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Business of the House

3.31 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : May I ask the Leader of the House to state 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 10 July----Estimates day (3rd allotted day). There will be debates on Department of Energy administration and on civil aviation services. Details of the Estimates concerned and the relevant Select Committee reports will be given in the Official Report.

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

Tuesday 11 July-- and Wednesday 12 July----Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

At the end on Tuesday : motion on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order, motion on the Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payment Schemes) (Amendment) Order. At the end on Wednesday : motion to take note of EC document on irradiation of foodstuffs. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Thursday 13 July----There will be a debate on Hong Kong and China on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 14 July----There will be a debate on foreign affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Monday 17 July----Opposition day. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject for debate to be announced.

[Monday 10 July

Estimate : Class VI, Vote 3 (Department of Energy :


Relevant Select Committee Report :

Energy Committee's Fourth Report Session 1988-89 (HC 435) on the Department of Energy's Spending Plans 1989-90

Estimate : Class VIII, Vote 2 (Department of Transport : Administration and Transport Services), so far as it relates to Civil Aviation Services.

Relevant Select Committee Reports :

Transport Committee's First Report Session 1988-89 (HC 198) on Air Traffic Control Safety

Transport Committee's Third Special Report Session 1988-89 (HC 407), the Government Observations on the First Report of the Committee, Session 1988- 89

Wednesday 12 July

Relevant European Community Document

10377/88 Irradiation of foodstuffs

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

HC 15-viii (1988-89), para 5, HC 15-xvii (1988-89), para 5 and HC 15-xxi (1988-89), para 6.]

Mr. Dobson : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and, on behalf of hon. Members from both sides of the House, I thank him for responding so promptly and arranging a debate on Hong Kong and China and a separate one on foreign affairs.

Can the right hon. Gentleman be equally prompt in securing a debate on the impact of the National Health Service review on Wales? The debate could be conducted

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in the House or he could persuade his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to agree to a debate in the Welsh Grand Committee.

Has the right hon. Gentleman got any further in the discussions that he said he was having about the possibility of establishing a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, or some alternative arrangements? It is some time since he told us that he was having those discussions and we should like to know the outcome. When are we likely to receive the long-promised statement on the Government's response to the Griffiths report on community care? Will we receive it next week?

Finally, when will we get the long-promised debate on the Government's proposal to substitute student loans for student grants?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman asked me five questions about the business for next week. I am grateful for what he said about the two days that I have managed to find for the important debates on Hong Kong and China and on foreign affairs. I hope that it is for the convenience of the House to hold separate debates on those two subjects next week.

I recognise that we have had a number of debates on the Health Service ; it is a subject to which we shall return from time to time, but I cannot promise a debate on the Health Service with particular reference to Wales. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would welcome a debate on the subject in the Welsh Grand Committee, but its timing should be left to the usual channels. I have nothing to add to what I told the hon. Gentleman some time ago about the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. I explained that I have been considering the points that some of his hon. Friends raised with me in the course of a useful discussion. I have to confirm that I do not see an easy solution, but I am still looking into the matter.

With regard to the Griffiths report, we are now finalising our proposals on community care and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health very much hopes to be able to make a statement announcing our conclusions next week. As I have said before, there will be a debate in Government time at a suitable point thereafter.

As I said last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and I have made it clear that we would welcome a debate on top-up loans. Again, its timing is best left for discussion through the usual channels.

Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South) : During Treasury questions today a Labour Front Bench spokesman expressed concern about an alleged increase in the burden of taxation during the past 10 years. Would my right hon. Friend consider it possible to provide enough time during the remaining stages of the Finance Bill next week for the Labour party to clarify its position on this issue? If its anxiety is genuine, it will presumably welcome further tax cuts introduced by the Government and abandon all the proposals contained in its recent policy document.

Mr. Wakeham : I have never felt that lack of time was the principal cause of the Opposition's not making their position clear. There will certainly be time for them to advance any arguments which they think relevant and in order in the debates that we have arranged for next week.

