Home Page

Column 1093

Serjeant at Arms (Retirement)

Mr. Speaker-- acquainted the House that he had received a letter from Sir Victor Le Fanu, the Serjeant at Arms, which Mr. Speaker read as follows :

I have the honour to make application that you will be pleased to sanction my retirement on 30th September, 1989 from my office by patent of Her Majesty's Serjeant at Arms attending the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Being in my sixty fifth year, and in my forty seventh year of consecutive service in the Army and in the service of the House of Commons, I think that the time has come for me to make room for a successor.

I wish to record my deep appreciation of the kindness and consideration shown to me by all Members of the House of Commons, which has made my term of office here so happy and rewarding.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : Mr. Speaker, I am certain all hon. Members will share my sincere regret at hearing the letter you have just read out. The occasion for us to express formally our thanks and appreciation to Sir Victor Le Fanu for his long service to the House will arise later, when I shall move an appropriate motion. That I am not doing so today is in line with precedent and does not detract in any way from the very high regard in which I know Sir Victor is held on both sides of the House for his long and distinguished service.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : On behalf of the Opposition, I join in the expressions of thanks to Sir Victor for his work for us as Serjeant at Arms. Sometimes criticisms are directed at the Serjeant at Arms and his staff, but usually we find that that is because they have been expected to provide a quart out of a pint pot. I have undying admiration for Sir Victor's unwillingness, when challenged by Members, to reply, "If you want a better service you had better vote for it and pay for it." I thank Sir Victor for his work, and I thank him too for his diplomacy.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : May I associate right hon. and hon. Members of my party with the remarks that have been made about the Serjeant at Arms. He has always been most courteous in his dealings with hon. Members. Nothing has ever been too much trouble for him in any dealings I have had with him. He has earned respect on all sides of the House. If I may say so, in spite of the additional strains that we all now have to suffer as a result of increased security, he has prevailed and has always done sterling service for everyone in the House. We look forward to contributing more fully to the tributes at the appropriate time.

Mr. Speaker : There will be an occasion to pay formal tributes in due course. Meanwhile, consultations on the recommendation for a successor to Sir Victor Le Fanu are taking place through the House of Commons Commission.

Column 1094

Business of the House

3.34 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week. Tuesday 2 May---- Opposition Day (9th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Doctors' Rejection of the White Paper on the National Health Service. Afterwards there will be a debate entitled "Teacher Shortages". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Supplemental timetable motion on and consideration of Lords Amendments to the Official Secrets Bill.

Wednesday 3 May----Timetable motion on the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill.

Second Reading of the Companies Bill [Lords] .

Thursday 4 May----Second Reading of the Police Officers (Central Service) Bill [Lords] .

Afterwards motion to take note of EC document on controls of persons at intra-Community frontiers. Details will be given in the Official Report .

Followed by motion to take note of EC documents on public procurement. Details will be given in the Official Report . Friday 5 May----Private Members' Bills.

Monday 8 May----Progress on consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

[Debates on Thursday 4 May

First Debate

Relevant European Community Document

10412/88 Controls of persons at intra-Community borders Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee

HC 15-xi (1988-89) para 1

Second Debate

Relevant European Community Documents

(a) 7496/88 Public works contracts

(b) 5909/89 Public works contracts

(c) 10497/88 Public supply and works contracts : compliance with Community rules

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 43-xxxv (1987-88) para 2, and

HC 43-xxxvii (1987-88) para 2

(b) Not yet considered by the Committee

(c) HC 15-xi (1988-89) para 2.]

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

Are the Government prepared to have a number of sittings of a Special Standing Committee on the Companies Bill so that those serving on the Standing Committee can take evidence from Ministers and officials on that technically complex measure? Since the Standing Orders were changed to permit the use of Special Standing Committees in that way, the Government have introduced 435 Bills, only five of which have been subject to that procedure.

I deplore the Government's intention to introduce a guillotine motion next week on the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill. That is an important measure which endangers educational standards in Scotland and

Column 1095

Scottish Members should be given every opportunity to go through it in the detail that is necessary. There is no good reason to curtail the debate.

Has the Leader of the House noted that the Opposition have chosen to debate the proposed changes in the NHS on an Opposition day next week? Is it not about time that the Government got round to giving us the promised full day's debate on what, after all, are their proposals? Will he also tell us when we are likely to get the long-promised debate on the proposal to substitute student loans for student grants?

When shall we have the opportunity--this again, is important for Scotland-- to debate the statutory instrument which is at present being implemented in Scotland on the collection of poll tax from income being paid to people in Scotland?

Finally, when are we likely to have a debate on the

Government-induced difficulties facing British industry in the run-up to 1992?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman asks six questions about the business for next week. The Companies Bill has already been before the other place but I take note of his suggestion that this would be an appropriate measure to refer to a Special Standing Committee and the best plan is to discuss that through the usual channels. The most controversial clauses of the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill, those which enable Scottish schools to become self-governing if parents so wish, have largely been covered. However, the Committee has taken 106 hours to get that far and needs to make better progress on the remaining 43 clauses. I shall be tabling a timetable motion later today, but I can tell the House that it will allow more than sufficient time in which to consider the important matters that remain.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health welcomes the opportunity that the Opposition have presented him with to correct the Opposition's misleading and distorted allegations, and he will certainly take that opportunity next week. However, I recognise that I have promised a full day's debate on the NHS and I shall provide that. Discussions through the usual channels will be necessary to find a suitable day. I have already made it clear that the best time for a debate on student top-up loans will be when the current discussions with the financial institutions have been concluded. However, I note the hon. Gentleman's point.

I believe it would be best if I discussed the statutory instrument on the community charge through the usual channels, if we can find a suitable time for that debate.

I realise that the matter of 1992 is a very important subject and wholly suitable for debate. Meanwhile, I cannot promise a debate but there are many opportunities on the Finance Bill and other Bills when hon. Members who have points to make might find an ingenious way of making them.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden) : Does my right hon. Friend not consider that it is about time we had a debate on the Army Estimates, particularly bearing in mind that several important events are taking place now that could have a significant impact on the size and shape of our ground forces?

Column 1096

Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I hope to be able to arrange a debate on the Army before long, and that will certainly provide the opportunity that he is seeking.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : Will the Leader of the House consult the Ministers responsible for the Government's reaction to the Griffiths report recommendations? Is he aware that they have been variously describing the imminence of the Government's reaction to this report, for some weeks, if not months, as "appearing shortly"? There must be a limit to the amount of time this takes. Can the Minister guarantee an early statement on the matter? Also, what are the Government doing about bringing forward proposals for televising the proceedings of the House in time to enable the test pilot work to be done in the summer recess in time for a start next autumn?

Mr. Wakeham : I recognise the demand for a debate on the Griffiths proposals. Although we have just had a debate on the matter, that is not adequate for what the House wants. The Government are not ready to come forward with their proposals, so I cannot give a specific date when that will occur. As soon as that is ready, a proper statement will be made.

Those of us on the Select Committee considering the matter are awaiting the moment when we complete our report on the televising of the proceedings in the House. I will not be revealing any great secret when I say that we are near the end of the report. It will then be presented to the House, and I will arrange a debate as soon as I can.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : Could my right hon. Friend find time soon to debate what are serious shortcomings in the Highways Act 1980, which allow builders, when they are refurbishing, to erect gantries and scaffolding not only over the pavement but into the roadway for a distance of 6 to 8 ft.? I know that this is a sign of the prosperity of our city, but there are now 1,000 of these sites, some of them serious traffic hazards. I am assured by Westminster city council that it does not have power to control these works and, in some cases, as at the bottom of Parliament street, the pavement itself is reduced to only two people wide and is a serious hazard for pedestrians.

Mr. Wakeham : I appreciate the concern my hon. Friend has over this issue ; perhaps it is more widely spread. I cannot promise an early debate at the moment, but she could seek opportunities to raise the matter on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helen's, South) : The Minister for Social Security last night, in answer to my question, gave an unequivocal undertaking to the House in respect of payments out of the disaster fund to those who have been bereaved and injured on Merseyside. Since then the Department has issued a further advisory memorandum that seems to detract from that undertaking. The hon. Gentleman went on the radio at lunchtime today further muddying the waters. Bearing that in mind, will the Leader of the House induce his hon. Friend, before much more time has passed, to clarify the position in the House?

Mr. Wakeham : I do not think the situation is as confused as the hon. Gentleman seeks to make out. My

Column 1097

hon. Friend was referring to new social security rules that will come into effect some time late in the summer of 1990, not now.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that during the passage of the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill the Opposition actually filibustered an amendment the Minister had accepted? So determined are they, for petty political reasons, to have a guillotine that this morning they actually filibustered an amendment that would allow schools to opt back into authority control. That is what the Opposition have been doing. We need a timetable motion, and we need it now.

Mr. Wakeham : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for supporting my proposal, but I would not necessarily use his words in commenting on Opposition tactics. I leave it to them to defend themselves.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West) : As the convener of the Scottish group of Labour Members of Parliament, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) in his opposition to the Self- Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill. The Leader of the House indicated the time taken by the Committee, in which my right hon. and hon. Friends have been working assiduously--relative to the importance we attach to the matters that have so far been debated. Other matters still to be discussed include teachers' salaries and further education, which will require an equal amount of debating time. It is disgraceful for the Leader of the House to impose a guillotine at this stage.

Mr. Wakeham : No, it is perfectly reasonable of me to impose a guillotine. From my reading of the Standing Committee Hansard , I suspect that the Opposition strove from the start to have the Bill guillotined. I note that on several occasions when the Government accepted Opposition amendments in Committee, the Opposition prolonged debate for several hours thereafter. It does not seem to me that the Opposition made a serious effort properly to discuss the Bill.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (Kincardine and Deeside) : Before too much synthetic heat is generated from the Opposition Benches, will my right hon. Friend remind Opposition Members, in the light of their recent behaviour in Committee on the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill, of the old adage that when one is in a hole, one stops digging?

Mr. Wakeham : Yes. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is right. Perhaps I should also remind the Opposition of what happened in 1976, when a guillotine was used in similar circumstances.

Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : On the subject of Tuesday's debate on the National Health Service, is the Leader of the House aware that I, in common with most right hon. and hon. Members, have received hundreds of letters from my constituents who are concerned about the Government's proposals? They are specifically concerned about the proposed new contracts for general practitioners, cash-limiting GP's budgets and what that will mean for the chronically sick and elderly, and the proposal to allow

Column 1098

hospitals such as St. Bartholomew's in my own constituency to opt out and what that will mean for local services for the poor and the sick. Will the right hon. Gentleman find time at the earliest opportunity for a full debate, so that the Government may answer the fears and questions of millions of people throughout the country?

Mr. Wakeham : I agree with the hon. Lady thus far--there is some necessity for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health to put right mischievous and damaging statements made by various people in that dispute. I do not know whether the hon. Lady was present at questions yesterday, when my right hon. and learned Friend saw off all the Opposition's criticisms.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that during Prime Minister's Question Time on Tuesday I raised the question whether public companies such as Lonrho or House of Fraser should return documents that clearly give the impression of having been stolen, and that newspapers such as The Observer should do the same? During the course of my question, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)--to whom I gave notice that I would be raising this matter today--implied that returning stolen documents is not something that he or his constituents are in the habit of doing. In view of that, and as the Opposition appear to be opposed to the idea that it is right that stolen documents or other property should be returned to its owner, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on that subject?

Mr. Wakeham : Questions of law-breaking and of prosecution are not for me, but I shall venture this far down that road. I believe that the returning of stolen property is something that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House support.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South) : Why is the Leader of the House so opposed to the Special Standing Committee procedure? Is he not aware that it was invented, and is particularly well suited for, legislation such as the Companies Bill, which is largely a technical matter? It would be far quicker to consider that Bill by cross-examining the Minister concerned in Select Committee than by putting down endless amendments, and would in many ways be to the Government's advantage to adopt that procedure. Why is the Leader of the House so much less progressive in such matters than his distinguished predecessor, Lord St. John of Fawsley?

