The business for next week will be as follows:
Details of the estimates concerned and the relevant Select Committee reports will be given in the Official Report.
European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: 4077/92, 7632/92 +COR1, and 6497/92, abolition of border controls; 4527/92 and 8679/92, internal market. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: HC 24-xiv (1991–92 ), HC 79-i (1992–93 ); HC 24-xv (1991–92 ), HC 79-i (1992–93 ); HC 79-vi (1992–93 ), HC 79-xiii (1992–93); HC 79-ii (1992–93 ); HC 79-vii (1992–93).]
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.
Can he find time in the near future for a debate on the continuing evidence, to be found in the recent report of the citizens advice bureaux, that too many customers still get a raw deal from their banks? He will know that there is continuing concern, especially about the deal that small businesses receive. I expect that hon. Members on both sides of the House would welcome an opportunity to express their concern.
I should also like to remind the Leader of the House that our case for a debate on the Government's public expenditure programme is much strengthened by a view expressed strongly this week at the British Medical Association conference—that Government policy on the national health service is leading to a waste of money on massively increased bureaucracy. This money should be available for patient care—something that may not be unrelated to the fact that there are now I million people on hospital waiting lists.
Finally, may I ask the Leader of the House to arrange for a statement on the action that the Government plan to take following the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys report showing that more than 3 million people in this country have lost the right to vote because they are not on the electoral register and that, in some areas, the proportion is as high as 20 per cent. of what should be the eligible population? He will recall that, before the last election, the Government spent £750,000 of taxpayers' money encouraging those people who might have left the United Kingdom 20 years ago to register to vote. They spent substantially less on encouraging people who live here to be on the electoral register. We believe that such a level of under-registration is a serious threat to democracy, and would like to hear that the Government will do something about it.
On the first question, I have no doubt that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will have looked with interest at the report of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, and will wish to give it their consideration. However, I cannot promise an early opportunity for a debate in quite the terms that the right hon. Lady sought.
On the question of public expenditure, I note what she says. In my statement, I announced some proceedings on the Finance (No. 2) Bill—I hope that the Third Reading will not be delayed too long—and that may provide some opportunity for the observations of the sort that the right hon. Lady evidently wishes to make.
So far as the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys is concerned, I remind her that the Government undertake advertising each year to persuade young people and others who may be less likely to register in some circumstances to register. We are currently conducting a thorough review of electoral registration, and expect to be able to report the findings of our working group to the political parties and local authority associations in the autumn. We will then consider any changes to registration procedures that may be needed and undoubtedly the right hon. Lady's representations—if I may use that neutral word—can be considered in that context.
Will my right hon. Friend provide a debate on equal opportunities in politics as soon as possible? Surely, at the very least, the Equal Opportunities Commission should be investigating a parliamentary selection procedure that would exclude at least 50 per cent. of the population from applying for a seat in the House.
Madam Speaker, you may have read with at least as much interest as I the reports of a Labour party proposal to have women-only short lists for parliamentary seats. That does not seem to be a way of encouraging women into politics that will be welcomed even by many women in view of its implications. Clearly, it is a form of positive discrimination of a sort that many people would feel is wrong, whichever sex they may be.
Could the Leader of the House tell us whether there is any scope for an early debate on parliamentary procedures? He will know that it is well over a year since the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) brought forward the Select Committee report on reforming the sittings of the House.
Obviously, it would make sense, if we are to change the procedures, that such changes should take effect a t the beginning of a new Session, and therefore it is essential that we have an early debate. Can the Leader of the House give an assurance that the recent press reports that the parliamentary Labour party has taken such a proposal will not affect changes to the parliamentary procedures being brought forward at an early stage?
The hon. Gentleman is in a better position than me to know whether it is true—perhaps he might care to tell us.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) will know of the efforts that I have been making to advance the prospects of those proposals. He has noted what I found to be a discouraging report in The Independent last week, that the parliamentary Labour party had effectively voted to block the proposals that were put forward. I am not in a position to confirm precisely that that decision has been taken. It may be that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) would like to tell us something about it.
I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 2240, concerning the decision of the Kent education authority to adopt a hostile and spiteful attitude to those schools that may wish to consider opting out.
[That this House notes with concern that one of the first acts of the new Lab-Lib controlled Kent Education Committee at its first meeting on Friday 18th June was to change policy on grant maintained schools, from one of adopting a neutral stance towards schools seeking to opt out of County Council control to vigorously encouraging them to stay within it; further notes that Lab-Lib 'members also voted to object to applications to opt out'; regards this change of policy as an attack upon parental rights and school based democracy; and urges all schools in Kent, whether within or outside LEA control, to be alert to this new hostile policy.]
