HC Deb 23 June 1988 vol 135 cc1281-92

4.4 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 27 JuNE—Completion of remaining stages of the Housing Bill.

TUESDAY 28 JUNE—Completion of remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 29 JUNE—Motion on the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order.

Motion on the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order.

THURSDAY 3o JuNE—There will be a debate on foreign affairs, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY I JuLY—There will be a debate on the White Paper on fair employment in Northern Ireland (Cm. 380), on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 4 JULY—Estimates Day (2nd Allotted Day). There will be debates on defence (class I, vote 1), housing, England (class IX, vote 1), and local environmental and planning services, etc. England (class X, vote 1). Details will be given in the Official Report.

[Estimates to he considered on Monday 4 July:

Class I, vote 1 (Defence: personnel costs etc of the armed forces and civilians, stores, supplies and miscellaneous services), so far as it relates to the defence requirement for merchant shipping and civil aircraft:

Class IX, vote 1 (Housing, England), so far as it relates to the provision of bed and breakfast accommodation for the homeless;

Class X, vote 1 (Local environmental and planning services etc, England), so far as it relates to grants to local authorities far the provision of gipsy sites.]

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I thank the Lord President for his statement, and in particular for the extra day that he has conceded for debate on the Housing Bill without a guillotine and the extra day that he has conceded for debate on the Criminal Justice Bill without a guillotine. Perhaps on reflection the Leader of the House will accept that a bit more give and a bit less take by the Government would lead to more orderly debate and fewer Government Back Benchers being kept up all night.

May I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving us the long-promised debate on foreign affairs. Long before he promised a debate on foreign affairs, the Lord President said that he would use his best endeavours to get his hon. Friends to serve on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. When does he expect them to do their duty? Does he think that there is no chance of Tory Members being prepared to carry out that task? Surely if the Scottish economy were doing as well as the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) claim, Tory Members would be flocking to the colours to serve on that Committee.

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we can expect an announcement about the Government"s proposals to reform, and we hope curtail, the Official Secrets Act 1911? No doubt the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) will have a personal interest in that.

Finally, as a number of Opposition Members have pointed out, as the proportion of our national output devoted to overseas aid has sunk to an all-time low, can we expect an early debate on that shameful record, or, better still, a statement that British aid will be increased?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman asked me questions about housing and foreign affairs. I shall answer his questions in the order in which they were asked. First, in regard to the Housing Bill, I do not believe that there is any point in rehearsing the events of last week. I am sure that it is better to proceed without a guillotine, and I am pleased that it has been possible to reach another agreement through the usual channels that the Housing Bill should be completed at a reasonable hour on Monday.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about the foreign affairs debate which I promised would be arranged in the near future and I am glad that I have been able to fit it in.

With regard to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, as I said last week, I regret that the proposals that I put to the Opposition parties for the establishment of the Select Committee did not prove acceptable to them. I saw the Chairman of the Committee of Selection yesterday. I understand that he is to discuss with his colleagues whether there is any generally acceptable basis on which to set up that Select Committee.

I have said that the Government are proposing to publish a White Paper about official secrets, and that we shall be arranging a debate. I stand by what I have said on that subject.

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman was listening to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about overseas aid. She said that the amount of overseas aid is increasing. Perhaps that could be fitted into the foreign affairs debate next week.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

My right hon. Friend will recall that the recent statement by the Prime Minister contrasted the orderly and civilised city of Toronto with what is happening in many towns and cities in Britain. No doubt she was aware that Canada is outstanding among nations in its alcohol control policies. Should we not have a debate before the House rises for the summer recess about the growing problem in Britain and the steps that are being taken by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary"s departmental committee to resolve it?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the long and well-known interest of my right hon. Friend and others in these matters. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering the issues urgently. We shall need to look at all the problems, including the difficulties the police have had in tackling them and the contribution made by heavy drinking. On the role of alcohol, I have asked for a report to be made at the next meeting of the ministerial group on alcohol misuse, which I chair.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I would not expect the right hon. Gentleman to divulge the detail of the conversation he had with the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, but was anything said that gave him any hope that when the Chairman meets the Committee next week there will be some positive move forward in setting up the Scottish Select Committee? If that proves impossible, which would be regrettable, will he consider the proposal in early-day motion 1270 about setting up a Joint Committee of both Houses where he could use his noble Friends in another place to fill the gaps that his hon. Friends in this House are unwilling to fill?

