HC Deb 19 May 1988 vol 133 cc1097-109 3.31 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

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

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

MONDAY 23 MAY—Opposition Day (12th Alloted Day) (2nd part). Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The Crisis in Housing".

Remaining stages of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill.

TUESDAY 24 MAY—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Employment Bill.

WEDNESDAY 25 MAY—Motion to take note of the White Paper on developments in the European Community July-December 1987 (Cm. 336).

THURSDAY 26 MAY—Motion for the spring Adjournment.

Motions on short speeches and public petitions.

Motion on the Lord Chancellor's Salary Order.

FRIDAY 27 MAY—Adjournment motions.

Mr. Dobson

I thank the Leader of the House. In view of the revelation earlier this week that decisions have been taken in principle and in secret about the replacement of one category of nuclear weapons, can we expect an early debate on defence?

May we expect a debate on competition policy before control of Rowntree Mackintosh is transferred from York to Switzerland?

When can we expect a debate on foreign affairs—the debate that the right hon. Gentleman has been promising for some months now?

Finally, in view of the need to improve and update communications in the House, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when the Services Committee can expect to receive the reports from the Property Services Agency on the replacement of the annunciator system, and from British Telecom on the electronic mailing experiment, both of which have been outstanding for more than a year?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has asked me four questions about next week's business. The first was about a debate on the defence White Paper. In due course there will be an opportunity for a debate on that. I understand that the Select Committee on Defence will be taking evidence and producing a report, and it would be better to wait for that before we arrange a debate.

The next question was about competition policy and the matter of Rowntree. I answered a question on this last week when I said that my right hon. and noble Friend was awaiting a report from the Office of Fair Trading. There is nothing that I can add to what I said then.

The hon. Gentleman asked about a foreign affairs debate. I recognise that there is concern about and a need for a debate on foreign affairs, and I shall seek to arrange that as soon as possible.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the annunciator screen report and British Telecom's electronic mailing system report. The hon. Gentleman kindly gave me notice that he would be asking about these matters. I understand that both reports will shortly be submitted to the Computer Sub-Committee. The consultants' final report on the annunciator screen was recently received by the Parliamentary Works Officer, who is now considering it. A draft report on the British Telecom electronic mailing system prepared by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency is with the working party involved in the trial of this system.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. This is an Opposition day. May I remind the House that business questions should be confined to business for next week and should not be on general topics?

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Leader of the House said that there would ultimately be a debate on the defence Estimates. Does he accept that it would be preferable for the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement about any new nuclear weapons system to this House and not on "Panorama"? Will he have an opportunity to make that statement next week? Now that the motion about the Select Committee on Procedure is on the Order Paper, does the Leader of the House have any proposals to bring that motion to the House so that the Select Committee on Procedure can now be set up?

Mr. Wakeham

I will obviously refer the point about defence to my right hon. Friend, but the defence White Paper debate is probably the best time to deal with these matters. The House will have noted that the motion to re-establish the Select Committee on Procedure is on the Order Paper, and I hope that it will be agreed before Whitsun.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Has my right hon. Friend seen the report in The Independent that the deputy Leader of the Opposition has tried to persuade Mr. Speaker not to select the new clause on abortion put down for debate on the Criminal Justice Bill, which I understand must be debated very soon? In view of this and the disgraceful ploys which prevented the House from coming to a decision on this matter last Friday week, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance, first, that there will be a free vote on the amendment—assuming that Mr. Speaker selects it? Secondly, if there is any attempt at obstruction to prevent the House arriving at a decision, will he give us an assurance that the Government will not hesitate to move a motion in accordance with precedent?

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. Friend raises the question of the selection of amendments on the Criminal Justice Bill. Of course, the selection of amendments on that Bill is a matter not for me but for you, Mr. Speaker. He also makes the point, which I would expect him to make, about the desirability of a structured debate on these matters. Obviously, we shall address our minds to that when we see the selection. At one time, matters of whipping were my responsibility, but I am glad to say that it is one of the responsibilities that I no longer have.

