do not the Government come clean and announce that date, so that we can all co-operate in clearing up the dregs of the Government's business and get on with the election?
Can we have a statement next week about house repossessions and the Government's scheme that was supposed to help mortgage payers in difficulty? Why is it that so far only one building society has set up any scheme at all to help people in difficulties? Why did the Prime Minister claim in his interview on "Desert Island Discs" that the Government had solved the problem when that is manifestly not the case and when people involved in housing and building societies are still forecasting—sadly—that about 80,000 repossessions will take place this year? Should we not have another statement on the Government's scheme, which apparently has yet to get off the ground?
On the first point, I shall discuss the North Staffordshire royal infirmary with my right hon. Friend.
I shall make one or two points in relation to the Further and Higher Education Bill. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have a very heavy programme for this Session. Indeed, I have just announced four Second Readings for next week, including two new Bills, which I believe will be welcomed. I am hoping to fit in another Bill which has not yet been published but which I know is much demanded by all hon. Members. Therefore, I have to pay close regard to that and to trying to ensure that we manage the legislative timetable as best we possibly can.
On the Further and Higher Education Bill, there is much demand from universities, polytechnics, further education colleges and sixth form colleges to get on with it as quickly as possible so that any risk of a damaging effect on morale caused by delays and uncertainties can be avoided. That is what we are doing.
The hon. Gentleman referred to draconian powers in the Bill. He will know that the issue was much discussed in another place and that amendments have been made as a result. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall have proper, adequate opportunities—as we did with the Local Government Finance Bill—to discuss all the issues that arose in another place, including the one that the hon. Gentleman raised, as he will realise when he sees the timetable that I propose to introduce next week.
I think that the hon. Gentleman and I agreed—although perhaps not every hon. Member agrees with us—in the Select Committee on the Sittings of the House chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and welcomed the idea of timetables for Bills. The way in which we do it can be discussed, and no doubt we shall discuss it next Tuesday, but I think that he and I are agreed on the principle. We can discuss the details in a full debate next week, but the principle has been widely accepted and has worked well in the case of the Local Government Finance Bill.
On house repossessions, the hon. Gentleman will know that one part of the package to deal with house possessions included the Bill which the House passed last night, so we have been getting on with exactly that package. He will know that one building society has already reached an agreement. A considerable number of them are already taking a different view of repossessions, and I am sure that others will follow that lead.
Order. The House knows that we are also to have an important statement on security in Northern Ireland. I shall allow business questions to continue until 4.5 pm, but I ask hon. Members to concentrate on the business for next week and not to seek to make purely electioneering points.
With regard to next Tuesday's guillotine motion—the weekly guillotine motion—will my right hon. Friend please ensure that the timetable is drawn up so as to allow plenty of time to discuss vocational adult education? Those sections of the Bill are causing concern in Leicestershire.
I am, of course, aware of my hon. Friend's concern, as he has expressed it before in debates to which I have responded. I shall endeavour to ensure that the timetable is drawn up so as to allow all parts of the Bill to be discussed. I shall bear my hon. Friend's point in mind.
The Leader of the House will note a motion on today's Order Paper in the name of his right hon. Friend the Treasurer to Her Majesty's Household to convene a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh to debate the Scottish Constitutional Convention. As many of his right hon. and hon. Friends often remind us, such questions are matters with implications for the whole of the United Kingdom. Therefore, if deliberations on the Bill to be introduced tomorrow by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell)—the Home Rule (Scotland) Bill—are not completed, will the Leader of the House ensure that time will be made available to debate it next week?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance of any extra time next week for Bills promoted by any of his hon. Friends.
I ask my right hon. Friend to consider early-day motion 285.
[That this House views with alarm the hardship faced by thousands of pub licensees and the damage being done to theinterests of consumers and to the industry as a whole; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to review the 1989 Beer Orders as a matter of the utmost urgency.]
The early-day motion is signed by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) and myself, among others, and has the support of 226 hon. Members from all parties. It reflects the anxieties of thousands of publicans throughout the land who are worried about the possible loss of their livelihood through the implementation of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report on beer, and the manner in which the regulations are being introduced.
