The business for next week will be as follows:
MONDAY 19 DECEMBER—Motion for the Christmas Adjournment.
Motions on parliamentary procedure.
TUESDAY 20 DECEMBER—Debates on the Adjournment. As the House will realise, that is marginally better than my forecast last week.
The business for the first week back after the Christmas Adjournment will be as follows:
TUESDAY 10 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Jobseekers Bill.
WEDNESDAY 11 JANUARY—Motion relating to the Committee of Selection.
Motion on the Cleveland (Structural Change) Order.
Motions on the Value Added Tax (Buildings and Land) Order and the Value Added Tax (Transport) Order.
THURSDAY 12 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Town and Country Planning (Costs of Inquiries Etc.) Bill.
Debate on child care facilities for the House on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
FRIDAY 13 JANUARY—Debate on the role of the citizens charter in improving public services on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. The House will have noticed that the recess is to start a day earlier than anticipated, presumably because the Prime Minister does not want another Question Time before Christmas—[Interruption] Or perhaps it is because of the introduction of the winner of the Dudley, West by-election some time next week.
I thank the Leader of the House for finding time for a debate on child care facilities in the House of Commons. That move will be welcomed by Members and staff alike.
Will the Leader of the House look at the exchanges yesterday when the Secretary of State for Wales, ostensibly making a statement, spoke for 20 minutes and produced a so-called "Budget for Wales"? Will he take steps to ensure that time for statements is not abused in that way? Will the Leader of the House give us an indication of how we can make progress towards ensuring that future requests for meetings of the Welsh Grand Committee in Cardiff are taken seriously and that the Secretary of State for Wales does not wriggle out of appearing before that Committee by making statements such as the one he made yesterday?
Finally, in view of the widespread and genuine public concern about the future of the blood transfusion service, regarding the sale of blood abroad and the back-door privatisation of this essential service, will the Leader of the House ensure that an urgent statement is made on that vital issue?
May I take the first part of the hon. Lady's question first? The House should know, in the light of what she said, that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and, indirectly, I, received a request from the office of the Leader of the Opposition that the House should rise on Tuesday. I hope that she will agree that my right hon. Friend deserves an apology from her for the comments that she made.
If I may return to quieter territory, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for referring to the debate on child care. I, of course, note her comments about the Welsh statement and those about the Welsh Grand Committee and will bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. May I add to that comment, Madam Speaker, because you know that the matter has been on my mind. I would not presume to suggest that you, Madam Speaker, have had it on your mind as well, but it is a possibility. Considering the length of all three local government statements this year, although they followed tradition, before next year it may be right to consider whether there is some way in which to abbreviate the statements and make more written material available to the House. I shall examine that, but, obviously, at this stage it has to be without commitment.
Let me make two things absolutely clear about the blood transfusion service. There is no question of turning the National Blood Authority into a commercial organisation, still less of privatising it. It does not sell blood abroad, nor does it collect any more blood than is needed to meet the needs of patients in this country.
I can certainly confirm that we hope to publish it early in the new year. I cannot at this moment give a date for Second Reading. As my hon. Friend will know, I have not included it in the week's business that I have just announced, but I expect that it will occur fairly shortly after that.
Given that the Leader of the House has announced two debates on procedures of the House, one next week and the other on the balance of party representation on Committees to be debated when we come back, does he accept that all the structures of the House should reflect the balance of political allegiance in the House as a constitutional principle? Does he accept that if the Government do not have a majority, the Government should not have a majority on Committees either; that it is Parliament and not Government who should decide things here?
Given that there is so much controversy and anger, especially at the end of this Session, can we establish an objective place from which the facts that the Government and other parties use can be produced, so that no claims can be made that there is not a widening of the gap between rich and poor, for example, when self-evidently that is the truth?
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on tabling motions for the Jopling report to be carried through? During that debate, will he listen closely to the views that may be expressed by hon. Members, because there may be some additions or alterations in the use of Members' time which the House may like, which would probably fit in with my right hon. Friend's motions and to which it would be necessary for him to pay particular attention?
I hope that my right hon. Friend, to whom I listen as much as to anyone, will accept that I always listen to views put to me about matters affecting the House and, indeed, other matters. It sounds as if he has some ingenious ideas up his sleeve and I look forward to hearing them with interest.
