HC Deb 23 July 1987 vol 120 cc485-95 3.31 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the week after the recess?

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

The business for the first week after the summer Adjournment will be as follows:

WEDNESDAY 21 OCTOBER — Second Reading of the Public Utility Transfers and Water Charges Bill

Followed by Second Reading of the Scottish Development Agency Bill.

THURSDAY 22 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Arms Control and Disarmament (Privileges and Immunities) Bill.

FRIDAY 23 OCTOBER—Debate on the promotion of good health on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Mr. Hattersley

I have two specific questions to ask the Leader of the House. He will know very well that the consultation period for comments on the Government's proposals for the reorganisation of education ends on 16 September. That is an absurdly short period and it ends at a time calculated to stifle debate. Will the Leader of the House tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science that Opposition Members regard that timetable as an intolerable burden and expect it to be extended?

Secondly, the Leader of the House knows equally well that the Council of Finance Ministers of the European Community meets in September to consider proposals to impose VAT on items which at present do not bear the tax — food, children's clothing, footwear, fuel and books. Will the right hon. Gentleman categorically assure us that the Government will not give even tacit agreement to the extension of VAT to any of these items until the House has been consulted?

Mr. Wakeham

First, on the consultation period on the education statement, I do not accept what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Secondly, on the European Finance Ministers meeting in September and the question of VAT, I cannot add anything to the clear statement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has just made.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the registration and inspection of residential homes for old people? This is a matter of particular concern because yesterday an emergency procedure was invoked to deregister a residential home under the Registered Homes Act 1984. This involved the closure of The Haven old people's home at Gravesend in my constituency. We have also seen the publication of a report on the Nye Bevan lodge old people's home in Peckham. This is a matter of great urgency for many people.

Mr. Wakeham

These are very important matters. I will get in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State concerning the first case. On the second case — Nye Bevan lodge — this is first a matter for the local authority and for the Director of Public Prosecutions. But my right hon. Friend is, of course, concerned with the wider implications of the report for the care of old people.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that there is a delay in introducing the poll tax legislation because the Government are giving further consideration to exemptions for certain organisations, and especially those that are connected with churches, so that they can continue to pursue the welfare of the infirm, the dying, the homeless and others for which they care? Has the right hon. Gentleman had a chance to consider further the representations that I made to him about the establishment of a Northern Ireland Committee?

Mr. Wakeham

There has been no delay in the introduction of the community charge Bill. The Bill is being drafted and I expect it to be introduced on time. I am having further discussions with other hon. Members on how we deal with Northern Ireland business and seeking to find the best way forward.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to ensure that departmentally related Select Committees are set up as soon as possible after the House resumes following the summer recess? Does he appreciate that it is especially important that a Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee is established to scrutinise the autumn statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Can my right hon. Friend say when that statement is likely to be made?

Mr. Wakeham

I am not in a position to say when the autumn statement will be made. We have made some progress in setting up a number of Select Committees, and I hope that it will be possible to make further progress on the establishment of departmental Select Committees fairly soon after the House returns. I know that my right hon. Friend has helped very much in enabling us to make the progress that we have been able to achieve. I am only sorry that we have not made more.

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to explain to the House why he is not giving private tenants and leaseholders the opportunity to compel their landlords to transfer their premises to the council, especially in the light of the appalling state of affairs of premises in my constituency that are known as Clive court, where a 78-year-old lady, amongst others, is living in the most terrible conditions of disrepair and neglect? So bad has the situation become that the council is being asked to take over the freehold.

Mr. Wakeham

It will be seen when my right hon. Friend introduces his housing Bill that it will make more progress towards improving the housing conditions of many in the community than the hon. Gentleman's suggestions.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the considerable interest in the House and outside about the establishment of family courts, about which the Government issued a consultation paper. He will be aware also that a debate took place yesterday in another place on this subject. However, the issue has yet to be discussed in this place. Will he give the House an opportunity to discuss family courts before the Government come to conclusions and issue their proposals later in the year?

