The business for next week will be as follows:
Motion on the Team and Group Ministries Measure, which is a Church of England (General Synod) Measure.
TUESDAY 25 APRIL—Second Reading of the Medical (Professional Performance) Bill.
WEDNESDAY 26 APRIL—Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Remaining stages of the Criminal Appeal Bill.
THURSDAY 27 APRIL—Debate on China and Hong Kong on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
FRIDAY 28 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.
The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet on Wednesday 26 April at 10.30 am to consider the unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 13 December 1994, relating to the accession of new member states to the European Union.
[Wednesday 26 April:
As for the following week, I am at present able to say only that the business on Monday 1 May will be the remaining stages of the Children (Scotland) Bill.
May I thank the Leader of the House for that information and suggest that, in view of the exchanges at Prime Minister's Question Time earlier, perhaps he would like to reconsider that business so that we may have a debate in Government time, and an explanation from the Government, on why the typical family is paying £800 a year more in tax?
On the specific business of the House next week, will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the report of the Select Committee on National Heritage on rugby? Will he tell us whether the Secretary of State will be able to give an early response to the report's recommendations, especially that to withdraw funding from rugby union? Will the Secretary of State ensure that existing rugby union applications for public funding are frozen until decisions following on from that report are made?
On the related matter of the restructuring of rugby league, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has asked the Director General of Fair Trading to refer to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, will there be any response, during the debate on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Wednesday morning, to the need to protect some of the smaller rugby clubs, whose future is threatened by that particular deal, which seems to be a case of someone trying up buy up an entire sport and which is causing concern among hon. Members of all parties?
On a totally different issue, at present excluded from next week's business, the Leader of the House will be aware that on Tuesday the Foreign Secretary made a statement in New York about the non-proliferation treaty. Can he tell us when the Foreign Secretary will make a statement on the Government's position to the House? Members of Parliament—on both sides of the House, I should have thought—are becoming increasingly concerned about the contempt for the House shown by Ministers. It is now becoming customary for important statements to be made at press conferences or in written answers, rather than being made to the House first. Will the right hon. Gentleman take that important point on board and ensure that in future important statements are made in person by Ministers to the House of Commons?
Finally, I protest most strongly about the unwillingness of the Leader of the House to find time for a Supply day next week. On 30 March I mentioned the need for an early Supply day, and on Tuesday I asked for an assurance that the rearrangement of proceedings on the Criminal Appeal Bill should not prevent us from having one. As next week's business cannot possibly all be categorised as urgent, why can we not have a Supply day next week? What are the Government afraid of—that we shall have a debate on London health?
Of course I always respond in good faith to what the hon. Lady says about Opposition days. Despite what she said, she might reasonably recognise that there is a need to make progress on some quite important—indeed, very important—measures, many of which, including the Medical (Professional Performance) Bill and the Criminal Appeal Bill, were the subject of strong Opposition representations at the time of the Queen's Speech. There has also been substantial pressure from both sides of the House for a debate on Hong Kong and China, and I have responded to that.
The hon. Lady will know that our aim regarding the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is the indefinite and unconditional extension of the treaty by a substantial majority. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will wish to make a statement to the House if and when he judges it appropriate. She will know, and, I hope, accept, that I am always concerned to protect the rights of the House in that matter. But I also note her concern, and will certainly continue to ensure that Ministers make statements to the House when it seems right to do so—as, indeed, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland did yesterday.
As for rugby league, I cannot sensibly attempt to predict or pre-empt the contents of the speeches that will be made during the Adjournment debate on Wednesday, but I shall of course draw the hon. Lady's concern to the attention of the Minister who will speak in that debate. As for referring the proposal for a rugby super-league to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, that is of course a matter entirely for the Director General of Fair Trading. It would not be appropriate for the Government to intervene in Sports Council decisions on the funding of rugby union, nor would we wish to discriminate against rugby union in favour of rugby league.
Lastly, I thought that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister replied entirely convincingly to the points raised about taxation in earlier exchanges.
That was so long ago that it is beyond my memory. It may be relevant to observe that I have repeatedly made it clear to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) that, were she to ask for a debate on the continuing fall in unemployment, that might be an attractive proposition.
