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Business Of The House

Volume 113: debated on Tuesday 26 May 1987

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3.30 pm

May I ask the Patronage Secretary to state the business for next week?

I have been asked to reply.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 30 MARCH—Second Readings of the Landlord and Tenant (No. 2) Bill, the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Bill [Lords] and the Pilotage Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 31 MARCH—Progress on remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill.

WEDNESDAY 1 APRIL—Completion of remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill.

THURSDAY 2 APRIL—Motions on supplementary and social security benefit orders and regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion for the Easter Adjournment.

FRIDAY 3 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 6 APRIL — Opposition Day (11th Allotted Day), subject for debate to be announced.

Motions relating to Scottish Legal Aid and Advice Regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report. [Debate on Thursday 2 April:

Draft Supplementary Benefit ( Resources) Amendment Regulations 1987

Child Benefit (General) Amendment Regulations 1987 (SI 1987 No. 357)

Social Security Benefit ( Dependency) (Amendment) Regulations 1987 ( SI 1987 No. 355)

Supplementary Benefit (Conditions of Entitlement) (Amendment) Regulations 1987 (SI 1987 No. 358)

Draft Social Security (Class 1 Contributions — Contracted-out Percentages) Order 1987

Draft State Scheme Premiums (Actuarial Tables) Regulations 1987

Draft State Scheme Premiums (Actuarial Tables — Transitional Provisions) Regulations 1987

Draft Supplementary Benefit (Requirements and Resources) Amendment and Uprating Regulations 1987

Social Security (Unemployment, Sickness and Invalidity Benefit) (Amendment) Regulations 1987 (SI 1987 No. 317

Social Fund ( Maternity and Funeral Expenses) General Regulations 1987 ( SI 1987 No. 481)

Debate on Monday 6 April:

Criminal Legal Aid (Scotland) (Fees) Regulations 1987 (SI 1987 No. 365)

Civil Legal Aid (Scotland) (Fees) Regulations 1987 (SI 1987 No. 366)

Civil Legal Aid (Scotland) Regulations 1987 (SI 1987 No. 381)

Advice and Assistance (Scotland) Regulations 1987 (SI 1987 No. 382)

Legal Aid (Scotland) (Children) Regulations 1987 (SI 1987 No. 384).]

I am grateful to the Patronage Secretary.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when the Finance Bill is likely to be published? Secondly, he will know that there are several issues that should be debated in Government time. Almost the most important among them is the report of the Health Education Council. Can such a debate be arranged at the first opportunity? Thirdly, there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who are anxious for a debate on trade with Japan. I do not think that there is any disposition in any quarter to wait for the post. May we have a debate in the immediate future? Finally, I take it for granted that the Prime Minister will make a statement on her return from Moscow. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that absolutely?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already said that she will make a statement on her return from Moscow, probably next Thursday.

Ministers saw the Health Education Council report only this morning. They need to consider it before they decide what to do, but I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I shall refer to the Secretary of State the right hon. Gentleman's concern about trade with Japan. We hope that the Finance Bill will be published before Easter.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the strong feeling in the House that was referred to earlier at Prime Minister's Question Time about the stubborn refusal of the Japanese Government to allow Cable and Wireless to play a full part in the international digital communications consortium? Is he also aware of an Early-day motion that has been signed by hon. Members of all parties? Will he do his best to arrange a debate at the earliest possible opportunity so that we can discuss the matter and make it quite clear to the Japanese Government how strongly we feel about it?

The Government are well aware of the concern in the House. I shall immediately refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to see what can be done.

Has the Patronage Secretary had a chance to study early-day motion 762, which deals with free ports in the United Kingdom?

[That this House notes the recent Report: The Free Solution', by Timothy F. Bayer Helm, detailing the problems facing the six United Kingdom free zones situated in: Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff Liverpool, Prestwick and Southampton; calls for, in particular, changes in the regulations governing value-added tax in United Kingdom free zones; urges a constructive change in Treasury attitudes to boost the free zones potential; further urges that representatives of the British free zone operators be allowed to sit on the Free Port Steering Committee; feels that the relaxation of regulations in these areas would have no significant adverse impact on Government revenues; and calls on the Government to accept its responsibility as the creator of the British free zone experiment and all that it entails.]

