HC Deb 13 December 1990 vol 182 cc1111-23 3.31 pm
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

May I ask the Leader of the House to state 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 17 DECEMBER—Proceedings in Committee of the Criminal Justice Bill on new clauses relating to capital punishment.

TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Atomic Weapons Establishment Bill.

Motion to take note of EC document relating to the establishment of a programme for research and technological development in human capital and mobility. 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.

WEDNESDAY 19 DECEMBER—Motion for the Christmas Adjournment.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

THURSDAY 20 DECEMBER—Debates on the motion for the Adjournment.

It may be for the convenience of the house if I indicate that the business for the first week after the Christmas Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 14 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Severn Bridges Bill.

Motion on the International Development Association (Ninth Replenishment) Order.

Motion on the Caribbean Development Bank (Further Payments) Order.

The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

TUESDAY 15 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Export and Investment Guarantees Bill.

WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY—Opposition day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate on an opposition motion. Subject for debate to be announced.

THURSDAY 17 JANUARY—There will be a debate on a motion to take note of the Ibbs report on the House of Commons services.

Proceedings on the Census Confidentiality Bill [Lords].

The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

FRIDAY 18 JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.

[Tuesday 18 December

Relevant European Community Document

7053/90 Training and Mobility of Researchers

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee

HC 11-xxx (1989–90), para 3]

Mr. Grocott

May I ask the Leader of the House when we shall debate the Cullen report into the Piper Alpha disaster? We know that there was negligence and that much needs to be done. Surely we owe it to the families of those who were killed to debate that report as a matter of urgency.

Yesterday, during Environment Question Time—many hon. Members now present were also present then—the discussion on the poll tax was stifled because of the disgraceful way in which the Secretary of State for the Environment linked no fewer than eight questions. Will the Leader of the House ensure that Ministers do not stand at the Dispatch Box next week or any other week and link eight questions in that way? Will he tell the new Secretary of State for the Environment that we are used to him abusing the Mace, but will he stop abusing the Order Paper?

On the Government's plans on opting-out hospitals, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is disgraceful that there is no established procedure for debating the opting-out proposals, which are causing concern to people throughout the country? Is he aware that the statement last week was totally inadequate and that many Opposition Members who had been leading campaigns against opting out were unable to take part in that short question and answer session? When can we have a full-scale debate before any more damage is done to the health service?

Mr. MacGregor

The answer to the first part of that question is that I note the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate, but suggest that it is a matter best left for discussion through the usual channels.

The answer to the second part, about the linking of questions, is that the questions were all on the same subject. The matter has been raised through the usual channels and I am considering the points that Opposition Members have made and which the hon. Gentleman made today.

The answer to the third part is that trust hospitals were widely debated many times when the Bill, now the Act, was proceeding through the House, so the issues and principles have been thoroughly aired. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Secretary of State for Health made a full statement on the point recently, so I see no need to provide for a debate in Government time. If the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends feel so strongly about the matter, opportunities are open to them to have debates on the issue in the House, and I have made one available in the first week back.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

In the debate last week on the future of the European Community, the Foreign Secretary referred several times to the debate that we would be having on the economic aspects of that matter—specifically, on the intergovernmental conference on European monetary union. May we have an assurance that we shall have that debate fairly soon, so that at least there will be a theoretical possibility that the remarks made in the House during the debate could be taken into account by Ministers before irrevocable decisions are taken?

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, I agree that it is an important matter and that there is need for a debate on it. I hope to arrange one soon after the House returns.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

As a former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Leader of the House knows how important the annual hill farming review is to the farming industry. May we be assured that a statement on the matter will be made before the Christmas recess? Will he also provide a weekly progress report on the setting up of the Scottish Select Committee?

Mr. MacGregor

On the second point, I doubt whether I would want to give a weekly progress report, because I have already said that I think it unlikely that progress will be made—[Interruption.] —so I would be wasting the time of the House if I gave a weekly progress report.

To answer the first point, I cannot guarantee a statement being made next week, but there will be opportunities for the matter to be raised, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to do so, on the motion for the Christmas Adjournment.

Mr. David Porter (Waveney)

In the light of the bad weather last night, leading to floods and flood warnings on the Suffolk-Norfolk coast, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early statement to be made so that we may see whether the Government are making progress towards setting up one authority with overall responsibility for coastal protection around the whole of Britain?

