HC Deb 11 February 1988 vol 127 cc503-18 3.31 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

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

Debate on agriculture on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Details of the EC document relevant to the debate will be given in the Official Report.

TUESDAY 16 FEBRUARY — Remaining stages of the Immigration Bill.

Motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 (Continuance) Order.

WEDNESDAY 17 FEBRUARY—Debate on a Government motion on the abolition of the Inner London education authority.

Supplemental timetable motion on the Education Reform Bill.

Motions on the Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report (England) (No. 3) 1986–87, (No. 4) 1983–84 and (No. 4) 1984–85.

THURSDAY 18 FEBRUARY—Until about seven o'clock motions relating to Social Fund regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion on the Rate Limitation (Prescribed Maximum) (Rates) Order.

FRIDAY 19 FEBRUARY—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 22 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the British Steel Bill.

[Debate on Monday 15 February

Relevant European Community Document:

4165/88 Agricultural Land: Set aside and extensification
Relevant MAFF Documents:
Unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum dated 27 January 1988
Agricultural Land: Set aside and extensification
Addendum dated 12 February 1988
Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee: HC 43-xiii (1987–88) para 1.

Debate on Thursday 18 February 1988

Social Fund (Application for Review) Regulations 1988 (S.I. 1988, No. 34).

Social Fund (Recovery by Deductions from Benefits) Regulations 1988 (S.I. 1988, No. 35).

Social Fund Maternity and Funeral Expenses (General) Amendment Regulations 1988 (S.I. 1988, No. 36)].

Mr. Dobson

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

In view of his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), when does the Leader of the House intend to find time to debate the Stalker-Sampson report, which raises fundamental issues affecting the rule of law? Will he give an undertaking that if any prosecutions following that report are to be announced, they will be announced in this House and not in some hole-and-corner manner?

While we welcome the extra time given to debate the Inner London education authority, surely the Leader of the House realises that what is needed is a new and separate Bill—that is, if he cannot persuade his right hon. and hon. Friends to abandon this vandalistic measure altogether.

Will the Leader of the House take steps to ensure that Thursday's debate on the rate-capping orders does not clash with the Committee stage of the poll tax Bill, because even the Secretary of State for the Environment cannot be in two places at once?

When will the House have the opportunity to debate the new packaging around the DTI, particularly as a debate on that is already scheduled for the House of Lords?

Can the Leader of the House tell us when there is likely to be a debate on the public expenditure White Paper, and also when there is likely to be a debate, in Government time, on the arts?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman has asked a number of questions. First, on the Stalker-Sampson report, I have already said to the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will make a statement to the House shortly. I believe that any other questions of debate and so on can be left until after that statement has been made.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the debate on ILEA next week. He suggested that it would be easier to proceed my means of a new Bill. I do not agree. Indeed, in last week's debate he suggested that the amendments to the current Bill would be out of order. If that is true, the hon. Gentleman will be proved right, but I believe that the amendments will be in order. I shall be arranging for the supplemental timetable motion to be tabled this afternoon. In addition to the day's debate that I have announced for next week, provision will be made for a further day on Report stage of the Education Reform Bill as well as additional time in the Standing Committee.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the debate on the rate limitation order and wondered whether the Committee should sit while that debate took place on the Floor of the House. That matter can be discussed through the usual channels.

I recognise the need for a debate on DTI matters in view of the number of initiatives that my right hon. Friend has taken. I shall certainly refer the matter to him, but I cannot promise a debate immediately.

There will be a debate fairly soon on public expenditure, but we are awaiting the report of the Select Committee.

