Mrs. Maureen Hicks (Wolverhampton, North-East) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the problem of drugs in inner cities in the light of the drug-related disturbances involving crack in Wolverhampton last night".
Only last night in the Chamber I highlighted the vast improvements in the quality of life for residents in the high-rise area of Heathtown, in my constituency. Therefore, it was like waking from a nightmare this morning to hear on the radio news that, as a result of a police raid at the Traveller's Rest public house in which 20 people were arrested, large amounts of cannabis and crack had been seized. I received a full report of the disturbance from acting Chief Superintendent Jones of the Wolverhampton police early this morning and I have discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department.
As a result of the vigilance of the people living at the heart of the Heathtown community in alerting the police of suspicious activities in recent weeks centering on their local public house, the police responded to their concerns, took out a warrant under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and mounted their initiative at 9.45 pm yesterday. Initially, it involved 120 police officers and subsequently 250 riot police.
It is unfortunate that hundreds of youths saw fit to take advantage of the situation and converged on the scene. I am sure that the vast majority of law-abiding citizens will join me in praising the police for their urgency and initiative in dealing with the drugs problem. The police were well prepared in terms of clothing, training and the use of a helicopters with a night-sight facility. Their actions demonstrate their ability to control and contain what could have escalated into a highly explosive incident. The evidence of crack for the first time in Wolverhampton could have serious consequences for the Wolverhampton community. I regret to say that my worst fears have been realised.
You, Mr. Speaker, may recall that, on 17 January this year I raised this matter with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and asked her to ensure that the Government were taking every possible step to deal with the problem of crack. I have been reassured by my right hon. Friend's actions. Crack is referred to as a drug of the under-class -- [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady has had her three minutes and I have listened with concern to what she has said. She asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that she believes should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the problem of drugs in inner cities in the light of the drug-related disturbances involving crack in Wolverhampton last night."
As the hon. Lady knows, my sole duty in considering an application under Standing Order No. 20 is to decide whether it should be given precedence over the business set down for this evening or tomorrow. I regret that the
Column 952matter she has raised is not appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20, and I therefore cannot submit her application to the House.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the present crisis in Anglo-Soviet relations."
The matter is specific, in that the Soviet authorities have stated that the number of personnel of British institutions and missions in the Soviet Union must be reduced from 375 to 205. The latter figure is the quota allowed by the United Kingdom authorities for the personnel of Soviet institutions in this country. I would argue that the matter is important both for Anglo-Soviet relations, which have improved considerably--at least until the end of last week--and for British trade with the Soviet Union. The present crisis could cause immense damage to relations.
As Labour Members made perfectly clear in exchanges on a private notice question on Monday, we have no wish to condone actions by embassies in London, including the Soviet embassy, which would in any way undermine our national security. However, we are not convinced--I am certainly not convinced, as I pointed out on Monday--that the British Government did not have alternatives in this matter. We remain suspicious that the expulsions were carried out deliberately just before next week's NATO summit, at which the Prime Minister will press for the modernisation of short-range nuclear weapons. Would such expulsions have taken place a week before Mr. Gorbachev came to this country?
These events are occurring at an important time for the Soviet Union. Tomorrow, for example, the new Parliament is due to meet. It is probably the first Parliament of its kind for 70 years because it will not be a rubber-stamp one. That is all the more reason why we should be able to have reports from journalists in the Soviet Union, but a number of British journalists are, unfortunately, likely to be expelled. I hope that, before the recess, we shall have an opportunity to debate these matters. It is extremely important that there should be good relations between the Soviet Union and ourselves. The sooner this crisis is over, the better.
I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will give careful and serious consideration to a debate on this subject.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, "the present crisis in Anglo-Soviet relations."
I regret that I have to give the hon. Gentleman the same answer as I gave the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks). I have listened with concern to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the decision to raise interest rates to 14 per cent. and its implications for the economic policies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer."
Today's interest rate rise is the tenth in a year. It is of urgent and serious concern to industry, small businesses, farmers and home buyers, because, although there is to be no immediate rise in the mortgage rate, how long will it be before that follows? We are paying the price for the Chancellor's mistakes last year in both monetary policy and in stoking up demand in his Budget measures.
You may recall, Mr. Speaker, that it was the Prime Minister's remarks in the House yesterday, expressing confidence in the Chancellor, that started the run on the pound which has given rise to the interest rate increase. You may feel, therefore that a period of silence would be welcome and that if the Prime Minister were to say any more it might add to the problems of confidence.
The Prime Minister is answering to a large conference of Conservative ladies on these matters. She ought to answer to the House of Commons on them as well. She ought to answer for the mess of the Government's economic policy and for the deep disunity on fundamental economic issues which is at the heart of the Government. The House is entitled to know whether the Government are prepared to take steps to deal with the fundamental problems of inflation and the balance of payments, or whether we are to expect further interest rate rises to bolster confidence every time there is a run on the pound. The country is entitled to know, and to know now.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, "the Bank of England's announcement of a percentage point rise in interest rates."
I regret that the matter does not meet the requirements of the Standing Order, and I cannot, therefore, submit the application to the House.
