Monday-- 15 January----Second Reading of the Environmental Protection Bill.
Tuesday-- 16 January----Remaining stages of the Coal Industry Bill. Wednesday-- 17 January----Until seven o'clock, there will be a debate on parliamentary pensions on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Committee and remaining stages of the Pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.
Thursday-- 18 January----Motions on English revenue support grant reports. Details will be given in the Official Report .
Friday-- 19 January----Private Members' motions.
Monday-- 22 January----Second Reading of the Social Security Bill. [Debate on Thursday 18 January 1990
Relevant documents :
Population Report (England) (HC 48) ;
Revenue Support Grant Report (England) 1990-91 (HC 47) ; Revenue Support Grant Distribution Report (England) (HC 49) ; Revenue Support Grant Transition Report (England) (HC 50) ; Special Grant Report (HC 51).]
Dr. Cunningham : Given the continuing economic difficulties and the problems being caused to people by crisis mortgage and other interest rates and inflation, when are we likely to have the two separate debates on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Autumn Statement and the public expenditure White Paper? I am sure that both Conservative and Opposition Members are anxious to have an opportunity to debate the continuing failure of the Government's economic policies. Will the Leader of the House explain why, in a complete break with all precedents and practice, the revenue support grant decisions of the Secretary of State for the Environment will be announced today in a written reply? According to precedent, the Secretary of State has always come to the House to make an oral statement about rate support grant decisions affecting every local authority in England and Wales, but that will not be done on this occasion. Is that because the Government and Ministers are terrified of disclosing the implications of the poll tax and the new national business tax on constituencies, local authorities and individuals throughout Britain?
It is unacceptable for the Secretary of State for the Environment to dodge his responsibility to the House of Commons in this way. After all, his decision will have a major effect on the level of the poll tax and the business tax. The House should have the opportunity to question him on the matter, particularly as this is the first year in which we and our constituents shall have to endure the poll tax.
Column 1090Since the Prime Minister has now made it clear that the Government are effectively operating a pay policy in the public sector, will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on that important matter, so that we can raise questions on behalf of our constituents who are suffering so grievously because of inflation, imminent rises in rents, the poll tax and mortgage rates? They should have a clear statement from the Secretary of State for Employment about exactly what that pay policy means.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Obviously, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a precise date for the debate on the Autumn Statement, but I hope that it will be possible to announce it in my next business statement. I shall also be looking for an early opportunity for a debate on the public expenditure White Paper.
On each of those occasions, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be able, willing and delighted to present to the House the economic policy that has served Britain so successfully throughout the past 10 years. He will make it entirely plain that there is no question of a prices and incomes policy of the kind so frequently beloved by Labour Governments. But he will make it equally plain that we shall continue to sustain firm monetary and fiscal policies, and that a crucial part of any sensible economic policy is restraint by those responsible for pay bargaining for the sake of the employment of their own members as well as other people. It is as a result of success in that respect that Britain has been able to achieve a faster and more prolonged reduction in unemployment than any other European country in recent years.
The orders in relation to local government will be the subject of a debate next Thursday. I shall be tabling motions which will enable the debate to run until 10 o'clock and questions on the orders to be put thereafter. The matter is being brought before the House on an entirely new basis. There is no question of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment being terrified of presenting the case to the House. He will be delighted once again to present and justify his conclusions in the debate that will take place next Thursday.
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the course taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on the revenue support grant is a thoroughly sensible one and a wise change in the procedure? Hitherto, we have always had the figures flung at us, hon. Members have had no opportunity to discuss them and, in those circumstances, the exchanges have been a farce. It is far better to have the figures before us, allow a week to study them, and then have a proper debate, as we shall do.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend puts his finger on the most sensible aspect of the arrangements that are being set in hand. In addition, the figures are now being made available promptly, with a view to a prompt debate within a week of their being published.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : In the light of the statement made shortly before Christmas by the Secretary of State for Transport on the railway industry, and the speech recently delivered by Sir Robert Reid on the need for more investment in the railways, would it not
Column 1091be timely to have a debate on the future of our railways, particularly the ways in which Scotland, Wales and the regions of England can benefit from the Channel link?
