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House of Commons

Wednesday 22 November 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Points of Order

2.34 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to raise a matter of which I have given you notice, which I believe affects all of us. For the first time in memory, the question Order Book was not available until late morning. I make no complaint about the printers or about the system of shuffling. The problem arose because about 2,000 questions had been tabled, 700 of which were the open question to the Prime Minister. Some of us do not believe in the open question system, believing that, among other things, it destroys Cabinet government, because it means that Downing street has to get involved in every Department. Be that as it may, it is hardly sensible to go through the ritual of shuffling so many questions. Surely there are more efficient ways of proceeding, thus making it possible for the printers to do their job.

Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that I was the only hon. Member who went to watch the shuffle operation yesterday. The Clerks at the Table Office worked enormously hard for hours on end to deal with the sheer quantity of questions. Their difficulty was that yesterday they were dealing with five days' questions to a whole range of Government Departments. Surely, in future, that difficulty will not arise. To my observation, the system appeared to be most fair and quick.

Several Hon. Members : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Do all the points of order relate to the same matter?

Hon. Members : Yes.

Mr. Speaker : In that case, I shall take them.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : One of the ways in which we could resolve this matter is to apply the same principle that is adopted for private Bills. In some circumstances, it is possible to carry private Bills over from one Session to the next. That suggests a way of getting round the problem of questions, which, while it could not be used before general elections, could be used for all other parliamentary Sessions. We could allow hon. Members to continue to table questions up to the end of a parliamentary Session--usually only a few days before the Queen's Speech. If carry-over motions can be applied to private Bills, surely we can apply them to questions to the various Departments and then we should not have five or six days' worth of questions tabled at once.

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Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Obviously the televising of the House will affect our procedures. Today, for example, we have no fewer than 15 pages of questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer alone. The difficulty is caused largely by the habit that has grown up over the past two or three years, whereby Parliamentary Private Secretaries, Whips and other pressure groups hand in batches of as many as 10 or 15 questions on behalf of other hon. Members. Could we not adopt a simple system such as that used for ten-minute Bills, under which hon. Members have to hand in questions personally? That would drastically reduce the number of questions on the Order Paper.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, on average, only about six or eight questions to the Prime Minister are dealt with on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Yet, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) pointed out, hundreds of questions are tabled. When I checked with the Table Office not long ago, I found that on one day nearly 400 questions to the Prime Minister had been submitted, of which no more than six or eight would have been accepted. As in the past three or four years, the Whips on both sides of the House have made that the practice in organising the way in which oral questions are tabled, should we not ask the Select Committee on Procedure to consider the whole matter again and should we not instruct the Table Office that hon. Members must go to that office in person to table a question? Otherwise, it becomes a farce and it is extremely unfair on those of us who take the trouble of going the few yards to the Table Office to submit questions.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. A great many right hon. and hon. Members want to participate in the debate on the Loyal Address today. I do not think that we should have a debate on this matter.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : It is wholly relevant to this matter?

Mr. Hill : Yes, Sir.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) rose--

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) wants to speak.

Mr. Hill : Yes, Sir.

Mr. Speaker : Is it a point of order on the same matter?

Mr. Hill : Yes, Sir. I heard this morning that the Clerk of Private Bills in the House of Lords is about to submit to the House a validation motion on the Bills that were lost in the last three days of the--

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is not on the same matter.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Is it a point of order on the same matter?

Mr. Field : Exactly.

Mr. Speaker : Right.

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Mr. Field : Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When there is an open question to the Prime Minister, there is the nonsense of the long printed list, and then one receives a reply from Downing street even when one does not want one. That must mean that an enormous number of trees are cut down just to satisfy the ritual of Parliament. That cannot be environmentally friendly.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order : no more. I will deal with one thing at a time. Apropos this point of order, I know that well over 2,000 were questions submitted and the Blue Paper was delayed for that reason. It would perhaps be a wise suggestion, as the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, for the Procedure Committee to examine the matter to see whether we can reach a better solution than we have at the moment.

