HC Deb 15 March 1990 vol 169 cc672-82 3.47 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Tim Renton)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.

MONDAY I9 MARCH—Second Reading of the War Crimes Bill.

Motion on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order.

TUESDAY 20 MARCH—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement. European Community documents relevant to the Budget debate will be shown in the Official Report.

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

WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH AND THURSDAY 22 MARCH—Continuation of the Budget debate.

FRIDAY 23 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 26 MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget statement.

Tuesday 20 March: Relevant European Community documents

(a) 9487/89 Annual Economic Report 1989–90
(b) Unnumbered Final version of Annual Economic Report as adopted by the Council

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 15-xxxviii (1988–89), para 2
(b) HC 11-ix ( 1989–90), para 2

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Has the right hon. Gentleman yet had time to reach a conclusion about the requests from all parties in the House for a debate on the Harrods-House of Fraser scandal? Is not it inadequate to leave the matter as it was left—dealt with in a brief statement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who seemed to dismiss this disgraceful episode in an offhand and inadequate manner?

Is not it in the interests of everyone in Parliament, including the Government, and of the reputation of industry and our financial institutions, that the matter should be properly discussed and debated in Parliament? I emphasise that requests for a debate came from hon. Members in all parts of the House. The Government have had time to consider the matter. I hope that we can have an early and positive response so that the House can hold an essential debate.

Why are the Government delaying debates on important poll tax orders? Has the Patronage Secretary seen the petition on the Order Paper from the impeccably Conservative Berkshire county council drawing attention to the unfair treatment of Tory boroughs such as Wandsworth and Westminster by the Secretary of State for the Environment? Since even Tory Berkshire county council is now calling for the Government's revenue support grant decisions to be reconsidered, and since the Prime Minister remains—almost alone, but nevertheless remains—convinced that the poll tax is a good idea, why are the Government so reluctant to allow time to debate those matters?

Mr. Renton

There is no question of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry being, as the hon. Gentleman put it, offhand in his attitude towards the House of Fraser report. He made a statement and answered questions about it last week in the House. Hon. Members will be aware that the Select Committee on Trade and Industry is looking into the Department's investigative powers under the Companies Act 1989 and the Financial Services Act 1986. My right hon. Friend will be submitting an additional memorandum to the Committee on the merger policy and company law issues arising from the House of Fraser report.

I cannot hold out the prospect of a debate in the immediate future, although there will be debates throughout next week on the Budget statement. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the matter is being discussed through the usual channels.

On the question of the community charge, it is correct that the House has had a number of opportunities in recent weeks to debate matters relating to it. I cannot promise a specific date, but I shall certainly pass on the views that the shadow Leader of the House has expressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. To add a rider, I hope that, during that debate, we shall have an opportunity to debate the position of the 31 Labour Members who have made plain their opposition to paying the community charge and who are thus clearly committing themselves to illegality.

I see that one of those Members, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), has now resigned the Labour Whip. I wonder when the other 30 will do so, and whether, if they do not, the shadow Leader of the Opposition will put his foot where his mouth is and withdraw the Whip from those 30 Labour Members of Parliament.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the business immediately after this is guillotined and that it is to be followed by opposed private business, with further business after that. I ask hon. Members please to ask one question. If they could hold their questions until next week, that would be even better.

Mr Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

When are we likely to have a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment on which local authorities will be community charge-capped? Can my right hon. Friend confirm that local council budgets will, on average, increase this year by well over 30 per cent? Is it not clear that some local councils, particularly Labour councils, are taking the opportunity of the changeover to the new system of local government finance to set unnecessarily high community charge levels? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must cap those authorities?

Mr. Renton

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is becoming increasingly clear that it costs a lot more to live in a Labour-controlled local authority than in a Conservative-controlled local authority. Labour counties are setting an average precept that is £82 above the standard spending assessment, as compared with £26 in Conservative counties. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has made it clear that we shall not hesitate to cap authorities that insist on budgeting excessively, and that we shall force them to cut their spending plans.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Next week?

