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Business of the House

3.32 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) : The business for next week will be as follows :

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.

Motion to take note of EC document relating to Community strategy and action in the forestry sector. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Tuesday 28 February----There will be a debate on the Royal Navy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Wednesday 1 March----There will be a debate on Welsh affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Thursday 2 March----Until seven o'clock, there will be a debate on housing on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Afterwards there will be a debate on a motion to take note of EC documents on the annual report from the European Court of Auditors for 1987 and related matters. Details of these and of the document relevant to the debate will be given in the Official Report. Friday 3 March----Private Members' Bills.

Monday 6 March----Second Reading of the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill.

[Monday 27 February

(1) Relevant European Community Documents :

(a) COM(89)40 Agricultural Price Proposals 1989-90

(b) 4536/89 Agricultural markets in 1988

(c) 8960/88 Sheepmeat regime

(d) 10083/88 Imports of sheepmeat from New Zealand

(e) 9629/88 Cereals : incorporation into animal feeding-stuffs (f)

(g) 10140/87


Use of milk co-responsibility levy funds

(h) 8502/88 Court of Auditors special report : management and control of special storage

(i) 8951/88 Pigmeat market

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

(k) 9275/88 Aid for conversion of agricultural production (l) 10416/88 Extensification of agriculture

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee :

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

HC 15-xii (1988-89), para 3

(b) HC 15-xii (1988-89), para 5

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

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

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

(f) HC 43-xi (1987-88), para 9

(g) HC 15-vi (1988-89), para 10

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

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

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

(k) HC 15-v (1988-89), para 7

(l) HC 15-iv (1988-89), para 9.

(2) Relevant European Community Document :

8415/88 Strategy and action programme : forestry sector Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee :

HC 15-viii (1988-89), para 1

Thursday 2 March

Relevant European Community Documents :

(a) 9908/88 Annual Report of the Court of Auditors 1987 (b) 8502/88 Management and control of public storage of agricultural products

(c) 9945/88 European Coal and Steel Community Finances

(d) 4782/88 Community Budget 1987 : Implementation

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee :

(a) HC 15-viii (1988-89), para 2

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

(c) HC 15-xi (1988-89), para 4

(d) HC 43-xxvii (1987-88), para 5.]

Mr. Dobson : I thank the Leader of the House for that statement and, in particular, for providing Government time for a housing debate to make up for the time lost on a previous occasion.

Will the Lord President tell the House whether we may expect a debate on private Bill procedure in the reasonably near future? That is an important and complicated matter and right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House will find it helpful to know in advance when that debate will be, as that will assist them in their preparations and in consultations with people outside the House. Can the right hon. Gentleman say when there will be the promised debate on student loans, and the debate--which has been promised even longer--on the Fennell report on the King's Cross fire? I understand that the Secretary of State for Transport made a brilliantly witty speech at the Press Gallery lunch yesterday. We should like the Secretary of State to come to the House, and--although we do not mind about the standard of his speech--we think that he ought to reply to the points we have to make.

Finally, I press the Leader of the House for an early debate on the Government's review of the National Health Service. The Secretary of State for Health spent more than £1 million initially trying to publicise the White Paper. By any standards of measurement, it is clear that its proposals have yet to prove popular, either with doctors or with the public. One expects the Secretary of State to be pressing the right hon. Gentleman for an early opportunity to provide better and more attractive explanations than hitherto. We wish to know whether there will be an early debate on that subject, and whether the Secretary of State for Health will explain then how on earth the proposals in the Griffiths report for care in the community can be reconciled with those in the National Health Service review.

Mr. Wakeham : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions, and for his remarks concerning the housing debate that I have been able to arrange for next week. It is an important subject, and the Government have a good

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story to tell. We welcome the opportunity to tell it. As to private Bill procedure, I know of the keen interest in a debate on that subject. I am arranging for the precise timing to be discussed through the usual channels, but it is my intention that the debate will be shortly after Easter.

On student loans, the White Paper asked for responses on a number of points, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is considering them. Meanwhile, he is preparing for implementation of the Government's plans in the autumn. To that end, he is discussing with a variety of financial institutions and other potential agents administration of the top-up loans. It is clearly a matter that the House will want to discuss, but the timing of a debate is a matter for the usual channels.

As to the Fennell report, I cannot add anything useful to my remarks to the hon. Gentleman of last week. I agree that it will be appropriate to have a debate but, again, the precise timing is best left to the usual channels.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should have a debate on the Health Service and on the Griffiths report. We are giving the Griffiths report active consideration and hope to bring forward our proposals in the near future. We recognise the concern that our response should not be unduly delayed, but it is vital that we reach the right solution. The Government remain of the view that a debate will be most helpful when our proposals are available for discussion.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge) : I welcome my right hon. Friend's remarks in response to the question of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) on student loans. I emphasise to my right hon. Friend that, before any decision is made, the House should have an opportunity to debate the matter, and that that debate should be as soon as possible.

