HC Deb 04 February 1988 vol 126 cc1157-73 3.30 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

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)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 8 FEBRUARY—Progress on remaining stages of the Employment Bill.

Motion on the Local Government Act (Police and Fire and Civil Defence Authorities) Precepts Limitation Order.

TUESDAY 9 FEBRUARY — Debate on a motion on televising the proceedings of the House of Commons.

Motions on the Precept Limitation (Prescribed Maximum) (West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority), (Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority) and (Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority) Orders.

WEDNESDAY 10 FEBRUARY—Completion of remaining stages of the Employment Bill.

Motion on the Precept Limitation (Prescribed Maximum) (Inner London Education Authority) Order.

THURSDAY 11 FEBRUARY—Debate on the Royal Air Force on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 12 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 15 FEBRUARY—Until seven o'clock private Members' motions.

Debate on agriculture on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Mr. Kinnock

In view of the completely inadequate performance of the Government in the wake of the cover-up over the Stalker-Sampson report, when will the House have an opportunity to debate the issues raised by the Government's behaviour?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Dr. John Marks, chairman of the British Medical Association, said yesterday: There is a crisis in the health service and it would be irresponsible not to debate it."? Does the Leader of the House agree with Dr. Marks, and will he provide a debate in Government time in the near future?

Did the Leader of the House notice that on Monday the Minister for Overseas Development responded to criticisms of the Government's huge cuts in overseas development aid and the demands for a debate on the subject by saying that it could be raised on Thursday afternoon, and that he would be more than happy that there should be such a debate? Can the Leader of the House gratify his hon. Friend and the Opposition by making speedy arrangements to provide such a debate in Government time?

Can the Leader of the House give us a date for the long-awaited debate on the social fund?

We are to have a statement later today on the Government's policy towards the Inner London education authority. It will mean a fundamental change in the policy put forward at the general election by the Tory party and in the policy presented in the Education Reform Bill, which is currently going through the House. From the various press reports it appears that there is reason to suppose that the change is to be so great as to warrant a completely separate Bill. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether he proposes to continue with the current arrangement, which would show a completely disreputable attitude towards the proceedings of the House, or whether he will at the very least provide the House with a motion that will give hon. Members the opportunity to decide whether a separate ILEA Bill should be presented to the House?

Mr. Wakeham

The Leader of the Opposition asked me five questions. The first was about the Northern Ireland situation. As I told the right hon. Gentleman last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will make a statement to the House on the matter. I think that is the best way to proceed initially. I recognise the concern, and of course we shall have to consider a debate. However, I would prefer to wait until after the statement has been made by my right hon. Friend.

With regard to the National Health Service, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, a debate took place recently on an Opposition motion, which was, I think, helpful to the House. I recognise that we shall have to come back to that matter, and indeed we shall do so, but I cannot give a time for a debate in the immediate future.

As for overseas development, I was present when my hon. Friend answered questions on Monday and I heard what he said. I am looking at the matter but I cannot provide a date for a debate in the immediate future.

Dealing with the social fund debate, the right hon. Gentleman raised that question last week. I am looking at this and I hope to be able to announce a debate in the very near future.

With regard to ILEA, of course I cannot anticipate my right hon. Friend's statement, but I recognise the concern about this matter. I made it very clear during the debate on the timetable motion earlier this week that if a new matter of major importance arose we would have urgent discussions through the usual channels to see what would be the best way to proceed. I believe that in what the right hon. Gentleman said there may be the germ of an idea on how best the House could proceed in these matters.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Will my right hon. Friend note that since the debate on the timetable motion on Thursday I have been approached by a number of hon. Members asking me why I have not arranged for a debate on the Procedure Committee reports that have been waiting to be debated for some years? I have had to tell them that it does not rest with me. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could help me out and try to ensure that we have a debate this year, as otherwise we shall be getting much too far through this Session.

Mr. Wakeham

I can certainly give my hon. Friend the undertaking that he requires, but I hope to do rather better than that. I recognise that there are a number of outstanding matters which the House wishes to consider. I am hoping to arrange a debate in the relatively near future. Indeed, I am having discussions through the usual channels about this, because matters of procedure are best dealt with by as much agreement as possible throughout the House.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Has the Leader of the House read the Official Report for last Thursday, when you, Mr. Speaker, indicated that Scottish hon. Members whom you were unable to call to ask a question on the statement dealing with the Government's attitude to school closures might well be called in a subsequent debate? Does the Leader of the House intend to have a debate on the prayer in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends dealing with that order?

