The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 15 MAY—Progress on remaining stages of the Gas Bill.
Motions on the conditional fee agreements order and the conditional fee agreements regulations.
TUESDAY 16 MAY—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Gas Bill.
WEDNESDAY 17 MAY—After the usual Wednesday morning Adjournment debates, Opposition Day (12th allotted day). Until about 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "The Further Erosion of Rail Services due to Privatisation" followed by a debate entitled "The Costs to the Country of Privatising the Nuclear Power Industry". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.
FRIDAY 19 MAY—The House will not be sitting.
MONDAY 22 MAY—Progress on remaining stages of the Child Support Bill, to be brought to a conclusion on either Tuesday or Wednesday.
[Wednesday 17 May:
European Standing Committee B—Relevant European Community documents: 4523/95 Energy Policy; Relevant European Legislation Committee Reports HC 70-ix (1994–95) and HC 70-xiv (1994–95).]
It may also be necessary to take some Government business on Thursday 25 May. The House may wish to be reminded that, subject to the progress of business, it is proposed that the House should rise for the spring Adjournment on Thursday 25 May until Tuesday 6 June.
As to next week's business, the House will be pleased that we are to have an early debate on the report of the Nolan committee. As the committee was set up by the Prime Minister, will the Prime Minister open that important debate? Will the Leader of the House confirm today that the Government will accept the main recommendations of the Nolan committee as a good starting point for rebuilding public confidence in our democratic system? Will the Leader of the House ensure that, following next week's debate, there will be an early opportunity to make the necessary changes so that we can implement the recommendations in the Nolan report within the time scale that the committee advised?
The House will have noted that next week the Opposition is again providing an opportunity to debate some of the issues that greatly concern the public. Given the widespread and deep public unease about privatisation by the back door without any further reference to Parliament, what steps will the Government take to gain the approval of the House before there are any more sell-offs of public assets?
What time will the Government allocate to discussing the disaster that is unfolding at York, where the hiatus in railway investment is causing serious problems? Those problems should not be dismissed, as the Prime Minister dismissed them today, as simply the equivalent of an outbreak of measles. There will be dramatic job losses in York and another indigenous British industry will go to the wall as a direct result of privatisation. The Government should allow time to debate such an important issue.
Turning to another subject, does the Leader of the House recall that, when he was Minister for the Disabled, he praised the Labour Opposition for devoting half a Supply day to debating the 15th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970? Will the right hon. Gentleman, in his present capacity, find time for a debate on the 25th anniversary of that legislation at the end of May, which is of great concern to many people throughout the country?
Finally, as the Government's economic policy has reached a new low in credibility, will the right hon. Gentleman say when the Government expect to make their summer economic statement and when the House will have a chance to debate it?
I should have said that I expect the debate on Wednesday week to be of the kind that the hon. Lady has in mind, when I sit here for three hours and attempt to answer problems from all quarters.
I anticipate that the debate on Lord Nolan's report will be opened by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who was responsible for much of the evidence that the Government submitted to the Nolan committee. That would seem appropriate. I was not absolutely clear whether the hon. Lady was referring to the proposals that are for the Government or those directed more at the House.
As to the recommendations concerning Ministers leaving office and appointments to what are known as quangos, the Government welcome and accept their broad thrust, but obviously they need careful and detailed examination. As to recommendations directed at the House, the report itself recognises that our rules and procedures are for the House to decide. However, the Government hope for wide agreement on a positive response to the report, which is in line with the hon. Lady's remarks.
On privatisation, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said in his statement earlier this week that there will be a debate, and obviously we will look at that again in the light of the Opposition debate scheduled for next Wednesday. There is not much that I can add to the remarks of my right hon. Friend in Prime Minister's questions today about the ABB closure at York. He made it clear that the problem is due to a number of factors including the completion of major contracts for Central line trains and some others and the firm's failure to win contracts for the Jubilee line, Heathrow Express and Northern line. The hon. Lady might at least have acknowledged that.
The hon. Lady referred to something that I said about the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1972 when I was Minister for the Disabled. Substantial time has been provided this year for the Government Bill designed to build new rights for disabled people. That may be the most appropriate form in which the House will return to debate those matters in due course. At the specific request of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), I have agreed to open the exhibition starting on Monday to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1972 Act, which I shall do with pleasure.
