HC Deb 20 October 1988 vol 138 cc1031-9 4.37 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 24 OCTOBER—Consideration in Committee of the European Communities (Finance) Bill.

Motion relating to the Local Government (Prescribed Expenditure) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations.

TUESDAY 25 OCTOBER—Opposition Day. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The State of the Econony".

Second Reading of the Road Traffic Bill [Lords], the Road Traffic (Consequential Provisions) Bill [Lords], and the Road Traffic Offenders Bill [Lords], which are consolidation measures.

WEDNESDAY 26 OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Housing (Scotland) Bill.

Motions relating to Scottish community charge regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 27 OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the European Communities (Finance) Bill.

Motion on the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order.

FRIDAY 28 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on the disposal of radioactive waste on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. The Environment Committee's first report Session 1985–86 on radioactive waste (HC 191) and the Government's second stage response (Cmnd. 9852) will be relevant to the debate.

MONDAY 31 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Rate Support Grants Bill.

The House will wish to know that it is proposed that Government business will be taken in the week beginning 14 November. The new Session will open on Tuesday 22 November.

[Debate on Wednesday 26 October 1988: Abolition of Domestic Rates (Domestic and Part Residential Subjects) (Scotland) Regulations 1988; Community Water Charges (Scotland) Regulations 1988; Community Charges (Registration) (Scotland) (No. 2) Regulations 1988; Standard and Collective Community Charges (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1988; Personal Community Charge (Exemption for the Mentally Impaired) (Scotland) Regulations 1988; Community Charges (Registration) (Scotland) (No. 2) Amendment Regulations 1988.]

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, and, in particular, for the Opposition day set down for next week. In view of the fact that the parliamentary year is scheduled to last no fewer than 18 months on this occasion, will he tell us whether we shall have an Opposition day every week during the spillover period to go some way towards compensating for and matching the enormous extension of time made available for Government business?

In view of the widespread concern over today's statement about Barlow Clowes, and the number of hon. Members who wished to ask questions after the statement and did not get in, can we expect an early debate on the matter?

In view of the Prime Minister's recent much-vaunted conversion to protecting the environment, can we expect an early debate on that subject in Government time, or will her conversion prove to be about as authentic as the Turin shroud?

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that he has still failed in his duty to the people of Scotland in not getting enough Tories to serve on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? When can we expect the promised debate on his failure to set up that Select Committee?

Finally, in view of the growing crisis of homelessness, and the likely further increase in homelessness as many people cannot find the money to meet their mortgage repayments, can we expect a debate on homelessness and housing in Government time?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman asked me five questions on the business for next week. First, he asked me about an Opposition day. I recognise that it has been a long Session, and that we have already provided one extra day over that required by Standing Orders. I suggest that we discuss the question of additional time through the usual channels.

The hon. Gentleman raised the matter of Barlow Clowes and the report. I recognise that it is a very important matter, which the House will want an opportunity to discuss. I suggest that we spend the weekend reading the report, and perhaps have discussions through the usual channels to decide how best to proceed, as clearly many important issues have emerged from the exchanges that we have just had.

The hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Prime Minister and the environment are not really worthy of him, from his present position, but there will be a number of occasions when those issues will be debatable in the near future. I have no doubt that opportunities will be taken in the debate on the Queen's Speech, and so on.

With regard to Scotland, the hon. Gentleman, representing a London seat, seems continually to misrepresent the position. As he knows, proposals were put to the Opposition which were unacceptable to them. I regret that. I gave an undertaking that there would be a debate on it, and I shall honour that undertaking, but I consider that discussions through the usual channels will be the best way to proceed.

In regard to homelessness, I am conscious that a debate did not take place as intended, as a number of Opposition Members wished to raise an earlier matter at considerable length. That presents us with some difficulties. I think it is a matter best discussed through the usual channels.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

Would my right hon. Friend arrange for a general debate on Northern Ireland before the summit meeting between our Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland to review the Anglo-Irish Agreement so that Her Majesty's Government will have the benefit of the views of the House on the matter?

Mr. Wakeham

I fully recognise my right hon. Friend's concern, and the force of his argument. I shall have to look into whether I can provide time, but of course there will be occasions when Northern Ireland issues can be raised. I shall look into the matter for my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

In view of events during the summer Olympic games, and certain remarks attributed to the Minister of State, Home Office since then, will the Leader of the House find an early date for a debate on drugs in sport? When he is considering that, will he bear it in mind that 179 hon. Members, in the current Session, have signed an early-day motion supporting in principle the proposal that anabolic steroids should become controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971?

