HC Deb 26 October 1989 vol 158 cc1062-71 4.18 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

With permission Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week:

  • MONDAY 30 OcToBER—Remaining stages of the Football Spectators Bill Lords]
  • Remaining stages of the Brunei (Appeals) Bill [Lords]
  • TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER—Opposition day (20th Allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The crisis for mortgage payers, tenants arid homeless people".
  • Motion on the Licensing and Clubs (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order.
  • WEDNESDAY I NOVEMBER—Until 7 o'clock motion relating to the National Health Service (General Medical and Pharmaceutical Services) Amendment (No. 2) Regulations.
  • Motion to take note of EC document on control of nitrate pollution. Details will be given in the Official Report.
  • The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.
  • THURSDAY 2 NOVEMBER—There will he a debate on economic and monetary union on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Details of the EC Documents relevant to the debate will be given in the Official Report.
  • FRIDAY 3 NOVEMBER—There will be a debate on road safety on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
  • MONDAY 6 NOVEMBER—Progress on consideration of Lords Amendments to the Local Government and Housing Bill.

[Relevant documents:

Wednesday 1 November

Relevant European Community Document

(a) 4136/89 Water pollution by nitrates

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 15-xiv ( 1988–89), para 2

Thursday 2 November

Relevant European Community Documents

(a) unnumbered Economic and Monetary Union
(b) unnumbered Co-operation between Central Banks
(c) unnumbered Convergence of economic performance
(d) 7550/89 European Currency Unit

Relevant reports of European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 15-xxi (1988–89), para 5
  2. (b) HC I5-xxxv (1988–89), para 2
  3. (c) HC 15-xxxv (1988–89), para 3
  4. (d) HC I5-xxviii (1988–89), para 2]

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. I also thank him for doing as we asked and providing prime time for the debate on the GPs' contracts, and also for providing a day for a debate on the Delors report on economic and monetary union.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us when we are likely to have the report of the Clapham rail crash inquiry? Could he also oblige us by not presenting that report to the House next Tuesday, in an exercise of news management intended to keep the debate on the housing crisis out of the first items in the television news broadcasts?

Is there any possibility of an early debate on the release of the Guildford Four and associated matters, particularly as at present the case is not sub judice but should any prosecutions commence it would become so? Can the Leader of the House guarantee that there will be no more instant guillotines announced next week? In particular will he ensure that no more business statements are made without proper notice being given to the Opposition?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his appreciation of the arrangements made through the usual channels for handling the debate on general practioners' contracts and on economic and monetary union. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport proposes to make a statement on the Clapham report shortly. I had not thought of the idea that the hon. Gentleman suggested, but I will bear it in mind. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer on when there will be a debate on the Guildford Four, but I shall certainly look into the matter.

On the hon. Gentleman's final point, I shall have to make, at whatever time and stage it is necessary, whatever arrangements are needed to secure the continued dispatch of the business before the House. I regret that, owing to a misunderstanding, when I intervened last night in a move to report progress—I intended at the same time to make some proposals about the remainder of business—the normal conventions for giving notice were not observed. I apologise for that to the hon. Gentleman and to the other parties. However, the substance of the matter has been for the convenience of the House and such matters may have to be considered again.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Although I fully appreciate the pressure of business facing the Government, it is extraordinary that in the statement on the Commonwealth conference no question was put on a matter which is perhaps more relevant than any other—the independence process in Namibia. Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for either a debate or for a Government statement, where an assurance could be given to the House that the United Kingdom Government will insist upon the 1982 principles being adhered to in Namibia and that they will not recommend that the Security Council should recognise any government that may result from the elections in the constituent assembly unless the 1982 principles have been fully honoured?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot be accountable for topics that hon. Members raise during questioning on statements such as the one we have just listened to. My hon. Friend's interest in Namibia is well known and understood. Of course, Her Majesty's Government are intensely interested in the elections that are to take place shortly in Namibia. We will bear in mind the points that were made by my hon. Friend. I have no doubt that he will be as ingenious as ever in finding other opportunities to express his concern on this matter.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Will the Leader of the House consider an early debate on procedure? Does he recognise that eight Bills this Session have been subject to the guillotine and that there is growing irritation not just in the House but in the other place and outside? The early clauses of Bills are discussed at inordinate length and the later clauses are discussed hardly at all. That is not a satisfactory way of legislating. Will he look again at a process of voluntary timetabling of major Bills from the beginning?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am obviously studying the wide range of proposals that have been made over the years affecting procedures on matters of this kind. However, I cannot promise to come to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman urges upon me. The volume of amendments concerned in some of the Bills—for example, the Children Bill—reflect the Government's willingness to respond positively to the wide-ranging debate that has taken place.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that some of us deeply deplore the decision forcibly to repatriate the Vietnamese boat people. Can we have a debate before that depressing decision is implemented?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am familiar with my hon. Friend's continuing interest in this matter which he has brought before the House on a number of occasions and which he will no doubt raise again. He must recall that the international community has accepted for some time that all those screened out as non-refugees should be returned to Vietnam. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out earlier, it is increasingly feared that voluntary returns cannot provide a comprehensive solution to the problem. However, I shall bear in mind the points that my hon. Friend makes.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