As to the hon. Lady's over-aggressive final question, I will consider the timing of the summer economic debate, but I would do that with more enthusiasm had the hon. Lady not made absurd remarks about the credibility of Government economic policy against a background of the Labour party having no economic policy whatever.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the way in which the Nolan report was made available to right hon. and hon. Members today? Will he direct this question to whoever is responsible for passing information to right hon. and hon. Members? Instead of the report being handed out as usual by the Vote Office in a perfectly competent and efficient way, the small Corridor next to the Members Board is full of individual envelopes. Am I supposed to look through them all to find F for Fenner? Busy Members of Parliament do not have time to do that. I ask my right hon. Friend to make sure that such communications are delivered in a more efficient manner.
Can the Leader of the House ensure that, when the Secretary of State for Transport takes part in the debate next Wednesday, whatever the precise terms of the motion, he takes the opportunity to range over all the damage that is being inflicted on the rail industry and the rail network by the continuing failure to invest when the threat of privatisation is hanging over the industry? I am not thinking only of ABB at York, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred during Prime Minister's Question Time: I am also concerned—as I hope are the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State—about the continuing failure to bring forward the programme for maintenance and safety on the rail network.
As the Leader of the House may be aware, there are fears within British Rail and Railtrack that the hiatus caused by the problem is creating real difficulties in terms of speed restrictions, weight restrictions and threats to safety. Will he give an explicit assurance that the Secretary of State for Transport will address that question during the debate?
I can give the hon. Gentleman an explicit assurance that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will cover all matters that he considers relevant to the debate and, no doubt, touch on points of interest to the hon. Gentleman. He may also make a number of points that the hon. Gentleman has not made, including reference to the fact that British Rail has invested £4,000 million in new rolling stock since 1979.
Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that the Jopling reforms were introduced on a Sessional Order, and that, unless they are renewed or become Standing Orders, they fall at the end of the Parliament? At his request, the Procedure Committee is attempting to monitor their working and in order to obtain the opinion of all Members of Parliament, a short questionnaire will be circulated to all right hon. and hon. Members so that both sides completely understand whether Members of Parliament consider the reforms to be a success or a failure. It will be helpful if all right hon. and hon. Members respond to the questionnaire.
My right hon. Friend is certainly right to remind the House that they are Sessional Orders, although he marginally slipped in saying that they will fall at the end of the Parliament. They will fall at the end of the Session. I am happy to be used as a verbal notice board for the advertisement of the questionnaire of the Procedure Committee.
With respect to the debate on the Nolan report, which I welcome, the Leader of the House told us that it will be on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. As a member of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, I carefully examined the recommendations that relate specifically to the House, rather than the Executive and other Government appointments. I notice that Lord Nolan has made three types of recommendation: those that he wants implemented immediately or as soon as possible; those that he wants implemented by the end of the year or the start of the new Session; and those on which he wants progress by the following year.
As the report would abolish the Committee on which I serve, and that Committee is in a difficult position at the moment, it would be extremely helpful if the Leader of the House could let us know when we can make progress on the changes that Lord Nolan recommends to how the Register of Members' Interests is formed and policed, as they have a direct impact on some of the complaints with which we are wrestling. It would be enormously helpful if the Leader of the House could give us an early indication of when progress will be made on those recommendations.
The hon. Lady has given quite a good illustration of why I feel that a wide-ranging debate on the Adjournment is the first step. They are complex and varied recommendations. Many of them require much detailed work to translate from the recommendations of the committee into resolutions that the House could pass. The right first step is not for me to prejudge what the House will wish to say next week or any other discussions that might be necessary to provide an opportunity, as I am doing, for the hon. Lady to make any points she might wish to raise.
Now that the House has had 24 hours to digest the excellent White Paper "Tackling Drugs Together", will my right hon. Friend give urgent consideration to a debate on it in Government time? There seems to be a fairly short period before the deadline, especially for local arrangements to be made, and it would be useful for local authorities to have some guidance from the House and for hon. Members to be able to discuss it. That would also provide the Liberal party with an opportunity to explain how it will come to terms with the rather strange decisions taken by its last conference—to legalise cannabis, for instance.
As my hon. Friend will have heard yesterday, the Liberal Democrats who spoke then were also led into some rather curious contortions. As I said then, I do not particularly want to engage in their internecine warfare: I shall leave it to them to get on with it.
