HC Deb 09 February 1989 vol 146 cc1129-44 3.30 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 next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 13 FEBRUARY—Until seven o'clock private Members' motions. Timetable motion on the Official Secrets Bill.

TUESDAY 14 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Local Government and Housing Bill. Motions on the farm and conservation grant regulations and scheme.

WEDNESDAY 15 FEBRUARY—Consideration in Committee of the Official Secrets Bill (3rd Day).

Motion to take note of EC Document relating to Community/United States trade relations. Details will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 16 FEBRUARY—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Official Secrets Bill.

FRIDAY 17 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 20 FEBRUARY—Opposition Day (5th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion.

Subject for debate to be announced.

[Debate on Wednesday 15 February: Relevant European Community document: 4296/89 Community-United States Trade Relations Relevant report of European Legislation Committee: HC 15-vi (1988–89), para 3.]

Mr. Dobson

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the statement. Will he tell the House why he considers it necessary to curtail next week's debate on the Official Secrets Bill? Until now, the Committee stage has taken only two days. On both days it was the Government who decided to adjourn the debate, when the opposition on both sides of the House were willing to continue. Is there nothing that the Government think merits full debate—not even the Official Secrets Bill, which goes to the heart of the relationship between the citizens and the state? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is disgraceful that the House of Commons cannot find time to debate that fundamental relationship, particularly when there are doubts on both sides of the House, and when names such as Foot and Churchill are among those of right hon. and hon. Members who speak against the Bill? Will the Leader of the House reconsider the matter?

In view of the general confusion that exists between the Prime Minister and her Ministers at the Department of the Environment, will there be a statement next week to clear up, once and for all, whether, in preparation for the implementation of the Water Bill, private water companies are to raise their charges by 30 per cent. to 50 per cent.?

When are we to have the promised debate on the Fennell report on the King's Cross disaster? The right hon. Gentleman will recall his promise that there would be such a debate. The Fennell report was published on 10 November, and it is time that it was debated.

Finally, and still on the subject of debates that have been promised for a long time, will the right hon. Gentleman say when the House will debate the Barlow Clowes affair? Or have the Government kicked Barlow Clowes' investors into touch, in the same way that they kick into touch everything that they find embarrassing?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman asked me four questions about next week's business. The first one concerned the timetable motion relating to the Official Secrets Bill. No, I will not reconsider the question of a timetable motion. A great deal of time has already been taken by the House on this subject. We had a debate on the White Paper last summer. The Bill received a full day's consideration on Second Reading, plus two sittings of a Committee of the whole House lasting, in total, about 13½ hours. We are still only on clause 1 and need to make progress. The timetable motion that I shall table later today will be generous by any standards. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the signals that we were getting from the Opposition as to how late they wanted to sit were not entirely consistent. I will say no more than that.

Secondly, with regard to the question of water charges, there will not be a statement next week so far as I know, but I will refer the point to my right hon. Friend. I believe that there will be plenty of time to discuss these matters as the Bill makes progress.

Of course, I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concern that there should be a debate on the Fennell report. I have promised him one, but I am sorry that I cannot promise that it will take place in the immediate future. I certainly recognise that there is a need for a debate.

With regard to Barlow Clowes, I have indicated that there are inquiries going on. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration is investigating the complaints, and I believe that we should wait until his report is available before having a debate in this House.

Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

While the Official Secrets Bill contains a number of good features, it also contains serious abridgements on the right of free speech. Does my right hon. Friend not think, on reflection, that it is perhaps rather overdoing it for the Government to attack both the freedom of the press and parliamentary discussion at one and the same time?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise my right hon. Friend's strong feelings on this matter, but I think he should recognise that the Bill will replace section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 with provisions that prohibit only those disclosures of information that would be harmful to the public interest. It is a measure which, far from extending the scope of the criminal law in this area, greatly limits it. It is also, I have to say, unashamedly a measure to protect the vital interests of the state, the interests of a democratic Government in a free society.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I am sure the Leader of the House has seen the very disturbing advertisement in the national press—put in by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—with regard to the killing of dogs following the abolition of the dog licence. Can we expect that in the next week or so the Government will bring forward regulations under the Local Government Act 1988 to institute a dog registration scheme?