I recognise that a debate on the arts is an extremely important matter and it is something I have in mind for the not too distant future.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

With reference to what is happening in Austria and the responsibility, in one aspect, of the British Government, is my right hon. Friend aware that the six British commandos, captured off Greece in 1944, were done to death under Hitler's infamous commando order? Everyone in the German Army at that time, whether their name was Waldheim or anything else, knew about that commando order. Indeed, two years previously six British Royal Marines—the Cockleshell heroes—were done to death under that order. In that case, however, there was a reckoning after the war and a war crimes trial. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the action of those who destroyed the evidence in the case of the commandos captured off Greece will be questioned and that there will be a thorough inquiry? Can the appropriate Minister make a statement to the House next week?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise my right hon. Friend's concern about these matters and I know that it is shared in many parts of the House. The British Government take seriously all allegations, especially when British service men are involved. We shall look at all the new information, but I cannot promise an early statement on the matter.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Has the Leader of the House seen the following early-day motions:

No. 653:

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve ( Part-time) (Discipline and Disciplinary Appeals) Regulations 1988 (S.R.(N.I.), 1988, No. 8), dated 15th January 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th February, be annulled.]

No. 654:

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (Complaints etc.) Regulations 1988 (S.R.(N.I.), 1988, No. 9), dated 15th January 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th February, be annulled.]

No. 655:

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (Discipline and Disciplinary Appeals) Regulations 1988 (S.R. (N.I.), 1988, No. 10), dated 15th January 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th February, be annulled.]

No. 656:

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (Complaints) (Informal Resolution) Regulations 1988 (S.R.(N.I.), 1988, No. 11), dated 15th January 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th February, be annulled.]

The Leader of the House will note that they are in the form of prayers set down by myself and my hon. Friends relating to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. If the right hon. Gentleman provides time for those prayers to be debated, it will enable us to discuss the Stalker-Sampson inquiry in the light of the Attorney-General's statement and the forthcoming statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I hope that he will respond positively to that suggestion.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that that might be a way out, but I think that I should best discuss it through the usual channels.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend again consider early-day motion 372: [That this House believes that honourable and Right honourable Members should keep their speeches to 10 minutes or less when requested by Mr. Speaker in order to give more backbench Members of all parties an opportunity to speak, excepting only the four principal speakers in each debate.]

It is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and concerns the limitation of speeches in the House. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will restore the experiment that was extremely successful in the previous Parliament. In view of the decision that was made this week about televising our proceedings, is it not even more important that there should be a better chance for hon. Members other than Front Bench spokesmen, Privy Councillors and wind-bags?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall not go down that road, but I recognise that there is a demand for such a change. There are a number of other procedural matters that I would like to bring before the House. I am having discussions through the usual channels and with other interested parties, and I hope to make progress as soon as possible.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

Further to the answer that the Leader of the House gave his right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) about the Austrian question, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Austria's many friends are deeply disturbed by the reports of the international historians' commission to the effect that, despite President Waldheim's denials, he was well aware of atrocities in the Balkans and in Greece? Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have either an early statement or a debate about this matter — particularly about the report in yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph that President Waldheim was aware of the torture and execution of six commandos in Salonica in Greece?

Mr. Wakeham

I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in this matter and of his concern. As I understand it, the international commission of historians has delivered its report to the Austrian Government and the Austrian Government are now considering its report. The British Government will be prepared to consider any reports arising from that inquiry.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of my long-standing interest in this matter. I can only reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) have said. The fate of those commandos is of genuine national interest. What happened so long ago is of interest to us as a nation and as a European power. The full truth must be revealed. May I ask my right hon. Friend to ask his colleagues what happened to those files in 1978 that were deliberately destroyed?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall certainly ensure that the contributions of my hon. Friend and of other right hon. and hon. Members are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Govan)

Will the Leader of the House assure us that there will be a statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer early next week on Britoil and the Government's intentions with regard to the use of the golden share? There have been discussions between the Treasury and BP on the one hand and the Treasury and Britoil on the other, but the House has not been informed of the line that the Government have taken in those discussions. In Scotland there is a keen interest in the question whether the Government are genuinely trying to protect Scottish interests in this very important matter or whether they are simply engaged in a sell-out to BP.

