HC Deb 03 November 1988 vol 139 cc1183-94 3.30 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business of the House for next week?

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

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

MONDAY 7 NOVEMBER—Committee and remaining stages of the Rate Support Grants Bill.

TUESDAY 8 NOVEMBER—Motion on the Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Copyright, Designs and Patents Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 9 NOVEMBER —Consideration of Lords amendments to the Housing Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the School Boards (Scotland) Bill.

THURSDAY 10 NOVEMBER—There will be a debate on a motion to take note of the draft revised guidelines for handling Members' representations in immigration cases.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

Remaining stages of the Road Traffic Bill [Lords], the Road Traffic (Consequential Provisions) Bill [Lords] and the Road Traffic Offenders Bill [Lords], which are consolidation measures.

Motion on the Consumer Protection Act 1987 (Commencement No. 2) Order.

FRIDAY II NOVEMBER—There will be a debate on housing and homelessness on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. The Environment Committee's Second Report Session 1987–88 so far as it relates to homelessness will be relevant to the debate.

MONDAY 14 NOVEMBER—There will be debates on motions to take note of EC documents on safety in the workplace and personal protective equipment, on tar yields of cigarettes and the labelling of tobacco products, and on waste from the titanium dioxide industry. Details of the EC documents concerned will be given in the Official Report.

The House may also be asked to consider any Lords amendments and messages which may be received.

[Monday 14 November 1988 (3 separate debates), Relevant European Community Documents: (a) 5211/88 Health and safety in the workplace; (b) 5762/88 Personal protective equipment; (c) 4192/88 Labelling of tobacco products; (d) 4193/88 Control of maximum tar yield of cigarettes; (e) 6387/83 Titanium dioxide industry wastes; (f) 7733/84 Titanium dioxide waste pollution.

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee: (a) HC 43-xxiv (1987–88) paragraph 3; (b) HC 43-xxxiv . (1987–88) paragraph 2; (c) HC 43-xix (1987–88) paragraph 1; (d) HC 43-xix (1987–88) paragraph 2; (e) HC 78-viii (1983–84) paragraph 6; (f) HC 78-xxxiv (1983–84) paragraph 3, HC 43-xxxiv (1987–88 ) paragraph 1 and HC 43-xxxv (1987–88) paragraph 1.]

Mr. Dobson

Why is there no proposal for an Opposition day this week? This parliamentary year is about 25 per cent. longer than the average parliamentary year, so, in equity, the Opposition should have got five extra Opposition days to match the increase in time available for Government business.

Even if the Leader of the House now has so little time left in this Session to meet his obligations to the Opposition, will he turn his attention in the forthcoming Session to all aspects of his official job description? The list of ministerial responsibilities issued by the Cabinet Office states that the Leader of the House should uphold the rights and privileges of the House as a whole. Will the right hon. Gentleman either do that or get the Cabinet Office to change the job description?

While considering his obligations to the House, will the right hon. Gentleman also consider his obligations to Britain, and in particular to the people of Scotland? Last week, I named four Tory Members who took part in the debates on the Housing (Scotland) Bill and on the poll tax in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) has written to no fewer than 17 of the right hon. Gentleman's Tory colleagues who have asked questions at Scottish Question Time asking them whether they would take up places on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.

Surely, with such breadth of talent available to him, the Leader of the House should be able to use his influence to get at least four of his hon. Friends to serve on that Committee. Earlier this week, the Tory Whips worked hard to deprive people of free eye tests; could they put their threatening talents to work again, at least to bring the Scottish Select Committee into action? We would rather that happened than have a debate about why the right hon. Gentleman has failed to constitute the Committee.

Have the Government now agreed that the House will be given an opportunity in Government time to hold a separate debate and vote on the failure to uprate child benefit? As we said last week, the usual omnibus debate on all the benefits is an inadequate way of dealing with this matter.

Finally, arising from last night's debate, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Home Secretary to make a statement to clear up the confusion created last night by the conflict between what he and the Minister of State said about who may or may not be interviewed live on television and radio in the context of terrorism? The Home Secretary owes that clarification to the House and the broadcasters.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman raised four questions about next week's business. First, I congratulate him on his re-election to the shadow Cabinet with, I gather, one or two more votes than he managed lo get the year before. I hope that his performances on Thursdays have helped him in his endeavours.

