HC Deb 18 February 1988 vol 127 cc1157-68

4.1 pm

The Lord President of the Council and the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)

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

MONDAY 22 FEBRUARY — Timetable motion on the Local Government Finance Bill.

Remaining stages of the Dartford and Thurrock Crossing Bill.

TUESDAY 23 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the British Steel Bill.

Motion to take note of EC documents on the steel industry. Details of the EC documents concerned will be given in the Official Report. WEDNESDAY 24 FEBRUARY—Debate on a motion to take note of the Government's expenditure plans 1988–89 to 1990–91 (CM 288).

Motions on Scottish Housing Support Grant Orders. Details will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 25 FEBRUARY—Motion on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Acts 1978 and 1987 (Continuance) Order.

Motion on the Criminal Injuries (Compensation) (Northern Ireland) Order.

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

FRIDAY 26 FEBRUARY—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 29 FEBRUARY—Oppostion Day (9th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject for debate to be announced.

[Debate on Tuesday 23 February

Relevant European Community documents
(a) 8560/87 Steel industry: Community policy
(b) 4127/88
(c) 8803/86 EEC-USA steel arrangements
(e) Unnumbered Compensatory measures against United States restrictions on steel imports
(f) 8993/86 + COR 1 State aids to steel industries: 1984–85
(g) Unnumbered Spanish and Portuguese steel: delivery levels
(h) 10013/87 Steel Industry: Report of the "Three Wise Men"

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 43-iii (1987–88) para 22 and HC 43-viii (1978–88) para 3
  2. (b) HC 43-xv (1987–88) para 2
  3. (c) HC 21-xxvii (1985–86) para 5
  4. (d) HC 21-xxv (1985–86) para 2
  5. (e) HC 21-xxvi (1985–86) para 2
  6. (f) HC 21-xxviii (1985–86) para 6 and HC 22-iii (1986–87) para 3
  7. (g) HC 43-iv (1987–88) para 5
  8. (h) HC 43-xi (1987–88) para 11

Debate on Wednesday 24 February

The draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1988

The draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1988

The Housing Revenue Account Rate Fund Contribution Limits (Scotland) Order 1988.]

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. At the same time, I should like to register our regret that the limited time available today for the debate on the social fund has been further reduced by the time taken by the Prime Minister's statement, which clearly could have been made on any other day.

Will the Leader of the House tell us when the membership of the Select Committee on televising the proceedings of the House will be decided? When can we expect it to begin its work?

When can we expect a debate about the need for reskilling and retraining for young people and adults?

When are we to have a debate about the Stalker-Sampson report?

Finally, is the Leader of the House aware that the all-party Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has ruled without dissent that the Paisley grammar school order is badly drafted, technically defective and in breach of the rules of the House? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that that preposterous order is withdrawn, and will he ask the Prime Minister to abandon her attempt at personal rule in Scotland before even more people in Scotland feel that their proud country is being treated as a banana republic?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman asked me five questions. The first was about today's debate on the social fund. I regret that there will be some curtailment of the debate because of the statement, but statements are important and sometimes they have to be made.

With regard to the Select Committee to consider the experiment on televising Parliament, discussions are going on through the usual channels. We shall set up the Select Committee as soon as we can and will bring a motion before the House. I hope that there will not be long delay on that.

With regard to the debate on training for employment in the White Paper announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment earlier in the week, I suggest that this matter can be discussed through the usual channels. That is the best way to proceed.

With regard to the Stalker-Sampson report, subject to your views, Mr. Speaker, I should have thought that the matter could be raised in the course of the debate on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 and 1987 (Continuance) Order on Thursday.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments' report on Scottish schools regulations has only just been received and will be very carefully considered, but I understand that the regulations themselves remain valid.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that, although hon. Members realise that he is responsible for getting Government business through, he is equally responsible for Members of the House and the defence of their rights? An announcement has been made that we shall debate a timetable motion on the Local Government Finance Bill on Monday. There is no motion for that timetable motion on the Order Paper; it will not be on the Order Paper until tomorrow morning. That gives hon. Members only five and a half hours in which to consider, draft and get in order any amendments they might wish to table to the motion.

Friday is a day when many hon. Members have parliamentary duties outside the House.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

We have heard that one before.