Will my right hon. Friend please understand the urgency of the matter, which is causing great concern? Will he arrange for a debate on the subject, or a statement—or, if he cannot do either of those things, will he discuss with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry the urgent need for a review of the Bill?
My hon. Friend will have seen from the announcement that I have just made that next week will be very busy, so I cannot promise any time for a debate. However, I can assure him that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government are aware of the anxiety of licensees, and have met the major brewers to urge them to show understanding of licensees' difficulties. As my hon. Friend will know, the brewers have taken a number of steps in response—most notably by offering independent arbitration. My right hon. and hon. Friends are continuing to monitor developments closely.
Is the Leader of the House aware that his answer on the north Staffordshire hospitals was far too leisurely? He merely said that he would discuss the matter with the Minister. It has been reported that nearly a thousand cancer patients have been wrongly treated for nine years. This could well be a matter of life and death. We want a statement today. The right hon. Gentleman should go and find the Minister now, and bring him to the Dispatch Box to tell us why people have been treated in that way. Will he please act at once?
I am afraid that I do not know the details of the issue, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I shall raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State straight away.
I was surprised to hear my right hon. Friend say that he hoped to get the Further and Higher Education Bill through so rapidly on Tuesday, and also discuss a timetable motion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Milton (Mr. Latham) has said, there are loads of objections to the Bill. It is all very well to say that the other place has considered the Bill, but their Lordships were not aware of the many hundreds of representations that have been made in the east midlands and other parts of the country. Those representations can be dealt with, and matters put right, only in Committee stage, with a proper and fruitful debate. I hope that my right hon. Friend does not expect some of us to support a timetable motion in this case.
I assure my hon. Friend that I am aware of the issue that he has raised. He too has raised the subject of adult education on the Floor of the House. However, I did not suggest that the Bill would be dealt with next week any faster than is normal. We shall devote the whole day to Second Reading, when it will be possible to raise such matters, exactly as we do with any other Bill. Second Reading will not be accelerated. Then we shall have a timetable motion, and my hon. Friend will be able to see—I hope that he will agree—that we are giving adequate consideration to the Committee stage. The Bill will then come back to the House in the normal way for further consideration.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week in response to what has been said by the chairman of the British yarn show, which opened in Leicester yesterday? That gentleman, who is also the chairman of Benson Turner in my constituency, said that the Government were indifferent towards dumping and illegal subsidies by other countries, and that the Department of Trade and Industry seemed completely indifferent to the representations rapidly made by the trade associations. He said that, if an improved attitude was not forthcoming, there would not be a spinning industry left to be dealt with by the Department of Trade and Industry. May we have an urgent statement to clarify the position, which has been criticised clearly and strongly by an important member of the industry?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should have a debate on the health service next week? Has he noted the contribution that might be made by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who has promised a leak a week? Does my right hon. Friend think that the hon. Gentleman already has leaked information, or are we in the business of hiring a theft a week?
I do not want to comment on the second part of the question unless other hon. Members raise it with me, in which case I should be happy to do so. I should be delighted to arrange further opportunities for debates on the health service as soon as we can find the time in which to do so. It is noticeable that the Labour party is reduced to using leaked management reports to denigrate NHS hospitals and to put entirely the wrong gloss on them, and to denigrate the people working in those hospitals for the sake of cheap publicity. We should be happy to refute all those cases.
Will the Leader of the House arrange next week for a debate on the continuing problems facing the fishing industry? Would it be possible for us not only to discuss the 135-day tie-up and its implications, but, following the meeting between the Prime Minister and President Yeltsin, to consider especially the potential market in central and eastern Europe for the representatives of the pelagic fleet?
I recognise the importance of the issue, but given the pressure on business at the moment, I cannot promise the hon. Lady a debate next week in Government time. However, as she knows, there are other ways in which such matters can be raised.
Will my right hon. Friend provide time for an urgent debate on the situation of the raspberry growers in Tayside? He will be aware that Mr. MacSharry and his officials have been unable to arrive at an understanding or agreement which will ensure that we have a raspberry industry in Tayside in future.
