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Railway Electrification

12. Mr. Coleman : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales whether he has recently discussed the electrification of main line railway services in south Wales ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Wyn Roberts : Electrification is unlikely to have any significant effect on the quality of services on the south Wales main line. Improved frequency, greater reliability and reduced overcrowding on the high-speed 125 services are the critical factors.

Mr. Coleman : That was an appalling answer from the Minister. What estimate has been made of the cost of electrification of the railway line in south Wales? Is he aware that the cost of electrifying the east coast railway was overestimated? Will not the fact that our railway is not electrified serve Wales badly in 1992?

Mr. Roberts : I can only repeat what the hon. Gentleman already knows--that British Rail has produced a study of the railway network in connection with the Channel tunnel. It considers that the level of demand for through-passenger services for south Wales will be insufficient to justify electrification. As for freight, it makes no difference whether traction is by diesel or electrificity.

Water Sports

13. Mr. Jack : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what support he is giving to the development of water sports in Wales.

Mr. Grist : Welsh Office financial support for bodies concerned with the development of water sports in Wales is provided through the Sports Council for Wales which grant aids the relevant governing bodies and provides a national watersports centre at Plas Menai.

Mr. Jack : My hon. Friend will be aware of the excellent facilities for the promotion of water sports at the national watersports centre at Plas Menai. May I prevail on him to send a message to those concerned to look again at the financial arrangements for this excellent institution, which is used by many of my constituents and people from the north-west of England, and ensure that they have sufficient funding next year fully to exploit commercially the potential of this institution?

Mr. Grist : The attachment of my hon. Friend and his family to Plas Menai is well known to us. My hon. Friend will appreciate that the Sports Council for Wales received a grant in the current year of some £4,396,000, an increase

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of 6.1 per cent. over its previous grant. The council has been looking for some time at the financing of the centre at Plas Menai and the efficiency with which it carries out its work. At all times, it is looking for sponsorship and other forms of support for those sports that are not big money raisers.


Redundant Churches

31. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what is the current policy of the Church Commissioners in respect of redundant churches.

Mr. Michael Alison (Second Church Estates Commissioner, Representing the Church Comissioners) : The Commissioners' policy isgoverned by the Pastoral Measure 1983, which provides for the future of a redundant church to be settled by a suitable alternative use, by preservation by the redundant churches fund, by care and maintenance by the Diocesan Board of Finance or by demolition. The measure lays emphasis on finding a suitable alternative use for the church, if at all possible, and that is what is most commonly achieved.

Mr. Banks : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that courteous reply. Does he share my concern about the fate of old organs-- not, I hasten to add, those attached to old clerics but those fine musical instruments which are in many redundant churches and many churches generally and which do not get adequate protection? Is he aware that such historic organs as we have would be given protected status in most other European countries? Will he ask the Church Commissioners to conduct an inventory of all the organs in their areas of responsibility so that adequate protection can be extended to them?

Mr. Alison : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the interest that he takes in not only redundant churches but the valuable fixtures in them. Under any redundancy scheme, the bishop of a diocese has the decision on the final disposal of valuable fixtures. He is advised by an expert committee with a standard code of practice. Church organs are recognised as valuable. They are nearly always preserved or sold for use in other churches or in other historic buildings.

Publication Programme

32. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, if he will make a statement about the Church Commissioners' publication programme during the current year.

Mr. Alison : The Commissioners have produced a range of publications during 1989 including their report and accounts for 1988, the 17th report of the Central Stipends Authority and a brochure on commended entries for the parsonage design award competition.

Mr. Marshall : Will the Church Commissioners publish a commentary on the recent blatantly partisan declaration on poverty? Does such a commentary commend the massive increase in private giving since 1979, which shows that the parable of the good Samaritan is alive and well in Thatcherite Britain?

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Mr. Alison : The declaration by the Church Action on Poverty group is not an official Church of England publication and the Commissioners have no responsibility for it. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a robustly party political publication whose great weakness is to decry the alleged inadequacy of public expenditure while denouncing the basis of wealth creation in Britain through the social market economy which has to fund that public expenditure. My hon. Friend's point about charitable giving is well taken.

Mr. Sedgemore : Will the Church Commissioners publish a commentary on the report which the Archbishop of Canterbury is suppressing on homosexuality among priests?

Mr. Alison : The hon. Gentleman is referring to a report that is, I understand, under consideration by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It originates from the General Synod of the Church of England and I cannot, having no direct responsibility in that area, tell the hon. Gentleman what its future will be. No doubt the inquiry, which will be registered in the official report, will elicit a response of some sort, which I shall convey to the hon. Gentleman.