Will the Leader of the House join right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House in warmly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) on the publication today of his Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill? The Leader of the House knows that the conventional wisdom was that a Government Bill dealing with discrimination against disabled people would be tabled for Second Reading on 11 January; will he take us into his confidence and tell us what has happened and when we can expect that Bill's publication?
I shall certainly take the right hon. Gentleman into my confidence to the fullest possible extent. We shall publish the Bill and debate it as soon as possible, but I do not expect that to be before Christmas.
As my right hon. Friend will know, under the present Government the area of green belt has doubled since 1979. May we have an early debate on the antics of Sheffield city council, which insists on building on green-belt areas such as Limb lane in Dore? The council wants further to erode the green-belt area that the Government have increased. [Interruption.]
I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight)—who, no doubt, lives not too far from the area in question—indicating his assent to the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir I. Patnick). I note that concern, and hope that it will also be noted by Sheffield city council.
As the festive season is now upon us—although one would not imagine it, given the way in which the Prime Minister has just behaved—could a statement be made before the House rises for the recess? It would give tremendous joy to most people in the country if it were announced that a general election would be held early in the new year. Is it not time that we put this dying Government out of their misery?
Valuable debates have taken place throughout the country during the International Year of the Family, as well as the hearings and report of the informal Select Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), in the process of which issues of great importance to families have been defined in the best possible way, and public appreciation of them has been heightened. In view of that, and bearing in mind the Government's important initiatives to promote the well-being of the family, will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the family early in the new year?
I cannot undertake off the cuff to provide time for such a debate, but a number of the issues involved may be the subject of various debates in which my hon. Friend may wish to participate. I am thinking, for instance, of an attempt to ease the way for people with family responsibilities who wish to engage in full-time work by improving the arrangements for family credit, and other such measures.
May I continue the festive theme by asking the Leader of the House to arrange for an induction course in Scottish geography to be given to the Prime Minister as one of his Christmas presents, in view of his appalling response to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie)? Will the right hon. Gentleman also ensure that arrangements are made for a report to be made on the meeting of the Fisheries Council on 19 and 20 December? We debated the subject yesterday, but it is important for those of us who represent fishing constituencies to know exactly what has been decided.
I am sure that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will report as early as possible in whatever way is appropriate to ensure that the hon. Lady and others are well informed in the wake of last night's debate. As for the geographical point, I heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister give the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) a very full reply.
I can think of a number of reasons for being sceptical—to put it mildly—about proportional representation, but, even so, I do not know that I would wish to be drawn into the current internal affairs of our neighbours.
Before the recess, will the Secretary of State for the Environment make a statement about how on earth his Department submitted an official report to the United Nations stating that there were no mountains in Scotland? During the Christmas recess, will the Leader of the House take the Prime Minister on a train journey up the west highland line so that they can see how out of touch the Department of the Environment is, so that the Leader of the House might just be able to explain to the Prime Minister where exactly Fort William is and so that they can both enjoy one of the most scenic railway lines in the world which, unfortunately, is threatened because of the Government's doctrinaire privatisation plans, which should be scrapped forthwith?
On the second half of the hon. Gentleman's question, I regret to say that I have no plans to take my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on an extended tour of the United Kingdom during the Christmas recess. As for his question about the Department of the Environment, the literal answer is that I am not prepared to answer it without notice.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the heroism, skill and professionalism of the Royal Air Force crews who fly Hercules aircraft? Those aircraft are often older than some of the people who crew them and need to be replaced urgently. Does he accept that the answer lies not in ordering paper aeroplanes, which could not be available for at least eight or 10 years, but in providing replacements now so that morale and professionalism in the Royal Air Force can be maintained at their customary level?
I am sure that, like me, the House will join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to all the airmen who fly the Hercules and other aeroplanes. As for the underlying thrust of his question, I can tell him that good progress is being made towards a decision and I hope that it will be possible to give an indication of it before too long.
May we have a debate on parliamentary questions? I would not like to put the right hon. Gentleman on the spot, but can he give me a potted interpretation of what "disproportionate cost" means?
The hon. Gentleman would, of course, like nothing better than to put me on the spot, but it is kind of him to say that he would not and I shall take his comment in the Christmas spirit. As for disproportionate cost, I believe that £200 or £300 is the current figure beyond which it is open to Ministers to decline to answer. That figure is reviewed from time to time, but, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to make representations to me about it, I shall, as always when dealing with him, look at them with extreme care.
