|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Simon Hughes : The Secretary of State has something of a reputation for being the Lord Whitelaw of the Government. Will he use his experience and wisdom to sort out the ridiculous dispute affecting the coalfield communities and the money that is due to them? The technical obstacle relates to ring-fencing of local government money. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the substantial sum that the European Community wants to give us, and which the coalfield communities want to receive, is given now when it is needed? Surely the right hon. Gentleman has the wisdom to sort that out.
Mr. Wakeham : I do not think that it is wisdom that is required but if I can do anything, I will. The position is clear : the United Kingdom has paid its contributions to the Commission, and the Commission has the money. We are entitled--and we expect--to get that money back.
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : If the electricity currently provided by nuclear power stations were to be generated by coal, the United Kingdom would emit about 55 million tonnes more carbon dioxide, increasing total emissions by about 10 per cent. per year.
Mr. Mans : If the Government decide to run down the nuclear industry, apart from the loss of 120,000 jobs in the north-west, in the area that I represent, would it be possible to meet the Government's target for reduced carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2005, let alone by the year 2000, under the Labour party's policy?
Mr. Heathcoat-Amory : My hon. Friend makes a good point. It would not be possible to meet our environmental obligations by shutting down the nuclear industry. It is also true that the two main Opposition parties have energy policies which are flatly contradicted by their environmental policies.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Chris Patten) : I am chairing a meeting of the duchy council on 29 January and I plan to visit the county palatine on 7 March. I very much look forward to both engagements.
Mr. Arnold : When my right hon. Friend visits the county palatine, will he hold a meeting with tenants and perhaps point out to them that a standard rate of 35p in the pound, which was described as preposterous by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), was the rate levied by the last Labour Government?
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is, of course, entirely correct. I believe that the last Labour Government but one put up taxes in eight Budgets. The last Labour Government put up the standard rate to 35p. The shadow Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), was a member of that Government. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary said with characteristic understatement :
"Dogs bark, cats miaow and the Labour party puts up taxes." Mr. Grocott : Is it too much to expect that the Lord President, on one of his journeys away from the capital, will take the opportunity to apologise unreservedly to the people of this country for his gross error of judgment in imposing the poll tax? As that key area of his governmental responsibilities so far was such a monumental disaster, does he not think that people would be well advised in the weeks ahead to treat any of his judgments, prophesies or predictions with derision?
Column 697Chamber a little later to answer questions. Speaking for myself as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I am sure that it is a safe prediction that bills for local government services will be higher in local authorities where Labour is in control and that the standard of service will be lower.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Would my right hon. Friend care to come to the county town of Lancaster to see how outstandingly well our schools, under local management, are spending their money now that they have been freed from an extravagant county council which never had the right priorities and always deprived our schools of the money that they should have had?
Mr. Patten : I very much agree with my hon. Friend that local management of schools has been a great success. It has given parents and teachers much more responsibility for running their own schools and has freed the schools from the dead hand of local education bureaucracy in many places.
Mr. Skinner : Is the Chancellor aware that not so long ago I met a chap in Blackpool who said to me, "When you see that Chancellor of the Duchy, tell him that I want to give him a piece of my mind : not only is the poll tax three times higher than the rates, but I have lost my job, my wife has been waiting for an operation for two years, my daughter has lost her maternity grant through this Tory Government and my son has lost his income support--so when you see the chairman of the Tory party, will you tell him that I want to meet him to discuss this matter at the top of the Blackpool Tower?"
Mr. Patten : It sounds as though the high point of that person's career was his encounter with the hon. Gentleman. I hope that the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to tell the gentleman that he might well see me in future as I shall be returning to the town in which I was born.
Mr. Burt : Is my right hon. Friend aware that some three weeks ago I spoke to the business community in Blackpool, who expressed concern about the possibility of local government reform? One thing in particular that frightens the business community is the possibility of an elected regional assembly for the north-west, with powers to tax, which would inevitably be dominated by the cities of Liverpool and Manchester, to the detriment of everyone else in the area. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to inform the House that that is certainly not one of the options for local government reform that he is considering?
Mr. Patten : We are certainly not considering that option, which would produce a further layer of government, another regiment of politicians, another army of civil servants and even higher taxes from a Labour Government ; fortunately, however, there will not be a Labour Government.
Mr. Winnick : When the right hon. Gentleman next takes the opportunity to visit Blackpool, will he refer to the fact that according to the Government's own figures which have been supplied to me, 38 per cent. of all pensioners have incomes below £70 per week? Will the Chancellor bear it in mind that Labour is determined that justice shall be done for our retired people, despite all the smears, accusations and Government lies which come daily from Tory central office?
