HC Deb 15 December 1988 vol 143 cc1085-96 3.33 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Will the Leader of the House tell us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 19 DECEMBER—Until 7 o'clock, private Members' motions.

Motion for the Christmas Adjournment. It will be proposed that the House should rise on Thursday 22 December until Tuesday 10 January.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

TUESDAY 20 DECEMBER—Until 7 o'clock, motions on social security uprating and re-rating orders. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.

Motions on the Welsh rate support grant report and supplementary reports. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion on the Ministerial and Other Salaries Order.

WEDNESDAY 21 DECEMBER— Second Reading of the Official Secrets Bill.

Debate on a motion to take note of EC documents relating to structural funds. Details will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 22 DECEMBER—Adjournment debates.

It may be for the convenience of the House if I indicate that, subject to the progress of business. The business for the first week after the Christmas Adjournment will be as follows:

TUESDAY 10 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Social Security Bill.

Motion relating to the Social Fund Cold Weather Payments (General) Amendment Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 11 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Employment Bill.

Motions on Scottish rate support grant and revenue support grant orders. Details will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 12 JANUARY—There will be a debate on a motion to approve the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Autumn Statement.

FRIDAY 13 JANUARY—There will be a debate on AIDS on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

[Debate on Social Security Orders on Tuesday 20 December:

Social Security (Contributions and Allocation of Contributions) (Re-rating) Order 1988

Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 1988

Debate on Welsh Rate Support Grant Reports on Tuesday 20 December:

Welsh Rate Support Grant Report 1989–90 (HC 32)

Welsh Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report 1988–89 (HC 33)

Welsh Rate Support Grant Supplementary (No. 2) Report 1987–88 (HC 34)

Welsh Rate Support Grant Supplementary (No. 3) Report 1986–87 (HC 35)

Debate on Scottish Orders on Wednesday 11 January:

Rate Support Grant (Scotland) (No. 2) Order 1988

Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1988

Wednesday 21 December 1988

Relevant European Community Documents

(a) 7937/1/88 Reform of the structural funds
(b) 10025/86 European Regional Development Fund
(c) 10308/87 European Regional Development Fund
(d) 7002/87 Social and Economic situation in the Regions
(e) COM(88)501 The Future of Rural Society
(f) Unnumbered Reform of the Structural funds

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 43-xxxvi (1987–88) para 1 and

HC 15-i (1988–89), para 2

(b) HC 22-iii (1986–87) para 4

(c) HC 43-xix (1987–88) para 4

(d) HC 43-ii (1987–88) para 6

(e) HC 43-xxxviii (1987–88) para 6

(f) HC 43-xxvii (1987–88) para 6.]

Mr. Dobson

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

The Opposition welcome the decision to hold a debate about the Government's failure to set up the Select Commttee on Scottish Affairs. Even at this stage, I express the hope that the Government will see sense and agree to set up the Select Committee. It might help the Leader of the House if those Tory Members who recently have been making such a song and dance about their rights to put down questions on Scotland and take part in debates on Scotland recognised that as well as rights they have duties—duties to the people of Scotland and to the Standing Orders of the House—one of which is to establish a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. If they are so keen to take part in debates on Scottish affairs, they should take their places on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that the House has an opportunity to debate the placing of the order for the next generation of battle tanks before the Government decide to buy American tanks? That decision has far-reaching consequences affecting not only our defence capability, but the future of a vital British manufacturer and the balance of trade. As the Leader of the House knows, there is concern on both sides of the House about that order.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government have abandoned all thought of introducing in the House of Lords the Bill to require everyone who wants to watch a football match to join a football club? That measure is far too controversial not to be debated first in this House.

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we can expect a debate on the Fennell report on the King's Cross fire on a substantive motion in prime Government time? The recent horrific accident at Clapham has made it all the more necessary for Ministers to answer to the House on such aspects as the role and staffing of the railway inspectorate of the Department of Transport for which they are directly responsible. It is not good enough to suggest that we debate it late at night, on an Opposition day or on a Friday.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman has asked me four questions about next week's business. I think that he welcomed the announcement that I had arranged for a debate on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, although I could not be quite sure. I hope that he has some better arguments to put forward than those in his question, or the debate will be over relatively quickly.

The hon. Gentleman's question about tanks concerned a very important matter. I can only repeat what I said a week or so ago, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has told the House that we hope to make a decision before the end of the year. I do not think I can add to that.

