HC Deb 26 May 1988 vol 134 cc519-34 3.31 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Will the Leader of the House tell us 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 the first week after the spring adjournment will be as follows:

  • TUESDAY 7 JUNE—Progress on remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill [Lords]
  • WEDNESDAY 8 JUNE—Opposition day (13th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "The Failure to refer the Nestle bid for Rowntree to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission". Afterwards there will be a debate entitled "The British Aerospace bid for Rover". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Motion to take note of EC document on spray suppression and sideguards. Details will be given in the Official Report.

  • THURSDAY 9 JUNE—Progress on remaining stages of the Housing Bill.
  • FRIDAY 10 JUNE—There will be a debate on women's health on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

[Debate on Wednesday 8 June 1988:

Relevant European Community document: 8284/87, Heavier road vehicles: spray suppression and sideguards.

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee: HC 43-v (1987–88) para 14 HC 43-xx (1987–88) para 3.]

Mr. Dobson

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his statement.

First, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the first day of the Criminal Justice Bill when we return will be devoted to a debate on capital punishment? Secondly, when can we expect the long-awaited debate on foreign affairs? Thirdly, will the Government provide an early opportunity for a debate on the White Paper on fair employment in Northern Ireland, which has just been published? Can we expect a statement after the Whitsun recess on the rather remarkable refusal by DHSS Ministers to answer questions on the social fund?

Will the right hon. Gentleman inquire into the remarkable events today when the police in Downing Street refused to allow some right hon. and hon. Members to accompany their colleagues to present a petition to No. 10 Downing street? Has he yet had an opportunity to make arrrangements for a demonstration of the lighting that may or may not be necessary for the televising of the House?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman asked me six questions about the business for the first week after the recess. First, he asked me about the Criminal Justice Bill, which is set down for debate on the first day back. The selection of amendments is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker. However, if any new clauses relating to capital punishment are selected, it would be my intention that they should be debated first on 7 June.

I know of the hon. Gentleman's concern to have a debate on foreign affairs. He is quite right to press me on this matter. I shall arrange it as soon as possible, but I have no further news.

We have had some exchanges about the fair employment White Paper from Northern Ireland. I cannot offer a debate on this immediately, but I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend to see whether a debate would be possible.

The Government are well aware of the interest of hon. Members in the operation of the social fund, and because of that are seeking to be helpful, by providing information about individual local offices automatically, on a monthly basis, in the Libraries of both Houses.

The collation of data from 500 offices is a lengthy process, but the information will be made available at the first opportunity. There is of course no question of withholding from the House information which it is reasonably within our power to provide.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about some difficulties in Downing street. I have no information to give him at the moment, but I shall certainly make inquiries into that.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about a lighting demonstration in the House. I am arranging for a letter from the chief political adviser of the BBC to the Clerk of the Select Committee on televising of proceedings of the House to be placed in the Library. The letter gives details of the arrangements that have been made for the BBC and ITN to hold a lighting demonstration in the Chamber at 10.30 am on Tuesday 14 June. All right hon. and hon. Members are invited to attend. Access for visitors to the line of route will therefore be restricted on that day. Details will be given on the All-party Whip this week.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

As it is now five months since the Treasury published its paper showing that the average family in Britain has to pay £11 a week extra for food as a direct consequence of the common agricultural policy, could the Leader of the House say exactly when we might discuss this important issue, which affects the living costs of the average family, and also our international competitiveness?

Mr. Wakeham

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman, with his customary ingenuity, might manage to get in order a speech on that subject this afternoon.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

When are the two items of business originally set down for this week emanating from the Procedure Committee, concerning short speeches and public petitions, liable to come back for discussion?

With regard to the business that replaced it—the remaining stages of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill—we accept that one reason why the House sat so late yesterday was that the Northern Ireland provisions were added very late. That underlines the unsatisfactory way in which Northern Ireland business is conducted. Has the Leader of the House any proposals to set up a Northern Ireland Committee under Standing Order No. 99, as pressed upon him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton)?

Mr. Wakeham

I regret that the business originally set down was not proceeded with as I had intended, and I shall arrange for it to be set down again as soon as possible. I agree with the hon. Gentleman this far, that there is quite a lot of disquiet about the way in which Northern Ireland business is dealt with in the House. I recognise that hon. Members would like much of it dealt with otherwise, but I have no proposals to make in that connection.

