Monday 13 February----Until seven o'clock private Members' motions. Timetable motion on the Official Secrets Bill.
Tuesday 14 February----Second Reading of the Local Government and Housing Bill. Motions on the farm and conservation grant regulations and scheme.
Wednesday 15 February----Consideration in Committee of the Official Secrets Bill (3rd Day).
Motion to take note of EC Document relating to Community/United States trade relations. Details will be given in the Official Report.
Thursday 16 February----Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Official Secrets Bill.
Friday 17 February----Private Members' Bills.
Monday 20 February----Opposition Day (5th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject for debate to be announced.
[Debate on Wednesday 15 February :
Relevant European Community document :
4296/89 Community-United States Trade Relations
Relevant report of European Legislation Committee :
HC 15-vi (1988-89), para 3.]
Mr. Dobson : I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the statement. Will he tell the House why he considers it necessary to curtail next week's debate on the Official Secrets Bill? Until now, the Committee stage has taken only two days. On both days it was the Government who decided to adjourn the debate, when the opposition on both sides of the House were willing to continue. Is there nothing that the Government think merits full debate--not even the Official Secrets Bill, which goes to the heart of the relationship between the citizens and the state? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is disgraceful that the House of Commons cannot find time to debate that fundamental relationship, particularly when there are doubts on both sides of the House, and when names such as Foot and Churchill are among those of right hon. and hon. Members who speak against the Bill? Will the Leader of the House reconsider the matter? In view of the general confusion that exists between the Prime Minister and her Ministers at the Department of the Environment, will there be a statement next week to clear up, once and for all, whether, in preparation for the implementation of the Water Bill, private water companies are to raise their charges by 30 per cent. to 50 per cent.?
When are we to have the promised debate on the Fennell report on the King's Cross disaster? The right hon. Gentleman will recall his promise that there would be such a debate. The Fennell report was published on 10 November, and it is time that it was debated. Finally, and still on the subject of debates that have been promised for a long time, will the right hon. Gentleman say when the House will debate the Barlow Clowes affair? Or have the Government kicked Barlow Clowes' investors into touch, in the same way that they kick into touch everything that they find embarrassing?
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman asked me four questions about next week's business. The first one concerned the timetable motion relating to the Official Secrets Bill. No, I will not reconsider the question of a timetable motion. A great deal of time has already been taken by the House on this subject. We had a debate on the White Paper last summer. The Bill received a full day's consideration on Second Reading, plus two sittings of a Committee of the whole House lasting, in total, about 13 hours. We are still only on clause 1 and need to make progress. The timetable motion that I shall table later today will be generous by any standards. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the signals that we were getting from the Opposition as to how late they wanted to sit were not entirely consistent. I will say no more than that.
Secondly, with regard to the question of water charges, there will not be a statement next week so far as I know, but I will refer the point to my right hon. Friend. I believe that there will be plenty of time to discuss these matters as the Bill makes progress. Of course, I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concern that there should be a debate on the Fennell report. I have promised him one, but I am sorry that I cannot promise that it will take place in the immediate future. I certainly recognise that there is a need for a debate.
With regard to Barlow Clowes, I have indicated that there are inquiries going on. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration is investigating the complaints, and I believe that we should wait until his report is available before having a debate in this House.
Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham) : While the Official Secrets Bill contains a number of good features, it also contains serious abridgements on the right of free speech. Does my right hon. Friend not think, on reflection, that it is perhaps rather overdoing it for the Government to attack both the freedom of the press and parliamentary discussion at one and the same time?
Mr. Wakeham : I recognise my right hon. Friend's strong feelings on this matter, but I think he should recognise that the Bill will replace section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 with provisions that prohibit only those disclosures of information that would be harmful to the public interest. It is a measure which, far from extending the scope of the criminal law in this area, greatly limits it. It is also, I have to say, unashamedly a measure to protect the vital interests of the state, the interests of a democratic Government in a free society.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I am sure the Leader of the House has seen the very disturbing advertisement in the national press- -put in by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals--with regard to the killing of dogs following the abolition of the dog licence. Can we expect that in the next week or so the Government will bring forward regulations under the Local Government Act 1988 to institute a dog registration scheme?
Secondly, given the devastation of the floods in Inverness and Easter Ross, can we expect a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland next week announcing emergency aid for that area? One cannot help cynically thinking that if there had been such an occurrence in Kent or Surrey it would have been elevated to the status of a national crisis.
