HC Deb 05 July 1990 vol 175 cc1121-35 3.30 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

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

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

Wearing another hat, I can tell the House that the business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 9 JULY—Opposition day (18th allotted day, 1st part). Until seven o'clock, there will be a debate on environmental policy on a motion in the name of Plaid Cymru.

Supplemental timetable motion and consideration of Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill.

Motion on the Education (Student Loans) Order.

TUESDAY 10 JULY—Estimates Day (3rd allotted day). Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate on sea defences and the avoidance of sea flood damage in Wales, followed by a debate on gipsy sites.

Details of the estimates concerned and the relevant Select Committee reports will be given in the Official Report.

At ten o'clock, the question will be put on all outstanding estimates.

WEDNESDAY 11 JULY—Motion on the Charge Limitation (England) (Maximum Amount) Orders (1st day).

THURSDAY 12 JULY—Conclusion of the debate on motion on the Charge Limitation (England) (Maximum Amount) Orders.

Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order.

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

FRIDAY 13 JULY—There will be a debate on policing in London, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 16 JULY—Progress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

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

The House will wish to know that subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the summer Adjournment on Thursday 26 July.

[Estimates, Tuesday 10 July:

Class III, vote 3, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food: agricultural support, animal health, arterial drainage, flood and coast protection;

Class XVI, vote 1, Agricultural support, Wales;

Class XVI, vote 5, Tourism, roads and transport, housing, other environmental services (including civil defence), education, arts and libraries, and health and personal social services, Wales; and

Class XVI, vote 9, Welsh Office administration, so far as they relate to sea defences and the avoidance of sea flood damage.

Class VIII, vote 4, Local environmental and planning services, etc., England so far as it relates to Gipsy sites.

Relevant document: Third report from the Environment Committee of Session 1989–90 on the Department of the Environment's main estimates, 1990–91, (House of Commons Paper No. 373). (To be published on 9 July).]

Dr. Cunningham

Can the Leader of the House confirm that, before the House rises, we shall have an opportunity to debate the imminent recommendations of the Select Committee on the Televising of Proceedings of the House and, I hope, approve those recommendations? It is in all our interests that that report is considered by the House and debated before the summer recess. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman planning that that will happen?

As it is becoming increasingly obvious that the Government intend to attempt to solve their problems with the poll tax simply by throwing money at it, and as there is evidence that that money will be aimed partially at Conservative marginal constituencies, may we have an assurance that there will be an oral statement to Parliament about the Government's intentions before any announcement is made? I hope that we shall receive an absolute cast-iron assurance about that. Indeed, if the Government think that they have a good case, I hope that they will want to come forward and be honest about it. Surely it is preferable that those matters should be widely examined in this Chamber before the summer recess.

Last week's highest ever figures on crime in Britain, taken with the increasing widespread, disgraceful scenes, such as those of last night, of hooliganism, vandalism and anti-social behaviour, surely show that the Government's policies for Britain as a whole are failing to create a climate in which civilised social behaviour can flourish. Against that unprecedented background, none of which can be blamed on the football authorities, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the failures of Government policy in those areas before the summer recess?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

On the last point, I am afraid that the House cannot accept the simplistic analysis offered by the hon. Gentleman. He will appreciate that manifestations of hooliganism—for example, in the context of football—are by no means confined to this country; nor have they been confined to people from this country. In that respect, the Government are following the right policies. Our proposed implementation of the Taylor report urging the football authorities to install all-seater stadiums is clearly a move in the right direction. That has been demonstrated by the experience at grounds in Italy in the past few weeks.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, the House will be kept informed of the outcome of any such considerations in the appropriate way. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is meeting the local authority associations this afternoon to hear their views on next year's spending. That is one factor that he will take carefully into account before he makes a statement to the House later this month, as is customary, on our proposals for the settlement.

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I am glad to confirm that the report of the Select Committee on the televising experiment will be published next Wednesday and that I hope to arrange a debate on the subject before the House rises for the summer.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend try to arrange an early debate on the workings and procedures of Parliament and of this House? Does he agree that, in the past 48 hours, we have seen perhaps the most shameful scenes that I can remember since 1983? Does he agree that Opposition Members in particular have behaved badly during the past 48 hours? Will he arrange an early debate so that the workings of this place can be improved and have more respect outside?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

You should have seen Heseltine with the mace—those were great days.

