HC Deb 20 April 1989 vol 151 cc464-72 3.58 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)

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 24 APRIL—Progress on remaining stages of the Social Security Bill.

Motion on the Food (Northern Ireland) Order, which is a consolidation measure.

TUESDAY 25 APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Motion relating to the Mines (Safety of Exit) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 26 APRIL—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Social Security Bill.

THURSDAY 27 APRIL—Second Reading of the Children Bill [Lords]. FRIDAY 28 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Dobson

I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. Will he confirm that the Government have today published the Bill to outlaw the sale of human kidneys, which is the product of no fewer than four years of laborious drafting by the Department of Health since we originally asked for such a law to be introduced?

When are we likely to get the long-promised debate —in Government time—on the future of the National Health Service, and when will we have the even longer-promised debate on the Government's proposal to substitute student loans for student grants?

Because of the growing concern about the scale and nature of the Government publicity machine and about the propriety of those who are running it, and growing concern among civil servants about the increasing party politicisation of that machine, will the Leader of the House speak to Mr. Bernard Ingham and ask him nicely whether we can have a debate about it in the House?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman asked me four questions.

I am 99.9 per cent. certain that the Human Organ Transplants Bill has been published today, but it will certainly be published this week. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to the Opposition for the discussions that we have had to facilitate a speedy passage of that important measure.

We have just had a debate on the National Health Service, but, as I told the hon. Gentleman last week, the House will wish to return to that matter. I cannot, however, promise a debate in the immediate future.

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would not have made the mistake of saying that the Government were proposing to substitute student loans for student grants. The proposal, which is still being discussed, is for top-up loans for students. I believe that the most sensible time for a debate is when the discussions have been completed with the banks and other institutions about the way in which the loans will be administered.

I do not accept the premise on which the hon. Gentleman phrased his last question. I do not accept or recognise the abuses to which he referred. Therefore, the rest of the question does not follow.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

My right hon. Friend said that we had just had a debate on the National Health Service, but he must recognise that that three-hour debate, of which the leader of the SDP took up 46 minutes, was highly unsatisfactory and that we need a full-scale debate on the Government's White Paper before the consultation deadline runs out. Will my right hon. Friend take particular note of the fact that Members on both sides of the House have substantial misgivings about certain aspects of the White Paper's proposals, especially as they affect doctors? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, on this occasion at least, the Government will be willing to listen and to act upon constructive suggestions?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend seeks to encourage me, but the sting in his tail is not acceptable. The Government listen; when they have consultations, they mean consultations, and when they issue papers, they expect views. I cannot add anything further to what I have already said. I agree that Tuesday's debate was not an adequate substitute for a full-scale debate, which I will arrange as soon as I can find the time.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

I join those who have demanded that there should be a debate in Government time on the National Health Service.

The right hon. Gentleman must have been present in the House a few minutes ago. Does he not recognise how objectionable it was to the House and to its procedures —he must have been a party to it—that, instead of making a proper statement about the Government's proposals for the Football Spectators Bill, the Prime Minister should have chosen to tell us in response to a question? As there does not appear to be a single Member of the Cabinet who is capable of standing up to the Prime Minister on the subject—as she alone appears to be responsible for it— when will the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements for her to come to the House and answer questions from Members on both sides of the House?

Mr. Wakeham

The Home Secretary made a statement at the beginning of the week. The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) asked a question and I thought that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave a very full and good answer. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. When my right hon. Friend does not, in the opinion of the Opposition, give a full answer, they complain; when she does, they do not like it either.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

May we have an assurance from the Leader of the House that before a final decision is taken on the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission into the brewing industry—the consequences of which may be different from those envisaged by the commission—there will be a full debate in this House?

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is considering the report; I have nothing further to add, except that I note what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we please have an early debate on the powers of the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive? Among other things, that debate would give the Secretary of State for Energy the opportunity to apologise for accusing me of misleading the House when I am sure that he did not intend to do so. I stated—as was and is the case —that the Department of Energy has responsibility for safety on offshore oil rigs and that the Health and Safety Commission has not; that is all I said. That is absolutely correct, but it is wrong that that responsibility should remain with the Department when there have been a series of actual and potential disasters perilous to the life of the people who work on the rigs and dangerous to the production of oil from those rigs.

Can the opportunity be given to the Minister to resign, to apologise, and thirdly, the easiest step, to ask the Health and Safety Commission whether it will resume those powers regarding the inspection of rigs, which would make people and production safer?

