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Commons Chamber

Volume 132: debated on Thursday 28 April 1988

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House Of Commons

Thursday 28 April 1988

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

London Regional Transport Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [10 December], That the Bill be now considered.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 5 May.

Teignmouth Quay Company Bill (By Order)

York City Council Bill Lords (By Order)

Associated British Ports (No 2) Bill (By Order)

Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill (By Order)

City Of London (Spitalfields Market) Bill (By Order)

Falmouth Container Terminal Bill (By Order)

North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill (By Order)

St George's Hill, Weybridge, Estate Bill (By Order)

Newcastle Upon Tyne Town Moor Bill Lords (By Order)

Orders for Second reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 5 May.

Oral Answers To Questions

Northern Ireland

Unlicensed Black Taxi System (Belfast)

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will take action to stop the unlicensed black taxi system in Belfast.

All taxis operating in Belfast are licensed either as public hire or private hire taxis.

It has long been known that the black taxi system in Belfast has provided financial support for terrorism in that city and the Province. As we now have gruesome evidence of its involvement in terrorism and in the recent murder of two British soldiers, will my hon. Friend take steps to ensure that that particularly unacceptable form of transport system is hounded out of the centre of Belfast, for the protection of all its citizens?

We are aware of the connection between paramilitary organisations in both communities and black taxis, although there are many black taxi operators in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland who do a very good job. The Chief Constable has established an anti-rackets squad to deal with rackets generally in Northern Ireland, and that is a high priority. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is bringing forward provisions in a new prevention of terrorism Bill which we hope will go a long way towards knocking out all forms of rackets in Northern Ireland.

Is it not a fact that these battlewagons, as some of these black taxis have become, contributed largely to the appalling murders of two British soldiers? They are not simply used for monetary gain, but as battlewagons. Such activities should be stamped out. If some innocent people suffer, It is better than innocent lives being lost.

As my hon. Friend is probably aware, two taxi drivers and the chairman of the Falls Road Taxi Association have been charged with offences in connection with those horrific murders. Clearly, any such misuse of taxis is absolutely disgraceful, but my job as the Minister for the environment is to ensure that both public and private hire taxis are properly licensed and controlled. Nevertheless, as my hon. Friend said, the police must be given the powers to ensure that they stop any terrorist or paramilitary activity by black taxi operations or their drivers.

Irish Foreign Minister

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he last met the Irish Foreign Minister; and what was discussed.

I last met Mr. Lenihan on 25 March at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference. The joint statement issued after the meeting, a copy of which has been placed in the Library, sets out the wide range of matters that we discussed.

Who authorised the execution of the three IRA members killed in Gibraltar?

I trust that the hon. Gentleman is sufficiently well informed to know that the events in Gibraltar will be the subject of a full inquest before a jury. It is absolutely intolerable to make such comments in advance of the proper process of the law.

When the Secretary of State next meets Mr. Lenihan, what message will he give him for Mr. Haughey? Will he give the message given by the Foreign Secretary commending Mr. Haughey as a true and great patriot, or will he give the denunciation by The Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box on Tuesday?

I shall have great pleasure in endorsing the messages of my right hon. Friend The Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary when I next meet Mr. Haughey. I see no difficulty in that whatsoever. I should not have thought that there was any hon. Member who would not regard Mr. Haughey as a true patriot for his own country, or who would deny that we look for the fullest co-operation, not least in the defeat of terrorism and in the fight against the common evil represented by terrorism in the island of Ireland. We look for the fullest co-operation, and that is enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

When the Secretary of State next meets the Irish Foreign Minister, will he confirm to him that the statesmanlike views expressed by the Foreign Secretary represent the views of The Prime Minister and the Cabinet? If that is the case, will he then confirm to the Irish Foreign Minister that the petulant display by The Prime Minister at Question Time on Tuesday was the result of irrational pique rather than rational political judgment?

I suspect that they are what one might call two sides of the spectrum. There is some attempt to divide my right hon. Friends, but we are together on these matters. We share a common approach. I would say seriously to the hon. Gentleman that if he reads the speech by the Foreign Secretary he will see that my right hon. and learned Friend made it clear that the agreement that we have signed carries commitments and responsibilities on both sides and involves obligations on both sides. It is not part of a process sliding towards somewhere else, but, in the phrase that I have used, it is an end in itself. It is a resolution of the difficulties that have bedevilled the relationship of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, and any change in that relationship will be subject to the democratic decision of the people of Northern Ireland.

Has my right hon. Friend discussed with the Irish Foreign Minister the Irish Parliament's unilateral imposition of restrictions on extradition from the Republic to the United Kingdom on the unjustified ground of concern for the quality of British justice and spurious concern for the rights of so-called Irish citizens who are extradited to Britain? If so, what is the Government's reaction to that unilateral restriction on the due legal process between our two countries?

My hon. Friend will know that he picks up an extract from the speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, in which he says that there is no monopoly of grievance. He made no secret in that speech of our grievances about the way in which the extradition issue has been handled, but he said that we seek to resolve such problems within the normal relationships between our countries. I certainly confirm to my hon. Friend that I am most anxious, as I am sure all those responsible within the Republic of Ireland must be, to ensure that there are, at the earliest moment, effective extradition arrangements between our two countries.

Does the Minister realise that the rabble-rousing and jingoistic answer that he gave me last time I asked about the shooting of the three IRA members has intensified the situation and that there have been more killings in the past few weeks than for a long time? Does he realise that shooting to kill demands an inquiry and that the tactics used by paramilitaries on both sides of just killing should not have been adopted by us when we could have arrested the three IRA members? We should not engage in the same tactics.

I do not immediately recall what the hon. Gentleman described as my jingoistic answer. I think that I may have expressed some considerable relief, which I think the House shared, that the most powerful bomb that the Spanish police had ever seen in their lifetime, despite all their experience of ETA, did not go off in the confined streets of Gibraltar. There cannot be any decent Member of the House who is not profoundly relieved that some 200 people who might otherwise have been killed or maimed did not meet their death or injury at that time. The hon. Gentleman says that there needs to be an inquiry, and he will have heard my earlier answer that there is to be precisely that in the due legal form of an inquest before a jury. That is the proper procedure, and that is what will take place.

When my right hon. Friend next sees the Irish Foreign Minister, will he ask him whether he is as fed up as Conservative Members are of television companies raking through the gutters of Gibraltar to find people to rubbish our security services? Will he also ask him whether he is as fed up as we are with people weeping tears for an active IRA unit which would have been responsible for a major massacre in Gibraltar?

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the proposals for a television broadcast, which I understand may take place tonight. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has made representations to the chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority about that. If the reports are correct that the programme will include live interviews with people who are likely to be witnesses at the inquest, that raises very difficult issues and could run the serious risk of prejudicing the rights of those concerned at the inquest.

Many people are worried that instead of three people facing the prospect of spending a long time behind bars for taking part in and planning a most horrific offence, the Government may well have created three new martyrs for old Ireland, three more victims for the Crown. The Opposition share that worry. Is the Secretary of State aware that we very much regret the Foreign Secretary's decision to go to the chairman of the IBA to try to prevent the film being shown? Is he aware that we regard that as another example of the ministerial arm-twisting of the press and the media that we have seen since Christmas?

Is the Secretary of State also aware that by seeking to take that course of action the Government are prejudging the issues because, according to the very words that the Secretary of State used himself, that bomb was 50 miles away? The three were unarmed. Those are the facts. They should have been arrested and charged. The Government have created martyrs and they are now trying to prevent a proper examination of the Government's conduct and policies by hiding behind the theory of an inquest. We well know that there will be no examination in that inquest of the decisions made at Cabinet level about how those men and that women were to be treated. The Government are hiding behind the facts. They are running away again.

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I believe that that was the most unfortunate intervention that I have ever heard. He has presumed to stand at the Dispatch Box—speaking, I understand, on behalf of the Opposition—and say that he claims to know all the facts of this matter in advance of the inquest and the evidence. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have heard the hon. Gentleman say that he knows all the facts. The hon. Gentleman has—[Interruption.]

Order. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman asked a series of questions. He is now being answered.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said that those were the facts. I must tell him that, as we have said, there will be an inquest. Does he really think that it is desirable in the proper process of law and for the protection of all those who have their rights who will be giving evidence in one form or another at the inquest, that there should in advance of that inquest be trial by television in which partial witnesses will be shown in support of one particular thesis? The hon. Gentleman should consider the facts. He will hear later that a considerable amount of independent examination of these matters can be quoted to show how dangerous it is for witnesses to give evidence on television before inquiries and inquests are carried out.

Economic Prospects

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to meet trades union representatives in Northern Ireland to discuss economic prospects; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Peter Viggers)

My right hon. Friend and I have no outstanding arrangements to meet trades union representatives, though we have met them on a number of occasions in the past to discuss economic prospects and other issues. We value these meetings.