It was clear during questions to the Prime Minister and from the question asked by the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) that there is great concern about the interest in the uniform business rate. When the legislation was going through, I and my hon. Friends warned of the damage that would be done by linking the uniform business rate with revaluation. It gives me no satisfaction to say, "I told you so, " and it is even less satisfying for many small businesses that will have to pay vastly increased sums in rates. Is it not time that we had a debate?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot offer any undertaking of a debate in respect of that matter, but it will certainly be noted--I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be prepared to acknowledge this--that the most significant effect of the way in which the uniform business rate will operate will be a substantial transfer of benefit to those in manufacturing industry and in the northern parts of the country principally, as has been advocated by hon. Members on both sides of the House as an entirely desirable state of affairs. On transport, the important feature is that the recent speech made by Sir Robert Reid endorses and acknowledges the fact that British Rail investment is currently running at the highest level for 25 years and that the Government have endorsed British Rail's investment programme of £3.7 billion over the next three years. That is a 75 per cent. increase over the level of the three preceding years.
Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, while some right hon. and hon. Members are undoubtedly growing older and deafer, the acoustics in this Chamber are without question getting considerably worse? Consequently, Ministers have some difficulty in being heard by you, Mr. Speaker, and by other right hon. and hon. Members. As there has been a definite deterioration, will my right hon. and learned Friend refer the matter to the appropriate Committee or authority next week, or give the matter some consideration himself?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not sure that there has been any measurable deterioration in the acoustics of the Chamber--[ Hon. Members :-- "Pardon?"] However, a large number of right hon. and hon. Members have drawn that matter to my attention, as they drew it to your attention, Mr. Speaker, yesterday. Our advice is that any problems are due to the substantial antiquity of the existing microphones. When the televising experiment was authorised, it was agreed that the existing acoustic equipment should be used, but the Select Committee on the Televising of Proceedings of the House, over which I preside, is seized of the problem and will be studying what should be done to modernise the acoustic equipment in line with television broadcasting, whether or not that continues.
Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Is the Leader of the House aware that, earlier today, the Secretary of State for Health stated that he did not propose giving any further money to Tranx, which is the major national agency for helping people who are addicted to tranquillisers, saying that he will finance only local groups? As no local groups exist in many areas of Britain, where
Column 1092Tranx has filled those gaps, many thousands of people who are desperately addicted to tranquillisers will receive no help in future. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman arrange a debate on that matter next week?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not familiar with that particular aspect of the subject, but I shall certainly bring it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health, for him to consider.
Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley) : Bearing in mind the fact that car workers in Britain are not fully subject to market forces because of the effect of the so-called gentlemen's agreement to limit certain car imports, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that now would be a good time to debate that agreement, with a view to abandoning that pernicious and damaging piece of protectionism?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is undoubtedly right in identifying that agreement as one that has some protectionist effect on conditions in the car industry. I cannot yet say whether or not we shall have a debate on that matter in the near future.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that he will stop disrupting the proceedings and business of the House by bringing forward unannounced motions giving draconian powers to Committee Chairs? The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have noted the considerable concern expressed by many right hon. and hon. Members on that matter on Tuesday. I wish that they had expressed similar concern when the matter was before the House last year. Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that, if such motions are to be brought forward, adequate notice will be provided so that they can be properly debated?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Such motions must be brought forward without notice, as they have been in the past, in response to hooliganism of which no notice whatsoever is given. That is the reason for the procedure that was adopted early last year. You, Mr. Speaker, voiced some sympathy with the view expressed in the House on Tuesday that the Procedure Committee should consider whether powers ought to be given to the Chairmen of Standing Committees to take action, rather than interrupting the proceedings of the House. I entirely sympathise with that view, and I hope that the Procedure Committee will consider that matter.
