Does the Lord President recall that, during business questions, I have, with strong support from his side of the House, repeatedly requested a full day's debate on the Child Support Agency before approval of the orders giving effect to a package that no one but the Government thinks is adequate? Is not it disgraceful that, as soon as we told the Government that we proposed to use the half day of Opposition time that they had offered to the Labour party for such a debate, making it possible for the House to have a full day's debate on the Child Support Agency next week, that offer was withdrawn?
Is it not particularly odd that the Government are determined to have a decision before full debate when the Prime Minister is dropping hints in the Yorkshire Post that there might be further changes in the package on offer? Or is this yet another example of the Prime Minister's saying something that he does not mean?
Does the Lord President recall our continual pressure for an early decision on the boundaries on which the European elections will be fought in June? Is not it true that the French and the British Governments are almost alone in their failure to ratify the arrangements? Is the Leader of the House aware of the ugly rumour that the delay here arises because the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) wishes to stand for one of the new seats and the Government are afraid that this will reopen divisions in the Conservative party? As the French Government have made it quite plain that their delay is deliberate, will the Lord President reassure us that, in the case of the British Government, it is a matter of incompetence rather than of malice?
May I, finally, draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that today's Daily Mail tells us that the Prime Minister is yet again relaunching his philosophy this weekend? Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for the Prime Minister to tell the House what "back to basics" now means? Is there any chance that it will include "back to a standard of good government"?
The suggestion in the hon. Lady's second point is pretty far-fetched, even by the standards of Her Majesty's Opposition. There is absolutely no truth in it. We shall bring forward the parliamentary orders required to confirm the new European constituency boundaries at the earliest possible date—in good time to enable them to take effect for the elections this June.
As to the Daily Mail, perhaps the right hon. Lady would be wiser to wait for my right hon. Friend's speech. I am able to tell her, without breaking the doctrine of collective responsibility and all the rest of it, that that speech will be concerned with one of the things which we have been most anxious to bring about and which we are successfully bringing about—greater competitiveness for the country. Much of that competitiveness will rest, as my right hon. Friend said in his Question Time earlier, on our record of maintaining the lowest tax rates in Europe for both individuals and businesses and making this an attractive place for others to do business.
I noted what the right hon. Lady said about the Child Support Agency and I rather welcomed the suggestion that she is edging back towards the usual channels in her approach to business. That was the impression that she gave and perhaps she can confirm that that is the case. We intend to provide more than the one and a half hours that such regulations are normally allocated, because we recognise the desire to debate them.
The reason for the business that I have proposed for next Wednesday is that, yesterday afternoon, the Opposition, led by the Leader of the Opposition, demanded that those regulations should be debated on the Floor of the House. I have provided the time for just that.
Can my right hon. Friend find time, if not next week, fairly soon afterwards, for a debate on early-day motion 459, which is entitled, "Liberal Democratic Party and Racist Literature"?
[That this House notes that the latest official Activists Handbook of the Liberal Democratic Party addresses the problems of delivering Liberal Democratic leaflets to 'unintelligible inhabitants who appear to speak only in Punjabi, broad Cockney or Scouse or, worst of all, Glaswegian'; notes that this is only the latest example of the Liberal Democratic Party using racially offensive language or language that mocks regional accents; notes that it follows the publication by the Liberal Democratic Party of overtly racist literature in a local government election in Tower Hamlets, together with racist remarks by the Liberal Democratic Councillor Tom Dommett in Somerset; and calls on the Right honourable Member for Yeovil yet again to expel Councillor Dommett from the Liberal Democratic Party and to withdraw the Activists Handbook forthwith.]
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House would welcome the opportunity to discuss the sleazy tactics of the Liberal Democrats and expose their fraudulent racist message, which they give where it suits them?
My hon. Friend knows well that the Government deplore as much as anyone else offensive comments of the kind that have been attributed in this case. He will be aware that the Public Order Act 1986 makes it an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words if it is likely that racial hatred will be stirred up. I am sure that those at whom my hon. Friend's remarks are directed will reflect on that. Perhaps I might take his remarks as a request for a half day for the Liberal Democrats.
I should be very pleased to hear that we are going to get a half day, and the sooner the better. If the Government are so confident that they have a good record on the proper conduct of public business, will they allow a full day's debate in Government time next week on that subject?
The right way for the Government to respond, as the hon. Gentleman certainly knows, is first to respond to the report of the Public Accounts Committee. That will be done at the proper time and in the proper way, but on the basis that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister outlined in exchanges earlier today.
