HC Deb 07 July 1988 vol 136 cc1223-32 5.29 pm
The Lord President of the Council and 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 II JULY—Second Reading of the European Communities (Finance) Bill. Details of the documents relevant to the debate will be given in the Official Report.

Motion on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order.

Remaining stages of the Court of Session Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

TUESDAY 12 JULY—Opposition day (18th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "The growing divide between rich and poor in London". Afterwards, there will be a debate entitled "Public provision for sport for all". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Motion relating to the Wireless Telegraphy (Broadcast Licence Charges and Exemption) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations.

Motion to take note of EC documents on the control of chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone layer. Details will be given in the Official Report.

WEDNESDAY 13 JULY—Ways and Means Resolution relating to the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Progress on remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Motion on short speeches.

THURSDAY 14 JULY—Completion of remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Motion on the Redundant Mineworkers' Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) (Amendment) Order.

Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order.

FRIDAY 15 JULY—There will be a debate on Hong Kong on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 18 JULY—Estimates day (3rd Allotted Day). There will be debates on hospital and community health and other services. England (class XIV, vote 1) and on the Training Commission (class VII, vote 5) so far as it relates to adult employment and youth training.

[Relevant documents:

Monday 11 July 1988: Undertaking as confirmed by the representatives of the Governments of the member states of the European Communities meeting within the Council to make payments to finance the Communities general budget for the financial year 1988 (CM 418); Decision of the Council of the European Communities on the system of the Communities' own resources (CM 419); Treasury and Civil Service Committee fifth report Session 1987–88 (HC 358).

Relevant European Community documents: (a) 5647/88. Gross National Product; (b) Unnumbered. Correction of budgetary imbalances: United Kingdom abatement. Relevant reports of European Legislation Committee: (a) HC 43-xxvi ( 1987–88 ), paragraph 1; (b) HC 43-xxxii ( 1987–88 ), paragraph 4.

Tuesday 12 July: Relevant European Community documents: (a) 8335/87 Chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere; (b) 4997/88 COR 1 Protection of the ozone layer. Relevant reports of European Legislation Committee:

(a) 11C 43-iii ( 1987–88 ), para. 3; (b) HC 43-xxi ( 1987–88 ), para. 1, HC 43-xxvii ( 1987–88), para. 1 and HC 43-xxxii (1987–88), para. 1.]

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. In view of the length of time that has been taken on the earlier statements, I shall keep my questions to a minimum. Arising from that, will the Leader of the House consider postponing the estimates debates on the environment and housing which are set down for later today as it looks as though they may either not be reached or will scarcely be reached before the close of business?

When can we expect a statement on the discrepancy between the assertion made on 24 May 1984 by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley) that no strip searches have been carried out on women at Greenham Common, and the recent court award of damages to a woman on the grounds that she had been strip-searched at Greenham Common before that date? The House is owed some explanation.

When can we expect a debate on the Government's lamentable failure to get enough of their Members to serve on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs?

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend that all stages of the European Communities (Finance) Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House rather than in Committee upstairs?

Finally, will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to spell out for hon. Members the arrangements for the ceremony in Westminster Hall on 20 July to mark the tercentenary of the Declaration of Rights, the Bill of Rights and the claim of right?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman has asked me five questions about the business for next week and for today. So far as today's debate is concerned, I recognise that there have been several statements and that we shall be starting that debate later than we had intended. However, the best plan is to see how we get on.

With regard to the point raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), I should like first to apologise to the hon. Gentleman, who I do not see in his place today, for the fact that there was not a Minister on the Treasury Bench when he raised his point of order yesterday. That was due to a misunderstanding. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley) stands by the answer that he gave on 24 May 1984, which was based on a Ministry of Defence police investigation, which had found no evidence to support the allegations of strip searches at Greenham Common. However, I can give the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) an undertaking that the appropriate Minister from the Ministry of Defence will write to his hon. Friend about the matter that he raised in his point of order yesterday. I shall ensure that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras receives a copy of that letter.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. As I have said many times in the House, I regret very much that the proposals that I put forward, which would have enabled the Select Committee to be set up, were not acceptable to the Opposition. I have undertaken that we should have a debate on the matter but the arrangements for the debate are best made through the usual channels.

I intend to have discussions through the usual channels to decide how best to handle the European Communities (Finance) Bill, but it would be my present intention—I think this is the right thing to do—to commit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House.

