HC Deb 26 April 1990 vol 171 cc485-97 3.30 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

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 (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 30 APRIL—Progress on remaining stages of the Environmental Protection Bill.

TUESDAY I MAY—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY 2 MAY—Completion of remaining stages of the Environmental Protection Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the pensions (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

THURSDAY 3 MAY—Proceedings on the Australian Constitution (Public Record Copy) Bill.

Motion to take note of EC documents relating to education and training. Details will be given in the Official Report.

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

FRIDAY 4 MAY—Private Members' Bills.

Thereafter the House will adjourn until Tuesday 8 May.

[Thursday, 3 May 1990:
Relevant European Community Documents:
(a) 4432/90 Trans-European Mobility Scheme for University Students (TEMPUS)
(b) 4431/90 European Training Foundation

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee:

  1. (a) HC 11-xiii (1989–90), para 1
  2. (b) HC 11-xii (1989–90), para 1]

Dr. Cunningham

Is the Leader of the House able to assure us that when the House deals with the Environmental Protection Bill on Monday the Government will not prevent it from having adequate time in which to debate an amendment to introduce a dog registration scheme in Britain? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall that, when the matter last came before the House, it was debated in the early hours of the morning and that it was defeated by a majority of only 13, due to the fact that the Government brought in the payroll vote? Does he think that Conservative Members are entitled to a free vote on the matter? There would then be an honest decision, which would almost certainly lead to the introduction of a dog registration scheme for which there is great—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Tim Renton)

The matter should be discussed through the usual channels.

Dr. Cunningham

Yes, I am willing to discuss, through the usual channels, the possibility of a free vote, if the Government are willing to give that undertaking. I am sure that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) would welcome the opportunity of a free vote on the Government side. So would people in the country, as there is widespread concern about the threat that dogs pose to people's health and well-being.

Will the Leader of the House provide Government time soon for a debate on the important issue of the Iraqi gun affair? Is not it clear from letters from Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) that the Government have known for a considerable time of Iraqi involvement in ballistics production and related matters? Has the Leader of the House seen a copy of the letter of 16 October 1989, signed by a member of the Government, which makes it clear that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had advised of the involvement of Iraqi-hacked companies in a consortium involving itself in ballistics matters? A Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister said in a letter: Iraq was known to be involved in an advanced ballistic missile development programme". Is not it time that the House had clear and candid answers on those matters? Is not it incumbent on the Leader of the House to ensure that his ministerial colleagues from the Department of Trade and Industry and from the Ministry of Defence come to the House to answer the legitimate and urgent questions which hon. Members of all parties want to put to them?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman will realise that there is room for more than one view on the merits of a dog registration scheme. We have seriously to consider whether it would be the best way of advancing the concern shared by hon. Members of all parties to deal with stray and dangerous dogs. It should be possible to find room in the ordinary treatment of the many new clauses and amendments tabled for debate next week to discuss the scheme. That will be facilitated if the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends can approach those matters with due expedition so that there is a chance of dealing with them according to their importance.

On the particular case that has interested the House in recent days, in the light of the charges laid against an individual yesterday and of the continuing investigations by Customs and Excise, it would be inappropriate to give further information. On the wider question of arms supplies to Iraq more generally, no doubt the hon. Gentleman and his party can consider raising the matter in the course of debate.

Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the Liaison Committee feels strongly that the departmental nature of the Select Committee system should be maintained. Representations have therefore been made to him that the Select Committee on Social Services should be divided to correspond with the ministerial and departmental relationship. Has my right hon. and learned Friend been able to make progress on that? I hope that he will be able to do something about the matter next week.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As my right hon. Friend knows, the matter that he raised has been discussed through the usual channels. Arrangements are now fairly advanced in that respect and I hope that they can be finalised before too long.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)