Mr. Kaufman : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Without in any way questioning your ruling on the application under Standing Order No. 20 of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), may I put it to you, in the presence of the Leader of the House, that since the developments in Anglo-Soviet relations, which concern a considerable number of hon. Members, have taken place since the debate on the spring Adjournment when we would have had the opportunity to raise them, and in view of the fact that we have only two more days left before the spring Adjournment, it would be
Column 954greatly appreciated if the Foreign Secretary were to consider making a statement on this matter before we rise for the recess.
Points of Order
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I refer to column 255 in the Official Report of 16 May in which the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) is reported as having referred to a television programme on Tyne Tees and stated : "The cat was let out of the bag during the debate when the regional organiser of the Transport and General Workers Union, Joe Mills, said :
"Of course things are better in the north-east now. It hurts me to have to say so but begrudgingly I have to say that Margaret Thatcher has been responsible for this."--[ Official Report, 16 May 1989 ; Vol. 153, c. 255.]
The latter paragraph is printed in the Official Report in a manner that suggests that it is an extract from the transcript of the television programme. However, I have today received a copy of the transcript of the programme, and not only did Mr. Mills not make any such statement, but in his only reference to the Prime Minister he said :
"The final point I want to make is this, I don't want to give Mrs. Thatcher any benefit at all, let's make that absolutely clear." Is it not a gross abuse of the privilege of this House for the hon. Gentleman to have done that, and should he not apologise to the House and to Mr. Mills?
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was informed just a few moments before 3.30 pm that the hon. Gentleman intended to make that personal attack, which gave me no opportunity to refer to anything. Anyone who watched the programme, as I did--I do not think that the hon. Gentleman did--would have known from the tenor of the programme that there was an admission by Joe Mills that it was the Government and the Prime Minister who had improved matters in the north -east--
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Further to the Standing Order No. 20 application of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), Mr. Speaker, I wish to raise a question, which I believe is before the Select Committee on Procedure, about the way in which the House investigates difficult matters. It will be within your recollection, Mr. Speaker, that when the Foreign Secretary made his original statement on this, I asked extremely clearly and politely whether he would refer it to the Security Commission. The Foreign Secretary chose not to reply to that question, although it was pressed from the Front Bench.
Subsequently, I tabled a question yesterday at the Table Office, which I believe was in total order :
Column 955"To ask the Prime Minister if she will refer the matters which led to the recent expulsion of Soviet diplomats to the Security Commission."
As very often happens now to hon. Members of all parties, but especially to Opposition Members, we get the monosyllabic answer, "No," and no explanation of any kind such as used to be given to the House by Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries.
There may be good reasons why this should not be referred to the Security Commission, but if the proper channels of communication are gone through when the proper questions are politely asked, does not the House of Commons, of which you are the protector, Mr. Speaker, at least deserve some kind of explanation in matters so grave and serious? After all, why do we have Lord Griffiths of Govilon at the Security Commission, Sir Philip Allen and other distinguished people, unless it is to deal with precisely such matters? In a way, it is circumventing not the constitution--we do not have one--but the traditional bastions of British security and intelligence.
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The matter that I raise involves the Official Report of yesterday. In an intervention during a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall), I said :
"As a member of the Committee who served with the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark), will my hon. Friend ask the hon. Gentleman a question? When the hon. Gentleman spoke to the sponsors of the Bill a minute ago, did he say, I am totally in your pocket and I had better come across to you?' ".-- [ Official Report , 23 May 1989 ; Vol. 153, c. 893.]
That was a misquotation. The Editor of Hansard has checked the tape, and that passage should have read, "I am totally in your pocket and I had better come across to speak to you."
The hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) indicated that I should be present at 3.30 this afternoon because he wished to raise with you, Mr. Speaker, my conduct in this matter. As he is not here, he must now accept the Official Report and your order yesterday--
Mr. Speaker : Order. Allow me to interrupt the hon. Member at this point. I confirm that he has had a letter from the Editor of Hansard, putting his correct words on the record. Furthermore, he has written to me on this matter, drawing to my attention the fact that it is a matter of privilege. Therefore, we cannot discuss it in the Chamber now.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) rose
Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford) rose--
Dr. Clark : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last night I was present in the House when the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) made his accusation. I found his accusation so outrageous and so far from the truth that I did not believe that anyone could
Column 956take it seriously. I did not rise at that time to rebut it. It is true, however, that, after one hour of accusations from Opposition Members that I had behaved improperly in Committee, I left the Chamber after I had spoken. I went out that way-- [Interruption.]
Dr. Clark : I left the Chamber, going that way out, and I saw the sponsors of the Bill. As I said, it was after one hour of being accused of impropriety by Opposition Members. As I went past the sponsors of the Bill, I said, "Since I am being accused of being in your pocket, I had better say hello to you." That is all I said ; I said nothing else. Then there was uproar in the House as Labour Members objected to my being there. I stood there with my back to the House, saying nothing further until the House settled down. That is what I said. There was nothing improper.