I regret that it has not been possible to find an Opposition day. We have much important business next week, but the Standing Orders clearly provide that 20 days shall be allotted in each Session to proceedings on Opposition business. We have already provided the Opposition with one additional day, and in accordance with the wishes of the minority parties we have agreed to carry over one of their days to the next Session. I regret to say that the Opposition do not receive fewer Opposition days in a Session which is shorter than average.

We have had a number of exchanges about Scotland in recent months; I want to move the debate on a bit further. I would welcome such a debate, but, unfortunately, it has not been possible to find the time. I have given an undertaking, and the discussions are best resolved through the usual channels.

I told the House last week, in the context of child benefit, that benefits will come before the House before Christmas. I stick by that undertaking, and I shall discuss through the usual channels how best it should be carried out.

Neither the Home Secretary nor the Minister of State believes that any confusion arises out of last night's debate, as a fair reading of Hansard will confirm.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)

Despite the isolationist gloss which the Prime Minister's press secretary seems to put on her perfectly sensible statements about Europe, there is a general recognition in the House of the need to co-operate more closely. Will my right hon. Friend be in a position next week to make any statement about improved facilities for contact between this Parliament and the European Parliament?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not accept for a minute what my hon. Friend has said about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's press secretary. I thought that my right hon. Friend's speech was important and interesting, and it received considerable support. I believe that her officials did not attempt to put any gloss on it. I recognise the importance of the point that my hon. Friend has raised about closer contact. I have been trying for some time to make arrangements that are acceptable to all parts of the House. I shall continue my endeavours. However, I need other people to agree with me if we are to make progress.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

In regard to the Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order on Tuesday evening, we understand that the Home Secretary is contemplating the introduction of similar legislation. Does the Leader of the House agree that it is desirable that such legislation should be similar throughout the United Kingdom, even if that means a delay in introducing the Northern Ireland order?

Mr. Wakeham

That is a perfectly proper point of view for debate. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said how he wishes to proceed, subject to the approval of the House, and so has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The best thing for me to say to the right hon. Gentleman is that these points will be relevant to the debate next week.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Is my right hon. Friend getting rather tired of seeing me rising each week to ask whether he will provide time for a debate on the reports of the Select Committee on Procedure? He gave an assurance to the House that a debate would be held before the summer recess in 1987. As we are coming to the end of this Session, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that we shall have a debate within a fortnight of the completion of the debate on the Queen's Speech?

Mr. Wakeham

I assure my hon. Friend that, whenever he rises in the Chamber to ask me a question, I look upon it as a bright part of the day. I enjoy it very much.

When trying to find time to debate the Select Committee's reports, we have to consider that the reports contain a number of important issues on which we need to advance with as much co-operation as possible from all parts of the House. Some parts of the House have not, perhaps, been as quick to understand the implications of those issues as my hon. Friend has been. A debate will be held on the reports as soon as I feel that it would be a profitable exercise.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Is it not utterly disgraceful that life-saving medical help here is being denied to Marquita O'Garro, aged five, the severely disabled child in the British dependency of Montserrat, whose case is described by The Sunday Times as "Britain's shame"? Is the Leader of the House aware that, without an operation which cannot be performed in the dependency, she will probably die by Christmas? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore arrange for a very urgent statement, either by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs or the Secretary of State for Health, on whether they are prepared to intervene to save the child's life? Can we also have an early statement on the Government's whole attitude to patients in British dependencies who need urgent and specialised medical care?

Mr. Wakeham

The right hon. Gentleman raises a case that is obviously of concern to everybody. I cannot answer the question immediately, but I shall ensure that my right hon. Friends are aware of his concern and that he receives an answer about the way in which the Government feel best able to help.

Mr. Speaker

I call Mr. James Hill. I apologise for miscalling him previously.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

Did my right hon. Friend see last week the excellent documentary on the environment, presented by a member of the royal family, which described some of the monstrosities that are being passed by local council planning committees? Is there not a case, at a time when the issue is almost daily news in the national papers, for a debate on the process of environmental planning? Could we also not consider ten commandments for good, tasteful planning for human purposes?

Mr. Wakeham

I did not see the programme, but somehow I seem to have heard a bit about it. It sounded like an interesting programme for somebody who had studied the issue carefully. I know that those who are responsible for such matters will study the points that were made.

Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar)

Will the Leader of the House find time in the near future for a debate on environmental pollution, especially on Teesside, because although there has clearly been some progress, there is an increased level of public concern about the amount of waste which is being imported to be reprocessed and redirected in England?

Mr. Wakeham

No sooner asked than delivered: tomorrow's debate will be relevant to that subject.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Between now and next Wednesday evening, when on the Adjournment I and other Leicestershire Members of Parliament will raise the question of hospitals in Leicestershire, will my right hon. Friend please speak to the relevant Minister of the Department of Health and tell her—I assume it will be "her" —that it will not be sufficient to make some generalities in reply because we shall expect to hear that the proposals to close all rural maternity units have been dropped?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not know which Minister will reply, but if it is my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), I should say that I have not heard her being accused of making generalities in most of her speeches. Nevertheless, I shall put my hon. Friend's points to her.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Arising out of the right hon. Gentleman's reply to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), first, what further work is being done in looking into the way in which the House deals with Northern Ireland business, especially the Orders in Council procedures? Secondly, at what stage are the proposals to establish a British-Irish parliamentary tier?

Mr. Wakeham

I know that the way in which we conduct our affairs in matters relating to Northern Ireland is not entirely satisfactory, but I do not see any immediate chance of changing it, although it would obviously form part of progress generally in these matters if we could reach agreement. On the hon. Gentleman's second point about a parliamentary tier, I had some discussions with the leaders of parties in the House just before the summer recess to suggest where I thought we might be able to make some progress. I intend to have further discussions with them in the near future to see how they feel we should now proceed.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

In providing time for discussions on the future of the National Health Service, will my right hon. Friend deplore the method adopted by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) when discussing the future of the NHS by reference to hard, individual cases, however sad they may be? Will my right hon. Friend remind his noble Friends in the other place of the constitutional convention that in money matters relating to the Health Service—for example, charges—they should defer to the opinion of this House?

Mr. Wakeham

I certainly do not wish to criticise the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), but my hon. Friend has made a valid point. It is sometimes difficult, when an hon. Member raises an individual case and that hon. Member is the only one with access to the facts, for others to be able to make a considered comment upon it, because there are often many more facts that should be brought out first.

With regard to the House of Commons' decision on the Health and Medicines Bill and the other place, I believe that the constitutional rules by which we conduct ourselves are right. The House of Lords will make its own decision in its own way. I am sure that it will take into consideration the fact that this issue has been discussed twice, very adequately, by the House of Commons and that in both debates the Government won the argument and the vote.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

The Leader of the House will he well aware of the early-day motions which raise the issue of Barlow Clowes and of its effect on ordinary citizens of this nation who, in all honesty and with good advice, invested their hard-earned money in that enterprise. Unfortunately, we have been unable to have a proper debate on that, so will the Leader of the House consider having such a debate, or will the Government dodge that issue for ever?

Mr. Wakeham

No, it has not been possible to arrange a debate in the period up to the prorogation of Parliament. Obviously, many right hon. and hon. Members would like one, but that is a matter to which we can return after the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

The Leader of the House will no doubt have noted early-day motion No. 1169,

Créche facilities at the Palace of Westminster". [That this House considers that créche facilities should be established within the Palace of Westminster for the children of Right honourable and honourable Members and members of the staff working within the Palace.]

That motion, which is in the name of one of the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friends, has attracted more than 100 signatures. Will the Leader of the House study that motion and make a considered response to whether créche facilities can be introduced—not just for the children of right hon. and hon. Members but also for those of staff who work here?

Mr. Wakeham

This matter has already been referred to the relevant Sub-Committee of the Services Committee for further consideration. We must leave it to that Sub-Committee to consider the matter first.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

Can my right hon . Friend arrange a debate in the new Session, if not before, on a matter that touches on many problems, from football hooliganism and law and order to terrorism? I refer to the provision of a national identity card. We seem to be playing with that proposal and suggesting that others should introduce such a card, but even electronic tagging will be impossible without a national identity card system so that we may know where our population live and the rights they have.

Mr. Wakeham

I know that some people believe that such a card would be helpful in dealing with some problems. However, the Government have not been persuaded of the desirability of going down that road at present, although we encourage the voluntary issue of identity cards in certain cases, such as by licensed victuallers. I agree with my hon. Friend that this matter could be debated at some time. It may be relevant to debates that we shall be having in the not-too-distant future, but I cannot promise a special day.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I wonder whether it would be possible next week to arrange Prime Minister's questions and business questions at a time convenient for the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. Incidentally, does my right hon. Friend know where he is today? It could not be, surely, that he is too important to honour the House with his presence when the Prime Minister happens to be abroad on important business?

