Monday 11 December----Second Reading of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill (2nd Day)
Motion to take note of EC documents relating to the 1990 EC Budget. Details will be given in the Official Report.
Motion to take note of EC documents relating to Community research and development. Details will be given in the Official Report. Tuesday 12 December----Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate on a motion on war crimes.
Motion on the Electricity Supply (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order.
Motion on the Ministerial and Other Salaries Order.
The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.
Wednesday 13 December----Opposition day (1st Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Government policy and its Effects on Mortgage Costs and Housing". Afterwards there will be a debate entitled "Famine in Ethiopia", both debates will arise on Opposition motions.
Motion on the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order. Thursday 14 December----Until about seven o'clock, a debate on a motion to take note of EC documents relating to fisheries arrangements for 1990.
Second Reading of the Landlord and Tenant (Licensed Premises) Bill Motions on the Supply of Beer (Tied Estate) Order and the Supply of Beer (Loan Ties, Licensed Premises and Wholesale Prices) Order. Friday 15 December---- Private Members' motions.
Monday 18 December----Second Reading of the Broadcasting Bill Mr. Speaker, the House will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment on Thursday 21 December until Monday 8 January, and it is not intended to take questions on Thursday 21 December.
[Monday 11 December 1989
(1) Relevant European Community Documents
(a) COM (89)175 Preliminary Draft Budget of the European Communities for 1990
(b) 8271/89 The Draft Budget of the European Communities for 1990
(c) 9704/89 Draft Budget of the European Communities for 1990 : changes proposed by the European Parliament
(d) 8848/89 Letter of Amendment No. 1 to the Preliminary Draft Budget of the European Communities for 1990
(e) 9627/89 Letter of Amendment No. 2 to the Preliminary Draft Budget of the European Communities for 1990
Column 470Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee
(a) HC 15 xxxii (1988-89), para 3
(b) HC 15 xxxvii (1988-89), para 3
(c) HC 11 iii (1989-90), para 4
(d) HC 15 xxxvi (1988-89), para 8
(e) HC 15 xxxviii (1988-89), para 8
(2) Relevant European Community Document
8375/89 Community Research Framework
Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee
HC 15 xxxvii (1988-89), para 1 and HC 11 ii (1989-90), para 2
Dr. Cunningham : I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Will the Leader of the House assure us that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a full statement to the House on her return from the Strasbourg summit?
Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to the report on drug trafficking from the Select Committee on Home Affairs published today? Does he recognise that people in Britain will be astonished and horrified to learn that some £2 billion is currently calculated by that Committee to be in British banks as a result of criminal activities by drug traffickers? Since it is unreasonable to expect the Government to be able to respond to that report in tomorrow's debate, will he assure us that the Government will respond to it with urgency and that the House will soon have an opportunity to debate the Government's response?
May I ask in the interests, I believe, of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, whether the Leader of the House will ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to expedite publication of the ombudsman's report into the Barlow Clowes affair? Does he accept that it would be unreasonable and, indeed, unacceptable for that important report, which affects many thousands of our constituents, to be unduly delayed by the Department of Trade and Industry?
With that Department in mind, and given the recent exchanges in Prime Minister's questions and the disclosures by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) today, does the Leader of the House accept that being economical with the truth seems to have been elevated to a principle of government, particularly by the Department of Trade and Industry? Is it not now more urgent than ever to have a proper debate about that Department's handling of the British Aerospace purchase of Rover and the Department's rather unhappy, to say the least, involvement in it?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : On the hon. Gentleman's first point, about the suggestion that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should make a statement following her return from the Strasbourg summit, he is aware of the custom in that respect, and I shall convey his remarks to my right hon. Friend.
As for the hon. Gentleman's second point, about the Home Affairs Select Committee's report on drugs, I have, sadly, to say that it is almost impossible to surprise me about the scale of the accumulation or handling of money in relation to drugs, which is always more substantial than one expects or fears. That is why the Government have taken the action that they have to trace and confiscate the proceeds which accrue to convicted drug offenders. We
Column 471will continue to take effective and energetic action in so far as we can. There is, of course, a debate tomorrow. There will be a response to the Select Committee's report in due course. The fact that these matters pile upon us almost week after week underlines the seriousness with which the House views this important subject. As to the hon. Gentleman's third point, the Government are conscious of the distress and hardship that has been caused to many hon. Members' constituents, including, no doubt, some of the hon. Member's and mine, by the collapse of Barlow Clowes. We are all aware of the understandable desire of everyone concerned to get the matter resolved as quickly as possible. At the moment, the Parliamentary Commissioner's draft report is with the Department of Trade and Industry and he will receive from that Department its considered response as quickly as possible. I do not believe that it will be possible for the House to debate the matter until the report has been finalised, but everybody is well aware of the need to press ahead with it.
