Monday 12 February----Until seven o'clock, private Members' motions.
Remaining stages of the Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Bill.
Tuesday 13 February----Debate on a motion to take note of the Government's expenditure plans 1990-91 to 1992-93 (Cm 1001-1021). Wednesday 14 February- ---Opposition day (7th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "Rail Fares and Services".
Thursday 15 February----Remaining stages of the Education (Student Loans) Bill.
Friday 16 February----Private Members' Bills.
Monday 19 February----Opposition day (8th Allotted Day, 1st part). Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party on the ambulance dispute.
Motion on the Data Protection (Regulation of Financial Services etc.) (Subject Access Exemption) (Amendment) Order.
The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.
Dr. Cunningham : Given the gathering momentum of change in the Soviet Union and in other eastern European countries, will the Leader of the House find Government time for a foreign affairs debate on these changes, which are tremendously important for all of us and which are taking place with increasing speed?
Is not the House entitled to an oral statement from the Secretary of State for Education and Science on the report of Her Majesty's inspector of schools published a few days ago? Does not this report illustrate a quite disgraceful and totally unsatisfactory state of affairs in far too many of our schools? Would it not be appropriate for hon. Members in all parts of the House, since we are talking about the state education system, which affects more than 90 per cent. of our children, to have a chance to question his right hon. Friend on what the Government intend to do about this appalling state of affairs?
Has the Leader of the House seen the reports today forecasting increases in water bills of up to 70 per cent. for one in four people in this country? Does he recall that last year many consumers faced increases in their bills for water charges of up to 50 per cent? Does this not confirm everything that we in the Labour party said about the implications for bills of water privatisation? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman ensure that next week we have a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment explaining to us and our constituents why Government policy has led to these enormous increases, which have effectively doubled people's water costs in less than two years?
Column 1012in the Soviet Union itself, and join in welcoming what has been happening. I certainly agree that this makes the topic of foreign affairs a legitimate one for me to try to find time to debate as soon as I reasonably can.
With regard to education, the important thing to notice is that the report of Her Majesty's inspector of schools, which is now made available in a fashion which owes a great deal to the Government's initiative, says that the overall picture is of a service in which most of what is done is of reasonable quality or better and that that is a sound basis for improvement and should be recognised as such. The Government's reforms are already bringing about the improvements necessary to raise education standards.
With regard to water charges, once again the Opposition seek to have their cake and eat it. They are very ready to complain about shortcomings in the quality and availability of water services. The charges are necessary to finance the substantial investment programme that will follow privatisation in order to meet the problems of raising water quality, renewing water mains and overcoming water shortage.
[That this House condemns the unprecedented taking of backbenchers' rare prime debating time by a Front Bench member, namely the presentation of a Ten Minute Rule Bill by the honourable Member for Livingston, Opposition Front Bench Spokesman for Health, thereby usurping a backbencher's customary prerogative ; and notes that this was done on an Opposition day, when this subject could have been selected for debate at length by the Opposition.]
Does he appreciate that an Opposition Back Bencher handed over his ten- minute Bill slot to the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) to propose a Bill from the Opposition Front Bench? Does he realise that this muscling in on Back Benchers' customary prerogatives is unprecedented in over 20 years?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The Opposition must be left to sort out their own problems. It is entirely a matter for them to decide whether they should muscle in upon each other in this way. Government Members can only look on with amazement and astonishment.
[That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to set up the fullest possible inquiry into allegations made by Right honourable and honourable Members of this House concerning the misuse of information by Crown servants apparently operating outside the rule of law ; believes that the appropriate precedent for such an inquiry is the 1983 Review by a Committee of Privy Councillors into the circumstances leading up to the Falklands War ; notes that such a committee in accordance with the Franks precedent
Column 1013would have full access to persons and papers in the security services, the armed forces, and all Government departments ; and urges the Government to replace the narrow Calcutt inquiry by this much wider and deeper review.]