Secondly, given the devastation of the floods in Inverness and Easter Ross, can we expect a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland next week announcing emergency aid for that area? One cannot help cynically thinking that if there had been such an occurrence in Kent or Surrey it would have been elevated to the status of a national crisis.

Mr. Wakeham

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, I greatly deprecate what he has said. However, I recognise his concern for his constituents and for the area, and I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend.

With regard to the question of dog registration, the Government have made it clear that they do not consider that a registration scheme would do anything to assist the welfare of dogs or their control, and there are no plans to implement section 37 of the Local Government Act.

Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with regard to the reform of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, the debates so far, however important and worthy, as indeed they have been, have been largely repetitious—about the same principles and issues? Given that this is a reforming and liberal measure, the sooner we make progress with it the better.

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At one point in last week's Committee stage I noticed that there were only 11 Members on the Opposition Benches, and for a period of three hours they numbered fewer than 20.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there are 14 private Bills on today's Order Paper, all of them with blocking motions? Does he recall that, at the start of the Session, he undertook to arrange an early debate on private Bills procedure? Would he like to redefine "early" or guarantee that we will have a debate before Easter?

Secondly, is not the real reason for the guillotine on the Official Secrets Bill that the Government have no supporters for the measure?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman's last point is patently absurd, as the Government won every vote on the Bill by a substantial majority. On his first point, I have undertaken that we shall have a debate on that very important report and I shall arrange it as soon as possible.

Mr. Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is really completely unjustified to introduce a guillotine on the Official Secrets Bill? There has been absolutely no suggestion of either side deliberately protracting the proceedings. In what everyone, including the Home Secretary, agreed was an intensely concentrated debate last Thursday the number of supporters of the Government was minimal. This is a complicated and difficult Bill which goes to the heart of the safety of the realm and the freedom of the individual, and a Conservative Government, above all, ought to give proper time for discussing those two matters.

Mr. Wakeham

I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is an important Bill and that it deals with very important subjects, but I do not agree with him that we are not giving proper time for debate; I believe that we are. If my right hon. Friend had read the recent report of the Procedure Committee, he would know that that Committee believes that all Bills should be timetabled at the beginning to ensure that there is proper debate. I do not go along with that view completely, but there is a case for a timetable motion to ensure proper debate on all parts of the Bill.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

The Leader of the House will be aware of the widespread public concern about the food industry and the conflicting and confusing statements made by the Government on certain aspects of it. Does he not agree that it is time that the House was given an opportunity to debate the matter and that a statement was made on the food industry, and especially on salmonella?

Mr. Wakeham

I did not agree with what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his question and it is not surprising, therefore, that I do not agree with his conclusion. We recently had a debate initiated by the Opposition on the food industry and the Government's case was expressed extremely well by my hon. Friend on that occasion. A Select Committee is considering aspects of the matter, and it would be more appropriate to consider what is the right time for a debate at a later stage.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to early-day motion 287, signed by 56 Opposition Members, attacking the Government's action in deporting Viraj Mendis?

[That this House unreservedly condemns the action of the Home Secretary and Minister of State, the honourable Member for Mid Sussex, in ordering the police to break in, by force, to arrest Viraj Mendis who has been in sanctuary in the Church of the Ascension in Manchester; notes with grave concern the violation of the sanctity of the church premises; and demands that he be allowed to remain in Britain until the efforts being made by the honourable Member for Manchester Central and others to find him asylum in another country have been successfully completed.]

Now that we know that Viraj Mendis battened on to the social security system and lied and cheated to stay in this country, may we now have a debate on that early-day motion so that we may show up the gullibility of Opposition Members?

Mr. Wakeham

The full facts of that case have been well displayed and people now understand it much better. I agree that there could be occasion for a debate, but I do not think that I can promise my hon. Friend such a debate in the near future.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the growing argument in Kent about railway lines to the coast? Is he aware that there has been marching through the towns of Kent and that 1,000 people followed Peter Pan, otherwise known as the Mujahadeen from Bexley——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must refer to each other by constituency.

Mr. Skinner

The right hon. Gentleman is not worried in the least. He is like De Gaulle——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman may not be worried, but I am.