Can he arrange for an urgent debate on this subject, so that the House will have a chance to debate and show up those Labour and Liberal-controlled local education authorities that are acting in such a spiteful and vindictive way?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government entirely agree that hostility to grant-maintained status by any local authority is something that we deplore. The whole basis of the policy is that it is for the parents to choose how their children's schools are managed. Therefore, I understand my hon. Friend's concerns.
Although I cannot promise a debate specifically on that matter, he will recall that, a few moments ago, I said that the second half of next Thursday, an estimates day, will be a debate on the expenditure plans of the Department for Education for the next year or two. I do not think that he will have to stretch things too far to get his comments in order in that debate.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate, or at least a statement from the Secretary of State for Social Security, on poverty in the United Kingdom? Recent reports have shown that the gap between the haves and the have-nots in Britain is wider than it has been at any time this century. Millions of people are living in abject poverty as a direct result of the Government's policies. Will the Secretary of State come to the House to make a statement on that disgraceful state of affairs?
I have three points to make in answer to the hon. Gentleman. First, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security will be here to answer questions next Monday. Secondly, my right hon. Friend issued yesterday an extensive press release that provides considerable information about the figures to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Thirdly, I reject the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the figures, and I speak about the subject from experience. The figures show, of course, a widespread increase in general living standards.
I hesitate, in view of my right hon. Friend's experience in the role that I currently fulfil, to question his implicit judgment that no such month can be found. I do not think that we did too badly last July, but he may attribute that to the fact that we rose, I believe, on the 15th. I am afraid that I cannot hold out any such prospect this year. I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me for wondering aloud whether he may have had a concealed motive for his question.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the lengthy exchanges during Northern Ireland questions this afternoon? During those exchanges, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) failed to clarify his position on newspaper reports that Labour party policy was moving towards joint authority for Northern Ireland. In light of that, if the Labour party requests an Opposition Supply day, or a half Supply day, during which the Labour party and its leader could clarify the policy, will the Leader of the House facilitate that request?
I would be tempted to do so, were such an unlikely request to be made. The hon. Gentleman will know that, as a result of the postponement of a debate last week, there is the prospect of a further debate on Northern Ireland matters before too long.
On the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I was not present throughout Northern Ireland questions, but I gather that there were extensive exchanges on the matter to which he refers. I was in the Chamber during Prime Minister's questions, when the most conspicuous exchange on the subject amounted to the Leader of the Opposition deciding to leave Northern Ireland aside.
My right hon. Friend announced a debate on education next week. Could he advise me whether it is in order to make reference during the course of that debate to the activities of the All Souls Group and the impartiality of civil servants? May I draw his attention also to early-day motion 2239 which specifically refers to that group?
[That this House notes with concern the existence of the All Souls Group, whose members are, and have been, consistently hostile to the Government's educational reforms; notes that a number of senior officials and former officials of the Department for Education and other government departments are members of the All Souls Group; and urges the Cabinet Secretary to investigate the aims, nature and membership of this group to establish whether its activities are consistent with the political independence of civil servants.]
I am a little short of being persuaded of the need for an inquiry into the group. I understand that the group has existed with the participation of civil servants for about 50 years, and is a discussion group on educational matters. I am advised that the group takes no position and produces neither reports nor minutes. If my hon. Friend wishes to dispute those propositions, I am sure that he will be in touch with me in other ways.
Could the House have a debate on the Government's policy on pay, during which they could explain why they are interfering in public sector pay and limiting people—for example, members of the fire service—to 1·5 per cent. wage increases? At the same time, the Government do nothing about other public services, such as the privatised water authorities. Recent pay increases in the Yorkshire water authority have taken the salary of Sir Gordon Jones to over £150,000. If Sir Gordon and all the other board parasites were to go home, it would not affect the functioning and operation of Yorkshire Water. Time should be found to debate the greed, prejudice and self-interest of those pillars of Tory policy.
It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that I cannot undertake to provide time for the debate that he wishes to have. I will merely observe that the Government's approach to public sector pay has been an important ingredient in the policies that are now manifestly producing economic recovery.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Disabled Persons (Services) Bill is on the Order Paper for tomorrow. Support for independent living is a basic principle of Conservative philosophy. This measure would not entail an additional penny of Treasury expenditure but would offer better value for existing expenditure. The passage of the Bill would be very extensively welcomed by disabled people and by local government. Given that the Bill has all-party support and has been approved in another place, will the Government give it a fair wind to enable it to complete its legislative passage?
My hon. Friend's interest in these matters is well known and much respected. He will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People has several times set out the Government's approach. We very much share the aim of ending discrimination against disabled people, but see many practical problems in the approach contained in the Bill. We believe that the right approach is a programme of education and persuasion, backed up by more specifically targeted legislation.