Is the Minister aware that trade union leaders in Northern Ireland are concerned about the Government's prevarication over Kilroot phase 2, and does he accept their point that the economic logic of it is irrefutable? Is he aware that their feeling now is that the only reason for any further debate is the Government's desire to privatise Northern Ireland electricity, and that this represents the triumph of political expediency over the economic interests of Northern Ireland?

No, that is not the case, and the decision on the future generation of electricity in Northern Ireland will be taken in the interests of the consumer and of the economy as a whole. The results of an investment appraisal of the proposals for the next phase of generating capacity are currently being considered. Decisions will be taken as soon as possible, in the interests of the consumer and the economy as a whole.

When my hon. Friend is considering these matters, will he bear carefully in mind the great importance that is attached to the order placed with Harland and Wolff by Mr. Ravi Tikkoo for the Ultimate Dream? If this order is not to be built at Harland and Wolff, will not the opportunities now presented to Belfast be missed, which would be a matter of great regret?

The concept produced by Harland and Wolff is imaginative and ambitious, but I have to put my hon. Friend right. It is not an order but a conceptual design at this stage, and no detailed costings have been produced. When they are, we shall study them carefully.

Will the Minister give an undertaking that this project will be viewed sympathetically, rather than Parliamentary Private Secretaries going around rebuking Conservative Members who have supported the early-day motion asking that Government funds should be made available, as they will help not only Northern Ireland but the United Kingdom as a whole?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that Ors matter will be viewed sympathetically, and he will be the first to agree that the Government have been very supportive of Harland and Wolff over many years. In appraising this project we shall, when the time comes, have to take account of the resources that will be required to support the building of the ship and compare these with the resources that will be required and should be made available for use elsewhere in the Province.

If the question of shipbuilding arises in the Minister's talks with trade union leaders, will he assure them that the Government's aim is not to be neutral when it comes to getting the order for Harland and Wolff, but is positively to encourage that order to come to Northern Ireland, for the benefit not only of those in the Harland and Wolff shipyard but of the suppliers and sub-contractors in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman would not be fair if he accused the Government of not being supportive of Harland and Wolff. We have been extremely supportive and have fought hard to bring orders for the Harland and Wolff shipyard, including the AOR order for the Ministry of Defence. We shall be supportive, but we are bound by the EC sixth directive, and, as I said earlier, by the need to compare the resources that will be required for the building of the ship with the availability of resources which can be used elsewhere in the Province.

The Minister said that he would exercise virement within the Northern Ireland budget—in other words, robbing Peter to pay Paul if the project goes ahead. Will he give an undertaking that new resources will be found from outside the Northern Ireland budget to enable this project to go ahead and to ensure that there is fair employment for both parts of the community, and recognise that people throughout the United Kingdom will benefit if the order goes ahead?

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the United Kingdom, and it is appropriate to bear in mind the needs of all shipbuilders in the United Kingdom, because the United Kingdom is one country. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Northern Ireland block is available for the development of resources within Northern Ireland, and it would not be appropriate to expect the United Kingdom Government to find resources over and above those of the Northern Ireland block for the support of one individual project.

Integrated Education

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards integrated education, in the light of the education reform document he recently published.

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the plans to implement his Department's support for integrated education.

It has been the Government's long-standing policy to support viable proposals for the creation of integrated schools in Northern Ireland. We have now sought to give further opportunity for the expression of parental wishes and new impetus to the development of integrated education through our proposals for grant-maintained integrated schools.

I welcome my hon. Friend's answer, but will he confirm yet again that policies that lead to integrated education are probably the most beneficial long-term initiatives that the Government can take? Will he also assure the House that such policies will not be imposed by the Government, but will be brought about by patiently getting the co-operation and good will of all the communities in Northern Ireland?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. I can confirm the Government's commitment to the expansion of integrated education in Northern Ireland and give my hon. Friend the assurance that the proposals in the consultation paper in no sense reflect a determination to impose integrated education. Rather, they provide an option for parents to choose if they so wish.

I congratulate the Minister on a brave initiative. It is a worthwhile step towards bringing about harmony and long-term development of the community in Northern Ireland. May I recall to him the report in the Belfast Telegraph of 25 February, which said that accommodation, equipment and book supplies at integrated schools are inadequate? Will the Minister say whether that can now be rectified?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and for his continued support for the concept of integrated education in Northern Ireland. The allocation of funds to integrated schools that receive funds from my Department is on the same basis as that for the funds that are made available to other schools in the Province. There is no discrimination in resource allocation.

The Minister is aware of the campaign that I have waged for 20 years to end the sectarian divide in education in Northern Ireland [Interruption.] Will we have to wait another 20 years or more before we see an end to it? I know that the SDLP disagrees with my wish to see the bringing together of Protestant and Roman Catholic young children. Is it right that the taxpayer should have to pay for two separate systems of education that cruelly divide the children and waste taxpayers' money?

I am sorry that some hon. Members on the Opposition Benches laughed when the hon. Gentleman mentioned his very creditable campaign over many years to promote the concept of integrated education. The people of the Province owe him a great debt for doing that. I make it clear that the number of integrated schools that will emerge from the proposals is not a matter for me. In the first instance it is a matter for the House and the other place to determine by legislation. When that legislation is in place, it will be a matter for the parents. The Government are seeking to facilitate those parents who would like to have their children educated in the same classroom as children from the other side of the community. That is an important commitment by the Government. We are rightly pleased to offer it to the people of the Province, and we do it with conviction.

The Minister talks about greater parental choice and about integrating schools. Will he bear in mind that the geographical distribution of schools in Northern Ireland reflects the geographical distribution of the pupils who attend those schools? As soon as he starts interfering with the pool of pupils, that could have very severe and unforeseen effects on the viability of many schools, especially in the more sparsely populated rural areas. Will the Minister carefully bear that in mind?

Of course I shall bear that in mind, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I am not interfering. I am facilitating those parents who may choose to have their children educated in this way. That is a very important distinction. It is absolutely right that integrated education, certainly in the foreseeable future, is not the answer to the problems of the Province. Because of the housing arrangements that the hon. Gentleman mentions, it would be difficult to see integrated schools developing in many areas of the Province in the immediate future. I recognise that fact, and I also recognise that some rural schools in isolated areas will need some protection. He will know that, as a matter of policy, the Department has already made it clear that it will offer protection to schools in rural and isolated areas. Having said all that, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that he still does not advance any reason why parents should not be given the option of integrated education if they wish to follow it.

In view of the overwhelming number of complaints that were received about lack of time for consultation prior to the introduction of the Education Reform Bill in England and Wales, will the Minister please explain how he can contemplate 41 school days as sufficient time for consultation on a document which, in his own words, will change the nature of education in Northern Irish schools well into the next century?

First, it gives me pleasure to welcome the hon. Lady to her new responsibilities. We look forward to working with her in future.

The hon. Lady will know that a two-month consultation period was made available in England and Wales. She will also know that I not only made available a two-month consultation period, but, because the paper was launched at the beginning of the Easter school holidays, added a further three weeks for consultation. The hon. Lady will also bear in mind that the proposals—or at least many of them—have not come as a great surprise to the people of Northern Ireland. They have been widely debated over months as progress has been made on the Bill in the House. For all those reasons, I believe that the consultation time was perfectly adequate.

Security

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement concerning the security situation in Northern Ireland.

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation.

Since I last answered questions in the House on 24 March, two part-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and a regular soldier have been murdered by the Provisional IRA.

The security threat remains high, but the courageous and determined efforts of the security forces are continuing to yield results.

Since the beginning of the year a total of 103 people have been charged with serious offences, including five with murder and six with attempted murder. A total of 272 weapons, just over 65,000 rounds of ammunition, and approximately 2,700 lb of explosives have been recovered in Northern Ireland. I understand also that the Garda Siochana has recovered some 174 weapons, almost 126,000 rounds of ammunition, and 600 lb of commercial explosives.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the people of Northern Ireland are deeply concerned at the two recent murders? On behalf of the people for whom I speak, I express my sympathy to the family in Mid-Ulster and to the family in England who have been so tragically bereaved.

Has the Secretary of State information that the murder of Mr. Gibson, a member of the UDR, was an inside job? Can he confirm that another member of the UDR was to do the job that Mr. Gibson was killed doing? Is he aware that that member of the UDR was told by the security forces not to report for duty? Is he aware that another man, not in sympathy with the UDR, was to take his place, and that that man did not turn up? Therefore, Mr. Gibson was put into the position of having to do the job, and he was then murdered. Is he aware that the car that was used by the murderers was supposed to be in the possession of people who were away for the day, but had left their keys in it? Does that not indicate a well-organised and orchestrated inside job in Cookstown to kill members of the UDR?

