HC Deb 21 January 1988 vol 125 cc1095-105 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 25 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Regional Development Grants (Termination) Bill.

Motion on the London Regional Transport (Levy) Order.

TUESDAY 26 JANUARY—There will be a debate on the Army, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Church of England (Legal Aid and Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure.

WEDNESDAY 27 JANUARY — Opposition Day (8th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The Government of Scotland".

Motion relating to the statement of changes in immigration rules (HC 208).

Remaining stages of the Income and Corporation Taxes Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

THURSDAY 28 JANUARY — Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill [Lords], followed by Second Reading of the Welsh Development Agency Bill.

FRIDAY 29 JANUARY—Private Members' Bills

MONDAY I FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Public Utility Transfers and Water Charges Bill.

Mr. Dobson

I am grateful to the Leader of the House. First, will he give an undertaking that the new guidelines on the immigration rules, which directly affect the rights of hon. Members, will be debated on the Floor of the House in prime time before the consultation period expires?

Will the right hon. Gentleman commit the Merchant Shipping Bill to the scrutiny of a Special Standing Committee?

In view of the reports that the Secretary of State for the Environment is now planning to sell off the Crown Suppliers, with the possible loss of 1,900 jobs, may we have an urgent statement on that latest proposed rip-off?

Will the Leader of the House also tell us when we can expect a debate on the social fund? The proposed changes are devastating for the very poorest people in our society, and the House must be given an opportunity to debate, and I hope reject, them.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that we shall soon have an opportunity to debate Members' accommodation and other facilities, in view of the continuing problems faced by many Members, especially new Members?

Finally, when will the televising of the House be debated? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us, for the convenience of his right hon. and hon. Friends so that they can make the necessary arrangements, whether the Prime Minister intends to put on a three-line Whip to get them to vote against that?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman has asked six questions, which I shall do my best to answer.

First, I can confirm that there will be a debate on the immigration rules on the Floor of the House, I hope at a convenient time before the consultation period has expired.

I note the hon. Gentleman's request that the Merchant Shipping Bill should be committed to a Special Standing Committee. That matter is best pursued through the usual channels. It might be convenient if the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), who leads for the Opposition on these matters, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport were to have a discussion about it; I think that that can be arranged.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has been considering various options for the future of the Crown Suppliers, following advice from consultants. When he is in a position to make an announcement, I shall ensure that there is consultation through the usual channels about the form of that announcement.

I have nothing to say about the social fund today, but I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

I recognise that Members' accommodation and the new building Sub-Committee report on phase 2 is an important matter and I shall certainly arrange for a debate. When that report is received, a suitable occasion can be arranged.

I told the Leader of the Opposition last week that I hoped to be able to announce the date of the debate on televising the House today and I can inform the House that, subject to there being no unforeseen events, the debate will take place on Tuesday 9 February.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

In order to facilitate the passage of the Government's business through the House, will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Serjeant at Arms about the unacceptable heat in the Palace of Westminster? Is he aware that in the Committee rooms upstairs the temperature is sometimes over 80 deg? Does he agree that, not only in the interests of economy but also in the interests of clear thinking, the heating should be turned down in what is a mild winter?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall take on board what my hon. Friend says about the heat in the Committee rooms, although I am not entirely sure that all the heat is generated by the heating system.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Have there been any developments in the past seven days which will allow the House to give further directions to the Committee of Selection on the setting up of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs?

Furthermore, the Leader of the House will be aware of the dismay that a major statement on the future of radio broadcasting should be made by way of a written answer. In view of that, will the House have an opportunity to debate that in the relatively near future?

Mr. Wakeham

Discussions are still going on to see whether we can find a satisfactory solution to the problem of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I have written to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and, when I have heard from him, I hope that that will help the matter.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has answered questions about the announcement on broadcasting today. The form of any announcement by the Government is obviously a matter for the Government's judgment, but we shall find time for a debate. When legislation comes forward, that will be an opportunity.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

Will my right hon. Friend draw to his colleagues' attention the need for the Government to table an amendment which will draw to the attention of the House not only the disastrous consequences for Scotland but the most serious implications for the House of the Opposition's proposals for the future government of Scotland? Does he agree that the Labour party has spent the past ten years failing to answer the West Lothian question? Is it too much to hope that we shall have an answer on Wednesday?