In view of the recently adopted, although slightly imperfect, concept of openness within the Council of Ministers, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week about the meeting to be held tomorrow in Brussels about aspects of structural funds allocation within the Community? I understand that the Minister for Industry will deputise for the President of the Board of Trade, who will be absent through illness. Does the Minister appreciate how important those negotiations are for areas such as the highlands and islands and Merseyside, which are seeking objective I, and other areas seeking objective 5(b)?
A few years ago, I had a brief experience of such matters as a Minister with responsibilities for regional affairs and the structural funds, and I appreciate their importance. I cannot undertake to arrange a specific statement at a specific time, but I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will keep the House informed in the most appropriate way.
Would my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week about animal welfare? That would enable the House to discuss the latest report of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which shows that cruelty is increasing at an alarming rate. We in this country think that we are kind to animals, but we are not. A lot of people should be barred from owning them.
The House respects my hon. Friend's long-standing interest in animal welfare. Were I to respond favourably to every request that he makes, however, we would probably have a debate on animal welfare once a week. I cannot give him the promise he seeks, but I will bear his request in mind.
Would it be possible to have another debate, in Government time, on party financing, given the widespread public concern that the Conservative party is in receipt of stolen money and, in another case, money from a very dubious source? Is it not important in a democracy for political parties to make it clear where their money comes from, although I can understand the reluctance of the Conservative party to do so? Can we have a debate as quickly as possible, before the summer recess, because it is a very important subject that should be debated yet again, in view of the latest details to emerge?
A small opportunity might arise, curiously, during the debate on the estimates next Thursday, when we shall debate, among other things, the action taken by my right hon. Friend to help the Maxwell pensioners. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman or some of his colleagues will tell the House that the Labour party is returning the Maxwell money to help the Maxwell pensioners.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the French and German Governments have slashed their social security payments to such an extent that they are now way below the generous benefits that we pay?
During business questions, my right hon. Friend referred to an EC document on immigration, which we are to debate next week. May we have a full debate on the subject, especially in view of the fact that the French and Germans have considerably tightened their immigration regulations and in view of the very real fear in this country, especially among the elderly, that there will be economic migration within the EC and into this country by people who wish to take advantage of the very generous benefits structure here?
My hon. Friend, who clearly has considerable support from other hon. Friends, will of course know that the House has recently approved new measures on asylum to prevent abuse of our system. My hon. Friend mentioned France. According to reports in yesterday's newspapers, Germany too is taking action to restrain the growth of its social security budget, which it believes cannot be afforded and which could undermine the system as a whole.
Will the Leader of the House take a look behind him and note that the score this afternoon is approximately men 30, women one? Does he realise that many viewers watching Parliament on television believe that it is high time that all political parties took in hand the gross under-representation of women in Parliament?
I think that the hon. Lady will acknowledge that all political parties—I think I am right in saying that—have in recent years been concerned to do all that they reasonably can to increase the number of women in Parliament. The issue that was raised earlier was in reference to a particular proposal which has, I understand, been considered by the parliamentary Labour party, but which I think few women would regard as a sensible way to proceed.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the Local Government Commission and, in particular, on the need for it to restore historic county boundaries? Is he aware that there is a popular demand for Bolton to be moved from the redundant Greater Manchester council and included in Lancashire where it belongs?
Does the Leader of the House recall that it was 10 years ago yesterday that I was fortunate enough to come second in the private Members' ballot, and that he was the Minister who opposed my Bill to outlaw discrimination against disabled people? Does he also recall that he said that education and persuasion were the only ways to deal with some people's disgraceful attitude towards the disabled?
As that policy has failed, may we have a statement next week on the Government's attitude to discrimination against disabled people, which will give them an opportunity to review the whole issue?
On the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, as a Minister at the Department of Social Security, will be answering questions on Monday. The hon. Gentleman may have the opportunity to raise the matter with him.
As for the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I well recall that I was the Minister with responsibility for disabled people on that occasion. I also recall the arguments. I dispute the suggestion that substantial progress has not been made in the intervening 10 years in advancing the cause of disabled people and removing discrimination against them—and, indeed, in greatly improving the benefits available to them, an issue with which I have been very much involved.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a further debate on standards in public life, and will he use my early-day motion 2197 as the basis for such a debate?
[That this House calls upon the Leader of the Opposition to issue an order to his staff not to interfere with the investigations being carried out by the media into the scandal of nepotism and corruption on Monklands District Council; regrets that Mr. Murray Elder, Chief of Staff in the Leader of the Opposition's office, should offer a constituent in Airdrie employment with Labour-controlled Edinburgh Council, paid for out of the public purse, on condition that the constituent would keep quiet and not record hiscomplaint on television; and furthermore believes that Mr. Murray Elder should be dismissed for engaging in an attempt at a Watergate-style cover up.]
