HC Deb 03 March 1988 vol 128 cc1157-68 3.31 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state 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 7 MARCH—Debate on a Government motion on the privatisation of the electricity supply industry.

Motion on the Wages (Northern Ireland) Order.

Motion on the Customs Duties (ECSC) (Quota and Other Reliefs) (Amendment) Order.

TUESDAY 8 MARCH—Estimates Day (1st Allotted Day). There will be debates on Estimates relating to the Storm Damage Recovery Scheme 1987 and to assistance to the coal industry subject to the approval of the House of the Liaison Committee's report. Details will be given in the Official Report. Motion on the General Assistance Grants (Abolition) (Northern Ireland) Order.

At Ten o'clock the Question will be put on all outstanding Supplementary Estimates and Votes.

WEDNESDAY 9 MARCH — Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Local Government Bill.

Motion on the Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report (England) (No. 4) 1983–84.

Motion relating to the Electricity Generating Stations and Overhead Lines (Inquiries Procedures) Rules.

THURSDAY 10 MARCH — Remaining stages of the Regional Development Grants (Termination) Bill.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Bill.

FRIDAY 11 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 14 MARCH—Progress on remaining stages of the Housing (Scotland) Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments that may be received to the Social Security Bill.

[Estimates debate on Tuesday 8 March 1988: Supply Estimates 1987–88, Spring Supplementary Estimates (HC 284): class IV, vote 3, so far as it concerns the Storm Damage Recovery Scheme 1987; class VI, vote 1.]

Mr. Kinnock

In view of the conflicting stories in the press this morning, in which the Government proposals for the inner-city policy are variously described as a White Paper and a press conference, can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that any new proposals will be announced in the House rather than in a television studio, and that hon. Members will have an early opportunity to debate them rather than just read about them in propaganda brochures?.

Would not the Leader of the House agree that, in view of the substantial number of amendments and the new clause introduced in another place on the Local Government Bill, the very short time allowed for hon. Members to table amendments and the short time allowed for the debate next week reveal either mismanagement or disregard of the House? Will he even now give consideration to postponing the debate and lengthening it in order to meet both objections?

Two weeks ago the Secretary of State for Employment came to the House with a White Paper on "Training for Employment". It was a very superficial and disappointing document in a country in which training provision is a fraction of that in our competitor economies. May we have an urgent debate on the subject of training for employment, which is obviously so vital to the future of our young people and the industrial strength of the country?

Very mixed reports are coming out of the NATO summit on exactly what the term "kept up to date where necessary" means and whether it loses something in translation from German to English and English to German. May we therefore have the Leader of the House's assurance that there will be a statement early next week on the NATO summit and its conclusions?

Can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week from the Secretary of State for the Environment on the Government's policy towards local authorities who follow the scandalous practice of selling off publicly owned cemeteries for minute prices in a way that completely disregards the effect that this has on bereaved relatives and friends and is also cynically careless of the wider public interest?

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Foreign Secretary makes a statement to the House next week on the effect on British support for social and educational organisations among the majority population in South Africa of the legislation proposed this week by the Pretoria regime, which is designed to block further foreign funding of organisations that seek to counteract the effects of the apartheid regime?

Mr. Wakeham

The right hon. Gentleman has asked six questions. The first was about inner cities. As I understand it, a White Paper is not to be published. The Prime Minister will take part in a press conference. However, I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said and will see what can be done about a debate in due course.

On the Local Government Bill, I regret any inconvenience. The Bill will he available in the Vote Office first thing tomorrow and, on that basis, it seems not unreasonable to invite the House to consider the Lords' amendments next Wednesday.

I note also the right hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on the White Paper "Training for Employment". It is, as he rightly says, a very important matter, and I will have to see what can be done; but I cannot promise something immediately.

My right hon. Friend has not yet returned from the NATO summit meeting. I shall certainly pass on to her the right hon. Gentleman's comments about a statement when I see her on her return.

On the question of cemeteries and the local authority, I do not believe that this is a matter for a statement by my right hon. Friend. The Government consider that it is a matter for the council, its ratepayers and the district auditor. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I understand that he is now investigating the position.

With regard to the question on South Africa, we had a debate on South Africa earlier in the week, but I will certainly pass the right hon. Gentleman's request to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

May I express my gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for informing the House that it will have the opportunity next week to discuss and, I hope, complete the remaining stages of the Local Government Bill.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a leaflet has been put out in schools in Derbyshire? I have received a number of letters from parents, one of whom told me that she was frankly disgusted that her son, aged five, was used to further the Socialist ends of the county council by bringing this letter and leaflet home. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that the sooner we get this legislation on the statute book, the better—and the better for the parents of Derbyshire?

