HC Deb 25 January 1990 vol 165 cc1049-63 3.31 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

May I ask the Leader of the House to tell us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 29 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Employment Bill.

Motion relating to the Welfare Food (Amendment) Regulations.

TUESDAY 30 JANUARY—Opposition Day (4th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "People trapped in poverty". Afterwards there will be a debate entitled "Implications of the Taylor report for safety at football grounds". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Motions relating to private medical insurance regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report.

WEDNESDAY 31 JANUARY—Opposition Day (5th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "The European Community and developments in eastern Europe". Afterwards there will be a debate entitled "Small businesses and the self-employed". Both debates will arise on motions in the name of the Social and Liberal Democrats.

THURSDAY I FEBRUARY—Until seven o'clock, debate on procedure motions. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Remaining stages of the Civil Aviation Authority (Borrowing Powers) Bill.

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

FRIDAY 2 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY—There will be a debate on the Royal Navy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

[Relevant documents:

Tuesday 30 January

Private Medical Insurance (Disentitlement to Tax Relief and Approved Benefits) Regulations (SI 1989, No. 2389).

Private Medical Insurance (Tax Relief) Regulations (SI 1989, No. 2387).

Thursday 1 February

Procedure Motions:

Private Members' Motions

Motions for Leave to Bring in Bills, Etc.

New Writs

Public Petitions

Motions for Leave to Bring in Bills, Etc. (Budget Day).]

Dr. Cunningham

Given the continuing serious damage to manufacturing industry, business generally and family incomes caused by the Government's economic policy failures and the continuing high interest rates, will the Leader of the House say when we can have a debate on the Government's public expenditure plans and the economy?

Next Thursday's business is an attempt to create a new climate for private Members' time during business in the House. Will the Leader of the House assure us that the Consumer Guarantees Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones), will not be blocked by Ministers in the House tomorrow?

Is the Leader of the House aware that, during the last Session of this Parliament, against all reasonable evidence and argument, we were obliged to spend 110 hours of parliamentary time and great sums of public money on the Football Spectators Act, which is nothing more than the unreasoning obsession of a domineering and out-of-touch Prime Minister?

Is it not now abundantly clear that Ministers, and the Prime Minister in particular, ought to have taken the advice and waited for Lord Justice Taylor's report so that all that parliamentary time and all that public money might not have been expended needlessly? In addition to the promised statement on Monday, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure us that no further work will be carried out, at public expense, on football authorities to be set up under the legislation or on the identity card scheme? Will he ensure that, when his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary comes to the House on Monday, he will make it clear whether or not the Government have proposals to compensate football clubs for the large amounts of unnecessary expenditure that they have been obliged to incur?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends will have ample opportunity to advance those last points, both by way of questions to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on Monday and, of course, in the debate for which they have asked on Tuesday, which I have already announced. I hope that they will take into account the underlying and most important aspect of all this—the fact that there is widespread, deep national anxiety about the problems to which this legislation was directed, that the problems are much more wide-ranging than those touched upon by the Taylor report, and that a very heavy responsibility rests on those whose duty it will be to implement the recommendations of the report and on the House generally for remedying those situations. All those matters can be investigated in the debates that will take place next week.

So far as the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) is concerned, the hon. Gentleman will have to await the outcome of tomorrow's proceedings.

As to the debate on the public expenditure White Paper, we have already this week had one excellent debate, in which the Chancellor very effectively presented his economic policies to the House and to the country. As I told the hon. Gentleman last week, I hope to arrange, in the relatively near future, yet another debate of that quality on the public expenditure White Paper.

Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend please give consideration to early-day motion 346?

[That this House notes that 89 per cent. of the doctors in Brentwood and Ongar who responded to a Liberal Democrat survey of general practitioners believe that patients will lose from the proposed health service review and that the same percentage are against general practitioners being able to buy hospital care for their patients in the hospital of their choice, and that 89 per cent. of them also believe that the reforms will place restrictions on their ability to cater for patients with special needs.]

