With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement on the business for next week.
TUESDAY 11 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Bank of England Bill.
Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government (Contracts) Bill.
WEDNESDAY 12 NOVEMBER—Until 2 pm, there will be the usual morning debates on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
FRIDAY 14 NOVEMBER—Debate on policing of London on a motion for the Adjournment of the House
The provisional business for the following week will be as follows.
MONDAY 17 NOVEMBER—Opposition Day [4th allotted day] [first part].
Debate until about 7 pm on a subject to be decided by the Liberal Democrats, which will be announced next week.
Motion to approve the eighth report from the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
TUESDAY 18 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill.
WEDNESDAY 19 NOVEMBER—Until 2 pm, there will be the usual morning debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Consideration in Committee of the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill [first day].
THURSDAY 20 NOVEMBER—Motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee, which we originally scheduled for Thursday next week. Details will be given in the Official Report.
FRIDAY 21 NOVEMBER—Debate on the review of civil justice and legal aid on a motion for the Adjournment of the House
The House will also wish to know that, on Wednesday 12 November, there will be a debate on landfill waste sites in European Standing Committee A. On Wednesday 19 November, there will be a debate on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies: controls on cattle, sheep and goats, in European Standing Committee A, and a debate on the draft general budget for 1998 in European Standing Committee B.
Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.
Public Accounts Committee Reports, Session 1996–97.
|Report No:||Title||HC No.||Publication Date|
|1||The office of Gas Supply: The Regulation of Gas Tariffs (The Gas Cost Index)||37||14 November|
|2||Progress in Completing the New British Library||38||20 November|
|3||The Sale of the Mining Operations of the British Coal Corporation||60||21 November|
|4||The Construction of Quarry House||69||27 November|
|5||Highways Agency: The Bridge Programme||83||28 November|
|6||The Audit of European Community Transactions||84||4 December|
|7||The Hospital Information Support Systems Initiative||97||5 December|
|8||Information Technology Services Agency: Outsourcing The Service Delivery Operations||98||11 December|
|9||Resource Accounting and Proposals for a Resource-based System of Supply||167||15 January|
|10||Excess Vote NI DHSS||19 February|
|11||Excess Votes Classes I, IV, VII, XIII, XIV, XVII (7&13)||293||13 February|
|12||ODA: Turkish Universities Equipment Project||70||27 February|
|13||H M Treasury: The Second Sale of Shares in National Power and PowerGen||151||6 March|
|14||Dept for Education & Employment: Financial Control of Payments made under the Training for Work and Youth Training Programmes in England||61||13 March|
|15||The Award of the First Three Passenger Rail Franchises||39||13 March|
|16||Office of Electricity Regulation, Office of Gas Supply: The Work of the Directors General of Telecommunications, Gas Supply, Water Services and Electricity Supply||89||19 March|
|17||Health of the Nation: A Progress Report||85||20 March|
|18||National Savings: Financial Reporting||214||25 March|
|19||Former Yorkshire Regional Health Authority||432||26 March|
|Report No:||Title||HC No.||Publication Date|
|20||Payments to the National Lottery Distribution Fund||99||27 March|
|21||The Management of Space in Higher Education Institutions in Wales||159||2 April|
|22||British Rail Maintenance Limited: The Sale of Maintenance Depots||168||3 April|
|23||Ministry of Defence: The Financial Management of the Military Operation in the Former Yugoslavia||242||4 April|
|24||Department of Transport: Freight Facilities Grants in England||284||8 April|
|25||Plymouth Development Corporation: Regularity Propriety and Control of Expenditure||450||8 April|
|Treasury Minute on the First to Eighth Reports from the Committee of Public Accounts 1996–97||CM 3559||12 February 1997|
|Treasury Minute on the Ninth Report from the Committee of Public Accounts 1996–97||CM 3577||12 March 1997|
|Treasury Minute on the Twelfth to Twenty-Fifth Reports from the Committee of Public Accounts 1996–97||CM 3714||16 July 1997|
I thank the right hon. Lady for her statement. She will doubtless recall that last week my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) asked for a debate on the Government's policy on higher education. Despite two such debates this week and despite the Prime Minister's frantic consultation of his briefing notes yesterday, it became clear from his inability to answer a simple question on the matter that he does not understand Government policy on higher education.
Will she arrange for another debate, at a time when the Prime Minister can attend, so that he can grasp what is perfectly clear to the rest of us—that his policy will mean that Scottish and European Union students at Scottish universities have their fourth-year fees met from public funds, while English, Welsh and Northern Irish students do not? He will then be better equipped than he was yesterday to explain precisely how the situation that that policy has created contributes to his manifesto pledge of equal opportunity for all.
