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Business of the House

3.31 pm

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : May I ask the Leader of the House to tell us the business for next week?

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 22 January----Second Reading of the Social Security Bill. Tuesday 23 January----There will be a debate on a motion to approve the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Autumn Statement.

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

Wednesday 24 January----Opposition Day (3rd Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate entitled "The Failure of the Government's Schools Policies". Afterwards there will be a debate entitled "The Problems and Needs of Disabled People". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Motions on Welsh revenue support grant reports. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Thursday 25 January----Motions on Scottish housing support grant orders and revenue support grant reports. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motions to take note of EC document on shipping and dangerous goods and on merchant shipping regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report.

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

Friday 26 January----Private Members' Bills.

Monday 29 January----Second Reading of the Employment Bill. [Relevant documents :

Wednesday 24 January 1990 :

Welsh Revenue Support Grant Report 1990-91 (HC 53)

Welsh Revenue Support Grant Distribution Report(HC 54)

Welsh Non-Domestic Rating (County Share and DistrictShare) Report (HC 55)

Distribution of Non-Domestic Rates (Relevant Population)Report for Wales (HC 56)

Thursday 25 January 1990

(1) Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order

Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order

Housing Revenue Account General Fund ContributionLimits (Scotland) Order Opposition Prayer(EDM 241)

Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1989

Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1990

(2) Relevant European Community Document

7074/89 Shipping (Dangerous Cargoes)

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee

HC 15-xxix (1988-89), para 1

Negative Instruments

Merchant Shipping (Distress Signals and Prevention ofCollision Regulations) Opposition Prayer (EDM 276)

Merchant Shipping (Accident Investigation Regulations)

Opposition Prayer (EDM 277)]

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Dr. Cunningham : I thank the Leader of the House for arranging for us to have the opportunity to discuss the important Scottish housing support grant measures at a reasonable time next Thursday afternoon. I ask him to ensure that that good work is not undone by making it clear that the Government will not make any statements next Thursday, thus pushing that business into Thursday evening.

Is it yet possible for the Leader of the House to tell us when the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to introduce his Budget? It would be greatly for the convenience of all hon. Members if we could have an early decision on that date. I am sure that the fixing of the date will not be unconnected with the pending by-election in Mid-Staffordshire.

When will we have an opportunity to debate the Government's public expenditure White Paper? Given the complete inadequacy of the important finance provisions in that White Paper, the House should have the opportunity soon to debate them.

I am sure that hon. Members of all parties welcome the Prime Minister's belated recognition that, after a decade of her Administrations, lone parent families face serious financial difficulties. The Opposition will also welcome and support measures to ensure that absent fathers make proper, responsible contributions, as they should, to the maintenance of their children. However, is not the plight of lone-parent families, especially women with children, made much worse by the persistent policies of the Government of freezing child benefit, undermining the availability of housing benefit and forcing up mortgage rates to impossible levels, which affects especially women who are unable to go out to work? Given all those important problems which are faced by lone parents--the overwhelming number of whom are women--will the Leader of the House find an early opportunity, in Government time, to debate those important matters?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : On the latter matter, the hon. Gentleman should recall that the Government's policies have been designed to raise the total economic prosperity of the country and to ensure that the resources that are generated by prosperity go increasingly to those whose needs are greatest, including those to whom the hon. Gentleman refers. If the matter is as serious as he makes it appear, I am surprised that he has not chosen the topic for debate on the Opposition day next week.

I shall do my best to ensure that next Thursday, when we debate the Scottish orders, we avoid making a statement that is likely to curtail that time. The fact that it happens to be Burns night allows me, I hope, to add that

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men

Gang aft a-gley."

I have taken the precaution of ensuring that the Welsh orders are debated on the preceding day.

I shall bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the request for information about the date of the Budget. I have it in mind to arrange a debate on the public expenditure White Paper in the relatively near future. The matter can be discussed through the usual channels.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I remind the House that we have an important debate today. Even if I had the authority to

