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Sir Geoffrey Howe : The measures providing for the future of the electricity industry will come before the House in the ordinary way over the weeks and months ahead and they will provide many opportunities for raising matters such as the one to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred. I cannot accept any responsibility for the idea of promoting a debate on a leaked document.
Column 479Polkinghorne report this summer which said that research would be allowed on live foetuses up to 20 weeks old only if controlled by an ethical committee? There is a strong feeling throughout the country, especially in the light of possible Bills next Session, that this is an important matter. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider providing an opportunity for the House to debate this important report?
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : As the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has not seen fit to make a statement this afternoon on the announcement this morning by Ford, which is the logical conclusion of his Pontius Pilate sell-out of thousands of Jaguar workers in Coventry and tens of thousands of components suppliers in the west midlands, will the Leader of the House pressurise his right hon. Friend to come back to the Chamber later today to make such a statement? We could then discuss not only the global chess match for Jaguar's name and badge, but the wider question about what happens now to the so-called golden shares in Cable and Wireless, Sealink, British Telecom, British Aerospace, Vickers, British Airports and Rolls-Royce, and not least in water and electricity. If Britoil and Jaguar have shown that the so-called golden shares are worthless pawns in the Government's hands, why is the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry not here this afternoon to defend himself?
Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend discuss through the usual channels as soon as possible the suggestion that the Opposition day a week on Monday should be on the subject of housing, especially the effect on young couples seeking a mortgage for the first time and couples seeking to trade up their house for a larger house as the family grows? If the Government were to accept the policy advocated by the new Opposition environment spokesman, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who in the Walden interview on 15 October pledged the Labour party to freeze mortgages for young couples, which would be disastrous.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. There is great pressure to take part in the subsequent debate. I am reluctant to curtail business questions, but I will allow them to continue until 4.15 pm, after which we must move on because I have already had to put a 10-minute limit on speeches.
Column 480roads and the driving of roads through residential areas? Is he aware of the complete lack of consultation and communication with the residents of Evesham road in my constituency as a result of the Bede island development, which is causing anger and alarm? Will the House have an opportunity to discuss such anxieties, which affect ordinary people in their everyday lives?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is aware, for example, of the anxiety that arises from such prospective development, especially in relation to the assessment studies being undertaken in Greater London. He intends to announce which options will be considered as soon as possible, probably in early December. I will draw to his attention the comparable anxieties described by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Does the Leader of the House recall that during business questions last week my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) asked him whether the United Kingdom had troops in secret bases in Thailand? The Leader of the House said that he would alert the appropriate Minister to give an answer in the Adjournment debate which took place last night. Is he aware that the Minister did not answer last night? The Leader of the House must surely be aware that today the Prime Minister refused to say. Can we have an urgent debate about Cambodia? Is it true that United Kingdom personnel are training guerrillas in secret bases in Thailand?
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : Will the Leader of the House make time available for a debate about the issue highlighted by the Carnworth report? Does he agree that our planning laws are in need of major reform? To that end, will he join me in condemning firms like Neal Brothers in my constituency, situated in residential areas, which hide behind outdated stop notice planning laws? Does he agree that that is an important issue? When can we have a debate on it?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman the prospect of an early debate on that subject. However, I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is aware of the importance of the report to which he referred.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : May we have a debate on the state of the franchise? The Leader of the House will be aware that we have been in correspondence on that matter and I maintain that it is due to the operation of the poll tax. In the light of that correspondence, will the Leader of the House comment on the statements in a secret document sent to Right-wing Members by "British Briefing", which--
Column 481How does that tie in with my concern for the franchise? The document has placed that label against me for opening a Morning Star bazaar in Chesterfield.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I would find it difficult to comment on a secret document which the hon. Gentleman has seen but I have not. I dare say that the hon. Gentleman has a better chance of answering his questions than I have.
Several Hon. Members rose --
[That this House fully supports the ambulance crews in their pay claim, which is absolutely justified, especially against a background of salary increases of 26 per cent. awarded to themselves by company directors and top executives.]