As a former Minister of Agriculture, I am well aware of the difficulties that the raspberry industry faces from time to time in relation to imports. I am extremely well aware of the importance of that industry to Tayside, so I understand the importance of my hon. Friend's point. I am sure that he will make further representations to my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the matter. I know that the difficulty is often to obtain evidence to get appropriate action to deal with the matter.
The right hon. Gentleman gave a reply a few minutes ago about the agruments between the licensees and the brewers, and he referred especially to the possibilities of arbitration. Will he take into account the fact that many of the cases that have been brought to our attention show that the offer of arbitration is an absolute fraud and that individual licencees have often been thrown out of their premises in the most shameful circumstances? Will the right hon. Gentleman give a guarantee that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will come to the Dispatch Box next week to make a proper statement on the matter, so that he can be cross-examined?
I cannot give a guarantee that there will be a statement next week, because of the pressures on business. However, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that Department of Trade and Industry Ministers are in contact with the major brewers to ensure that the procedures for independent arbitration or for assessment of rents provide genuine recourse for tenants. If the right hon. Gentleman has particular cases that he wishes to raise, I am sure that he will draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week on pedestrian safety, so that I can explain to the House the urgent need for more crossings in various parts of my constituency, not least at Church road in Northholt, Argyle road in Ealing and Rowsell road in Northolt, where children and elderly people are seriously at risk? We have not discussed pedestrian road crossings, which are important in areas with a high volume of traffic such as those I have mentioned. May we have an early debate?
I am afraid that I cannot promise a debate in Government time. I know how assiduous my hon. Friend is in pursuing the interests of his constituents. He has raised particular constituency issues, and I hope that he is able to find other opportunities, such as Adjournment debates, to discuss them.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the proposed debate on three Northern Ireland Orders in Council next Monday? Does he not appreciate that that is a particularly inconvenient arrangement for hon. Members representing Northern Ireland? The Order in Council procedure is particularly unsatisfactory for us because, as a direct result of direct rule, we have a large amount of business to transact in Northern Ireland. If we have no assurance that the debate is at a convenient time, that business becomes disrupted. He might also like to reflect that we do not need the debate at all, because those orders apply to Northern Ireland legislation that has already been enacted in this House for Great Britain. If the legislation for Great Britain was done properly, we would not have to have such orders in the first place.
The hon. Gentleman's second point raises wider considerations, but the arrangements I have made for next week in relation to Northern Ireland will enable in hon. Members to discuss the Orders in Council on the Floor of the House. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that there are often considerable difficulties in juggling all the requirements of the business for the week. I endeavour, wherever possible, to put business on appropriate days for those most interested. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that my arrangement means that we have adequate time for the debate on the Orders in Council, and that it will be held at a convenient time.
I congratulate the Government on their excellent campaign to alert parents to the dangers their children can get into with the abuse of solvents. Currently, the death rate is about two children every week. Therefore, would it not be appropriate to have a debate next week, in which hon. Members from all political parties could take part, to point out, yet again, the dangers to parents and to remind them of the need to keep an eye on their children?
My hon. Friend will know that the Government have embarked on a major publicity campaign to achieve precisely what he suggests. I hope that as many hon. Members as possible will assist that campaign by the work they do in their constituencies, as my hon. Friend clearly intends to do.
Will the Leader of the House consider early-day motion 611, on the summary dismissal of Mr. David Plowright from his position as chairman of Granada Television? [That this House is angered by the summary removal of Mr. David Plowright as Chairman of Granada Television; believes this crass act to be a direct result of Government policy in auctioning television franchises; recognises that this consequence has given the clearest indication yet that the future of independent television will be based upon profit, at the expense of programmes; notes that the recent successful franchise bid by Mr. Plowright and his team was part conditional upon him, and his management colleagues remaining in office until 1st January 1995; and therefore calls upon the Independent Television Commission to intervene.] Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Granada Television was awarded the franchise despite the fact that the consortium put together by North West Television bid nearly four times as much as Granada Television? It bid £35 million against the bid of £9 million by Granada. The members of that consortium have been found to be perfectly acceptable for the franchise on the other side of the Pennines. Therefore, it was the proven quality of Granada's programmes which led to its award of the franchise. The decision on Mr. Plowright shows a cynical abandonment by Grenada of the criterion and demonstrates the essential stupidity of the arcane rules upon which the award of franchises is based. Will the right hon. Gentleman promise a statement on this matter next week?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is not for me to comment on the individual actions that happened within the company. However, it is right for me to comment on the general points he raised in relation to programme quality. As he knows, the Independent Television Commission awards licences to companies and not to individuals. Each company's programme promises are incorporated in its licence conditions. Those will be enforced by the commission. It has a range of sanctions that it can impose under the Broadcasting Act 1990, including that of withdrawing the licence, if those promises are not met.
Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for an urgent debate on the plans for the United Kingdom's presidency of the European Community? In particular, will he take careful note of the fact that the logo for our presidency shows a lion at the centre of the flag? That will be appropriate if we are in government, but if we are not, it must be replaced by a lamb.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the logo that we have chosen is appropriate to show that we shall maintain British interests in a robust way, while of course participating absolutely fully in the European Community. That is what the symbol is designed to show.
I note my hon. Friend's request for a debate. I agree that these are extremely important matters, and I hope that the House will debate them on a number of occasions. They will also be a major issue to be discussed during the general election campaign, whenever it comes, because it is a key issue in relation to choice before the electorate. Whether next week is right for a debate I rather doubt. My hon. Friend will have to wait a little longer.
Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on early-day motion 481 relating to standing charges? [That this House views with great concern standing charges being imposed on pensioners by British Gas, Electricity and Telecom, meaning an extra burden of £190 per year; recognising that many pensioners are already living below the poverty line, finds these scandalous charges a drain on their already stretched resources; therefore calls for the immediate abolition of all standing charges; and calls for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to call a meeting with all companies concerned with a view to alleviating this unnecessary hardship.] Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those charges represent fraudulent charges being imposed by British Telecom and the electricity and gas undertakings, because they are inflicting great hardship on senior citizens, who are currently having to fork out £190 a year to meet them? Will he do something about that?
It is the Government's view, in general, that it is better to give pensioners the money to spend as they prefer. The hon. Gentleman will know that there have been substantial improvements in pensioners' incomes in recent years and that, on those who are not sharing in that very substantial improvement, the Government have focused particular increases, involving substantial sums from the taxpayer.
We believe that it is better to do that, rather than to devote large sums to subsidies to, for example, the electricity companies, which is what would be involved in doing if we did what the hon. Gentleman suggests. The money would go to many people who have no difficulty in paying for the services. It is much better to target Government subsidies on those most in need.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members remain bitterly disappointed that there will be no opportunity next week to debate secondary education? Such a debate would give us an opportunity to remind the British people that the only party committed to the retention of grammar schools, CTCs, the assisted places scheme and as much variety of provision as possible, giving freedom of parental choice, is the Conservative party, whereas the Labour party and the party of the quasi-Liberal Democrats are wholly committed to the comprehensive system. Will he arrange for a debate to take place on secondary education, if not next week then the week after?
May I further ask—
My hon. Friend will agree that we are absolutely right to give priority also to higher education, to the proposals for polytechnics becoming universities and in giving priority to further education and to the 16-to-18 age group. That is what we will be talking about next week.
My hon. Friend will be aware that we have passed, at any rate through this Chamber, an important measure relating to choice and improving standards in schools. I hope that we shall have other opportunities to debate that issue, because I agree strongly with him about the need to ensure diversity of provision for schools.
I join other hon. Members in asking the Leader of the House to act with much greater urgency over the care of cancer patients at the north Staffordshire royal infirmary in my constituency. The confidence of cancer patients who come to that unit from all over north Wales, Cheshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire will have been severely jolted by events today.
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that cancer is a traumatic illness with which to deal and that confidence means everything. For that reason, I appeal to him not to delay in asking the Secretary of State to make a statement and to set up a Department of Health inquiry to look into whether other health authorities have similar software problems, whether there is any question of criminal negligence, what the role of the inspectorate was and what the liability situation would have been if the health authority in question had been an opted-out trust. Would it then be expected to pick up the cost of any claims for damages that might arise affecting the hospital? In the interests of those patients, who are suffering enormous trauma today, will the Government act with more urgency in the matter?
