HC Deb 17 January 1991 vol 183 cc997-1004 4.34 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)

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

MONDAY 21 JANUARY—Debate on the Gulf.

Motions relating to the membership of the Health and Social Security Committees.

TUESDAY 22 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Export and Investment Guarantees Bill.

Motions relating to the establishment of European Standing Committees.

WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Community Charges (Substitute Setting) Bill.

Motions on the Scottish housing support grant orders. Details will be given in the Official Report. THURSDAY 24 JANUARY—Debate on economic and monetary union on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 25 JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 28 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Ports Bill.

The House will also wish to be aware that, in view of the business we have before us, the Government do not propose to move the Census (Confidentiality) Bill [Lords] today. I shall announce the revised arrangements for the debate on another occasion. I am authorised to say that the Chairman of Ways and Means proposes to defer consideration of the opposed private business put clown for 7 o'clock today.

[Debate on Wednesday 23 January:

Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order

Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order

Housing Revenue Account General Fund

Contribution Limits (Scotland) Order

Opposition Prayer (EDM 290).]

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

I believe that everyone in the House will welcome the Government's decision to hold another debate on Monday on the serious position in the Gulf. Is the Leader of the House able to give us any more information yet about the nature of that debate? Will he give us an assurance that the Government have not ruled out the possibility of another statement in the House tomorrow so that we can all continue to be properly informed about developments in the Gulf?

Given the explicit threat from Iraq, repeated on more than one occasion, that this war will be waged "elsewhere", is there not an urgent need to review the security arrangements in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster and the House? Can the Leader of the House confirm that there has been an urgent look at security arrangements and that there will soon be proposals to heighten the level of security, not just for Members but for everyone who works in the Palace and all those who visit us daily?

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the revenue support grant orders, which will form part of the several statements to follow, will soon be debated fully by the House so that, although we have statements now, we will have proper time to debate the orders when they are finally made?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to the hon. Member for the way in which he has approached these matters and his welcome for Monday's debate. The motion for the debate and the speakers are under consideration. I hope that the motion will be tabled on the Order Paper tomorrow.

As to his question about another statement tomorrow, and statements generally, I simply do not know what the position will be tomorrow. In general terms, I hope that it is clear from the decision we took about Monday's debate that we are not only keeping the House fully informed about developments in the Gulf, but are also giving opportunities for full debates. Clearly, I can therefore given the hon. Gentleman the general assurance that he seeks.

I can confirm that there has been an urgent review of security. I know from discussions that I have had with Members from both sides of the House that they are concerned about security. A number of steps are being taken to tighten security arrangements in the present circumstances, and the position will be continuously under review. One such step will be the wearing of passes for everyone within the precincts of the House—that will include Members, except when they are in the Chamber. Similar consultations are under way with regard to the other place.

Orders regarding matters to be raised shortly in further statements will be laid in the normal way. I can confirm that there will be a debate on those orders and I hope that that debate will take place in the reasonably near future.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. In view of the many questions put to the Prime Minister during the earlier statement, I appeal to hon. Members to confine their questions to the Leader of the House to the business next week and not to raise wider issues.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

My right hon. Friend will know of the wide interest in the House in receiving as much information as possible about the events in the Gulf, next week and beyond. He will be aware of the limited opportunities that Members have to receive information on television. The existing television rooms may be wholly inadequate to accommodate all hon. Members who want to be kept abreast of the news. Has my right hon. Friend any information about additional television facilities to cater for colleagues who want to watch what is going on?

Mr. MacGregor

I know that there has been interest in this matter, and my hon. Friend has already raised it with me. Today and tomorrow Committee Room 13 will he available as an additional television viewing room for Members, and next week this additional facility will be provided in Conference Room J on the lower ground floor secretaries' area.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

May I thank the Leader of the House for saying that there will be regular reports and statements and a debate next week on the Gulf?

As regards the other vital foreign affairs issue, the Baltic states, will the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary be prepared to make statements on that important issue, not least because, answering a private notice question yesterday, he said that one of the reasons for not referring the matter to the Security Council at this stage was that there was still a possibility of a conference on security and co-operation in Europe. Now that that has been rejected by the Soviets, may we look forward to a statement on the Baltic states as soon as possible?

Mr. MacGregor

It is clear that there will be considerable pressure on the business of the House in current circumstances, and we must bear that in mind. But the fact that the Foreign Secretary answered a private notice question yesterday was a clear sign that he is anxious to keep the House informed on these issues, and we will have to judge the situation day by day. I shall certainly bear the hon. Gentleman's point in mind.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