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend will know, I am aware of, and very concerned about, the incidents to which he referred. We have a heavy programme next week, so it is unlikely that there will be a statement on the subject, but he could raise the issue on the motion for the Christmas Adjournment.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the tragedy that occurred yesterday, with the loss of six crewmen on the fishing vessel Premier. He and hon. Members have expressed their sympathy to my constituents, and that is much appreciated. On a more practical note, will the Department of Transport, in the coming days, advise the House or myself as the constituency hon. Member, or the local fishing office, of measures to try to raise the vessel, which I understand is lying in about 130m of water? That will be an expensive operation, but it is possible that the bodies of some of my missing constituents are contained in it, and obviously we should like to see every effort made to raise the vessel.

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that the whole House will want to express sympathy to the relatives and for their concerns about the incident—the hon. Lady is right about that. I shall draw her point to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will want to make some comments about the tragic incident in his opening speech in the debate later this afternoon.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Will my right hon. Friend see whether it might be possible to hold a debate in the new year, perhaps during the first week back, on the BBC and public service broadcasting? He may be aware that, during questions to the Home Office today, there was little opportunity for Conservative Members to say how much they admire the BBC, which has been brought to a pinnacle of achievement by Sir Ian Trethowan and Lord Swann, and we hope that it will continue its fine work.

Mr. MacGregor

It will not be possible in the first week back, for which I have already announced the business. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate, but I will bear his points in mind.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion 49, which has attracted the support of 164 Members of all parties.

[That this House welcomes the book To Encourage Others by David A. Yallop, calling for an independent public inquiry into the hanging of Derek Bentley in 1952; requests the Home Secretary to set up the inquiry as a matter of urgency; hopes that such a request will lead to a posthumous pardon; and feels that this will end a grave miscarriage of justice which leaves a permanent blot on the British judicial system—the hanging of an innocent man.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to make a statement as soon as possible so that this matter can be debated? And will he ask the Home Secretary whether he has considered the video sent him by Thames Television dealing with the same matter?

Mr. MacGregor

I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering representations made to him as a result of the book on the subject. I am not sure about the video, but I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on law and order? Does he agree that selective obedience to the law is a recipe for anarchy? Is he aware that yesterday the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon) appeared in court for non-payment of the community charge? Is it not wrong—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must not deal with matters of detail like that. The question should be about the business for next week.

Mr. MacGregor

There have been many opportunities —they have all been taken—to condemn Members of this House who have refused to pay their community charge, the more so because that affects many people who are less well off than they are.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that his negative answers to requests for a statement on haemophiliacs now look less than impressive, to put it kindly? As the nuclear test veterans have the same kind of powerful case but have been brushed aside by the Government and are dying, and as they should not be forced to go to the courts, will he arrange for a statement on those veterans next week?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that I can arrange for a statement on the point, but I shall have a look at it and discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

I did not give negative answers. I made it very clear that we were promising to keep the figure under review, and we reached a quick decision on that review. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes the decision that has since been made on the haemophiliacs.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for another and early debate on GATT? Is he aware that the top 20 British manufacturing companies still make more than half their foreign-earned profits from the north American market? This is a vital issue for employment in this country. Does he agree that this country and this House are in a unique position to mediate, through our Ministers, between the interests of north America and Europe? If the British tradition of free trade does not prevail across the Atlantic, we shall all be impoverished.

Mr. MacGregor

I entirely agree about the importance of the GATT negotiations, not least in the context to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention. There is no disagreement about that in the Government. My right hon. Friends have often made that clear and I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that the Government have played an important part in trying to keep the negotiations moving and to reach a successful conclusion to them. We shall continue to try. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that he will make further efforts in that regard this weekend.

We shall have to decide an appropriate moment, whether in the form of a debate or a statement, at which the House can further deal with these issues and I shall bear that in mind.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, as the traditional defender of Back Benchers' rights, share the concern of many hon. Members that five Departments of government no longer have Select Committees scrutinising their work. Could the Lord President of the Council tell us whether the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will next week tell the House why he still opposes a Select Committee on Northern Irish Affairs, whether he now espouses a policy of condominium government for Northern Ireland or whether some other form of con-ship is being manufactured for the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr. MacGregor

Again, I do not think that a statement on that matter would be appropriate next week. However, I shall ask my right hon. Friend to communicate again with the hon. Gentleman about the issue.

Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South)

My right hon. Friend may be aware that on 1 January 1991 the United Nations Decade Against Drug Abuse begins. Would not it be appropriate when we reassemble to debate these important matters?

Mr. MacGregor

They have been raised many times. My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw our attention to the fact that the United Nations Decade Against Drug Abuse begins on 1 January. We warmly welcome all international efforts to draw attention to the danger of drug misuse. As my hon. Friend knows, Britain has been at the forefront of efforts to co-ordinate policy with other European countries on that matter and I know that we shall remain there.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the answer given by the Prime Minister today to the question about unemployment by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition showed the Government's complete disregard for rising unemployment? Is he also aware that the unemployment figures for this month are the worst since 1981? Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friends to arrange for an early debate in Government time, because the Government are responsible for the level of unemployment, so that the matter can be debated and unemployment may return to the Government's agenda?

Mr. MacGregor

I entirely reject the hon. Gentleman's accusations about my right hon. Friend. It is important to remember that the Government's policies have created well over 3 million extra jobs since 1983. It is also relevant that we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the European Community. The hon. Gentleman asks for a debate, but he knows that we have debated economic matters a good deal in the past few weeks. Therefore, I cannot promise another early debate on the matter.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

On the subject of Monday's debate and votes on capital punishment, how do the Government propose to deal with the ingenious but alarming new clause that has been tabled in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and several of his hon. Friends? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new clause, which seeks to abolish the death penalty for treason in time of war, raises a wide range of fundamental issues relating to the defence of the realm and constitutional principles which are utterly different from the normal arguments about capital punishment for murder? Is not that quite the wrong way for the House to tackle—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That issue would be more appropriate for Monday's debate.

Mr. Aitken

My question is simply this: will the Government allow the Treason 1790 Act to be repealed on a free vote on such a mish-mash of an amendment?

Mr. MacGregor

For Monday's debate, the Government have tried to ensure a range of clauses on the matter of capital punishment so that the House can not only have a proper debate but can take decisions by a free vote. I think that is how the House would wish to proceed.

My hon. Friend draws attention to the clause in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and some of his hon. Friends. It is not for me but for the Chairman of Ways and Means to decide whether to select that clause for debate. I think that my hon. Friend has a point when he says that it is in a different category from the other new clauses. If it is selected, it will be for the House to express its view in the debate. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who hopes to speak in the debate, will express some of his views on that matter and on the other clauses.

Mr. John Hughes (Coventry, North-East)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 232, which draws attention to the plight of the elderly and the disabled in the recent blizzards?

[That this House is gravely concerned at the plight of the elderly, the disabled and all low income groups; is aware that the beauty of the Christmas card landscape, effected by the artistry of frost and snow, hides a relentless, remorseless enemy which brought death to some in the current severe winter weather and put at risk many more thousands who were required to use fuel to excess in the circumstances because of the abnormality of the extreme cold weather; and calls on the Prime Minister to bring an end to this risk by activating immediately the special cold weather payments.] Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the Prime Minister that an unheated home soon becomes an icy tomb and will he make the strongest representations to him to authorise the payment of the severe weather allowance?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman will know that specific terms and conditions have to be met before that allowance can be paid, and that is the right way in which to approach the matter.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

When we debate on 17 January how we conduct ourselves in the House, may we have an opportunity to vote on some issues and make some decisions? I have been in the House for nearly four years, during which time we have often debated these subjects, but we have never had an opportunity to vote for changes. Opposition Members too have campaigned long and hard for decisions to be made. May we do that on 17 January?

Mr. MacGregor

The debate on 17 January is on the Ibbs report, which is about the finance and administration of the House. It is an extremely good report and I pay tribute to Sir Robin Ibbs, and all who work with him, for his work on it. The report contains clear and specific recommendations and I hope that the House will express its views on those in the debate so that action can be taken on them.

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

Does not the Leader of the House know that it is Government, not Opposition, policy to allow hospitals to opt out, and that one in five of the hospitals proposing to opt out are on Merseyside in my area, where there is no public or staff support for the proposals? Those proposals have never been debated on the Floor of the House. The people in my area are demanding an answer from the Government and an opportunity for their representatives to raise the issue on the Floor of the House.