The lateness of the hour to which the House sat last night was due much more to the antics of certain Left-wing Labour Members of Parliament, who sought to prolong the debate to an unreasonable hour and who must be a greater embarrassment—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let us have an end to this pointing.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

As we approach this pagan and profane holiday and parliamentary recess, may I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the early-day motion entitled "Public Holidays", standing in my name and that of some of my hon. Friends?

[This this House, while desiring that public holidays should be reasonably spread through the year, considers that they should enable the people to commemorate traditional religious and national occasions; feels shame that the forthcoming Spring Bank Holiday should have been fixed not on, but close to, Whit Monday, long kept, in like manner to Easter Monday, to mark the joy of a great Christian festival; deplores the policy of successive governments in this matter which has advanced the secularisation of a country where a Christian church is by law established and where, according to surveys of public opinion, the vast majority of Her Majesty's subjects acknowledge themselves to be in some measure Christian; further regrets the confusion caused to the public about the Christian calendar; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to invite the co-operation of Her Majesty's Opposition and others in revising the list of public holidays in the United Kingdom.]

Will my right hon. Friend enable the House to give some consideration to this matter? Is it not a scandal that we should hold in contempt the Christian festival of Pentecost?

Mr. Wakeham

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend, but I am not sure that, because he and I might agree on this matter, it would necessarily be thought for the general convenience of the House. I will bear in mind what my hon. Friend says, and if there were an opportunity for a debate, I would obviously welcome it.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House reflect upon what he has just said about last night's events and take into account the fact that the Government introduced a Bill that was attacked furiously by many of his own hon. Friends; that it had added to it a Northern Ireland dimension halfway through, which prevented some Northern Ireland Members from taking part in the proceedings before the guillotine; that as a result every minority party in the House took part, as is their right, in a campaign to obstruct the Government at all times; and that during the course of that it was decided by Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question is about business the week after next, not this week.

Mr. Skinner

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that the Leader of the House took the opportunity to refer to last night's proceedings, and I think that it is in order for somebody to answer that. Will the right hon. Gentleman, during the course of the full business of the week after next, retract those statements, bearing in mind that it is the job of every Opposition Member to harry and obstruct this Government, especially when the Government introduce a measure that changes out of all recognition during the course of its passage through the House, and taking into account the fact that Standing Order 39 should not have been invoked with those Members present?

Mr. Wakeham

The question of invoking Standing Order 39 is a question for the Chair, not for me. The hon. Gentleman's view of the conduct of an Opposition is very interesting. In his view, its role should be to obstruct the business to which members of his own Front Bench give a welcome and which is to be passed into law. Not only that, but his own Front Bench spokesmen complain about the lack of progress on the Bill. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is much more of an embarrassment to his right hon. and hon. Friends that he is to me.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

When will there be an opportunity to debate the length of speeches, a debate that disappeared as a result of the change of business? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that this is of extreme importance and relevance to the televising of Parliament?

Mr. Wakeham

I absolutely recognise the importance of that subject, and the connotation that my hon. Friend puts on it. As I have said, it is one of the casualties of this week, but I hope to reinstate it as soon as possible.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester. East)

Will the Leader of the House make time available in the near future for a debate on the guidelines and criteria used by the Home Secretary to determine the allocation of police officers to the various police constabularies? Is he aware that, of the 450 officers available to be allocated this year, not one was allocated to Leicester constabulary, and that, despite the excellent work of the chief constable, assisted by the constabulary, they have not been assisted by the Government with extra resources? Bearing in mind the fact that there is one crime every 10 minutes in Leicestershire, when can we have a debate on this important matter?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree that it is an important matter and I would welcome the opportunity to have a debate on it, but I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate in the near future. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the club below the Gangway will listen. We are dealing with business for the week after next.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Following the question by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), will my right hon. Friend please think about this again? Is he aware that we need an early debate on those criteria for the decision of the Home Secretary, because it is absolutely ludicrous that. Leicestershire has been given no more police, and that Leicestershire Members will be pursuing the Home Secretary very persistently in Question Time until that decision is changed?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the force of what my hon. Friend says; I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

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

Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to make a statement on why Mr. Giles Hopkinson, a senior Department of the Environment official, wrote a letter to the Private Secretary to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment saying that the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Prime Minister wanted Richmond yard to be valued by a private-sector valuer? It is clear that they were involved. May we have a statement on the nature of that involvement?