Mr. Wakeham

Obviously, those are exactly the points that I know my right hon. Friend and others will want to make in the debate. The question of an amendment to the motion is best left until we see what the Opposition motion is.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Will the Leader of the House reintroduce the 10-minute limit for speeches in major debates? You said yesterday, Mr. Speaker, in reply to a point of order by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), that on Tuesday of this week, on a major debate on the Health Service, affecting all constituents of all hon. Members, 25 Members were called and 30 were not. A number of speeches by Privy Councillors could have been cut much shorter. Many Back Benchers would have been afforded the opportunity of speaking if the 10-minute limit had been introduced. I ask the Leader of the House to arrange an urgent debate on the matter.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the strength of feeling. In the past few days I have been in contact with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who leads for the Opposition on House of Commons matters, and through the usual channels, to find out when it would be best to deal with this matter and some other outstanding matters in the report of the Procedure Committee.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern and the concern of other members of the Select Committee on European Legislation that many items are piling up which have not been put down for rapid debate, including all aspects of the present and future EEC budgets? On too many occasions Ministers may, either unwittingly or because they are in a difficult position, allow approval of measures which should gave been scrutinised by the House and the Select Committee in the proper way.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that there have been one or two such cases, as my hon. Friend points out. In each case the Minister concerned has properly written to the Scrutiny Committee explaining why he felt it necessary to take the action, but I recognise that there is concern, and I will do my best to meet it.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we have a debate on solvent abuse, because in my constituency and elsewhere young people are turning from glue sniffing to sniffing butane gas for gas lighters, which is freely available to people irrespective of their age? Should not this matter have the attention of the House before it gets very much worse?

Mr. Wakeham

Yes, that is of course a very important matter. I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman is concerned about it, but I am afraid that I cannot see an early opportunity for a debate, although I will certainly bear it in mind.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the synthetic indignation of the Opposition about the actions of the Patronage Secretary with regard to private Members' business last week. As he is also aware that hypocrisy is not an ingredient of the debates in the House, I wonder whether, through the usual channels, he could make inquiries of the Labour party to see what pressure is being put on its members as to how they should vote tomorrow, and whether some of those pressures might infringe the rules of privilege of the House?

Mr. Wakeham

I have said to my hon. Friend before that I recognise his concern about this matter, but I believe that the usual channels are best kept to private discussions. I am not sure that I shall be asking the questions he wants me to ask.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that I received a letter this morning from a woman whose father almost died six years ago after taking the drug Opren? she said that she is ashamed to say that she now wishes he had died, in view of his appalling suffering. He is now bedridden, in pain, needs constant attention day and night, and has no hope and no dignity. I have many hundreds of similar letters about the sufferings of those who have taken Opren. Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that all my Adjournment debates, early-day motions and parliamentary questions are inadequate and that we must have a full debate in order to knock some sense into the multinational company, Eli Lilly, which is offering an average of £2,000 for such injuries? We must debate how to avoid similar drug disasters in future.

Mr. Wakeham

I think the whole House recognises that, when the right hon. Gentleman takes up a case, he pursues it with great vigour and sincerity. Having said that, I do not believe that I can immediately offer a debate on the subject, but I will have a word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the work of the Liaison Committee, which seems to be putting Thomas Cook to shame as it sends Select Committees to the far east, the Mediterranean and the United States? In view of the fact that overseas travel now costs a third of a million pounds a year, would it not be better to have a more rigorous and independent assessment of the applications for such trips rather than the secretive back-scratching that goes on between Select Committee Chairmen?

Mr. Wakeham

I am not sure that I can promise a debate on the Liaison Committee at the moment, but if it should make a report to the House obviously we shall concern ourselves with the matter. As I understand it, the Liaison Committee scrutinises such applications with the greatest possible care.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)


Several Hon. Members


Mr. Faulds

I thought I was called—

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Called what?

Mr. Faulds

If I might have a word in this conversation—

Mr. Speaker

I would welcome it.

Mr. Faulds

Thank you, Sir. Before the worst elements in the Government, including the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, have their destructive way with public service broadcasting in this country, would the right hon. Gentleman determine to allow the House to debate and defend this principle, and in particular the BBC?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that debates on broadcasting are an important part of the debates in this House and that there must be a debate on this issue before too long. I cannot promise anything more than I have already said, but it is certainly a matter that I will consider.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

On the question of over-lengthy speeches raised by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), is not the problem the fact that there are now too many Privy Councillors and ex-Ministers in this House? Will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Prime Minister to see whether some of them could be sent to the House of Lords, where there appears to be a need for good people?

