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Business of the House

3.30 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : Will the Leader of the House tell us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows :

Monday 20 February----Remaining stages of the Transport (Scotland) Bill.

Tuesday 21 February----Opposition Day (5th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The Government's failure to give proper care to the safety of food and water". Motion on the Rate Limitation (Councils in England) (Prescribed Maximum) (Rates) Order.

Wednesday 22 February----Remaining stages of the Official Secrets Bill.

Motion on the London Regional Transport (Levy) Order.

Thursday 23 February----Debate on a motion to take note of the White Paper on developments in the European Community January to June 1988 (Cm. 467).

Motion to take note of EC documents relating to the prevention and reduction of air pollution from municipal waste incineration plants. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Friday 24 February----Private Members' Bills.

Monday 27 February----Debate on a motion to take note of proposals for agricultural prices for 1989-90 and related issues. Details of the EC documents concerned and of those relevant to the debate will be given in the Official Report.

[Thursday 23 February

Relevant European Community Document :

5142/88 Air pollution--municipal waste incineration plants Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee :

HC 43-xxiv (1987-88), para 1

Monday 27 February

(a) COM(89)40 Agricultural price proposals 1989-90

(b) 8960/88 Review of the sheepmeat and goatmeat regime (c) 10083/88 New Zealand lamb

(d) 9629/88 Cereals : incorporation in animal feeding-stuffs (e) 8502/88 Court of Auditors' Special Report : Management and control of public storage

(f) 8951/88 Pigmeat market

(g) 9658/88 Cereals : co-responsibility levy

(h) 9275/88 Aid for agricultural conversion

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee :

(a) HC 15-xi (1988-89), para 3

(b) HC 15-ii (1988-89), para 3

(c) HC 15-v (1988-89), para 1

(d) HC 15-v (1988-89), para 3

(e) HC 15-i (1988-89), para 3

(f) HC 15-i (1988-89), para 13

(g) HC 15-v (1988-89), para 8

(h) HC 15-v (1988-89), para 7.]

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Mr. Dobson : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Over the past few days, the Prime Minister's publicity machine has briefed the news media to the effect that she is most concerned about her Government's failure to get their act together to improve the safety of everyday foods. For instance, we learn that she is so unsatisfied with what the various Ministers are doing that she has set up a special Cabinet Committee, under her chairmanship, to try to sort things out. As the subject is so important, why is it that the right hon. Lady does not intend to be here to reply to the debate on the topic next Tuesday? Perhaps she has some more pressing engagement on that day. If so, will the Leader of the House bear in mind the fact that we would be quite willing to shift the Opposition day to a day convenient to the Prime Minister so that she can answer to the House on this important topic?

While on the subject of answering on important topics, I remind the Leader of the House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer leaked the likely inflation rate in a speech at the weekend and will be publishing it formally tomorrow. Could he split the difference and make a statement to the House today, giving the facts?

When may we expect the debate on student loans which the right hon. Gentleman promised in January? When can we expect the promised debate on the Fennell report on the King's Cross fire? Can he confirm that the debate on housing that was postponed because of the debate on the by-election writs will take place shortly? Can he confirm also that we shall shortly have an opportunity to debate the Joint Committee's report on the future of private Bill procedure? Finally, can he tell us what stage has been reached in drafting legislation to outlaw the buying and selling of kidneys in private hospitals?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman asked seven questions about the business for next week. The first concerned Tuesday's debate on the Opposition motion on food and water. On the Government side, the debate will be handled by the Secretary of State for Health and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who are more than competent to deal with any matters that the Opposition may seek to raise.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will not be making a statement. The official retail prices index figures will be issued in the normal way.

On the question of student loans, I recognise the need for a debate, but I am not in a position to announce when it will take place. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman details.

I have already told the hon. Member the degree of importance we attach to the Fennell report. I agree that it would be appropriate to have a debate, but it would be best to leave the precise timing for discussion through the usual channels.

