TUESDAY 22 JUNE—Opposition Day ( 14th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled "The Need for Openness on Funding of Political Parties and the Enforcement of Company Law on Declaration of Political Donations", on an Opposition motion.
WEDNESDAY 23 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Agriculture Bill [Lords].
Motion on the Council Tax Limitation (Wales) (Maximum Amount) Order.
THURSDAY 24 JUNE—Motion on the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order.
Motion on the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order.
FRIDAY 25 JUNE—There will be a debate on the health and welfare of children on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
MONDAY 28 JUNE—Opposition Day (15th allotted day). Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats, followed by a debate in the name of Plaid Cymru. The subjects have yet to be announced and, for all I know, to be chosen.
The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee A will meet on Wednesday 23 June at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents Nos. 8487/90 and 5902/93 relating to plant variety rights.
I am sure that the Leader of the House recalls that some considerable time ago an agreement was reached with the Procedure Committee that every effort would be made to have a debate in the House in Government time, preferably roughly every six months, before meetings of the European Council. The right hon. Gentleman will know that there is a meeting of the Council in Copenhagen this weekend, and although we recognise that the business of the House has been under some pressure, I hope that that agreement is not being breached and that we may have an undertaking that every effort will be made to arrange debates before these Council meetings so that the House can comment on developments in the European Community. I also hope that we will have a statement in the House following that meeting.
The Leader of the House will also know that hon. Members throughout the House are anxiously awaiting information and statements on assisted area status. I understand that some information may have been transmitted to the European Community. We are anxious for a statement in the House as soon as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that I have asked on a number of occasions when we are likely to have a proper debate on the public expenditure White Paper that we would normally expect at some stage during the year. It would be most unfortunate, to put it mildly, if that debate were not held before the next public expenditure White Paper is announced in outline in the autumn. I hope that the Leader of the House will bear in mind our many requests on the shape of the public expenditure programme before it is hacked to pieces.
That brings me to the other issue on which we would like a debate in Government time—the Government's plans for invalidity benefit.
The Leader of the House will know that there is pressure for a debate in the House in Government time on the report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which has been around for a long time without being debated.
For once, I shall take the hon. Lady's requests in their original order. I regret that it did not prove possible to have the six-monthly debate on European matters in advance of the Council meeting, although the House will acknowledge that it has not exactly been starved of opportunities to debate European matters recently. I shall be looking for a suitable opportunity for the debate in the near future—no doubt, in due course, the Opposition will decide to abstain. I expect that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement at the earliest convenient opportunity after the European Council meeting next week.
The position on assisted area status will be indicated in an answer this afternoon. The Government's proposals were submitted to the European Commission on 15 June, and the proposed new map will be published as soon as Commission approval has been received. Obviously, we want to get on with that as soon as possible, but I cannot give the exact timing at the moment.
I note the right hon. Lady's request for a debate on the public expenditure White Paper, although I cannot add to what I have said on previous occasions. She is, of course, continuing to press me for a flow of Supply days, so I have to make some judgment of priorities as to which of her demands to meet.
The right hon. Lady will certainly have noted what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Question Time on Tuesday about our plans for invalidity benefit. Against that background, she will be clear that there are no plans as such to be debated at the moment. The matter is being looked at in the way that my right hon. Friend explained. If and when it is appropriate to have a debate, of course I shall arrange one.
Lastly, on the Select Committee on Members' Interests, I am making reasonably good progress towards the debate that the right hon. Lady and some of her hon. Friends would wish to have.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Select Committee on Home Affairs is looking into the funding of political parties, that it is hearing evidence on the funding of political parties and that it will in due course be producing a report? The effect of the debate on Tuesday, which is frivolous in the extreme, will be to try to prejudge that report and unduly influence the Committee, which will be considering an extremely serious subject indeed.
Will my right hon. Friend perhaps prevail upon the Opposition not to waste good Supply days on frivolous matters, but to leave this matter to the Home Affairs Select Committee, which will then be able to debate the report? The motion is total nonsense from the Labour party.
You will have noted—as I did, Madam Speaker—that, in effect, although that question was properly phrased to be directed at me, it was really directed to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) and her right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster). I know they have heard it; I hope they will reflect on it. But you will understand, Madam Speaker, as will my hon. Friend, that, although my views coincide with his, I am not in a position to direct the Opposition about the way in which they choose to use their time.
First, I thank the Leader of the House for his accommodating, if slightly mischievous, announcement of the second of our small entitlement of Opposition days in ten days' time. I can assure him that he will be given the subject in due course.
