The business for next week will be as follows:
I thank the Leader of the House for that statement and for the Opposition day, which I am sure we are all looking forward to. In view of the Prime Minister's statement during Question Time, can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or a debate on Bosnia in Government time at the earliest possible opportunity?
Was not the Security Service Bill taken on the Floor of the House in its entirety in 1988, and if so, did not that set a precedent for the Intelligence Services Bill? Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government intend to take the whole of that legislation on the Floor of the House?
In view of the decisions and arrangements being made in another place concerning the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Home Secretary to come to the House of Commons and tell us what is going on, rather than all the statements, changes and announcements being made either in another place or in the newspapers?
May we also have an early debate on overseas arms contracts and the illegal hidden subsidies provided by the much put-upon British taxpayer?
Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman raise with the BBC, on behalf of us all, the question of "Today in Parliament" being moved to long wave alone? Many of our constituents enjoy listening to us on FM, and at least they know where we are.
The whole House thought that the hon. Gentleman was chancing his arm a bit with that last remark—but I will ensure that his concern, which may be shared by others, is drawn to the attention of the authorities at the BBC.
On overseas arms contracts, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the statements that have been made and inquiries that are under way in a Select Committee. I do not think that a debate is appropriate at the moment.
As for the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, it seems to be entirely appropriate that when legislation is under discussion in another place, statements relating to that process of discussion should be made in another place. Certainly, if it were under discussion here, grave exception would be taken by the Opposition Front Bench to comments being made in another place.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it is not our intention to propose that the Intelligence Services Bill should be taken in Committee on the Floor of the House. I simply make the point that there is beginning to be a gathering inconsistency between the demands made on me, not least by Her Majesty's Opposition, for additional time to be taken on the Floor of the House, and the demands made on me to respond to the Jopling report. The House will have to decide whether it wants to move in one direction or the other.
As to Bosnia, of course I will undertake in general terms that, in a developing situation, and especially looking ahead over the next few days, I will ensure that statements are made when that seems to be appropriate, and we will keep under close review the possible need for a debate.
In view of the growing public concern about the suffering of live animals being transported to the continent, and the growing frustration in Parliament that there is absolutely nothing that we can do about it, may we have a debate next week to enable the House to express an opinion on whether the Government should put a proposal to the EC that member states could ban the export of live cattle?
My hon. Friend has taken a long and honourable interest in these matters, which I respect. I cannot promise a debate. However, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be here to answer questions on Thursday, and that sounds I ike a point which my hon. Friend may well seek to raise.
Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that, having regard to the indefinite war of procedural attrition that is being waged by the official Opposition, by next week they will have had five Supply days devoted to subjects of their choosing and the previous minority party Supply day was in October last year? Having regard to the fact that all the minority parties get only three Supply days in a parliamentary year, will he give us an assurance that an early day will be allocated to the minority parties' subject?
That is a reasonable request and I will certainly look at it sympathetically, although I cannot make a specific promise at the moment. At least we are in a position to talk to the hon. Gentleman in the normal way.
On the question of the Jopling report, will my right hon. Friend seek an early meeting with the Leader of the Opposition and ask him whether he agrees with the views of his Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms Armstrong), that sitting all hours available is not the best form of parliamentary democracy? Is my right hon. Friend aware that he will have the support of the public and, indeed, a majority of the House if he presses ahead with reforms, with or without the dinosaurs of the Labour party?
My hon. Friend's understandable remarks chime with something I said earlier. I see that the Leader of the Opposition has departed, perhaps in response to my hon. Friend's remarks. It is certainly the case that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's PPS made remarks at the time, to which my hon. Friend referred, which are totally inconsistent with the way in which Her Majesty's Opposition are behaving.
May we please have an early debate on the closure of old people's homes and the awful effect that has on the people living in them, for whom these are their homes? Is he aware that the shortage of funds for local authorities such as mine causes terrible anguish for people in Bewcastle house in my constituency, which is under threat, and for old people's homes all over the country? Will the Government show some compassion and help these homes to stay open, and recognise that the people in them need to live there?
The hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that I am not in a position to comment on the specific case that he raises. I have no doubt, and I certainly hope, that he has raised it directly with his local authority because he may well be accurately reflecting its concern.
Will my right hon. Friend consider providing time for an early debate on political correctness in local government, with particular reference to Labour-controlled Dudley council? Extraordinarily, that council has branded Thomas the Tank Engine, Super Ted, Fireman Sam and Postman Pat as sexist male stereotypes—characters that are enjoyed by tens of thousands of children, including my own.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The council's decision was utterly ludicrous. I hope that my hon. Friend's comment will be considered by those who took that absurd decision.