Will my right hon. Friend follow the instincts that he expressed last week and arrange for a debate soon on the waste of public expenditure by public authorities? Does he agree that that would be a marvellous opportunity for Conservative Members to expose the waste, corruption and inefficiency of Labour-controlled authorities, such as my own authority of Worcester, where an unnecessary footbridge was built, at vast expense, across the River Severn? The cost of that has now been transferred to the Labour and Liberal-controlled county council.
I certainly agree that such a debate would provide myriad opportunities for examples of waste by Labour local authorities to be cited. As I said before, I will certainly pursue my efforts to find time for those examples to be discussed.
We are faced with massive family debt, the break-up of families, divorce, suicides and children in second families who are deprived and under stress, while parents no longer visit their children in first families because they cannot afford to do so. May we have a full debate on the Child Support Agency and what it has done to respectable and responsible second families?
The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government have already issued proposals on that matter and that, as I have announced, they will be debated next week. That will give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to make his points.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that, although the Opposition Front-Bench team is terrorised by the Bolsover dinosaurs on the subject of the thoroughly sensible all-party Jopling reform of Parliament, there is no reason for the Government to be so terrorised? Is there any reason why we should not have a debate and thereby expose to the public just how antediluvian the Labour party is on that subject?
I assure my hon. Friend that I neither feel nor am terrorised by the hon. Members below the Gangway to whom he referred. I shall certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's comments and those that my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure has made in a not dissimilar sense on a number of occasions. It may be that yesterday's episode, when the Leader of the Labour party led his party in an attempt to disrupt the orderly conduct of business in the House, will strengthen public support for the report.
The Leader of the House must know from his constituents of the enormous chaos and unhappiness that are being caused by the Child Support Agency. He must also be aware that the package that is being proposed is totally inadequate and has not even taken account of the problems highlighted by a Select Committee. I ask him seriously to allow a full day's debate on the matter, because it is the children, whether they be the product of first or second marriages, who are our concern—and they are suffering.
I have already said that my right hon. Friend has understood and sought to respond to that concern and that time will be provided for a debate next week. I should observe, however, that, after carefully reading the Select Committee's report, my understanding is that the Government's package almost entirely implemented the Committee's proposals.
Will my right hon. Friend study early-day motion 434?
[That this House believes that a system should be agreed between the political parties allowing honourable Members who are involved in international institutions, recognised by the UK, such as the Parliamentary Assemblies of the Council of Europe and Western European Union, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to deposit their votes with their respective whips, to be used according to their instructions or that attendance at those bodies which advance international co-operation are not dependent on domestic party relations, which can, at times, deteriorate, even to the extent of suspending pairing arrangements, leading to the exclusion of UK representatives from such bodies to the disadvantate of both the UK and the institutions.]
It shows that we can no longer send representatives to international organisations because of the breakdown of links between the two parties. That is extremely bad for Britain and means that we had to apologise at the Council of Europe for our conduct. Such a situation should be stopped as soon as possible so that Britain can be properly represented.
I take those remarks, with which I agree, as being primarily directed at Opposition Front-Bench Members. As I said last week, they may think that their current behaviour in the House is directed at the Government, but the effect of the attack is increasingly on Parliament.
In view of today's Public Accounts Committee report, may I reiterate the request for a debate on the standards of public conduct? That report cites several examples of the serious decline in standards, including that of the Foreign Office accounting system, which was conducive to fraud and theft. Is not the case for such a debate reinforced by the evidence to the Scott inquiry, by the Pergau dam fiasco, and by the general stench of corruption emanating from the Government, who are fast sinking in a sea of sleaze?
I think that part of not being terrorised by hon. Members below the Gangway is not to respond to the overheated, overstated language that they use on occasions of this sort. I do not for one moment accept one word that the hon. Gentleman said.
I think that my hon. Friend will welcome our continuing efforts to provide opportunities for such a debate, which will bring out both the down side of the policies that Her Majesty's Opposition are pursuing, and—this is no less important—the positive advantages that our very different policies have brought to the competitiveness of this nation.
Will the Leader of the House ask for a statement from the Foreign Secretary or a Minister next week on the situation developing in Iran, where the Superintendent of the Assemblies of God went missing in the past week following the execution of another pastor allegedly for apostasy? Many people in our nation are concerned about that. I have already written to the Foreign Secretary. May we have a statement on what action the Government are taking?