Will he also note that early-day motion 347 has been withdrawn today? Will we have an opportunity in Opposition time next Wednesday to discuss the remaining motion on the Order Paper in the context of the SLD motion? The vast majority of hon. Members consider the presence of either of those motions on the Order Paper at any time distasteful.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. The whole House should welcome the fact that early-day motion 347 has been withdrawn. I am sure that the House does not need to be reminded that, although these motions are in order, there are well known conventions about the way in which hon. Members deal with each other in relation to their constituencies. I think that hon. Members on all sides would deprecate the practice of using early-day motions of this kind in the manner complained of.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 367?

[That this House calls upon the Secretary of State for the Home Department to publish the report of the Northamptonshire Police into the policing of Wapping on 24th January 1987.]

The territorial support groups at Wapping were out of control and acted indiscriminately and with sickening brutality and violence. Since then, there has been a three-year cover-up. Does not this show that the idea of the accountability of the Metropolitan Police to this House is a myth, that senior police officers are not answerable to anybody—have, indeed, appeared to do what they like—that they act outside the law, and that when things go wrong, they are not accountable to anybody? Will the Leader of the House please see that this report is published as soon as possible, so that we can have an early debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman does not present a fair statement of the position regarding the accountability of the police and the police authorities. This was a confidential report that was prepared and submitted to the independent Police Complaints Authority, the body to which police authorities are accountable. Subject to the need not to prejudice outstanding criminal proceedings—that, too, is a legitimate consideration—the authority intends to publish a full summary of the report, in accordance with its usual practice, as soon as possible. It is right, however, that these other matters should be taken into account. Once the report has been published, the question of a debate can be considered.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the infernal increasing nuisance, particularly to the people of Cambridgeshire, of these wretched acid house parties, the menance of which is growing in many parts of the country, and certainly in Cambridgeshire? Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that the Government will place no impediment in the way of the excellent private Member's Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) which is designed to stamp out this menace?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As I have told the House before, the Government share my hon. Friend's concern about the impact of acid house parties. They made an impact some months ago in my constituency. We shall certainly give the most favourable consideration possible to the Bill to which my hon. Friend refers.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week by the Secretary of State for Health on a report today that attendances at a big chain of opticians have dropped by 36 per cent. since charges were introduced nine months ago? Does he recognise that this is something else about which the Government were warned by hon. Members on both sides of the House and that a statement is needed?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The right hon. Gentleman draws attention to one aspect of that matter, as he sees it. It is open to him and to his party to raise matters of that kind in the House in the ordinary way.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As the Chinese Government have said that they will make it more difficult for those who are issued with British passports to remain in Hong Kong after 1997, when it is the Government's intention to encourage those people to stay in Hong Kong, could we have an early statement as to the necessary changes in Government policy—in particular how the new policy will accord with the Conservative party's manifesto commitments at the last five general elections?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary addressed that question with clarity and distinction in the House only a few days ago.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is an incredible backlog of 90,000 people injured by criminals, who are waiting for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board to assess their claims, some of which are urgent? Does the Leader of the House agree that their cases demand immediate attention? May we have a debate next week, please?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The right hon. Gentleman characteristically brings his question fully within the rules of order by asking for a debate next week on the subject. I cannot promise him a debate. However, I understand his continuing concern about the effective operation of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. I shall therefore draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

To return to early-day motion 346 and the withdrawn early-day motion 347, is it not totally contemptible that Liberal Members should have exploited the serious illness of two of our hon. Friends? Is there no depth to which the Liberal party will not sink in order to grovel for votes? Should not the whole House condemn the Liberal party? May we have a debate on the subject, in which we can make it quite clear that we are appalled that on their Supply day next week they have not chosen to talk about that early-day motion which they have so contemptibly tabled?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend has made his point forcefully, and I think that his view is widely shared by hon. Members in all parts of the House. When I answered the original question about the matter, I noticed, as other hon. Members will have done, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Etterick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel)—the erstwhile leader of the Liberal party—nodding his head in agreement with what I was saying. Therefore, I half expected, when he rose to his feet to question me, that he would have made the very point that my hon. Friend has just made. There are still two further opportunities for that.

This is a serious matter. We are talking about our colleagues in this House. All of us are fair game for motions and comments from every direction, subject to certain conventions. In my judgment, and in the judgment of the whole House, what has happened in this case goes beyond those conventions. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman is nodding his head in agreement.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Although I welcome the facts that the Government will be making a statement on the Taylor report on Monday and that there will be a debate initiated by the Opposition on Tuesday, is the Leader of the House aware that for some of us it is not simply a matter of ID cards? More than 90 people in my area were killed in the Hillsborough disaster, and some of us want a full day's debate on the matter.

It is not just a matter of ID cards, as some of us argued against them from the start. We want to ensure that never again will there be such a disaster in which people from Liverpool and elsewhere are killed at football matches. We want a full debate on safety and not just on ID cards. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench should have asked some of us before they agreed to a half-day debate, as some of us feel that a full day's debate is necessary.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Nobody under-estimates the importance of the matter to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who represent Liverpool. However, it is a matter of general national importance. That is why so much time of the House was devoted to it in the last Session, despite the complaints of Opposition Members. The debate next Tuesday will provide an early opportunity to consider the matter very widely in terms of the Opposition motion. We can consider thereafter what further action, by way of debate or anything else, will be necessary.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Can my right hon. and learned Friend arrange an early opportunity for the house to debate the constitutional position of Scotland vis-a-vis the rest of the United Kingdom? The Scottish press is full of stories that taxes in Scotland will be different from those in England and Wales. That is a constitutional matter. There is also the problem of Scotland becoming a guinea pig. Before the Labour party gets the chop for attempting all those things, will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for an early debate on the matter?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand my hon. Friend's continuing concern for the welfare of his constituents and the people of Scotland. The press north and south of the border is regularly full of reports of taxes in the minds of Opposition Members. The nation should beware of them in all parts of the United Kingdom.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Scottish Office has now published a consultation document on the management of the North sea white fisheries in 1990? As that document contains complex and detailed recommendations on technical conservation measures, including substantial lay-offs of the fisheries this year without any compensation, and as those recommendations have to go to the European Commission very quickly, will the Leader of the House arrange next week at least a statement of the Government's view, or preferably a debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot give such a precise undertaking at this stage, but I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to the views expressed by the hon. Lady.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Could my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for an early Government statement on the Channel tunnel, in view of the financial irregularities and other matters disclosed in today's edition of Contract Journal? Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mr. Peter Costain, chairman of the Costain construction company, wrote a letter to the chairman of Eurotunnel accusing Eurotunnel of having made a statement to shareholders which was incomplete, inaccurate, and calculated to mislead"?

As that statement resulted in approximately £50 million-worth of gains to Eurotunnel's shares immediately after its publication, and as the statement now appears to have been misleading and inaccurate, does my right hon. and learned Friend not consider that it would be appropriate to draw these matters to the attention of the regulatory authorities, such as the stock exchange and the Department of Trade and Industry?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As my hon. Friend realises from the nature of his question, the Channel tunnel is a private sector project and the matters to which he refers arise between the various contractors involved. If and in so far as they deserve further investigation, I shall bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Transport and the regulatory authorities.

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the increasing anger throughout the international world about the Prime Minister overruling the Secretary of State for the Environment and allowing the stockpile of ivory in Hong Kong to be sold? Is he aware that half that ivory was illegally poached? As we have lost all credibility with the international environmental movement, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that a statement should be made, enabling us properly to debate the issue, to ensure that the African elephant does not become extinct because of the increasing awkwardness of the Prime Minister in refusing to listen to her Secretary of State for the Environment?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The whole House is concerned about the preservation of he world's elephant stock and understands the importance of the matter, which was not well stated by the hon. Lady. The exception made for Hong Kong is of limited duration and applies to stock already there. It is entirely without prejudice to the more extensive measures designed to ensure the protection of the species.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

My right hon. and learned Friend will not be aware of the tragic case of my constituent, Martin Allsop—he was married, aged 22 and had a child of six months—who was knocked down and killed on a zebra crossing by a drunken driver. At Maidstone Crown court last week, the driver of the car was found guilty of careless driving, fined £250 and banned for two years. In sharing my constituents' disgust at that lamentable sentence, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that time should be made available for the issue of the sentencing of drink-driving offences to be dealt with properly in the House in a thorough debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Nobody can doubt the seriousness of the case raised by my hon. Friend, and everyone will extend their sympathy to his constituent's family. I hope that there will be an opportunity before too long for the matter that my hon. Friend raised to be debated, but I cannot say precisely when that will be.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