Mr. Renton

No, it will not be next week. I cannot speculate on the operation or timetable of any capping scheme, but it is being considered carefully by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Patronage Secretary is no doubt aware of the concern in the highlands and islands of Scotland about the apparent withdrawal of European regional development fund funding, following the announcement this week. Does he agree that the claim and counter-claim between the Secretary of State for Scotland and Commissioner Millan is doing nothing to resolve that confusion or to dispel the concern? Will the Secretary of State for Scotland come to the House next week and make a statement to clarify the situation and to say what the Government are doing to ensure that important regional development funding comes to the highlands and islands after 1992?

Mr. Renton

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Because of the pressure of business next week, I cannot promise that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be in the House to make the statement next week, but I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's views to him.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Will my right hon. Friend initiate an investigation so that some explanation can be given of how an hon. Member of this House, together with others, can hold a press conference in this House urging a breach of a law that was passed by this House? The public might think that this is a madhouse, with respect.

Mr. Renton

And indeed, as my hon. Friend might have said, the hon. Member in question, who is unfortunately no longer in the Chamber, was photographed with members of the Militant anti-community charge protesters. That was disgraceful—[HON. MEMBERS: "Poll tax."] The anti-community charge protesters. That was a disgraceful abuse of the premises of this House. I hope that the hon. Member in question will speak for himself in any forthcoming debate.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Has the Patronage Secretary had a chance to read Professor Grieve's report on homelessness? Is he aware that its indentification of the cause of homelessness is the Government's withdrawal of massive funds from local authorities, thus preventing them from building any homes? Is he aware that it is a scandal that in London——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman may be aware of it, but is the question about business next week?

Mr. Banks

Precisely. I want to know whether the Patronage Secretary is aware of the crisis of homelessness in London and elsewhere and whether we shall have an urgent debate on homelessness, because the country demands to know what the Government are going to do about this obscenity.

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman has a great capacity for getting very excited. He will know very well that we have recently made a grant of £1 million to the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux specifically to look into the growth of homelessness. The hon. Gentleman and I might find common cause in believing that it is the break-up of families that leads most of all to the increase in homelessness. That is a worrying matter in today's society.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the debate on 18 January on the previous community charge report, at column 427, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment said specifically that there would be a debate on the transitional relief scheme in January? Will my right hon. Friend tell the House why there was no debate in January or in February? Will he give a clear undertaking that this extremely important report, in which the assumptions for the community charge are grossly underestimated, at the expense of our constituents, will be debated?

Mr. Renton

I think that my right hon. Friend may be incorrect in saying that the specific commitment was to a debate in January. However, I am aware of the question of a debate on transitional relief. I cannot promise a specific date, but I shall pass on my right hon. Friend's concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who will bear them very much in mind.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the decision in the Dublin Supreme Court on 1 March, which demanded that there was a "legal imperative" on the Dublin Government always to seek a united Ireland? In the light of that, can we have an early debate, as the consequences of that judgment showed through in the judgment on extradition this week?

If we had that early debate, Unionist Members could explain to the House and to the Government exactly what the consequences of those judgments are, especially since last night, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) made it very clear that he did not have the slightest idea what the consequences were.

Mr. Renton

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, but he is being somewhat unjust to my hon. Friend and a little precipitate, since last night's Adjournment debate dealt specifically with that important constitutional case.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on local government planning procedures, so that I can bring before the House the new practice of Labour-controlled Ealing council of charging people £10 a sheet for information relating to planning applications, and the fact that a constituent of mine had to pay £142.50 for copies of planning applications relating to the conversion of one small house in Northolt? That should be brought before the House, since corruption appears to be involved.