Sir Peter Emery

Some of us have constituencies to look after.

Will my right hon. Friend consider ensuring that at least two clear days' notice is given of timetable motions because Mr. Speaker has ruled that manuscript amendments cannot be accepted which give directives to the Committee?

Mr. Wakeham

I appreciate my hon. Friend's interest and expertise in procedural matters. I should be sorry if he were prevented from having the opportunity to amend the motion if that is what he wishes to do. I am arranging for it to be tabled later this afternoon so that it will be available in the Table Office later today and can be amended then. However, I hope that when my hon. Friend sees the motion he will agree that it allows a generous amount of time to enable all parts of the Bill properly to be discussed.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the statutory instrument to which he refers, dealing with Scottish education, has humiliated the Secretary of State for Scotland as it was imposed against his will, and has abused almost every rule of the House? The Select Committee on Statutory Instruments has described it as vague, but there has been a failure to comply with the Statutory Instruments Act 1946. In any other sphere of activity it would be regarded as ultra vires and illegal. It is only the technicality of the House and its sovereignty that have prevented the House from being condemned to 10 years in gaol for its maladministration and illegality.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman's language is a bit rich. I am glad that he confirms that the regulations remain valid. As I said to his hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), the Committee's report has only just been received and will be carefully considered.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

Will my hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the Geneva convention which, as my right hon. Friend will appreciate, forbids the use of the Red Cross logo on any document except its own? The Labour party pamphlet "Turn Budget Day into NHS Day", one million of which have been printed, infringes the law about which Opposition Members are so concerned. Would it not have been better for them to spend their money more charitably?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise my hon. and learned Friend an early debate. I should have thought that the contents of the pamphlet were the most objectionable feature of it.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

Does the Leader of the House appreciate that his reply to the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) about the procedure is quite inadequate? The right hon. Gentleman is truncating the rights of the House. A simple solution is available to him. Last week, he announced that the steel debate would take place on Monday. If he stuck to his original announcement, we could have a debate about the guillotine on Tuesday and we would then have time to decide whether to amend it. It is ridiculous for the Leader of the House to say, "Wait and see whether you like it when you see it." We want the right to amend that motion properly and in order and it is possible for the Leader of the House to ensure that that is done if he wishes.

Mr. Wakeham

Such a question is surprising from the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), given his expertise in moving five guillotine motions in one day. I suggest that he should listen to the answers that I give. The motion will be tabled this afternoon and will be available in the Table Office. It will be possible for anyone to amend it this afternoon.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for at last providing time for a discussion of the European documents relating to the steel regime of the Community along with the Second Reading of the British Steel Bill. I remind my right hon. Friend that the House has not had an opportunity to discuss the agreement reached in Brussels by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Will he arrange for a proper full day's debate of those very important discussions and their implications for this country and the Community for the next four to five years?

Mr. Wakeham

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House earlier this week, when, and only when, the decisions on the control of expenditure have been translated into firm and legally binding texts will the Government recommend a new level of own resources to the House. The House will then have a full opportunity for debate since the new level of own resources cannot be implemented without its agreement.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Has the Leader of the House noticed that more than 150 right hon. and hon. Members have now signed early-day motion 543 on New Zealand's food exports to the United Kingdom?

[That this House affirms the right of British consumers to continue to buy butter from New Zealand in the same quantities as now; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that there will be no diminution in New Zealand's butter exports to the United Kingdom.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to the House next week on the Government's intentions with regard to that motion?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise the right hon. Gentleman a statement next week. However, the Community will have to take into account a whole range of factors, including budgetary costs, the views of consumers, its stance on trade policy issues in general and the pressures on the dairy industry resulting from quotas. It would be premature to discuss the Government's approach before the Commission has made its proposals.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Will my right hon. Friend allow time for an early debate regarding a report broadcast today on "Woman's Hour" that hospitals all over the country as far apart as Leeds, Portsmouth, Colchester, Northampton, Hackney and Sunderland are denying women their statutory right to a termination at 12 weeks or more except in the case of extreme medical emergency? Those hospitals are under great pressure, as this House has been, from lobbies that are trying to alter the course of law in this country without going through the correct statutory channels.