Mr. Wakeham

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. I notice also that he has an Adjournment debate next Tuesday on Derbyshire county council's spending levels. No doubt he can raise some of his points then.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Given the different structures of the electricity industry in Scotland and in England and Wales, quite properly two separate statements were made. Will the Leader of the House give some indication of the form of the debate on Monday? Will it cover privatisation proposals for both Scotland and England and Wales? If a Scottish Minister winds up, will English Members' points he dealt with, and vice versa?

Can the Leader of the House report any progress in setting up the Procedure Committee?

Mr. Wakeham

I understand that it would be for the convenience of the House for the privatisation of the electricity supply industry both in England and Wales and in Scotland to be taken as one debate next Monday. I have no doubt that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who will reply to the debate, will cover very adequately all the points raised in the debate.

I hope to set up the Procedure Committee as soon as I can get agreement in all parts of the House.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Does my right hon. Friend think that it may now be appropriate for the House to re-examine the role and activities of Select Committees, particularly their productivity, the attendance of Members, the distances that they travel and the cost to the taxpayer which they involve? Does he not think that we have now had adequate time fully to assess their role, and would he not like to give the House the opportunity of voting on whether they should continue to operate?

Mr. Wakeham

I think that from time to time the House would rightly wish to consider the activities of Select Committees. I am not sure that I can find time for that at the moment. Perhaps it could wait for a little while.

Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)

Does the Leader of the House recall the anger expressed on this Bench yesterday at the failure of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make a statement of the House about matters relating to equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland? Instead, the Secretary of State decided to make the announcement to a press conference in Belfast yesterday afternoon.

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to consider the implications of that statement for Northern Ireland and the possible application of the principle of ending discrimination on the mainland as well? Bearing in mind that foreign politicians have been given several hours to question the Secretary of State about the matter, and that the press corps in Northern Ireland has also been given time to question the Secretary of State about it, when will hon. Members be given the opportunity to question him?

Mr. Wakeham

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State answers questions frequently in the House. He made a written answer yesterday perfectly properly. He issued a consultative document. I wonder why the hon. Gentleman did not give a response to the consultative document when he had the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

Given that the recent agriculture debate was dominated inevitably by consideration of the Brussels summit, will my right hon. Friend arrange for another date to take place in the next few months on the farming industry which is currently faced with the greatest anxiety about its future since 1939?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that our debate on agriculture was dominated to a large extent by events in Brussels over the previous days. I should like to be able to offer my hon. Friend a debate in the near future. I cannot see it happening very soon, but I shall certainly bear his request in mind and hopefully will be able to provide a debate before long.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

After yesterday's Welsh debate, will the Leader of the House consider seriously the reintroduction of 10-minute speeches? Out of only six Tory Members representing Wales who attended yesterday's debate, two took one hour of the available time. I think you would agree, Mr. Speaker, that it is high time that the 10-minute rule for speeches was reintroduced. Seven of the my hon. Friends failed to participate in yesterday's Welsh debate because that rule has not been reintroduced. When will the Leader of the House make preparations for its reintroduction?

Mr. Wakeham

I am anxious to make progress with that and other procedural changes which have been recommended to the House by the Select Committee. I am having discussions through the usual channels. When I feel that the moment is right, I will go ahead as soon as possible.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been mystification and impatience at the Government's delay in making up their mind about the future of the Settle-to-Carlisle railway line? Various other Government Departments are involved, including those responsible for the heritage, for tourism and for regional policy. In view of the difficulties, which we all understand, in reaching a conclusion, if the Government are not ready to make a statement, may we have a debate on the subject so that the Government can take note of the views expressed by hon. Members?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that there are strong feelings on both sides of the House about the issue. I wish that I could offer a debate in the near future. I do not see that as a possibility, but I shall certainly bear it in mind.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

The Leader of the House has said that Monday's debate on the privatisation of electricity will be all-embracing and will take in Scotland. Does that mean that a Scottish Office Minister will take part in the debate? If no Scottish Office Minister takes part, that will be a calculated insult to the people of Scotland. The two sets of privatisation proposals are totally different. There is simply no way that someone in the Department of Energy can have any knowledge about the proposals which were put to the House yesterday about the electricity generation and supply industry in Scotland.

