HC Deb 27 October 1988 vol 139 cc485-93

5.2 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 31 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Rate Support Grants Bill.

Remaining stages of the Foreign Marriage (Amendment) Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Penalty Points (Alteration) Order.

TUESDAY 1 NOVEMBER—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Health and Medicines Bill.

Motion to take note of EC documents on air pollution from motor vehicles. Details will be given in the Official Report.

WEDNESDAY 2 NOVEMBER—Until about seven o'clock, supplemental timetable motion on and considration of Lords Amendments to the Firearms (Amendment) Bill.

Afterwards there will be a debate on a Government motion on broadcasting and terrorism.

THURSDAY 3 NOVEMBER—Debate on a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied.

FRIDAY 4 NOVEMBER—Debate on the control of pollution of rivers and estuaries and the condition of seas adjacent to Britain on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Details of relevant Environment Committee reports will be given in the Official Report.

MONDAY 7 NOVEMBER—Committee and remaining stages of the Rate Support Grants Bill.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Copyright Design and Patents Bill [Lords].

[Tuesday 1 November 1988

Relevant European Community Document

4637/88 Small cars: gaseous emissions

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

HC 43-xx (1987–88) para 9, HC 43-xxxi (1987–88) para 2 & HC 43-xxxiii (1987–88) para 1

Debate on Friday 4 November:

Environment Committee's Third Report Session 1986–87 (HC 183)

Environment Committee's Third Special Report Session 1987–88 ( HC 543)

Environment Committee's First Report Session 1985–86 (HC 191)

The Government's Second Stage Response to the Environment Committee's Report on Radioactive Waste (Cmnd. 9852).]

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I thank the Lord President for his statement. As I understand it, we are in a somewhat ironic position in that, if child benefit had been uprated, we could have debated the uprating; but, as it is not being uprated, there is no automatic opportunity to debate the failure to uprate it. In view of the concern throughout the House and the country, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the House will have an early opportunity specifically to debate the failure to uprate child benefit, with a Division in which Members will be able to vote for or against uprating?

The Leader of the House suggested last week that the provision of some extra Opposition days should be discussed through the usual channels. Can he tell us the outcome? Does he realise that he owes the Opposition at least four more extra days? This parliamentary year began in June 1987 and is heading for a total of 217 days. That exceeds the length of an average parliamentary year by about 45 days, or more than 25 per cent. As we were allocated only the usual 20 days for an average parliamentary year, a pro rata increase in Opposition days should entitle us to five extra days, of which we have been given only one. I should be grateful if the Leader of the House would confirm that the other four will be forthcoming before the Queen's Speech.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also tell the House when we can expect a debate on his failure to set up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? Better still, will he agree to set it up? Hitherto, we understand that English Conservative Members were unwilling to take part in the activities of a Scottish Select Committee. In yesterday's debate on the poll tax and housing in Scotland, however, the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) took part. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could approach those Conservative Members with a view to recruiting them to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.

Finally, last week the right hon. Gentleman advised us all to read the report on the Barlow Clowes scandal over the weekend before deciding when it would be debated. Many hon. Members on both sides have taken the right hon. Gentleman at his word and read the report. It is up to the right hon. Gentleman now to find time soon for a debate on the Barlow Clowes scandal.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman asked four questions about the business for next week.

First, I believe that his comment about a debate on child benefit is not factually correct. I understand that a whole series of orders, including one on child benefit, will be laid in the usual way. I believe that benefits which remain the same will be included and will have to be debated. I very much hope that we shall be able to arrange a debate before Christmas.

With regard to Opposition days, I thought that the hon. Gentleman, like me, was a member of the usual channels and thus should have some idea of what goes on. As he knows, the business that I have announced for next week does not provide for Opposition time. It is a full programme of essential business. I therefore cannot agree to his request. I must also tell him that although I will do my best, I certainly do not believe in his rather partial interpretation of the Standing Orders of the House, which are fairly clear. Nevertheless, I will do my best.

With regard to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, I am committed to having a debate, and I have sought to discuss this through the usual channels. I think that that is the best way to deal with the matter.

With regard to Barlow Clowes, I have nothing to add to my statement last week or to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of Trade and Industry. I realise that this is a matter to which the House will want to come, but there is a great deal of essential business with which we must deal next week.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

May I make a request from the Conservative Benches for a debate on Barlow Clowes? I hope that my right hon. Friend will be a little more forthcoming in his response than he was in his answer to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). My right hon. Friend will be aware that 18,000 people are intimately and deeply involved. Bearing in mind last week's statement, I believe that the House should have an opportunity to debate this issue in view of its importance.