Mr. Skinner

In view of the growing concern, and as the Prime Minister's husband has joined a society complaining about the railway line passing their back garden in Dulwich, is it not time that we had a debate on the subject?

Mr. Wakeham

Those of my hon. Friends who are concerned about the welfare of their constituents do not appreciate the kind of contributions that the hon.

Gentleman makes to our discussions. These are serious matters and should not be the subject of flippant and irresponsible remarks from the hon. Gentleman.

I understand that British Rail is still considering the route options identified in the report published last July. British Rail will need to seek statutory authorisation for whichever route it finally chooses and the House will therefore have an opportunity to debate these matters fully. A private Bill is the accepted procedure for the authorisation of new railway works.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

While I am always extremely grateful for the close interest in the affairs of my constituents consistently taken by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), I wish to ask my right hon. Friend about a slightly different issue. As my right hon. Friend has said, British Rail is about to produce a Bill for a £1½ billion civil engineering project. Many of my hon. Friends feel that the procedures by which the House debates projects of that size and type leaves something to be desired, not least because any committee established to examine the petitions will, by its very nature, exclude anyone with a particular knowledge of Kent. As it is a national issue, can we have a debate on the methods by which private Bills for projects of this scale are debated?

Mr. Wakeham

Absolutely. We can have such a debate and, as I have said, the vehicle for that debate will be the very important report of the Select Committee considering private Bill procedure. We shall have a debate soon, but merely having a debate will not change the rules under which Bills are introduced this Session. There must be consideration, and legislation may well be brought in to change the procedures.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

The Leader of the House will understand the feelings on both sides of the House and in the country about the long and protracted situation of British hostages being held in the far east. Without being critical, is he not aware that the nation needs to feel that the Government are saying something about what they are doing? Although it is a sensitive issue, surely our intelligence and diplomatic services should be giving the Government some information, and the Government should be seen to react in such a manner as to give the families of the hostages and British people some idea that the Government are actively concerned.

Mr. Wakeham

Of course the hon. Gentleman is right that if the Government were able to say something it would allay public concern to some degree. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in such matters and he will know that many of the discussions and negotiations are delicate and difficult and it could be positively damaging to say anything publicly about them. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend and if he considers that there is an opportunity when it is right to say something I am sure that he will do so.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that after giving due consideration to the weighty views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who was a former distinguished Conservative Chief Whip, common sense indicates that the number of issues to be discussed in the Official Secrets Bill are somewhat restricted, have been much repeated and are likely to be repeated on the three occasions next week for which he has set aside time for discussion of that Bill? In those circumstances, is not a guillotine wholly justified? Perhaps my right hon. Friend might consider guillotining all Bills so we can get home at reasonable hours.

Mr. Wakeham

I do not go along with my hon. and learned Friend's final remark, but I believe that a timetable motion is justified and that I have allocated plenty of time to discuss all the outstanding issues.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Bearing in mind that the Government are a signatory to the European Court of Human Rights, will the Leader of the House make a statement next week on the decision by the Minister of State, Home Office not to take into consideration the decision reached by the court in regard to Mr. Berrehab and Mr. Abdulla Hanna Yousef?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise a statement, but I shall certainly refer the matter to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Can my right hon. Friend give an instance when, on a constitutional issue, a guillotine has been introduced after merely 13½ hours, particularly when, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), the former leader of our party said, the issue touches upon the basic rights and needs of society? In 1989 when the Government first introduced legislation on the matter, the Government themselves introduced the amendment that led to the public interest debate. Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that there was no need for a guillotine then?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend refers to the Bill as a constitutional measure. Although it deals with powers of the state, as do many Bills, it does not affect the constitution. I understand a constitutional Bill to include such measures as the Scotland Bill, which was guillotined by the last Labour Government, the Wales Bill, which was guillotined by the last Labour Government and the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill, which was guillotined by the last but one Labour Government. I do not accept that argument.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Will the Leader of the House take note of early-day motion 374?

