HC Deb 12 July 1990 vol 176 cc470-8 4.34 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 16 JULY—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Motion on the Care of Cathedrals Measure.

TUESDAY 17 JULY—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Motion relating to the Housing Renovation Grants Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 18 JULY—Opposition Day (19th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion on community care.

Motion on the Social Security Benefits (Student Loans and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations.

Motion on the Education (Assisted Places) (Amendment) Regulations.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

THURSDAY 19 JULY—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Government Trading Bill and to the Aviation and Maritime Security Bill.

Debate on motion to approve the first report, Session 1989–90, from the Select Committee on the Televising of Proceedings of the House.

FRIDAY 20 JULY—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 23 JULY—Motion for the summer Adjournment.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

I welcome the fact that, on Thursday, we shall debate a motion to approve the Select Committee's report on televising the proceedings of the House. Will the Leader of the House confirm that, should the House approve it, that vote will be the end of any debate on the question in principle and that any further debates will simply be on procedural matters?

When will the Government make clear their intentions on the poll tax? It is intolerable that we have had to wait as long as we have, and it is particularly intolerable now, in view of the prevarication on community care. Surely the Government owe it to the thousands of people, the sick, the elderly and those who look after them, to make it plain exactly what the Government are back-tracking on on community care and their intentions on the poll tax.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to come to the Dispatch Box to deal with a number of matters? He almost needs to be put on permanent standby. First, will he come here to explain his comments and apologise directly to the House rather than by means of long-distance press releases from Hungary, and to spell out the deep Cabinet splits on Europe?

Will he also, if necessary in a separate statement, spell out the further details of the £411 million in tax concessions on the Rover-British Aerospace deal, on which no one seems to be receiving details from the Department of Trade and Industry? He owes it to the House to explain exactly what has gone on. Is it not a peculiar state of affairs that the Government can always find tens of millions of pounds for undercover deals, but are never able to find the money that is required for the health service or for community care?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That last matter has already been investigated and disclosed as far as is appropriate. There were no hidden tax concessions to British Aerospace or the Rover Group. Their tax affairs have been dealt with strictly in accordance with United Kingdom tax law, with the exception of a contractual arrangement which limits Rover Group's historic trading tax losses. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already said about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He will be answering questions in the ordinary way next Wednesday and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already said, he is still in Budapest.

My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Health and the Environment will be making statements to the House at the appropriate time on community care and on the community charge. The Opposition's decision to debate community care next Wednesday may well provide a convenient opportunity for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to deal with that.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his response to the motion that I shall be tabling on the televising of the proceedings of the House. He is right to say that the vote on that will be yes or no on the principle of whether televising the House should be made permanent. The Select Committee recommends an answer yes to that question, arid if it is answered affirmatively, that will be the end of the matter, short of a decision to reverse it. Next year we shall be considering the mechanics of how to give effect to that decision in the most effective way.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I should like to get on to the debate on rate capping at 5 o'clock. Therefore, I shall allow business questions to go on for 20 minutes. I ask hon. Members to ask questions about business next week and not about other matters.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House what the arrangements will be if we continue the experiment of televising the House or make it more permanent? When would television resume broadcasting? Does it automatically cease at the end of the Session? If we approve televising, when is it likely to take place in a more permanent way?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

If we agree with the recommendations of the Select Committee, for the next Session, broadcasting will continue under the arrangements that currently exist, in exactly the same way as at present. The Select Committee on Broadcasting—as it will then become—will be considering in the early part of the next Session the best arrangements to put televising on a permanent footing.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Since the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has just repudiated three pages of his own vitriol, which has been reported today, can I have an assurance that the Secretary of State will not disclaim reports in Hansard, on Thursday, of what he said on Wednesday?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