Financial Assistance

33. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what financial assistance the Church Commissioners give to the cost of running (a) Lambeth palace and (b) the palace of the Bishop of Durham ; what financial assistance is given to producing the speeches of prelates ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Alison : The Church Commissioners are wholly responsible for the housing of all diocesan bishops and for the provision of supporting staff. Lambeth palace and Auckland castle are listed grade 1 buildings. The total running costs of Lambeth palace are currently £1.4 million a year, 60 per cent. of which is office expenses, including the salaries of the 34 members of the Archbishop's headquarters staff. The costs of Auckland castle are £159,000 a year.

Mr. Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Church Commissioners and Church members receive value for money from that enormous expenditure? Will he confirm that the Church Commissioners will press the Archbishop to suppress the report on homosexuality if, as is rumoured, it encourages the blessing of unions between gay and lesbian couples in church?

Mr. Alison : I have noted my hon. Friend's inquiry about the costs of running Lambeth palace and Auckland castle, the official residence of the Bishop of Durham. I hope that he will bear in mind that the Church of England bureaucracy is usually a great deal more frugal and financially efficient than the normal Civil Service bureaucracy's administration of public expenditure. On the second part of the question, I can add nothing to the reply that I have already given to a similar question.

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Disabled Persons

35. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the hon. Member for

Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, what percentage of the staff employed by the House on 1 November were then registered as disabled persons.

Mr. A. J. Beith (On behalf of the House of Commons Commission) : The percentage of staff of the House registered as disabled at 1 November 1989 was 0.5 per cent. That figure does not include those disabled persons who work in the House, but who are employed by the Property Services Agency.

Mr. Hughes : Does my hon. Friend accept that that is an extremely low figure and that were we not exempt from the rules that apply to employers in general, we should be well below the minimum percentage of 3 per cent., which should be upheld by all employers? Will my hon. Friend tell the House what steps are being taken to increase that number substantially and quickly, not just at junior levels of employment in the House of Commons?

Mr. Beith : The Commission is not satisfied that the percentage is adequate and it is the Commission's policy to consider itself as if bound by the regulations, including the 3 per cent. quota, that apply throughout the general community. The vacancies that come up in the House are notified to local disablement resettlement officers and positive preference among candidates of equal merit is given to registered disabled people. Many advertisements for House of Commons posts make it clear that applications are welcomed from disabled people. Disablement is, of course, no bar to promotion in the House as long as the work of the post can be carried out.

House Sittings

36. Mr. Allen : To ask the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, what savings the Commission would make if the House were to adopt hours of work which both started and finished earlier.

Mr. Beith : The total savings possible as a result of the House deciding to arrange its business so that it could start and finish earlier would depend on a number of factors such as the number of staff affected, the predictability of the duration of the sitting and the terms of any renegotiated conditions of service that might be necessary as a consequence. Those factors would be difficult to quantify.

Mr. Allen : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that as well as the House of Commons becoming more efficient if the hours were adjusted, it would be much cheaper to run? At present, we have to keep on the policemen, the door keepers, the catering staff and many others, often not knowing what the overtime bill will be, and all that is done to subsidise those hon. Members who work part time and who wish to keep a day job in the City or in business. Will the hon. Gentleman go back to the House of Commons Commission and find out the extent to which this House is subsidising those hon. Members?

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Mr. Beith : There is a difference betwen different hours and shorter hours. If the House were simply to rearrange its hours into an earlier part of the day, there would not necessarily be as great a saving as the hon. Gentleman suggests, as the work that was done formerly in the early part of the day would still have to be carried out.

The hon. Gentleman must recognise that it is the job of the House to decide what hours it will sit and the job of the Commission to ensure that the House is adequately staffed. Some of the work carried out by our staff has to continue even when the House is not sitting, not least that concerned with security.

Mr. Latham : Will the hon. Gentleman disabuse the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) of the idea that the House begins work only at 2.30 pm? There are things called Standing Committees, and some of us have letters to answer. Will he also remind the hon. Gentleman of the evidence against this proposal in the experience of the late Richard Crossman, who started morning sittings which very soon collapsed?

Mr. Beith : The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about the work that the staff of the House do, particularly during the mornings. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) could perhaps usefully bear in mind that the printing day by day on the Order Paper of his motions about the reform of the House--whatever their merits--is likely to be costing the House about £400 a week.

