HC Deb 29 January 1987 vol 109 cc492-502 3.49 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House to tell us the business for next week?

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 2 FEBRUARY—There will be a debate on the Royal Navy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

TUESDAY 3 FEBRUARY — Remaining stages of the Channel Tunnel Bill.

Motions relating to the Dockyard Services (Devonport) (Designation and Appointed Day) Order and the Dockyard Services (Rosyth) (Designation and Appointed Day) Order.

WEDNESDAY 4 FEBRUARY—Until about Seven o'clock, Second Reading of the Rate Support Grants Bill.

Afterwards, Second Reading of the Parliamentary and Health Service Commissioners Bill.

Motions on the Rent (Relief from Phasing) Order and the Protected Shorthold Tenancies (Rent Registration) Order.

THURSDAY 5 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Social Fund (Maternity and Funeral Expenses) Bill.

Motion on the Education (Northern Ireland) Order.

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

FRIDAY 6 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 9 FEBRUARY—Until Seven o'clock, Private Members' Motions.

Remaining stages of the Social Fund (Maternity and Funeral Expenses) Bill.

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

Before I consider matters of future business, will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) about his interjection during questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) a few moments ago? The hon. Gentleman used words which would be deeply offensive to those affected by the J. E. Hanger lockout.

The House will recall that on Tuesday, before the Government conceded on the matter of your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and decided that the issue should be referred to the Committee of Privileges, the Leader of the House spoke on behalf of the Government, resisting that proposition. That was a somewhat invidious position for a parliamentarian such as the Leader of the House to be placed in. However, to his credit, he conveyed the impression strongly to the Opposition that neither his heart nor his head favoured the Government's motion, although his voice was obliged to favour it.

Can the Leader of the House confirm that I am right in believing that, as Chairman of the Committee of Privileges, he now wants to act thoroughly but expeditiously to resolve the matter? When is the Committee to meet to consider your ruling, Mr. Speaker? Can the Leader of the House estimate when a report will be produced and debated in the House?

Can the Leader of the House tell us, in this the United Nations Year of Shelter for the Homeless, when we will be able to debate that problem, especially in the absence of any significant Government policy to assist the growing number of homeless people in this country?

There is growing concern about the Government's neglect of community carers in our society. There are 1.25 million people caring for severely or very severely disabled people at home. Can the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the House has an early opportunity, in Government time, to debate this growing crisis, which is severely affecting the most deprived sections of the community?

When will we have an opportunity to debate the Layfield report on the Sizewell B inquiry? As the construction of a PWR nuclear power station at Sizewell will have huge public expenditure implications, does the right hon. Gentleman not think that the least the Government can do is to arrange for full consideration of the expenditure implications by the appropriate Committee of the House?

Mr. Biffen

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the points that he has made. With regard to his first point, the House is a mercurial place. Comments are made, some formal, some informal, and things are often said quickly, and in a moment which, upon reflection, one may have wanted to say differently. The House is also a charitable place, and we should leave the matter there.

As I have referred to charity, I want to refer to the charming but wholly incorrect interpretation that the right hon. Gentleman placed upon last Tuesday's debate and my modest part in it. He will understand that there are conventions which very properly affect the handling of next week's business in relation to the activities of Committees upstairs. I am anxious to help the House. Perhaps I may have a more liberal interpretation of that and allow myself to say that I very much hope that the Committee of Privileges will meet next week.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The right hon. Gentleman sounds a bit more confident than he did last Tuesday.

Mr. Biffen

There is nothing in Hansard to record that.

Mr. Skinner

There is now.