Mr. Wakeham

I do not think that I can add anything to what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said when he answered a private notice question on this subject at the beginning of the month. However, I shall refer the right hon. Gentleman's points to him and, if he feels that it is necessary to make a further statement, I am sure that he will.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

As we have witnessed the signing of the INF agreement and passed the Arms Control and Disarmament (Privileges and Immunities) Bill to make arrangements for observers and inspectors, and as there is a need to harmonise all the European forces' weaponry, may we have a debate including a discussion of conventional weapons and chemical weapons reductions and, most important of all, the future of the Western European Union as the European pillar of NATO?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

There is a debate today.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has taken the words out of my mouth. I was going to say that, with a little ingenuity—of course, this is a matter not for me, but for you, Mr. Speaker—my hon. Friend might well find that some of his points are relevant to today's debate.

Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us the difference between "shortly" and "as soon as possible", which was how he described last week the timescale in which we might expect a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Has he any concept of how the people of Northern Ireland feel after three weeks in which the Secretary of State has warned us of a renewed terrorist assault and told us about the new brigade organisation to defend the border and how they feel about the details of the Stalker affair? Can the Leader of the House imagine how the people of Northern Ireland feel about the fact that foreign politicians have been able informally and formally, at Prime Minister level, to discuss matters affecting their daily lives? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware how they feel about their elected representatives being ignored day after day? Two years ago I asked his predecessor whether the elected representatives of Northern Ireland were redundant. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that we are redundant?

Mr. Wakeham

How many times has the hon. Gentleman asked to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State but been refused? The hon. Gentleman asked what was the difference between "shortly" and "as soon as possible". "As soon as possible" cannot be shortened, but "shortly" could be shortened.

As to the substantial and serious matter that the hon. Gentleman raised— I do not treat these matters other than seriously—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said that he will make a statement. I recognise the concern that the statement should be made as soon as possible. I am sure that the House will recognise that there are serious and weighty matters to be considered. Hon. Members would not want my right hon. Friend to make a statement without having considered all those matters extremely carefully.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

As to next week's debate on the revised guillotine motion on the Education Reform Bill, will my right hon. Friend ensure that that revised motion, and any subsequent motions relating to the Report stage, leave plenty of time for proper discussion of the role of universities, given the concern about the present drafting of the Bill?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend is right. I said during my speech on the timetable motion that the purpose of introducing it was to ensure that all parts of the Bill were properly discussed. As the part of the Bill dealing with universities comes at the end of it, I had that in mind as much as any other matter.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 499.

[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.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the number of praying days allowed for it will be exhausted by next Friday? Will he confirm that there is no provision for it in next week's business anyway? When does he intend to make provision for it, and will he assure the House that that provision will be made on the Floor of the House rather than in Committee?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the concern of a number of hon. Members about this matter. A Labour Member raised this matter with me last week. I said that any debate on the subject would have to be agreed through the usual channels. There is a lot of business that we need to get through, but we shall do our best to find time if that is the general wish.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

Following the clear decision of the House on Tuesday regarding an experiment in the televised broadcasting of our proceedings, will my right hon. Friend say what he thinks the next step in this process will be and reaffirm, as he said with such alacrity after the debate, that the Government intend to introduce measures and proposals as soon as is reasonably possible?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot add anything to what I said in my speech earlier this week. The first step is to set up a Select Committee to look into the matters required of it by the House. Discussions are taking place to work out the best way forward.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate the recent activities of the Economic League, which has been spying on innocent British citizens? Will he note that more than 100 hon. Members have signed my early-day motion on that subject? Will he find time for the Scottish Grand Committee to meet to discuss the needs of the Health Service in Scotland? I am sorry to raise two separate issues, but they are both important, and I hope that that is acceptable.

Mr. Wakeham

I advise the hon. Lady that I regard one of those subjects as especially important. Her earlier point was about the Economic League. I cannot promise the hon. Lady a debate on either subject in the immediate future.