Mr. Speaker


Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree with my hon. Friend about the need to keep the procedure of the House continually under review. We had a debate on one aspect of the matter last week, and there will be another before too long. I am afraid that no debate in the House can be guaranteed to deliver proper self-control from Opposition Members.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Given recent reports that the Prime Minister is anxious to promote family life by, among other things, making divorce more difficult, can the Leader of the House tell us whether she is aware of clause 53 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill which makes divorce easier? Is not that indicative of the shambles that the Government are in over the Bill? Will the Leader of the House announce next week that the Government will make things easier by dropping parts III and IV of that confused Bill?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As I understand it, the particular provisions of the Bill which relate to divorce law are founded essentially on the recommendations of the Scottish Law Commission. Therefore, they deserve careful consideration by the House. As a result of the arrangements announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Sectetary of State for Scotland yesterday about the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, it should be possible for due consideration to be given to all four parts of that significant Scottish measure. I am sure that the whole House will welcome that.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to come to the House and explain how he can possibly justify the closure of the children's ward and the proposed closures of a general medical ward, a general surgical ward and even a ward where people who have had radiological treatment can stay overnight in the Leicester royal infirmary? Does he appreciate that the refusal of the Secretary of State for Health to listen to Members of Parliament from both sides of the House is a continuing disgrace which should be debated in this place?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. and learned Gentleman has raised various aspects of the matter on more than one occasion. He must recall that the management of the resources available to local health authorities is essentially a matter for them to decide. He will also recall, as I have told him before, that the initial budget of Leicestershire health authority was significant and that it has been increased, since the initial figure, to £217 million.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Will it be possible some time next week to have a statement about the Prime Minister's meeting with Mr. Mandela? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that would give us an opportunity to appreciate clearly that this country is completely against apartheid, and that Mr. Mandela recognises it? Does he further agree that we would have an opportunity to demonstrate completely the lie in the Opposition's accusations that the Conservative party in some way supports apartheid in South Africa?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the meeting yesterday between the Prime Minister and Mr. Nelson Mandela. I agree also with the importance of his observation about the Prime Minister's determination as an enemy of apartheid. I think that the whole House will agree that that should afford justification for the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to withdraw the shocking statement that he made some time ago, that the Prime Minister was a friend of apartheid. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that The Sun—yes, The Sun —has reached another new low? In yesterday's edition of that newspaper, if it can be called a newspaper, a certain Mandy Smith and her husband Bill Wyman were attacked and embarrassed by an article and photograph which clearly should not have been published. It brings us back to the question of the invasion of privacy that repeatedly takes place. I am not concerned with hon. Members or pop stars, I am concerned with the working class, because it is clear that, unless one has money in this country, there is no justice. What do the Government intend to do about that —[Interruption.]—and about articles of that kind? The people at large want an answer to that question.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not follow The Sun quite as closely as the hon. Gentleman does. On the wider matter, the House will have an opportunity of considering the recommendations of the Calcutt report in due course.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for two statements to be made next week? First, despite his earlier reply, we need a statement from the Secretary of State for Health about the difficult situation which the Leicestershire health authority faces, with hospital as well as ward closures causing great concern.