Mr. Wakeham

I take careful note of what my hon. Friend says, and it seems that he has made a sensible suggestion. I do not think that I can add anything of substance to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said yesterday.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Does the Leader of the House share the concern about the injunction issued by the Family Division of the High Court against a west Yorkshire mother who is concerned in child abuse proceedings that prevents her or her representatives from talking to anyone about the proceedings? Surely it cannot be right that such a person, who is obviously in distressing circumstances, is prevented from talking to a doctor, a solicitor, a priest, or even a Member of Parliament. Will the right hon. Gentleman initiate discussions with the President of the Family Division to ensure that clear advice is given to plaintiffs so that it is understood that consulting doctors, solicitors, priests and Members is not against the terms of such injunctions?

Mr. Wakeham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving me notice that he intended to raise this matter. I appreciate that it is an issue of some concern. I do not think that I can helpfully comment on the substance of it, but I have been in touch with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, and I know that he will be happy to hear from the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have read the recommendations of the previous Parliament's Select Committee that investigated sound broadcasting. One of the recommendations was that the public should have the opportunity of dialling in to listen to our debates through the telephone system. When we return after the summer recess, will the House have an early opportunity of giving its approval to this imaginative proposal?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not know whether my hon. Friend has had the chance to read the letter that I sent him earlier today on this subject. I hope that we can have a discussion early in the autumn to see what progress can be made.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Did the Leader of the House see the remarkable and horrifying film on Scottish television yesterday evening about war criminals, which included precise evidence and witness accounts of the activities of one Antonas Gecas, who is now living in Edinburgh? Is there to be a debate, or will the Home Secretary make a statement? May we at least have an assurance that these allegations of the gravest kind about the foulest behaviour will be fully investigated by the Government without further delay?

Mr. Wakeham

I am afraid that I did not manage to watch the programme on Scottish television, but I recognise the hon. and learned Gentleman's concern, as do many other people, about the matter. I shall refer it to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend, if not in the first week after the summer recess, shortly thereafter, arrange a debate on care in the community? That subject is of deep concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend will be aware that his predecessor looked sympathetically upon requests from both sides of the House for a debate on the subject before irrevocable decisions relating to the closure of psychiatric hospitals are taken and their future is sold.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the importance of the subject and my hon. Friend's concern in the matter over the many years during which he has served on the Select Committee on Social Services. I recognise that we will have to examine the matter soon, and I shall do what I can.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Will the Leader of the House tell us how widespread are the discussions to which he referred in his answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill, (Mr. Alton) and which were referred to yesterday by the Secretary of State for Scotland in his reply about devolution? Will he find time in October for the House to discuss the concept of federation or devolution of the kingdom?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot guarantee a debate in October, but my discussions are as wide as any hon. Member wishes to make them. My door is open. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to join in, I shall be happy to hear his views.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, for at least a year, many hon. Members endeavoured to persuade his predecessor to find time for a debate on science policy. Now that the Government have produced a most important, interesting, challenging and controversial White Paper on science policy and have made a number of extremely important suggestions on how such matters should be conducted, may I have his assurance that we will be able to discuss the matter in full soon after we return?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the importance of the subject and, indeed, my hon. Friend's considerable knowledge and interest in it over the years. The subject is suitable for debate, and I shall arrange one as soon as I can.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman try to make time available immediately after the recess for a debate on the closure of the Caterpillar tractor factory in Uddingston? Despite the efforts of any hon. Members on both sides of the House, and those of one of two of my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench, that closure is scheduled to take place on 15 August. The closure is particularly important because of current rumours that the Caterpillar corporation intends to cream off between £15 million and £50 million of its pension fund. I hope that Government Members will agree that the company has not only stopped the Government, looted taxpayers and abandoned its workers, but now intends to pilfer its pension fund. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should have a debate to ensure that any moneys that have accumulated in the fund should go where they deserve to go, and that is to the workers whose labour created them in the first place?

Mr. Wakeham

I certainly cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's allegations, but I recognise his and other hon. Members' concern about their constituents' jobs. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)

Every week I hear of more and more cases of people in the north who find work in the south but are simply not able to find accommodation to enable them to take up such jobs. When will my right hon. Friend's welcome proposals to reform the legislation on rented accommodation be brought before the House?

Mr. Wakeham

The housing Bill will be introduced fairly soon after we come back in October, and, as far as I am concerned, as quickly as possible.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I am grateful for the fact that the Leader of the House recognises the urgency of a debate on residential care for the elderly and that he is aware of the anxiety in Kent and in Southwark. When we have that debate, will he ask the Secretary of State for Social Services to concentrate specifically on the fact that when an inquiry was asked for and eventually undertaken by the DHSS inspectors they explicitly refused to look into the home—Nye Bevan—where the abuses took place? May we have an early explanation of why, when the Government were asked to intervene, they did not, with the tragic consequences that have unfolded for all to see?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend, but I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an immediate answer.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

If during the summer recess there should be an escalation in the Gulf crisis and the involvement of British warships in hostilities, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will be willing to consider the recall of Parliament for an emergency debate?