Mr. MacGregor

The whole issue of the Government's NHS trust policy has been frequently debated in the House and in Committee. Many opportunities for raising specific cases in the House are available to hon. Members—through questions, Adjournment debates and many other ways. It is also possible to do so on Supply days. In the past, the Opposition have used Supply days not to debate their policies but usually to debate Government policies.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Will my right hon. Friend register the widespread dismay expressed on both sides of the House in relation to a glaring omission from next week's business statement? Tuesday will be the first anniversary of the Security Service Act 1989, which enabled the Security Service to have a tribunal for the airing of complaints from the public. During the first year of its operation, the Commissioner of the Security Service is entitled to produce a report and to report to the House. Why is that report not to be debated in the House next week?

Mr. MacGregor

It will not be debated next week because we have other important business to debate next Tuesday, but I shall look into my hon. Friend's point and write to him about it.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the suffering and loss of life caused to animals being transported live to the continent for slaughter, on which there are a number of early-day motions? Is he aware of the intense public revulsion at the practice? If we cannot have a debate on that next week will he, as a former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, impress upon his colleagues who now go to the Council of Agriculture Ministers the need to change the rules so that animals that are due for slaughter on the continent should go there as carcases, not as live creatures?

Mr. MacGregor

That topic has been discussed several times and I cannot promise a debate on it next week, or in the first week that the House resumes. I am sure that there will be other opportunities to discuss that matter, which I know concerns many people.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on procedure, specifically in respect of the relationship between taxation and expenditure? In local government, it is not possible to make spending proposals without relating them directly to the revenue that must be raised. Many right hon. and hon. Members, and many others outside the House, are fed up with Opposition proposals which, although they may be desirable, are unachievable and take no account of the. cost. Can we bring our procedures into line with local government in that respect?

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend knows, I very much share his view on the way in which the Opposition approach such matters. He will have an early opportunity to raise that subject, because we will have a debate on public expenditure plans not long after the House returns from the Christmas Adjournment.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the right hon. Gentleman review his decision about a statement on the crisis arising out of last week's severe weather conditions? Is he aware that, in the east midlands, more than 100,000 people are still without electricity and that thousands are without water? I have just spoken to a farmer who is still attempting to rescue 1,000 sheep and 100 cattle from snowdrifts and who is also without electricity and water. Will the Secretary of State for the Environment and Secretary of State for Energy get together to ensure that proper safeguards are immediately introduced to force the electricity boards to get the job done, that compensation is paid to those who have lost thousands and thousands of pounds, and that local authorities have enough money to do their job properly?

Mr. MacGregor

I extend my sympathy to all those who were without electricity during last week's exceptional weather conditions and particularly to those who remain without a supply. However, the new regional electricity companies mounted a magnificent effort in restoring supplies. Fewer than 43,000 customers remain without a supply, and all but a few in the most remote areas should have their supplies restored by the weekend. Co-operation between the electricity companies has been most impressive. East Midlands Electricity has about 2,000 operatives from other parts of the United Kingdom working to restore supplies, which is a good example of the co-operation that I have praised.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Secretary of State for the Environment? Recently, there have been redundancies in the glass manufacturing industry that relate to insulation. Could we have a debate on home insulation and the possibility of restoring grants, which would not only help to keep people warm but keep people in work?

Mr. MacGregor

There are regular opportunities to discuss such topics and the Government have taken action on some of the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I cannot promise a debate in the near future.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House encourage the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement as soon as possible on British Rail's proposal to close the Speedlink fast overnight goods service, which will put between 1.5 million and 3 million tonnes of goods on to the roads? Are the Government serious about reducing road congestion or will they allow British Rail to close that valuable service, which will create about 1,000 redundancies and increase congestion? That can be avoided at the cost of only about £30 million.

The Confederation of British Industry—which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is a Tory front organisation —complains that road congestion already costs Britain £15 billion a year. Is that Tory policy in action or will the Government do something—or at least make a statement to the House?

Mr. MacGregor

I hope that the CBI and the hon. Gentleman would be the first to agree that one must examine cost-effective solutions. The decision to close the Speedlink freight network from July 1991 is a commercial one for British Rail. A relevant factor is Speedlink's serious commercial losses of £30 million last year, increasing towards £40 million this year, on a turnover that is not much greater than £40 million.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his sympathetic response to the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), but may I point out, with respect, that responsibility for the safety of mariners—including fishermen—rests not with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food but with the Secretary of State for Transport? None the less, I readily appreciate that a comment or two will be made on the subject during this evening's debate.