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)

In view of the timetable motion that has been announced today for next week's business after the usual statutory virility period in that Committee, would it not be sensible to reopen the report of the previous Procedure Committee and to reconsider this matter because it is becoming a farce?

Mr. Wakeham

I know that my hon. Friend has strong views on that matter. In my speech on the timetable motion, I said that I certainly do not accuse the Opposition of any filibustering on the Bill. I brought in the timetable motion to meet many of my hon. Friend's objectives—to see that there is an orderly discussion of the Bill, right the way through its stages, so that all parts of the Bill can be discussed which, I believe, is what the House would like to see.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the confectionery industry? I have a special interest because I like the product, but at the same time a massive inflow from abroad is affecting the balance of payments and jobs in the confectionery industry in this country. I should like in a debate to refer to Rowntrees and its Black Magic box. Rowntrees has stopped putting in the liquid cherries. I am not going to buy any more boxes and there will be other people like me. That is bound to affect jobs, so we need a debate to try to overcome the problem.

Mr. Wakeham

One gets all sorts of questions in this House. I am not sure that the confectionery industry would be much improved by a debate, but it seems to me that it would be much improved by taking on board some of the better economic conditions in this country and the opportunities for enterprise that have been created under the Government. Let us hope that there is more competition in the industry.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Notwithstanding the fact that next week the Prime Minister will presumably be making a statement on the European summit in Brussels, would it not be helpful to have a debate soon so that hon. Members of all parties can say clearly to our European partners that we are not prepared to see any increase in the European budget until or unless expenditure is brought under control, which it manifestly is not at the moment?

Mr. Wakeham

These are important issues on which there will have to be time for debate. Although I cannot promise a special debate next week, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to Monday's debate on agriculture to which some EC documents will be relevant. That seems an opportunity on which, with a little skill, my hon. Friend may be able to make points that he wants to make.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

Is the Leader of the House aware that allegations are circulating in the north-west of England that the recent liberal agreement reached with Turkey to allow tremendous imports of acrylic yarn into this country was a quid pro quo by the Prime Minister so that when she visits Turkey shortly she will be able triumphantly to announce that we have obtained a large civil engineering contract? Should not the right hon. Gentleman leave a note for the Prime Minister asking her to come here next week either to confirm or to deny those rumours?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot give any credence or substantiation to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I will refer the matter to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend concede the demand from hon. Members of all parties for an early debate on Northern Ireland? That would give the Government the opportunity of explaining how it is right to give the Irish Republic the right to interfere in the affairs of Northern Ireland when the Minister of Justice for the Irish Republic appears to think that it would be normal and proper in this country for the Government to interfere in the workings and considerations of the Court of Appeal in respect of the Birmingham six case.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that my hon. Friend speaks for a large number of hon. Members. We shall have to see what can be done. I stick to my point that we should first have the statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman please respond to the point made by the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) calling for a statement on the Waldheim affair? Meanwhile, will he ask the Foreign Secretary whether we have in our control any documents that have been removed from the Public Record Office referring to those commandos and seek an assurance from the Foreign Secretary that until the matter is sorted out no British diplomat will attend any function in Austria that is attended by President Waldheim?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the hon. and learned Gentleman's strength of feeling. I take on board his point, but I cannot add to what I said to my right hon. Friend the Father of the House.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members have sympathy with his difficulty in fitting the large amount of legislation into the parliamentary programme? In particular, he will know of my concern about the lack of debate on the proposals of the Select Committee on European Legislation that should be debated in the House before Ministers go to the Council of Ministers and make decisions on our behalf, particularly in regard to steel. He will be aware that the Prime Minister is in Brussels, but the House has not had the opportunity to discuss the European Economic Community budget since 1986.

Is it not time to look again at the way in which we deal with European legislation? Would it not be a good idea to set up the Procedure Committee and ask it to make recommendations to the House on how we should properly consider European legislation?