I certainly entirely share the feelings that were expressed by the hon. Member about the killings and about the earlier killing, at a farm sale, of another part-time member of the UDR. Although there certainly were some rather surprising features about the killing of Mr. Gibson, in that he had only just gone on that round that day, I certainly do not have any of the information that the hon. Member has conveyed to the House on this occasion.

In the House on Tuesday, The Prime Minister said that the Government would continue to press for effective security co-operation across the border. Why should it now be necessary to press for delivery of the one and only promise that was made by the Dublin Government when the Agreement was signed two and a half years ago?

In her answer The Prime Minister made clear the importance that we attach to continual work to improve cross-border security co-operation. The right hon. Gentleman will have heard the answer that I gave. He will have heard also of the substantial arms seizures and recoveries of ammunition and explosives that have been achieved by the Garda Siochana. Obviously, we and everybody in Northern Ireland must take great comfort from the fact that those weapons of death have now been recovered from terrorist clutches. It is a continual process, and in the answer that I gave earlier I emphasised the importance that we attach to the continual improvement in every possible way of cross-border security co-operation.

As it was said that the security situation would be much improved by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, will my right hon. Friend comment on the recent important and clearly well-considered speech by Mr Haughey to Fianna Fail supporters in New York? Does he agree that that clearly repudiated the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and will he please dissociate himself from the Foreign Secretary's offensive and patronising attempt to depict Mr. Haughey as some minor figure who did not understand what he was saying?

I am afraid that I did not notice whether my hon. Friend was in the Chamber, but I answered that question a little earlier and made absolutely clear the position of the Government on these matters.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that idle purpose of an inquest is to establish the cause of death, not to conduct a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the cause of death? Secondly, regarding the amazing series of events that began with the appalling statement in the House by the Attorney-General that certain people are above the rule of law, I am glad to see that he now at least comes in during Northern Ireland questions to hear people talk about the consequences of what he said on that day. In the light of that statement, the decision of the Department of Defence that when a soldier is given a life sentence for murder that sentence is two and a half years, and the Gibraltar affair, which is now surrounded by more controversy and which led to the Greek tragedy of the funerals in Belfast, will the Secretary of State confirm that, given the tensions and anger that those events created, the Irish Prime Minister showed commendable restraint'? Will he advise his colleague The Prime Minister to read Mr. Haughey's speeches in the United States and to take not the advice of the rent-a-headline hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) but to take instead his advice and that of his right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, who were appointed to conduct relations with the Irish Government, among other things?

The hon. Member has rehearsed what we all know of the catalogue of events in recent months. I take great exception to a number of the descriptions that he has given; for example, the suggestion that anybody is above the rule of law. That is simply not true, since people have already been prosecuted for murder for the events that he described, and my right hon. and learned Friend came to the House to report very fully to this sovereign Parliament the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. In no sense are these people, or any people in Northern Ireland, above the law. The hon. Member surely realises that there is no benefit, if we are trying to establish better co-operation and to work together to defeat the terrorists, in rehearsing old grievances. Rather, we should try to work together in a positive and constructive way.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the security situation in Northern Ireland would be more satisfactory if convicted terrorists served the full term of their sentences rather than enjoying a substantial remission?

I certainly look to a situation in which those convicted of serious terrorist crimes face proper retribution in terms of the sentences that they are given. I have no comment to make today on remission system.

We on the Opposition Benches rejoice in the finding of arms and the conviction of prisoners under the rule of law for terrorists in Northern Ireland. Following The Prime Minister's statement to the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) on Tuesday, can the Secretary of State say whether the Government of the Irish Republic have been more, or less, stinting in their efforts to defeat the men of violence in the past few months; whether there has been any effective break in co-operation across the border; and why, in view of the Taoiseach's statement in Dublin on his arrival from New York—before The Prime Minister's made her observations—which was published widely in the press, to the effect that the Irish Government would work the mechanism of the Anglo-Irish Agreement to the full, The Prime Minister felt it necessary to say that she would seek reassurances from the Irish Government and that they were backing away from their responsibilities under the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Does the Secretary of State really think that that helps? Is not the spirit of what the Foreign Secretary said at Derby a much better way of trying to conduct affairs between both our countries?

I have already said to hon. Members, and I shall make it clear again, that the reply of my right hon. Friend The Prime Minister and the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made absolutely clear our commitment to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It is not a case of something in which some matters are more important than others. Both countries have their responsibilities, obligations and commitments. We seek to make the agreement work to the full, and we make no secret of the fact that we attach particular importance, for very good reason, to the closest possible co-operation in the fight against terrorism. Unless it is defeated, there is no sensible and safe future for people on the island of Ireland, whether north or south of the border.

Political Parties (Talks)

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about his latest talks with Northern Ireland political leaders.

Following my earlier meetings with the leaders of the two main Unionist parties I have now had two meetings with the leadership of the Social Democratic and Labour party. I hope to hold a further meeting with the Unionist leaders shortly. My purpose in these talks is to establish whether a basis exists for a wider dialogue about the future government of Northern Ireland.

Is not the Ulster Unionist difficulty over all this and over the possibility of talking to Mr. Haughey the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which also presents problems to a patriotic Taoiseach? Will the Government make use of the November review of the Intergovernmental Conference to transform this unequal agreement into an equal treaty of full partnership? Let the flawed agreement wither, and get down to business.

I do not see it as my role to dwell on the difficulties that may be faced by Unionists and Nationalists. It is easy to find difficulties in Northern Ireland in every direction. I am trying to see whether we can find a constructive way forward in which people in the Province can take more responsibility for the government of the Province. It is important not to dwell on difficulties but to find ways in which men of good will can work together.

Does the Secretary of State agree that there will be no prospects of any improvement in the political or security position if people throughout the United Kingdom and the Republic believe that the British Government are seeking to gag and silence the media and are colluding in the propagation of misinformation? Does he understand that it is entirely disingenuous to compare an inquest with a full public inquiry? As the chairman of the IBA is believed to have told the Foreign Secretary to get stuffed, will the Secretary of State now give an assurance that the Government will not seek an injunction and will allow people throughout the whole United Kingdom to know the truth about what happened recently in Gibraltar?

I am interested to hear that the hon. Gentleman believes that the correct way to arrive at the truth is by a television broadcast in advance of the proper procedure of the inquest, at which all witnesses involved have an opportunity to give their evidence before a jury under the rules of procedure that pertain in Gibraltar. I should have thought that to seek to pre-empt that and to present one side of an argument through trial by television would worry every hon. Member who is anxious to see that people's rights are protected and that justice is done.

Does my right hon. Friend recall the words,

"In the absence of devolved government, we will seek to establish one or more elected regional councils with a wide range of powers over local services."?
Have not nine years elapsed since those words appeared in our manifesto? If the policy was right when it was fashioned by Airey Neave, why is it wrong today? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that any constitutional changes in Northern Ireland with regard to local government there can he introduced, even though opposed by the Irish Republic?

My hon. Friend knows well that I am at the moment seeking to initiate discussions with the principal constitutional parties within the Province and have made it absolutely clear that I am prepared to listen to any propositions that any may seek to put forward and consider what alternative approaches might be adopted. I am not able to comment further to my hon. Friend on the reasons why those earlier comments were not pursued.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

To ask The Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 28 April.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today.

If The Prime Minister agrees with the words of the Minister replying to yesterday's debate to the effect that the Government were making only "modest adjustments", and not major concessions, will she recognise the case of a constituent of mine? She is 79-years-old, living in a private old people's home, with a pension of £41·71 a week. She has been trying to sell her house, valued at £7,500, for 17 months but is unable to do so. She is not helped by yesterday's decision. Will The Prime Minister accept that more problems were created than were solved yesterday? What is that old lady going to do, and what are the Government going to do about it?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, it has been my experience that when hon. Members raise personal cases in the House, which used virtually never to be done at Question Time, there is very rarely or never a full statement of the facts. The cases must be taken up with the Minister concerned.

With regard to the announcement yesterday, bearing in mind that the amount spent on housing benefit was £5,200 million, and the amount at the end of yesterday was £5,300 million, I think that, a "modest adjustment", but effective to deal with the problems, is indeed a proper description of what took place.

Has my right hon. Friend had time today to read the pamphlet, "The Crisis in Religious Education", expressing grave concern at the trend towards multi-faith education in our schools? Will she reaffirm her Government's commitment to the teaching of Christianity to all the children in our schools?

As my hon. Friend is aware, in the Education Act 1944 religious education was made compulsory and the syllabus was to be determined by a committee drawn up locally. Most of us believe, and I think it is borne out by the debates of that time, that the reference there to religious education was predominantly but not exclusively, to the scriptures of the Bible, and are somewhat concerned that that has not altogether been carried out. I understand that there will be a debate in another place and that those views may be very well ventilated.

In answer to a parliamentary question yesterday The Prime Minister told the House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was what she called the lead Minister on exchange rates. Can she please tell us who is the lead Minister on benefit rates at the moment?