Following the question of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal Democrats to the Prime Minister, I put it to the Leader of the House that the Government must find time in the near future to debate any potential go-ahead for the THORP project, a subject that has not been debated in the House since 1978. That has the most far-reaching domestic and international implications, and it relates not only to Britain's economy but to our energy and environmental policies and to global matters of proliferation. May we have an undertaking of a debate on THORP before any go-ahead is announced by the Government?
I reject out of hand any suggestion that I am ever mischievous. All I did was try, with some success I am glad to say, to raise a small smile on the hon. Gentleman's friendly face.
I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate in the terms that he requests, nor add to the point that my right hon. Friend quite properly made to his right hon. Friend in the course of questions about the current position in which an inspector's report is being considered. But the obvious thought strikes me that, if the hon. Gentleman feels that strongly about it, I have just given him half a. day in which he could choose that subject for debate if he so wishes.
Before we proceed further, I remind the House that I now want brisk questions and brisk answers so that I might call as many Members as possible. Many Members are standing today.
Thank you for calling me, Madam Speaker.
As the Government abolished the Greater London Council, the Inner London education authority and the metropolitan county councils, will the Leader of the House undertake to provide time for a debate in the near future in which Conservative Members might demonstrate and state our total opposition to regional government in any shape or form?
I cannot make a promise in quite that form, but I shall bear my hon. Friend's request in mind. The only thing that really puts me off is that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) would clearly speak.
We are happy to have a full day's debate on Northern Ireland next week, but will the Leader of the House bear in mind the fact that, although the report of the Examiner of Statutory Instruments has just been published, there has been a considerable gap in the examination of various statutory instruments in Northern Ireland because of the death of the previous holder of the post? Will the Leader of the House assure me that there will be a debate on that report, which might provide a peg on which to hang some requests for examination of those earlier instruments?
Will the right hon. Gentleman also tell the House what status is accorded by Her Majesty's Government to visits by the President of the Irish Republic to Northern Ireland? They seem to be billed as private visits, but whenever the President is—
As a fellow Essex man, will my right hon. Friend consider giving the earliest consideration to a statement on regional unemployment figures so that it may become clear to people in the mid-Essex area that the fall in unemployment in Braintree and Chelmsford, which was announced today, was the largest fall in a single month in more than six years, with 362 individuals going back into work rather than being in the dole queues?
I shall bring that point and that welcome news, which I too noted, to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment if my hon. Friend promises not to call me an Essex man again: last time, for the first time in seven elections, I changed the wording of my election address from "is an Essex man" to "was born and brought up in Essex."
Is the Leader of the House aware that during the past week it was announced that Rufford—one of the pits in the east midlands, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping)—will close by the end of this financial year, which is in direct contradiction to the statement and pledge that the President of the Board of Trade made to the House several times, because it was one of the 12 pits that were going to be left to be market-tested?
Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the President of the Board of Trade to make a statement? Failing that, the Leader of the House should arrange for him to make a personal statement, as the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer did, because he deserves to be sacked for misleading the House and misleading the country.
Can my right hon. Friend find some time next week for the House to discuss what pressure could be brought to bear on travel agents so that they disseminate information that they receive from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office properly, such as the warnings that holidaymakers should heed before they go to certain parts of the world? I am extremely concerned. My concern was highlighted by the programme "World in Action" on Monday and has certainly been borne out by the murder of many British holidaymakers throughout the world. The information exists, and holidaymakers need to get it; travel agents have it and they are not passing it on.
In the light of what he said, my hon. Friend's concern is understandable. The appropriate course is for me to bring his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friends for their consideration.
My right hon. Friend will no doubt be aware of the encouraging statistics issued yesterday which show a record proportion of young people going on to further or higher education—an all-time record. May we have a debate so that we can discuss the impact of standards and compare the recent report by Ofsted, which showed that tests led to a significant improvement in teaching and learning environments in schools, with the comments made on last year's tests by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), the shadow spokesman on education, who regarded them as totally worthless? That shows how far from reality she is on the matter.
I agree with the latter point, and also with the first point about the satisfaction we all feel about the great increase in the number of young people going on to further and higher education. As to the middle matter, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Education Bill is under consideration in another place. I am sure that there will be further opportunity for discussion there.
Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to look at early-day motion 2138 about air pollution in London?
[That this House is deeply concerned at the appalling quality of air in London, particularly during hot and still weather; believes that the high incidence of bronchial illness and child asthma is related to this and that the major sourcesof polluted air are private cars; and therefore calls, for urgent Government action to improve public transport and reduce wasteful commuter motoring.]