[That this House views with alarm the potential safety hazard from the substantial quantity of uranium carried by many United States built civilian aircraft as counterweights; notes that the growing stockpiles of depleted uranium and the low price at which it has been sold by the United States Government has led to its substitution for tungsten; notes that in the event of high temperature fires that could arise after a crash rapid oxidation of depleted uranium can occur leading to the release of toxic uranium oxide particles; notes that the inhalation hazard from the 1,000 lbs of depleted uranium in a Boeing 747 aircraft could put about 250,000 people at risk; calls upon the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement detailing plans for the protection of rescue personnel and local residents in the future and to make strong representations as a matter of urgency to Boeing to replace this highly dangerous ballast; and requests the Secretary of State for Transport to include the question of any possible danger of radioactivity from the depleted uranium used as counterweights and ballast in the airplane that crashed at Lockerbie as part of the inquiry into the Lockerbie disaster.]

It deals with the use of depleted uranium in aircraft as ballast and counterweights. Given that a Boeing aircraft caught fire and crashed two days ago—the third to crash in two months—will he arrange for an early debate on the hazards of using depleted uranium? Depleted uranium gives off toxic particles of uranium oxide, and when alight can endanger as many as 250,000 people. Low radiation is given off even if it is not alight, and many experts are revising their opinion about the dangers of that.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the hon. Lady's concern, but there is little, if any, potential hazard from depleted uranium counterweights in commercial aircraft. The possibility of a crash involving a severe fire in the tail section is remote because of its distance from the jet fuel cells. If there were a fire in the tail section, temperatures high enough to generate sufficient amounts of airborne uranium are unlikely, if not completely impossible.

Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes)

I remain completely in favour of the timetabling of the Committee stage of every Bill, but how can my right hon. Friend claim that one day is enough for the remainder of the Committee stage of the Official Secrets Bill? Is my right hon. Friend aware that I, and I suspect one or two others, came to the House last week knowing little about the Bill, but that having listened to the arguments, I am convinced that the Government have not a leg to stand on? If he insists on a guillotine next week, will he ensure that the Chief Whip makes certain that the Government Back Benches are full so that Back Benchers may listen to the arguments and draw their own conclusions?

Mr. Wakeham

I hope that as many Back Benchers as possible will be present to listen to the debate. The timetable motion that I am tabling supplies not one but two extra days for the Committee, which is rather more than my hon. Friend suggested. I think that that is enough, and I hope that my hon. Friend, and other hon. Members who wish to, will take part in the debate.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Will the Leader of the House assist me by obtaining next week an answer to a question that I put to the Secretary of State for the Environment on 19 January, to which I have so far been given only a holding answer? The question asked how many football matches and grounds had been visited in an official capacity by the Minister responsible for sport. I cannot believe for the life of me that the answer can be many, otherwise the hon. Gentleman would not be pursuing the ludicrous football spectators scheme.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman spoilt his question by the last part of it because that does not follow in any way. I was about to respond in a spirit of helpfulness and make inquiries about where the answer is for which the hon. Gentleman is waiting. In spite of his remarks, I will still do so.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

In view of the tragic death earlier this week of an 18-year-old girl from a British territory in the Caribbean, may we have a debate this week about the crazy rule that requires the Health Service to provide free treatment to citizens of French islands in the Caribbean but not to citizens of British territories? Can my right hon. Friend think of anything more vital, urgent or important to discuss than why a girl should die because she did not receive an urgent heart operation that would have been possible if she had lived 50 miles away on a French island?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend has raised a point which, I know, concerns a number of people, but I cannot give him the answer today. It is a subject that goes back a long time and is concerned with the Community rules and the way in which they were formed. I recognise my hon. Friend's concern, but I cannot promise a debate next week.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House give time for an early debate on concessionary television licences? Is he aware that, since his Government tightened up the regulations last year in a mean way, many elderly people feel aggrieved that they do not have access to cheap licences?

Mr. Wakeham

The way in which the changes were made was the best in the circumstances and was a result of a court case that upset the arrangements that had operated for a number of years. I recognise the hon. Lady's concern, but I cannot promise an early debate on the subject.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Will my right hon. Friend help me out of a "tight" corner by allowing a debate in the near future on the subject of shopping facilities for essential items in the House? At least 20 colleagues kindly told me today that I have a large ladder at the back of my stockings, which shows that not everybody's eyes are on higher things. There is nowhere within 20 minutes where I could go to buy stockings. I point out to my right hon. Friend that I can buy alcohol, tobacco and chocolates here, but that is not much good when one has one's tights in a twist.