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limit speeches to five minutes, I regret that many hon. Members would not be called. I ask hon. Members, especially those seeking to participate in the debate, to hold their business questions for another time.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant) : My right hon. and learned Friend has doubtless noticed, as I did only this morning, a most deplorable practice which has become associated with the current industrial dispute. I am referring to the practice of using public property--that is, ambulances-- for the propaganda purposes of one side in the dispute. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure us that we shall have an early opportunity to debate the question and that, preferably, we shall have a statement from our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As my hon. Friend realises, we had a debate on the general topic only last Thursday. That is all the more reason why I should bring that particular point to the notice of my right hon. and learned Friend, which I shall do.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I am sure that the Leader of the House has had an opportunity to consider the speeches yesterday by the President of the European Commission and by the Chancellor of the Federal German Republic. Will he give the House an opportunity to debate those speeches, which were visionary about the future development of western Europe and which stretched out a positive hand towards the developing democracies in eastern Europe? The Leader of the House quoted from Burns poem "To a Mouse". Will he go to the other end of the animal kingdom and consider the plight of the endangered African elephant and the Government's decision to open up the market for ivory trades in Hong Kong? As that is believed to put into further jeopardy that already endangered species, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman arrange for the Prime Minister to come to the House, as it seems that she made that ill- considered decision?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot tackle at business questions all the foreign policy questions raised by the hon. Gentleman. One is always looking for an opportunity for a general foreign affairs debate. The hon. Gentleman asked about Hong Kong ivory. He must understand that Hong Kong has already imposed a total ban on imports of ivory. It has an existing 600 -tonne stock of legally acquired ivory. It is in respect of that that the reservation has been entered, and it will be withdrawn after six months.

Mr. Speaker : May I draw the attention of the House to the statement that I made before Christmas to the effect that hon. Members should ask one business question rather than a series?

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : Is the Leader of the House aware that the Labour party has become a receiver of stolen or leaked documents? Will he arrange for an early debate so that we may discuss whether the Opposition should be allowed to use the facilities of the House to utilise the contents of those stolen or leaked documents?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I shall need to investigate my hon. Friend's allegation before I can decide how quickly we can have a debate on that.

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Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : Has the Leader of the House seen reports to the effect that Manchester's Wythenshawe hospital, unable to afford their running costs, now has to rent its facilities for open-heart surgery to health authorities in other parts of the country? Patients from elsewhere are treated in Wythenshawe hospital while local patients suffering severe heart attacks and other cardiac emergencies have to wait. Is not that a scandal, and can we have a statement next week from the responsible Minister? Who can now say that accountants are not more important than consultants in today's Health Service?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The right hon. Gentleman will understand that that kind of difficulty is characterised by the description "the efficiency trap". That is one of the matters that the National Health Service reforms are calculated to remedy.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood) : Has my right hon. and learned Friend had an opportunity to consider the terms of early-day motion 312 concerning the proposed closure of the Armitage Shanks Tubal works in Barrhead?

[That this House notes that a delegation from Renfrew District Council, union officials and shop stewards from the Armitage Shanks Tubal Works, Barrhead, met the Scottish Industry Minister, the honourable Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, on 14th December 1989 to discuss the proposed closure of the Tubal Works and the associated redundancies ; fully supports the Minister of State's subsequent request to Blue Circle Industries plc., the owners of Armitage Shanks, that the redundancies be deferred to allow a wide ranging feasibility study of constructive alternatives ; endorses the terms of reference of the study as proposed by Renfrew District Council ; deplores the negative response given so far to these proposals by Blue Circle Industries ; and urges Blue Circle Industries plc now to take a constructive and truthful approach to the future of employment at Barrhead.]

Is it not deplorable that the owner of the factory, Blue Circle Industries, has been so negative about the universally supported suggestion, endorsed by the Government, that the redundancies should be deferred to allow a wide -ranging feasibility study of constructive alternatives? Does my right hon. and learned Friend hold out any hope of a debate in prime time in the near future in which the wide-ranging questions that arise from the proposals can be discussed in the House?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot offer the immediate prospect of a debate, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are concerned about the case. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Scottish Office has written to the company asking for the planned redundancies to be delayed pending the results of the new feasibility study. It is for Armitage Shanks to decide on a proper course of action. It is encouraging that the company has committed the sum of £1.7 million to immediate investment in the ceramics side of the Barrhead investment, and I hope that in time that will lead to fresh employment opportunities.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : Will the Leader of the House assure us that a statement will be made next week concerning the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Lord Dervaird from the Bench at the Court of Session? Is he aware that the matter gives rise to important points of principle concerning civil liberties and