Will the Leader of the House make a special arrangement next Wednesday to transfer Scottish Question Time from here to the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh, to be followed by a full day's debate in the Scottish assembly rooms in Edinburgh on the Labour party's roof tax? Is the Leader of the House aware that yesterday, in Glasgow and not here in debate, a statement was made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, in which he gave a figure and then had to tell the press conference that he could not relate that figure to the value of any particular house and, more important, nor could he explain to council house tenants how their houses were to be valued and how the roof tax was to be levied on them? The conclusion is that the Labour party is in an extremely muddled state. Can I persuade the Leader of the House to accept my suggestion so that we can have a debate in Edinburgh and the matter can be straightened out?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have to take care in handling radical proposals for constitutional reform from the hon. Gentleman. I agree that in respect of this matter, there is much to be said for publicising his points to the people of Scotland as widely as possible. The Labour party's taxation proposals for Scotland would lead to Scotland becoming probably the most heavily taxed part of the United Kingdom. The roof tax proposals have been widely condemned in Scotland—and rightly so.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give deep consideration to the reply that he has just given? There is no question but that Scottish Members of all parties would like an early opportunity to debate the Labour proposals for Scotland and, of course, the proposal for a local income tax. They would also like to have the opportunity to debate the practices of many who are in receipt of public support in different ways, such as the provost of Angus district council, who is running around in his official car, trying to be a martyr, on funds paid for by the community charge payers in my constituency.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reinforcing that point of view about the Labour party's proposals and I am glad to facilitate this brief debate about that matter in the House today.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for at least a statement, if not a debate, on the Health Service in Scotland? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I have learnt today about dramatic cuts amounting to more than £1 million in the finances of the Grampian health board, which the board says are totally unforeseen and wholly the result of Scottish Office calculations? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman further aware that such treatment is intolerable and unprecedented and is much worse than anything that I have ecountered in 20 years as a Member of the House? Will he therefore arrange for a statement, because other health boards might also be affected? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that this matter demonstrates beyond peradventure that it is an absolute disgrace that we do not have a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs in which we can discuss such matters in detail and arrive at proper remedies?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Health Service in Scotland has received sustantially the same increases in financial resources as the Health Service in the rest of the kingdom. However, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise that point, he may try to do so in a debate on the Adjournment.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will the Leader of the House find time either on Thursday or at 10 pm on Tuesday to discuss the vital automobile order that we shall be discussing some time in the early hours of tomorrow when nobody will be here? After yesterday's balance of payments figures and bearing in mind the desperately important proposals in those plans to curb British exports to the continent, does the Leader of the House accept that they deserve detailed consideration by a full House at a reasonable hour? Will he make a special effort to ensure that this vital Euro order, which will affect hundreds of thousands of our constituents and their jobs, is not discussed at a crazy hour tomorrow morning when nobody will be here?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not doubt the importance of the automobile industry and the provisions affecting it that derive from, among other matters, the European Community. My hon. Friend is aware that we are considering wider proposals affecting the way in which the House considers European Community documents.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the steel industry? Does he accept that the House cannot abandon its responsibilities for the social and economic consequences of any decline in that industry just because it has been privatised? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that since the last statement on the industry was made to the House by the then Minister for Trade and Industry on 3 December 1987, there have been continuing doubts in Scotland about the validity of the guarantees that were given? That has now reached a crescendo. Is such a statement likely to be forthcoming in the near future?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Arrangements for debates and statements about industries that were formerly in public ownership must take a different form when the industry has been privatised. That is inevitable. However, there is no objection to such matters being raised either in questions or during an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make Monday week the last May Day bank holiday, but please replace it with something else?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am aware that that point of view is widely shared.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

I wish to raise with the Leader of the House the way in which the press report voting in Divisions. I refer specifically to the reports of our voting that were published in the national dailies today in which the press reported only the Division lists and did not record the Tellers. That led to an erroneous report of the way in which I voted during the abortion debate, which has caused considerable hardship and work. This is not the first occasion that this has happened to an hon. Member, so I ask the Leader of the House to issue guidelines to the press on the reporting of Divisions that would ensure that members of the press have all the facts before they print the names of those who voted in any Division.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My responsibilities do not extend to the way in which the press report the proceedings of the House. I understand the point raised by the hon. Lady. The names of the Tellers for the Divisions at the end of Tuesday's debate were fully reported in the Official Report, as one would expect, and that is where one would look for such information. Neither I nor the House has any control over how the press report these matters, but I have no doubt that they will respond to the point made by the hon. Lady.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