Mr. Patten : I very much agree with those Labour spokesmen who argued in the past that we should look, above all, at pensioners' net incomes. I would point out how much better pensioners have done under this Government than under our predecessor in terms of pensioners' net incomes. I would also point out how much their savings would be clobbered by the inflation that would be unleashed by a Labour Government's economic policies.
Mr. Bowis : When my right hon. Friend is next in the duchy, will he make a point of meeting the management and employees of Coats Viyella and reassuring them that under the Conservative party in government there will be no question of a national minimum wage and that it will not be necessary for them to consider moving 10,000 employees--one third of its work force-- to jobs abroad? However, to keep those jobs here, we must have a Conservative Government.
The chief executive of Coats Viyella said that he thought that there were 10,000 jobs at risk in his firm from the Labour party's proposals for a statutory minimum wage. Many of those jobs are in the north-west. I noticed also that the chief executive of Courtauld's said that the Labour party's proposals for a statutory minimum wage would lead to big job losses. We all know that Labour's proposals for a statutory minimum wage would have devastating consequences for job prospects right across our country. I guess that in referring to that issue in the past few weeks we have been guilty of understating the size of the problem.
When the Chancellor next visits the Duchy of Lancaster, will he kindly explain why the Government are
Column 699cheating on the RECHAR money and thus depriving the coalfields of Lancashire and Yorkshire of funds that are rightly theirs? As the Chancellor's friends should know, the Government have been warned every year--from the days of Mr. Vredeling until the present time--that additionality is essential, and that this country is breaking the rules.
Mr. Patten : I observed the way in which the Commissioner concerned applied the rules when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. I shall take great pleasure in saying to those to whom the hon. Gentleman wishes me to speak--here comes the opportunity that I mentioned earlier--that, as the chairman of Ford in Britain observed yesterday, Labour's economic policies would prove suicidal for our economy.
Mr. Marshall : When my right hon. Friend next visits the duchy, will he point out that under our NHS reforms a record number of patients are being treated there by a record number of doctors and nurses, and that waiting lists are falling? Will he also point out that the only threat to the progress being made in the duchy comes from those who propose the introduction of a national minimum wage, and the abolition of competitive tendering and charging in the NHS? Taken together, those measures would cost the NHS £1 billion.
Mr. Patten : I could not have put it better myself, so perhaps I should not try. I shall confine myself to mentioning that under the present Government NHS spending has increased as a proportion of gross domestic product. I hope that even at this late stage Labour will support the GPs' contract, GP fundholding and NHS trust status for hospitals, all of which are proving so successful.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor) : The newly formed Catering Committeeis expected early next month to consider two consultants' reports on the architectural feasibility and management implications of converting the premises of the former St. Stephen's tavern into a refreshment facility for groups of Members' visitors. I understand that the Committee will be asked to work for a decision by Easter.
Column 700of tea, but coachloads of my constituents visiting the Houses of Parliament are cold-shouldered and cannot obtain refreshments anywhere.
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's response, but would it not be a far better idea to use Westminster Hall for the purpose, providing chairs and tables there? After all, until the last century Westminster Hall was used for royal banquets and coronation feasts ; surely it would be possible for people to order a nice cup of tea there.
Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his first remark about visitors to Wales. Certainly when I went there recently I was given a very good reception, which pleased me very much. The hon. Gentleman will probably know that the authorities who deal with Westminster Hall do not consider that the use that he has suggested for it would be appropriate ; nor, I think, would the vast majority of hon. Members. The Catering Committee will be considering whether what used to be St. Stephen's tavern could help by providing facilities for visitors.
Mr. MacGregor : When my hon. Friend began his question, I intended to say that it was a matter for the Catering Committee, but I am no longer sure that it is. I well understand why Opposition Members are looking rather depressed today, but I do not think that it has anything to do with catering facilities in the House.
Mr. Grocott : Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that during the deliberations of the Select Committee on Broadcasting, Etc.--with all of whose arrangements we have been happy so far--parts of the Palace of Westminster were discovered that no one knew existed, including the area above Central Lobby? Is it not high time that a proper review was carried out of exacty what space exists throughout the Palace, so that we can use it well for the benefit of our constituents and for other purposes?
Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Gentleman and I visited the part of the Palace to which he has referred. I think he would agree that it is not a suitable location for the provision of refreshments for visitors. The right step is for the Select Committee on Catering to consider the proposals, as it will do shortly.
Mr. Harry Greenway : Will my right hon. Friend be sure to ask for a branch of the kiosk in any new catering facility for visitors, and will he make sure that it has House of Commons fudge and humbugs on sale? The main kiosk has had none of these since before Christmas.
Column 701--including Government statements, when appropriate--and I recall that the hon. Member had the Adjournment debate on this very subject just last Monday.