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

When the Leader of the House answered the question about a debate on the defence Estimates, I fear that he misunderstood the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). There has been a revelation through the media—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] There has been a revelation that new nuclear weapons decisions have been taken. Can the Leader of the House tell us whether it is therefore right that the House should he informed about this matter, and that there should be a proper debate? These decisions are being taken in secret and it is against the interests of the House that that should be done in this way.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Lady should not necessarily believe everything that she reads in the newspapers. I have said that I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. If he thought it appropriate to make a statement to the House, of course he would do so; but I said that probably the best way to proceed was to have the annual defence debate in the normal course.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the answer he has just given? Would it not he of great advantage to the House and to the nation if there were to be a debate on nuclear defence policy, so that the Labour party could expose its differences on the matter?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend tempts me, because that would be an important debate, but there are many other important debates, and much important legislation that I should like passed through the House as soon as possible.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast South)

The Leader of the House is aware that I have been pressing on different occasions for a debate on devolution. In the light of the Prime Minister's statement in Scotland last week, could we have a debate in the near future? Alternatively—this might be more practicable could Northern Ireland be allowed into the benefits of that unitary state?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's persistence in raising these matters, which are very important to him. I cannot promise a debate in the immediate future, but I will bear his representations in mind.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

The Home Secretary is thinking about the introduction of electronic tagging for prisoners. Would the Leader of the House think of introducing it for right hon. and hon. Members, as it would be interesting to know where some of our distinguished colleagues are when they are not in the Palace of Westminster?

Mr. Wakeham

No, Sir. I have no plans to do such a thing. Quite a number of hon Members could go a long way away and I should not miss them.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider having a statement or debate on the new nuclear weapons matter, which the Secretary of State for Defence has announced? It has not been just in the press, as the Secretary of State has announced it to the Select Committee and on "Panorama". Many people will think that the Government have something to hide if they do not have a debate on this important matter. Will the Leader of the House ensure, at the same time, that there will be an early transcript of what the Secretary of State said to the Select Committee so that we can see the way in which he has been deceiving the House on this matter over a number of years?

Mr. Wakeham

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman's logic adds much to the debate. As i understand it, he says that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced this to a Select Committee, but is also trying to conceal it. Giving evidence to a Select Committee is not the most obvious way to conceal something.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

On Thursday next week we are to have a debate on the spring Adjournment, and then on one of the procedure motions, which is to be on short speeches, as I understand it. It should come on between 7 pm and 7.30 pm, as the Adjournment debate will last for three hours. Has the Leader of the House considered any of the other motions brought forward by the Procedure Committee, because some matters other than short speeches could be dealt with if the debate is brief?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise my hon. Friend's interest in these matters. The motion that I shall bring forward for debate next Thursday will be on short speeches and public petitions, dealing with two matters that I hope we can dispose of. I hope to arrange a further debate shortly in which we can discuss the other matters that I know are of concern, on which my hon. Friend knows I shall be having talks.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford South)

Could we have a statement on lobbying next week as a matter of urgency? The Leader of the House will recall that I raised with him the position of Mr. Peter Luff, who is employed by "Good Relations" yet is an adviser to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The Secretary of State is not even a Member of the House; therefore he is not directly accountable. "Good Relations" is being investigated by that Department over the Guinness affair. This is highly unsatisfactory. Lobbying is spawning around this place and it is about time that we had a debate on it, or a statement at the very least.

Mr. Wakeham

Mr. Luff, and indeed all special advisers, are employed on agreed and proper terms, in accordance with Civil Service practice. I do not believe that there is a need for a debate on that matter. I notice the Select Committee's proposals about changes, and a further look at lobbying, but I do not foresee the need for a debate.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Will my right hon. Friend note that the Companies (Audit Committees) Bill was yesterday thrown out of the other place? That legislation was introduced by the late Member for Kensington and was quickly passed in this House a few weeks ago. Will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of that legislation coming back later in the year in the form of a Companies Bill? Many hon. Members and people outside the House would be grateful for that.

Mr. Wakeham

I am sure that the whole House would want me to say how much we shall miss Sir Brandon Rhys Williams. He did not always, over many years, make himself comfortable with the Government—he had views of his own—but I shall certainly miss his lively intellect and his contributions to our debates. I cannot promise, however, that there will be such legislation. Whether the Government decide to introduce a Bill containing these or similar proposals is a matter not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Has the Leader of the House noticed that, on Tuesday, there is to be a reachable oral question—one of the few, I am told, ever to have been tabled in this way and allowed—on the role of the SAS? Will the right hon. Gentleman take on board the fact that, whatever is said by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), there are serious Members on both sides of the House who are increasingly worried about under what authority and on whose authority the SAS operates? What are its rules of engagement? This question extends to cases such as that of Michael Tighe. Is there not a case for the Government making a statement on this matter—this would possibly be to their advantage—to clarify suspicions? There are certainly suspicions about the use in this connection of the royal prerogative.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's persistence. I cannot possibly anticipate any answers to questions next week. Although the hon. Gentleman puts forward his view with all seriousness, there are others of us, on the Conservative Benches particularly, who would say that the security of the state requires that some things cannot be the subject of the to and fro of political debate in the House.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

