Column 886(f) HC 22 v (1986-87) para 3 and HC 22 viii (1986-87) para 3.]
Mr. Dobson : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. First, can he yet tell us when we can expect a statement that the Government have changed their policy on the inclusion of mortgage interest rates in the retail prices index?
Secondly, may I remind the Leader of the House that the Standing Orders of the House require the establishment of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? He is responsible for this long-running breach of Standing Orders and breach of faith with the people of Scotland. He and his colleagues are quick to chide others for anything that they think contravenes our rules. Will he try to keep them himself, or does he just think that the rules apply to the Opposition? When will he either set up the Scottish Affairs Select Committee or give us the promised half-day debate about not doing so?
Thirdly, 10 December sees the 40th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on human rights at a time when half the countries of the world have political prisoners, a third of them use torture and Britain still persists in exporting leg irons to several of them? Finally, will he tell us when we are to have the first Opposition day debate? We have now had 20 days of Government business of one sort or another since the last Opposition day debate and we did not get a fair share in the last Session. When shall we have the first bit of our share in this Session?
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) is a hard person to please. We have just completed six days of debate on the Loyal Address, during which the Opposition chose the subjects for debate. However, I recognise that, under our Standing Orders, the Opposition are entitled to days, and I shall see to it that those are provided. I shall do my best to arrange a debate as soon as possible. The exact date is best discussed through the usual channels. As for the other questions raised by the hon. Gentleman, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with the question of the retail prices index. As he is well aware, there are no present plans to make a change in that matter. Of course, any change would have to go through the proper processes, if it were contemplated in the future. With regard to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, as I have said repeatedly, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the events. I have put up proposals that are unacceptable to the Opposition, which I deeply regret. I have also offered a time for a debate and I understand that that was not acceptable either. However, I certainly intend to arrange a debate on this matter before Christmas and suggest that the exact timing is best left for discussion through the usual channels.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that human rights are an important matter. I am sorry that time does not permit me to arrange a debate on the day that he suggested. However, there will be occasions between now and Christmas when hon. Members who believe that there are points to be made on that subject will have the opportunity to do so.
Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove) : Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the number of "take note" motions on European legislation that we have had recently late in the evening? Such legislation is reviewed by the Select Committee on European Legislation, but, by the time it reaches the Chamber, it is already in force.
Some of those matters, such as that affecting the motor industry, have considerable financial implications. If our colleagues in the European Parliament are unable or unwilling to exercise control over the Commission in this matter, it is most important that Members of this House should be informed so that the interests of their constituents may not be prejudiced by the matter going through without any effective discussion before the decision is taken. Will my right hon. Friend therefore look at the matter and consider finding time for a debate on it, as I am sure that many hon. Members are concerned about the present practice?
It is difficult to choose the right moment for these debates. If we have the debates too early in the process, many things have changed before the time for decision has come. Sometimes, particularly at the end of a presidency, things happen very rapidly and we fail to have the debate in the time that we should find it most useful to discuss those issues. The Government believe that these debates are valuable and helpful to negotiations, so it is not I who wish to deny these debates. It is simply a practical difficulty, which I shall do my best to overcome on a day-by-day basis.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Just as the failure of the House to set up a Scottish Select Committee is a reflection of the Government's weakness in Scotland, is it not also a fact that the Scottish provisions for privatisation of electricity, coming in the same Bill as those provisions for England and Wales, are another reflection of that weakness? Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that at least two days will be devoted to the Second Reading of the Electricity Bill to ensure that the very distinctive Scottish provisions get a proper hearing?
Mr. Wakeham : I do not accept either of those points and, judging from the way in which the hon. Gentleman put his questions, he did not expect me to. I do not accept his interpretation of the position of the Scottish Select Committee. I suspect that we are in this difficulty because of the lack of realism in some parts of the House, but that is another matter. [Interruption.] However, it is a matter for the debate, when it comes.
With regard to the Electricity Bill, the way that the Government are proposing to proceed, by a Second Reading of the Bill as published on 12 December, is the best way forward.
Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst) : My right hon. Friend has, as is customary, given us the business for next week, but for no more than next week. Does he appreciate that it would not only be for the convenience of Members, but would enable us to do our job better, if we could sometimes have notice of the programme of business a little further ahead?