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the legal process in Scotland? The civil liberties issue--as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware--is whether a person who is a practising homosexual within the law should be protected in his office of employment. If that was not the case with Lord Dervaird, we are entitled to a statement on the reason for his resignation. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman further aware that the advice given by the Lord Advocate to Lord President Hope, it appears that he has dragged Lord President Hope from a judgmental position to an inquisitorial position that should have been adopted by the Lord Advocate, the Crown Office and the procurator fiscal. Important questions of principle will have to be raised and answered, and it would be far better for the Government to come clean now than for people to believe that there has been a cover-up.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have nothing but contempt for the way in which the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter. The conduct of Scottish judges is entirely and properly a matter for the Lord President of the Court of Session and not for any member of the Government. The House knows that Lord Dervaird resigned last month for personal reasons. The reasons for his resignation are entirely a matter for him.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will enjoy his Burns supper in the Cafeteria, but will he bear in mind that the majority of Scots Members would rather be enjoying that and St. Andrew's night with their constituents, so will he try to keep those two nights of the year clear of Scottish business?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I admire and respect my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the proper celebration of matters Scottish, but if the House proceeds to consider the matters expeditiously, there should be time enough for celebrations as well.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : May I raise a subject that I know is very unpopular with some hon. Members? Is the Leader of the House aware that, notwithstanding the splendid work of hospitals and hospices, the right to die of people in chronic and incurable pain is now increasingly discussed in public and it should be discussed in the House of Commons? May we debate this issue as soon as possible, preferably next week, so that hon. Members with views on both sides of this highly controversial subject can express their views in Parliament?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : It is not a matter on which the Government have any plans for debate in the House. The right hon. Gentleman is experienced enough in the business of the House to know that there are many other opportunities that he may take to bring this matter before the House.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that even those of us who hold the Federal Republic of Germany in affection and respect have been disconcerted to read the reported remarks of Chancellor Kohl recently in which he said that German territorial ambitions on Poland still exist? Is that

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not the most foolhardy thing to say, even if it was for domestic consumption, at a time when events in central Europe are so fluid and flexible? May we have a debate on central and eastern Europe as the other place had recently?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : On the matter that is for me to answer--the possibility of a debate on that topic--we had an extensive debate on eastern Europe not many weeks ago. It is a matter of continuing importance, and I shall bear in mind the possibility of another opportunity.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : May we expect a statement next week on whether the Government have sought clarification from the Government of the Irish Republic about all the circumstances surrounding the shooting of a citizen of the United Kingdom by the Irish police during a bank robbery in county Kildare last Friday? Given that it now appears that the police opened fire first and that all the persons wounded were hit by police bullets, will the Government raise this matter through the Anglo- Irish Conference? Will the Government demand a full investigation by the Irish police, followed by a judicial inquiry, to establish whether unnecessary force was used and will a further statement be made to the House once the investigations are completed and the report is to hand?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot promise the prospect of a statement on that matter, but I can promise that I shall bring the point raised by the hon. Gentleman to the specific attention of my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : Can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment use his Question Time next Wednesday--a question has been tabled to him--to announce that he is appointing an inquiry to look into all the aspects of the pollution of Rutland water last summer, which led to the deaths of significant numbers of dogs and sheep and about which there is still grave public concern because it is far from clear that a wide-ranging inquiry into all the circumstances, if necessary apportioning blame, is now taking place?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As my hon. Friend will have observed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment appeared to be taking an alert and proper interest in his question. I shall remind him of it at the end of a triumphant day's debate.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : May I bring the Leader of the House back to the matter of the deplorable decision by the British Government to allow Hong Kong to dispose of 600 tonnes of elephant ivory in the Crown colony? Is he aware that possibly up to 90 per cent. of that ivory, which he previously described as "legal", was illegally obtained in the first instance, coming from the poaching of African elephants?

Will the Leader of the House please consider this matter carefully? He said last week that we could have the opportunity of a debate, so will he let us have that debate so that we can explain to the Foreign Secretary that he got it completely wrong and that he should not have allowed political considerations to overwhelm the expert information that he has received from the various animal conservation groups and, indeed, from the Department of the Environment itself?

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Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am aware of the seriousness with which the hon. Member addresses himself to that topic. He could perhaps contrive to have a debate on it, perhaps on the Adjournment. On the substance of the matter, both Hong Kong and the United Kingdom are committed to the conservation of the African elephant and to the CITES agreement. The ivory stock has already been imported. There is a total ban on further imports into Hong Kong.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : As my hon. and learned Friend knows, nationalised industries are responsible to the House through the appropriate Secretary of State. British Rail is engaged in acquiring large numbers of houses. Not only the people who sell or hope to sell to British Rail but those who live next door to houses that have already been acquired have a growing interest in the criteria being used, the numbers acquired and what British Rail intends to do with houses that it has acquired. May we have an early debate on the matter before the process, which is taking a long time, is completed?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I know that the acquisition of property of this kind raises sensitive questions for the ordinary citizen. I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate on the matter, but I shall remind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport of my hon. Friend's interest in it.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : As a former and, indeed, famous Solicitor-General, does the Leader of the House appreciate how rare it has become for a Law Officer to attend a Standing Committee? This morning the Solicitor-General attended the complex proceedings of the Standing Committee on the Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Bill and was most courteous and generous. Understandably, he had to take away with him many questions put to him. Is it right on so complex a Bill that in its second session the Committee sat until 7.30 pm, whereas in its third and fourth sessions, two weeks after it was announced, the Committee sat until after 10 pm, even though there had been no filibustering? Is that sensible from the point of view of the legislative process?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : From the point of view of the legislative process, it is sensible for the Standing Committee to determine and sit for whatever hours are reasonably necessary to complete its business. I cannot say more about the matter within the rules of the House.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his tribute to my ancient record of service as Solicitor-General and for his tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend. My own recollection confirms his point. During my service as Solicitor-General I was summoned to a Standing Committee only once. It was rare for a Law Officer to be summoned, and it remains rare. The hon. Gentleman will have more than excellent service from my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : When will the Second Reading of the Caldey Island Bill, which was cancelled on Tuesday, take place so that 36 of my constituents can be re-enfranchised?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend knows more about Caldey Island than I do. Second Reading had to be postponed because of the petition against it. I cannot give an express undertaking about when the Bill will come before the House again.

