HC Deb 06 December 1990 vol 182 cc451-67 3.31 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

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

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 10 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Road Traffic Bill.

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

TUESDAY II DECEMBER—There will be a debate on the Gulf crisis on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion to amend schedule 1 of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975.

WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER—Opposition Day (2nd Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The Deepening Economic Recession".

Motion to take note of EC document relating to non-standard employment. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion to take note of EC document relating to a research and development programme on information technology. Details will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 13 DECEMBER—Estimates Day (1st Allotted Day) (first part). There will be a debate on class IV, vote 2, Department of Trade and Industry, so far as it relates to investigations under the Companies Act and the Financial Services Act.

There will be a debate on fisheries on a Government motion.

At 10 o'clock, the House will be asked to agree the civil and defence votes on account and the outstanding winter supplementary estimates.

FRIDAY 14 DECEMBER—There will be a debate on Her Majesty's Government's progress in assisting economic reform and addressing environment and population issues in the developing world, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 17 DECEMBER—Proceedings in Committee on the Criminal Justice Bill on new clauses relating to capital punishment.

The House will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, I now propose that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment on Thursday 20 December until Monday 14 January.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that that bit of good news will enable us to make progress.

[Wednesday 12 December 1991

(1) Relevant European Community Documents 6864/90 Information Technology Research Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee HC 11-xxx (1989–90) para 1

(2) Relevant European Community Documents

(a) 8072/90

Non-standard Work

(b) 9601/90

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 11-xxxii (1989–90) para 1

(b) None yet reported on.]

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Clearly, it would be totally inappropriate for me to criticise the Leader of the House about the length of the Christmas parliamentary recess. However, it is much longer than it would normally be. If there are any serious developments in the Gulf crisis, the Opposition would expect Parliament to be recalled, especially if any conflict were to develop.

Will the Leader of the House say whether it is his intention to meet his obligations under the Standing Orders and proceed to set up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? Is it not the case that, if any other hon. Member were in persistent conflict with the Standing Orders, action would be taken to correct the behaviour of that hon. Member? Although it is very unusual for the Leader of the House to be in persistent conflict with our Standing Orders, that realistically and accurately is the position in which the right hon. Gentleman now finds himself. He has a duty to establish a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, and we urge him now to carry it out.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that, for the second time in this Parliament, we are to vote on the restoration of capital punishment? Is it not within the memory of the whole House that his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, when Home Secretary, indicated to the House that our previous decision on capital punishment would deal with that matter for this Parliament? Is it not clear that that was just a rash promise made at the Tory party conference and that that is the only reason why the matter is to come before the House?

Can we expect a debate on revenue support grant before Christmas? It is an important matter for all hon. Members, their constituents and local authorities. Will the Leader of the House ensure that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment makes a report so that we can have the earliest possible indication of the poll tax levels that our constituents will have to face next year? When the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) makes that statement, will he explain to the House why, on 16 December 1987, during the Second Reading debate on the poll tax Bill, when I proposed on behalf of the Opposition that we should seek consensus on local government finance, the right hon. Member for Henley, who spoke immediately after me, rejected it outright and said that there was no hope of a consensus from Conservative Members? What has happened to make him change his mind?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that my announcement on the recess will be welcomed by the whole House. It is not wholly right to say that it is much longer than usual. It is certainly longer than last year's, but the Session started two weeks later last year. I know that there is concern, as was expressed during Prime Minister's Question Time, about the hours of the House. It is true that we work very long hours in the House. I hope that the announcement about the slightly longer break from parliamentary duties in the House will be welcomed.

The hon. Gentleman requested that Parliament be recalled in the event of serious developments in the Gulf. Obviously I take serious note of that point and I understand why he made it.

On the hon. Gentleman's point about a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, I have little to add to what I said earlier, except that having looked again at the matter I am convinced that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to make further progress on that matter in the coming Session. As the hon. Gentleman will know, many other opportunities are available, including the Scottish Grand Committee and Select Committees, for hon. Members to question Scottish Ministers on Scottish matters. Many of the relevant Scottish Members of Parliament have many other parliamentary commitments.

As for the debate on capital punishment, it is in order for new clauses and amendments to be tabled to the present Criminal Justice Bill, and indeed one such new clause has already been tabled to that Bill for consideration in Standing Committee. We took the view that it would be right to enable the whole House to express its view on any such new clauses and amendments, and that is why we are taking the matter as part of the deliberations of the Committee of the whole House. I believe that that is what the House wants and that that course will be for the convenience of hon. Members. I have also put down a business motion to enable all new clauses and amendments thereto which are tabled by 12 December to be taken so that we may have a full and proper debate on the matter, and I believe that that is what the House would want.

