TUESDAY 22 MARCH—Progress on remaining stages of the Coal Industry Bill.
WEDNESDAY 23 MARCH—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Coal Industry Bill.
THURSDAY 24 MARCH—Debate on a motion to take note of European Community document No. 4616/94 relating to the common agricultural policy prices for 1994/95 and related matters.
FRIDAY 25 MARCH—Debate on "inner cities" on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
MONDAY 28 MARCH—Progress on remaining stages of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.
The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 23 March to consider European Community documents No. 10401/93 relating to the Green Paper on European social policy—options for the Union.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and the Government for agreeing to the requests from my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) for emergency legislation to enable the British Transport police to continue their essential work—something the Government forgot about when they first decided to introduce rail privatisation.
Will the Leader of the House find time next week, or at least in the very near future, to discuss the Government's spending plans, by Department? Each Department has now produced a statement of its spending plans. The total cost of the departmental reports is £267.75, and it would be a shame if we did not debate them. We have not had a debate on those matters since 15 May 1991. I hope, therefore, that even the Leader of the House will accept that such a debate is overdue.
May we have a debate before we rise for the recess on the imposition of value added tax on domestic fuel? As well as a desire for the debate, there is an important constitutional point involved. It is right that we should scrutinise supply for the Executive annually and not set rates of supply well in advance.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for debates on two other pressing matters: the regulation of privatised public utilities and the abuse of directors' share option schemes? May we also have a Government statement on investment in London Underground's Northern line?
On the last point, the hon. Gentleman will no doubt have noted that one of my hon. Friends has a debate relevant to that matter in the Consolidated Fund debates tonight.
I cannot respond immediately to any of the hon. Gentleman's requests for additional debates at the moment, although I make the point that the Budget debate was extended to provide for debate on public expenditure. I know that that does not answer exactly the hon. Gentleman's argument, but it is relevant to his use of 1991 as the last date that such a debate has occurred. I am tempted to observe that there would have been more debates on VAT on fuel had the Opposition got their act together at various times. There will be further opportunities to do so when the remaining stages of the Finance Bill are taken.
Finally, although there was an ungenerous barb in the hon. Gentleman's otherwise kind words, I am grateful for his comments on the Transport Police (Jurisdiction) Bill. I am also grateful for what I hope is an implied undertaking that the Opposition will be co-operative in allowing it to pass quickly through the House.
I am not sure that those involved in the affairs of the British coal industry would take the point that my hon. Friend made. I certainly acknowledge the importance that everyone attaches to Bosnia and the pleasure that everyone has taken in the progress that seems to have been made there in recent weeks. As always, I shall bear my hon. Friend's request in mind, but I cannot undertake to provide time next week.
The eighth round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade is due to be signed formally in Marrakesh next month, so will the Leader of the House make Government time available soon for a debate on the importance of the agreement to British industry? The agreement is important, not least because the complex bilateral agreements need to be fully understood and a free trade agreement represents great opportunities for Britain; there is a great deal to be fought for in a competitive environment.
When will the Insolvency (No. 2) Bill, which is to be debated on Monday, be published and available to hon. Members?
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) as I understand that I misheard him, and he said "Thursday". I think, however, that what I said about the coal industry might apply to those who are interested in agriculture, who will regard it as having some importance. That view was implicit in the question of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), to whom I can answer that I shall bear in mind the need for a debate on GATT at an appropriate moment as matters develop.
I hope and expect that the Insolvency (No. 2) Bill and the Transport Police (Jurisdiction) Bill will be published tomorrow.
My hon. Friend will know of the difficulties that have existed for some months in carrying forward discussions. There were debates on the matter at an earlier stage and I hope that it will not be too long before we can resume them.
Is the Leader of the House aware that, because of changes in the criminal injuries compensation scheme, if the acts of attempted terrorism at Heathrow airport had succeeded, and people had been killed and injured, their compensation and that of their relatives would have been less than that for similar acts of violence and terrorism conducted in Northern Ireland? Should not we have a full discussion about the scheme, and the injustice that exists between different parts of the United Kingdom?
Without accepting the implications of the hon. Gentleman's question, may I say that I announced today our intention to make progress on the remainning stages of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. I have heard on the grapevine that there may be some on the Opposition Benches with ambitions to raise such subjects then.