As I said to the House last week, the Bill relating to football, has not yet been published. I have undertaken to have the matter discussed through the usual channels, but I must repeat that it is for the Government to determine into which House a Bill is introduced.

With regard to the debate on the Fennell report, I am sorry that the arrangements we proposed for a debate proved unacceptable to the Opposition. It is an extremely important matter which should be debated, but I cannot undertake to arrange a debate in the form requested by the Opposition in the immediate future.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

When will the House have an opportunity to debate—on a motion to approve, not on a motion to take note—the important report of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure? Does my right hon. Friend realise that we need to take early decisions on this matter so that local authorities do not have to go to the expense of preparing Bills that will be out of order if the Joint Committee's recommendations are accepted? There is strong pressure on both sides of the House to take decisions on this matter.

Mr. Wakeham

I agree that this is an important matter, and we shall address it. It is an important matter for consideration outside the House as well as inside. I have undertaken to have a debate as soon as I can arrange it so that we can hear the views of the House, exceptionally, before the Government announce their views.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

The right hon. Gentleman announced that the House will discuss the Ministerial and Other Salaries Order on Tuesday. Has he seen early-day motion 200 on this subject?

[That this House does not approve the draft Ministerial and Other Salaries Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 8th December on the grounds that the Order provides for an increase in the salary of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Health, the honourable Member for South Derbyshire whose performance of her Ministerial duties, in general, and whose damaging remarks on the risks of contracting salmonella from the consumption of eggs in particular, have rendered her unfit to continue to hold Ministerial office.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many of us on both sides of the House are minded during that debate to raise the issue of the position of the Under-Secretary of State for Health, unless something is done about it between now and Tuesday? Many of us will decide to vote against the order on the grounds that the Government should be aware of the well-known slogan, "Careless talk costs lives." In this case, careless talk is costing jobs and causing bankruptcies. It has caused hundreds of chickens in my constituency and, no doubt, many others to be slaughtered this week. On any basis of the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, the hon. Lady should, by now, have been relieved of her job.

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot accept the right hon. Gentleman's strictures. I have seen the early-day motion. Whether what the right hon. Gentleman and others wish to say in the debate is in order is not a matter for me, but I have taken note of his comments.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

Because more than twice as many people are killed on our roads this week as died in this week's horrific rail disaster, may we early in the new year have a debate on the admirable North report, which details many ways of improving road safety and which has been published for more than six months?

Mr. Wakeham

This is an important matter and I recognise the need for a debate. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate in the immediate future, but I shall bear in mind his sensible suggestions.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 201, which commemorates 12 months of the uprising, the intifada, in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza?

[That this House notes the speech of the Palestine Liberation Organisation Chairman, Yasser Arafat, at the Geneva meeting of the United Nations, and the declaration, at its Algiers summit, by the Palestinian National Council, of an independent Palestinian state; recognises the enthusiasm with which the proclamation was welcomed in the occupied Territories, and the sympathy generated throughout the international labour movement; condemns the repression by the Israeli Government of the uprising in the Territories, which, in the 12 months since 8th December 1987, has resulted in over 300 Palestinians shot dead, many thousands injured and arbitrarily detained, homes bulldozed and semi-permanent mass curfews and sieges; contrasts the growing international support for the cause of the Palestinians, based on the heroism of the workers and youth in Gaza and the West Bank, with the deep unease of past methods of terror campaigns, hijackings and guerillaism, and welcomes the recognition by the Palestine Liberation Organisation's leaders that those past methods have not, and would not have, forced Israel into submission; and whilst noting the four decades of United Nations deliberations, and the 150 resolutions carried on the Palestinian question, and understanding the deep wish of the Israeli Jewish workers for peace and a secure future, believes that the future success for the Intifada will be inextricably linked to a fruitful appeal to the Jewish workers for the unity of Jew and Palestine in striving for a Socialist Federation of Israel and Palestine committed to the guarantee of democratic and national minority rights.]