Would not it be helpful if the Treasury appended a note to the Scottish Revenue Support Grant Report, which is to be debated on Monday week, giving its response to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities' calculation that the transition costs of Scottish local government reform will be at least £720 million and that there is no money available? Will the Treasury make a serious response to the COSLA figures? Will he raise the matter with the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
As always, I will bring the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my right hon. Friends, but I remind him that Scottish local government will be discussed in the debate that I announced today and in the Standing Committee on the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is a member of the Committee, but there are ample opportunities to raise the matter.
As my right hon. Friend is a sagacious, restrained, well-balanced and realistic Leader of the House, does he agree that Select Committees do not exist at the behest of hon. Members who are not numbered among their members? The Committees have a parliamentary existence that is separate from interference from the Leader of the Opposition or any other politician, and that includes legitimate requests for trips abroad.
Even without my hon. Friend's kind words, for which I express gratitude, I would have had no difficulty in agreeing with him. The sillier aspects of current events underline the point that I have made several times: the actions of her Majesty's Opposition do not damage the Government but Parliament.
Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) will be allowed to become a member of the Select Committee on Procedure only following a Division of the House of Commons, which means that the motion will have to be moved before 10 o'clock at night?
I will bring the point to the attention of my right hon. Friend, who I think will meet President Clinton before too long. It would perhaps be fair to say that all countries make contributions in various ways to various peacekeeping operations and that very few countries are in a position to contribute to all of them.
Before the beginning of next week's business, will the Leader of the House hold serious discussions with the Prime Minister on his growing habit of coming to the Dispatch Box and making serious statements in such a way that he cannot be questioned in detail? I instance as evidence today's statement on Bosnia. It is of great concern to every Back-Bench Member who is likely to have soldiers from regiments in their constituency committed to Bosnia. It is not a matter for light treatment. I seriously ask the Leader of the House to protect the interests of our constituents.
I know full well that my right hon. Friend did not in any way intend to treat the House lightly, and he did not do so. If the House was treated lightly, it was because the Opposition did not listen to an important reply that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave in the way that they might have been expected to—I sense that you, too, Madam Speaker, felt that. Relatively minor adjustments to force levels are made frequently. We have made a small but useful addition to the capabilities of General Rose in Sarajevo. We have not adjusted our policy in any way that would necessitate a statement to the House.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that, two weeks ago, I asked for an early debate on the subject of the spending commitments of the Opposition —particularly the Labour party? Over the past two weeks, the Labour party has made further commitments which run into billions of pounds. As it is a matter of great urgency, may we have such a debate next week?
Will the Leader of the House find time next week, or at an early date, for a debate on the failure of the national health service to provide dental treatment in all parts of these islands? Is he aware that, in my constituency, in many other parts of Gwynedd and Clwyd and no doubt elsewhere, people are unable to get on to dentists' lists because the dentists will only take people on a private basis? Will the right hon. Gentleman please arrange a debate on that important matter?
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will note that there has been disappointment in the House that we have not been provided with an opportunity next week to debate the interesting policy of cutting pensions for pensioners and benefits for the poor that we saw last night. He may also note that, in a helpful way, I have written to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), asking him to outline that new policy and hoping that he may come to the House to explain it further. Will my right hon. Friend provide an opportunity for the House to go into it in depth? Perhaps it is a leaked report from the Social Justice Commission; if so, the House needs to debate it.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), who is deputising today on the Opposition Front Bench, will pass on that suggestion as a possibility for the Opposition motion on Monday 28 February, along with the suggestion made by my hon.Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans). Having been Secretary of State for Social Security, I cannot recall an occasion when the Opposition—or some significant number of them—felt it right to vote against the pensions increase. I hope that the constituents of those who voted last night against the increase will have that fact drawn to their attention.
When will the Government make a statement on the abandonment of the local government review throughout Britain? The House heard the exchanges between the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) regarding Scotland, where local government reorganisation will cost about £700 million. It is estimated that, for England and Wales, we are talking about another £1.5 billion, and it is reckoned that we do not have that money in the country. Nearly every county association, including many Tory associations, is against the review. It is no good saying that individual orders will be brought before the House. We want the whole policy to be put in the political dustbin.
My hon. Friend knows the way in which I have responded on those matters in the past, and he knows that I have done so in good faith. I will not seek at the moment to add to my remarks on the subject earlier. I will, of course, bear my hon. Friend's remarks in mind.
Will the Leader of the House consider having an early debate on the economic situation in the northern region? Despite the comments made by the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates) in Prime Minister's Question Time, the situation in the northern region is not as rosy as he has painted. For instance, my constituency lost 1,100 jobs last week, when one mine closed. There are other examples of that in the northern region, where we have lost the major industries of shipbuilding and coal mining. In my view, the subject is worthy of a day's debate.