I should like to thank the Leader of the House for giving me foreknowledge of the fact that he was going to defer today's important debate on the Southampton Rapid Transit Bill. I fully understand his reasons: I know that President Bush and the Prime Minister deserve priority, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give me adequate warning, through his Department, so that I can instruct everyone again and we can defeat this miserable Bill.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's understanding of today's postponement, which is in the interests of the House. This is primarily a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means, but I shall pass on my hon. Friend's request to ensure that he receives adequate notice of when the Bill will next come to the House.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Will the Leader of the House give serious consideration to Welsh Questions next week? As he knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) passed away and his funeral is to be held on Monday afternoon. Twenty-seven questions have been tabled, 15 of them by Labour Members, 13 of whom intend to attend the funeral in Neath. Would it be possible to change the time of Welsh Questions, following which there is a serious debate? Could Welsh Questions be transferred to another day next week, or could some other arrangement be made, since not only Labour Members but the Minister of State and Tory Members representing Welsh constituencies will attend the funeral?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. MacGregor

I should like to express my deep regret at the death of the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) and my sincere condolences to his widow and family. I am not sure what is possible within the rules of the House, but I understand why the matter has been raised and I shall look at it straight away.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

May I point out to the Leader of the House, further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), that there is a danger of the continuing deterioration in eastern Europe being overlooked in the Gulf crisis? It is a question not only of the Baltic states but of the threatened disruption of Yugoslavia, and the continuing difficulties of Romania and Bulgaria. May we before too long have a debate on eastern Europe so that these important matters can be discussed?

Mr. MacGregor

We are all extremely conscious of the seriousness of all these matters—it is merely a question of when we debate them. I shall bear my hon. Friend's point in mind.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

Would the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement on the Government's contingency plans for conscription, and ask him to clear up the rumour that the Ministry of Defence has placed an order with the Glasgow firm Collins to provide 2 million conscription applications and ration books?

Mr. MacGregor

If the hon. Gentleman looks at Hansard, he will find that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was clear on this point on Tuesday.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Croydon, North-West)

Would it be possible to broaden the housing debate next week to include two subjects causing great concern in Croydon? The first is the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation by the council, and the second the position of the homeless. The problem is that bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Croydon is costing the community charge payer vast sums of money; secondly, as a result of the legislation on homelessness, huge numbers of undeserving cases are jumping the queue into council houses and genuine cases are having to wait. Could these subjects be included?

Mr. MacGregor

I quite understand my hon. Friend's concern and that of many people in Croydon about these matters, but not by the widest stretch of the imagination, in respect of the business of the House for next week, could I extend Croydon to Scotland. I suggest that there may be other ways in which to raise these legitimate matters.

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

May I welcome the increased television facilities in the House which the Leader of the House has announced? Many of us feel less informed in this House than are the vast majority of the population who can watch BBC and ITV. Given the extremely good coverage by Cable News Network, would it be possible to have it installed in the House? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make a special attempt to get it, in the next few days if possible.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall look at the matter that the hon. Lady has raised.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

The Leader of the House will know that many Members on both sides are concerned not only about events in the Baltic states but about the destruction of the growing democratic movements in the so-called former autonomous republics of the Soviet empire. Will he bear in mind the point made by hon. Members on both sides about the need for an early statement or debate, as and when appropriate, on the dissolution and anarchy within the Soviet empire?

Mr. MacGregor

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said. I cannot add to what I said earlier, but his point adds weight to those that others have made.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Has the Leader of the House looked at early-day motion 299, one of the few ever signed by more than half the Members of this House?

[That, in the opinion of this House, paragraph (2) of the third Resolution of this House of 19th July 1983, which provides that resettlement grants for former Members should not be payable to a person who has attained the age of 65 years before the dissolution of the present or any future Parliament should no longer have effect, and that the following new provision should be made: (a) That the resettlement grant should not be payable, on the dissolution of the present or any future Parliament, to any person who has attained the age of 65 years at the dissolution of the preceeding Parliament; but That (b) regardless of age, a person who has completed a total of 20 years' service as a Member of this House becomes eligible for the grant when it becomes payable under the first paragraph of the third Resolution of 19th July 1983, irrespective of whether that service was continuous, subject to paragraph (3) of the said Resolution.]

When was the last time that happened? What is the right hon. Gentleman's view of the sentiment expressed in that motion?

Mr. MacGregor

I could not have missed early-day motion 299 given the number of signatories to it. The position on the issue raised in it is fairly clear: it has been looked at by the Top Salaries Review Body on more than one occasion and the arrangements that we have are those recommended by thhe TSRB. I do not want to go into detail now, but. I do not think it will be possible to debate the matter next week. I have today tabled on the Order Paper notice of the introduction of the Ministerial and Other Pensions and Salaries Bill, which we shall debate before too long. The resettlement grant issue in early-day motion 299 is, however, quite separate from that Bill—it is a distinct issue. The arrangements in the Bill do not apply to the way in which the resettlement grant is operated. Nevertheless, it may be possible for some hon. Members to raise tangentially on that occasion the issues that concern them in early-day motion 299.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Without detracting in any way front the importance of Monday's debate, will the Leader of the House try to find a date for a debate on famine in Africa where thousands of people are dying today so that we can consider putting the same kind of determination, energy and money into solving that problem that has gone into the Gulf?