[That this House notes with concern the evidence of mounting use of anabolic steroids by sportsmen and women which is recognised as having dangerous medical side-effects including the risk of death; is concerned that such drugs are freely available in the United Kingdom and are a source of temptation to naive competitors, unscrupulous coaches and over-ambitious parents; and expresses its support for the principle of making anabolic steroids controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.]

Mr. Wakeham

That is a suitable subject for debate. I cannot promise an early debate on it, but I shall certainly bear the hon. Gentleman's suggestion in mind.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

As my right hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues are preparing for the Barlow Clowes debate, will they consider not just what Ministers and officials could reasonably be expected to know, but what investors could reasonably be entitled to think?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not think that I shall stray any further into the matter than my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy did when speaking at the Dispatch Box a few moments ago. However, I shall certainly take note of my hon. Friend's point and draw it to his attention.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

When this debate on Barlow Clowes takes place, can we have a guarantee that by the time we have the debate the Secretary of State will have got the sack and been replaced by an elected Member who can carry the can? Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Chancellor of the Duchy does not take part in the debate, in view of the fact that it will not be lost on the British people that that Minister spent a lot of time at the Department of Health and Social Security when 138,000 people were arrested and tried under this Government——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions, not statements.

Mr. Skinner

I am just suggesting that we do not have that Minister in the debate, because the British people understand that if a Minister can be part and parcel of 138,000 people being arrested and convicted for fraud on the DHSS when the Government do not have the guts to deal with licences——

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is an abuse of business questions.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman's question is not much about next week's business, but I think that I can answer him. In a fairly uncertain situation, one thing is certain. As far as I know, my right hon. and noble Friend will still be Secretary of State when we have any debate on the matter, and almost certainly my right hon. Friend the Chacellor of the Duchy will reply to any debate in this House, and he will do it extremely well.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Before we have a debate on Barlow Clowes, be it the week after next or whatever, will the Minister, whose statement today, frankly, was extremely disappointing and sounded too much like civil servants protecting their own backs, come to the Dispatch Box next week and announce what he will do about the specific suggestion made by two Conservative Members—that the affected interests should be called in to see if they can sort it out as the Minister is not prepared to do it himself?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall certainly pass that suggestion to my right hon. Friend, who has already taken note of it from the questions raised with him. I do not think I can add anything more at this stage.

Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Does the Leader of the House have any proposals to bring forward a Bill for the removal of Crown immunity from the Palace of Westminster? In the light of the removal of asbestos from offices in the Tea Room corridors, will he make arrangements to report back to the House meetings he has had with Ministers at the Department of the Environment to make sure that hon. Members and their staff who are working in the Tea Room buildings can be sure that there are no asbestos fibres there, and, rather than depending on random sampling of asbestos, will he ensure that each office has been sampled so that the same safeguards apply that would apply to local authorities throughout the land?

Mr. Wakeham

There are two parts to the hon. Lady's question. First, on bringing forward legislation on the matter, I can assure the hon. Lady that at this stage in the Session, I am very anxious to get existing legislation through and I have no proposals to bring any further forward at this stage. Secondly, I recognise her concern and perhaps that of other hon. Members. I am looking into the matter, and I shall be in touch.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

There has been considerable anxiety about the Government decision to repatriate 9,000 Vietnamese boat people who are now in Hong Kong. Can we have an early debate or a statement by the Foreign Secretary so that we can probe the assurances that have been given that those unfortunate people will not face punishment or starvation?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the concern expressed by my hon. Friend. It is an important matter. I cannot promise an early debate, but I know of occasions in the near future when such matters could be raised when the Foreign Secretary will be taking part in a debate in the House.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

In considering the case for an early debate on the bid for Scottish and Newcastle Breweries by Elder IXL, will the Leader of the House take note of the unity of Scottish opinion on that matter across party boundaries? Will he take note of the fact that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has powers under the Industry Act 1975 to prevent, by prohibitive order, the transfer of control of important manufacturing concerns? Given the unity of Scottish opinion, is there not a substantial case for early action to end the uncertainty that should be tested in an early debate in the House?

Mr. Wakeham

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the proposed acquisition is being considered by the Director General of Fair Trading. He has a statutory duty to advise my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State. It would not be appropriate for me to say anything more at this stage.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 542 which deals with the appointment by Derbyshire county council of a former Labour Member of Parliament to the post of county director at £45,000 a year?