Will the Leader of the House find time next week for an urgent debate on the ambulance dispute, the just claims of the ambulance workers, and the Government's preparedness to use the police and the Army to smash that dispute and the unions with it instead of recognising the importance of the work of ambulance workers, their dedication and the debt which we owe to them all? Will he ensure that there is a debate?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : As the hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone, more than 94 per cent. of National Health Service staff have settled their pay claims without recourse to industrial action, most at or around the level of the offer available to ambulance crews. The unions should call off their action against patients and return to the negotiating table. I can offer no prospect of a debate on the subject.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : May we have a proper statement from the Prime Minister on Kampuchea, or is she so arrogant that she feels that she does not have to tell the House whether British troops are involved in a war out there?
Mr. Cohen : The Leader of the House is deputy Prime Minister and was previously the Foreign Secretary. Was he told what was happening or, like so many other issues of State, was he kept in the dark like an old, ill- treated dog?
Column 482right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the debate which took place as recently as last night.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : Is the Leader of the House aware that not too many moments ago he announced that we would have private business next week? Is he aware that we had some private discussions about a Bill that was debated last night? What happened in this House was shocking. I believe that the Government introduced a payroll vote during our previous discussions of that Bill. Will the Leader of the House assure us that he will keep his eye on the Government Chief Whip so that we will not see the payroll vote in future? That is the responsibility of the Leader of the House--
Mr. Haynes : I warn the Leader of the House that Labour Members will be in government after the next election and the present Leader of the House will be on the Opposition Benches. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I know that the Leader of the House is a great lover of parrots--he bears more than a passing resemblance to a giant African grey himself. Is he aware that there are 330 species of parrot in the world, and that about one third of them are under threat of extinction? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman arrange a debate next week on the threat to parrots and to all endangered animal species?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for imparting to me some additional knowledge about parrots which was not previously available. However, even in response to that, I cannot provide time for a debate next week on that topic.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made as soon as possible on insider dealing, in view of the fragility of the stock market and the announcements made this morning that it is possible that a Cabinet Minister is involved? Before a statement is made next week, will he make sure that every Cabinet Minister is checked out on insider dealing, and that they, not stockbrokers, give statements?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out that my right hon. Friend has already made a statement today. I have nothing to add to that, except to join in what the Prime Minister said, and to regret the way in which the matter has been raised in the House this afternoon.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You probably consider me to be a nuisance but, as I have always been a nuisance, I intend to continue to be one as long as I am here. I think that you have to reconsider your ruling on hon. Members raising genuine points of order when an issue is raised in Question Time or at any other time. I know that you, or perhaps your predecessors, were quite rightly concerned about frivolous points of order, for example, when hon. Members got up, as a knee-jerk reaction, to say that they disagreed with an issue, and that they would raise it on the Adjournment debate. That used to annoy all of us, as they never raised it on the Adjournment anyway. Other hon. Members use points of order to stop the proceedings of the House.
I understand your point of view, Mr. Speaker, but once hon. Members know that there is no point in raising frivolous points of order, they will raise only genuine points of order.
The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) raised a point of order today but he has had to go. That is understandable. He has probably had to go to another meeting. The Minister has also had to go. Ministers cannot remain in the House. However, an hour and a half later the issue is being raised, and the hon. Members involved are not here. The issue needed to be dealt with there and then. I am serious about this matter and I have raised it before. I understand your position, Mr. Speaker, but I ask you to reconsider. If a genuine point of order is not dealt with at the time, the issue is lost sight of.
Mr. Speaker : I shall deal with the matter now, because I have given it careful consideration over a long time. It is the consistent practice of the Chair to hear points of order after questions and statements. The whole House knows that ; but I will always hear a point of order if it concerns irregularities which require immediate attention. Today, the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) raised a point of order to argue that he did not like the answer that he had been given in Question Time. That was a clear continuation of Question Time.
I say to the whole House that if I allowed that, the danger, when the Commons is televised, is that there could be a rash of points of order at what is judged to be prime time after questions, thereby delaying the debate, and taking time from right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate in subsequent business.
I shall always hear points of order if they require my immediate attention. Otherwise, points of order should come in their proper place which is after questions or statements or Standing Order No. 20 applications.
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Not long ago, we sought to protect Back Benchers by reducing the number of questions asked by the Leader of the Opposition. At that time it was normal for him to ask two questions ; occasionally, you said that that might spread to a third. Now he is asking three on a regular basis. Will you, Sir, take the usual opportunity to speak to the right hon. Gentleman and tell him to get his questions down to two?
