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Business of the House

3.30 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 12 June----Until 7 o'clock, private Members' motions. Debate on a motion to approve the report of the Select Committee on Televising of Proceedings of the House (HC 141).

Motion to take note of EC documents on insider trading. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Tuesday 13 June----Progress on remaining stages of the Local Government and Housing Bill.

Motion to take note of EC documents on broadcasting. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Wednesday 14 June----Conclusion of remaining stages of the Local Government and Housing Bill.

Remaining stages of the Police Officers (Central Service) Bill [Lords].

Thursday 15 June----There will be a debate on the arts and heritage on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

Friday 16 June----Private Members' motions.

Monday 19 June----Remaining stages of the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill.

[ Monday 12 June 1989

Relevant European Community Documents

(a) 7310/87 Insider Trading

(b) 8810/88

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 43-iii (1987-88) para 5, HC 15-xxiii

(1988-89) para 1 and HC 15-xxiv (1988-89)

para 1

(b) HC 15-i (1988-89) para 8, HC 15-xxiii (1988-89)

para 1 and HC 15-xxiv (1988-89) para 1.

Tuesday 13 June 1989

Relevant European Community Documents


(b) 5574/88



Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 43-xxvi (1987-88) para 5, HC 15-xvii (1988-89) para 1 and HC 15-xxi (1988-89)para 1.

(b) HC 15-xxiv (1988-89) para 3.]

Mr. Dobson : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. I wish to register our strongest objection to the proposal that the Select Committee's report on the televising of the House should be debated on Monday and that only half a day should be devoted to it. It is a most important matter which affects every Member of the House and every one of them is entitled to have time to consider the report, to discuss it with colleagues and to feel assured that all points of view will be expressed in the debate.

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The Select Committee held 32 meetings and considered oral evidence and 250 written submissions, including 90 written submissions from hon. Members. Therefore, it seems peculiar that the House should be expected to deliberate and decide on the matter after just three hours of debate late one evening.

The Opposition believe--most of us anyway--that the British people are entitled to see and hear what their elected representatives are doing. In view of the Prime Minister's statement at Question Time today, can the Leader of the House confirm that there will not be any late effort by the Government to sabotage the televising of the House and that the payroll vote will be expected to support the report when he recommends it to the House on Monday? [ Hon. Members :-- "It is a free vote."] We all know what free votes are like.

On Monday, the Secretary of State for Employment will attend the Labour and Social Affairs Council of the European Community and we understand that he will be trying to undermine the European directive on health and safety in the workplace. Will the Leader of the House give us an undertaking that the House will be allowed to debate the outcome of Monday's meeting at an early date?

I come back to two standard items. First, when can we expect to have the Government's response to the Griffiths report on care in the community, and when can we expect to debate it? Secondly, when will the Secretary of State for Education end his protracted and apparently hopeless discussions on the introduction of student loans instead of student grants so that we can have the promised debate? Finally, will we have an early opportunity to debate a possible dog registration scheme or any other practical measures to restrain uncontrolled dogs from savaging innocent passers-by? Unlike some topics that we debate in the House, it might be possible for us to do something about this problem.

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman asked me five questions about the business for next week. I am bound to say that I am rather surprised at his tone on the first question about the debate I have arranged on the report on televising the House of Commons. The House has made a decision on the principle of holding an experiment and it does not therefore seem necessary for there to be a long debate to discuss the matter again. The question is whether this is the right procedure. He played a full and active part, for which I am extremely grateful to him, in the work of the Select Committee. The report has been made available for Members to study and it is right that we should get on and deal with it. I believe that the time that I have allocated is adequate. The House has had a full day's debate on the matter and it is now being invited to approve the report of the Select Committee. I do not think that a prolonged debate is necessary, but I will table a motion to ensure that any amendments which you, Mr. Speaker, may select can be disposed of.

I will refer the European matter concerning health and safety to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and perhaps we can have discussions through the usual channels.

I am well aware of the continuing interest in the Griffiths report and in the Wagner report. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we attach great importance to this issue. As I have said before, this is a complex and sensitive area where we must give thorough consideration to all the

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options. Our deliberations are continuing and we shall bring forward our proposals in the near future. That will be the time for consideration of any further debate.