Mr. Wakeham : With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, I greatly deprecate what he has said. However, I recognise his concern for his constituents and for the area, and I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend.
With regard to the question of dog registration, the Government have made it clear that they do not consider that a registration scheme would do anything to assist the welfare of dogs or their control, and there are no plans to implement section 37 of the Local Government Act.
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with regard to the reform of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, the debates so far, however important and worthy, as indeed they have been, have been largely repetitious--about the same principles and issues? Given that this is a reforming and liberal measure, the sooner we make progress with it the better.
Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At one point in last week's Committee stage I noticed that there were only 11 Members on the Opposition Benches, and for a period of three hours they numbered fewer than 20.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Is the Leader of the House aware that there are 14 private Bills on today's Order Paper, all of them with blocking motions? Does he recall that, at the start of the Session, he undertook to arrange an early debate on private Bills procedure? Would he like to redefine "early" or guarantee that we will have a debate before Easter?
Secondly, is not the real reason for the guillotine on the Official Secrets Bill that the Government have no supporters for the measure?
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman's last point is patently absurd, as the Government won every vote on the Bill by a substantial majority. On his first point, I have undertaken that we shall have a debate on that very important report and I shall arrange it as soon as possible.
Mr. Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is really completely unjustified to introduce a guillotine on the Official Secrets Bill? There has been absolutely no suggestion of either side deliberately protracting the proceedings. In what everyone, including the Home Secretary, agreed was an intensely concentrated debate last Thursday the number of supporters of the Government was minimal. This is a complicated and difficult Bill which goes to the heart of the safety of the realm and the freedom of the individual, and a Conservative Government, above all, ought to give proper time for discussing those two matters.
Mr. Wakeham : I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is an important Bill and that it deals with very important subjects, but I do not agree with him that we are not giving proper time for debate ; I believe that we are. If my right hon. Friend had read the recent report of the Procedure Committee, he would know that that Committee believes that all Bills should be timetabled at the beginning to ensure that there is proper debate. I do not go along with that view completely, but there is a case for a timetable motion to ensure proper debate on all parts of the Bill.
Column 1132statements made by the Government on certain aspects of it. Does he not agree that it is time that the House was given an opportunity to debate the matter and that a statement was made on the food industry, and especially on salmonella?
Mr. Wakeham : I did not agree with what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his question and it is not surprising, therefore, that I do not agree with his conclusion. We recently had a debate initiated by the Opposition on the food industry and the Government's case was expressed extremely well by my hon. Friend on that occasion. A Select Committee is considering aspects of the matter, and it would be more appropriate to consider what is the right time for a debate at a later stage.
Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to early-day motion 287, signed by 56 Opposition Members, attacking the Government's action in deporting Viraj Mendis?
[That this House unreservedly condemns the action of the Home Secretary and Minister of State, the honourable Member for Mid Sussex, in ordering the police to break in, by force, to arrest Viraj Mendis who has been in sanctuary in the Church of the Ascension in Manchester ; notes with grave concern the violation of the sanctity of the church premises ; and demands that he be allowed to remain in Britain until the efforts being made by the honourable Member for Manchester Central and others to find him asylum in another country have been successfully completed.]
Now that we know that Viraj Mendis battened on to the social security system and lied and cheated to stay in this country, may we now have a debate on that early-day motion so that we may show up the gullibility of Opposition Members?
Mr. Wakeham : The full facts of that case have been well displayed and people now understand it much better. I agree that there could be occasion for a debate, but I do not think that I can promise my hon. Friend such a debate in the near future.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the growing argument in Kent about railway lines to the coast? Is he aware that there has been marching through the towns of Kent and that 1,000 people followed Peter Pan, otherwise known as the Mujahadeen from Bexley--
Mr. Skinner : In view of the growing concern, and as the Prime Minister's husband has joined a society complaining about the railway line passing their back garden in Dulwich, is it not time that we had a debate on the subject?
Column 1133Gentleman makes to our discussions. These are serious matters and should not be the subject of flippant and irresponsible remarks from the hon. Gentleman.