Mr. Wakeham : I would not want to say anything to refute the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question. I aspire to reach the high levels set by my right hon. and noble Friend on all occasions. I said no word against the Special Standing Committee. I thought that I had been extremely helpful--rather more helpful than the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who speaks from the Front Bench on these matters--in saying that I would consider it. I hope that the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) does not think that means that I will necessarily accept it, but his request is reasonable and, as I have said, I shall now consider it.

Column 1099

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : The review of the Anglo-Irish Agreement has now been proceeding for six months. Why does my right hon. Friend continue to deny the House an opportunity to express its opinion?

Mr. Wakeham : I do not think that I am denying the House such an opportunity. I simply have not been able to arrange a debate in the immediate past, and I am afraid that I see no opportunity of arranging one in the immediate future. I am, however, considering the matter, as I recognise that a number of people believe that a debate should take place and I should like to be able to satisfy them.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : Will the Leader of the House tell his right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan- Smith) that his advice is not strictly necessary, as the Government, having found themselves in a hole in Committee, have now decided to stop digging and to introduce the guillotine?

Does the Leader of the House not realise that at one stage the Minister on the Committee accepted Opposition amendments which were then voted down by his own Back Benchers? That is a tragedy, but it is no excuse to cut short debate on a Bill that has not been properly examined. The Scottish people will not accept this decision.

Mr. Wakeham : I do not want to contradict the hon. Gentleman, but I am told that his memory of the occasion does not coincide exactly with the facts. I do not think that what he has said alters the general proposition that to provide time for a Committee to deal with matters in an orderly fashion under a guillotine is the best way forward.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the allegation made by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) is wholly false and without foundation? Will he give the House an assurance, in relation to the details of the timetable motion, that there will be consultations with the two representatives of the minority parties, who are the only Opposition Members on the Committee who appear to know what they are doing?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Labour Members this morning voted against allowing self-governing schools to opt back into local authorities? Does he attribute the Labour shambles on the Committee to the fact that no experienced Scottish Labour Member was interested in serving on it?

Mr. Wakeham : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for throwing additional light on the subject. I shall be tabling a motion later today, and there will be an adequate opportunity to discuss its terms next week.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : In order to be helpful, as always, may I suggest that instead of Wednesday's guillotine motion, which is certainly unnecessary, we should have a debate on that day--3 May--about the millions of victims of 10 years of Toryism, that curse that has been inflicted on the British people? Such a debate would give us an opportunity to challenge all the phoney statistics mentioned by the Prime Minister today.

Incidentally, when the Prime Minister addresses her Cabinet, does she use the words, which she used earlier today "Now, look here"?

Column 1100

Mr. Wakeham : If the hon. Gentleman is trying to be helpful, I wonder what sort of question he asks when he is trying to be difficult. Perhaps we shall never know, for I understand that he never tries to be difficult.

The debates tabled for Wednesday--the timetable motion on the Self- Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill, and Second Reading of the Companies Bill--strike me as a very appetising bill of fare, and I am looking forward to it.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : Will we soon have an opportunity for a proper debate on the Green Paper on legal services? The Lord Chancellor is seeking views on that important issue and the other place has had a chance to express a view. Everyone seems to be able to do so except Members of this House.

Mr. Wakeham : I should like to have a debate, but I do not think that there will be an opportunity to hold it in the immediate future. However, I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor would be pleased to hear from my hon. Friend and from anybody else who wishes to express a view on the matter.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : Has the Leader of the House taken note of early-day motion 541 on financial assistance for tourism? [That this House calls on the Secretary of State for Employment to immediately reinstate schemes listed under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969, which gave financial assistance to tourism projects in England and Wales, until such time as the review currently being undertaken by Government departments is completed.] Is he aware that in England all the grants under section 4 of the Act have been suspended but that they have not been suspended in Scotland and in Wales? Will he use the usual channels to bring this anomaly to an end and once again try to get the Government to give some sort of aid to the tourist industry?