[That this House notes with dismay the lack of sufficient Conservative honourable Members willing to accept nomination to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, thereby frustrating the setting up of the Committee; expresses its belief in the need for a Committee with powers to call for persons and papers to ensure effective scrutiny of the Scottish Office and Scottish public affairs; and calls on the Leader of the House urgently to initiate procedures which will lead to the early constitution of a Joint Committee of both Houses.]

Mr. Wakeham

That would not be an adequate solution. There are considerable difficulties, but I prefer to say nothing until I have heard from the Chairman of the Committee of Selection.

Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

There are rumours in the press about what is happening or not happening in the Committee discussing the televising of the proceedings of the House. Will there be an official statement before the recess?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot imagine that there will be an official statement before the recess. However, that depends when the recess comes. The Committee, which I chair, has a difficult job to do. We are working hard and it is not surprising that, from time to time, there are problems to overcome. I believe that we will overcome them and report to the House in due course.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House turn his attention to a growing menace in the House —the private Bill procedure? Is he aware that that has been corrupted during the past two or three years? There used to be a system whereby it was easy to distinguish between private Bills and Government Bills. Now that distinction has become blurred with the Associated British Ports Bills, the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill and the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill. Surely it is high time that was stopped. To some extent, it would be in his interest, in terms of getting Government business through the House, to ensure that we do not clog up the private Bill system. Bills used to be geographically constrained but now affect every hon. Member. Private Bill Committees used to be manned by people who had no interest in those Bills. Yet the Bills before the House tonight involve South African coal with blood on it being imported into this country. Surely there is no hon. Member who, in some way or another, is not affected politically by that Bill. It is time it was stopped.

Mr. Wakeham

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman"s question was supposed to be helpful. As he knows, the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure is currently considering that matter and other matters to do with private Bills. I understand that it intends to publish a report before the end of the Session. It would be better to wait until the House has received the report before considering how best to proceed.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

As our noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has announced the results of the Cleveland child abuse inquiry, not in the other place but in another country, will my right hon. Friend take urgent steps to ensure that copies of the report are given to Cleveland Members of Parliament for their consideration and that a statement is made at an early opportunity?

Mr. Wakeham

I am not sure where my hon. Friend obtains his information. I can assure him that the speech given in Lisbon by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor was delivered to the organisers of the conference some time in March, long before the Cleveland report was produced. The speech had to be there in advance so that it could be translated into Portuguese and other languages. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has said that the report to which my hon. Friend referred will be published early in July. I see no reason to bring that date forward.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Can we have a statement or debate on the shameful Government decision to reverse their proposed ban on imports of fur from animals caught in the cruel steel-jaw trap? Was that proposal reversed to smooth the Prime Minister"s way in Toronto or to sell submarines? Does it not show that the Prime Minister would sell her own grandmother to further the arms race?

Mr. Wakeham

If we can strip the fuzz from the hon. Gentleman"s question, which is a serious one in spite of the way in which he put it, I can tell him that my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade is considering the matter and that an announcement will be made in due course.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Will my right hon. Friend consider allowing the House time to debate some of the conditions in the prison service in view of the intransigent and irresponsible behaviour of a hard core of prison officers and the difficulty that the Government appear to be having in running the prison service? Is it not time we had a debate so that we can discuss those matters at some length?

Mr. Wakeham

I appreciate my hon. Friend"s rightly held concern about our prisons. As he will realise, this is a particularly busy time of year and I cannot promise a debate in the near future.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Will the Leader of the House accept that the continuing wishy-washy statements about problems in setting up the Scottish Select Committee will be greeted with dismay by Opposition Members and those in Scotland? Is it not appalling that more than one year after the general election the Scottish Select Committee is the only Select Committee that is not up and working? Will he give a straight yes or no answer: will there be a Scottish Select Committee this Session?

