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Column 1020Minister among Conservative councillors was suppressed when the poll, seemingly, did not suit the purposes of the programme's producers.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : As my hon. Friend appreciates as well as anyone, the commissioning of research and the selection of material for use in programmes are matters for the editorial judgment of the broadcasters. I hope that they will take account of the views expressed by hon. Members, including those that my hon. Friend has just expressed.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the financial crisis facing so many health authorities, in particular Gwynedd health authority, which is facing a £4 million shortfall, leading to the closure of wards and the elimination of services, and is hitting disabled people, the young and the old? In addition, six hospital closures have been announced for the next 12 months. May we have an early debate on that subject?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman the prospect of an early debate, but I shall bring the matters he has raised to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant) : The Leader of the House will doubtless have seen the extremely disturbing report in yesterday's edition of The Times, based on evidence given to a United States Senate committee, that the cost of dealing with the greenhouse effect could absorb the entire national income of the United States. In view of that report, and the report of the committee in the other place on the scientific background to the greenhouse effect, may we have an early debate on that important subject, which has vast policy implications?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not doubt the importance of the issue my hon. Friend has mentioned, as it raises many questions. I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate specifically on that issue, but I shall bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement or a debate on the question of the parliamentary building across the road? Is he aware that there has been considerable delay and that one of the problems concerns the 40 marble fireplaces in rooms for Members of Parliament. Due to the Government's attitude to manufacturing industry in Britain, we have no one to produce such fireplaces, with the result the Italians have been called in to provide these £20,000 marble fireplaces--[ Hon. Members :-- "Each?"] Yes, £20,000 each. The contractors in Italy have said that they would like to provide the fireplaces but that they need to use Italian labour. No wonder the unemployment figures are beginning to rise.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman will understand that all matters relating to the provision of the new building across the road, including phase 1, are under the closely attended management of the New Building Sub-Committee of the House.
Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure us that we shall have an early opportunity to debate the electoral processes in central and eastern Europe, given that they will come to a head
Column 1021next month? Will he particularly bear in mind the concerns of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have met Romanian parliamentary candidates about the election there? Will he reiterate the Government's position in that regard?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that matter once again. The House has expressed its anxiety on more than one occasion about the manner in which those elections are being and are likely to be conducted. As he knows, provision has been made for the presence of independent observers there to assess the standards to which he has drawn our attention.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week from the Secretary of State for Employment on the sale of skill centres, because the Government have failed to reveal information about why they did not tell bidders for the centres that £11 million would be given to three civil servants and would not be available to the others? The Government did not tell other bidders that 27 skill centres were to be sold to Astra Training Services. There has been a conspiracy of secrecy on the matter. It is taxpayers' money and we should know the details, and it is vital that there is a requirement that civil servants should not be given inside advantage to purchase publicly owned assets. We should have a statement next week about this further rip-off of taxpayers.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity, in a more intelligent setting, to ask those questions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment on Tuesday next week.
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : Is the Leader of the House aware that the Labour party is now committed to repealing all the trade union reforms that we have introduced during the past 10 years? Since that hostility bears down on individual rights and can only create confusion and mayhem in the workplace, may we have an urgent debate on the matter after the Whitsun recess?
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : Does the Leader of the House recall that last week I asked him whether the Government would make a statement on steel policy? Is he aware that, had such a statement been made, we might have been able to change British Steel's disastrous decision to close the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig? The absence of a Department of Trade and Industry statement is tragic both for the Government and for Ravenscraig, since there are deep divisions between the Department of Trade and Industry and the Secretary of State for Scotland. It was extremely unfortunate that we did not have the opportunity, during Prime Minister's questions today, to hear that the Government support the fight for Ravenscraig. Unfortunately, the random selection of supplementary questions did not allow any of the Scottish Members of Parliament to be called, and--
Dr. Reid : I said that the random selection of questions unfortunately did not allow one Scottish Labour Member of Parliament to be called, and I stand by that. Will the Leader of the House allow us to question the Department of Trade and Industry by bringing the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to the Dispatch Box to answer directly for the consequences of his privatisation programme?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The position remains exactly as I have already stated it : this is a matter for the commercial judgment of the company. It was the subject of a statement and questions in the House yesterday afternoon ; it will be the subject of a further debate in the House next Monday.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time in the near future for a debate on the regulations governing the Data Protection Act 1984? A document has been sent to me by constituents-- it is a Labour party document from the private office of the Leader of the Opposition--requesting Conservatives to give money. It has not attracted much support, but the document purports to say the following, in very small print : "Labour would never make"--
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am sure that the House will be grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter. I hope that it is studied as it ought to be by those responsible for the circulation of the document.
