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Business Of The House

Volume 132: debated on Thursday 28 April 1988

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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.]