In view of the hon. Gentleman's letter to me, I call Mr. Anthony Banks.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

You are very kind to an old man, Mr. Speaker.

Does the Leader of the House agree that dealing with 48 Commonwealth Prime Ministers is a mere doddle compared with dealing with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) during the early watches of the morning?

As the Prime Minister made quite lengthy mention of elephants and elephant ivory and said—and I disagree entirely—that in certain parts of southern Africa there are large elephant populations that should be culled——

Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway)


Mr. Banks

In southern Africa. Will the Leader of the House please arrange for a statement from the responsible Minister who was in Lausanne for the CITES conference discussing the future of the ivory trade? In view of the fact that in Hong Kong there are so many tonnes of ivory that should be destroyed rather than put on to the market, we must have that debate. There is a great deal of public concern.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Even in response to a question from the hon. Gentleman after some secret exchange with which he is so pleased, I shall not respond to his invitation to pay tribute to his colleague the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

On the serious topic with which the hon. Gentleman is concerned, whatever the differences of opinion, he appreciates that there are differences between the stocks in certain southern African countries and those in other parts of the world. He also appreciates that Hong Kong's possession of substantial existing stock is different again. Clearly it would be helpful to find an opportunity to debate these matters. I do not know whether we will be able to find such an opportunity, but I shall bear in mind the general point that he raised.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Although the House will be grateful for next week's debate on the Delors report on economic and monetary union, that debate is taking place four months after 'the Madrid summit at which we might have had some influence on the Government's thinking had there been a debate at that time. As a former Foreign Secretary with new responsibilities, will my right hon. and learned Friend start to have some sympathy for the point of view that we continually debate European matters either too late in the political process or too late at night and that some reforms in that sphere of parlimentary business really are necessary?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Having been concerned with such matters from the first moment of introduction of the European Communities Act 1972 and the Foster report which laid the foundations of our present procedure, I fully understand the importance of that point to the whole House. As my hon. Friend knows, it is now being considered by the Procedure Committee, and obviously we shall look forward to the opportunity of considering that report when it is forthcoming.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

At Blackpool two weeks ago, the right hon. and learned Gentleman urged his colleagues to do more listening. Will the Government be listening next Monday as Britain's war widows launch their new campaign for justice, a campaign that is massively backed on both sides of the House? Will there be a statement next week and will the Leader of the House put it to his ministerial colleagues directly involved that to listen is to understand and to understand is to want to help?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The whole House will acknowledge that there is scarcely any group whose case is likely to be listened to with more attention than that mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. They will certainly be listened to, although I cannot promise what the consequences will be.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

