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Business Of The House

Volume 114: debated on Thursday 23 April 1987

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3.31 pm

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 27 APRIL—Until about Seven o'clock, Second Reading of the Consumer Protection Bill [Lords].

Afterwards Second Reading of the Paliamentary and Other Pensions Bill.

Motion on the Coal Industry (Restructuring Grants) Order.

TUESDAY 28 APRIL—Opposition Day (12th Allotted Day). Until about Seven o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Housing: A Major Cause for Concern". Afterwards there will be a debate entitled "The Proposed Privatisation of Rolls-Royce". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Motion on the Stansted Airport Aircraft Movement Limit Order.

WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL — THURSDAY 3o APRIL — Consideration in Committee on the Finance Bill.

At the end on Wednesday, motions on value added tax orders. Details will be given in the Official Report. FRIDAY I MAY—Private Member's Bills.

[Debate on Wednesday 29 April:

The Value Added Tax (International Services) Order 1987

The Value Added Tax (Betting, Gaming and Lotteries) Order 1987]

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I understand that the pay review body's recommendations on nurses' pay and the Government's reaction to them are to be made public this afternoon without an oral statement being made to the House. Together with many other right hon. and hon. Members, I condemn the evasive way in which the Government are announcing an important decision without giving the House an opportunity to cross-question the Secretary of State for Social Services. I hope that the Government will honour the recommendations of this year's review in full, pay the increase in full, date it from 1 April and not evade, dodge or give short change to nurses, as they have done for the past two years.

Has the Leader of the House read the statement which was made yesterday to the Select Committee on Transport by Mr. James Sherwood, to whom the Government sold off Sealink for a scandalously low price, to the effect that the shipping industry has been written off by the Government? In the light of all-party early-day motion 515, which has been signed by 234 right hon. and hon. Members, will the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to a debate in Government time on the merchant fleet so that the Government's deplorable indifference towards this vital part of our economic and defence capability can once again be considered by the House.

[That this House notes with anxiety the continuing rapid reduction in the size of the United Kingdom-owned and registered merchant fleet; notes that this reduction is only partly offset by the increase in the number of United Kingdom-owned ships on overseas registers; expresses its concern at the adverse impact of these developments on theUnited Kingdom's and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's defence capability and the United Kingdom economy, including shipbuilding, employment and the balance of payments account of the United Kingdom, notes the dearth of new investment in British-owned ships, whether new or secondhand, which alone can remedy the situation; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to take urgent steps in the forthcoming Budget to encourage such investment and to initiate action in the European Community to adopt domestic policies which will restore the profitability of ship owning and international policies to scrap surplus ships and unfair practices in shipbuilding and trading.]

I am sure that the Leader of the House will recognise the urgent need for a debate on the order on teachers' pay and conditions, which is part of the legislation that has so damaged relations in education by destroying the negotiating rights of teachers. I asked him before the Easter recess for a debate on the order. Can he now give us a date for a debate?

As the right hon. Gentleman may recall. I have previously pressed for an urgent debate in Government time on the Government's grossly inadequate policy on research and development. Has the right hon. Gentleman been able to arrange for such a debate, since it is obvious that there is great interest in the subject on both sides of the House and many hon. Members would want to speak?

Finally, the House is still waiting for a Government statement about trade relations with Japan. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a statement is made on the whole spectrum of trade relations early next week?

I will take the points in the sequence in which they were presented by the right hon. Gentleman.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have noted that over many years it has been traditional to inform the House of the outcome of the pay review bodies by means of a written answer. Therefore, what is happening on this occasion is no different from what has happened many times previously. I ask him to contain his impatience for a few more moments when all will be revealed and we may have his plaudits.

With regard to the possibility of a debate on the merchant fleet, I recognise the interest in the House, which is evidenced by the early-day motion. Perhaps it is something that could be considered through the usual channels.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says about the desirability of a debate on the order on teachers' pay. Clearly it concerns a matter which arouses a good deal of interest throughout the House, and I will take account of his representations.

I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate on research and development, but that is something that can be considered further through the usual channels.

I will certainly refer the right hon. Gentleman's request for a statement on trade relations with Japan to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who will in any case be answering questions on Wednesday.

Will my right hon. Friend make arrangements for an early debate on the importance of maintaining unity within the NATO Alliance on the current disarmament talks?

I take account of what my hon. Friend says. I agree that one of the most important current foreign affairs questions is how NATO adjusts itself to the new situation. I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate on foreign affairs, but I will bear his comments in mind.