Will the Leader of the House consider arranging an early debate, or at least a statement from the appropriate Secretary of State, perhaps next week, on the serious issue of the costs to many thousands of people arising from coal-mining subsidence? Many millions of pounds are in the claim pipeline. The Select Committee on Energy reported to the House three years ago, when the time scale for claims had been considerably longer than three or four years. Will he say whether British Coal will at last be moved to act by some pressure from the House or from the Secretary of State?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot promise an instant reaction, because the report was made some time ago. I shall certainly arrange to discuss it at an early date with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

As a fair number of people, some of whom should know better, are beginning to believe that perhaps, given the destabilisation in eastern Europe, NATO and the Western European Union are superfluous, does my right hon. and learned Friend think it important to have a debate before long on the future of NATO and the Western European Union and our involvement in them?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have no doubt that the general importance of the subject raised by my hon. Friend is well understood by Conservative Members. He may have an opportunity to raise the matter in next Wednesday's debate, or conceivably in the debate on the following Monday.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

May we have two statements next week on theft? First, may we have a statement on the Government's position following the latest collapse of the insider dealing legislation, which is now a complete shambles after the case at Southwark Crown court earlier this week, which was clearly closely connected with the Government? We need to know whether it will ever be possible to change that legislation so that at least a successful prosecution can be brought for what is out-and-out theft, although the victims are not clearly identifiable.

Secondly, may we have a statement on the organised loophole that the Government deliberately inserted in the poll tax legislation to allow private landlords to pocket the rates of their tenants but not reduce their combined rent and rates? It is not fair that housing benefit should be paid on that basis or that private landlords should be allowed to pocket the rates. That cannot be right, yet that loophole was knowingly left in the Bill, as we know, because it was raised with Ministers in Committee. There is just enough time to clear the matter up. If we do not, private landlords will pocket tens of millions of pounds illegally from 1 April this year.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am not able to answer speeches made at business questions; nor is it my function to do so. On the hon. Gentleman's first point, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will be answering questions on Monday and the hon. Gentleman may have the opportunity of raising the matter with him then.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that Members should ask one question and—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Order. I also remind the House that we have an important debate today. I would therefore ask for brief questions to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend say when we shall have a chance to support the Government's wholly justified policy on Hong Kong?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot tell my hon. Friend when there will be a further opportunity to debate this matter, but it has been the subject of a recent report to the House by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who will no doubt keep the House informed.

Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

May I press the Leader of the House once again for an opportunity to discuss the Crown immunity that exists in this building, especially in view of the news that Central Lobby has just had to be closed because of the danger posed by the weather? In the interests of the health, safety and welfare of all those who work in the building including our employees, is it not time that we had a debate on Crown immunity?

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)

We should adjourn the House—it might fall in.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As the hon. Lady knows, I am already considering particular anxieties—for example, in relation to insurance for Members' employees. She also asked about safety today. A sizeable piece of masonry was blown from the Central Tower into the corner of the hut on the roof down to an inner courtyard. There were no casualties, and that hut was cleared of all occupants. Central Lobby is also closed until the Property Services Agency has ensured that there is no more risk of danger from the Central Tower, and the Parliamentary Works Officer is investigating that with the utmost urgency. I must, however, express the view and hope that today's weather conditions are entirely exceptional.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will be distressed to learn that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) was bitten by a rottweiler early this morning and my right hon. and learned Friend will no doubt wish to give his best wishes for a speedy recovery to my hon. Friend—and to the dog. This raises an important matter, because people are buying ferocious animals for no other reason than as a status symbol. If not controlled, such animals can maim and savage young children. May we have a debate on this matter reasonably soon?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The whole House will join me in expressing sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark), although we may have reservations about the dog. The matter was considered by the House during the passage of legislation last summer. We shall wait to see whether my hon. Friend feels impelled to bring the matter back to the Floor of the House on his return.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Mon)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Wales or the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House in early course about Rail Freight Distribution, a subsidiary of British Rail, and in particular about the conduct of a container service between Holyhead and Dublin which has recently opened and which is being run with a German crew and a German ship? Many of us who are concerned about local employment have been seeking information from the company but it appears to be stonewalling. It will not answer my letters or even return my telephone calls. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman ensure that the company undertakes its responsibilities seriously? It is answerable to the Secretary of State for Transport, and he should conduct an immediate inquiry into its activities.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I can certainly ensure that that point is brought to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Wales.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Croydon, North-West)

Will my right hon. Friend find the time soon for a debate on traffic levels, the proposed new road schemes and on public transport generally in south London? Many of my constituents in Norbury, SW16, are worried by the threat to their homes and businesses from possible changes to the A23, so an early opportunity to debate those matters would be greatly appreciated.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I can understand my hon. Friend's anxiety to represent his constituents' anxieties on that matter. My constituency is not very much further down the A23. My hon. Friend can, of course, seek the opportunity of an Adjournment debate, but I shall bring his points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport in any case.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

In the course of next week's business, does the Leader of the House intend to lay "forthwith" orders relating to statutory instruments that were taken in Committee? If he does, does he contemplate laying them and asking the House to approve them before the associated Official Report of the Committees are available? Would it not be conducive to the good ordering of the House if such orders were not laid until the reports were available, thus avoiding some of the difficulties experienced by the House last night?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not detect that the House had any serious practical difficulty last night on this matter. It has been normal practice for such orders to be laid before the House on the day after the meeting of the Committee. Normally the printing and publication of the report is compatible with that. However, at a time when there is heavy pressure on the resources available for transcribing and printing the necessary material, it has turned out that the report has not been available. I shall certainly see whether anything can be done to remedy that disjointed quality, which is something that we should try to avoid.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Notwithstanding the report in today's Times that plans are to be prepared in secret, is my right hon. and learned Friend convinced that sufficient Supply days are available to the Opposition to enable them to furnish the House with details of their alternative to the community charge before the bills are issued, or are the Opposition to be allowed to continue to hide under the dangerous maxim that their duty is merely to oppose, not to propose?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I fear that it will prove a difficult task for many of us to discover the answer to the question so rightly raised by my hon. Friend. We have had two debates on the general subject in the past few weeks and neither has added to our enlightenment about the Labour party's plans or proposals. Long may it remain like that, because the British people well understand it.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

As the Leader of the House knows, Scottish Question Time, which is due next week, is televised live by Scottish Television. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also knows that the Lothian health board has suggested that it should attract sponsorship for operations. However, is it true that the Scottish Office has purchased a commercial break for transmission during Scottish Question Time to suggest that people should have their gall bladders removed, sponsored by Michael Forsyth Associates, and get really stitched up?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman's ingenuity may deserve some kind of commendation, but he should not raise that topic on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have a debate next week on early-day motions 303 and—

Mr. Speaker

303—one early-day motion, please.

Mr. Greenway

Well, 303 or 313—either will do.

Mr. Speaker

One or the other, but not both.

Mr. Greenway

May we have a debate next week on early-day motion 303?

[That this House abhors the prospect of a resumption in the export of horses and ponies to continental abattoirs after 1992; urges the European Community (the European Commission, European Parliament and all member states) to recognise that the ending of British export controls linked to minimum values would mean the rounding up of Dartmoor and other wild ponies for degrading and wholly unfamiliar transport to and across Europe; and calls for changes to proposed European Community measures on the protection of animals during transport, in order to maintain restrictions which avoid cruel treatment to British horses and ponies during long journeys and at continental slaughterhouses.]

It deals with the disturbing situation that will arise after 1992 unless something is done about the export of horses and ponies for brutal slaughter in European abattoirs. The House should give urgent and early attention to these matters to protect equines, as we should protect all animals.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

If my hon. Friend wants to bring that matter forthwith to the attention of the House, he can seek an Adjournment debate on it. The Government are already firmly on record as opposing any cruelty to animals during transport. In negotiations within the Community, we shall seek in the future, as in the past, to maintain controls designed to prevent the export of horses and ponies for slaughter.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the ambulance dispute next Tuesday from the Secretary of State for Health? On that day, Labour Members such as myself will take part in marches and rallies throughout the country in support of the ambulance workers. Is he aware that, unless the Secretary of State removes the Army and police from the streets of the cities and towns of Britain, withdraws provocative action against the ambulance workers and gives them a decent wage rate, widespread and generalised industrial action of solidarity with the ambulance workers will be undertaken on Tuesday—by workers such as those in several workplaces in Coventry, who have already decided on a half-day strike—and that pressure will only increase? Why does not the Secretary of State do something about solving the dispute by giving the ambulance workers a decent living wage?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman's perception of the matter is entirely the wrong way round. As long as industrial action of the kind that he is prepared to support continues, it will remain the duty of the Government and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that alternative arrangements are ready and available to deal with emergencies in a proper way.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