With regard to the Westminster Hall ceremony, it is proposed that both Houses will present their addresses to Her Majesty the Queen to mark the tercentenary of the revolutions of 1688 and 1689 and of the Bill of Rights in Westminster Hall on Wednesday 20 July at 11 am. Hon. Members have been asked to notify Mr. Speaker's Office if they or their spouses wish to attend so that seats may be reserved for them and tickets issued in advance. Hon. Members and their spouses must be in their places by 10.30 am. Because each House will be attending formally on the Sovereign, Members will be seated separately. The ceremony is expected to end with the departure of the Queen at about 11.30 am.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. May I again stress that we have a heavy day ahead of us with a Loyal Address and then a debate on the estimates? I ask for questions to be directed to the business for next week.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Will my right hon. Friend spare time to reflect on the great aggravation and anguish that is being caused to many hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens as they move about London because of the terrible state of the roads and the traffic? Will he find time to include in an estimates debate an opportunity to debate the sum of money that the Government presently spend on the roads in the capital to see whether the expression of the whole House would encourage them to spend a bit more?

Mr. Wakeham

As my hon.Friend knows, the amount spent by this Government is substantially up on the amount spent by the Labour Government. The question of which estimates are debated on estimates days is not a matter for me, but I shall certainly ensure that my hon. Friend's suggestion is referred to the appropriate quarter.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

As the European Commission is required to put forward proposals about New Zealand's butter exports to the United Kingdom by the end of this month, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week on the British Government's decision on that important matter, having full regard to the Prime Minister's comments in this House on 19 May?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the right hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest in such matters. The best thing that I can do is to refer his point to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

May I thank my right hon. Friend for bringing forward the motion on short speeches next week? Is he aware that the foreign affairs debate last week was an absolute travesty because right hon. Members of all parties had absolutely no concern for the ordinary rights of squaddies on the Back Benches?

Mr. Wakeham

As my hon. Friend knows, I have written to him about that because I recognise that several hon. Members had some modest cause for complaint towards the end of that debate. That issue is not something that we can always control but the motion on short speeches should make it more easily controllable in the future.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

While I acknowledge the fact that the need for a debate on the Government's failure to set up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs is a matter for the usual channels and is not in the programme for next week, may I ask whether the Leader of the House will give us an undertaking that time will be found for that before the summer recess?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot add anything other than to say that I will discuss it through the usual channels. It is not entirely a matter for me.

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

Following the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) about the foreign affairs debate, the point was not only that the speeches were rather long, but that the lapse of time since we had had a foreign affairs debate was so long that an enormous number of hon. Members wanted to speak. Will my right hon. Friend bear that in mind, and can we have another debate on foreign affairs reasonably soon?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the strength of what my right hon. Friend says, which is a logical deduction from last week's debate. I shall do my best, but I do not promise such a debate in the near future.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Can the Leader of the House be a little more forthcoming on the question of the debate on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs because it was my understanding that he said that we would have such a debate before the House rises at the end of this Session?

Mr. Wakeham

I have said that I would prefer to have a debate and that we would have a debate. I am seeking to arrange that through the usual channels.

Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing chaos at Manchester Airport and some other British airports with passengers, particularly with Mediterranean holiday destinations, having to wait for up to 10 hours, mainly as a result of the air traffic control system in Europe being unable to cope with the volume? Will he find time for the House to debate this matter before what is already a very serious situation becomes a crisis?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that these matters are important, particularly at this time of the year. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a special debate before the summer recess, but I can think of ways in which he might use his ingenuity to raise the matters that rightly concern him.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that the British Steel Bill, which was having its Third Reading in the House of Lords at a late hour last night, comes back to this House for further consideration, because the Lords were successful in extracting from Ministers the articles of association for the successor company, which we in this House asked for and were refused? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is apparent from these articles of association that the golden share offers the British Steel Corporation no protection from a takeover, because the share can be sold at any time with the agreement of the Government? Is he further aware that, because the chairman of the British Steel Corporation has made the statement that the closure of the Ravenscraig strip mill is probable rather than possible next year, this would spell the end of the steel industry in Scotland?

Mr. Wakeham

As the hon. Gentleman says, the Bill is still proceeding through the House of Lords. I think that the best thing is to wait until it has finished its passage there and then decide what to do.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many on these Benches will be delighted by the Opposition's decision to have a debate on sport next week? Can he perhaps ask the Minister for Sport whether, during that debate, he will indicate to the House the ideas set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the excellent scheme for membership of football clubs for the season after next? Will he also point out to the House how successful this membership scheme has been in Luton and how readily accepted it will be by all those interested in the well-being of sport?

Mr. Wakeham

That is a very helpful suggestion from my hon. Friend. I think it is unlikely that my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport will not be dealing with these matters in his speech.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

With respect to Monday's business on the European Communities (Finance) Bill, in view of the fact that this authorises an increase in both EEC expenditure and our contributions of up to 25 per cent., will the Leader of the House assure us that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be here to explain and move it? In that regard, has he noticed that in the claimed financial effects of the Bill in the explanatory memorandum it is indicated that our estimated net contributions increase will be £200 million to £300 million? Is he not aware that under these provisions the gross taxation increase will be up to £1,000 million? Why is that not in the explanatory memorandum?