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : Will the Leader of the House confirm the statement made by the Prime Minister's press officer, Mr. Bernard Ingham, that the Secretary of State for Scotland is receiving no support in Cabinet and that he stands alone? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement about why he stands alone and why he is not getting support for the steel workers at Ravenscraig?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The Secretary of State for Scotland stands as a member of the Government with the full support of the Government. Government policy is the same for all Ministers. Obviously there is concern about the consequences of any commercial decision, but the fact remains that the decisions affecting Ravenscraig are commercial decisions. They were the subject of discussions in the House yesterday, and they will be the subject of further discussion on Monday.
Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for a debate next week on the appalling decision of the Civil Aviation Authority not to recommend the mandatory introduction of smoke hoods into civilian aircraft? Is he aware of the seriousness of the matter? It is rumoured that many people lay the blame at the door of the CAA for the consequent cancellation by British Airways of an order for smoke hoods and for the possible withdrawal of one leading manufacturer? Given that safety matters are involved, particularly in the light of what happened at Manchester airport a few years ago, will he allow the House to debate the competence of the CAA?
Column 1023Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot comment on the detail of what my hon. Friend has said, but I promise to bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : The whole House heard the Leader of the House say earlier that the Government would not seek to influence British Steel over Ravenscraig. The whole House heard the Secretary of State for Scotland yesterday tell the House that he would seek to persuade British Steel to change its position. Will the Leader of the House now try to reconcile those apparently irreconcilable statements or tell us who has cut adrift from the Cabinet ; is it himself or the Secretary of State for Scotland?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : There is no rift of any kind whatsoever. It is a matter for commercial judgment, but, as I said earlier, it is open to hon. Members on both sides of the House to advance any arguments that they wish to bring to the attention of the company. That matter can be debated on Monday.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : May I return to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey)? Although I suppose that one should take opinion polls commissioned by the media with a pinch of salt, hardly a weekend passes when I do not vote in The Sunday Times poll for my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) as leader of the Conservative party. However, there is an onus on the media when they commission such polls which claim to speak for the public to publish all the polls or none of them ; otherwise, they are seriously misleading the public.
It remains the responsibility of those in the media who handle these matters, but clearly they will wish to take note of what has been said by my hon. Friend, among others, in the House.
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : Will the Leader of the House seriously reconsider what he has said this afternoon? First, he has totally and utterly repudiated the statement that we heard yesterday from the Secretary of State for Scotland. Secondly, he is jumping ahead of the debate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been presupposing the decision of the debate before the House of Commons debates the matter. He is not entitled to presuppose whether we shall decide to interfere with the decision taken by British Steel, or at any rate to bring pressure to bear on the company. Each time he says that it is purely a matter of commercial decision by the firm, he is jumping ahead of the decision of the House. Will he withdraw that? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman ensure that the spokesman for No. 10 Downing street speaks openly?
Column 1024Even a civil servant has been put in the position of denying the statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland, and it is time that that finished.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Hon. Members, individually and collectively, are entitled to make representations and express views on matters that should be taken into account by the company. However, the decision is a matter for the company on commercial grounds.
Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time next week for a debate on bureaucratic insensitivity in local government? Tragically, a disabled constituent of mine died on 2 April, and the Labour council in Warrington sent her son a poll tax bill of 21p. Is that not scandalous?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : As the Prime Minister made clear in answer to a similar question on a similar point some weeks ago, there is no obligation on a local authority to deliver a bill for a sum of that kind. It is a matter about which local authorities have discretion, and one hopes that that discretion will be exercised sensibly. Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : Surely there is now an overwhelming case for the Secretary of State for Scotland to make an urgent statement. After all, the Leader of the House, as deputy Prime Minister, has this afternoon repudiated what the Secretary of State said in the House yesterday, and said throughout Scotland and to the media last night. In addition, we have the news that this morning Mr. Bernard Ingham said that the Secretary of State for Scotland was on his own on this issue. Is it not sad and humiliating that, whereas last Friday, in Aberdeen, the Prime Minister stood four square beside her Secretary of State for Scotland, on Wednesday of the following week she has allowed him to stand alone and discarded as he is repudiated by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, by the British Steel Corporation and now, it would appear, by No. 10 Downing street?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman returns to the same set of fantasies-- [Interruption.] The Government take a single view on this matter. The Secretary of State for Scotland addressed the House on it yesterday and the House will be looking at it again on Monday.
Column 1025when a Cabinet Minister cynically force- feeds his own children on television with beefburgers that he cannot even guarantee are contaminant-free?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman has a more grotesque capacity than almost any other hon. Member in the House for following a single track to destruction. I have nothing to add to what I have said on this subject on many previous occasions.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : The Leader of the House will be aware that, as the Environmental Protection Bill makes its way through the House, the Nature Conservancy Council part of the measure is proving to be of great concern. Will he cancel the press conference that has been arranged for tomorrow to give the Government's response to the Carver report and instead deal with it in the proper way, and that is by arranging for a statement to be made in the House next week?
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, since yesterday, the Cabinet has upheld the point of view of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) against that of the Secretary of State for Scotland? I draw attention to column 894 of yesterday's Official Report. If, as seems clear, the Secretary of State for Scotland in making his statement yesterday was not speaking for the Government--that is precisely what Mr. Ingham has been telling the media-- it is necessary for the House of Commons to understand that point officially, since the Secretary of State for Scotland's statement yesterday did not reflect the view of the Cabinet. In those circumstances, we are entitled to know who will speak for the Government on Monday.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : There is a limit to the number of times one can say the same thing. The Secretary of State for Scotland explained the position to the House yesterday. The House will have an opportunity of addressing itself to the matter on Monday.
"we shall seek to persuade British Steel to reconsider its proposal in the interests both of the company and of its work force".--[ Official Report, 16 May 1990 ; Vol. 172, column 887.]
In using the word "we", the Secretary of State was speaking on behalf of the Government--on behalf of the Cabinet as a whole. Now we have the Leader of the House disavowing that statement. We have also had official briefing from No. 10 Downing street, on behalf of the Government, disavowing it, and it has been disavowed by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. We are entitled to know just what is the policy of the Government on this important matter concerning Scotland.
Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath) : Will the Leader of the House kindly arrange for the Home Secretary to make an urgent statement on his failure to establish the Football Licensing Authority which, although it is now months after the Bill was passed, has no chairman or chief executive? There is tremendous conflict because Lord Justice Taylor's report must be implemented during the close season, at a cost of many millions of pounds, by football clubs that do not know where they stand because that authority has not yet been established.
Mr. Madden : May I, therefore, ask the Leader of the House if he will express a willingness to remain in the House to answer the questions that my right hon. and hon. Friends want to ask on a most important issue? Some of us resent strongly the limits that have been put on the opportunities for Back-Bench Members to raise at this time and at other times issues of urgent importance to their constituencies.
The Housing Corporation is in deep financial crisis. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement next week about what the Government are doing to enable new homes for rent to be built, including in my constituency?
Mr. Speaker : I must tell the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) that I have a long memory. I remember him rising last week and calling me to account for not calling Front-Bench Members while the television cameras were on. He is now saying something rather different.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Brooke) : With permission, I should like to make a statement about the report of an inquiry conducted in Northern Ireland by Mr. John Stevens, deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire. Mr. Stevens was appointed on 14 September 1989 by the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to conduct an inquiry into allegations of collusion between members of the security forces in Northern Ireland and loyalist paramilitaries, and to make recommendations. He presented his report to the Chief Constable on 5 April 1990 and, subsequently, he has prepared a summary of his findings and recommendations. That summary, together with a copy of the complete report, was made available to me earlier this week. The Chief Constable made the summary report publicly available earlier today. Copies have been placed in the Library of this House and that of another place. Mr. Stevens conducted a most thorough and wide-ranging inquiry in which, as he himself stresses, he has at all times received full co-operation at every level from both the RUC and the Army. In connection with his inquiry, 94 persons have been arrested, of whom 59 have either been charged with, or reported for, a variety of criminal offences. The majority of these cases are covered by the sub judice rule and it would be improper for me to comment further about them.
