Will the Leader of the House tell us the business for next week?
The business for next week will be as follows:
[Debate on Wednesday 22 March 1989
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement, which sounded like a roll call of political trouble for the Government.
When may we expect a debate on the Government's proposed reform of the National Health Service, in particular their rather cavalier approach to the question of the general practitioners' contract, as well as care in the community?
When are we likely to have the promised debate on student loans?
Can the right hon. Gentleman report to the House any progress that he has had in his discussions concerning the setting up of a Scottish Affairs Committee or some machinery that might go some way towards doing what that Committee is supposed to do?
Will we get a statement tomorrow, or early next week, on airport security? The situation, if it were not for the tragedies that we have had, is descending into farce. The House and the relatives of those who were killed want to know what the Department of Transport knew about warnings from the United States authorities. When did it receive those warnings; what action, if any, did it take on them; and what did the people to whom it passed them do with them? When will the Secretary of State for Transport come to the House and, for the first time, tell us the truth and the whole truth?
I entirely refute the hon. Gentleman's latter comments, but I will deal with the points that he raised in the order in which he raised them.
The hon. Gentleman first asked me about the debate on the National Health Service review. I share the view that we should have a debate on that important subject in the relatively near future. The precise timing is best left for discussion through the usual channels.
The Government have accepted the recommendation of the review body on doctors' and dentists' pay that they should receive a basic rise of 8 per cent. They did not accept proposals for an additional increase in the maximum of the consultants' pay scale, nor the limited increase in their proposed distinction award, partly intended as an incentive to junior doctors to pursue hospital careers. The Government consider that the best incentive to junior doctors is better promotion prospects. Therefore, they decided instead to create an additional 100 consultants' posts.
We are giving active consideration to the Griffiths report and hope to be in a position to bring forward our own proposals as soon as possible. We recognise concern that our response should not be unduly delayed, but it is vital that we reach the right solution in this important matter. We remain of the view that a debate will be most helpful when our proposals are available for discussion.
On student loans, the hon. Gentleman is aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is considering the response to the White Paper, and that discussions with financial institutions and other potential agents are continuing. Therefore, I cannot speculate on the time at which it would be right for a debate.
On the hon. Gentleman's question about the Scottish Affairs Committee, I recently met two of his hon. Friends, when we had a useful discussion. In the light of that, I am now considering how best to make further progress. Even so, I am not too hopeful about finding an immediate solution.
I entirely refute the hon. Gentleman's comments about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. They were disgraceful. My right hon. Friend has made two statements about Lockerbie to the House on 22 December and 10 January. He has been frank and has kept the House well informed, but he cannot reveal intelligence or security matters or matters which are the subject of criminal investigations. It does the hon. Gentleman no credit to speculate wildly and inaccurately on such matters.
Order. I remind the House that we have another statement after business questions and a debate in which, sadly, because of the number of hon. Members who wish to speak, I shall have to impose a limit on speeches. I appeal for brief business questions, which I am reluctant to curtail.
With reference to the airport security matter which the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has raised, and the hourly demands by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) for the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, is my right hon. Friend aware that there are literally hundreds of direct flights and transfer connections from Frankfurt to airports in the United States of America? This page is just one, for example——
I recognise my hon. Friend's strong feelings and, to a degree, I agree with him, but I cannot promise him a debate, for the reasons that I gave the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). It is already known that airports and airlines were alerted in November to the discovery by the West German police of a radio cassette bomb in Frankfurt. Therefore, they were well warned about it.
The statement on airport security which has been made public in newspaper and media reports came from the Department of Transport. Many hon. Members are surprised that we should learn about it through the radio waves rather than through a statement in the House. Can the Leader of the House offer an explanation for that?
Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on the proposed takeover of Scottish and Newcastle Breweries by Elders is now with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry? May we expect a statement on that before Parliament goes into recess?
The newspapers do not consult me about any statements they make, and I cannot be held responsible for what appears in the newspapers. I have explained the position of the Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and I have nothing further to add to that. There is a procedure laid down for matters connected with monopolies and mergers and as I am not a party to those discussions I cannot add anything to what the hon. Gentleman already knows.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm the Government's intention to bring forward their embryo Bill as soon as possible? Can he also say when it is likely that the Government will implement the proposals and recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure, which would get rid of some of the worst abuses of the private Members' Bill system? Is he aware that many of my constituents are anxious to see the Abortion Act amended and cannot understand why, although we have votes in the House, we never reach a firm decision? I am asking for time to get the matter settled once and for all.
