HC Deb 18 October 1990 vol 177 cc1379-92 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)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 22 OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Employment Bill and the Landlord and Tenant (Licensed Premises) Bill.

Motion to take note of EC document relating to the proposal for a European company statute. 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.

TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on the exchange rate mechanism, on a Government motion.

Motion on the British Nationality (Hong Kong) (Selection Scheme) Order 1990.

WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER—Motions relating to European Standing Committees, European Community legislation and parliamentary questions.

Motion to take note of EC document relating to the extension of EC aid to other countries of central and eastern Europe. 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.

THURSDAY 25 OCTOBER—Progress on consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Broadcasting Bill.

FRIDAY 26 OCTOBER—Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Courts and Legal Services Bill [Lords].

Completion of consideration of any Lords amendments to the Broadcasting Bill.

MONDAY 29 OCTOBER—Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Environmental Protection Bill.

[Monday 22 October 1990

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee

Dr. Cunningham

Can the House expect a statement next week from the Foreign Secretary when he returns from his important visit to the middle east? Since that visit involved discussions about the situation in Israel and the Palestinians and also about the grave situation in the Gulf, will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend to come to Parliament as soon as possible to report on his talks?

May we also have an assurance that the Secretary of State for Social Security will make an oral statement next week about the Government's plans for the uprating of benefits? That decision will have important consequences for millions of British families. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will want to question the Secretary of State about his proposals.

May I also ask the Leader of the House to reconsider his unusual decision to timetable the consideration of Lords amendments to the Broadcasting Bill on Friday and to make it the second business for that day? It is unacceptable that legislation that is so important and at the same time so controversial should be timetabled for Friday rather than for a normal full sitting day of the House. The legislation raises important questions, which do not necessarily reflect simply party political divisions. I hope that on reconsideration that business can be taken on another day.

Will the Leader of the House urge his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to reconsider her decision to duck out of the debate on Britain's membership of the exchange rate mechanism? The Prime Minister, as First Lord of the Treasury, has primary responsibility for Government economic policy. Is not it strange that, on the most important economic decision of the moment, the Prime Minister is running away from a debate in the House? The right hon. Lady already has the worst record in recent memory of any Prime Minister for attending debates in the House. Why is she running away from this issue? Is it that she is unwilling to face not only Labour party opposition, but searching questions from her own party on her U-turn, or is it that she no longer has any stomach for the fight?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman will recollect that his colleague, the Opposition Chief Whip, raised with me on Monday the issue of a statement by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. As I said then, I shall convey his request to my right hon. Friend on his return to this country.

I note the request that the hon. Gentleman makes about a statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. The House will be informed in due course, and I shall tell my right hon. Friend that the matter has been raised.

I can understand why the hon. Gentleman raised his third point, but I cannot accept his contention that Friday should not be regarded as a proper parliamentary day. The House will appreciate that it is necessary at this stage to make progress on all these matters. Obviously, I hope that satisfactory arrangements can be agreed through the usual channels as we have already laid them out. Progress along the lines I have suggested will be important and make sense if we are to achieve the equally sensible objective of Parliament being prorogued in the week commencing 29 October.