Is the Leader of the House aware that the Secretary of State for Defence has told the press that the inquiry by the Select Committee on Defence will be limited in scope? Is he also aware that, moreover, Mr. Colin Wallace has questioned the accuracy of some of the statements made by the Secretary of State for Defence to the House only last week? Will he therefore realise the urgency of this matter?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : This is a field in which debates and inquiries seem to have proliferated to a large extent already. An Adjournment debate on the subject was initiated by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) on 6 February and it has been announced by the Secretary of State for Defence that two inquiries are already taking place and the Defence Committee has indicated its intention of making inquiries. We shall have to wait and see the terms of reference of that inquiry.
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : Bearing in mind the growing concern in this country and overseas about what is happening to the global environment, and in particular to the rain forests, highlighted by the remarkable address given by the Prince of Wales at Kew gardens to an audience which included hon. Members from both sides of the House, is it possible to have an early debate on that vastly important matter? It affects us all and it will affect our children and our children's children.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : As my right hon. Friend knows, that subject has concerned the House and the Government for a long time. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment took some important messages in respect of it during his visit to Brazil during the summer. We have also had the opportunity to discuss the issue during the visit to this country, yesterday and today of the President-elect of Brazil.
Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : May we have a debate on the proposal to establish a new forest in the midlands, to be situated in Leicestershire, which is the second bottom county in the country for its number of trees? If it is established in north-west Leicestershire, it will serve all our constituents in the county. May we please have a debate on this subject as soon as possible?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. and learned Gentleman has demonstrated characteristic ingenuity in drawing attention to this problem in the context of his constituency. I cannot promise to take the matter further at this stage.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for an early debate on the constitutional position of taxes raised in Scotland that differ from the taxes to be levied in England and Wales? In so doing, will he consider carefully the proposals for the roof tax, the effect that it will have on the unified business rates proposals, and the proposal for having regular revaluations done by computer, and all that that will mean for the people of Scotland?
Column 1014horrendous implications for Scotland of the roof tax proposed by the Opposition. Voters in the rest of the United Kingdom will view with anxiety the implications of that proposal.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : As the threat of war in Kashmir will not wait for a foreign affairs debate, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement next week outlining what initiatives the British Government may be able to take to bring the Governments of India and Pakistan together to try to resolve the dispute, which has caused great conflict between those two countries for more than 20 years?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman refers to a matter which is a cause of continuing anxiety to friends of India and Pakistan. I know that the Government, at every level, have always sought to do everything they can to promote peace rather than conflict in that area, and I am sure they will continue to do so. I cannot promise an early statement.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Would my right hon. and learned Friend allow an early debate on the criteria for setting the community charge by local authorities, bearing in mind the spiteful approach of Labour authorities, such as Southwark and Ealing, which intend to set the charge disgracefully and unacceptably high? In Ealing, the figure that the authority is proposing to set would mean a 300 per cent. increase in rates in four years. Is that not a disgrace?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The shape of the community charge has been frequently debated in recent weeks in the House. I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that the most effective response to the matter about which he complains would be a vigorous response by the electors of Ealing to those complaints.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Will the Leader of the House provide an early debate in Government time on the plight of low-paid workers--for example, the fish processing workers in my constituency who are paid less than £100 for a 40-hour week and now face a zero wage round--that is, no wage increase in the current year? In such a debate, would it be appropriate, in the interest of equity and justice, to compare their position with that of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer who is coining £100,000 for a two-day week?
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : When the Hetherington report was published, the Government said that they would listen to the views of the House. As it is nearly eight weeks since the House overwhelmingly endorsed the views of the Hetherington report, when does my right hon. and learned Friend expect that we shall be able to debate the Second Reading of a Bill on the matter? May we at least be promised a Bill this month?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I know the importance that my hon. Friend attaches to the matter, as I have already answered questions from him about it. The position remains the same. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is considering the form that legislation
Column 1015might take in the light of the views expressed in both Houses. We must now await the announcement from my right hon. Friend that should be forthcoming shortly.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Will the Leader of the House bear in mind that there will be a debate a week on Monday on the ambulance workers' pay and take into account the fact that there should be a statement before that debate to pay tribute to those ambulance workers who marched 200 miles from Barnsley to London today, calling at places such as Kegworth, where there was a major accident and ambulance workers played a part in rescuing the victims, and King's Cross? Will he also ask the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) to be in his place during that debate so that he and the other 200 Tory Back Benchers who are making money on the side--up to £200,000 on top of their parliamentary pay--can explain why they can march into the Lobby objecting to more than 6.5 per cent. for the ambulance workers while picking up large sums of money on the side?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman knows that the rules of the House permit any Member on either side of the House to accept employment in addition to that as a Back Bencher, provided that it is registered according to the rules of the House. That has been the position for many years. Everyone is always ready to pay tribute to those members of the ambulance service who are performing their normal duties or who respond to the call of duty. The most important call for them to respond to at present is the call to return to normal working on the terms that have been available to them for months.
