May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?
Before the Leader of the House does that, the House will be aware that I attempt to call as many Back-Bench Members as possible to ask a business question. However, I am bound to have regard to the business already set down on a Thursday and also to the purpose of business questions, which is not so that hon. Members can make the speech that they hope to make on the subject of their choice, nor to obtain an instant ministerial reply, but to ask for a debate and to state briefly why it should be granted. To enable me to continue to be generous in calling supplementary questions to business questions, I ask Back-Benchers to confine themselves to one question each, and not to make speeches.
The business for next week will be as follows:MONDAY 18 APRIL, TUESDAY 19 APRIL, WEDNESDAY 20 APRIL, THURSDAY 21 APRIL—Progress on remaining stages of the Local Government Finance Bill (1st to 4th Allotted Days). At the end of Tuesday, Ways and Means resolution relating to the Local Government Finance Bill, followed by motion relating to the Standard and Collective Charges (Scotland) Regulations. At the end on Wednesday, motion relating to the Personal Community Charge (Students) (Scotland) Regulations.
- FRIDAY 22 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.
- MONDAY 25 APRIL—Completion of remaining stages of the Local Government Finance Bill (5th Allotted Day).
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and welcome the Government's decision to provide a record fifth day on the Floor of the House for the Report stage and Third Reading of the poll tax Bill.In view of the rapidly changing international situation, are we likely to have a debate on foreign affairs? In view of the importance attached in recent ministerial statements to the setting up of the Independent Living Fund to assist the most severely disabled people affected by the social security changes, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when there will be a statement on its work, and whether its staff will exceed the one civil servant who is at present in post? When will the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs be established? I remind the right hon. Gentleman that on 13 January he told the House that his hon. Friends who represent seats outside Scotland were perfectly entitled to serve on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. When are they going to do just that? Finally, the Leader of the House will recall that we asked for consideration of the abolition of the Inner London education authority to be deferred pending the outcome of the parents' ballot, the Government having no mandate at the election for the abolition of ILEA. What they did have a mandate for—I quote from the Tory election manifesto—was to "increase parental choice." As 94 per cent. of the parents of inner London have indicated that they want to save the Inner London education authority, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to have a further debate on the matter or, better still, to bring back that part of the Bill?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said about providing extra time for the Local Government Finance Bill. As he said, we have five days. It is important that this measure be properly debated before it goes to the House of Lords.I recognise the fast-moving international situation and the need for a foreign affairs debate in the not-too-distant future; and I will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said to me a minute ago. We have spent a fair amount of time on social security recently. The hon. Gentleman, however, raised a question about the Independent Living Fund. I will refer it to the Secretary of State for Social Services and, if he feels it appropriate, I have no doubt that he will make a statement. I am sorry that attempts to set up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs have taken an enormous time and yet we have achieved nothing. I recognise that this causes some frustration in some quarters. The matter is with the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, and, no doubt, the Committee is considering how best to proceed. There is nothing I can do while the matter is with the Committee. I also recognise the hon. Gentleman's particular interest in the Inner London education authority, but would remind him that the Education Reform Bill is now in another place. I have no doubt that we will be getting back to the subject in due course, but I do not think that it is appropriate to come back to it at present.
As a number of aspects of the conduct of the business of the House need to be considered in parallel with the work of the Select Committee on televising our proceedings, when may we expect to see the Select Committee on Procedure established?
We have certainly had a number of discussions, and I hope that it will be possible to re-establish the Select Committee on Procedure very shortly.
May we have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer next week on the meetings that he has been attending in Washington, where he seems to have espoused a doctrine of exchange rate stability which is not supported by the Prime Minister?
The hon. Gentleman wants to be careful if he puts provocative remarks to me, because I do not believe them to be true; however, I will refer his request to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on his return, and he will decide how best to proceed.
In view of the very welcome statement last night that the new system of social security payments would be carefully monitored, will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Social Services to give a detailed statement to the House next week explaining precisely how?
I thought that I heard my hon. Friend the Minister of State, in replying to the debate, say that he thought that the new scheme should settle down and that we should then look at it and decide whether changes were necessary. Overnight is rather a short time in which to have a considered view of how it is working.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week, in advance of the votes on the poll tax Bill, to explain which Government Department has commissioned Gallup to send people scurrying around my constituency this week telling lies about the amount of poll tax to be paid in Birmingham by using the figure of £186 instead of £249? When asked, the interviewers said to my constituents, "Unofficially, it's a Government matter."
