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Business of the House

3.31 pm

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week and for the week when we return after the Christmas recess?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : The business for next week will be as follows :

Monday-- 18 December----Second Reading of the Broadcasting Bill. Motion to take note of EC documents relating to package travel. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Tuesday-- 19 December----Until seven o'clock Estimates Day (1st allotted day, 1st part). There will be a debate on class II, vote 2, so far as it relates to the accommodation and repatriation of Vietnamese boat people.

Motion on the code of practice for trade union ballots for industrial action.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

At ten o'clock the House will be asked to agree the civil and defence votes on account and the outstanding winter Supplementary Estimates.

Wednesday-- 20 December----Motion for the Christmas Adjournment. Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Thursday-- 21 December----Adjournment debates.

It may be for the convenience of the House if I indicate, in response to the hon. Gentleman's question, that subject to the progress of business, the business for the first week after the Christmas Adjournment will be as follows :

Monday-- 8 January----Until about seven o'clock Second Reading of the Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill followed by Second Reading of the Government Trading Bill.

Tuesday-- 9 January----Second Reading of the Enterprise and New Towns (Scotland) Bill.

Wednesday-- 10 January----Second Reading of the Aviation and Maritime Security Bill.

Motion on the Co-operative Development Agency (Winding-up and Dissolution) Order.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

Thursday-- 11 January----Opposition Day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject for debate to be announced.

Friday-- 12 January----Debate on the future of the multi-fibre arrangement on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

[Monday 18 December

Relevant European Community Documents

(a) 5382/89 Package Travel, Holidays and Tours

(b) 7996/89 Package Holiday Travel

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee (a) HC 15-iii (1988- 89), para 1

(b) HC 15-xxxiv (1988-89), para 1 and HC 11-iv (1989-90), para 1 Tuesday 19 December

Estimates Day Debate : Relevant Documents

Second Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee Session

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1988-89 on Hong Kong (HC 281)

The Government's observations on the Foreign Affairs Committee's Second Report Session 1988-89 (Cm. 927)

The Evidence taken by the Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday 13 December (HC 58-ii)--which is expected to be published on Monday 18 December.]

Dr. Cunningham : I am sure that the House is grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman not only for telling us about next week's business but for announcing the business for the first week after we return from the Christmas recess. I also welcome the fact that he has found time for the House to debate the multi-fibre arrangement, which is of great importance to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Is it true that the Secretary of State for Education and Science intends to announce next week his decision on capital allocations for our children's schools? I emphasise the words "our children's" as it is overwhelmingly the children of Opposition Members who attend state schools. Given the importance of that matter to all our constituents, and the fact that the Government have been able to provide more taxpayers' money for a single city technology college in Nottingham than for the entire state system in the county of Cumbria, will the Leader of the House arrange for an oral statement on that very important subject?

Is it the case that next week the Secretary of State for Transport will make a statement on the new financial objectives for 1990-93 for British Rail? Given that those new objectives are likely to eliminate all Government support for the operation of services in Network SouthEast, affecting millions of commuters, and that there will be reductions in Government support for provincial rail services, too, will the Leader of the House ensure that the statement is made in Parliament and that the House is given an early opportunity to debate its consequences for all our people as soon as the House returns from the Christmas recess?

As the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has indicated his intention to abandon Government policy on golden shares, and given the wide -ranging implications of that decision for many important and strategic industries, including aerospace, water and

telecommunications, and the threat that that poses to many thousands of jobs in the British economy, will the Leader of the House find time next week for a statement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on that subject?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman appreciates the decision to discuss the multi-fibre arrangement because such a debate has been requested by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for some time. We can at least make progress with that.

As to the hon. Gentleman's request for a statement on capital allocations in education, I cannot give him any information--except that he should disabuse himself of the idea that he speaks for "our" children. My right hon. and hon. Friends have as much interest in every sense in the working of the state education system. It is noticeable that a growing number of people of all classes and in all communities take a growing interest in the independent education sector.

On British Rail's objectives, I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I am sure that it is his intention to

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make a statement to the House at the appropriate time. In doing so, he will doubtless repeat the point made this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when she emphasised the massive growth in capital expenditure in the rail as well as the road system.