As I said in the reply to that question, our policies are policies of the Government as a whole, and very successful they are.

I am sorry that The Prime Minister cannot tell us who is the lead Minister on benefit rates, because I read in the Daily Mail this morning that The Prime Minister alone was responsible for the U-turn yesterday, and I wanted to give full credit where it was due. As The Prime Minister appears to have some responsibility in these matters, and as the savings on housing benefit were to have been £640 million, before the £100 million announcement yesterday, could she tell us who will now lose that £540 million? Will they not be people who until this month were considered too poor to pay any rates and who now, regardless of their ability to pay, are having to pay 20 per cent. of their rates?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for congratulating the entire Government on successful economic policies—so successful that we have the best social security policies that any Government have ever had. Everyone benefits—even Opposition Members have benefited during the lifetime of this Government.

Does The Prime Minister not yet understand, when she goes on about the matters to which she has just referred and the £46 billion, that the people who are losing are not concerned about the £46 billion that the right hon. Lady is spending on others, but are concerned about the £4, £6 and £10 a week that she is taking away from them? If things are so good, why are they so bad?

What the right hon. Gentleman cannot understand is that things are good and he knows full well that they are good, because the economy is run extremely well and the total amount spent on social security and on health, as well as on things such as provision for Members of Parliament, far exceeds anything previously achieved.

Has my right hon. Friend received the thanks of Mr. Fletcher, an unemployed labourer from Middlesbrough, who has obtained a job as a printer following the advice that my right hon. Friend gave him when he threw his applications that had been rejected at her, to go to the Manpower Services Commission? Despite the attitude of the trade unions, will my right hon. Friend give similar advice to the thousands of unemployed workers in the north of England, to join the adult training scheme?

The House will remember that Mr. Fletcher tackled me personally before television cameras on a visit that I made to Teesside, saying that he had put in about 1,000 applications for jobs and had not got one. I advised him to go and get training with the Manpower Services Commission. He was very sceptical, but he was a very wise man—he took my advice and he found that it got him a job.

Is The Prime Minister aware that a few moments ago the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland tried to tell me that what I had heard her say on Tuesday at Prime Minister's Question Time, when she expressed concern about The Prime Minister and Government of the Irish Republic, was identical to what the Foreign Secretary said at the weekend? Is that what she expected me to interpret her as having said?

Both of my right hon. Friends and I are concerned that the Anglo-Irish Agreement not only continues but is seen to work. A vital part of the Anglo-Irish Agreement is the recognition by the Republic that the rights of the people in Northern Ireland would not be changed without the consent of the majority. It is an important part of the agreement, and the Republic accepted it. No doubt whatsoever should be cast upon it. That is the purpose of the various emphases placed upon that agreement and of the several comments that have been made by my right hon. Friends and me on the speeches of the Taoiseach.

Q2.

To ask The Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 28 April.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the confirmation by NATO Defence Ministers at their meeting in Brussels of the essential, continuing role of nuclear weapons in our defence and the need to keep them up to date? Against the background of the scale of Soviet forces and their activity, does my right hon. Friend agree that Britain must play her full part in that?

Yes, the NATO Defence Ministers have had a very successful meeting. A communiqué will be placed in the House shortly. The Ministers have agreed on guidance about the modernisation of those nuclear weapons. That full guidance, of course, is not published. The important thing is that the Ministers have agreed on the way ahead. It is important because the Soviet Union continues to modernise all her nuclear weapons other than those affected by the INF agreement, and we do the same. It is vital that the nuclear deterrent is kept modern and up to date and that our entire defence, including other nuclear weapons, is modernised and kept effective.

Q3.

To ask The Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 28 April.

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

Would The Prime Minister like to confirm the press notice from the Department of Health and Social Security this morning, which indicated that the unit that will administer the scheme announced by the Secretary of State for Social Services yesterday will not be in place until 1 July? Will she advise the various claimants what they will do until then? Will she also confirm that the changes announced yesterday will not alleviate the problems of two invalidity benefit recipients, Dorothy and Kenneth Ellis, who have also written to The Prime Minister, and who as a direct result of her decision to discontinue housing benefit supplement from 1 April will now be required to pay £6 a week extra for prescriptions?

In winding up the debate last night my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled made it quite clear that the unit will be in the DHSS and outlined the provisions that will he made in the meantime for our constituents.

May I thank The Prime Minister most warmly on behalf of state pensioners in my constituency who have saved all their working lives on modest wages and are delighted with the statement made by the Secretary of State yesterday?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that those modest changes were right and have caused a great deal of pleasure.

Q4.

To ask The Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 28 April.

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

What does The Prime Minister have to say to a young man in my constituency who is unemployed, married and has three small children? He was on an income of £68·50 a week plus child benefit. He is now on an income of £69·45—an increase less than the rate of inflation. He is especially concerned about the change to the social fund, as he benefited from several single payments during the last year. Is it right to describe him and his family as gainers, when in fact they have lost in the annual uprating, they have lost in the uprating of child benefit and they will lose heavily over the setting up of the social fund?

The hon. Gentleman must take up a detailed case with the special unit in the DHSS. It is a highly detailed case—[Interruption.] The other case was nothing to do with social security. The hon. Gentleman must take up this highly detailed case with the special unit that is to be set up, as I am sure he will. It is not possible to deal with it in this way. Sometimes there have been changes in housing benefit, many of them covered by the transitional protection announced yesterday. Frequently other changes in income support or family credit or changes with regard to the increased disability benefits are not mentioned by hon. Members, but are very relevant. Other matters have also to be taken into account, such as the previous local authority discretionary scheme. I hope that I have said enough to make it clear that it is not possible to deal with the case in this way.

Q5.

To ask The Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 28 April.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Liberal-controlled Chelmsford borough council has increased its share of the rates this year by a staggering 36 per cent., while last year, when a general election was in the offing, it cut them by 13 per cent. Is she aware that Marconi in Chelmsford is faced with a rates bill of almost £6,000 more a week as a result? Does she agree that the sooner the business rate and the community charge are introduced, the sooner such highway robbery will be stopped and genuine help given to hard-pressed businesses and individuals alike?

I agree with my hon. Friend and I hope that the people of Chelmsford will draw the appropriate conclusions from those vivid figures. Certainly, once we have the new community charge and unified business rate in place it will be very much easier for people to judge the actions of their local authority against the actions of others. The whole of the new finance system is geared to ensuring that the same level of service, delivered at the same standard of efficiency, should result in the same community charge all over England—and separately all over Scotland—so that people can judge the efficiency and effectiveness of their local authority.

Q6.

To ask The Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 28 April.

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

Will The Prime Minister take time today to look afresh at the problems facing Members of Parliament arising from the lack of secretarial provision, particularly if many hon. Members, like myself, have to answer literally thousands of letters of protest about the Government's proposals? I have received hundreds of letters on social security, 2,000 on the poll tax, and many on health and transport cuts. In the interests of democracy and speedy replies to our constituents, will The Prime Minister give us more assistance for secretarial work or, better still, more palatable legislation?

No. Members of Parliament have never been better off, either for salary or secretarial assistance, than they are now. The hon. Gentleman has plenty of assistance to enable him to deal efficiently with his correspondence.

Business Of The House

3.30 pm

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

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

TUESDAY 3 MAY—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Proceedings on the Coroners Bill [Lords] which is a consolidation measure.

Motion relating to the First Scottish Standing Committee.

WEDNESDAY 4 MAY—Until about seven o'clock Second Reading of the Legal Aid Bill [Lords].

Followed by a debate on the Rover Group on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Afterwards consideration of Lords amendments to the Immigration Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Public Utility Transfers and Water Charges Bill.

THURSDAY 5 MAY—There will be a debate on agriculture on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Details of the EC documents relevant to the debate will be given in the Official Report.

Followed by remaining stages of the Farm Land and Rural Development Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 6 MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 9 MAY—Consideration in Committee of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

[Debate on Thursday 5 May

Relevant European Community documents:

(a) 4852/88

Agricultural Stabilisers, Land Set-Aside and Cessation of Farming

(b) 4779/88

(c) 4856/88

(d) 5004/88

(e) 5448/88 Add 1 & 2 & 3

Agricultural Price Proposals

(f) 4079/88

Agricultural Markets 1987

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee:

  • (a) HC 43-xix (1987–88), para 5
  • (b) HC 43-xix (1987–88), para 5
  • (c) HC 43-xix (1987–88), para 5
  • (d) HC 43-xix (1987–88), para 5
  • (e) HC 43-xxi (1987–88), para 3 & HC 43-xxii (1987–88) para 2
  • (f) HC 43-xvi ( 1987–88), para 4]
  • I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

    In view of the conflicting stories about the establishment of the special unit at the DHSS, announced yesterday by the Secretary of State for Social Services, can the Leader of the House get the Secretary of State to come back to the House to make clear when the special unit will start work? Is it to be in two or three months' time, as some DHSS offices have indicated? What will be its job? How many civil servants will be employed? How can people who want to make claims get in touch with those civil servants?