I am, of course, well aware of some of the difficulties that have been experienced in the north-east and in other parts of the country during the difficult period of the recession and, indeed, earlier. I am also aware of the new opportunities that have been brought to the area by the policies that we have pursued, not least in the modern electronics industry as represented by Fujitsu and in the motor industry as represented by Nissan.
Does my right hon. Friend share the fear that I expressed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary before Christmas that the killers of PC Patrick Dunne may never be brought to justice? May we have a debate on the effects of drugs and violent crime on civil disorder in our cities, particularly the growing practice of witness intimidation and the imposition of the code of silence? There is a growing fear in the House and outside that a particular category of vicious drugs barons is now above the law. If a brave and popular policeman can be gunned down and if others in future may be gunned down and their killers cannot be brought to justice, we shall have reached a serious situation and we should debate it.
There are many who will sympathise with my hon. Friend's concern and they will certainly include my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. As my hon. Friend will know, the Government are acting in many ways to tackle the problem that he describes. I will certainly bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.
Has the Leader of the House had time to study the report from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on breathing in our cities, which points to the link between vehicle emissions and respiratory illness? May I draw his attention to the recommendations, which point to the need for a reduction in vehicle usage? As that flies in the face: of current Government policy, as evidenced this week by the events in Wanstead and the lunatic proposals of the Department of Transport to drive an urban motorway through Woolwich, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early debate on the Government's transport policies so that we can discuss that serious issue?
I have two points to make in response to the hon. Gentleman. First, in response to his point about Wanstead, which is in the direction of my part of the country and which I pass fairly frequently, nothing is more damaging or raises the level of emissions in the atmosphere more than stationary traffic stuck in traffic jams. That point is sometimes underestimated. Secondly, my right hon. Friends have made their approach clear in various ways, including what has been said and done about road fuel taxation, not often, I have to say, with the support of Opposition Members.
Could my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on employment so that the House can have the opportunity to discuss the impact on employment prospects of a national minimum wage and of the payroll tax proposed by the Labour party?
We have already had two statements on Bosnia today: one by the Prime Minister during Prime Minister's Question Time and a short one by the Leader of the House in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). The statement made by the Leader of the House had nothing to do with business questions. As we have had statements, should not we have the opportunity that normally follows statements to question the people who make them? The Prime Minister should be brought back to the House later today so that questioning can take place and all of us can be involved in it. There was little time in Prime Minister's questions to ask questions on the matter.
All I have been seeking to do is respond to questions that were put to me. I did not add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, and I certainly do not intend to do so now. But I have outlined the approach that we shall adopt to the possibility of statements and, indeed, debates at future times.
May I urge my right hon. Friend once again to arrange for an early debate on waste and corruption in local government? Does he agree that such a debate would provide an excellent opportunity for the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) to expand on her remarks in The Times that Lambeth
is falling to bits with corruption"?
That is another point which may well, with minimum ingenuity, be in order in next Thursday's debate. I imagine that part of the target of next Thursday's debate will be those activities that local authorities have contracted out to get them done more efficiently. One could turn the point round. Perhaps my hon. Friend takes my point.
The Leader of the House is aware that during the passage of the Railways Act 1993, the Minister for Public Transport told us that the charges imposed by Railtrack would be 50 per cent. higher than the charges imposed at that time. We now know that the increase is 300 per cent. May we have a statement from the Minister for Public Transport on the reasons for the increased cost so that we can be sure that it does not all go into the pockets of private operators?
In a written answer yesterday, my right hon. Friend simply reported the latest progress made by Railtrack in producing charges for access to the rail network. I think that the hon. Gentleman is reading too much into that statement.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the Leader of the Opposition's campaign of non-cooperation in the House? Can we have a debate on that subject tomorrow—[HON. MEMBERS: "Tomorrow?"] I mean, next week. We should note that the Leader of the Opposition voted in only three of this year's debates after 10 pm. My right hon. Friend will remember that the Duke of Plaza Toro
led his regiment from behind—
He found it less exciting.
We should reflect on the fact that the Leader of the Opposition is leading his troops in the evenings from his bed—[Interruption.]
The reaction of Opposition Members shows that my hon. Friend's comments come as something of a surprise to them, and I think that they may care to look into the subject, which is interesting. I would hesitate to inform my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Liddington), whose private Member's Bill—in which I have an interest—is due to be discussed tomorrow, that that debate is to be overtaken in the way suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold).
