HC Deb 03 May 1990 vol 171 cc1209-20
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Will the Leader of the House state 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:

TUESDAY 8 MAY AND WEDNESDAY 9 MAY—Progress on remaining stages of the Broadcasting Bill.

At the end of Wednesday, there will be a motion relating to the statement of changes in immigration rules (HC 251).

THURSDAY IO MAY—Completion of remaining stages of the Broadcasting Bill.

Motion to take note of EC document relating to general product safety. Details will be given in the Official Report.

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

FRIDAY II MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY I4 MAY—Private Members' motions.

Second Reading of the Pakistan Bill [Lords].

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

The House will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the spring adjournment on Thursday 24 May until Tuesday 5 June.

[Thursday 10 May Relevant European Community Document 7480/89 General Product Safety.

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee HC 15-xxx (1988–89), para 1 and HC 11-xix (1989–90) para 1.]

Dr. Cunningham

May I ask the Leader of the House to consider his treatment of Supply time? Why has such a lengthy time elapsed without the Opposition having a day on which we may choose a subject for debate? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman discuss that through the usual channels, because a backlog of Opposition Supply days appears to be building up and we do not want to have to take them all in a rush at the end of the Session?

Will the Leader of the House consider bringing forward without further delay the Police (Amendment) Regulations 1990, which deal with the Government's vetoing of an arbitration award to the police in connection with their allowances, including their liability under poll tax regulations? We suspect that the Government have been hiding away this contentious issue until after today's local elections. Consideration of the order by the House is long overdue and I hope that it will come before us for debate before very much longer.

As the Leader of the House will be aware that independent forecasters are confidently predicting that next week there will be a further damaging rise in inflation, perhaps reaching double figures, will he arrange for an oral statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer so that we can all question him about the damaging consequences for industry, the economy and mortgage rates of a further rise in the rate of inflation? The Leader of the House will have seen today's good news that John McCarthy and Brian Keenan have been seen recently and apparently are quite well. Sadly, there are no similar reports on Terry Waite and Mr. Jack Mann.

Will the Leader of the House consider—I emphasise the word "consider" because I know that these are difficult and delicate matters—whether we should have a statement next week from the Foreign Secretary? We just witnessed, in effect, a statement from the Prime Minister with no opportunity for hon. Members to ask questions, which was an abuse of our procedures. I do not regard that as an adequate way—[Interruption.] I am not raising this contentiously; I am asking the Leader of the House to consider whether it would help all hon. Members to have a statement next week. No one is suggesting that we should deal with terrorists or should reach behind-the-scenes agreements with people who kidnap our citizens, but even the Archbishop of Canterbury has today called for direct dialogue.

Whatever the circumstances, Governments of other countries have been more successful in obtaining the release of their citizens who have been taken as hostages than have our Government. A reconsideration of existing policy and approach may be helpful. Will the Leader of the House discuss with his colleagues whether we may have a statement next week?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall bear in mind the first point made by the hon. Gentleman—it was perfectly reasonable for him to make it—for discussion through the usual channels.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, the House may not have noticed that the matter to which he referred will be debated on the Adjournment on 14 May. In view of that—I believe that the prayer is out of time—I am not sure that another debate would be appropriate or necessary.

As to the hon. Gentleman's request for a statement on the retail prices index, that would be a departure from precedent wholly without justification. The RPI is announced once a month, and has been since I can remember. I shall not introduce that innovation.

On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I understand and share the pleasure at the news that Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Keenan are alive. I share his anxiety for good news of the other British hostages. I have been concerned with their welfare for many years. He understands, as he implied in his question, the difficulty of making a firm commitment to a statement on that matter.

The House must understand that there are special factors affecting the British position—for example, as the Prime Minister said, that the Government of Iran broke off diplomatic relations, following events of which the House is only too well aware. All these matters are under discussion, but I cannot give the undertaking that the hon. Gentleman wants. I shall bring his question to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is important for the House to have an early chance to debate the future development of the political institutions of the European Community? When might such a debate occur?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I can understand my right hon. Friend's perfectly proper interest in bringing this matter to the attention of the House. I shall bear his suggestion in mind, but I cannot give him an answer at the moment.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we have an early debate on the National Health Service provision for Trent region, and on Leicestershire in particular? Is he aware that an all-party group of Leicestershire Members of Parliament is this afternoon meeting the Secretary of State for Health to express their concern that the 3 per cent. cut in real terms, which is affecting our county when it needs more health provision, is resulting in swingeing cuts in hospitals, wards and other services, which is disgraceful and is reflected in far too many other parts of the country?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Any request for such a debate would be most likely to succeed in the context of a debate on the Adjournment. I hope that, if the time comes, the hon. and learned Gentleman will find it possible to acknowledge that there has been an increase in real terms of some 40 per cent. in the total resources for the National Health Service.