Can he give an undertaking that there will be an urgent and early debate on the need to restore democratically elected government to London so that the city's future can be properly planned, its transport infrastructure properly developed, the amount of commuter motoring reduced and air quality and the life of Londoners improved? Does he not think that it is a disgrace that this is the only capital city with no unified elected local authority?
Can the Leader of the House reassure us that there will be no repetition of the shambles that overtook the ministerial statements on Monday? You will recall, Madam Speaker, that the Secretary of State for Wales made a comprehensive statement about flooding devastation in Wales and that, after a long discussion, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment attempted to make a statement, without warning, on the equal devastation and loss of life that has occurred in Cornwall and other parts of the west country. Can we be reassured that, in future weeks, there will not be such a difficulty and that we shall have a comprehensive statement of all the effects of flooding, what the Government intend to do and what the National Rivers Authority is doing about flood defence and flood warning systems?
On any occasion on which natural disasters or difficulties occur, some regard must necessarily be paid to the scale in determining whether or not it is appropriate to make a statement. The scale of the flooding in Wales exceeded that in most other parts of the country.
In the wake of the Prime Minister's meeting with the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic, does the Leader of the House agree that it is time that we had a full debate on the workings of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which has been in place for eight years? In 1985, we were told that the agreements would produce peace, stability and reconciliation. Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that all we had from the most recent meeting with the Taoiseach was a repetition of a harsh, aggressive and irredentist territorial claim?
Is the Leader of the House aware of the havoc that the internal market is wreaking on the national health service? Will he consider what is occurring at centres of excellence such as the Billericay burns unit, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows very well? Since the internal market was introduced, the superb team at the unit only undertake emergency and urgent cases and not elective surgery, because the funds for that are not available. May we debate urgently centres of excellence and others, such as Killingbeck, which is having to close because there is insufficient money under that stupid, crazy system?
Has the Leader of the House read early-day motion 2175?
[That this House expresses concern that Home Office statistics show that 100,000 young people under 21 years were either convicted or cautioned for drunkenness in 1990; is alarmed that Department of Transport figures for 1989 indicate that about 25,000 injury accidents are associated with driving over the legal limit for alcohol and that overall 20–25 per cent. of road deaths occur in accidents where at least one driver is beyond the legal limit; condemns the marketing executives and administrators who have sold the England and Australian Cricket teams to breweries; and finds the use of beer advertisements on players and on grounds morally offensive and the subjugation of a once fine sport to such unscrupulous profiteering especially nauseating.]
It highlights the potentially adverse effects of alcohol on young people, with 100,000 under-21s convicted or cautioned for drunkenness in 1990, and expresses opposition to the idea that the English and Australian cricket teams should be sold to the breweries for advertising purposes. Is it not time to stop that nauseating invasion of our screens by enforcing the BBC charter? It is not meant to broadcast advertisements and it is unfair, wrong and illegal for it to do so in that way —and offensive into the bargain.
I am sure that the broadcasting authorities will take note of the hon. Gentleman's comments. It is worth noting that, thanks to significant efforts, road deaths involving alcohol more than halved in the last decade. The Department of Transport is launching a major television campaign against drinking and driving on 29 June.
Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on opencast mining? Is he aware that my constituents are outraged by British Coal's proposals to opencast at Wintersett and North Featherstone—so ravaging what little countryside remains there—at the same time that British Coal is closing local productive pits?
The hon. Gentleman referred to "proposals". Presumably that means that there is scope for a considerable public inquiry before any decision is made. That would be the right approach for the hon. Gentleman to adopt.
Next Tuesday's debate could not be more relevant, given what has been happening with political funding. I was told by the Attorney-General, in reply to my questioning, that seven Tory Members made representations on behalf of Mr. Nadir. Could the four who remain unidentified be named in next Tuesday's debate, and reasons for their representations given on the Floor of the House? Those representations had no constituency purpose. How much more corruption are we to learn of from that case?
I understand why the hon. Gentleman feels it necessary to stir the issue in that way, but I doubt whether right hon. and hon. Members on either side of the House really think that it would be appropriate to make public every occasion on which constituency Members, quite properly, ask for information about a case following an approach from their constituents.
There is a widespread feeling of betrayal among people working in the mining industry in Nottinghamshire and, indeed, throughout the country. Does the Leader of the House understand that those people will not be reassured by the fact that the President of the Board of Trade will be here to answer questions on Wednesday? What they want to know is why, only last March, assurances were given about the future of pits. That was a political fix, which is now coming unstuck. The President of the Board of Trade should be here to apologise to us, and to those miners and their families.