Given the events late last evening, are not the Prime Minister's answers earlier today entirely inadequate? Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary to come to the Dispatch Box to make a statement on what practical and direct help will be given to the Palestinian people? Those people have suffered more than 300 deaths, thousands of injuries and arbitrary detentions and had their homes bulldozed and whole villages and areas put under semi-permament mass curfew and sieges.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman does not do himself much credit by making such remarks about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Of course, we share the concern expressed in the early-day motion at the continuing violence in the occupied territories and the repressive measures used by the Israelis in response to it. We welcome Mr. Arafat's clear statement in Geneva which has opened the way to a dialogue between the United States and the PLO and the PLO's eventual participation in peace negotiations. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would think that there had been a substantial move forward in the past few days.

Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

In view of the threats to the continued survival of independent financial advisers stemming from the statement yesterday by the Securities and Investments Board, may we expect an early statement from one of the Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the interests of investor protection and in the aftermath of the Barlow Clowes affair, it is important that we should do everything that we can to encourage the continued existence of independent financial advisers? Will he persuade his hon. Friends at that Department to stop washing their hands of this important matter, which stems, after all, from Government legislation in the shape of the Financial Services Act 1986?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend certainly raises an important point, but I do not accept the strictures on my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department. I shall refer his point to them and, if a statement is necessary, they will certainly make one.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that a recent survey showed that more than 50 per cent. of people in Britain are opposed to the integration of mentally handicapped people in the community? For a civilised society, that shows abysmal intolerance and misunderstanding. As mentally handicapped people already suffer from a handicap and a lack of resources without this stupid prejudice, may we have a debate to discuss their plight?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise the right hon. Gentleman a debate in the near future. I recognise that this is an important matter, but I do not accept that his views are right. Obviously this is a matter for debate at the right time.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us on both sides of the House would appreciate an early debate in the new year on the important subject of the future of television and broadcasting, especially as recently there was a debate on a similar subject in the other place?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that that is an important matter and one which the House will want to debate. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate immediately in the new year, but I shall certainly bear the matter in mind.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

Is the Leader of the House aware, in view of his passing interest in horse racing, that Downpatrick race course is the only race course in the United Kingdom and Ireland which does not receive any Government benefit? Will he provide time early in the new year for the small amendments required to the Horse Racing and Betting Order 1976 which has the support of his ministerial colleagues in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Wakeham

I knew that important fact and as the hon. Gentleman has raised it in the House, many more people will be made aware of it. What is more important, the people who are responsible for these matters will also take it on board and give it proper consideration.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the laws of blasphemy? My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves) has tabled an early-day motion referring to the book "Satanic Verses" by Mr. Salman Rushdie.

[That this House regrets the distress caused to Muslims in the United Kingdom by the publication of Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie; notes that the book has been banned in India and Pakistan and the Islamic nations; and reminds authors that freedom of speech goes hand in hand with responsibility to ensure the accuracy of what is written.]

The Muslim community in Bolton is petitioning for a ban on the book. I understand that some members of the Church of England want the laws on blasphemy extended to include other religions, and, on the other hand, that the Law Reform Committee wants to scrap the laws on blasphemy. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) has recommended this book for a prize, but I understand that the Library feels that it is not worth stocking.

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend raises a number of interesting questions. I cannot find time for a debate i n the immediate future. There are occasions when my hon. Friend could raise these matters if he feels that they are sufficiently important.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the business for Monday night? Does he realise that there is always considerable pressure from Back Benchers to have an opportunity to debate particular topics? He repeatedly claims from the Dispatch Box that there are opportunities, particularly as we approach a recess. Does he realise that, by tabling private Members' business followed by the Adjournment motion and Consolidated Fund Bill debates, he is substantially reducing those opportunities?

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that, when the House agreed to change the Standing Orders so that the Consolidated Fund Bill debate finished at 9 am instead of continuing for a period to be determined by the Whips and others, an undertaking was given that we would have a whole day for it? That undertaking is being eroded in two ways on Monday, which is grossly unfair. Will he reinforce the undertaking and make it clear that in future a Consolidated Fund Bill debate will run for a full day so that Members may have a full opportunity to use it to raise the many issues which they press on the right hon. Gentleman at business questions?

Mr. Wakeham

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. It is by no means unprecedented for the Consolidated Fund Bill debate to start at the time appointed on Monday, but I shall seek to ensure that we start earlier on future occasions.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to consider how the Standing Committee on the Transport (Scotland) Bill is to be manned? Will he bear in mind the fact that last Session we had to reduce the size of the Committee on the Schools Boards (Scotland) Bill? If he has given that consideration, will he tell us what is happening?