Would my right hon. and learned Friend care to comment on the invasion of the plastic embryos on Monday morning, most of which are now on their way to biology classrooms around the counry, in the light of Mr. Speaker's remarks in the House on Monday afternoon at the beginning of business?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have been looking into the matter raised by my hon. Friend earlier in the week. It is true that the delivery of those objects caused considerable distress to a number of Members, and particularly to some of their secretaries and other female members of staff. However, I have been advised that there is no basis on which the matter can properly be referred to the police or prosecuting authorities, whatever offence it may have caused to some. As the parcels were correctly prepaid and addressed to individual Members, the Post Office was obliged to accept and to try to deliver them. The Serjeant at Arms is ensuring that the security implications of the incident are taken fully into account. In the light of the reaction in all parts of the House, those who wish to organise such campaigns in that way may wish to reflect on whether that kind of lobbying advances their case.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Some hon. Members often think that the Leader of the House's task on Thursday afternoons is a thankless one, but is he aware that his choice of 25 April, ANZAC day, a day so important to all Australians, for the First Reading of the Australia Constitution (Public Record Copy) Bill is widely appreciated? I am grateful to him for accepting the suggestion that I made last Thursday. Is he also aware that the timing of the Bill's remaining stages is also much appreciated?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He may also like to know that I shall be tabling a motion to enable amendments, if any, to he tabled before Second Reading, which will be for the general convenience of the House so that the matter may pass through the House as expeditiously as possible.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen early-day motion 692 which has attracted more than 100 signatures?

[That this House urges British Rail to give full and thorough consideration to proposals for a Channel Tunnel Rail Link based on a junction at Stratford, and to enter into professional discussions with those proposing the Stratford alternative before presenting their Private Bill to Parliament for a decision.]

Will he give time for a debate on the provision of a channel tunnel rail link which is clearly a matter of concern to the nation, and the shambles that has been made so far by British Rail and its private enterprise partners which is a source of considerable concern to hon. Members?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

British Rail and its partner Eurorail will need to satisfy themselves and eventually Parliament that they have chosen the right route for the channel tunnel rail link. They have already looked at the Stratford option. As far as I am aware, they are willing to meet the promoter's alternative schemes.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

In view of the importance of the summit meeting of the European Council in Dublin this weekend, can the Leader of the House assure us that in next week's business there will be a statement on the outcome of that important meeting?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The summit this weekend is to some extent an extra fixture in the European list. As it is slightly different in character from the ordinary regularly planned summit it may not qualify for the same treatment, but I shall certainly give serious consideration to the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend quickly recover from that unacceptable reply? It is true that the new summit is informal in its technical nomenclature, but it is probably the most historic and constitutionally important one ever to take place, as we now have the Franco-German proposals for completely changing the nature of Europe and for having a political union with a fast timetable to it—a manoeuvre which would devalue, if not destroy, the role of national Parliaments. Surely my right hon. and learned Friend is not serious in saying that the Prime Minister will not come to the House afterwards to make a statement. It would be shameful if that did not take place.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

If my hon. Friend could lay aside his emotional epithets, he would realise that in the opening of his question he identified both factors that will have to be taken into account. It is a meeting at summit level, at which some important matters may be discussed. On the other hand, it is an informal meeting. Those two points will have to be balanced before I leap to my feet to give an affirmative answer, even to the beguiling questions that have just been put to me.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made on the funding of the Health Service in Wales, because, without exception, every health authority is running into bad debt and my authority of Mid Glamorgan has had to remove from its 10-year capital programme the second phase of the Princess of Wales hospital in Bridgend? At one time, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) secured from the Welsh Office a promise that the second phase of the hospital would be built when the first phase was completed in the mid-1980s. We have now arrived at 1990 and, rather than being completed, the second phase has been left out of the programme altogether. This is nothing less than a betrayal of the people of Bridgend, and I hope that a Welsh Minister will make a statement.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

A statement of that length in business questions is in itself something of an achievement. The hon. Member will be able to return to the matter, fortunately for him, at Welsh questions on Monday of next week.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

The House will be grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his hard and imaginative work on new clause 4 to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which no doubt gave the House and the country the broad view of parliamentarians. I invite my right hon. and learned Friend to exercise his talents in that direction yet once more. He will be aware that 5 million people shop regularly on a Sunday. Would it be possible to mount a similar exercise, whereby various options could be considered—[HON. MEMBERS:"No"]—and voted upon, taking the matter out of party politics before the next general election?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is apparent from the reactions to my hon. Friend's question that there is room for more than one view about this matter. He will recollect that my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, in an earlier existence, addressed himself to this matter. I shall take counsel of him, in the light of his experience, before giving an affirmative answer.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

