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With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement about the business for next week, which is as follows: MONDAY 5 DECEMBER—Continuation of the Budget debate.
TUESDAY 6 DECEMBER—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget statement.
WEDNESDAY 7 DECEMBER—Committee and remaining stages of the European Communities (Finance) Bill.
THURSDAY 8 DECEMBER—Committee and remaining stages of the European Communities (Finance) Bill.
FRIDAY 9 DECEMBER—Debate on standards in education on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
MONDAY 12 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Health Authorities Bill.
The House will also wish to know that the following European Standing Committees will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 7 December, as follows: European Standing Committee A: European Community Document No. 11496/93 relating to a European vessel reporting system in Community waters; European Community Document No. 5841/94 relating to ship safety and control of pollution; European Community Document No. 6655/94 relating to training for maritime occupations; and European Community Document No. 7919/94 relating to a European vessel reporting system.
European Standing Committee B: European Community Document No. 9400/92 relating to personal data protection.
[Wednesday 7 December:
European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Community documents: (a) 11496/93, Reporting System for Vessels in Community Waters; (b) 5841/94, Ship Safety and the Control of Pollution; (c) 6655/94, Training for Maritime Occupations; (d) 7919/94, Reporting System for Vessels in Community Waters. Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: (a) HC 48-x and HC 48-xxii (1993-94); (b) HC 48-xvii and HC 48-xxii (1993-94); (c) HC 48-xxii (1993-94); (d) HC 48-xxvi (1993-94).
European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community document: 9400/92, Personal Data and Information Security; Relevant report of the European Legislation Committee: HC 79-x (1992-93) HC 48-xxiv (1993-94) and HC 70-i (1994-95).]
Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government will consider a vote on VAT on Tuesday to be a vote of confidence in them? Will he also give us an idea of the Government's intentions with regard to the new position that has arisen following the loss of their majority in the House?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, when similar circumstances arose in April 1976, the then Leader of the Opposition, Mrs. Thatcher, tabled early-day motion 351, demanding that the Committee of Selection appoint Members to Standing Committees in equal numbers from
Government and Opposition parties? Does he intend to move a motion in line with that approved by the House on 7 May 1976? That motion stated that
only an overall majority in the composition of the House should guarantee a majority in each Standing Committee".—[Official Report, 7 May 1976; Vol. 910, c. 1738.]
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already made clear the position regarding any vote that might take place on Tuesday in relation to the matter to which the hon. Lady adverted. As for the second part of her question, the position is not on a par with that in 1976, which arose from changes in the composition of the House. These matters are for the Committee of Selection, and it is not for me to comment on or interfere in its business; let me point out, however, that the Standing Order governing the Committee's activities enjoins it to have regard to the composition of the House. It may have escaped the hon. Lady's attention that the composition of the House is exactly the same this Thursday as it was last Thursday.
Does my right hon. Friend expect that there will be a statement from the Government about the Child Support Agency before the Christmas recess, particularly as the Select Committee on Social Security has produced another important report? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the sooner we end what the Select Committee called the "chronic maladministration" of the CSA, the easier our constituency advice bureaux will be?
I am obviously conscious of my hon. Friend's concern about those matters, not least because he seizes every opportunity, whether formally or informally, to make that clear to me. My hon. Friend referred to the Select Committee report; I need hardly assure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security is studying that report with great care, with a view to forming conclusions.
Will the Leader of the House tell us why there is no provision in the business next week for a debate on Bosnia, not least because it appears that the Foreign Secretary is to go to Belgrade this weekend as part of a team which may, by its negotiations, give undue reward to Serbian aggression?
Does the Leader of the House appreciate that many of us were extremely disappointed that the Government were unable to make a statement about Bosnia this week, particularly after the visit of Senator Dole, and that that disappointment might be alleviated if a debate were held in early course?
I understand and respect the reasons why the hon. and learned Gentleman raised that point. He has almost given the answer by referring to what will be quite an intensive further round of diplomatic activity over the next few days. I cannot undertake that that will necessarily give rise to a statement, but I know that my right hon. Friends will give careful consideration to when they should appropriately report to the House.
Will my right hon. Friend consider providing time for an early debate on the progress of community care? Is he aware that 18 Liberal and Labour-controlled authorities appear to have lost control of their community care budgets, despite very generous funding, and are now cutting vital services for the elderly and infirm, even though they have reserves in the kitty due to lower inflation and the success of our economic policy?