Will the Leader of the House try to rearrange business for next week so that we can have a debate on the position in Albania, which, after 40 years of communism, has managed to achieve a level of debt equal to about one third of that achieved in the city of Birmingham after 10 years of socialism?
I may be able to do even better than that and, by turning the question round, say that those issues might be relevant to the debate on local government scheduled for later tonight.
May we please have an early debate on the decision just announced by British Gas to close its headquarters in the city of Leicester, with a likely loss of up to 2,000 jobs? Should not the House consider how disgraceful it is that a once great public industry is no longer concerned with public service or its employees' jobs, but only with profits for its shareholders?
I clearly cannot promise an immediate debate on the matter. It is clear that British Gas has been performing a good job on behalf of the customer, which is ultimately what it is all about. There could perhaps be an opportunity to refer to such issues if the Opposition resumed using their Supply days to debate unemployment, which they have not done since unemployment started to fall.
Mrs. Ann Win.terton:
Will the Leader of the House urgently review the business for Monday to enable the House to debate the blocking minority and all the matters that will be negotiated in Brussels on Tuesday, to enable hon. Members to ascertain how that will affect not only this country but the future of Europe?
The Leader of the House will be aware that his office fixes the agenda for the EC Scrutiny Committee of the House, and he will also know that it was one of his predecessors who gave us the job of scrutinising directives and regulations. Will he therefore tell the House why it was 16 months before an auditor's report that contained very important information about fraud in the Community, in relation to the environment, came before the Committee? It was debated on Wednesday morning. Will he also tell us what he will do about the fact that the members of that Committee were united in their objection to what happened?
I am aware, and have been almost since that happened, of the concern that is expressed. I do not in any way dismiss it. I am still inquiring into what happened. Part of the problem was that it was originally proposed that the report be debated on the Floor of the House and it was later decided that it would be more appropriate and efficient to debate it in the Committee.
Will my right hon. Friend find time next week to have a debate on terrorism, bearing in mind the fact that today is St. Patrick's day and that the Labour party voted against the prevention of terrorism Act on the very day that mortars fell at Heathrow?
Following the response of the Prime Minister to a question about nursery education, is the Leader of the House aware that the Secretary of State for Education took time out this morning at 8.15 to rubbish, in most uncomplimentary terms, a constructive report that was published today? Is not it about time that the Leader of the House provided Government time for the Secretary of State to come here and tell us about those matters? If he cannot find Government time on the Floor of the House, would it not be good to have a debate on the Government's objectives elsewhere, at any time?
The hon. Gentleman has not made it entirely clear to what report he is referring, but it might be the one that was published today of an inquiry led by Sir Christopher Ball. I understand that, among other things, that report appears to have suggested a delayed start to primary education alongside an expansion in nursery education—not, I should have thought, an idea which would immediately appeal to everyone.
My right hon. Friend will have heard the questions to the Prime Minister from my hon. Friends the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) and for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) and the question to himself just now from my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton). Does he not accept that the ability of this country to stand up for its own interests in the European Community is more important than some of the petty legislation that is currently being introduced by the Government? Will he therefore adjust the business for next week to allow the House to have a debate on the minority blocking mechanism, which, when all is said and done, is about the ability of this country to stand up for its own interests? If "back to basics" is to mean anything, it is back to backing Britain. When will we have that opportunity?
I did indeed hear the earlier questions, and I have just heard my hon. Friend's question, which he delivered with great clarity and vigour. I also heard my right hon. Friend's answers and I recall that I made it clear to my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) last week that our negotiating objectives would be pursued with vigour. I think that that has been clearly demonstrated by what has happened since then.
May we have a debate next week on the enterprise culture, so that we can discuss a distinguished and rather enterprising old-age pensioner who had a very nice little earner going until it was spoilt by the carping behaviour of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), because of the absurd notion that the advertising campaign was based on a pack of lies? When did Ministers suddenly get sensitive about telling lies?
With his characteristic ingenuity, the hon. Gentleman turned a question about one thing into an entirely different point. The advertisement was obviously a matter for my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames.
Can my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on education to allow the Liberal Democrats to explain to the House how they will pay for their extra education spending pledges, which amount to £4.4 billion, by putting 1p on income tax, which would raise £–1.6 billion? Is there an inconsistency here that I am not getting? [Interruption.]