Mr. Wakeham

If there were a significant development that required my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to make a statement, of course he would make one. I recognise that my hon. Friend has been active in this matter. I know that he and a number of other hon. Members would like a debate. We have much essential business to get through. I shall do what I can, but I cannot promise a debate at the moment.

Mr. Speaker

May I say to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) that I am sorry that I incorrectly called him earlier this afternoon? I was talking to someone by the Chair. But I now correctly I call Mr. Kirkwood.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

My hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) is the good-looking one.

Reverting to child benefit, I do not think that the reply that the Leader of the House gave the official Opposition was entirely satisfactory. He knows that a debate on an order or a prayer is an unsatisfactory vehicle. It is restricted to an hour and a half and the voting is confused. Will the right hon. Gentleman actively consider giving more time to this subject, perhaps on a motion for the Adjournment? In that way we could have a positive vote after a full day's debate.

Secondly, the House will be aware that there is one remaining Opposition day for minority parties in this Session. The right hon. Gentleman knows, too, that there are some questions about its present allocation. To allow these discussions to be concluded, would he agree to abandoning the remaining day in the balance of this Session and, with the leave of the House, allowing an additional day some time in the next?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that a debate on an order on child benefit does not meet every requirement of every part of the House, but at the moment I can add nothing to what I have already said.

The hon. Gentleman is correct that one Opposition day is still due to the minor parties in this session. If his suggestion is that the day that is not taken this year could in some unofficial way be carried over to the next, I think that it is helpful, and I shall certainly discuss it with the other parties to discover whether it is acceptable.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

In order to improve the House's scrutiny of EC affairs, will my right hon. Friend re-examine the vexed question of the regrettable failure by him, by the usual channels and by the Services Committee to provide proper access to the parliamentary buildings for the British groups of European Members of Parliament? Is not this long overdue? More and more national parliaments provide this access. Admittedly, we have a problem with the Labour party, but will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to persuade the more sensible members of the usual Opposition channels—if there are any—that this would be a good idea which would help the House to oversee European Community affairs much more effectively?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend knows more about this than he lets on. He knows perfectly well that it is not reasonable to level charges at me for failing to do anything about it. I can make progress only if there is general agreement in the House that this is the right way to proceed. Some Opposition Members, and some Conservative Members, are not as enlightened about these matters, perhaps, as my hon. Friend and I.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the hon. Minister give time, after that severe attack on the Prime Minister and her views, for a debate next week on the University Grants Committee's report, in which it is suggested than science and physics departments which are smaller than the criteria laid down by the UGC will have to close? That will mean the closure of 20 out of 47 establishments, including the university of Bradford. Does the right hon. Member accept that Bradford has had too many reverses in the past week, the lord mayor having left an indelible stain of political corruption behind by voting with the Tories for cuts and sackings, without the university being forced to close its physics and science department on criteria laid down by the UGC? It is important and urgent that the report should be rebuffed so that universities such as Bradford can progress, even if the rest of the city is now under the hammer heel of the Tories.

Mr. Wakeham

I do not think that some of the goings on in Bradford are a great credit to the Labour party, but I shall not get involved in that. I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate on this matter immediately, but occasions are coming up in the not-too-distant future when these matters can be properly raised in the course of debate, and no doubt he will seek one of those.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Although it is welcome that next Friday we are to have a debate on the pollution of our seas, should we not, in the light of the Prime Minister's excellent speech during the recess, have a more wide-ranging and fundamental debate on the environment as soon as possible?

Mr. Wakeham

The debate next week is about the control of the pollution of rivers and estuaries, and it is important that we should discuss what can be done. I agree with my hon. Friend that a more wide-ranging debate would enable other matters to be raised. I have no doubt that we shall find opportunities to return to these important matters from time to time. I cannot promise a debate immediately.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

Bearing in mind that today the Public Accounts Committee published its report on the privatisation of the Royal Ordnance factories, a report which is highly critical of the way in which that was carried out, and that the Prime Minister, when trying to answer a question about this today, quoted not from that report but from the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, which preceded the PAC report and was issued at a time when the potential land development values of the Royal Ordnance factories were not known, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is high time that he gave a whole day in which to debate this appalling scandal, which is now receiving a great deal of public attention?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Lady will have to contain herself. The Government will respond to the PAC by means of a Treasury Minute, in the normal way and in due course. We shall co-operate fully in any investigations that the Comptroller and Auditor General then wishes to undertake. As the hon. Lady knows, the matter was well ventilated in the defence debate not many days ago.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1513 on rural housing, which is supported by a substantial number of hon. Members who represent rural constituencies? [That this House welcomes the recent statement on rural housing by the Rural Development Commission; and calls upon the Government to take vigorous and urgent action to facilitate the provision of low cost housing in rural areas.] Will my right hon. Friend consider making time available for a debate on rural housing?

