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Business Of The House

Volume 175: debated on Thursday 28 June 1990

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4.22 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Sir Geoffrey Howe)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.

MONDAY 2 JULY—Estimates day (1st Allotted Day, 2nd part). There will be a debate on assistance to eastern Europe. Details of the estimates concerned and the relevant Select Committee report will be given in the Official Report.

Ways and Means resolution relating to the Finance Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

TUESDAY 3 JULY—Opposition day (17th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Crisis in our Schools". Afterwards there will be a debate on Housing. Both debates arise on Opposition motions.

Motion on the Education (Student Loans) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 4 JULY—There will be a debate on the Arts and Heritage on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 5 JULY—Motion on the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order.

FRIDAY 6 JULY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 9 JULY—Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Social Security Bill.

Relevant document, Monday 2 July: Third Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee of Session 1989–90 on FCO/ODA Expenditure 1990–91 (House of Commons Paper No. 233).

May I warmly thank the Leader of the House for providing time for a debate on the arts and heritage—a debate for which we have been asking for some time? I express my gratitude to the Leader of the House for announcing that the debate will take place.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the position of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill? It is obvious that there will be insufficient time to consider it in this Session unless it is drastically altered. I concede that discussion of it to date has shown that there may be room for major changes, but, given the shortage of time and the pressure for major change, would it not be far more sensible to withdraw the Bill, have it rewritten and introduced again in the next Session, when there would be a large measure of agreement not only about its contents but about its rate of progress through the House?

A number of local authorities had lawfully to fix their poll taxes in April. They have subsequently been poll tax-capped by the Government and will retrospectively have to make major changes to their budgets and therefore to their expenditure and their ability to deliver services to many hundreds of thousands of people. Why have we still not had any indication of when the Government intend to bring those poll tax capping orders to the House for debate? I emphasise to the Leader of the House that the Opposition believe that it is very important that adequate time be given to debate orders that affect 20 local authorities.

I thank the Leader of the House for trying to find proper accommodation for Mr. Nelson Mandela to address hon. Members when he comes here next week. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has tried, but I would like to ask him to try again, to secure suitable accommodation for Mr. Mandela's address. When I was in the United States, I saw Mr. Mandela address the Senate and the House of Representatives jointly on the floor of the Congress. I am not suggesting that Mr. Mandela should be invited into this Chamber—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—but will the Leader of the House consider whether Mr. Mandela should be invited to address us in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords? That would be an appropriate and fitting setting for an historic occasion at which many hon. Members on both sides of the House—this is not a party political point—and other people in Parliament would wish to be present. Will the Leader of the House consider that again?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's welcome for my announcement of the debate on Wednesday, in which my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts will have a chance to give an account of his substantial achievements.

I listened yet again to what the hon. Gentleman said about the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill. It is currently making progress in Standing Committee. It received a Second Reading with a substantial Government majority, and I believe that it should continue to make progress in Committee.

The hon. Gentleman was right to observe that I made no announcement about the charge-capping orders today. As I have said more than once, the question of a debate on the orders is best left to discussion through the usual channels.

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman said about the endeavour to find a suitable place in which Mr. Nelson Mandela may be invited to address hon. Members of both Houses. However, I am afraid that I cannot accept his suggestions. As he knows, there is a great difference between the traditional availability of invitations to speak in the Royal Gallery, which are seldom extended, and invitations to speak to both Houses of Congress in the Senate. A comparison between the two is not appropriate.

Order. I ask hon. Members to confine themselves to one question about the business for next week. I would like to call on the next statement at 4.50 pm.

I want to raise a matter that is important to Londoners. Miss Constance Scrafield, who was prosecuted for allegedly galloping in Richmond park, brought a petition to me on her horse this week asking for new regulations about cantering in royal parks in London. May we have a debate on that subject so that people are not persecuted for allegedly galloping?

I have not received many representations on that point, but I shall give it the attention that it properly deserves.