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is growing evidence that some mentally handicapped people are being kept in institutions because there is no community care provided for them outside, and that some of them are being discharged without community care and have to fend for themselves? Does he find this as shocking as I do, and can he arrange for a debate on the subject?

I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman says. I am certain that the whole House shares his anxiety on this point. I will refer it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services so that it may be further considered.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing use of phoney opinion polls by certain unscrupulous people? Will he, at this opportune moment in the life of this Parliament, find time for a debate on the need for a satisfactory code of practice to underpin the professional standards of the majority of those in this industry, standards which unfortunately appear to elude the Liberal party whenever an election is in the offing?

I note what my hon. Friend has said and the robust way in which it has been acclaimed in the Chamber. There is no early opportunity in Government time for the debate that he seeks and if legislation were required that would be a formidable obstacle over the next few weeks.

On the more general question of the use of bogus opinion polls, the whole circumstances in which we fight elections are covered not only by very explicit law but by what are believed to be appropriate conventions. I think that there would be deep distaste for any manipulative use of bogus opinion polls.

May I support the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), who last week raised with the Leader of the House the Williams Holdings take-over bid for Norcros? Is the Leader of the House aware that this matter is a great problem in the Isle of Wight, where more than 200 employees' jobs are at stake? The bids are supposed to close next week. The right hon. Gentleman supports a Government who claim that industrial production is increasing. The take-over would do nothing of the sort for Norcros, which is a capable company, nor for my constituents. Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to intervene in this matter before it is too late?

I explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) the circumstances that had to attend that take-over bid. We have an Office of Fair Trading and a Monopolies and Mergers Commission which properly have a role to play, and this matter should not be the subject of direct political interference. However, I shall, of course, refer the hon. Gentleman's point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

As today is St. George's day, of which I am sure my right hon. Friend is fully aware, would it be possible for once to have a debate on England in view of the amount of time and money that we spend discussing the affairs of other countries within the United Kingdom?

May I say as an English Celt to an English Saxon that I believe that the English are sufficiently self-confident that they can go through life without the constant self-examination of parliamentary debates

Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with a view to his making a statement at the Dispatch Box next week on the organisation for the allocation of free fresh food from Europe, bearing in mind that he made a right cock-up of the last effort? He said that "we", meaning the Government, made a large contribution last time. I advise him that they did not make any contribution at all. In fact, people in charities in my constituency had to pay, out of their own pocket, for the cost of fuel, petrol and diesel oil to distribute the food to the people who wanted it. We need a statement to the effect that there will be proper organisation in the future.

I cannot accept those strictures about the role of my right hon. Friend——

I stand here between the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend and I have to say — [Interruption.] I have a feeling that the hon. Gentleman had a rich point to put in agriculture questions earlier this afternoon and shows all the signs of frustration at not being able to put it. None the less, I shall refer his point to my right hon. Friend.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that I asked for a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence regarding the accidental dropping of a Sidewinder missile in the Devon, North constituency? May I ask that a reply be given as a matter of courtesy to my constituents in the near future?

Yes. Following our exchange, to which my hon. Friend has just referred, I got in touch with the Ministry of Defence. I understand that an inquiry is proceeding and that the Ministry of Defence will write to my hon. Friend once the outcome of the inquiry is known.

May we have an early and urgent debate on the abuse of overseas registration arrangements following the issue of forms by the so-called independent non-political British community committee in Paris, together with Conservative party propaganda? It turns out that this organisation, which the Prime Minister has informed me is independent and nonpolitical, shares premises, address, telephone, officers, secretary and, no doubt, political views with the British Conservative Association. Is the Leader of the House aware that a Home Office Minister has told me in a written answer today that the Government are reviewing the need for guidance to be given so that this should not happen? That is not good enough. A statement, an apology and a full inquiry are required now to avoid further abuse in this disgraceful way through a fraudulent front?

I should have thought from the hon. and learned Gentleman's description that the Government's reaction showed clearly that they were worried about the issue which he raised, but naturally I shall bring to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office his preference for a statement.

May I support calls for an early debate on teachers' pay and conditions so that we can examine the tragic position that some teachers in some unions are fighting yesterday's battles rather than for today's and tomorrow's needs for educational reform? In particular may we look in that debate at possible ways of achieving the successor to Burnham at as early a date as possible?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, because I have already given a sympathetic response to the Leader of the Opposition. My hon. Friend reminds me of the widespread interest in this topic which he shares.

