Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 25 January 1996.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 29 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Housing Bill.

TUESDAY 30 JANUARY—Opposition Day (3rd Allotted Day). Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on the record of the privatised water companies, followed by a debate entitled "The Cuts in Overseas Aid". Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Motion on the Police Grant Report (England and Wales).

WEDNESDAY 31 JANUARY—Until 2 o'clock, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motions on the English revenue support grant reports. Details will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 1 FEBRUARY—Debate on the Royal Navy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 2 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY—Debate on policing of London on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

[Wednesday 31 January:

The following reports are relevant:

The Local Government Finance Report (England) (1996–97); the National Parks Supplementary Grant Report (England) 1996–97); the Limitation of Council Tax and Precepts (Relevant Notional Amounts) Report (England) 1996–97); Special Grant Report (No. 16).]

I am afraid that I am not able to be as forthcoming as I should like to be this week about the following three days-6, 7 and 8 February—but I hope to provide an Opposition day, and it may be necessary to take Government business on Thursday 8 February.

On Friday 9 February, the business will be Private Members' Bills.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the Leader of the House for that information, and also for responding to our request for a separate debate on the police grant report on Tuesday. In the past, the Leader of the House has also made favourable noises about the desirability of a debate in this Session on further changes to our parliamentary procedures. When I last raised the matter, the right hon. Gentleman was not unsympathetic. I wonder whether he has any further thoughts on what he might do to find time for a wide-ranging debate, which might lead to further improvements in the workings of the House following the changes that we have already made with the Jopling report.

I asked for that especially so that we might consider one aspect of the changes required, to which I have referred during the previous two business question sessions. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that in each of those two sessions I asked about plans to provide time for a debate on the EC directives that the Scrutiny Committee unanimously recommended should be debated on the Floor of the House. I refer in particular to economic and monetary union, convergence and social protection. Having had two weeks to consider, can he now tell us when the issues might be debated? Can he also tell us the timetable for the publication of the Government's White Paper and any subsequent debate that should take place in the House?

We heard this week—though not through any announcement in the House—that the Government are retreating from their plans to introduce identity cards. The position has moved from the Prime Minister believing that they should be compulsory, to the Home Secretary saying that they should be voluntary, to nothing at all. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that is the Government's position? Will he further confirm that Ministers have suggested that other forms of identity cards, such as those proposed for driving licences and Department of Social Security purposes, do not require legislation? If that is the case, and if the Government are proposing to introduce such measures without legislation, would not it be wise—indeed, proper—to provide a mechanism to gain parliamentary approval before any such measures are taken?

In view of today's National Audit Office report that more than 16 per cent. of benefit awards contain errors, will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on the staggering levels of waste that have been revealed? Such a debate would allow us to examine the full extent of the incompetence of the Benefits Agency and to raise the problems that such errors create for our constituents.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I shall take the hon. Lady's points in the order in which they were raised. I am grateful for her remarks about the police grant report. I always try to respond to representations, even though I cannot always do so. I am glad to have been able to do so on that matter.

I remain sympathetic to the idea of a debate on parliamentary procedures and I shall continue to keep the matter on what I have recently been calling my list.

I have made further inquiries about the points that the hon. Lady has raised a couple of times relating to European legislation. I am advised that the Committee reports that it is said will contain the recommendation to which the hon. Lady referred are not yet available. As soon as they are, I shall consider her request in the usual way.

On the hon. Lady's point about the White Paper, I assume that she was referring to the White Paper on the intergovernmental conference. I am not yet able to give further guidance on the timing for that.

No decision has been taken on whether an identity card should be introduced and, if so, what sort of card it should be. Specifically, none of the options in the Green Paper has been ruled either in or out. The time to consider what sort of debate might be appropriate is when we reach a decision on what might or might not be done.

I understand why the hon. Lady felt it right to raise a point about the National Audit Office report. However, the Auditor General commended

the energetic and effective steps to address fraud and error that were being taken.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

May we have an early debate next week on choice in education so that we can, in particular, consider education for 11-year-olds and examine why the Leader of the Opposition is so obsessed with the education of a single 11-year-old and so unconcerned about the education of all the other 11-year-olds throughout the country?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I certainly cannot begin to explain that—and more to the point, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Leader of the Opposition cannot begin to explain that.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Liberal Democrat Chief Whip

Having regard to the concerns throughout the UK about the privatisation of British Rail and also to the puzzling reluctance of Her Majesty's official Opposition to use one of their Supply days to debate the subject, may we have an early debate—preferably in the week beginning 5 February—to discuss that very important subject?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I take that as a plea addressed to Labour Front-Bench Members. No doubt there will be time for a Liberal Supply day, and the hon. Gentleman can perhaps consider that as a subject for the debate. I have no plans, however, for such a debate in Government time.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood

