HC Deb 13 January 1987 vol 108 cc142-6
The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Cartwright

Does the Prime Minister agree that in the present appalling weather we should be concerned, not only about the elderly, but about the growing number of homeless young people, of whom there are literally hundreds living rough in London alone, with council housing and private rented housing denied to them? What hope can the Government give to that growing band of homeless youngsters?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, there are a large number of council houses vacant, including some in London. Some have been vacant for over a year and one would hope that they will soon be used to house those who need them. There are legislative provisions for dealing with homelessness which bear on the duties of local authorities.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Will my right hon. Friend find time in her busy day to congratulate Crosfield Electronics in my constituency on having trebled its turnover from £60 million to nearly £200 million in three years, breaking into Japan with about 35 per cent. of the market, and having 35 per cent. of the European market and 35 per cent. of the American market, won against local competition, for computer-aided technology? Is that not a great achievement?

The Prime Minister

I know the factory to which my hon. Friend refers. I visited it about a year ago, when my hon. Friend was present. It is an impressive firm with extremely impressive achievements which have been of great benefit to its people and to the whole of Britain. I congratulate the company and wish it well in the future.

Mr. Steel

Further to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), will the Prime Minister recognise that the charity Crisis at Christmas had a record number of young homeless to deal with this Christmas at its soup kitchens and shelters? If, as the right hon. Lady says, there is housing available in London, will she take the time to go and look at the cardboard city on the south bank, and will she ask her Ministers to take action on the issue, which is a growing scandal?

The Prime Minister

I join the right hon. Gentleman in congratulating the charity Crisis at Christmas, which is helped by an enormous number of people. It ran a very impressive and helpful operation which brought joy to many people. In London about 28,000 homes are empty and 10,000 of them are vacant for more than a year. That has been a problem for several years and from time to time I read out the number of empty houses. Some of them are being done up for new tenants; others seem to have been empty for a very long time.

Mr. Kinnock

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is imperative that the House has the opportunity to debate the subject of severe weather payments, because thousands of people, including the constitiuents of Conservative Members. are at risk and are desperate to be able to maintain heating in their homes. [Interruption.] There is a crisis of cold in Britain that affects many old and poor people and it is not changed by the announcement that we have heard this afternoon. [Interruption.] This House must attend to that subject and I therefore want to inform you, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I may have lost my voice, but I want to be able to hear what is being said.

Mr. Kinnock

For those reasons, Mr. Speaker, I want to inform you that tomorrow the Opposition intend to devote the whole of their Opposition day to debates on the condition of the old and the cold, and the problem of fuel poverty, which will endure much longer than the validity of today's announcement and still leave a basic crisis of poverty and loneliness to be answered. We shall, of course, return quickly to the failure of the Government's eonomic policies. However, anyone who knows of the fear which is now gripping so many thousands of our old people in this country must recognise the primacy of this issue for consideration by this House.

Mr. Biffen

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In many parts of the House there will be an appreciation of the topicality of the subject that has been chosen for tomorrow. I should like also to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the indication that there will be a debate on the economy because this House, especially Conservative Members, have a vested interest in that subject being debated as early as possible and in as much depth as possible. Therefore, I undertake to do my best to see that a day is made available.

Mr. Frank Cook

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I simply ask you to contrast the reception that was given to the Leader of the House as against that given to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Conway

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the fact that the Leader of the Opposition simply wants to run away from the economic debate, and should not the House be aware that on 2 December the Opposition were not even here for the debate.—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a matter for me.

Mr. Madden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise the fact that this morning the Bracknell Met Office refused to give information about temperatures, on the ground that such information was politically contentious? I understand that the DHSS has a contract with the Met service about supplying information on temperatures. I am sure that you would be concerned as much as we would be if there were to be any suggestion that the DHSS has leant on the Met service to withhold information about temperatures. As it seems from the—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot see that what goes on at the Bracknell Met Office is anything to do with me. It is a matter that could quite legitmately, and perhaps even should, be mentioned in the debate tomorrow.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Member representing Bracknell and the Met Office, I know that a large number of my constituents who serve at the Met Office would deeply resent the remarks that have just been made by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) and I ask him to withdraw them.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We all accept that what the Leader of the Opposition had to say was about an important subject. However, if the House is to be run in a civilised and proper way, a point of order has to be either a proper point of order or it is nothing. It is either a personal statement or a request. What the Leader of the Opposition said was surely not a point of order, in the widest use of the words. Is this House to be run properly or for the use of the Opposition?

Mr. Speaker

Order. As far as I am aware, no subject for tomorrow's debate had been announced in the House, and I think that it was for the general convenience of the House, as the Leader of the House indicated, to know exactly what the subject tomorrow is to be.

Mr. Hoyle

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not have been better for the Minister, in making his announcement on severe weather payments, instead of relying on a fortuitous question from an Opposition Member, to have made the statement at the end of questions? That would have been fairer to you, Mr. Speaker, and would have allowed all hon. Members with an interest in the elderly to make a contribution.

Mr. Speaker

Order. These are matters that should legitimately be raised tomorrow in the debate, which I now understand is to last a full day. If the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) is fortunate, he can raise that point then.

Mr. Dykes

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Because of your loss of voice, I am sorry to ask you to guide the House further. Manifestly, the comment of the Leader of the Opposition was not a point of order. [Interruption.] I am sorry to go on, but this is an important point to do with defending the interests of the House. Having an altercation with people outside Indian restaurants is one thing, but obviously for the Leader of the Opposition having an altercation with the Prime Minister is much more difficult. We understand that. However, he should not use a bogus point of order as an excuse to continue a debate. Since the Opposition's humbug on this issue has been shown as a result of the Government's announcement, should not a change of business be announced through the usual channels by the Leader of the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let me clear this matter. Before we adjourned for the Christmas recess, no subject for the Opposition day had been announced. As far as I am aware, since I do not receive party Whips, no subject has yet been announced. I think that it was for the general convenience of the House to know—[Interruption.] Order. The House has to know in some way or another. The only way in which it can be told is if the subject is announced by a member of the Opposition. It was perfectly legitimate to do that.

Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In order to try to clarify the issue, is it not a fact that during this Session and the previous Session the Leader of the House, on more than one occasion, has introduced a business statement under the guise of a point of order and it has been accepted by you?

We have all noticed that your voice is breaking, Mr. Speaker. You sound like the House of Commons' answer to Aled Jones. If this turns into any form of acute pain, will you assure the House that you will use a National Health Service hospital and not follow the Prime Minister and use a private one?

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his concern about my health. However, my eyesight is fine, my hearing is fine and my memory is very good.

Mr. Dickens

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you opened the proceedings this afternoon you said something similar to what you have just repeated—that you had trouble with your voice, but that your eyes were sharp. May we all be assured that you have had a good look at those who have taken advantage of your voice this afternoon?

Mr. Madden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have dealt with one point of order from the hon. Gentleman. If he has another, I shall take it, but not if it deals with the same subject.

Mr. Madden

The Library cannot advise me who is ministerially responsible for the Met Office. If we wish to obtain information about temperatures, will the Table Office accept questions that the Met Office in Bracknell is apparently refusing to answer if they are made to the Department of the Environment, which is the Met Office's best guess as to who is the Minister responsible?

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that the hon. Member tries that out on the Table Office. I am sure that he will be given good advice.

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