Does the Leader of the House recollect that, on 17 February, he wrote a very civilised letter to me about bringing to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer my business questions on the costs of local government? Ought there not to be a statement next week from the Treasury about the costs that we are discovering in the Standing Committee considering the Scottish local government reform Bill, about the unanswered questions about Welsh local government reform and, I suspect, about the costs of Somerset and, indeed, Norfolk local government reform?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the terms in which he referred to my letter. However, he seems to me to be pursuing matters that he is well able to pursue in the Scottish Standing Committee of which he is a member. I am sure that that is what he will continue to do.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange time next week for us to discuss the number of properties in council ownership that are empty, and particularly the close correlation between the number empty, socialist-controlled councils, the amount of debt that those councils have and the amount of homelessness that they have?
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week about the agreement reached on Norway's proposed accession to the European Union and its implications for the common fisheries policy? Does he realise that there appear to be about 15 different interpretations of what was agreed on the fisheries policy with Norway, not least of which seems to involve strange species called the accelerated cohesion cod and the paper haddock? Does he not understand that, in fishing communities such as mine, people have a right to know exactly what has been agreed on accession to the North sea?
I, too, had some difficulty with the concept of cohesion cod when it first crossed my path. I am sure that, at the appropriate time, everything will be made clear. I cannot promise a specific statement next week.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on an urgent matter raised with me by Chesham chamber of trade—the erosion by out-of-town retailers of the businesses of our small shopkeepers in our town high streets? In the light of planning policy guidance note 13, issued on 15 March by the Secretary of State for the Environment, which seemed to recognise some of the difficulties and problems, I should be most grateful if time could be put aside for such a debate before my small shopkeepers in Chesham suffer further.
My hon. Friend keeps me closely in touch with the concerns of the shopkeepers in Chesham town centre and their chamber of commerce. I note carefully what she says about PPG 13. Although I cannot undertake to provide time for a debate, I will ensure that the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is drawn to her remarks.
Has the Leader of the House had time to read early-day motion 852?
[That this House is deeply concerned at the parliamentary answer given to the honourable Member for Islington North on 14th March that 61 detainees at detention centres have refused food for at least three days in the past year; is alarmed at reports of hunger strikes amongst detainees at Campsfield Detention Centre; and calls for an urgent statement on this by Home Secretary and an understanding that the grievances of hunger striking asylum seekers will be examined and that there will be no force-feeding.] It concerns the hunger strikes among asylum seekers at the Campsfield detention centre and the reports that have been received that a number of those who took hunger strike action to draw attention to their plight have since been moved to prisons. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Home Secretary to make a detailed statement in the House about the number of people seeking asylum in this country who are held in custody, why they are held in custody and what desperation they have been driven to, causing them to go on hunger strike to try to get their cases resolved? Those people fled from oppression in the first place and sought freedom and liberty in this country.
I will, of course, bring that request to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that only a tiny minority of asylum seekers are detained, on the basis of there being good grounds for thinking that they might abscond if they were released while their immigration position was being resolved.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate next week so that the plight of water charge payers in the south-west can be brought to the House and so that my constituents can hear at first hand of the excellent steps that the Government have taken to bring them relief? Would not such a debate also have the advantage of explaining to people that those charges were imposed by European directive, that the further we go into Europe the more those things are likely to happen, and that the two Opposition parties want to take this country further into Europe?
May we have some time allocated next week to a debate on the English regions? I have no objection to the significant amount of time allocated to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but time is not allocated to the English regions. We could then incorporate local problems, such as that indicated in early-day-motion 887.
[That this House recognises that with the electrification of the Leeds-Bradford, Forster Square, services, and adjacent lines, that new electrical multiple units should be provided; regards provision of refurbished third-hand stock as a kick in the teeth for frequently overcrowded commuters; recalls that the Government can allocate as much as £–7 billion for new war-planes but puts the comfort and convenience of travelling taxpayers in West Yorkshire in an inferior category; and calls on the Government to ensure that new rolling stock is provided, built in Yorkshire, as a matter or urgency and at a tiny fraction of the cost of one European fighter aircraft.]