Secondly, has the Leader of the House had time to consider early-day motions 608 and 609 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn):

[That this House notes that benefit claimants entitled to flat-rate payments to correct the error in the calculation of the retail price index are entitled to an £8.00 payment for each order book they possess, and that therefore people with combined order books for several eligible benefits, including married pensioners, are entitled to only one payment; believes this to be grossly unfair and unnecessarily bureaucratic; recognises that it will cause understandable distress and anger for the thousands of people who possess combined order books for convenience, and considerable embarrassment for the Post Office staff who administer the payments; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to review the payments procedure as a matter of urgency.]

[That this House notes that an estimated 175,000 pensioners claiming the higher rate attendance allowance with combined order books will lose up to £5.00 as a result of the Government's decision to pay a flat-rate payment as compensation to those who lost benefit due to the miscalculation of the retail price index; believes this will cause unnecessary hardship and distress; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to reimburse them as a matter of urgency.]

They deal with the situation that has arisen in which supplementary benefit claimants who have one combined book are receiving only one payment of £8 to make up for the error in the retail prices index, whereas those who have two books are getting more than one payment. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is causing considerable distress, irritation and anger in many parts of the country? Will the Government consider this matter with urgency and bring forward a statement showing that they are prepared to retrieve the situation?

Mr. Wakeham

With regard to Scottish schools and the question which the hon. Gentleman asked me last week, I am looking for an opportunity in the near future to debate the prayer that has been tabled against the order.

As to the matter of the retail prices index, I believe that Ministers have made the matter very clear indeed. However, if there is any confusion, I shall look into it and discuss it with my right hon. Friend to see whether there is any way in which the matter can be clarified.

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

Can my right hon. Friend arrange a fairly early debate on a report relating to miscarriages of justice produced by the Select Committee on Home Affairs and published in the 1981–82 Session? It referred to the setting up of an independent review body, as the Committee described it. In view of the serious misgivings about recent appeal court decisions, I believe that it would be very advantageous if we could have a debate on the recommendations of the Select Committee, which have never been debated by the House, before too long.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise my hon. Friend's interest. I cannot hold out the opportunity of an early debate, but I shall discuss the matter with the Home Secretary. It seems to me that the Criminal Justice Bill may provide an opportunity for my hon. Friend to air some of those points.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Given the serious situation and the marked deterioration in industrial relations in the mining industry, does the Leader of the House agree that Ministers should give early and positive consideration to these matters, and that the House should have the opportunity of a relevant debate in the near future?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the importance of the matter, but I do not think that I can offer the hon. Gentleman the chance of a debate in the immediate future. No doubt there will be opportunities to discuss it.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that two weeks ago I asked the Government for a statement on meningitis outbreaks in Britain, which are causing great concern? The situation appears to be getting worse. We have no facts and it is time that the Government made a statement on the subject.

Mr. Wakeham

I referred the matter to my right hon. Friend, as I said I would, but if the situation is changing I shall refer it to my right hon. Friend again.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the case of Mrs. Busby, a victim of Opren who is disfigured and to whom sunlight will always be a means of torture? She has been offered £3,000 by Eli Lilly. Her plight reflects no credit on the House. Will the Leader of the House find the time to debate, first, the legal precedent which led to that miserly offer, secondly, the need for a system of challenging those precedents in such cases when a second legal opinion has said that the offer should have been increased eightfold, and, thirdly—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Ashley

—will he consider the need for an entirely new system whereby multinational companies a re compelled to pay fair and swift compensation?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the right hon. Gentleman's concern about these matters, but the proposed settlement is entirely a matter between the parties concerned. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further while the matter is still before the courts, but I shall undertake to speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

Numerous attacks have been made in the House, and outside by Ministers of the Dublin Government, upon certain members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who have been suspended for more than a year and a half—a period of great anxiety for those officers and their families. Those allegations and attacks have now been extended to include the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland. Those officers cannot reply publicly. May we have a debate on how those officers, who with their colleagues have served Northern Ireland well, can now receive a fair and unprejudiced hearing?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the concern, but it is important that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should properly consider these matters. When he has considered them he will make a statement to the House. I am sure that that is the best way to proceed.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Can I press the Leader of the House on that point? When is the statement likely to be made? Today we were informed that the Minister has already made a statement. When will he answer the questions, and when will hon. Members for Northern Ireland be able to join the interrogation and put the case of the people of Northern Ireland? Will it be possible to have a debate in the near future on the concept of national interest and the level at which protection will be provided to those who serve the nation?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the concern, but I do not believe that I can add anything more, other than to say that I will pass on the hon. Gentleman's comments to my right hon. Friend who will report to the House as soon as he can.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

May I first thank my right hon. Friend for agreeing to a debate on agriculture, which is much appreciated. With regard to the debate next week about televising the House, will he ensure that either the Government motion or any instructions to a Select Committee will make specific reference to the fact that demonstrations in the Strangers' Gallery must in no circumstances be shown?