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Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : Why has a major Government review of tourism, which has been a year in preparation, been slipped out this afternoon by way of a written answer instead of in a statement to the House, after which hon. Members representing affected constituencies could question the Minister concerned, as was possible on the last occasion when the Government announced such a review? Are we to have an early debate on this? Why has this deplorable procedure been used in a case which arouses a great deal of interest throughout England?

Mr. Wakeham : I do not accept for a minute what the hon. Gentleman says. A written answer is a perfectly proper way of making an announcement. Of course, whether to make such an announcement by written answer or by oral statement is a matter of judgment that must take into account all the other pressures on the time of the House. My right hon. Friend gave the matter proper consideration, but I shall see to it that the hon. Gentleman's views are conveyed to him.

Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar) : Will there be time before the summer recess to debate the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on the supply of beer? Although a number of my hon. Friends and I are opposed to the Commission's recommendations, we are not wholly in favour of the status quo. As there seems to be some doubt about the direction that Government policy is likely to take in response to the report, would it not be a good idea if my right hon. Friend sought the opinion of hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber?

Mr. Wakeham : At this stage, this is a matter for my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to consider. He is studying the report and considering the views expressed by hon. Members and others. It is right for him first to come to his conclusion, and for that conclusion to be announced ; then we shall consider how best to proceed.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Is the Leader of the House aware that we should discuss the proposals of the Department of Transport for changing the orange badge parking scheme for disabled people? It should include thalidomide victims who have no arms and who have great difficulty carrying shopping. Other deserving groups should also be included. Abuse of the scheme must be ended because it damages the scheme, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that more than 250,000 disabled people will lose their orange badges when the Minister's scheme is implemented? Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have thousands of complaints in the next year or two. Could we have a debate, please?

Mr. Wakeham : I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman should be too alarmist about this matter. As he knows, the orange badge scheme was designed to help those with severe mobility problems. We are working to improve the scheme and to cut abuse for the sake of those who depend upon it for freedom of movement.

Mr. Ashley : I am not being alarmist.

Mr. Wakeham : It seems that the right hon. Gentleman, with his ingenuity, should be able to raise some of these issues in the debate that will take place tomorrow.

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Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove) : Knowing my right hon. Friend's personal and professional interest in our workings and in our working conditions, may I ask him whether he has received a copy of the parliamentary Labour party's proposals on this score? Will he consider providing an early opportunity for those of us who would like to join in the debate on the proposals, which include a three-day week--shades of 1974 --provision for statutory instruments to be considered in Committee and various other measures that are apparently designed to secure not greater examination of the Executive but greater participation in our "pluralist political culture"?

Mr. Wakeham : I have not received a copy of the PLP's report, but I shall be interested to receive a copy. If it is as my hon. Friend has suggested, I am not sure that it will help us get up for the summer recess too quickly.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : The Leader of the House will be aware of my interest, having legislated for the scheme, in the orange badge parking concessions for severely disabled people. Would it not be more satisfactory for there to be an oral statement next week about the very special predicaments of people with no arms, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) said, including many thalidomide victims?

Secondly, can I ask the Leader of the House if he can say any more about the timing of the forthcoming debate on parliamentary pensions?

Mr. Wakeham : The Minister who is responsible for the orange badge scheme and the question of thalidomide victims is consulting medical opinion on the circumstances of certain people with these unfortunate disabilities. Any statement or announcement to the House will be better made after conclusions have been arrived at.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) knows that I have been trying to find a time convenient to everyone for a debate on parliamentary pensions. I am most anxious that the debate should take place. As soon as I can make an announcement, I shall do so.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that an industrial dispute which concerns and harms the interests of employers or employees only is one thing but that an industrial dispute that results in misery and suffering for thousands of members of the general public, who are unconnected with the merits of the dispute, is another? Can we have a debate on how we might alter the law to protect the public against irresponsibility by either side in an industrial dispute?

