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Business of the House

3.31 pm

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : May I ask the Leader of the House to tell us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : The business for next week will be as follows :

6 November--Progress on consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government and Housing Bill-- Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker

Mr. Speaker : I will take points of order after business questions.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Tuesday 7 November--Completion of consideration of--

Mr. Heffer rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please resume his seat? I will take his point of order and any other points of order after business questions.

Mr. Heffer rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I asked the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat. I now order him to do so. [Hon. Members :-- "Name him."] If the hon. Gentleman persists, I regret that I will have to name him. I must ask him to resume his seat until after business questions.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As I was saying, on Tuesday 7 November, there will be completion of consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government and Housing Bill.

Wednesday 8 November----Consideration of Lords amendments to the Employment Bill.

Thursday 9 November----Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on parliamentary pensions on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Proceedings on the Prisons (Scotland) Bill [Lords] , followed by proceedings on the Statute Law Repeals Bill [Lords] and proceedings on the Opticians Bill [Lords] , which are all consolidation measures.

Motion to take note of EC document on shipping and dangerous goods and motions relating to merchant shipping regulations. Details of all the documents concerned will be given in the Official Report. The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

Friday 10 November----There will be a debate on world climate change on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Monday 13 November----Supplemental guillotine motion on and consideration of Lords amendments to the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill.

Opposition day (2nd Allotted Day--2nd part). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject for debate to be announced. The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that, subject to the progress of business, the House will meet for Prorogation on Thursday 16 November.

The new Session will be opened on Tuesday 21 November.

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[Thursday 9 November

Relevant European Community Document

7074/89 Shipping (Dangerous Cargoes)

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee

HC 15-xxix (1988-89), para 1

Merchant Shipping Regulations:

Merchant Shipping (Distress Signals and Prevention of Collision) Regulations 1989 (SI 1989 No. 1798)

Merchant Shipping (Accident Investigation) Regulations 1989 (SI 1989 No. 1172).]

Dr. Cunningham : I pledge the Leader of the House my full co- operation in my new role for any measures that he may introduce to improve facilities in the House for hon. Members and others who work here, and my implacable opposition to those aspects of Government policy to which the Opposition are so consistently opposed. I have been informed that my responsibilities, like his, cover televising the House, and I am told that, for people of my height or above, there is a problem with camera angles. Therefore, I had thought to ask his permission to have a small trench dug in the Floor on this side of the House, but as he would probably like to see me start my job off in a hole, I shall put that request in abeyance.

We welcome the decision to provide time for a debate on world climate change, and we look forward to that debate. However, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider the proposed arrangements for Monday 13 November? As he has said, the second half of that day is to be given over to Opposition supply time. We urge the Leader of the House to change the business so that we can have the Opposition time first, to be followed by the timetable motion. I hope that he will give sympathetic consideration to that request.

As for the business on 6 and 7 November, the Leader of the House will know that more than 600 amendments to the Local Government and Housing Bill have been tabled in another place. That is an astonishing number of amendments, mainly from the Government. I acknowledge that one or two of the amendments resulted from defeats of the Government by Labour Members of the other place, and we welcome that. Bearing in mind the huge amount of additional work to be considered, may we have an assurance that there will be no move to restrict the time available for discussion of those issues? The Leader of the House will have observed, as we did, the anger on both sides of the House about the announcement that is to come shortly from British Rail that fares are to be increased by between 10 and 20 per cent. He will know that millions of people, particularly in the constituencies represented by his right hon. and hon. Friends in and around the south-east, will be very angry about these increases, which are way in excess of the rate of inflation. Therefore, I urge the Leader of the House to provide time next week for the House to discuss these appalling increases in commuter fares, which will be so deleterious in their effect on the family incomes of millions of people.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his role of dealing with the business of the House. I have taken note, with interest, of both parts of his declaration of faith. I shall try as far as I can to help him with the first and hinder him with the second.

