HC Deb 28 January 1988 vol 126 cc485-94 3.42 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

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

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

MONDAY 1 FEBRUARY — Timetable motion on the Education Reform Bill.

Second Reading of the Farm Land and Rural Development Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency Bill.

TUESDAY 2 FEBRUARY — Remaining stages of the Public Utility Transfers and Water Charges Bill.

Motion on the Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Board) Order.

WEDNESDAY 3 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Licensing Bill.

Remaining stages of the Welsh Development Agency Bill.

Motion on the International Development Association (Eighth Replenishment) Order.

THURSDAY 4 FEBRUARY—Debate on the White Paper on "Human Fertilisation and Embryology: a Framework for Legislation" (Cm. 259) on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 5 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

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

Mr. Kinnock

The Education Reform Bill has been in Committee for only 80 hours, during which time members of the Committee have dealt with 40 clauses and two schedules of the Bill's 146 clauses and 11 schedules. There has clearly been no filibuster. The Government are now guillotining the debate on the Bill, so I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman that there has never been a less justifiable act of gagging of any education legislation that has come before the House. We shall oppose it completely.

Following the Government's decision to cover up the Stalker/Sampson report, when will there be a debate in Government time to provide the Attorney-General and the Secretary of State with the opportunity to try to justify their decision not to take proceedings on the basis of evidence that the course of justice was being perverted?

In view of the public anxiety about the crisis of under-funding in the Health Service, will the Leader of the House inform us of when we will have an opportunity to debate the public expenditure White Paper?

As the Minister of State, Home Office appeared, in the debate last night, to contradict an earlier undertaking, may we have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that, in addition to the debates on Report and Third Reading of the Immigration Bill, we will, in the near future, also have a general debate on the immigration rules?

Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government are conducting an internal review of child benefit? Will he arrange for an immediate statement on the nature of any review and its terms of reference, and on whether the Government are considering the taxation of child benefit?

As this oil-producing and exporting country now has the worst balance of payments and balance of trade deficit since the oil crisis year of 1974, will the Leader of the House provide time in the near future for a debate on the economic and trading position of Britain, given that our loss of domestic and international markets continues unabated?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when, at last, we shall have a debate on televising the proceedings in this place?

Mr. Wakeham

The right hon. Gentleman asked me seven questions, and I shall do my best to answer them.

First, the right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the Education Reform Bill timetable motion. I recognise that there is a certain ritual about these things, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could look back at his own words on 20 July 1976, on a similar occasion. The position is that, up to lunch time today, the Committee has sat for about 84.5 hours and considered about 40 clauses of a Bill containing 147 clauses and 11 schedules. As I said, I shall table the timetable motion later today and it will be seen, from the generous amount of time allocated for the remainder of the Bill, that it is the Government's intention not to curb debate but to ensure that all parts of the Bill are fully discussed.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the position in Northern Ireland and the Attorney-General's statement last week. I have nothing to add, except to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will make a statement to the House on the matter. I think that we should have that first and then see how best to proceed.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the public expenditure White Paper. I believe that the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee will wish to report on it, and it will be for the convenience of the House for the debate to take place when its report is available.

With regard to the immigration rules, I confirm what I said during business questions last week. There will be a debate on the rules separate from the other debates, before they come into effect, so that we can hear the views of the House.

I have nothing to say about child benefit and taxation. It is getting towards the season of the year when these matters are not discussed by me or by anyone else in the Chamber, but I shall refer the right hon. Gentleman's point to the Secretary of State.

I cannot promise an early debate on the economic situation, but the right hon. Gentleman will realise that trade figures are not the only economic indicator at which we should look. I draw his attention to the falling levels of unemployment and inflation and to the record growth that the country is experiencing—

Mr. Kinnock

Falling savings, falling investment levels, falling production levels.

Mr. Wakeham

The right hon. Gentleman will be able to make his own points in his own way. I am trying to answer his seven questions, and I shall continue to do that.

