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Business of the House

3.30 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 24 July----Completion of Consideration of Lords amendments to the Electricity Bill.

Afterwards there will be a debate on parliamentary pensions on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Tuesday 25 July----Opposition Day (18th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "The Practical Implications of the Poll Tax for the People". Afterwards there will be a debate on a subject to be announced. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

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

Motion to take note of EC document on freedom of movement for workers. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Wednesday 26 July----Until about seven o'clock motions on Social Security regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill

Proceedings on the Extradition Bill [Lords] , which is a consolidation measure.

Remaining stages of the Law of Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill [Lords].

Proceedings on the Continental Shelf Bill [Lords].

Thursday 27 July----Motion for the summer Adjournment.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill Friday 28 July--- -Debates on the motion for the Adjournment. [Tuesday 25 July

(1) Relevant European Community Documents

(a) 4303/89 Road safety

(b) 9228/88 Compulsory use of seat belts in road vehicles (c) 4252/89 Alcohol level for drivers

(d) 4305/89 Vehicle speed limits

(e) 4156/87 Road speed limits

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 15-xv (1988-89) para 4.

(b) HC 15-vi (1988-89) para 2.

(c) HC 15-xiv (1988-89) para 3.

(d) HC 15-xiv (1988-89) para 4.

(e) HC 22-xii (1986-87) para 2.

The Minutes of Evidence taken before the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on European Legislation HC 507-i and HC 15-xxxi (1988-89).

(2) Relevant European Community Document

5786/89 Freedom of movement and rights of residence

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee

HC 15-xxi (1988-89) para 4.

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Wednesday 26 July

Affirmative Regulations made under the Social Security Act 1989 : Community Charge Benefits (General) Regulations.

Social Security (Unemployment, Sickness and Invalidity Benefit) Amendment No. 2 Regulations.

Income Support (General) Amendment No. 2 Regulations.]

Mr. Dobson : I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Do the Government propose changing the business for next week to give the House the opportunity to debate the general practitioners' overwhelming rejection, in a ballot, of the contract that the Government wanted them to accept? When deciding what to do, will the right hon. Gentleman recall that, after the Secretary of State for Health thought that he had reached an agreement, he rushed to the House on Friday 5 May like a dog with two tails? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman come back to the House now that the doctors have docked the tail? He said that the agreement that he thought that he had reached was

"a very significant step in the development of the family doctor service".- -[ Official Report, 5 May 1989 ; Vol. 152, c. 480.] Clearly that step has been halted and the House is entitled to know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman intends doing next. Moving from health generally to health in Wales, the Leader of the House will recall that my right hon. and hon. Friends from Wales have been pressing for a statement on the impact of the National Health Service review on Wales, or a debate in the House or the Welsh Grand Committee. Has any progress been made?

When are we likely to get the long-promised debate on the Government's proposal to substitute student loans for student grants?

Whether or not the Leader of the House is with us in this incarnation next Thursday, can he tell us whether he has made some progress towards establishing a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, to which the people of Scotland are entitled both by right and by our Standing Orders? If the right hon. Gentleman will not be in that incarnation next Thursday, will he tell his successor that Scottish Members will not rest satisfied until they have such a Select Committee?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman asked me four questions about next week's business. First, he asked me whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health would be making a statement about the general practitioner contract ballot result. The answer is no. My right hon. and learned Friend regrets the GPs' decision not to support their own negotiators and to reject the contract agreed with the BMA on 4 May. Those negotiations were hard fought and concessions were made by both sides to ensure a fair deal which could bring forward further improvements to patient care. My right hon. and learned Friend is consulting the BMA's general medical services committee leaders on detailed regulations to implement the contract agreed on 4 May and will lay those before Parliament in the autumn. Good GPs have nothing to fear from the new contract which will reward doctors who provide the service that patients want and need.