Will the right hon. Lady also arrange for an early debate on the Government's policy on the tobacco industry's sponsorship of sport? May we have an explanation from the Secretary of State for Health of the criteria applied by the Minister for Public Health in deciding that formula one racing should be exempted from the Government's much-vaunted ban on tobacco sponsorship? Was that decision based on the fact that formula one racing is more popular than angling, healthier than cricket or more accessible to many than darts—or were other considerations taken into account? In the interests of open government, we should be told.
May we have an early debate on open government, so that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Cabinet Minister responsible for open government, can come out of hiding to expand on his remarks to local media, reported in The Times on 20 October, that he is being forced out of office by a smear campaign conducted by a senior colleague? Such a debate would also enable him to explain to the House why he needed trips to the United States, Canada and Australasia to study open government. After all, his party's manifesto pledges should have meant that by now he was a member of one.
I really do think that the right hon. Lady's final remarks are ridiculous, coming from a member of Government who took no steps whatever in the direction of open government. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will make a statement in the House when he presents the White Paper on freedom of information, and I am sure that many hon. Members look forward to that.
On the subject of higher education, the right hon. Lady is right that we have had two debates recently, during which we heard no constructive suggestions from the Conservative party on how to deal with the problems in higher education that we inherited. If she is interested in the matter, she will be aware that education Question Time is next week, so any outstanding issues can be dealt with—not that there will be many.
The position on formula one sponsorship has been made clear, not least by the Prime Minister yesterday. Formula one is a genuinely global sport and it relies on tobacco advertising much more than any other sport, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health said back in June and July when the issue was first considered. A European Union ban of the type suggested would lead to alternative circuits in other parts of the world taking the sport, and British viewers would still see it on television. Any ban imposed would thus be circumvented.
May I ask my right hon. Friend to return to the issue of higher education, which was raised by the shadow Leader of the House? What kind of legislative vehicle do the Government intend to use for the introduction of tuition fees? Will primary or secondary legislation be required? Irrespective of the vehicle to be used, will she give a firm guarantee that there will be a full and frank debate—preferably a full-day debate—in the House?
I think that primary legislation will be required. Therefore, there will be a Second Reading debate which, I would imagine, will be a full debate, as is normal.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that we, at least, supported the previous policy on tobacco sponsorship of formula one, and we agree very much with the EU Social Affairs Commissioner who has said that the Government's decision is a disaster and a complete U-turn? We would welcome a statement.
An equally important issue is the fate of rape victims in court, to which the Home Secretary referred in a BBC interview this morning. When can we expect a statement on the legislation to be introduced? How quickly can it be introduced? May we be assured that the Home Secretary will not be as dilatory as the previous Government were in trying to deal with this serious problem?
Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that there will be a debate as soon as the Public Accounts Commission has considered the evidence of the chief executive of the Child Support Agency, who yesterday outlined the appalling level of bungling which all of us, as constituency Members, are still experiencing with that agency?
Finally, the Minister of Agriculture gave notice earlier in the week that the Government are actively considering our representations that there should be a full inquiry into not just the last 18 months of the BSE crisis, but the way in which it developed under the previous Government. When will we get an announcement on that inquiry?
To take the last point first, the hon. Gentleman himself pointed out what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture said earlier in the week, and I have nothing to add to that.
On tobacco sponsorship, as I said a few moments ago, there is little point in having a ban that is counter-productive. If we drive the sport out of this country, people will still see the adverts on television because the pictures cannot be blocked.
I do not think that we can have a debate in the very near future on the important issue of rape victims, but we have made progress on the matter. The Home Secretary announced in June that he was establishing an urgent review to ensure that all vulnerable or intimidated witnesses received better treatment from the criminal justice system. That working group is taking evidence and we hope that it will be able to report to Ministers by the end of the year. Further statements will follow from that.
On the PAC and the inquiries into the CSA, I should be surprised if there is any hon. Member who has not experienced considerable difficulty in trying to pursue CSA cases on behalf of constituents. It is an appalling situation, and obviously there are very deep problems which will take some time to resolve.
There will be a warm welcome for today's announcement on the reduction in the number of animals killed in laboratories in Britain, but there will be some disappointment that the total of 3 million animals killed every year will be reduced by a mere couple of hundred. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate so that this complex matter can be discussed? Has she seen early-day motion 342?