Mr. Wakeham

These are matters for the debate next week. While I cannot say which Minister will be speaking, I can guarantee to the hon. Gentleman that the Second Reading will be moved by a senior Minister, who will be highly competent to deal with the matters the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

As a matter of compassion for the Leader of the Opposition, and, more important, for my constituents, will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week on the statement of the Secretary of State for the Environment on rates for next year so that I can put arguments to him directly for Ealing council to be rate-capped, bearing in mind that it is reliably estimated that rates will rise by 50 per cent. simply for that Labour council to stand still? In fact, an 80 per cent. increase is expected.

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend makes his point well. Unfortuntely, I shall not be able to arrange a debate on that subject next week, but no doubt we shall come to the matter from time to time.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange time for a debate on the enterprise culture so that we can discuss the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry's failure to refer the Cannon takeover of Thorn EMI cinemas to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? Is he aware that the Cannon group has started asset-stripping by closing cinemas, including the much admired, much used and profitable Ritz cinema in Bradford, and has now sold off Elstree studio, one of the three major film studios left in this country, which played an important part in producing much admired and in some cases profitable films that were shown all round the world? These have been sold off to a property developer. Does not the Leader of the House think that it is disgraceful conduct by both the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Cannon Films which should be the subject of a debate?

Mr. Wakeham

No, I do not accept that for a single minute. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry acts in matters of mergers and takeovers in accordance with statute law. He conducts himself quite correctly in accordance with his duty. If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise matters of the enterprise culture, I suggest that he might be able to do it on both Wednesday and Thursday, when the remaining stages of the Finance Bill are being discussed.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the great concern in the country about child abuse. Will he consider providing time for a full debate on this matter, including the need for a wider inquiry into the full extent of child abuse in the country?

Mr. Wakeham

Yes, this is a very important subject and I recognise that there is a demand for a debate in many parts of the House. I do not think that I can promise a debate in the near future, but it is something that we can discuss through the usual channels.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House make arrangements next week to enable us to debate the situation in Turkey, in view of General Evren's unwelcome visit to this country? Will he ensure that, if General Evren does indeed come, the Prime Minister will make it clear to him that in Turkey there are far too many political prisoners, that far too many people have died as a result of the coup that he led in 1980, that trade union freedom is something that we hold precious and that the war against the Kurdish people should be brought to an end rapidly? Will she make it clear that there is no question whatsoever of Turkey being allowed to pursue an application to join the EEC while the lack of democracy in Turkey is such an obvious and palpable fact?

Mr. Wakeham

The visit of the President of Turkey next week is welcomed by, I believe, everybody in the House, with a few exceptions such as, probably, the hon. Gentleman. I believe that a closer relationship with Turkey will be to the benefit of both us and the Turkish people. I certainly am not prepared to arrange a debate next week on the subject.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

In the light of next week's debate, is it not ironic that certain voices are raised in favour of setting up a central European banking system—an act that would certainly deprive this House of its traditional control over economic policy, as we celebrate the tercentenary of that control? Will my right hon. Friend therefore use his considerable skill and influence in Government to impress on his colleague who is to introduce the debate next Monday that the Government have no intention of presiding over any diminution of this House's traditional powers and privileges in matters of economic policy?

Mr. Wakeham

I have heard and read some of the reports to which I imagine my hon. Friend refers. I prefer to rely upon what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said during questions today, which seems to me to be much nearer the views of the British people.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate or a statement about the continuing lockout at TV-am? Is he aware that this matter has never been debated properly in the House of Commons even though the lockout has been going on for more than six months and 299 people have been deprived of their jobs? Since Tories are appearing on that company's programmes, and since people of principle on these Benches refuse to take part, and go to picket lines instead, does it not mean that there is political imbalance and that therefore we should have a debate in order to thrash out these matters in a proper way so that some of us can defend those who have been chucked out of jobs?

Mr. Wakeham

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman wants to have it both ways: he refuses to go on a programme and then complains that he is not on it. These are matters for the management and the work force to resolve; it is not for the Government to intervene.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Notwithstanding the answer that my right hon. Friend gave a moment ago and the excellent one-hour statement yesterday, I believe that the House, and certainly the country at large, would far rather have a debate next week on child sexual abuse than on Hong Kong. Ought not my right hon. Friend to consider having an early debate on that subject, because there is much that needs to be said, which so far has not been allowed to be said in the House?