[That this House deplores the appointment by Derbyshire County Council of Mr. Reg Race, former hon. Member for Wood Green, former Research Officer for the National Union of Public Employees, former head of the Greater London Council's programme office, former consultant to the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians and former researcher to the Labour-funded London Government Information Unit, to the £46,000 a year post of County Director; and believes that all local authority employees should be politically impartial and that Derbyshire County Council is making appointments on the basis of whether or not candidates are acceptable to the ruling group 's left-wing views and not on the basis of merit and experience.] Would it be possible to have a debate on the conduct of local government, bearing in mind that unsatisfactory appointment? The man has now resigned—[Interruption.] Well, he has resigned. The people of Derbyshire are wondering how much it cost to appoint him and how much has been spent on removal expenses for what has turned out to be an unsatisfactory nine-month political appointment. Is it not time for proper debates on the conduct of local government?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend has raised an important point. Effective local government rests solidly on the tradition of politically neutral officers, serving with equal commitment whichever party is in political control. There is increasing concern that in some cases appointments are politically motivated. The Widdicombe committee has put forward proposals aimed at preventing such abuses and the Government are considering them carefully.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Is this a statement?

Mr. Wakeham

I have a note on every early-day motion on the Order Paper, and I propose to give the right answers.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

In view of that interesting reply, will the Leader of the House arrange for Law Officers or Ministers in the Department of the Environment to make a statement tomorrow morning, hopefully having persuaded the Bradford Conservative council overnight to drop its plan to restrict public entry to next Tuesday's Bradford council meeting? Does the Leader of the House realise that many of my constituents and hon. Members will be denied access to that council meeting if the plan is allowed to be introduced?

Does he not realise that, however much Bradford Conservative council attempts to stop the public from witnessing its proceedings, it will not conceal the fact that it has no electoral mandate or popular support for the 9,000 redundancies and other deeply damaging policies it is hoping to steamroller through at next Tuesday's meeting? Incidentally, it will be breaching a Bill which was sponsored by the Prime Minister soon after she was elected as the Member of Parliament for Finchley.

Mr. Wakeham

I know that this afternoon the hon. Gentleman has been in touch with officials at the Department of the Environment. Those are matters for the council, but I will ensure that the Minister for Local Government is aware of the hon. Gentleman's view.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Will my right hon. Friend, without fail, arrange for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to appear next week again at the Dispatch Box because his statement today was so inadequate and important questions remain unanswered? In his statement, will he address himself particularly to his Department's negligence, reported in paragraph 5.1 of the Le Quesne report, in which it is clear that the Department of Trade and Industry agreed to the two devices which enabled any fraud that took place to take place, namely electronic rather than written records and a system of obviating the necessity for issuing contract notes, without which any fraud would have been revealed before a lot of people had bought these securities?

Mr. Wakeham

I believe that my suggestion that we should all read the report over the weekend and then decide how best to proceed is the best suggestion I have for the House.

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

As the freezing of child benefit will have serious implications for the future of poor people and for the political future of the Secretary of State for Social Security, would it not be wise to debate that subject next week?

Mr. Wakeham

The wise course is to wait until the statement on such matters is made in the normal course of events.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

I wish to reinforce the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) for a debate on the recent sudden and surprising resignation of Reg Race, former Labour Member of Parliament, from his position as chief officer of Derbyshire county council. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is grave concern in Derbyshire that the resignation of Mr. Race is not unconnected to a large secret investment that the county council pension fund has made in a business operated by Owen Oyston, a former estate agent from Manchester? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the great concern in Derbyshire about that matter?

Mr. Wakeham

These are not matters for me, but I note what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

Notwithstanding his previous answer on the subject, will the Leader of the House make arrangements for an early statement on the Government's position on the hostile takeover bid for Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, the Newcastle half of which is in my constituency? Is he aware that, although the people of Tyneside may be willing to accept Australian Neighbours, they are not willing to accept Australian Foster parents?

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State has a statutory duty in these matters, and it would not be right for me to comment while he is considering his duty.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Since the European Communities (Finance) Bill, with which the House will be dealing on Monday, envisages an 80 per cent. increase in European structural funds, a measure that will finance Euro-Socialism, will my right hon. Friend say, in view of the change in the Government's position as signalled by the Prime Minister's recent speeches about Europe, that the Government will be voting against that 80 per cent. increase?