In view of the proposals from European Commissioner Bangemann for a European-wide defence procurement agency and a system of tariffs for the import of defence equipment from outside the EU, may we have a debate on trade and industry policy on one of the free days that remains in the week after next, so that the potential damage to national security caused if such proposals were carried through can be debated?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the debate that I have announced for next Thursday on the Royal Navy. He may find some way of taking part in that debate and raising the points to which he referred.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

May I ask the Leader of the House a question of which I have given his office notice? Could we have a statement next week on the validity or otherwise of a report emanating from Japan and published in Le Monde, that iodine 131, caesium 137 and strontium 90 elements have leaked in Mururoa? If the 'report is true, does not that undermine the assurance that was given by France that it was impossible for leaks to occur in material encased in rock? Does not that raise a question about the dangers arising from fissures in subterranean rocks? Will the Government consider the introduction of an international commission, as has been asked for in leading articles in Asahi Shimbun and other serious papers in Japan?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman who, with his usual courtesy, has given me notice of his question. I am advised that the French have assured us that the recent reports do not relate to the current test programme, and they have confirmed that the so-called revelations relate to information that has been public for some time. It remains the British Government's position that we have no reason to doubt the assurances that President Chirac has given that the tests do not put at risk the environment or public health. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the President has invited independent experts to visit the region to verify that for themselves.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

In addition to one of the points made by the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), may I remind my right hon. Friend and the House that the Procedure Committee has started an in-depth inquiry into secondary legislation, statutory instruments and indirect legislation coming from Europe? While a debate might well assist the Committee in carrying that work through, any views that any hon. Member wishes to express on the matter of secondary and indirect legislation would be willingly received by the Procedure Committee.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I take that as an advertisement to the House by my right hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, and I am happy to endorse it. I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) to my right hon. Friend's comments, as I know that my hon. Friend has a strong interest in those matters.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The Leader of the House has tried his level best during the past few months to give the House advance information, and he has given us the dates for the Easter recess and various other dates. But somehow in the past six or nine months, he has not been able to provide us with the date of publication of the Scott report or the date for a debate on the report in the House. I am beginning to realise that he has not done that because the heads of four Cabinet Ministers are on the block. It is high time that the public out there were given a chance to see what is happening and how much fiddling has been taking place. Are the Government screwing Scott's arms up his back? Why has the report not been published, to let us get to know the truth?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

There are two reasons. One is that I have not hitherto been asked—[Interruption.]—so far as I can recall. The other is that it is not for me to set the date, as the publication of the report is a matter for Sir Richard Scott.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid

Given the surprising information vouchsafed to us yesterday that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) learnt more from being underground than in grammar school, could we have a debate that would allow us to discuss whether underground tests are thoroughly satisfactory?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I have no answer to that, Madam Speaker.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

As the Leader of the House was unable to answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), perhaps he can make some inquiries, because Lord Howe seems to know the date—he was certainly attacking it in the press today, anyway. While we wait for Scott, could not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the Ordtech appeal, which I raised with him a little while ago, and the principles involved in that case, in which innocent men stood the risk of going to prison while documents were hidden from them? Should not that be a matter for an early debate before Scott?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I certainly do not have any plans for an early debate before Scott. It would seem right that matters of that sort should await the publication of the report, on whatever date that turns out to be.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

I know that my right hon. Friend is very concerned that there should be good relationships throughout the House. I wonder whether he might feel that we should have an early debate on the subject, particularly given the bad blood that has recently developed between the Leader and the deputy Leader of the Opposition, the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) and the whole Labour party. Is he aware of an article in The Independent yesterday headed, "Tony, Gordon and no Joy", which sets out the growing chasm, I fear, between the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor? There is an incipient tragedy of Cain and Abel proportions and perhaps my right hon. Friend can pour some oil on troubled waters in that debate.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

Having seen the interesting article to which my hon. Friend refers, I would observe merely that, judging from the faces behind him during the last two sessions of Prime Minister's questions, there is a chasm between the Leader of the Opposition and almost everyone behind him.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham , Coventry South East

Bearing in mind the fact that it is just over 12 months since a serious air crash at Baginton airport in Coventry, will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government are prepared to produce proposals to deal with small airports outside London? Will he also direct his attention to the fact that the Government produced a report on the crash—when will we have a debate in the House on that?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I recall the hon. Gentleman raising related matters with me some time ago. I am sorry that I did not get back to him earlier. I dropped him a note this afternoon saying that I continue to bear his thoughts in mind, but pointing out—I hope that this will not be offensive to you, Madam Speaker—that that sounds like a good subject for a Wednesday morning debate, if the hon. Gentleman applies for one.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