I recognise the strong feelings of my hon. Friend and in all parts of the House over those two issues. As he knows, the Government are committed to bringing in legislation to deal with the Warnock report during this Parliament. I cannot say anything further than that at present. I have had discussions with the Select Committee on Procedure and we have had several debates on its proposals—one fairly recently. The Committee is now having another look at some aspects of the matter and I await its further considerations on these matters with some interest. It is a complicated issue.
Is the Leader of the House aware of the disclosure today that a letter from the Department of Transport about the danger of explosions from Semtex devices hidden in radio cassette players was sent to Manchester airport on 19 December, two days before Lockerbie, but did not arrive until January due to its having been sent by ordinary mail? In the age of the fax machine, is this not a case of incredible folly in a matter of life and death? Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to make an urgent statement?
The right hon. Gentleman, who is usually fair about such matters, seems to have missed out the most important part of the event—that airports and airlines were alerted by telex on 22 November. Subsequently a circular was sent out in the new year, which simply had further details and a coloured photograph. The original alert went out in November.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on employment, which would enable the Opposition to congratulate the Government on having reduced unemployment by 1 million since the general election? The Opposition promised to do that within two years of the general election, so it would be interesting to be able to ask them why it would have taken them so long.
It is a matter of congratulation and relief all round that this Government have seen the unemployment figures fall much more quickly than proposed in the Labour party manifesto. During the remaining stages of the Employment Bill, there will be an opportunity for just such sentiments to come from the Opposition, although I have my doubts about whether they will.
Will the Leader of the House speak to the Chancellor of the Exchequer before he speaks in the House on Monday? The Leader of the House will remember that the Committee stage of the Official Secrets Bill was taken on the Floor of the House because it mattered that such important issues should be discussed here. Yet the Chancellor announced that he would include in the Finance Bill a clause that would allow tax officers to be dealt with as if they were caught by the Official Secrets Bill. In other words, a tax officer revealing information could be prosecuted.
However, in the written answers from the Department of Health in Wednesday's Hansard there is a two-page list of organisations covered by the Official Secrets Act, such as the Health Advisory Service and the Dental Advisory Committee, and all sorts of other organisations, yet the Chancellor will have something in his Finance Bill to deal with precisely that. Surely there has been a mistake, and all that is needed now, if the Chancellor wishes tax officers to be covered, is an amendment to be tabled in another place. The Official Secrets Bill should not be dealt with in the Finance Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman usually listens carefully to what is said, but he has overlooked an important point. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor was concerned about the protection of taxpayers' information, which is not quite in the same category as official secrets of the state—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) should contain himself; I shall do my best to explain the position to him.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor was talking about the protection of taxpayers' private information about their personal affairs. The Government believe that the right way to deal with that is in the Finance Bill. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Committee stage of the Finance Bill takes place partly upstairs and partly on the Floor of the House. I have no doubt that discussions could take place through the usual channels if this is thought by the Opposition to be an issue that they wish to discuss on the Floor of the House. It is possible to arrange that, but I should like the various discussions to take place privately.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be helpful to have a debate soon on energy prices in the light of the news today that British Gas is to increase its prices to customers by only 3·3 per cent., which is less than half the level of inflation? A debate would give many Conservative Members the opportunity to question the scaremongering of Opposition Members who suggest that privatisation automatically leads to substantial price rises for the customer.
The Leader of the House may know that one of my constituents died in the crash at Lockerbie and that there is increasing public disquiet about the information that the family is obtaining in dribs and drabs, which shows clearly that full and frank information was not given in this House. The family is looking for an early statement. Is the Leader of the House aware that in addition there is considerable disquiet about negligence in regard to the information that was sent to families about the identification of bodies in at least one case about which I have asked the Department of Transport? I was referred to the Scottish Office and it took seven weeks to get the answer that arrived today, which does not give any information whatsoever. May we have an early and frank statement to help to allay the growing public disquiet?
If the hon. Lady is not receiving information concerning any of her constituents to which she feels they are entitled, and if I can help in any way, if the hon. Lady will write to me I shall do my best.