Mr. Wakeham

The appropriate Minister will deal with the Bill on Monday when it comes before the House. However, I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister fully supports the Bill, and I hope that my hon. Friend does as well.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week on the privatisation of Girobank? Will he ask the Minister to explain why the short list of those who have put in bids has not yet been announced, although it was promised that it would be announced during the recess? Will he ask the Minister to say whether there is any truth in the fact that the Bank of Scotland was on the short list and has withdrawn and that great difficulties are being experienced by the Government in their attempt to privatise Girobank?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not know whether that is correct. I do not believe it to be so. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who I am sure will make a statement, if a statement is needed.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that during the summer recess I had an opportunity to visit a unit at the Royal Berkshire hospital which is keeping premature babies alive? I was told that it is now possible to enable a 22-week-old baby to survive. In view of the grave implications of that, in terms of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, for medical teams which may be terminating pregnancies after that age, may I suggest that he should find time for the House to reach a final decision on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton)?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the concern, but I cannot add anything to what I have said before. Private Members' Bills are dealt with under procedures that the House has agreed. I cannot arbitrarily make a change in those arrangements.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate next week on the corrupt and incompetent policies being pursued by Tory-controlled Westminster city council, so that we can have an opportunity to discover more about the scandalous deal between Westminster city council and the Conservative party over the freehold sale of the office in Smith Square? It is clear that that cost Westminster ratepayers a great deal of money. If we are to talk about efficient local government, the activities of Westminster city council deserve much wider discussion.

Mr. Wakeham

The partial way in which the hon. Gentleman asked his question showed that he does not expect me to be very forthcoming in my answer. I cannot promise such a debate, but no doubt he can find a way of raising any points that he believes to be important.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that, in his statement, our right hon. Friend used the word "exceptional" to describe the Barlow Clowes affair? Quite apart from any legal obligation that may or may not come from reading the report and further investigations, many Conservative Members feel that the Government have an exceptional moral responsibility. Would it be possible to make the proposed debate on Barlow Clowes a matter of urgency before the Government make further statements on proposals without having sensed the feelings of Conservative Members?

Mr. Wakeham

I still think that the advice that I have given to read the report over the weekend and consider how best to proceed is the right advice for the House.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May I suggest that the Leader of the House resurrects the Salmon commission's report on standards of conduct in public life? It would enable us to discuss the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in the Barlow Clowes affair and why he has not resigned, as used to be the case when Ministers behaved in a crass and incompetent way. It would enable us to discuss the responsibilities of members of local government and the lord mayor of Bradford, who is using his casting vote in an unscrupulous and cheating way to maintain the Tories in office so that they can sack 9,000 employees, close 25 community centres and half a dozen benefit shops and make savage cuts elsewhere. Surely it is a matter of concern for the House that these massive cuts and attacks on the city of Bradford are being made in this unfair, cheating and gerrymandering way. We should discuss the matter, and the Salmon report contains the basis on which to do so.

Mr. Wakeham

I am sure that, when Lord Salmon wrote his report, he did not expect it to be used in the sort of question that the hon. Gentleman puts to me today.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

May we have an early debate on the need for legislation to deal with the dumping of toxic and other waste materials and for heavier fines to stop illegal dumping?

Mr. Wakeham

This is an important matter. I cannot promise a debate specifically on this subject, but, with a little skill, my hon. Friend might be able to make a point or two on Friday 28 October.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Since my right hon. Friend says that he has a note on all motions on the Order Paper, will he say what progress has been made with the implementation by the Government of what is required under early-day motion 6?

[That this House deplores the fact that, alone among public service pensioners, those whose service was overseas cannot count pre-appointment war service towards their pensions; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to remedy this injustice to a dwindling group of elderly people whose working lives were spent in adverse conditions while dedicated to the service of British interests overseas.] It calls on the Government to end the anomaly whereby all public servans receive credit for war service unless that public service was abroad. Surely it is time for the Government to honour their implied moral obligations. Between the "court of Star Chamber", the Treasury and the Foreign Office, will he kindly ensure that this early-day motion is accepted and that the money is paid?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend raises early-day motion 6, and I shall tell him what my note says. My hon. Friend has had a long-standing interest in this matter and has raised it in the House on a number of occasions. We recognise how strongly the colonial service pensioners feel about the issue and we shall keep it under careful review. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, however, there are many claims on public expenditure resources.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a policy of enlightened self-interest that education be involved in business and business in education? If he agrees that that is the case, will he arrange for an early debate on the decision of Customs and Excise to charge VAT on gifts by business to universities?

Mr. Wakeham

I think that my hon. Friend is in luck. If he attends tomorrow and catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, this subject will be appropriate to the debate on education and industry links.

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

Does my hon. Friend appreciate the strength of feeling about the inadequacy of the law and the state and practice of sentencing those who drink too much, get into a car, drive away and kill someone? May we have an early opportunity to debate the North report's proposals and hear the Government's conclusions on those proposals and, thereafter, have an early opportunity for legislation?

Mr. Wakeham

This is an important matter, and, as my hon. Friend probably knows, I have some responsibility for these matters. At present, we are considering the recommendations of the North report. When we have reached our conclusions we shall report to the House and decide how best to proceed from there.