May I endorse the call by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) for a debate on choice in education, perhaps with the theme, "Don't do as I do, do as I tell you"? That will give me the opportunity to mention Michael Hindley, the Labour Member of the European Parliament who lives in a neighbouring constituency to mine, who sends his child more than 10 miles to a grant-maintained selective school in my constituency. That would allow us to point out to the public that the stench of hypocrisy runs far deeper than the Opposition Benches in Westminster—to the European Parliament.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

It is certainly becoming clear that, across a range of matters, Opposition policy is to say one thing, but do another.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

I met executives of Campbell Soups of Camden, New Jersey in my office this morning and they were as intransigent as ever, despite the fact that 340 Members of Parliament—the majority of the House—have asked them to keep their factory open. Can we debate those matters in Government time and will the Leader of the House further strengthen my campaign, calling on the wider public to boycott Fray Bentos products and Campbell Soups products, so that the company learns the feeling of the British people?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

The hon. Gentleman knows that the policy, within the law, of commercial companies is a matter for those companies, not for the Government. I would not expect to provide Government time for such a debate. I have already suggested the possibility of a Wednesday morning debate to him. Having seen the hon. Gentleman in operation in various forums, I am glad that I was not one of the directors of the company at the meeting with him.

Photo of Mr Richard Tracey Mr Richard Tracey , Surbiton

While my right hon. Friend is considering the request for a debate on education, will he consider broadening the debate to include the subject of grammar schools, so that the many Labour Members who went to grammar school can explain to the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) why they are against grammar schools so fiercely and so that she can explain to them why she has privately chosen one for her son? It may be because the school is in a well-run Conservative local education authority.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I am always glad to consider opportunities for the inexplicable to be explained, but I think that the debate would reveal that it remains inexplicable.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 335 on home workers, which is supported by hon. Members of all parties?

[That this House recognises that many homeworkers are failing to secure protection in law to which they are at present entitled, but on which they frequently miss out because of loopholes in legislation; further recognises that the Treasury is losing hundreds of millions of pounds of national insurance contributions arising from the same loopholes; and calls on Government to allow progress on the Employment (Homeworkers) Bill.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are 1 million home workers, the rights of many of whom, which should have been established by legislation, are not being observed because of loopholes in the law that also deny the Treasury many millions of pounds? Will he ensure that the Government take a positive attitude to the Employment (Homeworkers) Bill, which is currently before the House?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Employment (Homeworkers) Bill is before the House. I am sure that my hon. Friends will indicate the Government's approach to the Bill if it is debated. I also understand that home workers have the same employment rights as other workers.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith , Chingford

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 295, which concerns replacement medals for war veterans?

[That this House urges the Ministry of Defence to accept the petition of Mr. Jack Conn, dated 19th December 1995, to allow him and other pensioners, who were awarded medals in recognition of service in the armed forces of Her Majesty the Queen or her predecessors and who have had these either stolen or lost through misadventure, to have them replaced, recognising the debt we owe them 50 years after the end of the Second World War.]

Could my right hon. Friend prevail upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to have a debate on the matter? The 50th anniversaries of VE and VJ day took place last year and many veterans were unable to parade with their medals.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

There have been many requests for replacement medals in recent years and a great deal of effort is being made to meet them. I am sure that we all want them to be met wherever possible, because we owe those people a great debt of gratitude. I shall bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary the way in which my hon. Friend raised the matter this afternoon.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth , Belfast South

The Leader of the House will remember that last week he trailed the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Time did not allow it to be dealt with today. May I therefore press the Leader of the House for a statement next week from the Secretary of State on greater use of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, which would create greater democracy and allow greater use of parliamentary time?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

The hon. Gentleman will he aware that oral questions that are not reached are answered in writing. He may have noticed that, just before the end of Northern Ireland questions, I was looking at the file of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which contained the answer to that question. I have an interest in the matter that was generated, in part but not wholly, by the hon. Gentleman's previous questions to me. I think that I can assure him that he will welcome the positive spirit of the answer that will be given.