What plans does my right hon. and learned Friend have for a proper parliamentary debate on the implications of and the implementations of the Polkinghorne report?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand my hon. Friend's interest in the Polkinghorne report which was delivered to health Ministers shortly before the summer recess. Given the speed of recent developments, Department of Health Ministers decided that the new code of practice on the use of foetal tissue for research and treatment should be published without dalay. I shall take account of my hon. Friend's expression of interest in the prospect of a debate.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that when the proceedings of the House are televised, thousands of deaf people will be deprived of their basic rights to follow them because they will not be subtitled? Can the Leader of the House help with that urgent matter because we are being televised in a few weeks' time? May we please have a debate next week?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The point made by the right hon. Gentleman was drawn to my attention in Blackpool two or three weeks ago. It is touched on in the report of the broadcasting Select Committee, and I am examining the matter in the light of those references. I shall do so with more energy in the light of the urging of the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

May I return to the terrible plight of the haemophiliac AIDS victims? We still have not had a statement from a Minister on the subject. The Government's record is extremely good and they have shown their sympathy in the past, but the plight of these people is desperate. If they have to wait for the courts, they will mostly be dead. May we please have a statement next week?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The matter has already been drawn to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health, and the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) has been asking my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) questions about it. I shall ensure that the point raised by my hon. Friend is drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

May I draw the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 1293?

[That this House welcomes the united efforts of Hertsmere Borough Council and the Hindu community to find an equitable solution to maintain the continuity of Hindu worship presently accommodated at Bhaktivedanta Manor in Hertfordshire; and supports the recognition of very special circumstances as defined in planning law, of the needs of the Hindu community in this case.]

It is an all-party motion on Hindu worship and Hertsmere borough council. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot arrange an early debate, will he draw the matter to the attention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, because I understand that the ball is in his court? The matter has been a vexatious problem for several years, but agreement has been reached between the borough council and the Hindu community. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman kindly assist in this respect?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand the significance of the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman. My right hon Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is currently considering appeals against an enforcement note order and a discontinuance order made by the council and also two appeals, including one on a temple and other accommodation that will, in part, replace those activities. He expects to announce his decision shortly, taking into account the possibility of there being special circumstances that could override the strong presumption against development in the green belt.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

May I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said about the haemophiliac AIDS victims and draw my right hon. and learned Friend's attention to early-day motion 1307?

[That this House is gravely concerned by the tragic situation facing 1,200 sufferers from haemophilia who were treated by the National Health Service with the blood product Factor VIII which has subsequently been shown to have been contaminated with the HIV virus; is deeply saddened by the deaths of 100 of these patients who developed full blown AIDS; is seriously worried about the future well being of their families and asks the Government to recognise that the patients are the victims of a medical accident brought about by a lack of knowledge rather than negligence and that they be compensated without the costly, time-consuming process of law during which many of them may die.]

This is, by definition, an urgent matter. I very much hope that it will be possible for the Government to make a statement in this Session.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand, if only for the reason that the point has been raised with me by hon. Members at each of my appearances at business questions, that there is widespread feeling about this matter, and that by definition there is a degree of urgency about it. As I have said already, I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

After the Leader of the House left us this morning, he may be aware that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told the House that a decision on a decommissioning scheme for the fishing industry would be made before Christmas. Given that statement, should we not have a debate in Government time on this most urgent matter so that the House can fully explore the role of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in blocking and sabotaging proposals for a decommissioning scheme emanating from the Scottish Office? I am sure that the Leader of the House will be aware of the urgency of the position, given the crisis in the fishing industry in Scotland. I hope for a favourable reply.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot give an undertaking about the prospect of a debate in any particular form. I can confirm what was implicit from what was said from the Dispatch Box last night—that this is an urgent matter and that the Government are urgently considering the measures necessary to deal with it.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

My right hon. and learned Friend may recall a debate on drug abuse on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on 21 July. Will he consider finding time for another such debate before long, perhaps early in the new Session, to concentrate on the growing and terrible menace of crack? Does he agree that crack not only ruins the lives of those who succumb to it but threatens the public with a spiral of violence by addicts, who need money to buy it? Should not the House continue to give the matter the closest possible attention?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot undertake to arrange a debate on the topic at any particular time. My hon. Friend is entirely right about the need to keep this desperate problem well to the fore of our agenda.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

