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Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South) : Next week's business will attract a great deal of attention among our constituents, who have the advantage of being able to watch rather more of it than we can. I wish to put two questions to my right hon. and learned Friend. First, when are we likely to have the Second Reading of the broadcasting Bill? Secondly, when are we likely to have the opportunity to watch satellite television in this House? In other words, when will we have a dish on the House so that we can watch the dishes within it?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am tempted to say--save for the denunciation that it would earn from my wife--that my hon. Friend must speak for herself. A dish aerial has not yet been considered, but I shall draw the matter to the attention of the appropriate Committee.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Will the Leader of the House confirm that the census order has to be debated by the House within the next 10 days to a fortnight? Will he ensure that there is plenty of time for a full debate, since it appears that the next census information will be published by postal code area, which will make it far easier for junk mail to be delivered to individuals, destroy the confidentiality of the census and make it possible for insurance and mortgage companies to redline particular postal code areas?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman, not unusually in the course of asking a business question, has set out the substance of his point at such length that there is scarcely need for a debate. I shall draw his point to the attention of those responsible.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), my right hon. and learned Friend will recall that, when the House debated the
Column 235report of the Select Committee on Televising the Proceedings of the House, it rejected an amendment that sought to introduce full satellite coverage on a start-to-finish basis. That was regarded as a wrecking amendment because the House was told that it was not technically possible. Since that time, there has been some negotiation behind the scenes in which I was privileged to play a small part and, as a result of assistance given by Astra, the satellite company, British Telecom and Sky Television--
Mr. Gale : As a result of that assistance the House is now being covered from start to finish on satellite. Will the Leader of the House, who is also the Chairman of the Select Committee on Televising the Proceedings of the House, make time available so that the House can reconsider the matter and vote the necessary funds so that the general public can see the full workings of the House of Commons?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Again, my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to developments that have taken place since he last raised the matter on the Floor of the House and it would be appropriate for him and me and others to look at the matter more fully in the course of the Select Committee's proceedings.
Mr. Banks : Since the Leader of the House has been grounded and has to spend far more time in London, has he noticed just how filthy and chaotic the streets of London have become? When, when, please, can we have a debate on London affairs? We have had debates on Wales, Scotland and the north but not on London affairs. After all, many hon. Members have had one.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman, whose notoriety outside the House in these matters is so formidable, has caught your eye, Mr. Speaker. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the extent to which many parts of London are far from attractive in their present appearance. There will be a full opportunity to debate that matter when the environmental protection Bill comes before the House. I hope that then, and on other occasions, attention will be drawn to the fact that by far and away the least attractive, worst kept areas are almost always in Labour-controlled boroughs.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : In view of tonight's debate on the understandably emotive subject of pre-1973 war widows' pensions, will my right hon. and learned Friend help the House by reminding it that those widows have a pension which, on average, is two thirds higher than the ordinary male old-age pension and, rightly, has been made completely tax free by the Government ; that about 80 per cent. of them have another old-age pension and that some have other means of support, including their own occupational pensions? Will my right hon. and learned Friend point out to the House that, much though we would like to give them more
Column 236money, exactly the same arguments would apply to anyone who was widowed during the war, whether their husbands were in the mines or in the emergency services--
Mr. Speaker : Order. There is great pressure by right hon. and hon. Members to speak in the debate later today. The matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers could well be raised in tonight's Adjournment debate.
Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : Is the Leader of the House aware that yesterday, 164 parliamentary questions to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry were handed in? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman further aware that having to enter a raffle--for that is what it is--of that size to ask a decent question is an abuse of the Order Paper? Can he do nothing to stop the Whips in all parts of the House, Parliamentary Private Secretaries, pressure groups and research officers handing in batches of 12 or 15 questions all the same, which creates an enormous amount of work for the civil servants and makes a mockery of Question Time?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman refers to a matter about which right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House have strong feelings, and it was raised in the House yesterday when you, Mr. Speaker, said that it was an appropriate subject for consideration by the Procedure Committee. As that Committee's Chairman was then and there present, I dare say that the matter will be taken forward.
