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House of Commons

Thursday 23 November 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Points of Order

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : May I respectfully raise a point of order with you, Mr. Speaker, about the message from the other place on the Order Paper? When you took part in the Prorogation of Parliament, you went to the other place and heard Norman French used : "La Reyne Le Veult." In the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the 1581 Gallicism in Norman French of the word "concur" is a competitor. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word "concur" as "to come into collision, to collide."

It was first used by--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I will look it all up and read about it but what has this to do with a point of order for me?

Mr. Field : The doctrine of concurrency with the other place has never been tested in this House. The definition of the word "concur" is to collide. Therefore, in this House we cannot--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Does the hon. Gentleman concur with the motion that I am about to put or not? If he does not, he must object to it and I will take his objection, but we cannot have a debate on it. I do not think that I can help the hon. Gentleman.

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Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I hope that we are not going to have points of order like this every day.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : I want to raise a matter of which I have given you notice, Mr. Speaker, and which you know that I raised earlier this year : the position of Privy Councillors in this Chamber.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I know that the hon. Gentleman gave me notice of this. I told him that I would hear points or order in their proper place, which today is after the Standing Order No. 20 application.

Mr. Winnick : It has been reported, Mr. Speaker, as you may have seen in the newspapers, that the Minister of State for Energy--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I shall be pleased to hear about that too, but at the proper time.



Motion made,

That the Lords Message [22nd November) relating to the River Tees Barrage and Crossing Bill [Lords], the Happisburgh Lighthouse Bill [Lords], the Great Yarmouth Port Authority Bill [Lords], the Southampton Rapid Transit Bill [Lords], the Heathrow Express Railway Bill [Lords], the London Local Authorities (No. 2) Bill [Lords] and the Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Bill [Lords] be now considered.

That this House doth concur with the Lords in their Resolution.-- [The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Hon. Members : Object.

To be considered on Monday 27 November.

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Business of the House

2.36 pm

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : Yes, Sir. As the House is aware, the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech will be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 28 November.

At the end of Monday 27 November----Motion relating to the Severn Bridge Tolls Order.

The business for the remainder of next week will be as follows : Wednesday 29 November----Until about seven o'clock, motion to take note of EC document on the social charter. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion to take note of EC documents on Community-Japan trade. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion to take note of EC document on Community shipping. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion on the Local Government Act (Competition in Sports and Leisure Facilities) Order.

Thursday 30 November----Debate on a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee, to which the Government have replied.

Friday 1 December----There will be a debate on eastern Europe on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Monday 4 December----Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill. [Relevant documents for debate on Wednesday 29 November : (1) Relevant European Community Document

8997/89 Revised Draft Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee

HC 15-xxxvi (1988-89) para 2

(2) Relevant European Community Documents

(a) 6552/87 Community-Japan Trade

(b) 5395/88 Relations between the Community and Japan

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 22-xix (1986-87), para 4

(b) HC 43-xxiii (1987-88), para 2

(3) Relevant European Community Documents

(a) 8368/89 Community Shipping Industry

(b) Unnumbered Community Shipping

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 15-xxxiv (1988-89), para 2

(b) No report yet made.]

Dr. Cunningham : What are the Government's intentions about the intended debate on the report of the war crimes inquiry? Do the Government intend that this matter should first be debated in the House of Lords? If so, why has that decision been made? The Leader of the House must be aware that this is a highly controversial matter for many reasons. There are strong feelings on both sides of the House that this business should first be discussed in the Chamber. What are the Government's intentions in relation to the environmental protection Bill, which forms a major part of their programme? Surely, it would also be proper and

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normal procedure for that legislation to begin its consideration in the House of Commons. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that will be the case?

Has the Leader of the House seen the Education (Student Loans) Bill which was published after three and a half years of consideration and is, effectively, a one-clause Bill, an enabling Bill, which asks the House of Commons to give the Secretary of State for Education and Science unlimited powers to do whatever he may wish about student loans? The Bill is so constructed as to prevent proper and sensible discussion of the proposals in the House of Commons. I urge the Leader of the House to withdraw the Bill and to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to reconsider the way in which the Bill has been drafted.