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Well, he certainly does not come in to see you.

Mr. Wakeham

The Leader of the Opposition always very courteously tells me when he is not able to be present, and I appreciate that. It is for him to decide how he best uses his time.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House allow time for a debate on journalistic standards? I draw his attention to a headline in last night's Yorkshire Evening Post that casts a slur on Opposition Members by blatantly lying about their attendance during consideration of the Health and Medicines Bill. May we have such a debate urgently?

Mr. Wakeham

If we had a debate every time that either the press or the electronic media says something untrue or disagreeable about right hon. or hon. Members, we would discuss nothing else; that is something we must accept. By and large, the media do their best, but they do not always get it right. I agree that journalistic standards are an important matter, but I cannot promise an early debate. There will be one on the broadcasting White Paper that will touch on some of the issues, but perhaps not in the way that the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) phrased her question.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

In the debate that my right hon. Friend has just mentioned, will it be possible to raise the issue of media standards generally? Despite the controversy surrounding "Death on the Rock", Central Television recently allocated two hours of prime-time televison to accuse three gentlemen of President Kennedy's assassination, without bothering to find out that they all had cast-iron alibis. Right hon. and hon. Members are increasingly fed up with the powers of self-appointed TV producers to conduct trial by television and accuse innocent men without giving any right of reply. It really is disgraceful.

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) makes his point extremely well and clearly, but what will be in order in any debate is a matter not for me but for you, Mr. Speaker, to decide.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)

Will the Leader of the House consider the six early-day motions 1475 to 1480, referring to local government and competitive tendering?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Local Government Act 1988 (Defined Activities) (Exemptions) (Scotland) Order 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 1415), dated 8th August 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th August, be annulled.]

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Local Government Act 1988 (Defined Activities) (Competition) (Scotland) Order 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 1413), dated 8th August 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th August, be annulled.]

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 1360), dated 29th July 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th August, be annulled.]

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Local Government Act 1988 (Defined Activities) (Specified Periods) (Wales) Regulations 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 1470), dated 12th August 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th August, be annulled.]

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Local Government Act 1988 (Defined Activities) (Exemptions) ( Wales) Order 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 1469), dated 12th August 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th August, be annulled.]

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Local Government Act 1988 (Defined Activities) (Competition) (Wales) Regulations 1988 (S.I., 1988, No. 1468), dated 12th August 1988, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th August, be annulled.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider also the three orders that have been laid in relation to local government and competitive tendering in Wales, and the situation in Scotland in particular? Can there be an early debate on those matters because of the uncertainties affecting local government employees and local authorities in general?

Mr. Wakeham

I know about the orders and the anxiety of the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends that a debate should take place, but I think that it is a matter for discussions through the usual channels.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Does my right hon. Friend feel that it would be for the convenience of the House to curtail important debates by midnight, bearing in mind our experience with the Health and Medicines Bill on Tuesday, when two important votes took place in the early hours of the morning and at least two senior members of the SLDP found it more important to be at home in their beds than present to vote?

Mr. Wakeham

I am afraid that those of us who seek and obtain election to the House must recognise that our hours are what I believe is known as unsociable. There have been attempts over the years to change that, and my task is to keep business down to the minimum, but I am afraid that late nights will still be involved from time to time. Nevertheless, I do not think that we have as many late nights as we used to.

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

Has the Leader of the House read the Le Quesne report on Barlow Clowes? Has he noted that, despite what was said at the Dispatch Box, it points to the guilt of the Department of Trade and Industry? Investors throughout the country want Parliament to discuss that report, but the decision is for the Leader of the House. Can we debate it?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot add anything to what I have already said, which is that I cannot find time for a debate at present. I have, however, read the report, and I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's conclusions. I believe that the problem arose because a private sector firm defaulted on its obligations, and I do not think that the use of taxpayers' money to make good such losses can be justified. Investors must consider for themselves whether they have grounds for legal action and, if so, against whom. Let me repeat to the hon. Gentleman that no taxpayers' funds were used in the 1970 lifeboat operation for the secondary banking crisis, or when equity prices fell sharply in the mid-1970s.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the exceptional support on the Conservative Back Benchers for early-day motion 275, which calls for the abolition of the national dock labour scheme?