Notwithstanding the welcome initiative by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) in securing an Adjournment debate on nurses' pay this evening, will the Government give Government time for a proper debate on the pay review recommendation restricting the nurses' pay increase to 1 per cent. nationally, with 2 per cent. to be negotiated locally? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is disturbing evidence that worrying conditions are being attached to any locally agreed increases? Should not the matter be discussed by hon. Members on both sides of the House?
My right hon. Friend will have noticed the remarkable progress made in terms of early-day motion 186, tabled by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris).
[That this House calls attention, in this 50th anniversary year of victory in the Second World War, to the proposals by the Officers' Pensions Society and the War Widows' Association of Great Britain, wholly supported by the Confederation of British Service and Ex-Service Organisations, to honour the dead of two world wars and the campaigns since 1945, by paying Britain's war widows a pension for life and the widows of servicemen a pension of at least half that of their late husbands; and urges Her Majesty's Government to make a positive response to proposals which command such warm and widespread support throughout Britain.]
The motion has the support of 235 hon. Members, and I was assured yesterday that a further 45 who could not sign it have given their support in writing. Could my right hon. Friend say what the Government's view is on the matter? We are now approaching the point where we shall be celebrating VE day over the weekend of 6, 7 and 8 May, and there is speculation in the press that ought to be put to rest.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the BBC has, hour by hour today, been broadcasting details of the Nolan report? Since the BBC's accounts of what the report says have gone unchallenged, should not Members have details from Nolan and also a ministerial statement?
There is no suggestion that the leak—if that is what it is—described by the right hon. Gentleman has come from the Government. Clearly, the content of the Nolan report is a matter for the Nolan committee, and it is to the committee that the right hon. Gentleman's question should be directed.
My right hon. Friend knows that I and many of my hon. Friends want to see the introduction of a licensing scheme for houses in multiple occupation, to prevent both benefit fraud and further loss of life in fires. I understand that the measure will come before the relevant Committee in the near future. Once that has been done, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the House has an opportunity to debate the matter, so that the measure can be introduced as soon as possible to prevent further loss of life?
I hope that my hon. Friend will not think it unfriendly, but merely an expression of propriety, if I observe that, were his intelligence to be correct, I am the Chairman of the Committee to which the proposals would come. I undertake to bear the point in mind.
Is the Leader of the House aware of the deep sense of seething resentment in the national health service over the pay review arrangements? Does he understand that some health service workers object strongly to the fact that others have been singled out for a 3 per cent. rise, while they must accept a 1 per cent. rise? Is not it time for a full debate here in Parliament, so that the Government can at least explain why they are proceeding in this utterly monstrous way?
I said last week, or perhaps the week before, that the introduction of an independent pay review body was welcomed by the profession. Normally, there has been understandable pressure to implement its recommendations in full. That is what has happened.
Bearing in mind the fact that the part of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 that dealt with new age travellers has not yet come into force for reasons which, I believe, are related to Europe, does the Leader of the House accept that there is still a large problem in my constituency and in the surrounding area with people known as local travellers, who cover their caravans and park on public land? It can take seven to 10 days to get them to leave. They cause enormous damage, distress, mess and waste. May the House have an urgent debate on that subject to see what can be done on behalf of communities such as mine, which are suffering from such invasions time and again?
I hope that I shall not be thought ungenerous if I harbour the suspicion that that question may be a frustrated supplementary from Home Office questions. [Interruption.] I see that I have guessed right. In that case, the hon. Gentleman will understand that I shall bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
In view of the scandalous proposal being considered by Essex county council to deprive children attending Southend's four excellent grammar schools of free school transport, and the fact that the only children who will suffer will be those in low-income households in Southend and Shoeburyness, may we debate the matter next week? We could then simply ask what the decent and committed socialist and Liberal people of the past, who fought so hard for the underprivileged, would have thought of that scandalous proposal by Lib-Lab-controlled Essex county council.