Mr. Wakeham

No, I do not think that a statement is required. I have looked at the written answer given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle). I accept that there may have been a misunderstanding, but I do not believe that my hon. Friend sought to mislead the House. To avoid any continuing misunderstanding, my hon. Friend will write to the hon. Member for Warrington, North today to set out the position and put a copy of the letter in the Library.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have an early statement on the unprecedented position in my constituency at Hanway road, which is in a council estate? Royal mail deliveries have been suspended for the second time in three months because of attacks by dogs on postmen, which Ealing council has not brought under control. As pensioners, some of whom are very elderly, are having to walk two or three miles to collect their post, will the House consider the matter with a view to getting action taken to restore the post?

Mr. Wakeham

Last week, my hon. Friend raised the question of flooding in his constituency. Ealing council is empowered to assist with the incidents of that kind. I believe that the incident that he has raised, which must be very distressing, is a matter for the council rather than for me. I shall do anything that I can to assist my hon. Friend.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

The Leader of the House may be aware that the consultative period for the Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive proposals for nuclear dumping expires next Wednesday. Would it not be appropriate to have an early debate in Government time so that hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies—Scotland is emerging as the key target area for Nirex and nuclear dumping—can record the strength of public opposition in Scotland to the proposals and warn the Government that, if they proceed with nuclear dumping in Scotland, they will be reduced from the third to the fourth party in Scotland?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was in his place yesterday when this matter was raised. I told the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) that I did not think it appropriate to have a debate at the present time, but that it was right and proper for any hon. Member to put his views and those of his constituents to Nirex. I believe that that is the way forward; the time for a debate is later.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

In a country that prides itself on being a parliamentary democracy, is it not a disgrace that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland still slides out of his responsibility to tell right hon. and hon. Members what he is saying and doing in their names at the Anglo-Eire conference? Is it not time he was brought to account and a debate arranged to discuss the matter?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present in the House earlier—I think he was—when my right hon. Friend was answering questions. I thought that he gave a very good account of himself, and the invitation that he gave the hon. Gentleman is one that he should take up.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Will the Leader of the House recognise that, over the past year, there has been a growing interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland among hon. Members? Northern Ireland Members having a private tête-à -tête with the Secretary of State would not give the exposure that is needed. I am aware of the understanding and knowledge of the Leader of the House. Will he say whether there will be a legislative programme in the weeks after the recess affecting Northern Ireland? Last night's protests were made primarily by Ulster Unionists who could not take part in earlier debates and had only one alternative to show their opposition—to divide the House.

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot anticipate any debate that we may have in the weeks after the recess, but I have taken note of the hon. Gentleman's comments in the wider context. I recognise that the interest in Northern Ireland affairs is greater than that of just the Official Unionist party and the other parties that directly represent Northern Ireland. I still believe that my right hon. Friend's offer to have talks is a valuable part of the process which many hon. Members seek to take up in dealing with the matters of concern to them. I see no reason why Northern Ireland Members should not participate.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)

In view of the concern and considerable number of questions about European competition policy and the large number of policy aspects that are affected in the run-up to the single European market, will my right hon. Friend consider making time available for a wide debate on the implications of 1992?

Mr. Wakeham

There is a lot of pressure on time at the moment, but I agree with my hon. Friend—completion of a single European market by 1992 will have an enormous effect on all British business. It is an opportunity and a challenge. We have no plans at present for a debate specifically on this matter, but all the individual measures in the single market programme are considered by the Scrutiny Committee and can be debated when that Committee makes its recommendations. With a little ingenuity by hon. Members, today's debate offers another opportunity.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we have a debate on the disgraceful and shocking refusal of the Home Secretary to comply with the request of the chief constable of Leicester for more police, especially in view of the letter I have received from Chief Superintendent Adams who describes this decision as "creating extreme concern" among senior police officers and as showing that the Home Secretary has ignored the efforts of the police to contain the ever-increasing tide of crime, hooliganism, violence and vandalism? Surely the Home Secretary should, at the very least, make a statement about why crime in some parts of Leicestershire has doubled since the Conservative party came to power, while the police force is to be kept exactly the same?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot for one moment accept the criticisms of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that are implied in the hon. and learned Gentleman's question. I recognise the anxiety of the hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham). As I said, I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Why do DHSS Ministers refuse to answer parliamentary questions on the operation of the social fund while, at Northern Ireland questions today, a Northern Ireland Minister could give the information that DHSS Ministers refuse to give to Members from other parts of the United Kingdom? Will the Leader of the House understand that it is wholly unacceptable for the DHSS to refuse to answer parliamentary questions on the social fund and to dump enormous amounts of information in the Library during the recess, clearly to suppress and conceal that information from the public, the media and Members of Parliament? Will the right hon. Gentleman press the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement when we return after the recess, making it clear that he has changed his policy and intends to answer parliamentary questions on the operation of the social fund?