May we have a debate next week on the progress of work in the Select Committees? That would give Tory Members an opportunity to explain how angry they are at the fact that the extensive travel programme in which they all propose to participate is being brought to a halt. The £100,000 that has so far been spent by Select Committee members going on fact-finding tours to every part of the world by club-class travel could be devoted to the staff of this place. The results of those tours rarely emerge on the Floor of the House.
The money saved could be used to provide cars for the staff of the House after 10 pm instead of after 10.30 pm. That would prevent employees, many of whom are women, going into the night and travelling potentially dangerous journeys of up to one and a half hours after serving this place perfectly well.
Will my right hon. Friend allow time next week for a debate on the business environment to ascertain whether the Government intend to incorporate in their policy any aspects of Labour's second business plan? Labour's first business plan, otherwise known as the shadow Budget, bombed disastrously at the 1992 election, so we should perhaps call the debate the "state of the unelected".
We understand that the Leader of the House is a fair-minded person, so will he find time next week to debate a motion setting up the Select Committee on Northern Ireland? Three years ago, there was unanimity on that subject, so why has there been a delay? Will we have to wait until the next leap year?
I suspect that the hon. Gentleman knows that discussions are proceeding actively among the interested parties. I cannot give him a date, but I think that he knows full well that I am seeking to make progress as soon as possible.
Will my right hon. Friend find time next week to consider the magazine entitled "The Best Sex Guide", published by the Health Education Authority, which so many hon. Members have received with great consternation? We should debate the editorial content and method of distribution to our children of that magazine.
I do not think that I can promise a debate next week on that subject. The magazine sounds like a document which most of us would be fairly cautious about being seen with in the present circumstances. I will bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who will be here to answer questions next week.
Despite the answer that the Leader of the House has given to some of his hon. Friends, would it not be useful, on reflection, for the Government to make a statement next week to make it clear that they fully apologise, and will make amends, for the contemptible way in which they have treated Parliament, which has led to the present position of non-co-operation? Is it not clear to the Leader of the House that, since that policy has been in effect, the Opposition have shown that we are here to defend parliamentary democracy and that we cannot be treated with contempt, such as the guillotining of two Bills even before their Second Reading? Unless the Government recognise that it is time that they made a full apology, our non-co-operation policy will continue well into the summer.
Even on more reflection than I have had while listening to the hon. Gentleman, I would not go down that path. As I have said several times, if the hon. Gentleman looks at what I said in justification of the motions to take action to implement policies on statutory sick pay and national insurance contributions by April, he will find that everything that I said has turned out to be right.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread dismay in the tourist industry regarding the European Union's draft directive on distance selling? May we have an urgent debate next week on that topic and, in particular, an opportunity to tell the European Commission to get lost with its absurd suggestion of putting up black flags on beaches that are alleged to be unsafe?
Will the right hon. Gentleman simply tell the House how long the farce over the Jopling report will continue? Is he aware that it will be two years to the day tomorrow since the Jopling report was issued? It was in the Tory party manifesto for the 1992 election and the Queen's Speech following that election. Does he understand that the failure to act has nothing to do with the present policy of non co-operation? It is a long-standing failure, which depends on the Leader of the House coming forward with proposals that will commend themselves to wide sections of the House. When will he do that?
I make no complaint about the fact that the hon. Gentleman asked effectively the same question last week, although, confusingly, from a different corner of the Chamber. From whichever corner of the House he asks it, his fire should be directed about five yards in front of me.
Will my right hon. Friend find time in the near future to debate the contentious issue of begging in our streets, which does so much to besmirch this country's image with visitors from abroad? There have been reports today of bogus beggars with L-registered Vauxhalls on the streets of Sheffield, drawing motability, invalidity and, I dare say, gullibility allowances at the expense of the British public. Should not we debate tightening up social security, and should not the Opposition support us?
May we have a ministerial statement condemning the excesses of cheque-book journalism, whereby certain newspapers could offer a £40,000 inducement to a woman to sell her story when she was rescued from the Cairngorm mountains earlier this week? Given that 151 rescue workers from the RAF and voluntary rescue teams risked their lives, and in some cases, suffered loss of wages to save that woman's life in a two-day rescue operation which cost £120,000, is it not time that the Government stepped in to stop such mercenary malpractice by certain newspapers?
The hon. Gentleman will probably acknowledge that the scope for the Government to intervene as he suggests contains some dangers, as well as the advantages that he sees. Equally, the whole House will understand why he has raised the matter and will respect his comments.
Order. Is the hon. Gentleman asking a direct question about business next week? If he is, he should get on with it. [Interruption.] Order. Is the Government Whip seeking to catch my eye?