I will look into that for the hon. Gentleman. When Gallup interviewers go around my constituents, they ask questions, not answer them.
Are we anywhere near receiving a statement from the Home Secretary on the vexed question of the cost of television licences for elderly persons and the anomalies which have become evident in the present scheme in relation to sheltered accommodation? Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are few items which cause greater distress to elderly people than the seeming contradiction of the operation of this scheme?
I recognise that this is a very important matter, and also recognise my hon. Friend's concern about it. There are no immediate plans for the Home Secretary to make a statement on it, but I will certainly refer my hon. Friend's concern to him.
Inasmuch as the stock exchange surveillance department submitted a report to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry six weeks ago identifying between eight and 12 persons who were involved in criminal acts of insider dealing in the shares of Matthew Brown when it was taken over by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, and inasmuch as that report is on the Secretary of State's desk with no action being taken, may we have a statement to the House as to why the Government are dragging their feet over the prosecution of criminals?
I have not seen the report, I do not know what it contains and I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has seen it. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and noble Friend will take every action appropriate in the circumstances.
In view of the growing public concern about air safety arising from congestion in the south-eastern airports and the importance of air traffic to the development of the regions, does my right hon. Friend consider that a debate on this important subject is due?
I recognise that this is an important subject, and that when incidents occur they cause concern. The A accidents Investigation Branch is investigating the circumstances of the recent incident and it would be too soon to say what the outcome of the investigation may be. I recognise the need for a debate on these matters from time to time, and I shall see what can be done, but I cannot promise anything in the immediate future.
Is the Leader of the House aware of a report that has been published today by the director of social services in London, which shows a serious crisis, including a huge turnover of staff, 4,000 vacancies for social workers in. London and a shortage of occupational therapists and speech therapists? Given the fact that those problems are widely shared throughout the United Kingdom—they are not helped by the crisis in the National Health Service or the social security changes—does the Leader of the House agree that there is an urgent need for a debate?
As the hon. Gentleman said, the report has been published today. The first thing to do is to read and study it and decide how best to proceed from there.
Will the Leader of the House set aside time for a debate on the workings of the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951, which repealed the Witchcraft Act 1735? It is common knowledge in the House that many people have been charged with and convicted of offences against children involved in witchcraft initiation ceremonies. We need a chance to discuss the working of witchcraft and how it can be controlled in this country. [Laughter.] People laughed when I spoke nine years ago about child abuse. Those people are now listening, and I am warning the House that witchcraft is sweeping the country.
It is in Downing street.
Order. This is a serious question.
My hon. Friend is quite right to pursue matters that he considers important and to bring them before the House. I wish that I could arrange time for a debate next week on the subject, but I am afraid that I cannot. Perhaps my hon. Friend will try his luck at an Adjournment debate in the near future.
I welcome what the Leader of the House said about the urgency of a foreign affairs debate, but I press him hard about the brutality of the Israeli army in the occupied territories., with the terrible violence and killing and beating of men, women and children that is taking place, so that the Government will press for an international conference at which there could be a settlement about the middle east on the basis of a Palestinian state and an Israeli state standing side by side.
The hon. Lady will know of the initiatives and pressure that the Government have beer trying to bring to bear to reach a settlement in the middle east. What the hon. Lady says is controversial in some: quarters, but nevertheless it is part of the serious middle: east position and it adds to the strength of the case for a foreign affairs debate as soon as one can be arranged.
Before we have a foreign affairs debate, would it not be sensible to consider whether it is wise to wander all around the world in one debate discussing large areas in which we have no control and precious little interest? Would it not be better to target the debate on a particular area? Why not the middle east, as the hon. Lady suggested?
I shall certainly take note of what my hon. Friend says.
