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Business of the House

3.30 pm

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : Will the Leader of the House tell us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : Wearing another hat, I can tell the House that the business for next week will be as follows : Monday-- 9 July---- Opposition day (18th allotted day, 1st part). Until seven o'clock, there will be a debate on environmental policy on a motion in the name of Plaid Cymru.

Supplemental timetable motion and consideration of Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill.

Motion on the Education (Student Loans) Order.

Tuesday-- 10 July----Estimates Day (3rd allotted day). Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate on sea defences and the avoidance of sea flood damage in Wales, followed by a debate on gipsy sites.

Details of the estimates concerned and the relevant Select Committee reports will be given in the Official Report.

At ten o'clock, the question will be put on all outstanding estimates.

Wednesday-- 11 July----Motion on the Charge Limitation (England) (Maximum Amount) Orders (1st day).

Thursday-- 12 July----Conclusion of the debate on motion on the Charge Limitation (England) (Maximum Amount) Orders.

Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order.

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

Friday-- 13 July----There will be a debate on policing in London, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Monday-- 16 July----Progress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords amendments which may be received.

The House will wish to know that subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the summer Adjournment on Thursday 26 July.

[Estimates, Tuesday 10 July :

Class III, vote 3, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food : agricultural support, animal health, arterial drainage, flood and coast protection ;

Class XVI, vote 1, Agricultural support, Wales ;

Class XVI, vote 5, Tourism, roads and transport, housing, other environmental services (including civil defence), education, arts and libraries, and health and personal social services, Wales ; and Class XVI, vote 9, Welsh Office administration, so far as they relate to sea defences and the avoidance of sea flood damage. Class VIII, vote 4, Local environmental and planning services, etc., England so far as it relates to Gipsy sites.

Relevant document : Third report from the Environment Committee of Session 1989-90 on the Department of the Environment's main estimates, 1990-91, (House of Commons Paper No. 373). (To be published on 9 July).]

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Dr. Cunningham : Can the Leader of the House confirm that, before the House rises, we shall have an opportunity to debate the imminent recommendations of the Select Committee on the Televising of Proceedings of the House and, I hope, approve those recommendations? It is in all our interests that that report is considered by the House and debated before the summer recess. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman planning that that will happen?

As it is becoming increasingly obvious that the Government intend to attempt to solve their problems with the poll tax simply by throwing money at it, and as there is evidence that that money will be aimed partially at Conservative marginal constituencies, may we have an assurance that there will be an oral statement to Parliament about the Government's intentions before any announcement is made? I hope that we shall receive an absolute cast-iron assurance about that. Indeed, if the Government think that they have a good case, I hope that they will want to come forward and be honest about it. Surely it is preferable that those matters should be widely examined in this Chamber before the summer recess.

Last week's highest ever figures on crime in Britain, taken with the increasing widespread, disgraceful scenes, such as those of last night, of hooliganism, vandalism and anti-social behaviour, surely show that the Government's policies for Britain as a whole are failing to create a climate in which civilised social behaviour can flourish. Against that unprecedented background, none of which can be blamed on the football authorities, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the failures of Government policy in those areas before the summer recess?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : On the last point, I am afraid that the House cannot accept the simplistic analysis offered by the hon. Gentleman. He will appreciate that manifestations of hooliganism--for example, in the context of football--are by no means confined to this country ; nor have they been confined to people from this country. In that respect, the Government are following the right policies. Our proposed implementation of the Taylor report urging the football authorities to install all-seater stadiums is clearly a move in the right direction. That has been demonstrated by the experience at grounds in Italy in the past few weeks.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, the House will be kept informed of the outcome of any such considerations in the appropriate way. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is meeting the local authority associations this afternoon to hear their views on next year's spending. That is one factor that he will take carefully into account before he makes a statement to the House later this month, as is customary, on our proposals for the settlement.

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I am glad to confirm that the report of the Select Committee on the televising experiment will be published next Wednesday and that I hope to arrange a debate on the subject before the House rises for the summer.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend try to arrange an early debate on the workings and procedures of Parliament and of this House? Does he agree that, in the past 48 hours, we have seen perhaps the most shameful scenes that I can remember since 1983? Does he agree that Opposition

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Members in particular have behaved badly during the past 48 hours? Will he arrange an early debate so that the workings of this place can be improved and have more respect outside?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : You should have seen Heseltine with the mace--those were great days.

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I agree with my hon. Friend about the need to keep the procedure of the House continually under review. We had a debate on one aspect of the matter last week, and there will be another before too long. I am afraid that no debate in the House can be guaranteed to deliver proper self-control from Opposition Members.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Given recent reports that the Prime Minister is anxious to promote family life by, among other things, making divorce more difficult, can the Leader of the House tell us whether she is aware of clause 53 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill which makes divorce easier? Is not that indicative of the shambles that the Government are in over the Bill? Will the Leader of the House announce next week that the Government will make things easier by dropping parts III and IV of that confused Bill?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As I understand it, the particular provisions of the Bill which relate to divorce law are founded essentially on the recommendations of the Scottish Law Commission. Therefore, they deserve careful consideration by the House. As a result of the arrangements announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Sectetary of State for Scotland yesterday about the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, it should be possible for due consideration to be given to all four parts of that significant Scottish measure. I am sure that the whole House will welcome that.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House and explain how he can possibly justify the closure of the children's ward and the proposed closures of a general medical ward, a general surgical ward and even a ward where people who have had radiological treatment can stay overnight in the Leicester royal infirmary? Does he appreciate that the refusal of the Secretary of State for Health to listen to Members of Parliament from both sides of the House is a continuing disgrace which should be debated in this place?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. and learned Gentleman has raised various aspects of the matter on more than one occasion. He must recall that the management of the resources available to local health authorities is essentially a matter for them to decide. He will also recall, as I have told him before, that the initial budget of Leicestershire health authority was significant and that it has been increased, since the initial figure, to £217 million.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East) : Will it be possible some time next week to have a statement about the Prime Minister's meeting with Mr. Mandela? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that would give us an opportunity to appreciate clearly that this country is

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completely against apartheid, and that Mr. Mandela recognises it? Does he further agree that we would have an opportunity to demonstrate completely the lie in the Opposition's accusations that the Conservative party in some way supports apartheid in South Africa?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the meeting yesterday between the Prime Minister and Mr. Nelson Mandela. I agree also with the importance of his observation about the Prime Minister's determination as an enemy of apartheid. I think that the whole House will agree that that should afford justification for the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to withdraw the shocking statement that he made some time ago, that the Prime Minister was a friend of apartheid. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith) : Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that The Sun-- yes, The Sun --has reached another new low? In yesterday's edition of that newspaper, if it can be called a newspaper, a certain Mandy Smith and her husband Bill Wyman were attacked and embarrassed by an article and photograph which clearly should not have been published. It brings us back to the question of the invasion of privacy that repeatedly takes place. I am not concerned with hon. Members or pop stars, I am concerned with the working class, because it is clear that, unless one has money in this country, there is no justice. What do the Government intend to do about that-- [Interruption.] --and about articles of that kind? The people at large want an answer to that question.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not follow The Sun quite as closely as the hon. Gentleman does. On the wider matter, the House will have an opportunity of considering the recommendations of the Calcutt report in due course.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for two statements to be made next week? First, despite his earlier reply, we need a statement from the Secretary of State for Health about the difficult situation which the Leicestershire health authority faces, with hospital as well as ward closures causing great concern.

Secondly, we need a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment, and the publication of the report from the National Rivers Authority, about the disastrous state of affairs that arose at Rutland water last year as a result of toxic blue-green algae. Such a statement is long overdue.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand that the Secretary of State for Health has made his position clear in relation to the position of the Leicestershire health authority, and I have nothing to add to that. The answer to the second point raised by my hon. Friend about the case for a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment is that I shall bring his request to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I remind the House that one question per Member at business questions enables us to get on more rapidly.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Does the Leader of the House accept any responsibility for what occurred

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on Tuesday, when clear Government abuse was involved in trying to answer questions after Question Time on an Opposition day? Will he make sure that that does not occur again and that there is no abuse of parliamentary procedures and the rights of the Opposition? Is he aware that the Opposition preserved parliamentary democracy and accountability on Tuesday and should be congratula-ted accordingly?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : There was, I think, some misunderstanding between the usual channels on Tuesday. The difficulty of getting these matters precisely right was well illustrated by the fact that, on Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Health was criticised for answering questions in the form of a statement, whereas on Wednesday the Secretary of State for Scotland was criticised for answering questions at Question Time instead of making a statement. It is not always easy to get the judgment right.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant) : My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the Prime Minister, in her important speech at the opening of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, uttered the trenchant phrase that Governments and international organisations everywhere must sit up and take notice and respond, and he, like all of us, will have received in the past couple of weeks a mass of cards from constituents asking us to mobilise political will in support of that general awareness. Therefore, will my right hon. and learned Friend respond constructively and generously to the suggestion made at the meeting of some 23 Parliaments in Ottawa some weeks ago that each Parliament there represented should hold a two-day debate on the papers and the conclusions of that conference?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot offer to make such a multilateral engagement at such short notice, but I shall certainly consider the importance of the point made by my hon. Friend, which he will have seen underlined, at least in general terms, by the success of the conference presided over by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment last week.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : Is the Leader of the House aware that the United States Government have just passed legislation outlawing discrimination against disabled people and providing their 43 million disabled people with new opportunities in employment, housing and access to transport? Is not it deplorable that Britain's disabled people do not have such rights? May we debate that next week, please?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The right hon. Gentleman knows that the House has always been jealous of its right and obligation to take account of the need to look after disabled people properly. Obviously, I cannot respond by endorsing the particular proposals to which he has drawn attention, but I shall draw his general point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider an early debate on trade union reform in the light of the report on the internal workings of the National Union of Mineworkers during the miners' strike and the source of its donations? Has he received any requests from the hon. Member for Bolsover

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(Mr. Skinner), a member of the union and sponsored by it, about what in other circumstances the hon. Gentleman would describe as a cover-up and a whitewash?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have not received any such request, although I am not always prone to encourage requests from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). In this case, members of the union in question will be able to take advantage of the increased rights conferred by the legislation passed by this Government to investigate the conduct and misconduct of the union's officers.

Mr. Skinner rose --

Hon. Members : Answer.

Mr. Skinner : Is the Leader of the House aware that the NUM was hammered by his Government, by the judges and by all echelons of the British establishment during its year-long strike, and that in order to save its finances we made sure that the families of its members were fed and that we took on the Government? Will he make a statement admitting that the Government spent £8,000 million of taxpayers' money in one way or another in order to try to bludgeon the NUM into defeat, but we are still here and we are still fighting?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is one of a dwindling minority of folk who take such a view of history. The most important judgment was that passed by those who left the NUM altogether and formed the independent Union of Democratic Mineworkers.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : May I endorse the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) for a debate on the conduct of the affairs of the House, and extend that to include the ridiculous hours that we work? I know that that is an old chestnut in this place, but it still merits debate. I am not surprised that we have short tempers in this place, when on some evenings this place is really suitable only for insomniacs. Last week, we had three very late nights, and on Tuesday morning this week some of us were wakened in the small hours of the morning in the middle of our legitimate sleep. How can we conduct the country's business in that manner? Will my right hon. and learned Friend allow time for us to debate that matter once more?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not sure whether to congratulate or commiserate with my hon. Friend. She was in bed at the time, but some of us were still here. Many proposals have been made directly to that end. It is difficult to make changes that will ensure compliance with a timetable. There is bound to be some elasticity in the way in which different people respond to different proposals. Some measures that are expected to take a short time to get through the House end up taking a great deal longer. I shall be ready to look at any specific proposals that my hon. Friend has to make, and I am sure that the House will join me in doing so.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's recent announcement of the setting up of a Select Committee on Social Security. Can we look forward to a similar announcement, before the end of the parliamentary Session, on setting up a Select Committee to examine the affairs of Northern Ireland? Is not 16 years without close scrutiny in this place a shame?

