Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important issue that requires urgent consideration, namely,
"the effect on the European policies of Her Majesty's Government of the current events in eastern Europe."
A year ago it is doubtful whether anyone would have predicted that Hungary would now be on the threshold of Western-style democracy. Who, six months ago, would have imagined a non-Communist Government in Poland? Who, even one week ago, could have conceived the fall of the politburo in that most orthodox of all Communist states, East Germany?
The political map of half our continent is melting and re-forming before our very eyes, yet the business of this House goes on as though nothing has changed, as President Mitterrand seeks to drag us in accelerating haste into his version of a federal Europe--a naive and doomed device aimed at preventing the inevitable reunification of Germany. It seems that the more rapidly the European certainties diminish the more manic becomes the barrage of directives to which we are continually being subjected. At a time when we should be considering the future of Europe as a whole, our Ministers are instead daily confronted with coercive pressures to subscribe to the increasingly irrelevant political confetti of the social charter and Delors parts 2 and 3.
There are major movements under the earth's crust of our continent. The final geology is unknown and unpredictable. This is hardly the time to embark on an atlas of new treaties and the transfer of powers to that part of our continent that is centred on the Berlaymont. Twice a year we debate the last six months in Brussels. Twice a week we powerlessly pore over its latest edicts. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that before we move any further down this narrow road, the House must have an opportunity to debate the historic events that are so dramatically and rapidly unfolding before us.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, "the effect on the European policies of Her Majesty's Government of the current events in eastern Europe."
As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 20, I have to announce my decision without giving reasons to the House. I listened with care to what the hon. Gentleman said, but, as he knows, I must decide whether his application falls within the Standing Order and whether the debate should be given priority over the business already set down for today or tomorrow. I regret that the matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised does not meet the requirements of the Standing Order, and I therefore cannot submit his application to the House.
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the current state of the ambulance dispute."
It would be difficult to conceive a matter more urgent than the grave crisis that confronts the ambulance service in London. Management have withdrawn the emergency cover provided by professional ambulance staff and their 450 ambulances. Emergency cover for London is being provided by 53 police vehicles, which may be joined this afternoon by 50 Army vehicles. Yesterday, the Secretary of State accused ambulance staff of pretending and posturing. Today, it will be he who is pretending if he claims that that represents adequate emergency cover.
There are two questions on which it is vital that the House should have the opportunity of challenging Ministers. First, why have they insisted on calling in the Army when ambulance staff are available at every ambulance station in London? Yesterday, the Secretary of State claimed that the 14 points of the work to rule prevented ambulance staff from providing emergency cover. I have those 14 points here, and nearly all of them relate to non-emergency work. Yesterday, the Secretary of State claimed that the 14 points included a ban on radiophones, but there is no ban on radiophones for emergency use. The text specifically states :
"Crews will now return to ambulance stations for next instructions unless contacted by control to answer an emergency call." It is not ambulance staff who have suspended emergency calls but management who have decided to escalate the dispute.
The second question to be addressed is how can Ministers be so convinced that 6.5 per cent. is the right award for ambulance staff, yet at the same time be so terrified of putting that case to arbitration? The country knows that this dispute could end today and that full cover could be restored if the Secretary of State would call in the arbitrators instead of the Army.
The budget of the National Health Service, the pay of its staff and the maintenance of the ambulance service are all matters for which Ministers are responsible, yet since the start of the dispute eight weeks ago they have not once met the staff side in an attempt to find a solution. It is the Secretary of State, not Duncan Nichol, who is responsible for the cash limits on the National Health Service, and this House is the place where he must be held to that responsibility. I submit that this is a proper matter requiring urgent debate.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the ambulance dispute."
I am satisfied that the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 20. Has the hon. Gentleman the leave of the House?
The pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr. Speaker-- called on those Members who supported the motion
Column 997to rise in their places, and not fewer than forty Members having accordingly risen, the motion stood over under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) until the commencement of public business tomorrow. 3.39 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It might be helpful following your ruling, Sir, if I were to say that the debate on parliamentary pensions, which was arranged for tomorrow afternoon, will need to be postponed. The House will regret the need for doing that, but obviously it follows from the ruling that you have given. I hope to find time for that debate as soon as possible.