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : A few moments ago my right hon. and learned Friend sounded almost benign in response to a request for a debate on early-day motion 448, standing in my name and calling for the fullest possible inquiry into the Wallace affair. He seemed to be dismissing it simply on the ground that there were other inquiries in progress. Therefore, will he clarify one important aspect of Government policy on this matter? Will the Government fully co-operate with the Defence Select Committee's inquiry, and will that co-operation include granting immunity from prosecution to those Crown servants and former Crown servants who may be called to give evidence?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : In regard to my hon. Friend's initial point, the position was made clear in a debate earlier this week in the brief reply from my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. In regard to the response to the Defence Select Committee's inquiry, any requests made by that Committee, once it has settled its terms of reference, will be considered in the ordinary way.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : May we have a debate on the newly published Register of Members' Interests, which does not list the lavish outside moonlighting of the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson)? As the Leader of the House is concerned about the rules, if we had a debate about the Register of Members' Interests and the way in which Tory Members of Parliament earn huge sums outside but vote against ordinary working people getting decent wage increases, we could expose them for their double standards and we might achieve a change in the rules so that people here worked full-time.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Full or part-time membership of the House has been discussed and debated many times. The form of the register is the consequence of decisions taken by the House, and it takes some time for it to record newly adopted occupations.
Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : Reverting to the first question asked this afternoon by the shadow Leader of the House, on a day when the House has welcomed an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation from the Soviet Union that has been involved in remarkably frank and open exchanges with 90 hon. Members, including my right hon. and learned Friend, will he accept the urging from behind him that we should find time to discuss as soon as possible the important change in the international situation?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I join my hon. Friend in recognising the importance of the IPU delegation from the Soviet Union, the leader of which I had the privilege of meeting. That is one reason for attaching importance to the possibility of an early debate on foreign affairs. I shall do my best to keep it in mind.
Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Has the Leader of the House seen the petition that was presented to the Prime Minister yesterday by the Save British Science group? It was signed by 1,600 scientists who now work abroad because of the lack of Government commitment to science and because of the lack of money and facilities. As the future of Britain depends on science, and as we are not recruiting but losing scientists, may we debate the matter next week?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot promise the prospect of an early debate on that topic, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that our ability to retain scientists and other experts has been enhanced substantially by the steady record of economic growth achieved under this Government in the past decade.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that many Conservative Members, and certainly many Opposition Members, do not understand the Government's reluctance to hold a wider inquiry into the allegations made by Mr. Wallace and by right hon. and hon. Members? Many hon. Members would like to see those fundamental allegations, which strike at our liberal democracy, exorcised, and we look to the Government to facilitate that. We suggest that a Franks- type inquiry, as used in connection with the Falklands war, would be the best way of exorcising those grave allegations.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand my hon. Friend's continuing interest in that matter and in the wider context. The fact remains that there have been, and there are now in progress, a series of inquiries into virtually every aspect of this matter.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : May I underline the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and by the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) for an early debate in Government time on eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and what is happening there? Some hon. Members have had the pleasure and privilege of meeting the Soviet delegation, who have been open and frank. I do not
Column 1017necessarily agree with everything that it said, but we need a debate at the earliest possible moment to discuss eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and the future of Europe.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have already intimated my sympathy with that proposition. It was a proposition with which I had sympathy in my previous job ; my change of job and, more important, the change of circumstances in the Soviet Union add force to the point made by the hon. Gentleman.
Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that last Friday my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) introduced the Interest on Debts Bill, which was talked out? As its purpose was to help small businesses with the late payment of debts, and given the Government's commitment to small businesses, will he say whether the Government have any plans to help small businesses, which are very concerned about the present position?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : A range of Government policies are designed to help small businesses, but I cannot make any specific commitment in relation to that Bill. My hon. Friend will know that there is room for more than one view, even from the small business lobby, about the merits of that Bill.
Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside) : Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary whether he has received a report on the recent disturbances in Toxteth? Will he ask his right hon. and learned Friend whether he will pay a visit to the area, where there have been three disturbances in fewer than eight years?
Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the somewhat surprising decision by the Government to allow women to serve in warships and to take part in combat? Does he agree that the idea of women fighting is distasteful and abhorrent?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The topic was vouchsafed to the House only a few days ago, at the beginning of the week. My hon. Friend may not have had an opportunity to raise it in that debate, but I am sure that he will find another opportunity in one of the armed services debates which will be arranged in due course.
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : The Leader of the House is aware that there is concern among hon. Members of all parties about religious cults. Is he also aware that there is far more concern following the knowledge, acquired last week, that many of those organisations, such as the Moonies, will be exempt from paying poll tax, whereas pensioners, the unemployed and the severely disabled will have to pay up to 80 per cent.? Will he or his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment make a statement so that the matter can be discussed in the House?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I know that the same problem created difficulties and anxieties under the rating system. The definition of the frontier has always been difficult. I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's point on the community charge to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : Is the Leader of the House aware that there is great concern in Northern Ireland about the escalation of IRA violence in the past few days, including not only attempts on the lives of public representatives and of members of the security forces, but the third breach of security at Short Brothers? Does he realise that, if that continues, it will jeopardise the operation at Shorts, and will bring vast unemployment to east Belfast and to the rest of the Province? Is he aware that the IRA has now said that notice will no longer be given of bombs laid at Shorts? That has caused great anxiety among the work force.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have been concerned continuously about threats to human life and safety, and about security more generally in Northern Ireland. I shall take account of the anxieties that the hon. Gentleman has described and I shall bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland so that he may take account of them in practice and in the regular reports on terrorist violence that he makes to the House.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : Although the House will welcome the news that there is to be a foreign affairs debate on the implications of improving East-West relations, may we also have a debate on the defence implications? Given the inevitability of reductions in arms procurement, we can then begin to plan a proper product conversion programme so that the skills of those who work in the industry will be preserved and so that the livelihoods of those who work in the industry and of their families will also be preserved.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : It may or may not be an important point, but it could have been raised in the Royal Navy debate earlier this week and it can also be raised in subsequent debates on the other services in due course.
It was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and has been signed by 123 hon. Members. It is headed, "Concern over media freedom in Romania".
[That this House views with concern reports from Romania that democratic opposition parties in that country are being denied access to the nation's television network ; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to make the strongest possible representations to the new Romanian Government in support of the right of access to the nation's media by the major opposition parties ; and recognises the serious possibility of renewed bloodshed and turmoil if this basic right is not recognised.]
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that today I spoke to John Kennedy, who is an expert on Romania? He made to me a number of disturbing points. First, President Iliescu has personally banned the publication of opposition newspapers. Secondly, a number of opposition politicians and parties, including those supporting the restoration of the monarchy, have been prevented from
Column 1019appearing on television and on other media. Thirdly, the media have been used to call the population to take to the streets to stop anti-Government demonstrations. Surely any aid or assistance given to Romania should be tied to the condition that there should be free media. May we have a debate?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The whole House, with its continuing interest in the changes in Romania, will share my hon. Friend's concern, which was also expressed in early-day motion 345. Access to the media, whether printed or broadcast, in Romania should be available to all who seek to take part in the democracy which we hope to see emerge. Assistance undertaken by the European Community to countries such as Romania is related closely to the extent to which they are or are not moving effectively in the direction of democracy.
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement to the House on why he is allowing Ministry of Defence police to be removed from Bishopton royal ordnance factory and be replaced by a private security force? Does he realise that it is causing tremendous consternation in my constituency that an unarmed private security force will mount guard in a huge area of my constituency? We are worried about the proposals. Will he arrange for the Secretary of State to make a statement?
Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the anxieties expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) about the Wallace case are widely shared on these Benches? In our view, the proposal for an investigation by a committee of Privy Councillors appears to be the most appropriate course of action. Will he also consider widening the terms of reference of the inquiry by my eminent constituent David Calcutt? The matter will not go away, and many of us believe that it will not go away until it is cleared up.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Why does Parliament have to wait for 11 days to debate the ambulance dispute? Is the Leader of the House aware of the great anxiety throughout the north-west of England in all towns and communities, both in rural areas and inner cities, about this long-standing dispute, which should have been resolved by the Government? Could not the Government, even at this late stage, make some move, particularly as the morale of the ambulance workers is extremely high, as witnessed today by those of us who met them outside the House? Why cannot we have an emergency statement next Monday and some flexibility and movement by the Government?
Column 1020Health Service workers have long since accepted terms consistent with those which have been available to the ambulance men for a long time. The best and only answer is for the ambulance men to recognise the growing reality of the need to return to work on those terms. Thirdly, if the hon. Gentleman had wanted to debate the subject, he could have persuaded his own party to do so on its Supply day next week.
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : My right hon. and learned Friend will remember that last year the House took a great deal of time to consider a Government proposal, which was broadly welcomed by both Conservative and Opposition Members, to introduce a complaints procedure, a commissioner and a tribunal for the Security Service. Is he aware that the new Security Service tribunal has declined to accept or consider any complaint against the Security Service relating to events prior to 18 December 1989? Is he also aware that that is a mockery of the Act that was passed last year? Will he undertake to bring the matter to the notice of his colleagues and to arrange a debate in the House at the earliest possible moment? Some of us believe that that abuse is a deliberate attempt to prevent the Security Service commissioner and his tribunal from undertaking the duties set out in the Act.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I should hesitate to use the words "abuse" or "mockery" about the construction put on an Act of Parliament by those responsible for complying with it. All I can do is to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the point that my hon. Friend has raised.
Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) : In the light of severe flooding during the past two weeks in many parts of Britain, and particularly the problems in my constituency of Pontypridd last night when dozens of my constituents were forced to abandon their homes and suffered damage, will the Leader of the House consider setting aside time to discuss measures to clarify who has responsibility to build defences against floods? My efforts to do so have resulted in the National Rivers Authority saying that it is the responsibility of local authorities, usually the highways authorities, whereas highways authorities say that it is the responsibility of the NRA. Will the Government enable us to clarify the position, because my constituents and thousands of others are sick of the damage that they have to endure every time there is heavy rain?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot comment on the damage caused in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, because we must await the detailed reports of the consequences of that outbreak of trouble. However, I shall certainly bring the hon. Gentleman's general point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for further examination.
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : Although I welcome next Wednesday's Opposition motion on the railways--when some of us could take the opportunity to highlight the £37 million electrification scheme for the Birmingham cross-city line from mid-Staffordshire to Redditch--will my right hon. and learned Friend nevertheless have a quiet talk with the shadow Leader of the House with a view to changing the subject of that debate and perhaps sending out a search party to find the
Column 1021hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) so that he could present a debate on the English roof tax and some of us may have an idea of what we are up against?
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : In response to earlier questions about the Colin Wallace affair, the Leader of the House kindly informed the House that nearly every aspect of the affair was subject to some kind of inquiry. That is certainly true, but does he agree that one aspect of the affair that is not subject to any kind of inquiry is the existence and the scope of any Clockwork Orange? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider the question of setting up an appropriate committee of Privy Councillors?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : In response to earlier questions, I have said that many aspects of that matter have already been the subject of investigation and a number of investigations are still taking place. I am not in a position to offer any further inquiry beyond those already in prospect.
Mr John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) : Since it is from this House alone that the authority and legitimacy of Government derives, will my right hon. and learned Friend make it perfectly plain to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that it would not be acceptable for the Secretary of State for Defence to seek to prevent from attending any Crown servant whom the Select Committee on Defence may summon to give evidence on the Wallace affair?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Recognised rules and conventions govern the resolution of such questions and must take account of the potential danger to human life from certain aspects of the matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will be complying with those rules and conventions.