Mr. Wakeham

The way that my hon. Friend has suggested might be helpful. Certainly I recognise that some consideration of European matters has not been as good as it should have been. I apologise to my hon. Friend and to the House for that, but there were special circumstances. It would be right to set up the Procedure Committee. Discussions are taking place, and if a decision is made to discuss that topic, it will have my blessing.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

As the Prime Minister is away and we can all talk freely, may I assure the Leader of the House that I believe him to be a good loser and that he will not attempt to frustrate the decision taken by the House about televising our proceedings? I do not have similar faith in the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister. I am convinced, having watched her seethe, that she is probably planning at this very moment some hideous and bloody revenge. Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that the Select Committee will not be so packed as to thwart the decision of the House and that the Government will give a firm pledge that they accept that decision and that we will have a fair chance to consider the report of the Select Committee?

Mr. Wakeham

When the hon. Gentleman talks about good losers and congratulating losers, I bow to his greater knowledge and experience in such matters and take it as a compliment. The Prime Minister has always felt that television in the House would benefit her and the Government, and no doubt she will take advantage of the benefit that the House has bestowed upon her. However, she thought that television was not in the interests of Parliament, and that is why she voted as she did.

The House has made a decision. I accept that decision and feel that we should implement it as best we can. The Select Committee will be charged with that task, and I hope that it will represent all sections of the House. I do not believe that any hon. Member should go on that Select Committee and attempt to frustrate the will of the House. That is how we deal with such matters.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

As someone who voted in favour of the principle of televising the House but who does not want to be on the Select Committee, may I urge a cautious timetable on my right hon. Friend? When he spoke on Tuesday, he suggested a possible starting date of October. May I suggest that such a deadline is less important than giving the Select Committee plenty of time to examine the technical options? Perhaps it should not conclude its deliberations until the Government bring forward their proposals on the future of broadcasting which will mean more cable and satellite channels which would allow parliamentary programmes to be more generally spread across the spectrum without being squeezed into the duopoly channels that we presently have.

Mr. Wakeham

I do not think that I should add to what I said in the debate. However, I recognise that I put forward an ambitious timetable. We shall set out to do what we can, but I agree that we must have the right answers for a proper experiment. I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend does not want to serve on the Select Committee. It might be easier if we were to reverse the normal process so that those who do not want to be on the Select Committee write to me and those who do not write I shall assume do. I shall receive fewer letters that way.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Did the Prime Minister leave the Leader of the House a note saying that she has had second thoughts about robbing many pensioners and others on low incomes of their full entitlement to compensation for the Government's mistake in calculating the retail prices index? The Prime Minister may be one of Britain's richest pensioners, who does not even need to draw her full parliamentary salary, but will the Leader of the House send her a note, while she is wining and dining her way round Europe, saying that many people, such as my constituent, Mr. Jackson, can ill afford to be robbed of £8? This is a matter of public confidence in good government. There is no excuse for the Government robbing pensioners and others on low incomes of their full entitlement.

Mr. Wakeham

The Prime Minister did leave me a note explaining how, when the Government had dealt with the problem of the computer error, which regrettably resulted in an under-payment in pensions, the matter would be put right in a way which was generally acceptable to most people.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

In framing the future business of the House, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that early-day motion 275 on the abolition of the dock labour scheme now has 210 signatures?

[That this House believes that the National Dock Labour Scheme is an anachronism which both endangers the viability of jobs in the scheme areas and acts as a deterrent to job creation by new ventures; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to abolish the scheme, and open negotiations immediately with employers and unions to bring that about.]

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that, but I cannot add anything to what I said on that question some weeks ago.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to consider further the contents of early-day motion 574?

[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 the present Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer and by Lord Gray of Con tin, 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.]