Mr. MacGregor

As I said the other day, the Government share the hon. Gentleman's concern about that matter and that is why we had a statement just before the House rose for Christmas. The hon. Gentleman will understand the pressures on the business of the House next week, which means that I cannot promise anything in Government time, but there are other ways in which the subject can be raised when the Government will be happy to respond.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Will the Leader of the House allow an early debate next week on the coal mining industry because of the uncertainty that is hanging over it as a result of the statement made by Mr. Baker, the chief executive of National Power? Long-term waste disposal by British Coal in my constituency necessitates a private Bill in the House and if there is doubt, or if there are to be changes to the mining industry, there could be substantial consequences for my constituents. Such a debate is needed urgently because that Bill is due to start its passage in the other place by the end of this month. We need an early debate on the future of the mining industry.

Mr. MacGregor

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. Clearly, there will be no opportunity to debate the matter next week, but if he wishes to develop the points that he has made today other opportunities are available to him in the House.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Will the Leader of the House extend Monday's debate beyond 10 o'clock so that Mr. Speaker is not put in the invidious position whereby if the same Privy Councillors who have risen on each of the three previous occasions rise on Monday no time will be left for Back Benchers?

Mr. MacGregor

There was a great deal of agreement that last week's arrangements were the right ones, hut, as I have already said, the arrangements for Monday's debate are under consideration.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the announcement of motions on Monday on the Health and Social Services Select Committees and on Wednesday on the European Standing Committees, but what was the result of the right hon. Gentleman's self-appointed task during the Christmas recess to consider the question of the Northern Ireland Select Committee? Let democracy be returned to Northern Ireland as well as to Kuwait.

Mr. MacGregor

I have to confine myself to the business for next week. The motion concerning the European Standing Committees is on Tuesday. Those are two urgent matters which it is important that the House resolves quickly.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Why are we to have an early bath tonight with the censoring of the Census (Confidentiality) Bill and the disappearance of private business? If the House had dealt with that business, it would have been able to deal with any emergency in the Gulf.

Mr. MacGregor

It is for the convenience of the House. It is clear that this afternoon's statements will continue for some considerable time and we then have an important debate on the Ibbs report on which we must take the views of the House and that will take up a great deal of today's parliamentary time. Therefore, it was thought to be for the convenience of Members generally to arrange business in this way.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Is the Leader of the House aware that some aspects of security in this place seem to be working extremely well? Is he aware that as I came through New Palace Yard this morning I was stopped by a policeman who had never seen me before in my 25 years here and found it somewhat incredible that I was a Member of Parliament?

Mr. MacGregor

I had better not comment further on that.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

In view of the speed of events in the Gulf, and the predictability of Gulf debates mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), would not it be better if we arranged a daily statement, or one every two days, on the situation in the Gulf so that responsible Ministers could come to the Dispatch Box, more Members could ask questions about what is going on and more information could be more readily imparted to hon. Members rather than us hearing the opinions of the same Members?

Mr. MacGregor

No, it is much better to judge when statements or debates should take place as and when the need arises. I should have thought the amount of time that the House has given to the Gulf since we returned from the Christmas recess is a clear measure of our willingness to debate the matter frequently. I agree entirely with the Leader of the Opposition when he said in his opening question to the Prime Minister earlier today that that very fact demonstrates the superiority of democracy.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Does the Leader of the House agree that we are closing down for the weekend when we are at war and would it not be a good idea to have a two-hour debate on Saturday and Sunday? The Halifax Evening Courier nightly carries pictures of young men and women, and anxious desperate relatives. Would not they have something to focus on if the House were sitting? These are grave times. Surely to sit for a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday would be the right thing to do to keep informed those who are so desperately worried about what is happening when there could be an escalation of the fighting and many casualties over the weekend.

Mr. MacGregor

I have already emphasised our commitment to keeping the House fully informed, but on some of the matters to which the hon. Lady refers there are many other ways of giving that infomation. It does not always have to be done through the House. It is much better to judge when the House should deal with such matters as and when the need arises.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

It is right and proper that statements and debates on the Gulf war take precedence over other business, but I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will impose the 10-minute limit on speeches on Monday.

May I urge the Leader of the House to give serious consideration to an early debate within the next week or so on the recommendations made by the public inquiry into the Piper Alpha tragedy? I should have thought that that report needs to be debated in the near future because of the serious concern felt by all the families of the men and women employed on rigs and production platforms. They deserve nothing less than an early debate in the House of Commons.

Mr. MacGregor

I will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman says, but we must debate many pressing matters in the coming weeks in addition to the debates which usually take place at this time of year. All that has to be fitted in with the need to report on the Gulf as and when the need arises. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that the business of the House is under heavy pressure and I cannot promise him a debate on that in the near future.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

The motions relating to the European Standing Committees do not appear in today's Order Book nor in the Order Book that I have just obtained from the Table Office. When will those appear and how will they differ from the orders that the House passed before Christmas?

Mr. MacGregor

They have been on the Order Paper. There are not only the orders that I have laid, but there are amendments to them. I have seen them on the Order Paper, but if they are not there today I shall make sure that they are there tomorrow.

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