The business for next week will be as follows:
TUESDAY 9 JUNE—Opposition day (1st allotted day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Ethnic Minorities in British Society", followed by a debate entitled "Protecting the Maxwell Pensioners". Both debates arise on Opposition motions.
Motion relating to the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill.
Motion on the Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Construction Board) Order.
WEDNESDAY 10 JUNE—Until about seven o'clock, consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.
Motion on the Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order.
THURSDAY 11 JUNE—Debate on Government policy on science and technology on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
FRIDAY 12 JUNE—Debate entitled "Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and the 1992–93 Price Proposals" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
MONDAY 15 JUNE—Second Reading of the Boundary Commissions Bill.
May we have a statement on Monday by the Foreign Secretary following his discussions today in Oslo at the meeting of the Council of Ministers? Given the importance of what has happened in the Danish referendum and its significance for the Maastricht treaty, it is surely important that the House should have the earliest possible statement from the Foreign Secretary, and that should be on Monday. I hope that the Leader of the House can assure us that that statement will be made.
Will the Leader of the House think again about the business for Friday next week? It is surely beyond doubt that the proposed changes to the common agricultural policy which are to be debated are of huge importance and significance for producers and farmers, and also for consumers. Given that it will, by common consent, be a discussion on some of the most fundamental changes for perhaps a quarter of a century, should not we have the debate on a day other than a Friday when many hon. Members, for important and legitimate reasons, will be in their constituencies and therefore unable to participate in it? Seriously and earnestly, I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider that decision and change the day of the debate.
Given the fact that the Government have failed to provide time for a statement, let alone a debate, on the plight of Maxwell pensioners, and that the Labour party has, rightly, provided Supply day time for such a debate, may we have an assurance that the Minister will not only participate in the debate, as obviously he will, but will set out in detail what urgent action the Government intend to take to help to alleviate the problems faced by Maxwell pensioners?
Will the Leader of the House reflect on today's business—specifically, the Bill on community care—and agree that we should discuss only the Second Reading today? There is plenty of time for the Bill to be considered in Standing Committee. I believe that it would be for the convenience of the Government and Ministers as well as for the convenience of the House as a whole if that proposal were adopted.
The hon. Gentleman asked four questions. The first was whether my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would make a statement on Monday following the Oslo meeting. I had originally hoped that it might be possible for a statement to be made tomorrow, but that seems in doubt. I think that I can give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking that he wants, that there will be a statement on Monday. I hope that, in turn, he will recognise that it may be difficult for my right hon. Friend to maintain an entirely trappist position throughout the weekend, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not take offence if he does not.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman made a complaint—as I suppose it must be called—about the fact that we shall debate the common agricultural policy on a Friday. I resist the suggestion that merely because the day is a Friday it is not possible to debate a subject of importance. That would imply a grave diminution of many subjects that have been debated on Fridays—and indeed of the House's sittings on Friday. In view of what has happened, it is right that we have tried to make time for a debate on the common agricultural policy, as well as the debate on science and technology on Thursday—that is also an important subject. I believe that the desirability of debating the matter soon outweighs the considerations mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he accepts that I feel that that is the right way to proceed, so as to give the House the earliest opportunity to debate two important subjects.
Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman mentioned Maxwell. I have made it clear several times that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security will—soon, I hope—make a statement on the establishment of the review of the framework of pensions law which the Government have undertaken to set up. I cannot give an absolute commitment about the timing of that, but it is clear that there will be two opportunities for such matters to be raised in the first two days of next week—one on Department of Social Security questions, and one on the Supply day. I shall not attempt to write my right hon. Friend's speech for the debate, or his answers to questions, at this stage, but I am sure that he is aware of the concern that comment should be made about the matters raised by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)—and I shall again draw it to his attention.
Lastly, in answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about today's business, I am glad to say that I understand that there have been further discussions through the usual channels about the handling of the Community Care (Residential Accommodation) Bill. In the light of those discussions, I propose that we proceed only with the Second Reading of the Bill today, and allow it to be further considered in a Standing Committee. I hope that that will also meet the wishes of the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), who raised the matter with me yesterday.
Will my right hon. Friend tell us what progress he hopes to make next week in setting up the departmental Select Committees? With so much happening, especially in foreign affairs, it seems a pity that the Committees are not in place to monitor the Executive in the proper way. I ask you, Madam Speaker, whether, from your high position, you can give encouragement and support to the setting up of the Select Committees so that Parliament can do its job properly.