Mr. Biffen

I should like now to consider the two important social topics which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned—the homeless and community care services. These are matters which can be pursued through the usual channels, and I hope he will think that they could possibly be topics for an Opposition day.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising the important question of Sizewell. I hope that it will be possible to arrange a debate on the Sizewell report in the week commencing 23 February. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has told me that he intends to make a decision on the Central Electricity Generating Board's application as soon as possible thereafter.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

Rather than spend more time on the Floor of the House discussing the rights and responsibilities of Select Committees, will my right hon. Friend now confirm that the conventions regarding inquiry into security matters have been well established under his predecessor and have worked well? At the same time, does he agree that, from time to time, the Defence Select Committee has had classified information relevant to its inquiries and that its record of maintaining confidentiality, if necessary by the traditional sidelining procedure, has been impeccable? That being so, does my right hon. Friend agree that the sooner we get back to business as normal, the better?

Mr. Biffen

I can wholeheartedly confirm the conventions to which my right hon. Friend has referred. I am grateful to him, as Chairman of the Liaison Committee, for reminding us of them. I believe that those conventions have been honoured by both sides and that the work of the Select Committees has benefited from them. I agree that the sooner we get back to business as usual, the better.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I thank the Leader of the House for the assurance that there will be a debate on the Sizewell report. Does he think that this is an issue which might properly be put before the electorate, come a general election, and that the decision should perhaps be postponed until after a general election? Will the housing debate on Wednesday consist of two separate debates, or one?

Mr. Biffen

Perhaps I can consider the hon. Gentleman's second point. Whenever he asks for two debates within a motion, I suppose that there is to be one for one party and another for the other. I suggest that the scope for procrastination over Sizewell is almost endless. We have gone on for years before reaching this point, when a decision might properly be made. Any decision that is made will still have to be validated in reality at the general election.

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Defence Select Committee is very grateful for confirmation that there was not, and is not, any intention to interfere with the proper work that it carries out for Parliament? Is he further aware that, unlike some hon. Members, who do not seem to care whether national security is harmed, I know that I speak for every member of my Committee when I say that nothing that we do or say, collectively or individually, will ever be done to harm or endanger national security, although the work that we have to do may not always be for the comfort of the Government of the day?

Mr. Biffen

I note and take comfort from what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent)

I am sure that the Leader of the House will help on this issue if he can. Is he aware that there are a large number of severely disabled people, such as the mentally handicapped, autistic people and those who are deaf or blind, who need the mobility allowance but are not getting it because of a perverse court ruling? Legislation is not required to give it to them., only regulations are necessary, and it would not cost much. Will the Leader of the House see what he can do to ensure that a statement on the subject is made next week? If we get the regulations, all these people will get the mobility allowance and it would be a godsend to them.

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I shall refer his points to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Has my right hon. Friend noted reports in the press that the Government's so-called A learn — I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is a member of it —is busy preparing an election manifesto? Will my right hon. Friend note that the Home Secretary once wrote a book entitled, "The End of Promises"? Those of us who are retiring from the House recommend to my right hon. Friend that, in an election manifesto, we leave the making of promises to the Labour party, which will not be able to keep them, and that we have the minimum of promises in our election manifesto.

Mr. Biffen

As I understand it, by the discipline of our trade we are supposed to be unaware of the committee to which my hon. Friend referred. However, an end to promises would be an excellent theme for a balanced ticket.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

The issue of national security is a matter of opinion, and the opinion of Conservative hon. Members may not necessarily be the opinion of all hon. Members, even on the right hon. Gentleman's side of the House, and it is certainly not the opinion of many Opposition Members. Action was taken against the New Statesman and an individual journalist, and pressure was applied to the BBC, and this raises the question of the future of the freedom of the press. In view of those matters, and quite apart from the matters that are connected with what has happened in this House and with the rights of the House, can the Leader of the House assure us that there will be a debate on this issue at the earliest possible moment so that we can thrash these things out in the House, which is the proper place for doing so?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised if I say that I strongly contest much of the preface to his request for a debate. I realise that there is general interest in the House on these matters, but I can offer no prospect of a debate in Government time in the near future.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that no Liberal Member was present to take part in last night's important debate? That may account for the fact that the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party managed to vote in different Lobbies. Can my right hon. Friend arrange for a re-run of last night's debate so that Liberal Members can participate in, and listen to, the debate, because that might help them to make up their minds on how they want to vote?