Has the Leader of the House read the story in the current issue of "Private Eye" which states that, between 1984 and 1990, Mr. Asil Nadir was entertained at No. 10 Downing street on six occasions as an honoured guest of Margaret Thatcher? Now that the right hon. Lady is away from here and it is safe to come out and talk about such matters, may we please have a debate about the contacts and the relationship between Margaret Thatcher and Asil Nadir?
If we can prove that there is something nasty there, perhaps she will also do a runner to northern Cyprus— which will undoubtedly bring smiles to the faces of some Conservative Members, and great delight to the nation as a whole.
As it happens, I have not seen the piece in "Private Eye"; no doubt it will be studied carefully.
Let me point out that we are talking about a period during which, as far as I am aware, there was no particular reason to suspect the existence of the problems that have been indentified more recently. I have before me a note that probably relates to roughly the same period: it states that, at the time, both Polly Peck and Unipack Plastics Ltd. were giving money to such bodies as the Spastics Society, the Royal Opera House and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The atmosphere was quite different from that which now exists.
At the Edinburgh conference of European Community Heads of State, it was decided to lift the veil of secrecy from some operations within the Council of Ministers by publishing the votes that took place at its meetings. I was told in a letter from the right hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones)—who was then a Minister— and in a parliamentary answer from the Prime Minister that all parliamentary answers relating to the Council's meetings and published in Hansard would include the details of votes, and give a nil record if no vote had taken place. However, that is not happening in the bulk of Departments. Will the Leader of the House ensure that it is done? It will undoubtedly assist us when European Community matters are debated in the House.
I am aware of the general move towards greater openness; indeed, that was one of the matters advanced by the British Government at the Birmingham council, and we are anxious for it to proceed further. I shall look into the specific points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Government's proposals for changes in the affordability rules affecting housing associations? Only today, associations from the whole of the east midlands have been attempting to set out the clear consequences of the proposed change. They would raise the average rent to £85 a week, force low income earners out of housing association properties, terminate the flow of private finance into housing association building and bring about a huge increase in the housing benefit bill, which must be met by the country as a whole.
Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to a recent report by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland, which severely criticises the way in which the people of Northern Ireland have been deprived of their civil and human rights because of the way in which the House deals with Northern Ireland legislation? Will the right hon. Gentleman, as custodian of the House in this regard, respond positively to the report in the near future?
I note the hon. Gentleman's request. There has not been deficient representation from Northern Ireland this afternoon, because three hon. Members have addressed me from the Bench on which the hon. Gentleman is sitting. The hon. Gentleman will have a further opportunity to raise those points during the debate next Thursday.
Does the Leader of the House realise that the anxiety about the thermal oxide reprocessing plant is not confined to one group, but is spread to every corner of the House and throughout the country and the world? That is shown by early-day motion 2174 and several others.
[That this House welcomes the 12 to 1 majority vote of the Paris Commission Convention on The Control of Pollution of the Seas, at its meeting in Berlin on 16th June, to adopt further measures including the application of best available techniques for the reduction or elimination of inputs of radioactive substances to the maritime area and its further agreement that a new or revised discharge authorisation for radioactive discharges from nuclear reprocessing installations should only be issued by national authorities if special consideration is given to: (a) information on the need for spent fuel reprocessing and on other options, (b) a full environmental impact assessment, (c) the demonstration that the planned discharges are based upon the use of the best available techniques and observe the precautionary principle and (d) a consultation with the Paris Commission on the basis of (a), (b) and (c) above. Deplores the refusal of the United Kingdom Government alone to support this decision; believes this ParisCommission decision will rightly have serious implications for Sellafield; and demands that this decision be, fully taken into account in the present considerations on Thorp.]
Does he not realise that, if Thorp is commissioned, it will mean a ninefold increase in radioactive pollution in the Cumbrian area and will leave a legacy of nuclear waste that will be a nightmare and a burden to our grandchildren's grandchildren? During the debate in 1978, assurances were given by every party that this would not go on without a further debate. The rationale for Thorp was to use its production for the fast breeder reactor. That has been cancelled, and we must have a debate.
Will the Leader of the House accept that some Labour members of the Home Affairs Committee welcome the debate on Tuesday? Will he draw to the attention of the Minister leading for the Government our concern that there should be a reference to the responsibilities of Ministers when they go on foreign trips paid for by the taxpayer? The Committee has received evidence that the Prime Minister took time off from official functions in order to touch foreign business men for donations to the Tory party, and that other Ministers may have done the same.