Mr. Wakeham

It is our intention that the debate should take place on early-day motion 15 that has already been tabled in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson). Of course, the important points that my hon. Friend makes are very relevant to the debate that we shall have.

[That this House approves in principle the holding of an experiment in the public broadcasting of its proceedings by television; and believes that a select committee should be appointed to consider the implementation of such an experiment and to make recommendations.]

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Let me draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 600.

[That this House supports in principle the televising of proceedings of the House for an experimental period of six months; calls for such televising to be conducted on a round-the-clock basis and on a dedicated television channel funded by monies voted by Parliament.]

Will he tell me whether the motion that we shall debate on Tuesday will provide for the setting up of a separate television channel for the broadcasting of Parliament on a round-the-clock basis, thus avoiding the problems of editorialising that concern so many hon. Members on both sides of the House? If not, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the motion can be amended to include such a provision?

Mr. Wakeham

I am sure that the motion can be amended if the hon. Gentleman does not think that it reflects the point of view that he wishes to express. However, it is not a matter for me which amendments are selected by Mr. Speaker. I am sure that the point of view expressed by the hon. Gentleman in the early-day motion would be perfectly relevant to the debate, and could be discussed then. I see a number of practical difficulties in his suggestion, but that is a subject for next week's debate.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there seems to be an alarming difference between the legal definition of "charity" and the public perception of it? May we have an early debate on the subject?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the strength of what my hon. Friend has said. I heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say that she would be discussing the matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I think that that is probably the best way to proceed in the initial period.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

On the question of the debate on the televising of Parliament, can the Leader of the House tell us whether the Prime Minister has yet made up her mind on the subject, and how many Tory Members will switch their votes according to what she tells them to do?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not usually talk about voting or whipping matters from this Dispatch Box. Traditionally, such issues as this have been on a free vote. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as always, has an open mind on the subject, but I think that most people probably know her views.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to make a statement to the House about the proposal by the Department of Trade and Industry to move the Patent Office from London to Newport, south Wales? It should be borne in mind that the matter has not been discussed by the many industries and organisations that would be involved, and that smaller businesses would suffer immensely from the resulting inconvenience and additional cost.

Mr. Wakeham

I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend, and ask whether he thinks it appropriate to make a statement. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) might care to raise the subject on an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 613? The motion is signed by 129 hon. Members from all parties. It arises from the death of my constituent Billy Walker, aged 11, who swallowed the top of a pen and was the 11th child to die in that way.

[That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to investigate the provision in schools of Bic pens, with separate tops, of the type that caused the death of Billy Walker of Leicester; further calls on the Government to institute research into the safety of pens provided for and to schoolchildren; and expresses its profound sympathy to the parents and family of Billy Walker.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, together with me, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs was good enough to see the boy's parents yesterday, and that he has stated that manufacturers and suppliers of unsafe pens are liable to be prosecuted now? May we have a statement from him to warn manufacturers such as Bic which still refuse even to have the decency and compassion to talk to us about their position?

Mr. Wakeham

I certainly share the sympathy expressed in the motion tabled by the hon. and learned Gentleman and a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The Government have carried out investigations into the dangers of pen tops. Following completion of the research, the Department of Trade and Industry issued a press notice advising parents and others about those dangers, and made the report's findings available to United Kingdom manufacturers and importers. Suppliers are aware of their responsibilities, and are working towards the introduction of safer pen tops. Local education authorities are responsible for the issue of pens and similar items to schools, and the Department of Education and Science will consider whether any separate notification of authorities about the dangers of pen tops is needed.

Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South)

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), is my right hon. Friend aware that, after yesterday's announcement of the decision not to proceed with action against the Moonies, interest in the Government's response to last year's Woodfield report, which recommended a strengthening of the Charity Commission has been greatly increased? Will he urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider as speedily as possible the implications of the decision on the Moonies, so that the House can have an opportunity, as the other place has recently done, of debating the matter?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise my hon. Friend's concern and, as I have said, I shall refer the matter urgently to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Has the Leader of the House had a chance to examine early-day motion 574, signed by a number of hon. Members, on the Government's golden share in Britoil?