On the question of top-up loans, I will make a slightly different statement from that which I have made before. The position on student loans is that my right hon. Friend hopes to be able to report to the House fairly soon his conclusions on the administration of this scheme. The right time for any debate will be after that, but I will certainly keep the hon. Gentleman's request in mind.

With regard to dogs, I cannot promise a debate next week, but I point out to the hon. Gentleman that one of his hon. Friends will raise an Adjournment debate on the subject next Thursday to which a Minister will be responding.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : As a major conference on Vietnamese boat people is to be held in Geneva next week, may we have an early statement from the Foreign Secretary on Hong Kong so that some of us can protest about the shameful proposals put forward to ship the boat people back from Hong Kong to Vietnam, a country with an appalling record on human rights and economic mismanagement?

Mr. Wakeham : I know that my hon. Friend recognises the seriousness of the problem. He is correct in saying that there will be a United Nations conference in Geneva next week, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, accompanied by the Governor of Hong Kong, will attend it. Its aim is to produce a comprehensive and durable solution to the problems of the Vietnamese boat people. We shall be pursuing immediate relief for Hong Kong's current boat people crisis both at the conference and in the coming months.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : Is it not essential that we have a debate on Hong Kong soon, because in all our previous debates there was certainly no assumption that the transfer under the Sino-British agreement would be to a regime that was butchering its own citizens or to a country that might be on the verge of civil war? Surely the whole question has to be addressed afresh in the light of the circumstances.

Mr. Wakeham : I agree that a debate on Hong Kong is something to which we must address ourselves. It is a question of timing. The Foreign Affairs Committee is currently taking evidence on various matters connected with Hong Kong, and it may be that the best time for a debate is after its report is available.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (Kincardine and Deeside) : In the light of press reports this morning that the Government have decided that a price auction will be the ultimate determinant of the award of independent television franchises, can my right hon. Friend say when the House will be told what those conclusions are? Is he aware that many Conservative Members feel that, rather than having a price auction, quality has to be given the highest priority?

Mr. Wakeham : My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make known shortly his conclusions on that and other aspects of our recent Broadcasting White Paper. I should not want to comment further now on speculative

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press reports. My right hon. Friend is experienced enough to know that he must wait until my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary makes his statement.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : The right hon. Gentleman reminds the House that we voted in favour of an experiment in televising the proceedings of the House and that the Select Committee's scheme for that experiment is what we shall be voting about on Monday night. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, six months after the beginning of that experiment, or whatever is the period, the House will have another opportunity to return to the major issue of whether its proceedings should be permanently televised? Is not Monday's debate concerned only with the experiment?

Mr. Wakeham : Absolutely. The right hon. Gentleman is right, as he so often is in respect of these matters. The purpose of Monday's debate is to approve or not to approve the Select Committee's report. The decision of the House to allow the experiment will not be altered one way or the other by what happens on Monday. At the end of the experiment the House will be able to make a judgment as to what should happen in the future, presumably on a permanent basis.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : I am sorry to go on about this matter, but is my right hon. Friend yet in a position to say when something will be done about constituents queuing in the rain to get into this place? That matter has been discussed by the relevant Committee for a very long time. I know that there are difficulties about the other place, but they are surely not insuperable and could be overcome.

Mr. Wakeham : I agree with my hon. Friend that the matter is taking rather longer than he or I would like and that the problems ought not to be insuperable. The proposals of the Accommodation and Administration Sub- Committee are being considered by the responsible authorities and the relevant Committee of the other place. It is hoped that an initial response will be received in the near future.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Is the Leader of the House aware that 11 minutes ago, at 3.30 pm, the final report on disabled adults from the Office of Population and Censuses Surveys was published, and that it reveals shocking disparities in the services and equipment provided to the disabled, especially those who are old, deaf or blind? It is outragous that disabled people should be deprived of proper amenities. May we have a debate on that subject next week?