Has he noticed that it has enjoyed the support of all hon. Members and that many hon. Members are worried about the constraints that have been imposed on free ports? Will he give the House a chance to debate this important motion? In joining with other hon. Members who wish the Prime Minister well during her visit to Moscow, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether it is customary, or indeed whether it is within his long recollection of politics, for a general election campaign to be launched simultaneously in the Kremlin and in the oval office?

I am not sure whether the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question falls within my responsibility. I have certainly seen early-day motion 762. I realise that it refers to important matters. I cannot see a way of having an early debate on the subject. There are occasions such as during the debates on the Easter Adjournment when such important points can be raised.

Will my right hon. Friend use this occasion to announce a unique innovation so that the Leader of the Opposition can make a statement on his visit to Washington?

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time to ensure that there is a debate on Rolls-Royce, especially in view of the imminence of privatisation and the rumours that are flying around that the Rolls-Royce plant in my constituency may be used for some ridiculous purpose?

I realise that that is an important matter, but it is difficult to find Government time for it at the moment. I have just announced an Opposition day for Monday 6 April. The hon. Gentleman might have a word with his right hon. Friends to see what they want to debate.

Other than the passage of seven days, can my right hon. Friend say whether we have made any progress towards having a debate on the environment in the countryside, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has been promising for some weeks?

I agree that that is an important matter. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House hopes that there will be a debate on agriculture and the rural economy very soon after the Easter recess.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Government will make a statement before Easter on the recommendations of the pay review board on nurses' pay and that the Prime Minister will promptly accept such recommendations in the same way as she promptly accepted the recommendations of the Top Salaries Review Body some while ago?

This may be the first time that I have done this job, but I shall not accept what the hon. Gentleman has asked me to do. I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the patience of midlands industrialists has been sorely tried over the past 10 years or so about the imbalance of trade between ourselves and Japan? Their concern was crystallised yesterday. Representations have already been made. I urge him to allow a debate on the subject as it is extremely relevant.

I certainly recognise the importance of the matter, but I do not think that I can add to what I have already said.

The Government's response to the Select Committee's report on the prison medical service was published today. It is a matter about which there is massive concern and on which the Select Committee took a wide range of worrying evidence. Can the right hon. Gentleman undertake to provide an opportunity to debate the report at the earliest opportunity in view of the massive concern about it?

Such reports are important. I recognise that there is concern about the matter. I shall certainly refer it to my right hon. Friend.

My right hon. Friend will doubtless be aware of the concern about support for science, and particularly the gulf between the reality of the Government's policy, the pattern which some of us would like to emerge, and the perception of both aspects among the public, particularly the scientific community. Is he aware of our considerable anxiety about the matter and our wish to have a full-scale debate on the matter?

I agree that that is another very important subject. I cannot promise an early debate upon it but I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's apparance at the Dispatch Box. Now may I ask him a favour? Will he have a word with the Secretary of State for Energy, who is shortly to present a new White Paper, and ask him to include in it what I am asking for in my Bill, which deals with the unfairness of compensation for repairs in mining constituencies after damage to property? If the Secretary of State for Energy were prepared to do that, I should withdraw my Bill.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's long experience of these matters, and I shall certainly ensure that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry recognises the points that he has made.

Since it has been widely reported in the newspapers that a White Paper will be published soon on the future of higher education, does my right hon. Friend believe that he will be able to find time soon after the Easter recess for an extensive debate on this important subject, which is of great concern not only to scientists but to those in all disciplines?

I think that we shall have to see how we get on. First, the White Paper has to be published. Then we shall see where we go from there.

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time next week to discuss the atrocious and unforgivable closure of the Caterpillar Tractor Company in my constituency? Bearing in mind that the situation is becoming very serious indeed, it is important to have a debate in the House, in Government time if possible.