Finally, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who made the announcement about entry into the exchange rate mechanism, as is proper, will prove to be much more than a match for the Leader of the Opposition. If the hon. Gentleman's point is to be taken seriously, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was asked about this in the House on Tuesday and she can be asked about it next Tuesday. It is interesting that no Opposition Member asked about it this afternoon.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House what progress he is making on the parliamentary pensions Bill? I ask that question as one of the trustees of the fund. We have twice had the matter down for debate but nothing concrete has yet transpired.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter in the absence of the chairman of the trustees. As my hon. Friend knows, the current position is that there have been lengthy discussions with the trustees about the package of changes involved in the Ministerial and Other Offices (Pensions and Salaries) Bill and in the regulations associated with it. I have been seeking all along to respond sympathetically to the various concerns expressed in the debate on 17 January this year and subsequently. I have been happy to accommodate the trustees' request for further time to consider the proposals. I shall be meeting the trustees again next week. In consequence of that, I do not now expect to make further progress with the Bill in what remains of this Session, but I shall seek to do so as speedily as possible in the new Session.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I am sure that the Leader of the House will recall that, during the recess, Mr. David Calcutt came forward with his report on the Colin Wallace case. He observed that Ministry of Defence officials had seen the chairman of the appeal tribunal before which Mr. Wallace was to appear and he believed that that had influenced the outcome of the appeal. Given such serious allegations, surely one would expect that we would have had a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence this week. At the very least, can we expect a statement next week or, better still, a debate on this important issue which simply will not go away?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Government have accepted the conclusion and recommendation made by Mr. David Calcutt in his report, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Sir M. Marshall) about the matter on 13 September. A copy of that letter is in the Library of the House.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the deputy Prime Minister will join me in expressing heartfelt sympathy to the family of my constituent, Stephen Craig, who was murdered by the IRA on Tuesday evening, and to the relatives of the other victim, a Roman Catholic, who was murdered the same evening. May we have time to debate the slaughter of the innocents in Northern Ireland as a matter of urgency, because it is high time that that slaughter was brought to an end, in the interests of all people in the Province whatever their religious or political beliefs?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The House will agree with the objective stated at the end of that question, but I cannot promise the prospect of an early debate on this important matter. Both murders are the subject of a full police investigation. Several people are helping the police with their inquiries into the murder of the police dog handler, Samuel Todd. I am sure that the House will join me in extending sympathy to the families of both victims of such tragic murders.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider arranging a debate on eastern Europe? I note that next week it can be debated, but should not there be a general debate on eastern Europe, especially as the Conservative party has begun a political programme, including speeches at its conference, trying to suggest that democratic socialism equates with Stalinism? Some of us resent that very much indeed, based on our experience of consistently arguing that there was no socialism in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. Socialism means freedom. The suggestions of Conservative Members that the capitalist system is the only free system in the world is not true, and we want to debate that.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am glad to have the opportunity to reply to the hon. Gentleman. To some extent, the matter can be touched on in tomorrow's debate on the unification of Germany. In the time that remains before prorogation, I cannot promise him the prospect of a wider debate, but I counsel him, despite the sincerity with which he holds his view, to reflect further on what he has just said. Last week, the British people saw a procession of undoubted leaders of the newly freed countries of Europe coming quite spontaneously to our conference—

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

It was a set-up.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he will believe anything. Those people came to our party conference to express their solidarity with the democracy for which this party stands, and we are entitled to take the credit for it.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the haemophiliacs who were injected with imported blood containing the HIV virus were the victims of a unique accident which is not the stuff of precedent, and as such are not they entitled to generous, once-off, compassionate compensation? If the Government were not persuaded of that by the excellent Adjournment debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), will he please arrange a full debate on the subject so that Back Benchers have a chance to persuade the Government?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

As my hon. Friend says, the matter was raised in the House on Tuesday in an Adjournment debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall). I cannot add anything further to what was said then.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

May we have some time next week to discuss the role of Scottish Homes, a Government quango north of the border, as that body has refused to carry out basic essential repairs to properties in my constituency? Sir James Mellon, the chairman of Scottish Homes, is making all sorts of excuses for not carrying out that basic work on behalf of people who are paying high rents for properties that are about to fall down—and I do not exaggerate. May we have some action, even if it is only a debate next week, on this issue, which is vital to people who are concerned about what is happening to them? We talk about a property-owning democracy, but that is a sham, because the Government own these properties. They should be doing something about them.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot offer the prospect of a debate on that issue. All I can do is bring the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend think again about the suggestion by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer)—I am sure that we are all pleased to see the hon. Gentleman in his place—that there should be a debate on eastern Europe? Events in the Gulf have tended to cloud the great volatility that still exists in that part of the continent. Those of us who recently returned from Yugoslavia are aware of the risk of civil war in that country, the results of which would be incalculable. Will my right hon. and learned Friend please think again about having an early debate on eastern Europe?

Sir Geofffrey Howe

I understand why my hon. Friend presses me on that point. I do not underestimate the legitimate and widespread interest in this topic, but I have no possible scope for a debate on it before prorogation. There will be an opportunity to raise that matter on the foreign affairs day of the debate on the Gracious Speech. I shall bear my hon. Friend's point in mind thereafter.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

I welcome the debate on the ERM. Does the Leader of the House agree that it would be welcome, not only to Back Benchers on both sides of the House but to members of the Cabinet, if he were to announce today that there will be a free vote at the end of the debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Whipping is not, of course, a matter for the Leader of the House. It is for the Chief Whips, both of whom are here, to give to the right hon. Gentleman's observation such attention as they think is due.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