[That this House notes with dismay that 400,000 animals are killed every year just to provide body parts for medical research when many scientists agree that test-tube studies using donated human tissue give more reliable results, but that lack of availability prevents its widespread use; urges that donated human tissue be used wherever possible to save animals and achieve more accurate results; and calls upon the Government to establish and co-ordinate a national network of human tissue banks to overcome the shortage of suitable human tissue and to introduce a new donor card that gives the public the option of donating organs for transplantation and/or tissue for research.]
I understand my hon. Friend's concern, although I cannot promise an early debate. He is right to say that there is a great deal of public concern about testing on animals, and that is why the statement from the Home Office today about the end to cosmetic testing on animals will be welcomed. My hon. Friend should give credit for the significant step forward that has been made on cosmetic testing.
Will the Leader of the House next week revisit her answer on Tuesday to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) about the Finance Bill? I realise that it was an oral answer given in the heat of the moment, but she gave the impression that this year's treatment would become par for the course. That would cause alarm in the City of London.
Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to consider my request for a Members' cycle allowance yet? Does she think that a debate on Members' travel allowances would be helpful?
I am not sure that it will be possible to have a debate, but I hope that we can make some progress on the cycle allowance in the not-too-distant future.
Can the Leader of the House make time next week for a debate on the European Union proposal to do away with duty-free allowances for travel between EU countries? Would it not be an excellent opportunity to put pressure on the Government, before the Luxembourg Council, to get the European Union to do something about that and to change its mind? Otherwise, will not the measure have an adverse affect on British carriers, particularly those operating out of Heathrow, which is the borough in which my constituency lies, and on many enterprises such as the British Airports Authority and others with duty-free shops that provide badly needed employment?
The hon. Gentleman has made his point in such a way that he does not need a debate.
Will the Leader of the House find time between now and Christmas to cause a debate to be held on Government computers, so that we could cause the computers that serve the Department of Social Security and the Inland Revenue to talk to each otherso that we might know who is in the black economy and who is not-and perhaps at the same —time consider the quality of the Department of Trade and Industry computer, which appears to be giving the wrong answers at present?
I do not think that there are too many wrong answers, but there was certainly an example last week when one of my hon. Friends had to correct figures on export licences given during the previous Administration because of computer faults. I understand that that programme has been scrapped.
Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week on the working of the Department of Trade and Industry, because it is a well-known fact that a number of Ministers there are disqualified from speaking on certain subjects due to conflicts of interest? May we know who is competent to do what—if any?
In response to the question from the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) about interests, I think that the Tories have got a cheek to be talking about people with interests, when 90 or 100 out of 164 of them have got three and four moonlighting jobs. If we are to have a debate, let us have one about that. On the more important question, because they are a trivial lot, I heard my right hon. Friend refer to the Child Support Agency as being in an appalling mess. That is an interesting phrase from a Minister. I know that a review is taking place and we all know that there are problems, that it has been in operation for five years and that at the beginning it was argued that it would provide benefits for women in particular. We all now know that as many women as men object to the Child Support Act 1995. Can we have an assurance that, perhaps, the idea of scrapping that Act is on the cards?
No, it is a question not of scrapping the Child Support Agency, but of reviewing its workings. We had a debate just before the summer recess and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security said afterwards that she had found it extremely useful to hear directly the experiences of many colleagues in respect of the problems of the CSA. I hope that we can ensure that the agency works more effectively, but, as I said, the problems are very severe indeed. A great backlog of work has not been completed when it should have been and, although my right hon. Friend is trying to resolve the situation, it is difficult to see that it and the problems that are arising can be dealt with in the very near future. It will be a long haul to get the agency back on track.
May we have a debate next week on inward investment? There seems to be some friction between the Scottish Office and the Department of Trade and Industry about who is to take the lead on the matter. There is the curious concept of a concordat. Is that to be in writing? Will it be promulgated? How will it be umpired if there are disputes? How will problems be resolved within the machinery of government?
Will the Scottish Parliament be responsible for inward investment into Scotland, or the Welsh Assembly for that into Wales? How will all that be reconciled within the machinery of government, especially as there is obvious friction between the Scottish Office and the DTI? It would be helpful to have a debate as soon as possible, so that we could all have a clear understanding of who is doing what.
Will my right hon. Friend give further consideration to providing time for a debate on the Child Support Agency, bearing in mind two cases in my surgery last week? In the first case, a father has been asked to pay an exorbitant and impractical sum that he clearly cannot afford; in the second, a mother informs me that all her efforts to get maintenance for her child have been to no avail, despite the intervention of the CSA. Is not that an illustration, on both sides, of the CSA simply not working? It is causing tremendous difficulties, despite having been in existence for several years.