I do not wish to prejudge any decisions that you, Mr. Speaker, will have to make on selecting new clauses to be considered in the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill. As more than 120 right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House signed an amendment reducing to 24 weeks the time limit for abortion when the Abortion Bill was considered in the House, does my right hon. Friend think that it would be helpful for a new clause to be introduced into the Criminal Justice Bill which would incorporate Lord Houghton's Bill—the Infant Life (Preservation) Bill—which would amend the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929?

Mr. Wakeham

Not surprisingly, the new clauses that I wish to see introduced into the Criminal Justice Bill are those introduced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. My purpose is to get the Bill passed. As I have already said, the selection of amendments is not a matter for me.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Does the Leader of the House recall that in the summer recess I wrote to him about what was to happen to the Short money for the Opposition parties? The delay has been exaggerated once again, after all these months, because of the leadership crisis in the SLD. Although we in the Labour party fully understand that we might have to wait for the money—[Interruption.]—none of it will come to me; it is for the Front Bench. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about your leadership crisis?"]. When will there be a debate? Will the Division be along the lines of representation in the House? How will the right hon. Gentleman manage to figure out the arithmetic? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some members of the Liberal party want to go to the television studios, get dressed up ready for when the cameras come into this place and buy their pink shirts and all the rest of it, and they need this money? When will they get it?

Mr. Wakeham

As I told the hon. Gentleman, among my souvenirs is the handwritten letter that he wrote to me setting out the problems of the allocation of Short money in the new Parliament. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that it was not as simple as some people thought. He knows that I have been struggling with this matter for many months, but I think that I see some light at the end of the tunnel. I hope to emerge in the fairly near future into the public gaze with my proposals. I can forecast one thing—they will not be accepted by everyone, and probably not by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Could there be a statement next week on the EEC's remarkable decision last week, without the British Government being consulted in any way, to impose a ban on imports of apples to Britain? If consumers in Britain are to be deprived of the right to buy the apples that they want and are forced to buy year-old apples from intervention produced in other countries, is it not sensible that there should at least be a statement or a discussion in Parliament about what is happening?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise my hon. Friend's concern about these matters. The decision to impose quotas on the import of apples from a number of countries, including New Zealand, was taken by the EC Commission, within whose competence it lies, without consultation with member states. The quota of 115,000 tonnes allocated to New Zealand is higher than sendings in any previous year and compares with the import in 1987 of 102,500 tonnes. A shortage of those excellent apples therefore appears unlikely.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Is the Leader of the House aware that, in his answer to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), he enunciated a novel and unacceptable constitutional doctrine—that there are matters that about which the House may not question the Government because his hon. Friends think that it is not suitable that they should be questioned about such matters? If there are security matters that are not to be made the subject matter of question in this House, they had better be finely defined and there should be independent scrutiny of such matters by a committee of Privy Councillors.

Mr. Wakeham

If the hon. Gentleman would listen, he might make a little progress in these matters. I did not say that no one could ask questions. I said that there were some things that Ministers should not answer on and I will maintain that from the Dispatch Box for as long as I am here. There are some security matters that I am not prepared to have discussed across the Dispatch Box, even if the hon. Gentleman asks me.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have a debate next week on what can be done to help people whose homes are damaged by severe freak storms, such as that in Northolt, Greenford and parts of Hanwell and Ealing last week, as a result of which many poor people have been devastated? They have had walls knocked down by heavy water and their ground floor carpeting and furnishings have been destroyed. Finding themselves without any money, they do not know what to do. Their case should be brought to this House and answered.