I recognise that the House missed an opportunity for a debate on housing. This is an important subject, and the Government have a very good story to tell. I note the hon. Gentleman's request, and I will certainly arrange for further discussions through the usual channels.

With regard to the Joint Select Committee on Private Bill Procedure, I recognise that there is keen interest in having a debate on its report. This is a major report, and we are currently studying the recommendations in detail. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman precisely when the debate will take place, but it will not be long delayed.

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On the question of kidneys, I have nothing to add to what I have said previously. The matter is being considered by the Government, and I will arrange for an announcement to be made as soon as possible.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : The Leader of the House will be aware that hon. Members were lobbied earlier this week by relatives of those killed in the Piper Alpha disaster. Although there cannot be a debate next week, will the Leader of the House ensure that a statement is made from the Dispatch Box justifying the mean and callous decision to leave the wreckage on the seabed?

Mr. Wakeham : I recognise the concern about this matter. Yesterday my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Energy and the Minister of State for Energy met representatives of the bereaved and survivors to hear their concerns personally, and I do not think that I can add anything at this stage.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East) : My right hon. Friend's announcement about next Thursday's business is most welcome, but is he satisfied that that there is adequate scrutiny of European Commission proposals? Does he agree that the Government's negotiating position would be greatly strengthened if this House were regularly able to debate those proposals before the Government arrived at their final negotiating position?

Mr. Wakeham : I recognise that on the scrutiny, in this House of European documents, things are not as good as they should be. That is not necessarily totally the fault of our procedures. There have been difficulties in bringing matters forward at the right time. I have had discussions with the Chairman and members of the Select Committee on European Legislation--it was a very helpful meeting--and I am having meetings with other Members of the House. I hope that, by consideration of these things, we shall be able to improve the situation for the future. However, I recognise the force of the hon. Gentleman's concern.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury) : The Leader of the House will be aware of the deep concern of millions of people about the personal safety of my constituent, Mr. Salman Rushdie, and their horror at the threats that have been made on his life and the lives of others. Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement to be made so that we may be assured that everything possible is being done to secure Mr. Rushdie's safety and that we may know what approaches are being made to the leaders of Iran to lift the shadow that hangs over Mr. Rushdie? The Government should state clearly that the freedom to write and the freedom to speak peacefully must be upheld in a democratic society.

Mr. Wakeham : The Government believe that the declaration is totally unacceptable and we have sought urgent clarification from the Iranian authorities. Mr. Rushdie has been given personal protection. The police also have taken steps to protect the premises of the publishers and to advise members of the company on their own security. I recognise the strong feelings, but I am not convinced that ventilating them in a debate or through a statement next week would be the best way of proceeding. I shall certainly refer the hon. Gentleman's concern to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

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Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : I am sure that my right hon. Friend recognised at the time the injustice which might be caused because of the insolvency legislation whereby criminals like Mr. Justin Frewin, who has swindled thousands of people, can be discharged from bankruptcy. Will my right hon. Friend find a small amount of parliamentary time to enable the loophole to be closed so that those who defraud others of trust money which cannot be touched until the bankruptcy is cleared cannot do that in perpetuity?

Mr. Wakeham : I do not have before me the facts of the case to which my hon. Friend has referred, but I recognise his concern. I will discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and perhaps write to my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : Will the Leader of the House read early-day motion 271 which calls for a code of conduct for private hospitals?

[That this House, noting the Government's insistence on using private hospitals for National Health Service patients, calls for the immediate imposition of a system of medical audit on all private hospitals ; further demands that the twice-yearly inspections of such hospitals should be recorded centrally by the Department of Health, with copies of any adverse comments ; perticularly insists that any failure to comply with the full statutory obligations should merit immediate action by the Secretary of State ; and, until such time as an effective regulatory Code of Conduct is in place, calls upon the Secretary of State for Health to desist from allowing National Health Service patients to be treated outside the National Health Service.]