I see that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is in his usual inimitable form. I would not wish to be taken as endorsing his comments on the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell). which is important.
I have said on a number of occasions that I am anxious to see progress made as quickly as possible in setting up the Select Committees. We have already made some progress with the setting up of the Committee of Selection and the Public Accounts Committee. We have been able to set up the European Standing Committees—a slightly separate point. I hope that we shall soon get the Joint Cornmittee on Statutory Instruments and the Select Committee on European Legislation. I look to make progress as soon as we can on the departmental Select Committees, including the one in which my right hon. Friend is interested.
Will the Lord President issue next week the Top Salaries Review Body report on office cost allowance? He must be aware that hon. Members of all parties are anxious about the report because they want to make suitable appointments of staff.
That is important for the staff. Will the right hon. Gentleman also give an assurance that the full report will be adopted by the Government?
I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman a precise prediction now of the exact time of the publication of the report or the exact proposals that I expect to explain to the House at that time. I can say—the right hon. Gentleman will realise that I have had one or two other things on my mind in recent days—that I hope that we shall be able to do so soon.
Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether the opportunity for a debate next week on Maxwell will give the Secretary of State for Social Security an opportunity to make a statement about the implementation of section 58B of the Social Security Act 1990 which would make the Maxwell pensioners creditors of Maxwell Communication Corporation and of Mirror Group Newspapers? The consequence would be that many hundreds of millions of pounds could flow back into those pension funds.
Clearly the debate next week will give my right hon. Friend opportunities to make comments as he thinks right on a wide variety of matters. As I have already said, I will not attempt to make his speech across the Dispatch Box this afternoon, but I will ensure that his attention is drawn to my hon. Friend's request.
Reverting to the question of the creation of the departmental Select Committees, surely it is within the Government's gift to decide which Departments will be covered in the new regime which the right hon. Gentleman has set up. Presumably there is no difficulty about making an early statement on that.
Is there any prospect, having regard to the special circumstances surrounding the Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill which we shall discuss on Monday, of the right hon. Gentleman being prepared to recommend the referral of Second Reading to a Special Standing Committee, given that the industry believes that it has not had proper time for consultation?
I will give some thought to the hon. Gentleman's point. My principal concern is that we should make progress on that important measure which is needed, in association with other proposals involving finance, in the interests of a sensible fisheries policy and a sensible basis of operation for the fishing industry.
On the first question, the hon. Gentleman, in his new capacity in what are called the "usual channels", will realise the need for considerable discussions about these matters. Those discussions are proceeding. I cannot go any further than I already have in relation to what I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell).
Although I welcome the opportunity during an Opposition Supply day to debate the Maxwell pensioners' problems, does my right hon. Friend agree that it will be a sterile debate unless the results of the Government's investigations are to hand and can be considered? Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to ensure that the Securities and Investments Board report is made available as a paper for the whole House? The debate next week can then have some meaning.
My hon. Friend knows that a considerable number of inquiries of various kinds are going on in respect of those affairs. The one to which he has referred would normally be under the general aegis of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade rather than that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. Again, I shall make sure that my right hon. Friends are made aware of my hon. Friend's point.
Will the Leader of the House look again at the business for next week and see whether time could be found to debate the provision of dental services within the national health service? Many dentists in my constituency have expressed deep concern about actions taken recently by the Secretary of State for Health which cast doubt on the viability of many dental practices in my constituency and the availability of dental services within the NHS. It is an important matter which the House needs time to debate.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the dental rate study group met yesterday and considered the proposals which were announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health the previous day. I understand that the dental rate study group will meet again to continue its discussions in a week or two. I am not sure whether it would be appropriate to have such a debate at the moment, but clearly it would have been open to Opposition Members to take part in next week's Supply day debate had they thought it right to do so.
May I support what many of my colleagues have said about Tuesday's debate on Maxwell? There is to be a mass lobby in the House on Monday by Maxwell pensioners, many of whom are my constituents. They want to know what the Government will do about the matter. They have been swindled out of their pensions and they are very worried, and understandably so. Can my right hon. Friend give us some assurance before the debate?
I can give my hon. Friend the clear assurance that my right hon. Friends and I are very much aware of the concern on both sides of the House and among others about this matter. I shall certainly ensure that my hon. Friend's remarks are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend, but I do not think that I can go beyond what I have already said on a couple of occasions about the position in respect of the debate next week.