Finally, I come to the point which was raised more tendentiously by the hon. Member. It seems that prejudging issues before they have been fully studied is becoming a principle of opposition. The sale of the Government's shareholding in the Rover Group is, as the House well knows, still under investigation by the Public Accounts Committee, which will report in due course. I think that the House should await its report.
Mr. Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend reconsider his proposal to allocate only half a day to the debate on alleged war crimes on Tuesday? He especially will appreciate that this matter is of the utmost importance, and that many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House want to take part in the debate. If the proposals which have been discussed and which apparently will govern the Government's actions were put into effect, they would involve basic changes in our constitutional practice and our legislative and judicial system. The shortage of time will be even greater if our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister decides to make a statement on Tuesday about the Strasbourg meeting. That will take up the first three quarters of an hour, or an hour. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to reconsider and to give us a day's debate on a matter which is vital to the House and to those who are alleged to be involved.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not, of course, under-estimate the importance of this matter, but when deciding the length of time that should be available, we had also to consider the need to get ahead with the matter, in accordance with earlier undertakings, before Christmas. I can assure my right hon. Friend that the debate will last for the full three hours. It will not be curtailed by any time taken up by any statement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister might make. Moreover, the commencement of private business will be deferred to allow the debate to continue, although private business will also have its full three hours.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : In relation to another debate next week, the Leader of the House may not be aware that our last annual fisheries debate was truncated to just over an hour and a half because of
Column 472business questions and a statement. Given that it is accepted on both sides of the House that fishing is in an acute state of crisis, will he give a clear undertaking, similar to the one that he just gave, that at least three hours will be given to the debate? Secondly, the Leader of the House will have heard at Question Time about homelessness and that this week Shelter Scotland reported a 76 per cent. increase in homelessness in the past six years. Within a mile of this place people are living rough in the streets. Can we have another debate on homelessness before Christmas?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am afraid that I cannot give any undertaking in response to the hon. Gentleman's last point. On his point about the debate on fisheries, it is the intention that the debate should last for the full three hours.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancaster, West) : My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that, after the Strasbourg summit, there will be a great deal of anxiety about the future of Europe, particularly in view of the discussions on the social charter and the effect that Germany's changed policy towards stages 1, 2 and 3 of Delors will have on thinking. Today it was announced in a Liverpool university study that the jobs of 500,000 people will be lost should the Government agree to the social charter in its present form. Given that, post-Strasbourg, there will be an entirely different attitude to Europe and that Governments' positions will have changed, will he give time in the near future for a debate on this most important matter?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of the importance of the events taking place in eastern Europe and about the importance of the European summit, which takes its place in a long line of such regular events. As my hon. Friend knows, we had a debate within the past seven days on East-West matters. It is interesting to note how much time in the programme for next week is taken up by debating various aspects of the Community. I cannot promise any additional separate debate on Europe in general, but I have the impression that European issues will not long be far from the agenda of the House.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, the matter is being considered in the hope that a statement can be made at an early stage. I hope that that will meet the right hon. Gentleman's point for the moment.
Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend reconsider the proposition of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)? The matter of war crimes has reached the stage where it attracts considerable public attention and it should be given time for fuller debate.
Column 473Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : Is the Leader of the House aware that there is considerable feeling in Wales about the need for a new Welsh language Act? Is he further aware that the Welsh Language Board set up by the Welsh Office has reported back with a draft Act? Even if he cannot give a commitment to bring forward legislation, will there be a debate in the immediate future?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Even if I am not immediately aware of that matter, the Secretary of State for Wales is. There is, no doubt, the prospect of the regular St. David's day debate, which is coming up soon.
Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway) : Given that I cannot put this question to the Chairman of Ways and Means, what action can be taken on the Floor of the House to ensure that the private Bills objected to by one Opposition Member or another throughout the last weeks of the previous Session--
Sir Geoffrey Howe : As my hon. Friend is aware, the supervision of private Bills is under the surveillance of the Chairman of Ways and Means. Many hon. Members on both sides are rightly anxious about the question that she raised. The revival motion, which includes all the Bills which the Chairman of Ways and Means has set down for debate on Thursday 9 November, is on the Order Paper for debate on Tuesday 12 December. It must be hoped that that motion will help to carry forward the mass resurrection of private Bills, to which many hon. Members look forward.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : Does the Leader of the House accept that, in next Thursday's debate, it would not be acceptable for the Government simply to reject the preposterous proposals by Commmission Marin, the Fisheries Commissioner, and to say that they have succeeded in reaching agreement on the two low levels proposed by the Commission, and that he will table a motion in better terms which will allow the House to decide how fisheries should be managed in future?
Recently, reports have been published by a man called Williams on agricultural education in Scotland. Since Scots Members are denied the opportunity to discuss the report in the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, because we have none--it is an ideal subject, as there are profound changes --will the Leader of the House assure us that there will be an opportunity to debate the issue before the Minister takes his decision, which I believe is expected to be before Christmas?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am afraid that I cannot give any undertaking in respect of the hon. Gentleman's second point. All I can do is draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Commission's proposals are the background to the debate, and are expected to be available on Friday 8 December. I cannot offer any undertaking about the response that my right hon. Friends may make in their discussion on these matters.
Column 474about the progress of negotiations towards the involuntary repatriation of Vietnamese boat people, will the House have an opportunity to consider that important question before Christmas and before any final policy statement is made?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I know of my hon. Friend's continuing interest in this matter and of the interest expressed in all parts of the House. I hope that there will be an opportunity for the House to debate the matter before long.
[That this House notes with concern the results of a gallup poll conducted by Channel 4 Television showing that every year over eight million obscene telephone calls are received by women in Britain and that every day more than two thousand of these calls also threaten violence, that a number of women terrorised by such repeated calls move house or have mental breakdowns, that nevertheless telephone companies and the police rarely give this matter priority or attempt to trace the offenders, that the penalty for sending obscene letters through the post, Malicious Communications Act 1988, is higher than for making obscene calls, Telecommunications Act 1984, that fifteen per cent. of the callers know the woman they call, though the woman may not know them, and that some rapists also make obscene calls which are themselves a form of violence and an invasion of privacy ; and therefore asks the Home Secretary to set up an inquiry into the extent of this problem to examine the work of the special department of Bell Telephone Incorporated of New Jersey, United States of America which helps victims trap offending callers, to take measures to improve the rate of detection and conviction of offenders and to take steps leading to the amendment of the said Telecommunications Act 1984, section 43 increasing the penalty ; and calls upon the Director General of Telecommunications to make a condition of granting licences to British Telecom and Mercury that they each set up a department at their own expense to trace obscene phone calls when requested to do so in writing by victims.]
A similar motion tabled in October was supported by 185 Members from all parties. There are 8 million obscene telephone calls a year, of which 3,000 every day threaten sexual attack, murder or other forms of violence. The crime is committed more frequently than any other in the British crime survey. Effective measures are taken in the United States of America, but little is done to track offenders in the United Kingdom.
There is mounting anger and anxiety about this form of violence against women which is socially unacceptable. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate so that the House may consider the matter thoroughly and see what can be done both for offenders and for victims?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Without intending to be discourteous to the hon. Lady, her question was of sufficient length to amount almost to a debate in itself. Obviously she is right to attach importance to dealing with this obnoxious practice, and it is right that we should do all we can to stop it. I shall bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary as quickly as possible.
Column 475Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : Can my right hon. and learned Friend do anything to expedite the Kings Cross Railways Bill, which is extremely important to the north-west of England, ahead of the Channel tunnel, and which is stuck because Labour Members are not attending the Committee?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not think that I can do anything directly about that matter, but my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it. The anxiety she expresses underlines the importance that we all should attach to ensuring the continued effective operation of the present procedure for private Bills. I say that without prejudice to the need to re-examine that procedure in the long term.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : May I return the Leader of the House to the fisheries debate next Thursday? Given that the opportunities since the summer to debate this vital industry have been in minority party time forced by me and my Scottish National party colleagues and by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), is it not now incumbent on the Government to allow at least a full day's debate on the crisis enveloping this vital industry in Scotland?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : It would not doubt be desirable to allow a full day's debate on almost everything--I do not mean any unkindness when I say that. It is simply not possible to fit matters in on that basis. We have made three hours available, however, for the important debate on fisheries, to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention. Again, in response to requests from both sides of the House, we are devoting two days and not one to the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. One cannot respond to every request by expanding time.