The report from Mr. Stevens was addressed to the Chief Constable. Many of its conclusions and recommendations are primarily for him to consider. Others are for the Army authorities in Northern Ireland or for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. Mr. Stevens found that the passing of information to paramilitaries did take place, but that it was restricted to a small number of individuals and was neither widespread nor institutionalised. Moreover, he has recognised that steps taken by the police and the Army both before and since September 1989 have already significantly reduced the risk of repetition. No document so far traced to the possession of loyalist paramilitaries bore a recent date. Mr. Stevens recognises that there must be some tension between the need to disseminate information for operational purposes and the need effectively to safeguard that information.
Mr. Stevens finds, nevertheless, that there were deficiencies in procedures for identifying and accounting for documents containing sensitive information. Far too much material was circulating at any one time and the easy availability of photocopiers further extended the risk of unlawful dissemination. Accordingly, the report contains a number of detailed recommendations aimed at further improving the arrangements for the dissemination and control of all sensitive information ; already some of these have been and others are being implemented. Mr. Stevens notes that the absence of adequate control procedures at the material time severely hampered the efforts of his inquiry to discover the origins of documents and to trace persons who might have been criminally responsible for passing them on and that, for related reasons, it cannot be assumed that a document with a particular provenance was leaked directly from the organisation that produced it.
As Mr. Stevens's own summary makes clear, any evidence or allegation of criminal conduct was rigorously
Column 1028followed up. No charges have been laid against any member of the RUC. Mr. Stevens concluded that there had been misbehaviour by a few individual members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. That is a matter of great regret to me, as I know that it is to the great majority of those honourable and courageous men and women who are the backbone of a very fine regiment ; and I therefore welcome Mr. Stevens's equally firm conclusion that it would be wholly wrong to believe that a significant proportion of members of the UDR were involved wth paramilitaries. The House will know that steps have already been taken to tighten up procedures for screening potential members of the regiment. Mr. Stevens has made recommendations for further improvements in the arrangements in that area.
I see nothing in the findings of the Stevens inquiry to lessen my convictiion that the UDR plays a vital and valued part in the Army's support for the police-led anti-terrorist effort. I am conviced that the regiment is fundamentally sound ; I am fully aware of the great efforts that continue to be made by the regiment steadily to improve its effectiveness and professionalism, and I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of its members impartially serve the whole community in Northern Ireland. I remind the House that, in that service, more than 180 serving and more than 40 former members of the regiment have been killed in Northern Ireland in the past 20 years ; only two days ago, 11 members of the UDR were decorated or were mentioned in dispatches.
Mr. Stevens also makes proposals relating to the technical and scientific support services available to the RUC's anti-terrorist work, identifying in particular scene-of-crime examinations, fingerprint analysis and the scientific examination of possible exhibits. The need for improvements in many of those areas had already been recognised by the Chief Constable, and Mr. Stevens's recommendations in those areas will now be for the Chief Constable to take forward. I stand ready to respond as sympathetically as I can to any specific recommendations that the Chief Constable may wish to put to me.
Painful though its findings in some respects may be, the Stevens report is a most valuable document. It has highlighted shortcomings and deficiencies in several important areas. Action by the police and the Army to remedy many of the deficiencies to which Mr. Stevens has drawn attention has already been taken, or is now in hand ; and immediate consideration will now be given to his detailed recommendations for further improvements.
I am sure that the whole House shares my gratitude to the Chief Constable of the RUC for initiating this inquiry, and to Mr. Stevens for the exemplary care and vigour with which he has carried it out. It will contribute to increasing the skill and dedication with which the security forces carry out their vital task of combating and defeating terrorism in Northern Ireland, wherever it is to be found. I hope that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the skilled, courageous and impartial way in which they carry it out.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North) : I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and for his courtesy in supplying me with a copy of the summary of the report. On behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I should also like to thank Mr. Stevens and his team of officers for their efforts in a long, gruelling and--on occasions--no doubt frustrating series of investigations.