Is the Leader of the House aware that his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage has made the very important announcement today by way of a written answer to one of his hon. Friends that the Government will review their policy on all-seater stadiums for football clubs, especially in the third and fourth divisions? Will he take it from me that hon. Members will consider that to be a very important and sensible announcement? In view of the fact that improvements have taken place in football grounds in the past few years, that is extremely sensible.
Will the Leader of the House consider initiating a debate so that those who lost their loved ones in the Hillsborough disaster may have their fears allayed by the fact that the Secretary of State has taken very much into account the improved situation for football grounds and that in no way will safety requirements be jettisoned as a result of the review?
I do not think that I can respond immediately, or indeed even less than immediately, to the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate. I can certainly welcome, on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage, the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the statement. I too think that it is a very sensible move.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of Conservative Members' concern about the problem of gipsies and so-called new-age travellers. He will be aware also of the recent terrible scenes in the west country and the apparent inadequacy of the police to cope. May we therefore have an early debate on that important subject—it is certainly a nuisance to many of our constituents who have such people living close to them—and look again at the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and the Public Order Act 1986? The problem seems to be getting worse and we do not seem to be addressing it.
Again, I do not think that I can promise my hon. Friend an early debate on that matter. I can certainly assure him that the Government take the issue seriously, although it is not an easy one to tackle. It is right that any proposed action should be carefully thought through.
Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a statement on the adverse effect of the privatisation of hospital cleaning services on quality, hygiene and public safety? Is he aware that it was revealed today that in Royal Alexandra hospital in my constituency a firm of private cleaning contractors threw waste infected with tuberculosis into the public waste disposal system? Does he agree that it is a disgrace that the policy of putting profits before patient care is leading to such instances, caused by poor working practices, in the very institutions that are supposed to protect public health?
While I should naturally be worried about the incident that the hon. Gentleman describes—I have not had any opportunity to check it, so I cannot endorse his description—I resist the suggestion that such incidents occur only where private contracting firms are involved. For example, I think back to the time when I was a Minister in the former Department of Health and Social Security and the difficulties at the Stanley Royd hospital in Wakefield. The hon. Gentleman should think more carefully before making implied allegations about private sector operators.
May I return to the question of the setting up of the departmental Select Committees, having listened to the brief but fairly vigorous exchange from a sedentary position between the two Front Benches. As I understand it, we are all waiting for the largest Opposition party to sort out its leadership and spokesmanship difficulties. But I understand from the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) that the delay has something to do with the Government Front Bench. I do not understand. Some of us would rather like to get on with doing some useful work.
I was unaware of the informal exchanges to which my hon. Friend refers because I was addressing the House rather than listening to whatever exchanges took place. My clear understanding is that all of us who are involved in these matters—it is certainly true in my case—wish to make progress as soon as possible but on the basis of the necessary consideration and discussion.
When the Maxwell debate takes place next Tuesday, will the Minister who replies to the debate explain the legal position whereby the Maxwell family apparently continues to have substantial income and assets abroad while pensioners have been swindled out of their pensions? Some pensioners now live in destitution. Could the Attorney-General come to the House and explain why, despite what has happened, there has been no prosecution? Is there now a special law in Britain under which the Maxwell family and those associated with it commercially are immune from prosecution?
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well not only that an inquiry is being conducted by the Securities and Investments Board—my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) referred to it—but a substantial investigation is being held by the Serious Fraud Office. Clearly, questions of prosecution arise following investigations, not during or before them. The suggestion that the Maxwells have some sort of immunity is simply ludicrous.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of early-day motion 9?
[That this House welcomes the Report of the Select Committee on the Sittings of the House, HC20, Session 1991–92, which considered 'whether the public and private business of the House might be conducted more effectively by making changes to the order and timing of business, the hours of sitting and the arrangement of the parliamentary year'; notes the recommendations of the report and the debate on 2nd March 1992; and urges the Government to provide time to discuss further and consider on substantive motions and vote on the recommendations of the report at the earliest opportunity.]
It calls for the opportunity further to discuss the report of the Select Committee on the Sittings of the House and a chance to vote on its recommendations. The motion has been signed by more than 80 Members. Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that we shall have an opportunity to debate the report before the summer recess?