Pursuant to the issue of witchcraft, the Leader of the House will have been pleased to note that Mr. Speaker has given me an Adjournment debate on Friday on the conduct of the Prime Minister's private office. In view of early-day motions 228, 253, 272, 273, 286, 622 and 627, which Minister is in a position to answer?[That this House notes in the book, Campaign, by Rodney Tyler, the Selling of the Prime Minister: from behind the doors of Downing Street and Conservative Central Office—A unique inside account of the Battle for Power that the author on page 1, chapter 1, paragraph 1, sentence 1, states 'It was an extraordinary turnaround in fortunes from the moment on 27th January 1986 when Mrs. Thatcher secretly confided to a close associate that she might have to resign …' and on page 3 that 'On the eve of the crucial Westland debate she herself shakey enough to doubt her future' though some around her later sought to dismiss this as late evening anxieties of the sort that had disappeared the following morning). It is certainly true that if Leon Brittan had chosen to, he could have brought her to the brink of downfall, by naming the real culprits inside Number 10. Instead, he chose to remain silent', and calls on the Prime Minister to give a full account of what transpired between 3rd January and 27th January 1986, at Number 10 Downing Street, in relation to the selectively leaked Law Office's letter concerning the Westland Affair.][That this House notes that the Member for Aldershot on page 136 of his book Heseltine: the unauthorised Biography, states in relation to the Westland Affair that 'John Wakeham issued an order of the day which contained the trite, if effective message, that it was time for all good men to come to the aid of the party. We did and calls on the Leader of the House, The Right Honourable Member for South Colchester and Maldon, to explain when he first knew the role of the then Trade and Industry Secretary, The Right Honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, in the matter of the disclosure of a selectively leaked Law Officer's letter.][That this House notes that in his book Mrs. Thatcher's Revolution, published this week by Jonathan Cape and Co., Mr. Peter Jenkins writes, on page 200 'Brittan himself refused to enlighten the Select Committee on any point of substance. However, he is reputed to have told close friends subsequently that not only has she known perfectly well what had happened but that, on the day following the leak, had expressed her satisfaction to him at the way things had been handled. However at that time, the downfall of Heseltine had not been achieved.…He (Mr. Brittan) might point the finger at her (Mrs. Thatcher). Potentially he now had the power to destroy her'; and calls on the Prime Minister to give the House a full account of her conversations with the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Right Honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, over the period from 3rd January and 27th January 1986, in relation to the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter concerning the Westland Affair.][That this House notes that in The Thatcher Years—A decade of Revolution in British Politics, published by BBC Books, Mr. John Cole, on page 170, considering the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter in the Westland Affair, writes 'why did he (Sir Robert Armstrong) not give her a quick interim report when he discovered that the leak was an inside job, authorised by her office? Why did Leon Brittan not tell her? Or the private secretary concerned? Orhis chief, who site in the same room? Or her press secretary? And why did she never ask?; and calls on the Prime Minister to inform the House of the answers to these questions.][That this House notes that, in the book 'Not with Honour—The Inside Story of the Westland Scandal', on page 142, Magnus Linklater and David Leigh write that 'Instead, following Havers's complaint, she spoke privately to Brittan about the leak. Although this is something the Prime Minister has failed to disclose, to widespread disbelief, the evidence comes from an authoritative source, who told us: "The Prime Minister knew about the leak. She was pleased it had been done. There was a meeting between Brittan and her after the complaint from Mayhew. Only the two of them were present…Brittan assumed she knew of [the leak's] origins. You must draw your own conclusions." One of Brittan's friends adds, "Nobody thought it was a problem. The complaints were out of the public domain and any inquiry was expected to be a formality. Leon wasn't worried at all about it."; and calls on the Prime Minister to give a full account to the House of the meeting between herself and Right honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, referred to therein.][That this House notes that in an article by Mr. Paul Foot in the Daily Mirror, dated 28th January, a Ministry of Defence official, Mr. Paul Newbigin, is quoted as having admitted witnessing the shredding and incinerating of the log book of HMS 'Conqueror'; is concerned that if this statement is true, the Ministry of Defence is guilty of having established an entirely bogus investigation into the disappearance of the log book when the facts of its deliberate destruction were already known; further notes the parallel between this case and that of the leaked Solicitor General's letter in the Westland Affair, when a similar investigation was launched despite the availability in advance of all the salient facts; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Defence to set up an immediate inquiry with the genuine purpose of furnishing Parliament with a full explanation of this bizarre series of events.][That this House calls for a debate on the conduct of honourable and right honourable Members of the House, considering the position of back bench members who resort to unparliamentary language and Heads of Government who misuse Law Officer's letters and then display lack of conduct about what they have done.] Will the right hon. Gentleman support my letter to the Prime Minister, which states that on this occasion only she can give an authoritative answer? Would she, therefore, be prepared to come to the House herself? Will the Leader of the House also explain on what point of law and at what cost the Government took the decision to insult the Scottish Appeal Court and appeal to the House of Lords in relation to Cavendish?