No connection of that kind could possibly be drawn.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Does my right hon. arid learned Friend intend to draw the attention of the House to the motion on the second report of the Select Committee on Procedure on questions, which will save approximately £500,000? Ought that not to be on the Order Paper, so that it can be put into operation the moment that we return in October?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As my hon. Friend knows, I share his affection for the recommendations of the Select Committee on that topic, and I intend to table the necessary amendments to Standing Orders as soon as that is convenient.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I recognise that the Leader of the House cannot speak for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, but will he convey to him that the House expects him not to rely upon a vicarious apology, but to deliver a personal statement next week?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is not for the Leader of the House to make arrangements for statements of that kind. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will no doubt read Hansard, as other hon. Members do.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Has my right hon. and learned Friend had time to examine the statement made by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) last week in business questions about the pay of Members of Parliament, which my right hon. and learned Friend said he would consider? Can he say when it is likely that the allowances that we receive to pay our staff are likely to be approved for this year?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Hon. Members' pay is tied, in the appropriate proportion, the national rate for civil service grade 6. Most civil servants with a settlement date of 1 April have settled. The settlement date for grades 5, 6 and 7 is 1 August. Negotiations are continuing. It is not yet possible to say what the revised salary of hon. Members will be. I should make it clear, in the light of what was said last week, that the introduction of merit awards for grade 6 will not affect settlements for Members. I shall look into my hon. Friend's point about staff pay and let him know as soon as possible.

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week saying whether the Prime Minister and the Cabinet were aware of the contents of the article in The Spectator prior to the summit? If they were, did the Prime Minister inform Chancellor Kohl of the article, and the offensive remark of which he would be the subject? Did she know?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That is surely clear from the way in which and the speed with which my right hon. Friend unreservedly withdrew his remarks. They were withdrawn as soon as they reached the light of day.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that there is a serious and rising problem of under-age drinking, which is often caused by adults who buy drink and give it to under-age people, knowing that its consumption will not be supervised? is there time for a debate on this serious issue?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am sure that the House is concerned about under-age drinking, whatever form it takes, but there must be a practical limit to how far we can supervise the extent to which everyone supervises everyone else.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Further to the request for a statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I emphasise that we do not want a personal statement because that would not be the subject of questioning and would finish the whole issue. The Secretary of State gave an interview related to his ministerial responsibilities—trading relations in Europe. We want a proper ministerial statement, subject to questions.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The right hon. Gentleman must acknowledge the importance of the observation made not once but many times in the course of the afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—that my right hon. Friend's observations do not correspond to Government policy and have been unreservedly withdrawn.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Is the Leader of the House aware that many Conservative Members would be happy to give up some Government time next week so that the Opposition have the opportunity to make clear their proposals for the replacement of the community charge? Secondly, is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many hon. Members are happy to welcome the success of the rents-to-mortgages scheme currently being tested in Scotland? Will he make time next week for an early statement on that policy?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot offer the prospect of a statement on that, but I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already commended the case for a study of the Scotland experience. I do not think that there is anything that we can do to induce the Opposition to come here and give their proposals for the community charge.

Mr. D. N. Campbell Savours (Workington)

The Government have totally underestimated the impact of the statement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Can we have a statement from him? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not realise that, in every European capital, the Secretary of State will now be held in contempt? He will be viewed with suspcicion and treated with derision—yet he represents British interests. On behalf of British industry, the Government should sack that man, because he no longer represents British industry and trade.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There is nothing whatever to be added to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said about that. The Secretary of State's remarks do not in any respect correspond to Government policy. They have been unreservedly withdrawn, and the House will long wish that the day never comes when the hon. Gentleman becomes the spokesman for British trade and industry.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend initiate a debate next week on early-day motion 1263?

[That this House rejects the concept of trial by media; finds the personal attacks, smears and allegations against the national officials of the National Union of Mineworkers by unscrupulous elements of the media and two former employees of the Union offensive; notes that payments have been made to Messrs. Windsor and Parker to make accusations against the national officials; further notes that the Union of Democratic Mineworkers; use bogus Soviet miners to make false allegations against the National Union of Mineworkers; congratulates the miners and their families for their magnificent fight against the Government and the full might of the state machine in the 1984–85 strike which cost the taxpayer £8 billion; welcomes the decision of the NEC to completely clear the national officials of the allegations published in the Daily Mirror and broadcast on Central Television's Cook Report; further notes that the sequestration and receivership of the National Union of Mineworkers' funds did not end until July 1986, and the continued legal actions on the charge of breach of trust against the national officials and trustees was not dropped until 1988; understands the difficulties faced by the Union since the end of the strike in which period all trade union loans have been repaid; and assures the National Union of Mineworkers of its full support in its struggle to defend the British coal industry.]

