HC Deb 30 June 1988 vol 136 cc536-44

4.8 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 4 JULY—Remaining stages of the Civil Evidence (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

Committee and remaining stages of the Electricity (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Legal Aid Bill [Lords].

Motion to take note of EC documents on the limitation of the emission of pollutants from large combustion plants. Details will be given in the Official Report.

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

TUESDAY 5 JULY—Opposition Day (16th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The Threat to a Universal Free Health Service".

Motion on the Education (Assisted Places) (Amendment) Regulations.

Motion on the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order.

WEDNESDAY 6 JULY—Opposition Day (17th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate on a Scottish National party motion entitled "The Political Situation in Scotland". Afterwards there will be a debate on a Social and Liberal Democratic party motion entitled "Hardship to Pensioners Caused by Government Policies".

Second Reading of the Court of Session Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

THURSDAY 7 JULY—Estimates Day (2nd Allotted Day).

There will be debates on Defence (class 1, 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.

Motion on the Church of England (Ecumenical Relations) Measure.

FRIDAY 8 JULY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY II JuLY—Second Reading of the European Communities (Finance) Bill.

Debate on Monday 4 July 1988

Relevant European Community documents

Air pollution from large combustion plants.

  1. (a) 11642/83
  2. (b) 5124/85
  3. (c) Un-numbered

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 78-xxvii (1983–84) para 4
  2. (b) HC 5-xviii (1984–85) para 2
  3. (c) HC 43-xxviii (1987–88) para 1

Estimates to be considered Thursday 7 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 for the provision of gipsy sites;

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Given his earlier commitments, when can we expect, first, an opportunity to debate the Committee on Procedure's proposals for short speeches, secondly, the Government's failure to set up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, and, thirdly, the Government's proposed changes to the law on official secrets?

As Britain has a balance of trade deficit in electronic goods of £2,000 million, when does the Leader of the House expect the McKinsey report on the future of the electronics industry to be published? When will there be a debate on the future of this crucial sector of the economy?

The consultation period on the Green Paper on the public library service ends today. When will the responses be published, and when shall we have an opportunity to debate the preposterous proposals to levy charges for services which Winston Churchill thought should be free?

The consultation period has ended on the Government's proposals to hand over the swimming pools, sports grounds, sports halls and running tracks that are now owned and used by local communities to profit-seeking private companies. Will the Leader of the House ensure that all the responses are placed in the Library, as promised by the Minister? Will he ensure also that the House has an opportunity to debate the proposal before any decision is taken by the Government? Will he give the House an assurance that any statement of Government policy is presented in an oral statement and not by written answer?

This is an important matter because the proposals, if they are accepted and implemented, will harm sporting opportunities for countless young people who will not be able to afford to pay for them. The only reason for the proposals is to increase charges. We do not want the proposals to be accepted and then to hear Ministers bleating and asking why young people are being vandalistic and violent, they having reduced the sports opportunities of young people.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has asked me a number of questions. He has asked specifically when we should have debates on a number of subjects.

I understand that the Committee of Selection has reported its view that there is no generally acceptable basis for producing names to complete nominations for a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. In these circumstances, I think that the matter should be debated by the House. The timing of the debate is probably best left for discussion through the usual channels.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a statement yesterday on official secrets legislation and the White Paper. I think that the timing of that debate is best left also for consideration through the usual channels.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras asked me about the date of publication of the McKinsey report on the electronics industry. I do not have that date available, but I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said that the consultation period on the public library service ends today. The Government will want to consider the results of the consultation before making a statement.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be making an announcement shortly on the proposals to be put forward on the privatisation of sports and leisure facilities following a consultation paper which was issued last autumn. If we decide to proceed with the proposals, the necessary order under the Local Government Act 1988 will be preceded by further consultation, and implementation will be delayed beyond 1 August 1989, which is the date by which authorities must begin the phased introduction of competition for the activities that are listed in the Act. I have taken note of what the hon. Gentleman said. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to reflect on what I said earlier. No fewer than 34 right hon. and hon. Members want to take part in the debate on foreign affairs. I do not like to limit questions, and accordingly I shall allow them to continue for a further 20 minutes. I hope that all those who wish to put a question to the Leader of the House will be able to do so in that time. We must then move on.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House arrange for my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General to make a statement next week about the Barlow Clowes affair? Will my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General say something about providing compensation for those who suffered through no fault of their own, many of whom are in great hardship?