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : However unusual, even unprecedented, it may be, may I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider the request put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)? The assurance that my right hon. and learned Friend gave is wholly inadequate. If we are to debate this matter for three hours only, will that not mean that only one and a half hours will be available for Beck Banchers? Surely the proposal will involve retrospective legislation should the Government decide to proceed. My right hon. and learned Friend is a former Law Officer. Does he not agree that one and a half hours for Back Benchers to discuss a matter of such importance is wholly inadequate?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand, of course, the point raised by my hon. Friend. The debate is not likely to take place on the basis of speeches from Front Bench spokesmen with concluding speeches of comparable length from those spokesmen. The debate will take place on a motion already on the Order Paper tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and the interventions from the Front Bench will be more modest in length, because, essentially, this is a matter for the House to express a view. On that basis, the full assurance of time for which we have made arrangements has been seen as sufficient. Given all my respect for my hon. Friend, he is making a suggestion that is almost without precedent.
Column 476whether the law should be changed on alleged war criminals should have only three hours allocated for its discussion? As I understand it, you, Mr. Speaker, will have no authority under the appropriate Standing Orders to impose a time limit on speeches. Therefore, a number of Back Benchers who want to express a view will have absolutely no chance of doing so, especially those who are not Privy Councillors. Is it not possible, even at this late stage, for the Leader of the House to understand the strength of feeling on both sides of the House? If we are to have such a debate, at least five or six hours should be allocated to it. Has the Leader of the House so firmly made up his mind that there is no room for flexibility?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not wish to appear insensitive or inflexible, but I am trying to fit a great deal of the work into the time available for it. The decision taken to recommend the time currently proposed came after wide consultation. It should not be necessary for the House to have an order imposed upon it from the Chair to limit contributions on such a subject. I hope that hon. Members will be able to make the best use of the time we currently propose.
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the overwhelming majority of my constituents still resent the fact that they are no longer able to call themselves Yorkshiremen because of the creation of the county of Cleveland. Because of that quirk and line on the map, brought about by bureaucracy, all my constituents will be paying approximately £100 a head more under the community charge than they would if they were still in North Yorkshire. Given that anomaly, is it not time that the Government reconsidered local government boundaries and restored my constituents to their natural heritage?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the instinct that prompts my hon. Friend's question. I shall be visiting what I still call Yorkshire tomorrow. I cannot undertake, least of all retrospectively, to effect the change for which he understandably presses.
Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : Given his previous responsibility as Foreign Secretary, the Leader of the House will agree that the Strasbourg meeting this weekend, to which the Prime Minister has gone, is not just a routine Council of Ministers meeting, but is, potentially, one of historic and crucial importance to all Europe. Given that the Prime Minister may be alone at that meeting, unless she takes the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) with her, and if that summit goes wrong, surely we should have a debate rather than just a statement on it before Christmas.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the importance that the right hon. Gentleman attaches to this, as to every summit of this kind. The House has a well established procedure in these matters. The Opposition Front Bench has asked me to request a statement following such a meeting. It is not impossible for a debate to be arranged subsequently in special cases on special topics, but I do not have that in mind at this stage.
Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston) : As we do not wish to waste our time in the House, as we did in the last Session, by passing legislation which the European Commission subsequently tells us we should not have
Column 477passed--it said that we were naughty boys and girls--will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the legislation which he has in mind has been cleared by the European Commission? In that way, we will not have our time wasted as it was with the Merchant Shipping Act 1988.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend will understand that the Government seek always to propose legislation that is compatible with our treaty obligations, including our obligations under the European Communities Act 1972 and its associated treaties. This is always subject to any rulings that may be made in accordance with those treaties by the European Court of Justice. That has been the position since the House passed the European Communities Bill.