May I also remind the right hon. Gentleman that the last occasion on which the House debated the safety of fishermen at any length was in connection with a private Member's Bill presented by Sir Albert McQuarrie, the Safety at Sea Act 1986? Do not we need an early debate about the rules and regulations governing the occupational safety of the men who face so many physical and, I would say, man-made hazards as they go about their ordinary, everyday working lives?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman knows that today's debate on fisheries matters is very important for the fishing industry. I hope that he agrees that, for the convenience of the House, we should reach it as soon as possible—taking into account briefly, as part of the debate, a statement on the tragic incident that has just occurred. I have already said that I will raise some of the other points that have arisen in connection with that incident with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

May we have an early debate on law and order? Earlier this year, a minor public figure was hauled before a Sussex court because of a story concocted by a former secretary and a known criminal, backed by the News of the World. The police have since admitted that the fingerprint evidence did not match the fingerprints of the defendant.

Clearly, that is an important issue. Moreover, the Government and the Crown prosecution service are trying to bring Desi Ellis back from Ireland—to extradite him, in fact—on the basis of alleged fingerprint evidence. Surely the activities of the Crown prosecution service should be debated at length. Many other issues are involved, including the imprisonment of a person who has not paid the poll tax—and rightly so. We have a law in this country, but surely the House should examine the question of justice in detail, preferably at an early date.

Mr. MacGregor

We have had many debates recently on law-and-order issues. Obviously, I do not wish to comment on the specific points and the specific incident raised by the hon. Gentleman, because it is not a matter for me and I do not know the details, but I do not think that it justifies a full debate on law and order.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Did the right hon. Gentleman hear the Home Secretary deliberately fail, or refuse, to answer a question about the Leicestershire police? In the circumstances, may we please have an early debate on the present dangerous circumstances? Not only is the police force undermanned, but it has run into a deficit of £1.25 million. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are deeply concerned about what is happening to policing in our county. This is not a party matter; we are all anguished by the lowering of the protection that people need in these times when the crime rate is soaring in Leicestershire.

Mr. MacGregor

I did not hear those earlier exchanges, and I do not feel that the matter justifies a debate in Government time.

The hon. and learned Gentleman will know that the Government meet 51 per cent. of all police expenditure through specific grant and also meet additional expenditure through the revenue support grant. I understand that it is Leicestershire county council which is unwilling to meet its share of the costs faced by the Leicestershire constabulary, which is why cuts are now required.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

May I press the Leader of the House for a statement next week on the Government's plans to help the homeless, which have just been announced by the Prime Minister? Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange, as part of that statement, for an urgent investigation of the cash crisis faced by the Bradford Cyrenians, which is threatening their ability to help the poor and homeless in Bradford? As Leader of the House, will he press the authorities to make Westminster Hall available to give shelter to the hundreds of men and women who are now sleeping rough throughout Westminster and who would also serve as a daily reminder to Conservative Members of the Government's failures in economic and social policy?

Mr. MacGregor

We have made several announce-ments about homelessness and the hon. Gentleman will know that an extra £300 million is targeted at London and the south-east to deal with that. That includes £115 million for the second year of the special homelessness initiative. Local authorities in London and the south-east will shortly be invited to submit bids on that.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman carefully consider asking his Cabinet colleague, the Secretary of State for Social Security, to make an early statement about the operation of the cold weather payment? Is the Leader of the House aware that, if Tory Members are not concerned, Labour Members are desperately concerned about pensioners who are unable to keep their homes warm? Is not it disgraceful that, in this day and age, so many of our retired citizens have to live in such conditions during the winter months because the Government will not provide assistance? We require an early statement; we do not expect pensioners to freeze before the House of Commons has an opportunity to discuss the matter.

Mr. MacGregor

No. We devote substantial resources to pensioners in all sorts of ways, and we have also taken action, when appropriate, on severe cold weather payments. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security will continue to keep a watchful eye on events and take action, as we have clone in the past.

Mr. Winnick

We want a statement.

Mr. MacGregor

As for a statement, we must wait to see whether we reach an appropriate moment for a statement.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Will the Leader of the House look again at early-day motion 161 on reasonable hours?

[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.

Will he welcome on a personal basis the Procedure Committee's decision to look at sitting hours early next year? If he chooses to submit evidence on the matter will he pay particular attention to the needs of hon. Members who travel from the north and from Scotland and Wales and how the arrangements can best suit them?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already said that I am considering how best to take forward all the representa-tions made, and that includes what the Procedure Committee feels it should do. It has become clear from the way in which the debate has proceeded over the past few days, not necessarily in the Chamber but more widely, that there are many different points of view, depending on individual circumstances, not least the issue of where hon. Members' constituencies lie. All those issues will have to be taken into account.