    As the crisis in the shipbuilding industry deepens, may we expect a debate before any irrevocable decisions are taken by the Government?

    Will the Home Secretary be coming to the House to explain his efforts to try to persuade the Independent Broadcasting Authority to prohibit the showing of a television documentary about the shooting of three members of the IRA in Gibraltar? In the event of him failing to persuade the IBA, will he seek an injunction to prevent it from showing the film?

    Has the Leader of the House received a request from the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) to make a personal statement to reply to the allegations made in the admittedly Murdoch-owned Today newspaper this morning that he has been seeking to interfere in the planning process to his own benefit?

    Having been present, along with a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends, last Friday for the Adjournment debate about the conduct of The Prime Minister initiated by my hon. and tenacious Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), and having heard the unsatisfactory reply from the Minister of State, Privy Council Office, who was put up to respond, may I ask the Leader of the House if he will arrange for the matter to be debated more fully, preferably in Government time?

    The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has asked me five questions. First, he asked about the special units which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is setting up as a result of the statement he made to the House yesterday. My right hon. Friend made clear the way in which the units will be run. However, I recognise that there may still be some confusion and, if there is, I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend to see whether any further clarification is required.

    I note the hon. Gentleman's reference to the shipbuilding industry. That is an important industry on which it would be right to have a debate in the not-too-distant future. I hope that he will agree that the exact timing of the debate can be discussed through the usual channels.

    With regard to the Independent Broadcasting Authority and Gibraltar, it is not my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary but my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary who has been in contact with Lord Thomson, the chairman of the IBA, to ask him to postpone the transmission of the programme as it is understood to include interviews with potential witnesses at the Gibraltar coroner's inquest which is to be heard later this year. My right hon. and learned Friend was naturally concerned that the coroner's inquest would be prejudiced which, I should have thought, would concern every hon. Member.

    The Under-Secretary of State for Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), acted entirely within his rights as a private citizen, along with other local residents, in raising objection to the proposed development. The Department of the Environment has considered the matter and has decided not to stop the proposed development.

    I have read the Official Report of the Adjournment debate on Friday. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Privy Council Office, answered the debate extremely well, and I have nothing further to add.

    When my right hon. Friend considers the business of the House for the next week or fortnight, will he bear in mind the photograph in today's Evening Standard of the home of a young stewardess in my constituency, the door of which has been daubed with the words "scab" and "kill"? Will he further note that the daubing of her home occurred within 24 hours of the Labour party national executive expressing solidarity with the acts of violence and intimidation? Will he ensure that any debate on that matter gives hon. Members the opportunity to protest about the freedom to work and the right to work?

    Order. The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) must ask for debates and not raise matters like that about his constituency.

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The national executive of the Labour party, in the motion that it passed yesterday, expressed no solidarity whatever with any acts of violence. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to ask the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) to withdraw that allegation. It is false and casts a slur on every Opposition Member.

    I am not responsible for what Members say provided it is in order. However, as I have said on previous occasions, business questions are designed for hon. Members to ask the Leader of the House for debates, and not to raise controversial constituency issues.

    I confirm that I also do not have any responsibility for Labour party policy. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) reflects the concern in his constituency. I cannot promise a debate next week on that matter.

    Is the Leader of the House aware that the reply to the question about his hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) is completely unsatisfactory? What has happened to ministerial standards? Why should a Minister be able to phone a Minister in another Department to ask for a planning application to be remitted? That is completely wrong. The Leader of the House should recommend to The Prime Minister that the hon. Member should go forthwith.

    I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman heard exactly what I said. I said that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, together with other local residents, had acted properly and within his rights as a private citizen in objecting to the proposed development. The matter was dealt with by the Department of the Environment in entirely the proper fashion and it decided not to stop the proposed development. I should have thought that that was a satisfactory outcome for all except the residents who objected.

    Reverting to the situation in Dover and other east Kent communities that are affected by the P and O industrial dispute, will my right hon. Friend take into account the possibility of persuading the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Employment to be ready to make a statement on this important matter next week? The situation is deteriorating, communities are deeply divided, and the right to work must be preserved by the Government, in accordance with the law if necessary.

    I agree with my hon. Friend; it is a disturbing situation. I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Employment. I am sure that they will not hesitate to make a statement in the House if they believe that to be the right course of action.

    The Secretary of State for Defence has been engaged in important discussions with the nuclear planning group in Brussels. Will he make a statement to the House next week on any decisions that were taken at that meeting?

    Has the Chairman of the Committee of Selection yet reported to the Leader of the House on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee and the inability of any—or enough—Conservative Members to sit on it? If that process has reached a dead end, is it possible to have a Joint Committee of both Houses, which would at least allow some scrutiny of the Scottish Office?

    The matter of the NATO meeting was raised with me through the usual channels and I have made inquiries about it. I shall check that the copy of the communiqué is available in the Library, as I believe it to be. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is not our normal practice to make statements after these meetings because of the confidential nature of the exchanges, but I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

    As I think most people know, I have now received a letter from the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, in which he reports that the Committee was unable to nominate members to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs when it met last week. When approached on that occasion, none of my hon. Friends who represent Scottish constituencies expressed a willingness to serve on the Committee. However, discussions are still continuing.

    I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that the Chinese Communist Government in Beijing is about to publish the Basic Law which will govern the future of Hong Kong after 1997. As there has been some suggestion that this House should not discuss that matter, can my right hon. Friend assure us that there will be a debate on Hong Kong before the summer recess?

    I cannot promise my hon. Friend that there will be a debate on Hong Kong before the summer recess, but I shall certainly refer the matter to the Foreign Secretary and have discussions with him about what would be most appropriate.

    I cut short my answer to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). I was going to say, in answer to a question that he did not ask me, that if he had asked for a debate I should have suggested that that matter be dealt with through the usual channels.

    Is the Leader of the House aware that he has fallen below his usual standards of full and frank explanation? Is it not a fact that next Thursday he intends to debate the land set-aside, stabilisers and cessation of farming draft regulations of the European Community aimed at reform of its agriculture policy, together with the agriculture price proposals for the whole of next year? Would it not have been better for the right hon. Gentleman to have made that plain?

    Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that by putting such a debate on the Adjournment he prevents the House from taking a view, if it so wishes, on any of these matters? By widening .the debate on the Adjournment, anything can be included in the subject, and that is a constitutional decision that could be of considerable importance to the House, now and in the future.

    I recognise the hon. Gentleman's wisdom in those matters. He will appreciate that there has been wide interest in the possibility of a general debate on agriculture matters. The proposals that I have announced are for the general convenience of the House. He will understand that those matters were the subject of discussion and agreement through the usual channels, but I am happy to have further discussions through the usual channels, if that is required.

    Will my right hon. Friend find time for the House to discuss the industrial action in the Inner London education authority, where an office workers' strike has meant that the special school bus drivers have been unable to take children to school, with the result that special school children are unable to exercise their right to full-time education, unless their parents can afford the taxi fares to take them?

    I recognise the anxiety of my hon. Friend and a number of his constituents over that matter, but I regret that I am unable to find time next week for a debate.

    Is the Leader of the House aware that the Ministry of Defence has just lost a long, hard battle against some of its own ex-service men? One and a quarter hours ago, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords ruled that British nuclear test veterans could sue for damage caused in the Pacific island tests. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that that will result in a flood of thousands of legal claims and years of litigation unless the Government set up a full and generous compensation scheme? May we have a debate on that matter next week?

    I have no idea whether the interpretation that the right hon. Gentleman puts on any decision that may have been made an hour and a quarter ago is correct, but I am sure that he will agree that it would not be for me to comment on something of that sort, which I have not even seen. However, I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

    Will my right hon. Friend say how he allocates time for debates on the regions of the United Kingdom or, as I should perhaps say, the various countries that make up the United Kingdom? Does he have the precise number of hours or days of debate for each part, or is it simply a matter of the business that has to be done?

    The process that the Leader of the House goes through is to seek to put a quart into a pint pot. One does one's best to meet the general wishes of the House. There was a time when the Opposition regularly initiated debates on the regions of the United Kingdom, but as prosperity now spreads steadily throughout the country as a result of the Government's policies, Opposition Members appear less enthusiastic about having such debates.

    It cannot have escaped the notice of the Leader of the House that today sees the opening of the garden festival in Glasgow, which is a significant event not just for the city but for the whole of Scotland. Would not this be an appropriate time to announce the possibility of a debate on tourism, which is very important to the economy of Scotland, enabling hon. Members to explore such issues as the transport infrastructure and the rating system?

    On the issue of the Scottish Select Committee, will the right hon. Gentleman advise the House whether he will afford an opportunity directly to the Scottish National party and to the Social and Liberal Democrats to offer their view on how matters may proceed?