Mr. Wakeham

I said in reply to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) that my right hon. and learned Friend would reply to the debate. I anticipate that that is likely to happen.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Every week issues arise on the Floor of the House which you, Mr. Speaker, rightly point out are matters not for you but for the Procedure Committee. The answers which my right hon. Friend has given already to a couple of questions are in the same terms that we have had for weeks and weeks. We are nine months into this Parliament, and we still have not got a Procedure Committee, nor have we debated the report of the previous Procedure Committee. May I ask my right hon. Friend to inject a note of urgency into his discussions on the matter?

Mr. Wakeham

Perhaps my hon. Friend will recognise that these things are not all one-sided. One has to do one's best to get agreement throughout the House, and that is what I am trying to do.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Perhaps the Leader of the House should have responded to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin), who referred to leaflets produced by Derbyshire county council, by telling him that that Labour-controlled authority was robbed of £20 million by the Tory Government. If the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West was doing his job properly and defending the ratepayers in his constituency, he would have complained about the £20 million taken away by the Government of whom the Leader of the House is a member, because it has meant that ratepayers in the hon. Gentleman's constituency have had to pay a lot more in rate increases. He would be doing his job if he did that.

Mr. Wakeham

If the hon. Gentleman examines more carefully what happened in Derbyshire, he will see that the excessive spending of Derbyshire county council meant that it lost some grant and that it knew full well what it was doing. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's strictures do not carry conviction.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Let me reinforce the point made so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth). Is it not largely the case that the departmental Select Committees are pompous, self-important and possessed of spurious expertise? Is not their first objective self-promotion and their first function—by splitting the difference between Government and Opposition—to embarrass the elected Government? Will my right hon. Friend accept the advice given by Henry II to his barons and rid us of these turbulent and extravagant Committees?

Mr. Wakeham

It would be untruthful of me not to admit that from time to time the Government have difficulties with the Select Committees. However, I am afraid that I cannot share my hon. Friend's view of the work of the Select Committees, much of which I think is very valuable.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helen's, South)

Will the Leader of the House use his best endeavours to persuade the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House on the future of the various television companies? When the Select Committee is investigating the future of broadcasting, it is somewhat disturbing to hear an announcement made — almost publicly—that the franchises are to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. The Home Secretary said that there would be a White Paper next summer on the future of broadcasting and the television industry and how that interlinks with satellite and cable. Has not that White Paper been pre-empted by the leaked announcement of the sale of television franchises?

Mr. Wakeham

I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, I do not believe that it automatically follows that the Government have to make an announcement when a rumour appears in the newspapers that is not the Government's responsibility. If it did, we should be for ever making announcements.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Will my right hon. Friend give further consideration to the handling of Northern Ireland business? He will be aware that until this year we had two debates on emergency provisions a year, each of which could last six hours. As he will know, the business on Tuesday of this week and Thursday of last week—one was a continuation of the other—gave the House only four and a quarter hours to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland, which by anyone's standards is both tense and serious. It involves most hon. Members because many soldiers from their constituencies are serving in Northern Ireland. I suggest to my right hon. Friend in those circumstances that if we want to prove to the people of Northern Ireland that parliamentary democracy means as much in Northern Ireland as it does anywhere else in the United Kingdom, more time should be found, or a complete day given, for a further debate on the situation in the Province.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise my hon. Friend's interest in and knowledge of Northern Ireland matters. I also recognise that his points are extremely important. My task is to fit all the different, conflicting interests into the timetable of the House, which is necessarily limited. I take on board what my hon. Friend has said, and I shall see whether it might be possible to do better on another occasion. When I realised last week that there was not sufficient time, I moved quickly and I hope that my hon. Friend thought that that was the right thing to do.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

The fact that the motion on the inquiry procedure rules for power stations and overhead power lines will be discussed on Wednesday night will be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House because, as the Leader of the House knows, most of the power stations that have been announced for construction, and naturally the power lines that will lead from them, will be situated in areas of predominantly Conservative interest and support. In the light of that, the positioning of the debate at the fag-end of business on Wednesday means that hon. Members will have a poor opportunity to discuss the matter fully. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider bringing that motion forward to immediately after the main business of the day?

Mr. Wakeham

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to say something nice to me. He pestered me for a long time to put on this debate, and I have done what I can to help him. I fear that that is the best that I can do.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Has my right hon. Friend noted that a staggering total of 318 right hon. and hon. Members have now signed early-day motion 6?

[That this House deplores the fact that, alone among public service pensioners, those whose service was overseas cannot count pre-appointment war service towards their pensions; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to remedy this injustice to a dwindling group of elderly people whose working lives were spent in adverse conditions while dedicated to the service of British interests overseas.]