As for my hon. Friend's suggestion, nothing would please me more than to be able to arrange time for a debate on this well received and important report. I shall use my usual best endeavours to do that.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1030?
[That this House, concerned at the anger felt amongst the British Sikh community about the impact on the employment prospects of Sikhs of the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, introduced as a consequence of a European Directive, notes that British Sikhs have for many years been exempt from wearing hard hats in many areas, including service in the British Army and on construction sites; and urges Her Majesty's Government to introduce amending legislation urgently so that British Sikhs may continue to work in all non-construction employment whilst wearing turbans.]
That highlights the continuing concern among the Sikh community at legislation, introduced as a consequence of a European directive, which compels them to wear protective headgear in non-construction employment. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise this continuing concern? The Sikhs believe that it will lead to a loss of jobs for them. Will he raise this matter urgently with the Secretary of State for Employment, and if possible arrange for a debate on the topic in Government time?
I shall certainly bring that question to my right hon. Friend's attention, but the United Kingdom was obliged to implement the directive, and granting a universal exemption could have run the risk of challenge.
Further to today's statement on the Post Office, can the Leader of the House confirm that we shall have a debate on that paper in the near future, and that it never was the Government's intention to privatise Post Office Counters? Deliberately misleading propaganda on that front frightened many small postmasters in rural constituencies—they are the lifeblood of villages. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these same sub-post offices should be given the chance to have vehicle licensing facilities if they want them?
I will of course consider the question of a debate, as it would be right for me to do. As for my hon. Friend's second two questions, I do not think that I can give off-the-cuff undertakings about particular aspects of future Post Office business; but I can certainly confirm what he said—that there was a widespread and perhaps deliberately engineered misunderstanding about Post Office Counters. We should bear it in mind too that the overwhelming majority of their work has always been privatised because it is conducted in sub-post offices.
Now that we have had Nolan, would it be possible shortly to arrange for a statement on setting up a committee to give guidance to Members of Parliament—particularly Tories—on voting? Has the right hon. Gentleman seen tonight's Evening Standard, which carries photographs of 44 Tory Members who betrayed their constituents last night by their disgraceful voting behaviour? As we do not yet have such a committee, is it not useful that the newspapers at least can highlight the way Tory Members are willing to give far greater loyalty to the Whips than to their constituents?
It is pretty silly to suggest that Members of Parliament whose judgment is at least as good as that of the hon. Gentleman, looking at the interests of their constituents in the round and at the need to reshape London health services, not least to improve primary care, should not have come to the conclusion that they should vote for the Government's proposals.
I notice that the Opposition have called for debates next week, first against the privatisation of the rail services, and then against the privatisation of the nuclear industry. We have heard earlier today how they are against the privatisation of the Royal Mail. Does my right hon. Friend wonder why there has been such an enormous commotion over the abolition of clause IV when the Opposition continue to oppose privatisation serially, in case after case, as they always have done?
I shall indeed ponder that question, but without much expectation of either being able to provide an answer or getting one from anyone else. I am interested also in how the Labour party will explain what it would describe as the disadvantages of moving from a position in which nationalised industries used to cost £50 million a week to one in which privatised industries generate £50 million a week in tax revenue.
May I preface my question by saying that the Table Office, as always, has behaved impeccably and has simply been doing its job. However, as six questions to the Crown Office on Lockerbie and one to the Prime Minister have been refused because of the artful way in which Ministers block questions, and as the Lord Advocate is not answerable to the House, could we have some form of Government statement to follow the two hours of television this evening on Channel 4 about Lockerbie?
I was not aware of the position that the hon. Gentleman describes about questions being refused so I shall not attempt an immediate comment. I shall, of course, consider the point that he has made when I read it in Hansard.
May I remind my right hon. Friend that, in July 1994, our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister described Mr. Santer as being the right man in the right place at the right time? He no doubt then believed that that was the high point of Euro federalism. Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the Commission's proposals for constitutional change in Europe so as to give the Government the opportunity of responding to the overwhelming will of the British people to reject all further moves towards federalism, and most of all to grasp the opportunity of using the issue to resuscitate the fortunes of the Tory party?