Did the Leader of the House see the programme on television last night about data bank information? If he did, he will probably share the anxiety of many millions of British people at the obvious weaknesses in the legislation which allow blatant intervention in people's private lives and, more seriously, the production of erroneous information. Will he arrange for the appropriate Minister to make a statement to the House on the contents of the programme and the serious consequences exposed?

I did not see the programme, so I cannot sensibly comment on what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I shall certainly pass on his request for a statement to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on early-day motion 897 standing in my name and the names of several of my hon. Friends?

[That this House expresses its abhorrence at the showing of a video entitled How to be a Lesbian in 35 Minutes shown at a Haringey Council community centre recently to an audience, including young people, and calls upon the Government to require local authorities to submit sexually explicit videos and literature to the Department of Education before such material can be shown to the public.] It relates to a video entitled "How to be a Lesbian in 35 Minutes" which was shown recently at the Labour-controlled Haringey council community centre when disabled teenagers were present. As its showing seems to contradict the words of the Leader of the Opposition reported in The Sun today which were that there would be no possibility of attitudes being imposed by his party on people who were not gay or lesbian, would not such a debate enable him to explain himself and to reassure the parents of teenagers with daughters living in that area that their children are not in danger of corruption?

My hon. Friend has made the point the more forceful for being succinct than it might have been made if Government time had been provided for the Leader of the Opposition to make his somewhat equivocal position clearer than it seemed in The Sun. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) thinks that that is any reflection on him, I shall withdraw the comment at once. My hon. Friend's point is valid and certainly deserves to be aired in the House. I very much hope that he is successful in securing an Adjournment debate.

As the Government have been reluctant or even afraid to provide time to discuss their proposal to privatise Rolls-Royce and the Opposition have had to provide time for a debate, will the Leader of the House now give an assurance that the Government will provide time for at least a half-day debate on aerospace matters, especially on the airbus A330 and A340 projects which have severe implications for the industry?

I appreciate that there is interest across the Floor of the House in launch aid for those projects. I shall bear that interest in mind, but for the moment, given the demands on the time of the House made by the Finance Bill, I can offer no early prospect of a debate.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the quite extraordinary assertion made by three Labour members of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee that relief for mortgage interest is now largely a means of tax avoidance on investment income and their recommendation that the relief should be phased out? Will he so organise next week's debates on the Finance Bill as to enable us to debate that important subject so that each of the parties can make its position clear?

I should have thought that the very topics that will be debated next week on the Finance Bill would enable that issue to be given the most full and appropriate airing.

Does the Leader of the House share the widespread concern about the ongoing crisis in Scottish prisons which culminated in the events at Perth prison over the weekend? In view of the large numbers of people sent to prison in Scotland—the highest for any identifiable western country, including many for the non-payment of fines—is he surprised that none of his Scottish ministerial colleagues has made a statement on these matters? Are they not worthy of urgent debate?

It is certainly an important topic, and the entire House will agree with the hon. Gentleman to that extent. However, I must state quite candidly that this is the time of year when Government time is necessarily limited. I can offer no prospect of an early debate on the topic in Government time. Of course, the hon. Gentleman may wish to try all the other opportunities available to a Back Bencher.

I agree with the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) about his request for a debate on Government launch aid for the A330 and A340 airbus projects — this matter is important as it affects many constituencies and the future of the aerospace industry—but will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House take more seriously the request made by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) for a debate on community care? Before irrevocable decisions are taken with reference to the disposal of psychiatric hospital sites, it is clearly most important that the House should be able to debate the future of the mentally ill and mentally handicapped.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that it would be a tragedy if refuges and asylums were completely taken away from the mentally ill. I refer particularly to Parkside hospital in my constituency, which is under threat in the long term. In the light of the report of the Select Committee on Social Services produced a few months ago, will my right hon. Friend permit a full debate on that critical and vital issue?

My hon. Friend makes his point with the authority of one who graced the Select Committee. I fully accept the importance of the topic, and it was because of that that I replied in the spirit that I did to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley).

Are we to have a statement next week from the Foreign Secretary regarding the position in South Africa and yesterday's brutal killings, or are the Government concerned only with the denial of rights in Eastern Europe?

Is the Leader of the House aware of the widespread concern about possible conflict between outside interests and constituency interest? Has not virtually every Conservative Member some outside interest? Indeed, if there is one Conservative Member without, I have a certain amount of sympathy with him because he is being discriminated against. Is there a case for a Select Committee to look into that matter, particularly after the excellent point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) yesterday?