New rolling stock is urgently needed for the electrified Leeds-Bradford railway and associated lines. The Government can spend £7 billion on new war planes, but cannot find the money for new rolling stock for the sorely tried and tested commuters in West Yorkshire.
Will the Leader of the House consider finding time for a debate to discuss Leicester city council's decision to take one of my constituents to the High Court to enforce a market franchise right which it owns but which extends beyond its electoral boundaries into another borough council? Given that that will be abolished by the enactment of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, will my right hon. Friend consider investigating whether that is a great breach of Leicester city council's responsibility and ultra vires in the sense of the Government's responsibilities?
My hon. Friend will appreciate that I am not familiar with the details of that action and therefore cannot sensibly comment on it off the cuff. I will ensure that his question is brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
Will the Leader of the House find Government time to discuss the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which was carried by more than 200 votes to nil on Friday? It has gone into Committee, but is behind another Bill, which went through unopposed, but is now subject to scores of amendments tabled by Tory Members with a view to blocking this very important Bill for disabled people. If the Bill is to achieve its passage through Parliament, the Government must provide additional time. If the Leader of the House says that he cannot provide time, let us return one day early after Easter to get this important Bill through.
The Bill has gone into Committee. My right hon. Friend said that the Government wished it to go into Committee and to have it carefully examined there. That now seems to be the sensible course to undertake.
Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on youth unemployment? The European Community is considering ways of tackling the problem, so we should have an opportunity to cite the fact that labour market flexibility and deregulation are the ways to lower youth unemployment. We should also be able to cite the example of Spain, which has 33 per cent. youth unemployment with the social chapter, whereas our youth unemployment is below the EC average and less than half Spain's without it.
My hon. Friend is right to think that the comparison between Spain and the United Kingdom in that respect is striking. It is further evidence of the effectiveness of this Government's flexible labour market policies.
May we have a debate soon on Government standards? A poll in TheGuardian today shows that only 3 per cent. of the people believe the Prime Minister's claim that the Government operate under high standards, and nearly 30 per cent. believe that the Government are corrupt or are abusing their power. Is the right hon. Gentleman proud to be a member of a Government whom so many people consider corrupt?
I am indeed proud to be a member of the Government, because they are in no way corrupt. I am a good deal prouder to be a member of it than I would be to be a member of one of the Labour local authorities about whose exploits we have recently heard.
Will my right hon. Friend consider an early debate on the role of the district auditor? A report published last week by the district auditor on the connection between a company that supplied goods to Derbyshire county council and a Labour councillor who was a committee chairman clearly stated that two files had gone missing since the investigation started. Further evidence published yesterday in the local newspaper showed that the connection between the councillor and the company was much closer than he had previously admitted. In such circumstances, should not the district auditor reopen his inquiries?
I appeal to the Leader of the House not to be so dismissive of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) about the United Kingdom's treatment of those seeking asylum here. Will he urge the Home Secretary to come to the House to explain why so many of them are routinely placed in detention or prison without any effective means of appeal?
I have already commented on that. I certainly did not intend to be dismissive of the hon. Member for Islington, North—although he does tend to phrase his questions in a way that invites dismissive replies.
May I draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the fact that there were six or seven questions in Prime Minister's Question Time today and in business questions relating to European matters that require debate? I urge him to have a debate on how the House and its Committees scrutinise the legislation and activities of the European Community. For instance, had we had a debate on the presidency conclusions after the Belgian summit in December, we might have noticed that a declaration in the original proposals tabled for enlargement of the Community stated that qualified majority voting was an issue which should be left to the intergovernmental conference in 1996.
I have indeed heard a number of questions on that and related matters, both today and last week, and I have replied to them all as best I can. At this moment, I cannot add to my previous answers.
When may we have a debate devoted to the steel industry? May I draw to the right hon. Gentleman's attention the predicament of British Steel plc? Does he know that its difficulties are created not by British Steel itself, but by the activities of our colleagues in Europe who are not playing fair? Steel workers at Shotton and throughout Wales are apprehensive about the possibility of redundancies. We should like a debate to learn what the Government intend to do to help the British steel industry.