Mr. Renton

My hon. Friend is always extremely assiduous in bringing to the House his concerns about his constituency and, most particularly, about the extravagances of Ealing council. I hope that his council will take careful note of the remarks that he has just made.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

As the appalling and murderous activities of the Isreaeli forces continue in the occupied Arab territories, when will the House be able to debate that specific issue without having to try to pursue it, submerged as it usually is, in the broader range of a general foreign affairs debate?

Mr. Renton

I know well, from the days when I was a Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Gentleman's concern about all middle eastern issues, particularly the Palestinian-Israeli issue. There have been a number of foreign affairs debates in the House recently, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will take careful note of the hon. Gentleman's points, particularly on the Palestinian issue.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the difficulties that we faced on Tuesday night about residential homes for elderly people underline the great problem that Britain faces of an aging population—problems which will extend to the end of the century and into the next one? As many difficult points need to be addressed, would not it be to the great advantage of the House to have a debate in the not-too-far distant future on how Britain will cope with a developing aging population?

Mr. Renton

My hon. Friend is right. That is a matter of great concern and the problem will get worse in the decade ahead. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security made it clear during the debate on Tuesday night that he recognised the concerns that had been expressed, for example, on income support for those in residential homes, and said that he would make a thorough assessment of the position and look carefully at the levels and structure of income support limits for future upratings. My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to raise such matters in the forthcoming debates on Report and Third Reading of the Social Security Bill.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Is the Patronage Secretary aware that I admire his and the Prime Minister's enthusiasm for insisting that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and Opposition Members take action against those of our colleagues who intend to break the law? In view of that enthusiasm, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Prime Minister to make a statement next week explaining to the House what action she intends to take against those of her hon. Friends who are reported to have broken the law—or does that principle apply only to Opposition Members?

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman's question is not clear. We have recently had a debate about the position of hon. Members in relation to the Register of Members' Interests. I am not otherwise aware of any hon Members to whom the hon. Gentleman might be referring.

Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a prayer has been tabled by myself and others against the substantial increase in the cost of firearms licences? Will my right hon. Friend find time in the not-too-distant future to debate that matter?

Mr. Renton

I note my hon. Friend's remarks, and I know of his interest in the subject. There was new legislation on firearms last year. The question whether there should be a debate on these matters is perhaps best left to a discussion through the usual channels, but I shall bear my hon. Friend's remarks in mind.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Since a constituent of mine, Mr. Roger Randall, is having grave difficulty in bringing in his wife from Manila, will the right hon. Gentleman have this matter investigated, or can we have an early debate about his circumstances and those of many people who suffer from the racist attitude that is prevalent in the Government and many embassies?

Mr. Renton

I wholly disagree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks, which I find insulting. Having been a Minister with responsibility for immigration at the Home Office for two and a half years, I know full well how careful are the Home Office and the immigration department, which will also resent the hon. Gentleman's remarks, to see that the immigration controls that they operate are free and fair and not racist.

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that he should discuss the case of his constituent who wishes to bring in his wife from Manila with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, or with the immigration and nationality department at Croydon. I hope that he will, on second thoughts, withdraw his divisive remarks.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

The introduction of the community charge has thrown up one anomaly for married couples. Will my right hon. Friend give time as soon as possible to a debate on the fact that, in the year in which independent taxation for married women is introduced, married women upon whom the community charge is levied as individuals do not qualify for capital disregard for rebate purposes? It is logical, fair and just that they should so qualify. Could we have a debate as soon as possible, especially as this would be of interest to so many pensioner couples who save for their retirement?

Mr. Renton

I note the important point raised by my hon. Friend. Even if there is not soon time for a specific debate on that subject, she could find an opportunity to raise it when the House debates the Budget statement next week.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Could we have a statement next week on progress in the sale of the skill centres? No doubt the Chief Whip will recall that, when a statement was made, the House was told that the valuable land on which many of the skill centres stand would be subject to leasing arrangements. Is the Chief Whip aware that these will now be given to Astra Training Services Ltd. a curious company which seems to be run by civil servants. Is it not time that the Government came clean to the House and exposed the nefarious arrangement by which valuable assets are being given away to the private sector?