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's first point, of course I will refer his request for a statement to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. With regard to his second point, which was redolent with innuendo, the appointment of any new Committee is a matter for the House. If the hon. Gentleman believes that any hon. Member is behaving dishonourably, I hope that he will be candid enough to name names.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all public servants in this country are entitled to count war service towards their pensions except if that public service was overseas? Is that not an indefensible anomaly? Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to explain his Department's mean attitude towards these thoroughly worthy people?

My hon. Friend is a seasoned campaigner on this topic and he will not expect me to be any more forthcoming now than I have been in the past. However, I will most certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a statement about the recent shady business deal regarding the PCW syndicate that has been put before the names at Lloyd's'? Is he aware that it was widely reported in most of the papers in the week before the recess that, as a result of the £40 million fraud, for which no action was taken by the Government, the police, the fraud squad or the Attorney-General, losses of £600 million were sustained by names of Lloyd's? On 12 April the Sunday Telegraph said that the names would not have to put forward all the money involved in order to take part in the rescue plan, only participate in a deal of £134 million and the rest would come from tax relief. Does not that show the double standards of the operation? There is one law for the bankers and the names at Lloyd's and another for the pensioners who are offered only 80p a week.

The hon. Gentleman makes a number of accusations upon which I shall make no comment, and which I shall certainly not endorse. He has asked that those observations be made available to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I shall see that that is done.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) when he said that there would be no time for a debate on bogus opinion polls? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are elections on 7 May and that the Liberal party is up to its usual dirty trick of publishing bogus opinion polls? Would not such a debate give the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) an opportunity to make a personal statement about why he should be peddling such polls?

My hon. Friend demonstrates with great skill that such points can be argued without the necessity to have a debate.

As the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food demonstrated clearly this afternoon during agriculture questions, the Government have been unable to control agricultural spending in the EEC and as a result there is to be a 20 per cent. cut in the amount spent from the social fund in Britain. I believe that that 20 per cent. cut is to be taken by voluntary organisations which at present receive a substantial sum of money from the social fund. Should not there be a statement on the precise implications of such cuts in the social fund to voluntary organisations in Britain?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who is a good commentator on these matters, says, there will be scope for some of those points to be made later this afternoon. It may well be that the policies to which the hon. Lady refers necessitate Community instruments, in which case they would be considered through the normal processes of scrutiny, but I shall certainly bear that point in mind.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members would welcome a debate on the pay and conditions of nurses and related professions, not only to demonstrate the importance which all hon. Members attach to the work done by those people but to draw attention to the Government's positive record, and finally to remind the House of the record of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), when he had some responsibility for those matters, which bears rather sharp contrast with his statements today.

I note what my hon. Friend says. I cannot say anything in advance of the publication of the answer to which I referred earlier this afternoon, but doubtless, when the House has had a chance to consider the evidence that will then be made available, it may judge that it is an appropriate occasion for a debate.

Now that the Guinness board has admitted that the squalid affair of the takeover of Distillers has cost its shareholders £125 million, should not we have an opportunity to examine those matters on the Floor of the House in a debate on the operation of company law? Is not the Leader of the House a little concerned that a part of that £125 million may be offset against the tax liabilities of that company? Are not those matters which should now be debated in Parliament, and surely before the next election?

I am fairly certain that the tax conditions relating to the arrangements to which the hon. Gentleman referred come within the purview of that part of the Finance Bill which will be debated on the Floor of the House. As to the wider issue of debating company law, of course I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's interest to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a need to find time to debate the totally bogus opinion polls that were peddled by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and the Liberal party in Greater London last weekend? As no such poll took place, is it not monstrous to try to twist people's voting intentions by such a fraud?

The position that has beeen outlined by my hon. Friend gives rise to genuine disquiet about the extent to which opinion polls can be manipulated to try to produce induced election voting behaviour. I gave a fairly measured reply to my hon. Friends who raised the matter, but I take account of what my hon. Friend has said and I congratulate him on the part that he has played in making the public more aware of this episode.

As today is William Shakespeare's birthday, may the House have a debate on literature, not on the brilliant works of William Shakespeare, but on the works of Leicester teachers and the association of Leicester teachers who have published a book called "Outlaws in the Classroom—Give School Gays a Better Deal"? Does he agree that our children are in desperate danger of being corrupted by teachers writing books that promote homosexuality as the norm? May we have a debate to protect children and to ensure that heterosexual relationships are encouraged and promoted in a family, loving way in our schools?

These great issues never seem to happen in Shropshire. I am sure that the local political situation which reflects that kind of proselytising of particular tastes and behaviours will centre on the election campaign in Leicester and will, I am sure, help to sustain and enhance my hon. Friend's majority.