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A number of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have asked questions about the National Health Service in Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and officials in his Department have had extensive discussions with a wide range of interests on the White Paper "Working for Patients" and in particular on the Welsh chapter. My right hon. Friend will be writing soon to health interests in Wales reporting on the outcome of the discussions and the next steps. He will make that publicly available. That is the procedure adopted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

On top-up loans for students, we made it clear that we would be happy for the House to debate the Government's plans and the Opposition's pledge to deprive students of the opportunity to add to their resources. The timing of such a debate is a matter for discussion through the usual channels.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the question of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs is difficult. I have nothing further to add to what I said a little while ago.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : Does my right hon. Friend recollect that it is some years since the Warnock committee reported in favour of embryo experimentation although, of course, a substantial minority reported against it? That experimentation is continuing without the proper protection of the law passed by the House. The Government have promised that there will be legislation in the next Session. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, and, at the same time, ensure that such legislation comes first to this House?

Mr. Wakeham : I know that my right hon. Friend has taken a deep interest in these matters over many years. It was probably a slip of the tongue when he said that the Government have promised to legislate in the next Session. The Government promised to legislate in the course of this Parliament. I cannot, of course, discuss at the moment what is in next Session's legislative programme.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Does the Leader of the House accept that people north of the border and Scottish Members have been incredulous about the squeals of protest coming from his right hon. and hon. Friends about the impact of the poll tax, as for the past two years, his hon. Friends have unthinkingly walked into the Lobbies to impose both primary and secondary poll tax legislation on the Scottish people? Given that such hon. Members are so out of touch with what the people want, can we expect a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland next week announcing the Government's participation in the Scottish convention with a view to setting up a Scottish parliament within the United Kingdom?

Mr. Wakeham : No, the hon. Gentleman cannot expect that next week. I agree with him in part that some of us are a bit incredulous about some of the exclamations over the introduction of the community charge, because any reasonable person who examines the alternatives proposed by his party or the Labour party will recognise that the community charge, with all its transitional difficulties, is an infinitely better alternative than anything proposed by Opposition parties.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington) : I ask my right hon. Friend to look at yesterday's Hansard, where he will see some interesting exchanges about the Monopolies

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and Mergers Commission. In view of the great deal of controversy about the efficacy of that organisation, does he not think that it is time we had a debate on the whole subject, especially bearing in mind the developments taking place in 1992?

Mr. Wakeham : I agree that this is an important subject. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate on it next week, but, as he will be aware, there are many opportunities for him to seek to raise the matter during next week. There are at least three separate occasions on which he might try his luck.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Could we have a debate next week on community care, which has been the subject of recent statements allowing only limited opportunity for debate? A debate is important because of the need to retain hospitals for mentally handicapped people, such as the Westwood hospital in my constituency. As it is set in attractive surroundings, it is feared that moves could be made to sell the land to private development speculators. In such a debate we could emphasise the concept of a village community and how the facilities for mentally handicapped people can be retained and developed.

Mr. Wakeham : I do not accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman's question, although he raises an important issue. As I said last week, the Government will publish a White Paper early in the autumn, and it would be most appropriate to have a debate on the subject then.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North) : Are we likely to have a debate in the foreseeable future on the working practices of the House? If so, has my right hon. Friend seen the Labour party's policy review report which recommends that the House sits for three days a week and has 15 weeks holiday a year? Does he agree that the document is nothing more than a slackers' charter and will he confirm that he has no intention of implementing its recommendations?

Mr. Wakeham : I thought that the document showed that the Labour party might have to work harder in future than it has in the past. I have no time for a debate on the subject next week.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : Will the Leader of the House reconsider the announcement that he apparently made a few minutes ago that the Secretary of State for Health intends to impose the doctors' contract without the House having a chance to comment on it? As the doctors have voted by about three to one against accepting the contract, is that not an appalling way to treat a great profession? Will he seriously consider allowing the House to debate the matter before the Government proceed?

Mr. Wakeham : The negotiators have been rejected by their members. The Government have negotiated with the BMA on this and the right course of action is to get on with it.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that on our return in the autumn he will announce an early debate on the opportunities for private enterprise to take over transport activities? Is he aware that the strikes by British Rail employees have thrown into focus a tremendous weakness in the south-east in people's opportunities and options to gain access to

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their place of work in the capital city? Does he agree that we need an injection of cash from the private sector to provide alternative forms of transport into London?