Mr. Wakeham

I totally agree with my hon. Friend that it was a most excellent statement by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Health yesterday and I think that the House conducted itself very well during the subsequent discussion. I recognise that the House will want to debate these matters further. All I can say to my hon. Friend is that I will look at the matter again, but I cannot promise him an early debate.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Can I ask the Leader of the House a Member's question? Can I try to persuade the Leader of the House to investigate on behalf of Members what is going on in relation to the use of the services and facilities of the House? Is the Leader of the House aware that hardly a week passes without the all-party Whip having one more notice on it restricting the use of the facilities by Members? Last week's all-party Whip was the final insult. It explained that Members could not take more than six people on the Terrace, which is had enough, but went on to say that that applied unless they were going to a party in the Terrace Bar. The Leader of the House will appreciate that the House is rapidly passing into the hands of outside interests. Will he investigate all this and make a statement to the House as early as possible?

Mr. Wakeham

I have sympathy with some parts of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. As a matter of fact, earlier this week, I had a meeting with senior members from both sides of the House to consider what we should do about some of the things that occur in all-party groups and things of that sort. We are considering it as a matter of some urgency and I shall be in touch with the hon. Gentleman and the House as soon as we have done so.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Following the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), may I point out that we have not had a general debate on transport since this Parliament met? On the Conservative Benches there is a desperate desire to discuss the successful deregulation of buses and the need to privatise British Rail.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the strength of my hon. Friend's suggestion and I wish that I could be more forthcoming, but this is a difficult part of the year in which to find extra time for debate.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford. West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate next week on the increase in visa fees, which did not receive any parliamentary approval? Does the Leader of the House realise that such a debate would allow Ministers to explain why visa fees have been increased by 20 per cent. and why they are now imposed upon all children? It would also force Ministers to defend such policies, which are clearly erecting financial obstacles to families being united in this country.

Mr. Wakeham

The Government's policy of, by and large, making the services that are provided financially self-sufficient is a good one. I do not believe that Ministers would have any difficulty in defending what has happened. I wish that I could offer the hon. Gentleman time for a debate next week, but he knows that, at this time of the year, there are occasions when he might be able to raise the matter should he want to.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate next week on the Post Office monopoly'? My constituents have just suffered a seven-day strike by Harrow post office. Companies have lost thousands of pounds and private individuals' lives have been disrupted. They would like to have a choice of postal service. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this matter and the Post Office monopoly should be referred to the Director General of Fair Trading?

Mr. Wakeham

I readily recognise the great inconvenience that such industrial action may cause and has caused my hon. Friend's constituents. Such matters must be kept constantly under review because things cannot necessarily go on the same for ever if such strikes continue. However, it will be difficult for me to arrange a debate on the subject next week.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a strong feeling going around Westminster that he and a number of members of the Select Committee considering the televising of Parliament are deliberately dragging their feet to try to ensure that the experiment does not go ahead in October? May we have a debate next week on the reasons for the seeming delay and, if not, can we have an interim report before the House rises for the summer recess so that Members can consider what has been done so far? Finally, will the Leader of the House assure us that he will not attempt to frustrate the will of the House regarding the televising of Parliament?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman is one of the most naive of Members if he believes everything he reads in the newspapers about the television Select Committee. That Committee consists of Members from all sides of the House, who hold all sorts of views about the televising of Parliament. That Committee has been working extremely well and extremely hard and has dealt with many aspects of the problem. It is making good progress. We discussed whether we should make an interim report, but the present view is that that would further delay matters rather than speed things up.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Would we also be naive if we believed what is written in Hansard when it reports the answers that the Leader of the House gives to our questions? On 9 June in answer to my question about hunting deer with packs of dogs he said: Wild deer are already protected by the provisions of the Deer Acts 1963 and 1980"—[Official Report, 9 June 1988; Vol. 134, c. 987–8] He said that those provisions mainly referred to protection against poachers.

Scotland has the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959, which offers the sort of protection asked for in the early-day motion that I mentioned on 9 June. May we have a debate so that such protection is spread to England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not think that I have written to the hon. Gentleman, but I have written to a number of his hon. Friends setting out the detail of the statement I made, which I believe was correct. However, the hon. Gentleman will know that such matters are normally left to private Member's legislation. The Government have no plans to introduce legislation on this topic.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Will the Minister confirm the rumours circulating in Westminster that the Government are about to announce where the housing action trusts will be based? Will he make sure that, when that announcement is made, it is not in a written answer, but in a statement by the Minister for Housing and Planning or the Secretary of State for the Environment to the House next week? Will he also arrange for a debate on Girobank privatisation before it is privatised because, to go through, that privatisation does not require legislation?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman is a glutton for punishment. I thought that we were having a little rest from housing legislation. It is not for me to confirm the rumours that are going around the House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will make a statement at the proper time if a statement is required. I cannot confirm any rumours.

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