Mr. Wakeham

I regret it, too, and if the Opposition parties had accepted my proposals we could have made some progress. I have told the House before—I stand by it—that there will be a debate, whether or not the Select Committee is formed.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the importance to the Yorkshire and Humberside region of rapid rail transit through the Channel tunnel when it is opened and the number of issues that have arisen that are causing doubt and concern relating to customs and immigration clearance on the trains to locations at inland depots. Can my right hon. Friend offer an opportunity to the House to debate those important issues in time so that decisions can follow?

Mr. Wakeham

I answered a question on that subject a week or so ago. It is an important subject but this is a busy time of year and I regret that I cannot immediately find time for a debate. I shall bear it in mind.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Will the Leader of the House consider allowing a debate next week on early-day motion 792?

[That this House deplores the increasing frequency of grandparents being deprived of the right of access to, care, fostering or adoption of their grandchildren; notes with alarm the attitude of some social services employees; and calls on Her Majesty"s Government to introduce early legislation to give legal rights to grandparents providing immediate right of access before children are taken into care and the right to be present or legally represented at any official hearing or inquiry regarding future access to, care, fostering and adoption of their grandchild or grandchildren.] This is one of the rare occasions since 1922 when an early-day motion has been signed by a majority of hon. Members. Surely it deserves time for debate. If not, the Bill that I presented to the House should be supported by the Government, given that the majority of hon. Members have declared their support for it. Will he ensure that time is given for those matters to be debated or accept my proposals as a fait accompli and introduce legislation?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman time, but I hope that these remarks may encourage him. Grandparents may already be made parties to adoption, and further rights are provided in amending legislation to be implemented this year. The Government will give careful consideration to the early-day motion"s proposals when framing the child care and family services legislation for which the 1987 White Paper provides.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Did my right hon. Friend tell the House that agreement had been reached with the Opposition that the Housing Bill would be completed at a "reasonable hour on Monday"? What did he mean by the words "reasonable hour"? How confident is he that any agreement reached will be honoured?

Mr. Wakeham

I chose my words carefully because they had been agreed through the usual channels. I do not know that I should go wider, but, to me, a "reasonable hour on Monday" means on Monday.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Andrew Faulds.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

What about me?

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. There are so many intrusive little worms around the Chamber. To revert to a matter that was raised earlier by the hon. and gallant Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes), for whom we all have great affection——

Mr. Tony Banks

Speak for yourself.

Mr. Faulds

I am speaking for myself, and for most of my colleagues. Will the Leader of the House, as Chairman of the Select Committee on the Televising of Proceedings of the House, be prepared to consider another demonstration, much better publicised than was the previous one, at which not only the members of the Select Committee but most of the M embers of the House can see what the imposition, the intrusion of lights and cameras in this Chamber will do to their comfort, to their convenience and to their conduct in the proceedings of the House? Does he not agree that it is quite disgraceful that on the majority of the Members of the House, who do not know what is going to hit them, there should be imposed this range of inconveniences without their knowing what is going to happen?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall certainly refer the hon. Gentleman"s helpful suggestion to the Select Committee, which will consider it. I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman looking so well. He was looking a little tired last week—perhaps he has had a little more sleep.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Will the Leader of the House consider an early debate on the broad question of law and order? A debate would serve to remind the House, prison officers and criminals that imprisonment is meant to reform, deter and punish. During the debate we could also explore why the Home Office keeps casting its beady eye on good industrial sites for new prisons, such as in Oldham and Rochdale in my own constituency. We build North sea oil rigs the size of hotels, so why can we not put prisoners out to sea, on islands? Let prisoners understand that no longer are we prepared to tolerate misbehaviour. If we do that, we shall come to grips with law and order.

Mr. Wakeham

If my hon. Friend can keep a secret, I may tell him that there is to be a debate on the Criminal Justice Bill next Tuesday. Provided he does not make too long a speech and gets it in order, he may be able to make some of his points on that occasion.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Services to make an early statement next week about the non-help that is available to those people losing more than £2.50 a week in housing benefit? Bradford council"s computer records identified more than 17,000 people in that city who could claim such help, but on asking the Glasgow unit for 17,000 application forms the council was told that it could be given only 1,000. Advice agencies have asked for 100 forms but have been given only one copy. The Glasgow unit is in shambolic disarray. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State to tell the House what he is doing to ensure that all those who are eligible for help receive it?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman"s comments. The transitional scheme has been designed for people above income support level, because those on income support will continue receiving maximum housing benefit. If the hon. Gentleman has any particular cases in mind, he should bring them to the attention of DHSS Ministers for them to study.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on gipsies and travellers, so that the House may consider their behaviour around the country, and especially in my constituency, where large groups of them have been terrorising residents with their dogs and their behaviour—particularly at Perivale hospital and Brentside high school? Something must be done on both a national and local basis, particularly in areas where sites have been properly designated and where gipsies should not camp illegally anyway.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that this is a problem—particularly in constituencies such as my hon. Friend"s and my own. I cannot promise an early debate but perhaps my hon. Friend could arrange an Adjournment debate on the subject.

