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Business of the House

3.30 pm

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

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

Monday 13 November----Opposition Day (2nd Allotted Day--2nd Part). Until Seven o'clock there will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The need for a clear change of Government policy on Cambodia".

Motion to take note of EC documents on a European environment agency and a monitoring and information network. Details will be given in the Official Report.

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

Tuesday 14 November----Supplemental guillotine motion on and consideration of Lords amendments to the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill.

Motion relating to the National Health Service (General Medical and Pharmaceutical Services) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 2) Regulations. Motion to take note of EC document on Bovine Somatotropin. Details will be given in the Official Report.

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

Wednesday 15 November----Motion to take note of the White Paper on developments in the European Community January-June 1989 (Cm. 801). Thursday 16 November----It will be proposed that the House will meet for prorogation at 9.30 am.

The House may be asked to consider any Lords Messages and other business as necessary.

[Monday 13 November

Relevant European Community Documents

(a)!8030/89 European Environment Agency

(b) 9785/86 European Environment Agency

Community Environmental Action Programme

(c)!9182/88 Access to Information on the Environment

(d)!8882/89 Environment and Natural Resource Information Collection

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 15-xxxii (1988-89), para 4, and

HC 15-xxxv (1988-89), para 7

(b) HC 22-ii (1986-87), para 12 and

HC 22-xi (1986-87), para 1

(c) HC 15-xv (1988-89), para 2

(d) HC 15-xxxvi (1988-89), para 9

Tuesday 14 November

Relevant European Community Document

(a) 8975/89 Bovine Somatotrophin

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 15-xxxv (1988-89), para 11.]

Dr. Cunningham : Will the Leader of the House assist the House by saying when the Chancellor's Autumn Statement will be, assuming that there is to be one next week? I am sure that even Conservative Members are anxious to hear the good news from the Treasury.

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Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 68, "Treatment of widows of servicemen"?

[That this House recognises the unfair treatment of the war widows and widows of servicemen who retired before 31st March 1973 and those widows who married their husbands after their retirement from the Armed Forces both prior and subsequent to 6th April 1978 and urges Her Majesty's Government to remove these artificial time bars in order that all war widows and widows of servicemen may receive the current rate for those pensions irrespective of the date of their husbands' retirement or the date of their marriage.]

With Remembrance Sunday imminent, and with the widespread all-party support of more than half the Members of Parliament, will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on our treatment of widows of service men?

Given today's long list of private Bills and the huge congestion in private business and carry-over motions, will the Leader of the House make an early and positive response to the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure? I hope that he will feel able to do so. Again, I am sure that such a statement would be warmly welcomed in the House.

Given the announcement of yet another guillotine motion and the fact that the Session has ended with a plethora of such motions, late nights and masses of last-minute Government amendments to legislation, does the Leader of the House recognise that in economic policy and in Cabinet government, as well as in legislative terms, the Government have ended the Session in a shambles, while Labour Members are happy to end it with a substantial majority of the British people looking forward to a Labour Government?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman is doing his best to justify his change of perch on the Opposition Front Bench. We are not at all impressed by this repeated assertion about a shambles. The British people will continue to support the Government with total confidence.

Let me give the hon. Gentleman an illustration of the orderly way in which we respond to his questions. He asked first about the possibility of an Autumn Statement. For the convenience of the House, I should say that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer hopes to be able to make the Autumn Statement on Wednesday.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point about war widows, I am sure that he will not need me to emphasise the extent to which the Government and the House have great sympathy for war widows. We recognise the sacrifice that they have made. As a matter of fact, they already receive preferential treatment in terms of pensions and allowances, which have recently been extended and improved by the Government. Further improvements are due to come into effect next April. I hope that this will be seen as a sign of the extent to which we have their interests in mind. Obviously, given the time left before the end of the Session, I cannot offer the prospect of a debate next week.

On the hon. Gentleman's last point about the private Bill procedure, I congratulate him on having recognised so quickly after his appointment the importance of this complex topic. I do not pretend to be a master of the minutiae of the Joint Committee's report. This is a topic on which we clearly need to consult a wide range of