As for revenue support grant, the hon. Gentleman will know that consultations on the Government's proposals were completed on 28 November. I know that it is the intention of the Secretary of State for the Environment to lay the orders shortly, but it may be for the convenience of the House if I say now that they will not be debated before the Christmas recess.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Today, in the subsequent debate on the EEC, no fewer than 30 right hon. and hon. Members will be seeking to participate, and it will probably be necessary for me to put a 10-minute limit on speeches. I ask hon. Members who are now asking business questions to confine their questions to the business for next week, and not make speeches which they might otherwise make on other occasions.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 36 in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), myself and 172 other hon. Members concerning the serious problems of algae in our rivers and the need for a Bill to get phosphates out of household detergents? [That this House expresses its concern that, in addition to Rutland Water, some 501 rivers, lakes and waterways in England and Wales alone, with more in Scotland and Northern Ireland, have suffered algal blooms at levels which may be toxic, as a result of eutrophication caused by phosphates, some 30 per cent. of which is attributable to phosphates in detergents; voices its further concern about the environmental problems of certain commonly-used household detergent compositions, particularly from the use of phosphates and phosphate substitutes, the inadequate biodegradability of other chemicals in detergents and the failure of most manufacturers to provide consumers with full information on the contents and environmental impact of household cleaners; notes that the Government's Environment White Paper did not accept the arguments of The Control of Detergents Pollution Bill, introduced in the last session, to control the use of phosphates, increase the level of biodegradability and introduce comprehensive labelling; further notes that numerous EC countries have imposed restrictions on phosphates in detergents; and urges all hon. Members to encourage the Government to act for consumer and environmental protection.] May we have a statement on that subject next week as the Government could take action urgently to improve the environment?

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern. The Government accept that heightened levels of phosphate can lead to eutrophication, but experience shows that input from detergents is seldom the major cause. Consideration of amendments to the law relating to detergent composition and use should, in our view, await the results of a study commissioned by the Department of the Environment into substitutes for phosphates in detergents, and that is why I cannot promise a statement next week.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that I am very disturbed at the different answers given by the Prime Minister on Tuesday and today about haemophiliacs? On Tuesday, the right hon. Gentleman was asked if he would give urgent consideration to the question of haemophiliacs and he said that he would do so. Today, when the Prime Minister was asked that question, he merely reiterated the old ministerial answer that we are giving money to the Macfarlane fund and the matter is under review. That represents a serious difference and a shift of opinion. May we have a statement next week about where the Prime Minister and the Government stand on the issue? Will there be urgent consideration, or will the answer merely be that we are giving more money and that there will be a standard review?

Mr. MacGregor

I have noted what the right hon. Gentleman said and I, too, have made comments on the matter at business questions. The Prime Minister made it clear that we are keeping the figure under review, and I cannot add to that now.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

My right hon. Friend may not be aware that Southampton district council has asked me to request a debate next week about the serious case of the taxi licensing committee which gave a licence to a formerly convicted rapist, a matter which was not revealed during the hearing of the committee. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to make sure that the police authorities provide that sort of information to licensing committees? We really cannot have former rapists driving our taxi cabs.

Mr. MacGregor

I can well understand that it is a matter of concern to my hon. Friend. I cannot say that we can find time in Government time next week to debate the issue, but he will know that there are opportunities available to him, not necessarily next week, to raise the matter in the House.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

While the Leader of the House is basking in being Santa Claus and giving us early holidays, will he bring out of his bag of goodies an announcement to hold a Select Committee on Northern Ireland next week because the so-called rational reasons given for its delay are irrational?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that that will be one of the things coming out of the bag next week.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Ben Hopper, the two-year-old British son of a British single parent who is one of my constituents, is to be extradited to Canada against his mother's will under what can best be described as a quirk of the Hague convention? Through Government sources, will my right hon. Friend encourage the Canadian Government to afford Mrs. Hopper legal aid in Canada? Will he please ensure that in future sufficient time is devoted to debates in the House upon conventions and treaties before they are signed by the British Government?