Mr. Biffen

Absolutely not. I would not dream of making such a gesture to enable second-turn thoughts to be asserted. The alliance parties were not much present in the debate, but knew perfectly well that they had to be present in the Division Lobbies, and they have shown the consequences. They have given us a foretaste of what life would be like in a no-majority Parliament, in which they would not have the cohesion of a single group.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Is the Leader of the House aware that my constituency is part of the borough of Sunderland and that today I have been informed by the careers office of the latest unemployment figures? There are about 2,067 unemployed people and 3,300 on special schemes, but there are only 44 vacancies in the entire borough of Sunderland. If one estimates that there are about 30,000 unemployed people and that the cost is £6,000 per unemployed person, that means that £200 million a year is being poured down the drain, when it could be paying for jobs for those people, and especially for unemployed youngsters. It is a scandal that people are kept unemployed, with a long-term risk to health, when the money is available to create jobs in my constituency. May we have an early debate on the scandal of youth unemployment?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has portrayed a situation which I well understand exists in certain constituencies which have been affected by the decline of the heavy engineering base of the national economy. However, I remind him that we debated that matter only a few days ago. In the absence of another debate in the near future, the hon. Gentleman might wish to seek to make his point at Question Time next Tuesday.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping, Forest)

Has my right hon. Friend studied the early-day motion on the subject of identity cards for all the population?

[That this House notes the use of identity cards in various Commonwealth, European and other countries, and the requirement in Northern Ireland that driving licences shall carry the driver's photograph,. believes that the universal issue of identity cards in the United Kingdom would assist the prevention and detection of crime, including social security fraud and illegal immigration and that, far from lessening civil liberty, it would protect the law-abiding from troublesome and unnecessary inquiries by police and security officers; and therefore urges the Secretary of State for the Home Department to consider the early introduction of identity cards bearing the holder's photograph.]

Despite the dismissive written answer that I received from the Home Office, will my right hon. Friend ask our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider the matter afresh, bearing in mind that the Home Office sometimes changes its mind, as it did on the issue of crossbows?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will answer questions on Thursday, and my hon. Friend might seek to make his point on that occasion.

Mr. Ken Weetch (Ipswich)

Can the Leader of the House inform us whether there is any prospect of the Second Reading debate on the Leasehold Reform Bill coming to the House? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in the Gracious Speech it was promised that that would be part of the Government's legislative programme? I should not like to see that Bill fall as a casualty to an early election. Is there any prospect of the Bill coming before the House, and if so, when?

Mr. Biffen

Leaving aside unseemly speculation about the date of an election, I shall consider that point and possibly get in touch with the hon. Gentleman about it.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

Will my right hon. Friend give the House an early opportunity to consider the Audit Commission's report on local government, especially that part which concerns central London? The report highlights the grotesque inefficiency and incompetence, and the bureaucratic muddle and meddle, in certain inner London boroughs compared with boroughs in outer London, even those which are Labour-controlled, and especially with district councils elsewhere in the country.

Mr. Biffen

I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, and it is one of general interest. I should have thought that, subject to your judgment, Mr. Speaker, it would be possible to make many of the remarks related to the Audit Commission's report on the Second Reading of the Rate Support Grants Bill.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I understand that Mr. Alasdair Milne of the BBC has just announced his resignation. We know little detail as yet, but, in view of the Government's recent involvement with several BBC matters of some contention, will the Leader of the House consider making a statement in the near future?

Mr. Biffen

I am not sure whether the implication was that the Government had in some way been involved in Mr. Alasdair Milne's resignation. This is a matter for Mr. Milne and the governors of the BBC. However, I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

My right hon. Friend has already been good enough to convey to the House the provisional date for the recess. Can he go a shade further and give us the date on which the House will return, because then—correct me if I am wrong—the dates for Questions to Departments can be published and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) can check his luncheon engagements and turn up for Treasury Questions?

Mr. Biffen

That is an interesting reason why I should undertake what has been requested. I shall consider the matter, because I wish to help the House as much as I can in such matters. However, I think the important piece of information is about when we shall start the recess.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will the Leader of the House be good enough to refer to the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister the remarkable Scottish television programme, "Tonight", about war crimes, especially the allegations made in it against Antanas Gecas, who lives in Scotland, and the remarkable and shocking documents that have hitherto been secret, but which are produced on that programme? Will the right hon. Gentleman then ask for a statement from the Home Secretary, and also from the Prime Minister, who, in her letter to me of 7 November 1986, promised an early reply to the investigations that were being made into the alleged presence of war criminals in this country, but no substantive reply has as yet been received?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. and learned Gentleman raises matters with which he has been closely identified over a period of time, and I have had some occasion to learn further of them. I have also heard the rebuttal by the gentlemen in Scotland. I shall, of course, draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and that of the Prime Minister to the request that the hon. and learned Gentleman has made.

Mr. David Gilroy Bevan (Birmingham, Yardley)

Further to the reference by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) to early-day motion No. 439, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had the kindness to refer to as an important matter of principle this time last week, and bearing in mind that it is intended to help, in every possible way, in the restoration of law and order by introducing identity cards with photo passes, will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House now make certain that, as nearly 50 Members have signed this important motion, we have an early chance to debate the matter in the House?

Mr. Biffen

I have to be candid with my hon. Friend and say that I do not see any prospect of Government time being available for an early debate. Therefore, he should try such opportunities as are available through the private resources of hon. Members.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Leader of the House aware that it would be worth while to have a debate on the Audit Commission's report on local authorities, including those in London? This would enable many hon. Members to explain precisely, in some cases using John Banham's words, that the real reason for the problem is the near £17,000 million that has been withdrawn from local authorities during the Tory Government's period of office. If we had that debate, we would be able to show that it was not creative accountancy that was causing the trouble. Local authorities are merely doing what the Government did last September when they got involved, by borrowing $400,000 million on the exchange markets, to look after their foreign reserves. What is right for the Government should be right for local authorities.

As to the Liberals and their voting last night, I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman is getting so het up. They were just using the opportunity to show what tactical voting is all about.

Mr. Biffen

Whom God has divided let no voter put together.

I note the somewhat ungenerous, contentious and, in my view, inaccurate observations about Government policy, but, in terms of the procedures for next week, all these matters can, within reason, come within the ambit of the Second Reading of the Rate Support Grants Bill. The hon. Gentleman, with his recognised subtlety in these matters, should be able to make a speech.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have received a most moving and courageous letter from the alleged victim in the Ealing vicarage rape case of last June? This is a serious matter. She has asked me publicly to draw attention to her strong view that the law needs to be reformed to protect alleged rape victims before charges are brought. As the matter comes up at the Old Bailey on 2 February, and in view of the importance of the issue, may we have an early statement from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, so that the matter can be pursued vigorously?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes an exceedingly serious point. Clearly, any change in the law would proceed only after the House had given it careful and traditional consideration. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to what my hon. Friend has said, and meanwhile he might wish to press the matter at Question Time next Thursday.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

With regard to the events of last night, is the Leader of the House not aware that my hon. Friend the Chief Whip of the Liberal party —[Interruption.] I shall stay here until I am heard. My hon. Friend the Chief Whip of the Liberal party has bluntly, plainly and honestly admitted that was a mistake. I am sorry to disabuse the Leader of the House, but it has no greater significance than that. In view of the catalogue of mismanagement, blunder and bungle that has characterised this Government, does the Leader of the House realise that such criticisms come strangely from him? Has he no shame

Mr. Biffen

If I had any shred of shame, I should not be following this profession. As to the other point, it was Lloyd George who said that politics are too serious to be left to amateurs.

