Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw to your attention, and seek your advice on, something that the Prime Minister said to the House yesterday and that has considerable implications for the House?
In reply to a question put to her by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), the Prime Minister said : "The hon. Gentleman can read for himself the report of the secretary general to the United Nations Security Council". She went on to say :
"he can also obtain for himself a copy of the Geneva protocols which were specifically agreed to by SWAPO. All those are public knowledge, and the hon. Gentleman can get them from the Library at any time."
The Prime Minister used documents yesterday to make an attack on one side in Namibia, that is, SWAPO, but the fact is that the secretary general's report to the United Nations Security Council was not publicly available yesterday when she said that it was. It was not in the House of Commons Library then and it is not in the Library now.
More seriously, the documents that she referred to as the "Geneva protocols", which led her to say in her answer,
"SWAPO committed itself to the Geneva accord under which it is required to stay north of the 16th parallel in Angola"--[ Official Report, 4 April 1989 ; Vol. 150, c. 15.],
are not available. In The Guardian today, Cedric Thornberry, the assistant to the United Nations' special representative in Namibia, is quoted as saying :
"We have no official knowledge of that treaty and so far as I know it has never been published".
Yesterday the Prime Minister was fresh back from Namibia and chose to make a one-sided and partisan attack on SWAPO in a brief reply to a question without making the proper and full statement that the House expected. She did so by citing documents which were not, and in one case cannot be, in the public domain or in the House of Commons Library. This is an inexcusable way of treating the House. In the face of escalating violence and deaths on Namibia's northern border, there is real concern in this country about the possible collapse of the peace plan, the danger of further killing which may well threaten British troops--
Mr. Speaker : Order. This is not a statement ; the hon. Gentleman is raising a point of order with me. [Interruption.] Order. I am not responsible for what has been said by the Prime Minister. I will hear the rest of the point of order as long as it is brief.
Mr. Robertson : I am putting to you, Mr. Speaker, the very serious point that on a matter of acute importance to the House, to the country and to British troops serving in Namibia, the Prime Minister cited the existence of extremely important documents, telling us that they were in the House of Commons Library and were publicly available. The fact that they are not publicly available and are still not in the Library must be of genuine concern to all of us and to you.
The House expected the Prime Minister yesterday to come forward with at least some support for the United Nations secretary general in his efforts in Namibia and also possibly support for a British plan on the same lines
Column 194as were applicable in Zimbabwe. However, we were faced only with partisan invective. As the Prime Minister cited documents that she said were available and were not, and that are important but are not in the public domain, will you, Mr. Speaker, seek to protect the House from such conduct and perhaps ask the Prime Minister for an explanation?
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : The hon. Gentleman went rather wide of the point of order. I have Hansard in front of me. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answered a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), that was the principal answer. It was only in answer to a supplementary question that she referred to some documents. I understand that she was not correct in what she said and that the documents were not in the Library. I understand that arrangements are being made for copies of the agreement and the Geneva protocols to be placed in the Library this afternoon. It was a genuine mistake on the part of my right hon. Friend. I apologise to the House for any inconvenience that has occurred, but I understand that the documents will be put in the Library this afternoon.
Mr. Williams : We have observed the increasing practice of the Prime Minister, in the middle of Prime Minister's questions, of making limited statements on which there can be no further questions, so using up valuable time. When the Prime Minister makes a mistake, why should she not observe the same rules as the rest of us? Instead of sending a messenger along to say, "Please, I am sorry, but as I am Prime Minister you will ignore it," why on earth does not the right hon. Lady have the guts to come here herself to say that she was wrong and that she misled the House?
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is a different point of order on which I ask for your ruling. I will be brief. The point of order relates to your ruling yesterday in respect of the sub judice rule as it affects the Department of Trade and Industry report on the House of Fraser. I should like you to confirm that, although the sub judice rule applies during our deliberations at Question Time and on statements, it does not apply when the House of Commons or the other House is discussing legislation. When we are discussing the passage of Bills, where it is relevant, the sub judice rule does not apply. I seek your confirmation and guidance on that.
Mr. Hamilton rose--
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : Further to the earlier point of order, Mr. Speaker, about the Prime Minister's answer yesterday. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for apologising for part of the mistake. Is he aware that there were further misleading statements? The Prime Minister said clearly that there was no provision for SWAPO bases inside the country. There are published documents that state the contrary. It is up to you, Mr. Speaker, on a matter as grave as this, with such tremendous issues at stake, to ensure that the Prime Minister, who returned from Namibia only two or three days ago, is compelled to come to the House and make a statement to withdraw the totally wrong allegations that she made against SWAPO.
Mr. Speaker : The House knows that I cannot be held responsible for what is said from the Dispatch Box or from the Back Benches. There will be other opportunities for hon. Members to raise the matter, doubtless even tomorrow.
Mr. Skinner : Yes, Mr. Speaker. As you will be aware, those responsible are still deliberating over the question of televising the House. In the meantime, we have to watch television programmes about politics and other matters. From what I gather, on Friday night, on Channel 4, there will be an interesting programme about the life and times of the Prime Minister and that it will suggest that Leon Brittan is reported as saying that Bernard Ingham and Charles Powell deliberately leaked the Solicitor-General's letter about Westland. If so, that confirms what my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) said about the Prime Minister continually misleading the House. If that is the case, she should be brought here to explain.
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your help and guidance. Elements of war have broken out in relation to agreements by which we were bound. That is the situation in Namibia. There must be some means by which a responsible Minister can be made to come to the House to make a statement on that subject. Apart from the needs of the House, it is imperative that that is done for the sake of the issue that is involved. The Leader of the House is in his place. Can it be put to him, through you, Mr. Speaker, that a statement is required and should be made and the inaccurate statements about the situation withdrawn?
Mr. Speaker : An opportunity will arise at Prime Minister's Question Time tomorrow, if the House wishes to pursue the subject. There will also be business questions tomorrow. The Leader of the House will have heard what has been said, and doubtless there may be the possibility of the House debating the matter.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point concerns the disciplining of a Member of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was banned from the House because of a remark that he made about the Prime Minister. If, however, it turns out that what he said was basically true--that the information was leaked on the direct instructions of the Prime Minister's press secretary and private secretary, which does not seem to be any longer in dispute as a result of what Sir Leon Brittan has said--then surely my hon. Friend was perfectly right
That the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Sea Fish) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 529) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Civil Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) (Scotland) Regulations 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
That the matter of Housing in Wales, being a matter relating exclusively to Wales, be referred to the Welsh Grand Committee for its consideration.-- [Mr. Maclean.]
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman, who is a former Whip, knows that when Mr. Speaker is on his feet he must resume his seat. However, if he wishes to raise a point of order on a different matter, and if it will be helpful to us, I will take it.
Mr. Banks : We former Whips should stick together, Mr. Speaker. I would like you to expound a little more, if you would, Mr. Speaker, on the question of the sub judice rule. I understood that sub judice was involved when a matter was before the court and that if we discussed the issue in the House we might prejudice the opinions of a jury. I do not understand how the sub judice rule applies to the DTI report on Lonrho and the Harrods takeover. It appears that we are talking about a report in which the Fayeds have been described as a bunch of liars--
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it compulsory to display health warnings where spectacles are sold without prescription.
Under the Health and Medicines Act 1988 it is legal for spectacles to be sold over the counter without a prescription. The practice is restricted to spectacles which have simple magnifying lenses to help people with reading difficulties. Nevertheless, it is likely to become extremely dangerous as it militates against the early discovery of eye disease.
It is common ground that a significant amount of eye disease such as glaucoma is discovered, entirely incidentally, during regular eye check- ups. Very often the patient has such a check-up because of deteriorating vision and ordinary reading difficulties, the eye test is carried out and quite apart from the vision defect the incipient disease is discovered. Under the new system, people between 40 and 50 who might normally expect their reading sight to deteriorate will, in effect, be able to prescribe their own spectacles without any eye check-up or any prescription by trying out various lenses until they reach the ones with which they are most comfortable.