[That this House notes that the future of the Export Credits Guarantee Department is under consideration by the Government ; recalls that the Kemp Report recommended : (a) that there was no alternative to a Government scheme for long-term and project business if British exports were to remain competitive and (b) that the Insurance Services Group should become a Government-owned company with a view to the eventual introduction of private capital ; is concerned that the Treasury Memorandum to the Trade and Industry Select Committee shows the maximum possible short-term loss, if Government support for the Project Group is withdrawn, would be £1, 500 million or 2 per cent. of annual exports ; insists that the Export Credits Guarantee Department's interest rate stabilisation function be maintained ; and believes that any withdrawal of Government support for long-term and project export business would be gravely damaging to the United Kingdom's trade position.] The right hon. and learned Gentleman will see that, if support for the project group is withdrawn, that will affect £1.5 billion, or 2 per cent. of our exports. That is causing great concern to industry. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make an early statement on the Kemp report and thereby remove this cloud which is hanging over British industry and affecting our export drive?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman draws attention to an important matter. The interdepartmental working group which has been formed to consult interested parties and offer advice to Ministers on the Kemp review has recently submitted its report to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The recommendations are being considered by Ministers. Obviously, we are aware of the wish of all parties for us to come to an early conclusion. Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, in July this year, the Government announced the calculation for the Government contribution towards the community charge, which is known by the acronym GREA, meaning grant-related expenditure assessment? More recently, a new figure, the SSA--standard spending assessment--has been announced, with Tuesday given as the time limit for consultation. Will my right hon. and learned Friend please find time between now and Christmas for a debate on the
Column 478crucial shortfall which has affected many local
authorities--including mine, which has been affected by a 13.5 per cent. reduction in Government support?
This means that between, now and April, my local authority, Torbay will have to find about £2 million in savings. It is impossible for the authority to achieve that in this short time. As my area is just the sixth largest net loser in this exercise, will my right hon. and learned Friend find time to debate this important matter?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am afraid that I cannot offer the prospect of time to debate the matter in the way suggested by my hon. Friend. I shall bring his point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. In due course there will be an opportunity for a debate on this subject, but not in the way suggested by my hon. Friend.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : Can the Leader of the House explain why another week has gone by without a statement or a debate in Government time on the three-month-old ambulance dispute, which now involves a lockout in London and many other areas? Is he aware that yesterday, many thousands of workers took solidaritary strike action in support of the caring women and men of the ambulance service?
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is a growing demand among trade unionists for a recalled Trades Union Congress to set a date for a national day of action to support the ambulance crews and events in the National Health Service? If he insists on prolonging this dispute through Christmas and if a life is lost, responsibility for that action will lie with the Secretary of State for Health, the Prime Minister and the Government. If half a million people can be brought into Wenceslas square, there are a million people who are prepared to come down to Trafalgar square in defence of the ambulance workers.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not believe that the point made by the hon. Gentleman is made any more impressive by the volume with which he chooses to deliver it. The facts are well known. The Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel is balloting its members individually on an improved offer made by the management side on 5 December. That improved offer is based on a proposal put forward on 17 November by Duncan Nichol, the National Health Service chief executive, but the other unions--this is the important point--have been unwilling to return to negotiations. The offer has been extended to all staff. The other trade unions should let their members decide on the offer, instead of continuing action against the patients.
Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that on this occasion last week I asked him for an urgent debate on the licensing procedures established under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986? Will he note that since then I have received an answer to a number of parliamentary questions to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department? All those responses have been cloaked in secrecy. Will my right hon. and learned Friend further note that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther), who was Chairman of the Standing Committee when the Bill in question was before the House, has independently confirmed that at no time during debate on the Bill was it
Column 479ever suggested that licensing reports under the subsequent Act would be made secret? Will my right hon. and learned Friend now reconsider his decision and call for an early debate on this important topic so that we can find out what is going on under the licensing arrangements made under the Act?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I clearly need to find out more about the background to my hon. Friend's point before giving a confident answer. I congratulate him on the tenacity with which he raises it, and I shall make sure that it is looked into.
[That this House notes the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's recent tests on microwave ovens ; notes that 32 of the 102 ovens tested failed to heat properly ; further notes that these ovens are potentially dangerous and further notes the Minister's refusal to publish the names of the dangerous ovens ; and calls upon him to place this information in the Library in the interests of public health and safety.]
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the enormous public disquiet occasioned, first, by the evident reluctance of Ministers to bring forward important information about dangerous ovens until pressed to do so by the public and by Labour party Front Bench spokesmen? It has been occasioned, secondly, by the fact that the Minister seems to have undertaken testing on condition that he would not let the results be known. Thirdly, disquiet has been caused--