Mr. Wakeham

That may be so, but the principal problem of over-long speeches is that hon. Members speak for too long.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Will the Leader of the House allow a debate, in early course, on the Government's policy towards mergers and acquisitions, given the remarkable circumstances whereby the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry refers the Kuwaiti minority investment in BP—a company with no golden share—to the Director General of Fair Trading while, simultaneously, the Chancellor of the Exchequer refuses to take effective action in BP's bid for Britoil — a company with a golden share? Indeed, the Chancellor gave a clear commitment to Britoil's independence before the House of Commons on 31 March 1982. We need a debate so that the Government can explain the apparent hypocrisy in their policy towards Britain's and Scotland's largest company.

Mr. Wakeham

We obviously will have debates on these subjects from time to time. However, I do not believe that the events of recent weeks make the need for such debates more urgent than it was. I believe that, in both the cases referred to by the hon. Gentleman, my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry acted entirely properly. Indeed, the actions of the Chancellor were the subject of a statement to this House.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Reverting to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith), would it not be a good idea if all Privy Councillors, with the obvious exception of the Father of the House, were restricted to four priority speeches a year?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not know that I can necessarily go along with that. I am not sure that we need too many rules about speeches. I believe the basis upon which the Speaker selects who should speak in debates—it is one that has served us for many hundreds of years—is probably the best basis.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that a kind of creeping censorship over the spoken and written word is occurring under this Government? We saw it last Friday and we are now seeing it with the announcement of a possible debate, some time in the future, regarding broadcasting when every organisation outside the House is already discussing it. Is it not time that we had a little glasnost in Britain and we discussed what is happening to the spoken and written word?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's analysis. Subjects for debate in this House are not entirely a matter for the Government. As I said, I shall see what can be done, but there are other ways in which the hon. Gentleman might press for a debate.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

There is growing evidence that perpetrators of Nazi war crimes are sheltering in this country, yet there is no provision in British law for them to be brought to justice. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is examining the matter and considering whether there should be a change in the law, would it not be appropriate for us to have a debate to consider whether the House is in favour of the introduction of measures to change the existing law?

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned that matter in the debate earlier this week. He said that, when the Government have considered the matter more fully, he will ensure that the House is informed. The best plan is to wait until that happens and then decide how best to proceed.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Will the Leader of the House agree to an urgent debate on the threatened closure of the only hospital in south-east Leeds? Will he accept that the regular statements and rhetoric from the Dispatch Box do not help the people of Rothwell, where the closure of St. George's hospital will cause tremendous hardship? Will the right hon. Gentleman agree to an early debate, before Budget day, so that we can explain in detail the problems that we face as a result of hospital closures in south-east Leeds and my constituency?

Mr. Wakeham

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we had a debate on the Health Service earlier this week, and it would not be reasonable to expect me to find time for another debate quite so soon. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise the matter, he could perhaps try his luck at securing an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

May I bring to my right hon. Friend's attention once more the question of the debate recommended to him by the European Legislation Committee on steel closures in the Common Market? The matter has been outstanding on his list since the beginning of December, before the Minister went to express his views and vote in the Council of Ministers, yet it has still not been debated. It seriously affects steel makers in this country and, indeed, the denationalisation of the steel industry, which is to be proposed to the House.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the importance of that subject, and I know that my hon. Friend has taken a great interest in the matter. I shall refer it to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of Trade and Industry, but I do not promise a debate in the next week.

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

May I raise with the Leader of the House for the fourth time the question of Kuwaiti purchases of BP shares and the fact that the Arabs are buying up the North sea through BP? As no Minister has yet made a statement on these matters at the Dispatch Box, is it not time that such a statement was forthcoming? Will the right hon. Gentleman impress upon Ministers the fact that we want questions answered in the Chamber?