Given my right hon. Friend's answer about the Second Reading of the Finance Bill and the possible delay, will he consider an urgent debate on the economy, not least so that we can celebrate our domestic control of our money supply and our low inflation and high levels of growth, but, most of all, because I am concerned that the Leader of the Opposition will be a long time coming to the Dispatch Box to explain Labour's policies on the economy and I would hate to think of him missing an opportunity some time in the next few five months for us to examine them?
I would expect the Second Reading of the Finance Bill to take place before I could find Government time for a debate on the economy, but I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's comments. He might like to consider the fact that, subject to the Chair, some of the observations that he wishes to make would be in order during the Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
During last night's Adjournment debate, which was granted to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), we discussed the National Blood Authority and the possible closure of the Liverpool transfusion centre. In response to a question from me, the Under-Secretary of State said that he thought that there would be no question of blood being bought and sold, but in today's newspapers—
Order. May I give the hon. Lady a little guidance? She should be asking the Leader of the House for a debate or a statement. She should begin with that rather than giving us the whole story and she could then tell us what the problem is and what she wants discussed.
Thank you, Madam Speaker. I was trying to save the best until last, but following your advice I shall mention it first. This morning there has been a contradiction of advice that we were given in the House last night, so I am trying to establish whether, in the light of those contradictory statements, we can have a debate so as to establish the true facts.
If we had to have a debate every time newspapers printed stories at variance with the position as stated—and it has been stated not only by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health last night, but by myself only a few moments ago in response to a question from the Opposition Benches—we should have many such debates. As I have already said, the National Blood Authority does not sell blood abroad, nor does it collect more blood than is necessary to meet the needs of patients in this country.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that tomorrow's debate on the popular national lottery will take place on a motion for the Adjournment, and will therefore not facilitate amending the National Lottery etc. Act 1993, if necessary, to ensure the anonymity of winners whatever the press says or does not say? Will my right hon. Friend therefore arrange for an early debate on amending the Act to that end?
My hon. Friend is right to say that a debate on a motion for the Adjournment does not provide an opportunity for amending legislation. I understand that any information released by Camelot in the current case was approved by the winner, but, given the allegations that have been made, I welcome, as no doubt my hon. Friend does, the director general's decision to hold an inquiry.
Will the Leader of the House find time in the new year for a debate on the Department of Trade and Industry grant system? In Merseyside, and especially in St. Helens, we find an absence of grant notwithstanding our assisted area status, simply because the Government will not match European money pound for pound. Even when money is available it does not seem to benefit the people of St. Helens, in that companies seeking to start up or relocate there do not receive the necessary assistance because of a series of arbitrary rules that do not appear to apply in Wales or elsewhere.
Given the questions asked earlier by the Leader of the Opposition about top people's pay, may we have a debate next week on the pay of top people in the public sector? In such a debate we could point out that the cost to public funds of the pay of the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has increased by no less than 95.6 per cent., to a top person's pay of £62,000.
My hon. Friend has made his point, but for my part I must observe that it is only a matter of weeks since I undertook a debate on an order on ministerial and other salaries. I do not look to arrange another in the near future.
May we have an urgent debate on the health of the Prime Minister? If he is going to get out of his pram as he did just now in response to a question from the shadow Leader of the House, he will do himself a mischief. The Opposition would not want that to happen, because we want to do him the mischief ourselves.
I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend shows every sign of being and continuing to be in vigorous health. However, if someone is subjected, as he was, to the suggestion that the reason for the business that I announced was his desire not to answer questions on Tuesday, against the background that I described, it is perhaps not surprising that he is cross.
Notwithstanding the opportunity to catch your eye during the Adjournment debate on Tuesday, Madam Speaker, would it not have been better for the House to sit until Wednesday? We do not need the Leader of the Opposition to be here. Some of us are concerned about jobs in the railway carriage construction industry, in places such as the ABB factory in York, which is threatened with closure because of a lack of orders—
And in Derby, as my hon. Friend says. This matter greatly concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House and those who are faced with redundancy because of the threatened closure will find it hard to accept that the Leader of the Opposition wants an extra day's Christmas holiday while we cannot debate the future of the railway carriage works.