Mr. Wakeham : I fully recognise my hon. Friend's concern, the concern of his constituents and the concern of many of us who have constituents faced with circumstances similar to those that he describes. The public sector unions, especially in a monopoly or near-monopoly industry, should recognise their special

responsibilities to the general public. Current strikes in public services are a disgraceful example of unions letting down the public, whom they are there to serve.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : As the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for the Home Department has published and circulated a statement on blasphemy, would it not be a good idea to have a debate

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on the Law Commission's 1985 report, which recommended abolition of this antique, out-dated and wholly useless legislation, so that we could come to some conclusions about it? At the same time we could express strongly our opposition to and condemnation of the bombing of book-shops, one of which occurred recently where "The Satanic Verses" was on sale, albeit in a muted sort of way without any big campaign. The bombing of bookshops and attempts to suppress literature is redolent of Germany in the 1930s.

Mr. Wakeham : I agree that there would be considerable value in such a debate, as the House could express its grave concern and disquiet about some of the activities. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the blasphemy laws have not been of much value or use in our system, so it certainly is not a sensible idea to extend them. The question whether they should be abolished is not for me, but they will not provide much of a solution to the current difficulties.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that when the clergy ordination Measure comes before the House in the next two or three weeks, following an excellent debate in the House of Lords, many hon. Members will wish to take part in the debate? Will he ensure that the debate takes place at a reasonable time and is not shunted off to 4 o'clock in the morning?

Mr. Wakeham : There was a good debate in another place, and I hope that this House will live up to my hon. Friend's expectations. I shall try, as I always try, to bring important matters before the House at a convenient time. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend recognises that, especially at this time of year, I have some difficulty in achieving that objective.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : Will the right hon. Gentleman explain his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) about a Welsh Grand Committee debate on the National Health Service? Does he recall that during business questions on 22 June he promised my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) that he would arrange a debate on that matter before the recess? There are only three weeks to go and this matter is very important. It is essential that Welsh Members discuss the NHS as it affects Wales and also the proposals for Wales.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the British Medical Association met in Swansea this week? We want to discuss with the Secretary of State the BMA's declaration against the Government's policy. It is not true to say that the matter can be negotiated through the usual channels because the usual channels are blocked. The right hon. Gentleman usually keeps his promises. Will he keep this promise and arrange a Welsh Grand Committee meeting so that we can fully discuss the problems with the Secretary of State?

Mr. Wakeham : I am not sure that my recollection of business questions on 22 June is the same as that of the hon. Gentleman. I am happy for the matter to be discussed through the usual channels. I have more confidence in that system than the hon. Gentleman appears to have at present.

Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North) : In view of Britain's success in creating jobs during the past three years, does

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my right hon. Friend agree that rather than the European Community giving us a social charter, there is an argument for Britain giving it a jobs charter? Will he find time, as soon as possible, for a debate on the employment aspects of the social charter proposed by the European Commission, so that the attitudes of the two sides of the House towards job creation can be examined, especially in respect of the damage done to employment by strikes in the public sector?

Mr. Wakeham : I agree that the Government's record on creating jobs is something to which all other countries in Europe could look with a degree of envy. It would make a suitable subject for debate, but I cannot promise one in the immediate future.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley) : I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 1018, relating to the dispute at Ever-Sure Textiles Limited, Sheffield.

[That this House deplores the action of management at Ever-Sure Textiles Limited, Sheffield, in refusing to accept recognition of the Transport and General Workers Union, even though 160 out of the 180 members of the workforce voted by ballot for trade union recognition and 87 per cent. of the workers voted in favour of industrial action following management's decision ; condemns the dismissal of about 28 warehouse staff for taking part in the industrial action ; is shocked to learn that the honourable Member for Sheffield, Hallam lists in the registry of Members' Interests that he is a director of this company where some of the women machinists have a basic wage of £61 per week ; and calls upon him to put pressure on his fellow directors to allow the rights of workers for official trade union representation, which was confirmed in a democratic ballot.] It has attracted 61 signatures to date.