Given the importance of an independent Britoil to the Scottish economy and the oil industry, and given the importance to the House of Commons of ensuring that promises made in 1982 are fully honoured in 1988, is there not the strongest case for a full debate on the matter, rather than a series thus far of ambiguous statements from the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Mr. Wakeham

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House when my right hon. Friend made his statement. I suggest that he re-reads it because it was an authoritative statement. As I told the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan), I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am sure that he will make another statement should it be necessary.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment on the dissemination of information? [Interruption]. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has made only one correct statement since I became a Member of the House 10 years ago, and that was this afternoon.

May we debate the dissemination of information by local authorities so that I can draw the Secretary of State's attention to a mendacious document, circulated by post at public expense to all council tenants in Ealing, telling them that their council homes could be removed from them under housing legislation currently going through Parliament? That has frightened many pensioners and others, yet the members of Ealing council and many others know, or should know, that under that legislation no secure council tenant will be transferred to any other landlord against his or her wishes.

Mr. Tony Banks

That is not right. The hon. Gentleman should read the Bill. I am a member of the Committee that is considering it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question was put to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Wakeham

One of the advantages of living in Ealing is that one is represented by my hon. Friend. He makes his point well, but I cannot arrange a debate on the subject next week.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Prison Officers Association has now started to refuse people on remand entrance to certain London prisons? Indeed, it now appears that the number of prisoners detained in London police stations is once again rising quickly and alarmingly. Bearing in mind the exorbitant cost of housing prisoners in police stations and the damage that that does to police efficiency and manpower resources, will the Leader of the House persuade the Home Secretary either to come to the Dispatch Box in the early part of next week, or arrange a short debate in the week following, so that we can once again try to tackle the problem which is becoming alarming in its frequency?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that it is a serious problem and I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He will be answering questions in the House next Thursday and that will provide an opportunity to question him if he does not feel it right to make a statement before that time.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the grossly inaccurate reports that have been circulated on the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster fund, that the trustees have been extremely successful in collecting £6 million which will be dispensed to the needy within one year, that the trustees are grateful to the Government for their contribution of £1 million, and that the trustees do not intend to see a large tax payment? In fact, the Government are unlikely to see much tax at all because the children and orphans will be paid their money out of interest and should be able to reclaim tax paid on that. In addition, can my right hon. Friend confirm to the great British public who contributed to the fund, for which the trustees are grateful, that they will not see any of their contributions going back to Exchequer in tax because the only substantive amount of tax that is likely to be paid is on the commercial sale of records, not on the public's contributions?

Mr. Wakeham

Yes, my hon. Friend is right. I have seen the statement issued by the chairman of the disaster fund in which he said that he had chosen to establish the fund as a discretionary trust rather than as a charity, knowing full well the consequences of doing so. The object was to give the trust more freedom to make payments as it saw fit. The trustees are grateful to the Government for their prompt donation of £1 million, as they are for the donations from everybody else.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In view of remarks that were made earlier, will the Leader of the House be a little more positive and ensure that we have a statement next week on the position of the commandos who, after being captured, were handed over to the Gestapo to be murdered in cold blood by an army unit which had first questioned them in which Waldheim was involved? Can the Austrians be forewarned, in the most diplomatic way possible, that the overwhelming majority of the British people, regardless of their political views or lack of them, find it difficult to understand how someone who, during the war, was an active accomplice of mass murderers can now be President of Austria? That stinks in the nostrils of ordinary people.

Mr. Wakeham

I am not in a position to comment on the substance of the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, but I recognise his strength of feeling and that of the House, and I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Without wishing to associate myself with the rhetoric or the accusations of the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), may I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider his reply? Will he acknowledge that there is confusion in the country about the £8? May we have a statement next week, if only in the form of an extended written answer, clarifying the position?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall look into the matter, and see if anything can be done to assist my hon. Friend.

Mr. Speaker

Order. As the House knows, I am always reluctant to curtail business questions, but there is an important debate to follow. I shall call those hon. Members who have been rising.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Leader of the House has already heard two different representations on the question of back payments to pensioners and those on invalidity and other benefits. The simple argument is that, if there are two recipients in the house with two order books, they receive two payments of £8; if there is only one with a dependent wife or children, that person will receive only £8, because there is only one book. The matter ought to be sorted out.