A code of conduct is necessary in view of some of the recent incidents involving the sale of organs. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Ministry to make a statement in the House about how he intends to ensure that National Health Service patients who are put into private institutions, whether or not they want that, will be protected by a reasonable standard of medical care?

Mr. Wakeham : I believe that the vast majority of private hospitals conduct themselves properly and efficiently. The present concerns are being considered urgently by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. It is known that the Government are considering how best to proceed. When they have made the decision, that will be the time to consider whether a statement is appropriate.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North) : The Government published in January a White Paper on the future of development plans. Unfortunately, we lost the opportunity to debate it earlier this week. Given that the Government intend to legislate on the matter later this year, will my right hon. Friend find time at an early date for a debate on this important subject?

Mr. Wakeham : I recognise my hon. Friend's concern. I shall see what I can do, but I cannot make a firm promise.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : If, as appears from the right hon. Gentleman's statement a few moments ago, the Prime Minister is refusing to speak in the debate next Tuesday, can he tell us who in the Government is responsible for co-ordinating the policies of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Health?

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Mr. Wakeham : Basically the same system of Cabinet government operates under this Government as operated under the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a distinguished member, although I suspect that it operates better now than it did in his time. The debate on the subject put down by the Opposition will be answered appropriately by my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Health and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. No doubt it will be a good and interesting debate.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that some 40 residents of Caldy Island in Pembrokeshire have discovered that they are not eligible to vote in parliamentary or European elections due to a confusion caused by the Home Office and the Welsh Office, and that primary legislation in the form of an Act will be required to restore their right to vote? Will my right hon. Friend assure me that my constituents will get their vote back in time for the European elections in June?

Mr. Wakeham : I am certainly aware of the matter because I have a letter on my desk from my hon. Friend and I am busy finding the appropriate answer to give him. I refer him and the House to the reply given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. At this stage I can add nothing more to that, but I know that my hon. Friend wants me to look again at the matter, and I promise him that I shall do so.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Will the Leader of the House accept my plea in support of the question of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Etterick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) requesting a statement in the House so that we can discuss some of the issues affecting the relatives of those involved in the tragic Piper Alpha disaster? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the speculation in the press, particularly today, about the announcement in London next week of an inter-parliamentary body that has been identified with the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees? Have I missed something? Do those committees contain representatives of foreign Parliaments? How does he think that such a body can deal with the future of Northern Ireland when that depends on the will of the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman asks his questions with an innocence which is somewhat uncharacteristic. I think he knows perfectly well that discussions are taking place, but the speculations in the press are rather wide of those discussions which aim to discover whether there are ways of achieving some degree of co-operation and discussion among parliamentarians, but it would not be anything in the nature of a Select Committee or a Grand Committee of the House.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the details surrounding Derbyshire's appointment of Mr. Reg Race as its chief executive, his removal from office within nine months and the lack of information being given to elected members of the severance pay awarded to Mr. Race?

Mr. Wakeham : That sounds like a fascinating subject, and I wish that I could find the opportunity for such a debate in the near future. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to try his luck in an Adjournment debate on the subject.

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Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Will the Leader of the House give us his views on the prospects for a debate on an issue affecting democratic debate in the House? Should a Member of the House, paid by outside interests, be allowed to block a Bill which was designed to help people with a disability because that Bill was unwelcome to the people outside the House who pay him? Is it right and proper that that should be allowed?

Mr. Wakeham : If the right hon. Gentleman does not believe that the procedures of the House are right, his best course of action is to refer the matter to the Select Committee on Procedure or the Select Committee on Members' Interests. He should express his concerns to them rather than to me.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : Has my right hon. Friend noted that early-day motion 250 still lies on the Table, that it has now been signed by 209 hon. Members on both sides of the House, but that, despite meetings with Ministers, the matter remains unsatisfactory and unresolved?

[That this House notes the recommendation of the Trade and Industry Committee that petrol prices should continue to be displayed in gallon and 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.]