Mr. Wakeham : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the decision to suspend the section 4 scheme was taken at a time when investment in the tourist industry was at record levels. It would not be right to continue to spend taxpayers' money on financial assistance for the tourist industry when there are considerable doubts about the value of the scheme. A decision on its long-term future will be made in due course.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report on gas prices and of the fact that it has had severe effects on two industries--the horticulture industry in the north-west and individual commercial firms? As those prices seem to have been imposed on all industrial activity in this country, will he provide time for the matter to be debated in the House?

Mr. Wakeham : Energy policy and prices in the gas industry are obviously important matters. No doubt we shall find an opportunity to return to them, but I cannot offer time to my hon. Friend in the immediate future.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : Is the Leader of the House able to assist me on the Prime Minister's answer a few minutes ago, in which she suggested that I, and others, might have an opportunity to amend the British Nationality Act? Does that mean that the Cabinet will seriously consider any report on Hong Kong that is

Column 1101

published by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs? Are the Government thinking of tabling an amendment to the British Nationality Act? That would be the only chance that I could have of amending it.

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman was a Member of this House long before I reached it. He has long experience of its procedures and knows what opportunities are available to him. I can think of some ways in which he could bring the matter before the House. If he has forgotten them, I suggest that he should take a refresher course. I can add no more to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, except that the Government will consider carefully any report that is published by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs after its visit to Hong Kong and China.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : Does my right hon. Friend recall that more than once he has said that he sympathises with the idea of half-day debates on specific foreign affairs subjects? However, nothing has happened. All we get is late-night orders on Euro-rubbish. Will he think again about the matter and make arrangements for specific foreign affairs debates?

Mr. Wakeham : I tried, but it was not possible to meet my hon. Friend's demands in the immediate past. I was unable to get it tied up in the way that I wanted. My hon. Friend knows that the Select Committee on Procedure is looking into European matters ; so is the Select Committee on European Legislation. I am holding discussions with both Committees and I hope that we shall be able to improve the way in which the House considers these important issues.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : In view of the Government's response at 3.30 this afternoon to the Select Committee on the Environment's report on toxic waste--when the Government clearly rejected the Committee's recommendation to establish an environmental protection agency, which will lead to anxiety that the Government are not concerned about environmental matters--will the Leader of the House ensure that a debate is held on that important report and the Government's response to it at the earliest possible date?

Mr. Wakeham : Yes, I recognise the strength of the hon. Gentleman's question. It is an important matter to which we must return. I cannot promise an immediate debate. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will study the Government's response to the Select Committee's report with as much care as he has studied the report.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : I regret my right hon. Friend's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) who asked for a debate on the Anglo-Irish Agreement. That is a matter of great constitutional importance. I did not understand my right hon. Friend's reply. If there is no time for a debate on that matter, surely there must be time for an early debate on the progress that is being made towards setting up an inter-parliamentary union between Dublin and London. If not, why not?

Mr. Wakeham : I have not in any way rejected a debate on the Anglo- Irish agreement, but I cannot promise one in the immediate future. I welcome any moves to improve

Column 1102

co-operation and understanding between our two Parliaments, and the establishment of a joint British-Irish inter- parliamentary body to discuss matters of mutual interest will be very helpful. But I should emphasise that only the first steps have been taken to agree that in principle there should be such a body and to set out its broad framework. Any debate should await further progress on that.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Is the Leader of the House aware that a 1275 statute at Westminster guarantees free elections, and the Representation of the People Act 1983 guarantees electoral registration, yet figures show that the poll tax is forcing the electoral register to collapse in Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh and other parts of the country? In view of that, can we have a debate to discuss whether the Government wish to get rid of the franchise by changing the right to vote or whether they should get rid of the poll tax to re- establish the franchise?

Next Section

  Home Page