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman often sees nefarious arrangements where other people see perfectly ordinary and straightforward arrangements. I shall pass on his comments to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and the hon. Gentleman might find an opportunity to raise this matter in an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)

Millions of people are concerned about animal welfare. Because of the recent, almost weekly, reports about the despicable treatment of captive wild animals by money-grubbing organisations such as Chipperfield, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on animal welfare?

Mr. Renton

I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend. Animal welfare rightly touches the hearts of all of us. I cannot promise a debate next week, but I shall see that my hon. Friend's remarks are passed on to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

The Patronage Secretary will have heard the question asked earlier this afternoon about early retirement. He may recognise that there is a growing volume of evidence in favour of early retirement. Can we have a debate on that subject soon, and will the right hon. Gentleman invite the Prime Minister to attend, so that she might take the advice that she might be given on that occasion?

Mr. Renton

I had the feeling that the hon. Gentleman was planning to take early retirement, either enforced or otherwise, at the next general election. We shall see whether there are any opportunities. If he wishes to discuss his case, perhaps he should raise the matter in an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

On the Budget statement, is it within our terms of reference to discuss the effect on the economy of the excellent weather this year, which has enabled people to turn down their heating and save on their heating costs, thereby reducing their cost of living, but which cannot be measured within the cost of living index, thereby exalting the real cost of living?

Mr. Renton

Much as I should like to claim credit for warm weather as part of Conservative policy, I am riot wholly certain that Opposition Members would allow me to do so. I am sure that my hon. Friend, with his inventive and ingenious mind, will find a suitable opportunity to raise the matter, perhaps on the day devoted to the economy during the Budget debate.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In view of the revulsion felt in the United Kingdom, which was expressed on both sides of the House during the exchanges over the killing in Iraq, would the Patronage Secretary arrange as soon as possible another statement to update us next week on what action will be taken by Britain? Is he aware that, in questioning on any such statement, many of us would wish to dispute the misguided view that has been advanced by one or two hon. Members, again on both sides of the House, that there was misrepresentation? We believe that the spotlight that the British media turned on the repression and denial of human rights in Iraq was fully justified. The full responsibility for the murder which has taken place is with the hangman in Baghdad.

Mr. Renton

Of course I share—every Member of the House will share—the hon. Gentleman's feeling of revulsion at the execution. I point out to him that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has just made a statement on the matter. I think that the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that one of our prime concerns now must be the welfare, and, one hopes, the eventual release, of the British people who are still in captivity in Iraq, particularly Ian Richter and Mrs. Parish. That is an aspect which my right hon. Friend must keep in mind before he comes to the House again to make a statement.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motions 696 and 715? Can we have an early opportunity to debate these motions?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should know that only one of those motions may be printed in Hansard.

Mr. Walker

May we have an opportunity to debate early-day motion 696 at an early date?

That this House notes that the Right honourable Member for Islwyn may have missed more than one boat on Friday 9th March, when his party in Scotland at their conference in Dunoon failed to accept his leadership and voted to support motions on proportional representation and on unilateral disarmament; and further notes this North-South divide is made worse by the Scottish Labour Party proposals for the roof tax and the rating of farm buildings, farmland and woodland, and the compulsory purchase of estates and holiday homes, all of which have not as yet been embraced by the Labour Party in England.

The motion concerns roof tax and the rating of farm buildings, farmland and woodland, and the compulsory purchase of estates and holiday homes in Scotland. These are measures which apply to Scotland only, thus creating a north-south divide. The proposals have not yet been embraced by the Labour party in England. It is important that we Scots have an early opportunity to debate measures that are designed to affect only Scotland.