In those circumstances, would it not be a good idea to have a debate?

Mr. Wakeham : I said to my hon. Friend two or three weeks ago and to my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren) that my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye, as Chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, had a useful meeting with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on this matter. My right hon. Friend was considering the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye put to him. That is as far as I can take the matter at the moment, but I recognise my hon. Friend's concern.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North) : Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to see early-day motion 416, signed by 116 hon. Members?

[That this House condemns the dumping of hospital incinerator waste, containing refuse from patients suffering from Hepatitis B', AIDS, toxic drugs, amputated limbs and radioactive isotopes at a landfilled site Rixton, Warrington, instead of transporting this to a licensed incinerator ; and calls upon the Government to urgently introduce tougher legislation to stop pirates making a quick buck at the expense of the health and safety of the people of Rixton.] Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that it is only the tip of the iceberg, as there is a shortage of incinerators? Will he make time for a debate? The health and safety of people not only in Rixton but in other parts of the country are being put at risk by people who want to make a quick buck and are cowboys in the waste disposal industry.

Mr. Wakeham : The deposit of hospital waste at the site in Cheshire appears to have been in contravention of Colliers Industrial Waste Ltd's disposal licence, and Cheshire county council has instigated legal proceedings. Proposed changes to legislation announced last June will

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prevent the recurrence of such an incident. Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution has been asked to investigate the incident. That is a practical and sensible way to proceed.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : Is my right hon. Friend happy with the system by which the House debates foreign affairs only about once or twice a year on a motion for the Adjournment, and most of the time is taken up by half-hour rambles by Privy Councillors and former Ministers? Is it not about time that we had more frequent debates, if necessary half- day debates, and preferably on specific aspects?

Mr. Wakeham : I have had discussions and corespondence with my hon. Friend, with my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and others.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : And others.

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman wants to be very careful. He will be in trouble with his mother again.

I hope that we can improve matters. It is not entirely a matter for the Government. Some contributions seemed to be a bit on the long side, but I recognise the force of what my hon. Friend says and I will see what we can do about it.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith)? Even if he cannot agree at this stage to a statement or debate on a specific book which has been published and is causing great trouble, may we have a debate on the publication of books? John Bunyan spent many years in prison because of the "Pilgrim's Progress". Because of the "Age of Reason" and "the Rights of Man", Thomas Paine was persecuted. Milton had to write "Areopagitica" because of Cromwell. Should we not have a debate on the general principle? There is strong feeling on both sides of the House that this is a fundamental matter of importance, based upon the history of our country.

Mr. Wakeham : I recognise the strength of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I recognise also his concern. It is a fundamental and important matter. My point to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) was that I am not sure, in the present rather delicate circumstances, whether a debate in the House would help to deal with some serious problems concerning the life and death of several people. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but I cannot promise a debate in the near future.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : Will my right hon. Friend win concordant affability and influence with the Opposition and split Tuesday's debate into two parts? The first half may be concerned with the Opposition's pretence that the Government have mishandled the concept of eating dairy foods which are perfectly safe. The second half could be on haggis, whisky and broth, which are infinitely more likely to be bug- bearing but are totally safe, as are all dairy products. The whole thing is bunkum.

Mr. Wakeham : It will not require any efforts on my part to find some inconsistencies in the arguments that are presented on Tuesday, but we will await the debate with great interest.

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Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Has the Leader of the House had time to consider the contents of early-day motion 427 which concerns the financial condition of the fishing industry and comments made last Sunday on BBC television by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson)?