Lastly, the right hon. Gentleman asked about the television debate. I told him last week that it would be held on Tuesday of the week after next, and that is still my intention.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

When my right hon. Friend introduces the timetable motion, will he consider whether he can follow the guidance of the Procedure Committee and try to ensure that every clause of the Education Reform Bill is debated before it leaves Committee? If he could do that he would go a long way towards meeting some of the requirements that the Procedure Committee has asked of this House.

Mr. Wakeham

I take on board what my hon. Friend has said. I pay tribute to his work and that of the Procedure Committee. I intend to see that every clause of the Bill is debated in Standing Committee.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement to the House next Thursday on the instructions given by the House to the Committee of Selection for setting up the Scottish Select Committee?

Will there be a debate in the House on the prayer tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends about school closures in Scotland, on which there is to be a statement after business questions?

The Leader of the House said that there was always some ritual about guillotine motions. Will he accept that this case is different because I am informed that it is not Opposition Members who have been using delaying tactics, but rather that a great deal of time has been clocked up by Conservative Members in an effort to allow a guillotine motion to be imposed rather than make progress and discuss the substantive issues?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman asked me, first, about the Scottish Select Committee. Discussions are being carried out through the usual channels, and I hope that we can make progress when they are concluded. The debate for which he asked is a matter best discussed through the usual channels.

I have not accused anyone of filibustering during the proceedings in Committee on the Education Reform Bill. I intend to see that the whole Bill is properly debated, and that is why there will be a generous amount of time for the remaining part of the Committee stage.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

When does my right hon. Friend expect to bring in a motion for the re-establishment of the Select Committee on Procedure so that that Committee can consider the difficult question of hon. Members who seek to get themselves suspended?

Mr. Wakeham

Discussions are taking place through the usual channels to discover when it would be convenient to set up the Select Committee on Procedure. There are a number of outstanding issues from the previous Procedure Committee. I am looking for an opportunity for a debate on procedure in the relatively near future.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement in the House next week on the proposed sale of Crosville Motor Services, in view of the wide concern expressed by those employed in the company?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Has my right hon. Friend seen this morning's trade figures, which show a further deterioration in Britain's trade with the EEC in comparison with an improvement elsewhere? As that deficit in manufacturing trade is now £11 billion—more than double the total deficit on current account—would it not be helpful for the Minister of Trade and Industry to make a statement about the implications of our chronic trade with the Common Market for the future of the Government's splendid economic policies?

Mr. Wakeham

As I said to the Leader of the Opposition, the trade figures are only one economic indicator. Although the figures may be disappointing, many other figures are showing excellent progress. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Trade and Industry.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Given the continued widespread concern on both sides of the House and in Scotland about the future of Britoil, is it not time that the Government allowed the House to debate the position pertaining to that organisation, rather than hon. Members having to seek information through questions or letters? Is it not time that the whole subject was aired in the House?

There will be a short debate on agriculture next week, but is it possible for the House to debate the importance of agriculture to our communities, particularly in light of the problems facing so many producers—particularly, at the moment, pig producers—as a result of the need for the devaluation of the green pound?

Mr. Wakeham

I take on board the hon. Lady's request for a debate on Britoil, but I cannot promise one in the near future. I agree with the hon. Lady that there is a case for a general debate on agriculture, and I hope to arrange one in the not too distant future.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read the House of Lords Select Committee report on space policy? Has he noted that it recommends an expenditure up to £200 million on space matters? Will he arrange an early debate so that that may be discussed in this place?

Mr. Wakeham

I have not read that report as well as my hon. Friend has read it. I listened to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said a few minutes ago about our position on space policy. I cannot add to what she said. I regret that I cannot see any chance of a debate on the subject in the immediate future, but I shall bear it in mind.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Education and Science to make a statement, before Monday's debate on the guillotine motion, on the future of ILEA and on whether he intends to introduce amendments to abolish it? Will the right hon. Gentleman also arrange for time for the Secretary of State for Education to make a statement on the bizarre position of Mr. William Stubbs, ILEA'S education officer, who, having been bitterly opposed to the Bill, has just resigned to work for the Secretary of State in implementing its provisions — although they may seriously damage the future of education in the capital?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise a statement in the House on ILEA, but I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Of course, the issue will be extensively discussed in Standing Committee. My right hon. Friend offered Mr. Stubbs his appointment on merit. Mr. Stubbs served ILEA for 11 years, and said himself that it was time for a career move.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), the Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, and to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's reply to the question about space. In that reply she suggested that space policy was to some extent a function of the problem of allocating resources across the whole spectrum of science. Does this not reinforce my plea for a debate on this major and central national question, and may we have that debate soon?