[That this House believes that the National Dock Labour Scheme is an anachronism which both endangers the viability of jobs in the scheme areas and acts as a deterrent to job creation by new ventures; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to abolish the scheme, and open negotiations immediately with employers and unions to bring that about.]

Is he aware of the considerable dereliction on the banks of the Thames and elsewhere in the docklands of the inner cities, largely brought about by the scheme? Can we hope for an early debate, or perhaps action to bring an end to the scheme and return jobs to those areas?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government are aware of the views of many of my hon. Friends about the drawbacks of the national dock labour scheme. As I have made clear to the House on other occasions, however, we have no plans at present to change the scheme's operation, although such matters are of course kept under review.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

May I draw the Lord President's attention to early-day motion 1503, signed by 84 Labour Members, which refers to British Airways' decision to purchase the Boeing 737 rather than the Airbus 320?

[That this House condemns the decision by British Airways to buy Boeing 737 in preference to the Airbus 320; regards this decision as a body blow to the United Kingdom and the European Aerospace industries; believes that it will threaten the long-term job prospects of workers in the Aerospace industry; recognises that this is a classic example of a privatised industry taking decisions without regard to the best interests of the United Kingdom; calls upon the Government who have supplied launch aid for the A320 to point out strongly to British Airways that their decision could adversely affect the repayments of the launch aid and the United Kingdom balance of payments; and requests them to reconsider their decision as the national carrier to fly the Stars and Stripes instead of the British flag.]

The move will bring very little work to this country, and is a matter of great concern to the aerospace industry. British Airways is one of the only national carriers in Europe to turn its back on the Airbus 320, which is technologically far in advance of the Boeing 737. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early debate?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot arrange a specific debate on the subject, but there will be occasions on which the hon. Gentleman can raise points of concern to him. British Airways is of course a private company, and the way in which it chooses to equip its fleet is entirely a matter for its own commercial judgment. It is not for the Government to seek to influence its decision making in this or any other commercial matter.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the apparently surreptitious acquisition of 65 acres near Heathrow airport by or for British Airways, which my constituents and others living nearby in west London suspect to be on offer for a fifth terminal? Could we have an early debate so that hon. Members may express their determined opposition to the establishment of a fifth terminal there?

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend raises an important matter, but I cannot promise him a debate on it. I am sure, however, that he will, with his usual ingenuity, find a means of raising it.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will there be an opportunity for the Prime Minister to make a statement on Monday—the day of industrial action over GCHQ—about how she can talk in Poland about trade union rights while in Britain she denies people at GCHQ their basic right to join a trade union? If the Prime Minister makes a statement on Monday, will she also be able to explain how she can sympathise about a shipyard in Poland being closed when she shows absolutely no interest in the imminent closure of a shipyard in Britain?

Mr. Wakeham

Those are two typical, but still mischievous, questions. The hon. Gentleman knows the difference perfectly well. We believe that workers should have the freedom to join a trade union of their choice—

Mr. Winnick


Mr. Wakeham

—or not to join one. There are, however, special considerations when national security is involved.

Mr. Winnick

That is what they say in Poland.

Mr. Wakeham

Members of the security services have never been allowed to join a trade union. The hon. Gentleman must accept that there was a considerable amount of industrial difficulty at GCHQ between 1979 and 1981. The differences have been well aired in the House, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. I cannot imagine that that matter will form part of any statement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister may or may not make in the House next week.

The hon. Gentleman drew a wholly false comparison with regard to shipbuilding. The North-East Shipbuilders Ltd. issue is important and should not be treated lightly or casually. No decisions have been taken. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy is getting additional information that he wants about one of the bids, and will no doubt make a statement when a decision has been made.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Will my right hon. Friend find time early in the new Session for a full debate on Barlow Clowes? A debate would give us an opportunity to show how the City got it wrong in terms of solicitors and accountants advising the Department of Trade and Industry and intermediaries advising investors. A debate is important as there cannot be an hon. Member who does not have some sad cases in his constituency. It is important to show the country and investors in Barlow Clowes that we care about their plight and are prepared to join in a rescue fund. Such a debate would also clarify the situation.

Mr. Wakeham

My hon. Friend is always very persuasive, but I cannot add to what I have already said on the subject.

Mr. Tony Banks

How did the Leader of the House feel when the Prime Minister so cruelly dashed his political hopes by dismissing the prospect of his or his colleagues ever taking over as leader of the Conservative party? Perhaps he will take this opportunity to get his own back by announcing that he has speeded up consideration of the terms of the experiment for televising the House, as it is about time that we had an opportunity to discuss the initial report. When will that report be presented to us? Does he yet have a date for the televising of the House?

Mr. Wakeham

One thing that we cannot criticise the hon. Gentleman for is lack of imagination. He can dream up all sorts of things to ask questions about.

Members of the Select Committee set about their work seriously and conscientiously. They are dealing with an important and substantial topic. Any rumours in the press about dates of reports and postponement are mostly in the imagination of people who want to disrupt us from the course we set ourselves, which was to produce a report having considered all the issues. If the House had wanted just a working party to set up this experiment, it would have got a working party. It wanted a Select Committee, and the hon. Gentleman knows that a Select Committee has to take evidence, consider it and make a report. It takes some time to do that properly, and it is being done properly.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of a recent incident of appallingly bad driving, when a barge went into Battersea bridge. He will also be aware that Battersea is an area of London with no rail or underground links. Traffic is prevented from going north across the river and only cars are allowed to go south. Will he arrange for a statement next week on when the bridge will be open? I hope that it will be open before Christmas. Will he also arrange for a statement on what steps are being taken to avoid such incidents in future?

Mr. Wakeham

I know all about that, because I was stuck in my hon. Friend's constituency for about an hour last Monday morning on my way to the House. Only because I saw so many people who had voted for my hon. Friend did my temper stay nice and cool. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to see whether a statement is required. If so, it can be made.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the problems that many pensioners will experience this winter in getting enough money to keep warm? It is a national scandal that there are so many deaths each winter from hypothermia in what is hardly the coldest climate in Europe. Can we also debate what practical steps can be taken to abolish the disconnection of utilities from people aged over 60?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Lady, I know, takes a serious view of these matters, but I must tell her that the Government's record on helping old-age pensioners is substantially better than that of the Labour Government who were in office before she came to the House. Also, additions to take account of heating costs are substantially greater now than they used to be.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Employment to come to the House next week to explain what action he has taken to make a reality of the Government's guarantee to school leavers of a youth training scheme place or a job? Does he realise that thousands of 16 and 17-year-olds who left school this summer have neither a YTS place nor a job and that, since 12 September, they have been unable to claim benefit? Is it not wildly irresponsible of the Government to leave thousands of 16 and 17-year-olds without any income, thereby forcing some of them into trouble and crime? It seems recklessly irresponsible. Will the Government take urgent action to reverse this policy?

Mr. Wakeham

I have heard this before. When I looked into it, I discovered that there are substantially more places than people to fill them, but that in some areas the match is not as it should be. In those very few cases, the Government are taking urgent action with the providers of training to get over any little difficulties that there may be in one or two places. By and large, the scheme is working extremely well.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Can we have a debate in the near future—preferably next week—to consider the bids that have been put in for the Settle-Carlisle railway line and to see whether they have any sense, sensibility and realism? British Rail has treated the whole exercise as though it is a major defence secret. We could at the same time discuss the Government's plans to close 1,000 miles of branch line, fattening up—or slimming down—British Rail for privatisation, thereby destroying a valuable public service and forcing travellers to go on already overcrowded roads which yield more than 5,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries each year, instead of preserving a full public network. It is vital to have a debate before this organised vandalism is implemented.

Mr. Wakeham

I can deal with great authority with the article in The Guardian about the 1,000 miles of railway which is to be closed. One word describes it: the article is rubbish. I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a keen interest in the Settle-Carlisle railway. I cannot add to what I have said to him in the past, but I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will the Leader of the House, with his customary courtesy, correct a factual inaccuracy? He said that I alone was familiar with the case of the 5-year-old disabled child who is dangerously ill and in need of urgent medical care. While I may know more about the detail of the case than other people, how can the Leader's statement possibly be true when the case was reported at length and in detail by the Sunday Times?

Mr. Wakeham

If I said something that upset the right hon. Gentleman, of course, I withdraw it.