[That this House notes the assurances given to the House on 31st March 1982 and 1st April 1982, Official Report, columns 333, 334 and 450, by both Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Gray of Contin, the then Minister of State for Energy, that the 'golden share' would offer effective safeguards for Britoil's independence; questions whether this has been shown to be the case; and calls for a full debate on the guidance given to the House by Mr. Chancellor and the noble Lord on the efficacy of the 'golden share' provisions when they were seeking honourable Members' approval for the privatisation of BNOC.]

Is it not time for a full debate on that issue so that the House can decide whether it was misled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's assurances of Britoil's independence, freely given in 1982? In the light of the Government's announcement that the bid is not to be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, such a debate would also provide the opportunity to examine the double standards inherent in an industrial policy which protects Britain's largest company, British Petroleum, and will not even consider the protection of Scotland's largest company, Britoil.

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer answered a private notice question on that subject as recently as 1 February and a debate at this stage would not be the best use of parliamentary time.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

Has my right hon. Friend seen various press reports to the effect that hon. Members may attempt to filibuster to stop the Abortion (Amendment) Bill of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) completing its Committee stage? Will he give us an assurance that if that filibuster continues, he will find Government time for the Bill in Committee so that this exceptionally important business of the House is not decided and stopped by a small minority of hon. Members?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise my hon. Friend's concern, but that is a hypothetical question. I have seen no evidence of what he suggests. However, I am sure that the House would deprecate any such misuse of procedure if the Bill's Committee stage were delayed in the way that my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister from the Foreign Office to explain next week why, since 2 January, the British embassy in Islamabad has been refusing permission for a 16-year-old constituent of mine, Nasreen Akhtar, to return to her home in Bradford and to her school? Is he aware that, despite telexes sent to the embassy by the Home Office and the Foreign Office, and despite letters from me to the girl, she was refused permission on 4 and 27 January to return home and she is being denied schooling and reunification with her family? Can he explain that extraordinary refusal by British authorities in Islamabad, and do something urgently to enable this girl to return home and to her school?

Mr. Wakeham

I have no knowledge whether the hon. Gentleman has been given all the information that he needs to make the statement that he did, but I shall refer the matter to the Home Office immediately after I have finished answering questions and ask somebody to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

On the Stalker affair and its disturbing ramifications, will my right hon. Friend understand that we need not just a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, important though that is, but a full-scale parliamentary debate? Will he understand that that debate must include an opportunity to give proper parliamentary scrutiny to the Attorney-General's definition of where the national interest lies in this matter? On that matter, will my right hon. Friend persuade the Attorney-General to explain his curious inactivity in issuing any kind of civil injunctions on, or taking any kind of criminal proceedings against, the breach of the duty of confidentiality by Mr. Stalker in his articles in the Daily Express, which makes a curious contrast of double standards with the injunctions issued on all other breaches of confidentiality?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that my hon. Friend puts a point of view persuasively, but I do not think that I shall shift from my earlier position. I believe that the first stage in this matter is to have a statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)

The right hon. Gentleman said that we would have that statement as soon as possible. May I press him on what he means by "as soon as possible"? Is he aware that we have already been waiting for two weeks to discuss those matters, in which time foreign politicians have been given an opportunity that has been denied us to press the Secretary of State on them? Is he further aware that, in the past two weeks, men have been identified, convicted and perhaps condemned to death without a single word being said in their favour and without their side of the story being given?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's great concern about these matters, but I know that my right hon. Friend will make his statement as soon as he can.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge, Brownhills)

Central to our constitution is the idea of the rule of law and the supremacy of Parliament. Will my right hon. Friend pay heed to what is being said and organise as a matter of some urgency the attendance of the Attorney-General to justify his extraordinary view of the world—that the murder of a 16-year-old fellow citizen and the perversion of the course of justice by police officers in part of the United Kingdom are lesser matters than the supremacy of the rule of law? The House would like to look at the judgment of the Attorney-General in terms of the public interest and of that which we hold to be extremely important.

Mr. Wakeham

I understand my hon. Friend's point of view, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has a duty to discharge. In my view, he discharged his duty in a proper and effective manner. He came to the House and made a statement and that is the proper course of action.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Before the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland comes to make a statement, will the Leader of the House put one other point to him? Will he ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain why Mr. Stalker is not being prosecuted under the existing Official Secrets Act or, indeed, under the new Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Aldridge, Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) which has in general been approved by the Home Secretary?

Mr. Wakeham

Matters of prosecution are not for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Rees

Yes, they are.