One of the functions of this House is to monitor public expenditure. As a report of the Energy Select Committee published yesterday gave one of the most damning indictments of Ministers for a long time on the costs of nuclear power, may we have a debate in Government time on that important issue? Sir William Wallace, who sought freedom from oppression for his people against alien oppression, spoke in Westminster Hall. Would not that be an appropriate place for a speech by Mr. Nelson Mandela?

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make his view known on the second point, but I am not prepared to agree with him. On the Energy Select Committee report, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has already replied clearly and vigorously to the comments made in that report, and that should be sufficient for the time being.

In the light of the response of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food earlier on the export of live animals, the failure of the unelected European Commission to observe the wishes and recommendations of the Members of the European Parliament expressed in their submissions to the Council of Ministers and the strong feelings of the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association and the all-party animal welfare group of the House on the export of live animals, will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate in the House so that we can send a clear message to the Council of Ministers reflecting the feeling in the House?

I am not sure that I can offer the prospect of an early debate on the matter. As my hon. Friend knows, unilateral action on the matter would not necessarily be compatible with the European Communities treaties. Certainly it will be one of our objectives to ensure the introduction in all member states of measures which would achieve higher standards of care than those which currently prevail.

Has the Leader of the House seen all-party early-day motion No. 1096?

[That this House notes that the drug Erythropoietin, EPO, that can greatly improve the lives of kidney patients may be denied to some of them because of financial pressures in the area in which they happen to live; and calls upon the Government to make a thorough assessment of the benefits of the drug and, if appropriate, to ensure that it is equally available to all kidney patients who would benefit from its use.]

Will he find time for an early debate on the denial of Government funds for the use of the drug?

The assessment of the benefits of EPO is a matter for the clinicians involved. The current way forward is for each region to assess patients' requirements for the drug and make appropriate plans to ensure that those needs are met. Our reforms of the national health service will make it easier for treatment to be made available in that way.

During the debate on Northern Ireland on Thursday, will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland give the House an update on his talks with political parties and in Dublin about future political initiatives in the Province?

I understand my hon. Friend's interest in that matter. The debate next Thursday will be extensive in terms of time. It would not be proper for me to anticipate what my right hon. Friend will say.

My question is also on Thursday's business. Will there be a full answer on the letter that the Prime Minister received on 10 June from Mr. Colin Wallace which contained a document which may well have been a smear? The document was typed by Mr. Christopher Whitehead, currently head of public relations for the prison service. It linked Charles Haughey with the IRA. May we have a full explanation of that letter of 10 June?

I cannot possibly answer that question. The fact that the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter on the Floor of the House today will undoubtedly be taken into account by those of my hon. Friends who speak in the debate.

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that on Monday night we had just three hours to debate the forthcoming police housing allowances and that many hon. Members failed to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. Many topics were discussed. Surely that demonstrates the need for a debate on the subject as soon as possible and, in particular, on some of the other topics raised, including the amalgamation of the police forces and the introduction of a national detective force. Those issues should be debated in the House because important decisions will soon be made that will affect every citizen in the country. It is important that we should debate the matter before the recess.

I know that the House debated the regulations on Monday night, and the debate ended in a substantial majority in support of the Government's proposals. However, that is no reason for me not to accept the proposition that I should recommend my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to consider those topics.

The Lord President will know that I would welcome a statement next Thursday about setting up a Northern Ireland Select Committee. However, in view of the speculation that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland intends to make a definitive statement during the renewal debate, would it not be wiser to circulate a detailed document to the leaders of the parties with which he has been in consultation so that there could be a considered response rather than off-the-cuff remarks in such a debate?

The question of a Northern Ireland Select Committee is under consideration by the Select Committee on Procedure, and it can be raised in the course of next week's debate. It would not be right for me to try to inhibit the way in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland approaches the important matters that he is discussing.