Mr. MacGregor

I know that my hon. Friend has already pursued the individual case with the appropriate Minister. I have noted the point that he made about conventions more generally.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Greville Janner. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ohl He was last, last week.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early debate on the dangers to elderly people who allow strangers into their homes? They face the risk of personal violence such as that suffered by a Leicestershire pensioner last week who was robbed of all her possessions by a con man. Meanwhile, will the right hon. Gentleman commend the Leicestershire police for their Conwatch scheme, with Age Concern, and ask the Home Secretary to suggest that similar schemes should be brought forward throughout the country?

Mr. MacGregor

Certainly, I commend the Leicestershire police and I am sure that the House will be sorry to hear of the individual case to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred. As he will know, there have been tremendous progress and developments in Homewatch and all such neighbourhood watch schemes throughout the United Kingdom. I shall draw the hon. and learned Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend, but I cannot promise a debate next week.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

The Procedure Committee report referred to by the Prime Minister a few minutes ago contained a number of recommendations that were so unequivocal, persuasive, rational and convincing that a number of us put down an early-day motion a few weeks ago. When are the Government likely to introduce resolutions arising from that report?

Mr. MacGregor

If my hon. Friend has in mind the issue of parliamentary hours and an early-day motion on that subject, rather than one of the other Procedure Committee reports, there have been many suggestions in the past, some of which have been implemented, and whatever is done depends on the co-operation of all hon. Members. We are currently considering how to implement one proposal involving European documents and schemes to reduce the pressure of business in the Chamber. I hope that we can proceed with that idea because it would help. I am happy to look at how we might consider further any other suggestions from hon. Members, and I am also aware of some of the difficulties.

If my hon. Friend was referring to something different, the Joint Committee on Science and Technology—it was not clear from his question—the Government are currently considering the Procedure Committee report on that, and will reply to its recommendations in due course.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the subject of AIDS, how the Government's publicity programme can be improved, and why family planning clinics are allowed to give free condoms while general practitioners are not although it is young heterosexual males who most need to be made aware of their responsibilities for safe sex?

Mr. MacGregor

Matters relating to AIDS are often discussed in the House and I have no doubt that there will be many opportunities to do so in various ways in future, but I cannot promise a debate next week.

Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South)

There is a groundswell of opinion in my constituency that we are not doing enough as a nation for our service men in the Gulf to help them celebrate the festive season. The Ministry of Defence concert has collapsed in some ignominy. Will my right hon. Friend find time next week to debate the subject?

Mr. MacGregor

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made his position—that everything possible should be done—very clear in questions earlier this week. I also note that there will be an opportunity to debate this and many other subjects relating to the Gulf in the debate on a motion for the Adjournment next Tuesday.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

What is the timetable for all-party talks or consultations on the poll tax? Will they truly involve every political party in the House and will they start before Christmas?

Mr. MacGregor

That clearly depends on the reaction of those political parties. The House will have noted the muddle and confusion coming from one direction last night. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will make some announcements about the timing shortly.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

Would my right hon. Friend consider supporting a constitutional reform which might be of service to Members on both sides of the House? I have in mind allotting a certain amount of time for a Leader of the Opposition's Question Time so that right hon. and hon. Members can have an opportunity to follow the various rapid changes in Opposition policy.

Mr. MacGregor

That is an excellent idea, and the House will have noted it, but I have a suspicion that how it might be carried out is not a matter for me.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

The Leader of the House will know that the debate on Tuesday on the Gulf is only the second that we have had since the crisis began, and that with the longer Christmas recess we shall not meet again until the day before the United Nations deadline expires. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although, in a statement shortly to be made, there will be a welcome for the release of the hostages, the question of the response to the situation in the middle east by the British and American Governments now arises. Will he assure the House that there will be an authoritative statement on this matter, which I hope will tone down the warlike statements made by some people in Washington and London, and will he ensure that there is an opportunity for the House to reach a judgment in a vote on Tuesday, just as the American Congress is demanding a vote before it decides whether to support the US President's policy.

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of the importance of this issue. I should have thought that that was clear from the amount of time that we have devoted to it in the House. We have had two statements followed by lengthy exchanges in the past two weeks, and there is another statement today. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will make a clear statement in the debate next Tuesday—so we are giving a good deal of time to the issue.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that next week the civil service efficiency unit will be publishing a report on the future of the Public Record Office. Will my right hon. Friend be kind enough to take another look at the business of the House for next week and see whether there would be room to debate that important report, in the hope that the Public Record Office might become a candidate for privatisation or that it might at the very least be given agency status in the near future?