Order. It is a question for me whether it would be in order appropriate to raise it. Therefore, when the time comes, if the hon. Gentleman raises the matter with me, I shall give him an answer.
I will try harder, with your encouragement, Madam Speaker. I am trying to achieve a motion next week which, if it has not been tabled already, will enable us to discuss the unelected state within a state in Monklands district council, where 40 close relatives of councillors are employed by the council, and the unsatisfactory state of affairs where poor Tom Macfarlane lost his job for "being a naughty boy" in relation to the Labour mafia families on the council. He appears to have upset the ruling councillors. Would it be appropriate to raise that matter in the debate next week?
The Leader of the House will recall that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Employment have both in the past fortnight stated their concern about unemployment in my constituency and promised to act quickly on it. As RECHAR 2 was announced by the European Commission yesterday, will the Leader of the House arrange for the President of the Board of Trade to make a statement next week promising to match that cash so that we can get going with it immediately to solve some of our desperate problems?
May we have a debate next week on local government taxation, so that we may examine how the Conservative Ealing council has again been able to reduce the council tax by an average of £100 and compare it with the Labour council which, in 1987, raised it by 65 per cent. in a single year by imposing additional taxation on old people and on Ealing hospital of nearly £500,000? What do they care about the national health service? The matter should be examined by the House.
May we have a debate next week on the plan to reduce from 86 to 49 the number of women cleaners working in the House and its outbuildings and to subject them to training programmes to teach mature women how to dust and use vacuum cleaners? Those women have been serving the House for many years and many of them are no longer young. Is not it a despicable way to treat those loyal servants of the House?
Is the Leader of the House aware that, precisely when Ministers at the Department of the Environment were answering questions in the Chamber on water, sewage charges, EC directives and costs, civil servants were sneaking out a statement welcoming a new proposal from the Commission that would effectively ban bathing from some of our most famous beaches? Is it not extraordinary that, as a result of the Prime Minister's initiative at the European summit and the meddling that took place thereafter, we have a worse muddle and we do not even have the opportunity to question Ministers in the House? Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is an opportunity next week for us to question the Secretary of State for the Environment on that important issue?
The hon. Gentleman will realise that I cannot give precisely that undertaking, but his question probably links with one asked a few moments ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason). I will bring those questions to the attention of my hon. Friends.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on inward investment, especially into the south-east, which is of great interest to the CBI in my constituency in Hertfordshire? May we also debate the maintenance of this country's excellent record of attracting inward investment over the past decade and the likely effect on that record of the so-called business plan from the Opposition, which would undoubtedly increase business costs and deter investors, as well as undermining the competitiveness of businesses that are already here?
Is the Leader of the House aware that, despite having had several stabs at it, his responses on the manner in which the announcements were made on Bosnia today are still entirely unsatisfactory, particularly as, to justify their being made as an oral answer, he had to diminish the importance of a statement in his second response to the House? Does he not realise that the matter was much more important than he allows: first, because it was a tactical deployment, which will not only add troops to Sarajevo, but, by definition, withdraw them from central Bosnia; and secondly, because it is a refutation—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is not in order to discuss policy during business questions. If he has a point to put to the Leader of the House, he must must do so. We are not in a political discussion at this stage.
I am not in a political discussion; I am seeking to describe the reasons why there should have been a statement today—I hope that there will be a statement next week—because it was a refutation from the Dispatch Box of a request by a British general to send more troops. Will the Leader of the House ensure that when such important statements are made on matters of life and death they are made in the form of a statement so that hon. Members on both sides of the House, of all political persuasions and whatever their opinions on the matter, get the opportunity to question the Prime Minister on it?
I have now responded twice to such points. I do not think that I can add to what I said earlier. I have already made it clear that the possibility of statements, and, indeed, of debate, will be kept closely under review.
The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion 496 concerning the tension on the Korean peninsula.
[That this House, aware of possible intervention by the U.S.A. against North Korea, and that Her Majesty's Government's policy is for the peaceful re-unification of the peninsula, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to have urgent discussions with the U.S. Government in an effort to avert a possible war which will prevent re-unification and for the sake of détente and peace.]
As the Government's policy is for the peaceful reunification of both north and south, will he ask his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to have urgent discussions with the American authorities on this critical situation?
Will the Leader of the House confirm that primary legislation is needed to close the Commonwealth Institute? Is it not therefore improper that, because of the withdrawal of public funding, the institute is issuing redundancy notices to its staff, and will continue to do so? When will we look at that primary legislation, because it is wrong to close a place before we have given consent, is it not?
I was not aware of the circumstances of the redundancy notices to which the hon. Gentleman refers.The right course for me is to bring his question and his concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend.