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Business of the House

3.31 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 6 March----Second Reading of the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill.

Motions relating to Scottish community charge regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion on the Access to Personal Files (Housing) Regulations. Tuesday 7 March----Estimates day (1st Allotted Day). Debate on class IV, vote 3, so far as it relates to assistance to the egg industry. Details of the relevant Agriculture Committee report will be given in the Official Report.

Debate on funding of overseas students on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Details of the relevant Foreign Affairs Committee report and the Government's observations will be given in the Official Report.

At Ten o'clock the Question will be put on all outstanding Supplementary Estimates and votes.

Wednesday 8 March----Motions on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Acts 1978 and 1987 (Continuance) Order and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations.

Motion on the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order.

Debate on a motion to take note of EC document relating to derogations in respect of weights and dimensions of heavy lorries. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Thursday 9 March----Debate on the Royal Air Force on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 10 March----Private Members' motions.

Monday 13 March----Motion for the Easter Adjournment.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that subject to the progress of business it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Easter Adjournment on Thursday 23 March until Tuesday 4 April.

Relevant documents.

[Monday 6 March

Personal Community Charge (Students) (Scotland) Regulations (SI 1989 No. 32)

Personal Community Charge (Exemptions) (Scotland) Regulations (SI 1989 No. 63)

Abolition of Domestic Rates (Domestic and Part Residential Subjects) (Scotland) Regulations (SI 1989 No. 241)

Tuesday 7 March

Estimates Day, class IV, vote 3 (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food : agricultural support, animal health, arterial drainage, flood and coast protection) so far as it relates to assistance to the egg industry.

First Report of the Agriculture Committee Session 1988-89 "Salmonella in Eggs" (HC 108)

Overseas Student Grants :

Fourth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee Session 1987-88 FCO/ODA Expenditure 1988-89

Observations by the Secretary of State for Foreign and

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Commonwealth affairs on the fourth report from the Foreign Affairs Committee Session 1987-88 on FCO/ODA Expenditure 1988-89 (Cm. 518) Minutes of Evidence taken on 1 March 1989 on the Funding of Overseas Students (HC 242)

Wednesday 8 March

Relevant European Community Document

!!4311/89!Weights and dimensions of commercial vehicles! Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee

HC 15-xii (1988-89) para 4]

Mr. Dobson : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Who will be replying to Tuesday's debate on eggs? Will it be a Minister from the Ministry of Health, or will it be a Minister from the Ministry of Agriculture--or will we be getting one of each? Will the Secretary of State for Transport himself be introducing or replying to Wednesday's debate on heavy lorries?

When are we to get the long-promised debate on the Fennell report into the King's Cross fire? The report was published in November and, in view of the business that we have had this week and the business that he has announced for next week, it is getting a little bit difficult for the Leader of the House to argue that he cannot find time for that promised debate.

When will the Leader of the House be able to find time for the promised debate on the substitution of student loans for student grants? If he can get the Secretary of State for Education and Science into the House, rather than for a few photo-opportunities outside, could he get him to take part in a debate on Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools' report on the current state of our schools and, in particular, a debate on the shocking and growing shortage of teachers of mathematics and science?

When are we to have the promised debate on what the Government say is an all-important review of the National Health Service?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman asked me five questions about next week's business. In particular, he asked me which Ministers were to reply to certain debates. It is not usual for the names of Ministers responding to debates to be announced at this time, but I shall try to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. Tuesday's debate on assistance to the egg industry will be answered by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have only just received the report of the Select Committee and will be responding to the report in due course, in accordance with normal practice. The question of any other debate will have to wait until the response arrives.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has some very strong views on the subject of heavy lorries. As I said, it is not usual to announce who will speak in a debate, but I shall be extremely surprised if he does not take part in the debate next week.

I regret to tell the hon. Gentleman that I have nothing more to add to what I have said before about the Fennell report. There is to be a debate, but I cannot announce the date for it at the moment.