Secondly, we need a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment, and the publication of the report from the National Rivers Authority, about the disastrous state of affairs that arose at Rutland water last year as a result of toxic blue-green algae. Such a statement is long overdue.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand that the Secretary of State for Health has made his position clear in relation to the position of the Leicestershire health authority, and I have nothing to add to that. The answer to the second point raised by my hon. Friend about the case for a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment is that I shall bring his request to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that one question per Member at business questions enables us to get on more rapidly.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does the Leader of the House accept any responsibility for what occurred on Tuesday, when clear Government abuse was involved in trying to answer questions after Question Time on an Opposition day? Will he make sure that that does not occur again and that there is no abuse of parliamentary procedures and the rights of the Opposition? Is he aware that the Opposition preserved parliamentary democracy and accountability on Tuesday and should be congratulated accordingly?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There was, I think, some misunderstanding between the usual channels on Tuesday. The difficulty of getting these matters precisely right was well illustrated by the fact that, on Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Health was criticised for answering questions in the form of a statement, whereas on Wednesday the Secretary of State for Scotland was criticised for answering questions at Question Time instead of making a statement. It is not always easy to get the judgment right.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the Prime Minister, in her important speech at the opening of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, uttered the trenchant phrase that Governments and international organisations everywhere must sit up and take notice and respond, and he, like all of us, will have received in the past couple of weeks a mass of cards from constituents asking us to mobilise political will in support of that general awareness. Therefore, will my right hon. and learned Friend respond constructively and generously to the suggestion made at the meeting of some 23 Parliaments in Ottawa some weeks ago that each Parliament there represented should hold a two-day debate on the papers and the conclusions of that conference?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot offer to make such a multilateral engagement at such short notice, but I shall certainly consider the importance of the point made by my hon. Friend, which he will have seen underlined, at least in general terms, by the success of the conference presided over by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment last week.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that the United States Government have just passed legislation outlawing discrimination against disabled people and providing their 43 million disabled people with new opportunities in employment, housing and access to transport? Is not it deplorable that Britain's disabled people do not have such rights? May we debate that next week, please?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the House has always been jealous of its right and obligation to take account of the need to look after disabled people properly. Obviously, I cannot respond by endorsing the particular proposals to which he has drawn attention, but I shall draw his general point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider an early debate on trade union reform in the light of the report on the internal workings of the National Union of Mineworkers during the miners' strike and the source of its donations? Has he received any requests from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), a member of the union and sponsored by it, about what in other circumstances the hon. Gentleman would describe as a cover-up and a whitewash?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have not received any such request, although I am not always prone to encourage requests from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). In this case, members of the union in question will be able to take advantage of the increased rights conferred by the legislation passed by this Government to investigate the conduct and misconduct of the union's officers.

Mr. Skinner


Hon. Members


Mr. Skinner

Is the Leader of the House aware that the NUM was hammered by his Government, by the judges and by all echelons of the British establishment during its year-long strike, and that in order to save its finances we made sure that the families of its members were fed and that we took on the Government? Will he make a statement admitting that the Government spent £8,000 million of taxpayers' money in one way or another in order to try to bludgeon the NUM into defeat, but we are still here and we are still fighting?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is one of a dwindling minority of folk who take such a view of history. The most important judgment was that passed by those who left the NUM altogether and formed the independent Union of Democratic Mineworkers.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

May I endorse the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) for a debate on the conduct of the affairs of the House, and extend that to include the ridiculous hours that we work? I know that that is an old chestnut in this place, but it still merits debate. I am not surprised that we have short tempers in this place, when on some evenings this place is really suitable only for insomniacs. Last week, we had three very late nights, and on Tuesday morning this week some of us were wakened in the small hours of the morning in the middle of our legitimate sleep. How can we conduct the country's business in that manner? Will my right hon. and learned Friend allow time for us to debate that matter once more?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am not sure whether to congratulate or commiserate with my hon. Friend. She was in bed at the time, but some of us were still here. Many proposals have been made directly to that end. It is difficult to make changes that will ensure compliance with a timetable. There is bound to be some elasticity in the way in which different people respond to different proposals. Some measures that are expected to take a short time to get through the House end up taking a great deal longer. I shall be ready to look at any specific proposals that my hon. Friend has to make, and I am sure that the House will join me in doing so.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's recent announcement of the setting up of a Select Committee on Social Security. Can we look forward to a similar announcement, before the end of the parliamentary Session, on setting up a Select Committee to examine the affairs of Northern Ireland? Is not 16 years without close scrutiny in this place a shame?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As I think I have told the House before, if not the hon. Gentleman, that proposal is one of a number now being studied by the Select Committee on Procedure, which has taken evidence and is still taking evidence on that matter.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

Do I understand that, once again, the Government intend to introduce a guillotine on Monday on Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill that relate to housing benefit for students? Will that guillotine apply also to the Education (Student Loans) Order, the saga of which continues? Perhaps, this time, the Government may get it right.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am glad that my hon. Friend looks forward to that matter being handled correctly. The motion on the Education (Student Loans) Order will be taken as last business on Monday, and can run for up to 90 minutes. Ahead of that, there will be a supplementary timetable motion providing for the consideration of all Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill that are covered by those regulations.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, East)

May we have a statement next week about the conduct of Scottish Question Time, which is being regularly hijacked by English Tory Members to such an extent that Scottish Opposition Members, who represent more than 86 per cent. of Scottish constituencies, are finding it increasingly difficult to get called? Yesterday, for example, every Scottish Tory Back Bencher in the Chamber was called more than once.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would want to ensure that all parties were represented effectively and fairly during Question Time. It has never been the case that territorial questions, whether for Scotland or for Wales, have been reserved for those hon. Members representing constituencies in those countries, and I do not think that that should be the case.