Mr. Wakeham

It seems a strange way of withholding information from Members of Parliament to put it in the Library. I cannot add anything to what I said to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). There is no question of withholding information from the House that it is reasonably within our power to provide.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the official Opposition felt so strongly about the alleged deficiencies to which the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) referred last night in the debate on the Firearms (Amendment) Bill that hardly any of them bothered to turn up, and those who did bother to do so did not stay throughout the night, that there was no official representative on the Opposition Front Bench throughout the night and that all the running was made—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are discussing the week after next's business, not last night's.

Mr. Lawrence

It follows from that question that, if there had been any members of the public in the Gallery, they would have been appalled at—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Yes, but there are other opportunities to discuss what went on last night. We are dealing now with the business for the week after next.

Mr. Lawrence

If we had an early debate on the absurd procedure that we have accepted for ourselves in this matter, it would do a great deal to improve the standing of the House in the country.

Mr. Wakeham

I have considerable sympathy with my hon. and learned Friend, but I would certainly not promise him a further debate on that subject in the near future, although I think that it would have been better if Opposition Members had known what they were voting about.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Will the Leader of the House take time to have a word with his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and ask him to make an early statement about the operation of development and investment grants, particularly in the north-west—especially those emanating from the Manchester office? A company in my constituency which had struggled for survival was awarded a loan of £600,000, but has still not received it a year later. Such incidents lead to the failure of companies rather than their development and improvement. That is a matter of considerable concern not only in my constituency but in many others.

Mr. Wakeham

If the hon. Gentleman has any particular difficulties, no doubt he will take them up direct with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. If I can assist in the matter I shall do so, but I cannot promise an early debate.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

In view of the plan announced yesterday by the Law Commission to allow much easier divorce, may I ask for an early debate on this most important subject, as increasing divorce threatens the social fabric of the nation?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the strength of my hon. Friend's remarks, but a pause for reflection on receiving the report would probably be in the best interests of us all.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Has the Leader of the House reflected on the issues involving propriety at the heart of Government, encapsulated in early-day motion No. 1142?

[That this House notes that the Guardian of Friday 20th May carried an article entitled 'Thatcher's boy in a cleft stick', which stated that according to Foreign Office sources 'Mr. Charles Powell wants Washington or Paris nothing less, but he's not going to get either of them', and that Mr. Powell had been offered and turned down the pose of Ambassador in Stockholm, and that the article added 'Powell has another string to his bow: he knows where the bodies are buried in the Westland Affair. He escaped appearing before a Select Committee, but not their sharpest criticism for his orchestrating role in the leaking of a letter from the then Solicitor General, which ultimately resulted in the then Secretary of State for Defence's resignation'; expresses its concern that knowledge of wrong-doing by the Prime Minister is alleged to put Mr. Powell in a position to obtain an Embassy more senior than his status warrants; asserts that this is not in keeping with the high moral ground claimed by the Prime Minister; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to make a statement.]

Could he pass comment on the press statement—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are dealing with the business for when we come back after the recess.

Mr. Dalyell

Will he make a statement—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not in order for the Government to comment on press statements today. Will the hon. Gentleman please ask about the business for the week after next?

Mr. Dalyell

Will the tight hon. Gentleman make a statement the week after next on the press assertion that the Prime Minister's private secretary is holding out for an embassy in Washington or Paris, has turned down Stockholm—[Interruption.] Yes, exactly. It is rather well known. There is an assertion and an issue—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his question to the business for the week after next; otherwise we shall take time from the subsequent debate and prevent those who legitimately wish to take part from doing so, and would the hon. Gentleman refrain from engaging in repartee with the club below the Gangway.