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate on this matter next week, but I will refer it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

Has the Leader of the House noticed that the managing director of Land Rover admitted yesterday that he had given the names, addresses and telephone numbers, including ex-directory telephone numbers, of people working at Land Rover to an outside organisation in an attempt to obtain information that he could use against the trade unions in industrial disputes? Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate, as soon as possible, on such intrusions into privacy and abuse of personal information?

Mr. Wakeham

I am unable to confirm what the hon. Gentleman has said and I am not absolutely certain of the ministerial responsibility in that matter, but I shall refer it to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have an early debate on the great distress that is being caused to widows, widowers and members of families in various parts of the country whose deceased relatives have been buried in cemeteries that are now being sold off by local authorities as a means of saving money on their maintenance? Will my right hon. Friend particularly note the case of Hanwell cemetery in west London in which people have been buried as recently as this year but which has now been sold? There are now proposals to build on that consecrated land and that is causing huge upset to families, widows and many others.

Hon. Members

Ask Shirley Porter about it.

Mr. Speaker

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

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the concern expressed by my hon. Friend. I cannot promise him a debate next week, but I wonder whether the subject he has raised might form the basis of a useful Adjournment debate, should he be lucky in the ballot.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. May I remind the House of what was said from the Front Bench? This is a day on which there are two extremely important debates, and I ask for brief questions. I shall call those hon. Members who have been seeking to ask questions.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

The debate on the renewal of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Acts 1978 and 1987 provides an opportunity to discuss the Stalker-Sampson report, the changed role of the Army on the border and so on. Has the Leader of the House noticed that, on that day, a high proportion of the Unionist Members from Northern Ireland will be in gaol? I believe that that debate is important to them and to us. It-might be unusual, but I would like to know their views on the matter. However, they propose to be in gaol. Could we alter the timing of the debate?

Mr. Wakeham

I should be extremely sorry if any hon. Gentleman had another engagement on that day. I do not think that I can alter the business of the House on that basis.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

Now that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made a statement about the Royal Ulster Constabulary, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the prayers put down by the leader of the Liberal party dealing with the disciplining of and complaints about the RUC?

Mr. Wakeham

I believe that the Stalker report and related matters can be debated next week. The question of time for prayers is a matter for the usual channels.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

When can we expect to have another debate on parliamentary procedure? I am particularly concerned about the selection of the statements that are made in this House because they do not necessarily bear any close relationship to their importance in the great cosmos of events. They seem to relate to narrow, Tory party interests. On Monday, for example, the Prime Minister chose an extremely good day for her to come back to tell us about the surrender regarding the common agricultural policy. Today we have had a statement that delayed an important debate about social security. Yesterday we had an extremely long statement that shut out the debate on the abolition of the Inner London education authority. How does the Leader of the House select those statements?

Mr. Wakeham

Before the hon. Gentleman goes too far down that road, I suggest that he has a word with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, because I believe that he requested some of the statements to be made.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

When is the inquiry into the fate of the British commandos — this matter was dealt with during last week's business questions—likely to report? When did the interrogations occur? Who was involved and what happened afterwards? Would it be possible for the Leader of the House to arrange for a statement to be made about what records were available to the British Government at the time when Waldheim was to be appointed Secretary General of the United Nations? This is an important matter in view of the fact that Waldheim, as the Leader of the House is aware, is a suspected war criminal.

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was extremely forthcoming in her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) earlier in the week. She said that the Government were reviewing the results of the investigation carried out in 1986 by the Ministry of Defence in the light of the report of the International Historians Commission. I believe that the best thing is to wait for that investigation to be carried out. I shall refer the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that Monday's debate on the Dartford and Thurrock crossing Bill will have adequate time to explore the implications of the Government's response to the Select Committee's recommendations? That is important for two reasons. First, after 21 days of detailed study, the Committee, by a 5:1 majority, decided that its first priority was public safety and convenience and therefore a windshield should be erected on the bridge. The Government have rejected that recommendation. Their first priority is their cosy relationships with Trafalgar House.

Secondly, the whole Select Committee system is undermined if, after hon. Members on both sides of a Committee have agreed to a series of recommendations, they are then tossed out by the Government who wish to ensure that the contract with Trafalgar House is maintained.