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for an early debate on privilege and the proceedings of this House, particularly in the light of the exhibition by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) on Tuesday? It would seem that we can either retain our existing privileges or live transmission of the proceedings of this House, but not both.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am sure that the whole House will, or should, support my hon. Friend's view that the privileges of the House are not to be abused as he complains that they have been. It is my expectation still that the availability of television is more likely to expose irresponsibility and hooliganism and lead to public criticism of them than to do the reverse.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider the reply that he gave to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) about a debate on railways? In particular, may we have a debate on the future of the Channel tunnel? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that five workers on the British side and one on the French side have already been killed in the construction work? It is clear that, with the new financial arrangements that have just been made, there will be cost-cutting on a huge scale, which could mean greater danger for the workers involved. There could be a slippage of safety and health regulations as they relate to those workers. Is it not important that we should concern ourselves with the health and safety of workers building the tunnel, and should we not have an early debate on the subject?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not sure that that subject would itself justify an early debate, given the timetable of the House in general, but the whole House will agree with the hon. Gentleman that the necessary expeditious completion of work on the Channel tunnel must at all times be accompanied by proper and continuing attention to the health and safety of the workers involved.
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that this month we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill? Do the Government have any plans to mark the occasion? Would it not be an admirable idea to rename Parliament square "Churchill square" in his honour?
characteristically attractive suggestion, although I am not sure that it would command long-term universal assent.
Mr. Banks : Is the Leader of the House aware of the revulsion at the continued slaughter by the Japanese of minke whales in the Antarctic and will he arrange for an early debate on the subject? If he cannot do that, will he tell the Prime Minister of the deep concern in the House and elsewhere and ask her to ensure that the Prime Minister of Japan is left in no uncertain mind as to how we feel?
Will the Leader of the House also ensure that, when the Foreign Secretary goes to Hong Kong at the weekend, he will not enter a reservation on behalf of Hong Kong allowing 670 tonnes of elephant ivory to be put on the world market? These are important matters which the House ought to have a chance to debate.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman is by no means the only hon. Member to have expressed continuing concern about both these matters, and I fully understand why. I cannot now, however, make any kind of
Column 1094undertaking on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary concerning the position that he will adopt on ivory when he visits Hong Kong in the days ahead. No doubt the matter can be discussed in the House at a later opportunity. I join the hon. Gentleman in regretting the decision of Japan to continue catching whales. He will know that we co-sponsored a resolution at the meeting in June last year calling on Japan to reconsider its original proposal to take 400 minke whales this season. We share the hon. Gentleman's regret that Japan decided to proceed, albeit with a lower catch.
Dame Elaine Kellet-Bowman (Lancaster) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for the House to discuss the appalling burden that the Labour group on Lancashire county council proposes to impose on the citizens of Lancashire so that Lancashire Members may point out to their colleagues that the predicted increases in spending since last September alone amount to 15.6 per cent., and that reserves have been reduced almost to zero?
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the poll tax to enable the Government to confirm that they propose to exempt young people aged between 18 and 20 who are at school or in further education? The Government could even do something popular for a change by exempting all students in higher and further education from the poll tax, now more widely known as the Tory tax.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : I am sure you will agree, Mr. Speaker, that my right hon. and learned Friend is a splendid democrat--one of the best. He is well aware of the fact that there is deep unease among the public about the Government's proposal to allow mass immigration from Hong Kong. I ask him to postpone bringing the measure before the House. Will he join me in asking all members of the public who are concerned about the issue to write to their Member of Parliament so that the House will be promptly aware of public concern? My constituents--
Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East) : May we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary, prior to any further involuntary repatriation of the Vietnamese boat people, on the legal advice that is available to them when they represent their cases before they are repatriated? May we also have a statement on the situation in Hong Kong, where the Government appear to be setting up concentration camps to avoid the vigilance of the media?
Column 1095Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's perception of the matter is far adrift from the facts. The only way to deal with the large number of people who have come into Hong Kong from Vietnam in the past few years is by accommodating them in camps that are as comfortable as they can be in the circumstances. Further measures for handling those people will be considered at the third meeting of the international conference's steering committee when it resumes on 18 and 19 January. We are seeking an international agreement on the implementation of the principle that all non-refugees should return to Vietnam. There is some encouraging evidence, which is important, that the United States is beginning to show a greater understanding of our position.
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : While my right hon. and learned Friend has been reacting sympathetically towards debates on domestic issues, will he not lose sight of the fact that a lot is happening in the rest of the world? The praiseworthy tendency to have more foreign affairs debates in good time ought to be continued enthusiastically in the coming months.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. and learned Friend has been a consistent advocate of that understandably attractive course. The fact that I have been able to implement it thus far does not necessarily mean that I shall be able to keep up the same tempo, but I shall bear his interest in mind.