Mr. Wakeham

Even if we had a debate on the subject, as my hon. Friend wants, I regret to say that the position at the end of the week would be the same as it is now.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the Laganside Development (Northern Ireland) Order and the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order have been referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments? May I also draw to his attention the fact that the orders will have a great impact on urban renewal in Belfast city and the whole countryside of Northern Ireland, yet the Committee does not contain one Member from Northern Ireland? Does that mean that Northern Ireland Members will not be able to participate in the debate on matters that will fundamentally affect urban and rural communities in Northern Ireland? Will the Leader of the House make time to enable Northern Ireland Members to participate in those two major orders, which so much affect our own communities?

Mr. Wakeham

I am sorry about what the hon. Gentleman has said, as I recognise that he has a legitimate feeling of grievance. It is sometimes difficult in setting up Committees to achieve an exact composition when so many hon. Members are anxious to serve on such important Committees. I am sorry that that is the position, but I cannot promise time on the Floor of the House in the near future.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

It seems clear from what the right hon. Gentleman said today, and on other occasions in the House, that the people of Northern Ireland have had their democratic rights taken away by this Government. Will the Leader of the House look at the matter of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, a meeting of which took place yesterday? Once again, shamefully and contrary to what I understood to be decent parliamentary practices, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland failed to come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement. Will the Leader of the House force his right hon. Friend to give up talking to the press privately and off the record and to come, instead, to speak directly to the elected representatives here, so we can know what has been done and said in the name of the people of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Wakeham

I think that that is very unfair to my right hon. Friend, who has been forthcoming and open and who frequently speaks in the House. Indeed, he was answering questions earlier this afternoon. I shall refer my hon. Friend's comments to him.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will the Leader of the House challenge on Monday the fact that there were no examples of filibustering, prolonged speeches or unnecessary interruptions on the Official Secrets Bill? Will he tell the House when there has been so much opposition to a timetable motion from Conservative Members before? Is he not aware that the accusation will be that the Government are using their majority in a corrupt way to push through the Bill?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman, who claims to be a democrat, seems to be very upset about somebody having a majority for anything with which he disagrees. He will have to wait until Monday to hear the points that I have to make. I shall make my own speech in my own way and I shall not take advice from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

May we have a debate next week on the position of the Health Service in rural areas because women in my constituency are outraged that the Leicestershire health authority took no notice of their protests against proposals to close the maternity unit in Oakham? If consultation is to mean anything, those proposals should have been dropped—not confirmed yesterday—after all the protests.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the concern of my hon. Friend and his constituents about that matter. I wish that I could promise him an early debate, but we shall be having a debate in the not too distant future on the wider question of the Health Service review which was published by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health last week.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House press the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement next week on the water industry? As millions of people are facing monster increases in water charges, will he press the Secretary of State to introduce rebate arrangements to help pensioners and others on low incomes to pay their water bills? Will he also press his right hon. Friend to introduce a complete ban on water disconnections, which are increasing rapidly? Finally, will he understand that many of us now think that the Yorkshire water authority is more secretive than the Masons, since it is banning the press from committee meetings on water quality and restricting information on its financial affairs? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Yorkshire water authority has applied to be subject to the Official Secrets Act?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman raises a number of issues but the one thing that was consistent throughout was that they had nothing to do with water privatisation, and that is for sure. Nothing in the privatisation proposals would justify the sort of increases that have been suggested and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has invited the chairmen of those companies which are proposing rises of more than 10 per cent. to explain their proposals to him. We had better wait for that meeting.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye)

Having successfully caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, on three successive weeks, to invite my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to state his views on early-day motions 249 and 250, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he has come to a conclusion about the merits of those motions which are supported by 208 hon. Members on both sides of the House?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Price Marking (Petrol) (Amendment) Order 1988 ( S.I., 1988, No. 2226), dated 20th December 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd December, be annulled.]