Mr. Dalyell : What is a Member of Parliament to do when, having been lucky enough to be given an Adjournment debate by you, Mr. Speaker, and having given a copy of his entire speech to the Foreign Office at 9.45 in the morning, the Minister--in this case the Minister of State, the hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg)-- makes no attempt whatever to answer the deeply serious issues that have been raised? Is it surprising that in respect of foreign affairs this is the most ill-informed House of Commons that I have known in my 30 years here? Or is it possible that the Government are contemplating a repetition of the 1986 strikes on civilian targets in Benghazi and Tripoli? If so, the House of Commons ought to discuss the matter.
Mr. MacGregor : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's premise that the House is ill informed in respect of these matters. Indeed, there have been many Government statements. The hon. Gentleman will know that the generally accepted purpose of Select Committees is the monitoring of individual Departments. It would be possible for one of the existing Select Committees to consider the issue, if it so wished.
Mr. MacGregor : I have not received any representations about the allocation of parliamentary time for private Members. The general point is, of course, being considered by the Select Committee on Sittings of the House, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling).
Mr. Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend accept that, whatever changes are made to the sitting hours, it would be a retrograde step--a step detrimental to the rights of Back Benchers--to introduce legislation to reduce them? As it is, Back Benchers have precious little time and it should not be reduced further.
Mr. MacGregor : It is, of course, a matter for the Select Committee on Sittings of the House to make recommendations in the first place. Thereafter, it is for the House to decide upon those recommendations. The point that I made to the Committee is that if we wish to reduce the hours of the House or change the sitting times--that is still an open question-- it is important that we consider how the time of the House is used at present and to make reductions pro rata. However, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the opportunities for Back Benchers to introduce Bills are very important, and I am sure that the Select Committee will keep that very much in mind.
Mr. MacGregor : As making the parliamentary channel available in Members' rooms would be tantamount to supplying a clean feed direct from the Chamber, it would be for the Select Committee on Broadcasting, Etc. in the first instance, to approve such a proposal. There are, however, technical problems which look like precluding the provision of this service for all Members before 1994. I hope to arrange for the Broadcasting Committee to consider the issue at an early date. Any eventual recommendation to proceed would be a matter for the House as a whole to decide.
Mr. Banks : Will the Lord President tell the House what the technical difficulties are? It seems absurd that, while extended coverage of our proceedings is now available, Members cannot have a sound and vision feed to their rooms. The idea that this Chamber is a place to which we all come to be influenced by the ebb and flow of debate and the oratory of Members is totally ridiculous. Why should we come to the Chamber to be bored rigid when we could be bored rigid in the comparative comfort of our own offices?
Mr. MacGregor : It would be technically possible now for some Members' offices to be given the feed. The real problem is that this building does not have the necessary cable ducts. Given the nature of the building, the provision of ducts is a very complex task. At the moment, consultants are looking into the matter in detail, and their report will be put before the Broadcasting Committee for its consideration. However, it seems likely from the preliminary indications that it would not be possible to complete the work until 1994.
Sir John Stokes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are possibly far too few people in the Chamber and, even more important, far too few in the Smoking Room, the most vital part of the House of Commons? If hon. Members are going to be glued to their television sets, as apparently some are at home, there will be even fewer of them about anyway.
Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend that it is extremely important to bear in mind the key significance of the Chamber and the Smoking Room. We must take that into account. On the other hand, many hon. Members want such a facility directly available to them and we are examining that.
45. Mr. Skinner To ask the Lord President of the Council whether he has any plans to change the rota of departmental and Prime Minister's questions ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Skinner : Is it not a tidy state of affairs when the best that the 370-odd Tory Members can deliver in this place every Tuesday and Thursday and at other Question Times is a tirade of abuse about what Labour would do? Why do they not have the guts to tackle their own Government about cuts in services? Then there was that bleating Prime Minister on "Desert Island Discs" saying
Column 703that he would love to get away from Question Time on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If he is that much of a wimp, why does he not get out of the road and let us take over?
Mr. MacGregor : I thought that the hon. Gentleman had a sense of humour, but it appears not. With regard to answers in the House, over the whole range of government, we have indicated the considerable improvements including a considerable increase in expenditure on our priority areas in the public services. It is legitimate to spend some time--I well understand why the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is so sensitive about this-- examining the tax and expenditure proposals of the
Column 704Labour party. There is no doubt that that has been happening in the country at large and that they have now been rumbled. That is why the hon. Gentleman is so concerned.
Mr. Burns : The Opposition may not like it, but does my right hon. Friend believe that there is a case for allowing a small part of parliamentary time for the Leader of the Opposition to be questioned? He always puts his foot in it and tends to cause more confusion when he opens his mouth than when he keeps it shut.
|Next Section (Debates)