Mr. Wakeham

The question whether there should be a statement in the House is ultimately for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If the hon. Gentleman is not satisfied with that, his right course is to table a question.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

May we have an urgent debate on the warning issued yesterday by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who told the people of Ulster to expect a fresh and terrible campaign of terrorism as a result of support given, and arms provided, by Libya to the Provisional IRA? Those arms were apparently landed in the Irish Republic in three separate shipments. The Ulster people have suffered two decades of terrible terrorism and are now demoralised by the Anglo-Eire Agreement, which they perceive as weakening their position in the United Kingdom. Therefore, is it not vital to have a debate—quite apart from Tuesday's debate on the Army — to enable all Northern Ireland Members to express their fears and investigate what the Government intend to do to protect the people of Northern Ireland and the members of the security forces from further atrocities?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the importance of debates on Northern Ireland. I regret that I cannot offer my hon. Friend a debate on the subject next week. However, he can question the Secretary of State on Thursday during Northern Ireland questions.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House accept that I would welcome a debate on the largely pin-striped meetings of the Liaison Committee because the vote on the £300,000 expenditure referred to by the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) would reveal that there was a 9 to I vote in favour and that I was the sole Member to vote against it?

I want to make a suggestion about the problem of continuing hospital closures and the debating system. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Social Services next week to come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement about the various closures proposed by the area health authorities, most of which have puppet Tory chairmen in charge? The Secretary of State could then explain why Bradford area health authority is proposing hospital closures and not fulfilling appointments, which amounts to a cut of more than £3 million in two years. We could question the Secretary of State about that. If those matters are going to take a long time, as seems likely, Opposition Members would be quite happy to take the time to examine the massive cuts that are continuing to take place.

Mr. Wakeham

In any debate about the Health Service, we should refer to the expansion as well as the closure of facilities. The picture is not as the hon. Gentleman described.

I do not believe that I should say anything more than I have already said about the Liaison Committee. If the Liaison Committee reports to the House, we will find an opportunity to debate its report if that seems appropriate.

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)

May I invite my right hon. Friend to be less resistant to the advances from the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) and the how Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), and to have a debate on public service broadcasting because many of us believe that that would be a useful innovation for the BBC? Has my right hon. Friend seen the report in today's newspapers that the "Panorama" team intends to make a programme on the National Health Service? However, to prove that the hospital service is overstretched, the team has had to import bogus patients into a waiting room to make it look as if it was full. When one of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. French), who had undergone two hip replacement operations by the National Health Service, offered to be interviewed, the "Panorama" team lost interest because he was not going to be critical of the National Health Service and the Government's role.

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend puts his points very persuasively. I said that I would look at it again, and I will. I will bear in mind my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 533 about the Nicaragua and Guatemala accord?

[That this house warmly congratulates the President and Government of Nicaragua on complying with the terms of the Guatemala Accord; asks the United States Congress to vote down any proposal from President Reagan to provide additional funds for the Contra terrorists; and calls upon the United States Government to respect the sovereignty of Nicaragua and allow the countries of central America the freedom to determine their own political futures.]

May I ask the Leader of the House, in view of the fact that on 3 February the United States Congress will discuss a proposal from President Reagan to extend further assistance to the Contra terrorists, to arrange a prior debate in this House because of the interest in this country about what is happening in central America and because of the presence of British forces in Belize? At least the United States Congress would know the views of the British Parliament about the further arming and funding of terrorists by President Reagan.

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise an early debate on that subject. However, the central American Presidents, at their meeting on 15–16 January, stated that they were not entirely satisfied with the implementation of the agreement so far, and they agreed to fulfil their undertakings immediately. We appeal to all central Americans, especially those from Nicaragua, to meet that new undertaking.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Has my right hon. Friend noted early-day motion 275 calling for the abolition of the national dock labour scheme, which now has the support of the very large number of 209 hon. Members?

[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.]

That support is representative of the frustration fell in the House at the continuing existence of this anachronism, which is having a bad effect on the growth of employment in the inner cities where most of the scheme ports are located. Will my right hon. Friend talk to our right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Employment with a view to getting on with the negotiations, which will allow legislation to be tabled in the House?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government are aware of the views of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends about the drawbacks of the national dock labour scheme. However, as we have made clear to the House, there are no plans at present to change its operation.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 512, which draws attention to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975?

[That this House calls on the Government to strengthen the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 in ways to ensure that: (a) those bringing claims of sexual harassment under section 1(1) of the Act cannot be subjected to questioning on their sexual attitudes, nor should such information be relevant to the case (b) compensation cannot be reduced as a result of reference to views of the victim's character and (c) compensation reflects the seriousness of the offence.]