I do not wish to prevent anyone from being able to buy cheap spectacles without the hassle of a test and a prescription, but people should be aware that by forfeiting the chance of an eye test and properly prescribed spectacles they run the risk of incipient disease remaining undiscovered. More seriously, some people have vision defects directly attributable to eye disease, but if they find spectacles which make reading more comfortable they may assume that those spectacles are right for them and the more serious causes of their vision defects will not be discovered. No two eyes are alike. When a person is prescribed spectacles by a practising optician, the specification for each lens is likely to differ, if only by an infinitesimal amount. Individuals prescribing their own spectacles are not likely to obtain that precise variation and thus are likely to be wearing spectacles which do not exactly suit their requirements.
Medical opinion seems to have gone into reverse and now says that no damage is done to adults' sight by wearing the wrong spectacles. If that is so, when the Government were deregulating the provision of frames, why were they so particular to keep the dispensing of lenses separate? I and other hon. Members raised those points during the proceedings on the Health and Medicines Bill and the then Minister promised that the Government would consider the possibility of displaying health warnings where spectacles are sold, warning people of the dangers of forgoing the eye test.
There is no reason to suppose that that would be remotely deleterious to those selling spectacles without prescription. The warning would not be against the spectacles themselves--it would simply stress that regular eye tests can prevent eye disease. No reputable dealer could have any possible objection to displaying such a warning on the counter where people are self -prescribing. Such people may be self-prescribing for the second or even the third time, which would suggest that for six years they have missed the opportunity to have regular eye
Column 199check-ups. Individuals would have a choice. They could buy the spectacles and forget the eye check-up, they could take notice of the warning and perhaps buy the spectacles but have the eye check -up anyway, or they could have the eye check-up and then obtain properly prescribed spectacles.
It is a well-established principle that where there is likely to be danger to an individual from any course of action, whether it be smoking or anything else, a warning is issued. We would greatly improve preventive eye medicine if, in conjunction with the deregulation of the provision of reading spectacles, warnings were issued about the relevance of the eye check for disease rather than simply the correction of vision defects.
I believe that the Bill is essential and is in no way in opposition to the spirit of the Health and Medicines Act 1988.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Miss Ann Widdecombe, Dame Jill Knight, Mr. David Blunkett, Mr. David Amess, Mr. D. N.
Campbell-Savours, Mr. Robert G. Hughes, Mr. David Alton, and Mr. David Shaw.
Miss Ann Widdecombe accordingly presented a Bill to make it compulsory to display health warnings where spectacles are sold without prescription : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 111.]
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
That the Bill be considered in the following order, namely, new Clauses, Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clause 2, Schedule 2, Clauses 3 to 9, Schedules 3 to 5, Clauses 10 to 22, Schedule 6, Clauses 23 to 29, Schedule 7, Clauses 30 to 33, Schedule 8, Clauses 34 and 35, Schedule 9, Clauses 36 to 64, Schedule 10, Clauses 65 to 83, Schedule 11, Clauses 84 to 90, Schedule 12, Clauses 91 to 94, Schedule 13, Clauses 95 to 104, Schedules 14 to 16, Clause 105, and new Schedules.-- [Mr. Michael Spicer.]
.--(1) The following powers, namely--
(a) the power conferred on the Secretary of State by subsection (3) of section 2 of the Electricity and Gas Act 1963 to give directions as the repayment of advances made by him under that section to the Electricity Council ; and
(b) the power conferred on the Secretary of State by subsection (2) of section 24 of the Electricity (Scotland) Act 1979 to give directions as to the repayment of advances made by him under that section to a Scottish Board,
shall include power to direct the Council or Board to discharge its liabilities in respect of any advance so made by a payment to him, on such date as is specified in the direction, of such amount as is so specified.