I have a suspicion that if I were to attempt to answer the hon. Gentleman—I have no intention of doing so—I would stray wider than you wanted, Mr. Speaker, from the business for next week, which includes, as the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, an Adjournment debate on Friday, in which he will doubtless speak and in which a competent Minister will give him an adequate answer—but I doubt very much whether it will be the Prime Minister.
Order. For the sake of accuracy, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) should know that he was successful in the ballot; I did not "give him" an Adjournment debate.
When may we expect a statement on the Government's response to the unilateral changes made by the Parliament of the Irish Republic to the extradition arrangements between our two countries?
I cannot give my hon. Friend the answer, but I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary for a statement on the allegation in today's Independent that the Government have now accepted that DNA blood testing is indisputable proof of people's parentage? People such as Jack Tar Singh in my constituency, therefore, were clearly wrongly refused entry to the country and kept away from their families, and the Government behaved disgracefully in that respect.Can this statement also include an explanation of how it can apparently happen that a convicted terrorist is allowed to live in this country while decent, honourable people, who are entitled to live here, are kept out?
The hon. and learned Gentleman has raised two separate points, both of which relate to the Department of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I do not think I can give him a detailed answer, but I shall refer his points to my right hon. Friend.
Order. I hope that hon. Members will not be tempted to raise two points, in view of what I have said today.
On the subject of a bit of French witchcraft, will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the proposition from President Mitterrand, as reported in today's press, that the Channel tunnel should be called after a French gentleman named Jean Monet? Will my right hon. Friend organise an early fight back on behalf of English names and a competition to that end? As a first entry, and in memory of those who are good at digging themselves into holes, how about the "Dave Nellist Channel tunnel"?
My hon. Friend makes a helpful suggestion, but there is nothing that I can usefully say on that subject at the moment. However, I shall refer it to my right hon. Friend.
The visit of Mother Teresa to the Prime Minister was mentioned earlier. Will it be possible to have a debate on the plight of the homeless, particularly those in London? Mother Teresa said that she was deeply moved that so many people had only a cardboard box for a bed. Surely we should have an opportunity to discuss this important matter?
There is a Bill going through the House which relates to housing matters. It is highly relevant to this matter, and I cannot promise a separate debate in the immediate future, however important the subject is.
In view of the unsatisfactory state of affairs over the hijacking in Algiers, and the unwelcome news that the terrorist Proll will soon be entering the country, may we have a debate on how to combat international terrorism?
This is an important subject and one on which I should like to have a debate, but I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate in the immediate future.
Will the Leader of the House ensure that sufficient time is set aside during the debate on the poll tax to discuss the importance of the Government amendment affecting the finance of local transport? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this amendment threatens further to disrupt transport in the metropolitan areas, especially in Tyne and Wear, which had a transport system that was the envy of the world until the Government began interfering with it?
I do not think that I can be faulted for having provided five days for discussion on the Local Government Finance Bill, which by any standards is pretty generous. The selection of amendments and decisions on how the debate is conducted are not matters for me.
Can my right hon. Friend find a way for the House to discuss the important decisions being taken in Washington this week, in which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is taking part? The international monetary system crucially affects our domestic economy, and it is necessary for us, soon after he returns, to discuss the issues which my right hon. Friend has been addressing in Washington.
I have agreed that I shall refer this matter to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. The Finance Bill was published today and the Second Reading will enable some of those matters to be discussed. I recognise my hon. Friend's request, and shall refer it to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
Before we proceed to the Report stage of the poll tax Bill next Monday, will it be possible to have a debate on whether there should be a referendum on this one subject, in view of the feelings in the country? Will the Leader of the House bear in mind also the possibility of having a secret ballot in the Cabinet? All the reports reveal that, without the involvement of the Chief Whip, there would probably be a majority in the Cabinet for dropping the poll tax.
The hon. Gentleman's obsession with conspiracies is well known. I assure him that there is a united Cabinet—I was going to say, and a pretty united party—on this issue. We have plenty of time to discuss these matters, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will clarify any misunderstandings. I expect that the Bill will proceed very satisfactorily.
Since this is the fourth business questions in a row in which the Leader of the Opposition has done his disappearing act, will my right hon. Friend arrange through the usual channels for the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) to have a chance at the Dispatch Box, or perhaps the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)?