The hon. Gentleman will know that this has been looked at several times in the past and that quite a few initiatives have been taken. I keep stressing that it is important for hon. Members to co-operate on all those initiatives, including those we are looking at now, if they are to be effective.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Will next Monday's debate on the Criminal Justice Bill allow a comparison to be made between the maiden speech in the House of Lords yesterday of the former Home Secretary, Lord Waddington, on the need for the reduction of custodial sentences, and the sentencing last Friday of a 20-year-old unemployed man in Grantham for being unable to pay his poll tax? It has cost the state more in the past week to keep him in prison than the debt he owes.

If that is not possible, will the Leader of the House tell us when he intends to bring legislation before the House to bring English law in line with Scottish law? Two years ago —25 months, to be precise—the Government abolished imprisonment for debt in Scotland, so why is it that, in England and Wales, young people can still be put inside for the crime of being poor?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman frequently misses the point. I do not see how those issues can be raised in Monday's debate.

Mr. Harry Barnes

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 223 on the electricity crisis in the east midlands, which has already been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)?

[That this House re-affirms its deep concern for the plight of masses of people in the East Midlands who are still without electricity supplies five days after the arrival of severe weather conditions; notes that on 12th December some 250,000 people were still without electricity supplies and that under present arrangements significant numbers of these will be without electricity for well over a week before their supplies are reconnected; expresses admiration for the considerable efforts of hard-pressed electricity workers it their attempts to re-establish supplies; but condemns utterly the failure of the Department of Energy to either declare that an emergency exists or to move essential resources into the East Midlands to tackle the crisis; regrets that East Midland's Electricity has itself to ask the Department of Energy to take emergency action; and believes that this is due to fears of the impact that such a move would have upon the floatation and sale of its electricity shares.]

For five and a half days now, 100,000 people in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and generally throughout the east midlands have been without electricity. The Minister said earlier that 43,000 customers had no supply. A total of 40,000 of them are in the east midlands area. There is a massive crisis and people have been without electricity for considerable periods up to five and a half days, but it will be considerably longer before their supplies are reconnected.

The problem exists not in isolated rural areas but in conurbations. We should have a statement from the Secretary of State for Energy so that we can question him, or an emergency debate on an issue that is a crying shame. If we do not get that, we should get the resignation of the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that that is appropriate, but I repeat that the regional electricity companies have been making superlative efforts to restore electricity supplies. I cited the fact that about 2,000 employees—relevant experts—from other parts of the country are helping to restore supplies to the east midlands. It has been a splendid effort by all concerned.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Will the Government find time for an early debate on science policy, given the severe cuts in prospect in Britain's science base and the declining support for industrial research and new technology, at a time when our competitors are increasing theirs? Of the past six debates on science policy, only one has been in Government time, and that was as long ago as Friday 14 June 1985. Is that a fair reflection of the Government's pride in their record?

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman will know, Government expenditure on science, in terms of public funding, has increased substantially in the past two years. It would be appropriate, therefore, to ask that question in a debate on public expenditure. We intend to have a debate on the public expenditure White Paper fairly soon, when it would be appropriate for the hon. Gentleman to make such comments as he wishes. I am sure that he will receive a sound and good response from the Minister.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week on large firms, particularly in the London area, that are encouraging their staff and officers to work illegally on the next two Sundays before Christmas? We have had numerous debates on Sunday trading and Sunday laws. Only last week, the Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), said: The law is the law … There can be no dining a la carte with the law of the land."—[Official Report, 5 December 1990; Vol. 182, c. 325–26.] There should be no dining à la carte with the law on Sunday trading. Will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a debate and that those who are irresponsible enough to ask their staff to work on Sunday are stopped by him and by the Government?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Shops Act 1950 provides that, in general, shops should be closed for the serving of customers on Sunday, except for the transactions listed in the Act. No exception is made for Sundays at any particular time of the year. Equally, the hon. Gentleman will know that we debated the anomalies that have arisen as a result of that Act but failed to reach a solution that commanded general agreement. The Government have made it clear that they are prepared to consider alternative methods of reform if they are practical, enforceable and likely to command a parliamentary majority—a precondition of a successful outcome. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the difficulties of finding an agreed way forward.