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : Further to the point of order Mr. Speaker. Of course we accept that the debate on Members' pensions should be postponed. The Opposition, at least, recognise that, although that matter is important, the dispute in the ambulance service is far more important.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A number of us heard the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark), who has chosen to leave the Chamber, say clearly-- indirectly addressing you, Sir--"You grant that and you lose your job."
Mr. Marlow : This is on a different point. I was sitting next to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) and I did not hear him say anything. What I did hear was the Leader of the Opposition, in his agitated and florid way, inciting his Back Benchers to raise points of order.
Mr. Simon Hughes, supported by Mr. David Alton, Mr. Malcolm Bruce, Mrs. Ray Michie, Mr. Richard Livsey, Mr. Matthew Taylor, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Archy Kirkwood, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mr. Menzies Campbell and Mr. James Wallace, presented a Bill to provide for the appointment and set the functions of a committee to ensure access to further and higher education establishments ; to provide for the welfare of students at such establishments ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 218.]
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require police forces to submit standardised information to a national missing persons' register within a prescribed time ; and for other purposes. Anxiety is growing over the way in which we handle the problem of missing persons. [Interruption.]
Mr. Arnold : Research by the Church of England Children's Society shows that, in 1986, 98,000 people were reported as missing. Although this includes individuals who go missing more than once during the year, it is calculated that some 50 per cent. of disappearances go unreported. Although a significant number of people are recovered in days or within a week, many remain missing. Far too many of these head for the bright lights of London. The Central London Teenage Project reports that, although some 40 per cent. of teenagers coming into the capital originated in London and the south- east, 16 per cent. were from the north and north-west and 12 per cent. were from Scotland. These are young people who arrive at King's Cross or Euston, many of whom fall prey to the predators of crime, prostitution or commercial exploitation.
In the circumstances, the British Transport police do a valiant job in coping with these runaways, but they have to waste an immense amount of time trying to establish the identity of many of the young people whom they pick up. The teenage project, which assists young people in its centre, always makes checks with Scotland Yard's missing persons register and has made the disturbing discovery that only 39 per cent. of runaways are registered as missing and 61 per cent. are not. We should ask, why not?
We have a haphazard system of recording missing persons. The system has grown like Topsy. We have 53 police forces, each with its own policy. In my county of Kent, missing persons are classified as vulnerable or not vulnerable. These are basically minors, pensioners or those with medical, psychological or suspicious records. The rules require them to be registered as missing within four hours of report and details are forwarded to neighbouring divisions or forces that are thought relevant to the case. They are reported to New Scotland Yard only if the person is thought to have headed for London. All cases are reported to New Scotland Yard after three days. I have also looked at the position at my own Gravesend police station. It has had 103 cases of disappearances so far this year. Overwhelmingly, those have been solved within 48 hours. When I made my inquiries, there were only two cases outstanding--one from the previous night and one reported six days previously. To what extent do other forces follow suit? Are they as tight in informing New Scotland Yard? Why is it that the Central London Teenage Project found that 61 per cent. of runaways were not registered centrally? Could it be loose policy by some police forces? One Welsh force, for example, only forwards details of vulnerable people to Scotland Yard after 14 days. Could it be that the two thirds of runaways from home come from families who do not bother to notify the
Column 999police or are scared to do so? One third of runaways come from social services care. Could that reflect the supervision and sense of responsibility of a number of those departments?
This is not a new problem. Dick Whittington came to London to seek his fortune and in the 19th century, Charles Dickens's Fagin displayed in a genteel fashion the way in which young runaways could be led into crime. However, the scope for the international exploitation of young, vulnerable people is new. With a vast increase in travel, there may be an expansion of white slaving and of the involvement of young people in drug running. Clearly, that motivated the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to recommend the co-ordination of national offices responsible for tracing missing persons. But if international mobility and, possibly, the sophistication of criminal exploitation have increased, so too have the technological aids available to the police.