Mr. MacGregor

I have noted what my hon. Friend said. It would be necessary to look at the report first. if also think that the business of the House next week is fairly full, so I do not think that it will be possible to include this subject then.

Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

As it is some considerable time since we held a debate on the Government's regional policies, will the Leader of the House consider allowing an early debate to consider the situation in the north and to permit the 26 Labour Members, six Conservative Members and even one Liberal Member representing northern constituencies to make a contribution to it?

Mr. MacGregor

These matters were relevant to the debate that we had on the Queen's Speech. There will be another debate on the economy next week, so there is clearly ample opportunity for hon. Members to put their points of view during that debate.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

As the new Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), has had a welcome conversion on the road to Damascus due to experiences in his constituency, and as he is now opposed to excessive development in the south-east, may we soon have a debate on planning, especially in the light of the fact that Berkshire is having to re-examine its structure plan?

Mr. MacGregor

I have noted what my hon. Friend has said and I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend, but I do not see an opportunity for a debate on these matters in the near future.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Following the hamfisted way in which the Under-Secretary of State for Wales was dismissed, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Conservative Members are threatening to refuse to serve on the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs? Will he give an undertaking that in no way will such a method be used to bring the Committee's work to an end? Will he undertake to make a statement next week that the Committee will continue irrespective of the antics of his colleagues?

Mr. MacGregor

I have no plans on that point.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

With Christmas coming, may I ask my right hon. Friend to look at early-day motion 168 which has been tabled today?

[That this House, gravely concerned about the horrific plight of the many orphans dying behind barbed wire in Romanian institutions, vividly and harrowingly broadcast by Sky Newsline and others, congratulates all those who are providing desperately needed humanitarian aid, both directly and indirectly; calls for all possible further assistance to be rendered both in Romania itself, and to those who are offering to adopt such children into their own families in this country; and welcomes all contributions to the Parliamentary Appeal for Romanian Children.]

Could we possibly find time for a debate on the crisis in Romania, the appalling conditions in the orphanages there, and the problems faced by British couples who are trying to adopt handicapped Romanian orphans?

Mr. MacGregor

I know my hon. Friend's great interest in these matters and I have noted the early-day motion. We fully support the spirit of the motion. That was made clear by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in a debate on the subject on 15 November.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Could the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement about a serious situation in all the Royal Ordnance factories? The British Telecom coverage for those companies from 7 am to 5 o'clock is one of the worst services ever provided for such companies. If there were any breakdown in the system there would be no maintenance at all after 5 o'clock or at the weekend. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will arrange for his right hon. Friend to tell us how that can be improved so that we can have 24-hour coverage in those factories every day of the year.

Mr. MacGregor

I doubt whether that is appropriate for a statement in the House next week, but I will draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Next Thursday, or in future when we debate and vote upon the restoration of capital punishment, would it be possible at the same time to debate the desirability of a national referendum so that the British people can decide for themselves, once and for all, on this most emotive subject?

Mr. MacGregor

I will forbear from making my own comments on the desirability of referendums. However, I doubt whether a referendum, if one were undertaken, would lead to a once-and-for-all decision. In the debate that will take place on Monday week the House will have an opportunity to vote again on this important issue. It will be up to hon. Members to decide what new clauses to put down. We shall endeavour to ensure that it is a thoroughly proper debate. No doubt it will be possible to raise the issue of referendums, but I doubt whether that will be the key issue in the debate.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

May we take it that there will be a statement next week, or perhaps even tomorrow, about the outcome of the GATT negotiations in Brussels? Those negotiations are tremendously important to many of my constituents who work in textiles. We want to know what is happening and perhaps we could even have a debate on this important subject.

Mr. MacGregor

We have recently had a debate on the important subject of the GATT negotiations. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is a crucial issue. He will know about the clear and constructive role that the Government have been playing in the European Community in striving for a successful outcome to the negotiations. We are all aware of the serious implications if we fail to reach such an outcome. I cannot predict exactly when developments might lead to the point at which it would be relevant to make a statement, but I am certain that my right hon. Friends who are conducting the negotiations are aware of that. It might be appropriate to make a statement about the matter at the right time.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 154 which explains that the Government are under pressure to take a decision before the end of the year on United Airlines' application to take over PanAm's slots at Heathrow?