The excellent report of the working party on noise which was published this afternoon by the Department of the Environment deals with the noise nuisance to large numbers of our constituents from such sources as aircraft, helicopters, trains, lorries, amplified music, late-night parties, dogs and burglar alarms. Can we please discuss that report reasonably soon? I remind my right hon. and learned Friend that the secretary to the working party was my late constituent, Charlie Bayne, who was warmly commended by the chairman in his introduction for the respect in which he was held for his great tenacity and application.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot respond positively at this stage to his request for such a debate, although I gladly join him in expressing my sympathy to Charlie Bayne's family. Charlie Bayne's father was one of Her Majesty's ambassadors during my time at the Foreign Office. I am sure that my colleagues would wish to endorse what was said by the working party about the courage with which he discharged his duty on the secretariat to the working party.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the announcement this week of the motion setting up the Select Committees to scrutinise the Department of Health and the Department of Social Security. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give us an assurance that, before we rise at the end of this Session, there will be a similar motion to set up a Select Committee on Northern Ireland, an aspect of government which needs to be scrutinised; or will we have to continue to hasten slowly?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The matter is summed up in the hon. Gentleman's closing words. I admire his tenacity, but he cannot expect that to be matched by celerity on this matter.

Sir Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

When we discuss next Tuesday our entry into the ERM, will the basis of that debate be sufficiently widely drawn so that we may also discuss the simultaneous reduction in interest rates and so that any hon. Members who doubt the wisdom of linking those decisions may express their views?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I should be extremely surprised if it were possible to design a motion on that topic which excluded the important matter that my hon. Friend has in mind.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his reply to the first question of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)? The Foreign Secretary returns from the middle east tomorrow evening. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on the trip next week so that some of us can get a statement from the Foreign Secretary on what he said in the different countries to explain the British Government's support for immediate action when Iraq invaded Kuwait, for example, compared with the fact that, 23 years after Israel occupied Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza strip—and especially after the murder of 21 Palestinians last Monday—the United Nations sat for five days and then decided to send three assistants from the Secretary-General's office? Is that a result of double standards or is it because the Palestinians have no oil?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I was not asked to arrange a debate on that matter, but I was asked to pass on a request for a statement from my right hon. Friend, and I will do that. I do not begin to underestimate the importance of the hon. Gentleman's point. However, I do not have the impression that my right hon. Friend's journey to the middle east has been notorious for his lack of plain speaking on the matter that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

Has my right hon. and learned Friend noted that we sat up late last night dealing with a series of private Bills, and that he has announced more private Bill business for next week? Is he aware that, in the time it has taken, for example, to consider the King's Cross Bill, the Toyota motor corporation has sussed out Europe, sussed out more than 20 sites in this country, picked my constituency, purchased 600 acres of land, obtained planning permission, gone through a compulsory purchase order inquiry and let the contract, is building a factory and will be producing the cars before a single brick is laid at King's Cross? How are we to modernise our country and its infrastructure and, most of all, improve our ports, our harbours and our railways if we are to stick to such an outdated system of procedure in this House?

Mr. Speaker

Mrs. Alice Mahon.

Sir Geoffrey Howe


Mr. Speaker

I am sorry. I was thinking of something else.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend's question was intended largely to answer itself and it went a fair way towards doing so. She is right. We shall press ahead with reforms in the private Bill procedure because they are a matter of some importance.

Mr. Speaker

Mrs. Alice Mahon.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I did not think that the question of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) was worth an answer either.

Given today's unemployment figure, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on unemployment? In my constituency, 2,000 jobs in manufacturing have gone since January. If he grants such a debate, perhaps we could look in detail at the practices of directors such as Michael Ashcroft, who bled Coloroll dry, took £1.2 million in dividends the year before it went bankrupt and paid himself £500,000 in salary. Yet the Government are now trying to blame low-paid textile workers for the mess they are in.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Lady is, of course, entitled to draw attention to the rise in unemployment figures reported today. However, they should be set in the much broader context of the very long-term achievements of the present Government. Employment, for example, is at an all-time high. The United Kingdom still has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the European Community. That is the background against which to judge her point.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give us an early debate on defence issues? The Ministry of Defence currently has the enormous task of building up for the Gulf, and another enormous task of seeing where economies can be made on the defence estate and on all the other costs of defence. The House is interested to achieve the maximum defence dividend, while ensuring that the defence of the realm is preserved. May we have a debate on this subject as soon as possible?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