Mr. Wakeham

That sounds a very distressing state of affairs and I am not sure whether I can give my hon. Friend an adequate answer. Perhaps he should take advantage of the Adjournment debate next week and see whether he can bring the matter before the House on that occasion.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

Referring to the right hon. Gentleman's answers about the suggestion that a new clause might be moved on Report to the Criminal Justice Bill, he is right in saying that any selection would be a matter for Mr. Speaker and not for him. If new clauses of such a far-reaching character on such different matters were to be introduced into the Bill on Report, it would have grave consequences for the Government, and every other piece of legislation that they are seeking to introduce might be subject to the same kind of interpolations. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take that into account when he considers the matter and gives advice to the Home Secretary, who may be interested in his advice and that of the House.

Mr. Wakeham

The points made by the right hon. Gentleman, who is very experienced in these matters and is a former Leader of the House, are properly for the Home Secretary and me to consider from the Government's point of view, although questions of selection are matters for the Speaker.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

Some months ago, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) made allegations in this House concerning the late Captain Nairac, whose family lives in my constituency. Did my right hon. Friend notice today that the hon. Gentleman has again named people—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should relate his question to next week's business.

Mr. Knapman

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether this matter can be debated in the course of the next week or so, and how, if Parliament is to be televised, such privileges can be maintained in future?

Mr. Wakeham

I see no prospect of arranging a debate on that matter next week or any future week on the basis of that point. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister deplored the use of parliamentary privilege to make allegations which are properly a matter for the prosecuting authorities. Anybody with information of that sort who wishes to pursue the matter has a clear duty: he should give the matter in confidence to the prosecuting authorities, rather than seek to make statements in the House.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)

Among the debates that the Leader of the House said he would have liked to fit in next week, would he consider including a debate which we should be having on the 500 per cent. increase in the cost of concessionary television licences and the considerable suspicion in the minds of pensioners who are receiving it that this increase from 5p to £5 is the beginning of a move to phase them out completely?

Mr. Wakeham

The concessionary licence scheme for pensioners in residential homes has been in existence for many years. The changes announced yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will enable it to continue and will ensure that the scheme benefits those whom it was intended to benefit. As we have made clear on many occasions, it would not be right or sensible to give free or concessionary licences to all pensioners.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

If we are not to have a debate next week on the Criminal Justice Bill because of attempts to hijack it, does my right hon. Friend agree that careful consideration should be given to how to structure a debate on new clauses which formed no part of the title of the Bill and were not debated on Second Reading or in Committee?

Mr. Wakeham

I hear what my hon. Friend says. We are not having a debate next week because we have other important business that we intend to get through. We shall have debates on the Criminal justice Bill in the near future, when I shall bear my hon. Friend's point in mind.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

When the Leader of the House considers how to handle the Criminal Justice Bill, will he consider the precedent set in 1980 when the right hon. Member for Blaenau, Gwent (Mr. Foot) was Leader of the Opposition and amendments to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill which had not been considered m Committee were incorporated on Report after being moved by the Opposition Front Bench? Since 1975, every pro-life Bill has received a Second Reading majority. If 15 attempts to introduce pro-life Bills have all been foiled by extended speeches, points of order and hon. Members deploying the mechanisms of this House, how does the right hon. Gentleman envisage this issue being properly settled? Does he regard it as a matter for private Members' legislation or to be settled in some other way? If in another way, what way?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman knows that I do not fully accept his analysis of the failure of Bills on this subject to reach the statute book by private Member's legislation, but I recognise the force of his arguments. I further recognise that there is an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, but I do not have anything more to add to what I have already said on what is clearly a difficult decision for you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his views on a defence debate? It is essential to hold one soon because it will show the enormous differences of view on the Opposition Benches. More important, it would expose the fact that Royal Air Force pilots would be expected to enter the next war, if it ever took place, at great risk, and that the lessons of 1939, when the British Expeditionary Force went to France to fight Hitler's tanks with rifles, had been forgotten.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the desire for an early defence debate, but I cannot promise one. I know that my hon. Friend is aware that defence questions will be answered next Tuesday, 24 May, and he may find an opportunity to make some points then.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

During the next week, would it be possible for the Leader of the House to speak to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services about tribunal appeal claims? I am increasingly receiving complaints from constituents who are claiming attendance allowance that at these appeals they are being asked questions which I consider to be insensitive. The latest case involved a girl who is only 3ft 7in tall who was seeking a mobility allowance because her height meant that she had difficulty getting on and off buses. She was asked why she was wearing rings. I received another complaint from a woman suffering from alopecia, who was asked why she was wearing an expensive wig. Surely a medical appeal tribunal should not ask such questions of people with those difficulties.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concern for his constituents. If he is concerned that improper questions are being asked, perhaps the right course would be for him to take the matter up directly with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, who will decide whether there is anything to be looked into.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

Will my right hon. Friend take time to have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and ask him to come to the House early next week to make a statement about the near miss that occurred yesterday afternoon on the flight-path into Birmingham airport? Many people who use that airport will want to be assured about its absolute safety. The airport is crucial to the welfare of the midlands.