May we have a statement early next week on the ruling by the Council of Europe Ministers on the case involving my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) and Ms. Patricia Hewitt? Is not it essential that, in any such statement we should be told whether the MI5 officers who were responsible for carrying out the targeting of those two—without any justification, as the Council of Europe has ruled—will be disciplined, if they have not been, or dismissed? Should not MI5 be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, as are other such services in other European democracies? It is essential both that we have a statement and that smears such as those made against these two people should end.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman is, in a sense, ahead of time, because the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe has yet to adopt its final resolution in these cases, so I am not able to say anything about them. He should also know—he as well as anyone—that, in accordance with the policies of successive Governments, I should not comment on allegations affecting the security services. Thirdly, he should know that since those events are said to have taken place, the Security Services Act 1989 has been passed and under it, such complaints can be considered by an independent tribunal.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider an investigation by the appropriate Secretary of State into the administration of community charge rebates by local authorities? May we have a statement on this next week, because there are disturbing reports that some London Labour authorities are sending out community charge bills without any allowance for rebate in cases where people know that they should be granted such rebates?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That is a serious matter which I shall certainly bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the announcement made after the business statement that there will be a possibility of amendments to the Australian Constitution (Public Record Copy) Bill because if it were passed, it would be all to the good and we welcome that.

May I press the Lord President to say whether he is able to report on improvements to the amplification system in the House? It has been difficult enough at times for hon. Members to get answers from Ministers and to get them to make statements. It is even more difficult when they are here and we cannot hear them.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I gave a long written answer on that matter which appeared in Hansard on Monday. One of the features of that answer which the hon. Member may not have noticed is that the sound and acoustics system in the House is many years old and is being re-examined as a whole for its suitability, quite unconnected with the introduction of television.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

As a matter of future business, could the Leader of the House consider requiring Mr. Peter Mandelson to present himself at the Bar of the House to give an explanation of why he prevented members of the shadow Cabinet from announcing their policy and the costs of it? Does my right hon. and learned Friend care to speculate on why Mr. Mandelson is so successful in muddling the Labour party?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That is a matter more for members of the Opposition than for myself, but it is certainly worth giving some consideration to the interesting idea put forward by my hon. Friend that that might be a way in which we can discover something more about Opposition policies.

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

Has the Leader of the House noticed that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has addressed the House in a major debate on far fewer occasions than any of her recent predecessors? In view of the disastrous balance of payments and the fact that inflation is rising—it is not just a blip—is not it time that she had the guts to come to the Dispatch Box and lead a real debate, or is she afraid of real opposition?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister comes to the Dispatch Box regularly twice a week and deals with the widest possible range of questions most effectively. He may also recall that when she came to the Dispatch Box for the first debate on the Queen's Speech she dealt very effectively with the ineffective Opposition that confronted her.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Could my right hon. and learned Friend pledge that we shall have a Government statement at such time as certain gentlemen come down from the roof tax and obey the existing law?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I suspect that it may be for those who have devised the roof tax to produce the answer to that.

Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)

Will the Leader of the House once again reconsider the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about a debate on the Iraqi guns, first, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman is an old friend of mine from Merseyside and, therefore, he should be prepared to take into consideration what some of his old friends think about the matter and, secondly, because it is clear that we should have a debate as Mr. Speaker quite rightly allowed a debate on capping a number of local authorities because it was not yet sub judice, but the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has been hiding behind the sub judice rule, although, as yet, there is no court case relating to that Iraqi issue? Is not it important that we should have a debate on the matter, first, in the interests of Members—Back Benchers as well as Front Benchers—and, secondly, because, as the Prime Minister said, we should get all the facts, and to get the facts we have to have a debate as quickly as possible?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he introduced his question. I respond to him on the basis that I have given the matter serious consideration. He is right to draw attention to the way in which certain civil cases do not necessarily inhibit discussion in the House. The sub judice rule begins to apply to a civil case only when the case has been set down for trial, but in this case, criminal charges have now been laid against an individual and that has a different effect. In addition, there are continuing investigations by Customs and Excise whose function is to find out the facts in that context. In those circumstances, it would be inappropriate to give any further information on that set of facts.

Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)

A few moments ago, my right hon. and learned Friend's attention was drawn to early-day motion 692. Did he notice that it was signed by more than 100 hon. Members on both sides of the House representing all parts of the United Kingdom? It urges British Rail to consider the alternatives to a King's Cross route to the channel tunnel terminal. Will he provide an early opportunity to discuss the matter, as there is a growing impression that the only sector of the community that will benefit from the King's Cross terminal and the King's Cross route will be the landlords and tenants of the King's Cross development?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand the importance of that early-day motion to which my hon. Friend is the leading signatory. As I said earlier, the point remains that it will be for British Rail to satisfy the House in due course of the method that it chooses. It is certainly open to receive representations such as those made by my hon. Friend in support of alternative routes.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that we have another statement and a Report stage, so it will be a pretty late day. I ask hon. Members to put succinct questions please and not to ask questions that have been asked before.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)

Will the Leader of the House consider providing Government time for a debate on the problems arising in education, involving the implementation of the Education Reform Act 1988? Whatever the merits of that Act, teachers are experiencing considerable difficulty with the implementation of the national curriculum and schools are experiencing considerable difficulties with the introduction of local management of schools. Will he find time for such a debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am not sure that I can find time for a debate on those topics, but the hon. Gentleman can be assured that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is aware of the importance of the points he raised and is taking great care to ensure that the national curriculum, for example, is introduced in a way that does not overburden the teaching profession.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

My right hon. and learned Friend will be well aware of the excellent work that is carried out by the ombudsman and the Select Committee which supervises his work. Will he therefore arrange that a debate on that work should take place on the Floor of the House as soon as possible?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend and others concerned with the Select Committee have raised that point more than once. The pattern has been for topics handled by the Select Committee and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration to arise if they are sufficiently important, but I cannot offer a general right of debate on the ordinary work of that important Committee.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will there be a July statement? How is that for being succinct?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I dare say that the hon. Gentleman's memory will go back far enough to recall the dismal days of the last Labour Government when we were confronted with economic statements about once every six weeks. We are not such a Government and we will continue to conduct ourselves in the proper way.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find an opportunity for Members on both sides of the House to express their grave concern that the Kray brothers, one of whom is incarcerated in Broadmoor hospital in my constituency, will be major beneficiaries of a film about their former careers? Would that opportunity allow Members of Parliament to suggest that there might be legislation to ensure that criminals cannot benefit from their crimes and allow Members on both sides of the House to encourage their constituents to boycott the film, bankrupt the film makers and discourage future film makers from making such hideous mistakes?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend puts forward a comprehensive plan of action to deal with the matter at this stage. I shall bring his concern to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the farming of wild animals? Is he aware that there are few regulations on the farming of mink and Arctic fox, which are often kept in barbaric conditions and show signs of much distress as a result? Is not it time that the Government stopped bowing their knee to the Fur Breeders Association and started being concerned for animals?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Lady can be assured that there is no question of the Government bowing their knee to any vested interest in this or any other context. We take much care and concern about the welfare of animals, but I shall bring her point to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my hope that in next weeks's debate on dog registration hon. Members will understand that such a scheme would amount to a tax on dog-loving and dog-owning pensioners? Although it may be appropriate for the Opposition to introduce a new tax, it would be crazy for us to do so at this time.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am ready to endorse the importance of the point made by my hon. Friend. Hon. Members should reflect on the difficulties of collecting vehicle excise duty, which is a much more openly identifiable tax to be paid or not paid. They would pale into insignificance compared with the difficulties that might arise from collecting dog excise duty.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May I congratulate the Leader of the House on his tonsorial turn-out this afternoon? I take it that he is polishing his image for his party's impending leadership contest. May I remind him that in the mid-1980s, when he was doing less exciting things, control of London Regional Transport was taken away from the democratic accountability of the GLC? At that time, we were given an undertaking that there would be an annual debate on its levy, but because of the change in accounting that promise is not being kept. Will the Leader of the House give urgent consideration to a debate on London Regional Transport next week and guarantee that we will have an annual debate on transport in London, given its appalling state under the control of LRT?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not share the hon. Gentleman's judgment on the present condition of transport in the capital. I cannot give the assurance that he requests.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that, if we devoted the first four days of next week's business to Opposition supply days on the community charge, we might by Thursday when the voters go to the polls, be any closer to discovering what their policies are?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am sure that we would be no closer, but I hope that between now and next Thursday my hon. Friend will devote himself to getting that point across to all those who should know about it.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Will the Leader of the House allow time for an early statement from the Secretary of State for Defence on the low-flying Operation Elder Forest, which is taking place this week during the Scottish examination period? Is he aware that this morning at Mintlaw academy in my constituency there were three incidents of low flying when almost 200 pupils were sitting their standard grade English examination? Have not Scottish schoolchildren the right to peace and quiet during this vital examination period and not to be buzzed by low-flying aircraft?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I take note of the point and will certainly pass it on to my right hon. Friend. It is important to maintain a sense of proportion and to recognise that Scottish schoolchildren benefit from the continued availability of effective defence.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate on the production of the Official Report so that hon. Members can place on record their appreciation of the accuracy of its reporting of last night's debate on the community charge? The record clearly shows that the Labour party was unable to give any details of its alternative.