Bearing in mind the fact that ours is one of the most successful steel industries—perhaps the most successful—in Europe, compared with 15 years ago, when it was one of the least successful, I think that the Government have already done a good deal for it. I cannot promise a debate, but I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's requests to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
May I back the call from the Opposition for a debate on corruption in local government? In particular, we would have the opportunity to raise the case of the quango contracted by the Labour-controlled Tameside metropolitan borough council, which has lost millions of pounds to the taxpayer and has employed many relations of Labour councillors and the like in Tameside on a scale that makes Monklands look normal.
As I have now said several times, there is a debate on local government late tonight—possibly very late tonight—and my hon. Friend may care to take part in it. It had occurred to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw), whose debate it is, may have some somewhat similar points in mind.
May we have a statement next week by the Attorney-General, in view of the astonishing situation where it now appears that both a Cabinet Minister—the President of the Board of Trade—and the intelligence services advised him against continuing the prosecution of three innocent men? As the Attorney-General has given strange advice on previous occasions, is it not time he gave a statement in the House so that hon. Members can ask questions directly?
Has my hon. Friend received any requests from the leaders of the Labour or Liberal Democratic parties to use an Opposition Supply day to explain their policies on Europe, which involve surrendering the national veto altogether, with the consequence that we would be forced to abandon zero-rating of VAT on children's clothes and food?
Perhaps I should have observed to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) that one thing at least is absolutely clear: there will be only one party—the Conservative party—fighting the European elections on the basis of a British interest manifesto.
May I thank the Leader of the House for his prompt action in answer to my business question last week? May I say how pleased I am that it is being turned into legislation next Monday, and how surprised I am that the hon. Members for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) do not consider it important to have constructive receivership?
Will the Leader of the House also turn his attention to the shortage of donated organs? Many people are waiting an incredibly long time for kidney and other transplants. Will he speak to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to see whether legislation can be introduced—I am confident that it would have a good measure of support across the House—for changing the system to an opt-out system instead of an opt-in system? There would be far more organs available for transplant and that would bring great savings to the health service and would considerably ease the lot of many sufferers throughout the country.
The hon. Gentleman knows that his second and main point has been a matter of long-running debate against a background of strenuous efforts to increase the amount of organ donation. I am not sure whether I shall need to communicate with my right hon. Friend; with a bit of luck the hon. Gentleman may be able to do it himself when she is here to answer questions next Tuesday.
The first part of the hon. Member's question was characteristically generous and I am glad that we have been able to move fast. I hope that his further remarks this afternoon, alongside those of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), mean we shall get universal speedy co-operation on Monday.
Will the Leader of the House ask his hon. Friends at the Department of Health to make a statement next week on the failure of the regional health authorities to provide basic information in response to questions from right hon. and hon. Members? The Mersey regional health authority pumps out dozens of press releases each week, but I cannot get a response to basic letter inquiring about cuts in physiotherapy in the Countess of Chester hospital which serves my constituency.
I acknowledge the urgent need for the British Transport police legislation, but does the Leader of the House agree that the fact that we have to have it is indicative of the fact that proper scrutiny is not given to Bills that pass through the House?
Secondly and most urgently, will the right hon. Gentleman make available today the contents of the Bill, or at least the long title, so that those of us who take an interest in the matter and would like to ensure that the Bill is improved and watertight this time will have an opportunity to study its contents and, if need be, table amendments? I see a problem here. If it is available before tomorrow, hon. Members will not have an opportunity to read it, understand it, take advice from people such as the Police Federation and table amendments in time. Can it be made available today?
I will do anything that I can to help the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot make the Bill available today, not least because notice of it was not given. Although I understand the hon. Gentleman's points, he is among many to have pressed for urgent action to deal with a problem that needs to be dealt with by 1 April. That involves my moving speedily; that can cause difficulties. We will do everything to overcome them, and I hope that he will co-operate in helping us to do so.
The Leader of the House will have heard the response of the Prime Minister in answer to my question on the failings of the London ambulance service. In that response, the Prime Minister alluded to actions that are being taken to remedy the situation. As the situation has worsened since the Secretary of State took some action, will the Leader of the House find time next week for the Secretary of State to come to the House to explain why her measures have failed, and what further action she will take to ensure that the London ambulance service meets the patients charter standards?
My understanding of the current performance is that an ambulance responds within 14 minutes 65 per cent. of the time, which compares with only 48 per cent. in September 1992. We have every intention of making further progress towards the patients charter standard of 95 per cent.