I have not had an opportunity to study the report in detail. There appear, however, to be some things in it with which we can agree—for example, that there should be no new powers granted to the Community, and the importance of subsidiarity. There are also quite a few things with which we, and no doubt my hon. Friend, disagree, such as the analyses of the scope of qualified majority voting, the powers of the European Parliament and the future of the intergovernmental pillars. Our views on those subjects, like my hon. Friend's, are well known.
The Leader of the House will be aware that we have just been through a period of exceptionally severe air pollution, the worst in Britain for 40 years. The committee that advises the Government on the medical aspects of pollution episodes has drawn attention to the serious health risks that arise from such episodes. Will the right hon. Gentleman offer us an early opportunity to debate the measures that need to be taken by government to deal with the problem of worsening air pollution?
I think that I was asked that question last week. I can only repeat—[Interruption.] That is an observation, not a complaint. The question leads me to repeat what I said last week: air quality is an environmental priority for the Government. That is precisely why we are bringing forward appropriate legislation in the Environment Bill, which will be enacted in the near future, to implement the widely welcomed proposals that we published in January.
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that Mr. Santer's press conference yesterday was used to publish the Commission's submission to the reflections group? Would it not put flesh on the bones of the Government's determination to increase the role of national Parliaments in the European Union's affairs if we had a full debate on the Government's submission to the reflections group? Would not that give us the opportunity to expose the fact that the Labour party wants to give away more power to Europe, is irrevocably committed to a single currency and wants to increase qualified majority voting, which is deeply unpopular throughout the country and would be detrimental to our interests?
My hon. Friend, as ever, gives an absolutely accurate account of the Labour party's position. I shall do everything that I can to help him, or anyone else, gain it wider publicity.
May I reinforce the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) about early-day motion 1030, which has been signed by 68 Members from all parties? May I ask the Leader of the House to press the Secretary of State for Employment not to hide behind the directive but to urge that there is an exemption—a derogation— throughout the European Union to allow Sikhs, wherever they live within the EU, to be able to continue wearing their turbans and not to face what they consider to be blatant job discrimination?
Would it be best for me to seek the support of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), who could add the matter to his list of demands for the forthcoming intergovernmental conference? Would that be the best way of resolving this objectionable issue, as a matter of urgency?
Leaving aside the hon. Gentleman's last comment, I note that he underlined what was said a while ago by his hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). I cannot add to what I said on that occasion, but I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.
Before next week's debate on the subject, will my right hon. Friend draw to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport early-day motion 71?
[That this House welcomes the bid from GEC Alsthom for a 20-year service provision package, including new rolling stock, for London Underground's Northern Line and the job security which the award of this tender would bring to its factories in Birmingham and the North West; calls upon London Underground to make its tender decision strictly on the quality of the product and value for money; and commends the bid to London Underground on these criteria.]
In the motion, a number of leading Labour politicians called for the latest contract that should have been given to ABB to go to GEC. Today, they are standing up in the Chamber and complaining about what has happened.
May we have a debate about sport as soon as possible? I am particularly concerned that the activities of a minority of football supporters have led to the majority of supporters travelling abroad being treated as though they had no civil rights, or had left them on these shores when they went to see their team play in Europe. The behaviour of the Spanish, Italian and Belgian police has been despicable. These are important issues, and people outside who support football are concerned about them.
May I support the calls for a debate next week on pollution of the atmosphere—particularly in London, where, paradoxically, the better the weather the more polluted the atmosphere seems to be? Will my right hon. Friend assure me that provisions in the Environment Bill will allow measures to be taken to control vehicle exhaust emissions, which seem to be the main culprit in producing dangerous and obnoxious pollution in London?
I cannot make the precise promise that my hon. Friend requests, but I have already referred to the importance that the Government attach to the matter, and have said that I expect a debate to be possible at an appropriate time.
When may we have a debate about the worrying trend for people to do jobs that are beyond their training or ability? In the past, we have heard of a hospital porter and a nurse acting as assistant surgeons; today, we hear of school dinner ladies acting as teachers during teaching time in a school in Bournemouth.
Did not the public express great concern about the matter last Thursday, when they sent the thunderous, deafening message that they consider one person to be doing a job way beyond his abilities or attributes? Should not the Prime Minister take on a job that is suitable to his character, becoming a bus conductor or perhaps a rose grower?
Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 1111?
