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Engagements

Volume 127: debated on Thursday 11 February 1988

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Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 11 February.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. John Wakeham)

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is in Brussels for a meeting of the European Council.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take time today to put pressure on his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to answer the criticisms of the Comptroller and Auditor General about the privatisation of the Royal Ordnance factories, one of which is in my constituency? The Minister refused to answer those criticisms, which point out that that privatisation cost this country tens of millions of pounds, that dividends were waived to make the company more attractive and that the delay in the transfer of pension rights and redundancy pay made this whole operation exceedingly expensive. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that, before further privatisation takes place, some answers should be given to the complaints of the Auditor General?

I think that the hon. Lady misses the important point. The important point is that there were difficulties in the armaments procurement industry. That industry will do much better under privatisation than it ever would under state control.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the quite astonishing economic progress report, published by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which shows that the average British family is having to spend £11 per week more for food, simply because of the price support for the CAP? Does he agree that in no circumstances should the Government agree to extra resources going to the EEC as long as the Common Market is spending £233 million per week on dumping and destroying food and £50 million per week on financing fraud?

As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Brussels at the European Council dealing with some of those very difficult issues. I know that she goes with the best wishes and strong support of the vast majority of the British people.

Is the Lord President aware of the growing concern, both in this country and among our allies, over the Government's deplorable decision not to follow the Stalker-Sampson report with appropriate prosecutions? Does he realise that it is now essential that the affair — the shoot-to-kill RUC conspiracy and Special Branch involvement—be cleared up by a judicial inquiry? Are the Government prepared to set up such an inquiry?

The Government are not prepared to set up a judicial inquiry. The matter has been the subject of a very thorough and detailed investigation, at the end of which the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland reached his decision. A further inquiry would be unnecessary and inappropriate.

Does the Lord President not realise the damage that that answer does both to our reputation abroad and to the prospects of lasting peace in Northern Ireland? How can the Government hope to establish the rule of law in Northern Ireland if they manipulate the law themselves? How can they expect to end the domination, dominance and role of the IRA if they are prepared to allow criminal conspiracy to go ahead without taking appropriate action?

Those are disgraceful remarks. Surely if any damage is done, it is by allegations that the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland did not act independently and properly in accordance with his duties.

The Lord President either deludes himself or seeks to deceive others. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw".]

I withdraw that at once. The Lord President either deceives himself or seeks to delude others. The Attorney-General made it absolutely clear that there was a case to answer but that he chose not to answer it. The Lord President has to defend that, and not some other charge.

The Attorney-General made a clear statement in the House and indicated the reasons why, in the national interest, he had made his decision. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will make a statement in the House on the disciplinary matters and matters of control of the RUC that arise from that decision. The right hon. Gentleman will have to wait for that.

When the Prime Minister in Brussels talks to the Taoiseach, with whom she got on very well on an earlier occasion, will she tell him that the British people are prepared to accept the interference of the Irish Republic in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom only to the extent that he is prepared to accept British interference in the affairs of the Irish Republic?

I am not privy to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will say to the Taoiseach in Brussels, but I know that she will seek to deal with the matter in the best way possible, that is, to recognise that the Anglo-Irish accord is something that we believe to be important, and hope to get over some of the difficulties.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that since 1969 166 people who were not members of paramilitary organisations and were not involved in violence have been killed by the security forces in Northern Ireland? Will he further confirm that in those 166 cases there have been three convictions? What plans have the Government to ensure that the law will apply in Northern Ireland without fear or favour equally to every person?

I cannot confirm the figures that the hon. Gentleman gave. He may well be right. I think that in anybody who atempts to deal with the difficult issues in Northern Ireland a recognition of some of the people who are the victims of terrorism would be appropriate.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that among the many remarkable achievements of Comic Relief was the quality of the films used to educate the British public about events and about the handicapped at home and abroad? Will he therefore consult his right hon. Friends about the possibility of the BBC and ITV making available— —

—to Departments these remarkable films for the use of voluntary organisations?

My hon. Friend is right. Unfortunately, I was appearing on a rival channel while that was going on. I shall certainly pass the remarks of my hon. Friend to the appropriate quarters.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 11 February.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

In the light of the Appeal Court decision yesterday, will the Lord President of the Council acknowledge that the Government have brought confidence in the public security services in this country into disrepute by identifying the Conservative Government and party interest with the national and public interest? In the light of the judges' comments yesterday, would it not now be appropriate to set up a Committee of the House, composed of senior Privy Councillors, to help restore confidence in the objectivity of determining what is the national security interest?