In view of the exchanges that we have just had on the Prime Minister's statement on Kuala Lumpur, will the Lord President of the Council promise us an early debate on the Commonwealth, because we had some interesting exchanges with the Prime Minister and her Back Benchers? In the debate, it would be interesting to elucidate what she meant when she got on the plane and said to a Daily Mail reporter, "1 think they are jolly lucky that we colonised them, not someone else." It may be that during the debate we should be able to elucidate what the Prime Minister meant by that remark.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman will be able to regale the House with this interrogation when my right hon. Friend has the opportunity to discuss this topic in. for example, the debate on the Gracious Address.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend try to find time for a full debate on the laws of defamation? Several recent events have caused grave disquiet, not just in the legal profession but in the world of journalism. I refer in particular to two recent decisions, one of which was the decision by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to prevent two retired intelligence officers from giving evidence in a libel case. At the same time he is allowing a retired intelligence officer to bring a libel case against a senior academic. We need a debate at the earliest possible moment to clarify the Government's policy on this issue.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot comment on any security matters raised expressly or by implication in my hon. Friend's question. On the wider matter of press relations with the rest of society, no doubt there will be opportunities as the year's business proceeds to discuss these matters.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

May I raise with the Leader of the House a serious and important matter involving the Scottish Office? Will he arrange for a statement to be made next week as a matter of urgency, preferably by the Prime Minister in her role as head of the Civil Service? The Secretary of State for Scotland, through his private secretary and, I understand, with the support of the permanent under-secretary, has given an instruction that all background and discussion documents on Government policy must be sent to the chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland whose office is in Chester street, Edinburgh. Does not the Leader of the House see a serious and dangerous situation in that? If the chairman of the Tory party in Scotland is to get all these documents, why should not the chairmen of the Labour and Scottish National parties and of the Liberal Democrats—all of which are represented in the House—get them also?

I put it to the Leader of the House that, once these lines of communication are open between senior civil servants in the Scottish Office and Tory party headquarters and its chairman at Chester street, Edinburgh, it will be difficult for the incoming Labour Government and their Ministers. once they go into New St. Andrew's house, in a few years' time, to have any confidence that those lines have been closed.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman must understand that the chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland is a member of Her Majesty's Government and receives communications about matters in that capacity. The other office holders whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned—the chairman of other political parties—are not, and I hope for a very long time that they will not hold that position.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I support the call by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) for a debate or statement on the future of the ivory trade. Could such a debate be wide enough to take account of the fact that elephants in some areas are nearly extinct?

May we also have a proper debate on sanctions against South Africa rather than short statements, such as the one that we have had this afternoon, which do not allow all hon. Members who wish to speak to do so? Could such a debate be wide enough to take account of the views recently expressed by Mr. Jim Baker, the United States Secretary of State who said that further sanctions against South Africa would he inappropriate at the present time and that we should support my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her support for President de Klerk as the best means of moving South Africa towards an improvement?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend has made such an all-embracing set of observations on that topic that I doubt the need to provide any further special occasion to discuss them.

Mrs. Ann Clywd (Cynon Valley)

Will the Leader of the House consider having an early debate on Government policy on Cambodia? There was yet another example of double-speak at the Kuala Lumpur conference. The Prime Minister signed a communiqué on the section on South-East Asia which clearly stated the right of the Cambodian people to determine their destiny without foreign interference. At the same time, Jane's Defence Weekly says the United Kingdom has been training Cambodian guerrillas at four secret bases in Thailand over the past four years. Given the great public interest in this subject, people have a right to know exactly where the United Kingdom Government stand on this issue.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Although the hon. Lady may have difficulty in securing any very large space in it, there is to be an Adjournment debate on this topic on Wednesday next week. I shall draw the attention of the Minister who is to reply to that debate to the point that she has made.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle)