At this stage, I can promise nothing more than to take note of my hon. Friend's important point.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Will the Leader of the House make arrangements for a stairlift or other form of access for wheelchair users to be able to reach meetings in the Grand Committee Room and in the Jubilee Room, and for a loop for hearing-impaired visitors?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall certainly see that those two points are considered as fully as they deserve to be.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

When can we expect a statement from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the breakdown of discussions in Brussels on the future of the agriculture budget in the light of the GATT discussions? Many farmers are already facing serious financial difficulty and it is right that the House should consider that. The threat of any reduction in subsidy is already causing grave concern. World affairs are extremely important, but many people in Britain feel that the House does not spend sufficient time on our own domestic problems.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand the importance of the agriculture questions raised by my hon. Friend, in which one has to strike the right balance between the need for reform on the world stage and the needs of our own, like other national farming communities. I cannot promise a statement on the topic next week, as my right hon. Friend the Minister will be returning tomorrow to continue the discussions in which he has already been engaged for two days this week.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the statement made today by the president of the Scottish National Farmers Union, that the industry now faces its worst crisis since the 1930s and that he expects a spate of bankruptcies in the hill and upland sectors? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept the seriousness of the situation and, given the range of problems facing the industry, may we have an urgent debate on the state of agriculture?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am afraid that I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate on that subject, but I do not begin to underrate its importance. For all agricultural communities, the existing state of affairs of widespread national and international intervention by way of subsidy or protection is unsustainable. Her Majesty's Government are playing a leading part in trying to secure progress in the international negotiations that must take place, not least in the EC. We shall continue to do that, and my right hon. Friend will inform the House about his progress as appropriate.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend reconsider his earlier disappointing answer about haemophiliacs who are HIV-positive? Is he aware that he will find it increasingly difficult to persuade many of his hon. Friends that the Government are acting in a proper manner in that matter, and the sooner that it is debated in the House and resolved by administrative action and Government decision, rather than by forcing it through the courts, the better.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand the point made by my hon. Friend and I do not wish to seem in any sense lacking in sympathy, but the fact is that it has been debated in the House once this week, as I have already observed. I can only undertake to bring his observations to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)

I remind the Leader of the House of the terrible disasters that took place on the North sea oil rigs, particularly the Piper Alpha disaster, when 167 technicians and engineers were burnt to death. Following that, the Government set up an inquiry under Lord Cullen, and we were given to understand that the report would be ready for inspection by the House during June or July. We are still awaiting that report, and there is great unrest on the North sea oil rigs about health and safety. When will the House do something about that to bring this terrible matter to an end? Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate in the House on the report?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot give any direct response today to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, but I shall certainly bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time at an early date for a debate on trade unions, particularly since the revelation in the Evening Standard of the appearance of ghosts—not just one person with the same name and address as another, but up to seven on the same list for a union election? Is not that a disgrace? Is it possible that such ghosts are responsible for the missing money of the National Union of Mineworkers?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am sure that that particular manifestation of ghostliness deserves to be taken extremely seriously, and I shall see whether an opportunity arises for that.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

Will the Leader of the House make time available next week for a debate on the financial crisis facing the national health service? Is he aware that it became apparent this morning that the Wakefield health authority has agreed a huge package of cuts and closures which will have a devastating effect on my constituents who are on hospital waiting lists and who are suffering pain and discomfort? I am aware that such deficits are affecting many health authorities throughout Britain. May we have an urgent debate on the matter?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot promise a debate on that. However, it is important to note that the figures for those on waiting lists at March 1990, which will be published in full quite shortly, show a reduction of almost 5 per cent. since September 1989 in the number of those who have been waiting for more than a year. That represents significant progress.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement about the extremely serious situation involving several hundred British drivers and their vehicles which have been stranded for nearly 10 days on the French-Spanish border? Those drivers have suffered great personal difficulties and there will be serious financial consequences. Is not it vital that we hear soon what representations are being made to ensure that the Spanish Government are honouring their obligations under Community rules to allow the free passage of goods and also know whether we are pressing for compensation for those who will suffer financial loss, as the Government did with regard to the lamb war?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I will certainly bring that point to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

Is the Leader of the House aware of a statement made on Thursday 11 October by the chairman of the Fair Employment Tribunal in Northern Ireland, which has had the effect of nullifying the provisions of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989? In view of the urgency of the matter, and the fact that 199 cases are now at a dead halt, will he provide urgent remedial legislation and time for the House to give effect to the wish of the House, which was that the Act should be implemented and used as quickly as possible?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The point raised by the hon. Gentleman clearly deserves to be studied very closely before I can reach a conclusion about it. I simply undertake to bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange an early debate on the future of the net book agreement which results in book prices being higher and the number of books being sold smaller than would otherwise be the case?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend has raised an important and interesting point, which deserves the consideration that I will give to it.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Can we have a statement next week on the multi-fibre arrangement and the Government's attitude to it? As has been stated already, the GATT negotiations are under way and there is a feeling within the textile industry that the Government have a lacklustre attitude towards the renewal of the MFA, which both employers and unions regard as vital for the retention of a buoyant and successful textile industry.