Mr. Wakeham

I bow to the right hon. Gentleman, who knows more about Northern Ireland than me. I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend, but I am not in a position to add anything to what I have said.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we were most impressed by his imaginative, guarded and diplomatic answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin), who asked about the future of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill? However, it was hardly an answer to the question that he was asked. Will he assure the House that if what is now hypothetical ceases to be hypothetical the Government will ensure that there is a proper debate on the subject?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. — and if I may say so learned — Friend puts another question to me. I shall not answer a hypothetical question.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Does the Leader of the House accept that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments performs a useful purpose? That purpose is thwarted when orders such as the two orders to limit the precept on Manchester and West Yorkshire are debated before the Joint Committee has had time to consider memoranda. We have asked the relevant Departments why they tried to bounce the Joint Committee into accepting the instruments without adequate time. Will the right hon. Gentleman take that on board and make suitable adjustments to the business next week?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also remind the Department of Transport that we have still not had a statement on the Settle-Carlisle railway? Many people are extremely concerned that the Department of Transport is trying to make the local authorities a scapegoat for the closure, and the local authorities will not accept that.

Mr. Wakeham

I have nothing to add to what I said about the railway last week. I shall look into the other matter to see whether I can assist, but I cannot undertake to change the business for next week.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

Further to the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), will my right hon. Friend undertake to look at the work of Standing Committee C to establish whether what has been suggested in the press is indeed happening? Does he recognise that if there is a filibuster it will be thwarting the will of the House, which voted for that Bill? We should at least have an opportunity to ensure that the will of the House is fully debated and to show people outside that we have reached a conclusion one way or the other.

Mr. Wakeham

I do not believe that the fears expressed by my hon. Friend have so far been realised. I believe that the House would deprecate such a misuse of procedure if that happened.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

A week on Monday, the Leader of the House said we shall be debating agriculture. Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that he will ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ensure that that debate will not be used as a green light for the Government to give the go-ahead for the set-aside scheme for farmers, which will allow them to get up to £150 an acre for allowing land to remain fallow? Is that not a disgrace at a time when agricultural wages are at an all-time low, relatively speaking, when agricultural workers cannot get a 35-hour week and the National Health Service is in tatters? Here is a scheme to give the farming community £150 an acre and yet a third of the world is starving.

Mr. Wakeham

The debate that I have arranged for Monday 15 February was at the request of a number of hon. Gentlemen. It seems to me that the comments of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) are better applied to that debate than they are to business questions.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

I am not going to ask my right hon. Friend to give us any specific assurances about the Bill to which reference has been made by some of my hon. Friends because I know him well enough to know that he will do his duty with honour and I trust him. However, my right hon. Friend should note the intense feeling that exists among the majority of hon. Members who believe that efforts to frustrate, once again, a Bill that is concerned with a deep moral principle, held by many people in this country, should not be allowed as a result of dirty tricks.

Mr. Wakeham

I certainly recognise the strength of my right hon. Friend's comments, but there is nothing further that I can say at this moment.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

May I underline the point made by the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) about the widespread disquiet following the recent decision of the Court of Appeal, which has implications for the entire criminal justice system, the forensic service and our relations with other countries? I request the Leader of the House to find time for a debate on this and related matters, preferably, as suggested by the hon. Member for Harborough, under the general heading of miscarriages of justice. That debate should have particular reference to the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee published six years ago, which recommended that an independent review tribunal should be set up to deal with alleged miscarriages of justice. Not one of the report's recommendations has been implemented even though there was a Tory majority on that Committee. May we have a debate on this subject as soon as possible?

Mr. Wakeham

I believe that the independence of the judiciary is one of the greatest safeguards of the freedoms of people in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) raised this matter and I said that I would refer it to the Home Secretary and I intend to do so.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

Will my right hon. Friend consider the fact that many right hon. and hon. Members are concerned about the continuing loss of jobs of registered dock workers? Last week, the Government put aside £7 million to add to the redundancy fund. Is this not the right time to have a debate on this subject so that we can get a consensus in the House on the best way forward for the registered dock workers' scheme?

Mr. Wakeham

I am not sure that a debate in this House would necessarily produce a consensus. I do not see an opportunity for finding time for a debate in the immediate future.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is it not an affront to every Member of the House when the Prime Minister, as she did today, comes to the Dispatch Box and reads a very carefully phrased answer to a question on the Stalker affair with the clear objective of blocking questions on the Order Paper? Does the Leader of the House understand that every Member of the House of Commons, irrespective of political persuasion, would wish to deprecate such activity because, on occasions, it may militate against their particular interests? Will the Leader of the House make representations to the Prime Minister and ask her to answer questions and not to use that blocking device, which many of us believe that she intends to use over the next few days?