Mr. Hill : This morning I was in the Office of the Clerk of Private Bills in the House of Lords and I was given the information that a validation motion would be put forward in the House of Lords today--

Mr. Speaker : Order. This House has no knowledge of what is being put forward in the House of Lords. The point must be relevant to hon. Members in this House. The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member. I cannot deal with what happens in the other place. That is not a matter for me.

Mr. Hill : That was the background of what was happening this morning. I understand that a validation motion is being presented to this House some time in the not too distant future. Would it be--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Let us leave it at that. That is hypothetical at the moment.

Mr. William Ross : On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that, like the rest of us, you take a look at the newspapers every morning. I noticed this morning that one of the principal newspapers in this country had a photograph of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) relaxing in his place reading a newspaper. That photograph was evidently taken from the Gallery of this House. Is that in order? I seek your guidance.

Mr. Speaker : I do not know whether that relates to yesterday. If it did, I believe that still photographs were taken from the Gallery. However, the House will be aware that we do not read newspapers here ; we listen to debates.

Mr. Hill : Can I ask--

Mr. Speaker : No.

Mr. Hill rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am on my feet. The hon. Gentleman must resume his place.


Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers

Mr. Secretary Patten, supported by Mr. Secretary Walker, Mr. Secretary Rifkind, Mr. Secretary Brooke, Mr. Norman Lamont, Mr. Richard Luce and Mr. Christopher Chope, presented a Bill to make provision for the transfer of the Crown services known as the Property Services Agency and the Crown Suppliers ; and for

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connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 2.]

National Health Service and Community Care

Mr. Secretary Clarke, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Walker, Mr. Secretary Rifkind, Mr. Secretary Newton, Mr. Secretary Patten, Mr. Secretary Brooke and Mrs. Virginia Bottomley, presented a Bill to make further provision about health authorities and Family Practitioner Committees ; to provide for the establishment of National Health Service trusts ; to make further provision about the financing of the practices of medical practitioners ; to amend Part III of the Local Government Finance Act 1982 ; to amend the National Health Service Act 1977 and the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978 ; to amend Part VIII of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1984 ; to make further provision concerning the provision of accommodation and other welfare services by local authorities and the powers of the Secretary of State as respects the social services functions of such authorities ; to repeal the Health Services Act 1976 ; 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 1.]

Education (Student Loans)

Mr. Secretary MacGregor, supported by Mr. Secretary Walker, Mr. Secretary Rifkind, Mr. Secretary Brooke, Mr. Norman Lamont, Mrs. Angela Rumbold, Mr. Robert Jackson and Mr. Alan Howarth, presented a Bill to provide for the making to students in higher education of loans towards their maintenance : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 3.]


Motion made, and Question put,

That European Community Document No. 5032/89 on Public Takeover Bids be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.-- [Mr. Patnick.]

Mr. Speaker : The Question is--

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am on my feet.

Question agreed to.

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

Mr. Speaker : Does it refer to this matter?

Mr. Hughes : Yes, the Bills which have just been presented. Could hon. Members be told this time when the Bills will be available to the House? In the past there have been problems. Hon. Members will go to the Vote Office, either today or in the following two days, seeking information. If the Leader of the House is able to tell us, I am sure that it will be generally helpful.

Mr. Speaker : I understand that that is a matter for the Department, but I am sure that what the hon. Member has said will have been noted.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Goodness me. All right, Dame Peggy Fenner.

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Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It arises out of the business of the House. Is it the intention of the Leader of the House to move a revival motion for the private Bills which were objected to in the last Session?

Mr. Speaker : That is not a point of order for me. The hon. Lady knows that that is a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means. Business of the House

Motion made, and Question proposed,


(1) Standing Order No. 13 (Arrangement of public business) shall have effect for this Session with the following modifications, namely :

In paragraph (4) the word thirteen' shall be substituted for the word ten' in line 43 ; in paragraph (5) the word eighth' shall be substituted for the word seventh' in line 45 ; and in paragraph (8) the word two' shall be substituted for the word four' in line 66 ; (2) Private Members' Bills shall have precedence over Government business on 26th January, 2nd, 9th, and 23rd February, 2nd, 9th and 30th March, 20th and 27th April, 4th and 11th May, and 6th July ; (3) Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence over Government business on 15th December, 19th January, 16th and 23rd March, 18th May, 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th June, and 20th July, and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on Wednesday 29th November, Wednesday 20th December, Wednesday 28th February, Wednesday 7th March, Wednesday 2nd May, Wednesday 23rd May, Wednesday 30th May, Wednesday 6th June, Wednesday 13th June and Wednesday 4th July ;