    On the last point, the hon. Lady has not been shy in giving her advice to the House and to me on a number of occasions and I have a shrewd idea that I know, broadly speaking, how she would like to proceed on that matter. However, the matter of nomination to the Select Committee is not for me. It is a matter for the Committee of Selection. I shall draw the hon. Lady's views to its attention.

    I am sure that the hon. Lady is right to say what she did about the garden festival in Glasgow and to stress the importance of tourism, which could well be the subject of a useful debate, although I cannot promise her a debate in the immediate future.

    My right hon. Friend will know that last Sunday, together with many colleagues, I enjoyed watching the cup final at Wembley. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans). He owns a football club, but, if he had owned a racehorse, I would have been unable to see it race on a Sunday because of the inadequate laws of the land. When will we have a debate, supported by the Government, enabling horse racing to enjoy the same facilities as every other sport in the land?

    I shall never be free of the scars left by Sunday shopping Bills and allied matters. The Government would like to make progress on such matters, but it would not be sensible to start on that process until we were pretty sure that we had a bigger measure of agreement than exists.

    May we have a statement on the employment of Mr. Peter Luff as a special adviser to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry? He is classified as a full civil servant but is paid nothing by the Department, receiving his money direct from his employers, Good Relations. A statement is important since that lobbyist is employed at the heart of the Department of Trade and Industry by Good Relations, a company subject to an investigation by the self-same Department because of fraudulent activity during a takeover.

    I am sure that the arrangements made in respect of that special adviser have been made after proper consultation and inquiries, but I shall refer the matter to my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for 'Trade and Industry.

    I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be aware that the reports of Sir Roy Griffiths and Lady Wagner have aroused enormous and extremely well-informed discussion in many circles. It is essential that, before the Government make a definitive reply to those reports, they have the opportunity to hear from the House the wide range of opinions and ideas that they have generated. Is there any chance of an early debate on them?

    The reports are being considered by the Government and it would not be helpful for me to comment until appropriate consideration has taken place. However, I note my hon. Friend's suggestion, and I shall bear it in mind when we consider how best to proceed.

    Will the Leader of the House consider giving time next week for a debate on grandparents' rights in support of my early-day motion which has been signed by 261 hon. Members from both sides of the House? Why did the Government Whip object to the Second Reading of my Grandparents (Adoption of Children) Bill last Friday? Will he also look at the allegations made in the press this week about the drinking habits of Members of Parliament, and perhaps consider closing the press bars?

    It is not for me to comment on the second matter raised by the hon. Gentleman. On the first matter, the procedure for private Members' Bills is probably better understood by the hon. Gentleman than his rather naive approach to the question would lead us to believe. It would not be right for us to make a statement on that this week.

    Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 1022?

    [That this House notes that according to the BBC Annual Report 1986–87 the decision was taken not to proceed until after the General Election with production of Mr. Ian Curtis's The Falklands Play', and that in May the BBC is due to screen Mr. Charles Wood's play 'Tumbledown', a play of emotional pacification which emphasises the ghastly horrors of the fighting without once saving why the war had to be fought; and, in view of the BBC's obligation to be even handed over matters of controversy, calls on the BBC to proceed with production of 'The Falklands Play' at once.]

    Does he agree that, now that the BBC has decided to screen the play "Tumbledown" at the end of next month, it would be right and in the interests of balance to proceed with the production of "The Falklands Play"? Is he aware that yesterday the House of Lords had a useful and constructive debate on the responsibilities and duties of the BBC? Will my right hon. Friend either arrange for me to win the forthcoming ballot or arrange a debate in Government time on that matter?

    I was going to give my hon. Friend a helpful answer, but the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) wisely suggested that I had better not talk about ballots. I wish my hon. Friend the best luck in the world in the ballot, but it is not for me to interfere with that. Nor, indeed, is it for me to interfere with the BBC about the programmes that it shows. Such matters are best left to the BBC.

    May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1024 about the Nestle bid for a good British company—Rowntree?

    [That this House notes that under Swiss law it would be impossible for British chocolate and confectionery companies to take over Swiss-based companies; also notes the recent commendation by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the successful manufacturing and sales operation of Rowntree plc in tackling the European market; and believes that the 12,000 jobs in the company are threatened by the takeover bid by Nestlé and calls upon the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to refer the bid to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.]

    May we have an early debate on that matter because the largest private employer in my constituency is a Rowntree factory and there is deep concern that it will not be in the British interest for a foreigner to take over that company?

    There is a well established procedure for these matters. It falls to the Director General of Fair Trading to consider the proposal under the Fair Trading Act 1973 and to advise my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in the normal way on the question of a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. I am sure that it is in the best interests to proceed in the proper way.

    When my right hon. Friend considers whether to have a debate on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, will he bear in mind the fact that in Scotland I have been accused of being less than honourable in this matter and that as a result I am now required and forced to take action through the Scottish and United Kingdom courts to rectify it? That could, well have an effect on any debate that might take place because it would debar me effectively from stating my case properly and fully here.

    In reply to a question this afternoon, The Prime Minister referred to the communiqué from the nuclear planning group which she said would be about guidance on the modernisation of nuclear weapons. Nothwithstanding the reply that has already been given about a statement which might he made when the Secretary of State for Defence returns, does the Leader of the House agree that the communiqué is only about guidance because there is no agreement in NATO about the so-called modernisation plan? Does he therefore agree that it is appropriate that the House should not just hear a statement, but should have a debate to discuss whether the so-called modernisation might be necessary? Will he make early arrangements for such a debate?

    I recognise the hon. Lady's long-standing interest in these matters. However, my responsibility is to check that a copy of the communiqué is available in the Library so that hon. Members may look at it. It is not normal practice to make statements after these meetings because of the confidential nature of the exchanges. It would not be right to depart from that practice on this occasion.

    Will the Leader of the House consider the fact that the Secretary of State for Scotland is likely to be in Glasgow today and that, although we accept that he may come back with a bunch of flowers, he is much more likely to come back with a bunch of fives because the poll tax figure for Glasgow is £529? As this legislation will be implemented in Scotland in 1989, we need clear and accurate figures. We are much more likely to accept the figure of £529 given by a local government official than the £200-odd figure given by officials at the Scottish Office, whom we are beginning to distrust.

    Despite the alarms and excursions caused by the hon. Gentleman and other opponents of the new system in Scotland, it is proceeding steadily towards implementation on the planned timetable. As we have always intended, Scotland will enjoy the benefits of this important reform from 1 April 1989.

    Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate about county structure plans? The Gloucestershire county structure plan is causing a great deal of concern to my constituents and perhaps other county structure plans are causing similar problems elsewhere. Such plans are often based on the most flimsy statistical evidence. I hope that my right hon. Friend will find time for a debate on that issue.

    I am sure that there are many anxieties on that issue, and I am certain that we would have an interesting debate if I could find time for one. However, I cannot be too hopeful. Perhaps my hon. Friend will try his luck by raising this subject in an Adjournment debate.

    Would the right hon. Gentleman raise within Cabinet the need to renationalise British Telecom in view of its increasing incompetence? Is he aware that since last November there has been a persistent fault in the telephone in my flat nearly every single time that I have tried to ring it on 219 numbers and on no other numbers? Does he realise that a number of engineers have assured me the fault is not in the Grosvenor exchange and that the fault is not in the equipment here in the House? Will he accept from me that there is not much compensation in the fact that an engineer rang me at 11.40 this morning to ask if I could explain to him what the problem was?

    Since British Telecom seems absolutely flummoxed by this fault, would the right hon. Gentleman—I am being serious—consider sending in engineers into the special intercepting equipment that was provided in Whitehall a few years ago which allowed the interception of hon. Members' calls as well as a whole range of other calls throughout Whitehall? Is it not likely that that is where the fault is, and that these poor ordinary engineers do not know that the equipment exists?

    I suspect that the remedy that the hon. Gentleman proposes would be considerably worse than the disease that he has at the moment. I congratulate him on using the Floor of the House of Commons to give out his cry for help. I have no doubt that somebody more qualified than I will come to his assistance.

    Will the Leader of the House take time to read through the report of Northern Ireland Question Time today and perhaps consider giving us a longer time if hon. Members persist in asking questions that appear to be more directed towards the Foreign Secretary and the Attorney-General? In the light of the comments already made about the proposed broadcast this evening, will he consider giving time for a debate in the House soon on the role of the media in representing or reporting terrorism?

    How long to allocate for Question Time is an issue that is considered from time to time through the usual channels, and what the hon. Gentleman says is obviously one of the factors to be taken into consideration. I recognise also the importance of the other subject on which he wants a debate. While I agree that it is important, I do not believe that we can find time for a debate on it in the immediate future.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as a result of a rather curious court decision last week, the bones of Edward, martyr and King of England, may reside not in Shaftesbury abbey, in my constituency, where they have rested for hundreds of years, but in Woking, in Surrey? Will he find time in the parliamentary week to allow me to put the case that these bones, belonging to a one-time King of England, should reside in Shaftesbury, where they belong?