Recently, a tribunal allowed an employer to question a woman who had won her case about her sexual attitudes and, consequently, it reduced the compensation. Will the Leader of the House make time to debate this serious issue?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree that it is a very serious issue. The Equal Opportunities Commission has recently completed a review of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and we expect it to be submitted to my right hon. Friend shortly. He will consider its proposals for any changes in the legislation, and that might give us the opportunity of a debate on the subject.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

On Wednesday next week we shall again have an opportunity to debate the government of Scotland. When will we have an opportunity to debate the good government of the United Kingdom, particularly the needs of London and the south, as the Opposition parties have difficulty in finding Members who represent that area to staff Committees? My right hon. Friend will be aware of the difficulties that we have been having in Standing Committee, with interruptions caused by difficulties of that nature coming from the north.

Mr. Wakeham

We have plenty of opportunities to debate the good government of England, Wales and Scotland, and that is the best way to proceed. The Opposition have chosen Scotland for their debate next Wednesday, which is their right.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House take the appropriate steps to ensure the publication of the 1988 Register of Members' Interests so that those of us who sympathise with nurses working in hospitals and those who are taking action can send them photocopies of the appropriate pages showing all those Tory Members of Parliament who are attacking nurses for being moonlighters when they themselves have page after page of directorships, like the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), who has more than four directorships with salaries adding up to more than £50,000? He is one of the biggest moonlighters in this building, yet he has the cheek to attack nurses who are on paltry wages. We need that register so that we can get that point across to the people who matter.

Mr. Wakeham

The register will be published as soon as possible. I shall look into why the printing has not been dealt with, although the register is available in the Library. Damage is done to the Health Service by the exaggerated and excessive remarks of the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends—they are much more damaging than anything else.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the importance of an early debate on agriculture? The National Farmers Union is about to hold its annual meeting, and with the vital negotiations that are proceeding in Europe, the pressure on farming and the clear disparity in the green pound, would this not be an entirely appropriate and seasonal moment for a debate?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a subject that I have in mind for a debate in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Does the Leader of the House accept that many people in social services and social work departments share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) about the consequences of the social fund on those departments? Does he agree that the present crisis in the National Health Service means that there is a much greater demand on social workers? The morale of social workers in this country is at a low ebb. Therefore, can we have an urgent debate on these urgent matters?

Mr. Wakeham

These are important matters, and there are two sides to most of the points that the hon. Gentleman raises. I cannot add anything to what I said to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson).

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

My right hon. Friend may realise that, in spite of many probing parliamentary questions, 16,500 aerospace workers in Lancashire are still concerned about the future of the European fighter aircraft? Will he find time to have a word with the Secretary of State for Defence, so that he can make a statement to reconfirm the British Government's commitment to this vital project and tell us what he is doing to persuade the German Government to commit themselves to the project as fully as our Government?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

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

Will the Leader of the House, in consultation with the Home Secretary, arrange for any Conservative Members intending to participate in the debate next week on the government of Scotland to be encouraged to read the excellent novel, "Scotch on the Rocks"?

Mr. Wakeham

I am sure that many of my hon. Friends will take part in the debate next week. I shall listen to their contributions with interest, but they will be interspersed with a number of speeches from the Opposition, which I suspect will not be quite as good.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

Will my right hon. Friend take time to look at early-day motion 542?

[That this House deplores the appointment by Derbyshire County Council of Mr. Reg Race, former honourable Member for Wood Green, former Research Officer for the National Union of Public Employees, former head of the Greater London Council's programme office, former consultant to the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians and former researcher to the Labour-fitnded London Government Information Unit, to the £46,000 a year post of County Director; and believes that all local authority employees should be politically impartial and that Derbyshire County Council is making appointments on the basis of whether or not candidates are acceptable to the ruling group's left-wing views and not on the basis of merit and experience.]

He will see that it relates to the appointment, as county director of Derbyshire county council, of a former Labour Member of Parliament. Does he agree that this raises some disturbing questions about the conduct of good local government? This is only one of a number of political appointments in paid employment on long-term contracts that have been made by that authority which damage Derbyshire's reputation as an employer. Does he agree that this should be the subject of a debate under the title of "The code of local government"?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that this is an important matter. Effective local government rests solidly on politically neutral officers serving, with equal commitment, whichever party may be in political control. There is increasing concern that in some cases appointments are politically motivated. The Widdicombe committee has put forward proposals aimed at preventing such abuses, and the Government are giving them careful consideration.