I take note of my hon. Friend's comments. I took the opportunity to discuss some of those matters in my constituency, which adjoins that of my hon. Friend, when I was on a relevant visit just under a week ago. I hope that my hon. Friend's remarks will be taken into account by all those concerned with those matters.
Given the amount of time that we seem to have on our hands, and in order to keep us off the streets, could we have a debate next week or some time soon on the conference at Fort Lauderdale of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species—CITES? Many things were said about rhino, elephants, vicuna, whales and mahogany. We should have a debate or a statement about that, so will the Leader of the House please arrange that as early as possible? While he is on his feet, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether we are to have a Christmas recess and when it is likely to be?
Not for the first time, there is some tension between the implications of the second half of a question and the plain request of the first half. I do not in any way minimise the importance of the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman, but I am afraid that I cannot promise an early debate unless he wishes to sit on Christmas eve.
I can help the hon. Gentleman with the second part of his question. I said last week that I hoped that the House would be off on Christmas day. I can go a little further today and say that I hope that Christmas eve and Boxing day might be included, but I cannot go beyond that.
May we have an early debate on the subject of far eastern countries, bearing in mind the fact that last night's Budget response by the shadow Chancellor—or should it be a party political broadcast?—suggested that Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan have faster-growing economies than our own? Would that enable us to express a view about whether the success of those countries is due largely to socialism or capitalism?
That is an interesting point about a broadcast that I have not had the opportunity or privilege of observing. I thought that lurking in my hon. Friend's question there might be an implication of a sort that I might be less willing to accept, but, taken at face value, it was interesting.
Will the Leader of the House make time for a full debate on the inadequacies of the cold weather payments system? It is evident that vulnerable people should automatically receive extra money for heating. Is he aware that in my constituency the readings to trigger off the cold weather payments are taken miles away, yet many of my constituents live well above the snow line where it is much colder, so the readings are false? There are many inadequacies in the cold weather payments system. Given the growing number of deaths from hypothermia, the growing number of cold-related illnesses and the cost to the NHS, is it not time that the House discussed the issue properly?
I should be more willing to respond in the way that the hon. Lady wishes if she had at least acknowledged the extent to which over quite a long period the system of help with cold weather payments has been improved substantially in its administration and automaticity and, most recently, in its amount, with a further increase announced in the Budget only this week. I should also have been more willing to respond in the way that the hon. Lady wishes if she had acknowledged the extent to which all that has changed from a time when a Labour Government did virtually nothing about it.
Following what was said by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be useful to have a debate next week comparing the compensation packages that people will receive now because of the introduction of VAT on fuel with what happened in 1974–79 when electricity prices were soaring through the roof thanks to hyper-inflation and people received no compensation whatever? Where was the Labour party's care then?
That is a good point, and I must tell my hon. Friend that I have arranged a debate in which he might make that point. I do not know—although perhaps I ought to—whether he has yet taken part in that debate, but if not, it is called the Budget debate. There is still today and two more days to go.
Can we have a statement about the number of hon. Members on each side of the House? In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), the Leader of the House said that the situation now is different from what happened in 1976 when the Labour Government lost their majority, albeit due to by-elections and John Stonehouse finishing up in Australia after leaving his clothes on the beach in Florida.
The truth is that the Government have lost their majority because they kicked nine people out of their own party. In my view, the Government should be penalised for having the arrogance and audacity to take the Whip away from nine of their people and then the cheek to tell the nation that the situation will remain the same. If they had any guts and decency, they would remove themselves from that position. If they really wanted to be decent to the British people, they would get out and call a general election.
It appears that the hon. Gentleman is advancing a somewhat novel constitutional doctrine. When I replied to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), I said that there had been no change in the composition of the House since this time last week. There is a clear majority of Members elected as Conservatives, and the composition of the House is determined by the electorate.
In view of the fact that there is hardly anything more unpopular at the moment than putting the full rate of VAT on domestic fuel, would it not be proper for the House to reflect that feeling, by at least having a free vote on that issue next week? Would not that be far more appropriate than using threats and intimidation against Tory Back Benchers who may well have the courage to reflect the feelings of their constituents, or are they to lose the Whip as well?
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the British Waterways-opposed private Bill completed its Committee stage in the spillover period in October after intense scrutiny in both Houses over almost three years. Will my right hon. Friend find an early opportunity to list the Third Reading of that Bill so that we can be fair to the promoters and, we hope, get it on to the statute book?