Mr. Allen : Cheap at the price.

Televising of Proceedings

37. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the honourable Member for Berwick-upon- Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, if he has received any representations from staff involved in televising the House.

Mr. Beith : No representations have been received by the Commission in relation to those staff employed by the House. I understand, however, that representations have been made to the Supervisor of Broadcasting, and they are being dealt with.

Mr. Banks : Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the exceedingly cramped conditions that the staff who provide the excellent televising of the House have to endure? Is he prepared to sit down and discuss with representatives of the staff concerned the possibility of extending their facilities ; and will he guarantee that when--I assume that it will be when--we get around to confirming the televising of the House, additional premises and accommodation will be found for them within the Palace of Westminster?

Mr. Beith : Few staff are employed directly by the House in broadcasting, but the staff from the various agencies who work hard to provide the television pictures are indeed accommodation in temporary conditions, and should the House decide to make the experiment permanent it would be a matter for the Services Committee to determine whether any improvements were required.

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Procedure Reform

39. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Lord President of the Council if he will make a statement on his assessment of the case for reform of the procedures of the House.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : Procedures are essentially a matter fothe House as a whole. If the procedures appear to be failing in their purpose, we should be ready to consider change. The best forum for the initial consideration of such issues is the Procedure Committee. I, too, am always ready and willing to consider ideas for improvement.

Mr. Hughes : In the light of events in eastern Europe and of the move towards real democracy in which all these countries are setting up multi-party Governments and deciding that they do not want to follow many parts of our system, will the deputy Prime Minister consider that we shall not be a real democracy until we thoroughly reform nearly all the procedures of this House? We must sit at reasonable times and make sure that all parts of the United Kingdom have a proper chance to discuss their business. We must delegate when possible and, above all, all parties, in proportion to their size in the House, must have a proper chance to have their say in all debates and procedures on the Floor of the Chamber. When can we have real democracy in Britain, given that other countries can no longer look to us for an example?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : It is not my function to respond to the hon. Gentleman's general political point, but I have visited every one of the countries belonging to the Warsaw pact in recent years and heard their views about our parliamentary system, and they have a much higher degree of admiration for it than does the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Charles Morrison : I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend agrees that the Procedure Committee is the best forum for assessment of reform, but does he agree also that it comes forward with some excellent recommendations? Unfortunately, most of my right hon. and learned Friend's predecessors have not shown as much desire to accept its excellent recommendations as many hon. Members would have liked. Even more unfortunately, on some occasions some recommendations have not been accepted, not because they are not excellent but because the House is intensely conservative in its attitude to reform.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have described the Procedure Committee in carefully qualified language as the best forum for the initial consideration of such ideas, but I agree that it makes proposals that deserve careful consideration. I am glad that one of the first changes made since I assumed my present responsibility was the Sessional Order which varies the provisions of Standing Order No. 13 and which provides for an additional day for private Members' Bills, in so doing going beyond what the Procedure Committee recommended or expected.

Mr. Spearing : Does the Leader of the House agree that most hon. Members would agree with him that the Procedure Committee is the best forum for evidence and recommendations on those matters? In view of the speed

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up in institutional developments in the European Economic Community, will he also now consider the recommendations of the Procedure Committee in that respect which are surely now even more relevant than they were when the Committee began its investigation?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I certainly would have expected that question from the hon. Gentleman. The Government have already welcomed the Procedure Committee's report on matters affecting European issues. We recognise the importance of that and I shall be discussing it with my colleagues because the matter touches on many aspects of Government. We hope to respond to the Procedure Committee shortly. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the issue that he raised.


40. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Lord President of the Council what English and French wines are available in House of Commons refreshment rooms ; and if he will make a statement.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The Dining Rooms offer at present a range of 68 French and seven English wines. The red and white House wines available in the cafeterias and bars are both French. The full range is shown on the House of Commons wine list.

Mr. Greenway : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm the obvious--that much more French wine than English wine is sold in the House of Commons? Does he agree that that is because real English wines like elderberry, dandelion and parsnip are not available here? Will he take steps to make those English wines available in the House?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend's question comes from a very curious vintage. For every bottle of English wine sold in this place, some 40 bottles of French wine are sold. That is notwithstanding the fact that English wines are given special prominence on the wine list to promote their sale. In those circumstances, I do not think that I can find either the space or anything else to allow the promotion of the more exotic native brews that my hon. Friend recommends.