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I have taken note of what the hon. Gentleman said about the business arrangements for Monday 13 November, and I shall look at the proposal that he has made for changing the sequence of that business. It is probably most convenient for that to be pursued through the usual channels.

I also heard what the hon. Gentleman said about the work that we shall be doing on the Local Government and Housing Bill. The Bill has already received its Third Reading in the other place, and he is right to say that we shall have a substantial number of amendments to consider. However, I emphasise that the vast majority of them are technical or consequential on points that have been raised during debate. The arrangements for debating those matters on the two days that I have identified have been discussed with representatives of the Opposition, and I hope that it will be possible for us to handle them within the framework.

Average rail fare increases have been announced--I recognise that no one welcomes any increase--and they are rather less than a great deal of recent speculation had led people to expect. The details of the increases are beyond my competence at this stage. I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman any prospect of a debate on that matter next week.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that I have been fortunate enough to be granted an Adjournment debate on 13 November on haemophiliac AIDS victims. Will he talk to our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health and ensure that I have a definitive reply so that these people are given some real hope that they will be compensated as adequately as is possible as soon as possible?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As I have said on several occasions, it is a matter that I have brought to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I congratulate my hon. Friend on having secured on opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment next week. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend to the importance which my hon. Friend understandably attaches to the debate.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : Will the Leader of the House reconsider the timetabling of business to reflect the concern that I am sure is felt on both sides of the House about the events in Cambodia? Would it be possible before the United Nations meets on 15 November--which is the date, as he will be aware, when recognition will either be given or refused to the so-called coalition democratic Government of Kampuchea--to have a debate in this place about which authorities in Kampuchea should be recognised, about the prospect of a change of policy so that recognition could be given to the de facto Government in Phnom Penh, and about what actual and potential links there are between British defence forces and forces there so that we and the British people may be assured that we are supporting people who are the servants and protagonists of democracy and not some of the people who the Prime Minister and others have condemned as being among the greatest tyrants in politics since the second world war? A debate would be extremely welcome.

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Sir Geoffrey Howe : I must repeat what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. We can make no comment of any kind on allegations of relationships with the non-Communist resistance forces of the sort raised by the hon. Gentleman. Our objective is, and always has been, a comprehensive settlement that will allow the Cambodian people to elect the Government of their own choice. On the many occasions that I have said that, I have repeated that our abhorrence of the murderous Pol Pot regime is well known and that there is no question of our supporting that regime.

I cannot offer any prospect of a rearrangement of the business next week. I remind the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that events in Kampuchea were debated at the end of yesterday's business on the Adjournment.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant) : I welcome the Government's decision to hold an early debate on climate change, or what will undoubtedly be referred to as the greenhouse effect. My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the Select Committee on Energy, which I have the privilege of chairing, has recently produced a report on the energy policy implications of this. Will the Government's reply to the report be available in time for the forthcoming important debate? Secondly, will the report that is being produced by the Select Committee on Science and Technology in another place, which I gather is at an advanced stage, if not already in draft, be published in time as it will have a material contribution to make to the debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome for the debate that we have foreshadowed. I cannot give a precise answer to either of his questions. I shall be sure to let him have that information as soon as I can.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : May we have a debate next week on safety measures for large chemical plants such as Allied Colloids in my constituency, where a serious explosion took place earlier this week? We could then receive an explanation of why it is that the local council is trying to remove the only green area left in that industrial area with the purpose of bringing in more industry. Its actions have been backed, apparently, by the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman understandably raises a point of interest to the community he represents with which he is, also understandably, more familiar than I am, but I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : My right hon. and learned Friend's decision to have a debate next week on the climate will be welcome, but since the reports are not yet out it is premature. Would not the Government be doing the House a better service by having a debate on toxic waste disposal as a result of the report published by the Select Committee on the Environment, which has been out for some considerable time and is of great interest to eveyone in Britain?

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Sir Geoffrey Howe : I can understand my hon. Friend advancing that point of view, but it is not a point of view that has prevailed with those who arrange the business of the House.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : Is the Leader of the House aware of difficulties regarding the allocation of debating time to the minority parties? Can he give an assurance that during his tenure of office past obligations entered into will be honoured?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I will take account of the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : If we cannot have a debate next week on the fares increase for London Transport, London Underground and British Rail, may we have a statement so that I can bring out the position of my constituents in Northolt and Northolt Park? In a letter to me today Sir Robert Reid, the chairman of the British Railways Board, said that those people receive a thoroughly unsatisfactory service from Network SouthEast and that something must be done about it. Is it not wrong that they should have to pay a 10 or 10-plus per cent. fares increase on top of an unsatisfactory service?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I can understand my hon. Friend expressing concern about that matter, but I cannot promise to rearrange the business to make it possible to have such a debate next week.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : The right hon. and learned Gentleman will no doubt have noticed that various innovations have been introduced into the Chamber, about which the majority of Members were never consulted and which a feeble Committee seemed powerless to control. What does he think of these lamps hung with Malaysian moth catchers? What does he think of these cameras that, contrary to earlier assurances, intrude into the Chamber?

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Hung almost as well as my hon. Friend.

Mr. Faulds : Not quite as well, I can assure my hon. Friend. Regardless of the rather puerile comments of this inevitably loquacious colleague of mine, should not the House examine these internal decorations and should the matter not finally be referred to the Royal Fine Art Commission?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I would hesitate to adjudicate in the competition on loquacity between the hon Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the arrangements now in place are part of an experiment that is starting in its full form shortly. They are certainly not intended to represent the final state of the art.

Mr. Faulds : When does the experiment end?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The experiment ends or continues when the House debates it at the end of the Session that is shortly to start. It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that one of the matters that has already been drawn to the Select Committee's attention has been a certain lack of enthusiasm for these designs and the Committee has decided that further work should be done on the preparation of alternatives to take the place of those in due course if the House should so decide on the continuation

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of the experiment. I understand how aggrieved the hon. Gentleman is with his enormous sense of taste, but the matter has already struck a number of other hon. Members.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : Has my right hon. and learned Friend received a letter from an organisation which calls itself CMB Image Consultants telling him that 55 per cent. of the impression that we make on television depends on our appearance?

Mr. Speaker : Order. Questions should be about business next week.

Mr. Marlow : With the imminence of this wretched experiment, the sooner the matter is debated the better.

Such a letter to my right hon. and learned Friend would suggest that, as we all know, body language is five times as important as what is said, where he can find a change of hairstyle if he wants one and, if he does not like his glasses and they do not look right on television, what he should do about it. That is an impertinence, and the sooner we debate it the better. For the short period that we must endure this wretched experiment, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that television serves the House and not the House television?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have not had the opportunity of studying the text of the document, nor do I think that I should have been as moved by its contents as my hon. Friend obviously is. If that is how he feels about it, he must respond to the treatment recommended.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : The Lord President will not have heard the answer that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland gave the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). We welcome the commitment that he gave of no change in Government policy in extirpating the IRA. Would it be possible for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make a statement on policy in Northern Ireland early next week in view of the rumours circulating in Northern Ireland that press statements will be made tomorrow, the contents of which would have, if they are correct, an adverse effect on security? Does the tradition guiding ministerial replies--that they should not knowingly mislead the House-- still apply, because today we had a misstatement from a Minister in which he implied that Northern Ireland Members had not responded to a draft Order in Council? Is a reply from a subject spokesman not a reply?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman asks a comprehensive range of questions, which, as he recognises, could have more appropriately been posed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier.