Mr. Wakeham : My hon. Friend is right to raise those important issues. It would be helpful to have a debate, but it is difficult for me to promise one in the immediate future.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : The Leader of the House will remember that this time last week I complained that there were to be 15 statutory instruments before the House, all relating to development corporations, which remove powers from local authorities and make it difficult for people to raise locally issues which previously they could deal with at town halls. I am grateful to him for removing the Leeds orders which will be debated next Tuesday. Does he accept that we can raise issues relating to development corporations only in the House and that they cannot be dealt with locally? Should we not have a Committee of the House on the development corporations similar to the Committee on Northern Ireland legislation, following the removal of local authority powers there, so that we can raise issues with Ministers regularly? We cannot do so locally because local authority powers have been removed.

Mr. Wakeham : I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the changes that I made, after I had agreed with him that the arrangements that had been made were not satisfactory. With regard to his wider suggestion, of course I take seriously any suggestion from someone with the experience of the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps the best plan is for us to have a discussion to see whether we can come up with any ideas to put to other people.

Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North) : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the rather desperate situation affecting local government in my constituency? Last night, a full scheduled meeting of the local council was cancelled on the mere say-so of the local NALGO representative, who asked the council leader to abandon it, which he agreed to do. Is it not important to have a debate so that hon. Members' views on such anti- democratic practices, which are damaging local authority services, can be tested in public?

Mr. Wakeham : I agree that it would be helpful to have such a debate, but I cannot promise one. It would be helpful if the unions involved could reach agreement with employers and cease putting the public to such inconvenience.

Mr. Pat Wall (Bradford, North) : No doubt the Leader of the House has seen reports in the press about the return of a Chinese dissident, Mr. Xu Hai Ning. He is a Chinese journalist with the New China Press Agency in Hong Kong. He came to Britain after making statements condemning the assassinations in Beijing and was granted leave to stay until 30 June 1990. According to statements, he returned to Hong Kong voluntarily. This case raises disturbing aspects : first, the appearance of threatening advertisements in the Chinese business newspaper that is published in Soho ; secondly, the disclosure of escape routes of Hong Kong dissidents that will result from his return to Hong Kong ; and thirdly, the fear that it will

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create among the Chinese community in Britain. I interviewed this gentleman last week, and he was nervous and distraught about his status in this country and his lack of a travel document. In those circumstances, does the Leader of the House agree that the Minister of State, Home Office should make a statement about his return and its consequences for the Chinese community in Britain and other dissidents?

Mr. Wakeham : I recognise that the hon. Gentleman raises an important matter. The gentleman concerned, who is a Chinese national, was granted leave to enter the United Kingdom on 30 June. On 17 July, he contacted his embassy in London and asked to return to China. On his departure from the United Kingdom he was interviewed in private by an immigration officer, when he confirmed that he was returning to China of his own free will. He appeared calm and well and expressed himself clearly. There was, therefore, neither power nor reason to prevent this gentleman's departure.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) : Will my right hon. Friend consider, together with the usual channels, the sending of an official British parliamentary team of observers to the independence elections in Namibia? The need to ensure that its elections are fair and free is just as great as when we similarly sent an official team of observers to represent Parliament in Rhodesia--Zimbabwe in 1980.

Mr. Wakeham : I recognise the importance of the issue that my hon. Friend raises. I am not in a position to give him a full answer, but I shall refer the matter to those who will be able to give him a better answer.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : The Leader of the House will no doubt remember that in response to an earlier question he said that Scotland was experiencing transitional difficulties as a result of the implementation of the poll tax. While experimentation might be a better description of what is happening in Scotland, has he had an opportunity to study early-day motion 1177, in the name of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing)?