Mr. Wakeham

Following discussions through the usual channels, it would be for the general convenience of the House if we did not try to reduce the number of hon. Members from Scottish constituencies required by Standing Orders to serve on the Committee dealing with the Transport (Scotland) Bill. Instead, we shall be proposing that a Scottish Standing Committee larger than those nominated in the last Session should be appointed to consider the Bill.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

To return to the question of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, I assure the Leader of the House that Tuesday evening's debate will not be over quickly, given that he and his colleagues have 18 months of neglect to explain. When does he anticipate tabling the motion to enable hon. Members to put down appropriate amendments? Will the motion take account of Standing Order No. 130, which instructs the House to establish such a Select Committee?

Mr. Wakeham

It is better to travel hopefully than necessarily to arrive. I recognise that strong views will be expressed in next Tuesday's debate. I will table the motion later today, which I hope will be satisfactory.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Press reports on Tuesday drew attention to the publication of the Court of Auditors' report, which for the fourth year running has apparently revealed widespread fraud, some corruption and illegal devices in the spending of the EEC. Will my right hon. Friend say when we will be likely to discuss this document? Given that the British taxpayer and others are paying for this excessive expenditure, will he explain why this document is available to the press but not to the House of Commons?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot answer my hon. Friend's last question, but I shall look into it and give him a satisfactory answer. I have not read the document, but press reports certainly reveal some disturbing aspects. It is better that the Government and others consider the report before deciding how best to proceed.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

May I express the appreciation of the Select Committee on European Legislation to the Leader of the House for acceding to a special request for a debate on structural funds, which was originally requested in November? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the document sets new criteria for the social fund, the regional fund and the agricultural guidance fund of the EEC, which could affect the constituencies of all hon. Members? It will be decided by the Council of Ministers shortly after Christmas. Given the importance of the matter, is a debate lasting an hour and a half sufficient, or will the right hon. Gentleman consider suspending the rule to enable us to have a three-hour debate?

Mr. Wakeham

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's remarks about arranging the debate, and I reciprocate by saying that I am grateful to him for drawing it to my attention. Having received his letter, I decided that action was required, which I took. A decision on whether the debate should be extended from the normal hour and a half is best made through the usual channels.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the purpose of the Anglo-Irish Agreement was to bring to the Province peace, stability and reconciliation? As more than three years have elapsed since the agreement was signed, does my right hon. Friend think that it would be timely to have a debate on the Anglo-Irish Agreement?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree that this is an important matter that should be discussed in the House. The review that is taking place will take several months, and it is a matter of judgment when the best time for debate will be. I recognise that some will want it earlier than others, but we will consider all requests.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

One of the jobs of the Leader of the House is to oversee the facilities and amenities of this place. Is he aware that when I came here earlier, six large hampers—probably from Fortnum and Mason—had come directly from the Bank of Credit and Commerce for certain Tory Members of Parliament, including one ex-Tory Member of Parliament, Freddie Bennett? One could have got a body in the hampers, which it took two men to lift. They were full of food and booze and should be included in the Register of Members' Interests. The men who were unloading them said to me, "Can we get a trolley?" I said, "I will ask the Leader of the House"—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question; and will he make it a business question please?

Mr. Skinner

When we debate the Register of Members' Interests, should we insist that Tory Members list on the register the Christmas hampers that they get from the Bank of Credit and Commerce, which has been described in some circles as a corrupt bank? Why is it that—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Like me, the hon. Gentleman is a chairman. He would not allow his members to digress.

Mr. Skinner

If the Leader of the House provides the staff and the trolley to move the big hampers upstairs into the House of Commons, will he allow the contents of the one that is addressed to Sir Frederic Bennett, who is no longer a Member of Parliament, to be distributed to those who try to exist on Charing Cross embankment, or will they go to the double agent who sits on the Government Back Benches?

Mr. Wakeham

Sometimes the hon. Gentleman pushes his bile and points a bit too far. He appears not to have his name on any of the packages. No doubt he is a bit jealous about that. I do not believe that there is any need to debate the matter. Matters to do with Members' interests are dealt with in a proper and regulated fashion in the House, and they are not helped by the hon. Gentleman's wild accusations.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

As Dr. Marietta Higgs has gone to court to protect herself from discipline by the Northern regional health authority, does my right hon. Friend think that it is time that we debated consultants' contracts under the NHS? They have not been altered since they were introduced, and time has marched on.