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : Can we please have a debate on the situation of the Vietnamese boat people while they await whatever fate it may be? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that people are being kept in conditions that are as comfortable as possible. I visited the camps two weeks ago, as I have done on other occasions, and I was shocked. They are not concentration camps in the sense that people are hungry or cold, but they are places where people are kept behind barbed wire, living on shelves four or five high, up to the ceiling, with open sewers. Surely at least the sewers should be closed off.
Mr. Janner : May we please have a debate on the details the camps in which people are being kept, as they are not comfortable, not clean, not pleasant and not human, and it is not right for us to have any part of them? Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. and learned Gentleman compactly and eloquently expresses precisely the case for trying to ensure that the number of people in the camps does not increase, and that is an ample justification for the Government's policy.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) : Pursuant to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that there is as much time as possible during next Thursday's debate for Back-Bench contributions from Lancashire so that my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell), my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) and I may draw the scrutiny of the House to Lancashire county council's proposal to increase spending to a degree equivalent to a 31.4 per cent. increase on the rates?
Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South) : When the Government presented their proposals on community care and then combined them with others to produce the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, they failed to provide a braille version. Given the Government's repeated undertakings in the House on their commitment to the disabled, will the Leader of the House make a statement next week confirming that, in future, all Government publications will be produced simultaneously in braille, so that disabled people can gain some knowledge of legislation that affects their lives?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Of course the whole House sympathises with people who are afllicted in a way that requires them to use braille as a means of obtaining access to information. I cannot give the undertaking for which the hon. Lady asks in precisely the form that she requires, but I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : I share the concern of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) about the renewed attacks on minke whales in the Antarctic by the Japanese Government, and thank the Leader of the House for his sympathetic answer to the hon. Gentleman. As he did not concede the necessity for an early debate, however, will he think about the matter once more? The Japanese Prime Minister is currently visiting London, will see our Prime Minister tomorrow and would, I am sure, be impressed--along with his nation--by the condemnation that the whole House would certainly express.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend will, I think, appreciate that I cannot arrange a debate before tomorrow's Japanese visit, but I can reaffirm what I said in answer to the earlier question : the view of Her Majesty's Government--widely supported, I am sure, on both sides of the House--is that the resumption of fishing for the minke whale is supremely to be regretted.
Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley) : The Leader of the House will be aware that the chairman of British Telecom has pronounced publicly that the sleazy telephone service that the Director General of Oftel has so patently failed to control is a "blight on the industry". Is it not time that the matter was brought back to the House, so that we can legislate to deal with it? That is what the chairman of British Telecom wants, what the Director General of Oftel wants and what respectable people in the industry want ; why do the Government not want it?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not wish to anticipate to any extent the reply that the hon. Gentleman is likely to receive to the Adjournment debate on the subject that he has been fortunate enough to secure for next week.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East) : Although the introduction of credit controls would be impracticable and almost certainly counter- productive, is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the widespread concern on both sides of the House about the highly irresponsible attitude of all the clearing banks, and many other financial
Column 1097institutions, that have solicited business- -quite unnecessarily--from our constituents, often young people? We are anxious to arrange a debate so that we can make it clear to the banks that their attitude is discreditable and should cease forthwith.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I know that my hon. Friend is not alone in his view, which has been expressed in the House on other occasions. He may have an opportunity to express it more fully in the economic debates that we hope to have in the weeks ahead.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Before we discuss the next Social Security Bill, will the Leader of the House make time for us to discuss the effects of the regulation introduced on 10 December? In practical terms, that regulation means that any short-time worker earning £43 a week or more is no longer entitled to unemployment benefit. Is the Leader of the House aware that more than 9,000 textile and clothing workers are now on short time, and that their incomes have, at best, been effectively halved?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot comment on the detail of the hon. Lady's question, but, as she implies, it may be possible for her to raise the matter in the debate on the forthcoming Social Security Bill.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : My right hon. and learned Friend knows of the anxiety on both sides of the House about the scrutiny of European legislation. Will he be good enough to arrange for a debate to be held as soon as possible on the Procedure Committee's report on the subject? It would allay many concerns as we move towards the intergovernmental conference and all that goes with it.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I know of my hon. Friend's continuing interest in the subject. It was the subject of an important report from the Procedure Committee. We shall want to have a debate upon it, in one form or another, before too long.
Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : To revert to the question of audibility, of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to be aware, is it not clear that more and more hon. Members are finding it difficult to follow the proceedings? That is not primarily due to the noisy brigade, led by--oh, he has absented himself ; he usually sits on my right. Is it not an odd coincidence that this should have arisen after the introduction of all the technical equipment for television transmissions? Is it not more important that hon. Members should be able to hear what is going on in the Chamber rather than that television companies should be allowed to exclude extraneous sounds picked up on these mikes, which is what has happened?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : But he speaks on that matter only for himself at the moment. In so far as the House wishes to have now, or on a continuing basis in the future, television coverage of the House, we want it to be effective. We also want to have the effective transmission of sound to each other--
Sir Geoffrey Howe : --as well as to the outside world. The Broadcasting Committee is well aware of both those matters. Our awareness will be fortified by the hon. Gentleman's continuing interest in the subject.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : My right hon. and learned Friend has placed on the Order Paper four motions that constitute a major erosion of Back-Bench rights. In particular, he has decided that ten-minute Bills-- the only means available to Back Benchers through initiative rather than lottery--should become the subject of the lottery. He has also proposed to curtail certain Back-Bench activities on Friday mornings and the subjects that Back Benchers can raise on Friday mornings by means of private Members' motions. What consultations has my right hon. and learned Friend held with Back Benchers? Is he aware of the substantial feeling about these motions in all quarters of the House? Before they come formally before the House, will he please consult Back Benchers, who hold strong feelings about the issue?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Obviously, these motions have not appeared on the Order Paper without consideration and discussion. Some of them have been considered by the Procedure Committee. However, in deciding how best to handle these matters in future, I shall take account of my hon. Friend's points.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston) : Is the Leader of the House aware of the widespread concern about the decline of the British merchant fleet? It appears to most people that the Government are constantly fudging the issue. There is recent evidence that certain companies have had to use vessels that are unsuitable for the trade because of the paucity of British merchant ships. Is it not time that the Government took this matter on board and held a debate--if not next week, as soon as possible?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The subject has been a matter of concern to successive Governments, not only in this country but in other countries, for a number of years, and has led to a series of investigations and reports. I shall take account of the fact that the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to it today and will bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : Given that we should practise what we preach, will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a short debate on the way in which paper is used and abused in the Chamber, both from the point of view of the litter that is left around at the end of the day, which must look terrible to television viewers, and because we are making no effort to use recycled paper? Most of our scribbling is done on the most expensive quality paper. Most civil servants' letters drag on to two sheets of paper, but the second page could easily by typed on the back of the first. Could we have a short debate on the subject, so as to bring it home to all of us?
Column 1099Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend raises a matter which is of increasingly widespread interest among hon. Members. A number of hon. Members have raised the matter with me in different forms. I shall take account of my hon. Friend's enthusiasm.
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton) : If the Leader of the House is to ask the Procedure Committee to look at the powers of Chairmen of Standing Committees, can we be assured that he will ask members of the Chairmen's Panel for their views, as I can assure him that at least one member is not happy about that power being granted to him in the Chair?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I take note of the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. I doubt whether there is likely to be unanimity, as there are not many matters that command unanimity, but I shall certainly bring it to the attention of the Chairman of the Procedure Committee.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend give deep and serious consideration to an early debate on the powers of Chairmen of Standing Committees, in view of events this week after my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) had made a personal statement on 19 December? "Erskine May" makes it quite clear on page 389 that,
"Where one Member makes an allegation against another Member, he is required to do so in writing to the Registrar, who refers the allegation to the Committee and informs the Member concerned." My right hon. and learned Friend will realise that all the problems in the House and in Committee were the result of the failure to comply with "Erskine May". We now require an early opportunity to do something about it. If we cannot have a debate, can the matter be referred to the Procedure Committee as soon as possible?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the points raised by my hon. Friend and I have no doubt that they will be considered by the Procedure Committee when it considers the proposals that result from the conduct about which he understandably complains.