Although it may appear to be just a local problem, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the workers involved have gone through the democratic rules laid down by the Government to obtain trade union recognition, but have been ignored by the reactionary management of that company? As I was not successful in obtaining an Adjournment debate, will the right hon. Gentleman consider arranging a short debate so that we can express our concern and gain some information about the Government's stance on this matter?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman will know that at this time of the year there are a number of occasions on which he can raise that matter on the Floor of the House without my having to find time for a debate, which I am sure he will recognise is difficult as we approach the summer recess. It is for companies to decide on their bargaining systems, including which union, if any, they wish to negotiate with in collective bargaining.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) : My right hon. Friend will have heard the exchanges during Prime Minister's Question Time on the subject of railway investment, when the Leader of the Opposition seemed to doubt the validity of some of the answers that he was given. The Government have a proud record on railway investment and I am continually being lobbied by my constituents and other bodies urging that the Government should do more on that subject. Our investment has been linked to the performance of British Rail and its staff but now that performance is sadly lacking. Will my right hon. Friend

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consider having a debate on railway investment so that we can put straight our record on that matter and learn exactly what are the Opposition's criteria? Perhaps they would invest with no performance at all.

Mr. Wakeham : That would make a good subject for a debate. At Prime Minister's Question Time, the Leader of the Opposition, as is his right, asked questions and my right hon. Friend gave him answers. I hope that he is a wiser man as a result. However, I cannot promise an early debate on the matter raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South) : Will the Leader of the House find time next week for the Home Secretary to come to the House and make a statement on the Home Office report published this week on the future of section 11 funding of local authorities and the Home Office's continued failure to make up its mind on whether to give relief to my hard-pressed ratepayers by paying out the money due to the borough of Brent under section 11, as recommended by Sir David Lane?

Mr. Wakeham : If my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary wants to make a statement to the House I shall certainly find time, but the hon. Gentleman can find a way of raising that matter in the House without my assistance. However, I shall refer to my right hon. Friend the point that he has made.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) : Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that despite Thursday's debate being on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, the subject will be Hong Kong and China, not other foreign affairs matters, and that any other foreign affairs matters that hon. Members wish to raise will be debated on Friday?

Secondly, when does my right hon. Friend expect to respond to the recommendation of the Select Committee on European Legislation and the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service that the House should debate the Delors report?

Mr. Wakeham : I do not have anything further to say on the latter point, but we shall bear it in mind. The Delors report is an appropriate subject for debate and no doubt there will be an opportunity to debate it in the House.

On the foreign affairs debate and the debate on Hong Kong and China, my hon. Friend is correct. I announced Thursday's debate on Hong Kong and China, and Friday's debate is a more general foreign affairs debate. What is or is not in order in those debates is not a matter for me.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : In view of the Government's continuing failure to set up a Scottish parliament or even a Scottish Select Committee, will the Leader of the House consider going up to Inverness tomorrow to observe the work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which he will see at first hand is much more representative of Scottish opinion than the House, which continues to ignore the democratic wishes of the majority of the Scottish people?

Mr. Wakeham : Unfortunately, my duties in the House will detain me here tomorrow, but if I had an opportunity

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to go to Inverness which, from time to time, I enjoy very much, I am not sure that going to the convention would be the most profitable thing to do.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : Will my right hon. Friend find time in next week's parliamentary agenda to debate industrial relations in the light of the strikes on trains and buses, and the prospect of a strike in the docks, so that the Labour party can explain to the public through the means of the House how it would end those strikes, particularly bearing in mind that during yesterday's debate on training, the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen said not one word on their policy on that subject either.

Mr. Wakeham : As my hon. Friend will have noted, I have announced an Opposition day debate for Monday 17 July, which is as far in advance as I can manage, to give the Opposition as much time as possible to get a policy together. If the Opposition want to debate that policy, I am sure that the House will be interested to listen.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : What will the Leader of the House do to enable right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House to answer the growing list of questions from constituents about the implementation of the poll tax? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the latest estimate by Bradford city council officials is that the poll tax will be £343 per person--which represents a massive increase under that Conservative-controlled authority? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people who have been designated as the "responsible person" have no income and are desperately worried about how they will pay? Is he aware that the parents of children aged over 18 in secondary education, with no income of their own, will be liable for their children's poll tax, and that people absent from the United Kingdom for up to one year will also be liable? When will right hon. and hon. Members have an opportunity to put questions to the Secretary of State for the Environment, in the hope that he will give some sensible replies?