Mr. Wakeham

I should like to be more forthcoming to my hon. Friend, because I know that he considers this to be an important issue. It is difficult at this time of year to find a day for such a debate, but I promise him that I shall find one as soon as I can.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that his guillotine on the Education Reform Bill has nothing to do with the proceedings in Committee? Is it not really an attempt to gag debate when the Bill returns to the Floor of the House on Report?

The right hon. Gentleman said that he would provide a generous amount of time for that Bill. Can he tell us how much time he has provided for debate on the argument between the right hon. Members for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and the Secretary of State about the future of ILEA? Will he confirm that that is a major issue and that there ought to be time to debate it? Or is it true, as rumour has it, that the Secretary of State is now running away from the confrontation?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot comment on rumours. The timetable motion that I am proposing will be tabled later today, and the hon. Gentleman will see from it that the time allocated is generous.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that our participation in the space race is vital for the future of our nation, and that, if we are to compete with the Soviet Union, the United States and Japan, we must work effectively with our European partners in that race? Important financial decisions are being made in the European Space Agency on 10 February this year, only a few weeks from now. May I reinforce the pleas of my hon. Friends for an urgent debate on the subject, when our national space policy can be made clear?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise my hon. Friend's strength of feeling. However, I can add nothing more except that resources devoted to space must, of course, be considered along with those devoted to other research matters.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will the Leader of the House be good enough to consult his right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Social Services and for Education and Science to see whether we could have a statement from one of them on the great shortage of resources for special schools?

I shall be visiting Weston Park special school in my constituency tomorrow. The staff of that school will be deeply anxious to know whether action is to be taken to help the school, and other schools like it, which are suffering from shortages of physiotherapists and other resources that they badly need.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the hon. and learned Gentleman's concern. In my experience, resources are not the only question involved, but I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Thursday's business, the debate on Warnock, was known to doctors in my constituency as early as Monday or Tuesday? Surely hon. Members and Parliament are entitled to know the business at least at the same time as outside bodies. As I understand that this is probably the result of a leak from the DHSS, will my right hon. Friend cause an inquiry to be made into the leak and thus ensure that the rights of Members of Parliament are safeguarded?

Mr. Wakeham

I deprecate any such leak. It is right that the House should be told first about business. However, the business of the House was not finally settled until the Cabinet meeting this morning, so any rumours that might have been about were just that—rumours.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Services to come to the House next Wednesday when Health Service workers will be taking part in a day of action, which is a major indictment of the Government's handling of the National Health Service and shows how unsafe the NHS is in Tory hands? Will he arrange for an early debate on the National Health Service so that the cuts that are threatened in virtually every part of the country can be debated fully and the Government called to account?

Finally, as the right hon. Gentleman has now acquired Lord Whitelaw's mantle of the Prime Minister's candid friend, will he tell her that the vast majority of the British people will never forgive her if, instead of providing the necessary funds to rebuild and improve the National Health Service, she plots and conspires to divide those who dedicate their lives to patient care?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government are continually providing more resources for the National Health Service. The question is not the amount of money that is put in, but the output that we get from it, and that is where we are looking for improvements.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

When my right hon. Friend draws up the motion for the debate on Tuesday week on televising the House, will he remember that some of us want to keep the cameras out of this debating Chamber, but would welcome them in Select Committees? Will he tell us whether we can have a separate vote on televising Select Committees?