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Again, I have nothing further to add to what I have said previously about student loans. The White Paper asked for a response to a number of points and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is considering them. I know that he would delight in taking part in a debate, but I cannot arrange one at the moment.

I agree that the National Health Service is a subject for debate, but I am not at present in a position to announce a date.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : Will my right hon. Friend take steps today to ensure that the Government and British Rail have brought to their attention the proposals by a group of individuals who support a scheme called TALIS, which seeks to replace the four options proposed by British Rail for a high-speed rail link through the county of Kent? Is he aware of the total opposition in Kent and south London to British Rail's current proposals? Will he tell the House why he thinks that the Garden of England should be destroyed by British Rail for the sake of saving quarter of an hour on the journey time from Paris to London?

Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend tempts me to answer questions which go rather wider than the business for next week. The right procedure is for British Rail to consider all the options and to make its proposals known. Those proposals will require, as I understand it, legislation and the matter will, therefore, come before the House.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Is there to be any opportunity for a debate on remand prisoners and the proposals that the Home Secretary announced yesterday?

Given that the Secretary of State for the Environment yesterday ruled out legislation banning chemicals that damage the ozone layer, and as it is widely reported that the Prime Minister will tonight announce such legislation, will the Leader of the House clarify the position?

Mr. Wakeham : This is neither the time nor the occasion for me to announce legislative proposals of the Government. There is a proper procedure for that, and it is not for me to do so at the Dispatch Box today.

As for the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, he indicated the further work that was being considered, and I have no proposals for a debate on this subject.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury) : Can my right hon. Friend say when there will be a debate on the Anglo-Irish Agreement, in view of the fact that the period for the review which is taking place at present is not open-ended?

Mr. Wakeham : I realise that a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends would like a debate on this subject, and I recognise the need for one, but there are no immediate plans for a debate. It is a question of judgment as to what is the right time. On Wednesday there will be debates on a number of Northern Ireland matters, and it seems to me that, with a bit of ingenuity, my hon. Friend might then be able to make some of the points that he wants to make.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 498 concerning the report produced by three London boroughs on airline food safety?

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[That this House is appalled that nearly a quarter of all airline meals tested at Heathrow Airport contained excessive levels of potentially dangerous bacteria ; notes that the survey was conducted by Hillingdon, Hounslow and Spelthorne Boroughs which cover the airport ; further notes that most of the foods were prepared by the cook-chill method which has been implicated in many of the cases of listeria food poisoning, but notes that the foods were not tested for listeria and therefore calls for a further test by environmental health officers ; is further concerned that an excessive level of E.coli, the bacteria associated with faecal contamination, was found in 209 separate dishes ; and calls on the Government to take urgent action to ensure the safety of food eaten by airline passengers and to consult with all national and international agencies involved in food hygiene in air transport.]

One quarter of all meals tested at Heathrow were found to contain potentially dangerous bacteria. Should not the Government initiate their own debate on food safety in the light of this report? Does the right hon. Gentleman advise airline passengers to take their own sandwiches?

Mr. Wakeham : As the hon. Lady will know, the report of the survey of airline meals undertaken between June 1984 and December 1986 is a useful document and is being drawn to the attention of national and international agencies involved in food hygiene in relation to air transport. When the survey was being conducted listeria was not regarded as a problem. In any case, there have been no reports of such problems with airline meals. The overall standard of airline catering is well controlled, and reported instances of food poisoning are relatively rare. However, the House may well discuss these matters whether or not I initiate a debate.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden) : My right hon. Friend will be aware that it is some time since the White Paper on planning and structure plans was published. In view of the deep interest that has been shown in this important matter--on both sides of the House, but especially amongst my hon. Friends representing constituencies in the south-east--can my right hon. Friend say that there will be an early debate on it?