Mr. Wakeham : If the hon. Gentleman continues asking questions of such an alarmist nature, it is no wonder that some people in Bradford will be misled as to the true position. I am unaware of any major problems that remain unresolved, but if the hon. Gentleman will write to me, I shall do my best to answer him.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : I support the call of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) for a statement or early debate on the British Rail and London Underground strikes. They are causing desperate inconvenience and suffering to my constituents and those of other right hon. and hon. Members--including pensioners from Northolt, who seek to take their holidays from Wednesday to Wednesday to save money. Such a debate could also consider the suggestion that many pensioners have made to me, which is that the men and women who work on the railways are losing nothing from their pay packets by striking on Wednesdays, because they make up their income by working overtime on the Tuesdays before and the Thursdays after the strikes--so they make no real effort or sacrifice.

Mr. Wakeham : I fully understand my hon. Friend's concern about the grave inconvenience caused to many of his constituents and about the strike generally. The strike is for British Rail and the unions to resolve, and I hope

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that they will do so quickly in the interests of all commuters. The Government have done what they can to assist commuters to get to work. The extra measures that we announced last week were generally a success. Emergency parking in central London was well used, without creating significant extra congestion, and we are considering the use of further park-and-ride sites.

We urge the public to use car-sharing more and to stagger their journeys, so that more people may get to work. By far the most satisfactory way out will be for the union to recognise its responsibilities and to reach agreement with the employers.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motions 1080 and 1081, in the name of the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt).

[That this House congratulates the BBC's staff for their courageous action in striking.

That this House notes that there is no intention on the part of the BBC strikers to improve productivity or efficiency and that the action taken has hit hardest at the elderly, house bound, lonely and low paid who struggle to pay the present exorbitant licence fee.] Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate--short or otherwise--on both early-day motions, which may allow the hon. Member for Langbaurgh to explain his somewhat contradictory views, which clearly must have been tendered in the spirit of mockery? Such a debate would allow right hon. and hon. Members to express their undistorted views about the opinions of BBC staff, as opposed to those of BBC management. It would also provide an opportunity to pass comment on the summer of discontent that the Government have undoubtedly provoked in a desperate quest to regain some form of electoral advantage.

Mr. Wakeham : That is not a particularly helpful comment. Industrial relations between the BBC and its employees on various subjects, including pay and conditions, is a matter for the BBC. It is for the BBC to decide how best to use the resources available to it, within the constraints of the index-linked licence fee. The Government's concern is to take measures to bear down on inflation, which is the major problem that we must overcome.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet) : My right hon. Friend will recall that I have asked several times whether he will find time for a debate on the Lord Chancellor's proposals for the reform of the legal profession before the Government's response to the many recommendations that they have received has crystallised. Can my right hon. Friend say when a White Paper on this important subject is likely to be published and whether he will find time for a debate before that happens?

Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend has been very patient and has asked me a number of times to find time for a debate. I regret that I have not been able to do so. Ministers hope to take decisions before the summer recess. I am sure that we will return to these matters at an appropriate time.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : I add my plea to that of the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste). Surely it is wrong that proposals of this magnitude, affecting people's rights in law, are debated throughout the country

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and decisions are made, but there is no debate in the House. Is not the position even worse, because in the meantime, people's rights to justice deteriorate as the legal aid system provides less support. A person who needs justice must be either very rich or have little money--otherwise, too often, the courts are not available. Surely we must have a debate on legal reform and legal aid before the recess. Can the right hon. Gentleman promise at least that?

Mr. Wakeham : I regret that I cannot. The hon. and learned Gentleman is a fair man and he would be the first to agree that record amounts of money are being spent by the Government on legal aid. Of course, these are matters for debate, but that point should not be overlooked.

The Government have issued a Green Paper for discussion of the procedures. A final decision has not been made. When the Government decide what to do, there will be ample time to discuss the matter. If it involves legislative proposals, the House will have a full opportunity to discuss, debate and decide the issues.

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