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interests as well as listening to the views expressed in the House. When I have done that, I hope to come forward with proposals that could commend themselves to the House. The matter deserves such serious attention. In the meantime, I hope that hon. Members will take my comments seriously and in good faith and will permit private business to proceed this evening and for the rest of the Session in a constructive and orderly fashion.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am sure that I need not remind the House that there are two statements before the Standing Order No. 20 debate. Business questions should refer to the business for next week, not to more general topics.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that many Conservative Members would make the request that has been made by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), for a debate at the earliest possible opportunity on the pensions of pre-1973 war widows? If this country can afford to pay off the national debt, does not my right hon. and learned Friend believe that we have a debt of honour that should be paid off to those widows?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I take this fresh opportunity to emphasise the extent to which all hon. Members have deepest sympathy for war widows. [ Hon. Members :-- "Do something."] That is why the Government have already taken certain steps and announced further steps which will take effect next April. I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's request for a debate at an early opportunity, but plainly it cannot take place next week.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : The Leader of the House may be aware that last year his predecessor said that an Opposition Day given to the minority parties because there had not been time in the 1987- 88 Session would be carried forward to the present Session. Unfortunately, there has been no time for it this Session. Will he give an undertaking that the matter has not been forgotten and that next Session, in addition to the three days allocated in the Standing Orders, the minority parties will be entitled to their remaining day?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's acceptance of the fact that it has not been possible to do more this Session. I cannot focus on the precise arithmetic for next Session, but I shall consider the point as carefully as possible.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : May I add my plea to that of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about war widows? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that early-day motion 68 has now been signed by 328 hon. Members from all parties? Does he think that it is fair that the widow of a private killed in the second world war receives £2,946 a year, whereas the widow of a private killed today receives £6,491 a year? Does he accept that it is no good to continue to say that the Government have great sympathy for those people? We want some action and I am sure that my right hon. and

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learned Friend would meet the wishes of every hon. Member if he were to arrange a debate next week on this question.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have already made clear our willingness to contemplate the possibility of a debate. It is fair to remind the House that the Government have made substantial improvements and extensions to the arrangements for war widows. Further changes are to take effect next April. I fully understand the force of my hon. Friend's point, but it is right to emphasise that our sympathy has been expressed in a practical way as far as possible.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon) : Does the Leader of the House accept that early-day motion 68, which stands in my name and that of 328 other hon. Members, and its two supporting amendments, represents the views of more than 75 per cent. of hon. Members? Feelings run extremely high. Will the Leader of the House assure us that if there is to be no substantive announcement in the Queen's Speech about paying this small amount of money to give equal treatment to all war widows, there will be a debate immediately following the debate on the Gracious Speech?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I emphasise again our understanding of the extent to which sympathy for war widows is widely shared throughout the House, and it is entirely natural that that should be so. If I have the figures correctly in mind, a change such as that suggested by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) would cost about £600 million--[ Hon. Members-- : "So what?"] That is not a matter on which I am authorised to make a commitment from the Dispatch Box this afternoon. However, in relation to what I can do, I have said that I shall certainly see whether we can find an opportunity for a debate next Session. I understand the strength of feeling and I shall try to respond by offering the opportunity for a debate.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would look strange if the House seems to be taking no interest in the momentous events in eastern Europe? Will he find an early date for a debate on that subject and especially our relations with those countries?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the importance that my hon. and learned Friend attaches to events in eastern Europe, which are of momentous importance. He will have an opportunity to discuss that topic in one or other of the debates on the Gracious Speech.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : Is it still too late to arrange for next week the long-delayed debate on parliamentary pensions, and when now will it take place? Is the Leader of the House aware of the importance of that debate to the widows of many of our former colleagues?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the extent to which the right hon. Gentleman in particular has an interest in that topic, which concerns hon. Members of all parties. I personally regretted very much the fact that we had to postpone the debate from today, but I thought that it was right to do so in the light of the decision announced by you, Mr. Speaker. I can see no prospect of having that debate next week, but I shall try to find an early opportunity for discussion of that much-postponed and important matter.

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Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : As the usual awning will be erected outside the House of Lords next week under which dignitaries may queue for the Queen's Speech, will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House of Lords that that awning will stay there permanently until the House of Lords agrees to a better system to prevent our constituents from having to queue in the rain to go round the line of route?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not entirely certain, after my limited tenure of this office, of my authority to make such a bold assertion to those who run another place. I will certainly look into the matter to see whether there is anything that I can sensibly do about it.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : I am sure that the Leader of the House shares the general concern felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the death of Beverley Lewis, the deaf-blind and mentally handicapped woman. Does he agree that we need a public inquiry to find out what happened and so avoid further tragedies? May we please debate that next week?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The right hon. Gentleman, as so often, raises a matter of importance. That is obviously a tragic case. The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health has already called for full reports on the matter from the health and social services authorities. Those reports and the inquest findings will be examined carefully to discover whether they reveal gaps in the legislation or other arrangements that exist to deal with such cases.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that Wednesday's debate on the European Community is an opportunity to look ahead and not simply to consider previous White Paper developments? Does he also agree that it can include the matters raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence)-- developments in eastern Europe--and should above all emphasise the Government's enthusiasm for the European Community? In view of the doubts that have arisen yet again recently about the Government's attitude on a number of key aspects of the development of the European Community, should we not show once again that we are approaching the forthcoming Strasbourg EC summit with total enthusiasm for new developments?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am sure that that debate will provide an opportunity for expressing those positive sentiments. Although the debate deals with the report relating to the Spanish presidency, hon. Members will want to refer to eastern Europe as well as to Community matters. If my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) participates, he will no doubt be able to contribute his own unique blend of positivism to the discussions.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : Has the Leader of the House yet come to a decision about the letter that he received from my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) about the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland making statements to journalists before Northern Ireland questions? No doubt those statements were kept out of the way until Northern Ireland questions were over. Will the Leader of the House undertake as soon as possible to arrange for the Secretary of State for