I cannot comment on the court's decision, or anything of that kind, but I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Will my right hon. Friend have a word with his right hon. Friend the Chief Whip before he returns to his cloistered existence and ask him to make the business during the week after Easter somewhat light?

I shall certainly do that. I can answer for the Patronage Secretary and say that it is his constant concern to keep business as light as possible.

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made by a Government spokesman on the bailing out of the South African banking system? Is he aware that it owes £23 billion and that British banks, such as Standard Chartered and Barclays, are heavily involved in bailing out the South African regime? In view of the furore this time last year, what steps will the Government be taking to tell these British banks not to get involved, especially as any bad debts that are incurred by British banks are set off against tax in other respects, which means that the British taxpayer is having to foot the bill for any bad debts that are incurred by the South African regime? Is it not important, therefore, for a statement to be made and to ensure that British banks are not involved?

I cannot accept the premise upon which the question was asked, but I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Appreciating the national concern that if a man on a charge of murder in England had not been released on bail PC Blakelock might still be alive, will my right hon. Friend seek ways of using the Criminal Justice Bill for England, which comes before the House next Tuesday, to amend the Bail Act for England? Had the law of Scotland applied, Silcott could never have been released and PC Blakelock would still be alive.

I am sure that everybody in the House will be concerned about those events, and I shall certainly refer what my hon. and learned Friend has said to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I do not think that I can go any further than that.

Reverting to the disgraceful cancellation of the press conference by the Health Education Council, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether we are to have a full scale debate on the resourcing of the Health Service, because concern all over the country, not least in the city of Leicester, is growing over the lack of resources for hospitals, the closure of hospitals, the low level of nurses' pay, and the time that people are having to wait for essential operations if they are to live their lives without pain?

I certainly cannot accept the premise on which the hon. and learned Gentleman put his question. I cannot add to what I have already said.

In view of the difference of opinion between the Office of Fair Trading and the Securities and Investments Board about what has become known as polarisation under the Financial Services Act 1986, can my right hon. Friend tell me whether it remains the intention of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to present before Easter the orders that we have been promised?

As I understand it, the Act requires the Secretary of State to consult before he lays the orders. I cannot go any further than that, other than saying that he has consulted.

Who will answer the allegations of Mr. James Miller about the activities of the security services during the course of the Ulster workers' strike in 1974? Has the right hon. Gentleman seen last week's statement by a former Prime Minister in which he said that he would co-operate with the Prime Minister in helping her to take a decision about whether there should be an inquiry, and who has also asked for a monitoring role for the security services to be set up?

I know one person who will not answer those allegations, and that is me. I can add nothing to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said recently in the House.

Is there any point in making progress next week on any Bills or any regulations following the astonishing and unprecedented decision by the Court of Appeal yesterday to disregard entirely a law passed by this Parliament on equal pay and instead to make its interpretation of a clause of the treaty of Rome in coming to a decision? Would it not be better if, instead of having such debates next week, we had a debate on the implications for the sovereignty of this House of that judgment, particularly as the judgment will destroy a lot of jobs and drive a coach and horses through established pay bargaining procedures in Britain?

I am sure that the business that I announced for next week is duller than the debate that my hon. Friend has suggested, but it would be better to pursue the business that I have announced.

Is the Patronage Secretary aware that another week has gone by without the announcement on helicopter procurement and orders for Westland that was promised for the end of last year or at the very latest during the first few weeks of this year? Does he realise that that is another week for dangerous speculation about the company's future, another week in which the company cannot plan its future, and another week during which jobs have been endangered? When will this announcement be made?

I appreciate the concern not only in the hon. Gentleman's constituency but in many other parts of the country. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wants to make an announcement as soon as possible, but it is better to get the right answer than to give a premature answer.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the reason why many Members on both sides of the House are calling for an urgent debate on trade with Japan is that we would like to express the view that M r. Nakasone's policy on free trade is an absolute sham in the light of the Cable and Wireless experience? There seems to be one rule for exports to Japan and a completely different rule for Japan's own exports.