I have made an appointment to see the Clerk of the House at 6.15 this evening to object in the strongest possible terms to the accusation by the hon. Member for Makerfield.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Leigh rose--
Mr. Leigh : On a general point, Mr. Speaker. You have often reminded us that we are all hon. Members. Is it in order for an hon. Member to accuse a Chairman of a Select Committee of being in the pockets of one of the sponsors?
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Speaker : I am not responding to it, and I am not taking further points of order on this matter. The House well knows the rules. When an issue is raised with the Chair as a matter of privilege, it may not be raised on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Grocott : It is. It follows earlier exchanges about the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland). It is clear that a correction will have to be made, in view of the admission of the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt)--
Mr. Grocott : The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) has clearly said that it was not a verbatim report that he was quoting in the House ; it was his view of what he heard on a television programme. In Hansard it is clearly recorded as being a verbatim report of what occurred on a television programme ; it is in inverted commas in the usual way. Clearly it is a serious matter that the hon. Member for Langbaurgh should have had such a grossly contorted view of a television programme and one that was different from that of everyone else who watched it. However, that is more a problem for the hon. Gentleman than for the House.
What is a matter for the House is that the hon. Gentleman purported to quote verbatim from a record--in the form of a video cassette, which could be checked--but now says that it was not a verbatim report but simply his general impression of what went on. That surely must warrant a correction.
You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that a large number of amendments to the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill were presented. I prepared most of them. I was aware of the difficult circumstances which surround the preparation or presentation of amendments to a private Bill that has not had a Report stage, which the Opposition regret. I was aware that such amendments had to be insubstantial in character, and I hope that I presented the amendments in an insubstantial way. I accept that some of them may have verged on the substantial, while others may have been too narrow or too broad, so that none of them was selected by you.
The point that I am raising, Mr. Speaker, is historically rather important, because people are asking me why those amendments were rejected. I have every confidence in your judgment, Mr. Speaker, and I would not challenge it in any
Column 958way, but people interested in that Bill, in private Bill procedures now, and perhaps for the next 200 or 300 years, might benefit if you were to give the House some guidance on the nature of amendments that are likely to be accepted.
Could the Standing Orders of the House be made more precise so that hon. Members may have a way of obtaining an opportunity to debate a Bill in detail and avoid the situation that faced my hon. Friends and myself? We found it extremely difficult to oppose this dreadful Bill because of the absence of a Report stage and engaged in an unnecessary amount of work in regard to that Bill. Your advice to the House, Mr. Speaker, would be welcomed by the general public.
Mr. Speaker : I have a responsibility to the House, of course, rather than to the general public. The House will know that the question of verbal amendments to private Bills is set out at some length in "Erskine May".
Mr. Alan Meale
Mr. Dick Douglas
Mr. Michael Stern
That the draft Set-Aside (Amendment) Regulations 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Chapman.]
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enhance safety in the use of telephones in cars.
This Bill is a road safety measure. It addresses itself to the dangerous practice of driving a car with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand holding a car telephone. That practice is becoming much too prevalent.
We have all seen people on motorways or driving round roundabouts more engrossed in their phone calls than in the road before them. That practice reduces the driver's control over the vehicle at a time when his concentration is, in any case, likely to be distracted by the call. It increases the chances of accidents and it should be stopped.
The first provision of the Bill is to require all such telephones to be of the hands-off type. That is to say, they should have remote microphones so that it is not necessary to speak directly into the mouthpiece and remote loudspeakers so that it is not necessary to hold the receiver to the ear to hear. Many car phones already have those facilities. All car phones should have them. The Bill would make it an offence for the driver of a moving car to use a phone which is not hands free.
The second dangerous practice which my Bill tackles is the way in which drivers dial the number of an outgoing call. If the dialling mechanism is in the handset, some drivers will hold the handset in one hand and key in the digits with the other. No hand is than available for the steering wheel. Some drivers rest the handset on the lower quarter of the steering wheel and steer the car with their wrists or their elbows. Others steer with their knees, which is not easy when one is driving round a corner.
I have considered carefully whether the Bill should stipulate that outgoing calls by the driver should require a voice-activated dialling facility. The technology for that exists and is in use, but it is much more expensive, not altogether reliable and must be reprogrammed for each individual driver. To insist on that provision, it seems to me, would place an unreasonable burden on equipment manufactures and users. The alternative is to require all numbers which are not voice activated to be pre-programmed using the facility which most car telephones already possess, whereby a number can be selected by keying in only one, or at most two, digits. My Bill would make it an offence for a driver to call an outgoing number except by voice-activated or pre-programmed dialling.
The third danger which the Bill addresses is the extent to which drivers take their eyes off the road while operating telephones. That happens because phones are often located well below dashboard level on a centre console near the gear lever. To dial even a short number from a unit fixed in that position diverts the driver's eyes from the road for several seconds. My Bill therefore provides that all the controls should be fixed towards the top of the fascia so that the driver's eyes remain in the line of vision of the windscreen and the road.
All these changes relate to the design and fitting of telephones used by a driver of a car while it is in motion. The same problems do not arise when a telephone is used by a passenger or when the vehicle is stationary.
I propose two exceptions to the general rule : lorries should be exempt because the high level of noise in the