Mr. Renton

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It would be useful if my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, when he is back from his important visit abroad, could find time for such a debate. It would be useful if the debate embraced roof tax in Scotland and the Scottish Labour party's attitude to defence, given that it has voted to continue unilateral disarmament, which is clearly an embarrassment to the Labour leadership. It shows that its new multilateral policy, especially in Scotland, is only, dare one say, sporran deep.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

As the Government fiddled the poll tax grant in favour of Westminster and Wandsworth for crude party-political purposes and forced residents in boroughs such as the one in my constituency, Waltham Forest, to subsidise Tory Wandsworth, can we have an early debate on the matter so that I can ask for our money back?

Mr. Renton

I notice that the hon. Gentleman's charge in Leyton has been fixed at £438, which seems to be very high. That is doubtless due to Labour extravagance. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, as an active representative of his constituents, will do all that he can to persuade the Labour council to reduce the charge in future years by implementing more prudent spending policies.

Mr. James Cran (Beverley)

Could my right hon. Friend find some time to discuss the Baxter report, dealing with the levels of radiation to which the work force is exposed in non-nuclear industries, which is the important feature? The report suggests that the present permitted levels are far too high. The House has a long and honourable record of considering health and safety matters that apply to the work force. A debate on the report would be yet another opportunity to demonstrate exactly that.

Mr. Renton

My hon. Friend makes an important point, but I must say to him also, not next week. However, I shall do my best to ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is well aware of his remarks.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Will the Patronage Secretary consider the case for an early debate on the crisis in the Scottish fishing industry? When I tackled the Leader of the House on this subject two weeks ago, he seemed to hold out the prospect of such a debate. However, since then, via the vehicle of a written answer, the Government have announced measures that intensify the crisis facing Scottish fishermen and fish processors. Those processing workers are among the lowest paid industrial workers in the country. When will we have a debate to discuss the measures that are needed to stabilise that vital industry in its hour of need?

Mr. Renton

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said. I remember that he did indeed raise this matter at business questions two weeks ago. I understand that fishermen are facing a difficult year, but claims of a crisis in the fishing industry are not supported by the facts. Fishermen are benefiting from rising prices, which have helped to offset reduced catches. However, I shall, of course bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend give a more positive and serious response to the question asked earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley), relating to the almost fraudulent inadequacy of the transitional relief scheme for the community charge? It really is inadequate. A debate should be held in the House before the community charge is implemented.

I refer especially to my constituency of Macclesfield, which is a well-run Conservative authority, but which is having to return a community charge of £428, as against Wandsworth's charge of just £148. That is dishonest and wrong to my constituents.

Mr. Renton

I am sure that my hon. Friend is using his best endeavours to ensure that the local authority in his constituency is doing its utmost to bring down the level of its expenditure——

Mr. Winterton

It has done.

Mr. Renton

—and the level of revenue raising that it is planning. The question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) related specifically to the timing of a debate on transitional relief. As I said to him, and I repeat to my hon. Friend, I cannot promise a specific debate, but I shall certainly pass on his comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who I am sure will try to accommodate my right hon. and hon. Friends at an early opportunity.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Patronage Secretary make urgent arrangements for a debate on Members' Interests, relating especially to members of Select Committees? I make that request following yesterday's request from the Select Committee on Defence to the Select Committee on Members' interests, asking for that Committee to consider the rules, practices and conventions relating to members of Select Committees, including the Chairs of Select Committees, who hold interests that are relevant to the terms of reference of those Committees. Such a debate would be extremely helpful and would—I hope—dispel the rumours that are circulating in the House, that at least three Chairs of Select Committees hold such interests.

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of the House and knows the procedures to be followed on these matters. If he has points to make or thoughts to be followed, he should direct them to the Select Committee on Members' Interests, where I am sure they will be carefully looked at in accordance with the proper procedure.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Patronage Secretary aware that, when we have a debate on the poll tax and the transitional provisions, as requested by his right hon. and hon. Friends, it will become increasingly apparent that, if all the local authorities in Britain, including Derbyshire, Cheshire and all the rest, received the same kind of relief—82p in the pound—that Wandsworth has received, every single local authority in Britain would have a poll tax of less than £200 per head? [HON. MEMBERS: "Name them."]—If we got 82p in the pound in Derbyshire, as opposed to the 38p——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Those are arguments that might be made if we had such a debate.