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

May I ask the Leader of the House a very helpful question? Is he aware that on Monday week I shall have an Adjournment debate on the valuation of Richmond yard? Will he ensure that the Minister who answers that debate at the Dispatch Box is the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot guarantee that, but I recognise the strength of the hon. Gentleman"s point.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

He is the one who told the lies.

Mr. Wakeham

I totally reject that allegation, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be the first to withdraw it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Unhappily, I was distracted, but I understand that the hon. Gentleman may have used unparliamentary language. Will he please withdraw his comment?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I will withdraw it pending the debate a week on Monday.

Mr. Speaker

Please withdraw it now, absolutely.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I withdraw it for the purposes of today"s proceedings.

Mr. Wakeham

I shall do my best to ensure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, who has excellent answers to the questions which have been raised, personally answers that debate.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

My right hon. Friend is aware that in every week"s business there are two opportunities for private Members" legislation under the ten-minute Bill procedure. He will also be aware that the procedures governing the obtaining of ten-minute Bills are enshrined in tradition rather than in informal procedures. Uncertainty about the procedures involved has recently given cause for confusion, although it was averted because of the grace and tact of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard). Will my right hon. Friend avoid such problems in the future by referring the matter to the Select Committee on Procedure, and arrange for interim negotiations through the usual channels?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend raises a point that I know is a cause for concern. The matters that the Select Committee on Procedure choose to consider are for it to select according to their importance. I recognise the strength of my hon. Friend"s comments and shall speak to my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary to ascertain whether anything can be done. My hon. Friend will know that there has been trouble over the years. The first occasion was when my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) got there first and secured the whole of the ten-minute Bill allocation for one year.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

The Leader of the House has been playing cat and mouse with this Chamber long enough in respect of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. What started out looking like honest endeavours are now sounding very much like weasel words. Will the right hon. Gentleman deal straight with the people of Scotland? Will he accept the momentous consequences of an admission that a governing party cannot muster five hon. Members to man a Select Committee overseeing the Government"s own administration of a country that is a part of this state?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman has not long been a Member, and had he been here longer he would know that there were many times when his own party, when in government, did not set up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. My answer is straightforward: if the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will accept the very reasonable offer I made, we can set up the Select Committee. If they do not, there will be difficulties and I shall proceed in the way I suggested.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Has my right hon. Friend any news for the House about limitations on the length of speeches, which is becoming necessary in view of the current prevalence of verbal diarrhoea on both sides of the House?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the strength of my hon. Friend"s point, and I hope that I can manage to arrange a debate before the summer recess. I cannot guarantee it, but I shall do my best.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

The right hon. Gentleman"s answers to my colleagues about the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs cause grave offence to me, and to many other hon. Members. The offer that he made was certainly not a fair one. The truth of the matter—and it is the truth that we should be seeking—is that the Government are either unwilling or unable to find Back Benchers to man the Select Committee.

If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to retain an honourable position on the matter, as he is unable or unwilling to put names forward to assist in the setting up of the Committee, will he at least attempt to assist financially the committee that has been set up today by the Opposition parties to fill the vacuum created by the lack of Government inspiration, or at least give us a Clerk to run the Committee?

Mr. Wakeham

I must say that the hon. Gentleman is less than fair. It was I who moved a motion two nights ago to give substantial financial assistance to the Opposition, in spite of misgivings by some of my hon. Friends. I reckon that I have played my part.