I, too, have cases like those that my hon. Friend described—we all find that a significant proportion of our case work concerns CSA cases—so I have every sympathy with him. However, I am not sure that debating the problems will get us much further. Action is needed within the CSA to get its house in order.
May we please have an early debate on the Government's programme for convergence of our economy with those of our European partners, so that we can move as swiftly as the Government want towards a European currency? Such a debate would give the Chancellor the opportunity to explain to the House how today's increase in interest rates contributes to that convergence process.
Can my right hon. Friend give us any information about when legislation for regional development agencies will be introduced, bearing in mind how important that is to the Government? Perhaps the Bill could be introduced in draft form, to allow people to consider it fully, given its implications and the various views that are held on it.
Can the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the environment and planning procedure? I cannot believe that my constituency experience is unique. A cement manufacturer applied to the county council for permission for major quarrying work. The council hummed and hawed for more than a year, then passed the matter to the Minister for the Environment, so that either he could approve it or, if he did not want to do so, it would be approved after a five-week stay of execution.
The Minister had the opportunity to hold a public inquiry to allow the people of Clitheroe, Chatburn and Worston, and tourists who come to the Ribble Valley from all over the country, to have their say about the major impact of a quarry that will take 30 years to dig and will be the size of 28 football pitches, but he did not do so, so the application will be approved by gagging people not only in the Ribble Valley but throughout the country.
The hon. Gentleman makes a strong case. I do not know the details of the planning application to which he refers, but any procedures followed were those drawn up by the previous Conservative Government.
My hon. Friend raises a problem which will be of concern to many. The evidence presented today on the dangers of Ecstasy reinforces some of the concerns that have been mentioned in the past. We should welcome any contribution to the body of scientific knowledge on the dangers of such drugs. In recent years, about 60 deaths in the UK have been due specifically to Ecstasy. The only message that we can send out is that young people should not be taking such drugs.
Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate, or at least a statement, on the time that Ministers take to reply, or give full replies, to hon. Members' questions? I understand that Departments try to answer such letters within 15 working days, but I cannot be alone in having letters outstanding for, in one case, 55 working days and, in another, involving the Treasury, for 47 working days—and still no reply yet. I understand that Ministers receive many letters from hon. Members, but if we are to do our jobs properly, we need to respond to our constituents' concerns rather quicker than that.
After yesterday's crash landing at Heathrow, is my right hon. Friend aware of the mounting public concern about aircraft safety, particularly in the Thames valley, following three near misses during the past few months, including one above Reading? Will she allow parliamentary time for us to discuss this important issue and, in particular, the Civil Aviation Authority's hare-brained scheme to reduce the distance between aircraft approaching Heathrow from 3 miles to two and a half miles?
I am sure that hon. Members will join me in paying tribute to the pilot of the aircraft which was in such difficulties yesterday and which he managed to land safely. It is appalling to think of the tragedy that could have occurred. We should be grateful that he was able to exercise such skill on that occasion.
My hon. Friend raises the problem of near misses, which is obviously an issue of great concern to him and his constituents. I regret that I cannot find time for a debate on that subject in the near future, but it may be an appropriate subject for a debate on a Wednesday morning, were he fortunate enough to have such an application accepted.
May we have an early statement from the Minister for Public Health to clear up the apparent conflict of interest between her family interests and her decision to exempt formula one motor racing from tobacco advertising?
It is also a matter of concern that the Financial Times was briefed by the Department of Health's press office to say that the issue had been cleared with Lord Nolan. As it happens, Lord Nolan appeared before the Select Committee for Public Administration this morning and when I asked him whether he had any knowledge of that, he said that he had none whatever. He said that the first that he had heard of it was when he read the Financial Times this morning. May we have an urgent statement from the Minister for Public Health to clear up both those matters?
I am happy to clarify the situation and deal with the hon. Gentleman's point. When my hon. Friend became the Minister for Public Health she did exactly what was expected of her, which was to abide completely by the guidance which is laid down for Ministers. Her husband informed the Department of Health of his professional activities relating to formula one motor racing and, in order to avoid any possible conflict of interest and at his own suggestion, he resigned his position as a non-executive director of Benetton Formula Ltd.