In view of the continuing uncertainty caused by British Rail's failure to announce its final plans for a link from the Channel tunnel to London and beyond, which has brought great distress to the residents of Kent and south-east London, will my right hon. and learned Friend organise a debate in the near future on that extremely important topic?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot undertake to organise a debate. However, I can undertake, as I have done more than once, to bring the anxiety expressed in the House to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and of British Rail.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

May I remind the Leader of the House that almost three years ago, the then Home Secretary was quick enough to come to the House to offer a statement about events at Wapping when he saw it as an opportunity to whip the trade unions and to criticise them and others who were present that night? Given that the report of the Northamptonshire police into events at Wapping is now available, will he give a guarantee that there will be a full statement or, even better, a debate in the House? Is he aware that the matter is of the most fundamental concern, not just to trade unions but for the way in which policing is carried out in London and control by the police of events in which trade unions are involved?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot give a guarantee about how the matter should or will be handled. As I have already told the House, the report of which we now have knowledge was submitted in accordance with the statutory procedures for complaint to the independent Police Complaints Authority. The prospect of publication will be dealt with by the authority in due course in the proper manner. At all times, the House retains the opportunity to debate the matter if any hon. Member can find an opportunity to do so.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

It is now some weeks since my right hon. and learned Friend promised to give consideration to the possibility of a parliamentary debate on the Polkinghorne report. The report has not been discussed in the House. What was the outcome of his considerations?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend knows a great deal about the matter. She will recollect that the Polkinghorne committee considered that legislation was not appropriate because of the need for flexibility. She will also be aware that developmets are taking place quickly. Granted that, the Government decided to promulgate the new code of practice without delay. That is what has happened. It is open to my hon. Friend and to any other hon. Member to seek an opportunity to debate the matter in the House. I shall bear her points in mind, but I cannot go further than that.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Now that the lady is for turning, will the Leader of the House organise a statement by the Prime Minister next week on the changes to the poll tax, so that we can dismiss rumours of the possibility that educational salaries will be taken away from the poll tax charge before its implementation in April? If he cannot do that, will he appoint an inquiry into the working of the poll tax, in view of the many changes? Perhaps he could put Lord Justice Taylor in charge.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman is testing his capacity for fancifulness to destruction. The community charge has been debated here many times in recent weeks, and there will be two opportunities for discussing the Taylor report next week. The matters should be kept well separate from each other.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

Would my right hon. and learned Friend arrange a debate on the creation of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland? As he is aware, there is an urgent need to provide a satisfactory way of dealing with Northern Ireland parliamentary business, and the old Northern Ireland Committee is no substitute.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand my hon. Friend's natural and continued concern with this matter. As he will understand, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Ireland—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ireland?"]—Northern Ireland—has often underlined his willingness to talk to hon. Members on that matter.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I will call those hon. Members who are standing. May I remind hon. Members for Scottish constituencies that there is a debate on Scotland following this? They may consider that it could jeopardise their chances if we take up more time now on business questions.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating President Moi of Kenya on today destroying a substantial stock of rhino horn seized from poachers and destroying it, just as he destroyed the ivory which was seized from poachers? President Moi deserves our congratulations, and I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that he deserves financial support from the Government for the actions that he has taken.

It would be most helpful, because there are disputes about the effect of the Government's decision to allow Hong Kong ivory on to the world market, for us to have a debate on this issue in view of the great amount of international concern. Is the Leader of the House aware that, despite what he said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey), the ivory dealers in Hong Kong are asking for the six-month moratorium to be extended to two years? We must debate the matter urgently.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

If we do not debate it, it will not be for want of trying by the hon. Gentleman. I will certainly keep the matter in mind.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Could we have time for a debate about the judiciary? I know that there are limitations about removing members of the judiciary recently, but I think that the House ought to have a look at that again and make time for a debate. Many people are concerned that some judges, and one judge in particular, Judge Pickles, displays a continuing arrogance in asserting that he cannot—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has already said that he cannot say that. Now he has. Perhaps he would withdraw it.