Rev. Martin Smyth : He is not here.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : He is not able to answer questions when he is not here, nor is he able to answer questions beyond the time allotted to him. I shall draw to his attention the continuing concern of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. There is no question of any change in Government policy on Northern Ireland. If anything must be announced or discussed, it will be drawn to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood) : In view of the so-called leaked document, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider holding a debate next week on the future of the

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coal industry so that we can ensure that the people who work in the industry have a secure future after the privatisation of electricity?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand my hon. Friend's continuous interest in the welfare and well-being of those who work in the industry. I cannot promise him the prospect of a debate next week, but he will have an opportunity to raise the matter in the debates on the Gracious Speech.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : Will Thursday's debate on parliamentary pensions be on the basis of a take note motion? Will the Leader of the House be in a position to give the Government's response to the dangerous suggestions from the actuaries that the Government should reduce their contribution to the Members' pension fund to soak up the surplus largely accrued by the 9 per cent. of salary contributions of hon. Members?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The debate will be on the Adjournment, which will enable hon. Members, including Government spokesmen, to express a view not only on the recommendations of the Top Salaries Review Body but on the report of the Government actuaries. The debate will be framed in that way to enable views to be expressed on both reports.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time next week to discuss in depth the implications of the Silberston report on the multi-fibre arrangement? There is much concern in my constituency about that report on textiles and the future of the arrangements to protect workers in my constituency. Is there any chance of us soon having a proper debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs announced on 19 October, we have invited comments from all parties interested in the report by 17 November. We shall then want to consider those in conjunction with the contents of the report, which we recognise is important. I recognise that the House will want an opportunity to consider the issues thereafter.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : Does the Leader of the House realise that the millions of our constituents who watched John Pilger's film about the realities of Cambodia are apparently more aware of what is really happening in that part of the world than the Prime Minister showed she was in her answers today? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider having a statement made in the House next week, before the United Nations General Assembly meets, to justify the Government's decision to support a delegation to the United Nations which is nominally a coalition but in reality consists entirely of representatives of the murderous Khmer Rouge?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : There is probably no other issue on which I have expressed my view with more consistent strength than on our condemnation of Pol Pot and his cronies. There was a debate on that very issue last night in the House. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I answered questions about it today. I shall draw the points which have been made by several hon. Members to

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the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, obviously ahead of the debate in the United Nations.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : My right hon. and learned Friend will know that British Rail today announced a rail price increase of an average of 9 per cent., which masks an increase of some 15 per cent. on some long-distance commuter lines. I welcome the unprecedented investment in British Rail, to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred during Question Time, but it is also true that many travellers do not yet receive the benefits of that investment. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider finding time for a debate on the need for a price differential on British Rail services so that travellers such as the commuters on the appalling north Kent line who are currently paying the same prices as everyone else do not have to pay for what they are not yet receiving?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As one who represents a commuter constituency, I do not under-estimate the extent to which my hon. Friend thinks that it is right to bring this matter before the House. The details of the pattern of fares are a matter for the operators, not the Government, and I cannot add anything on that aspect.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : May I take the Leader of the House back to the issue of next Thursday's business and press him on the matter of private business? He has been asked several times to announce the Government's approach to the reform of private business. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman now give us some assurances from the Dispatch Box that the Government will take some action rather than simply have rumours going round the House that he is sympathetic to some reform? It would do much to speed up the business next Thursday if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could make clear announcements that the Government will reform private business, which has become a scandal.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the hon. Gentleman's continuing concern with this matter. Obviously, I cannot make any announcement now. I assure the House that I am giving close and serious consideration to the suggestions made in the report which is already before the House. I cannot begin to foreshadow what the conclusions will be. Plainly, the suggestions deserve, and are receiving, my careful attention.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend provide time for a debate on the working of the legislation regarding experiments on animals? There is wide concern in Northern Ireland about the slaughter of about 100 greyhounds at Queen's university as a result of experiments which must have caused great agony to the animals before they died.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not know the details, but I shall draw that case to the attention of my right hon. Friends and reflect upon that point.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mo n) : The Leader of the House will be aware of intense press speculation, especially in the earlier part of the week, about the future of the nuclear industry. National Power has made an application to build a pressurised water reactor in my constituency. My constituents are worried about the cost of nuclear power, which seems to have escalated beyond all reason.