Mr. Wakeham

When the hon. and learned Gentleman started asking his question I had some sympathy with him, but, by the time he had finished his speech, I thought the need for a debate was not so necessary. There appears to be a difference between the hon. and learned Gentleman and my right hon. Friend—I am on the side of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of my hon. Friends will have been pleased to hear from our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the rigid timetable for the Football Spectators Bill has now been dropped? Does my right hon. Friend also accept that many of my colleagues remain somewhat worried about that largely unloved Bill and believe that alternative measures should have been brought before the House in the new Session? Nevertheless, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a good idea to have a debate on football before the Bill's Second Reading, so that all hon. Members have the opportunity to discuss the matter? If the legislation is to be amended as much as anticipated, the House will be far better informed as a result of such a debate on the Floor.

Mr. Wakeham

What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said was that it would be a grave step for the House to lose the opportunity of putting into legislative effect any proposals that Lord Justice Taylor might make and to cause those recommendations to be delayed for a further 12 months. It is clear that, during the course of this Session, there is time to make progress on the Bill, and not to finalise it until we have had time to consider what it is hoped will be important recommendations.

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

I endorse what has been said by hon. Members from both sides of the House about the need for a debate on the National Health Service in Government time. Is the Leader of the House aware that the funding of the Equal Opportunities Commission has not kept pace with inflation, which means that the decline in resources is damaging to women who do not have a full opportunity to use the services of that commission? May we have a debate on that next week, please?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise a debate next week, and I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's strictures on the Equal Opportunities Commission. I believe that it does a good job and that its work should be supported.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it is customary to debate a White Paper and that, therefore, the White Paper on the National Health Service would seem to be such a subject for debate? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that that particular White Paper has green edges and is something of a consultation document? Therefore, as the consultation period ends at the end of May, we should have a debate before that date.

Mr. Wakeham

I promised the House that we will have a debate, but I have been unable to go firm on when that debate will be. It certainly will be before we introduce legislation to enact any matters that flow from the White Paper.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Does not the Leader of the House agree that there should be an opportunity to debate how the Department of Transport handles the coastguard service? It is of great importance to all right hon. and hon. Members, given that its efficiency affects the lives and livelihoods of so many of our constituents. Is he aware that, yesterday, the Department of Transport issued a public information bulletin affecting the Aberdeen district of the north-east of Scotland? That bulletin said that the Department was going to downgrade the Lossiemouth coastguard station and change it into a voluntary, part-time unit. Later in the day, the Department had to apologise for making an error in its bulletin. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is now a loss of confidence in how the Department handles the service and that it is important for hon. Members to have the opportunity to raise this matter in the House?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree with the hon. Lady that this is an important subject. If there has been a mistake, I apologise on behalf of my colleagues who might have made it. I will draw the hon. Lady's point to their attention. I wish that I could promise an early debate, but I cannot. Of course, the hon. Lady may find other ways to raise the matter.

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 499 which refers to the GEC-Siemens bid for the Plessey company?

[That this House notes with grave concern the revised proposals put forward by GEC and Siemens for the dismemberment of The Plessey Company; believes that these proposals deprive the Government of United Kingdom competitive tendering in the fields of avionics, naval systems, radar and defence systems; that they will consign the United Kingdom's leading radar and army communications command and control suppliers, not to mention a number of highly secure programmes, to foreign ownership, that they will deprive the United Kingdom's telecommunications manufacturing industry of access to the lucrative West Germany market; that they will effectively transfer the leading edge of the United Kingdom semiconductor industry, together with its associated jobs and skills to West Germany and that the predator companies have prostituted the principles of the Single European Market in a collusive bid to eliminate a competitor; and calls on the Secretary of State to give due weight to these factors when he considers the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on this matter in due course.]

My right hon. Friend will remember that I drew third place in the ballot for private Members' motions, but mine was not reached on that occasion. I am most anxious that this sort of matter should be debated under the system whereby legislation can be brought in which is inappropriate for an Adjournment debate. In these cases, hostile bids are being introduced very soon after an original bid and that occupies a company in no less than six to nine months of top management effort. If the Monopolies and Mergers Commission has turned down something once, is it right that it should be resuscitated so quickly? That drains a company's resources.