On Monday's business in Edinburgh, will the Leader of the House persuade the Lord Advocate to offer a statement in view of the Lord Advocate's deeply unsatisfactory response to Alan Francovich's film and his even more deeply unsatisfactory response on Monday to the representatives of the Lockerbie relatives? After all, it was the biggest crime of murder against western civilians since 1945. Will the Lord Advocate at least offer some sort of statement?
Will the Leader of the House comment on a letter sent to me by the Secretary of State for Scotland, which said that, apparently, the Lord Advocate cannot answer Adjournment debates? Furthermore, it solemnly gave the lack of seating arrangements for the Lord Advocate as a reason why it was difficult. Will the Leader of House inject some common sense into the position?
The hon. Gentleman has advanced his arguments in a characteristically courteous way. I have three points to put. First, he will accept, if he has read the Secretary of State's letter—of which I have obtained a copy, as you, Madam Speaker, would say, for the sake of greater accuracy—that the seating arrangements are not presented as an argument. Secondly, the position on Ministers who were not members of the Committee taking part in Adjournment debates was made clear in the documentation provided before the Standing Order debate earlier in the year. Thirdly—the most important point—as the Secretary of State's letter says, it is open to the Lord Advocate to volunteer a statement if the usual channels agree that it is appropriate, as they do for statements on the Floor of the House. I take the hon. Gentleman's points as a request for the matter to be brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State through the usual channels.
It does not, but thank you very much.
Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House draw the motion for the debate on standards in education on Friday next week widely enough to encompass the important principle of choice of school? That would allow my constituents—who like to choose between the eight grant-maintained schools available to them, and who know that those schools are seriously discriminated against in terms of resources and, particularly, in terms of special educational needs, by Ealing's Labour council and the Labour party, which would like to eliminate grant-maintained schools—to take account of the wish of one or two socialists, including the Leader of the Opposition, to send their children to those schools.
On the second point, I said that the debate next Friday will take place on a motion for the Adjournment, so it could hardly be more widely drawn. I should have thought that my hon. Friend's points would, subject to you, Madam Speaker, fall within the terms of the debate. On his first point, I express my gratitude to him and to you, Madam Speaker, for ensuring that you, and not I, will be the person responsible for Christmas trees.
Hon. members have many opportunities to discuss uprated benefits, but when will it be in order for us to discuss the 30 social security benefits and allowances that have never been increased since their introduction? The widow's payment, which was first announced in 1985, is particularly unfair. It replaced the widow's allowance, which was uprated every year. The widow's payment should be £1,600 next year, but it is frozen at £1,000. Is it not particularly mean of the Government not to allow increases in the payment, which is made to widows during the difficult time of bereavement?
The hon. Gentleman will undoubtedly be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security made a substantial uprating statement only yesterday. With his experience in this subject, the hon. Gentleman knows well that an extensive series of orders follow an uprating statement to implement the uprating. That should provide him with an opportunity to make his points, if he wishes.
Will the Leader of the House make further inquiries into the question of majorities in Committees? Does he accept that Lady Thatcher tabled her motion, not as a result of a death or resignation by an hon. Member, but because of John Stonehouse's decision to leave the Labour Whip and to join the Whip of, I think, the English National party? That is an exact parallel of what happened last week. There was a change, not in composition, but in the allegiance of hon. Members. Is it not important that the Government demonstrate that they are consistent rather than merely opportunistic?
Compared with other Labour Members, the hon. Gentleman has at least accepted the basic thrust of the point made earlier and he has implicitly accepted what I said about the composition of the House. On his second point, I do not think that he has a parallel on that front either.
May I refer the Leader of the House to the reply in column 710 of yesterday's Hansard to a written question by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) on the proposed extension of article III of the Anglo-American mutual defence agreement on atomic matters? Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government intend to ratify that extension under the Ponsonby rule and that, unless an objection is raised in the House, the extension will saddle the British public with a bill of some £20 billion, covering the servicing, maintenance, operation and decommissioning costs of the Trident programme? Does he therefore accept that some hon. Members object to that going through and will call for a debate to be held within the next parliamentary week to discuss whether the extension should be agreed?
The right course is for me to say that I shall consider carefully what the hon. Gentleman has said and I shall, of course, bring it to the attention of my appropriate right hon. Friends.