[That this House notes United Airlines' request to operate services from Heathrow in succession to Pan Am; notes that Pan Am will collapse without such an agreement; believes that United Airlines' services from Heathrow will provide much needed competition to British Airways and will improve the standard and quality of service as well as increase choice for the customer; and urges the Government to examine this issue as a matter of urgency and to grant permission by the end of the year, consistent with its policy of liberalisation of, and greater competition in, air travel.]

May I also draw my right hon. Friend's attention to my amendment to that, which explains that if that pressure were successful it would harm the airport and my constituents? Will my right hon. Friend find out whether the Government are likely to give in to that pressure? If they are, will he make sure that we have a debate before the end of the year so that those of us who object can explain why we should not yield to that pressure?

Mr. MacGregor

I know of my hon. Friend's concern. I am not sure that it would be right to have a debate before the end of this calendar year because we are in close touch with the United States Government about the implications of the proposal by United Airlines for our bilateral aviation relations. Any decision on whether United Airlines can operate services to Heathrow must await the outcome of the Civil Aviation Authority's review of the 1986 traffic distribution rules for airports serving the London area. The Civil Aviation Authority will be reporting to Ministers early in the new year, and at that point my hon. Friend may like to take up the matter again.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

Will the Leader of the House take into account the fact that the Select Committee on Energy is concerned about the future of the coal industry? Contracts for British coal are short term—three years—and will expire in 1992–93. As the future of the coal industry is important to the House, the economy and the country, may we have a debate to consider that future?

Mr. MacGregor

I have noted what the hon. Member said. This is an important industry of great concern to the House, but I am not sure when, or in what way, it might be possible to have a debate on the matter.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

May I ask, Mr. Speaker, the question that I asked you on Tuesday? As the hon. Members for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) and for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) have arrived here this week with a combined vote less than that cast in my constituency in the last general election, would it not be in order to have a debate on the equal representation of the kingdom?

Mr. MacGregor

There have been many debates on that matter. I cannot see much prospect of another in the near future.

Mr. Merlyn Rees. (Morley and Leeds, South)

Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Secretary of State for Transport about how announcements about the allocation of money for the building of freight depots are made? In Morley and Leeds, South, Leeds city council spent £2 million buying land in Stourton for a depot that it was informed would be coming to the area. Although none of us has actually been informed, we understand that tomorrow there will be a press conference in the Hilton hotel in Garforth, at which we shall be told that the depot is to be placed elsewhere. I do not argue about that, although I could, but what a way to carry on! We are told that this is a commercial decision, but it is more than that to the north. The announcement should be made in the House.

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that the right hon. Member will understand that I am not aware of that matter. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

My right hon. Friend may be aware that the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission into the National House-Building Council warranty scheme is expected to be presented to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry before Christmas and possibly next week. May we have a statement or a debate on this important matter, and could my right hon. Friend impress upon our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that that report should be published as soon as possible?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that there will not be room for a debate on this matter before Christmas. I do not know whether a statement would be appropriate, but I shall have a discussion with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Will the Leader of the House acknowledge the importance of the GATT talks which are currently in train in Brussels, especially in relation to textiles and to agricultural support? Even if conclusions have not been reached, will there be a statement on this before Christmas because the technicalities involved and the far-reaching implications of the talks are such that it would not be right for the House to go into recess without a clear view of the Government's attitude.

Mr. MacGregor

As I made clear a moment ago, I am aware of the serious implications of any breakdown in these negotiations. As Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I took a major part in them in the first two years and was involved in the mid-term review in Montreal. We do not know how they will develop, as the picture is changing during the day. I have shown by the fact that we have already had one full day's debate on the matter that I am aware of its importance, and I will ensure that the House is kept properly informed of any developments.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As we are making something of a new start, could we drop the War Crimes Bill—a piece of gesture politics which, when it first came to the House on a free vote, was not supported by the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary, and about which the vast majority of hon. Members, privately if not publicly, have great reservations? If not, what amendments are the Government thinking of tabling to emasculate it?

Mr. MacGregor

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear on Tuesday that that proposed legislation is in the Queen's Speech and that we shall be bringing it forward at the proper time, along with any amendments.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

In view of the already declared redundancies in the defence industries, which are but the tip of the iceberg, when can we expect a debate on the redeployment of important skills and retraining to deal with the skills shortage, responsibility for which should not be laid at the doors of the families of the skilled engineers and others who have worked so hard for Britain and are now, apparently, to be thrown en the scrap heap?