    I should be interested to hear further on this subject from my hon. Friend and I would have thought that an Adjournment debate was designed for raising subjects of this importance.

    Has the Leader of the House seen the early-day motion on the P and O dispute headed by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and others and signed by 136 Labour Members of Parliament calling for a debate on this critical issue? Is he aware that Jeffrey Sterling, the P and O boss, was employed by the Government when the trade union legislation was going through the House? Is he also aware that the company has contributed about £100,000 to Tory party funds? If anybody's funds should be sequestrated, it should be those of P and O for its role in the Zeebrugge disaster, and not those of the National Union of Seamen.

    I reject entirely the disgraceful remarks that the hon. Gentleman made, using the privilege of the House to abuse somebody outside the House who cannot defend himself. The established service scheme is a voluntary arrangement and the decision of an individual shipping company to withdraw from the scheme is a matter for the company and the Merchant Navy establishment administration, and does not involve the Government. The Department of Transport safety regulations apply irrespective of how crews have been recruited. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has asked his surveyors to ensure that normal practices are followed in checking crew certification and witnessing safety drills for P and O's cross-Channel ferries.

    Last week, I asked the Leader of the House a question about the need for an urgent debate on matters affecting London. Will he consider once again the need for a special debate on London which can encompass the many problems faced by health authorities as a result of staff shortages—because of low pay, lack of accommodation and amalgamation of health authorities—the increasing planning and traffic problems of London—caused by the lack of support for public transport—and increasing underfunding of many voluntary and social agencies which are trying to deal with the housing crisis that thousands of Londoners face? Since the abolition of the GLC and any form of democratic government across London, these problems have got worse, and it is in this House that this matter must be raised and debated. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an early date for a debate?

    I reject most of what the hon. Gentleman says. Nevertheless, I thought that I had given him a reasonably encouraging reply last week when I said that I recognised that it would be appropriate to have a debate on London, and that I would find an opportunity, I hoped in the not-too-distant future, for a debate. I cannot be any more forthcoming this week than I was last week.

    As The Prime Minister has claimed sole responsibility for modifying the social security regulations, and virtually denied any responsibility for the mishap that occurred, will there be an opportunity for other Ministers to reply to that in the House of Commons? Is not the Leader of the House somewhat worried that the contempt that The Prime Minister has shown towards the Secretary of State for Social Services, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary, all within two weeks, will be shown towards him in due course?

    I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is trying to be helpful, but it would be better if he listened to what my right hon. Friend The Prime Minister said, which was that the Government had come to a decision, and we were congratulated by the Leader of the Opposition on that decision.

    May we have a debate on the removal by the Government of the discretion previously given to local authorities to provide free milk for all children in special schools? Is the Leader of the House aware that in Greenacres school, in my constituency. the majority of the children no longer receive free milk and the devoted staff in that school, which I visited this morning, and in all other special schools throughout the country, are appalled at this squalid, mean and nasty act?

    The House continually discusses the priorities of how public money should be spent, but I cannot promise the hon. and learned Gentleman a debate in the next week or so.

    I refer the Leader of the House to the issue raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley)—the announcement of the judgment in the other place relating to the nuclear test veterans. I found his answer disappointing, if I heard it correctly. My right hon. Friend referred to the need for a judicial review and to establish a major compensation fund, and the need to debate those issues. Can the Leader of the House work out how long it is since a debate was held in Government time? Will he accept that since the war, Governments, of whatever political persuasion, have treated these young men and women shabbily? They gave the prime of their life to the service of their country, and their terrible inheritance is visited not only upon them but upon their sons arid daughters and their grandsons and granddaughters. We need to discuss this subject. Therefore, will the Leader of the House reconsider his answer to my right hon. Friend?

    I did not say that we should not debate these important issues. We should read the judgment, think about it and decide what we should say before opening our mouths. That is a reasonable proposition, and one that I have enunciated from the Dispatch Box.

    Given what the Leader of the House said about leaving it to the programme makers to decide what is shown and what is not shown, will he find time next week for a debate on the gross political interference by the Foreign Secretary, who attempted to browbeat the IBA and prevent the showing tonight of the "This Week" programme on the killings in Gibraltar? Does he understand that on both sides of the House there is increasing distaste with the regular attempts by the Government to interfere with the editorial independence and integrity of the broadcasters?

    The hon. Gentleman speaks on home affairs for his party. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary pointed out to the chairman of the IBA the dangers of allowing to be shown a programme that interviews potential witnesses at the Gibraltar coroner's inquest, which is to be held under the proper law later this year. That the hon. Gentleman expresses no concern about the interference that could happen to a proper carriage of justice in these matters I find very disappointing.

    Has the Leader of the House had a chance to read the publication entitled "Westminster's dirty dozen, the real face of Conservatives in local government"? It is about the activities of Lady Porter, the leader of Westminster council, and the policies pursued under her administration. I am sure that the Leader of the House knows Lady Porter, who is a sub-Thatcherite without The Prime Minister's low cunning.

    The Government are always ready to interfere in the affairs of town halls and to inspire debates about local government. In view of that, may we have an early debate on the real scandal of Conservative local government in Westminster, perhaps in the context of a London-wide debate, if not about Westminster specifically? We should like to be able to address our attention to the scandal of the sale of three graveyards in Westminster for 15p which Lady Porter now trying to buy back for millions at the cost of Westminster's ratepayers. If that was a Labour-controlled council, there would be an unstoppable demand by Conservative Members for an early debate to surcharge its councillors. Let us have a bit of justice in the House.

    It would not be right to debate this matter in the House at this time. It is not entirely a matter for me. If the hon. Gentleman would like to have a word with his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench, perhaps he could persuade them to use an Opposition day for such a debate. The matters about which the hon. Gentleman has spoken are serious and will be properly dealt with in accordance with the rules and laws of this country.

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Early in business questions the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) specifically stated that the national executive of the Labour party had passed a motion that supported the use of violence in the P and O industrial dispute in Dover. Thirteen members of the national executive committee of the Labour party are Members of this House. The motion about which the hon. Member for Dover spoke was moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and seconded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). It must surely be out of order for any hon. Member falsely to accuse 13 hon. Members of advocating the use of violence in industrial disputes when they have patently not done so. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will rule that the hon. Member for Dover must apologise.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is only a few days since you said that you wanted better standards in the House. The most baseless accusation had been made by the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw), and surely it is right and proper that he should be forced to apologise. If he is allowed to get away with what he said—which was totally untrue—then surely the wish that you expressed for better standards will go unheeded. The hon. Member for Dover, who does not seem to be here—[HON. MEMBERS:"He is."]—should have the guts immediately to apologise.

    Order. The Chair cannot be held responsible for what hon. Members say in the House, provided that what they say is in order. I have no knowledge as to the truth or untruth of any of the comments that are made. The comment by the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) was not particularly helpful, but there are other parliamentary ways to deal with the matter.

    It seems to me, Mr. Speaker, that the logic of your ruling is that if I were to say at the Dispatch Box at this minute that I thought that members of the Government were lining their pockets that would be out of order, but that if I were to say that they were using their offices in order to benefit their own ends I would remain in order. I should be grateful if you would give further consideration to this matter.

    We have rules in the House that the Chair will always enforce. We also have conventions, one of which is that we do not refer to each other in uncomplimentary terms. I accept that what the hon. Member for Dover said was highly controversial, but it is not within my power to force him to withdraw. Allegations are frequently made in the House—some were made during business questions—but I cannot adjudicate on whether they are right or wrong.

    As one of those traduced by the allegations made by the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw), may I say that I and my hon. Friends find ourselves in a particular difficulty. We are precluded by well understood rules enforced by you, Mr. Speaker, from accusing the hon. Gentleman of uttering that falsehood. We cannot accuse him of perpetrating a lie. That means that we are precluded from resisting and refusing to accept that false allegation. Therefore, we have no alternative but to ask you to protect us.

    It seems that where a clearly false statement has been made it would be at least as unacceptable to the House, and surely to you, Mr. Speaker, if we were to respond by describing that false statement as a lie. Is it possible for you to ensure that that false statement is withdrawn and its falsity acknowledged?

    Order. I cannot be held responsible for deciding whether what is said in the Chamber is true or false. I have no knowledge of any resolutions passed today. Every hon. Member must take responsibility for what he says. There are other parliamentary ways for this matter to be dealt with if that is considered necessary. [Interruption.] Order. I do not think that it can be dealt with through the Chair.

    Further to that point of order, Sir. It is in the knowledge of the House—[Interruption.]—if I can get a word in. It is in the knowledge of the House that a few moments ago you reprimanded my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) for a mild quip about The Prime Minister, but the honourable—in quotes—Gentleman on the other side reflected on the honour of some of my colleagues. That is an entirely different matter, Sir, and we have to ask you please to protect Members on this side when they are accused of dishonourable activities, as was the case a few moments ago.