Mr. Skinner

Yes. It is a very important argument——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Did the hon. Gentleman hear what I said about the pressure on time today?

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Speaker

Will he please ask a question about the business for next week?

Mr. Skinner

So will the Patronage Secretary bear in mind that those figures would show that every local authority in Britain would have a poll tax of less than £200? If it is right for Wandsworth and for Lady Porter's Westminster, it should be right for the rest of the local authorities.

Mr. Renton

The community charge in the area that the hon. Gentleman represents shows once again the extravagance of Labour councils. Bolsover, I see, has a community charge of £353; North-East Derbyshire has one of £420. This proves once again that those who live in Labour authorities will find themselves paying a lot more than those who live in Conservative authorities.

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

Has the Patronage Secretary noted the repeated requests that I have made for a debate on wages in the Refreshment Department in the House of Commons? Is he aware that, because of the low wages being paid by Parliament to its own employees in that Department, there are now a large number of vacancies? Many people will not work here because they can earn far more working in other establishments in London. What does the Patronage Secretary think about these matters? Does he show the same indifference as the Leader of the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That has little to do with business questions; the hon. Gentleman must ask for a debate next week.

Mr. Renton

I did indeed listen to the hon. Gentleman raise this matter with my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House last week. He then received a very full answer from my right hon. and learned Friend, and I do not think that there is anything that I can add to what the hon. Member has already been told.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

The standard spending assessment for North-East Derbyshire, for the district alone, is 17p in the pound. That is why the figure is so high, as mentioned by the Patronage Secretary. Can we have a debate on the poll tax's wider implications, the democratic and constitutional implications of the operation of the poll tax, when, for instance, masses of people are missing from electoral registers—in England, 90,000 or so since the last register, and masses of people in the major cities in Scotland?

The biggest constitutional scandal that we face in this country concerns what is happening to the electoral register and the manipulations taking place in the country. In Finchley, the franchise is being fiddled by 5 per cent. of the people being missing from the electoral register.

Mr. Renton

I must point out to the hon. Member that I do not think that the words "democratic and constitutional" should play any part in his remarks to the House. He is a member of the non-payment compaign against the community charge; therefore, he is encouraging people to take both non-democratic and non-constitutional action. I think that he should reverse that stance before he addresses such remarks to the House.

Mr. Barnes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member may not like what was said, but I will take points of order in a minute.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving early time for a debate on a vicious attack on my agent, Joanna Trapman, who is recovering from a major operation? She was assualted in our constituency offices by 60 left-wing activists. Could we also consider, in the course of a debate, the encouragement that those activists are getting from 30 Opposition Members?

Mr. Renton

The whole House will sympathise, and I am very sorry to hear what my hon. Friend says. I hope that he will carry the best wishes of the House to his agent and that she will recover very quickly from the attack.

Sir Peter Emergy (Honiton)

May I ask my right hon. Friend to nudge the memory of the Leader of the House next week on the assurance that he has given about a debate on European legislation and the Select Committee on Procedure's report on dealing with legislation? This is a matter of considerable importance to the House. I believe that hon. Members on both sides of wish to have a debate and I urge that, if it is not to be next week, we may have assurances next week that it will be soon after Easter.

Mr. Renton

My right hon. and learned Friend, who is very assiduous in these matters, will no doubt read Hansard very soon after returning from representing Her Majesty the Queen at presidential inaugurations in both Brazil and Chile. He is very concerned to improve procedures in the House for the scrutiny of European legislation, as my hon. Friend knows, and he will read my hon. Friend's comments with great care.