Mr. Wakeham

If the hon. Gentleman could ask questions as intelligently as my right hon. Friend answers them, the standard would go up considerably.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the fact that many Conservative Members are extremely conscious of the extraordinarily dangerous and difficult job that members of the RUC and the Ulster Defence Regiment must carry out? Any discussion of the Stalker affair or any of the other issues should include our recognition of the dangers that those officers and their families face.

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend makes a valid point and I believe that it is relevant to the issue.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am always reluctant to curtail business questions. I will call the hon. Gentlemen who have been rising, but we must then move on.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Has the Leader of the House reflected on the following early-day motions relating to Westland: No. 228, [That this House notes in the book, Campaign, by Rodney Tyler, the Selling of the Prime Minister: from behind the doors of Downing Street and Conservative central Office—A unique inside account of the Battle for Power that the author on page 1, chapter 1, paragraph 1, sentence 1, states 'It was an extraordinary turnaround in fortunes from the moment on 27th January 1986 when Mrs. Thatcher secretly confided to a close associate that she might have to resign …' and on page 3 that 'On the eve of the crucial Westland debate she herself felt shakey enough to doubt her future' though some around her later sought to dismiss this as late evening anxieties of the sort that had disappeared the following morning). It is certainly true that if Leon Brittan had chosen to, he could have brought her to the brink of downfall, by naming the real culprits inside Number 10. Instead, he chose to remain silent', and calls on the Prune Minister to give a full account of what transpired between 3rd January and 27th January 1986, at Number 10 Downing Street, in relation to the selectively leaked Law Office's letter concerning the Westland Affair.] No. 253, [That this House notes that the Member for Aldershot on page 136 of his book Heseltine: the unauthorised Biography, states in relation to the Westland affair that 'John Wakeham issued an order of the day which contained the trite, if effective message, that it was time for all good men to come to the aid of the party. We did and calls on the Leader of the House, The Right Honourable Member for South Colchester and Maldon, to explain when he first knew the role of the then Trade and Industry Secretary, The Right Honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, in the matter of the disclosure of a selectively leaked Law Officer's letter.] No. 272, [That this House notes that in his book Mrs. Thatcher's Revolution, published this week by Jonathan Cape and Co., Mr. Peter Jenkins writes, on page 200 'Britian himself refused to enlighten the Select Committee on any point of substance. However, he is reputed to have told close friends subsequently that not only has she known perfectly well what had happened but that, on the day following the leak, had expressed her satisfaction to him at the way things had been handled. However at that time, downfall of Heseltine had not been achieved … He (Mr. Britton) might point the finger at her (Mrs. Thatcher). Potentially he now had the power to destroy her'; and calls on the Prime Minister to give the House a full account of her conversations with the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Right honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, over the period from 3rd January and 27th January 1986, in relation to the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter concerning the Westland Affair.] No. 273, [That this House notes that in The Thatcher Years—A decade of Revolution in British Politics, published by BBC Books, Mr. John Cole, on page 170, considering the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter in the Westland Affair, writes 'why did he (Sir Robert Armstrong) not give her a quick interim report when he discovered that the leak was an inside job, authorised by her office? Why did Leon Brittan not tell her? Or the private secretary concerned? Or his chief, who sits in the same room? Or her press secretary? And why did she never ask?'; and calls on the Prime Minister to inform the House of the answers to these questions.] No. 286, [That this House notes that, in the book "Not with Honour—The Inside Story of the Westland Scandal", on page 142, Magnus Linklater and David Leigh write that "Instead, following Havers's complaint, she spoke privately to Brittan about the leak. Although this is something the Prime Minister has failed to disclose, to widespread disbelief, the evidence comes from an authoritative source, who told us: "The Prime Minister knew about the leak. She was pleased it had been done. There was a meeting between Brittan and her after the complaint from Mayhew. Only the two of them were present … Brittan assumed she knew of [the leak's] origins. You must draw your own conclusions." One of Brittan's friends adds, "Nobody thought it was a problem. The complaints were out of the public domain and any inquiry was expected to be a formality. Leon wasn't worried at all about it."; and calls on the Prime Minister to give a full account to the House of the meeting between herself and the right honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, referred to therein.] No. 622, [That this House notes that in an article by Mr. Paul Foot in the Daily Mirror, dated 28th January, a Ministry of Defence official, Mr. Paul Newbegin, is quoted as having admitted witnessing the shredding and incinerating of the log book of HMS "Conqueror"; is concerned that if this statement is true, the Ministry of Defence is guilty of having established an entirely bogus investigation into the disappearance of the log book when the facts of its deliberate destruction were already known; further notes the parallel between this case and that of the leaked Solicitor General's letter in the Westland Affair, when a similar investigation was launched despite the availability in advance of all the salient facts; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Defence to set up an immediate inquiry with the genuine purpose of furnishing Parliament with a full explanation of this bizarre series of events.] and No. 627, [That this House calls for a debate on the conduct of honourable and right honourable Members of the House, considering the position of back bench Members who resort to unparliamentary language and Heads of Government who misuse Law Officer's letters and then display lack of candour about what they have done.] Could the right hon. Gentleman turn his mind to the question of which I gave his Office notice, namely, the inquiry that is purported to be taking place into leaks from the Department of Trade and Industry at the behest of Sir Brian Hayes? Should there not be a statement next week to suggest that Sir Brian Hayes might cast the mote out of his eye, so involved was he in the leak inquiry into the selective leaking of a Law Officer's letter, rather than to enter into any kind of major inquiry in his Department? Apparently, when leaks seem to suit senior civil servants and senior members of the Government there is no inquiry, but when leaks are awkward there is an inquiry. What is just in that?