Sir Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

Following the important announcement yesterday of changes to the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, as a result of which—if I understand it correctly—it will not be possible for house conveyancing to be undertaken by financial institutions, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that the Attorney-General makes an announcement to the House, at the earliest possible opportunity, confirming that the ability of such institutions in England and Wales to provide conveyancing service under the Courts and Legal Services Bill will remain unaltered?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The changes in the identity of those who can undertake conveyancing services are being made separately for England and Wales and for Scotland, according to their legislation. All the changes are directed towards increasing the scope of competition. That is the intention of those matters that were the subject of the agreement announced yesterday in relation to Scotland. Those provisions have yet to be considered by the Standing Committee. Nothing done in respect of Scotland can affect the arrangements for England and Wales.

Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the decision to allow a two-day debate next week on poll tax capping will be welcomed? Can he give the House any assurance that the Government will take notice of anything that may be said during that debate about the damaging effects of charge capping for school children, the elderly, the disabled and all those who are most in need of support from the capped authorities? In other words, will that debate have any constructive result, or will the Government adopt their usual dictatorial attitude and dismiss all arguments out of hand?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Government will continue to conduct themselves in relation to the community charge and capping orders relating to that in accordance with the provisions of the law, hearing representations to the extent that is necessary. The charge-capping orders are intended, with the approval of the House, to ensure that charges are not set at an unduly high level to the disadvantage of a large number of people in the authorities concerned.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Would not it be a good idea to have a debate on behaviour and the procedure of the House, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson)? That might provide the House with an opportunity to give the Select Committee on Procedure some suggestions about how to deal with what is currently the worst parliamentary racket—the bogus point of order at prime television time?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, have the same anxiety about the importance of ensuring that points of order are used properly and not abused. I agree that that may be a point for consideration by the Procedure Committee. Of course, it is open to my hon. Friend to make representations to our hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) who is the Chairman of that Committee, and any hon. Member from any part of the House is free to do so.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Returning to the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, does the Leader of the House not understand that the concessions mentioned yesterday by the Secretary of State for Scotland may mean that, although he may have dodged the guillotine, he has certainly not saved his neck? Does he appreciate that those of us who serve on the Standing Committee are now witnessing the possibility of the right hon. and learned Gentleman touting a shopping bag of wares around the Committee and selling one item against the other? That brings into startling clarity the failure of the House to deal with Scottish law reform. Surely the most sensible thing to do would be to withdraw the Bill altogether and to bring back an appropriate Bill next Session.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It would seem a curious thing to deal with Scottish law reform by abandoning the enterprise altogether. The agreement announced by my right hon. and learned Friend yesterday was welcomed by the Law Society and by the Consumers Association in Scotland. In the light of the sittings motion that has been agreed, it should now be possible for the Standing Committee to give due consideration to all four parts of that significant Scottish measure. I am sure that that is the most sensible way to proceed.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a general debate on manufacturing industry and its importance to the British economy before we rise for the summer recess, as an announcement has been made about that this afternoon? Unfortunately, there has been an upturn in unemployment in strategic industries in Britain—in construction, textiles and other important manufacturing industries, such as the brick industry, in which huge investment has been made. That needs to be debated before we rise for the summer recess, so that the House can express to the Government its grave disquiet about the continuing use of high interest rates as the sole weapon to contain inflation and the great damage that that is doing to British manufacturing industry.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As my hon. Friend makes the point about high interest rates, he should not overlook the extent to which fast-rising unit labour costs, which are under the control of those who manage and work in the industries and which are rising at a higher rate than those of many of our competitors, contribute far more than high interest rates to rising costs and declining competitiveness. That is a point which he needs to take home and emphasise—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I worked in industry—you did not.

Hon. Members

That's the stuff.

Mr. Speaker


Sir Geoffrey Howe

Industry would benefit from a renewed contribution by my hon. Friend to that activity.