Mr. MacGregor

Obviously, the response to any change in the market which may come about as a result of fewer defence sales is a matter for the companies themselves. The hon. Gentleman will know that the full range of Government employment training and enterprise services and programmes will be made available in the areas affected. In addition, last Friday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment announced that extra help and advice will be made available for workers affected by the closures.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if an amended War Crimes Bill were thrown out by the other place the Parliament Act would not be able to come into effect?

Will he also agree with me on a separate point——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has asked one question, and it is not in order to ask a Minister to agree with an hon. Member.

Mr. MacGregor

We shall have to wait and see what progress we make.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a further statement from the Foreign Secretary after the one that he is to make this afternoon to mark the fact that this weekend will see the third anniversary of the intifada in the occupied territories in which more than 1,000 people have been killed, many of them children, and tens of thousands have been injured? Why have the Palestinians waited 23 years for action to be taken against Israel's occupation of the west bank and Gaza? Do the Government have any new proposals?

Mr. MacGregor

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is sitting beside me and has heard what the hon. Gentleman said. I believe that he has answered the hon. Gentleman's point on many occasions.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Will my right hon. Friend use his best endeavours to arrange for a statement on Monday from the Foreign Office on the Antarctic treaty negotiations which are taking place in Chile this week?

Mr. MacGregor

I believe that a lengthy statement has recently been made on that.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to a matter which is not mentioned a great deal but which is set out in early-day motion 1159.

[That this House is concerned about the plight of the estimated 98,000 incidences of children who run away each year and end up missing on the streets of our major cities; takes note of the Council of Europe recommendation R79(6) adopted in April 1979, which calls on member countries to develop systems to trace missing persons; further notes the recent report from the Association of Chief Police Officers recommending the establishment of a computerised national register to aid in tracing missing persons; and calls upon the Government to ensure that such a system is set up as a matter of urgency so that these children may be protected from danger, their problems may be addressed and reconciliation may be effected where possible.]

That has the signatures of no fewer than 219 hon. Members and it concerns the tracing of missing children. It requests a computer register of the large number of missing children, many of whom come from the north to London. May we have a debate on that important subject?

Mr. MacGregor

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I am trying to keep up with all the early-day motions that have appeared on the Order Paper this Session, but I have not recently read those from the previous Session. I will have a look at early-day motion 1159.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to come to the House next week arid announce the identities of those Opposition parties prepared to join him in discussions on the poll tax? If the list should include the Scottish National party, that would be no surprise. It saved the skins of the Tory party in 1979 and it is prepared to repeat that heinous crime in 1991. The people of Scotland are surprised that it refused to join the Scottish Constitutional Convention to discuss the future of the Scottish people, yet it is now prepared to join the Tory Government in order to save them again.

Mr. MacGregor

A statement will not be necessary because the position will become very clear. The situation now is vastly different compared with 1979.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I will do my best to call all those right hon. and hon. Members who are on their feet, but I ask them to confine their questions to the subject of next week's business.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May I ask the Leader of the House to make time next week to debate the GATT negotiations? The last such debate was dominated by agriculture, but time should be given to discussing also the textile industries. The GATT negotiations, which will affect 500,000 textile and clothing workers in the United Kingdom, should introduce protection against dumping and a social clause. In Bradford, 14,000 workers depend on the textile industry, and there ought to be both a statement on the GATT negotiations and a debate in Government time because it is the Government and the EEC who are conducting them on behalf of this country.

Mr. MacGregor

I have already made it clear that I will consider the most appropriate way of reporting developments in the GATT negotiations to the House. Agriculture is critical to those negotiations, so it is understandable that much of the last debate was devoted to that aspect, which is important to the future of our farmers. That recent debate was in Government time.

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

In the light of the fact that Allerdale district council poll tax payers face the prospect of picking up a multi-million pound bill for a failed timeshare development which was built on the ill-considered recommendation and advice of that authority's chief executive, should not that matter be referred to the Secretary of State for the Environment and a full inquiry be undertaken to allay public concern?

Mr. MacGregor

I have read the hon. Gentleman's early-day motion on that subject, but, as he knows, local authorities are independent bodies responsible to the courts and to their own electors for their actions. It is not for the Government to intervene in such matters.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

I welcome the fact that, thanks to the Opposition, there is to be a debate next week on the recession.. Before then, will the Government make a full statement, which right hon. and hon. Members can take into account when preparing their speeches, on the projected closure of two British Aerospace factories and the loss of 5,000 jobs? Surely the fatuous words of the Secretary of State for Employment about self-employment for those redundant workers cannot be the Government's sole response to the crisis.