Mr. Wakeham

The incident to which my hon. Friend referred will be investigated by the independent joint air miss working group, whose report will be publshed. The Civil Aviation Authority is responsible for taking any necessary safety action arising from the incident. That action need not wait until the report is published. However, there is no evidence of any deterioration in the safety in the air over the United Kingdom. Despite a massive increase in traffic, the figures for risk-bearing air misses involving commercial aircraft in recent years have shown a downward trend, from 45 in 1977 to 16 in 1986.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Leader of the House has announced that a debate on EEC matters for the last six months of 1987 will take place next Wednesday. Will that debate last for five hours, six hours or less? Whatever the length of time, is the Leader of the House not in danger of getting his priorities wrong? Is he not aware that the June meeting of the Council of Ministers in the EEC will have to consider many matters which have not yet been debated by the House although they have been recommended for debate by the Scrutiny Committee? Would it not be better to ensure that those matters are properly debated in respect of future legislation rather than spend time on retrospective matters over which the House can have no influence?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's knowledge and experience in those matters and I always listen carefully to what he says. I believe that the debate that I have announced for next week is for the general convenience of the House; it was discussed through the usual channels before I announced it. However, I take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I will have further discussions.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Manchester city council has been blocking an inquiry into its anti-racism policy in schools. It is said that the report is now on its way to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science—at least, an expurgated version is on its way. When that is received, will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to make a statement to the House? Many Conservative Members are worried that such policies, far from promoting racial harmony, actually discourage it?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend makes his point very well and I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science who will no doubt take whatever action he feels is appropriate in the circumstances.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Can the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week on my early-day motion 792 about grandparents' rights?

[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 immeidate 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.]

Is he aware that it has received the signatures of 266 hon. Members from both sides of the House? It is covered by a petition that I presented to the House signed by 8,000 grandparents across the country. Is the Leader of the House also aware that my motion has received the greatest number of supporting signatures of the 1,127 early-day motions that have been tabled this Session? Is it not time that he gave priority for a debate on this very emotive subject?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree that it is an important subject, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the support that he has received. With regard to the early-day motion, grandparents may already be made the party to adoption proceedings. Further rights are provided for in amending legislation to be implemented this year. The Government will give careful consideration to the proposals in the motion when framing the legislation on child care and the family services provided for in the White Paper published in January 1987. I hope that that is some comfort to the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot find time for a debate next week.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

May I put it to my right hon. Friend that there is a way this week whereby he could get you, Mr. Speaker, out of a very difficult decision, and allow the Government to maintain their principle of not giving Government time to private Members' Bills while allowing the country to see the verdict that it expects from Parliament? Quite simply, we could have a business motion to allow the House to vote on whether it chose to use some of its own private Members' time on a Friday to finish the Alton Bill.

Mr. Wakeham

Would that all these things were quite as simple as my hon. Friend suggests. The Government table motions with regard to the allocation of private Members' time in the House. We gave extra time over and above that laid down in the Standing Orders for private Members' Bills. Those were approved by the House and I do not believe that it would be right to make a change in that regard.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Would the Leader of the House himself make a statement next week on the extraordinary revelation that an honorary British knighthood has been awarded to none other than one Kurt Waldheim? If that is not a matter for the right hon. Gentleman, will he undertake to refer it to his appropriate colleague who can advise the House as to this obviously offensive and iniquitous use of an ancient order of British chivalry?

Mr. Wakeham

I am pretty certain that it is not for me to answer questions in the House on those matters. However, I will investigate to see whether there is any responsibility that involves answering questions.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

With reference to the various answers that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given this afternoon on the amendment tabled to the Criminal Justice Bill, while I respect entirely his position and the courtesy that he has shown when dealing with those queries, when the Government have been able to show consistently over a period that they expected an amendment on capital punishment to be discussed, why can they not give a similar sign in the case of the amendment on abortion?