Mr. Michael Hirst (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

Has my right hon. Friend noted early-day motion No. 467:

[That this House is gravely disturbed at the announcement of the closure of the Caterpillar plant in Uddingston, which will threaten the employment of the 1,221 workforce, within weeks of the company accepting an offer of government financial support; welcomes the statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland that Her Majesty's Government is prepared to discuss further ways to help to save the plant and the jobs; and expresses the hope that, in the light of the assurances given by the Secretary of State for Scotland, the United States management of Caterpillar will now reverse the decision to close the plant.]

The motion is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and is supported by all his Scottish Back-Bench Friends. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the United States management of Caterpillar, weeks after accepting an offer of substantial Government support for a major investment programme at Uddingston, abruptly cancelled that and closed the plant? In view of the importance of this matter to the west of Scotland, will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on it?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said, and I endorse the seriousness of the situation that he outlined. I cannot see the immediate prospect of a debate in Government time, but this matter might be considered for an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In view of the Leader of the House's emollient answer to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), will the right hon. Gentleman reflect on these accusations against certain Members of Parliament being not so careful about matters of security? Will he take aside the Prime Minister, who complains about ferrets, and say quite gently that ferrets are bred by those who are economical with the truth? People start ferreting on sensitive issues because they are not told the full truth.

Will the Leader of the House cast his mind back to those far-off days when Prime Ministers answered Questions properly, and reflect on the House of Commons issue in question No. 1, not an open question, but a specific question in detail, which had been on the Order Paper for 14 long days? Could not the Prime Minister have got herself properly briefed? If Prime Ministers make mistakes during Question Time, should they not come the following week to the House and, if there has been an error and they have been given the wrong information by security sources, or whoever, frankly say that, in the light of new information, such as I gave the Prime Minister in a three-page dossier, carefully put together by Dr. Richard Ware and Mr. Chris Bowlby of the Library and other sources, there has been an error? If she is wrong, could she come next week and say so? If she disagrees with the Library statement and the West German sources, should she not also say so?

Mr. Biffen

As to the first point, the exchange had the purpose of underlining the excellent record that there has been of the observance of security and intelligence constraints and restrictions by the Select Committee, and it is no bad thing that that point is again read into the record. As to the second point, I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's strictures against my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but I shall of course see that her attention is drawn to his points.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer)? Surely we need a debate in Government time. I recommend that such a motion, if he is able to agree to such a debate, should convey all the sentiments of the Leader of the Opposition, so that we can find out how many of his hon. Friends would support it.

Mr. Biffen

I understand the significance of the subject and the compelling interest that it should be taken in Government time, but that is a scarce commodity. I know that my hon. Friend has a debate on Monday week, so perhaps he might choose this topic.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In view of the reported resignation of the Director-General of the BBC, does the Leader of the House recognise that, rightly or wrongly, many people will connect that with the relentless pressure by Tory central office and the Government on the BBC? As so many people, of all political views, are rather sick and tired of the attempt to make the BBC an agency of the Tory party, does the Leader of the House recognise that a statement is required?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman makes a repugnant observation, which I reject. I can go no further than the remarks that I have already made.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Will my right hon. Friend cast his mind back to last summer, when he came to the Dispatch Box to explain away a timetable published by the Department of Transport which forecast that the Channel Tunnel Bill would receive the Royal Assent by December? Now that this piece of legislation is limping towards its Report stage in February and faces a hard-fought passage in the other place, with petitions and Select Committees still to come, will my right hon. Friend give the House guidance on what the Government's policy will be should Parliament be prorogued for a spring or summer general election before the Bill has received the Royal Assent, if, indeed, it is going to do so?

Mr. Biffen

I certainly cannot do so from the Dispatch Box this afternoon in the context of the debate that is to take place next week, but I take to heart my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Should my right hon. Friend not show more charity to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), because we know that it was simply a mistake when the leader of the Liberal party in solemn conclave disagreed with the leaders of SDP so publicly over nuclear policy? When considering the formation of the alliance, should we not show the same charity as the bishop showed the nun when she said, "It was just a mistake"?