When the Leader of the House sends his message to the Prime Minister when she comes back, will he tell her that there is trouble at the mill as well? Some staff in the House—for instance, those working behind the tea bars— are threatening industrial action, for the simple reason that their back pay is being docked. Some people, instead of receiving £2,000 in back pay, have been offered £250, or, in some cases, £400. Will he look into the matter and get it sorted out? Otherwise he will have a strike on his hands.

Mr. Wakeham

I think that I shall also get into a spot of trouble if I do not look into it before I report it to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 652?

[That this House, in view of the widespread disquiet at the recent judgement by the Court of Appeal in the case of the six men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings, calls upon the Home Secretary to establish an independent review tribunal, along the lines recommended by the Home Affairs Select Committee Report on Miscarriages of Justice, in particular to examine the claim by the honourable Member for Sunderland South that he has traced and interviewed the four men responsible for the bombings and that they are all in Ireland.]

The motion has attracted 152 signatures in the space of 48 hours. It is signed by members of all parties and reflects widespread concern, not only in this place but in the country. It has implications not just for the six innocent men who have been in prison for 14 years, but for the judicial system, and the many issues arising from it. May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to find time for an early debate on the subject?

Mr. Wakeham

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the terms of the motion, but I shall undertake to draw it to his attention. This is a matter of constitutional principle, and it should primarily be for the courts and the judical process to review convictions and the alleged miscarriages of justice.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 647 about the Blue Circle bid for Birmid Qualcast?

[That this House expresses concern that the future of one of Britain's smallest companies is threatened by a current take-over attempt; notes that Birmid Qualcast is a Midlands based company which also has companies in the North West, that its management and workforce have overcome the severe problems facing the foundry industry and have achieved a very viable castings business and also have become a market leader in consumer durables with household names such as New World, Potterton, Atco and Qualcast; further notes that the company is faced with a take-over bid from Blue Circle Cement, which whilst it has finance available, has no expertise in the field in which Birmid Qualcast operates; and calls upon the Government to look at take-over bids which threaten the independence of companies such as Qualcast, with consequences for the national interest and for employment in the manufacturing sector.]

If not, will he read it?

An efficient small company has reorganised itself, as the Government have asked small companies to do, and is now a leader in consumer durables, with household names such as Potterton, New World, Atco and Qualcast. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is something wrong with the Government's interpretation of "national interest" as being about free competition when a company such as Blue Circle Cement, which has no expertise in the field, can make a bid for Birmid Qualcast, and can threaten employment and a small company that has seen off foreign competitors? Will he arrange for an early debate?

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced on 3 February his decision not to refer the proposed merger to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. That decision was in accordance with the advice of the Director General of Fair Trading. I do not therefore consider it necessary to devote further parliamentary time to the issue.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Does the Leader of the House accept that an opportunity to debate the Economic League would give hon. Members on both sides of the House the chance to agree that character assassination by blacklist is as unacceptable in Thatcher's Britain as it should have been in McCarthy's America?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We refer to each other by our constituencies or offices here.

Mr. Wilson

In that case, it is as unacceptable in the Prime Minister's Britain as in the senator from Wisconsin's America.

Does the Leader of the House recognise that it must be, and if it is not it should be, a matter of considerable importance to the House that prima facie evidence is very strong that a private enterprise secret police force is operating in this country, and that one of its leading lights is Lord Cayzer, whose companies are the leading financiers of the Conservative party? Does he agree that the existence of such a police force, apparently in connivance with the official police force, should be a matter of some interest to the House?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise Government time to debate the issue, but I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman might have a word with his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench to see whether they could find some time for it.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

Has the leader of the House had an opportunity to consider early-day motion 677, together with newspaper reports circulating in Scotland today, concerning the effective use of NHS funds to subsidise those working in the private health industry?