As to the hon. Gentleman's request for a statement on golden shares, that goes beyond any reasonable ambition for next week's business programme. The hon. Gentleman will know that certain matters in respect of the Jaguar car company are being examined by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider arranging an early debate on the affairs of Merseyside? If the Prime Minister cannot answer questions on Merseyside, it would be very convenient to have a complete afternoon's debate on it.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I fancy that my right hon. Friend, whose interest in the affairs of Merseyside is well founded, will have an opportunity to draw attention to some of the more remarkable events there if he intervenes in next week's Christmas Adjournment debate, and I hope very much that the matter will be ventilated in that context.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : When the House debates the Broadcasting Bill on Monday, do the Leader of the House and his right hon. and hon. Friends intend to support a motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition proposing that the Bill be referred to a Special Standing Committee? I think that that would be widely welcomed, not only in the House but in the industry.

Will the Leader of the House also arrange for two statements to be made next week, one on the critical meeting of European Community Fisheries Ministers and the other on the rights of British passport holders in Hong Kong? The Government's failure to date to make an announcement on that subject is having a destabilising effect in the colony, and it would be scandalous if an attempt were made to slip out a statement over the Christmas recess. May we hear one before then?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot encourage the hon. Gentleman to expect a positive response to his first question. I shall, however, take note of his two requests for statements, and draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friends. I can give him no firmer assurance at present.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : When does my right hon. and learned Friend expect to be able to tell the House what the Government have decided about the possibility of introducing a Bill following Tuesday's debate on war crimes? If they decide to introduce such a Bill, will my right hon. and learned Friend and the Patronage Secretary bear it in mind that many of us will feel that, as we were allowed a free vote on Tuesday, we should be allowed one on the Bill?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the matter to my attention. The House certainly expressed its view by a substantial majority on Tuesday, although my hon. Friend will recollect that the debate in the other place took a slightly different course. The

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Government are considering what form of action would constitute an appropriate response to both debates, and we shall certainly take account of what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Without asking the Leader of the House to comment on the General Medical Council's inquiry into the sale of kidneys, may I ask whether he is aware that that inquiry highlights the acute shortage of donors and the fact that people are dying for the lack of kidneys? Does he agree that it underlines the urgent need to debate the possibility of an opting-out system for kidney donors to replace the present inadequate opting-in system, and may we have such a debate next week?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for showing proper respect--as always--by acknowledging that I cannot comment on the case now before the General Medical Council. As for the underlying problem that he mentioned, I shall certainly bring it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend give us a little more information about the Vietnamese debate? Is it intended that we should come to a decision, or merely discuss the matter?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The debate on the Estimates next week will be allowed to continue for a full three hours, and we shall see how the matter stands at its conclusion.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : In view of widespread reports that the Government intend to change the law to allow about 150,000 people from Hong Kong into this country, will my right hon. and learned Friend allow a debate on the matter as soon as possible? If such proposals are announced, they will represent a complete reversal of everything that the Government said before the passing of the British Nationality Act 1981, and will cause anger in the west midlands.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend will no doubt recall that there have been many statements on the position of Hong Kong and its relationship to this country in respect of such matters, which have also been the subject of a report by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. That underlines the extent to which the House pays attention to these matters and it is clearly right for my right hon. Friends to keep the House fully informed of developments on that front.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : With regard to the ombudsman's impending report on the Barlow Clowes scandal, will there be an oral ministerial statement next week about the Government's response to the report? Can the Leader of the House say on what date the statement is likely to be made?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As I think I have told the House before, the Government are very well aware of the importance of this matter. The Department of Trade and Industry has now commented to the ombudsman on his draft report. We understand that it has been printed and that it is expected to be published before the Christmas recess. The Government undertook to reconsider the whole question once the Parliamentary Commissioner had

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reported and we shall make our conclusions known at the same time as the report is published. Given the imminence of that, I cannot even state a specific date for a statement.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : In his response to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), the Leader of the House clearly recognised the timing difficulties of ensuring that a statement on the Council of Fisheries Ministers could be made in the House before the Christmas recess. Although we all hope that there will be such a statement we should not wish to deter negotiations. What alternative facilities could the Leader of the House make available to hon. Members representing fishing constituencies to ensure that we are fully advised of all the decisions reached at the Council, as this is a matter of critical importance to our constituencies?

On the Broadcasting Bill, has the Leader of the House noticed early-day motions 195 and 196, and can we expect a clear statement on Gaelic broadcasting--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady knows of the rule that only one early-day motion may be printed in Hansard.