Sir Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

In view of the changes occurring in Lithuania and the Baltic states, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider having a very early debate about the pressure that the Soviet Government appear to be putting on the reunification of Germany?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot promise an early debate on that specific subject. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government remain acutely and continuously concerned about that matter.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Following the Prime Minister's detailed clarification of the liability or non-liability of the deceased to the poll tax in England, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make arrangements for the Secretary of State for Scotland to come to the Dispatch Box next week to clarify the position in Scotland? Despite many invitations during Scottish questions, he has failed to give us an answer about the position in Scotland. That lack of clarity has meant that many constituents of mine and of my right hon. and hon. Friends are distressed because councils have exacted poll tax on deceased people. We would welcome clarification from the Secretary of State for Scotland; otherwise, we will again be seen to be treated as second-class citizens.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My impression of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is that he has a greater gift than almost anyone to make the position crystal clear in answer to questions. I shall draw to his attention the specific point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that it was not until the spillover Session last year that we had a debate on the defence White Paper. Will he reassure the House that this year there will be an earlier debate, perhaps shortly after the Whitsun recess?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I regret that I cannot give my hon. Friend that specific assurance, although I can assure him that I will consider the timing of such a debate with as much sympathy as his request deserves.

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

May we have a statement on the reports over the weekend that the House of Commons Commission will consider the salaries of staff, especially those in the Refreshment Department? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I have a bill for a meal last night in the Dining Room of the House of Commons? It is for £5.40 for a three-course meal, which included half a litre of red wine. Is it not improper that hon. Members can eat meals at transport café prices on the back of cheap labour hired by the House of Commons Refreshment Department? Is it not fair to say that every Member of Parliament would willingly pay £1 or £2 more for a meal to ensure that such people are paid a proper wage for doing such important work in the House of Commons?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are proper and established mechanisms for staff of the House and for trade unions to put their grievances arid concerns about pay, and for those to be properly considered by the management. The House of Commons Commission will be considering some aspects of that question at its next meeting.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that the parties to the Montreal protocol are meeting in London at the end of June, and that one of the specific items that they will be discussing is the depletion of the ozone layer? Is he further aware that early-day motion 932 calls clear attention to the need to phase out methyl chloroform?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to propose to the European Council of Ministers on 7th June that a phase out of methyl chloroform, an ozone-depleting chemical, be negotiated by the European Economic Community at the London meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol, on 20th to 29th June 1990.]

Will he convey that message to his Cabinet colleagues so that the Government can take a leading role in having that and other ozone-depleting chemicals phased out internationally and as a matter of urgency?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am aware of the meeting to which my hon. Friend has referred. I remind him that the Government have reached a common position with our European Community partners on the proposal to phase out methyl chloroform that was put forward during negotiations.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Norwegian Government have made clear their intention to seek the lifting of the moratorium on commercial whaling when the International Whaling Commission meets in July? Does he share the great concern of all hon. Members and of people outside the House that that should be proposed by the Norwegians, who previously had a good reputation for environmental care—although not in respect of whaling? Will he ensure that any Ministers who attend the United. Nations conference in Bergen next month will protest volubly on behalf of the House and the British people? Can we please have an early debate on the conservation of whale stocks, both in the north Atlantic and the Antarctic?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am sure that the hon. Member and the House will need no reassuring of the Government's real and continuing concern and interest in this matter, not least in the light of the request made recently by Norway. There can be no question of lifting the moratorium on commercial whaling until the scientific advice is clearly that whale stocks can be sustained at healthy levels. The Government consider that the International Whaling Commission must develop a new management procedure to guarantee that there will be no repeat of over-exploitation. That is the extremely cautious and concerned way in which the Government will approach the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)

Has my right hon. and learned Friend had a chance to read the report on the front page of the Daily Mail about the extremely disturbing series of events that it is alleged are taking place in a prison in Nottingham? These events will be of enormous concern to my constituents. Is he aware that the Home Secretary has already started an investigation into these allegations? When that investigation has been completed, will my right hon. and learned Friend make time available for a statement on the results of it?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I can understand my hon. Friend's concern with these matters. I hope that he is reassured by the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is conducting the investigation to which my hon. Friend has referred. I will bring to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the view that my hon. Friend has expressed, which underlines the gravity of the matter.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

When the Leader of the House draws to the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland the valid point raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), will he emphasise that local authorities in Scotland are beginning to issue 14-day final notices of poinding and warrant sales to the executors of the estates of people who have been deceased for a year? For example, in my constituency, the widow of a skipper who was lost at sea last year, has been threatened with that course of action for a sum of £12.16. Do not we need clarification of this ruling?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The House understands that these matters have to be considered with due sympathy and consideration for the circumstances of the people concerned and with due regard to the legal provisions. I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State the example that the hon. Lady has mentioned.

Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)

Would my right hon. and learned Friend consider helping to unravel some of the confusion about the unfairness and the punitive nature of the roof tax by arranging a debate on the subject to help the Opposition explain their position?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My deep anxiety to unravel the difficulties of the Opposition does not extend as far as organising an important debate such as that at such short notice.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Leader of the House acknowledged, in reply to the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), the importance of institutional developments in the European Community. Therefore, will he consider reverting to the previous practice of having oral statements after the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, now generally called the General Affairs Council of the Communities, particularly as from now until June, and possibly until December, the Council will be preparing the way for constitutional discussions?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As I understand it, that question and the possible answer to it need to be considered afresh in relation to each meeting of the General Affairs Council. I shall see that the hon. Gentleman's point is brought to the attention of the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

In view of the great importance to many of my constituents of the cost and conditions of travelling on rail commuter services in and out of the centre of London, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider organising an early statement—or better still, a debate—in which it may be possible for the House to discuss rail commuter services, especially in view of the threat reported in the press today that the price of rail services may be going up by a great deal more than the rate of inflation, which causes great concern to my constituents?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As a Member who also represents a number of London commuters, I understand my hon. Friend's concern with the matter. I do not want to vouch for the truth of the rumour to which he has referred—indeed, on the contrary—but I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware of the growing support in the House, as evidenced again last night, for dealing with Northern Ireland legislation other than by Orders in Council, where possible. Will Parliament be given an opportunity in the near future to declare its intention on the issue, so that Northern Ireland might be governed by the same seamless robe of government rather than the machinations of the Northern Ireland Office?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As I have told the hon. Gentleman, I think more than once, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is only too willing to consider his concerns and those of other Northern Ireland Members about the procedures for handling legislation and to consider any constructive proposals. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the point which the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House share my concern at the announcement this morning that those responsible for illegal ballot-rigging in elections to the executive of the Transport and General Workers Union are now not likely to be identified or brought to justice? As the House is concerned about the links with that union and leading members of the Opposition, will he give an undertaking that there will be an urgent investigation into the affairs of the TGWU at an early date after the Whitsun recess?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am not sure about the status of the news to which my hon. Friend refers. My impression was that the inquiry and investigations were still continuing. I shall bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Ms. Majorie Mowlam (Redcar)

I do not want to bother the Leader of the House again by asking when we shall have a debate on the House of Fraser. I am not sure that even he can come up with another way of saying no or yes without giving a definitive answer, but a response would be appreciated.

I ask, however, for an urgent debate on directors' pay. I am sure that he is aware that it is running at four times the rate of inflation. Many newspapers are carrying the story, and there is general public outrage at the 33 per cent. average increase in directors' pay. These increases are not, as one hon. Member has suggested, in line with the profits of companies, because the profits of many companies are diminishing. This is an outrage and a bad example. I ask for a debate so that the Government can join the Labour party and the CBI in condemning the increases.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I could make a link between the point raised by the hon. Lady and the point raised by the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), and hope that the Opposition will take advantage of their forthcoming Supply day to raise the matter. More seriously, I share the hon. Lady's concern, although not to the extent or in the language expressed by her, about the course of the necessary curtailment of the growth of unit labour costs and the necessary control of our effective competitiveness alongside profitability. Those in charge of companies and businesses should take account of the need for moderation for themselves as well as for those whom they employ.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

Will the deputy Prime Minister provide time for a debate on the preservation of open spaces in towns in Northern Ireland? The matter is urgent because, for instance, the people in Hollywood, in my constituency, will shortly be deprived for ever of the opportunity of using the old gasworks site at Kinnegar, Hollywood as a recreation ground. Secondly, decisions are being made in private about the seafront at Bangor, which was, disgracefully, turned into a car park. I understand that plans are being made for property speculators to build on part of the site.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am not altogether sure whether the House of Commons is the best place in which to disclose those undoubtedly important details about the problems with which my hon. Friend is concerned. I shall bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Since the Leader of the House cannot find sufficient time for debates and statements, is he aware that that conflicts with the statement that he has made about the holidays? Does he understand that the Whitsun holiday that he has just announced is probably the longest in the 20 years since I have been a Member of this place? Is he aware also that, when he got his job, Tory Members in particular were cheering him to the echo? I was puzzled to know why. I think that I have now found the answer.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I only hope that on that point the hon. Gentleman will join the rest of the House in cheering me to the echo.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