Mr. Wakeham

I am sure that my hon. Friend would not expect me to comment on the case that he has mentioned. Consultants' contracts are a perfectly legitimate matter for debate. They could be referred to at times other than Government time. I shall certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Will the Leader of the House make time available at the earliest opportunity for us fully to discuss the extent of the enormous damage that has been done to egg producers, the need for compensation, and the inadequacy of the Government's attempts to correct a great wrong that was done by a junior Minister who should be sacked forthwith?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government are well aware of the deep problems facing the egg industry. That is why today they issued a press advertisement that was designed to advise and reassure the public about eggs. We are also considering further action in addition to measures that we have already taken to tackle the new strain of salmonella. We are urgently considering the representations that have been made to us. In the debate on Monday night, there will be an opportunity for those hon. Members who catch Mr. Speaker's eye to make contributions.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Will the Leader of the House be kind enough to make sure that anything for my predecessor, Sir Frederic Bennett, if it is addressed to the hon. Member for Torbay, comes to me, whether or not it comes from Fortnum and Mason?

Mr. Wakeham

The remarks of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) were addressed to me, or, more correctly, to Mr. Speaker, but I have no knowledge about Christmas presents.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

On the question about the Government's failure to find enough Opposition Members to form the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, if it is the right hon. Gentleman's intention to table a motion that suggests that the work that would normally be carried out by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs could or should be carried out by any other Select Committee, there is no way that any Opposition Member who is a member of any other Select Committee will participate or assist.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said, Members take great interest in Scottish business. Rather than the Leader of the House trying to offload his responsibility and that of the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, we expect him to form a Select Committee on Scotland. It is not acceptable for him to try to offload that work on to other Select Committees. The right hon. Gentleman and the Chairman should ask those hon. Members who are concerned about Scotland to join the Select Committee and get it up and running.

Mr. Wakeham

As on most occasions when the hon. Gentleman asks such questions, he has it wrong, and has not followed this process—it has been going on for a long time—with perhaps the care that he should have done. However, that does not greatly encourage me to take his advice about the form of the Government's motion for the debate. I shall table the motion later today and, whether the hon. Gentleman likes it or not, that will be the basis for the debate. Obviously, he will be entitled to table an amendment if he does not feel that the motion reflects the view on which he would like the House to come to a decision.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), my right hon. Friend suggested that the review of the Hillsborough agreement might go on for some months. Of course we accept the monopoly of wisdom of the Government and their omniscience in all these matters. but I hope that my right hon. Friend is not suggesting that we should wait until that review is concluded. We believe that it may be a help to Ministers to have some idea what the House thinks about these matters before decisions are taken.

Mr. Wakeham

I fully agree with that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is also anxious to hear any views that right hon. and hon. Members and others may wish to express. We accept that the House should have an opportunity to express its views. All I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) was that it is a matter of judgment as to when will be the most helpful time for the debate.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Am I correct in understanding that the Ministerial and Other Salaries Order does not include the proposal of the Top Salaries Review Body that Ministers who are sacked or resign should continue to receive their ministerial salary for three months to allow them to adjust to the much lower income of a Back Bencher? If that is not in the order, has the Leader of the House abandoned all thought of bringing that proposal before the House?

Mr. Wakeham

The order that I lay will be in accordance with the answers that I gave to Parliament, which briefly contained the terms on which the order will be based. The order will be laid in good time for the debate.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the National Health Service, bearing in mind that the Gloucester health authority appears to wish to close the Berkeley and Tetbury community hospitals in my constituency? Such a debate would give me the opportunity to observe that it is the Gloucester health authority that is in need of deep-cut surgery and not community hospitals in my constituency.

Mr. Wakeham

I do not know whether my hon. Friend has tried his luck with an Adjournment debate, but that would appear to be a suitable opportunity to voice his concern.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to make a statement concerning the recent decision of the Association of Chief Police Officers that there should be a national register of missing persons? Is he aware that the present system is completely unsatisfactory, that the computer at Scotland Yard is a disaster and that the Salvation Army is doing a wonderful job—and will do so over Christmas—in trying to reunite families? However, thousands of families will spend a thoroughly miserable Christmas because they cannot find missing relatives.