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Sir Geoffrey Howe : As I think I have told the House before, if not the hon. Gentleman, that proposal is one of a number now being studied by the Select Committee on Procedure, which has taken evidence and is still taking evidence on that matter.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge) : Do I understand that, once again, the Government intend to introduce a guillotine on Monday on Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill that relate to housing benefit for students? Will that guillotine apply also to the Education (Student Loans) Order, the saga of which continues? Perhaps, this time, the Government may get it right.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am glad that my hon. Friend looks forward to that matter being handled correctly. The motion on the Education (Student Loans) Order will be taken as last business on Monday, and can run for up to 90 minutes. Ahead of that, there will be a supplementary timetable motion providing for the consideration of all Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill that are covered by those regulations.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, East) : May we have a statement next week about the conduct of Scottish Question Time, which is being regularly hijacked by English Tory Members to such an extent that Scottish Opposition Members, who represent more than 86 per cent. of Scottish constituencies, are finding it increasingly difficult to get called? Yesterday, for example, every Scottish Tory Back Bencher in the Chamber was called more than once.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to ensure that all parties were represented effectively and fairly during Question Time. It has never been the case that territorial questions, whether for Scotland or for Wales, have been reserved for those hon. Members representing constituencies in those countries, and I do not think that that should be the case.

Sir Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar) : Following the important announcement yesterday of changes to the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, as a result of which--if I understand it correctly--it will not be possible for house conveyancing to be undertaken by financial institutions, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that the Attorney-General makes an announcement to the House, at the earliest possible opportunity, confirming that the ability of such institutions in England and Wales to provide conveyancing service under the Courts and Legal Services Bill will remain unaltered?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The changes in the identity of those who can undertake conveyancing services are being made separately for England and Wales and for Scotland, according to their legislation. All the changes are directed towards increasing the scope of competition. That is the intention of those matters that were the subject of the agreement announced yesterday in relation to Scotland. Those provisions have yet to be considered by the Standing Committee. Nothing done in respect of Scotland can affect the arrangements for England and Wales.

Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham) : Is the Leader of the House aware that the decision to allow a two-day debate next week on poll tax capping will be welcomed? Can he give the House any assurance that the Government will

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take notice of anything that may be said during that debate about the damaging effects of charge capping for school children, the elderly, the disabled and all those who are most in need of support from the capped authorities? In other words, will that debate have any constructive result, or will the Government adopt their usual dictatorial attitude and dismiss all arguments out of hand?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The Government will continue to conduct themselves in relation to the community charge and capping orders relating to that in accordance with the provisions of the law, hearing representations to the extent that is necessary. The charge-capping orders are intended, with the approval of the House, to ensure that charges are not set at an unduly high level to the disadvantage of a large number of people in the authorities concerned.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : Would not it be a good idea to have a debate on behaviour and the procedure of the House, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson)? That might provide the House with an opportunity to give the Select Committee on Procedure some suggestions about how to deal with what is currently the worst parliamentary racket--the bogus point of order at prime television time?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, have the same anxiety about the importance of ensuring that points of order are used properly and not abused. I agree that that may be a point for consideration by the Procedure Committee. Of course, it is open to my hon. Friend to make representations to our hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) who is the Chairman of that Committee, and any hon. Member from any part of the House is free to do so.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : Returning to the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, does the Leader of the House not understand that the concessions mentioned yesterday by the Secretary of State for Scotland may mean that, although he may have dodged the guillotine, he has certainly not saved his neck? Does he appreciate that those of us who serve on the Standing Committee are now witnessing the possibility of the right hon. and learned Gentleman touting a shopping bag of wares around the Committee and selling one item against the other? That brings into startling clarity the failure of the House to deal with Scottish law reform. Surely the most sensible thing to do would be to withdraw the Bill altogether and to bring back an appropriate Bill next Session.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : It would seem a curious thing to deal with Scottish law reform by abandoning the enterprise altogether. The agreement announced by my right hon. and learned Friend yesterday was welcomed by the Law Society and by the Consumers Association in Scotland. In the light of the sittings motion that has been agreed, it should now be possible for the Standing Committee to give due consideration to all four parts of that significant Scottish measure. I am sure that that is the most sensible way to proceed.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a general debate on manufacturing industry and its importance to the British