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this would be an excellent opportunity to discuss the extraordinary shenanigans carried on by the NUM and Mr. Scargill during the miners' strike a few years ago? Is it not truly incredible that 52 Labour Members are prepared even at this stage to associate themselves with and support the doomed and discredited Mr. Scargill?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is absolutely right that there should be an investigation of the serious matters to which my hon. Friend has referred. I am sure that the House will feel that Members of the Opposition who are sponsored by that union should give particular attention to the matter.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there has been a second serious spillage of oil in the River Mersey? Does he not agree that the measures taken by the National Rivers Authority are apparently not a deterrent to oil companies which encourage them to take the necessary safeguards? Will he press the Secretary of State to come to the House next week and make a statement on that serious matter so that things can be put right? The penalties appear to be as much of a deterrent as a slap on the wrist with a feather duster.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's propositions in the form in which he puts them; nor can I promise the prospect of a debate. However, I can certainly bring his remarks to the attention of the chairman of the National Rivers Authority and of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Can my right hon. and learned Friend find time next week to allow a short debate on the affairs of the National Union of Mineworkers to allow Opposition Members—not least the Leader of the Opposition—an opportunity to explain the uncomradely haste with which they are all queuing up to stick the knife into the NUM's leader? Only a few years ago, they were lionising him as a great hero of socialism and of labour, and the Labour party has always been happy to accept his funds.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot offer the prospect of a debate in Government time, but there will be many opportunities during the debate on the motion for the summer Adjournment and in debates on the Consolidated Fund to addres that issue.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Leader of the House reflect on his response to the request for a statement on Government policy on the poll tax? May we have an assurance that there will be two statements—one from the Secretary of State for the Environment and another from the Secretary of State for Scotland? If notice is to be taken of the Scottish experience in respect of house purchase, the House should surely have an opportunity to question the Secretary of State for Scotland separately on the Scottish experience in relation to the poll tax and about the fact that 500,000 Scots are still resisting payment.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

In so far as the territorial Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales can appropriately make separate statements, that will happen in due course.

Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)

I draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend to early-day motion 1263 in the names of 52 Opposition Members.

May I beg and urge my right hon. and learned Friend a third time to allow an early debate next week? That early-day motion is an insult to the people of Nottinghamshire, abuses the privileges of this House, impinges on the integrity of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, and would allow Opposition Members who were right up with the president of the NUM during the miners' dispute to support him still further. If and when he is impugned and has the handcuffs put on him, he will sing like a canary—and God help Opposition Members then.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I entirely understand my hon. Friend's concern, not least in respect of what is said about members of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. As I told the House when the matter was raised on Tuesday, I am sure that all who joined the UDM are profoundly glad that they did so. I hope that their colleagues in the National Union of Mineworkers will continue to take effective action in their own union.

Mr. John Hughes (Coventry, North-East)

In deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), May I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that the Prime Minister attends a further summit. I refer to the summit that is the subject of early-day motion 1231.

[That this House is deeply concerned that an estimated one hundred million or more children will die of hunger over the next decade, if the unequal distribution of food and resources continues; recognises that Britain's commitment to the attainment of a humane solution to this pressing problem will be demonstrated by the Prime Minister heeding the call of the World Development Movement and attending the World Summit dealing with this priority issue on 29th September 1990.]

That summit will deal with the horrific problem of an estimated 100 million children who are dying of starvation. The Government can demonstrate their priorities by ensuring that the right hon. Lady attends that important conference.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot give that assurance, but I promise the hon. Gentleman that the Government share the concern of the whole House about the threat of starvation confronting children. We are contributing £8.3 million to UNICEF this year, plus additional funds in response to special appeals. We are also participating in the preparations for the world summit for children. The question of the attendance of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the world summit has not yet been decided.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