Mr. Dalyell

It is also asserted that an additional string to his bow is that he knows where the bodies are buried in the Westland affair. As the Lord President of the Council also knows a great deal about the matter, he knows the exact importance of what I am saying. This matter cannot go without a reply when we come back.

Mr. Wakeham

I should have thought that by now the hon. Gentleman would have realised that he ought not to believe everything that he reads in the newspapers—even The Guardian. I am afraid that his own lively imagination together with the speculation and gossip that some newspapers contain make for a very unreliable recipe. Facts may make for a more boring diet, but it is one that I recommend to the hon. Gentleman nevertheless.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I accept the great pressures placed upon my right hon. Friend, but does he accept in considering the business for the week after next that if Government—I do not mean this Government alone—did not introduce ill-considered legislation such as the Bill before the House last night, the House could find time to debate very important issues affecting people throughout the country? Not least, we could debate matters related to pre-1973 war widows, the unemployment and loss of exports that could well result if the furniture fire safety regulations are implemented without amendment, and many other issues. Will he not seriously consider the real issues that affect this nation, rather than the ill-considered legislation introduced by the Government when over-reacting to situations that develop in this country?

Mr. Wakeham

When my hon. Friend started his question, I thought that I would agree with him in wanting less legislation. I assure him that, as a business manager, I try to keep the amount of legislation to the minimum. However, towards the end of his question, I thought that he was encouraging me to find more legislation.

With regard to the business which was dispatched yesterday, the Bill before the House received an unopposed Second Reading and the bulk of the amendments were the result of listening to representations of hon. Members on all sides of the House in an attempt to meet their wishes. I believe that my hon. Friend would be the first to complain if the Government did not listen to the views of Back Benchers.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

Will the Leader of the House explain why the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment took 19 days to answer my question? Will he also say why, if he received several drafts, he did not use them? Was it because they did not fit his preconceived views? Was that why he decided on an evasion of the facts? Will the Leader of the House reconsider the position and ask his hon. Friend to do the honourable thing and make a statement to the House?

Mr. Wakeham

I have to say to the hon. Gentleman, who is reasonably fair in these matters, that my hon. Friend has written a letter to him explaining what he thinks is the basis of the misunderstanding. The hon. Gentleman would be well advised to receive that letter; then, if he wishes to comment on it, we shall look at the best way to proceed.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that a recent Channel 4 poll of young people showed that 80 per cent. were in favour of the return of the death penalty? Does that not reveal that the vast majority of people in this country want the return of the death penalty? Will he confirm that on Tuesday week there will be a well structured debate in prime time that will run for a lengthy period?

Mr. Wakeham

The statistics and the arguments on the question of capital punishment have been well rehearsed in the many debates that we have had in the House. No doubt they will be well rehearsed again should we have a debate on Tuesday 7 June. As I said to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), the question of the selection of amendments is for you, Mr. Speaker, and not for me. However, if any new clauses relating to capital punishment are selected, it would be my intention that they should be debated first on 7 June.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Given the reply that the Leader of the House has just given about the importance of a free vote on capital punishment, does he not also agree that the other great issue of consicence—the life-and-death issue of the 1960s—concerning abortion should be similarly voted upon? Will he say whether he would be in favour of such an amendment being selected and the House being given the chance to vote on it?

Mr. Wakeham

The selection of amendments is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, and not for me. It would be improper for me to comment on the selection of any amendments. It is a hypothetical question. I know how strongly the hon. Gentleman feels, but I cannot add anything to what I have already said.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Returning to the earlier question about the lighting demonstration for the possible future televising of the House and further debate on that issue, does my right hon. Friend accept that it might be a good idea to invite organisations other than the BBC and ITV to give demonstrations? Worthy though those organisations are, there may be expertise elsewhere which could be used to good effect.