I am well aware of the strength of feeling and the reasons given by my hon. Friend. I do not think that I can add to what I have already said, except to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) has an Adjournment debate next Thursday on this subject and I am sure that the Minister replying to that debate will be as helpful as he can.

The Government have today published their White Paper on legal aid and, although there is not yet a copy in the Library for hon. Members, I have managed to secure one from a journalist. Will we be given an opportunity to debate the Government's proposals on the Floor of the House, or is it the Government's intention that the debate should take place upstairs on next week's legal aid statutory instruments?

I have no plans to announce any debate. It is obviously a very important matter, and the first thing that we must do is consider the White Paper and then see how we may proceed from there.

My question is not about the Royal Military School of Music or Army bands; there are other subjects. Can my right hon. Friend find time to debate the proposal by the Department of the Environment to classify bees as pests? This is a matter of concern not only to beekeepers but to lovers of honey.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the successful outcome of his previous campaign. I hope that he does not have to wait so long for a successful outcome to this one. The matter is of great concern to beekeepers and I shall certainly refer it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for the Secretary of State for Education and Science to announce that money has been found to enable the research councils to resume funding of essential new science research applications?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will find a way to publicise that, if and when it happens, but I shall certainly refer the matter to him.

Order. I will call those hon. Members who have been rising in their places. If the Government Chief Whip finds it more comfortable to remain standing, I am sure that we shall all understand.

Will my right hon. Friend help the House by telling us whether in the past year or so Liberal and SDP Members have tended to vote more often with the Conservative party or with the Labour party and whether alliance Members have sometimes voted in different Lobbies from one another?

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for your kind suggestion, but I prefer to remain a moving target if that is all right with you.

I have enough difficulty keeping track of the voting habits of some of my hon. Friends without wasting too much time on those of the minor parties, although I follow early-day motions with some interest and am learning things that I had not realised before.

As part of that process, I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 802:

[That this House congratulates the Leader of the Liberal Party .for his honesty in saying that he is "only faintly attracted to principles without power"; notes that he is speedily providing evidence for this statement by disassociating himself from every part of the official 1986Liberal Party publication "These are Liberal Policies" that he finds temporarily inconvenient; concludes that he is prepared to do anything and say anything that seems politically opportune and disavow it later on the ground that it is "superseded"; and has no doubt that this abandonment of principles means that he now has no chance at all of winning the power that he craves.]

and to early-day motion 812:

[That this House notes that according to the official 1986 Liberal Party publication, These Are Liberal Policies, the Liberal Party's priorities .for Government include the reduction of maximum sentences and the increasing of remission of prison sentences from one third to one half; notes the strange reluctance of the Leader of the Liberal Party to mention this pledge in his recent book, The Time Has Come; and calls on him to reveal whether this is another Liberal Party policy that he has ditched in his scramble for political advantage.]

In their different ways, those motions highlight the contradictions and inconsistencies between "These are Liberal Policies" in 1986 and "The Time has Come" in 1987. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should have a debate to try to sort out those inconsistencies and to see whether the 1986 declaration in favour of political control of police forces has been superseded by the ambiguity of the 1987 statement? Does he agree that it would save time in the long run if the debate took place now as the longer we leave it the more inconsistencies we shall have to investigate?

I am always suspicious of any suggestion that is supposed to save time. These are interesting matters, but I do not see any time for them next week.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that when we last voted on capital punishment, in 1983, the Conservative party was divided roughly two thirds in favour and one third against, which is not surprising as that broadly represents public opinion, but the Opposition voted almost unanimously against capital punishment? Will my right hon. Friend use his particular facilities through the usual channels to ensure that this week's vote is a free vote for the Opposition and not what is euphemistically known as a light three-line Whip?

These are mysteries which I do not think are best aired on the Floor of the House. It may be helpful, however, if I tell the House that if there is a debate on capital punishment—that will depend on your selection, Mr. Speaker—I believe that it should be carried out in a properly structured way. I have therefore had discussions through the usual channels and it will be the Government's intention to table a motion providing for a full day's debate on the subject on Wednesday and allowing the House to vote on the motion at a reasonable time.