Mr. Wakeham : I agree that it is an important matter, but since, at the moment, many other matters demand time, I cannot promise that there will be an early debate. However, I will certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Does the Leader of the House recall that a few weeks ago I called for a public inquiry into the methane explosion in Arkwright Town, in my constituency? Is he aware that Ministers are still at sixes and sevens over this proposal, that 40 families had to be evacuated, that these people lost substantial sums of money, that their houses have been devalued as a result of the explosion, and that there is continuing worry concerning the village? Will the right hon. Gentleman call upon the heads of the two Departments concerned--Energy and Employment--to try to ensure that there will be a public inquiry into the explosion so that my constituents may be assured that something is being done?

Mr. Wakeham : I will certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friends. I cannot accept the premise of the hon.

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Gentleman's question, though it is perfectly proper that he should put it on behalf of his constituents. He deserves an answer, and I shall get him one.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : It is nearly 12 months since the Griffiths report was published. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could find time for a debate on the recommendations in that report and on care in the community generally.

Mr. Wakeham : I cannot add anything to what I said last week. Active consideration is being given to the Griffiths report, and we hope to be in a position in the near future to bring forward our own proposals.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton) : Can the Leader of the House tell us whether any consideration has been given to the possibility of inviting President Gorbachev, during his visit this country next month, to address both Houses of Parliament, perhaps from the Royal Gallery?

Mr. Wakeham : I know of no proposal to do so, though the suggestion certainly has its attractions.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton) : Now that January 1989 has passed, can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether it will have an opportunity to take decisions on the crucially important report of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure in time for its decisions to be implemented before the next tranche of private Bills is introduced in November?

Mr. Wakeham : I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's question, but I can add nothing more to the second part other than to repeat the answer that I gave a week ago--that I recognise the need for a debate. Much consideration had to be given to that very important report, and I have undertaken to have a debate shortly after Easter.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : The Leader of the House will remember that I have asked before about the possibility of clarification of press speculation concerning the British-Irish parliamentary tier. The right hon. Gentleman was not able to help me on that occasion. Since then announcements have been made. Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to give the House some data about the matter? Will it be in a position, for example, to summon Ministers before it?

Mr. Wakeham : There have been some discussions, and some progress has been made, on the setting up of a parliamentary body that would seek to encourage contacts between the Westminster Parliament and the Parliament in Dublin, and I welcome closer contacts on it. There is considerable work still to be done before final arrangements are achieved. Of course I will see to it that discussions take place through the usual channels with all parties in the House before any announcement is made.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham) : With regard to next week's debate on the proposal by the Community to impose heavier lorries on this country, can my right hon. Friend confirm that, in the Government's view, that matter is subject to the unanimity rule, and therefore is

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subject to a British veto? Does he agree that it is unsatisfactory that the House will be allowed simply to take note of that matter rather than express a view?

Mr. Wakeham : I agree that it is an important matter. I do not feel that it is appropriate at this time for me to go into the substance of the subject that the House will debate later next week, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will take part in it, and no doubt he will be able to give my hon. Friend satisfactory answers to his questions.

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford) : Is the Leader of the House aware of the statement by Sir Robert Haslam on "Newsnight" last night, confirming a forecast made by myself and other hon. Members some time ago, that, arising out of the privatisation of electricity, he may find it necessary to close profitable pits? Is he also aware that, during this week, the closure of another two Yorkshire pits has been announced? Given that the average age of a miner is only 34, a man who will receive no weekly protection payments, and who is at present having great difficulty because of high mortgage interest rates, lives in fear of what may happen if he is thrown out of work. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate to enable the Government to tell the House and miners what policies they have to provide alternative employment in mining communities which have already been savaged?

Mr. Wakeham : I recognise the hon. Gentleman's interest and concern in matters relating to mining. I suspect that many of the questions that he put to me are matters for the management of British Coal. Nevertheless, I shall refer his points to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. I do not see an early opportunity for a debate on the coal industry, but we have debates from time to time, and I shall certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's suggestions.