Mr. Wakeham

I do not accept for one moment what the hon. Gentleman says. I shall say two things to him: first, I believe that the points he raised will be relevant to the debate on Monday. There will be adequate time for the Government to make their case and for others to reply. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is in error if he thinks there is any conventional rule of the House that the House is bound by a decision of a Select Committee. The House always has the right to examine reports of Select Committees and decide for itself.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to be brought back to the Chamber at 10 pm to make a further statement on her attack on the Civil Service, which is contained in the yellow report I have with me, and to say why there was no consultation with the trade unions that represent 600,000 civil servants before she accepted the recommendations in the report? She will then be able further to clarify what seems to be the main aim of the exercise—privatisation and hiving off—as outlined on page 27 of the report and hinted at in some of her answers to questions. That privatisation and hiving off will mean the end of national wage conditions and bargaining for the Civil Service in this country, and the living standards of civil servants outside London in areas such as Coventry will be severely cut. Is that the answer of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Prime Minister to the industrial relations problems in the Civil Service, especially on a day when the whole of the Department of Employment and the DHSS in London are on strike against wage cuts?

Mr. Wakeham

The answer is, "No, Sir." I shall not pass that message to my right hon. Friend, and I shall not ask her to come back here. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman uses the time profitably by reading and trying to understand the report. He will see from the list of agencies suggested for consideration that none of them involves privatisation.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Mr. Gekas, of Edinburgh, the alleged Nazi collaborator, has asked to be put on trial? Is it not time that we had the opportunity to debate this principle, recognising that many Fascist sympathisers in this country have been welcomed here by the Tory Government? Surely, instead of leaving that to the press, we should be discussing it here. Is it not time that the Government said exactly what they intend to do about it?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman follows these things, apart from when he is speaking, but he may recall that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary told the House of the way in which the Government are proceeding in these matters. What is more, if I remember rightly, his general approach was supported by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), which is a sensible way in which to proceed.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or debate before Budget day on the subject of subsidies by the Chancellor of the Exchequer through the Inland Revenue to the top four banks in Britain? Has he read today that the Midland bank made a loss of about £500 million — and Lloyds will follow in the next few days? The truth is—this is why we need a debate—that the money those banks lost as a result of setting money aside for bad debt provision will be bailed out by the British taxpayer to the Inland Revenue. If, as it seems, the top banks have lost about £1,000 million in this bailing-out process, we should have a debate before Budget day so that some of us can say that if that sort of money is going spare it should go to the National Health Service and other projects.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman has asked questions in similar terms more than four times before, and has shown a woeful ignorance of how the tax system works. So, although I cannot promise him a debate before the Budget—it would be improper to do so — I shall write to him and try to educate him before then.

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

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the groundswell of opinion in this country, much of it Conservative and church-going, which strenuously objects to the vindictive and vicious statements of the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, against people in the Church of England — prominent bishops, archbishops and clergymen? Is it not time that the Minister of State was reined in and told that he must stop it? He is bringing Parliament into disrepute and doing damage to the Government and their supporters.

Mr. Wakeham

I find it interesting that the hon. Gentleman, who considers himself one of the most outspoken Members of the House and, indeed, of the British community, seems to object when someone else expresses his view. My right hon. Friend expresses his view, he will continue to do so, and I suggest that he is more in touch with public opinion than the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to inform the House of any progress that has been made in setting up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs?

Mr. Wakeham

A little progress has been made. I am awaiting a letter from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). When I have that letter, I hope that it will be a substantial move in the right direction. I expect it at any time.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

The Leader of the House will be aware that the Director General of Oftel has made a statement to British Telecom about the now infamous Talkabout service which is offered to teenagers. I believe that the British Telecommunications Act 1984 has put the whole business of telecommunications beyond the reach of the House of Commons. The Talkabout service and other services are so base and out of touch with public morality that we should bring the matter back to the House so that suitable amendments can be made. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise a debate. I understand that the position is that British Telecom has been given two weeks to agree to the proposals announced by Professor Carsberg, the Director General of Oftel, earlier this week. My right hon. and noble Friend is aware of the concern about the possible abuse of these services, and expressed his serious concern to the professor last month.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

May we be educated about the answer to early-day motions numbers 228, 253, 272, 273 and 286? It would be helpful if we had one of those educative speeches from the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), giving his version of events.