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) : Will the deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House provide time for an urgent debate on political progress in Northern Ireland as a prelude to a possible meeting of constitutional politicians in the Province, in order to break the present harmful political logjam?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot promise a debate of the kind that my hon. Friend requests. I know, of course, of his continuous serious interest in that matter, and shall once again bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Can we have a debate on the gathering of crime statistics by police authorities--particularly in the light of the case of Mr. Ron Walker, a Kent police officer who lost his job when he blew the whistle on a number of officers who were fiddling crime statistics? In so far as that gentleman has been the subject of a grave injustice and has never been compensated, can that matter now be debated at Westminster?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman has done more than enough to draw attention to that matter, and I will ensure that his concern is transmitted to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : My right hon. and learned Friend will know that I have often raised during business questions the matter of the high- speed rail link as it affects the county of Kent. On each of those occasions, the Leader of the House promised to pursue the matter with the Secretary of State for Transport. Has my right hon. and learned Friend done so, and if he has, what was the response of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson)?
Column 237Sir Geoffrey Howe : I did raise that matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) and other right hon. and hon. Members on more than one occasion. I shall remind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of those expressions of concern.
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : Will the Leader of the House reconsider his answer on the crucial question of the establishment of a Scottish Select Committee? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he had reached a limited conclusion, which I take to be longhand for saying no. We understand his embarrassment and dilemma at not having enough Tory Members to represent the Conservative side, but surely that has now changed. Half the work of running the Tory party in Scotland is now done by the Minister of State, Scottish Office, who is responsible for health and education, so that the Government can distort the lapses of the Tory party in Scotland. There is also the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), who has already disappeared from the House and is presumably on his way to Scotland, to try to restore Conservative morale there.
Mr. Buchan : I am asking, Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the House to expand on his phrase "limited conclusion". If he is saying no, there will be little point in having a debate next week. The Leader of the House has at his disposal at least two hon. Members who could serve on the Scottish Select Committee. I am asking him to follow the diktat of the House, to establish the Committee, and appoint to it the hon. Member for Southend, East and the half-Minister for health and education.
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that a number of right hon. and hon. Members are surprised and disappointed that a matter as important as the prosecution of Nazi war criminals, which one had every reason for thinking would be debated in this House first, will be discussed first in the House of Lords? Can my right hon. and learned Friend explain why that is so, whether it is not too late for him to change his mind, and whether it is still his intention that there will be a vote in this House on the issue?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the point that my hon. and learned Friend has made. Arguments can of course be advanced for both sides of the question of the sequence in which the two Houses consider the matter. We certainly have every intention of holding a vote in this House, as my right hon. Friend the former Home Secretary said.
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman please arrange for an early debate concerning the failures of justice in this country, especially in the light of the six- month imprisonment of my constituent Geoffrey Mundy for offences with which he had no connection and of which he has now been completely cleared? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman arrange at the same time for consideration of the importance of swift payment of compensation in such
Column 238cases? Geoffrey Mundy has suffered for a long time, but has still received no compensation whatever from Her Majesty's Government.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Again, I understand why the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised the point. It is, however, not easy for me to arrange for it to be debated in the House more fully than he has just done. He may have an opportunity to raise it again in an Adjournment debate, and what he has said will certainly reach the ears of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : May I revert to the question asked by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) a moment ago, and echo his unhappiness that a matter as supremely important as the handling of alleged Nazi war criminals who may be resident in this country with British nationality should first be raised in the unelected House? Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure us that, if that arrangement cannot be changed, the matter will be brought to this House and time will be found for it to be dealt with here and not pushed off into the distant future?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : As I have said, there are arguments to be advanced on both sides of the question of which House should consider the matter first. The important thing is for it to be presented for early consideration in both Houses. We have given an undertaking that that will happen before the Christmas recess, and we shall stand by that undertaking.
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : I did not hear the response of the Leader of the House to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) when he asked about the placement of the green Bill. May I ask him to ensure that that Bill starts its passage in this House, not least because it will touch on a number of matters of real and urgent importance to hon. Members on both sides?
If the Bill is to begin its progress in the other place, may we at least ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to provide a full day's debate in our House, so that matters of urgent importance can be considered before the Bill is discussed in the Lords?
Mr. Richard Holt (Langaurgh) : In view of yesterday's clearcut statement to hon. Members on both sides of the House by officials of the Department of Transport that the Government have no plans, have never had plans and do not seem likely to have plans to introduce a motorway to the north-east and Scotland by an eastern route, may we have an early debate on transport? The matter affects not merely the roads but the well-being of the entire, north-eastern region, which has been severely neglected in the decision.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot comment on the precise points raised by my hon. Frend, but I can certainly register the importance that he attaches to the prospect of a debate on the subject, and pass it on to those concerned.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Column 239afternoon's debate, and I have also received an application under Standing Order No. 20. I shall allow questions to continue for a further 10 minutes. I hope that those who are anxious to participate in the debate may decide that their questions could appropriately be asked on another occasion.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Why does not the Leader of the House change his mind about the reform of private business? Will he not make a statement next week? Does he not remember that, during the fag end of the last Session, he had many sleepless nights because some of us, quite properly, opposed the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill? It would allow South African coal to be imported and lead to the loss of thousands of miners' jobs and the closure of scores of pits. Slave labour is used in South Africa and Colombia. Why does not the Leader of the House get that reform through? Then we should be able to deal with the private Bill procedure in a proper, regulated fashion.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : One matter that must be considered when we look at the prospects for reform of the private Bill procedure is that those who bring private Bills before the House for consideration should be given the chance to have their Bills considered promptly and on their merits without the risk of being interrupted by the kind of interventions that were made by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends during the last Session. It is very important that we should provide hon. Members with the prospect of their Bills being properly considered here, without obstruction for other reasons.
Mr. Donald Thompson (Calder Valley) : Although it does not have the problems of litter and untidiness that face London, Yorkshire has many problems and has also had much success in dealing with them. Can we expect a debate about Yorkshire affairs next week?
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Would the Leader of the House make time for a debate on homelessness, particularly youth homelessness? Not a penny of the money that was made available last week will go to the north of England. It is just as devastating to be young and homeless in Halifax as it is in London.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Lady must accept that in his statement last week my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that an additional £250 million would be made available for a crash programme in respect of homelessness. The hon. Lady will also recollect that, at any one time, 100,000 local authority owned properties are standing empty. Homelessness could be substantially alleviated if those properties were brought into occupation more promptly.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : I do not know how often my right hon. and learned Friend pedals to work, but I am sure that he agrees with me that the growth in cycling as a form of transport is very welcome. Nevertheless, the House has not, to my knowledge, debated cycling as a form of transport. Will he provide an opportunity for right
Column 240hon. and hon. Members to consider the dangers to pedestrians of cyclists whizzing past them on pavements and the dangers to motorists of unlit cycles cluttering up our roads?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I shall certainly take note of my hon. Friend's balanced attitude towards the art of cycling and the hazards that flow from it, but I cannot promise him the prospect of an early debate.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : May we have a statement early next week on the crisis that is gripping the Crown prosecution service? As the Leader of the House may know, it is one third understaffed. Every week, hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money are spent on private solicitors rather than on the service. Last week, the Attorney-General, who is in the House, confirmed that senior police officers of the Metropolitan police were not co-operating with the Crown prosecution service. When may we have an urgent statement on this important matter?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have been able to glean a certain amount of information about the points raised by the hon. Gentleman from the fortunate proximity of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney- General. He challenges the existence of a crisis. There is no crisis. He challenges some of the other facts that are at the root of the hon. Gentleman's question. I think that he had better start again by offering some questions direct to my right hon. and learned Friend.