Sir Richard Body (Holland and Boston) : Further to the question concerning next week's debate on heavier lorries, is it not the case that the House will not be able to take a decision on that matter? Therefore, if the matter is out of our hands what is the point of having a debate?

Mr. Wakeham : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport wishes to hear the views of the House, and he will be reporting to the House. If I were to try not to have a debate, more of my right hon. and and hon. Friends might complain than the number of those who are welcoming the debate. On balance, I have probably done the right thing. If my hon. Friend does not wish to take part, I do not think that he need worry.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for the appropriate Minister to make a statement next week on the way in which the Government have operated in the past decade the Croham directive of 1977 on the provision of Government background factual and analytical material in arriving at decisions? To assist the House, does the Leader of the House consider it appropriate for all background factual and analytical material and the briefings relating to the British Antarctic Survey, and the alleged discovery by the Prime Minister of the gap in the ozone layer, to be placed in the Library? Without that information, she will not be believed.

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Mr. Wakeham : The last part of the hon. Gentleman's question is not worthy of him. On the more general point, this Government have been very forthcoming in giving background information on many matters that are for the House to decide. They have been rather better in doing so than their predecessors. I know that there are difficulties, and that a number of Select Committees seem to be pressing the Government to make available the advice that officials give to Ministers. The Government are right to say that such information should not be made public.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : Did my right hon. Friend really tell the House a few moments ago that we are to have a debate next Tuesday on the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture? Has he read that report? If he has, does he not think that, instead of having a debate next Tuesday, it would be better for the Select Committee to take its report away, rewrite it and get rid of all the muddled thinking and for us to have a debate on it after the revised report has been laid before the House?

Mr. Wakeham : The question whether we have a debate on the report is not primarily a matter for me. The Liaison Committee believed that the report should be discussed in relation to the Estimates day and I was happy to oblige. I have not read every word of the report, but I have read a number of parts of it. Perhaps my hon. Friend was referring to paragraph 101. If he was, I have some sympathy with his view.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : In view of the fact that I have asked the Leader of the House for many weeks about safety in the construction industry--I think that I gave him a rest in the past two weeks --and that he will have noted that the early-day motion tabled by myself and other hon. Members had more than 220 signatures from hon. Members of all parties, will he assure me that we shall have a debate on that subject before the Easter recess? We may not be able to do anything about heavy lorries, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), but we can do something about safety in the construction industry. Is it not time that we had a proper debate and took some action to improve safety for workers in that industry?

Mr. Wakeham : I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about safety, as do the Government. The Government have a record that stands up to good inspection, while the industry itself has a record that, although it is improving, is not as good as it should be. I wish that I could meet his request for a debate in Government time, but I cannot do so. However, the Consolidated Fund debate and the Easter Adjournment debate would present opportunities for him to raise matters of concern, and it would be proper for him to do so.

Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield) : May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 494?

[That this House notes the statement of the honourable Member for Lewisham East, published in the Birmingham Evening Mail on Friday 17th February 1989, to the effect that he was present at the football match Millwall versus Newcastle when, he is reported as saying I was at the Millwall versus Newcastle game when the club rooms, the directors and their guests were attacked' ; further notes that the Chairman of Millwall Football Club, supported by senior officers of the police who were present, has repeatedly made it clear that this was a minor incident when two windows

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were cracked by visiting supporters who were under police escort at the time and that at no time were any directors of either club or their guests attacked or threatened, and that the Minister for Sport was unaware of this incident until his attention was drawn to it some time later ; and, in these circumstances, has no hesitation in accepting the account of the Chairman of Millwall Football Club.] It is headed :

"Comments of the Minister for Sport"

and is thoroughly misleading. The motion states that my hon. Friend said :

"I was at the Millwall versus Newcastle game when the club rooms, the directors and their guests were attacked."