Mr. Wakeham

I have nothing further to say about the early-day motions mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, but I recognise that he referred the matter of his question to my Office. The memorandum from Sir Brian Hayes was to explain to all staff the importance of respecting confidential information and was entirely consistent with the guidance note on the duties and responsibilities of civil servants in relation to Ministers that was circulated by Sir Robert Armstrong in December. It did not, contrary to the suggestion in the Daily Telegraph, announce a leak inquiry.

Mr Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

"It says here".

Mr. Wakeham

I have just got that information and therefore, as the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has noted, I read it out for greater accuracy.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

May I return again to the subject that has been raised by four of my hon. Friends — the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, which is currently going through the House? If that Bill is frustrated by activities in Committee, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that any similar Bill introduced to the House in a later Session will have Government time?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend widens somewhat the hypothetical nature of the inquiries he is making, but I still do not believe that I can answer hypothetical questions.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In relation to some other questions that have been asked today, does the Leader of the House recognise that the absence of any parliamentary scrutiny of the security services is a blot on our democracy? As for the blocking of questions, there is no way that such questions can be tabled, let alone answered. Does the Leader of the House intend to let the situation rest as it is or does he recognise, as other democracies have done in Western Europe, that the security services should be subject to some form of parliamentary control?

Mr. Wakeham

What I do recognise is that there is more than one view in the House on what should prevail in these matters. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is in the minority and that the Government's view is that of the majority.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

Will my right hon. Friend, if he is considering granting time for a debate on the Birmingham bomb trial appeal, recognise that many Conservative Members believe that the appeal was a thorough investigation and that a fair judgment was reached at its end? We are in no good position to judge, having heard bits of the evidence, what three senior judges can decide, having seen all of the evidence in the case.

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend makes his point clearly; I have nothing further to add.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Has the Leader of the House yet had an opportunity to examine the report of the Select Committee on Energy which was placed in the Vote Office one hour and 10 minutes ago? It concerns the need for a debate in the House on new Statutory Instrument 218 governing the rules for public inquiries into new power stations and overhead lines. In the report's words: As far as the House is concerned we recommend that the business managers should ensure that a debate takes place on the prayer at present tabled as an early day motion". Will the right hon. Gentleman look at early-day motion 497, which has been signed by 78 hon. Members, and the prayer in early-day motion 499, which has been signed by 68 hon. Members? The two motions are on the same topic and require the House to examine the new rules that severely constrain the rights of objectors, and ask, in particular, that that should be done well before the Hinkley Point public inquiry takes place so that the objectors can know how much their rights have been reduced since the Sizewell inquiry.

[That this House notes that S.I., 1987, No. 2182, regulating the procedure for tribunals and inquiries under the Electricity Act 1957 and relating specifically to electricity generating stations and overhead lines, was laid before Parliament on 18th December 1987 with an enforcement date of 14th January 1988, notes that these regulations will severely restrict the rights and opportunities of objectors to raise issues of public concern such as energy policy, public health and safety, including reactor safety and environmental impact, local and/or national economics and national security, and calls for the date of implementation of these regulations to he delayed pending the result of a full parliamentary debate in government time.]

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Electricity Generating Stations and Overhead Lines (Inquiries Procedure) Rules 1987 (S.I., 1987 No. 2182), dated 16th December 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th December, be annulled.]

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that there is concern about this matter in the House. The question of a debate is best left for discussion through the usual channels.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

If there is to be a debate on matters that arose out of the Attorney-General's statement on Monday of last week, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that some Conservative Members will want to acknowledge and pay tribute to the integrity and judgment of the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland and that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General?