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend raises an important matter involving matters of general principle in addition to the particular case about which he is concerned. As he knows, my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is currently considering the report and it would therefore not be appropriate for me to comment on the matter or to have a debate in this House in advance of publication. The announcement by the European Commission yesterday does not prejudice the position of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

At the beginning of the year, the Secretary of State for Employment, I believe, suspended section 4 grants for the promotion of tourism, until a review had taken place. I understand that the report has now been completed. Will the Leader of the House ensure that that report is published and that a copy is placed in the Library? Will he ask the Secretary of State to reinstate section 4 grants for the promotion of tourism, as their absence is interfering with the work of the national parks and local authorities? If not, could we have a statement explaining why they are not to be reinstated and why the report is not to be published?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an authoritative answer on that point without referring to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. However, I will do that and ask what the position is.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the long title of the Football Spectators Bill will actually allow the implementation of the kind of recommendations which might flow from Lord Justice Taylor's report? Is he satisfied, therefore, that the policy that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has put forward is workable?

Mr. Wakeham

These are matters on which there are greater experts than I. The advice that I have received is that, yes, it would be a suitable vehicle. That is on certain broad assumptions about the type of recommendations which might come forward, but I think that the answer is yes.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I wonder whether the Leader of the House can tell us whether he had a long discussion about the Football Spectators Bill at the Cabinet meeting this morning? He need not tell me everything, but did people object or did they just go along with the Prime Minister? Did she just come along and swing her handbag and all the 20 members of the Cabinet toed the line? Is anyone keeping a diary of the events, or is it all left to Bernard Ingham? With the reshuffle coming very shortly and with the Leader of the House having been mentioned in dispatches as one of the likely casualties, I suggest that it is time to get something on paper before he is kicked out. There is no point in being sacked with just a whimper.

Mr. Wakeham

I think that the hon. Gentleman has television on the brain, that is his problem. I can understand that the hard work which Parliament does week in week out, with interventions from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—sometimes from a sedentary position, sometimes not, but mostly ill-informed —is not as exciting as me giving details of what happens at Cabinet meetings. I can understand that that would be a more exciting debate, but I am afraid that I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

While we are talking about women, may I ask whether we could have an early debate on self-defence courses for women so that I may raise in the House the objections, on the grounds of discrimination, of a very large number of men and women in my constituency, and in the rest of the borough of Ealing, to the fact that Ealing council is to use ratepayers' money to provide a self-defence course, for six weeks in May and June, for lesbian women only? May we have a discussion on this discriminatory proposal?

Mr. Wakeham

As happens from time to time, my hon. Friend brings forth from Ealing some strange matters for the attention of the House. He shares with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) a fervent imagination about what might produce an exciting debate in the House, but I cannot promise him a debate next week either.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has announced the business until, effectively, 2 May, would he care to think again about the timetable that the Lord Chancellor has imposed on the Green Papers on reform of legal services? This means that the Green Papers will not be debated in this House before the initial closure date. Bearing in mind the fact that the Lord Chancellor has agreed to meet the judges in mid-May, obviously time for consultation has been extended. It would be quite wrong if the Green Papers, which are said to be White Papers with green edges, were not to be debated in this House before the matter was considered further. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can give us an assurance that, towards the latter part of May, Government time will be given for a debate on the whole question of the reform of legal services.

Mr. Wakeham

No, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. As I have said in previous weeks, of course this matter will be debated, but I cannot promise a debate on the Green Papers themselves. Obviously, any proposals will be debated. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Since today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Herr Hitler, would my right hon. Friend warn Mr. Delors that the last attempt to thrust union on an unwilling Europe was defeated, largely by a combination of the will power of the British Prime Minister alongside the determination of the British people?

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

And the Soviet Union.

Mr. Wakeham

I do not keep a record of the dates of Adolf Hitler's birthday and events of that sort. I have enough to do to remember my own children's birthdays, without bothering with that sort of nonsense. On reflection, my hon. Friend may agree that he was probably a little unfair to Mr. Delors. Although we may disagree with Mr. Delors's recent proposals, I think that my hon. Friend pushes the point just a little too far.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

May I, from these Benches, endorse the plea for a debate on the Health Service, bearing in mind the response from the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was unable to say that anyone had given an unreserved welcome to the Government's proposals?

Is there a possibility that in the near future there will be a statement or a debate on the armed services? I had understood that there might be one next week, but obviously one has not been arranged. Is there a possibility of our having such a debate in the near future, especially as—this is something that we in Northern Ireland have known for some time—undermanning in the armed forces, particularly the Army, stems not simply from a recruitment miscalculation but from the failure, over a number of years, to deploy forces at full strength?

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answered a question about the level of forces, and I recall that the position was not quite as the hon. Gentleman put it. He has asked me whether there will be a debate. Yes, there will be a debate in the not-too-distant future, and I hope that he will have an opportunity then to make his point at greater length.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

May I put it to my right hon. Friend that it is desirable that there should be a debate in this House on the reform of the legal services, if only to give a more balanced view than that conveyed by the debate in another place and by the inept behaviour of the judges?