Mr. MacGregor

It would not be right to make a statement on that matter in advance, simply in order that right hon. and hon. Members could respond in their own way during the debate. The Government's position on British Aerospace's proposals is already clear. The closures can be raised in next week's debate, but it would not be correct to make a statement in advance.

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

When the Leader of the House refers the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) to the Secretary of State for Transport, will he emphasise that if British Rail decides to extend the line to Castleford and Normanton, that will be very welcome in an area which has been devastated by the loss of thousands of jobs in the coal mining industry?

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, I will convey the hon. Gentleman's remark to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. John P. Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

Will the Leader of the House find time before Christmas for a debate on the worrying decision by the Department of Education and Science to move the National Environmental Research Council from Barry Dock to an inferior location? That will result in the loss not only of many jobs but of a centre of excellence which has directly contributed to Britain's world lead in discoveries relating to the depletion of the ozone layer and to North sea pollution.

Mr. MacGregor

I think that that is a matter for the Natural Environment Research Council. I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend, but I do not think that I can promise a debate in Government time on that matter.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I wonder if the Leader of the House can help me as you, Mr. Speaker, were unable to help me the other day when we had an announcement on the opting out of hospitals. Many hon. Members, with hospitals in our constituencies that had been given permission for trust status, were unable to ask the Secretary of State about those matters. Could the Leader of the House find time in the days available before Christmas for a debate on that subject? Otherwise, the whole question of losing many hospitals from the health service cannot be debated until mid or late January, when it will be too late to do anything about it.

Mr. MacGregor

It is not a question of hospitals being lost to the national health service or opting out of the service. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health made that clear in answer to the private notice question earlier this week. It is important that misleading statements of that sort should not be made. We were endeavouring to find the best and most convenient way for the House to ask questions of my right hon. Friend on the subject. I cannot promise a debate on the subject, but there are opportunities available to hon. Members to ask questions about particular hospitals.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

May I warn the Leader of the House that hot air from Henley will not be enough to save the Government from the poll tax revolt? May I assure him that all Opposition Members, and I suspect many Conservative Members, would be prepared to sit up all night every night for as long as it takes to abolish the poll tax and to replace it with a fair rates system, linked to the ability to pay, with generous relief for the poorest in our community? When will he have the guts to come forward with such legislation, on behalf of the Government?

Mr. MacGregor

That is rather ridiculous, because we had a full debate on the subject yesterday. Moreover, I suspect that the idea of staying up night after night for all-night sessions and not going to bed will not appeal to the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), who is sitting next to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Will the Leader of the House try to understand that his previous answer about the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs was wholly unsatisfactory, and will be neither understood nor forgiven in Scotland? I assure him that there is no problem in finding Opposition Members who are prepared to serve on that Select Committee. Will he therefore concede that it is desertion of parliamentary duty by Conservative Back Bench Members which has led directly to the disgraceful situation in which the Scottish Office, with an annual budget of £11,000 million, is the only major Department of state which is not subject to scrutiny by the Select Committee procedure in this place.

Mr. MacGregor

I have already made the position clear on that matter, and I have also made it clear that there are many opportunities to probe Scottish matters in the House.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Now that the Leader of the House has made a statement about Members of Parliament having a three-week holiday, what is he going to do and when will he make a statement about staff in the Refreshment Department in the Houses of Parliament, who are being called upon to work on Christmas Eve and on New Year's Eve, at single-time payments of £3.50 per hour? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why? Who for?"] That is the situation for people who work here, when Members of Parliament, including the right hon. Gentleman's Tory friends, will be sunning themselves in the Caribbean and other places. Is this what he means by a classless society? Why does he not treat them right?

Mr. MacGregor

Those were irrelevant and inaccurate remarks. The point that the hon. Gentleman was raising is a matter for the chairman of the relevant committee—the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I think. I think that he has answered questions on this matter in the House, and I shall draw those remarks to his attention.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Will the Leader of the House think again about early-day motion 161?

[That this House notes the encouraging tone of the Prime Minister's reported remarks in the Mail on Sunday on 2nd December, relating to the introduction of more sensible hours and conditions for the House of Commons; and calls upon the Lord President of the Council to bring forward, after due consultation, proposals to effect such a change.]