As my right hon. Friend is rumoured to be party to a mechanism whereby conflicting claims on the public purse are later to be resolved, will he bear in mind the extremely strong feeling in the House about this issue?

Mr. Wakeham

If my hon. Friend is right and I have some responsibility in this matter, I will certainly bear in mind his point. However, on the assumption that he is wrong and I do not have any responsibility, I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend who is responsible.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Has the Leader of the House examined early-day motion 773?

[That this House expresses support for the 229 studio technicians, members of A.C.T.T., locked out by TV-am in a deeply serious battle with a hostile management which, in addition to attacking the trade union, has secretly sold off a significant overseas holding, contrary to the Broadcasting Act 1981, and produced programmes of such appalling quality, due to the lockout, that they are clearly in breach of the franchise; and calls upon the Independent Broadcasting Authority to suspend the franchise pending a properly negotiated settlement of the dispute.]

The motion, which has already attracted 60 signatures and is gathering them apace, expresses support for the locked-out television technicians. Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, not only have union members been locked out and subsequently sacked, but also trainees who are not even members of the union have been locked out? The public consequences are a lowering of television standards and a breach of the franchise. Part of the station has been sold off to the Saudi Arabians in breach of the Broadcasting Act 1981.

May we have a debate on the early-day motion and the important breach of legislation to which the Independent Broadcasting Authority appears to be turning an indifferent eye? Is it not time that the IBA was urged by the Government to act on this serious breach of standards?

Mr. Wakeham

It is a matter for the IBA rather than the Government to determine whether an independent television company is in breach of its contract. I believe that that is an important point and that the IBA should not be leaned upon by the Government in this matter. The IBA should determine what is the right course of action, and I am sure that it will.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the correlation between high rates and job losses, bearing in mind that this year the Lyons group of companies in Greenford has had a rates increase of £600,000? That company is now faced with having to make possibly between 60 and 70 workers redundant to pay its rates as it cannot pass on the rate increase in higher charges. Is it not time that we debated this question thoroughly and exposed unreasonable rate increases of 50 per cent. or, in this case, 70 per cent. for what they are?

Mr. Wakeham

As my hon. Friend knows, these are important provisions of the Local Government Finance Bill, which is at present in Committee. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will make his point when the Bill returns to the House before long.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Is not the Leader of the House uniquely well placed to shed light on early-day motions, 228, 253, 272, 273 and 286?

[That this House notes in the book, Campaign, by Rodney Tyler, the Selling of the Prime Minister: from behind the doors of Downing Street and Conservative Central Office—A unique inside account of the Battle for Power that the author on page 1, chapter 1, paragraph 1, sentence 1, states 'It was an extraordinary turnaround in fortunes from the moment on 27th January 1986 when Mrs. Thatcher secretly confided to a close associate that she might have to resign…' and on page 3 that 'On the eve of the crucial Westland debate she herself felt shaky enough to doubt her future' though some around her later sought to dismiss this as late evening anxieties of the sort that had disappeared the following morning). It is certainly true that if Leon Brittan had chosen to, he could have brought her to the brink of downfall, by naming the real culprits inside Number 10. Instead, he chose to remain silent', and calls on the Prime Minister to give a fill account of what transpired between 3rd January and 27th January 1986, at Number 10 Downing Street, in relation to the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter concerning the Westland Affair.]

[That this House notes that the Member for Aldershot on page 136 of his book Heseltine: the unauthorised Biography, states in relation to the Westland Affair that 'John Wakeham issued an order of the day which contained the trite, if effective message, that it was time for all good men to come to the aid of the party. We did and calls on the Leader of the House, The Right Honourable Member for South Colchester and Maldon, to explain when he first knew the role of the then Trade and industry Secretary, The Right Honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, in the matter of the disclosure of a selectively leaked Law Officer's letter.]

[That this House notes that in his book Mrs. Thatcher's Revolution, published this week by Jonathan Cape and Co., Mr. Peter Jenkins writes on page 200 'Brittan himself refused to enlighten the Select Committee on any point of substance. However, he is reputed to have told close friends subsequently that not only has she known perfectly well what had happened but that, on the day following the leak, had expressed her satisfaction to him at the way things had been handled. However, at that time, the downfall of Heseltine had not been achieved … He (Mr. Brittan) might point the finger at her (Mrs. Thatcher). Potentially he now had the power to destroy her'; and calls on the Prime Minister to give the House a full account of her conversations with the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Right honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, over the period from 3rd January and 27th January 1986, in relation to the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter concerning the Westland Affair.]