Mr. Wakeham

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government have announced a package of measures to facilitate the provision of low-cost housing in rural areas. It includes a fourfold increase in the number of housing association homes to be funded by the Housing Corporation in small villages by 1990–91. The Government urge rural communities to take advantage of the opportunities that will he provided by the Housing Bill to work with housing associations and private developers so as to ensure that their housing needs are met.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will there be an opportunity in the near future to discuss the Prime Minister's statement that no one in the Cabinet is capable of doing her job? What satisfaction does she get from humiliating her Cabinet colleagues at every opportunity?

Mr. Wakeham

I know that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to be helpful. However, I suggest that if he wants to quote the Prime Minister, he had better start by being reasonably accurate.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether we shall have one or more debates on child benefit?

Mr. Wakeham

I can add nothing to what I have already said about that.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

The Leader of the House will be aware that during the past three years there has not been a single debate specifically about agriculture in the north of Ireland. That is a tremendous defect, in that it has unique problems that do not obtain elsewhere in Britain. Agriculture is the biggest employer in the north of Ireland. In conjunction with his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange to have such a debate early in the next Session?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that the way in which we discuss Northern Ireland business in the House is not entirely satisfactory. I know that a number of hon. Members find that subjects that should be debated are not. However, there are debates on the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, and so on, during which these matters could be raised. I should like to promise the hon. Gentleman an early debate on agriculture. I shall consider the matter, but I am not too hopeful.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

I appreciate the great pressure for time on my right hon. Friend, but will he consider organising a full debate on the recently published report by the Select Committee on Private Bill Procedure as early as possible, as it concerns many people?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that a debate on procedure is outstanding. I have had a number of discussions through the usual channels and with interested parties and Back Benchers on both sides of the House about how best to proceed. I believe that the maximum amount of agreement about the way in which we conduct ourselves in the House is desirable. I cannot promise an early debate, but I recognise that there must be one ere long.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I am disappointed that the Leader of the House cannot promise us an early debate on the excellent report on the private Bill procedure, because it is a good read. It is a snip at £15.90. Some of us struggled for many months on that report and it would get us out of a lot of difficulty if we could have an early debate. If we cannot have an early debate on the private Bill procedure, may we have a debate about London before the Session ends, as that would allow us to discuss the activities of Westminster borough council and its relationship with the Conservative party, among other London issues?

Mr. Wakeham

London is an appropriate subject for a debate and I hope that we shall be able to have such a debate before too long, but at the moment I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate.

On the private Bill procedure, the House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), for chairing the Committee that considered that matter and to those hon. Members who laboured hard on what is not the most exciting subject in our parliamentary life. As I said, I cannot promise to find time for a debate before the House prorogues, but if the hon. Gentleman is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will be able to raise these matters during the debate on the Loyal Address, which will start on 22 November.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

Will my right hon. Friend consider carefully to the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) for a debate on Barlow Clowes? Many Conservative Members would like to express their support for the line taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on Sir Godfray le Quesne's report. Many Conservative Members believe that the City has a substantial responsibility for policing the matter and that the Bank of England and the Securities and Investments Board should consider organising a lifeboat. I have been approached by well over 100 Conservative Members of Parliament in the last week who would support a move for such a lifeboat.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise my hon. Friend's concern in these matters and I shall take note of what he said. However, I cannot add anything to what I have already said to the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Can the Leader of the House give us some guidance on whether the most titanic threat to the environment will be considered in the two debates on the subject next week? Is he aware that already 27 tonnes of PCBs have been transported by air to a spot near my constituency and that, given the danger of transporting dangerous goods by air, a further threat is posed by the insane plan to export 45 tonnes of plutonium from Prestwick airport? Is that not one of the greatest threats of pollution? Should not the regulations under which those two transportations are legal be overhauled swiftly and speedily in line with early-day motion 1596?