It has been signed by hon. Members from all parties in the House. The right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have made encouraging and sympathetic noises on the matter. Will he tell the House how we may best process our views, and give him the views of all parties so that we can drag this place into the 20th century while there are 10 years of it left?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already said that I am happy to consider ways in which proposals might be taken forward. Obviously one of the key ways is through the Procedure Committee. I am happy to consider this matter, and perhaps discuss it more widely in the House, but I repeat that the co-operation of all hon. Members is required if any changes are to come about. The kind of remarks we heard earlier, urging all night sittings on one issue, illustrate some of the difficulties that we face.

Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham)

May I support the call of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) for a review of the hours that the House sits? Does he recognise that night sittings are a deterrent to women coming into the House, and that few hon. Members would claim to be at their best after 2 o'clock in the morning? We are heading towards the 21st century with a House of Commons which is stuck in the 17th century. Should we not have businesslike hours, so that we can operate effectively instead of operating like a gentlemen's club?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already expressed my willingness to consider the matter. I suggest that, if the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), who is sitting on the left of the hon. Lady, will not have a word with her about it, she should perhaps have a word with him.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

May I remind the Leader of the House that he promised two weeks ago to send his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary a question of mine about a timetable for the debate on the ratification of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child? To date, I have received no reply. May I repeat my request for the matter to be discussed in the House as soon as possible? If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to redeem himself in the eyes of the children of this country, will he also take note of the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery)?

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, I will look into it again.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May I point out to the Leader of the House that Monday's private business concerns the revival motion for the Kings Cross Railways Bill? The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is generally accepted in the House that the private Bill procedure has been entirely discredited, and is inappropriate for the discussion of important matters such as the location of an international station in London.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that his predecessor gave us a fairly clear indication that the necessary primary legislation would come before the House so that we could change the procedure? There was nothing about that in the Queen's Speech. Can he give us any idea whether we shall be able to discuss such legislation during the current Session? Perhaps if we are running out of business and there is to be a spring election, we shall not be able to do so until the new Parliament. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what work is in progress?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree that some matters relating to the private Bill procedure need to be examined, and believe that action needs to be taken. I must tell the hon. Gentleman in all frankness that I think it unlikely that primary legislation will be possible in the current Session, but I hope that some recommendations can be dealt with without the need for such legislation; I understand the concern felt by many hon. Members.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

May we have a debate next week on an aspect of the economy to which the Government have paid scant regard—the way in which landlords are exploiting the homeless? One landlord in north Birmingham is renting out eight rooms in a house, charging £126 per week per room, and the Department of Social Security is paying £116 per week. That is exploiting both the taxpayer and homeless people. I cannot understand why the public money involved cannot be converted into capital assets so that homes can be built for people to rent.

Mr. MacGregor

In view of the need for us to get on with today's important debate, and also the next statment, I do not wish to become involved in the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, but I can tell him that I do not think that we shall have an opportunity to debate them next week.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)


Mr. Speaker

Was the hon. Gentleman here when I said that I would call those hon. Members who were standing?

Mr. Wray

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

Then of course I will call him.

Mr. Wray

I was beginning to think that you had forgotten my name, Mr. Speaker. You have not called me for some time.

Mr. Speaker

I did not see the hon. Gentleman rise when I said that I would call hon. Members who had been rising. As I have said, of course I will call him if I have made a mistake.

Mr. Wray

Will the Leader of the House summon the Prime Minister to our next sitting and ask him to give us his definition of a classless society? My constituents are finding it very difficult to understand the Prime Minister. During his term at the Treasury, 90,000 people lost their jobs, 22,000 businesses went bankrupt and 27,000 people's houses were repossessed——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have been here——

Mr. Skinner

This is a very important question.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I asked hon. Members specifically to relate their questions to next week's business, and not to make constituency points. I do not think that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) can have been present to hear me say that.

Mr. Wray

My question does relate to next week's business, Mr. Speaker—I should like issues that I have raised to be on the agenda. People have had their child benefit frozen for the past three years. If the Prime Minister says that he believes in a classless society, let us hear his definition.

Mr. MacGregor

I believe that there will be an opportunity to debate these matters tomorrow, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be here to make his points.[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked about tomorrow in his opening remarks. I am happy to point out to him that since my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been in government, the work force in employment has risen by more than 3.6 million and, in the period for which figures were last available, 1,700 net new businesses were being opened each week.

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