[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 shaky 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 Prime 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 Officer's letter concerning the Westland Affair.]

[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.]

[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 'Brittan 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, the downfall of Heseltine had not been achieved … He (Mr. Brittan) 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.]

[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.]

[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.]

Secondly, may we be educated next week on how on earth it came about that, on 5 February, vital parts of the hull of a Trident submarine tumbled off the deck of a Bahamian-registered ship with an uninvestigated crew aboard? Apparently, name tickets have been placed to mark where the stuff has fallen into the sea. On 6 February, having learnt nothing, the crew of the ship then lost more parts of the Trident. May we be told what action was taken by anyone between 5 February and 6 February? Oscar Wilde had something to say on these matters: losing parts of Trident a second time really does require parliamentary explanation.

Mr. Wakeham

The educational process requires two people: one to make the statements and the other to listen to the answers. I fear that the hon. Gentleman does not like the answers that he has been given many times in the past about the matters dealt with in those early-day motions. I have nothing further to add to what has been said about them many times.

As for the saga of the bits of Trident that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I do not have the details here. I shall see what the Ministry of Defence has to say, and will write to him. If there is any more information that I can give him, I shall be happy to do so.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

When are we likely to hear the promised statement from the Chancellor on Britoil, given the uncertainty facing the company and its workers? Does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that it would be much better for the House to have a full debate on the issue so that we can fully examine the promises made in 1982 and compare them with the performance of 1988, to establish whether the Chancellor still believes that it is important to protect the character of Britoil as an independent company, responsible for its own management and business strategy"?—[Official Report, 31 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 334.]

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman is labouring under a misapprehension. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that he was not present at the time, but I am not aware of that. My right hon. Friend did not say that a further statement was necessary. He did not promise a further statement, but if one is necessary it will be made.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)


Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)


Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) or the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) heard me say 15 minutes ago that I would call hon. Members who had been standing. If they will be very brief, I shall call them. I shall call the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead first, but I hope that he will be very brief.

Dr. Glyn

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), among others, raised the matter of certain British prisoners of war who were tortured and murdered during the war. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this issue should be dealt with expeditiously because it is giving rise to long-drawn-out discussions in the press? The sooner that we deal with it, the better.

Mr. Wakeham

I agree with my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that she takes these matters very seriously. They will be dealt with as soon as possible.

Dame E. Kellett-Bowman

Will my right hon. Friend take note of early-day motion 449?

[That this House welcomes the 1987 Employment Act which introduces legislation that will significantly reverse closed shop arrangements, but notes that hundreds of thousands of students will still have no choice over whether or not they join the National Union of Students; and hopes that the Secretary of State for Education and Science will take action to rectify this anomalous position as soon as possible.]

Many hon. Members do not like students being obliged to join any union, not least the National Union of Students. We should like a debate on the matter, and for the membership of unions to become voluntary so that they have to earn their membership, not just collar it.

Mr. Wakeham

The National Union of Students is an affiliation of student unions; students' unions may elect not to affiliate. However, I recognise that my hon. Friend has raised an important matter. With her customary ingenuity, she might be able to find a way of raising the matter when the Education Reform Bill comes back to the House. I know from the timetable motion that a lot of time is available for discussing important matters.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was not present earlier, but I understand that my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House raised the question of the Scottish education statutory instrument. What concerns me is that any discussion of that instrument, which has been reported by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, is at the discretion of the House. When a report is made, following flagrant abuses of the procedures by the Government, it is at the Government's discretion whether a debate takes place, which is unfair.

There is a rule in the House of Lords that if the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments has not examined an instrument it cannot be debated in the affirmative procedure — there is no parallel for the negative procedure. The Procedure Committee should examine the procedure so that if the Select on Joint Committee report an instrument to the House, and a prayer is laid, a debate should be held at the discretion of the House, not the Government. Clearly the Government have a vested interest in not subjecting their abuse of procedure to the light of debate. Therefore, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, how best we can ensure that the Procedure Committee looks at this issue speedily.

Mr. Speaker

The best thing that the hon. Gentleman could do would be to put the matter to the Procedure Committee when it has been set up; it is a relevant point.

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