I understand that British Rail is still considering the route options identified in the report published last July. British Rail will need to seek statutory authorisation for whichever route it finally chooses and the House will therefore have an opportunity to debate these matters fully. A private Bill is the accepted procedure for the authorisation of new railway works.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : While I am always extremely grateful for the close interest in the affairs of my constituents consistently taken by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), I wish to ask my right hon. Friend about a slightly different issue. As my right hon. Friend has said, British Rail is about to produce a Bill for a £1 billion civil engineering project. Many of my hon. Friends feel that the procedures by which the House debates projects of that size and type leaves something to be desired, not least because any committee established to examine the petitions will, by its very nature, exclude anyone with a particular knowledge of Kent. As it is a national issue, can we have a debate on the methods by which private Bills for projects of this scale are debated?
Mr. Wakeham : Absolutely. We can have such a debate and, as I have said, the vehicle for that debate will be the very important report of the Select Committee considering private Bill procedure. We shall have a debate soon, but merely having a debate will not change the rules under which Bills are introduced this Session. There must be consideration, and legislation may well be brought in to change the procedures.
Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool) : The Leader of the House will understand the feelings on both sides of the House and in the country about the long and protracted situation of British hostages being held in the far east. Without being critical, is he not aware that the nation needs to feel that the Government are saying something about what they are doing? Although it is a sensitive issue, surely our intelligence and diplomatic services should be giving the Government some information, and the Government should be seen to react in such a manner as to give the families of the hostages and British people some idea that the Government are actively concerned.
Mr. Wakeham : Of course the hon. Gentleman is right that if the Government were able to say something it would allay public concern to some degree. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in such matters and he will know that many of the discussions and negotiations are delicate and difficult and it could be positively damaging to say anything publicly about them. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend and if he considers that there is an opportunity when it is right to say something I am sure that he will do so.
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that after giving due consideration to the weighty views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who was a former distinguished Conservative Chief Whip, common sense indicates that the number of issues to be discussed in the Official Secrets Bill are somewhat restricted, have been much repeated and are
Column 1134likely to be repeated on the three occasions next week for which he has set aside time for discussion of that Bill? In those circumstances, is not a guillotine wholly justified? Perhaps my right hon. Friend might consider guillotining all Bills so we can get home at reasonable hours.
Mr. Wakeham : I do not go along with my hon. and learned Friend's final remark, but I believe that a timetable motion is justified and that I have allocated plenty of time to discuss all the outstanding issues.
Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside) : Bearing in mind that the Government are a signatory to the European Court of Human Rights, will the Leader of the House make a statement next week on the decision by the Minister of State, Home Office not to take into consideration the decision reached by the court in regard to Mr. Berrehab and Mr. Abdulla Hanna Yousef?
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : Can my right hon. Friend give an instance when, on a constitutional issue, a guillotine has been introduced after merely 13 hours, particularly when, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), the former leader of our party said, the issue touches upon the basic rights and needs of society? In 1989 when the Government first introduced legislation on the matter, the Government themselves introduced the amendment that led to the public interest debate. Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that there was no need for a guillotine then?
Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend refers to the Bill as a constitutional measure. Although it deals with powers of the state, as do many Bills, it does not affect the constitution. I understand a constitutional Bill to include such measures as the Scotland Bill, which was guillotined by the last Labour Government, the Wales Bill, which was guillotined by the last Labour Government and the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill, which was guillotined by the last but one Labour Government. I do not accept that argument.
[That this House views with alarm the potential safety hazard from the substantial quantity of uranium carried by many United States built civilian aircraft as counterweights ; notes that the growing stockpiles of depleted uranium and the low price at which it has been sold by the United States Government has led to its substitution for tungsten ; notes that in the event of high temperature fires that could arise after a crash rapid oxidation of depleted uranium can occur leading to the release of toxic uranium oxide particles ; notes that the inhalation hazard from the 1,000 lbs of depleted uranium in a Boeing 747 aircraft could put about 250,000 people at risk ; calls upon the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement detailing plans for the protection of rescue personnel and local residents in the future and to make strong representations as a matter of urgency to Boeing to replace this highly dangerous ballast ; and requests the Secretary of State for Transport to include the question of any possible danger of radioactivity from the
Column 1135depleted uranium used as counterweights and ballast in the airplane that crashed at Lockerbie as part of the inquiry into the Lockerbie disaster.]
It deals with the use of depleted uranium in aircraft as ballast and counterweights. Given that a Boeing aircraft caught fire and crashed two days ago--the third to crash in two months--will he arrange for an early debate on the hazards of using depleted uranium? Depleted uranium gives off toxic particles of uranium oxide, and when alight can endanger as many as 250,000 people. Low radiation is given off even if it is not alight, and many experts are revising their opinion about the dangers of that.