[That this House calls for a thorough review of the regulations controlling the transport of dangerous goods by air, especially plutonium, PCBs and other materials that cannot be fully safeguarded against catastrophic accidental damage.]

Mr. Wakeham

As the hon. Gentleman went on he went wider and wider of next week's business. I recognise his interest in that important matter, but whether it is in order for next week's debate is a matter not for me but for you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)

In line with my right hon. Friend's responsibilities for the House in general, may I ask whether he is aware that every secretary in the House of Commons has received a letter from the publishers, Mills and Boon, inviting them to nominate the most romantic politician in the country? Can my right hon. Friend offer the House and those who work here any advice and guidance on their reply?

Mr. Wakeham

I have no doubt that it is a publicity stunt for the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I suppose that that is why I was moved out of the chair yesterday.

The Leader of the House will have heard several comments about the way in which the private Bill procedure is being used. He may also be aware that, as I said in a point of order last Thursday, a Conservative Member, whom I informed before I raised the matter, had been placed in the predicament of chairing the Committee on the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill, despite his being parliamentary adviser to the British Chemical Engineering Contractors Association, one of the members of which is a sponsor of that Bill.

As I pointed out last week, a Member sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers would not be expected to serve on that Bill and there seems to be a decreasing number of Members of Parliament who could be called upon to serve on such a Bill, the content of which is so political and in which many people have interests on one side or the other. I respectfully suggest that something should be done about the matter as soon as possible so that representation does not appear to he other than even-handed.

Mr. Wakeham

I agree that the report on the private Bill procedure is important. The issues raised are complex and require careful consideration. I am sure that the House will want to consider it carefully before we have a debate, which I promise in due course. The membership of the private Bill Committee on the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill is a matter not for me but for my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox), the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. I understand that he has been consulted and is satisfied that there is no difficulty about the appointment to that Committee of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark).

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great concern of many hon. Members on the subject of human embryo research, as evidenced by early-day motion 1460 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves)?

[That this House welcomes the commitment given by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State that legislation on the subject of human embryo research will be brought forward as soon as practical; and hopes that progress in this vital area can be made in the very near future.]

The Government have given a commitment to legislate on that matter, but can my right hon. Friend say when that might be brought forward?

Mr. Wakeham

As my hon. Friend will be aware, I cannot anticipate the business for the next Session, which will be announced in the proper way. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the Government's commitment is to legislate in this Parliament, and I can assure him that we shall stick to our commitment.

Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North)

When we next consider the issues arising from the Widdicombe report, will the Leader of the House ensure that that includes the conduct of lord mayors in local authorities? In the city of Bradford, where the lord mayor has two votes with a casting vote, the local authority is carrying through draconian redundancies and cuts in services. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider that issue, which is inflaming passions in our city and in many other areas?

Mr. Wakeham

I have no doubt that such matters can be raised, but, as I read the situation, the lord mayor of Bradford has conducted himself in a most correct and proper fashion in accordance with the law, despite considerable provocation from the hon. Gentleman's friends, and he is to be congratulated on what he has done.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

As the Leader of the House revealed last week that he has prepared statements in support of early-day motions, would he care to read out his prepared statement on early-day motion 1526?

[That this House notes that the hon. Member for Shipley is the Chairman of the Committee of Selection and that, according to his entry in the Register of Members' Interests of 8th December 1987, he is a director of eight companies: Westminster (Communications) Ltd., the Care Services Group, Rigidized Metals Ltd., Ceema Group and Companies, Tele-Stage Associates Ltd., McCarthy & Stone Ltd., Malibu Estates Ltd., and Grantham O'Donnell Estates Ltd.; further notes the hon. Member for Shipley is also a parliamentary consultant to four companies: 3M (UK) Ltd., Shepherd (Construction) Ltd., Alcrafield Ltd., and Sherwood Homes ( Southern) Ltd.; believes that the holding of such interests by the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, which appoints right hon. and hon. Members to parliamentary committees, represents a potential conflict of interest; and calls upon the hon. Member for Shipley to consider his position immediately.]

In view of his earlier reply and the extensive commercial interests held by the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox), does the Leader of the House think that the hon. Member for Shipley is best placed to judge who is the most appropriate Member to serve on a particular Committee?

Mr. Wakeham

I am quite sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) is fully equipped to make such judgments and is aware of his responsibilities to the House. If the hon. Gentleman has any complaints, he should take the matter up with the Select Committee on Members' Interests.