I do not believe that by his question the hon. Gentleman meant to impugn the integrity of the judges who dealt with the case. The case remains before the courts, and I have no intention of commenting. The Government remain determined to uphold the principle of confidentiality, without which the security services could not function effectively to protect our freedom.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, for solely demographic reasons, the number of 18-yearolds available to enter the nursing profession is likely to decline dramatically. Is it, therefore, not regrettable that so few health authorities encourage, retrain and consider the special needs of young nurses who have young families and who wish to re-enter the profession after having been married?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and I am sure that all those who have responsibilies for the matter will take it on board.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 11 February.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the Lord President of the Council aware of a letter sent to hon. Members representing constituencies in the north-west by Dr. Thistlethwaite and other paediatricians in the north-west region about cutbacks and closures at St. Mary's hospital in Manchester? Does he realise that those paediatricians warn of the dire consequences if those closures and reductions in service take place, and that they may result in the deaths of babies? Will he recognise that there is a crisis in the Health Service and that the solution lies in the Government's hands? When will they adopt it?

I do not recognise the analysis that the hon. Gentleman gave. The Health Service is receiving this year the greatest increase in income it has every received. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister left me a note for the hon. Gentleman when she went away. She told me that I was to remind him that capital expenditure in his district increased by £16·5 million—[Interruption.]

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 11 February.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Does my right hon. Friend share my deep concern about the organised violence—not merely the mindless hooliganism — at sporting events recently, including that at Bingley Hall in my constituency at the world title fight, and that reported today as having occurred in the Greater Manchester area? Will the Government consider taking improved powers to apprehend these thugs before they create havoc such as they created at those events?

I certainly share my hon. Friend's concern, and I believe that the House would wish to congratulate the police on their excellent work. The measures taken by the Government, the football authorities, the clubs and others have helped to tackle the menace of football hooliganism. There is still some way to go, and the disgraceful scenes on Sunday were deeply disturbing. I can assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will keep his suggestions—and others— in mind as possible ways of tackling the problem.

Q5.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 11 February.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Rachmanism is flourishing in Lambeth under a company called Toddingtons Ltd., in which the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) is the majority shareholder? This week it is evicting a Mr. Fisher, who has lived there with his sick mother for 14 years and who is unemployed. He is being evicted on the grounds that his mother has had to go into hospital.

Is it not outrageous that Rachmanism still abounds? Does the Leader of the House agree with the Labour party policy that people in the private sector should have the same right to buy from absentee landlords?

I am somewhat sceptical about what the hon. Gentleman said. He knows perfectly well that if he has anything of that sort to say he should deliver it to the police and not try to make party capital out of it. The fact of the matter is that no hon. Member would want anything to do with Rachmanism or anything like it. The Housing Bill brought in by my right hon. Friend and at present before Parliament will do a great deal more to improve the housing conditions of millions of people in this country than anything done by the Opposition.

Returning to things that are the responsibility of the Government, is my right hon. Friend aware that, following the Prime Minister's visit to the Channel tunnel, I have written to her asking whether she could obtain, for the benefit of the House, precise information as to the levels of investment and the criteria for that investment as between the French Government and SNCF on the one hand and the British Government and British Rail on the other? Will my right hon. Friend assist me and the House to obtain that information so that we may assess the relative actions of the two Governments in providing the necessary public infrastructure to maximise the advantage of the tunnel?

I will certainly refer that matter to my right hon. Friend. I cannot give my hon. Friend the answer that he wants here and now.

Q6.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 11 February.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Will the Lord President turn his mind again to the question of Northern Ireland? Is there not a pervasive and growing stench about the refusal of the Attorney-General to engage in prosecutions in connection with the killing of those people, who were unarmed, especially the young man in the hay shed? Does he not realise that if there is not a judicial inquiry under the 1921 Act this will grow and grow? It will not go away, and it will sour relations with the Republic.

The first thing that the hon. Gentleman must get absolutely straight is that it was not the decision of the Attorney-General; it was the decision of the DPP not to prosecute.