On the general proposition, I should have thought that anybody who gave a moment's thought to this matter must believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport was absolutely right not to reveal in this House intelligence of security matters or matters that are the subject of criminal investigations. I should have thought that that would be self-evident to those concerned with air safety.
Despite my right hon. Friend's replies, and in view of the half-truths and misinformation being put about today about airport and airline security, may I urge my right hon. Friend to consider changing next week's business because next week is not too soon to make it crystal clear that the Department of Transport acted immediately, properly and fully? Next week, at the latest, it should be made crystal clear that Heathrow Airport Limited acted in November the moment that it received a telex and we should make it equally clear next week that it is absolutely wrong to spread such half-truths because the only result of that will be that it is more difficult to protect the public and more difficult to bring the people who perpetrate such atrocities to court.
Of course, my hon. Friend is right. If it was possible to reveal everything in a debate I have no doubt that those matters would be cleared up. However, that must be balanced against the security considerations and the criminal and security investigations. I do not believe that it would be in anybody's interests for that sort of information to be bandied about until the appropriate moment.
May I seek an assurance from the Leader of the House in relation to the difficulties being experienced by the Committee that is dealing with the alien concept of schools opting out in Scotland? I am referring not so much to the antics of a few Members of the Scottish National party, as to the Government's abuse of the system by packing the Committee with no fewer than six Tory Members of Parliament from English constituencies who know little and care less about education in Scotland. Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that proceedings on that Bill will not be guillotined so that Members who represent Scottish constituencies will have an opportunity to participate in debates on the Floor of the House?
The hon. Gentleman will know that I am extremely reluctant to introduce a guillotine on any occasion. I do it only with the greatest possible reluctance, in spite of calls from the Select Committee on Procedure and others that I should bring in guillotines automatically. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the composition of a Committee is a matter for the Committee of Selection and not for me. However, I know that all hon. Members from English constituencies who serve on the Committee considering the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill have a long-standing interest in Scottish questions and affairs.
Will my right hon. Friend be a little more forthcoming about the Government's response to Sir Roy Griffiths's important report upon care in the community? It was published some 12 months ago, but little reference was made to it in the White Paper on the National Health Service. It is important that the Government respond to those important recommendations very soon.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is important that the Government respond to that important report as soon as possible. However, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that it is also important that we find the right solution.
My constituents at Leo Laboratories in Middlesbrough will be pleased to note that the Water Bill is to come back to the House next week on Report. The commercial manager of Leo Laboratories, which manufactures anti-coagulants for the National Health Service and for export, advised me that the rate for trade effluent will be increased from 7·9 p to 19·3 p per litre from 1 April by the local water authority. Will the Ministers during the debate take full responsibility for that price rise and accept that it is part and parcel of the privatisation proceedings?
There have been many discussions about price rises and who is and who is not responsible. I am pleased that I have arranged for the matter to be ventilated on the Floor of the House in the near future, and the hon. Gentleman can make his point then.
I recognise that it is an important matter. I wish I could be more forthcoming to my hon. Friend, who was very patient and courteous in asking me his question, as he has been before. At this time of the year there is much pressure on Government time, but I shall bear his suggestion very much in mind.
I doubt whether my right hon. and learned Friend would consider it right to make a statement on that at the time, or whether the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises would be in order in the debate that he suggests. However, that is a matter not for me, but for you, Mr. Speaker. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and if he thinks that the hon. Gentleman has a point he will no doubt get in touch with him.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the need for improved road and rail links from the Channel tunnel, not simply to London but to regions such as the north-west where industry needs fast and competitive transport links to its markets in Europe and the south-east of England?
As the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, we have set ourselves a rather hefty programme of important legislative matters during the next two weeks. I cannot accommodate my hon. Friend by adding anything more to it, but I have a feeling that the matter that he has raised will be the subject of debate on the Floor of the House before too long.
May we please have a debate or a statement next week on airport security? If it is correct, as has been alleged, that a telex was sent to all the airlines and received by them, the public are entitled to know what was done as a result, and why it is that the awful disaster occurred in which so many people—constituents and friends of hon. Members on both sides of the House—died, probably unnecessarily, because no heed was taken of it? Without a statement, how are we to know what is being done to protect people who will be travelling by air this Easter if future warnings are given and allegedly received?