(4) On Monday 12th February and Monday 14th May, Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence over Government business until Seven o'clock and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on Thursday 25th January and Thursday 26th April ; and (5) No Notice of Motion shall be handed in for any of the days on which Private Members' Notices have precedence under this Order in anticipation of the ballot for that day.-- [Sir Geoffrey Howe.]

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : You will recall, Mr. Speaker, and the House knows that, for many moons, there has been pressure on the Government to consider and deal with Select Committee on Procedure reports. From the dates and figures in the motion, it may not be obvious that this is a favourable reaction to the Procedure Committee's second report on private Members' time, which was produced in April of this year. I hope that hon. Members will frequently see such speed of action with other reports.

It is of particular importance that the Government have gone further in meeting the wishes of the Procedure Committee by further safeguarding the time of private Members than the Select Committee recommended. I am certain that hon. Members realise that, last year, we had 12 days of private Members' motions, when an hon. Member could move any motion he wanted, and 12 days for private

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Members' legislation--six days for Second Readings and six days for remaining stages and Report. With this motion, much to the pleasure of the Select Committee, the Government are giving an extra day for Second Reading. Instead of six Members of Parliament being assured that their Bill will be debated on Second Reading, seven hon. Members' names will be at the top of the ballot.

However, the difficulty, as pointed out by the Procedure Committee, is that there is a backlog and a problem in dealing with Report and remaining stages. The Government may have to look at that again. There would normally be some amendments to this resolution, because the Government have not dealt with the interference with private Members' time by petitions or speeches on writs, on one of which the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made a particularly delightful speech last Session. I have an assurance that the Government intend to move resolutions to deal with this matter before we consider legislation in January. That assurance is most welcome.

The Government's speed of action may be considered revolutionary, although I do not believe that anybody could consider the Lord President a revolutionary figure, but I hope that this may portend the fact that, when the Procedure Committee's report on European legislation is before the House next week, we will see an equally rapid reaction.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is a short point.

Mr. Speaker : I should like to put the Question first, please, if it is not to do with this matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Speaker : Now I will take the point of order.

Mr. Powell : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order is shorter than the last. It concerns yesterday's Hansard. Now that we are on television, we should get the Official Report correct, because the media might have the pictures wrong. In his speech on the Loyal Address yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) referred to a hospital in East Glamorgan. In an intervention, I asked him to name the hospital because of the situation now arising there and the fact that doctors are going to resign. However, at column 49 of the Official Report, I am also named as the hon. Member who made an intervention about the fact that the Queen's Speech made no mention of Wales. I point out that the hon. Member who made that second admirable intervention was Geraint Howells, not myself, Ray Powell. I cannot see the hon. Gentleman in his place, but the record should be put right so that, if the media catch my face and not Geraint's, they may identify us correctly.

Mr. Speaker : I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting that right, but perhaps in future he will refer to another hon. Member by his constituency.

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Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Second Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [21 November],

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows : Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.-- [Mr. Gow.]

Question again proposed.

Industry and Environment Mr. Speaker : Before I call the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I should tell the House that no fewer than 40 hon. Members have sought to take part in today's debate. I propose to put a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 6 and 8 o'clock. I hope that those who may be called before 6 and after 8 will also bear that limit broadly in mind. I call Mr. Secretary Ridley.

2.51 pm

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley) : First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) on his elevation to the trade and industry portfolio. Those who have read his book tell me that it sheds no light whatsoever on his views, so we look forward to hearing whether he has any views in due course.