When the Leader of the House reports back to his colleagues at the Department of Social Security, will he please add my views? Will he tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security that, while hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome the Government's acceptance of the Social Security Select Committee recommendation that there should be a long-term review of pensions law, it does not help one Maxwell pensioner? Will he also tell him that when we have the debate on Tuesday we shall be anxious that he should make a statement on what the Government intend to do to help what will be by the end of the month 6,000 pensioners who have either lost their pension entirely or had it reduced substantially?
The whole House is well aware of the hon. Gentleman's expertise in these matters and, indeed, of his position as Chairman of the Committee which wrote the report in the previous Parliament. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will also be aware of that and will, of course, take note—I cannot say more than that—of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
Bearing in mind that Opposition Members constantly preach that the Government do not give enough aid to third-world and poorer countries, may we have another debate on the Rio summit, this time with a little more notice? Conservative Members could then point out that Opposition Members are always in the forefront of requesting the creation of trade barriers, such as the multi-fibre arrangement, against poorer countries, and that the World bank recently calculated that such trade barriers cost the third world more than we give them in aid. Does that not illustrate beautifully that the real nature of socialism is to throw money at problems rather than to let people help themselves?
My hon. Friend makes a good point by emphasising the importance of trade to developing countries, which is often overlooked and which is at least as important as aid, and often more important. That illustrates the occasional contradictory position of Opposition Members who demand more aid and then demand protective trade restrictions, which would undo much of the good. Leaving that aside, as I said in my mini business statement yesterday, I cannot promise a further debate at this stage although there will certainly be a statement after the summit and we can then consider the position in the light of that.
I welcome the announcement that there will be a debate next Thursday on science and technology, as it is a subject on which the House has been strangely silent.
May I press the Leader of the House on the subject of departmental Select Committees because many people outside the House wonder why something that is so vital for the scrutiny of Government is being impeded? One would not have thought that the Opposition were causing the delay and therefore, if the Leader of the House is having difficulty with the usual channels, could he not try the unusual channels and let us get on with our business?
I have not sought to suggest that there is any cause of difficulty in any place. Difficult issues in relation to the structure of Select Committees and to the way in which they should be set up have to be dealt with, and I hope that it will not be too long before they can be resolved. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no foot-dragging on the Conservative side, and I have no reason to accuse anyone else of it either.
Before we have the Maastricht debate—[Interruption.] I am sorry; we have had the Maastricht debate. Before the Maxwell debate next week, could the Leader of the House bring to the attention of the Secretary of State for Social Security the fact that no Government is blameless for not having legislation that protects people's pensions? If the legislation that is likely to be introduced is tight enough to protect people's pensions, can he ask his right hon. Friend to come to the Dispatch Box on Tuesday and give some hope to pensioners? If, with the introduction of good legislation, it is unlikely to happen again, we could set a precedent in that way, and we could give those people hope. Some of my constituents are losing between £10,000 and £29,000 each year of their lives and the Government are their only hope.
My hon. Friend gave me a moment of greater unease than usual with his slip at the beginning of his question. On the rest of his question, I undertake, as I have done on a number of occasions today, to bring his remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.
May we have a statement next week about recent reports that the Government are secretly planning to privatise Scotland's water industry? Does the Leader of the House agree that such public asset-stripping would be a national scandal, especially in view of the recent revelation that the chairmen of the privatised water boards in England and Wales are lining their pockets with £20 million worth of perks, and the fact that the Government have no mandate, even by British standards, to privatise Scotland's water, because there was no mention of it in the recent or any previous Tory party election manifesto? Surely such contempt for democracy reinforces the case for a Scottish Parliament.
May I commend my right hon. Friend's defence of our Friday debates? Does he agree that they are often effective, in-depth debates and that it is equally difficult to catch Madam Speaker's eye on a Friday as it is on any other day? I thank my right hon. Friend for his announcement of a debate on the common agricultural policy, because it was my request that we should have an early debate on agricultural policy. Presumably, if it were not to be held on Friday, it would have been some time before we could have had that debate.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. When he rose, I wondered whether to advert to a conversation held in informal circumstances that we had earlier in the week. I am grateful for his remarks and glad that I was able to respond to his suggestion and to the widespread demand from other parts of the House.
Given that it seems that the Select Committee on Health will not sit for some time, may we have a debate on what is happening to health service employees? The Leader of the House, with other hon. Members, will have received the report from the Royal College of Nursing about whistle-blowing. He will also be aware that Dr. Chris Chapman has joined other victims of the authoritarian managers now running the health service when he was sacked this week. Is it not time that the House debated exactly what is happening to health service employees who care about standards and patients and who are increasingly victimised if they express those cares?