(2) The Treasury may direct the Electricity Council or a Scottish Board to do anything specified in the direction which is requisite or expedient for the purpose of securing the discharge, or the transfer to the Treasury, of the Council's or Board's liabilities in respect of any foreign currency loan made to the Council or Board. (3) Where the liabilities of the Electricity Council or a Scottish Board in respect of any foreign currency loan made to the Council or Board are to be discharged (whether in pursuance of a direction under subsection (2) above or otherwise), the Treasury may direct that the amount to be paid to the Treasury by the Council or Board for the foreign currency required for the purpose of securing the discharge shall be such amount as is specified in the direction.
(4) Where the liabilities of the Electricity Council or a Scottish Board in respect of any foreign currency loan made to the Council or Board are to be transferred to the Treasury (whether in pursuance of a direction under subsection (2) above or otherwise), the Treasury may direct the Council or Board to pay the Treasury, on the date of the transfer, such amount as is specified in the direction. (5) The amount specified in a direction under subsection (1), (3) or (4) above shall be the aggregate of the present values (calculated in such manner and by reference to such rate of interest as the Secretary of State with the approval of the Treasury or, as the case may be, the Treasury may determine) of--
(a) in the case of a direction under subsection (1), the payments which, if the Council's or Board's liabilities in respect of the advance were not discharged before the final date, would fall to be made to the Secretary of State in respect of the advance ; (
(b) in the case of a direction under subsection (3) or (4), the payments which, if the Council's or Board's liabilities in respect of the loan were not discharged or transferred before the final date, would fall to be made the Treasury under the relevant exchange cover agreement.
(6) The Secretary of State may direct the Electricity Council to exercise its powers under section 21 of the
Column 201Electricity Act 1957 in relation to any amount which falls to be paid by the Council in pursuance of a direction under subsection (1), (3) or (4) above in such manner as is specified in the direction under this subsection ; and such a direction may in particular require contributions to be made by all or any of the Electricity Boards in England and Wales in such amounts as are specified in the direction.
(7) Any sums received by the Secretary of State in pursuance of a direction under subsection (1) above or by the Treasury in pursuance of a direction under subsection (4) above shall be paid into the National Loans Fund ; and any sums received by the Treasury in pursuance of a direction under subsection (3) above shall be paid into the Exchange Equalisation Account.
(8) In this section--
"the final date", in relation to an advance or loan, means the date on which the final payment in respect of the advance or loan falls to be made ;
"foreign currency" means a currency other than sterling ; "foreign currency loan" means a loan made wholly or mainly in a foreign currency ;
"the relevant exchange cover agreement", in relation to a foreign currency loan, means the agreement made under section 1 of the Exchange Equalisation Account Act 1979 with respect to the payments falling to be made in respect of that loan.'.-- [Mr. Michael Spicer.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Spicer : This new clause was the subject of the Ways and Means resolution we debated last night. Amendments Nos. 68 to 72, which are grouped with the new clause, relate to the money resolution which was also before the House last night.
In the case of England and Wales, it makes sense for all the long-term debt of the industry, including its foreign debt, to be repaid when the successor companies are set up. In that way, the companies can be properly structured financially in preparation for the private sector where their borrowing will no longer be protected and constrained by rules appropriate to the public sector. Until flotation, while the companies remain in the public sector, they will be able to borrow for short-term purposes from the national loans fund under clause 72 and to have Treasury guarantees on market borrowing under the proposed amendment No. 68 to clause 73. That will cease when the companies are privatised.
In Scotland, where the debts of the industry are much larger than in England and Wales, the long-term debt will be converted into debentures, issued share capital and reserves after vesting. During the debate on the money resolution I set out the need for amendments Nos. 69 to 72, which set the borrowing limits of the industry in England and Wales at £2,000 million. In the context of an industry with a turnover of £11 billion, that is by no means a large borrowing limit. It has to be seen in the context of present borrowing, which is about £1.6 billion.
The question of continued parliamentary scrutiny was raised in the debate last night, especially by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). Under clause 73, each issue of a Treasury guarantee requires a written