Mr. Wakeham : I acknowledge my hon. Friend's knowledge of and interest in the subject, but I cannot usefully add to my earlier remarks.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside) : The Leader of the House may have had an opportunity to note early-day motion 395, signed by 110 hon. and right hon. Members, concerning Mr. Oscar Mpetha, a sick man aged 80, who has been imprisoned in South Africa for the past nine years.

[That this House calls upon the South African Government to release Mr. Oscar Mpetha a 79 year old trade union leader imprisoned since 1980 ; notes that he had his leg amputated in 1983, that he is a diabetic with complications and was refused permission to leave prison in 1986 to attend his wife's funeral ; believes that his imprisonment is solely due to his struggle on behalf of black workers and as a member of the South African Congress of Trades Unions and as President of the African National Congress in the Cape ; welcomes Her Majesty's Government's representations to the South African Government on his behalf ; and calls upon the South African authorities to release Mr. Mpetha as as matter of urgency.] Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to make urgent representations to South Africa's Foreign Secretary, Mr. Botha, before it is too late?

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Mr. Wakeham : The Government have certainly noted the early-day motion, and we have made representations to the South African Government on behalf of Mr. Mpetha on at least five occasions. I note the hon. Gentleman's request.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South) : May I draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the practice, indulged in by some hon. Members, of complaining about the shortage of time resulting from the use of the guillotine and then wasting time by raising point of order after point of order? Should not this practice be roundly condemned?

Mr. Wakeham : I agree with my hon. Friend. I find it very difficult to understand why those matters were pursued yesterday, especially as it had been made clear that everything was in order, and especially since those right hon. and hon. Members who had been most vociferous about the time provided for the debate were most prominent in taking up over an hour of that time by raising bogus points of order.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Can the Leader of the House tell us how discussions in the usual channels are going with regard to the question of our having a debate on the matter of displaying petrol prices in gallons? This is something for which the Chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee has been asking for a long time. If it is not possible to have a debate specifically on that matter, could it be brought up in the context of a debate on the question of metrication generally?

Secondly, is it likely that there will be an announcement next week about the British-Irish parliamentary tier? If so, will it be possible to give a guarantee that the composition of that body will include representation of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, which has representation in another place?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman raised two points about metrication. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has had discussions with the Chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren), about the display of petrol prices, and he has now asked that Committee for any further suggestions it might like to make. My right hon. Friend awaits those suggestions with interest. With regard to metrication generally, no doubt the House will have an opportunity to debate these matters in the near future. As to the British-Irish parliamentary tier, the details have not yet been settled fully, but the intention is that this should be a matter primarily for the Dublin and Westminster Parliaments.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : Can my right hon. Friend say whether he hopes shortly to find time for a debate on the report of the Council on Tribunals, which was laid before this House on 16 January, particularly in view of the significance of its recommendations in respect of ministerial accountability for the actions of the general commissioners of taxation?

Mr. Wakeham : I know of my hon. Friend's interest in these matters. The Government are at present studying this very important report, and an announcement will be

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made in due course. I cannot promise an early debate in Government time, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to find another way of raising the matter.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Will the Leader of the House recognise that many people in receipt of protected transitional payments, following the change from supplementary benefit to income support, are suffering very severely as a result of the current level of inflation? Will he try to ensure that time is provided for a debate at the earliest opportunity-- before those people suffer a further erosion of their standard of living when the new benefits come into effect in April?

Mr. Wakeham : I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises that this Government have at least kept pace on behalf of people in receipt of pensions and other social security payments, and that they have not done so by fiddling the figures. I recognise that the hon. Gentleman would like to raise the matter, but I cannot promise a debate in Government time in the near future.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) : In the light of the slight hiccup in another place this week, when their Lordships decided to try to phase in the Football Spectators Bill [Lords], will my right hon. Friend give the House an absolute assurance that the Government will not be deflected from this admirable legislation and that it will be brought before this House unamended as quickly as possible?

Mr. Wakeham : Of course, I cannot comment in detail on a Bill that is before another place. However, I can say that I understand that the effect of the amendment was perhaps not what its proposers intended. I believe that the matter will be resolved happily before the Bill comes to this House.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : In view of the number of informed leaks that have occurred recently with regard to the inviting of tenders for the construction of private remand prisons, will the Leader of the House undertake to bring the issue of private prisons to the Floor of this House before the Government take any definitive action? There is a fundamental principle at stake here.

Mr. Wakeham : I do not know about informed leaks, and I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman does either. I therefore cannot accept that part of his question. I cannot imagine, however, that development of policy in that regard would go very far before an announcement was made in the House.

Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston) : Further to what my right hon. Friend said recently about the House being given an opportunity to debate metrication, may I ask whether there would be any point in our having such a debate if the Government have already agreed to what is now known as the Cockfield directive--the last proposed directive that Lord Cockfield signed before giving up office--in which he said clearly that imperial measurements would be phased out over a period of years, with only a few exceptions?

Mr. Wakeham : I think that my hon. Friend emphasised in making his point that it might be desirable to debate the matter in the House. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out a few minutes ago, permanent

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derogations have been included for the pub pint, the pint milk bottle on the doorstep and the mile--for both distance and speed measurement.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : In view of the growing concern in Europe at the Prime Minister's intransigence in insisting on the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons, is it not right that she should make a statement in the House about her meetings with the German Chancellor Herr Kohl in Frankfurt this week so that we can have a full view of that intransigence and the fact that she is out of step with nearly every world leader at present?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman has got it completely wrong. What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was doing in Frankfurt was discussing and supporting unanimous decisions by NATO. The interesting question is whether the Opposition support NATO.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a very simple solution to the problem of the display of petrol prices in gallons and litres which can be achieved without any lengthy discussion--namely for the Government to withdraw the order that they laid just before we rose for the Christmas recess?

Mr. Wakeham : I know my hon. Friend well enough to be aware that when he says that there is a simple solution there is usually a catch in it. I think that I will leave it at that.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : You are aware, Mr. Speaker, of the disruption of last Thursday's Adjournment debate, and condemn it. Nine points of order were raised. I know that the Leader of the House did not like the points of order that were raised yesterday--and I do not think that you were too pleased with some of them either, Mr. Speaker.

On Thursday, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) spied Strangers and then did not bother to vote in the Division, and there was continuous caterwauling from some Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). Will the Leader of the House ensure that nothing like that takes place in future Adjournment debates?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman is right to disapprove of disorder, wherever it comes from, but I hope that he is also big enough to recognise that it does not always come from one side of the House. His hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) can dish it out, and I think that he can take it as well.

I do not approve of disorderly conduct. I believe that the House does itself credit when it conducts itself in accordance with order. The question of order at any particular time, however, is a matter for the occupant of the Chair and not for me.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : My right hon. Friend would not expect me to discourage him from arranging a debate on procedure, particularly when it concerns a report that has been before the House for nearly two years and on which I have urged him many times to arrange a debate. May I point out, however, that because of certain happenings during the present Session a paper is currently before the Procedure Committee about private Members' time. It might well be useful to ensure that that was placed

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before the House, as I think that it may assist the House in coming to decisions that go further than those in our original report.

Mr. Wakeham : As my hon. Friend knows, on all such questions--but particularly questions of procedure--I seek to make progress through as much consent and agreement as possible from both sides of the House. Relatively simple changes often have complications which are not necessarily readily understood at the time.

I think that my hon. Friend will agree that he and I have discussed these matters ; and I have discussed them with many other Members of the House. We are slowly making progress in finding ways of dealing with some of the issues, but I do not wish to rush to quick and simple solutions, because they are not there--and I know that my hon. Friend does not believe that they are there either.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Can I begin by saying that I agreed with the Leader of the House when he referred to the fact that we must be prepared to take the rough with the smooth in this place. The only point I quarrelled with was that the way in which hon. Members dealt with the matter was a little bit inept. I actually got to know about the so-called ambush before it started, which spoilt the adventure that could have occurred. It got a bit boring really. The Secretary of State for Energy gave a reply during last Energy Questions about miners who have been called to go on restart schemes and who may lose their benefits from British Coal or the state. Attempts are being made by various Departments, including Energy, to try to remedy the matter. Will the Leader of the House talk to the respective Departments--Employment and Energy--with a view to ensuring that by next Monday, when the Department of Energy reports again to the House, the matter will be resolved, so that those miners who have been made redundant are not called on to go through this procedure and will be treated in the same way as those who are given the golden handshake and go on to the professional and executive register? We should treat everyone alike.

Mr. Wakeham : I certainly give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking that I shall have a word with my right hon. Friend. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would do a favour for me some time and have a word with some of his hon. Friends to teach them how to proceed in the House with the same skill as he has.

Mr. Skinner : I do it all the time.

Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge) : Will my right hon. Friend find time for us to debate the implications of the second Astra satellite, which will soon become available to all homes in England prepared to pay? Its programmes consist mainly of indecent foreign films. Can we not stop this debauchery of our morals before it starts?

Mr. Wakeham : I understand my hon. Friend's concern. We have recently had a debate on broadcasting, so I cannot find an early debate in Government time. It is a matter to which we shall come back and I know that my hon. Friend will be in the forefront in expressing his views.

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