Is the Leader of the House aware that, after the Prime Minister got all worked up and angry earlier about finishing on Tuesday because it was alleged that he wanted to dodge Question Time and witnessing the Labour victor from Dudley, investigations have been carried out and it is on the record that no such request was made by the Leader of the Opposition in respect of not being here on Tuesday? Rather the contrary is the case: he wanted to be here to question the Prime Minister and to welcome the Labour victor from Dudley.
Can a guarantee be given that there will be a reasonable period between the publication of the Government's Bill on disabled people and its Second Reading? There will be two Bills before the House, one of which, my private Member's Bill, has already been published. There are considerations about the two Bills rubbing up against each other which need to be resolved. It would be unfortunate if the Government introduced their measure and then bounced us straight into a debate. The problems that might arise in respect of two similar Bills being before the House might not be able to be thought through properly and resolved. My Bill is certainly a superior measure to anything that the Government will do.
I refer my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 203:
[That this House notes the resignation of Graham Leach, the journalist previously based in Brussels for BBC News and Current Affairs; and would welcome information as to the reasons for the resignation and whether they have any impact on the purse of the licence payer.]
May we have an urgent debate to discuss the diversion of licence-payers' money from BBC programming to the paying of bogus expenses claims, in at least one case amounting to over six figures? May we discuss the rigorous—or otherwise—accounting and auditing procedures within the BBC regarding expenses claims in the news and current affairs department? At the same time, perhaps we could discuss the abrupt resignation from the BBC of Mr. Graham Leach.
Following the point that was very well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), will my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on the right of an individual, who is not a public figure, to privacy in a free society? The House has debated that matter before and the Government have given commitments that, if self-regulation in the newspaper industry was not seen to be working, they would favour legislation. Clearly, it is seen not to be working. May we have a debate so that the House can express its views on that subject?
I do not wish to add this afternoon to what I have said about the director general's decision to hold an inquiry. Any decisions about how to carry the outcome of such an inquiry forward, should that be necessary, must obviously await the outcome of it.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement about the terrible and tragic flooding that has taken place all over Scotland? Will he do that with great urgency as our people are in dire straits as a result of the lack of Government action in our constituencies?
Of course, I understand the hon. Gentleman's reasons for properly raising this matter on behalf of his constituents. He will be aware that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is responsible for industry and local government, was able to make a statement on the problem to the Scottish Grand Committee. That indicates some of the merits of the new Scottish procedures that were put in place last summer, following much hard work by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and by Opposition Front-Bench Members.
May I press the Leader of the House again on the need for a debate on the family, as suggested by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth)? The right hon. Gentleman will know of the enormous effort that has been made by individuals and organisations during the International Year of the Family. There will be great disappointment throughout the country if the House and the Government do not take a lead by allowing a debate on an issue which touches every person in this country.
Of course, I note the second representation on that matter. It reinforces my willingness at least to consider the possibility of such a debate, but manifestly I cannot make a commitment this afternoon.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to join me in thanking you, Madam Speaker, for arranging time during tonight's Consolidated Fund debate to raise again the mutual defence agreement between Britain and America. Does the Leader of the House accept that, on 13 December, the shadow Foreign Secretary formally objected to the ratification of that agreement and its extension without full parliamentary debate? Will he guarantee that such a debate will take place in Government time, and that the extension will not be signed without the formal agreement of the House?
May I make a couple of points clear? First, in accordance with the Ponsonby rule, the 1994 amendment to the 1958 agreement was laid before Parliament on 21 October, and it remained there for the required 21 sitting days. Secondly, the Ponsonby rule does not require a debate to be held before ratification, nor, if a debate is called, does it require ratification to be delayed until the debate has been held. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friends in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I will consider carefully the contents of the Consolidated Fund debate. Indeed, we share the gratitude of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) to you, Madam Speaker, for having made such a debate possible.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the future of sub-post offices? Given that 200 sub-post offices close every year, will be use the opportunity of such a debate to reassure my constituents that their sub-post office in Dulwich village, which has repeatedly been threatened with closure, is secure?