    It is not a matter for me, but if the hon. Member for Dover felt able to clarify the matter it might help the whole House.

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do not these points of order from the Opposition portray a little sensitivity on this matter of violence in picketing? Would not the way out be for you to consult the Leader of the House so that we might have a debate next week in which the Opposition can clear up this ambiguity about violence on the picket lines?

    I should like to raise a separate matter with you, Mr. Speaker——

    I should like to raise a point of order on a separate matter concerning the Economic League. I regret having to raise this matter further with you.

    Order. The hon. Gentleman has written to me further on this matter as a matter of privilege. He knows that, following the decision of the House on 6 February 1978, these matters may not be raised with me in the House. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to await my further reply to his letter.

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have listened to what the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen have said about these accusations, and I am inclined to think that the hon. Member who made them is definitely a liar.

    Order. The hon. Gentleman knows he cannot make such allegations in the Chamber against another hon. Member. We are all honourable Members here. I accept that what the hon. Member for Dover said was not particularly helpful. I drew attention to it at the time. I cannot be held responsible for what he has said; that is a matter for him.

    If I cannot say that the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) is a liar, are you suggesting that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen who were the subject of those accusations are liars? They have defended their actions and stated quite clearly and categorically that what the hon. Member for Dover said was definitely untrue. I should like to have your interpretation, Mr. Speaker, of who is telling the truth and who is not telling the truth and who should withdraw his statement and who should not.

    I have already said that it would be helpful if the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) were to get us out of this difficulty so that we might move on.

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware of the question that I put to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House during business questions. The reason I put my question in that manner was that, quite properly, having listened to your ruling, I adjudged that the hon. Member who had accused me of cheating did so in a form and in a manner for which I could take him to court, and I am doing so. He did that outside the House.

    I have taken the necessary precautions. I believe that this is the correct way to proceed. One must look at the correct procedures for dealing with these matters, and not use up the time of the House, as has been happening, on matters that can be dealt with in other ways.

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not make any judgments about what my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) said or about the views of those on the national executive of the Labour party, but is it in order for the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), from a sedentary position, to shout, "Liar"? Surely it would be appropriate—we all heard him—for him to withdraw it.

    All kinds of allegations of untruths are alleged in this Chamber even this afternoon. I did not hear the comment. I have already dealt with the question of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), who raised the use of the word. The House should reflect carefully on allegations made across the Chamber. The comment of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) was not helpful, but it was made in a general sense and was not an allegation against individual hon. Members. I have no authority to force him to withdraw it. It would have been helpful for the whole House if he had felt able to do so.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Opposition Members do not challenge your ruling, but many of us find it a revelation that we would rather not have found. Thirteen of my right hon. and hon. Friends are accused of supporting violence. It is a totally false allegation, and that fact is provable by the text of the resolution to which the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) referred. It was not a generalised accusation. It was a specific allegation about the national executive of the Labour party.

    If the rules of the House do not allow you to get an apology out of the hon. Member for Dover, the customs of the House require the Tory Whips, who are so famous for their discipline, to get an apology out of him. Having voted last week to take disciplinary action against a Labour party Member in support of the rules, customs and practices of the House, Opposition Members will feel bitterly let down if the Conservative party does not apply the same standards to its own Members.

    Let me finally deal with this matter. Again I say, in view of the exchanges, it would have been helpful if the hon. Member for Dover had felt able to say something. I entirely accept what the Shadow Leader of the House said about the integrity of his colleagues. I hope that we can now move on.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that we do not use the word "liar", because we work on the basis that we are honourable Members, however much we may disagree with each other. Even if he did not know it at the time, the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) must now know that his statement was a lie. In the circumstances——

    There are some points on which I may be able to help the House. There is a question mark over the point that I made earlier, insofar as I referred, I think, to the Labour party and its general support following [he motion that was passed.

    In view of the fact that at least two hon. Members are on the picket line at the moment and, as I understand it, are encouraging the very acts to which I referred earlier, I would not feel that I could wholly withdraw. I believe it to be a true statement in defence of my constituents and their interests. Nevertheless, if the national executive of the Labour party withdraws the motion that it passed yesterday, I might be in a position to reconsider next week.

    Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have just heard a disgraceful attempt to inflame a quite unnecessarily difficult situation brought about by the false statement that was made by the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw). His statement levelled an accusation in terms at the national executive of the Labour party, of which I am a member, and accused us of passing a resolution that supported the use of violence.

    I know the terms of that resolution. Its terms are available to any hon. Member who cares to read them. Within 10 seconds the resolution can be handed to any hon. Member who cares to check it. It has been widely circulated and published in the press. I invite the hon. Gentleman to take this copy and to find within its terms any phrase or word that will support a scintilla of what he has said. His was a deliberate and false allegation, which he has not only failed to withdraw but compounded with further insult.

    I cannot believe, Mr. Speaker, that you can tolerate that type of behaviour, and I call upon you to protect the rights of the House to proper and decent standards.

    I am deeply disappointed that the hon. Member for Dover did not feel able to clarify what he said. He must take responsibility for it.

    The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) has made the whole matter worse. He said that two hon. Members are in Dover encouraging illegal actions. He made that claim without any evidence whatsoever. If we are to maintain this business of our being honourable Members, it is an outrage for the hon. Gentleman to say that two hon. Members are outside the House condoning illegal action. That is an example of double standards, and the hon. Gentleman should be made to withdraw his dishonest, discreditable and calumnious statement

    Order. It is a disappointing result to the points of order. I am not responsible for anything that goes on outside the House. I am not responsible for anything that the hon. Member for Dover says—I wish that I were.

    Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) has made two statements that he knows to be untrue. They have been fully refuted by the Opposition Members against whom he made the allegation. You have quite clearly asked him to withdraw the statement, and he has quite clearly refused to do so. The House is now entitled to know what action you intend to take in respect of the hon. Member's behaviour this afternoon to ensure that there is some consistency in the treatment of hon. Members.

    I did not ask him to withdraw it. I called him, because I hoped that he would make a helpful explanation to the House to enable us to move on. We should now move on.

    Ballot For Notices Of Motions For Monday 16 May

    Members successful in the ballot were:

    • Mr. Sydney Chapman
    • Sir Fergus Montgomery
    • Mr. Stanley Orme

    The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) made an allegation about my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer), because they are the two Members who are on the picket line in Dover, as indeed will be a large number of Opposition Members as long as the dispute lasts. That is a perfectly legitimate action for them to be taking. The hon. Member for Dover has linked those two Members with the story that appeared on the front page of the Evening Standard. That is what he said, and that is a disgraceful and unacceptable thing for any Member to say about two other hon. Members. Everyone in the House knows that, whatever may be said about my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield and my hon. Friend the Member for Walton, they would not in any way be associated with the sort of disgraceful action that was reported in the Evening Standard. For all we know that door in Dover might have been daubed by an Evening Standard reporter in order to get a story, because that is the way such people normally go about inciting the sort of troubles that the Member for Dover comes here to talk about.

    We cannot allow our right hon. and hon. Friends to be so scurrilously attacked by the hon. Member for Dover and must ask you yet again, Mr. Speaker, to insist that the hon. Member for Dover withdraws his remarks and apologises to the House. If he does not, Mr. Speaker, you must name him, because what he has done is as grave a discourtesy and an insult as anything that has happened here in recent weeks.

    I am most grateful to you, Sir. You will know that most of us in the House—indeed, I would say the whole Chamber, with one or two exceptions—have great admiration for your Speakership and always respond when you make a request that we should withdraw a comment or correct some improper word. Nearly every hon. Member does that. In this unfortunate case, you have made an appeal to the so-called honourable Member and he has not had the guts, the courage or the honesty to respond to it. Unfortunately, I cannot call him an honourable liar, but—we are surrounded by honourable Members this afternoon—I can call him an honourable shit.

    Order. The hon. Member cannot do that; it offends in every possible way. Kindly withdraw, if not the "honourable", the last word, which I will not repeat.

    With my rich vocabulary I could think of two or three worse words, Mr. Speaker, but to oblige you I will withdraw the word "shit". There are lots of other words that would suitably apply to the hon. Gentleman.

    Why is it so difficult to find a truth in this House when it appears so easy to hide an untruth?

    Order. I sought to give the hon. Member an opportunity to correct this matter in order that we could move on. I am sorry that what he said really compounded the problem rather than offered a solution to it.

    Statutory Instruments, Etc

    Ordered,

    That the draft Housing Defects (Reinstatement Grant) (Amendment of Conditions for Assistance) Order 1988 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Ryder.]

    Orders Of The Day

    Copyright, Designs And Patents Bill Lords

    Order for Second Reading read.

    4.35 pm

    The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of Trade and Industry
    (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)