[That this House notes the comments concerning the financial difficulties of the sea fish industry by the Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Calder Valley, on the BBC Money Programme on 12 February that "I can't run another man's business nor do I intend that a man who can't run his business should be laid at the door of this Government" ; calls on the Government to recognise that individual fishermen, currently caught in a cost revenue squeeze between high interest rates and limited catching opportunities, are subject to Government and European policies over which they have no control ; demands that the hon. Member for Calder Valley publicly withdraw his insensitive and offensive remark that fishermen are not able to run their businesses ; and further calls on the Government to introduce a coherent policy of fisheries control which will relate catching capacity to available stocks through a range of measures including a planned decommissioning scheme, action at European level on discards and industrial fishing, effective enforcement of mesh size changes, monitoring of the impact of third country imports on domestic price levels, the introduction of special economic assistance for coastal areas dependent on the fishing industry and an end to the excessive reliance on sharp fluctuations in Total Allowable Catches as the only instrument of fisheries management.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those comments have caused enormous concern in the industry because he appeared to set the Government's face against a number of policy options, including a decommissioning scheme? Does he agree that that reinforces the case for an early and urgent debate on the financial condition facing fishermen?

Mr. Wakeham : Fisheries Ministers recognise the problems caused to some fishermen by the reduced 1989 quotas for North Sea haddock and cod. These reductions were needed in the long-term interests of the fishermen. Action must be taken to curb the growth of our fleet, and discussions about improved conservation measures are in train. We have had debates on fishing in the not-too-distant past. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman and his constituents would like more frequent debates on the subject. I cannot promise a debate, but I recognise that it is an important subject.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : My right hon. Friend will be aware that one of the recommendations of the Fennell report is embodied in early-day motion 256 on public safety information, which has now been signed by 260 right hon. and hon. Members of all parties and which will arise on the 24th of this month in a private Member's Bill. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will give a fair wind to this literally life-saving measure?

[That this House welcomes the opportunity to consider the Public Safety Information Bill, which comes up for its Second Reading on 24th February, and joins with the all-party group of honourable Members as well as such organisations as the British Safety Council, the Consumers' Association and the Scottish Consumers' Council, and also such local authorities as Slough Borough Council, Middlesbrough Borough Council, Harrogate District Council, Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council, Wansbeck District Council and Bedfordshire County

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Council, in supporting the Bill ; and further calls upon the Government to support the Bill and assist it in its passage through the House, thus ensuring that the Bill becomes law.]

Mr. Wakeham : I recognise my hon. Friend's concern and interest in this matter and his authority to speak, coming from his constituency. I am of course aware that the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) has introduced a private Member's Bill on public safety information. The Government have a draft of the Bill and are currently studying its provisions. I cannot take the matter further than that.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think again about the reply he gave to my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House, when he requested a debate on the report of the Joint Committee on the reform of the private Bill procedure? I ask him to do that for two reasons. First, the delay in considering and implementing the recommendations of that report means that we are costing the taxpayers enormous sums in lost money, as one of the main recommendations was that the promoters of private Bills in this House should pay hundreds of thousands of pounds more than the peanuts that they are paying at present.

Secondly, planning permission is still being given through the back door of this House on issues which more rightly should be the subject of public inquiries. I am wondering whether the Government's delay in arranging a debate on the report is due to the fact that they are trying to assist some promoters in getting Bills in through the back door instead of going through the proper planning procedures.

Mr. Wakeham : I refute entirely what the hon. Lady says. This is a complicated matter and it is a major report. It has taken a long time to prepare and the Government would do it less than justice if they did not study the report carefully, as we promised to do. I have said that we shall have a debate, and that will take place as soon as possible. I would not accept for a moment any of the hon. Lady's accusations.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : When will we have a debate on defence matters? I appreciate that there are regular defence debates, but they tend to be bunched together. Perhaps the House would like to discuss, in particular, the new changes to allowances and pay--and I understand that at 4 o'clock this afternoon there will be an announcement on pay and allowances. Such a debate would be a wonderful opportunity for Conservative Members to be persuaded by Opposition Members of their new defence policy, which we understand is under review just now.

Mr. Wakeham : There are expressions with shades of significance in answers which Leaders of the House give. My answer to my hon. Friend is that it will be my intention to arrange debates on the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force in the relatively near future, so my hon. Friend will not have long to wait.

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