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Northern Ireland to reply to and clarify the contradictions and confusions that have arisen from the statements made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland inside and outside the House?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not sure whether there will be an opportunity to make any such special arrangements, nor should there be any need to do that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has already made the position very clear. There has been no change in Government policy. The overriding aim of all our policies in Northern Ireland is to bring terrorism to an end. The way forward to political stability must involve talks between the political parties and with the Government. However, those who support terrorism can play no part. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made it very clear that there is no question of Ministers having dealings with Sinn Fein as long as it supports terrorism, as it plainly continues to do.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : Does the Leader of the House accept that it is a matter of deep regret that the business of the House next week will not permit a debate on British Rail's proposal to construct a high-speed link through Kent? Is he aware that British Rail's decision last week to defer the presentation of its Bill for another year and not to consider any other route is a matter of great concern? Will he therefore arrange a debate on this vexed subject as soon as possible in the new Session?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Of course, I understand my hon. Friend's concern with this subject. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has welcomed the announcement of a joint venture between British Rail and Eurorail to design, finance and build the Channel tunnel rail link. It is for British Rail and Eurorail to judge how and when to seek legislative approval for their proposals and they have decided that it is wiser to introduce a Bill in November 1990 so that all the details of the route through London can be finalised. I shall bring my hon. Friend's understandable concern with this matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton) : What about the deputy Prime Minister stepping in next week, perhaps at Question Time, to give the Prime Minister a bit of a break? What with rushing all over the place saving the world and so on, she has become so muddled that in a letter to me on Monday she referred

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman should be the first to know that there is an important debate after this. I did ask for questions to be confined to next week's business.

Mr. Lamond : With respect, Mr. Speaker, I asked whether the deputy Prime Minister would step in next week in place of the Prime Minister. She is so muddled that she has forgotten which Ministers she moved in the reshuffles beause they are so frequent. It is misleading for hon. Members to receive letters asking them to get in touch with Ministers who have not been in the office concerned for more than three months.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman may understand his point, but I do not think that the rest of the House does.

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Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I see that more hon. Members are now rising. I do not like to curtail business questions but today I shall allow them to continue for a further five minutes. We must then move on for the reasons that I have already stated.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that last year there were just under 8,000 serious accidents in schools of which seven were fatal, and that schools do not have the protection of the first aid provisions of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974? May I draw his attention to early-day motion 174 standing in my name and signed by no fewer than 323 other right hon. and hon. Members?

[That this House applauds the Approved Code of Practice which followed the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 (Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974) and which requires that, even in low hazard industries, every employer of more than 150 people should ensure the on site availability of a qualified first aider ; believes the same requirement should apply to children in schools ; further recognises the value of teaching first or emergency aid in schools ; and applauds the initiative of the St. John Ambulance in issuing its publication Emergency Aid in Schools, which, accompanied by a video, shows how children can be taught a basic course between the ages of six and twelve years so that they are competent in assessing emergency situations, restarting breathing and circulation, dealing with bleeding, shock and unconsciousness especially resulting from drug or solvent abuse and burns and scalds an so qualifying for the St. John Ambulance Three Cross Emergency Aid Award.]

It calls for mandatory first aid protection to be offered to schools similar to that offered to even low-hazard industries. Please may we have a debate on the issue, which affects almost every household in the land--

Mr. Lamond : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Browne : --at some time, and is strongly supported by more than half the Back Bench Members?

Mr. Lamond : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I know what the point of order is likely to be, but put it briefly please.

Mr. Lamond : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I signed the early- day motion and support the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), but I do not see how the point that he is making has any relevance to next week's business. I expect fairness.