There are two points. First, as sub-post offices are private businesses, their fortunes depend on a variety of factors. No Government of whatever colour could guarantee that no sub-post office would ever close for whatever reason. Secondly, it is generally accepted that, whatever the dispute about some other aspects of the proposals of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade for the Post Office, the proposals for Post Office Counters Ltd. and, in association with that, a wider range of business for post offices, including sub-post offices, were widely and rightly held significantly to improve the prospects of sub-post offices.
Will the Leader of the House examine two parliamentary answers when considering the desirability of a debate on the costs of parliamentary questions? The first is one that I asked of Baroness Thatcher on the 10th anniversary of her reign, when I invited her to list the failures of her Government. The answer was disappointingly brief and probably cost about 5p. The former hon. Member for Pembroke asked her to list her successes. The answer occupied 47 columns of Hansard and cost £3,500. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain that "disproportionate cost" means, "We do not want to answer that awkward question"?
Bearing in mind the fact that the director general of the Prison Service has reported an alarming number of deaths and serious injuries in the newly privatised Doncaster prison, will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to give time for a debate on the privatisation of the prison service, so that we can consider whether it is sensible to have a regime in which prisoners have far more experience of prison than the staff?
Will the Leader of the House find time to allow the Secretary of State for Wales to make a statement about the future of Neath and Port Talbot hospital? The Leader of the House may recall that in July this year the Secretary of State announced that the new hospital would go ahead and would be up and running by 1998–99.
It has now emerged—Madam Speaker, this partly concerns you also—in the small print of the "Budget statement" that was announced by the Secretary of State, which has not yet been placed in the Library but which has been confirmed to the local press, that the hospital will go ahead only if private finance is made available on a matching basis with the public sector contribution which the Secretary of State promised all along. That is absolutely disgraceful and I believe that it is an insult to proceedings in the House. Surely the Secretary of State should be hauled before the House to make an urgent statement.
As the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) began the exchanges this afternoon by suggesting in at least one of her questions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales was in the Chamber rather too much and for too long yesterday, I am reluctant— even disregarding the hon. Gentleman's language— to seek to "haul" him here again. However, I will certainly draw his attention to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
Will the Leader of the House reconsider his decision not to hold an urgent debate on the national blood transfusion service? Contrary to his belief, I have received confirmation in a parliamentary reply that certain blood products are sold not just in Europe, but worldwide.
In an attempt to increase its level of blood stocks, the National Blood Authority sent out a letter on 16 November asking transfusion centres to increase their levels to 30,000 units, and each centre was granted 10,000 to cover advertising costs.
Unfortunately, the public's loss of confidence in the blood authority has resulted in a decrease in blood stocks to the extent that yesterday they fell to 18,000 units—which has been described as a crisis level. On Tuesday, in a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), the Prime Minister said that some aspects of the national health service are best catered for in the private sector. I believe that there is an urgent need for a debate on the National Blood Authority.
I will not repeat the points that I made earlier, but I add that occasionally collecting blood stocks sufficient to meet domestic needs—which is the point that I emphasised and which is the authority's principal purpose—leads to a surplus of blood products which can be sold abroad. I am advised that the alternative would be to burn the surplus, which is to hardly anyone's advantage. I will certainly bring the hon. Gentleman' comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
In view of the exchanges earlier, will the Leader of the House accept my word that, regardless of what he has been told by the Prime Minister or anyone else, my inquiries confirm that the Leader of the Opposition made no request to cancel the business on Tuesday next week? If that is the reason why the Leader of the House proposed that the House should rise on Tuesday rather than Wednesday, now that the reason does not hold up is it his intention to restore Prime Minister's Questions on Tuesday and will he withdraw his earlier statement?
The last thing that I want to do—especially at this time—is to raise the level of acrimony in the House. It is clear that there was a misunderstanding on the account of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), because it is manifest that the impression created in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's office was that something approaching a request had been made. I honestly do not think that we can carry that point further across the Floor of the House today.
I am not disputing the good faith of the hon. Lady. Equally, I hope that she will accept that what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have said was also in good faith. If there has been a misunderstanding, we should perhaps clear it up in other ways. Meanwhile, 1 am certainly not planning to announce an immediate change to the business that has already been announced for next week.
May I remind hon. Members that on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Tuesday 20 December, up to nine Members may raise with Ministers subjects of their own choice. Applications should reach my office by 10 am on Monday next. A ballot will be held on Monday morning, and the result made known as soon as possible thereafter.