Mr. Wakeham

Whom the Select Committee decides to invite to give evidence is a matter for it. It has been asked to prepare a report to the House and that is what it is doing. It seemed to the Select Committee that, as it was going to invite the BBC and the ITN to give a lighting demonstration, it would be helpful to the House that as many hon. Members as possible could see that demonstration. That is how it has been arranged. If the Committee decides to ask other organisations to give a demonstration—I am not saying that it will—we shall have to look at what arrangements can be made.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Reverting to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), does the Leader of the House agree that it is unacceptable that Members of Parliament, carrying out their duties, should not be able to go into Downing street, except six at a time? Who gave those instructions to the police? The Leader of the House accepts that he has responsibility for all Members of the House, so will he recognise that, if we are carrying out our duties and wish to present letters or petitions to No. 10, there should be no restrictions whatsoever? Will he make a statement as early as possible after our return from the recess informing us that those restrictions will no longer be in place?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot possibly give an undertaking of that sort. I said to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that I would look into the matter, but I was not aware of the details. Since then, I have been answering questions from other hon. Members and have had no chance to acquaint myself with the position. I shall do so when I leave the Chamber.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the answer that he gave on having an early debate on the Nirex report on nuclear dumping prepared by the Scottish National party? It is essential that we have an early debate to expose the lies which have been put out about, for example, the dumping of nuclear waste in my constituency at Schehallion. Anyone reading about nuclear dumping will know that most of the suitable areas are in constituencies held by Scottish nationalists.

Mr. Wakeham

I know that my hon. Friend will recognise that I have some experience of these matters. I understand the passions and the fears—often misguided—that they arouse. Of course, I shall be happy for there to be a debate on the subject, but I do not believe that this is the right time.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that early-day motion 463, expressing concern about the Government's policy in relation to Kampuchea, has now attracted the signatures of about 200 hon. Members from all parties?

[That this House calls on the Government to review urgently its policy towards Kampuchea; congratulates OXFAM fir its continued aid to that country; notes that Kampuchea is the only Third World country which has no United Nations development programme; believes that the country's diplomatic isolation due to the impasse at the United Nations concerning representation of Kampuchea must be ended; urges the Government to re-convene the 1954 Geneva Conference on Indo-China, which was co-chaired by the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, and actively to promote a negotiated settlement which would isolate Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge; and stresses that as a matter of the greatest urgency Her Majesty's Government should provide reconstruction and development aid to Kampuchea forthwith.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that hon. Members are especially concerned that the Government support the genocidal regime of Pol Pot? Should we not have an opportunity to debate this matter?

Mr. Wakeham

I have told the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that I am hoping to arrange a general debate on foreign affairs. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman's contribution would be in order on that occasion.

On the question of the early-day motion, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State explained in answer to questions on 23 November, it is our long-held wish to see the withdrawal of Vietnamese forces and the freedom for the Kampuchean people to determine their own future.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Will my right hon. Friend consider in the forthcoming business of the House the way in which the rule of the House, colloquially known as the mayor of Sligo rule, prevents hon. Members from questioning Ministers on the number of representations that they have received from hon. Members on a particular subject? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that this rule is the very antithesis of open government? Should it not be referred to the Procedure Committee? Is it not time that we pensioned off the mayor of Sligo and his wretched little rule? Is it not typical of the hypocrisy that sometimes occurs in the House that we continually hear calls for the repeal of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911, but we are not prepared to put our own house in order?

Mr. Wakeham

I am not sure that I agree with my hon. Friend, but I thank him for giving me notice of his question. I did not know about the mayor of Sligo rule until he told me about it. My hon. Friend will be aware that the rule of order to which he refers dates back to 1896, when the Speaker ruled that questions referring to communications between an individual Member and a Minister should not be allowed on the Notice Paper. My hon. Friend's question is therefore a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, and not for me.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have a statement when the House returns on the extraordinary evidence given by Mr. Peter Levene to the Select Committee on Defence that Ferranti and British Aerospace refused to provide information about the prices of spare parts to the Ministry of Defence'? In a business that is worth over £2 billion of taxpayers' money, should we not bring pressure to bear on those two companies? As British Aerospace seems to get such and excellent deal out of the Government, could we not ask the right hon. Member of Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) to use his pressure on British Aerospace to stop that company ripping off the taxpayer? Could we not ask Tory MEP Basil de Ferranti to do the same for Ferranti, or is ripping off the taxpayer part of the enterprise culture?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman, who is a stickler for constitutional propriety in this House when it suits him, would be better advised not to make such remarks but to behave in the proper fashion. The Select Committee on Defence is taking evidence and will no doubt issue a report. When that report is received, the Government will no doubt respond to it, and that is the time to consider a debate. One-sided, biased and unsubstantiated remarks of the sort that the hon. Gentleman has made are not helpful for the good conduct of public affairs.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

In view of the forthcoming celebration of the tercentenary of the Bill of Rights and the glorious revolution, will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the composition of the other place and the voting rights of hereditary peers?