Mr. Wakeham

That matter is not entirely for me, because the debate will take place on a Back-Bench motion. However, I shall consult to see whether I can get a motion that is as generally acceptable to the House as possible.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Will the Leader of the House discuss with his colleague the Secretary of State for Social Services the request from Wakefield district health authority for an inquiry into the proposal to introduce the cook-chill food system into hospitals in my constituency? Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that tensions are running high and that there are problems? Will he ensure that there is a debate in the House on the introduction of the cook-chill meal system into those hospitals, where only a few years ago an outbreak of food poisoning resulted in 29 deaths? This matter is important, so will the Leader of the House take note of the problems of hospitals in my constituency?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says, but I cannot promise a debate next week. The issue that he has raised seems more a matter for the local management to sort out. However, I shall certainly refer it to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the gratitude of Conservative Members, and parents throughout the country, for the fact that he has put down a timetable motion on the Education Reform Bill to stop the aimless meanderings of the Labour party in Committee upstairs? Is he further aware that hon. Members representing London constituencies wish to discuss the future of education for children in inner London?

In passing, will the Government tell Mr. William Stubbs, the recently resigned chief education officer of the Inner London education authority, that they do not consider him to blame for the shambles in the ILEA, but, rather, the Labour politicians on the other side of the river?

Mr. Wakeham

I regret that I have not heard much of the debate in the Standing Committee. I am not accusing anybody of filibustering but just hoping that during the rest of the Committee stage we can make sure that all parts of the Bill are discussed and that the important matters that my hon. Friend has raised are properly debated.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Will the Leader of the House tell us how long we will have for the debate on the private Member's motion on the televising of Parliament next Tuesday? Will there be a three-line Whip for the Government Benches? Will the motion be phrased in such a way that it will command the support of all hon. Members? I suggest to the Leader of the House that the best way of achieving that would be to have a dedicated television channel, paid for by Parliament, because that would get us round the problem of editing. Will we have the sort of motion that will allow us to amend it in that fashion, or will it come in such a way as to give us an opportunity to vote?

Mr. Wakeham

I can answer one part of the hon. Gentleman's question. It will be a full day's debate. The question of Whipping is not discussed from this Dispatch Box. The form of the motion and whether it is amendable is not entirely a matter for me, but I take on board what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

Will my right hon. Friend have urgent talks with the Home Secretary about another money resolution for the Firearms (Amendment) Bill? Is he aware that we are unable to table any amendments on compensation unless the money resolution is altered? There will be great difficulty in starting the Committee stage unless we have some assurance on that point.

Mr. Wakeham

I promise my hon. Friend that I shall look into that matter.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have a statement next week from the Treasury on the way in which it is squeezing the Department of Transport over the Settle-Carlisle railway? The Department of Transport is trying to blame local authorities for not providing sufficient financial contributions for the line. That magnificent railway, which has been running well and showing a massive improvement in passenger revenue, and which is an important artery, is being set up for the chop by the vicious attitude of the Treasury, which is trying to put the blame on local authorities which themselves are hard pressed for money. The truth is that the Government are to blame for not providing enough resources to keep this magnificent and beautiful railway in existence.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's interest in, concern for and knowledge of that railway. I do not believe that the position is capable of the analysis that he has put on it, but I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

My right hon. Friend may recall receiving a copy of a letter that I addressed to the Secretary of State for Transport asking for a debate in Government time on the state of our civil aviation industry. The matter is important, but one item on the national agenda needs the House's urgent attention — the issue of night flights out of Gatwick and Heathrow. As the Secretary of State's consultative document is out for discussion and my right hon. Friend will make a decision on his proposals within the next few weeks, ideally we should like those proposals to be debated in the Chamber and to be voted upon. Although that may not be possible, surely the House should be given the chance of debating what the Secretary of State has in mind before he reaches a decision.

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate, but I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend. It has just occurred to me that my hon. Friend might try his luck in an Adjournment debate on the subject.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

Given that the Leader of the House accepts that there has not been a filibuster on the Education Reform Bill, and given the widespread feeling in the House and elsewhere about the Bill's implications, what possible justification can the right hon. Gentleman have for seeking to apply the guillotine?