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced the timing of the completion of the inquiry into the facts of his Department's handling of the Barlow Clowes affair. That announcement was made after consultation with Sir Godfray Le Quesne. It represents the best estimate possible of the time needed to complete the investigation. I do not think that it would be sensible or productive to seek arbitrarily to impose a shorter time limit. It is important that we obtain an authoritative report.

The Barlow Clowes affair will be raised in an Adjournment debate early next week, when I hope that the Minister who replies will be able to say a little more about it. I recognise the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), but the important thing is to ensure that the report is produced quickly.

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

Has the Leader of the House seen the recent report in The Independent, which states that the official Government survey on disabled people shows that there are now 6 million disabled in Britain, many of them living in poverty? It seems that the Government are not prepared to release the report until September, when the House will be in recess. May we have a statement next week about that?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not know about the recent report in The Independent. I remember, however, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister saying a short while ago that there has been an 80 per cent. increase in real terms in help for the disabled under the Conservative Government. I recognise the right hon. Gentleman's concern, however, and I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

On the afternoon when we have heard of remarkable progress being made towards the establishment of a common market, will my right hon. Friend take note that the people of Kent feel enormously anxious about the provision of roads to cope with the increased traffic that will ensue? May we have a debate about that? At the very least, will he ask the Secretary of State for Transport to undertake an urgent reappraisal of what he is up to?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that it is an important issue in Kent. I wish that I could offer my hon. Friend a debate in the near future, but this is an especially busy time of year and I do not think that I can do that. I shall refer his second suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Does the Leader of the House recall that, after the most recent general election, the Secretary of State for Scotland said that it would be business as usual in spite of the small representation of Conservative Members in Scotland? There is no Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, and it is clear that it is not business as usual. What does he propose to do to save the face of his right hon. and learned Friend?

Mr. Wakeham

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I put proposals to Opposition parties on how we could set up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Unfortunately, the proposals did not meet with universal enthusiasm. The best course is to have a debate and to clarify the issue.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Minister who will be responding to the Adjournment debate on Barlow Clowes next week will deal with the issue of compensation? Secondly, when the internal independent report into the Department of Trade and Industry has been published, may we have a full debate on the Floor of the House and not merely a statement?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not think that I can say any more than I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). We must wait for the Adjournment debate next Tuesday and decide then how to proceed from there.

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Does the Leader of the House agree that the way in which the Secretary of State for the Environment has conducted a consultation exercise on competition in the management of local authority sports and leisure facilities amounts to a complete sham? To take up the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), will he not reprimand the Secretary of State?

On 25 January, when I asked a junior Minister whether he would place in the Library the responses of all those who had replied to the consultation paper, he said that he would do so as soon as possible. I have visited the Library and have found that there have been 16 responses from organisations in Wales and not one from all the other 300 that he consulted throughout the country, or which he says he consulted. Will the Leader of the House reprimand the Secretary of State for the Environment and make no statement until we have had a chance to visit the Library to read the responses to the consultation paper?

Mr. Wakeham

If any undertaking given by a member of the Government has not been fulfilled, I take that to be a serious matter and I will look into it. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not take it amiss if I say that I would like to check with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State before I accept the strictures that the hon. Gentleman has laid on him.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the growing disquiet about the jury system? We have seen the eyeballing techniques, fraternising with the accused and now the substitution of bogus jurors for people who simply do not want to turn up. Should not public confidence in the jury system be re-established by airing the problem in the House?

Mr. Wakeham

Confidence in the jury service is an essential part of our criminal justice system. Any concern should be ventilated and debated in this House. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will understand if I cannot promise him a debate in the immediate future.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

May we have a statement next week on why the campaign to educate our people about the dangers of AIDS has been scrapped or virtually has ground to a halt because of the Government's mistaken morals? Health education books have been pulped because the Government do not like the list of help agencies. Instead of being pragmatic, are not the Government being "prigmatic"?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government have taken the problem of AIDS extremely seriously and have taken a number of very important initiatives. I am glad to say that in the main those initiatives have had the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House and I would like that to continue. I recognise that we have not had a debate in the House on this subject for some time, and obviously the House will want to return to the subject. However, I cannot promise an early debate, but I recognise the force of the hon. Gentleman's comments.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge- Brownhills)

Following yesterday's publication of the White Paper on section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, the last paragraph of which says that the Government intend that there will be a debate by the end of July, will my right hon. Friend give as early a sign as possible of that date?