My right hon. Friend rightly has a reputation for fairness. Will he extend that fairness to the Leader of the Opposition on his return from the United States? Is he aware that The Wall Street Journal this week reported that the reaction to the right hon. Gentleman's previous visit was one of incredulity and derision? Will my right hon. Friend therefore allow adequate time for the Leader of the Opposition to explain what he believes the reaction of our friends and allies to have been to his latest visit and for us to express our views?

[That this House notes that during the Parliamentary Session 1985–86 Right honourable and honourable Members belonging to the Liberal and Social Democratic Parties voted as follows:
Constituencywith Labourwith GovernmentRatio
Mossley Hill136236:1
Berwick upon Tweed108186:1
North East Cambridgeshire97176:1
Ceredigion and Pembroke North109254:1
Inverness, Nairn & Lochaber64154:1
Roxburgh and Berwickshire135216:1
Brecon and Radnor106235:1
Leeds West117167:1
Isle of Wight74165:1
Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale104244:1
Orkney and Shetland128285:1
Colne Valley76108:1
Glasgow, Hillhead55511:1
Ross, Cromarty and Skye112206:1
Caithness and Sutherland5878:1
Stockton South91910:1
Portsmouth South105157:1
Plymouth, Devonport6797:1]
When my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary next summons a Conservative Member for a dressing down for missing one of the hundreds of Divisions that take place in Parliament, will he put matters into perspective by reminding himself that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) has bothered to vote in only 46 Divisions in this entire Parliament?

Perhaps I should gently remind my hon. Friend that one of the irksome aspects of being in Government is the necessity to turn up at the House and support the Government. That is something to which Conservative Members have become accustomed, and to which others, I fear, are growing unaccustomed.

Is my right hon. Friend confident that enough time has been allocated to the 130 clauses and 18 new clauses of the Criminal Justice Bill, bearing in mind that there is a new clause providing for bail not to be allowed to those accused of rape or murder, a clause to try to overturn lenient sentences and, most important, a clause on the death penalty? If, when we vote on the death penalty, the Opposition impose a three-line Whip, will my right hon. Friend publicise the fact after the vote so that it is known that Conservative Members voted with their consciences and Labour Members were whipped?

It is tempting, but I wonder whether my hon. Friend wants more or less than 20 minutes to be allowed for the Leader of the Opposition. We shall have to see about that.

I remind my right hon. Friend of early-day motion 797.

We shall have to see how we get on. We have allocated two days for that debate. While I appreciate that there is a good deal for us to get through, it is an important Bill, and we want to get it to the other place as soon as possible.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's interest in the matter, and I only regret that we shall hear rather fewer of his speeches in two days than we would have heard in three days.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early statement on the siege of Ealing, which is becoming more serious every day? About 40 schools are now closed, some of them until after Easter. Ealing's citizens are facing a rate increase of no less than 65 per cent. They are also obtaining no services, because of the strike inspired by the council's failure to honour a promise made to its workforce. As a result, old people in sheltered accommodation cannot get to the laundries, telephones and common rooms, and are suffering considerably. A statement on those events is urgently needed.

I appreciate how hard my hon. Friend works for all his constituents in Ealing, to whatever party they belong. Unfortunately, I cannot promise him either a statement or a debate next week. However, he could try his luck in the Easter Adjournment debates.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion No. 690?

[That this House views with concern the proposal of the Minister of Sport to merge the function and role of Playboard with that of the Sports Council; and, in view of the negative responses to this proposal from many interested organisations, urges him to postpone a final decision on this matter in order to allow a full debate to take place on the alternatives.]

Although we had a three-hour debate on sport earlier this week, we are anxious to have a debate in Government time so that we can persuade the Minister with responsibility for sport—who is also responsible for children's play—that child's play has not much to do with sport, and that many hon. Members on both sides of the House consider its independence from the Sports Council very important?

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern. I am pleased to tell him that he has been successful in the ballot for the Adjournment, so he can initiate a debate on Monday 6 April. I shall ensure that the Minister is asked to give him the fullest possible reply.