[That this House notes the recommendation of the Trade and Industry Select Committee that petrol prices should continue to be displayed in gallon as well as litre term on boards visible from the roadside; notes that the Price Marking (Petrol) (Amendment) Order 1988 will remove this requirement with effect from 23rd January; and calls for a debate on the Order.]

Mr. Wakeham

As my hon. Friend is aware, he had a meeting in his capacity as Chairman of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. My right hon. Friend has now written to my hon. Friend confirming that the Select Committee's comments and the early-day motions have been carefully noted and that he is considering what further steps can be taken towards the common objective of ensuring that price differentials are clearly shown in order to protect the consumer.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the test case on behalf of 2,000 widows in the 40–45 age range concerns my constituent, Mrs. Doreen Whitbread, and that the tribunal ruled that the retrospective impact of the regulations was unfair and invalid? As the Prime Minister has said, the Government are still taking up that case, presumably because of their exceptional meanness. When can we have parliamentary time to try to persuade the Government to accept that judgment and pay the widows?

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has dealt with the hon. Gentleman's point and I have nothing to add.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

So that the House may make its own judgment about the predictable complaint from his right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who, unaccountably, is not in his place, will my right hon. Friend give Mr. Speaker now —or if not now, will he circulate it in the Official Report —a list of those occasions when the right hon. Gentleman, whether as Prime Minister or as Patronage Secretary, imposed a guillotine upon proceedings in the House?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend makes his own point, but I am not concerned with what happened in the past. I am concerned with the present Session of Parliament and the Bills that have to go through. Each timetable motion that I introduce can be justified on its own merits in the circumstances of the time, and this one is no exception.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the textile industry? There is great apprehension about the negotiations on the multi-fibre arrangement, which is vital to the future of the textile industry, particularly in Bradford which has lost a number of jobs, particularly over the past 10 years? In addition, water privatisation concerns not only workers and pensioners who are worried about increased prices, but employers in the textile industry who have expressed strong opposition to the Government's proposals. Therefore, a debate is even more urgent.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that the multi-fibre arrangement is important, but I cannot promise an early debate on the matter. However, I note that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is answering questions on Wednesday and if the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he may care to press him then. I treat with some scepticism the hon. Gentleman's remarks about privatisation and employers because nothing in our water privatisation proposals justifies increases in prices.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern over the mounting evidence of abuse of the contracting-out system for the political levy and the continued existence of closed shops in Britain? Will he give the House an opportunity to debate those important issues and to bring forward examples of those abuses so that changes can be made in the Employment Bill before it leaves the House?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government are well advanced with their review of the operation of the pre-entry closed shop. The December White Paper entitled "Employment for the 1990s" made it clear that the pre-entry closed shop was a barrier to employment. The Government will also be considering many other areas of industrial relations and trade union reform.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Will the Leader of the House give some consideration to early-day motion 176 on the fate of Mr. Charles Bester?

[That this House condemns the decision of the South African courts to jail for six years 18 year old Charles Bester following his conscientious objection to serving in the South African armed forces; notes his statement in court after hearing his sentence, 'you shall know that truth and the truth shall set you free'; and calls upon the South African government to immediately release Mr. Bester.]

He is an 18-year-old Anglican who has been jailed for six years in South Africa for refusing to join the South African defence force. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, considering that 87 hon. Members from all parties have signed that motion and that 55,000 people from churches all over Britain have signed petitions calling for his release, the Foreign Secretary should give further consideration to placing pressure on the South African Government for Mr. Bester's early release?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government reject the early-day motion to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Such decisions are a matter for the individual concerned. However, we understand why some South Africans choose to refuse to do military service and respect the sincerity of their views.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are those among us who supported the Official Secrets Bill on the ground that much of it is desirable but who find it impossible to accept the guillotine motion on a measure which has attracted its most intelligent criticism from Conservative Members?

Mr. Wakeham

The judgment about a timetable motion should be whether the time allowed is adequate for proper and balanced discussion. My motion stands up to that test and that is why I hope that my hon. Friend will support it.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 398 calling for the resignations of the Secretary of State for the Environment and of the Minister for Water and Planning?