The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that what is said in such cases is not always accurately reported and is often nothing other than wild speculation. The facts that can be revealed have been revealed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. He is obviously deeply concerned about the issue and is watching it, and if there is anything more that it is appropriate to say he will say it. With his experience, the hon. and learned Gentleman will know that, while matters are the subject of criminal investigation, they are not best dealt with on the Floor of the House.
Will my right hon. Friend allow time for an early debate on whether, when a Member is suspended from the service of the House, he and his staff should lose pay and whether the full services and facilities of the House should be withdrawn from the hon. Member for the period of that suspension?
On balance, I do not agree with my hon. Friend, but I understand his point. The most important thing in such matters is the authority of the Chair, which must be upheld at all times. That is best demonstrated by the Chair being given the overwhelming support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have to move by agreement, but I recognise the strength of my hon. Friend's point.
Should not next Monday the Secretary of State for Employment return to the Dispatch Box to answer some of the questions on skill centres that he did not answer last Monday? Exactly what is Deloitte Haskins and Sells recommending for its fee of £128,000—money for old rope—and what is happening to the considerable property and machinery investments in those skill centres? Apparently, a justification has been given of a management buy-out. Should not the House of Commons be told a great deal more about that? Frankly, it looks like a gravy train of the first order.
The only good thing about the hon. Gentleman's question is that it is on a subject different from those that I have become used to him asking about. He can take some comfort from the fact that my right hon. Friend has announced that a new clause is to be tabled to the Employment Bill on that matter so that the House will have plenty of opportunity to debate the proposals. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman, with his customary ingenuity, will find a way of making the points that he raised last week when the statement was made. However, I must say that I thought that my right hon. Friend adequately answered his points there and then.
As my right hon. Friend knows, the House has not yet had an opportunity to debate the Lord Chancellor's Green Papers on legal reforms, despite intemperate opposition from various vested interests. As a barrister, I would welcome an opportunity of saying that the view of the independent Bar will survive as a result of maintaining high professional standards, not restrictive practices. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that in the debate on the Lord Chancellor's Salary Order next Wednesday there will be such an opportunity, and that I shall be in order to refer to those matters? Will he extend the debate, if necessary, so that those who support the Lord Chancellor's proposals will not be crowded out by various heavy-handed silks, who do not represent public opinion?
My hon. Friend makes his point very effectively. I am not sure whether a debate on the Lord Chancellor's Salary Order is the right occasion on which to debate the substantial and complicated documents published by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. Everyone should have a chance to study and comment on those important documents, and the proper time for a debate will be after that has been done. Whether it will be in order for my hon. Friend to refer to those matters in next week's debate is not a matter for me.
Is the Leader of the House aware that, among the many predictions in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's 1988 Budget that he got wrong, was the suggestion that his 1989 Budget would be televised? Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the House will be given an opportunity to consider the report from the Select Committee on Televising of Proceedings of the House? Can he say also whether we shall be able to debate the report of the Select Committee on Procedure on the private Bill procedure? Those two outstanding matters are of interest to right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.
On the hon. Gentleman's first question, I suspect that he was on his trip to America—from which I am delighted to see he has returned—when I answered a question by his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on that subject, with, as I remember, a very snappy joke. I said then that we are making steady progress and that the report will be published before too long. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find it a fascinating read and will give it his support.
I have promised a debate on the report of private Bill procedure, fairly soon after Easter. We are having discussions through the usual channels about an appropriate date. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman served on the Select Committee.
He did, so I am preaching to the converted. The more that I study that subject, the more complicated and difficult I find it. We must consider the matter extremely carefully in order to be as knowledgeable as the hon. Gentleman, and to make wise judgments about a procedure that has been around for a long time and perhaps needs bringing up to date.
Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his answer about right hon. and hon. Members who disobey the rules and Standing Orders of the House? In these days of mass media, it is clear that substantial fees are paid for newspaper articles and for television appearances, so one can gain not only enormous publicity but financially as a result of misbehaviour. Although I fully support my right hon. Friend's comments on respecting the authority of the Chair, which is absolutely vital to the well-being of this unitary Parliament, in this modern age too many other factors can be taken into account. It is time for us to update the rules.
I am glad that my hon. Friend gives me an opportunity to reconsider the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), because I should have said, much more responsibly than I did, that we await the report of the Select Committee on Procedure on those matters, and that I had better wait for that before expressing any more views on the subject.