I entirely understand the importance of the hon. Gentleman's point, but I cannot answer his detailed questions. Indeed, I suspect that some of them would take a little time to investigate. I cannot act more quickly than I have already undertaken to do, which is to contact my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health immediately after business questions.
Could we have a debate on party political broadcasts to discuss misleading claims like the one made in the Labour party broadcast, which claimed that the Financial Times backed Labour policy when it turned out that the broadcast was quoting out of context the words of an FT columnist. Despite the fact that the FT is a pink newspaper, its real views were expressed in a leader that described Labour policies as a cocktail that included a dollop of Government interference, a shake of 1960s sentimentality laced with large quantities of bureaucracy, a fizz of galloping quangos, all topped off with the soothing cream of ineffable blandness. Does my right hon. Friend think that the Labour party will quote that in its next political broadcast?
My hon. Friend makes some good points in his own words. I shall add only the fact that one of the major issues, which we have debated in the House and which will be debated frequently in the country and the House in the coming months, is the Labour party's high spending and tax policies.
Can we have a debate on the future of the bus industry and perhaps consider setting up an inquiry into Volvo's secret corporate strategy in the United Kingdom to close down parts of British manufacturing industry, transfer production to Sweden and set up screwdriver plants in Scotland? I wish to debate those matters, because many jobs in my constituency are at stake.
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman could raise that matter in the debate this afternoon.
Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), will my right hon. Friend at least make time for a statement next week on the future of Battersea Park school? Its application to the Secretary of State for Education to become the Battersea technology college is supported by Wandsworth council, the community, the parents and 100 per cent. of the teaching staff, but it is being blocked by that small motivated group, the Battersea Labour party. Would not a statement give that group's representatives in the House an opportunity to explain why they put political ideology before the interests of the children of Battersea?
I well understand my hon. Friend's point, because I remember dealing with the early stages of that proposal. Although I should like the matter to be debated more fully, my hon. Friend must find other ways, as he has this afternoon, to raise the issue.
Speaking as the only radiographer in the House, may I add my voice to those of other Members for north Staffordshire in emphasising the urgency of the need for a full statement on what has happened in north Staffordshire hospitals? It is essential that every computer and all computer software is looked at in hospitals throughout the country.
It is absolutely essential that patients are confident that they are receiving the recommended dosage. At the north Staffordshire hospital, it was a case of under-dosage, whereas in Exeter the problem seemed to concern over-dosage. I do not want radiographers to shoulder the blame again for what has happened in north Staffordshire, as happened in Exeter. The blame must be put where it rightly belongs and there should be a clinical inquiry, so that other hospitals with the same equipment can be investigated.
As I have already explained, I have no details of that incident, so it would not be right for me to comment on them. I shall ensure that the hon. Lady's points are also drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
Will my right hon. Friend find time next week to debate the extremely serious report that has appeared in the Sunday papers—I think that it appeared in the Sunday Express—which is backed up by a document from the Inland Revenue? It says that protection money paid by business men in Northern Ireland to paramilitaries, despite the fact that it is illegal, is being treated as tax expenditure by the Inland Revenue. If that is so, it has serious implications of subsidies by the British taxpayer to paramilitary organisations such as the IRA.
The matter raised by my hon. Friend is one for the Inland Revenue, but I shall ensure that what she has just said will be drawn to the attention of the appropriate authorities.
May we have an early debate to discuss two urgent reforms: first, a privacy law to protect all British citizens against intrusive and malicious gutter journalism; secondly, a freedom of information Act to satisfy fully the public's right to know the background of all public policies?
We have already had a debate on the latter point, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made the Government's position clear. On the first point, as the hon. Gentleman will know, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that the Government are studying the Press Complaints Commission's first year of operation to see how it can deal with the issue. There will be a review in the summer of the way in which it is operated. I know that much concern is frequently expressed about the issue that I think the hon. Member has in mind. We shall have to see how the matter progresses and consider it in the review.
Order. I am sorry that it has not been possible to include all the hon. Members who wished to participate, but I shall do my best at an early opportunity next week to call those who have not spoken today.