When my right hon. and learned Friend considers his response to the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) for more time for Opposition debates, will he consider imposing two conditions—first, that Labour Members should turn up for them and, secondly, that the Opposition should say what they would do if they were in power? Is it not the greatest con on the British electorate to promise the earth and not say how the money would be raised?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend draws attention to two entirely legitimate criticisms of the Opposition. It is beyond my power to impose conditions on the Opposition, much though I would wish to do so.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

May we discuss the Government's abuse and misuse of statistics and parliamentary procedure? It has taken me more than a month and two points of order to obtain an answer from the Department of the Environment on the breakdown of local government finance. The original estimate was that 50 per cent. would come from local government grant, 25 per cent. from the national business rate and 25 per cent. from the poll tax, but the actual figures are strangely close—48 per cent., 26 per cent. and 26 per cent.—and that has been made possible only because they take into account the aggregate external finance figure, to which extra grants have been added. We should have a debate on how the Government are using figures.

That arrangement is dubious because, if the Government were correct and the poll tax was only 26 per cent. of the total, the Government would have no case against the levels that are being charged, because they are in line with their own predictions. Therefore, poll tax levels must be due to the legislation, not to local authorities.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am astonished and baffled by the hon. Gentleman's point. He complains about the accuracy of three figures—50 per cent., 25 per cent. and 25 per cent.—emerging as 48 per cent., 26 per cent. and 26 per cent. If, in any examination that he sat, he could achieve a 96 per cent. accuracy rate in respect of all three parts, he would be congratulating himself.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that he will have the support of Conservative Members in his decision not to have a debate or a special statement next week on the hostage affair, because it might exacerbate a delicate situation? But will he give an undertaking that the Government will take every opportunity next week to continue to make it clear to the Iranian Government that no British Government could reward terrorism by making any bargain for the release of the hostages, and that, if the Iranian Government want to become part of the civilised world again, and to become acceptable and trustworthy, they have only one course—to make sure that all the hostages are released immediately and unconditionally.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear, as Ministers have often done, that it would never be right to reward hostage taking, and my hon. and learned Friend is entirely right to draw attention to that matter. On the other hand, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also made clear, we welcome the role that Iran and Syria have played in securing the freedom of two of the American hostages. We shall continue to encourage such a response in the most effective way that we can.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

The Leader of the House must be aware of the deep concern that many British people have about the potential danger of any sale of arms to Iraq. Early-day motion 869 points out that the Iraqi Government have practised genocide against the Kurdish people, have an appalling and disgraceful human rights record and that any trade with Iraq, be it direct sales from Britain, credit that is made available to the Iraqi Government, or diplomatic recognition and support for Iraq, in effect supports Iraq's human rights record and its attacks on the Kurdish people.

[That this House believes that the Government of Iraq has an appalling record on human rights and that it has used chemical and biological weapons against Kurdish people; believes that it is inconsistent to ban the sale of weapons or weapons material to the Government of Iraq whilst allowing credit and trade; and therefore demands a ban on all trade with Iraq.]

In those circumstances, may we have a debate in the House on our relationship with Iraq so that those of us who believe strongly that there should be no trade with Iraq while it continues its murderous practices against the Kurdish people, using chemical and biological weapons against them, can argue that all trade should be stopped to show that we are serious in our condemnation of the Iraqi Government's abuses of human rights?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

No one hesitates to condemn the abuse of human rights in Iraq, as in any other country, and the hon. Gentleman is entirely right to draw attention to that. He should also acknowledge that the guidelines on the sale of defence materials to Iraq remain in exactly the same state as they were when they were originally drawn up in the course of the Gulf conflict.

However, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office made clear about a month ago, cutting off all trade with Iraq would serve only to create a satisfaction among our industrial competitors and the loss of jobs in Britain. That is not a sensible thing to allow, however much one may abhor the abuse of human rights.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange a debate soon on early-day motion 854?

[That this House is appalled at Ealing Council's failure to pay statutory maintenance grants to many students for the past two terms; notes that those same students enter a third term without payment of grants due to them from that council despite repeated assurances that the grants will he paid in full at an early date; notes the highly hypocritical opposition of the Ealing Labour Council to interest free student loans as proposed by Her Majesty's Government whilst at the same time forcing students from the borough of Ealing to take out bank loans at high interest rates to pay for board, lodging and other essentials; and demands immediate action from Ealing Council to rectify the deplorable situation in which it has placed so many people who deserve better.]