I sometimes think that the propensity of Opposition Members to throw such allegations so easily about the Floor of the House is deplorable. I am conscious of the fact—there is practical evidence of it in jobs in various parts of the country—that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's efforts to ensure that foreign business men do business with British companies, buy British products and create British jobs have been among the great successes of his visits.
The Leader of the House will be aware that the report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice is to be published in the near future. Can he give some indication of what preliminary arrangements have been made for its contents to come before the House? While making those arrangements, will he make representations to his appropriate right hon. Friends to ensure that the report includes consideration of the serious shortcomings revealed by the case against my constituents, Lisa and Michelle Taylor, who were freed by the Court of Appeal last Friday?
I cannot dictate to the royal Commission what matters it should choose to consider and comment upon. I am not in a position to say when the report will be published. In those circumstances, I can hardly make a statement about how it will be dealt with.
[That this House recognises the horrific consequences of the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina and condemns the perpetration of massacres against civilians by all sides whether they be Serb, Croat or Muslim; is appalled by most recent reports of Croatian Army atrocities against Muslim civilians in Jablenica, Vitez, Jelinak, Armici, Zenica and many surrounding villages which have been witnessed by officers and men of the Cheshire Regiment and calls on Croat authorities to end,. forthwith, attacks against local civilians; calls for all regular Croatian Army troops to withdraw from Bosnia-Herzegovina; and simultaneously urges Her Majesty's Government to discuss, with other Members of the Security Council, an appropriate response by the international community.]
In the light of the fact that The Daily Telegraph journalist, Patrick Bishop, and a British soldier serving with the UN force in Bosnia were wounded this morning by a remote-controlled landmine in the region of Travnik where Croatian soldiers are active, could we have a statement from a Minister about relations between this country and Croatia?
I cannot undertake to ensure an immediate statement of that sort. I note the unhappy news that the hon. Gentleman has communicated about that incident. He will know that we fully support the Security Council's statement of 21 April and other things that have been done subsequently to protest to the President of Croatia about the renewed violence and call upon him to use his influence to stop it.
Has the Leader of the House caught sight of early-day motion 2171, signed by 169 Members across the House, which calls for the cleaning up of the former United Kingdom atomic test site at Maralinga in South Australia?
[That this House welcomes the visit of Mr. Gareth Evans, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Ministerial colleague, Mr. Simon Crean and their meetings with the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence; expresses the hope that these meetings will lead to an early agreement being reached between the Federal Government of Australia and Her Majesty's government concerning the final cleaning up of the former United Kingdom atomic test site at Maralinga, South Australia; reminds both governments that they are jointly responsible for this matter and that the Aboriginal people of the Maralinga-Tjarutja have pursued the objective of the restoration of their traditional lands in an honourable, dignified and peaceable way; and therefore urges the two governments to respond in like manner, thereby bringing this issue to a conclusion which meets the legitimate needs and interests of the Maralinga people.]
Is it not the case that Gareth Evans, the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Federal Australian Government, has a meeting this afternoon with the Foreign Secretary at which they will discuss this very matter? May I impress on the Leader of the House the need for an early statement from our Foreign Secretary about it, as he will surely agree that the honourable and decent people of the MaralingaTjarutja require nothing less than that our Government and the Federal Government of Australia clean up their traditional tribal lands?
The hon. Gentleman is right. The Australian Ministers for Foreign Affairs, for Primary Industries and for Energy are in this country and are meeting my right hon. Friend to discuss the matter. Indeed, there must be nearly as many members of the Australian Government in Britain as there are members of the British Government, judging by the numbers I have met—and very genial they and the members of the Australian Opposition are.
As for the subject that the hon. Gentleman has rasied, both Governments are keen to reach a mutually satisfactory solution as soon as possible, and my right hon. Friend will be reporting the outcome of the meeting to the House.
Does the Leader of the House realise that it is ages since the Secretary of State for Scotland produced his White Paper on the options for water and sewage in Scotland and that, during the consultation period, representations against privatisation have been flooding in, including many from Scottish Conservatives?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in today's Scottish Daily Express, there is what looks like a Scottish Office inspired story, which reveals the form in which the Secretary of State is going to announce the future of Scottish water? As I know that you, Madam Speaker, are always concerned that statements should be made to the House, not in the newspapers in the form of leaks or in any other way, will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement to the House next week, or as soon as possible, on the outcome of the consultation on the future of Scottish water and sewage?
When there is an outcome to the consultation, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will wish to make an appropriate statement to the House. However, at the moment, there is not, and I therefore cannot promise a statement next week. Nor can I promise a statement on every piece of speculation that appears in the Scottish or United Kingdom press.