Mr. Wakeham : I am afraid that the answer is no, we cannot have a debate next week. The right hon. Gentleman knows where I have been for rather longer than the last 11 minutes and will appreciate that I have not had an opportunity to study the report. Of course I shall do so, and so will the Ministers responsible. The Government will make an apropriate response in due course.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury) : If I am to show myself as being at all sensitive to my postbag, I must press my right hon. Friend to reconsider his decision concerning a debate on dog registration. He will be aware that an effective scheme operates in Northern Ireland, but it seems to be peculiar to the Province. As there is so much concern about the number of stray dogs now in society, if that is the

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right word, and about the number of attacks on people recently by particular breeds of dogs, he will know that there is increased public concern also at the ending of the dog licensing scheme in the United Kingdom, except in Northern Ireland.

The dog population seems to be somewhat out of control, and, although local authorities can impose their own dog registration schemes if they wish to do so, none has. If the problem is not to reach epidemic proportions, the Government must find time for a debate to consider the whole question of dog control, whether or not a registration scheme turns out to be the right solution.

Mr. Wakeham : I acknowledge the fact that my hon. Friend has received many letters on the subject. So have I, and a number of right hon. and hon. Members sent others to me to answer. I indicated earlier that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) has secured an Adjournment debate for next Thursday, which will provide an opportunity for him to raise points for the Minister to answer. It appears to me that, subject to your view, Mr. Speaker, some of my hon. Friend's points may also be relevant to the debates on the Local Government and Housing Bill that I announced. My hon. Friend should await the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and of Home Office Ministers on that subject.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Yesterday the Secretary of State for Health announced that a list of 200 hospitals, including hospitals in Bradford and other parts of Yorkshire, were allegedly claiming to be interested in being privatised and becoming self-governing. Will the Leader of the House urge the Secretary of State to make a statement to the House explaining why on earth he is opposed to ballots of people living in health authorities where hospitals are believed to be interested in becoming self- governing, to enable them to express their views, and also ballots of staff whose livelihood depends on the future of those hospitals? Why are the Government so eager to allow ballots on whether schools should opt out of state education and whether council estates should change their landlords, but so implacably opposed to ballots on health care and the future of NHS hospitals?

Mr. Wakeham : It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman must be rather frightened of the proposal, given the vehemence of his opposition to it. He is distorting the position substantially. The position is that 178 units around the country have expressed an interest in the proposals for self- government on a no-commitment basis. All those with an interest in the mater will have an opportunity to express their views on individual proposals before any formal application is made, and district health authorities will continue to be responsible for overall planning for health care and the needs of their resident populations.

We think it very encouraging that so many hospitals and units are interested in becoming self-governing. Doctors, nurses and managers want to explore the idea further, because the increased management freedoms will enable them to give patients a better service, while remaining fully part of the National Health Service. That seems a perfectly sensible way to proceed.

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Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to the new clauses to the Local Government and Housing Bill that my hon. Friends and I have tabled which are designed to deal with councillors who owe massive amounts in rents and rates--and, in future, community charge--under which councillors who did not pay rent and community charge would in future be disqualified from membership of local authorities?

Mr. Wakeham : I shall certainly draw the new clauses to my right hon. Friend's attention, but I suspect that he already has them in mind and is considering an appropriate response at the right time.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : The House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making it clear that he is to put down a motion to enable any amendments selected by Mr. Speaker for Monday's debate on broadcasting of Parliament to be taken. Will he, however, extend his duties to Tuesday's debate on pan-European legislation on broadcasting? In view of the important issues raised by EEC matters, is there not a risk that an hour and a half is a little too short? Perhaps on this occasion a suspension motion would be in order.

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman always makes his requests in a courteous and persuasive manner, and I certainly undertake to have discussions through the usual channels to establish whether such action would be in the general interests of the House.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : I fully support the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) for a major debate on a dog registration scheme, but may I make the further request : that the Government come up with a decision on the Griffiths report as soon as possible? It is very difficult for those of us who take an active interest in the Health Service to consider its future, and particularly the White Paper "Working for Patients", without knowing precisely where the Government stand on the report. Moreover, the longer that the Government delay, the more psychiatric hospitals are being closed. We are selling the future. I strongly believe that we need long-stay care for a large number of people suffering from mental illness.

Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend adds his considerable weight to the remarks about dogs and I note carefully what he has said, although I thought that I had been reasonably forthcoming in a busy week. I fully understand my hon. Friend's desire that the Government should produce their considerations of these matters and make public their position on the Griffiths report, but he will agree that we had better get it right rather than be too hastily wrong. My hon. Friend has a reputation for expressing his views fairly vocally, and if we get it wrong we might get some stick from him.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : Does the Leader of the House recall that in a previous Parliament the Select Committee on Defence twice was highly critical of the Government's decision to contract out Her Majesty's dockyards? Will he give an undertaking, either via a statement by a responsible Minister next week or on some other appropriate occasion, that we shall have some information about what exactly is happening at Rosyth?

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There are signs that Thorn EMI is to pull out and that Babcock is reshaping its corporate structure. That induces severe unhappiness in the labour force, to put it mildly, and casts doubt on the long-term commitment of those contractors to remain with the project.

Mr. Wakeham : I know the long and detailed interest that the hon. Gentleman takes in these matters, and I remember the report to which he refers. At this time of year we tend to have debates on defence. We are to debate the Army today. I would not want to stretch the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity too far by suggesting that he should bring that into the debate. However, we shall be having a debate in the near future when I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to make his point. In the meantime, I shall refer the matter to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who was listening to what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West) : My right hon. Friend may have covered this matter in previous business questions, but he will be aware that, until recently, when an hon. Member signed an early-day motion his name appeared on the Order Paper the next day. However, now, if one signs an early-day motion that is more than a week old, it appears only every Thursday. Why has that change taken place? Does he agree that it devalues early-day motions? Cannot we return to the original system?

Mr. Wakeham : I hope that my hon. Friend will not take it amiss when I say that his question is rather like night following day. There were complaints about the existing system and suggestions that it was being abused. The Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee looked at the matter and some new proposals have been produced. We are now trying those new proposals, and we had better see how we get along for a little longer before we start changing them again.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving an assurance that we will have a debate on the European Community proposal for a framework directive on health and safety at work. Can he assure us that the debate will be held in the very near future rather than at some indefinite time?

Mr. Wakeham : I am not one to be churlish to anyone who says anything kind to me on these occasions, but it is not quite what I said in answer to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). I said that I would refer his question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, and I did not give any undertaking.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) and his refusal of a debate on dog registration? In my constituency, on the large High Lanes estate, the Post Office has three times suspended deliveries of mail because of attacks on postmen by stray dogs or dogs which are out of control. The need for a debate is urgent.

May we also have a debate on the environment, and particularly on the need to save playing fields from Socialist councils such as Ealing which is seeking to build on 17 acres of the beautiful Cayton road playing fields belonging to Ealing Green high school?

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Mr. Wakeham : I wish that I could help my hon. Friend by finding time for a debate. The second issue that he raised is important, but I fear that he will have to use his considerable ingenuity to find a way of raising it.

As to my hon. Friend's first point, I cannot add to what I have said to hon. Members, except to say that in practice the problem is not so much the registration of dogs as owners of dogs being responsible for and taking proper care of their dogs. That is what lies at the heart of the trouble.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : The Leader of the House will recall that several months ago the Secretary of State for Energy declared that he would introduce amending legislation regarding the restart scheme as it applied to mineworkers. Despite several requests, the amending legislation, which will affect a considerable number of people who have been made redundant in the past 12 months, still has not been introduced. Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the Secretary of State for Energy to get the matter on board? If parliamentary time is not available, the Leader of the House could dump the Associated British Ports Bills and kill two birds with one stone. As that affects the Secretary of State for Employment and there is a need for co-ordination, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) who has been brought back into favour by the Prime Minister, could act as an overlord to get the two Departments together to bring the legislation forward.

Mr. Wakeham : As usual, the hon. Gentleman goes in for a touch of overkill in his question. I know that, as always, he is trying to be helpful. He asked whether I would have a word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, and the answer is yes.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : No doubt strong protests will be made about the way in which a BBC crew has been roughed up by security thugs in China. However, dealing with a domestic matter, will a statement be made next week explaining why the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office waited a week before admitting that he had lunch with a BBC correspondent from whom the story originated that the expulsion of Soviet citizens had something to do with the possible blackmailing of Labour Members of Parliament? He claims that he was misunderstood, poor chap. The Government use their propaganda and news machinery to smear their political opponents but deny the story when the going gets rough.