Column 1029I read Mr. Stevens's report with mixed feelings. It is regrettable that he was forced to admit that, in some cases, although he had found evidence of wrongdoing, it was impossible to trace the culprit. His admission that
"in the present climate, leakages of information from the Security Forces may never be completely eliminated"
will dismay the supporters of the rule of law in Northern Ireland and throughout these islands. It will not enhance the reputation of the security forces ; nor will it facilitate co-operation with the Irish security forces.
We should not forget that it is believed that the leakages have a direct connection with the deaths of several individuals. It is important for confidence in the security forces that they should not harbour people whose loyalties may at best be divided. On the other hand, Mr. Stevens has provided a great service in his recommendations for the future. Whatever the deficiencies of the report as a criminal investigation, it is certainly an impressive management consultancy report.
Judging by Mr. Stevens's recommendations, it is obvious that the inquiry team has discoverd appalling laxity in the handling of information by the security forces and in the recruitment procedures of the UDR, which has resulted in some unfortunate publicity attaching to certain members of the regiment.
Can the Secretary of State assure us that he, the Minister of State, the police authority and the Chief Constable will act immediately on Mr. Stevens's recommendations, to ensure that, in Mr. Stevens's words :
"Any future collusion between the security forces and paramilitary terrorist groups will be eradicated"?
In particular, will he assure us that the document production and distribution procedures will now be made traceable? Will he assure us that the present level of computer security, which apparently would be a disgrace in an ordinary commercial organisation, will now be replaced by proper arrangements?
Will the right hon. Gentleman, in conjunction with the Secretary of State for Defence, ensure that proper personnel procedures are put in place so that the difficulties that afflict recruitment to the UDR can be removed once and for all? We welcome the recommendation that the Ministry of Defence should now justify, at senior level, the rejection of RUC advice on recruiting, but it will be regretted that the final decision was not left in the hands of the RUC, because the recommendation that the MOD should have the last say does not follow the logic of Mr. Stevens's report.
The Chief Constable has said in statements today that perhaps not all the published recommendations will be implemented. Will the Secretary of State urge him to say which recommendations will not be implemented and why?
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House the range of charges that have been preferred as a result of the inquiry--although I understand the problems associated with the sub judice rule? I hope that the Secretary of State realises that the concerns expressed by Mr. Stevens are concerns which we all share. We hope that he will treat the matter with the urgency that is deserves. He will have the full support of the Opposition in implementing the thrust of Mr. Stevens's
Column 1030recommendations. In the battle against terrorism--whether loyalist or nationalist--there is no room for complacency.
Mr. Brooke : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks about the manner in which the matter was handled and for the congratulations that he offered to Mr. Stevens. I heard his expression of regret that, despite the intense thoroughness of the inquiry, Mr. Stevens was not able to pursue a number of matters fully.
As I hope was evident from the spirit of my statement, we shall be responding as promptly as may be to the recommendations. I temper my words in that way only because there are 83 recommendations, and their implementation will involve different time scales.
We agree with the broad thrust of the recommendatons. Inevitably, some of the recommendations are for the attention of people other than myself, but I shall be collaborating with them in their response. As regards the matters that are for me, I shall respond as sympathetically as I can to any propositions that the Chief Constable puts to me.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the traceability of documents and access to the computer. He will find from the summary that, in the case of the former, improvement has already been effected by all the interested parties, and the Chief Constable responded at the press conference that he gave this morning to the recommendations relating to the computer. The hon. Gentleman will know that a considerable amount has been done in the past six months on the vetting of recruits to the UDR. He expressed his regret that the RUC should not have the last say. I think that this is an instance in which it is simplest for us simply to disagree.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the statement that not all the recommendations will necessarily be followed up. It is probably better to let that matter take its course, given that some of the recommendations are highly detailed. Those of us to whom the recommendations are directly or indirectly made will indicate the nature of our response to them.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the range of charges. As he said, those matters are sub judice and it would probably be inappropriate for me to comment.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked the Government to respond urgently and I can assure him that the need for urgency will be observed.