I hope that it is not an improper use of the Dispatch Box to say that I have made an almost identical point in a letter to the chairman of the Essex education committee following many representations from my constituents, and I share my hon. Friend's views. I hope that he will succeed in obtaining a Wednesday morning Adjournment debate to ventilate that matter.
Had the Leader of the House been in his place earlier, he would have heard the Home Secretary tell the House that women fine defaulters are gaoled only if they wilfully refuse to pay their fines. Clearly, that is not the case and they are gaoled for something called culpable neglect, which basically means that they are poor and choose to spend their money on other essentials, such as feeding their children. In last month's Question Time, the Home Secretary showed his ignorance of the options available to magistrates courts in dealing with fine defaulters, much to the dismay of the Magistrates Association. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Home Secretary brushes up his knowledge of the criminal justice system before he next comes to the Dispatch Box?
Could my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week on local government taxation, so that the unquestionable fact may be brought out that Labour councils tax people more than Conservative councils? Ealing Labour council has put up council tax by 10 per cent. while drastically cutting services and damaging children's education, especially that of children with special needs, which should be looked after.
I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend's point. On a band-for-band comparison, there is no doubt that Conservative councils come out better than Labour and Liberal councils. In the forthcoming year, the average Labour council tax bill will be nearly 40 per cent. more than the average Conservative council tax bill in every band, and the average Liberal Democrat council tax bill will be 25 per cent. more.
May I assure the Leader of the House that my question is not a frustrated overspill from Home Office questions, but a serious request for an early debate on firearms? Over the past couple of days in Salford, legally held firearms have again been stolen from private premises. This is the second time in the past few months that I have raised the matter in the House. The guns taken in the first burglary have claimed three lives. There was a death in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) over the weekend and a serious shooting in Bolton. We are reaching epidemic proportions of legally held firearms being stolen and entering the criminal fraternity. The matter needs to be debated, and the House needs to know exactly what is going on in some of the areas that I have just mentioned.
That is indeed a serious question, and demands a comparable response. I shall bring the question and the anxieties underlying it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
I also believe that that sounds like a good subject for a Wednesday morning debate, were the hon. Gentleman to consider applying for one and to be successful.
May I support the request made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern) for a debate on the economy? I say that especially because there is talk in some circles of a further increase in the base rate. Bearing in mind the fact that any further increase in interest rates would be very detrimental to our economic recovery, and that most of the purchases that the United Kingdom makes are in dollars, not in deutschmarks, and it is against the deutschmark that the pound has decreased in value, it is vital, if this country is to make an economic recovery, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury are made well aware of the opinions held in all parts of the House.
My hon. Friend has struck a blow in that direction by asking his question, which I am sure will be noted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I do not think that I can add to what I said earlier to my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern).
Is the Leader of the House aware of the report published this week by Crisis, highlighting the fact that, after 30 years, tuberculosis has returned to London streets? In view of that, why has the Cabinet blocked the Opposition Supply day debate on London's health services? Is it because criticism of the health service reforms, and indeed of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, is now being made from both sides of the House? If that is the case, surely what should be of primary concern when choosing debates in the House is Londoners' health needs, not the needs of failing Secretaries of State.
I simply do not accept the suggestion about blocking a specific debate on a specific subject. As far as I am aware, my principal contribution in the legislative programme area for which I am especially responsible has been to provide time for an important Bill connected with the further reorganisation of the health service, to improve it.
Can my right hon. Friend reconsider the subject of next Thursday's foreign affairs debate? Is it not the case that the really urgent subject that needs the immediate attention of the House is the developing crisis in former Yugoslavia and particularly Bosnia, especially as, in recent days, three British soldiers were wounded, one seriously, and two French soldiers belonging to the United Nations Protection Force were killed?
Of course, without in any way minimising—quite the reverse—the importance of the matter that my hon. Friend mentioned, I think that he will acknowledge that the issue of China and Hong Kong and the British relationship is also of considerable importance, and I have been pressed for a debate about that at business questions in several recent weeks. I have so far been able to respond to that, but I shall bear my hon. Friend's representations in mind.