Scotland Yard has operated a police national computer at Hendon since 1974. In addition to a variety of registers, it has run an index of wanted and missing persons since 1978. Last year, it held files on 9,951 missing people. They included 495 boys and 425 girls aged under 14, 980 youths and 1,172 girls aged 14 to 18, and 3,696 men and 3,183 women over 18. By the end of the year, 2,156 of those people were still missing. Of those reported missing, 5,000 returned home voluntarily. Nearly one third were found as a result of police inquiries or publicity, 2 per cent. were found dead and 3 per cent. were held by the police because they were accused of offences. The police national computer has several hundred terminals held by force headquarters and some divisions. They can be used for viewing and entering data, although only about one half of the forces can interface them with their own computers. The index is essentially a passive and
Column 1000voluntary aid to our 53 police forces. If it were to become a standard requirement to enter specified data within an obligatory time frame, a more complete and systematic response could be achieved.
We require a framework that establishes an obligation to register all minors, pensioners and those considered vulnerable on medical or psychological grounds. Experience shows that immediate inquiries following clearly established leads tend to produce a contact with the overwhelming majority of missing persons within 48 hours. It is, therefore, reasonable to require notification to the national register within that time limit for those cases whose lack of solution demonstrates potential seriousness. A requirement for cancellation and for frequent case review, perhaps fortnightly by originating forces, is clearly essential to avoid clogging the system.
Clearly, all this will involve resources, both to operate the enhanced national register of missing persons on the national police computer and to develop methods to take advantage of the wider scope of information. The Association of Chief Police Officers has submitted a report to the Home Office, which has yet to pronounce upon it. I stress to Home Office Ministers the urgency and importance of addressing the matter.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jacques Arnold, Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. James Paice, Mr. Frank Field, Sir George Young, Mr. Stuart Bell, Mr. John Marshall, Mrs. Llin Golding, Mr. Ronnie Fearn and Miss Ann Widdecombe.
Mr. Jacques Arnold accordingly presented a Bill to require police forces to submit standardised information to a national missing persons' register within a prescribed time ; and for other purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed.--[Bill 219.]
and Employment Bill (Allocation of Time)
That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Local Government and Housing Bill and the Employment Bill :
Lords Amendments 1. The remaining proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Local Government and Housing Bill shall be completed at this day's sitting and, if not previously brought to a conclusion, shall be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of those proceedings.
2. The proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Employment Bill shall also be completed at this day's sitting and, if not previously brought to a conclusion, shall be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of those proceedings. 3.--(1) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1 or 2 above--
(a) Mr. Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has already been proposed from the Chair and not yet decided and, if that Question is for the amendment of a Lords Amendment, shall then put forthwith the Question on any further Amendment of the said Lords Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown and on any Motion moved by a Minister of the Crown, That this House doth agree or disagree with the Lords in the said Lords Amendment or, as the case may be, in the said Lords Amendment as amended ;
(b) Mr. Speaker shall then designate such of the remaining Lords Amendments as appear to him to involve questions of Privilege and shall--
(i) put forthwith the Question on any Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown to a Lords Amendment and then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown, That this House doth agree or disagree with the Lords in their Amendment, or as the case may be, in their Amendment as amended ;
(ii) put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in a Lords Amendment ;
(iii) put forthwith with respect to the Amendments designated by Mr. Speaker which have not been disposed of the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendments ; and (
(iv) put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Amendments ;
(c) as soon as the House has agreed or disagreed with the Lords in any of their Amendments Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith a separate Question on any other Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown relevant to the Lords Amendment.
(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
Stages subsequent to first Consideration of Lords Amendments 4. Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the consideration forthwith of any further Message from the Lords on either Bill.
5. The proceedings on any such further Message from the Lords shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion one hour after the commencement of those proceedings.
Column 10026. For the purpose of bringing those proceedings to a conclusion-- (
(a) Mr. Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has already been proposed from the Chair and not yet decided, and shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair,
(b) Mr. Speaker shall then designate such of the remaining items in the Lords Message as appear to him to involve questions of Privilege and shall- -
(i) put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on any item ;
(ii) in the case of each remaining item designated by Mr. Speaker, put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in their Proposal ; and
(iii) put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.