[That this House notes that in The Thatcher Years—A decade of Revolution in British Politics, published by BBC Books, Mr. John Cole, on page 170, considering the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter in the Westland Affair, writes 'why did he (Sir Robert Armstrong) not give her a quick interim report when he discovered that the leak was an inside job, authorised by her office? Why did Leon Brittan not tell her? Or the private secretary concerned? Or his chief, who sits in the same room? Or her press secretary? And why did she never ask?'; and calls on the Prime Minister to inform the House of the answers to these questions.]

[That this House notes that, in the book 'Not with Honour—The Inside Story of the Westland Scandal', on page 142, Magnus Linklater and David Leigh write that 'Instead, following Havers's complaint, she spoke privately to Brittan about the leak. Although this is something the Prime Minister has failed to disclose, to widespread disbelief, the evidence comes from an authoritative source, who told us: "The Prime Minister knew about the leak. She was pleased it had been done. There was a meeting between Brittan and her after the complaint from Mayhew. Only the two of them were present … Brittan assumed she knew of [the leak's] origins. You must draw your own conclusions." One of Brittan's friends adds, "Nobody thought it was a problem. The complaints were out of the public domain and any inquiry was expected to be a formality. Leon wasn't worried at all about it."; and calls on the Prime Minister to give a full account to the House of the meeting between herself and the Right honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, referred to therein.]

Is Mr. Peter Jenkins correct, on page 189 of his book, "Mrs. Thatcher's Revolution: ending of the Socialist era", in saying that on Sunday 5 January 1986, at Chequers, he was exercising his mind, along with Lord Whitelaw and the Prime Minister, about how to stop the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) running rings around the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan)? Was the problem on that occasion, as Mr. Jenkins suggests, how to deal with the Mayhew trap?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman may be right or wrong about whether I have any light to shine on these matters. I have said all that I have to say; I have nothing more to say. I should tell the hon. Gentleman, if he is remotely interested, that on that afternoon my children put on a play at home, which I saw and enjoyed very much.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Will my right hon. Friend, given the marriage of convenience that took place today between the Liberal party and the official wing of the SDP, give urgent consideration to the future of the Short money that is given to those parties and to the allocation of party political broadcasts?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that these matters may have some significance for Short money. Having seen the amount of champagne that was drunk, I wondered whether that might be of some relevance to the misuse of alcohol committee, for which I have been responsible.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

May we have a statement next week on the refusal of the Government to support a BBC Wales television service, so that we can confront the Prime Minister and ask whether that refusal has anything to do with the televising of Parliament at the end of this year and the Prime Minister's fear that the rest of the world will see how vulnerable she is?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not like to disabuse the hon. Gentleman, but I believe that he lives in a world of make-believe most of the time. I do not believe everything that I read in the newspapers, and the hon. Gentleman should not either.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Scotland we are concerned that the Act concerning the community charge is being misrepresented by the Opposition and the media? Frequently it is called something quite different from a community charge. That has led to Scots being misled. Therefore, it was essential that the Government should have produced a leaflet explaining clearly the effects of the Act and the fact that only 14 per cent. of the total spent by local authorities will be charged in the community charge. Every hon. Member should have had a copy of that leaflet today.

Mr. Wakeham

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland intended that the leaflet should be available to hon. Members before the press conference this morning. He regrets that there was a mistake in the arrangements and that the copies were not delivered to the House until 2 pm. He apologises for any discourtesy, which certainly was not intended.

Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week on enterprise zones? A judgment in the House of Lords on 11 February this year in the case of Clement v Addis Ltd. has resulted in a substantial reduction in rateable value for a company outside an enterprise zone, which has been able to show that it has suffered from competition as a result of the existence of that enterprise zone. That has enormous implications for ratepayers located anywhere in the United Kingdom, because any commercial operator can now apply to the district valuer for a reduction in rates. It could also have enormous implications for domestic ratepayers. Therefore, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider carefully whether the Government should act soon in case local authorities are put in an impossible position.