May we expect a statement next week on the radar for the European fighter aircraft?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot at this stage answer my hon. Friend's second question, but I appreciate what he said in his first question.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

I draw the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 893.

[That this House notes that to date the Ministry of Defence has carried out no health control studies on refit workers similar to that carried out at Sellafield by Professor Gardner; is mindful that radiation dose exposures of United States nuclear propulsion programme workers are much less than for United Kingdom refit workers undertaking similar tasks; expresses dismay that no radiation dose figures prior to 1979 have been released; and urges the Government to carry out health control studies forthwith as well as urgently reviewing and revising downwards the annual and lifetime dose radiation exposure figures for United Kingdom workers]

I draw his attention also to the revealing answers to parliamentary questions last week on radiation exposure of workers. The Government's approach since the Gardner study has been impotent; one can conclude only that they do not care for workers exposed to radiation. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman ensure that there is a debate so that the Government will consider the figures and revise them downwards in terms of annual dosage and lifetime dosages of radiation?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot possibly answer the particular points raised by the hon. Gentleman. He can be assured that the Government and my right hon. Friends take seriously the implications of radiation in any form and I shall bring his points to their attention.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Did my right hon. and learned Friend get a chance to look in at yesterday's debate on local government finance? Did he note the performance of the Opposition environment spokeman who sat in his seat like a shrinking violet and refused to outline the Opposition's alternative to the poll tax? Will my right hon. and learned Friend have as many more debates on the community charge as possible until the Opposition have the guts to tell the country their policies?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I listened to the speech by the Opposition official spokesman and I noted that he was wholly uncommunicative on that important matter.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Given the increasingly fundamental and detailed questions that are arising about the hated poll tax in Scotland after one full year's experience of it and given the michievous points being made about the alternatives by the hon. Members for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) and for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) and others who want to support the Tory party, will the Leader of the House concede that the best forum for studying the experience of the poll tax in Scotland would be a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? When may we have a Select Committee which would have the resources and the power to analyse the poll tax and its alternatives?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Given the sensitivity of Scottish Opposition Members about the extent to which their intolerable tax proposals are already being unduly exposed, I hardly feel that it is necessary to introduce an additional forum for that purpose.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend reflect on yesterday's debate, especially the Opposition's motion on local government finance? Will he, through the usual channels, persuade Opposition Members that the next time they present a motion to Parliament they should not use such vague terminology, so that the House will have the opportunity genuinely to hear their alternatives to this measure?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I fancy that my hon. Friend has invited me to undertake a labour of Herculean proportions, but I would rather not do so.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that it is appropriate to have a debate next week so that we can examine the dearth of Opposition policies, especially the reason why they now have to set up a 170-man council—presumably, a man and woman council—to design some policies? Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that a camel was a horse designed by a committee? What would 170 people produce?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I tremble to think.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the tourist and rural assets of my constituency are such that in recent days they have attracted the presence of no fewer than three Labour Members of the Militant "Don't Pay" tendency, the hon. Members for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) and, I believe, for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields)? Some of my hon. Friends would give their eye teeth to have the attention of even one of those hon. Members. When can we have a debate on the strength of the Militant "Don't Pay" tendency in the Labour party and the supine weakness of the Leader of the Opposition in dealing with it?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend has effectively drawn attention to the need for such a debate.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I support the call by my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) for a debate on the appalling decision of film makers to glorify the hideous violence and murder by the Kray brothers in east London. They are being rewarded, because their actions have been glamorised into a so-called artistic performance. Is not it important for the House to consider the so-called artistic aspects and the misuse of money going to people who, to say the least, do not deserve it?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I can understand my hon. Friend's concern, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has been in the House to hear the points that he has made.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

May I join in the call to my right hon. and learned Friend for another debate next week on local government expenditure legislation? It is clear from yesterday's debate that, although Labour members may be trying to loosen trade union ties, they remain as tightly bound as ever to the town hall barons of Liverpool, Manchester, Lambeth and Sheffield and simply dare not say what their policy is, for fear of annoying them.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the point so clearly.