Mr. Wakeham

I was hoping to celebrate that by getting through the Government's business in good time, in good order and with the business unamended as far as possible. Fascinating though the subject is to many of us, this is not the right time for such a discussion.

Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)

Will the Leader of the House stop misrepresenting what happened last night? May I assure him, without fear of contradiction, that the House was kept here until 5.30 am at the insistence of the Ulster Unionists, who were using the only device available to them—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have already said that we must deal with the business for next week.

Mr. McCusker

My point is linked to that.

—to protest at the means by which the Government apply legislation to Northern Ireland. Is the Leader of the House aware that Ulster Unionists have been informed only today that once again another important piece of legislation, the Criminal Justice Bill, will have sections that apply to Northern Ireland added on Report? Is that an adequate way of dealing with what has perhaps now become just an adjunct or attachment to the rest of the United Kingdom? Is it not time that Northern Ireland was governed like the rest of the country?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not want to go over yesterday's debates or to comment on debates to come, because that is not strictly relevant to my function here. Hon. Members of all parties should look at the substance of the issues before us rather than seeking to carp at every point at which they feel disgruntled when they are not taking the opportunities that are already available to them to consult and discuss with the Government.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

May I refer my right hon. Friend to the answer that he gave to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) a few moments ago and, by way of a change, direct his attention again to the Criminal Justice Bill? My right hon. Friend has clearly stated that if you, Mr. Speaker, see fit to select an amendment on capital punishment, there is a particular day on which it is to be debated, which seems a fair indication that we are expecting just that. Can my right hon. Friend give any similar assurance either as to the day on which it is to be debated or whether he is hopeful about its selection in respect of the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill that has been tabled by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill and my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine)?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot add anything to what I have said, except that my statement about the hypothetical situation with regard to new clauses on capital punishment, should you select them, Mr. Speaker, repeats the undertaking that I gave many months ago.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Will the Leader of the House consider, after the recess, the possibility of presenting to the House proposals for child care reform? I should like to draw his attention to the fact that my early-day motion No. 792 has been signed by over 300 hon. Members of all parties.

[That this House deplores the increasing frequency of grandparents being deprived 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.]

There is a demand for grandparents to have access to their grandchildren and a need for grandparents to have the right to be represented at court proceedings. As the White Paper was published in 1987, is it not time that the Government started to put their own house in order and tried to reform the law relating to child care?

Mr. Wakeham

I know the hon. Gentleman's long and deep concern about many of those issues. I also know that he intends to raise the matter in the House tomorrow when a Minister will reply to him. That is the best way to proceed from here.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Department of Energy has recently issued to limited sources a consultative document on coal-mining subsidence damage compensation? Is he also aware that district councils throughout Nottinghamshire and south Yorkshire have already undertaken a large-scale survey at huge cost, but that date for the final receipt of evidence for the consultative paper is as early as 29 July? Will the right hon. Gentleman use the usual channels to ensure the extension of that consultative period so that all the evidence can rightly be given to the Department of Energy for full consideration during that consultative period?

Mr. Wakeham

If the hon. Gentleman is correct that a great deal of work has already been done which would form the basis of the evidence, there does not appear to me to be a problem with the end date. However, I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy because it is obviously right that my consultation process should receive all the advice that anybody can give.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware that many people in London are facing increasing misery living in bed-and-breakfast hotels; or are sleeping on the streets of London because of the homelessness crisis or facing ever-increasing rents in both the council and private sector; that in the Health Service in London, many hospitals are under threat because of hospital closure programmes due to Health Service amalgamations; that traffic and transport chaos is rife throughout the capital and that there are many growing social problems, partly as a result of the abolition of the Greater London council, but also because of the general underfunding of all aspects of London's social infrastructure? Will the Leader of the House repeat his earlier assurance that there will be an early, full and urgent debate on the plight of London and Londoners, and on the need for central Government funding to be restored to the level of 1979, before this Government took office?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not accept much of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I will defend to the end his right to say it. I wish that he would he a bit more balanced in his approach and talk about some of the extravagent Left-wing councils, and the council houses that are left untenanted when there are people who want to move into them. I have told the hon. Gentleman that I am looking for time for a debate on London, and I am still looking for time. I repeat today the assurances that I have given him that I will do my best to find time for a debate.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