I recognise the strength of feeling about the Scottish Select Committee on both sides of the House. I have shown the way forward, and I have said that there will be a debate which will give everyone an opportunity to express points of view. That is the way in which we proceed in the House, and I believe that it is the right way to proceed.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

In view of the heavy listed programme of Government legislation this year, does my right hon. Friend not agree that the business statement for next week is an excellent one? Does he also accept that there is a heavy listed programme for the Brigg and Cleethorpes constituency? In view of that, will he consider allowing me to make a business statement to indicate progress on that legislative programme so that I can invite my hon. Friends to support the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill tonight?

Mr. Wakeham

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his ingenuity. I have announced the Government"s business; private business is a matter for private Members.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will there be an early debate on the shortage of policemen on the heat, having regard to the Adjournment debate on Monday night in which the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) will be raising the question of policing in Leicestershire? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, with his customary courtesy, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton has informed his colleagues from Leicestershire? I believe that, for once, everyone is united in concern and outrage at the growth of crime and the refusal of the Home Secretary to permit additional police as requested by the chief constable. However, it is clearly impossible for that concern to be developed in the space of a brief Adjournment debate. Can we have a major opportunity to develop it in future?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

That will come up in the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill on Tuesday.

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend has pointed out that that will come up on Tuesday, but I recognise the strength of what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. I confirm that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) has obtained the Adjournment debate on Monday and that the Minister will reply. I feel that that is the best way forward at present.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Will my right hon. Friend ask his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry not to make any more statements about broadcasting policy until they have had the opportunity to read the report on the subject by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which is to be published shortly after long and deep study? Should not a report of a Select Committee of the House, which it is known will be published shortly, receive some respect in the timing of statements of policy by Ministers?

Mr. Wakeham

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will study the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee with great interest. I understand that my right hon. Friend is intending to publish a White Paper on broadcasting later in the year, and there will clearly be an opportunity for a debate on broadcasting matters, although it will not be in the immediate future.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

The right hon. Gentleman"s statements about the Scottish Select Committee can hardly be described as incredibly clear, but it is clearly incredible that on the eve of the anniversary of the Queen"s Speech the Government are as yet unable to set up such a Committee because of Conservative Members" lack of willingness to take part.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say when he will give time for this important matter to be debated on the Floor of the House? Or are we to assume that he expects us to discuss Scottish affairs in next Thursday"s foreign affairs debate?

Mr. Wakeham

The content of speeches is not a matter for me. I have made it clear, however, that whether or not the Scottish Select Committee is set up there will be a debate in the House. I have not announced it in today"s business statement and I cannot anticipate future business statements, but I shall arrange it through the usual channels.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry to come to the House to make a statement on the draft Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988, or arrange for a short debate on the subject? The matter is of immense concern in many constituencies up and down the country, not least to the ad hoc committee of 21 companies located in many constituencies represented by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

This will affect employment and investment. In some instances, it could also affect the future viability of a number of companies in the fabrics sector of the textile industry. Will my right hon. Friend arrange either for a Minister to make a statement or for a short debate in the near future?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the importance of the subject, and the interest that my hon. Friend has taken in it. There is a possibility that we shall be able to do something in the near future, but I shall look into the matter with my right hon. and noble Friend and write to my hon. Friend.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I say again to hon. Members that we have an important Welsh debate after this. It is only a half-day debate, and I ask hon. Members who are about to be called to be brief.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

My question arises out of Home Office questions. The House has, or should have, a degree of accountability from the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Could we have an early debate on the way in which the IBA is carrying out its duties under the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973? For instance, it is allowing theatrical feature films to be chopped up by advertising, and many classic and much-cherished films are being arbitrarily broken up. They were not intended by their authors, directors or photographers to have any breaks, let alone the arbitrary "natural" breaks imposed by television. Is it not time that we had a debate on this important topic to stop the IBA from allowing the television companies to get away with breaking the law? Surely, for a law-abiding party, that is an important issue.

Mr. Wakeham

I do not even know whether the hon. Gentleman"s allegations are correct. I do not imagine for a minute that the IBA has broken the law. However, the hon. Gentleman has raised a subject which he feels is important, and it is legitimate for him to raise it in the House. I wish that I could be more encouraging than to say that I hope that there will be a debate later in the year when the White Paper on broadcasting has been published. That is the best that I can do at present, but I shall keep the matter in mind.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

May we have a debate on the threat that is posed to the ancient right of petitioning without duress, which is our citizens" most ancient tradition and right? That threat has been posed by the Minister of State, Scottish Office—the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang) —who has said that petitions against the poll tax can be used by poll tax registrars to place people on the poll tax register. That can be found in column 851 of Hansard for 28 March 1988. Either we should debate it, or it should be disowned in a statement from the right hon. Gentleman or from the Minister concerned.