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley) : My right hon. and learned Friend rightly said that no decision on the future of the multi-fibre arrangement is likely, following publication of the Silberston report. However, does he accept that an early rather than a later debate would be helpful to the industry, bearing in mind the fact that the manufacture of textiles and clothing employs about 500,000 people and that the industry is subject to many changes? It would therefore appreciate a reduction in the present uncertainties.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is right, once again, from our side of the House to draw attention to the importance that we attach to the textiles industry. We have invited representations on the Silberston report and we are still proposing to consider them. It would be right for those representations to be received and considered. On that basis, I recognise the need for an early debate.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Will any part of next week's business offer me the opportunity to raise the threat of closure hanging over the Bradford law centre and other parts of the voluntary sector? Although we understand that the Leader of the House is preoccupied with trying to stop Tory Members challenging the Prime Minister, does he accept that many poor people in Bradford are preoccupied with their battles against local bureaucracy and that, if they lose the free and independent help offered by the Bradford law centre ; they will be greatly disadvantaged? What can he do to help them?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Of course the Government are concerned about the availability of advice to those citizens who seek it. I cannot give any undertaking or promise in respect of the Bradford law centre ; nor, at first sight, can
Column 241I see an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise the issue during next week's business. However, I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Could we have an early debate on student support so that I can draw to the attention of the House the problems of students in my constituency and throughout the borough of Ealing who are getting into rent arrears and other forms of debt because Labour-controlled Ealing council still has not paid their grants for this term? Can we have a statement as early as possible next week, so that the plight of those young men and women can be investigated properly and Ealing council brought to book for its failure in administration?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : If the shortcomings of Ealing borough council are anything like those described by my hon. Friend, I hope that it will respond as quickly as possible to the fact that he has raised the matter in the House today.
Mr Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : At last, can we have a debate on the franchise? Since the poll tax was introduced, 130,000 people have disappeared off the electoral register and are to be replaced by expatriates. Is it not the case that, as democracy is being extended in eastern Europe, in this country it is in danger of creeping away?
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : Further to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant), will my right hon. and learned Friend consider two further points about the private Bill procedure? First, will he do his utmost to revive those private Bills which have been lost, as they include the crucially important River Tees Barrage and Crossing Bill, which is absolutely essential to the future redevelopment of Teesside? Secondly, will he review the wider procedures of the House? With so many hon. Members wishing to speak in debates, unless legislation is guillotined in the coming year, we shall constantly be dealing with the early clauses of Bills in excessive detail and making no proper progress.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend raises two quite distinct points. In answer to his second point, obviously I always have in mind the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure on the management of timetabling legislation, but I have reached no conclusions in respect of any particular Bill at present. On his first point, he is quite right to draw attention to his own concern and that of his constituents about that particular private Bill. I shall bear that in mind, and I have no doubt that the Chairman of Ways and Means will bear it in mind when he considers how to handle these matters in the days and weeks ahead.
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West) : Will the Leader of the House reconsider his announcement that he is not prepared to have another debate on the statement on homelessness, as it will not cover homelessness in many towns and cities? My own city of Leeds, where 300 a month are announced homeless and which has one of the
Column 242lowest numbers of empty council properties in Britain, will not receive a penny from the statement. I ask him again for a discussion on the matter so that we are not left with the impression that the Government are tackling homelessness in London where it is more visible to Ministers and overseas visitors rather than the roots of the problem in all our towns and cities.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : There is no ground whatsoever to believe that the Government are concerned with the problem only in London. The Government's housing policies are directed towards improving the situation throughout the country. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to raise the matter, perhaps even in the course of the current debate.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity next week for the House once again to debate the ambulance dispute so that hon. Members can bring to the House first-hand experience of the way in which the management of the ambulance service, conniving with the Minister, is preventing a safe and efficient 999 service from being made available to the people of Britain?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The disruption of the ambulance services over the past 10 weeks is causing mounting distress to patients. Only yesterday, cases were reported of elderly ladies urgently needing transport to hospital being refused it by ambulance crews. The Army, police and voluntary services are maintaining an emergency ambulance service in London and Hertfordshire, but the trade unions have arranged a complete withdrawal of emergency cover. Against that background, management has proposed that negotiations should be resumed on the basis of an increase of 9 per cent. to cover the 18 months from 1 April 1989. That will be an increase of 11.8 per cent. for qualified ambulance men and women in London. In addition, an increase of £500 is proposed for certain specially trained staff. That is a good offer by any standards and we hope that it will lead to the staff side returning to the negotiating table.