Mr. Biffen

The scope for analogy in this affair is almost endless, and every Member can undertake it to his own satisfaction. I wish to be charitable to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), so let me finally observe that I deeply regret that he has had to make all his remarks in the total absence of the SDP. Not one Member of that party has lingered to hear that soul-searching and breast-beating.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. what's-his-name?—Bruinvels.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

I can confirm that I am standing up, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

My sincere apologies. We all make mistakes.

Mr. Bruinvels

We have all heard, Mr. Speaker the mistakes on the Liberal side.

Will my right hon. Friend look most carefully at council house provision for the 1990s and after the year 2000? Is it not welcome that more than 62 per cent. of council tenants have bought their own homes? Therefore, may we have a debate on whether more council houses should be built? I appreciate that the Labour party likes council houses because it tries to trap its voters in them, but for the rest of the community and the very caring people who are in council houses, should council houses not be repaired rather, than new ones built? If my right hon. Friend looks at Leicester and the Hamilton area of my constituency, he will find that 4,000 council houses may be located there, despite the fact that the majority of my constituents are oposed to them. I appreciate that the council has 34,000 council houses already and wants to increase its majority, but will my right hon. Friend encourage people to come to the House to debate the role of "buying your own house and the future of private house building in the year 2000."?

Mr. Biffen

I shall take account of that request, and clearly it will be considered with many others when planning the programme for the coming weeks. In the meantime, I should have thought that my hon. Friend had a sporting chance of relating local authority housing to the rate support grants issue.

Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Lewis Carol verse—from which the title of the alliance policy document, "The Time has Come", is taken, contains some valuable suggestions for future debates in the House? The lines run: 'The time has come,' the Walrus said —I believe that this is a reference to the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) 'To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing wax—Of cabbages—and kings . I believe that it was at the insistence of the leader of the Liberal party that the reference should be to "kings", but it is the last two lines that are crucial. They say: And why the sea is boiling hot—and whether pigs have wings It way be that those are issues upon which the alliance could demonstrate its unity.

Mr. Biffen


Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate to consider the constitutional implications of the matters raised by Lord Chapple in an article in the Daily Mail today, in which he called upon the Leader of the Opposition to resign his leadership of the Labour party to his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). While Lord Chapple was probably unrealistic—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask about the business for next week.

Mr. Nicholls

Will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the circumstances relating to those Members of the House, other than members of the Government. who draw public salaries? Would that not provide an opportunity to discuss the matters raised by Lord Chapple? Even if it is too much to expect the leader of the Labour party to go quietly—bearing in mind the recent incident outside an Indian restaurant—there would be opportunities to consider the implications.

Mr. Biffen

That is an interesting point, but I ask my hon. Friend to take heart. Under our existing procedures, those are precisely the sorts of things that we are talking about every day of the week.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

May I support the request of the hon. Gentleman—what's-his-name?—for a debate on council housing, so that we can also refer to those who have purchased council housing and are now being threatened with eviction because of the change in the regulation covering mortgage interest payments?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. He will appreciate that in my reply I explained that local authority housing might conceivably fall within the ambit of the debate next Wednesday. The hon. Gentleman is now trying to extend it to issues for which I can hold out no prospect of time in the near future.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is the Leader of the House aware that yesterday I communicated on a private basis to the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the name of a licensed security dealer in the City who was trading fraudulently, where investors were at risk and where I believed that no action was being taken by the Government? Is the Leader of the House aware that Department of Trade officials are today denying that they had knowledge of those matters, when I have clear proof that they have known for at least eight or nine weeks? Will he ask the Minister responsible to come to the Dispatch Box and make a full statement, so that the position of investors can be cleared up?

Mr. Biffen

This is the first that I have heard of the matter, because I was not in the debate yesterday, but I will draw my hon. and learned Friend's attention to the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.