May I urge the Leader of the House to consider giving us an early day for the debate that has already been promised on the age of consent? Does he recall that the Minister of State, Home Office said that such a debate would be held in the House with a free vote.
at a relatively early stage in the Committee proceedings"?— [Official Report, 11 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 115.]
The Committee has now been meeting for a fortnight and the matter is becoming urgent. I should be most grateful if the Leader of the House would consider the matter.
I shall certainly seek to provide time as soon as possible for the matters that we have undertaken to arrange to be discussed on the Floor of the House in the way that my hon. Friend described, but I am not in a position this afternoon to give a date.
May we please have an early debate on the extraordinary and crazy decision of Leicestershire social services to ban my constituent Sharon Isett and her husband from adopting a second child because Sharon Isett smokes between six and 10 cigarettes a day, even though she has undertaken that she will not smoke in the presence of the baby? I do not know whether the Minister is, as I am, a reformed smoker who hates the habit, but surely what matters to a child is that it is placed in a loving, warm and stable home, such as that of the Isetts. This decision should be revoked.
I shall forbear from commenting on that part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question that was perhaps directed at me. He asks about adoption. He will be aware that my right hon. Friend has recently published a White Paper dealing with some of the questions of who should or should not be regarded as appropriate in this area. I shall bring the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.
My right hon. Friend probably realises that June is the 50th anniversary of the landings in Normandy. I am sure that the whole House will want to celebrate the wonderful sacrifice by our troops and their allies. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am extremely worried—which is why I ask my right hon. Friend to arrange a day's debate—that some local authorities, and certainly my Labour-controlled council in Southampton, Test, are virtually ignoring that historic landing. I want them to do more to alert the public, and that is why we should have a debate.
My hon. Friend will have heard the murmurs in the House at what he said. I am sure that the whole House hopes that all parts of the United Kingdom, and especially those coastal parts that have strong connections with the sea, will consider the impropriety of ignoring this historic and significant anniversary.
Has the Leader of the House seen the reports that western Governments are seeking to persuade the Secretary-General of the United Nations that air strikes against Serbia could be launched without going to the Security Council? Will he assure us that he will seek a statement from the Foreign Secretary or the Defence Secretary before British service personnel are engaged in offensive action in Serbia that could endanger our troops who are already there and undermine the humanitarian work that is going on? May we have a statement before any action is taken that might involve our service personnel?
I will bring the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend, who will be in the House at Question Time next Wednesday. The right hon. Gentleman will know of the measured approach and tone that the Government have always sought to adopt in this matter, in contrast with some of the things that have been pressed on the Government by Liberal Democrat Members and by some of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends.
In view of the debate earlier this week on the Finance Bill, can my right hon. Friend make time for yet further debates on public expenditure so that we can discuss the £14 billion additional promises made by the Labour party only this week on health, overseas development and housing? Such a debate would give us the opportunity to remind the people of this country that when Labour was last in government it ran a regular budget deficit of 7·5 per cent. of GDP, which led to an average rate of inflation of 15·5 per cent. and stagnant living standards. Does not that show what a hypocritical bunch they are now?
Will the Leader of the House consider putting aside some time to debating manufacturing industry, particularly in the north-west? Will he discard his rose-coloured glasses and note that, in the past seven days, 1,500 manufacturing jobs have been declared redundant from Chorley through Bolton to my constituency? In three small towns, 1,500 good, solid, well-paid, highly skilled manufacturing jobs have gone. What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do about it?
The hon. Gentleman knows that, when one looks at the whole picture, there is no doubt that British manufacturing industry has been strengthening, not weakening. Perhaps the motor car industry is a classic case. We shall continue fundamentally strengthening the British economic base on which manufacturing rests.
Will my right hon. Friend provide time for an early debate on the relationship between drugs and the growth in violent crime in our cities? Has he noticed recent reports showing that a particular vicious group of drug barons, known as the Yardies, are being expelled from New York city but are setting up shop in British cities? Should we not have a fairly urgent debate on that, given that the task force set up to counter the Yardies some years ago was disbanded and I understand that the police are now considering re-forming it?
I have seen those reports. My hon. Friend will be well aware of the importance that the Government attach to those issues. I shall bring my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the Home Secretary. He will be aware that, only a few weeks ago, my right hon. and learned Friend announced the creation of a new unit to make even more effective the Government's efforts both in the prevention and the control of drug abuse.