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has heard what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, but I suspect that he does not accept everything that he said. However, it is an important issue, and my right hon. Friend will consider how best to communicate with the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

Before the Bill on identity cards in football grounds is introduced, may we have an early debate on a national scheme of voluntary identity cards so that football clubs, pubs and other places of entertainment can control their entry requirements?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate, but, reading the press this morning, I felt that the subject of identity cards may be before the House in one form or another in the not too distant future.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Has the Leader of the House had the opportunity to consider early-day motion 176, which has been signed by hon. Members on both sides of the House?

[That this House condemns the decision of the South African courts to jail for six years, 18 year old Charles Bester following his conscienscious objection to serving in the South African armed forces; notes his statement in court after hearing his sentence, 'you shall know that truth and the truth shall set you free'; and calls upon the South African government to immediately release Mr. Bester.]

It concerns the case of Charles Bester, an 18-year-old African who last week was sentenced to six years' imprisonment by the South African courts, because of his refusal to be conscripted into the South African armed forces. Does he not believe that it would be appropriate for the Government to make representations to the South African Government to seek clemency?

Mr. Wakeham

No, we reject the motion. Such decisions are for the individuals concerned. However, we understand why some young South Africans refuse to do military service, and we respect the sincerity of their views.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May I wish the Leader of the House a happy Christmas? I shall be more than ready to help him out with any sticky comestibles that he may have in his hamper.

Will the Leader of the House give time for an early debate on endangered species? I was not referring to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath); I was referring to, for example, black rhinos, gorillas and elephants. The right hon. Gentleman must have read recent newspaper stories and will know that there is great concern for such animals. It would be much appreciated if we could have an early debate on endangered species.

Mr. Wakeham

When the hon. Gentleman was talking about endangered species, I thought that he was talking about himself. I see that today he is in his winter plumage, and I look forward to seeing him in brighter attire when the spring comes. He has raised a serious matter in which he takes a serious interest and for which the House respects him. I cannot promise him an early debate, but it is certainly a matter that I shall bear in mind.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary next week to make a statement to the House about the policy for issuing visas to those who wish to visit the United Kingdom? Is he aware that, on 5 December, Mr. Narinder Singh applied to a British post in India for a visit visa to visit his brother-in-law who was seriously ill in a Leeds hospital? Mr. Singh was asked to produce a doctor's letter confirming that his brother-in-law was in hospital, which he did last Monday. Unfortunately, his brother-in-law died on Saturday.

On Monday, he asked for a visa to attend the funeral and to help his sister and her young family to settle his brother-in-law's affairs. He has still not been granted a visa, despite several hours of discussion and telexes this week between London and India. It appears that this decision, and many others like it, are in direct contradiction of assurances given by Home Office and Foreign Office Ministers that visas would be quickly granted in urgent medical cases.

Mr. Wakeham

Obviously I cannot comment on the case that the hon. Gentleman has raised, but I shall make inquiries when I leave the Chamber and I shall contact him.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Before the publication of the football Bill, will the Leader of the House talk to the Department of the Environment to ensure that I receive an answer to a question that I put down on the Order Paper a fortnight ago suggesting that the league table should be studied in terms of football violence? The table may show that, when considered against the numbers attending football matches, the number of incidents of violence may be insignificant. Or is he worried that Luton Town may finish at the top?

Mr. Wakeham

I am not worried in the least about such matters, but I shall speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives an answer to his question.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

Will the Leader of the House inform the House why he has decided to delay debate on cold weather payments until mid-January? Will he review that decision, because many tens of thousands of pensioners are facing illness and death this winter? Can we not for once tackle the matter before the winter is halfway through and there are catastrophic effects for pensioners?

Mr. Wakeham

We had discussions about changing the time of the debate, and the Government felt that it would be more convenient to have the debate on the date that I have recently announced.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Will the Leader of the House confirm or deny that it is not his intention to set up a Select Committee on Scottish affairs? What is so complex about doing so? The Opposition will gladly man a Select Committee on Scottish affairs. We desperately need it.

Mr. Wakeham

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the tradition of the House is that Select Committees are set up by agreement with Members in all parts of the House. I have tried for a long time to obtain agreement. Unfortunately, the proposals that I presented to the Opposition were not acceptable, and I make no complaint about that. That will be the subject of the debate, and no doubt we can discuss it next week.