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economy before we rise for the summer recess, as an announcement has been made about that this afternoon? Unfortunately, there has been an upturn in unemployment in strategic industries in Britain--in construction, textiles and other important manufacturing industries, such as the brick industry, in which huge investment has been made. That needs to be debated before we rise for the summer recess, so that the House can express to the Government its grave disquiet about the continuing use of high interest rates as the sole weapon to contain inflation and the great damage that that is doing to British manufacturing industry.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As my hon. Friend makes the point about high interest rates, he should not overlook the extent to which fast-rising unit labour costs, which are under the control of those who manage and work in the industries and which are rising at a higher rate than those of many of our competitors, contribute far more than high interest rates to rising costs and declining competitiveness. That is a point which he needs to take home and emphasise

Mr. Nicholas Winterton : I worked in industry--you did not.

Hon. Members : That's the stuff.

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Industry would benefit from a renewed contribution by my hon. Friend to that activity.

My hon. Friend will be able to raise that subject on at least two occasions between now and the summer recess, as we shall have debates on the Consolidated Fund and on the summer Adjournment, which will give my hon. Friend the opportunity to raise the matter if he so wishes.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : Talking about rising unit costs, let me ask the Leader of the House a House of Commons question and tempt him to make a statement next week. Will he confirm that the only civil service grade not to receive a pay increase in the recent pay round negotiations is the grade to which Members of Parliament's salaries are linked, and that, in place of a pay increase, that grade has been given merit awards? Is the fact that the Leader of the House has been answering questions on behalf of the Prime Minister so often lately an attempt on his part to earn his merit award?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I should be content to proceed under that system, but I am not sure whether all our 650 colleagues would be equally enthusiastic about it. I shall look into the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Will Ministers give careful thought this weekend to the wisdom of agreeing with the Lords in their amendment on housing benefit which is to be debated on Monday evening?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The matter can be debated on Monday evening. That is a more satisfactory answer than I have been able to give on some topics.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Mr. --em, Campbell-Savours.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : You will lose your merit award!

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Mr. Speaker : I know, but it is difficult to deal with two things at once. Mr. Campbell-Savours.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : In the light of the very courageous decision by Lady Elspeth Howe, the wife of the Leader of the House, to camp out in a cardboard box in the City of London as a protest against the Government's policy on homelessness, does not the Leader of the House believe that we should have a debate on the matter? Would he not have a personal contribution to make to that debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am always grateful to be able to pass on observations of a gentle kind to my wife, even if the hon. Gentleman mislocates the city ; it was Westminster, not London. Moreover, it was not by way of protest against Government policy ; it was by way of support for combined Government and voluntary organisation action to raise funds for voluntary organisations to tackle homelessness--an entirely commendable cause.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate in the near future on British Rail? Has he heard about the latest example of Hutber's law, which is that this week Network SouthEast has announced that, in order to improve services in my constituency, it is to cancel 43 trains a day? My constituents are somewhat aggrieved about that.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend also aware that one of the fundamental causes of the chaos is that both British Rail management and, in particular, the trade unions, supported by Opposition Members, have refused to agree to local and regional pay bargaining? That is essential if we are to have sufficient drivers to drive enough trains to ensure that my constituents prefer to travel by rail because they can get to the place that they wish to reach without having to endure the current chaos.

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