Supplemental 7.--(1) Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith the question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons.
(2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.
8.--(1) In this paragraph "the proceedings" means proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further Message from the Lords on either Bill, on the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and on the Report of such a Committee.
(2) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.
(3) No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, the proceedings shall be made except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(4) If the proceedings are interrupted by a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration), the time at which, under this Order, any proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.
9.--(1) The proceedings on any Motion moved by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings. (2) If the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the time at which proceedings on either Bill are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order no notice shall be required of a Motion moved at the next sitting by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.
Last Thursday when I announced the business for this week I told the House that we would spend Monday and Tuesday considering the Local Government and Housing Bill and that today we would deal with the Employment Bill as amended in another place. I hope that the whole House--certainly a large part of it--will regret that it has not proved possible to keep to that arrangement, which was agreed through the usual channels as a sensible division of the time available. It became clear yesterday that we were not making progress at anything like the pace--a perfectly possible pace-- implied by those arrangements. That is why last night I had to inform the House of this revision of the business.
I recently had cause to remind the House of the Government's entitlement to achieve--after due consideration and debate--the passage of its business. We are now at the last stages of that process for both Bills. Both
Column 1003are major parts of our programme on which both Houses have expended much thought and energy. We should not have introduced these Bills had we not been sure that they were necessary and valuable to the country. The House has confirmed that opinion at each stage. It would be a waste of the House's time and a failure in our duty to the electorate not to take sensible steps to safeguard both of the measures.
There are good, important measures in both of the Bills to increase democratic accountability and freedom. I shall, therefore, leave it to the Opposition to use dramatic and bloody metaphors about guillotines and slaughter. I shall continue to refer to this elegant motion correctly, as a timetable motion, which is absolutely necessary to dispose of the remaining business in a reasonable way. Let me at this point pre-empt another argument that may be heard from Opposition Members, who usually assure us at this stage of their willingness--indeed, incredibly, their enthusiasm-- to stay up all night and half the following day to consider any and every Bill. We all accept that there are times when we have to sit through the night. But neither I nor the country at large think it the most sensible way to give proper consideration to legislation. I see no reason to sit all night for the sake of a few self-proclaimed enthusiasts on the Opposition Benches who feel that spinning out the proceedings instead of allowing the business to be completed in a practical way somehow proves--as they would love to believe--that they have the Government on the run.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Will the Leader of the House accept that women who are being discriminated against and cannot obtain proper employment and young people who will be affected badly by the Bill will take exception to the way in which he trivialises their concerns and the concerns that some Opposition Members feel on their behalf?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not in the least trivialising real concerns about those real issues. The hon. Lady is right to point out that the second of the two Bills before us is intended to promote equality of opportunity in employment and vocational training and to repeal the discriminatory legislation that exists. There is no argument about the merit, purpose and quality of the Bill and it should be possible to discuss it sensibly along the lines originally agreed or those now foreshadowed.
I should like to remind the House that following the
representations made on a similar occasion not long ago, I was able last night to ensure that we had both a debate on the Adjournment motion and an opportunity to ask questions on the business statement. Since Opposition Members have already had those two opportunities to express their indignation I venture to cherish the hope that we may be able to dispatch this timetable motion in less than the three hours potentially available for it and so get on to the substantive business.
We have been considering the Local Government and Housing Bill for the whole of the past two days and we should have completed consideration by now. We are not therefore curtailing debate on that Bill but, having reviewed progress made, have added two hours to the time already spent--and on to the more than 210 hours already spent on the Bill here and in another place.