[That this House condemns the proposal that some Scottish health boards use public funds to place National Health Service patients in private hospitals; notes the statement made by the Chairman of the Murrayfield plc, operators of the Murrayfield private hospitals in Edinburgh, in his annual report in 1987 that "To date occupancy and profit are below budget" and the most recently published accounts of the Glasgow Independent Hospitals Ltd. Trading as AMI Ross Hall; considers that, far from being a lifeline to the National Health Service, these funds are a subsidy and a much needed boost to the private health industry; and calls upon the Secretary of State and boards, which have been instructed by him that their decision must reflect his policies, to ensure that no public funds be paid directly or indirectly to the private health industry, but are instead devoted to the National Health Service.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman allow a debate to give the House an opportunity to deplore that practice? His brief may tell him that the decision was made by Scottish health boards. Is he aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland has informed all health boards that they are there to act as his agents and to do his bidding, and that the authorisation of the use of NHS funds in private hospitals must therefore have come from the highest level? Is it not time that we debated the issue?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise an early debate on the subject, but the additional resources of £7.6 million for the National Health Service in Scotland announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on 16 December were allocated to health boards for a range of patient needs, including the specific policy aim of reducing waiting lists. Some boards considered that, in their circumstances, that would be best achieved by buying services from the private sector.

The Government very much welcome the reduction in waiting lists that the boards are achieving, and note that the resources made available are being devoted entirely to the care of National Health patients.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Is the Leader of the House aware that it has not gone unnoticed that the Government have managed to avoid a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee ever since the general election back in June last year? We recognise that it would be embarrassing for the Government to view the spectacle of a Committee containing only 10 Government supporters and 62 Opposition Members, but can the right hon. Gentleman begin to put that right by arranging for an early meeting of the Committee in Edinburgh to discuss the crisis affecting the National Health Service in Scotland?

Mr. Wakeham

I believe that last time we tried to organise a Committee meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee there were certain difficulties that were not entirely of the Government's making. However, if there are demands for a meeting, I think that they would be best discussed through the usual channels.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Is the Leader of the House aware that, since the general election, the Welsh Grand Committee has met on three separate occasions, and yet the Scottish Grand Committee has not met once? As my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) has suggested, we are becoming a wee bit suspicious that the Secretary of State for Scotland is afraid to appear, because he will have only nine supporters — that is, if the Secretary of State for Defence is able to come along, which is very unlikely — whereas there will be 62 Opposition Members ranged against him.

Will the Leader of the House follow the example of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, go over the head of the Secretary of State for Scotland and arrange a number of meetings of the Committee so that we can discuss urgent matters, such as education, the Health Service, the postponement of the bypasses in south Ayrshire and all the other matters which are causing great concern in Scotland today and which we are not having an opportunity to discuss?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman puts his case with such force that I think that he is worried that I may concede it, and he may have to go there. However, I have nothing further to add.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

I rose only recently, and as usual reluctantly, because of a comment that the Leader of the House made a few moments ago. Would he care to rephrase and reconsider his response, in which he appeared to say that on the Select Committee on televising the House he would not want to have anybody who wanted to frustrate the will of the House? Does he not mean that he will keep off everybody who voted against the introduction of television cameras? Does he not think it wiser to have on the Committee knowledgeable, experienced hon. Members who know something about the dangers of the introduction and would want to ensure that very clever and subtle restraints are placed on the misuse and abuse of the televison cameras and to ensure that others external to the House do not choose the pictures, comment or selection? Does he not realise that there must be a large number of safeguards, because we do not want to put out to the public pictures of right hon. or hon. Members scratching their right buttock or picking their left nostril?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman has no need to write me a letter; I have got the message. I said that I do not believe that anybody should go on the Select Committee with the purpose of frustrating the will of the House. I certainly recognise the validity of the hon. Gentleman's argument. I think the Select Committee should have representatives of all points of view in the House who are prepared to work to put into practice what the House has resolved, so I accept the substance of what he has said.

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