I imagine that my right hon. Friend is at present discussing with our right hon. Friends the dates for Second
Column 888Reading debates on a number of Bills that have recently been introduced. Would it be possible for him to consider allowing us to be privy to what is accepted to be a provisional future programme of business so that we can do our job better rather than keeping it to himself until the Thursday of the week before?
I recognise the force of my hon. Friend's remarks, but I do not see an easy way of altering the current practice. If my hon. Friend or any other hon. Members have a particular interest, we try to be as helpful as we can and give any possible indication of approximate dates.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : When is the subject of televising our proceedings likely to return to the Chamber? Some of us-- particularly hon. Members with certain political views--are deeply concerned at having to sit here hour after hour trying to intervene in debates and Question Time and never being called. Is it not time for the House to be televised so that our constituents and the people in the country can see that we are at least trying to raise matters that they are anxious about, even if we are not always successful?
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman is far too modest in these matters. My impression is that, in spite of the difficulties under which he labours, he seems to be able to put across his view forcefully. The House will be the poorer if he does not continue to do so. Like other hon. Members, the hon. Gentleman does not always get exactly what he wants, but he does pretty well for all that. The hon. Gentleman spoke about televising the House. It would not be right for me to anticipate the decisions of the Select Committee considering that matter. It is a complex matter and we are working hard on it. We are making good progress and those of us who spend every Monday evening on the matter will be happy to bring a report back to the House of Commons as soon as we can and for the House to decide what to do then.
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : Will my right hon. Friend undertake to find time between now and the end of the calendar year for a debate on the Channel tunnel fast rail link? Is he aware that options 1 and 2--for north- west Kent--are wholly unacceptable to the people of Dartford? Is he aware that, if the Government allow no opportunity for debate in the near future, the first opportunity for Kent Members to debate the matter for the benefit of their constituents will be on the British Rail private Bill, which will be introduced in the autumn of 1989? That is totally unacceptable to us in Kent.
Mr. Wakeham : I understand the importance of the subject to my hon. Friend and his constituents. I cannot promise a debate before Christmas, but there will be occasions when he will have an opportunity for ventilating the points about which he feels strongly.
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : Will the Leader of the House reflect on the answer that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) on setting up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? We who are not privileged to know the workings of the usual channels are entitled, as the House is, to be
Column 889given some idea of his thoughts on the matter. Is it not an affront to Scottish opinion--especially when former Conservative Members of the House are talking about a more equal Union--to have, encapsulated in one Bill, the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board privatisation and the South of Scotland Electricity Board privatisation along with electricity privatisation in England and Wales? It is an affront to our equal Union and the Leader of the House, who has strong responsibility here, will put the Union in jeopardy if he continues to behave in this way.
Mr. Wakeham I do not accept that for a minute. It would be a bigger affront to the House if I sought to make the speech that I intend to make when we have a debate on the Scottish Select Committee in the middle of business questions rather than at a proper time and in a properly arranged debate. A motion will be tabled for that debate and it will be tabled in good time. It will enable the hon. Gentleman, should he be called, to make his contribution. I hope that he will not continue to make sedentary interventions, which do not help matters.
Mr. Douglas --with all due respect.
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : Is it not highly regrettable that on Monday, after 10 pm, we shall discuss an important European measure, when this week in Parliament there have been three similar debates after 10 pm? Would it not be more helpful if some earlier time could be made available--perhaps at 7 pm, as for private business--for some of the more important Euro-measures so that the House could consider them properly and Ministers did not have to stay up until 1 am, but could have a reasonable rest and pay the measures proper attention?
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : In view of the Carlisle report on probation, after a summer in which the police stations of England have occasionally been filled to overflowing with prisoners and after another year in which judicial sentences seem to be becoming longer and the rights of defendants are under even greater threat with the threat to the right to silence, does the Leader of the House agree that it is time that we had a debate in the near future on sentencing and how we deal with convicted persons? Surely the time has come when there must be some other solution. If the other place is allowed to discuss the matter, as happened the other day, this House should be able to discuss it, so that we can at least give some vent to our feelings. That may influence how the judiciary and other authorities deal with convicted prisoners.
Mr. Wakeham : I have some sympathy with that point. It is a perfectly reasonable matter for debate, but I have to arrange Government business and, as the hon. Gentleman will willingly agree, some aspects that he raised will be relevant to a number of Bills before the House. The subject that he raises is eminently sensible for an Opposition day, and I suggest that he talks to his hon. Friends on the Front Bench.
Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Lemington) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is becoming urgent that we should have a debate on the future of the Post Office? Does he recall that we had a serious strike in the summer which damaged small business considerably? Is he aware that there is industrial action at post offices now, particularly in the west midlands? People are becoming worried, and I hope that he will take that on board.
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : The Leader of the House was good enough to tell his hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) that we should perhaps consider a forward programme. He is introducing the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill next week. On the horizon--and suggested in this morning's press--over the next two or three weeks are the Security Service Bill and the so-called reform of the Official Secrets Act 1911. When considering this legislation, one should remember the background of GCHQ and legislation for the prevention of terrorism. We are facing a major question of freedom, as it is under attack in a number of ways. I ask the Leader of the House not to introduce the remaining two Bills on the secret service and Official secrets at least until after Christmas so that some consideration may be given to the totality of repression that is being introduced in so short a time.
Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow) : Will my right hon. Friend give the House an early opportunity to remind those who say that it is impossible for an Irishman to receive a fair trial in this country of the case of Shannon and McGlinchey in 1985? They were both extradited from Dublin to Belfast and one of them was accused of murdering a Unionist Speaker of Stormont and his son. They were both acquitted.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : When will the Leader of the House make time available for an early debate on the important issue of the allocation by the Home Secretary of more officers for the county and Metropolitan police forces? He will recall that, when the matter was last debated in the House, hon. Members from all parties expressed the concern felt by people who live in Leicestershire that no extra police officers had been allocated to Leicestershire for 1988-89. As a decision is imminent, does the Leader of the House agree that we should have a debate on this important issue?
Mr. Wakeham : I agree that these are important matters, but I cannot promise Government time for the debate. However, there will be opportunities that the hon. Gentleman can use. If the hon. Gentleman is in any doubt about it, I am sure that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), who is an expert in raising constituency matters, will give him advice.
[That this House deplores the recent sentence of two years probation given to a man found guilty of sexual abuse of his 12 year old stepdaughter ; considers that the reported statement of Judge Sir Harold Cassel, Q.C., when sentencing the defendant, that his wife's pregnancy led to a lack of sexual appetite in the lady and problems for a healthy young husband' effectively condones the crime of sexual assault ; and therefore calls for the dismissal of Judge Sir Harold Cassel.]
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Members on both sides of the House wish to discuss that motion at the earliest possible moment so that we can all make it absolutely clear that this House does not consider that a wife's pregnancy is justification for sexually molesting young girls, nor that probation is a sufficient sentence for sexually molesting children of any sort?
Mr. Wakeham : I have seen the early-day motion and I recognise the strength of feeling. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is considering these matters, so it is right for me to make no further comment.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), does the Leader of the House accept that the workings of the usual channels on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee have been particularly murky since they have denied access to information, not only to individual hon. Members but to parties which wish to see the Committee established? Is his promise of a debate before Christmas to be taken any more seriously than his promises last Session that there would be a debate before the House rose in November? Will such a debate be on a positive motion or will the Government merely give up the attempt ever to establish the Committee?
Mr. Wakeham : I do not accept for a minute that any promises I have given to the House have not been fulfilled. I share the hon. Lady's concern about the workings of the usual channels in this matter, because they have not been able to produce a solution which is satisfactory to both sides. For that reason we shall find time for a debate and it will be on a motion to resolve the matter. I cannot announce the terms of the motion now.
Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : If we cannot have a debate next week on the Post Office, can we at least have a statement from the Secretary of State for Employment that industrial relations in the Post Office will be referred to ACAS for an impartial report? Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents in Melton Mowbray have had no post for the past two and a half weeks and that this is the third such dispute this year? It is absolutely ruinous for small businesses.
Mr. Wakeham : I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I shall certainly refer his suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who will obviously want to consider the best way to deal with the matter.
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : I thank the Leader of the House for his kind compliment earlier, but on this occasion my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) needs help from the right hon. Gentleman, not from me : there should be a debate on police resources in Leicestershire and why people in the city of Leicester have been allowed no additional police for the past two years despite requests from the chief constables. Does the Leader of the House agree that there should also be a debate on why we are receiving no help from the Home Secretary when crime has doubled in the county? Can we at least ask the right hon. Gentleman to be kind enough to request a statement from the Home Secretary before the recess?
Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West) : Can my right hon. Friend find time to discuss the General Development Order which contains the somewhat surprising proposal that clay pigeon shooting on any one site should be cut from 28 to 14 days before planning permission is required? That was introduced with no discussion either with Members of Parliament or interested parties and should not continue.
Mr. Wakeham : I want to apologise to my hon. Friend on behalf of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment who accepts that the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association should have been among the 250 bodies that have been consulted. In view of that, my hon. Friend proposes to consult the association as well as the Sports Council and others soon on whether an amendment should be made to the order to revert to a maximum of 28 days' permitted use of rights for clay pigeon shooting.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : The Leader of the House will know that this House has not debated the spread of AIDS in recent memory. Is he aware that hon. Members like me want to make the point that the Government's record is lamentable, there having been precious few cautionary measures or publicity for at-risk groups, such as prisoners, the armed forces and the business travelling public, and little hospital treatment and community care for sufferers? When can we have a debate on this important subject?
Mr. Wakeham : I recognise that the hon. Gentleman takes this matter seriously, as do the Government, and I hope that he does not seek to turn it into a partisan issue. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health is appreciative of the co-operation of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) in discussions and we hope to have as much of a bipartisan approach to this important problem as possible. The tone of the hon. Gentleman's remarks did not quite show that. Not long ago, we had debates on the subject, but the hon. Gentleman's memory may not be as long as mine, and there may well be an occasion for another debate in the not too distant future. It is perfectly right and proper that we should discuss these matters and I shall bear his request in mind.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : In view of the sentence passed by Judge Harold Cassel at Knightsbridge Crown court on a police officer who indecently assaulted a young girl, will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Home Secretary and ask him to invoke the provision contained in the Criminal Justice Act 1987 that would entitle the Attorney- General to refer that lenient sentence to the Court of Appeal for re- examination? It has not yet been invoked. Does my right hon. Friend agree that all the Labour Members who voted against that provision may now rethink their position in the light of this case?
Mr. Wakeham : The Government are naturally anxious about any statement made by a public figure which may be interpreted as condoning the sexual abuse of children. However, the remarks attributed to Judge Cassel were made in the context of his judicial duties, and it would be constitutionally improper for the Government to comment further. I understand that my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is calling for a report into the matter and I shall make my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary aware of my hon. Friend's points.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : The right hon. Gentleman will realise that since 1979 this Government have spent billions of pounds on the police service--on manpower requirements, earnings and equipment needed to do the job efficiently. Will he on behalf of his Government now seriously consider having a debate on the important question of law and order because my colleagues and I feel that it is necessary? We aim to be helpful. Figures announced today show that crime has increased by 50 per cent. since 1979. That is a shocking record. Let us do something about it.
Mr. Wakeham : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his recognition of the substantial amount of increased resources--about 50 per cent. in real terms--that the Government have spent in support of policies dealing with law and order. It is a major problem. We had a day's debate on home affairs during the Queen's Speech debate when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) raised these matters. I agree that we should have another debate, but I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman one, however important the matter, in the near future.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : Does my right hon. Friend believe that there is what is called a democratic deficit in the ability of elected representatives at whatever level to scrutinise and amend important European legislation?
Mr. Wakeham : What I do recognise is that, in any House of Commons, as was made abundantly clear to those of us who sat through an interesting debate on procedure last night--I am not sure whether my hon. Friend was able to be with us--one thing is clear : if we increase the amount of time that we spend on one subject, we reduce the amount of time that we can spend on another. I do not pretend for one minute that our present arrangements are perfect, nor do I pretend that each hon. Member might not have a different balance. I shall bring forward proposals for change when I am convinced that there is a reasonable chance of a majority being in favour of them.
Column 894I do not think that the issue which my hon. Friend raises is one of the areas where we established last night that we could make progress, but I shall consider it. I read the interesting article written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) in The Times last week. I am sorry that he has not been well. I hope that he will soon be better and among us again. Had he been well, I think that he would have made those points in last night's debate.
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford) : Will the Leader of the House consider the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) are not alone in wanting a debate on policing? I also would like such a debate. There is much anxiety in Greater Manchester--the police authority and the chief constable believe that there are not enough policemen and women to do the very necessary job of the police. The Leader of the House knows that, from time to time, we have debates in Government time on the Metropolitan police because of the constitutional arrangement which applies to that force. I put it to the Leader of the House as a serious point that it is about time that we had a debate on this important matter of police resources throughout the country.