[That this House deplores the deceit of the Labour Party in failing to declare a figure for the national minimum wage; notes the report in the Guardian of 10th May that the husband of the honourable Member for Peckham, Mr. Jack Dromey, and challenger to Mr. Morris for the TGWU leadership, said that the TUC should campaign to persuade Labour to adopt a minimum wage figure of between £4 and £5 per hour before the election. He said he was confident that the TUC's policy will be £4 per hour-'indeed, if you look ahead two years, it may be closer to f5 per hour … we should seek support for that from the Labour Party': further notes that studies by the OECD and IMF have stated that the policy of the minimum wage would cost jobs; recognises that a minimum wage in Britain of £4 per hour, with only a half restoration of differentials would cost 750,000 jobs; reminds the honourable Member for Peckham of the comment of the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party on LWT, 25th May 1992 that 'I knew the consequences (of the minimum wage) were that there'd be some shake out (in the jobs market), any silly fool knew that'; and calls on the Labour Party to come clean on the level of the minimum wage and end this gross deceit of the British people.]
The motion contains Labour's plans for a national minimum wage. Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the concept of the minimum wage? That might give us an opportunity to tease out of the Labour party the level of such a wage. If, as expected, it would be between £4 and £5, it has been estimated that three quarters of a million people would lose their jobs, at a time when more people are being employed: 632,000 have come off the unemployment register since the end of 1992. I believe that it would be catastrophic to introduce a minimum wage in this country.
I agree with my hon. Friend. That is one of the best suggestions for a debate that I have had this afternoon. The only thing that my hon. Friend got wrong was the use of the phrase "tease out". It is increasingly clear that we shall only get anything out of the Labour party with forceps.
May we have an early debate on the Government's policy on the proliferation of large-scale weekend car boot sales in rural areas, which are causing great concern to the villagers of Marston and Furnace End in my constituency, and in other parts of north Warwickshire, who are having to put up with the inconvenience of large numbers of cars travelling to those car boot sales? I am sure that that is a problem in many rural areas in Britain.
I can certainly confirm that I persistently find myself caught in considerable quantities of traffic, usually on Sunday mornings in my constituency, as a result of car boot sales. On the other hand, it also has to be acknowledged that that means that the boot sales are attractive to large numbers of people.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that there was widespread concern following the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial about the use of public interest immunity certificates, an issue which is being looked into by the Scott inquiry. Without prejudging Lord Justice Scott's recommendations, is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday a public interest immunity certificate was issued in the Taylor case by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Without prejudging the issues there, would it not be better for evidence which affects national security at least to be given in private rather than to have the evidence suppressed altogether, which is bound to cause allegations and recriminations? Will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to come to the House next week and make a statement on precisely why that evidence could not be given at least in private if it cannot be given in public?
Why does not the Leader of the House reconsider the request that has just been made for a debate about the minimum wage? Such a debate would allow us to explain that Members of Parliament have a national minimum wage. Every single one is on £33,000 a year and no one can starve on that. Another 200 are picking up money on the side by moonlighting. That could be explained in the debate. All those issues could be brought to the attention of the people outside. If a national minimum wage is good enough for Members of Parliament, it is good enough for everyone else. Coincidentally, is it not true that in the 30 years since my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) became a Member of Parliament, we have not lost Members of Parliament, but we have increased the number. It was 625 when my hon. Friend came into the House. Now it is 651.
The hon. Gentleman might like to ask his constituents whether they think that the sum of money that he is paid is worth it for having him come here and advocate policies which would undoubtedly cost a number of them their jobs.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on two items raised in today's Financial Times? The first relates to activities by National Power. I know that the Government are reluctant to intervene to tackle poverty pay, but may we have a statement on the public interest and public acceptability of National Power's decision to pay a golden hello to its new chief executive, Mr. Keith Henry, of £100,000, to supplement his meagre salary of £280,000? It would be helpful if the House could understand the Government's position on such payments.
The second, which it would be useful to clarify before next Wednesday's debate on nuclear power privatisation, is the suggestion that City investors would contemplate acquiring such shares only if the Government guaranteed a heavy discount on prices. It would be helpful, before we have a debate, for hon. Members to know whether the Government will give the City that discount.
I shall give the President of the Board of Trade advance notice of a point that the hon. Gentleman may seek to put to him next Wednesday. With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, no doubt the point that he has raised, which is clearly one for National Power, also raises issues which might conceivably be felt appropriate for the Greenbury committee to consider.