May I press the Leader of the House further on that? Will he ensure that there is an early debate in Government time about the problems of London, because, as unemployment has increased by 150 per cent. in the capital since 1979, with poor housing, above-average health cuts, low incomes and low benefits, but high costs to many individuals, many Londoners feel that they have been hammered by the Government and that they are living in unrecognised poverty? May we have an early debate on London?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not want to be seen to be discriminating between the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), so I hope that he will take my previous answer as adequate for him as well.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Jim Marshall, at long last.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. May I repeat the request by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) for an early debate on the police, and specifically, on the Leicestershire constabulary? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman knows this, but great steps have been made in increasing the number of civilians in the police force in Leicestershire and in putting more police on the beat there. But still more policemen and women are required to combat rising crime in Leicester.

In view of this background, it is incomprehensible to all hon. Members representing Leicestershire, irrespective of their political parties, that the chief constable's reasonable request for a small increase in establishment should have been refused. In the light of that, will the Leader of the House reconsider his decision not to arrange an early debate?

Mr. Wakeham

I have already told hon. Members that I shall refer the matter to the Home Secretary, and that is what I shall do. I cannot add any more. I hope that the fact that the hon. Gentleman was rather late in the batting order today does not mean the the Leicester Mercury will leave him out of the report.

Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

Has the Leader of the House taken note of early-day motion 1163, which concerns the arrest and detention without trial of the general secretary of the Trade Union Federation of the West bank, Mr. Shaeer Saed?

[That this House condemns the arrest and detention without trial of Shaeer Saed, the General Secretary of the Trade Union Federation of the West Bank; believes that this is a further example of the Israeli Government's obstruction of the democratic organisation of Palestinian people within the Occupied Territories; notes that he has met senior representatives of both parties in the House; fears that his arrest may be intended to obstruct contacts between Palestinians and parliamentary representatives of other countries; and calls on the Government to protest, in the strongest terms, to the Israeli Government.]

Will he ask his right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to make a statement to the House as soon as possible about this regrettable situation? We are particularly concerned because Mr. Saed showed a number of hon. Members from both sides of the House around Palestine, and his arrest may be related in some way to his having shown democratically elected Members of Parliaments of other countries around.

Mr. Wakham

The Government deplore the Israeli practice of holding Palestinians in detention without trial. We have asked the Israelis for details of Mr. Saed's case.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Anthony Banks.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am deeply grateful for having been able to catch your eye on this occasion.

May we have an early debate on the outbreak of legionnaire's disease at Broadcasting house in London? The Leader of the House may be aware that I have been asking his right hon. and hon. Friends in the DHSS for a public inquiry, but it has been refused so far. It is clear that the BBC has not fully made available all the facts surrounding the outbreak of the disease, and by delaying giving the information to Londoners it has undoubtedly exposed many hundreds of thousands of them to the disease. In order to restore some confidence in London, may we have an early debate on this issue?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise an early debate, but I recognise that the hon. Gentleman raises a point of concern. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend and see whether any statement should be made.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

May I seek your advice, Mr. Speaker, on a point of order? You will have heard the exchanges earlier, and the Leader of the House may well report back to us that the problem that we complained about will continue. Can you help in any way? It is understandable that from time to time we should go to 10 Downing street in the course of our parliamentary duties, but I see no reason why scenes such as this morning's should be repeated—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think I can help the hon. Gentleman. I am not responsible for what goes on outside the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. I called the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) last because I thought he might ask this question. It is a matter for the Leader of the House, who is looking into it, and not for me.

Mr. Winnick

Could you use your influence in any way, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

I use my influence in all kinds of ways, but not on the ballot for notices of motion—the business to which we must now move on.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you for a general response about a general issue of privilege? May I have an assurance that when you decide on these matters you always call for all the necessary documents to enable you to make a reasonable judgment about them?

Mr. Speaker

I can assure the hon. Member that if any hon. Member raises a matter of privilege with me I go into it in the greatest detail and with the most careful consideration. The hon. Gentleman may have that absolute assurance.