Will the Leader of the House give further serious consideration to where Mr. Mandela will speak when he visits the House next week? Does he recognise that, when Mr. Mandela has visited Parliaments in Europe and elsewhere, he has been given every possible facility and hospitality, and that the Grand Committee Room is not an appropriate venue, whereas the Royal Gallery is? Why on earth are the Government adopting an attitude that must be regarded as a snub to one of the most distinguished and heroic figures in southern Africa, who has spent more than 25 years in prison for fighting for the liberation of his country?

I do not mean to say anything that does not accord proper respect to Mr. Nelson Mandela, his achievements or his aspirations, but the fact must be faced that many Heads of State and Governments would have sought to address both Houses in the Royal Gallery, and only a small number of such people have ever been invited to speak there.

Order. May I say to the whole House—and not to any hon. Member in particular—that those who are called last at business questions one week are always called first the next week?

I refer the Lord President to his answer to me last week in relation to the Government's proposed changes in private Bill procedure. He was kind enough to say that he has published a consultation document—I am not entirely sure whether it was a Green Paper, a White Paper, a pink paper or a peach paper. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that three private Bills of a political nature are before the House at the moment—the Associated British Ports Bill, the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill and the Clyde Port Authority Bill? Would it not be appropriate, given the Government's intention to change the law in relation to private Bills and how they are operated in the House, to have an early debate on the subject so that the entire House can comment on those proposals?

The whole House is invited to comment on the proposals: that is precisely why the consultation document has been published. I shall look forward to reading representations and observations from any hon. Member who wishes to let me have them.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1152, on the destruction of the ozone layer?

[That this House, in view of the overwhelming scientific evidence of increasing ozone depletion and the unforeseeable consequences for the health of the planet and all life on it, urges the Government, at the environmental conference in London from 27th–29th June on the 1987 Montreal Protocol, to support a total phase-out of all ozone destroying compounds in the immediate future.]
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure the House that there will be a statement next week by the Secretary of State for the Environment, so that hon. Members can find out what he has been doing, and whether he has been pressing for the rapid phasing out of all substances that damage the ozone layer, especially in view of the scientific evidence that has been produced to show greater destruction and damage than was previously thought to exist? The Government's phasing-out date—the year 2000—simply is not adequate. We need more action, and a report from the Secretary of State to demonstrate that he has undertaken some action.

I expect that the House will appreciate that the Government are indeed committed to the ultimate phasing out of ozone-depleting substances at the fastest possible speed that can be agreed globally. During the renegotiation of the Montreal protocol at the second meeting, the European Community made proposals for the control of CFCs that are tougher than those of any other country. I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the suggestion that he should make a statement on the outcome of those proceedings, but obviously I cannot commit him.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 1200?

[That this House expresses its deep disquiet that 29 surviving former Labour Lambeth councillors, who have already been disqualified for five years and who have already paid over £300,000 in surcharge and costs, have again been surcharged for £212,726 and are sought to be disqualified for a further five years; deplores an unprecedented double penalty imposed for the same conduct which was penalised five years ago; and calls for the immediate remission of these further penalties and a reform of the Law which discriminates against councillors as compared with other public representatives and infringes the civil liberties of those who seek election.]
It has been tabled today and it concerns Lambeth councillors and the second surcharge and disqualification from office imposed on them. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there should be a report or a debate on this matter because Lambeth councillors have already been surcharged £300,000 and been subject to a five-year ban from public office? For the same offence, those councillors have been penalised another five years and subject to another £213,000 surcharge. That treatment must be contrasted with the way in which Lady Porter and her gang at the Tory Westminster council got away with the £5 million land deal fiddle, and with the £44 million of sweeteners from the Government in the Rover sale. Surely, if such treatment applies to one group of people, it should apply to another. The surcharge and the ban from public office placed on the Lambeth councillors should be lifted.

The hon. Gentleman does not find it easy to understand that there are due processes of law for consideration of all those matters. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will be answering questions this afternoon about the response to the ruling of the European Commission in relation to Rover.

As for the Lambeth councillors, the surcharge and disqualification of councillors are matters for the auditor and the courts. I cannot make any comment in that particular case. The matter must be resolved through the courts, not through debate in this House.