Mr. Wakeham : I recognise the hon. Lady's concern, but there is little, if any, potential hazard from depleted uranium counterweights in commercial aircraft. The possibility of a crash involving a severe fire in the tail section is remote because of its distance from the jet fuel cells. If there were a fire in the tail section, temperatures high enough to generate sufficient amounts of airborne uranium are unlikely, if not completely impossible.
Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes) : I remain completely in favour of the timetabling of the Committee stage of every Bill, but how can my right hon. Friend claim that one day is enough for the remainder of the Committee stage of the Official Secrets Bill? Is my right hon. Friend aware that I, and I suspect one or two others, came to the House last week knowing little about the Bill, but that having listened to the arguments, I am convinced that the Government have not a leg to stand on? If he insists on a guillotine next week, will he ensure that the Chief Whip makes certain that the Government Back Benches are full so that Back Benchers may listen to the arguments and draw their own conclusions?
Mr. Wakeham : I hope that as many Back Benchers as possible will be present to listen to the debate. The timetable motion that I am tabling supplies not one but two extra days for the Committee, which is rather more than my hon. Friend suggested. I think that that is enough, and I hope that my hon. Friend, and other hon. Members who wish to, will take part in the debate.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : Will the Leader of the House assist me by obtaining next week an answer to a question that I put to the Secretary of State for the Environment on 19 January, to which I have so far been given only a holding answer? The question asked how many football matches and grounds had been visited in an official capacity by the Minister responsible for sport. I cannot believe for the life of me that the answer can be many, otherwise the hon. Gentleman would not be pursuing the ludicrous football spectators scheme.
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman spoilt his question by the last part of it because that does not follow in any way. I was about to respond in a spirit of helpfulness and make inquiries about where the answer is for which the hon. Gentleman is waiting. In spite of his remarks, I will still do so.
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : In view of the tragic death earlier this week of an 18-year-old girl from a British territory in the Caribbean, may we have a debate this week about the crazy rule that requires the Health Service to provide free treatment to citizens of French islands in the Caribbean but not to citizens of British
Column 1136territories? Can my right hon. Friend think of anything more vital, urgent or important to discuss than why a girl should die because she did not receive an urgent heart operation that would have been possible if she had lived 50 miles away on a French island?
Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend has raised a point which, I know, concerns a number of people, but I cannot give him the answer today. It is a subject that goes back a long time and is concerned with the Community rules and the way in which they were formed. I recognise my hon. Friend's concern, but I cannot promise a debate next week.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Will the Leader of the House give time for an early debate on concessionary television licences? Is he aware that, since his Government tightened up the regulations last year in a mean way, many elderly people feel aggrieved that they do not have access to cheap licences?
Mr. Wakeham : The way in which the changes were made was the best in the circumstances and was a result of a court case that upset the arrangements that had operated for a number of years. I recognise the hon. Lady's concern, but I cannot promise an early debate on the subject.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : Will my right hon. Friend help me out of a "tight" corner by allowing a debate in the near future on the subject of shopping facilities for essential items in the House? At least 20 colleagues kindly told me today that I have a large ladder at the back of my stockings, which shows that not everybody's eyes are on higher things. There is nowhere within 20 minutes where I could go to buy stockings. I point out to my right hon. Friend that I can buy alcohol, tobacco and chocolates here, but that is not much good when one has one's tights in a twist.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) : May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the Laganside Development (Northern Ireland) Order and the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order have been referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments? May I also draw to his attention the fact that the orders will have a great impact on urban renewal in Belfast city and the whole countryside of Northern Ireland, yet the Committee does not contain one Member from Northern Ireland? Does that mean that Northern Ireland Members will not be able to participate in the debate on matters that will fundamentally affect urban and rural communities in Northern Ireland? Will the Leader of the House make time to enable Northern Ireland Members to participate in those two major orders, which so much affect our own communities?
Mr. Wakeham : I am sorry about what the hon. Gentleman has said, as I recognise that he has a legitimate feeling of grievance. It is sometimes difficult in setting up Committees to achieve an exact composition when so many hon. Members are anxious to serve on such important Committees. I am sorry that that is the position, but I cannot promise time on the Floor of the House in the near future.