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Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House whether the Government will make an early statement on this issue so that I can reassure my constituents?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have no express notice of any intended statement on that topic, but I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's anxiety to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House aware that the British Railways Board is likely to announce later today its decision not to present a private Bill dealing with the construction of a high-speed line from Ashford to London? If British Rail returns in a year's time with precisely the same proposals as they have put forward to date, it will cause the most grave anxiety and hardship to the people of north-west Kent, central Kent and south London. If an announcement is made, will he arrange either a statement or an early debate on that vexed matter?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot comment on speculation about a decision that British Rail may make on this matter today. My hon. Friend will understand that the project is the responsibility of the British Railways Board. If any announcement is made today that may lead to the anxiety that he describes, I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside) : Several hon. Members asked questions about Cambodia earlier today and the Leader of the House will have seen my early-day motion 1322.

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to reconsider its support for the seating of the Kymer Rouge-controlled coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea at the United Nations, as the seating of the regime responsible for the Killing Fields' at the United Nations gives them major advantages while damaging the people of Cambodia ; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government in the United Nations General Assembly debate on Cambodia on 15th or 16th November to challenge this proposal which will lead to further intensification of the civil war and an increase in human suffering in one of the poorest countries on earth.]

It has been signed by more than 18 hon. Members. Will he ask the Foreign Secretary to ensure that we vote against the United Nations' proposal, to show that we are opposed to Pol Pot?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the report of the United Nations' credentials committee was adopted by the General Assembly without a vote on 17 October. The representative of the United Kingdom emphasised then that adoption of the report did not imply support for the Khymer Rouge and still less for the abhorrent Pol Pot.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time next week for a further statement on the ambulance dispute? While many of us have great respect for the ambulance staff, a further opportunity is needed to explain to the House that their central condition of comparability with the police force and fire brigade has been investigated by an independent tribunal--the Clegg commission--and rejected. Ambulance staff pay has

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always been determined by the Whitley council, and until the trade unions return to that council and cease their action it is difficult to see how the dispute will be resolved.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend has done a service to the House by drawing its attention to what the Clegg commission said on the matter. I cannot promise a debate on it in the near future. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health keeps a close eye on the dispute. I am sure that the best way forward is for the unions to call off their disruption and resume discussions with the Whitley council.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : Is the Leader of the House aware that television licence charges increased this week, that we had a debate some time ago about the television needs of parliamentarians, and that next week we shall debate the pension needs of hon. Members? Will he find time before the end of the Session to discuss the communication needs and pension needs of pensioners?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : That topic has been discussed on many occasions, both inside and outside the House. I cannot guarantee a further debate during the week immediately ahead.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend reaffirm that he agrees that it is important to draw attention on the Floor of the House to the work of the parliamentary Select Committees? Will he discuss with me and some of my hon. Friend's next week the need to put before the House the full report of the Parliamentary Commissioners for Administration and for the Health Service, more commonly known as the ombudsmen?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I know that my hon. and learned Friend has a close interest in the work of the Parliamentary Commissioners to whom he referred and I understand why he makes that point. I shall try to find an early opportunity to discuss it with him.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : Will the Leader of the House examine the leaked document to which the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) referred and then reconsider his earlier reply? That document contains statistics and statements which support the case that my hon. Friends and I have been making for a considerable time and which the Secretary of State for Energy has constantly denied. It refers not only to the closure of a third of Britain's coal mines, 18,000 redundancies in mining and 12,000 redundancies elsewhere, but to the possibility that electricity prices will be increased by 15 per cent. for domestic consumers and 25 per cent. for industrial consumers. Such an increase would devastate the steel industry. It is important that we should have the facts and figures and that everything should be clear before flotation of the electricity industry takes place.

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