Many people will have agreed with the Prime Minister's comments about the importance of organised games and sport for our young people. Is the Leader of the House aware that, in any constituency represented here and in others, hundreds or perhaps thousands of families are unable to buy such items as football boots unless they are fortunate enough to find them in a jumble sale? Can we have a debate on the social effects of poverty on millions of families in Britain?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should look at the figures that have emerged today, showing that, contrary to some of the myths that Opposition Members seek to spread, in the past decade or 15 years, there has been a substantial rise in the disposable incomes of every sector in the population.
My right hon. Friend will know that yesterday we held a complete day's debate on an Opposition motion on housing, yet the Opposition took no opportunity to explain why hundreds of millions of pounds in rent remains uncollected in Labour-controlled authorities throughout the country. In view of that, will my right hon. Friend ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement to the House about that appalling waste of public funds, and about whether those authorities could now be reported en bloc to the Audit Commission?
That appears to me to be a suggestion well worth considering. I was more tempted than perhaps I should have been by the suggestion from the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), as it is clear that any debate on waste would embrace the matters to which my hon. Friend referred.
If the Leader of the House agrees to a debate about the Jopling report, will he put it on record that a number of Government Ministers and, in particular, Government Whips are not keen on having a four-day week in Parliament? If we are interested in having a four-day week here, we should consider first a four-day week for those who produce wealth outside this building so that we can mop up the 4 million unemployed and give hope to the thousands of young kids leaving school without the hope of a job. When Parliament has done that, we can start talking about a four-day week for Members of Parliament.
I have to say, not for the first time, that I detect some division above and below the Opposition Gangway. That sounds to me exactly the sort of proposition that caused the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) to find— [Interruption.] I am talking about the four-day working week in the population. That is the proposition which the right hon. and learned Gentleman ran a mile from as soon as he found that he had signed up to it in Europe.
Will my right hon. Friend find time in the near future for a debate on employment practices within Labour-controlled councils, so that Conservative Members can fully debate what is going on in Monklands district council? That is a particular reference to the redundancy of Mr. Tom McFarlane, a constituent of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), and the subject of letters between myself and the right hon. and learned Gentleman, to which I have had no reply, and now a letter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), which I hope will get a better response.
I certainly feel that it would be appropriate for the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East to comment on what has been appearing in the newspapers. I hope that he will reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch).
Will the Leader of the House clarify his intentions on the reform of the age of consent? Am I right in thinking that he said a few moments ago that he intends to have a Committee of the whole House before the Standing Committee on the Bill has completed its work, and before that Standing Committee may choose to have a debate on the age of consent?
I do not think that I put it in those terms, but that is the proposition that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) was advancing and is the prospect that I think that most hon. Members are expecting. I see that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) confirms that.
During the debate on the revenue support grant orders, will my right hon. Friend ensure that we have sufficient time to debate rate capping and, particularly, the Labour party's commitment to it, which would imply extra expenditure of between £3 billion and £4 billion?
That is another interesting point for the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) to consider against the background of the declared Brown doctrine of which we have read in the newspapers. As to the rest of my hon. Friend's question, we intend to provide, as I have said, a full day on the revenue support grant reports. I think that that might provide him with the opportunity that he seeks.
Does the Leader of the House not see it as an urgent priority that we debate the destruction of one of our most precious treasured national institutions—the civil service? What is going on, and what the Public Accounts Committee has drawn attention to, is the growth of quangos. The contractorisation and privatisation of the civil service are introducing into that body the lower ethics of commerce. The civil service took a century to build up. Once those high standards are gone, they can never be re-created. When will we have a debate on that?
Will my right hon. Friend consider again the request made by our hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and to link the debate with early-day motion 341?
[That this House calls upon the Right honourable Member for Yeovil to disassociate himself from the description by Tom Dommett, a Liberal Democrat County Councillor, of his constituents in Somerset, as 'Yids, Nig-nogs, Ities and Pakis…no better than New Age scum and vermin'; believes that the use of such grossly offensive language about people of other nationalities and races is wholly unacceptable in public life; notes that this is yet the latest example of blatant racism within the Liberal Democrat Party; and calls upon the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, the Right honourable Member for Yeovil, to expel Councillor Dommett from the party forthwith.]
It has been signed by hon. Members on both sides of the House and draws attention to the racist language used by a Liberal councillor in Somerset. The debate would also give the House the opportunity to debate the credibility of a party whose leader can describe one of his councillors as inexperienced and stupid, but still offer him up to the electorate as a credible purveyor of Liberal party policy.