Mr. Wakeham

There are two ways of looking at that. I would welcome a debate, particularly if we could have some level-headed contributions of the sort that my hem. Friend would make. I wish that I could find the time, but I do not think that I can just at the moment.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a number of district councils in the beautiful county of Nottinghamshire, including the county council and my own Ashfield district council, had a massive debate on mining subsidence in the county? A report has now been submitted which shows that hundreds and hundreds of properties are being severely damaged, yet British Coal is not prepared to accept responsibility. We have had discussions on that before in the House, but it is high time that we had a proper debate so that we can sort out the problem once and for all—it affects hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber—so that those who are getting an unfair deal get a fair deal. I am on my bended knees to the Leader of the House to do something about that.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman is always very persuasive, but I have a suspicion that that matter is more properly directed to British Coal's management than to the House. There are occasions when mining matters are raised in the House. There is one next Tuesday, but it does not seem wholly appropriate. I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate, but I shall check that he is receiving proper answers to his letters from British Coal.

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has ever had an office in 2 Abbey garden or 7 Old Palace yard, but if he has he will know that crossing Millbank is extremely dangerous. I have taken that matter up with the Department of Transport and Westminster city council. The Department of Transport says that Westminster city council is busy drawing up a scheme for Parliament square and Westminster city council says that in drawing up its scheme it is in consultation with the Department of Transport. Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to knock together a head from the Department of Transport and a head from Westminster city council to try to ensure that Members of Parliament and their staff going to and fro between the House and their offices can cross that lethal road in safety?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall look into the matter and see whether I can do anything to help, on condition that in the meantime my hon. Friend takes great care in crossing the road, because we do not want a by-election in his constituency.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

If the Leader of the House cannot persuade the Prime Minister to come to the House to defend her stubborn stupidity in ploughing on with the football identity card scheme, will he arrange for the Home Secretary to make an urgent statement next week explaining how the Taylor inquiry will be conducted? If the inquiry's interim report will be central to the Bill, as we understand it will, a statement from the Home Secretary would tell us whether Lord Justice Taylor knew of today's decision before he accepted the chairmanship of the inquiry, whether he intends to visit other football grounds where tragedies have taken place, including Bradford City, and whether he will make himself available to football supporters in many places throughout Britain and visit clubs in all divisions. It is important that all those points are made clear in a statement next week so that we know precisely how the inquiry will be conducted.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Leaving on one side for the moment his totally unjustified remarks about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, he would be the first to complain if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary came to the House and made a statement on how Lord Justice Taylor was to conduct his inquiry. Lord Justice Taylor will decide how to conduct his inquiry. He has been given terms of reference. I have no doubt that he will do an extremely good job and he does not need advice from the hon. Gentleman or anybody else. He will choose the method that he thinks is appropriate.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the great concern about the continuing destruction of the tropical rain forests around the world, in which contributory factors are the economic policies adopted by western Europe and the United States and the pressure put on countries with tropical rain forests by the World bank, the International Monetary Fund and the EC?

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a full debate about this subject and about the serious climatic changes caused by the destruction of the world's rain forests so that this country can make a contribution towards protecting the world's environment rather than contributing to its destruction?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a serious problem which it would be appropriate for the House to debate. I do not accept his analysis of where the blame lies. The British Government, through the Overseas Development Administration, are doing their best to make a helpful contribution. I should like to arrange a debate, but I cannot promise one in the near future.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that a Roman site of great significance has been uncovered in Upper Thames street? It is said to be the site of a former Roman governor of London, Julius Agricola. Less than six weeks remain in which to survey the site, under present legislation, before it is destroyed for ever. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept from me that it is a site of great importance? Will he make representations to the Department of the Environment, because it appears that current legislation is woefully inadequate to enable sites such as this to be protected? Will he arrange for an early debate so that we may discuss the preservation of sites of archaeological interest?

Mr. Wakeham

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern that the remains of one of his distinguished predecessors, a governor of London, should be properly looked after and preserved. I recognise the serious point of his question and I shall refer it to those who can give him a better answer than I can.

Mr. Ashley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask the Leader of the House to withdraw a comment that he made a short while ago? I asked for funds for the fine work of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the right hon. Gentleman replied accusing me of attacking the commission. He must have completely misunderstood my question. Will he withdraw his accusation?

Mr. Wakeham

I did not think I attacked the right hon. Gentleman in any way. Indeed, I thought I used words which were in support of the Equal Opportunities Commission. But I withdraw anything that I might have said inadvertently. The last thing I would wish to do is upset the right hon. Gentleman.