Mr. Wakeham

I will give as early a sign as I possibly can. I believe that the date for the debate is best discussed through the usual channels.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Now that the discussion period on "The Way Forward" is over and Nirex is openly discussing with Scottish landowners the possibility of access to land for test boring, is it not time for a full debate on the issue of nuclear waste disposal? Will the Leader of the House give us valuable instructions on how to keep nuclear waste out of our constituencies?

Mr. Wakeham

I believe that the consultation period has only recently ended. It is right that Nirex should have time to consider that and make proposals. Obviously the House will want to debate the subject at some stage, but I do not believe that that stage has been reached yet.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Despite the great and continuing differences between this country and the Soviet Union, I wonder whether we could have a debate on the similarity between our two countries and, in particular, on the fact that we both have one-party states in that there is only one party in either country that is capable of civilised and intelligent internal debate about the real issues facing the country; that there is only one party in either country that is looking to the future rather than the past; and that there is only one party in either country that is capable of forming or likely to form the Government?

Mr. Wakeham

A parliamentarian of lesser skill than my hon. Friend might have difficulty keeping a speech on that subject in order in the foreign affairs debate that follows. No doubt if my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will be able to keep his comments in order.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

In recognising that there is widespread concern about the Government's determination to go ahead with the privatisation of water, will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a debate on that important matter as soon as possible before the summer recess? Perhaps it would be useful to latch that debate to the Select Committee report which will be published soon containing the Government's response. We must also take into account the fact that the lower the standards that are fixed, the more money there will be in privatisation from the Government. We want the highest possible standards if privatisation is to be forced ahead.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that this is a very important subject and I hope that I will not disappoint the hon. Gentleman by making him wait too long for a debate. However, I cannot promise a debate before the summer recess.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Bearing in mind the moves in the Soviet Union towards a more consumer-orientated society, does my right hon. Friend feel that we have anything to learn from that attitude? If not, may we have a debate on the fact that in this country we still have import quotas and controls on cars, vans, trucks and cultivated mushrooms in brine? Perhaps during that debate the Minister responsible can tell us how he squares that with the Government's policy on deregulation and a free market.

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise a debate on that subject next week, interesting though it would be to have one.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I gave notice this morning about the Fiat sale of 16.7 per cent. of Westland Helicopters Ltd. to United Technologies Corporation. Will the Leader of the House comment on that?

Mr. Wakeham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his question. The Government and Westland Helicopters Ltd. consider that negotiations between UTC and Fiat concerning Fiat's holding in Westland are a matter for the two companies concerned. As is well known, the Ministry of Defence has substantial contracts placed with Westland Helicopters. Any change in share ownership of the sort contemplated in no way affects those contracts.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of a recent report commissioned and written within the DHSS by two junior and one middle-ranking officer on the relocation of civil servants throughout the country and that they have dismissed any removal to the north of England on the basis that it would be too great a culture shock for the Sir Humphreys of this world? In view of that and the likely precedent that it could have for the entire north of England in future, an early debate is required by those who represent northern constituencies which may be blighted and affected by that nonsensical report.

Mr. Wakeham

That is obviously a very suitable subject for debate, but I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate. When the debate occurs, no doubt he or the Minister concerned will explain that about 80 per cent. of civil servants are located out of London.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House assure us that we will have a statement next week about the proposed privatisation of the Harland and Wolff yard to Mr. Ravi Tikkoo who is pressing the Government for a £100 million taxpayer subsidy for a somewhat illusory luxury liner? This is a very important matter, particularly as some of us believe that, in the light of Mr. Ravi Tikkoo's reputation, his adviser on getting money from the Government might be Mr. John de Lorean. We therefore believe that an urgent statement is necessary.

Mr. Wakeham

An expression of interest in the acquisition of Harland and Wolff has now come forward from Tikkoo Cruise Line Ltd. The Government will consider that and any proposals from any other parties which might lead to the privatisation of the company. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will make a statement when there is something to say, but not at this stage.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

In the light of what the Leader of the House said about the likely takeover of Harland and Wolff, should we not in the near future have a debate on the shipbuilding intervention fund? Presumably Mr. Tikkoo has had his appetite whetted by the generous gift of the Govan yard that the Government have given to Kvaerner, the Norwegian company. Should not the shipbuilding intervention fund debate determine once and for all that all engines purchased for vessels to be constructed in British yards should be purchased from British marine engineering companies?