Mr. Wakeham : I recognise that that is a serious question. I treat it perfectly seriously. We had a debate on home affairs recently during the debate on the Loyal Address. I would like to satisfy all the demands on our time, but I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate in the immediate future.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Can I be helpful to the Leader of the House in terms of his medium-term planning? Will he take into account the fact that, whenever he decides to slip in the writ for the Richmond, Yorks by-election, some of us will be in our places in the hope of exploring how, if the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) is clean enough, in terms of the deception of the House, to go to Brussels, that can mean only one thing--that she is not clean enough to be in No. 10 Downing street?
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must not make allegations of that kind. Will he kindly withdraw those allegations made against the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) and the Prime Minister?
Mr. Dalyell : I do not want to get into any kind of trouble with the Chair. Of course I withdraw, but I must say that, having looked at Hansard, Mr. Speaker, you may care to reflect on whether what I have said is unparliamentary. The word I used was "clean". If the Leader of the House's memory is as good as he boasts, could he explain during the debate on the writ why the Opposition Chief Whip, as documented in detail in Magnus Linklater's story of Westland, "Not with Honour", was so vehement that the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks could not continue as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry?
Mr. Wakeham : I imagine that the Opposition Chief Whip will not move the writ for the hon. Gentleman's constituency while he is still a Member ; nor will my right hon. and learned Friend the Government Chief Whip
Column 895move the writ while my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) is still a Member.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) rose--
Mr. Skinner : Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Secretary of State for Energy and ask him to make a statement at the Dispatch Box on the announcement this week by British Coal that the Union of Democratic Mineworkers is to have negotiating rights at the two new super-pits which have been developed in Britain, although it may not have any members at either pit?
Mr. Skinner : It is scandalous that a party and a Government who brag about democracy will allow British Coal to give negotiating rights to a union even though it has no members, albeit it is a bosses'union. It is almost like telling Tiny Rowland that he can negotiate on behalf of Harrods shareholders.
Mr. Wakeham : I imagine that the hon. Gentleman will be making the same point when he and Arthur Scargill are the only two members left in his union. The question that I think he raises is one for the management and unions of the industry, not for my right hon. Friend.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : May I, as a Westminster ratepayer and Member, ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a statement on the rate support grant settlement implications of the sale of the lease on Conservative Central Office by Westminster city council?
Is the Leader of the House aware that Westminster city council's internal auditors have asked the chairman of the Conservative party for details of the transaction involving the sale of the lease acquired from Westminster city council, and that he had to date refused to provide that information? Westminster ratepayers want that information and are entitled to have it in the public interest. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the questions asked by the auditor are fully answered? The public in Westminster want to know about this massive property speculation that the Tory party is undertaking.
Column 896ratepayer and constituent in Westminster, does the hon. Gentleman not have a word with his Member of Parliament--my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General?
Mr. Tony Banks rose
Mr. Banks : May I bring the Leader of the House back to the televising of Parliament? During last night's debate on procedure, I heard two members of his Committee talking about "if" we have the televising of Parliament rather than "when". Will the right hon. Gentleman give us a chance to discuss the report, a copy of which I have here, produced by the Procedure Committee on the implications for procedure of the televising of Parliament? That would give us something to talk about while we are waiting for the Leader of the House's Committee to give us a report to discuss.
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman will not want to get too deeply drawn into the rumours that fly about this place, but will he make it clear that the rumour that it will be at least two years before we have television cameras
Mr. Banks : "And the rest," says one of the members of the right hon. Gentleman's Committee. Will he confirm that the rumour that it will be at least two years before we have television cameras in is unfounded?
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Member has clearly had a tiring few days. He arrived late for yesterday's debate because he had been addressing the good citizens of Weybridge, I think, in the forlorn hope of bolstering the Labour party in that constituency. He then produced a book about fights in the House of Commons in about 1860 or 1870
Mr. Wakeham : --1873, but he did not say whether he hoped to move forward to those days. If the hon. Gentleman had been here for the whole of the debate and if he had not been reading his interesting books, he would have known that we discussed the report which he waved around. My hon. Friends who said "if" rather than "when" were of course quite right, because the Select Committee's report has to come before the House and the House has to decide on the basis of that report.