Mr. Wakeham

Even the undertaking about capital punishment depends on Mr. Speaker selecting the amendments. I recognise that my hon. Friend has worked very hard for the cause which she believes to be important. I thank her for her kind remarks. but it would not be right for me to add anything further to the remarks that I have made already.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I repeat that this is an Opposition day; I ask hon. Members to be brief.

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

When I table my early-day motion requiring that Privy Councillors be not given priority in the selection of speakers in debate, may I have an assurance that Government Whips will not exert pressure on Government Back Benchers not to sign the motion? May I have an assurance that all hon. Members will have an unconditional right to sign my motion without pressure?

Mr. Wakeham

Knowing the hon. Gentleman as well as I do, I should be able to acquit him of charges of arrogance. However, if he continues to ask such questions, demanding that I support his early-day motion before he has tabled it, he will receive a rather dusty answer.

Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)

Has the Leader of the House noticed how easy it has been for the Government to apply large segments of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill to Northern Ireland and how simple it was for a Conservative Member to apply the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Rear Seat Belts by Children) Bill to Northern Ireland? Bearing in mind what the Prime Minister said in Perth last Friday about legislative devolution, when will the Government govern Northern Ireland like the rest of the country?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall not anticipate at the Dispatch Box the debate on the Firearms (Amendment) Bill or any debates on seat belts. I know that the hon. Gentleman is considering wider issues and wants to see changes in the way in which the House considers matters relating to Northern Ireland. I recognise those concerns and I have had talks with several of his hon. Friends about that. However, I am afraid that I have no proposals at the moment to make any changes.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House consider that it is now important that there be an early debate on the situation facing the people of London in respect of the housing crisis and the shortage of housing for rent, the high unemployment that many inner-city places face, the cuts in the Health Service and the amalgamation of health authorities, and the growing chaos in traffic and transport throughout London? Since the House destroyed the governance of London through the GLC and since most inner-London boroughs are rate-capped or short of money, is it not important that we should debate the plight of the poorest people of London at an early date? On previous occasions, the Leader of the House has said that there would be a debate in the near future. Can he now give us a date for that?

Mr. Wakeham

No, I cannot give a date. I have said that that is a suitable subject for a debate and, if I can find time for it, it would be a proper subject on which to have a debate. The more the hon. Gentleman raises such questions, the more encouraged I am, because much of what he says is highly contentious and such a debate would be a suitable opportunity for him and for some of his hon. Friends to explain, for example, why so many council houses in London are unoccupied where Socialist councils are in charge.

Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North)

In view of the manifest failure of the EEC code of conduct for firms doing business in South Africa, emphasised by yesterday's annual general meeting of the BTR company, when shareholders asked questions about the dispute which has lasted for three years and which clearly shows that company to be in breach of the three main provisions of those guidelines, will it be possible in the EEC debate next week to discuss the conduct of British firms in South Africa under the EEC provisions, and the whole issue of trade with that country?

Mr. Wakeham

What is in order in a debate is not a matter for me, but for you, Mr. Speaker. On the face of it, I would have thought that if the hon. Gentleman used some ingenuity he might be able to make some of the points that he wants to.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Since the Leader of the House and his colleagues have failed to establish a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. is he aware that Members of the Scottish majority party have resolved to establish their own investigative committee, which may well have support from other parties in the House? Since funds have been made available to support an investigative committee to monitor the work of the Scottish Office, will the Leader of the House make a statement next week to ensure that those hon. Members who are prepared to do their duty in scrutinising the work of the Scottish Office will have access to those funds?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall not be making a statement next week, but I am prepared to make a statement now on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, if that will he any help to the hon. Gentleman.

I have been anxious for a considerable time to set up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs on a basis acceptable to all parts of the House. During that period, the Labour party's position has changed on a number of occasion That has been helpful. The proposal that I have recently put to all parties is for the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs to be set up with mainly Scottish Members but with some English Members, and my proposal includes a place for the Social and Liberal Democratic party and the Scottish National party.

In order to achieve that objective, I have asked for some greater flexibility in the composition of the Scottish Standing Committee, which could involve a slight increase in the number of English members. I understand that my proposals are not acceptable to the Labour party, which I greatly regret. I have not yet had a formal view from the Social and Liberal Democratic party and the Scottish National party. That is the position at the moment.

  1. Whitsun Adjournment 63 words