Photo of Mr Roy Thomason Mr Roy Thomason , Bromsgrove

Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate the millennium exhibition, so that the overwhelming advantages of Birmingham's national exhibition centre over Greenwich as a venue can be clearly put on record and the importance of the west midlands at the heart of this country can be stated?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I can safely assure my hon. Friend that even though it is not in the normal sense a Government body, the Millennium Commission is well aware of the cases being made from a number of directions.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland on his Department's breaches of central Government conventions on publicity and advertising? Does the Leader of the House acknowledge that we now know that last Wednesday there were at least two breaches of the conventions in two separate press statements advertising a single speech? Is not it time that the Secretary of State for Scotland came and made a statement to apologise to the House and to the people of Scotland, instead of making unfortunate civil servants apologise to him?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I have nothing to add to what I said last week. It is clear that an error was made and that the Secretary of State for Scotland had every intention of observing the guidelines and did not intend to breach them. I see no reason why he should make a statement to repeat what has already been said in other ways.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Will my right hon. Friend seek to arrange at an early date a general debate on crime and vandalism, and the problems that they create for the citizens of this country? Both sides of the House can then explore the exciting initiatives that the Government have taken, not least the provision of funds for closed circuit television, and also I, as the representative for Macclesfield, can support the application being made by the borough and police of Macclesfield for assistance under that scheme to install closed circuit television in Macclesfield town centre.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I must confess that my hon. Friend has caught me out as I have before me a brief on the Poynton bypass.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

Although I recognise that Macclesfield is some way from London, in a general sense some of the points that my hon. Friend seeks to make might be relevant to the debate on policing in London, which I have announced for Monday week.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

The Leader of the House seems strangely reluctant to arrange debates about the European Union. One European item has already been discussed, but six items, some of which date back to 1994, are waiting to go into European Standing Committee A and 11 are waiting to go into European Standing Committee B. Should not the scrutiny of European matters be speeded up by holding more discussions on the Floor of the House?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I do not think that I have shown any such reluctance. I have tried to answer questions put to me as straightforwardly as I can. I shall look into the hon. Gentleman's specific point about outstanding European matters.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

May I ask my right hon. Friend for an urgent debate on early-day motion 3?

[That this House calls on the Government to acknowledge that over 3,000 people with haemophilia have been infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV) as a result of NHS treatment with contaminated blood products; recognises that over 50 people with haemophilia are now understood to have died from liver disease contracted as a result; and considers giving similar financial assistance to those infected with HCV, who currently receive no additional help, as for those infected in the same way with HIV who have been compensated by the Government.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Haemophilia Society has produced a publication that shows that haemophiliacs with hepatitis C are suffering great hardship? Is it not illogical that haemophiliacs infected with hepatitis C who have then died should have received no compensation, while those infected with HIV received compensation? The cause was the same; the consequences have been the same; the reaction has been different. Is not that unfair?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I know my hon. Friend well and I understand his reasons for raising the matter once again. However, I am afraid that I cannot add to what I have said to him at least once before or to what has also been said to him by my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Health Department.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

When will we debate the Government's undemocratic and inexplicable opposition to the call to declare St. David's day a bank holiday in Wales? Is the Leader of the House aware that last year Wales and England had fewer bank holidays than any other country in the United Kingdom or elsewhere in Europe? As all the Welsh county councils, which represent every voter in Wales, have signalled their support for that call, how dare the Government, who managed to secure only 4 per cent. of councillors in the last measure of opinion in Wales, continue their opposition to making Dydd Gikyl Dewi a bank holiday?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I was not aware that England and Wales were so deprived in that respect. It may be part of the reason why our economy is doing the best in Europe.

Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham

My right hon. Friend will remember that on Monday we voted for an imaginative Conservative measure that provides exciting opportunities for grant-maintained schools to finance their capital projects. May we have a debate next week during which we may express great sympathy for some headmasters of grant-maintained schools, such as St. Olave's school in Orpington, about why in one week parents may gain admission for their children to their school and, in the following week, the same parents may vote against a measure to allow them to develop that school effectively?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

As I have said several times this afternoon, I very much hope that it will be possible to find an opportunity for the answers to those questions to be given, but I remain very unhopeful that any answers will be forthcoming.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

Does the Leader of the House recall the Prime Minister telling the Tory party conference that, while he lived and breathed, the NHS would never be privatised? Will he therefore arrange for the Prime Minister to attend the meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee in Stirling on Monday 29 January, so that he can attempt to explain away the fact that this week, three private consortia were short-listed for the contract to provide NHS hospital services at Stonehaven, near Aberdeen? As well as making allegations about hypocrisy, the Tory party should be prepared to answer those self-same allegations.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's argument in any way fits in with the suggestion that the national health service is being privatised. The health service remains a publicly funded service, as it has been. The issue of the way in which those services are provided is, as in the case of many other services, a separate one.