Is it not a disgrace that, halfway through this Parliament, there is still no Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? The affairs of Scotland should be discussed in such a committee and the Government have a duty to the House to establish one. The continuing delay is totally unacceptable to the Opposition and should be unacceptable to Conservative Members as well.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that totalitarianism is finally crumbling and that we will soon see free elections for the leadership of the Conservative party? Does he not have a duty to welcome glasnost in Conservative affairs?

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is too long.

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is taking rather longer than in the past.

Dr. Cunningham : Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman have a duty to himself and to his party to participate? May we ask him to reconsider his decision not to hand in his nomination papers?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I shall deal first with the last point raised rather eccentrically by the hon. Gentleman. When the Conservative party feels the need to take lessons in democracy from the Opposition for the election of its leadership, it will be a sad day. Under the leadership of my right hon. Friend, the Conservative party has won election after election and will continue to do so.

The hon. Gentleman raised the more substantive matter of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I have had discussions about that with some hon. Members and intend to refer to it if I am called to speak in the debate.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the war crimes motion. It certainly remains my intention to arrange a debate on that before the House rises for the Christmas recess. It would be considered in either House before the other as a matter of convenience, and certainly the views expressed in both Houses would need to be considered when and if a legislative proposal came before the House. I cannot give any assurance about the sequence of events.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the environmental protection Bill. We intend to start that Bill in this House. He also spoke about the Education (Student Loans) Bill, but what he said does not have any significance for today's proceedings. He will have an opportunity to speak on the matter when the Bill is brought before the House. Several Hon. Members rose --

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Mr. Speaker : Order. Before calling Back Benchers, I remind the House that business questions must be about next week's business and that hon. Members should not make general points which may be party political. We must stick to next week's business, because many hon. Members wish to participate in today's debate.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend look again at early-day motion 68 from last Session which I drew to his attention a few weeks ago? The motion is about the injustice to war widows who were widowed before 31 March 1973 and is signed by over 300 hon. Members from all parts of the House.

[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.]

Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen the letter this week in The Times signed by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Hill-Norton and other distinguished gentlemen? Does he recall the battles between 1964 and 1970 by the late Airey Neave to get pensions for the over-80s? If we were able to do something for those people in 1970, why can we not do something now for war widows? May we have a debate next week?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the widespread sympathy for the case represented by my hon. Friend in the question that he has asked--not for the first time. The House will know that there will be an opportunity for the matter to be considered in tonight's Adjournment debate to be initiated by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). There may also be an opportunity to discuss the matter in tomorrow's debate.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Will the Leader of the House try to make it his objective during the present Session to see that the House has an opportunity to debate regulations, especially those affecting the livelihoods of many people, before they come into effect? I regret that that was not possible on the order that banned the haddock fishery in the North sea, but will the right hon. and learned Gentleman try to find time to debate the prayer on that subject in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends?

Secondly, has the Leader of the House had the opportunity to look at the amendment to the Loyal Address in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends, which regrets the lack of a clear commitment to early entry into the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system? If that amendment is chosen under the standing order for a Division next Tuesday evening, will the Leader of the House be disposed to support it?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : On the last point, if that amendment is chosen for debate on Tuesday, no doubt the hon. Gentleman can speak in support of it. He may speak on the topic even if it is not selected. We shall look forward to hearing his views then. It is desirable for regulations to

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be considered in the House before they come into effect. That is not always the case, but I shall bear in mind the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : Has my right hon. and learned Friend noted early-day motion 1 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), which is about the reform of private Bill procedure?

[That this House welcomes the constructive statement made on Thursday 9th November by the Leader of the House when he stated that he hopes to come forward with proposals' regarding the treatment of Private Bills ; recognises that this is a complex and difficult subject to which the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure and a number of honourable Members have devoted considerable time and effort ; regrets that a group of Labour honourable Members have, during the last session, used the existing procedures in such a way as to deprive over twenty organisations, including local authorities, professional bodies and public and private companies, of their right, having presented Private Bills to Parliament of the reasonable expectation of fair treatment to bring their Bill to the Statute Book and not be subjected to blocking tactics that had nothing to do with the merits of their Bill ; believes that this behaviour by Labour honourable Members brings Parliament into disrepute ; and therefore urges most strongly that Her Majesty's Government should take whatever steps are necessary early in this session of Parliament to ensure that the presenters of Private legislation shall have safeguarded fully their rights to have their petition of Parliament properly considered.]

Has my right hon. and learned Friend noticed that it is unusual in that it is signed almost entirely by a large number of knights and dames? Despite that, it also commands the support of a large number of Opposition Members, who would welcome reform of this rather archaic procedure. Will there be an opportunity to consider this next week?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this remarkable motion, supported by a positive phalanx of knights and dames from the shires--a breed of great value and vitality. The topic of the private Bill procedure is likely to occupy the House because of a number of matters that are yet to come before us. As my hon. Friend knows, supervision of such Bills and the allocation of time for opposed private business are matters for the Chairman of Ways and Means and we shall have to look forward to moves on that front in due course. The wider question-- the complexity of the private Bill procedure, in the light of the recommendations of the Joint Committee--is still under consideration. As I have already said, we intend to put forward proposals in respect of that.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : When the House debates the Hetherington report on war crimes, will the debate arise out of a motion to approve the report, or a motion to take note of it? The report concerns only a narrow area, on which we would be required to legislate later, and it would be useful to have the right hon. and learned Gentleman's thinking on that in advance.

On Wednesday, there will be a debate on the European social charter. Most of us who freely admit that we voted no in the referendum in 1975, have in the past few years seen the Common Market develop into what is beginning to be a real community, one for peace and greater

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individual rights for our citizens. Is it not about time that we started to think seriously about some kind of institutional connection between this Parliament and the European Parliament?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : No conclusion has yet been reached on the way in which the debate on war crimes will be conducted. I take note of the importance that the hon. Gentleman attaches to it. I also take note, with some exhilaration, of his conversion to such enthusiastic support of the European cause. In the light of this dramatic change in position, we need to give some consideration to the point that he makes.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : Will the Government make a statement early next week on the statesmanlike and constructive proposal by President Mitterrand yesterday that the problems of the EEC and of Britain would be resolved by allowing Britain to return to membership of the EFTA organisation? Is not this proposal urgent in view of two further debates next week--one on the destruction of our industrial relations legislation and the second on the imposition of sharp controls against trade with Japan? Could we not have a statement on whether the Government are prepared to consider President Mitterrand's sensible plans?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am sure that President Mitterrand will be delighted to receive the unexpected support of my hon. Friend. Such an alliance is not usually formed on that topic in this House or anywhere else. I cannot share my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the proposal made by President Mitterrand, but if my hon. Friend wishes to elaborate it, in an effort to persuade more people of his wisdom, he will have a chance to do so in tomorrow's debate.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : I return to the vexed issue of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Does the Leader of the House accept that a passing reference to the issue in a general speech may not be sufficient? Does he accept also that the House has been in breach of Standing Order No. 130 for over two years? Does he believe, therefore, that the issue merits a separate debate so that we can clarify the position and establish such a Committee? Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman had any negotiations with the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn), who seem prepared to flaunt tartan at the state opening of Parliament but when asked to do any work for Scotland say no?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot endorse the comments of the hon. Lady on the attitudes and objectives of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn). I have consulted quite widely on the Select Committee for Scottish Affairs, and I shall be disclosing the limited nature of my conclusions when I discuss the matter in the debate next week.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge) : Following the question of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) on student loans, when the debate is held it will have to be a brief one because there will be only one