Incitement to murder is still a criminal offence in Britain as I understand it. Therefore, will my right hon. and learned Friend make it possible for the Home Secretary to make a statement as to why certain leaders of the Moslem community have remained immune from prosecution under that law and allow the House to express the view that I am sure will be supported by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides, that such incitements to murder have no place in a multi-religious, multicultural and multiracial free society?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The whole House will readily agree with my hon. Friend that incitement to murder should not be tolerated in any society, and certainly not in our own. However, for action of the kind that my hon. Friend has in mind to be taken, a decision has to be made, not by the Home Secretary or any other Minister, but by the prosecuting authorities, who are, no doubt, considering the matter.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Further to the reply that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), will he be more specific about when a debate could be held on the innocence of the Guildford Four and the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings, on the methods that the police used to obtain confessional evidence on which the convictions were made, why that information was not made available to defence lawyers or anybody else during the past 15 years, and the practice of the police investigating the police when malpractice appears?

We should also discuss the operation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974, bearing in mind that my constituent Paul Hill has just been released after serving 15 years for a crime that he did not commit and that he was the first person to be accused under that Act. Does the Leader of the House agree that a debate on these matters is urgent and important in view of the miscarriages of justice that have taken place?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am not able to offer any conclusion about a proposal for a Government debate of that kind. It is clearly a matter that could he considered by the official Opposition as a topic for debate if they so wish. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of the Home Secretary.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House press the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement next week on the Department's response to the Silberston report on the multi-fibre arrangement? The Government do not seem to be sufficiently seized of the serious nature of this report, which affects the clothing and textile industry which employs almost 500,000 people. In Bradford that industry employs about 14,000 people in wool and textile mills. The phasing out of the multi-fibre arrangement, which has been suggested by Professor Silberston, would put their jobs in jeopardy. The report suggests the loss of about 33,000 jobs and it is causing a good deal of concern among workers who have been most helpful and co-operative for many years in the development of the industry. I hope that the Leader of the House will press the Department for a statement so that we can ask questions about it.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Member understands that Professor Silberston's report on the implications of the multi-fibre arrangement for the United Kingdom economy represents the professor's own view. That does not mean that it is not helpful to the Government and others when they are considering this issue. However, I cannot undertake to find Government time for consideration of the report before the House prorogues. I have little doubt that there will be a chance to consider it once we return.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Leader of the House aware that when he had to come to the House to change Government business last night, after midnight, some people said—hon. Members on both sides of the House but particularly Opposition Members—that he had been left holding the baby because of the Whips' inability to keep the troops in? As the right hon. and learned Gentleman probably now knows, the Government have to have 100 people in the Chamber to close a debate. The Leader of the House had to come and pick up the pieces.

One of the bones of contention in that debate, apart from the legislation itself, which is in a tidy old mess, is that the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill is scheduled for consideration next week. It is on——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is the business for next week——

Mr. Skinner

It is on next week, on Wednesday, after 7 o'clock.

Mr. Speaker

But I do not think it was announced——

Mr. Skinner

Sometimes this place is in a hubbub and I know that you cannot hear everything, Mr. Speaker. I know that you turn a deaf ear to some of the words and expletives that are used as well—[HON. MEMBERS: "From the Tory Benches".] If the present Leader of the House had done what the last one did and had had consultations with interested parties about this flawed Bill which had as its chairman an adviser to the British Chemical Engineering Contractors Association, which had some connection with the promoters of——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Yes, but it is indeed set down for business next week and that is the time to make these comments.

Mr. Skinner

But, I mean, the lad is new and I am trying to put him in the picture and explain why the Bill ought to be taken off. If the Government want the Bill they should start it again next year. If the Leader of the House does that he will make a more promising start and he might not get dragged out of bed after midnight.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Chairman of Ways and Means, as the hon. Gentleman knows, has identified the Bill to which he referred for discussion in opposed private business at 7 o'clock next week. During the discussions I have learnt quite a lot about this interesting piece of legislation and I have no doubt I shall learn more next Wednesday, possibly even from the hon. Gentleman. He has not enlightened me greatly in his discussion of last night's proceedings because despite his lurid expectations, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Whip had a well-manned majority in the House. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Sir Geoffrey Howe.