My hon. Friend will be able to raise that subject on at least two occasions between now and the summer recess, as we shall have debates on the Consolidated Fund and on the summer Adjournment, which will give my hon. Friend the opportunity to raise the matter if he so wishes.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Talking about rising unit costs, let me ask the Leader of the House a House of Commons question and tempt him to make a statement next week. Will he confirm that the only civil service grade not to receive a pay increase in the recent pay round negotiations is the grade to which Members of Parliament's salaries are linked, and that, in place of a pay increase, that grade has been given merit awards? Is the fact that the Leader of the House has been answering questions on behalf of the Prime Minister so often lately an attempt on his part to earn his merit award?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I should be content to proceed under that system, but I am not sure whether all our 650 colleagues would be equally enthusiastic about it. I shall look into the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Will Ministers give careful thought this weekend to the wisdom of agreeing with the Lords in their amendment on housing benefit which is to be debated on Monday evening?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The matter can be debated on Monday evening. That is a more satisfactory answer than I have been able to give on some topics.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. —em, Campbell-Savours.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

You will lose your merit award!

Mr. Speaker

I know, but it is difficult to deal with two things at once. Mr. Campbell-Savours.

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

In the light of the very courageous decision by Lady Elspeth Howe, the wife of the Leader of the House, to camp out in a cardboard box in the City of London as a protest against the Government's policy on homelessness, does not the Leader of the House believe that we should have a debate on the matter? Would he not have a personal contribution to make to that debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am always grateful to be able to pass on observations of a gentle kind to my wife, even if the hon. Gentleman mislocates the city; it was Westminster, not London. Moreover, it was not by way of protest against Government policy; it was by way of support for combined Government and voluntary organisation action to raise funds for voluntary organisations to tackle homelessness—an entirely commendable cause.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate in the near future on British Rail? Has he heard about the latest example of Hutber's law, which is that this week Network SouthEast has announced that, in order to improve services in my constituency, it is to cancel 43 trains a day'? My constituents are somewhat aggrieved about that.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend also aware that one of the fundamental causes of the chaos is that both British Rail management and, in particular, the trade unions, supported by Opposition Members, have refused to agree to local and regional pay bargaining? That is essential if we are to have sufficient drivers to drive enough trains to ensure that my constituents prefer to travel by rail because they can get to the place that they wish to reach without having to endure the current chaos.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Speaking as one Surrey Member of Parliament to another, I am prepared to endorse my hon. Friend's anxieties about the shortcomings on certain suburban rail services. I understand that the changes that are being made are intended largely to endorse those which follow from the absence of negotiations of the kind to which my hon. Friend referred. I shall certainly bring his point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. We should like to see a real improvement in those services. I am glad that my hon. Friend still remembers with affection the inventor of Hutber's law, the late Patrick Hutber.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have a debate on the subject of early-day motion 1238?

[That this House condemns the proposals by Bradford Health Authority to close either partially or completely Westwood Hospital, dump some two hundred mentally handicapped people into the community in order to sell off the land from this tranquil, sheltered site in an insensitive, money-grabbing operation which ignores people's needs, treats the mentally handicapped like pawns, rides rough-shod over the hopes of parents, staff and the community at the whim of stoney-hearted apparatchiks; and urges them to use the site for a small, hospital-linked village which would enable those who can, to manage a more independent life in a caring and collective environment .]

That debate ought to be held in the context of a general debate on care in the community.

Does not the Leader of the House realise that Bradford health authority has made a proposal to close an important hospital for the mentally handicapped in my constituency and that it has sent shivers of fear through relatives, often aging relatives, who fear for the future of their loved ones in that hospital? The health authority is damaging the prospects for the mentally handicapped. They are also damaging the prospects of, and the excellent work carried out by, the staff.

Ought not the Government to encourage the Bradford health authority to use this excellent sheltered site for a village community so that those who are able to live more independent lives close to the hospital can do so? Instead, we have this wretched proposal to close yet another important hospital for the mentally handicapped.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman will know that Bradford district health authority is considering the development of community-based services for the mentally handicapped, and no doubt it will take note of his point. He will also know that any proposal to close Westwood hospital will be subject to normal consultation procedures.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend for an early debate next week on competitive sport in schools, as in some areas only one in eight primary schools are teaching cricket and in others soccer is not on the curriculum? The England team could not possibly lose if every boy, and some girls, learned to play soccer and learned the discipline of playing competitive sport with a referee. Is not that highly valuable? If they also learned to take penalties properly, would we not succeed where we did not succeed last night and give proper backing to the excellence and sportsmanlike activity of Gary Lineker and his wonderful team?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As always, my hon. Friend has managed to get a mini-substitute for an entire debate in his intervention in business questions. Broadly speaking, I endorse his approach and will bring it to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport.