Mr. Wakeham

I am not sure that I follow the hon. Gentleman"s logic. It seems to me that citizens of this country are either liable for the community charge or they are not. I should have thought that all of us on both sides of the House would want to encourage compliance with the law, whatever our views about a particular law.

Mr. Tony Banks

May we have an early debate on the legalisation of soft drugs? Is it not a fact that the real concern about drugs is the criminality associated with the trade in the illegal use of drugs rather than the damage to health? If it were health, of course, the Government would be banning the use of alcohol, which causes far more damage to health than the use of soft drugs. So can we have that early debate, because if we can talk about decriminalising drug use surely we can do something about the criminal activity that now surrounds it?

Mr. Wakeham

I should like to be able to say that I share the hon. Gentleman"s view on drugs, but I do not; I believe that there are very serious problems. But I recognise the force of some of the points that he made and I wish that I could offer him an early debate. But I cannot, although it is a very important subject.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

May we have an inkling of what the Government"s thinking is on their legislation on official secrecy? Connected with that, what line is the Leader of the House taking on early-day motions 1241 and 1242, which have to do with the ethics of civil servants?

[That this House notes with interest but not surprise that the former Permanent Under Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Sir Frank Cooper, has stated in relation to the leaking of the Solicitor General"s letter during the Westland affair that "there is political secrecy and genuine secrecy" and that as regards the real malefactors in this episode "only a percentage of the truth ever came out.".]

[That this House notes with interest that the former Secretary of State for Defence, the Right honourable Member for Henley is reported in the St. Edward"s Oxford School Chronicle as having admitted privately to pupils and masters that the source of the leak of the Solicitor General"s letter during the Westland Affair was the Prime Minister; and calls upon the Right honourable Member for Henley to be as forthcoming to the House as he has been in private.]

Mr. Wakeham

I have nothing to say on those early-day motions, as I have indicated many times before. With regard to official secrets, the position is that there will be a White Paper and a debate, and I have indicated probable timetables for them.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Is it not dishonest humbug for anyone to suggest that anyone other than the Government is responsible for the fact that there is no Select Committee on Scottish Affairs yet? Is the right hon. Gentleman not stringing the House along when he keeps coming back for business questions week after week and month after month telling us about more meetings with the Chairman of the Committee of Selection? Since he is talking about a deal, would he like to give us some idea of which of his hon. Friends have said that they would be willing to sit on such a Committee?

Mr. Wakeham

The nomination of hon. Members for a Select Committee is a matter for the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, not for me. The hon. Gentleman probably knows more about humbug than I do.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

May I call the attention of the Leader of the House to my early-day motion 1271 which is supported by numerous hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies?

[That this House queries the answer to Parliamentary Question number 17 given by the Secretary of State for the Environment on Wednesday 22nd June to the honourable Member for Newport East that the number of houses vacant in the town of Newport was 130 with 68 families homeless; compares this with the information publicly announced by the Chief Housing Officer of Newport Borough Council that on average for the year 1987–88 up to 31st March, 130 properties were vacant throughout the borough with 661 people declared homeless in that period and eligible for assistance under the Homeless Persons Act, 389 of that number assisted and advised, a further 272 housed or referred to housing associations, and that overall there was a 24 per cent. increase in the number of homeless in the borough in 1987–88; and calls for an early explanation and statement from the Secretary of State about the misleading figures given to the House.] Will the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that even the Secretary of State for the Environment might welcome the opportunity to make a statement to the House concerning the answer he gave to question No. 17 yesterday on the matter of homelessness in Newport?

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. Friend accepts that he should have made it clear that the figure that he quoted of 68 households accepted as homeless related to the period January to March 1988. Since the chief housing officer has confirmed that on average there were 130 dwellings vacant in the borough during 1987–88, I stand by my hon. Friend"s statement that there is no problem.