My hon. Friend actually said :

"In November, I was at the Millwall versus Newcastle game where the club rooms the directors and their guests were in were attacked." Those who tabled the early-day motion should be brought to the House and made to withdraw it or resign from the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Wakeham : I have many responsibilities but, thank goodness, having to vouch for the accuracy of early-day motions is not among them. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have copies of both the Birmingham Evening Mail and of early-day motion 494. Either the hon. Members who tabled the motion were incompetent in their copying of the newspaper article, or they were misleading. I leave it to my hon. Friend to judge which it was.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Is it not astonishing that the House has not been given an opportunity--and is apparently not to have the opportunity next week--to discuss issues arising from the publication of the book "The Satanic Verses"? As a committee of national British Muslim organisations first warned the Prime Minister last October of the grave offence caused by the book and the threat to public order posed by its publication, will the Leader of the House urge the Prime Minister to call upon the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary to see what fresh initiatives can be taken to defuse this dangerous and difficult situation? Will he also draw her attention to early-day motion 510, which some believe may offer the key to peace in this very difficult matter?

[That this House urges Salman Rushdie to instruct his publishers in the United Kingdom and overseas to stop producing more or new editions of The Satanic Verses ; and believes such action would persuade Muslims in Britain and overseas to end their protests against the book thereby stopping more death, injury and disorder, compel Ayatollah Khomeini to withdraw his odious death threat against Mr. Rushdie and enable Mr. Rushdie to live in peace and safety.]

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman is being grossly unfair. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary came to the House and explained the position on all the events of the past weeks. We made it abundantly clear that death threats against our citizens are totally unacceptable and quite incompatible with any kind of normal relations. Britain has the fullest respect for Islam and for Moslem communities here and abroad, and we fully understand the deep offence that the content of the book has given to Moslems, but that does not justify the statements that were made, which we think are totally unacceptable. The Government have made themselves very clear on this matter, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman phrased his question as he did.

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Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar) : Should we not have an early debate on the worrying and growing problem of personal debt? Among other things, we might focus on the seeming ease with which some people can gain access to credit cards and other forms of credit. Any citizens advice bureau will tell my right hon. Friend that the problem is growing throughout the country.

Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend, like me, represents part of the county of Essex, and I do not hear many of my constituents talking about the ease with which they get credit. Instead, I hear a number of complaints about the difficulty that they have in meeting interest charges on their existing borrowing. They all recognise, however, that this is a fundamental part of the process of controlling inflation. As my hon. Friend knows, there will be an opportunity after 14 March, extending to several days, to discuss such matters. It seems to me that his point would be highly relevant to the Budget debate.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : In view of the characteristically offensive response given to me by a junior Home Office Minister at Question Time in reply to my question about inadequate policing in Leicestershire, and as the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) fairly said that this is not a matter of controversy between hon. Members on either side of the House who represent that county, may we please have a debate on the matter? The Minister of State, Home Office could then be called to account and would have to show some understanding of the concern of people who cannot go out at night without fear because there are not enough police men on the beat and because violent crime in our county has doubled since the Government came to power.

Mr. Wakeham : I was not present at Question Time and I therefore cannot accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's description of my hon. Friend's reply. I find my hon. Friend to be a most courteous and gentle person who usually gives good and clear answers. There is a solution available to the hon. and learned Gentleman. He could put in for a debate during our proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill. If it fell in the middle of the night, both the hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend would get their just deserts.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : Will my right hon. Friend arrange next week, or certainly before the beginning of April, for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to explain to the House how the abolition of charging for expeditions during school hours will work? Is he aware that there is considerable concern in rural schools about those proposals which I have raised with Ministers, but I cannot pretend that I have received satisfactory replies?

Mr. Wakeham : I recall that my hon. Friend raised the matter with me during a recent Adjournment debate. As the Easter Adjournment debate is coming up fairly soon, I shall get in touch with my hon. Friend before then so that I do not have to answer him again on that subject, but I regret that I cannot promise him an early debate.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : May I have a frank reply? Is the Leader of the House ever consulted by, or does he consult, members of the security services on

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