As a result of that experience, my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health wrote to Sir Robin Butler on 9 June explaining the arrangements that she had agreed with the Secretary of State and the permanent secretary to ensure that there was no conflict of interest between her official duties and her husband's interests. My hon. Friend wrote that letter to draw Sir Robin's attention to what she perceived was a lack of specific guidance on the private interests of a Minister's spouse in the version of "Questions of Procedure for Ministers" that had been issued under the previous Government in 1992. That document was being updated at the time, and paragraph 116 of the ministerial code issued in July 1997 covered the point. It draws attention to the need for Ministers to have regard to their spouse's, as well as to their own, private interests. My hon. Friend has been absolutely open, and has obeyed both the letter and the spirit of the code of conduct.
As a member of the Public Accounts Select Committee, may I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider the need for an urgent debate on the appalling performance of the Child Support Agency? The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reveals that 85 per cent. of outstanding balances were in error, and one in six of those were errors of more than £1,000. That has caused enormous misery and distress to families throughout the country. I believe that a debate on the Floor of the House would enable hon. Members who deal with these problems to contribute to the change process that is required. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the agency cannot even find the right files to deal with cases, and said as much to the Public Accounts Committee this week?
As I said, I cannot promise a debate, but the information that my hon. Friend has conveyed to the House reinforces the concern that many hon. Members have expressed today. The figures are extremely alarming, and I am aware of the significant concern in the House about the matter. The Secretary of State for Social Security shares that concern, and I will ensure that she understands the strength of feeling that has been expressed today. I am sure that she will be reinforced in her determination to tackle this problem.
If the conduct of the Minister for Public Health is irreproachable, why is the Leader of the House so reluctant to grant the House a debate on the important and topical issue of tobacco sponsorship? Such a debate would enable the Government to explain to millions of sports fans why their preferred sport is being treated so much less favourably than motor racing.
The hon. Gentleman is arguing against any ban, whereas some of his hon. Friends were almost arguing for a total ban. There seems to be some inconsistency. I do not think that there is any need for an early debate on that topic.
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention the "two minutes" campaign of the Royal British Legion, and ask her to consult the relevant authorities in the House on whether it would be possible for all Committees to observe two minutes' silence on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month?
I am not sure which Committees will be sitting at that time next Tuesday. I shall make inquiries along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend, because I know that all hon. Members consider it to be an important event and may wish to observe two minutes' silence in Committee, as they would if they were working in their offices.
The Leader of the House may like to know that I have asked all Departments of the House to observe two minutes' silence at that time. It is up to each individual, but I hope that it will be observed throughout the House, as it will in my Department.
As a former member of the Greater London council, may I ask the right hon. Lady whether she agrees with me that the electors of London are capable of differentiating between a Greater London authority and a mayor, and should be allowed to vote for one, but not necessarily for the other? While she is on her feet, will she confirm that current Members of Parliament who happen to be former leaders of the GLC will be allowed to stand for the position of mayor of London?
I would not dream of suggesting who might or might stand for that position, but I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the legislation and the result of the referendum are likely to be successful.
Further to what was said by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), is the Leader of the House aware that the President of the Board of Trade has said that she wishes to oversee inward investment in Scotland? She currently does not have that power. Is it not strange that she should seek to take powers to the Department of Trade and Industry, while the Government are seeking to devolve those same powers to the new Scottish Parliament? May we have a debate on the subject?
As I said earlier, there is no conflict between the Ministers involved, because our overall objective must be to improve inward investment in Britain as a whole. I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunities to explore those specific points when we debate the legislation to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
Will the Leader of the House tell us when we can expect to see the Welsh and Scottish Bills? As has already been pointed out on a couple of occasions, there is confusion about why the Government should be seeking to devolve power on the one hand, and to recentralise decisions on inward investment on the other. Seeing the Bills would give us an early opportunity to discuss the ever-increasing turf war between Cabinet Ministers, and the ever-diminishing roles which are now humiliating the Secretary of State for Scotland and pushing the Secretary of State for Wales towards a very welcome resignation.
The hon. Gentleman asked when he would be able to see the Bills. He has seen the White Papers, as have the people of Scotland and Wales. That is why they supported our proposals. The Bills are not ready yet, but a great deal of work has been done. I am happy to report that there has been good progress on the legislation, and it will be produced in due course.
As a number of Members experienced long delays before receiving answers to their letters to Department of Trade and Industry Ministers when the House was not sitting, will the Leader of the House invite the President of the Board of Trade to make a statement to the House next week, explaining exactly when she and her ministerial colleagues were and were not in the Department during the summer recess?
I would not comment on the holidays that Conservative Members—or, indeed, hon. Members in any party—have had, but I know that Ministers worked extremely hard throughout the recess. That is why the Government are in such a strong position now. I shall not comment on the specific point raised by the hon. Gentleman, not least because it was raised with you on Tuesday, Madam Speaker.