Mrs. Ewing : Then I refer to No. 196.

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to recognise the contribution of Gaelic language television in fostering and extending knowledge of Gaelic culture throughout Scotland, to acknowledge the progress made in recent years by such bodies as Comunn na Gaidhlig and to provide for the proper funding of Gaelic television programming in the Broadcasting Bill, currently before the House.]

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the choice made by the hon. Lady in that respect. The Government are considering the proposals that have been submitted by the various interested parties for an increase in the amount of Gaelic television programmes and we shall announce our decisions as soon as possible.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are well aware of the importance of fisheries matters--not only within Scotland--and they will seek to inform the House as nearly as possible to the usual ways, following the conclusion, whenever that may be, of the proceedings in Brussels next week. I shall bear in mind the point that the hon. Lady made. I hope that it will be possible to follow more or less the normal pattern.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : May I draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend to early-day motion 73, which deplores the barbaric slaughter and consumption of about 4 million dogs a year in South Korea?

[That this House expresses its deep abhorrence at the practice in South Korea of the inhumane slaughtering and eating of millions of dogs every year ; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to make the strongest representations to the South Korean President and Government to desist from this barbaric practice forthwith.] Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the motion is supported by many hon. Members of all parties throughout the country? May we have an early debate on the matter to bring some pressure to bear on the South Koreans to behave more humanely?

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Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am by no means sure that I can offer the prospect of an early debate, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the Korean Government are well aware of the concern in this country about the way in which dogs are reared and slaughtered for human consumption there.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : I believe that live television showed part of Northern Ireland Question Time today. That is an improvement on the way in which Northern Ireland is usually handled, with debates usually stuck on late at night. Would it be possible for European matters, which are dealt with in a similar way, and Northern Ireland matters to be given time in the House when many hon. Members are here to discuss the issues?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am afraid that I cannot offer an instant comment on the instant broadcasting of Northern Ireland proceedings this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman will know that the management of European questions was one subject of a recent report by the Select Committee on Procedure, and the Government are considering it with care.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : May I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his intervention, which he announced earlier this week, to sort out the case of constituents waiting to see the Line of Route?

On Barlow Clowes, if the report is not published before the Christmas recess, will my right hon. and learned Friend make absolutely certain that there is an oral statement in the first week after the recess?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have already said that printing should proceed to allow the report to be published before the Christmas recess. I also said that we shall make our conclusions known at the same time as the report is published. That should meet my hon. Friend's latter anxiety. I am glad that I was able to meet his earlier anxiety, and I express my appreciation for his gratitude.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that no Vietnamese people will be forcibly returned to Vietnam until the House of Commons debates the matter next week?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I repeat precisely the sentence at the end of the speech by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary earlier this week.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : As Back-Bench Members had 45 minutes at midnight on Monday to discuss the European budget, does the Leader of the House think it fair, again very late next Monday night, to debate the package tours order, which he knows raises important constitutional questions about the powers of the Commission and the rights of the House? Does he honestly think that it is not an insult to democracy for vital issues affecting the powers of the House of Commons and affecting every person in Britain to be discussed by a bunch of sleepyheads in the early hours of the morning when few people are listening?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I appreciate my hon. Friend's continuing interest in this matter. He will know that the issue is expected to be discussed at the Internal Market Council on 22 December. He would be the first to express

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anxiety if the House had no opportunity to discuss the matter before that consideration takes place. I am sure that it is right for the debate to be held early next week. The time at which it takes place is one matter to which the report of the Select Committee on European Legislation is relevant.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley) : The Leader of the House will be aware that the Director General of Oftel has missed a good opportunity to control pornographic telephone services. Indeed, his statement last Friday opened the door to even more. Is there no possibility of a debate and an amendment to the telecommunications legislation to get rid of such odious services?