Mr. Wakeham

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, shipbuilding was debated on the Floor of the House on 19 May. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that he would report further on developments. He gave a full answer to a written question on Monday on the sale of the Govan yard to Kvaerner. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman might think that some aspects of this subject might be debated next week in the debate on Scottish affairs.

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

In the light of the Government's repeated assertion that they condemn the local authority waste of ratepayers' money, may the House have a general debate on that matter? I know of several specific cases in the south of England concerning Tory constituents in the heart of Toryland, where Conservative-controlled local authorities are squandering hundreds of thousands of pounds of ratepayers' money. May we have a debate so that those matters can be discussed in Parliament?

Mr. Wakeham

I am very pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman is in the business of condemning wasteful spending of ratepayers' money wherever it occurs; there is a measure of agreement between us on that point. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman's earliest opportunity for making some of his points might be when the Local Government Finance Bill returns to this House. I hope that we shall not have too long to wait.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that, as a result of the outcome of the court case concerning the Severn-Trent water authority and Cakebread, massive amounts of money will be a burden on the backs of ratepayers and local authorities? In the case of Bradford, the amount involved is about £2 million for the backdating of refunds of general rates on sewage works. Will he arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to come to the House and do what he has done many times before—put right his mistake so that ratepayers all over the country will not be forced to pay further amounts of money, making the privatisation of the water industry even more lucrative for the City spivs than it is already?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not accept a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I recognise that he points to a case of consequence and of some importance. I shall refer his point to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Would it not be useful to have a wide-ranging debate on Northern Ireland when the House could discuss the Harland and Wolff situation? The House had two debates on Northern Ireland last night and there is to be another tomorrow, concerning specific and limited areas. I was present last night, when the Chamber was almost empty, which was a bad time for that discussion to take place. There are many other wider issues, such as attempted moves towards democratisation in Northern Ireland involving the establishment of a Bill of Rights, the establishment of devolved government, and moves to attack paramilitarism and militarism in the Province. A wider debate would be of value.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that, however many debates on Northern Ireland we manage to arrange, there will be hon. Members with still more to say on the subject. It seems to be a characteristic of Northern Ireland politics that there is a great deal to say. We have not done too badly on Northern Ireland matters. At present, there is a lot of pressure on our time and I cannot promise another debate in the near future. However, I note that there is to be a debate on the Sexual Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order next Tuesday night.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

Given the widespread concern in all quarters of the House in the aftermath of last Monday's ITV programme about the activities of the mobster landlord Nicholas van Hoogstraten, will the Leader of the House consult his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General about coming to the House to make a statement on referring the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions in order that that mobster can be prosecuted for conspiracy?

Mr. Wakeham

If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence, it is not a matter for the Government. The Government are not the prosecuting authority, as the hon. Gentleman knows. He knows also that nobody in any part of the House has any time or support for anyone indulging in criminal activities. However, many of the housing difficulties that have occurred in the past have been the result of restrictive Rent Acts, and we are trying to remedy that problem.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Leader of the House has announced that there will be a debate on the European Communities (Finance) Bill on 11 July. Has that Bill yet been published, and, if not, when will it be? Will he confirm that it will contain two elements: first, an endorsement of what has become known as the Delors package, and, secondly, authority for an advance payment to the EEC to keep it going, in expectation of the fact that other countries will endorse the Delors package. If the latter element is included, would not that be very unbusinesslike and bad, because we would be voting money without knowing whether the resources would be available?

Mr. Wakeham

I will not confirm anything about a Bill that is to be published tomorrow; notice has been given. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that two Command Papers have been published and they are now available in the Vote Office. As I have already said, we propose giving that Bill a Second Reading on Monday 11 July.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House give an absolute guarantee that the Secretary of State for the Environment will come to the House to make a statement, or to engage in a debate, about the sale of sports fields belonging to local authorities? Is it not preposterous of the Government to have such an idea in their head? Will he dispel the rumour that is spreading through this place that one of the persons suggested to operate the quango concerned is Lady Porter of Westminster city council? Would it not be disastrous for the Government's budget if they were to put her in charge?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot comment on any and every rumour in this place. I gave a reply to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), and I am not prepared to add to it.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)


Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry that I am unable to call the three hon. Members, but they are all anxious to take part in the foreign affairs debate.