As the Law Lords dance on the point of a needle in determining whether a 1972 Act of Parliament gainsays the provisions of a 1988 Act of this Parliament, may we have a Government motion, and a debate thereon, asserting the sovereignty of the British people in legislative matters, as endorsed in the expression "the sovereignty of Parliament"?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That question raises an immensely fascinating range of propositions. I would rather leave it with the Law Lords' recent judgment on the matter than attempt to comment myself at this moment.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Reverting to an earlier reply by the Leader of the House, does he not accept that a spillage of 15,000 gallons of oil about 1 km long into the Mersey today represents an ecological and environmental disaster? Will be explain why no statement has been made this afternoon? Will he assure the House that the Secretary of State for the Environment will, when he visits Merseyside tomorrow on a scheduled visit, be asked to visit the site of that disaster and to explain why it is that Shell, which was responsible within the last 12 months for an identical spillage, could have allowed such an incident to have occurred again?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I fully realise the importance to the communities concerned of such a spillage. If it is the case that a spillage on that scale has occurred in comparable circumstances to the one that happened not long ago, that is of even more concern. I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's suggestions to the specific attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, who will no doubt consider how he should react.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend himself explain next week what happened to the proposed new arrangements that he promised before Easter, to allow constituents to shelter from bad weather when visiting the Line of Route? Those arrangements have not yet been introduced, and it is high time that they were.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend has taken a close interest in that issue, and he will know that the completion of such arrangements seldom proceeds as expeditiously as it should. I shall look into the matter, and I will be in a position to answer him more directly next week.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Surely the burning question of the hour is the poll tax—the so-called community charge. Criticism of it as being unjust and oppressive have been directed at the Government, and clearly it is unacceptable throughout the country. It is certainly unacceptable north of the border, where, according to capitalist law, the poll tax should not be imposed. It comes back to the point that this House—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must point out to the hon. Member that we are to have a debate on that issue in a few minutes' time. The hon. Member must ask a question about next week's business.

Mr. Brown

If hon. Members choose not to pay the poll tax, what force of law will be used against them? I am one of those who is not only refusing to pay but telling the working classes not to do so and to fight back. What will the Government do about that?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall study the text of the hon. Gentleman's remarks in Hansard, to see whether or not they contain a question that I might be required to answer.

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

Next week's business includes an Opposition day. Can my right hon. and learned Friend say whether the Opposition will set aside an hour and a half, say, of that day to allow Government Members to debate early-day motion 1263, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) referred, and the Scargill factor? Some of the contents of that motion would be deemed illegal in the private sector, and we want to debate that aspect next week.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand why my hon. Friend wants to debate that issue, but I do not believe that the particular device he has suggested is one that it is open to me to adopt.

Mr John P. Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week to allow a debate on the future of the Lome convention after 1992? The right hon. and learned Gentleman may be aware that more than 70 per cent. of the bananas imported into this country come from the Windward islands through the port of Barry. If the Lome convention is discontinued after 1992, that will devastate both the economies of our former colonies and trade in Barry. The House has not carefully considered the trading link between Britain and the third-world countries in the run-up to 1992.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As someone who studied the passage of banana boats to the port of Barry from my earliest childhood, I emphasise the importance of the hon. Gentleman's general point. I cannot give him an immediate answer on the Lome convention, but I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement tomorrow on the fact that, for the third time in as many months, it has been announced that the drinking water in Norman Shaw South is untouchable and must be boiled before being drunk? If the Mother of Parliaments is to be treated worse than a third-world country, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggest a way in which right hon. and hon. Members can have bottled drinking water provided to them?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Lady will be glad to know that the Parliamentary Works Officer has informed the Serjeant at Arms that the Government chemist has now confirmed that the drinking water supply in the northern block of outbuildings has received a favourable test result and that drinking water supplies throughout the building are now perfectly safe and may be used without risk—[Interruption.] Let the hon. Lady be patient. Of course, I am no more delighted than she is that such reports have been made more than once in the past few weeks, and I shall certainly follow up the point that she has raised.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Will the Leader of the House make provision next week to allow the House to consider the EC regulations allowing VAT to be charged on electricity? If parish halls and village halls in rural areas do not use a certain amount of electricity, they could be charged VAT, and that would have a devastating effect on the economies of those villages. Will the Leader of the House provide time for us to discuss those important regulations which were introduced only on 1 July? Members of Parliament are now feeling the wrath of villages about VAT on electricity charges.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot offer the prospect of a specific debate on that, but it seems an appropriate subject to be raised in the debates on the summer Adjournment or the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall carefully keep a list of hon. Members who were not called today and I shall ensure that they will have some precedence at business questions next week.