[That this House deplores the announcement by the Water Companies Association that up to a quarter of all households face increases in their water bills this year of between 30 per cent. and 50 per cent. as a direct result of water privatisation proposals; demands a full and proper explanation from Her Majesty's Government as to how such a situation could arise from a proposal which Ministers have said will be good for the consumer; and calls for the immediate resignation of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister for Water and Planning]

On the off chance that that advice is not taken, will the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment so that hon. Members may learn why up to one quarter of households face an increase of up to 50 per cent. in water charges as a direct result of a measure which the Secretary of State told the House and the country would be good for the consumer? Will he accept from me that it is not good enough to say that the matter can be dealt with in Committee as hon. Members on both sides of the House want to discuss it, particularly those hon. Members from the north-east of England, where up to 1.5 million households will be affected?

Mr. Wakeham

I can deal with it straight away. I entirely reject the allegations made by the hon. Gentleman. He was talking complete nonsense, and the matter does not bear close examination.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Could I reinforce the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), because anything that can be done to prevent our right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) from developing hypocritical tendencies will be helpful to his place in the history books?

Mr. Wakeham

I have quite enough to do to organise the business of the House and to keep it running smoothly. I have announced a timetable motion for the Official Secrets Bill next Monday, and I shall be happy when that debate is over.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Since curried eggs have given the general public a good run for their money in more ways than one, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will ensure that the former Health Minister, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), pays into the public kitty—the Exchequer—the proceeds from her forthcoming book? We should remember the important principle that no Member of this House should benefit from public office. She will certainly benefit from that book.

Mr. Wakeham

I do not believe that that proposition stands up to any inspection at all. There are long-standing traditions and rules about the way in which we conduct ourselves in public affairs. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is at all helpful.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

There has been speculation in the press today that the Government's programme to relocate Civil Service jobs in London is to be accelerated—up to nine tenths has been mentioned. The move to take jobs to the areas where people need jobs is most welcome. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that move, and can we expect an early debate?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not disagree with the general thrust of what my hon. Friend has said. However, this is not the time or place to make an announcement about Government policy in that area.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week or in the near future to debate the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and the need to extend it to give anonymity to people in employment who have spent convictions and have served a prison sentence? Will he also take time to read early-day motion 403?

[That this House questions the judgement of the North London Polytechnic governors in permitting the employment to take place of an Irishman connected with terrorism and who was convicted and imprisoned for offences related to explosives and is concerned that this person is in a position to influence young people at taxpayers' expense.]

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr. Cryer) has tabled an amendment:

[Line 1, leave out from judgement', and insert 'and justice of those honourable Members who seek to vilify viciously and hound an employee of the polytechnic of North London who has served a punishment for a crime and has then sought and sustained work in the community; and regards with abhorrence those who seek to force such people into perpetual unemployment and isolation merely in order to obtain political capital from a media which shares their own questionable values.'.]

Does he not think that the actions of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) in publicly naming and condemning someone who has a spent conviction and is working legally and properly in my constituency is a disgrace? The right hon. Gentleman should not have done so. The spirit of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act should mean that there is anonymity, so that people can get on with the rest of their lives, having served their sentences.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman's concern for individuals is a bit one-sided. If I had heard from him some appreciation of the understandable anger at the way my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was treated when he visited the polytechnic of North London, I would have considered his comments to be of more value. The polytechnic is an independent institution which is responsible for the employment of its own staff.

Mr. Corbyn

The right hon. Gentleman is taking it out on someone else.

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

Has my right hon. Friend noted on the Order Paper today motions 39, 40 and 41, which in one form or another have appeared almost daily ad nauseam and, more to the point, at great public expense? Two of those motions seek to change the procedures of this House and the other seeks a massive increase in our allowances. Are there not more proper ways to pursue those sorts of issues? Is my right hon. Friend not amazed at the effrontery of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) who seeks to finance his administrative empire at the cost of nearly £100,000 per year? Is there no way in which this paperchase can be stopped?

Mr. Wakeham

I can understand my hon. Friend's anger, but the question of the right of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) to put matters on the Order Paper is not for me. I am sure that the rules of the House have been observed and the hon. Gentleman is entitled to do so. Whether he furthers his cause by repeating these motions on the Order Paper is, of course, a matter of judgment. I do not believe that it is a matter on which I should comment.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Has my right hon. Friend noted early-day motion 397 that was tabled yesterday?