I shall depart, perhaps unwisely, from the emollient frame of mind in which I answered the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and move into a slightly more aggressive mode. The hon. Lady could conceivably make representations to her hon. Friends on the Front Bench on why we had six days' debate on the Loyal Address without health being raised in any shape or form and why we saw nothing of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook).
Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made next week to clarify the rumours that the Government have plans to lower the age of consent for homosexuals? It has been rumoured that it will be brought down to as low as 12 years of age, as in Denmark. Will my right hon. Friend take account of the fact that the public's fears need to be allayed on that important issue?
I hope that I need not tell my hon. Friend that, in respect of one suggestion to which he referred, he should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers—if that is what he read.
For the second time in this Parliament, may I raise the question of the three reports from the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which deal with lobbying, the chairmanship of Committees and the new register? When will we debate those reports on substantive resolutions because 11 hon. Members spent 200 hours working in Committee on them?
Clearly, I am not in a position, having announced the business, to promise a debate next week, but, as the hon. Gentleman said, this is the second or third time that the matter has been raised. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) has also raised it, and I am aware of the interest in the matter. I am certainly not ignoring it.
My right hon. Friend has been most generous and helpful to the House in his response to the many interventions about the Maxwell pensions affair. May I stress that it is crucial that the House quickly receives the report from the Securities and Investments Board? It is six months since its inquiries were instigated and we cannot wait much longer because, for each day that passes, more pensioners are losing their entitlement to pension. The new chairman of the SIB, appointed this week, should address his mind to this problem with the greatest urgency.
My hon. Friend will realise that the SIB is an independent body and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State cannot dictate to it when it produces its report. However, I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has his attention drawn to the point made by my hon. Friend.
Does the Leader of the House accept the urgent need for a debate on the water industry in view of the fact that it is not only paying increased dividends to its shareholders and increased salaries to its top executives, but is hugely increasing prices to consumers? There is also clear evidence that it is continually inclined to cut off supplies of water to those who find themselves unable to pay their bills.
I note the hon. Gentleman's request. My only comment at this stage is that I sometimes wish that, when points such as that are made, reference was also made to the growing amount of investment in the water industry to meet the increasingly difficult problem of demand.
Was the right hon. Gentleman in his place yesterday when his hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) suggested that Labour Members, including occupants of the Opposition Front Bench, had not spoken of the need for a debate on the Maxwell affair and pensions before the general election? Will the Leader of the House accept that on 5 December I raised the matter and that on 9 December several of my hon. Friends, including the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), raised it? I hope that in the debate next week the right hon. Gentleman will make it clear that his hon. Friend was not telling the truth.
Will the right hon. Gentleman also bear in mind that previous Governments of different complexions have found money, when necessary, to pay pensioners who have found themselves in a similar predicament? For example, a Labour Government bailed out Court Line and recently the Tory Government bailed out Barlow Clowes. If the present Government have enough money to bail out Canary wharf, they should be able to find some for the Maxwell pensioners. I trust that we shall be told on Tuesday that they intend to do that.
I cannot speak for the Liberal Bench.
Leaving aside the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I was in the House yesterday and noted the exchanges that took place between my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) and the shadow Leader of the House. I cannot say that I have done further detailed investigation of Hansard since, though I note the point the hon. Gentleman makes.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the anxiety felt by 200 constituents of mine who are likely to lose their pensions because of unsatisfactory answers given by the Prime Minister on the Thursday before the recess, when he sought refuge by attempting to give them consolation over the way in which they would receive the guaranteed minimum pension? Is he further aware that for the pensioners in my constituency that will come to the "generous" sum of £6·76 a week, hardly enough to buy a pot of marmalade? Will the Leader of the House ensure that when the pensioners come to see us on Monday, and in the debate on Tuesday, assurances will be given not only about the review, which is important, but to the effect that they will not lose the money that is essential to keep their households together? That is the crunch in the matter.
I acknowledge the obvious intended thrust of the hon. Lady's question and shall draw that, too, to the attention of my right hon. Friend. I would observe, as a former social security Minister, that it is not possible to quote a figure for the guaranteed minimum pension —or, indeed, for the pension entitlement under Maxwell pension schemes—for any individual pensioner because it depends on the contribution record and period over which contributions were made.