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : I hope that the Leader of the House can find time in the near future for a statement on the extraordinary circumstances at South West Water. It now faces two prosecutions brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions, neither of which will be heard before privatisation. One of those would have been heard were it not for the fact that the DPP stepped in because of its seriousness. I hope that at least the House feels that the privatisation of South West Water should be delayed until those important matters are heard, especially when we hear that the management is about to double or triple its salaries when privatisation goes ahead.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot comment on any of the premises of the hon. Gentleman's question but I doubt whether the House will reach the conclusion that he suggests. Those responsible will no doubt take account of the fact that he has raised the matter in the House. Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : Despite the remarks of the Leader of the House, 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 escalating ambulance dispute, and the introduction of outside agencies into the west midlands accident and emergency service." Clearly, the dispute is escalating today. The police have been called in as makeshift crews in Derbyshire as managers have suspended crews throughout the county. The Army is expected there at the weekend. The Army is already on the streets of London and Hertfordshire. Yesterday, at one o'clock, Mr. Barry Johns, the chief officer of the west midlands ambulance service called in the St. John ambulance and the Red Cross service to deal with 999 calls in Birmingham.
No one doubts the generosity of those unpaid volunteers under normal circumstances. However, they are not professional ambulance workers. They do not have the training or the experience to deal with accident and emergency work.
The Government's intransigence is seriously threatening lives in the west midlands area. In my area of Coventry, the Army is on standby. If it were called in, it would be based at Little Park street police station in my constituency. Those squaddies will not know the streets of Coventry. They will have had only a couple of days refresher training. At the weekend I received a telephone call from the mother of one soldier who told me that they are on £30 a day standby money and that they are threatened with the glasshouse if they refuse those duties.
Yet the Government insist on ambulance workers taking a pay cut when directors can have 28 per cent. Members of Parliament can have 11 per cent. while ambulance workers are apparently allowed only 6.5 per cent. It is a national scandal that the dispute can be debated in workplaces, pubs and schools throughout the country, but we cannot get the Secretary of State for Health into the Chamber to justifiy the craven tactics he is pursuing in the dispute.
If the dispute is not settled soon, there will be growing pressure for solidarity action from other trade unionists. There is widespread recognition of the heroic actions of all the emergency services, not only at Deal and Clapham. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Energy and the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) should hang their heads in shame because at Brighton they welcomed the ambulance workers alongside the firefighters and the police, but now they will not pay them a decent wage. Throughout the country, trade unionists recognise that those workers cannot be asked to go out on indefinite strike. However, millions of factory workers would be willing to give up a day's pay to back the ambulance workers and bring the Government to heel.
I urge you to give us a debate, Mr. Speaker, bring the Secretary of State for Health to the Chamber and force him to withdraw the Army and pay ambulance workers a decent wage before the Government's tactics cause another life to be lost.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the current ambulance dispute and the introduction of outside agencies into the west midlands accident and emergency service." As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 20, I have to announce my decision without giving my reasons to the House. I have listened with care to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but, as he knows, I must decide whether the matter should have precedence over the business already set down for today or for Monday. I regret that the matter that he has raised does not meet the criteria of the Standing Order, and I therefore cannot submit his application to the House.
Points of Order
Mr. Skinner : God knows, Mr. Speaker, you have a difficult job having to select hon. Members to speak. I noticed on Tuesday during the debate on the Loyal Address that you called the Prime Minister and that later that night you called the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer). You must have shown a degree of perception--
Mr. Skinner : What is worrying some hon. Members is whether you will maintain that fair balance. When the Prime Minister is called, now that there is to be a contest, will you ensure that the stalking horse is called on every occasion in order to get a proper balance? We are seeking equality, that is all.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman has also been chairman of an assembly that has its problems--like mine--and I am sure that if I emulate his example I shall be on the right lines. I shall continue to keep a fair balance.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. To assist you in this matter, because I know that you want to ensure a fair balance, will you please ensure that the amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is called today? We want a fair balance.
Column 245Mr. Winnick : Yes. The Minister of State, Department of Energy--the right hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison)--is reported in today's newspapers
"as advising all Tory constituency chairmen"--
Mr. Speaker : Order. What hon. Members say outside the House is not a matter for me.
Mr. Winnick rose--