It is traditional for the Leader of the Opposition to ask for the business statement; that is a long-established practice. When he is not able to be here, he is always very courteous and tells me so, and I know that he has a lot on his plate at the moment. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) then stands in. I will not say that he does a better job than the Leader of the Opposition, but he has done a very adequate job.
Is the Leader of the House aware that some local authorities have been waiting for more than a year for a decision from the Home Office on the granting of concessionary television licences to new sheltered accommodation? In view of this delay, which is claimed because of a court case brought by the local authorities against the Home Office, should there not be a statement to the House by the Home Office on whether it will tell the local authorities when those licences will be granted?
I cannot add anything to what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle). I recognise that there is concern about this matter in some areas, and I have promised to refer it to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
Will my right hon. Friend urgently consider having a debate on the control of gipsies and other travelling people? Many people in my constituency are frustrated that the law does not seem to enable them to move people on from unauthorised sites when they invade privacy. Will my right hon. Friend ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to reconsider the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider the provisions of the Public Order Act 1986?
Certainly, as a Member for an Essex constituency, I recognise that there are difficulties in the working of that legislation. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate in the immediate future, but he may find an opportunity in an Adjournment debate to raise some of the issues. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
As the vast majority of the people of Bradford, including large numbers of single and married pensioners, stand to lose under the poll tax, the Leader of the House will understand the interest in the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Hampshire, West, which offers some mitigation of the Bill's worst aspects. Can the Leader of the House say when the amendment is to be moved? Do the Government intend to accept it and, if not, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for special protection for the hon. Member for Hampshire, West and his supporters from the ravages of the Patronage Secretary and the Whips over the weekend?
The Member concerned is my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), but that is a minor point. The selection of amendments is not a matter for me; nor is the attitude that the Government will take to the amendment, which is a matter for the Minister responsible for the Bill. However, if I had a crystal ball, I would think it quite likely that the amendment, if selected, would be debated on Monday. While I have no idea what view the Minister will take, having looked at the amendment myself I can see some fairly obvious defects in it.
Will my right hon. Friend consider giving the House an early opportunity to debate the recent North report on the review of road traffic law, not least to reflect the public concern, which I share, about the inadequacy of penalties for drinking and driving and killing while so doing?
I am very concerned about this myself, as my hon. Friend will know, because I have some responsibilities for these matters within the Government. The Government are studying the report at the moment and we shall come forward with our conclusions on it, I hope fairly speedily. We can then consider whether we should have a debate.
Will the Leader of the House invite the Secretary of State for Energy to make a statement about the importation of South African coal into Britain, which reduces the number of job opportunities throughout the coalfields in Scotland, England and Wales? Will the Leader of the House draw the attention of his right hon. Friend to the fact that the South African coal directors were due to come over to Britain and tell him that the House would call upon him and ask that neither he nor any of his Ministers meet those South African coal directors who will put further jobs in jeopardy—
—and, far from the Government being involved in sanctions, they would be inviting more South African coal into Britain—coal that would have blood on it?
I do not accept very much of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's earlier comments about the establishment of a Procedure Committee, but will he find time, in our busy schedule, for a debate on the conduct of the House? The country at large is deeply shocked and offended by recent events in the Chamber. Is it not time that we addressed this matter, as a House, before further dishonour is brought upon this place?
I recognise that there is concern and I share that concern. This is a matter that the Select Committee on Procedure, which I hope to establish soon, can consider, but whatever the penalties and whatever the arrangements made, they will not compensate for a lack of self-discipline and common sense on the part of hon. Members.
Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the reply that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) about an early debate on homelessness? Is it not clear that all those who saw Mother Teresa on television must have been moved by what she said about the London homeless sleeping in cardboard boxes and her equating that with what happens in India? Is it not a disgrace that in this great country of ours—a very rich country—we have people living in cardboard boxes at night? Is it not clear that the Government should arrange an early debate so that we can discuss this matter—rather than leaving it to a Bill which will do nothing about the problem—and express our opinions on this vital question?
I recognise that this is an important issue, but I do not see any opportunity for a debate in Government time in the immediate future. It is a matter to which we can return when we have a further opportunity.
Given the continued occupation by Turkish troops, for 14 years, of the Republic of Cyprus—a Commonwealth country for which we have specific treaty obligations—may we have a statement on the progress made last week during the visit to Turkey by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister towards a settlement in relation to the partition of the island?
I cannot promise a statement on the matter, but I will certainly refer the point raised by my hon. Friend to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.