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clause to discuss. The Bill will give unlimited powers to the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Is this not an insult to Parliament?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am dismayed that my hon. Friend should express such a view so tersely. He will have an opportunity to discuss the matter when the Bill comes before the House for its Second Reading. We look forward to hearing my hon. Friend elaborate on his views rather more effectively on that occasion.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton) : Will the Leader of the House bear in mind the fact that the Government have now received Professor Silberston's report on the future of the multi-fibre arrangement? As the report lightly discards the concern of many about the possible loss of more than 30,000 jobs in the textile industry, most of which are concentrated in the north-west of England, a region which is already badly hit by unemployment, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman arrange a full day's debate on the professor's report before the Government take any action on the MFA?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman is right to remind us of the importance of the textile industry, of the MFA in relation to it and of the report to which we have already referred several times during business questions. The House may know that people were invited to send representations to the Department of Trade and Industry by the 17th of this month. The consultation period has been extended, however, to allow further representations to be made. The report will require to be debated in the House, but no decisions on it are urgent.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : Can I persuade my right hon. and learned Friend to treat a little more seriously the gauntlet that was thrown down by President Mitterrand in his remarkable speech last night? Surely the French President has asked the crucial question which has been camouflaged from the British people for several years, which is whether we really want to be in a European economic and political union or whether we want to stop at the single market. The House should surely debate this great issue to answer President Mitterrand's question before my right hon. and learned Friend goes to the Strasbourg summit early next month.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : It is not the function of the Leader of the House in answering business questions to respond to gauntlets thrown down by the President of France or anyone else. It is my function to ensure that debates take place on matters of importance. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend that the important matter that he has raised can be regarded as an official secret which has been camouflaged in any way. It has been debated in the House on many occasions since the early 1970s. My hon. Friend will have an opportunity of debating it tomorrow if he wants to do so.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : May I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royston (Mr. Lamond) on the Silberston report? Does the Leader of the House accept that there is an urgent need for a debate on the textile industry, bearing in mind that 14,000 jobs in Bradford depend on textiles? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that the industry is apprehensive about the high level of interest rates currently imposed by the Government and the

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increase in water charges, which are linked to privatisation? There needs to be a debate so that the Government can make clear their support for the industry and the retention of jobs within it, which appear to be threatened by the proposals contained in the Silberston report?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Nobody should have any doubt about the importance that the Government attach to the textile industry and employment in it. Not a single session of business questions has passed without my asserting that fact loud and clear. I have already said today, and I say it again, that there will be an opportunity to debate the Silberston report. There is no likelihood of decisions being taken imminently because the GATT round negotiations do not visualise that until some time next year. It will be possible to discuss the effect of economic conditions on the industry in our debate on Tuesday of next week.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that my constituents and the people of Kent have been confronted with an extraordinary position? British Rail is regarded as being too stupid to find a route through south-east London, but now that private enterprise has come along with greater imagination, British Rail is confident that it can find such a route. Meanwhile, the people of Kent are confronted with the proposition that the only conceivable route is the one that was designed by people too stupid to find a way through south-east London. As there has been no opportunity to debate the issue because British Rail has not brought forward the necessary legislation, can my right hon. and learned Friend find a way to enable the House to debate the issue urgently?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand, of course, the repeatedly expressed anxiety of my hon. Friend and other Members for Kentish constituencies about this important matter. He will know that an agreement has been reached between British Rail and Eurorail, and they have decided that the matter could best be considered on the basis of a Bill to be brought forward next year. That will provide at least one opportunity to consider the matter, and I dare say that my hon. Friend will find others between now and then.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Concern has been expressed about the lack of a Scottish Select Committee. Has the Lord President had similar, widespread conversations about setting up a Northern Ireland Select Committee, which has been needed for the past 17 years?

Is the Lord President aware that, although the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is one of the sponsors of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, only one of the clauses refers to Northern Ireland? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that legislation for Northern Ireland will also be by Bill in this House?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance in precisely the form that he requests. I shall bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the hon. Gentleman's expression of concern about this matter, which I understand well enough.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster) : Will the Leader of the House find time for a full-scale debate on the

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deteriorating security position within the Province of Northern Ireland? Will he bear in mind the dastardly attacks on my constituents, the continuous attacks on members of the RUC, UDR and Army personnel and the extraordinary statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that the IRA cannot be defeated? Should we not have a full -scale debate on that matter?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is certainly entitled to raise that matter in the House in the context of the debates currently taking place, just as he has now done. The House will join with him in condemning the continuous brutality of violence and terrorism to which he has drawn attention. The House extends its sympathy to those in his constituency and elswhere who have suffered from that violence. However, he should not think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in any doubt about the need to sustain the campaign to defeat terrorism in every conceivable way.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for an oral statement--and I emphasise the importance of its being oral--on the Government's intentions for people with haemophilia who, in the course of NHS treatment, were infected with the AIDS virus?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : All I can say is that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health is planning to make a statement shortly.

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