Mr. Speaker : It has always been the practice for the Leader of the Opposition to be allowed a certain tolerance at Question Time. May I remind the House that many hon. Members wish to participate in today's debate? Some may already be seeking to raise points of order.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It concerns efforts by South Africa to influence unduly the elections taking place in Namibia. I wonder whether it would be possible to arrange-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker : Order. But that is plainly not a point of order for me. If the hon. Gentleman had risen to ask me whether I had received a request for a statement, that would be another matter, but I cannot hear arguments about what is going on in South Africa. That is not a matter for me.
Mr. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to raise again a matter that I raised with you nine months ago. You will know, Mr. Speaker, that when a Minister says that he has nothing to add to a statement, he is, in effect, blocking questions. I tabled 10 questions at 2.5 pm today about insider dealing in the City--
Mr. Campbell-Savours : That is not the question, Mr. Speaker. The issue is that the questions that I have tabled are now the subject of a block, and I am asking you to exercise your discretion to allow my questions--
Mr. Speaker : Order. I was in the Chair before the hon. Gentleman tabled his questions. How on earth can I have an opportunity to make any definitive promise or statement on a matter that I have not even considered?
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that the point that my hon. Friend is trying to make concerns not what you may not yet have seen, but what has taken place in the Chamber this afternoon while you have been in the Chair, namely that in several answers the Leader of the House--the deputy Prime Minister--has used the phrase, "I have nothing further to add." That phrase becomes a blocking motion, which may then prevent the tabling of further
Column 485questions. My hon. Friend and I are asking you to consider that, Mr. Speaker, and to rule against the Leader of the House.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Between 1976 and 1979, on every occasion but three, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister--then Leader of the Opposition--was at the Dispatch Box to ask the Leader of the House in the then Labour Government to name the business for that week. That tradition seems now to have lapsed : the Leader of the Opposition appears only infrequently to make the request. Surely that is a grave discourtesy to the House, and I seek your ruling on it.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the difficulty, but my hon. Friend was not trying to continue an earlier debate ; he was trying to clarify an issue. It is one thing for a Minister to make a statement politically, outside the House. It is another matter for him to make a statement in the House that has the import of misleading the House. You, Mr. Speaker, do not expect Back Benchers not to be interested in a statement made from the Front Bench on their behalf. Is it not a tradition of the House that when a party's spokesperson makes a statement, responding to a departmental request in writing, that is taken to be the response of his party? That was the issue on which my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) sought your guidance.
Mr. Speaker : I ask the hon. Gentleman to calculate what would happen if that practice became general. There would be a rash of hon. Members seeking clarification of answers to their questions. Question Time is limited, because otherwise we would never have time for the business before by the House.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : I shall be brief, Mr. Speaker, because I know that many hon. Members wish to participate in the next debate. The Leader of the House came to your aid, Mr. Speaker, when he put his finger on the spot by deploring the fact that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) had asked a question in the absence of the Minister. However, it could not have been otherwise because the Minister had left the chamber. The hon. Member for Walton raised that point to obtain a correction at the time but naturally you had ruled against it. I believe that the Leader of the House has got the message.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : Further to an earlier point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will doubtless be delighted to see me back in action, so that we can continue our dialogue about points of order. You said just now, Sir, quite clearly, that it was your consistent practice to take points of order after other procedures in the House had been pursued. May I simply point out with great respect, Sir, that that was not the practice of your predecessor? You also said, Sir, that the proper place for points of order was where you had chosen to put them. The proper place for points of order is when they arise
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has not been here for a while, and I welcome him back. May I repeat and underline--because perhaps he does not read Hansard as regularly as some hon. Members--that I will always take points of order--I said this to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer)--on matters that need my immediate attention. Other points of order are taken in their proper place--it is not a new practice-- which today was after business questions or after a statement if there had been one. That has always been the practice, and that I shall continue.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have listened closely to what you have said during this exchange about points of order being taken at various times--either before Question Time, in the middle of Question Time, at the end of Question Time or after statements have been made. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that some considerable time ago you tried to take a definitive stance on taking points of order at the very end. It was suggested by some hon. Members, including myself, that that could not be carried through successfully because there would be cases when Front-Bench spokesmen in particular would want to raise points of order. Eventually, the thing broke down, albeit on a limited scale. Today, for instance--it is important that we get this right before the cameras or anything else intrude--at the very opening of Question Time, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) raised a point of order about a Northern Ireland case in his room. You allowed that point of order, and heard it and I believe that it was sensible of you to do so. However, an hon. Member representing a Northern Ireland constituency later tried to raise a point of order, but before the proper explanation was given--it was about misleading the House--the whole thing collapsed because of your intervention. At the end, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) then wanted to raise a point of order arising out of something that occurred during Question Time, but before you had heard what he had to say, you said that he would not be allowed to make his point of order.