Would not such a debate give us the opportunity to disclose more information about the two telephone calls made from the Leader of the Opposition's private office in order to effect a cover-up of Labour's growing scandal on Monklands district council?
That is one of a number of matters on which we daily await comment either from the right hon. and learned Leader of the Opposition or, on some occasions such as this afternoon, from the right hon. Lady who is the deputy Leader, but we simply go on waiting. Perhaps we can raise our hopes in the light of my hon. Friend's question.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the future of the civil service, because of the Government's avowed intention to reduce it from 500,000 to 10,000? Does he not agree that the British civil service is still a unique institution, the least politicised and the least corrupt in the world? Once it has been undermined, market-tested, privatised, contractorised and effectively destroyed, it can never be rebuilt.
I do not know on what the hon. Gentleman rests all that. The changes that have been made—for example, in the creation of executive agencies—are widely seen by many civil servants as offering new opportunities for doing exactly what civil servants want to do, which is to deliver efficiently and effectively a first-class service to the public.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that we all want the Olympics to come to Manchester. That raises the problems, on which I hope he can find time for a debate, of ticket touting, the printing of false tickets and even of someone going to the extent of taking one person to Wimbledon for £50,000.
This is growing into an industry to which the law is no deterrent, and it is time that it was thoroughly examined. Not only do these people not pay tax, but they put the money into their pockets, they are not part of working society, and none of the money is used for the improvement of our state system. We must crack down on such people before the Olympics come to Manchester.
I am sure that my hon. Friend's view is widely shared, and I shall draw his representations to the attention of my right hon. Friends. My hon. Friend mentions the Manchester bid. I had the good fortune to be present at the reception given earlier this week by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for members of the International Olympic Committee to try to advance that bid further. My hon. Friend is no doubt aware that the Manchester Olympics bid flag is flying in Downing street.
Mr. Edward Gamier:
Despite the advice of my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), will the Leader of the House find time this month for a debate to highlight the need for a bypass around the village of Theddingworth in my constituency? That village is on the A427 from Market Harborough to Lutterworth.
The villagers and residents in and around the village are fed up with lorries going through their garden walls, the vibration of heavy traffic and the filth and dirt that is associated with it. There is a tremendous need for a bypass, which is recognised by everybody except the Liberal-Labour county council. May we have a debate on that at the earliest possible opportunity?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I am sure that he will carry not only my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North but all hon. Members with the thought that the House would enhance its reputation by staying on an extra day to debate that bypass.
Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to study early-day motion 1874 in my name, entitled "Croatian Army Atrocities"?
[That this House recognises the horrific consequences of the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina and condems 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 discusss, with other Members of the Security Council, an appropriate response by the international community.]
So far, it has received the support of 98 right hon. and hon. Members. In view of today's disturbing news of threats by the Croatian army against the United Nations battalion in Mostar and the decision to withdraw that battalion, will he consider making time available next week to discusss sanctions against the Republic of Croatia?
I am afraid that I cannot promise to find time for that debate as things stand at present. I think that all hon. Members will understand why my hon. Friend has thought it right to raise that matter. He knows that the whole House shares his condemnation of the continued fighting and the atrocities being committed in Bosnia.
Given Britain's changing and volatile military commitments overseas, will my right hon. Friend try to find time to debate the importance of ending the plans to merge the Gordon Highlanders with the Queen's Own Highlanders and, at a stroke, find a cost-effective solution to the constraints of Army manpower and ensure a future for two of the finest regiments of the British Army?
My hon. Friend will know that we are expecting shortly the publication of further defence estimates. That will be followed in due course by a further debate, although I cannot promise that it will be before the summer recess. I cannot promise a separate debate in quite the terms my hon. Friend seeks.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the proposals by the BBC to have a reunion for all those who were involved in the great train robbery? The minimum cost of air flights is about £1,000, or £4,000 first class, and heaven knows what hotel accommodation during the filming would cost. My surgeries are constantly visited by senior citizens who find it difficult to meet the cost of the licence fee. They will see it as a totally outrageous waste of money.
My hon. Friend well knows that the BBC is independent of Government. It has been a long-standing principle that Ministers do not intervene in matters of programming policy. However, I understand that the BBC's own guidelines for factual programme makers stipulate that criminals should not profit from their crimes, and that would normally preclude the payment of fees or expenses for programmes dealing specifically with crimes for which people have been convicted.
The hon. Gentleman cannot seriously expect me to start talking about conversations I had with other members of the Cabinet across the Dispatch Box on the Floor of the House. The first part of his question was a bit uncharitable, in view of the trouble I took to arrange the debate on Members' interests for which he had been pressing me for so long. The first part of his question was just about the ultimate triumph of hope over expectation.