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman's allegations are disgraceful. My hon. Friend the Minister of State issued a comprehensive statement on 2 June about the background to those unfounded reports. I repeat that Labour Members were not associated with the matter. If the hon. Gentleman were an honourable gentleman all the time, he would accept that assurance.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : May we have a debate about the policy of higher fares on London Underground? Some hon. Members believe that it is further evidence that public transport is not safe in the Government's hands. If people are priced off the tube, the roads will be made more congested. Some hon. Members want to argue that more public investment and an integrated planned transport system is needed for London.

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Mr. Wakeham : I should welcome a debate on London Transport and an opportunity for the appropriate Minister to say how much investment has been made in the Underground system--considerably more than by the Government of which he was a supporter.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Is the Leader of the House aware that among those who are opposed to the televising of the proceedings of the House are hon. Members who would wish to compromise on the matter? Is he aware that I shall be tabling--within a matter of minutes after the right hon. Gentleman has tabled his motion--a series of amendments that deal with a compromise position, such as on the question of a dedicated channel for Select Committees and Standing Committees? Will he discuss with the parties concerned the possibility of my amendments being selected? If they are, a number of hon. Members will want to support them. I am worried that if they are not selected hon. Members will not have a chance to take a compromise view on the matter.

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman takes himself seriously, and, even if no one else does, I try to do so. I would be unwise to comment on his amendments until I have seen them ; and he would be unwise to table amendments until I have tabled the motion.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : That is what I said.

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman is wise to take that course of action. He will recognise that the selection of amendments is a matter not for me but for Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : May I quietly ask the Leader of the House how he and his colleagues would feel if they listened to the 9 o'clock news and heard that a group of them had been subject to blackmail, unspecified, and found that, at the end of the news, no qualifications were made to that statement? May we have a statement next week on exactly what happened at the Mijanou restaurant on 25 May?

Is it by chance the same thing about which Colin Wallace was complaining, which has been well detailed in Paul Foot's serious book "Who framed Colin Wallace?" which has just been published by Macmillan? It is not a matter of loony Lefties and Colin Wallace making these allegations. The loony Lefties would include His Grace the Duke of Norfolk, who believes Wallace, and the second Earl of Stockton, who is recorded as believing him. Is it a matter of the systematic rubbishing by security services of Labour MPs? The Lord President cannot say that the statement is unfounded and disgraceful. There are facts, and I ask the Minister quietly and sensibly to respond to them.

Mr. Wakeham : I shall answer the hon. Gentleman equally quietly. He would be the first to complain if he thought that the Government were responsible for the news on the BBC at 9 o'clock at night. In a free society, the BBC must report, under its own responsibility, what it believes to be happening and stand by it. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made his position absolutely clear. That is the end of it as far as he is concerned.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : May we have a statement--it is overdue--next week on the capitulation by the Secretary of State for Transport in accepting the ending

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of a derogation from the weight limit of 38 tonnes for juggernauts, which was solemnly pledged to the House in 1982 in a debate on the Armitage report, and in allowing a weight limit for juggernauts which has been fixed by the Common Market at 40 tonnes as an interim move towards an overall limit of 44 tonnes, the Common Market standard? Are the Government satisfied that our roads and bridges can take 40 tonnes gross vehicle weight? Should not the Secretary of State for Transport explain to the House why the Government are spending £1 billion on improving our roads to carry more and more juggernauts, which will not be confined to any improved roads but will wander around the whole country, bringing even more disruption and oppression to traffic and to villages and towns?

Mr. Wakeham : My right hon. Friend successfully negotiated a satisfactory end date for United Kingdom derogations from the Community maximum lorry weight limits. Against a Commission proposal that our derogation should end in 1996, he insisted that we needed more time to bring sufficient of our bridges up to a suitable strength--which is part of the hon. Gentleman's point. That was a major achievement. The 40 tonnes gross limit and 11.5 tonnes drive axle limit shall not apply in the United Kingdom until 1 January 1999.

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