In that motion, I draw attention to the fact that many higher education students in my constituency and across the whole borough of Ealing have not had their grants paid by Ealing's Labour-controlled council for three terms. Many of those students are in total penury and are having to make use of bank loans at very high interest rates, as a consequence of the actions of a council that opposes student loans at a zero interest rate. Can something be done for those students, who are suffering greatly at the hands of the Labour party?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As I have told my hon. Friend more than once, he is assiduous in drawing to the attention of the House the shortcomings of Labour-controlled Ealing council. My hon. Friend has raised the matter before, and it has been investigated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Most outstanding grants have now been paid and steps have been taken to prevent a recurrence. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is closely monitoring progress, and he will continue to follow up every individual case that my hon. Friend refers to him.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider his attitude in respect of the whole Iraqi question? As certain persons have now been brought before the courts in respect of the so-called supergun, that matter is now sub judice. Initially, that was not the case, yet the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry refused to answer questions that even you, Mr. Speaker, ruled were not sub judice. Will the Leader of the House refer that matter to the Select Committee on Procedure to consider?

No Secretary of State, in either a Conservative or Labour Government, should be allowed to refuse to answer questions just because a case is before the courts. The House has not been getting the answers that it should receive, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will seriously consider my remarks. I am not raising a matter of self-interest—it is one which affects all right hon. and hon. Members.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not doubt for a moment the seriousness of the hon. Gentleman's interest in the matter. Circumstances arise when cases that might lead to prosecutions require investigation by the appropriate authorities. In the case in question, Customs and Excise is the independent authority responsible for conducting investigations and for bringing prosecutions. It could be equally embarrassing to the process of investigation as to the process of prosecution, for the matter to be questioned at large in the House.

I do not exclude interrogation of the circumstances in the House at a later stage, when the proceedings have been brought to an end, but there is a real need to be discreet, in the extent to which the House pursues matters that are the subject of investigation with a view to criminal proceedings. One cannot give as clear-cut an answer to the hon. Gentleman's question as he implies. I have examined that matter and will do so again, but at this stage I cannot give an undertaking to refer it to the Select Committee on Procedure.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

The shadow Leader of the House asked for a rather narrow debate on the subject of the police housing allowance. Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there would be merit in a wide-ranging debate on the police in general, in the light of recent reports about policing? Also, will he investigate a report in The Sun today that a young police officer injured in the recent poll tax riot in Trafalgar square has now died? Will he join me in conveying the sympathies of the House to that police officer's family and relatives and in condemning those who incited violence at the demonstration in question?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have indeed seen that report, and I join my hon. Friend in sending sympathy to the family of the police officer concerned. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to note that that is endorsed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I take note of my hon. Friend's suggestion of a debate on the wider aspects of policing at some later date.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for an early debate on local authority finance? Would that give the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) a chance to expand on his speech in the House two years ago last December on the Local Government Finance Bill? When he was asked about Labour party policy, he said that he was coming to it, and later he grew really bold and said that he was coming to it soon. Is this not probably the most delayed second coming in the history of mankind?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I know of my hon. Friend's interest in these matters and commend him on the way in which he has raised them.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the 16,500 aerospace workers in Lancashire fully appreciate that their future depends on the Government's strong economic policies and the orders that result therefrom for the defence industry. They are anxious to hear from the Government about the outstanding matters on the radar for the European fighter aircraft. Can my right hon. and learned Friend offer an early prospect of an announcement on that issue?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friends in government are well aware of the interests of his constituents in this important matter and will endeavour to offer further information when it is available.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

My right hon. and learned Friend will know that we voted against the European social charter. May we have a debate about the implication that, despite our having vetoed the charter itself, many directives could come from the Commission as a result of majority voting which would be likely to prevent us from having certain employment, social and trade union legislation? Can we have a debate to make it clear to the European Parliament and the Commission that hon. Members on both sides feel that the matter is of great importance?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand my hon. Friend's interest in this matter. He will recall that, at successive meetings of the European Council, the Government drew attention to our opposition to the social charter formulated as a whole and made it plain that each component part which may or may not come forward in the consequent action programme would need to be scrutinised closely and carefully, in accordance with the procedures of this House and other places.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

In view of the characteristically churlish, ungrateful and ungenerous remarks of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) about the dates for the Whitsun recess, may I express thanks, not only on my behalf but for all hon. Members, for the response of my right hon. and learned Friend to the suggestion made some time ago that one day at Whitsun is worth two at any other time of year? If the hon. Gentleman chooses to come back in the middle of Whitsun, could the lights be put on so that he may bask in his own reflected glory?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Subject to the availability of the lights at such a time, I shall certainly take account of the generous, gracious and encouraging remarks of my hon. Friend.