Procedure Reform

41. Mr. Allen : To ask the Lord President of the Council what changes in procedure he is bringing forward in order to make the proceedings of the House more understandable (a) to hon. and right hon. Members and (b) to the television viewer.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have no plans at present, but I am always ready to consider such changes.

Mr. Allen : Will the Lord President consider improving the level of debates in this House by supporting the extension of a 10-minute limit on speeches and allowing Mr. Speaker to have discretion to operate that limit- -excluding Front-Bench spokesmen--whenever he feels that that is appropriate in a debate? Will he also consider, as a way of improving debates, that as well as a 10-minute limit, time should be set aside-- perhaps three or five minutes--for interventions when the clock would stop and hon. Members would not lose that time from their 10 minutes? At the moment many hon. Members simply read

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their speeches into the record. Would not my two proposals improve debates not simply for the television viewer, but for Back Benchers as well? Will the Lord President now add his weight to the proposals?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I can find more sympathy in the House for the relative simplicity of the hon. Gentleman's proposal than for the more complex arrangements that he visualises in his second proposal. It is open to the Procedure Committee to look again at the possibility of extending the scope for the 10-minute limitation. It is essentially a matter on which the views of the House as a whole must be taken into account. However, I can see the case for considering it.

Mr. Teddy Taylor : Can the Leader of the House explain to right hon. and hon. Members and to the television viewer why our only opportunity to discuss the EEC budget will be from midnight tonight for about an hour and a half? Does he not believe that with the advance of television, many people will gain the impression that the attention that we give to EEC matters is a bit of a sick joke?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend will know that there is a question about that later on the Order Paper from which it will become clear that during the 1988-89 Session, the total amount of time devoted to European Community matters was some 90 hours. That is a very substantial allocation of time.

Dr. Cunningham : When the Leader of the House is considering ways in which to improve understanding of television broadcasts of our proceedings, will he bear the interests of deaf people very much in mind? I know that he is aware of the considerable pressure exerted not only by deaf people and the organisations that represent them but by Members of Parliament for subtitles to be included to make it easier for the deaf members of our communities to understand--and, we hope, enjoy--those television broadcasts. Will he consider how that might be achieved, and report back to us?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I can certainly give an affirmative answer to that question. The whole House will sympathise with the wishes of deaf people who would like to gain a better appreciation of what takes place here. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Select Committee on Televising of Proceedings of the House is currently giving the matter active consideration. We are looking at evidence from both sides--that is, from both those who represent the deaf and those who represent the broadcasters- -and we are taking the problem very seriously.

Mr. Tebbit : May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend not to underestimate the difficulty of persuading the broadcasting authorities to use subtitling for the deaf in any broadcasts? When I was chairman of the Conservative party and sought to persuade the BBC to allow subtitling for the deaf in party political broadcasts, the BBC opposed my suggestion bitterly, on the ground that the Labour party had made it first.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot undertake to achieve an arbitral conclusion to this important question that is compatible with the legitimate aspirations of my right hon. Friend, but we are discussing it with broadcasting

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organisations of both kinds. Both are showing an active interest, while at the same time drawing attention to legitimate difficulties.

Facilities (Visitors)

42. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Lord President of the Council if he has any further statement to make with regard to providing improved facilities for visitors to the Houses of Parliament ; and if he will make a statement.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Arrangements have now been agreed with the other place to enable visitors to gain access to the line of route by the Sovereign's entrance. The screening facilities in the Norman Porch are to be duplicated to speed up the process. While awaiting admittance, visitors will be allowed to shelter beneath the archway of Victoria Tower. It is hoped that these arrangements will be in operation early next year. Other possible improvements are being considered by the Catering Sub-Committee.

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Mr. Skinner : Ought not the Leader of the House and the sub- committee to agree that it would be a good idea to allow the thousands of people who visit the House every day to come into Westminster Hall to get out of the rain and other inclement conditions? They could wait there until called upon to move into the Central Lobby.

Would it not also be a good idea to allow those visitors proper catering facilities, instead of bothering about claret, dandelion and parsnip wines and all the rest? If there are to be 16 or 20 different rooms for Members of Parliament, surely it would not be a bad thing for the visitors who pay our wages to be able to get a cup of tea in this place.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I might have expected the hon. Gentleman, while making a legitimate point about the lack of shelter for visitors, to acknowledge the value of the changes that we have now been able to announce. He knows that many of the existing catering facilities are already under substantial pressure, but he will be glad to learn that the Catering Sub-Committee is considering possible ways of improving the arrangements, particularly when new opportunities may be presented on completion of phase I of the new buildings.

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