[That this House calls upon the Secretary of State for Scotland to introduce an amendment to the Abolition of Domestic Rates (Scotland) Act in order to ensure that the practice of the next of kin of a deceased person receiving an account for the outstanding amount of poll tax payable to the date of death is ended forthwith ; and urges the Secretary of State to recognise that at a time of such family trauma the receipt of such an account causes great distress and to further recognise that this is not a matter for regional and islands councils but is a legislative matter for Her Majesty's Government.] May we expect an early statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland about stopping the obscene practice of levying the poll tax on the relatives of the recently deceased?

Mr. Wakeham : The position on the transitional arrangements for the community charge is this. When the Government end a system that has for years been unfair in certain areas, and there is a transitional arrangement, there are always difficulties because those who have been unfairly treated for a long time do not feel that they are getting the benefits to which they are entitled as quickly as they should. That is the essence of the problem of the safety net.

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Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that many thousands of my constituents are without piped water and face a weekend without piped water as a result of the incredible ineffeciency of Thames Water? As many hundreds of thousands of people in south London are faced with a serious water shortage this weekend, may we have an urgent ministerial statement, as a considerable health hazard is involved?

Mr. Wakeham : Thames Water very much regrets the considerable inconvenience caused to consumers and assures us that it is doing all that it can to restore normal supplies as quickly as possible. I understand that the reasons for the lack of mains water supply in my hon. Friend's constituency and in other parts of London are the exceptionally high demand for water resulting from the hot weather and a substantial reduction in capacity from the Hampton water treatment works. Consumers are being informed and alternative water supplies are being provided. Essential users such as hospitals are being given priority.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Is the Leader of the House aware that I am one of the two objectors to the accounts of Westminster city council, tabling as I did last year some 83 objections? Is he not outraged by the allegations last night on "Panorama" that personal files are being kept on councillors and their friends, wards are being gerrymandered for electoral benefit, and that officials of the council are being intimidated? What will the Government do about this? Is pressure being exerted on Lady Porter to resign, because what she is doing is nothing less than municipal fascism and the British people do not want it?

Mr. Wakeham : I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should ask his question in such an intemperate fashion. There are proper ways to investigate any allegations of irregularities, and trial by television or accusations in the House by the hon. Gentleman under privilege are not a proper way to deal with them. Any allegations of misuse or improper use of ratepayers' money will be examined in the first instance by the auditor as part of his normal duties. That is the proper way to investigate this matter.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : Has my right hon. Friend read the debate on foreign affairs last Friday? If he did so, he would see that there is terrific lack of knowledge of the workings not only of the international side of the Council of Europe, but of the Western European Union. Some unnecessary things were said in that debate, trying to denigrate the 23-nation Council of Europe, while at the same time casting doubt on the valuable work that that body does. I wish to bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend that it contains the Court of Human Rights and has brought documents

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman should be asking for a debate.

Mr. Hill : It contains much informative documentation. Now that Mr. Gorbachev has spoken to the Council of Europe, and that we have many guest advisers from the USSR, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Poland, should not the House, once and for all, have a debate of some international significance on these two important institutions?

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Mr. Wakeham : In spite of the very busy time of year I arranged debates on China and Hong Kong last Thursday and on foreign affairs last Friday. I cannot be held responsible for everything that is said in such debates, although I am sorry if the very valuable work in which I know my hon. Friend has played a large part for a good many years was not properly recognised. I remind my hon. Friend that there are a number of occasions next week on which he might wish to raise the subject and put the record straight.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) said, does the Leader of the House realise that the serious malpractices of Westminster city council are scandalous and that Lady Porter has undoubtedly shown herself to be totally unfit to hold any kind of public office whatever?

Mr. Speaker : Order. The same rules must apply to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). These are business questions and we are dealing with the business for next week.

Mr. Winnick : I did ask for a debate, Mr. Speaker.

In case this is the last appearance by the present Leader of the House, may I thank him for the courteous way in which he has tried to answer our questions, but wonder why under this Government everyone who has held his position has ended up being sacked?