Mr. Wakeham

I assure my hon. Friend that, if the circumstances warranted it, I would set in train the necessary arrangements for the recall of the House; but that is not to say that I have any plans to do so now.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman provide an early opportunity after the recess for the House to consider the uprating of the old-age pension to ensure that pensioners will no longer suffer from the cruel cut caused by the Government's breaking the link between pensions and earnings?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government gave a clear pledge to maintain the old-age pension in excess of the increase in prices. They have done so, and I do not expect a debate in the week we come back.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, whatever the outcome of the proposed merger between British Caledonian and British Airways, he will instigate a debate as soon as we return on the Government's competition policy in the light of that decision?

Mr. Wakeham

Competition policy generally is an important subject, and I hope that we shall debate it before too long, but I cannot give an undertaking that we will do so immediately we return.

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

In the light of the allegations by Britain's aircraft controllers that the British aircraft control system is now out of control, and the personal despair expressed by many aircraft controllers and their predictions of an inevitable major air disaster, may we have an emergency statement tomorrow morning so that we can question Ministers about what is happening at West Drayton and seek some assurances that those matters will be resolved?

Mr. Wakeham

Safety is the paramount concern of the Civil Aviation Authority and the National Air Traffic Control Service. Despite the considerable increase in traffic, statistics show that the trend of risk-bearing near-misses is declining. The CAA has spent £125 million on improvements to the air traffic control system in the past five years and plans to increase investment in the future. But I will refer the hon. Gentleman's point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Why was not time found to make a statement, which we could question, on the Government's policy on space? Why was the information that we so much feared elicited in the Prime Minister's answer to the supplementary question by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall)? As these are important matters for Britain's long-term industrial, scientific and technical future, may we have a debate on space policy at the earliest possible moment after we return?

Mr. Wakeham

There are calls for debates on many subjects immediately we return. I agree that this is an important subject, but I can add nothing to the substance of the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Has the Leader of the House read the article in The Guardian today alleging secret negotiations between the Government and a private consortium on the privatisation of the Carlisle to Settle line? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on that to the House tomorrow morning? Does he agree that it would be improper for a Minister to be involved in such negotiations at the same time as he was deliberating on British Rail's application to close the Carlisle to Settle line? Will he also ask the Secretary of State to make a statement on the role of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) in those negotiations?

Mr. Wakeham

Stories in The Guardian are not normally the best basis for deciding what are important matters to discuss in the House. Nevertheless, I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend to see whether there is any statement that he needs to make.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Does my right hon. Friend expect to see a copy of the report on the Zeebrugge disaster? If so, will he ensure that a statement is made to the House at the earliest possible opportunity?

Mr. Wakeham

Yes. If the result of the inquiry is announced tomorrow, I think that it would be for the convenience of the House that there should be a Government statement on that important issue.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

If, in answer to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), the Leader of the House believes that safety is of the utmost importance, will he arrange later today or tomorrow for the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on the ultimatum issued by Texaco Overseas Tankships Ltd. that British seafarers, due to return to the Gulf — a war zone — should sail or be sacked? Will he also arrange for that Department to investigate the report today in one national newspaper that tankers are being chartered to be sailed into the Gulf deliberately to be sunk for insurance purposes? Do the Government support profiteering at the expense of British seafarers' lives?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not accept very much, if anything, of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I will refer it to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

After our intermission during the summer, will my right hon. Friend arrange for us to debate the north-south divide so that this House can, once and for all, discover what it is supposed to be, where it is supposed to be and why the Liberal and Labour parties do not appreciate that north of it there is a place called Scotland which has infinite benefits that the English do not enjoy?

Mr. Wakeham

If I thought that a debate in this House would settle the matter. I would certainly arrange one. However, I am afraid that that debate will go on for much longer than that.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the demand made yesterday by the European Commission for a cut of 20 million tonnes a year in steel production and whether the British Steel Corporation is to be exempted from that demand? In the light of the statement made to the House by the former Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry on 23 March, following the last Council of Industry Ministers meeting of the European Community, which said that the British Steel Corporation would be exempt, and in the light of yesterday's statement by Commissioner Narjes, Commissioner for Industry, that the corporaton would not be exempt, does that not suggest that there was a strategum involving the corporation, the Government and the EC to mislead the House and the country before the election as to whether the British Steel Corporation would or would not be exempt from the latest round of steel production capacity cuts?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government accept that there remains about 20 million tonnes excess capacity in the European steel industry. As Ministers have made clear at Industry Council meetings, the main responsibility for correcting that situation lies with the loss-making producers on the continent. Yesterday's announcement concerned proposals by the Commission to deal with that situation. There was no United Kingdom input into those proposals. It is for the Council of Ministers, not the Commission to take the decision on the way forward. However, I hope to arrange a debate on European matters very soon after we return.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. As the House knows, I am always very reluctant to deny hon. Members an opportunity to question the Leader of the House, but there are three statements to follow. I ask for brief questions. I shall endeavour to call those Members who have been standing, but we must try to get on.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Has my right hon. Friend noted early-day motion 2?

[That this House notes with deep regret the omission from Her Majesty's most Gracious Speech of any reference to the introduction of promised legislation to allow the House to reach a conclusion on the need for statutory protection for the human embryo against experimentation.]

It exemplifies the deep and widespread concern in all parts of the House about experiments on human embryos. Many hon. Members are concerned that the Government will issue the White Paper before we have a chance to express an opinion. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the White Paper will be issued after we have had a chance to debate the matter?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise the importance of this subject and the concern expressed by many hon. Members. I shall certainly consider sympathetically the request for a debate and shall certainly have discussions about when is the most suitable time for it.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

If the disastrous trade figures continue and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to take some measures to mitigate them, would the Leader of the House support the recall of Parliament?

Mr. Wakeham

There is a certain amount of hypothetical material in that question. I cannot say any more than I said earlier, that if circumstances arose— although I do not think that they will arise on the subject that the hon. Gentleman raises—I would certainly put steps in hand.

Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South)

Will my right hon. Friend find time during the autumn to have a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Social Services, which was published just before Parliament was dissolved, on problems associated with AIDS? Such a debate at an appropriate time would provide an opportunity to explore the Government's success in raising public awareness about the dangers of this disease and how it can be contracted.

Mr. Wakeham

It is not for me to say what will be in order, but it seems possible that with a little ingenuity my hon. Friend may well be able to make the points that he wants to make in the debate on Friday 23 October.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion 112 concerning the imprisonment against strong medical advice of a young pregnant women for a first-time minor offence. The baby is due to he born next week.

[That this House deplores the decision of Judge John Edward Jones in rejecting an appeal against the three month prison sentence imposed on Paula Otemah, a 20-year-old pregnant woman, notes that Ms Otemah is 35 weeks pregnant and that according to the Senior Registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology at Liverpool Maternity Hospital is in danger of having an induced birth due to intrauterine growth retardation of the foetus; condemns the possibility of an innocent baby being born in prison; and calls upon the Home Secretary to order the release of this young woman, a first offender, on compassionate and humanitarian grounds and for the Lord Chancellor to put Judge John Edward Jones on the retired list forthwith.]

Will the Leader of the House and his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary order the release of this young lady on compassionate grounds? Will he also ask the Lord Chancellor permanently to retire geriatric judges who are in their middle 70s?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time to discuss the disgraceful behaviour of some nationalised industries on planning matters in view of the fact that during a public inquiry into the Lomax site in Bolton, which would be the second largest open-cast mine in Europe, British Coal was this morning forced to admit that it had misled the inquiry and was compelled to produce documents whose existence it had previously repeatedly denied to the inquiry?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise my hon. Friend's concern in this matter and I shall refer it initially to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House have a look at the newspapers, including the Tory newspapers, of last week to see what a furore the new disciplinary code of conduct has caused in the coalfields about miners being disciplined for out-of-hours activities? Will he call upon the Secretary of State for Energy to issue a directive to British Coal to get rid of the code?

Mr. Wakeham

No. These are matters for the management, unions and work force of British Coal to work out for themselves. It is not for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to get involved in the first instance.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

On this day, when Mr. Gorbachev has made his positive response on the zero-zero option and on which some of us have had an opportunity to discuss with a high-level Soviet delegation matters concerning peace, will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that he will call the annual debate on the defence White Paper very soon after the House returns? It is already well overdue.

Mr. Wakeham

We will have that debate fairly soon after we return. Perhaps I could draw my hon. Friend's attention to the debate on Thursday 22 October. Some very important points about disarmament might well feature in that debate.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

When the House returns, will the Attorney-General make a full statement on the Wright case, including a statement on the amount of money that has so far been spent? I understand that the figure is well over £300,000. If I may make a point about an earlier theme, is it not absolutely essential for the Home Secretary to make a statement about the person held responsible for the most monstrous Nazi war crimes and who is living in Edinburgh? Why on earth should this country of all countries, which for the first two years of the war virtually stood alone with our Commonwealth partners against the onslaught of the Nazi empire, give haven and refuge to a person accused of the most monstrous crimes against humanity? Will he really live the rest of his life in Britain?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not think that I can add anything to what I said to the hon. Gentleman last week about the Wright case, that I would refer the point to the Attorney-General. I have already promised to refer the second matter to the Home Secretary.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread support for the Government's initiative on inner cities? Is he also aware of the concern that at the same time we should protect our countryside? Is he further aware of the concern that our present planning system is incapable of doing both jobs? Will he arrange an early debate on the need for the reform of our planning system?

Mr. Wakeham

I realise that those are important matters and are of continuing concern to many hon. Members. I will see what can be done, but I cannot promise a debate in the early future.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

Does the Leader of the House accept that there is to be an important statement after this debate and that, whatever the contents of the statement, there will be little or no opportunity to discuss it? We are going into a summer recess, during which time problems may arise in local government over which we can have little influence. Therefore, will he arrange a debate immediately that the House resumes so that we are not faced with a fait accompli?

Mr. Wakeham

I hope I can say with some humility that whilst I was Chief Whip we seemed to have more debates on those matters than I could have chosen. I have a feeling that after the statements by my right hon. Friends this afternoon there will be many other opportunities to come back to those matters.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

Further to earlier questions from my hon. Friends about the significance of the talks that have just been concluded with Russian parliamentarians under the aegis of the Inter-parliamentary Union, following as they do the visit of Mr. Gorbachev and his parliamentary delegation and a return visit led by my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), can my right hon. Friend say what he may be able to do to help the House debate the wider questions of British-Soviet relations in the near future?

Mr. Wakeham

I know that those are matters of concern to my hon. Friend and to hon. Members in many parts of the House. In the course of the summer there will be contacts at the highest level. I hope that they will continue to be fruitful.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) about the crisis facing the air traffic control system. Has the Leader of the House had a chance to read the article in The Independent today in which air traffic controllers made it clear that they believe that a major air disaster is inevitable given the lack of investment and the poor technology in the air traffic control system at present? As the holiday season is upon us and members of Parliament will no doubt be also taking to the airways soon — after all, by-elections are very expensive to the public purse—and in view of the great public concern and the widespread alarm that will no doubt arise from that article, will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make an urgent statement tomorrow so that he can discuss those concerns?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot add anything to the statement that I have already made.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

In view of the sincere and heartfelt pleas from hon. Members for debates on important issues, will the Leader of the House consider shortening the length of the summer recess?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not think that is entirely a matter for me. The House has debated the question of the summer recess. I did not notice which way the hon. Gentleman voted.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that British Rail has denied that the Settle-Carlisle line — 80 miles of spectacular scenery — will be flogged off to a private consortium? If any announcement is made during the recess, it will be exposed as a shabby conspiracy of deception. To avoid that, will he ensure that there is a statement tomorrow by the Secretary of State for Transport about the retention of the line to clarify the position, or that there is an answer to my question that is down for answer tomorrow? If that is not possible, will he assure the House that there will not be a statement when the House is not sitting and that the Minister will wait until we return before making any statement so that he is accountable to the House?

Mr. Wakeham

I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's agreement that everything that one reads in The Guardian is not necessarily true. I do not think I can add anything other than to say that I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the London air traffic control centre at West Drayton operates at a very high standard? Will he consider the possibility of a debate at an early date to reassure the public that nothing serious is amiss with our air safety measures?

Mr. Wakeham

I am glad to hear my hon. Friend's remarks about West Drayton. I will certainly see what I can do about a debate.