If you say, Mr. Speaker, as you have said three times--or rather twice-- today, that you will allow points of order where they are attributable to procedure as distinct from argument, and if you want matters to continue on an even and decent plane, I suggest that you give Back Benchers an opportunity to raise points of order--Front Bench spokesmen always have their chance--and my guess is that you would be wise to hear what hon. Members have to say before giving any ruling.
Column 487Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) rose--
The hon. Gentleman is totally incorrect. I heard the point of order from the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), but it was plainly not a matter of order for me ; it was challenging what the Minister had said. I am not responsible for that.
I will always hear points of order if they need my imediate attention. I am not prepared, however--and I believe that the House would not want it either--to have a rash of points of order arising out of Question Time. That would merely mean that we would delay the start of a debate. Other points of order should be raised at the proper place which, as the House well knows, is after a private notice question, a statement or a Standing Order No. 20 application.
Mrs. Mahon : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek clarification from you. You will be aware that I asked the Leader of the House a question about troops in secret bases in Thailand, which was based on a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) last week. Then, the Leader of the House said that an explanation would be given by a Minister, but things seem to have changed this week because a procedural gag appears to have been used. The Leader of the House said that he had nothing further to add. Does that mean that I cannot table a question asking whether British Troops are being used from secret bases in Thailand?
Mr. Speaker : That is a hypothetical question, and until the hon. Lady tables her question it is difficult to say whether it will need my attention. I think that we should move on to the Adjournment debate.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Dorrell.]
Mr. Speaker : We have had a late start and a large number of right hon. and hon. Members want to participate. I must put a 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock, but I implore hon. Members who are called before that to bear that limit in mind because I greatly regret that, if not, few Members are likely to be called today.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. John Major) : I greatly welcome this opportunity for a debate on economic and monetary union in the European Community. This is an important occasion and one on which the Government are particularly keen to hear the views of the House. The idea of moving towards economic and monetary union in the Community is not new. It has a long history. As long ago as 1970, a report by Mr. Pierre Werner, then Prime Minister of Luxembourg, made detailed proposals for progressing to economic and monetary union. He proposed transferring major economic policy decisions to Community level, adopting a single currency and setting up a single central bank. The Community endorsed those proposals in 1972 and agreed that full EMU would be achieved by December 1980 at the latest. After that endorsement, other events intervened and nothing much came of the Werner proposals. They were, in practice, buried. Nevertheless throughout the 1970s the Community continued to endorse the principle of progressing towards economic and monetary union. It was reaffirmed again at the European Council in Brussels in 1977, and the objective of the progressive realisation of EMU is recalled also in the Single European Act of 1986. It has since been reaffirmed again at the European Councils of Hanover and Madrid. There is thus a long-standing commitment to the objective of the progressive realisation of EMU. But there is no universal view of what EMU means or what it entails ; or when it should be achieved. That is the issue before us now.
One definition was offered in the Delors report, which was published in April this year. The Governor of the Bank of England, a member of the Delors committee, explained its approach to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee in May. It devoted itself
"very much to how economic and monetary union might be achieved, rather than whether or when. We took the view that whether or when was a matter for political leaders".
The Delors report--which was a report from a group of technical monetary experts--was considered by the European Council in Madrid in June. The Council agreed then to adopt the first stage of its proposals, and to set in hand further preparatory work on developments beyond that stage.
The Council of Finance Ministers and the General Affairs Council are now engaged in that further work. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be attending a meeting of the General Affairs Council next Monday at which economic and monetary union will be on the agenda. It will then be the central subject for discussion at the ecofin Council on Monday 13 November, when I will present a paper setting out the British Government's view.