Mr. Speaker : Nor did points raised by the hon. Gentleman, but I agree.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : May I ak the Leader of the House the question that I put to him last week? Can he arrange for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to come back to the House and make a further statement about his abdication of the Government's golden share in Jaguar and its consequences for thousands of my constituents and other denationalised industries, such as British Steel, and the possible--I stress

"possible"--denationalisation of electricity and water? Is it not a fact that all creditor companies that want to take

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over privatised concerns regard those pieces of paper called golden shares as totally worthless? Why does not the Secretary of State come to explain that to the House?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As I told the hon. Member last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already made a statement to the House about the Government's special share in Jaguar. However, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise wider aspects of that decision, he will have an opportunity to do so in debates after the House resumes, and on other occasions when the Secretary of State is here.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : May I also refer to my question on last week's business statement when I asked my right hon. and learned Friend whether we could have a debate on toxic waste? He said that no one is interested in arranging such a debate. Is he speaking for the Opposition Front Bench and the Government Front Bench? If not, can we have a change of heart as it is an important subject which should be debated in the House in conjunction with the Select Committee report ?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot imagine that I put the matter as brutally as my hon. Friend recollects. It is a topic which clearly deserves consideration. In due course we will have to see whether either side of the House brings it forward for debate.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North) : Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a further statement on Jaguar next week in the light of the evidence given to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry by Sir John Egan in which he stated that Jaguar asked the Secretary of State not to waive the golden share? Will he also ask his right hon. Friend to say what discussions he has had with Ford in relation to research and development, jobs, the buying of British components and the location of Jaguar and all future models in the west midlands?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The matter of Jaguar is one for the shareholders. Competition policy in general, including implications for relations with Ford, is something which my right hon. Friend will consider on the advice of the Director General of Fair Trading. I should have thought that any evidence given to the Select Committee would be considered by that Committee rather than by my right hon. Friend in mid-flight.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend for a debate or statement next week on the future of concessionary travel and bus passes for the elderly, the disabled and the blind after the expiration of the present scheme early next year? Is he aware that the London boroughs have not got their act together on this? The people concerned are worried that they might lose their passes--they must not.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Although I cannot promise a debate, I am sure that the fact that my hon. Friend has raised it so clearly in the House today will be considered by the authorities in London as they decide what to do next.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am sorry that I have been unable to call the remaining hon. Members, but I must now call the statement from the Secretary of State for Energy.

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Electricity Privatisation

3.55 pm

The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. John Wakeham) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about electricity privatisation and nuclear power.

The Government remain determined to complete electricity privatisation, with all the benefits it will bring, in the lifetime of this Parliament. The preparations for the new system have brought issues into the open. In particular, attention has been focused on the costs of nuclear power. The Government have for some time recognised that our nuclear power is more costly than power from fossil-fuelled generating stations. [Interruption.] Nevertheless, it has an important role to play in providing diversity of supply and in protecting the environment.

On 24 July, my predecessor told the House that the improved transparency brought about by the preparations for privatisation had revealed substantially increased costs, relating primarily to the Magnox stations. This led us to the conclusion that the Magnox stations should remain under Government control.

Contract negotiations for nuclear stations have moved on since July. Discussions have taken place about financing new nuclear power stations. The Government told the House on a number of occasions during the passage of the Bill that the arrangements for nuclear power would strike the appropriate balance between the interests of the taxpayer, the electricity consumer and the shareholder. In the event, unprecedented guarantees were being sought. I am not willing to underwrite the private sector in this way. [Interruption.] Given those factors, the Government have concluded that the English advanced gas-cooled reactors and Sizewell B should remain, along with the Magnox stations, in a Government-owned company. This company will inherit all the nuclear-related assets, expertise and support currently residing in the Central Electricity Generating Board, including the CEGB's rightly praised expertise in health and safety. Safety will continue to be paramount. Standards will be maintained at their present high level.

I am happy to announce that Mr. John Collier, chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, has agreed to become chairman of the new nuclear company. He brings to this vital task a wealth of experience in the nuclear industry and well-recognised leadership qualities.

The company will be a substantial one, with a positive cash flow. [Interruption.] It could provide between 15 and 20 per cent. of electricity supplied in the mid 1990s. The company will retain the ability to construct and operate new nuclear capacity. It will not own any fossil- generating stations. Thus the prospects for fossil generators will remain essentially unaffected.

The CEGB's other power stations will be allocated between National Power and PowerGen as previously announced. Both companies will be major fossil- based generators, and will be privatised in this Parliament, as will the distribution companies.

We want to preserve the strategic role of nuclear power in order to maintain adequate diversity of electricity supply, avoid too great a reliance on a single fuel and obtain the benefits of this environmentally clean source of

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