Will the Leader of the House accept the demand for a debate on the drugs problem, particularly in the light of the statement by the chief investigation officer of Customs and Excise, Mr. Douglas Tweddle, that the drugs problem is worse than at any other time in this country's history and is linked with a record of violence, including a number of inner-city murders? During the debate, we could assess how the single European market, which has been imposed on this country, has removed a great deal of protection at our borders and is allowing the freer movement of drugs, guns and criminal activities across our borders, with diminished supervision. Surely that is a serious problem and we should have time to debate it.
The hon. Gentleman knows well the importance that the Government attach to those matters and their determination to tackle any such problems as those that the hon. Gentleman has described. However, he might wish to consider whether he has accurately stated the position.
May we have a debate next week on student support, in particular student loans, in order to examine the cost of student loans to Britain with a view to establishing the apparent cost that the nation will have to face if the words of the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Davies), in quoting the leader of the Labour party in the House on 19 January as being opposed to student loans, are carried out? That would be a severe cost to the nation and we need to know what it would be.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the success or otherwise of the experimental charterline service that is operating in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, bearing in mind that the service, which cost £2 million to set up, had received, at the end of last year, a total of 3,199 calls and that of the 201 in relation to Nottingham, only four were complaints and a large proportion of the others had to be redirected because they had been wrongly directed in the first place? Such a debate would enable us to clarify whether, at a cost of £625·20 per call, that is one of the measures against which the Government would wish to be judged in terms of the value for money of the services that they offer.
May we have a debate on crime and, in particular, police numbers so that I can expose the hypocrisy of Cambridgeshire county council, run by the Liberal and Labour parties, which, having asked for 68 more police officers because of increasing crime problem, has been given substantial extra resources this year—an extra £19 million—and has now rejected the Conservative proposal for those extra officers?
May we have a debate on the matter raised in early-day motions 378 and 379 in my name regarding the Sheriff Court Fees Amendment (No. 2) Order?
[That this House notes the comments of the Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, Scottish Minister of Home Affairs, that with the introduction of increased court fees resulting from the Sheriff Court Fees Amendment (No. 2) Order judicial costs will be recovered from fee income; notes that the principle of equality of access to courts will be eroded both by the scale and rate of increase in charges; and questions why individuals on a weekly income of £150 per week should be paying towards a judge's salary of over £1,150 a week.]
To illustrate the urgent need for such a debate, I refer the right hon. Gentleman to a constituent of mine who, before 31 December, would have been required to pay £40 to go to court to get her husband out of the house, but is now required to pay £123, which is 80 per cent. of her income. She cannot afford that and, as a result, her progress in the matter has been impeded. Given the problems that exist all over Scotland as a result of the order, will the Leader of the House urge on the Secretary of State for Scotland the need for such a debate?
When my right hon. Friend considers the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and others for a debate on early-day motion 459 on Liberal Democrat literature, will he bear in mind the concerns and fears that many British people have about the activities and influence of extreme and racist political forces in Europe and their wish not to see those forces imported in this country in any way whatever?
I am increasingly tempted to think that one of the innovations that should be introduced into our proceedings is an opportunity for Liberal Democrat Members to answer questions.
May we have a debate next week about the underhand, coercive pressures imposed on teachers? That would enable us to draw attention to the threats issued by Liberal and Labour-controlled Kent county council to primary and other school head teachers who are considering applying for grant-maintained status. They are being told that if they support such action, they cannot expect ever to be considered for vacancies in any of the council's schools.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate next week on early-day motion 461?
[That this House condemns unreservedly the remarks of the honourable Member of Glasgow, Hillhead in praising the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in Baghdad; regrets that these remarks have provided a propaganda coup for the Iraqi dictator; notes his statement made personally to Saddam Hussein; 'Sir, allow me to salute your courage, power and indefatigability. I would like you to know that we are with you until the nasir (victory)'; and regrets the distress which these remarks will have caused to the families of British service men and women who were killed or injured in the Gulf War and families of those British civilians imprisoned by Saddam Hussein.] The motion relates to the conduct of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway). On a recent visit to Baghdad, he paid tribute to the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those remarks will have caused deep distress to the courageous British service men and women who fought in the Gulf war, and to their families? The debate would also give us an opportunity to express our dismay at the inadequacy of the discipline imposed on the hon. Gentleman by his party.