One of the private Members' Bills that could be debated on Friday 28 April is the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill—that is, if it is able to proceed through Committee next week. To assist, it would be useful if time were made available for that Committee to sit on Wednesday afternoon, not only on Wednesday morning, and potentially on Thursday. I understand that the Leader of the House would have to place a motion on the Order Paper to facilitate that. I am asking him to do that, to give the House a chance to debate that crucial Bill, which was so strongly supported on Second Reading.
Perhaps I may take the opportunity—I hope that he will think it in order—to thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in telephoning me earlier to ask me to consider that matter. I said then that I would consider it but that that would be against the background of my repeated comments in the House in recent weeks that I did not anticipate changing the normal arrangements for private Members' Bills, so I would not wish to raise false hopes. However, I shall reply to him formally on the matter.
In view of gross inaccuracies in the Labour party political broadcast last evening, will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Secretary of State for National Heritage to come to the House next week to make a statement about whether that broadcast complied with existing law on broadcasting standards? Is it not appropriate to refer the wilful attempt by the shadow Chancellor to mislead the British people to the Nolan committee?
My hon. Friend has made some good points, following on from what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said during Prime Minister's questions. If I were to arrange a debate on such matters, I would prefer to arrange one in which the Government's record, not least in spending on education, health and police, could be fully set out.
I have adverted to that subject once in exchanges today, following on from what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said during Prime Minister's questions. I would be more attracted by the hon. Gentleman's proposition were he to advert to the fact that more than 5 million people now pay tax at only 20p in the pound as a result of the Government's actions.
Following the welcome news from my right hon. Friend about war widows' pensions, could he use his considerable influence to see whether there is support throughout the House for Big Ben to ring out a double noonday chime to mark the end of hostilities in Europe on VE day and the part that the BBC and the chimes of Big Ben played in keeping the flame of hope alive in the darkest hours that the world has ever seen and to record the privileges in the House that we enjoy today because of the sacrifices made by those men and women?
Given the low level of the pound, coupled with increased taxation and the speculation about possible rises in the base rate, may I add my voice to the calls that have been made on both sides of the House for an early debate on the Government's economic policy?
If the hon. Gentleman would undertake to look at the record on exports, the record on growth, the record on unemployment and the record on attracting inward investment, I would be more attracted by his proposition.
If my right hon. Friend gives way to the Opposition Members who want a debate on health, could he ensure that it is wider than health in London, so that those of us who represent hospitals in the provinces can not only say with what success we have built 800 new hospitals as a result of spreading resources more widely, but how successful hospitals such as Burton hospital are? Burton hospital has a charter mark for excellence that is unsurpassed in the rest of the country. It leads the country in electronic and technical advances, has increased the number of consultants by 12 and has slashed waiting times by half. Such successes should be set against the ridiculous over-concentration of criticisms about what is happening in London.
One conspicuous feature of recent debate on such matters has been that the voice of those outside London has not been heard as clearly as the voice of those inside London. Historically, large numbers of people from outside London had to come into London for treatment because the facilities did not exist where they lived. That is precisely the imbalance that the Government are seeking to correct.
When may we debate the astonishing and distressing news that I received yesterday in a letter from the head of the Prison Service, telling me of the fivefold increase in the number of prisoners transferred from prisons to mental institutions—from 141 in 1985 to 770 now? The majority of them are people who were transferred before sentence and the increase coincides precisely with the care in the community programme. Until we have such a debate, the waste and cruelty of imprisoning people who are not criminals, but confused and mentally ill, will continue.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that he has, in a sense, referred to the second health measure that I might have mentioned in an earlier answer. There is currently in front of the House a measure which is concerned with the care of people who are mentally ill and which is designed to tackle some of the problems that have been acknowledged.
May we have an early debate about regional development so that we can assess the success of the policy in some areas and explore how other areas, such as the south coast, can benefit from that successful policy?
I shall certainly bear my hon. Friend's request in mind. I understand the reason why she makes it. She will be aware that, in the recent review of the regional map, careful account was taken of the new economic pattern that is developing in some parts of the, country, including my hon. Friend's constituency.
We want to see a cascade of wealth from one generation to another.