Mr. Tony Banks

Did the Leader of the House see the horrific pictures in The Sunday Correspondent of the slaughter of pilot whales in the Faroe islands and the equally horrific pictures in today's Daily Mirror of dolphins being butchered in Japan? As decisions are being taken at the International Whaling Commission, will he arrange for an early debate so that we can discuss the plight of the small and great whales?

If we cannot have the opportunity to debate whether the House should adopt sanctions against Governments that so barbarously exploit whales, may we have a statement from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the position of the British Government and what they intend to do to make the highest level representations to Japan, Norway, Denmark and, indeed, now the Soviet Union?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The exchange between the hon. Member and myself on this topic will follow familiar lines. The position of the United Kingdom on ending the moratorium on commercial whaling is well known. The Government believe that the species should not again be placed at risk by the hasty resumption of whaling. That position is being maintained by our representatives at the International Whaling Commission meeting that is currently taking place. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to take the matter further, I dare say that he will follow his usual practice of raising it on the summer Adjournment debate or perhaps on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

May I return briefly to the Scottish Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill and to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir R. McCrindle)? It appears that the Government, in the person of the Secretary of State for Scotland, have accepted a fundamental objection to the principle that the financial institutions—the lenders—should not also represent borrowers in conveyancing transactions. If they are prepared to accept that as a fundamental principle in Scotland, it is quite beyond my understanding why it should not also apply in England and Wales. Would it not be proper for the Law Officers, who are responsible for these matters, to re-examine their position? It cannot be right up there but wrong down here.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The last point made by my hon. Friend surely fails to take account of the fact that one of the reasons for having two different systems of law—one for Scotland and another for England and Wales—is that they should from time to time differ from each other. It is surely entirely sensible for people to advance arguments such as my hon. Friend's, comparing one with the other and seeking to advance change. I cannot provide for the unification of two separate legal systems.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

As we shall all be hanging around for another three weeks, largely as a result of Government incompetence on the Scottish legislation, would not it be entirely appropriate to use the time productively by having another full-scale debate on the future of the Scottish steel industry—this time, in Government time—so that the Secretary of State for Scotland can say whether he is prepared actively to seek an alternative investor for Scottish steel assets? If such an investor were to emerge, would he be prepared to make British Steel sell the productive assets that it intends to run down to someone who is prepared to run them properly?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not think that, at this stage, I can go beyond the intention expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to ask the Scottish Development Agency to carry out an analysis of the prospects for the steel industry in Scotland.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Since the case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, has there been anything to match the Select Committee on Members' Interests in relation to the case of the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates)?

Will we have a statement before the end of the Session on the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure, because if oral questions are to be different next Session, the matter must be dealt with pretty quickly? Will something be done about syndication and about hon. Members handing in their own questions to the Table Office? The Order Paper is littered with questions about which hon. Members of all parties do not have a clue. That is a scandal and an abuse of the House of Commons.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The way in which the Select Committee on Members' Interests conducts its affairs is a matter for that Committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith).

I am very much aware of the importance of the recommendations of the Procedure Committee on questions. I had hoped to table my proposals today. However, I hope to table in the near future proposals designed to implement those recommendations. The whole House agrees that the recommendations are sensible and that we should press ahead with them as soon as possible.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Conservative parliamentary candidate in Colchester was so desperate to avoid defending the poll tax that he said that he could not attend a public meeting because law breakers might be there? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make a statement to the House confirming that the Cabinet have had some papers that say that the Rover sweeteners were illegal, as that candidate might not want to attend the Conservative party conference this year?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I did not catch the last part of the hon. Gentleman's rather contrived question. However, I am glad to endorse the quality of the Conservative candidate for Colchester. He is the son of the former hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford, the right hon. Lord Jenkin of Roding, and he will be a credit to the Conservative party, just as his father was.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Does the Leader of the House realise how wholly unsatisfactory his answer to Leicestershire Members was when they raised the case of Leicester health authority? For his information, Leicestershire Members of all parties visited the Secretary of State for Health and he behaved in a cavalier manner towards the suffering of those who will be affected by the cuts.

Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman seen early-day motion 1237?

[That this House deplores the recent proposals for ward closures at the Leicester Royal Infirmary and the redundancies of 167 workers there, including doctors and nurses, announced by the local health authority as part of its plans to implement government cuts of £6 million from its budget; is deeply concerned that cutbacks at the Leicester General Hospital will lead to complete ward closures in the future; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Health urgently to inject vital funding into the local health budget to prevent the needless suffering of thousands of local people who are waiting to have operations and treatment.]

Does he realise that doctors and nurses will be made redundant as a result of what the health authority will do? When can we have a debate with the Secretary of State for Health on that important issue?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

This is the third question from hon. Members of all parties on this matter. As I said in answer to earlier questions, the matter has been raised in debates in the House by the hon. Gentleman. There will be an opportunity of doing so again either on the Adjournment debate or on the Consolidated Fund Bill. I can add nothing to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health has already said.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

May I be the fourth hon. Member to address the Leader of the House on the health service in Leicestershire? I plead with him urgently to arrange either a debate or a statement from the Secretary of State for Health. Despite the platitudinous responses of the Leader of the House and of the Secretary of State for Health, there is a real crisis in the health service in the county of Leicestershire, as evidenced by the recent decision by Leicester royal infirmary to close 10 per cent. of beds and to get rid of 5 per cent. of nursing staff. As a consequence, waiting lists in some specialties will increase threefold over the next 12 months. If that is not a crisis, when is there a crisis in the service?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman should put those figures into perspective. Leicester royal infirmary is making service reductions that will involve the loss of 167 staff posts, but 122 of those are already vacant. In addition, the royal infirmary has some of the shortest waiting lists in the county, and staff and management at the hospital intend to do their best to maintain that record.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on early-day motion 1223, which refers to the outrageous delay in dealing with nurses' grading appeals in Wales?

[That this House deplores the delay in dealing with the clinical grading appeals of nurses, health visitors and others in Wales; notes that after 20 months 3,088 appeals have still not been dealt with; deplores the unfairness that such slow progress inflicts on thousands of dedicated and caring professionals; and calls on the Secretary of State for Wales to take a personal initiative to clear up all remaining cases by September.]

This matter is now becoming a public scandal, and should be debated in this place, especially as the delays in nurse grading appeals, taken with the appalling decision to delay the implementation of Project 2000 for nurse training in Wales, are doing enormous damage to the morale of the nursing profession on which we depend so heavily. Please may we have an opportunity to debate those two matters on the Floor of the House in the near future?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There may be an opportunity to debate those issues on the Adjournment or during the Consolidated Fund Bill debate. It is worth noting that just over half the 6,188 appeals lodged at local level have already been processed. The agreed appeal procedures are complicated and time consuming, but when the new clinical grading structures were introduced, the nursing trade unions insisted on retaining these complex procedures. Such a large and unprecedented volume of appeals has inevitably placed great strain on management and staff sides alike. Good progress is being made and the employing authorities are doing everything possible to deal with the outstanding appeals. Consideration is being given by Welsh officials, in conjuction with management and staff sides, to ways in which the procedures may be expedited.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Would my right hon. and learned Friend organise an urgent debate before the summer recess on the conduct of local government in London, so that the House can discuss the matter of the millions of wasted pounds which is now coming to light in Ealing, the thousands of empty houses in Labour-controlled boroughs and the millions of pounds' worth of uncollected rents? During such a debate, the Labour party might discover conclusively why it did so badly in London in the May elections.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I think that the whole House would benefit from a wider discussion of the matters referred to by my hon. Friend, including the underuse and non-use of local authority housing and the number of empty council flats and houses that could be used for the homeless. The 10 authorities that have the worst record in that respect are all Labour controlled.

Mr. Skinner

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I was going to call the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) to ask a business question.

Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

May we have a debate on why it is that, day after weary day for the past 10 years, we have been told by the Labour party that the health service is running down, with cuts here and loss of money there, given that the health service is improving daily? Everyone to whom one talks who has had any experience of the health service is singing its praises and saying how well they have been treated.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the massive increase in real resources devoted to the national health service—an increase of 40 per cent. since 1979. For every pound being spent on the health service then, no less than £3 is being spent today.

Mr. Speaker

That was more of a free kick than a business question.