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) : It seems clear from what the right hon. Gentleman said today, and on other occasions in the House, that the people of Northern Ireland have had their democratic rights taken away by this Government. Will the Leader of the House look at the matter of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, a meeting of which took place yesterday? Once again, shamefully and contrary to what I understood to be decent parliamentary practices, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland failed to come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement. Will the Leader of the House force his right hon. Friend to give up talking to the press privately and off the record and to come, instead, to speak directly to the elected
representatives here, so we can know what has been done and said in the name of the people of the United Kingdom?
Mr. Wakeham : I think that that is very unfair to my right hon. Friend, who has been forthcoming and open and who frequently speaks in the House. Indeed, he was answering questions earlier this afternoon. I shall refer my hon. Friend's comments to him.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Will the Leader of the House challenge on Monday the fact that there were no examples of filibustering, prolonged speeches or unnecessary interruptions on the Official Secrets Bill? Will he tell the House when there has been so much opposition to a timetable motion from Conservative Members before? Is he not aware that the accusation will be that the Government are using their majority in a corrupt way to push through the Bill?
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman, who claims to be a democrat, seems to be very upset about somebody having a majority for anything with which he disagrees. He will have to wait until Monday to hear the points that I have to make. I shall make my own speech in my own way and I shall not take advice from the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : May we have a debate next week on the position of the Health Service in rural areas because women in my constituency are outraged that the Leicestershire health authority took no notice of their protests against proposals to close the maternity unit in Oakham? If consultation is to mean anything, those proposals should have been dropped--not confirmed
yesterday--after all the protests.
Mr. Wakeham : I recognise the concern of my hon. Friend and his constituents about that matter. I wish that I could promise him an early debate, but we shall be having a debate in the not too distant future on the wider question of the Health Service review which was published by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health last week.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Will the Leader of the House press the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement next week on the water industry? As millions of people are facing monster increases in water charges, will he press the Secretary of State to introduce rebate arrangements to help pensioners and others on low incomes to pay their water bills? Will he also press his right hon. Friend to introduce a complete ban on water disconnections, which are increasing rapidly? Finally, will he understand that many of us now think that the Yorkshire water authority is more secretive than the
Column 1138Masons, since it is banning the press from committee meetings on water quality and restricting information on its financial affairs? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Yorkshire water authority has applied to be subject to the Official Secrets Act?
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman raises a number of issues but the one thing that was consistent throughout was that they had nothing to do with water privatisation, and that is for sure. Nothing in the privatisation proposals would justify the sort of increases that have been suggested and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has invited the chairmen of those companies which are proposing rises of more than 10 per cent. to explain their proposals to him. We had better wait for that meeting.
Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye) : Having successfully caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, on three successive weeks, to invite my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to state his views on early-day motions 249 and 250, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he has come to a conclusion about the merits of those motions which are supported by 208 hon. Members on both sides of the House?
[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Price Marking (Petrol) (Amendment) Order 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 2226), dated 20th December 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22nd December, be annulled.]
[That this House notes the recommendation of the Trade and Industry Select Committee that petrol prices should continue to be displayed in gallon as well as litre term on boards visible from the roadside ; notes that the Price Marking (Petrol) (Amendment) Order 1988 will remove this requirement with effect from 23rd January ; and calls for a debate on the Order.]
Mr. Wakeham : As my hon. Friend is aware, he had a meeting in his capacity as Chairman of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. My right hon. Friend has now written to my hon. Friend confirming that the Select Committee's comments and the early-day motions have been carefully noted and that he is considering what further steps can be taken towards the common objective of ensuring that price differentials are clearly shown in order to protect the consumer.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : Is the Leader of the House aware that the test case on behalf of 2,000 widows in the 40-45 age range concerns my constituent, Mrs. Doreen Whitbread, and that the tribunal ruled that the retrospective impact of the regulations was unfair and invalid? As the Prime Minister has said, the Government are still taking up that case, presumably because of their exceptional meanness. When can we have parliamentary time to try to persuade the Government to accept that judgment and pay the widows?
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : So that the House may make its own judgment about the predictable complaint from his right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who, unaccountably, is not in his place, will my right hon. Friend give Mr. Speaker now
Column 1139--or if not now, will he circulate it in the Official Report --a list of those occasions when the right hon. Gentleman, whether as Prime Minister or as Patronage Secretary, imposed a guillotine upon proceedings in the House?