Column 1004Of course, there have been a large number of amendments to the Bill. That is not surprising : it is a major piece of legislation which completes essential reforms to the framework within which local authorities operate. All our efforts in that area have been directed to ensure that every council meets the standards of efficiency, accountability and fairness to which the best councils already adhere. The Oposition have made clear their lack of enthusiasm for that. Even so, on Monday we managed to deal with more than 300 amendments on important subjects such as councillors' allowances and the community charge and still get home not much past midnight. Last night, in contrast, we dealt with less than half that number in five hours, with four and a half hours spent on the first group of amendments,
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : The Leader of the House has no defence on that. There was a clear understanding that it would be possible to complete the first day's consideration of the Local Government and Housing Bill by midnight because the amendments tabled were largely concessions or changes that we saw as moving in the right direction. The difference is--I pointed it out last week--that the clauses dealing with housing are infinitely more complex and disputed and the Government have not moved at all, and in some cases are trying to reverse the Lords' amendments.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his judgment on these matters just as I am entitled to offer mine. We had fair warning that the rate of progress was not likely to improve although Opposition Members assured us, when we moved to adjourn last night, that all the amendments that really interest them come at the end of the Bill.
We have not had the chance to hear the House's views on the Employment Bill since it returned from another place but we shall have three hours to do so tonight. I will not pre-empt my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State by detailing all its manifest merits. However, I will remind the House that the Bill contains important measures to promote equal opportunities, to remove restrictions on young people's employment and to reduce the burden of regulations on employers. Those are entirely beneficient propositions. The Bill has had 85 hours of parliamentary consideration and a further three should be sufficient because there are only two significant fresh propositions among the amendments. The first, relating to Sikhs and safety helmets in the construction industry, was introduced as a matter of urgency and great concern to the Sikh community. The second, relating to industrial training boards, has been discussed extensively with interested parties over the past few months and the general policy was announced as long ago as last December. It was not included in the Bill until the policy detail had been agreed.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Why, then, is the Employment Bill to be timetabled? There was no timetable on it in Committee or during its other proceedings in this House and the other place. The Leader of the House has stated that only two main items remain to be discussed. Those debates could be open ended so that all hon. Members who wish to do so can participate in them, and the Government's disastrous Employment Bill would still be able to progress through the House.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : It might once have been possible to take that charitable and optimistic view, but it is not a view that one could sensibly risk at this stage in the passage of these Bills through the House.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Can the Leader of the House cite any precedent for a timetable motion being applied to a Bill on which there has never been any suggestion of filibustering or any timetables applied to its earlier stages, and being applied solely for the convenience of the business timetable as we approach the end of a Session?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : In all these matters precedents develop for the purpose identified by the hon. Gentleman to ensure the efficient management and dispatch of our business in the light of the state of the business timetable when the question arises.
I realise that we had initially planned three hours for debate on these amendments, but I must have regard to the business that was already laid out for the rest of the week. When I first introduced the motion, I had to have regard especially to the much-awaited and often, postponed debate on parliamentary pensions. That has yet again had to be moved because you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled that there is business of even greater importance for tomorrow. We have to manage these measures in a fashion that will dispatch them today. Finally, I remind the House, if it needs reminding, that subject to the progress of business the House will prorogue on Thursday 16 November. Any alteration of that would, I am sure, be a great inconvenience to the House. As Leader, I feel a special responsibility for ensuring that hon. Members get a short but not entirely undeserved rest when we have completed another full and successful programme. As a member of the Government, I feel an equal responsibility for ensuring that we secure these two important reforming Bills. For both reasons, I commend this motion to the House.
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : When the Leader of the House was appointed to his new post, there were great hopes--I stress that they remain great hopes among Opposition Members--that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be a reforming Leader. However, if he does not mind my saying so, he has sounded more like a recidivist than a reformer this afternoon.
What the Leader of the House is asking us to accept is baldly and bluntly that a long, complicated and contentious Bill--the Local Government and Housing Bill--should be curtailed to no more than two hours' further discussion, and that the Employment Bill, which is equally contentious in some respects, should be curtailed to a maximum of a further three hours' discussion. We cannot accept that and there is no point in disguising our opposition to what the Leader of the House has suggested.
I was touched by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's desire to give us all a short autumn break. Coming so soon after a very long parliamentary recess and a relatively short working period of about four weeks, in which he has nevertheless felt obliged to introduce two motions encompassing four different timetables on four Bills, people outside the House--our constituents--will look a little askance at the apparent need for us to have yet another few days off work so soon. Of course, the real