I congratulate also the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) on escaping from trade and industry before I had time properly to get to grips with him. We were grateful to him for his much more illuminating book and the commitments that he left behind in Labour's policy review. I shall return to those later. Conservative Members look forward to the hon. Gentleman dropping lots of green bricks at the environment portfolio. Last year on this day the Opposition debated the environment and industry in that order. Today, it is the other way round. I am grateful to the Opposition for allowing me therefore to open the debates on both occasions and for the fact that the hon. Gentleman has had to reply on both occasions.

The Gracious Speech contains the usual phrase :

"Other measures will be laid before you."

I am pleased to be able to announce that one such other measure is a Bill early in the Session to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. The Bill will make the changes that are necessary to bring the tenants of licensed premises and public houses within the protection of the Act, following the report by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the supply of beer. The role of the publican is important in giving the consumer choice. Licensees who are tenants of brewers should be able to shop around for the best deal without being penalised by the brewers for doing so. The Bill will achieve that result.

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The Gracious Speech also contains a major environment protection Bill in which I was much involved in the summer and which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will discuss. However, the Gracious Speech contains no industry Bill--because no such Bill is needed. British industry is stronger, more successful and more productive than ever before. The Opposition have been peddling a myth about the weakness of British industry, but Britain's industrial recovery during the past decade is no myth. The truth is that the quack doctors of the Opposition have conjured up a "malade imaginaire" and they have prescribed pills that might indeed make that patient sick.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way--on the environment?

Mr. Ridley : I shall come to the environment later.

Let us examine the state of the patient's health. It has enjoyed eight years of continuing economic growth at an average of about 3 per cent., manufacturing output is now at record levels--12 per cent. higher than in 1979 and 6 per cent. higher than the previous all-time peak in 1974--and a further small increase in manufacturing output is expected for 1990. The Opposition quack doctors achieved a significant fall in manufacturing output in their period of office using the dud pills that they now want to prescribe again. There have been large volume increases in manufacturing investment last year and this and it is now at its highest level. We have achieved flexibility of working practices, far better industrial relations and commitment, at all levels, to the success of the enterprise.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : My right hon. Friend should cast his mind back to 1979 when we had had five years of Socialism under a Labour Government. Does he recall the Chrysler car company of the United Kingdom which, in 1978, endured 700 stoppages? Chrysler sold its business to Peugeot, the French company, for the equivalent of 66p. Nine years later, after practically no stoppages, that company is making profits of £100 million a year and is proving extremely successful in the British economy. Surely that says everything about our policies.

Mr. Ridley : What my hon. Friend so accurately remembers is what the Opposition called Socialist supply side policies.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : As my right hon. Friend said, we all rejoice in the supply side achievements of the British manufacturing sector. My right hon. Friend referred to the 7.3 per cent. increase in manufacturing industry's total output between 1973 and the latest available figures. So that we have an accurate comparison, can my right hon. Friend say how that compares with the West German figures for the same period and the OECD average for 50-million plus population economies?

Mr. Ridley : I cannot give the figure-- [Interruption.] --but the most striking success is in manufacturing productivity, which increased by no less than 50 per cent. in the 1980s. That rate of growth has not been equalled by any of our competitors, including the West Germans, nor was it ever achieved under the Labour party. Industrial profitability is at its highest level for more than 20 years.

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Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) : I should like to direct the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a British manufacturing firm that is most important to the Scottish economy in terms of employment and high technology. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I am referring to Ferranti. Because of the tremendous concern, especially in Scotland, about the future of that great British company can he reassure us that the outcome of the bidding that is about to take place for the equity of Ferranti will reflect not only the interests of the shareholders--we know that the board will take account of that--and those of the workers, which we are confident the unions will seek to try to defend, but the strategic and military interest of the company to the British people?

Mr. Ridley : We do not have any proposal before us yet, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will give any views that he may have should a proposal come forward. The Director General of Fair Trading will also give a view on the competitive aspects of the matter. I cannot, however, answer a hypothetical question.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) rose--

Mr. Ridley : I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but then I must make progress.

Mr. Vaz : The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the economic miracle in trade and industry. In that context will he consider the plight of the British textile and footwear industry? His Department has supplied figures to me showing that the number of people employed in that industry has declined by 50 per cent. in the past 10 years. What have his Government and Department done to save British textiles and footwear from disaster?

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