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Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : Is the Leader of the House aware of the scandalous position which pertains to coroners' inquests in the north of Ireland? It is so bad that an inquest has not yet been held into one incident which happened in 1976. In my constituency, two incidents which occurred eight years ago have still not been the subject of an inquest. The Attorney-General has made a disquieting appeal against a decision of the Appeal Court in the North of Ireland. If it is successful, it will perpetuate that scandal. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the rules for coroners' inquests so that we can have rules similar to those which apply in England and Wales?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : It would not be proper for me to comment on the relationship between the judicial proceedings to which the hon. Gentleman referred and the substantive matter that he raised. I shall bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney- General and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : My right hon. and learned Friend will not be surprised to hear that I support my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) in his comments about Burns night. I imagine that my right hon. and learned Friend consulted and was advised by the usual channels in selecting the business for next Thursday, but was he made aware that we would also be discussing Scottish business in Committee on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill? There seems to be a determination through the usual channels to keep all the Scots away from Burns suppers.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I would not want to impute such an unworthy motive to any of my right hon. Friends. Scottish business in the House should be concluded by 7 pm, so there may be some time for celebration thereafter.

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen) : Is the Leader of the House aware that Trafalgar House is proposing to close one of its subsidiaries in my constituency, Redpath Dorman and Long, a steel fabrication firm that has been there for more than 60 years? Trafalgar House has said that that factory is not viable. In response, the work force has asked for access to the books to enable it to formulate a constructive alternative to closure. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement to the House next week addressing the issue of work forces' access to information?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is necessarily the right target for the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, but I shall see that it is brought to the attention of my appropriate right hon. Friends.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East) : Bearing in mind the continued national concern about health care, would it not be appropriate to have a debate soon on preventive medicine? As my right hon. and learned Friend will be aware, that would give many of us the opportunity to say that, while we appreciate that, in a free society, it is up to individuals whether to smoke, it does not seem to be helpful for the Government to encourage smoking by instituting low levels of duty.

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Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate on that topic, but I can draw my hon. Friend's point to the attention of all my ministerial colleagues who are concerned with such matters.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the position of British citizens who die in foreign countries which refuse to issue death certificates to relatives? A former constituent of mine, Mr. Anthony Marshall, died on 4 August 1989 in Queensland, Australia, and the death certificate has still not been released by the Australian Government. Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary what hon. Members can do in such situations ; or perhaps as a former Foreign Secretary he has the answer himself?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is always anxious to help in any such case that is drawn to its attention and I shall bring the general topic to the attention to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for an early debate on the EC? By what authority does the European Assembly discuss, debate and vote on the ambulance men's dispute?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The European Parliament, like other parliamentary assemblies, sometimes allows itself to debate matters over which its influence is relatively limited. I remind my hon. Friend that, by legislation of this House following the Single European Act, the European Assembly is now described here and there as the European Parliament.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : Will the Leader of the House reconsider his reply to the hon. Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd)? Is he aware that much life-saving emergency equipment is being stolen from front-line ambulances in London by the management? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement today to explain how he could live with his conscience if a major incident such as those at King's Cross and Clapham were to engage London in the next few days and lives were to be lost? If Members of Parliament can have 11 per cent., why cannot ambulance men be given the same and get the dispute over?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : That question should most properly be directed to those who are leading the ambulance dispute. That point was made vigorously by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health in a debate only a week ago and the case that he made then is even stronger today.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mo n) : There is a complete lack of confidence in the agricultural policies being pursued by the Government. Hon. Members are receiving representations from their constituents in agriculture about a variety of matters, including high interest rates which are hitting investment in agriculture, the disparity in the green pound, and the fact that the Government have not announced whether they will make up the hill livestock compensatory allowances. Those are all matters of legitimate public concern to our constituents. Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is an early debate on them?

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