Is the Leader of the House aware that an increasing number of elderly people are being forced to sell their homes and to use their life savings in order to fund their stay in residential nursing homes? Is he further aware that the Sunday Express has called it a "tax on care", which has been introduced by stealth? Will he assure us that there will be an early debate on the Government's taxation by stealth and their general taxation policy?
Will the Leader of the House consider granting time for a debate on copyright and rights of performance—a subject that has not been debated in the House for more than five years? A large number of musicians, composers and conductors living in my constituency have expressed great concern about the copyright and rights of performance regulations. They believe that they will suffer major disadvantages compared with their colleagues in other European countries. They are also worried about the possible extensions of copyright. Will the Leader of the House look into that matter and arrange to have a short but effective debate on the subject in order to set their minds at rest?
I can be fairly forthcoming on that matter, although I am not yet certain about the timing. I think my hon. Friend knows that changes in the United Kingdom copyright law affecting music and other areas will be necessary as a result of various Community directives that have been adopted already. The Government have consulted widely about the matter and we shall bring forward statutory instruments in due course. They will require the approval of both Houses, so Parliament will have an opportunity to consider such legislation.
Will the Leader of the House arrange to have an early debate about the possible privatisation of nuclear power stations? I understand that he or some of his Cabinet colleagues have been discussing that issue and it might prove helpful if the whole House were able to debate it also. We could then gauge whether the public are any happier about that proposal than they were about the President of the Board of Trade's previous privatisation suggestion.
Will my right hon. Friend consider arranging an urgent debate about education? I raise this matter in light of the National Union of Teachers conference last weekend, when we witnessed horrendous behaviour by teachers, who not only mobbed the Labour education spokesman but threatened strike action. The House should hear the comments of the five Labour Members of Parliament who are sponsored by the NUT. They should come to the Chamber and confirm whether they stand by the NUT or whether they intend to resign their sponsorship.
I am sure that my hon. Friend's comments will be widely echoed, certainly on Conservative Benches. Her suggestion will undoubtedly be considered by those at whom it is directed.
At Wembley three years ago this month, the Prime Minister said:
I'll tell you what you need for a strong recovery…you need low taxation…Let me tell you what you need to stay in recession. You need higher taxes".
So let's hear it for a successful, low tax economy".
In view of the calls from both sides of the House for a debate about the Government's taxation and economic policies, will the Leader of the House urgently reconsider the answers that he gave earlier and arrange to have such a debate as soon as possible?
One of the reasons why Britain is attracting overseas investment to a greater extent than other European countries—and some investment from European countries themselves—and is an increasingly attractive place to do business, is precisely that we have such a tax regime in comparison with other countries in Europe.
Does the Leader of the House agree that, following the excellent suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), it might be a good idea to widen the scope of future debate to trade union behaviour in general, so that the public could focus on the important phenomenon whereby union leaders and the rank and file are asserting themselves increasingly in a way that will be all too obvious in controlling the Labour party in the future, just as they did in the past?
Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for the House to discuss local government finance and local taxation so that we can consider the contrast between the Government, who wish to maintain capping, and Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who wish to remove capping, which undoubtedly would lead to massive rises in taxation throughout the country?
We might also be able to examine specifically the expenditure of Lancashire county council. While the Government have increased expenditure in Lancashire by 1.4 per cent., Labour-controlled Lancashire county council has reduced the delegated budgets to our schools by 5.5 per cent. The county council is playing politics with the education of children in our county and that should not be allowed to happen.
Given the excess council taxation, for which I have already given the figures, in Labour and Liberal Democrat authorities, even with capping, my hon. Friend is certainly right to advert to the even greater problems that people under such councils would face with no capping.
My right hon. Friend is already aware that the BBC has obtained and has been using all day information about the confidential deliberations of the Nolan committee. Will he make time for the House to consider that irony and whether high standards in public life are best served by the use of a betrayal of trust by somebody closely connected with the committee, or by a so-called public broadcasting service instigating and utilising such a misuse of trust?
As I said earlier, clearly it is primarily a matter for the Nolan committee, if it wishes to consider it, but I am quite sure that it will also be extremely concerned about what has occurred. I have no knowledge of where any such leak may have come from.