Mr. Wakeham

I know about that case and 1 recognise its importance. My right hon. Friend is considering very carefully the implications because they are important and in some way very serious. No doubt he will decide how best to proceed when he has finished his considerations.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

In view of the amount of time that the House spends on dealing with matters affecting Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, will my right hon. Friend consider sponsoring over the next few months a number of debates on the regions, perhaps beginning with a debate on Yorkshire and Humberside? Among the matters that could be discussed, could we not consider further the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) during Prime Minister's Question Time that we relocate more Government Departments to the regions? That would benefit taxpayers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Mr. Wakeham

At the moment there is a limited amount of Government time and a heavy legislative programme to get through, so I cannot be too encouraging to my hon. Friend. I remember that some years ago the Opposition used a great deal of their time for debates about the regions, but since the sustained improvement in the economy they have not found that subject so interesting.

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

Was the Leader of the House present today during the Gummer slot of Agriculture questions when matters pertaining to the Church were raised? Will he tell his right hon. Friend the Minister of State that, if he persists in his attacks on the Church, I personally will ensure that in future there is a good flavouring of questions of a similar nature on all Order Papers relating to agricultural matters?

Mr. Wakeham

Although I admire the hon. Gentleman, if it came to a verbal exchange between the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend, I know where I would put my money.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

May I refer my hon. Friend to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett)? I suspect that my hon. Friend was motivated not by petty party politics, but by a serious concern for the public interest. Bearing in mind that the Social Liberal Democratic party—or SLID for short—has slid into a position in which fewer than five out of 1,000 people questioned in a recent opinion poll said that they would vote for it, and less than half its members actually voted for its culmination today, there is a serious point in relation to Short money. Bearing in mind that at the last general election a large number of people voted for what was then the alliance, or for the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who is now the leader of the Campaign for Social Democracy, the House demands and needs answers on those serious matters.

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise that my hon. Friend has a serious point. It is public money voted by Parliament for those purposes, and we have to be strict and correct in the way in which we deal with it. As my hon. Friend knows, some problems have to be resolved. I hope that everyone will be as constructive as they can in suggesting how to deal with this matter. I cannot add anything at the moment, except to say that I am well aware of the problem.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Would it not be appropriate, before the Chancellor of the Exchequer presents his Budget, for there to he a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Social Services which stated that substantial extra sums of money should be given to the National Health Service, bearing in mind that that Committee has a Conservative majority and that the report was unanimous? I notice that the Chancellor has just come into the Chamber, perhaps to watch over the Leader of the House in the Prime Minister's absence. Would it not be an affront for the Chancellor to cut taxes again for the very rich while the National Health Service desperately needs cash and so many hospital wards are being closed?

Mr. Wakeham

I know that the hon. Gentleman is not too fussy about these matters, and makes his political points whenever there is an opportunity. I should remind him that the Budget is about taxation and borrowing and not about spending and that spending plans have been settled.

The Select Committee report is interesting, particularly because it recognises that there is a need for a full review of the Health Service. The Government are conducting such a review and I am glad that we have the support of the all-party Committee.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

Will my right hon. Friend again consider the matter of financial assistance to Opposition parties — the so-called Short money? It rather concerns me to hear that the matter will be sorted out almost behind closed doors. It is clear from the motion passed by this House on 20 March 1975 that this money is not transferable to another political party. It is money given to political parties that put up candidates at general elections. The formula is based on that. Will my right hon. Friend therefore bring the matter before the House and not try to conduct it behind closed doors?

Mr. Wakeham

I assure my hon. Friend that, if there was not a bit of thinking behind closed doors, we really would be in a mess. I suspect that we might be in a bit of a mess even after we had done the thinking. I can also assure my hon. Friend that the Short money is paid in accordance with the resolution of this House, and that resolution will be adhered to until such time as we come before the House with a different resolution and that resolution is passed by the House. In spite of the fact that we shall have to think quite hard about how to get ourselves out of a predicament that is not of our own making, I promise my hon. Friend that everything will be conducted with propriety.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Is the Leader of the House aware that I am delighted to have confirmation from the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) that the Opposition have overwhelmingly won the arguments about the poll tax in Scotland, and his admission that the Opposition have won so convincingly? However, I am concerned that he believes that £2.5 million should be spent to tell the people of Scotland that the poll tax is really called the community charge.

May I ask the Leader of the House what progress has been made in establishing a Scottish Select Committee? Will he tell the House which Tory Members of Parliament, Scottish and English, have been invited to form that Committee and have refused to serve on it?

Mr. Wakeham

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the selection of Committees of this House is not for me but for the Committee of Selection. My difficulty was that the Labour Opposition originally laid down conditions about whom they would or would not be prepared to serve with on the Select Committee. I have done my best to resolve that situation and matters will move on from there. Discussions are still taking place, but we are trying to resolve the matter.