Mr. Wakeham

As I have already said, the main purpose of the guillotine is to ensure that there is an orderly debate on all parts of the Bill.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on efficiency in local government to enable me to raise the problems of hundreds of my constituents who this week received a summons from Ealing council to appear in court next month for non-payment of rates, even though they have paid their rates and received a receipt from Ealing council for that payment, including for the unwanted 65 per cent, element, in addition to which they are asked to pay £14.95 for the service of the rate summons? That has caused immense distress as well as anger to many people.

My constituents are also concerned about the sum of £15,000 that Ealing council is currently spending on a gay and lesbian rights officer to promote positive images of homosexuality. Will the debate be broad enough to enable me to express my constituents' wish to see clause 28 of the Local Government Bill placed firmly on the statute book to stop all that?

Mr. Wakeham

I am sure that we will find an opportunity for my hon. Friend to make his points in various ways. However, I am afraid that I cannot promise him an early debate next week on those specific issues.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 521, which deals with the escalating costs of No. 10 Downing street, as opposed to the amount spent on the National Health Service?

[That this House condemns the Government's treatment of the National Health Service; draws attention to the fact that, if the increase in National Health Service expenditure since 1979 had been at the same rate as the increase in the cost of maintaining No. 10 Downing Street, the National Health Service would this year receive funds in excess of £28 billion, as compared to the £21 billion actual expenditure; and believes that this proves that the Government has looked after itself rather better than it has the National Health Service workers.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the cost of maintaining No. 10 Downing street has quadrupled since the Prime Minister went there in 1979, that if the same rate of expansion had been applied to the National Health Service it would this year have received £28 billion, and that if a comparison was made with the amount of money that has been spent on entertaining—a euphemism for boozing—at No. 10 Downing street the amount would have escalated even higher? Fancy paying that amount of money for gin and tonic while writing his Private Eye column.

Mr. Wakeham

One thing that I can say in answer to the hon. Gentleman is that any money spent at No. 10 Downing street is money well spent and that the country gets value for it. I am not so sure that that applies to all parts of the Health Service.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

A fortnight ago a complete unknown managed to secure a place on the front pages of our national newspapers and on our television screens by getting himself booted out of the House. This week he had a more notorious imitator. What does my hon. Friend plan to do about the accelerating tendency for third-rate operators on the Opposition Benches to try to curry favour with their local management committees by disrupting our proceedings? Will he bear in mind that in the Division earlier this week the Leader of the Opposition, who had the guts and decency to support Mr. Speaker, had his vote cancelled out by one of his Front-Bench spokesmen, the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts)? That is one of the difficulties with which the House is faced.

Mr. Wakeham

I am sure that both sides of the House deprecate bad order and behaviour. I do not believe that it is my task to give additional publicity to such antics, but I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend said, because we want to keep them to a minimum.

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

May I ask a question about the administration of government? Do the Cabinet Office, the Cabinet Secretary and the Prime Minister ever issue guidelines to Ministers, not so much on the content of parliamentary answers, as on the way in which they are answered?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not believe that that question arises out of business questions. However, if the hon. Gentleman cares to put down a substantive question I shall do my best to give him a considered answer.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

Who will propose the motion on the televising of the House? Will my right hon. Friend have a word with whoever it is about the televising of Select Committees, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart)? Although it seems that, unfortunately, there may not be a majority in favour of televising the Chamber, there may be sufficient common ground to get an experiment going in Select Committees.

Mr. Wakeham

I take my hon. Friend's point and I am sure that the debate will be wide enough to cover Select Committees as well as the Chamber. The question of who will propose the motion will emerge in a way that I do not think I could properly explain.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Does the Leader of the House recall that last week, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), he undertook to have a word with the Secretary of State for Social Services about the present crisis in social services departments, arising mainly from the problems of the NHS and calculations for the social fund? Is the Leader of the House aware that since then the all-party panel on personal social services, chaired by the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), has asked for a meeting with the Secretary of State because it feels so strongly about the matter? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he had any success, and whether we will have a debate on these very important matters?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise a debate in the near future. If an all-party delegation is to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, it would be best to leave matters there at this stage.