Mr. Wakeham : It was a member of the hon. Gentleman's own party who said that he was the stupidest man in the House. That was many years ago and the hon. Gentleman is even more stupid now than he was then. None the less, I thank him for his expressions of goodwill.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : I have a slight cold, so I may not have heard properly at Question Time today. I heard the Leader of the Opposition accuse my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of not having been here for yesterday's statement, but I did not hear the Leader of the Opposition or the shadow Leader of the House mention the rail strike. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can tell me whether my hearing is defective. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a matter of great concern and that if we had a statement next week, it might quietly enable leading members of the Labour party to seek to use their influence to get the National Union of Railwaymen to see sense? Will my right hon. Friend use his best offices somehow through the usual channels to provide a forum for an exchange at the Dispatch Box next week so that all of us can send a message to the NUR saying, "Please go back to work"?

Mr. Wakeham : I understand the Opposition's difficulty, because they do not know whether to support the unions that have accepted the agreement through the proper negotiating machinery or the union that has not. The sooner they make up their minds, the better it will be for all of us. The strike and the inconvenience to the travelling public must be brought to an end soon.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : May I back up the request made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) for a debate, or preferably a statement, later today about the case of Mr. Xu Hai Ning, about which I, too, made several telephone calls to the Home Office and the Foreign Office on Tuesday?

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Should not the House and the people of Britain be concerned that the visit on 17 July, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, was the fourth visit that Mr. Xu Hai Ning had made to the embassy? On three occasions he had changed his mind about returning to China. It was the pressure of advertisements in the Chinese business press and the harassment and threats to his family that finally forced him to return.

Should not the Home Office be concerned that the safe houses provided by the Chinese Solidarity Campaign--which I thought the Government would have contacted on this case--have not only been broken into, but have been visited by Chinese secret service personnel? What hope can people of Chinese extraction have that this country will act as a place of refuge if someone can be forced to return under duress by the tactics used on Mr. Xu Hai Ning? Should not we have a statement on this matter?

Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I came to the House with a prepared Home Office brief and, therefore, I think that I speak with some authority on the matter. The information given to me does not coincide with the information that the hon. Gentleman has given the House. This gentleman, a Chinese national, was interviewed in private by an immigration officer and he confirmed that he was returning to China of his own free will. As is reported, he appeared calm and well and expressed himself clearly. There was, therefore, no power or reason to prevent his departure.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : My right hon. Friend knows my interest in this matter. When does he hope there may be time for a debate on the report on telecommunications of the Services Committee, which affects the provision of services in the House, particularly in view of the decision to extend for a further 12 months the opportunity for competitive services in telecommunications in Parliament, as opposed to Whitehall?

Mr. Wakeham : I agree that it is a suitable subject for debate, but, as my hon. Friend knows, the report has only just been published. It would probably be more valuable if we considered the report before having a debate.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East) : May we have a debate next week on the Government's proposal, which was announced some months ago, to double tolls on the Severn bridge? Does he appreciate that there were many objections to the proposal and that an inquiry was held? The commissioner's report has been in the hands of the Secretary of State for Transport for some weeks, but he is sitting on it. Presumably his intention is to announce his findings a day or so before Parliament adjourns for the summer recess. Does not the Leader of the House think that that is sharp practice?

Mr. Wakeham : I do not think that it is sharp practice. One man sitting on it is another man considering it. My right hon. Friend has the report and, as the hon. Gentleman said, he is considering the matter.

Mr. Andrews Rowe (Mid-Kent) : I believe that my right hon. Friend is aware that many people in Kent are interested in railways. Given that British Rail is trying hard to get a private Bill ready by mid-November and that the consultation period with the public will end during the

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summer recess, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be appropriate to have a debate in October on that important subject before the Bill is brought to the House, because that would exclude a debate until about April?

Mr. Wakeham : I recognise the strength of feeling of my hon. Friend and a number of my hon. Friends from Kent and of their constituents. I understand, however, that British Rail is considering promoting a private Bill to seek to do what it needs to do. There will be plenty of opportunity for that matter to be debated when it comes before the House. I do not, therefore, feel able to offer my hon. Friend a special debate on the subject.

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