May we have an early debate on the latest example of the savaging of the national health service in Leicestershire—the closure of five wards, including children's wards, in the Leicester royal infirmary and the imminent redundancy of 167 people employed at the hospital announced by the management to the unions of that hospital yesterday? Is the Leader of the House aware that all hon. Members representing Leicestershire are deeply disturbed at the effect that the cuts in the health service are having and are likely to have on the health of our people? This matter should be debated in the House.

I have the impression that the topic has been drawn to my attention in a number of different ways on more than one occasion by hon. Members on both sides of the House. My response is the same as my previous ones: there has been a general increase in real terms in the resources available to the relevant Leicestershire health authority.

I draw to the attention of the Leader of the House early-day motion 1196 on the loss of the MV Derbyshire.

[That this House calls on the Secretary of State for Transport, using powers vested in him by the Merchant Shipping Act 1970, to re-open the Wreck Commissioner's inquiry into the loss in 1980 of MV 'Derbyshire' to hear vital new scientific research on why that British-built, British-classed and British-flagged vessel sank without trace; notes that the research now with the Royal Institution of Naval Architects was carried out by the late Professor Richard Bishop, Vice Chancellor Brunel University and his partners, Professor Geraint Price and Pendari Temarel; further notes that their research indicates that the stresses in the hull of the 'Derbyshire' were grossly underestimated; believes this has important implications for the safety of other vessels still at sea; and notes the Wreck Commissioner's report into the loss of the 'Derbyshire' said last year that if the stresses in the hull of the ship had been underestimated, that could lead to different conclusions about the structural integrity of the ship.]
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the new scientific evidence has been brought forward? Is he aware that there is widespread concern in the public domain about the fact that, 10 years ago, the families affected were treated shoddily? The Government have made no attempt to consider the new evidence recently produced.

Will the Leader of the House bring to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport the need for a debate as soon as possible on the MV Derbyshire so that the House can hear the new available evidence?

I understand that the court of formal investigation into the loss of the MV Derbyshire reported as long ago as January 1989 and that no fresh evidence has been presented to the Department of Transport since then. My right hon. Friend will study the research material to which the hon. Gentleman referred once that becomes available to him. In the light of his examination, he will decide what steps may be appropriate.

I am most grateful, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this place. You will recall that, last week, you said that those who were not called would be given the first opportunity to put questions to the Leader of the House today. Apparently, I am the last one on the Opposition Benches to put a question to the Leader of the House, and I accept that as some sort of compliment.

I may be short in stature, but I am not short in principle, I hope.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a special debate next week on GEC-Ferranti of Edinburgh? Many of the employees are worried because they are losing their jobs. Such job losses may occur repeatedly throughout Britain, but it is important that we have a debate on this issue bearing in mind the fact that the favoured son of the Tory party, Lord Weinstock, has taken over Ferranti. Will the Government be quiet, or will they speak up to allow the Opposition to have a go at them? The issue at stake is 550 jobs—550 families. The people of Scotland are concerned. If this place means anything and enables us to challenge issues, the Government should allow the debate to take place. I suspect, however, that the Leader of the House will make some excuse for not having a debate.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, decisions of that nature are commercial ones for the company or companies concerned. No doubt my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is aware of the issue to which he has drawn attention, but I cannot offer the prospect of a debate on it.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that important discussions are taking place in the Department of Trade and Industry on a new regime connected with export credits? Is he aware that that is of considerable interest to a number of industrial firms in my constituency? Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that, before any final decision is taken on such important, critical matters, it will have an opportunity to debate them?

I understand the continuing importance of export credit guarantee schemes. I cannot offer the certain prospect of a debate on the matter, but if my hon. Friend seeks to represent the views of the firms in his constituency I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take them into account.

Bearing in mind today's remaining business, can my right hon. and learned Friend say whether he has had any suggestion from the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) that he will seek an opportunity to come to the House to apologise for the appalling, unfounded statements he has made to the effect that the Government illegally assisted British Aerospace through changes in the taxation system that would have been wholly outside the law of the land?