The private notice question procedure is laid down in Standing Orders, but it has long been the practice of the House to make special arrangements for the Leader of the Opposition. It is for Mr. Speaker to decide whether to accept such arrangements, but, looking back over our proceedings, one can see that it has been very rarely indeed, if ever, that the Leader of the Opposition has asked Mr. Speaker for leave to ask a private notice question and that that request has been refused. I thought that on the most recent occasion the Leader of the Opposition asked his private notice question beautifully, but I have some criticism of his speech afterwards.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the strong feeling among Conservative Members about the possibility of the Government banning unpasteurised green-top milk? Will he give an assurance that a decision on that matter will not be made before the House has had an opportunity to discuss it? Conservative Members may wish to make the point that their party believes in choice, and in individuals being free to make their own decisions.
I know my job well enough to know that the Prime Minister gave a good answer to that question a little while ago. She reminded the House that there is a consultation document on the subject. There are strong feelings on both sides of the argument, and the Government will not make a decision about the best way to proceed until they have studied the responses to that consultation document.
Now that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a statement announcing preferential price treatment for unleaded petrol, will the right hon. Gentleman call on the appropriate Secretary of State to make a statement next week about those who use cars under the mobility allowance scheme? Such people, by their very nature, need assistance to run a car and cannot afford to have their cars adapted for unleaded petrol—which is estimated to cost upwards of £200 per car. In order to reinforce what he has done, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer also give preferential treatment to those on the mobility allowance scheme?
No. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) can have either my unbriefed answer or my briefed answer. I thought that the hon. Gentleman made a good point and I did not know the answer until I happened to see the piece of paper in front of me. We do not think that it is appropriate to bring forward proposals for changes until we have further considered the matter. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the right to buy of people in properties run by housing associations, bearing in mind the increasing number of people in such properties and the fact that, in that respect, they feel like, and are, second-class citizens? Their inability to buy has a detrimental effect on the estates on which they live—such as the Drayton Bridge road housing estate in my constituency, where only a third of the properties available have so far been occupied. Many people are so disenchanted with the Notting Hill housing trust that they are scrawling graffiti all over the place, which is becoming a serious problem.
I do not want to interfere with the Easter holiday arrangements of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, but will he give some indication of the Prime Minister's movements around 1 April, when an important rally against the poll tax is to take place in Edinburgh? As the tax is the flagship of the Prime Minister, would it be possible for her to be invited to Scotland on that day to explain to the rally why we in Scotland must be subjected to this tax one year before England and Wales?
In view of the forthcoming holiday, the Leader of the House will recognise the important deadline of 31 March in relation to the mining industry. Will the Secretary of State for Energy make a statement on any agreement made between the South of Scotland electricity board and British Coal for deep-mined coal in Scotland?
I have nothing to say in reply to the second question, although I shall certainly refer it to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I am not in a position to answer the question about where my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be on a particular day. There was, however, a more substantive element to the question. Evidence of a more responsible attitude on the part of Scottish local authorities is already beginning to appear, as they know that they will have to rely on the community taxpayers for their public expenditure. The hon. Gentleman will rue the day he criticised the community charge.
Before the recess, may the House be given information about the 1989 electoral register in England and Wales, constituency by constituency? The information is available for Scotland, which once again is being pampered by the Scottish Office. I am particularly interested in the information because, when the House returns on 4 April, I shall be presenting a ten-minute Bill, the Re-enfranchisement of the People Bill, which is concerned with the fall in the Scottish electoral register because of the poll tax.
A couple of months ago my right hon. Friend assured me that we could have a general debate on Northern Ireland. Someone seems to be killed there pretty well every day, judging by the newspapers. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that we will have such a debate in the next two or three months?
My right hon. Friend did press me for such a debate, and I am sorry that it has not been possible to arrange one. I have it in mind, and, although I have no immediate plans—I have a heavy programme to get through—I have not forgotten what I said to my right hon. Friend some time ago.
Does the Leader of the House agree that we should in the near future debate the findings of the public inquiry into the loss of the Bibby Line bulk carrier the Derbyshire? The right hon. Gentleman will recall that the vessel was lost with all hands in 1980. In stark contrast with what has happened since the loss of the Herald of Free Enterprise, relatives of crew members of this tragic ship have received a pittance in compensation from the Bibby Line. Is it not time that we debated the findings of the public inquiry?
I recognise that that is the main concern of anyone involved in the incident. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks, but I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and perhaps write to the hon. Gentleman.