Mr. Wakeham

Absolutely. I do not anticipate a debate on the decision of the Attorney-General; when the Secretary of State makes his statement we shall see how to proceed from there. I agree with my hon. Friend that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland are men of the highest standing.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Does the Leader of the House recall that, during the replies to questions on the statement on the future of the Crown Suppliers, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State was particularly evasive to right hon. and hon. Members of the Opposition about which parts of the Crown Suppliers would remain in the public sector? In view of that, will he arrange for another statement on the matter to be made by the Secretary of State, because Opposition Members are concerned about not getting the full facts about this undesirable, unwanted and outrageous privatisation proposal?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment made a statement yesterday about the parts of the Crown Suppliers that are to be sold, making it clear that those with security implications would not be. I do not think there is anything else to add at this stage.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Steel.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)


Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

He has not been standing.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is the leader of the Liberal party — [Laughter.] Order. All Back Benchers who have been standing will be called. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was here when I said that I would call those who had been standing. It would be helpful if he stood a little earlier in the proceedings.

Mr. Steel

The point I want to raise arises directly from the reply that the Leader of the House has just given. I sat through business questions, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me.

The integrity of the Attorney-General is not the issue that concerns the House. What worries the House is that the Attorney-General's decision and the withdrawal of Mr. Stalker from the inquiry raise the suspicion that the definition of national security is being extended to cover Government embarrassment. That is what concerns hon. Members on both sides. An internal disciplinary inquiry will not be enough: there must be further discussion of the matter in the House.

Mr. Wakeham

I have nothing to add to my right hon. and learned Friend's statement of last Monday, but I repeat that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will make a statement on these matters in the near future.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the rate-capping order against ILEA, which is down for business on Wednesday, involves a savage attack to the extent of 15 per cent, on the resources of London education? There is no need to bring in the order next week. More time should be allowed for the parents, pupils and people of London to debate the issue, and for the Secretary of State to come to his senses. Will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw next Wednesday's order, or, if he persists in going ahead with it, will he allow more than an hour and a half so that the Opposition can expose these savage attacks on education in London?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot undertake to accept what the hon. Gentleman proposes, but I shall have discussions through the usual channels if that will help.

Mr. Nellist

Referring to the statement made by the Leader of the House three quarters of an hour ago, when will a debate take place in Government time on the deterioration of the National Health Service? Is he prepared to stand idly by and see the frustration of working people and trade unionists throughout the country building up pressure for a one-day general strike to defend the Health Service? Before that debate finally takes place, as it will inevitably have to, will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the Secretary of State for Social Services, so that when he comes to make his contribution at the Dispatch Box he will try to lift the proceedings from the patronising level of last night's Tory party broadcast, and, instead of trying to do a five-minute impression of Geoffrey out of "Rainbow", live up to the fact that he is a Cabinet Minister in charge of £22 billion a year?

Mr. Wakeham

The only encouraging thing to say about that is that the hon. Gentleman listened to the broadcast last night; I thought it was very good. I shall certainly not be more forthcoming to the hon. Gentleman than I was earlier to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 547 about the Yorkshire heart hospital, and to the statement by the cardiothoracic surgeon, Duncan Walker, who said that people on the waiting list are dying? May we have an early debate on what is happening with these operations? This week I have had a representation about a young constituent whose heart operation was cancelled last week and whose medical condition is deteriorating every day.

[That this House notes that at the Yorkshire Regional Cardiothoracic Centre, Killingbeck Hospital, Leeds, only six of a 12 bed intensive care unit can be used for heart operations; further notes the comments of Dr. Martin Muers, Chairman of the Hospital Consultants' Committee, that 'we do not do enough heart operations up to Department of Health and Social Services guidelines' (Telegraph and Argus 18th January) and that the Consultants' Committee has sent an urgent letter to the regional health authority signed by three heart surgeons, five heart specialists, all the anaesthetists, cardiologists and cardio-radiologist, imploring the regional health authority to provide three extra intensive care units to avoid tragedies; and notes especially that amongst those signing was Duncan Walker, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon, who recently criticised shroud-waving over the repeated cancellations of children's heart operations in Birmingham and now states that 'people are now dying on our waiting list' (Independent 18th January), which is further evidence of the profound and pervasive crisis in National Health Service operating theatres, a crisis obvious to all reasonable persons and denied now almost alone by the Prime Minister.]

Mr. Wakeham

The Yorkshire regional health authority is currently considering increasing the number of staffed intensive care beds in the next financial year. The number of heart operations in Yorkshire has increased in each of the past two years and is planned to continue to do so.