Sir. Geoffrey Howe : I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the first point. The best prospect that I can offer of a debate in the near future is either the debate on the Christmas Adjournment or the debate on the Consolidated Fund.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the political movement in central Europe. Every day it brings up new and further headlines. Is he aware that Hungary has applied to join the 23 nations of the Council of Europe? Should not these matters be brought forward in a debate of political content and apart from debates on the European Parliament?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I think that my hon. Friend will find that that important point was discussed in the debate a couple of weeks ago on East- West relations. He will know that arrangements have been made for observers from many countries of central Europe to attend Council of Europe proceedings.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : As the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which is currently going through the other House, will, by the time it reaches us, have alternative clauses and one part or other amended, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that the Second Reading in this House will be free of whipping? Will any amendment concerning the vital clause dealing with genetic research be considered by a Committee of the whole House or by a small Standing Committee upstairs?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I should need to reflect carefully on the hon. Gentleman's precise points. He will understand that it is our intention to bring the Bill before the House as Government legislation, but to allow a free vote on consideration of the alternative clauses as they now appear on the Bill. No decision has yet been reached on how that can best be brought about.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the first anniversary of the appalling tragedy of Lockerbie approaches. Does he agree that next week would be an appropriate time to have a debate not just to establish the latest developments of the investigation into Lockerbie but to congratulate the Government on the appointment of Air Vice Marshal David Brook as the Government's first national emergency adviser, and give Back-Bench Members an opportunity to press for a freephone 0800 landline number for national emergencies so that families of victims can get information from one centralised point?

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Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend will find an opportunity of raising those matters when the House debates the Second Reading of the Aviation and Maritime Security Bill on 10 January, shortly after we return.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : I recognise that the Leader of the House is anxious to improve the way in which the House conducts its planning of business. Can he tell us at this stage when the House will take its Easter recess?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : After some discussion, I can help the hon. Gentleman to some extent. We hope that the House will be able to rise for the Easter recess in the week ending Friday 6 April, rather than the following week. I hope that hon Members will be able to make their arrangements on that basis. We should then return at some stage in Easter week itself.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The House knows that we have another important statement this afternoon. There will be an opportunity to ask questions on the Christmas Adjournment, so I shall allow business questions to continue for a further five minutes--[ Hon Members :-- "Oh!"] Order. We have a heavy day ahead of us--.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend do his utmost to ensure that we have a full debate on Europe as soon as possible, especially so that the attitude and policy of the Opposition can be clarified? If the Opposition are wholeheartedly in favour of Delors 2 and 3, they should state so unequivocally so that people know where they stand. But if they are not wholeheartedly in favour, they should stop sniping at the British Government for not rushing headlong into economic and monetary union.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand my hon. Friend's desire to secure some clarification of the Opposition's attitude to this and to many other questions. However, I am afraid that I cannot offer him as many opportunities as his question deserves.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Will the Leader of the House soon be in a position to tell us that the next time the House considers legislation affecting Northern Ireland, it will be in the form of a Bill, not an Order in Council? Will he bear in mind the fact that yesterday evening we were given three hours to consider the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order whereas the similar Act for England had a Second Reading, 200 hours in Committee and four days on Report? Democracy is not really being applied to Northern Ireland.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the hon. Gentleman's tenacity in returning to this question, as he and his colleagues have on a number of occasions, but I cannot offer him any generally acceptable response at present.

Mr. James Cran (Beverley) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider holding another debate next week on the 1990 European Communities budget to supplement the charade this week, when we had a one-and-a-half- hour debate, of which 45 minutes was taken up by Front-Bench spokesmen and only 45 minutes was left for Back-Bench members to discuss 29 budgetary items and a considerable amount of expenditure? Does he agree that a supplementary debate is required if our constituents are not wholly to misunderstand what this House is about?

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Sir Geoffrey Howe : Although I cannot promise my hon. Friend the debate that he wants, I understand his point and will reflect upon it with my right hon. Friends in relation to the future management of similar questions.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Will the Leader of the House assure the House that there will be a statement next week on educational capital expenditure? A planted written question is not good enough, bearing in mind the fact that in a city such as Bradford there are 600 temporary classrooms and the average allocation for each year is equivalent to that for the single city technology college which is entirely irrelevant and superfluous to Bradford's needs? I advise the right hon. and learned Gentleman that several schools in my constituency and elsewhere are in desperate need of permanent extensions and that the temporary classrooms are so badly in need of repair that they are having to be replaced. Should we not have a statement in the House so that we can raise these issues and press the relevant Minister on them?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman an assurance that there will be a statement on that topic in the week ahead. However, he can reflect on the fact that expenditure on education is running at a higher level per head than at any time in history.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : Would it be possible on Tuesday to debate, first, the implications of the boat people policy for Britain's relations with Vietnam in terms of diplomacy, trade and economic development and, secondly, to expose the hypocrisy on this subject of people and organisations who, 20 years ago, campaigned in the streets and campuses of this country for a Communist victory in Vietnam?

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