[That this House expresses its grave concern at the continuing existence of the National Dock Labour Scheme; deplores its debilitating effects on the economies of the port areas, most of which are in inner city areas; notes that the Scheme has presided over a decline in the number of registered dockers from 78,000 in 1947 to less than 9,500 today; notes the Wharton Econometrics Forecasting Associates Group study that 45,000 extra jobs would have been created in the ports but for the Scheme; observes the need to clear these restrictive practices well before 1992; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to make the necessary arrangements to abolish the Scheme and set our ports free.]

It already has the support of 129 hon. Members and it expresses growing concern about the continued inactivity of the Government. Does he recognise that this motion represents the frustration of many hon. Members who represent port constituencies at the continuing collapse of our wharfs and port companies, notably in Grimsby and Aberdeen recently? Does he recognise also that we are missing many opportunities brought about by the advent of 1992 for distribution centres on behalf of major companies from abroad, which are now going to the continent due to the adverse effects of the dock scheme in our own British ports?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government understand the strong feelings of many hon. Members about the dock labour scheme. I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I have nothing further to add to the statements which have been made previously.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

My right hon. Friend will recall that during the last Parliament on a number of Opposition Supply days we debated the north/south divide? In view of the dramatic improvement in the north-east and the economic recovery of that region—which was led by the example of the Chancellor's activities—does my right hon. Friend agree that, as the Opposition refuse to debate this subject publicly and to give it an airing during Opposition time, the Government should find time to beat their own drum about the excellent way in which the north-east of England has recovered?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree with my hon. Friend. The way in which the subjects for Opposition Supply days have changed over recent months is significant. I believe that the Opposition, too, recognise the great improvement that there has been in the economic fortunes of all parts of the country. I wish I could find time for a debate on the north-east in Government time, but at this time of year there is a substantial legislative programme to get through, and I fear that I must concentrate on that, tempting as my hon. Friend's request is.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

My right hon. Friend will no doubt appreciate the importance of the Channel tunnel to many parts of the country, especially the English regions and Scotland and Wales. Will he consider giving time for a debate in the House on the connections between the regions and the tunnel? No doubt my right hon. Friend appreciates that British Rail is considering its plan, and it could probably benefit from listening to the views of many hon. Members who represent those regions and who could help it to plan for the future.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the fact that British Rail would certainly profit from listening to the views of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. I wish that I could find time for a debate in the near future, but I fear that it will be difficult.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

In the light of the sustained criticism from both sides of the House of the proposed guillotine on the Official Secrets Bill, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government are playing into the hands of those who want a written constitution? Does he agree that, where a Government have a vast majority and propose to reject government by consensus, that should be balanced by the Government being especially respectful of the rights of the House of Commons? Would it not be better to risk wasting parliamentary time than to have the Government appearing heavy-handed?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree with most of my hon. Friend's propositions, but, having weighed those propositions, I have concluded that it is now the right time to introduce a guillotine motion on the Official Secrets Bill.

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)

May I provide an antidote to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), the hon. Friend of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), and ask my right hon. Friend to reflect on previous Labour Governments which guillotined authentic constitutional Bills, such as the one on devolution, and, in his rack and thumbscrew phase, our right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who guillotined the most serious constitutional measure that this House has seen this century—the European Community Bill? Can I ask my right hon. Friend to get on with liberalising the law on official secrets as soon as possible because, by some miracle, a future Labour Government may come into being and carry out their policy of instituting more prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act than any other party?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend is right. Whether or not a guillotine should be used—as I believe the bishop once said on another occasion—is "a matter of principle that has been settled". We are just haggling about whether this is the right time or not. I noted an interesting comment by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), to whose utterings and sayings I always look before moving a guillotine motion. He said: it is constitutional Bills for which guillotines are most required.…the House should not give the impression to anybody…that there is something extraordinary, improper or contrary to our traditions in the application of timetable motions to constitutional Bills."—[Official Report, 16 November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 585.]

I bow to the right hon. Gentleman's knowledge.

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