Mr. Cryer

I will rephrase my remarks, Mr. Speaker. Some people are very concerned that, although there is a Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for the victims of crime, there seems to be no compensation for people who are sent to prison for contempt, who appeal and who are released immediately. It is time that this injustice, meted out by some members of the judiciary—including one in particular, whom I shall not name—should not go on without any discussion by the legislature to make sure that this arrogance is brought to an end.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman knows very well that if there is a matter of some substance there that he wishes to raise, there is almost an infinity of ways in which he can raise it properly and within the rules of order, rather than in this somewhat curious fashion during the course of business questions.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House turn his attention to early-day motion 379 on access to the palace of Westminster?

[That this House is concerned at the continuing lack of facilities for visitors to the Palace of Westminster; and calls for urgent changes to prevent visitors having to wait outside merely to enter the building, access to refreshment facilities that do not require the attendance of an honourable Member or pass holder and urgent changes to give full access to those who suffer from disabilities, including full wheelchair access to all parts of the building.]

Will he arrange for a statement urgently about improving visitors' access, so that they are not waiting outside in the rain and in the cold to get in here, and so that they can get refreshments without having to be accompanied by hon. Members? Most important, since the House has quite rightly passed legislation on access to public buildings for people with disabilities, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that we do not have this nonsense of people in wheelchairs finding it extremely difficult to get in or park their vehicles and suffering great humiliation merely in entering the House to attend any sort of meeting? It really is not on that the House should legislate for the rest of the country and not apply the legislation to itself.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman must realise that any holder of my present job readily becomes aware of the large number of shortcomings in the facilities available to hon. Members and members of the public. The House endeavours to improve these things: for example, we recently agreed, although we have not yet implemented, improved access to the line of route, and, for disabled visitors, we have been making some improvements to this ancient building as far and as fast as possible. But I would not pretend that there are not many other matters which deserve attention and to which the House ought to strive to address itself with increasing application. We cannot expand the site beyond its existing limitations. We cannot transform or transplant the site, but we need to apply ourselves fully to the questions raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Does the Leader of the House realise that, on a day very much like today 231 years ago in Alloway, Ayrshire, the world's most famout poet was born? Does he further realise that tonight throughout the world Scots and non-Scots alike will be celebrating his memory and will be lamenting the lack of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? Will the Leader of the House therefore undertake to apply himself vigorously next week to setting up such a committee and abandon his "man's inhumanity to man" stance?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Burns also said: Be Britain still to Britain true, Among ourselves united". That is a sentiment that also deserves reflection.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that last week my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) had an Adjournment debate on chatlines. It was unfortunate that the Minister, in response to requests from both sides of the House that the Government should take action to make these sexually perverted chatlines unlawful, said that the Government would not take action. Will the Leader of the House ask his colleagues in the Cabinet to think again and to support measures from private Members, if not from the Government, to make these disgraceful chatlines unlawful?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot promise to take consideration further than was promised by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs only a few days ago. The matter is receiving, and will continue to receive, proper consideration.

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 to the House on the reason why Bishopton Royal Ordnance factory has to lose a laboratory and the 26 jobs that go with it after the the magnificent case and battle put up by Royal Ordnance workers throughout the country to keep jobs in Bishopton? Will the Leader of the House listen to the pleas of the people of Scotland? Enough is enough; they have suffered too much unemployment. The Government can stop this deliberate creation of further unemployment in my area.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I will certainly bring the point raised by the hon. Gentleman to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. On the wider question that he raised of employment and unemployment in Scotland, he will have observed the presence in the House of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who continues effectively to conduct economic policy which enhances the growth of employment in Scotland, as it has done for some time under the Government.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

Could the Leader of the House arrange for the appropriate Minister to make a statement to the House next week on the state of the ambulance dispute in my constituency? Today, ambulance workers set up an emergency service with its own telephone number, which has been disconnected unilaterally by the Scottish ambulance service, despite the Arctic conditions prevailing in my constituency, where many roads are blocked. If people telephone that number, they will not even get a recorded message to dial 999. Can the Leader of the House do something by bringing someone here and showing that the Government, in making a statement next week, have concern for the people?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is for the local ambulance service management to decide how to respond to matters of the kind referred to by the hon. Gentleman. For everybody—above all, for the leaders of the unions concerned—the urgent and correct answer is to secure a return to normal working as soon as possible.