Will the Leader of the House assure us that we can have a statement, if not next week then at least in the near future, because 14,000 jobs in Bradford depend directly on textiles and nearly 500,000 throughout the country depend on textiles and clothing? This is a vital matter if we are to retain a textile industry.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I appreciate the importance of the textile industry, which was debated on 26 July, and not long ago, I had an opportunity to study a document from the Apparel, Knitting and Textile Alliance, the burden of which underlined the link between the GATT negotiations and the MFA. If all the parties concerned demonstrate the necessary commitment in the final crucial stage of the Uruguay round negotiations, we can achieve the better balance in world trade which we are all looking for upon the basis laid out in the European Commission's negotiating policy.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Apart from a possible statement from the Foreign Secretary about the situation in the middle east, should not we have another fully-fledged debate about the Gulf crisis? Some of us would like to debate things before war breaks out so that we can try in some small way to influence developments. There was a great demand to speak in the House in our earlier Gulf debate and 40 hon. Members who wanted to speak were not called then. It looks odd to people outside this place that we are not debating the Gulf now that Parliament has returned after the recess, particularly as the danger still exists. There will be differing views about how the situation should be handled and it is right that we should be concerned and that the House should be seen to be debating the issue.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. However, we must fit in other matters in the relatively short time before Parliament is prorogued. It is for that purpose that a Government day next week has been devoted to the ERM debate and the Opposition day has been transferred to the next Session. There will be opportunities after the Queen's Speech, not least in the Queen's Speech debate itself, but I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's point in mind.

Mr. Jim Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)

Is the Leader of the House aware that we still do not have a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, despite Standing Order No. 130, which makes it compulsory? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman view the video of yesterday's Scottish Question Time? It is a perfect illustration of the anger felt on these Benches and in many places in Scotland because we are denied the instrument of investigation at precisely the moment when we require it. Is he aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland met the chairman of British Steel on Tuesday and then, at the Dispatch Box yesterday afternoon, offered no detailed statement on the discussions that he had had with the chairman about the future of the Scottish steel industry?

Is the Leader of the House also aware that the British Steel board and chairman are deliberately out to destroy the Scottish steel industry piecemeal and that we are denied by the House the kind of Select Committee that is the one defensive mechanism that we could deploy against them? If he tells me that it is not the Government's responsibility, will he admit the logic of the position that this House of Commons, with its English majority, is denying Scotland the Select Committee the opportunity to defend ourselves in Lanarkshire against the investment that is going to Teesside?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman spoils such case as he has by his overstatement of the matter. It plainly cannot be sustained that British Steel is deliberately out to destroy anything. Moreover, he should note that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland yesterday faced, I should judge, about 20 minutes' questioning on the very topic that the hon. Gentleman raises. He was exposed to full and rigorous questioning by the House, and gave a full account of himself.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

I reinforce the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) that there is a need for a full debate on the Gulf crisis before Prorogation. Surely we owe it to the British people as a whole and to the thousands of British service men in the gulf to keep the matter at the forefront of our deliberations. In view of the press report that the British Government have been privately urging the United States Administration to take an early decision on military action against Iraq, will the Leader of the House take the opportunity this afternoon to affirm that it is still Government policy that mandatory economic sanctions be given a chance to work?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government's policy is to secure full implementation of the resolution that was passed by the United Nations Security Council. I have already acknowledged the case for a debating opportunity as soon as it can be found when the House resumes after Prorogation. The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity of not only hearing a statement from the Foreign Secretary next Wednesday but asking him questions when he faces the House for questions in the ordinary way.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Is the Leader of the House at all uncomfortable that those in the other place who have been most angry about the Nature Conservancy Council are those such as Lord Buxton—Conservative peers who know most about it? Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman understood also that there has been a recent staff vote in the Nature Conservancy Council in which an overwhelming majority of members of staff not only in Peterborough but in Scotland and in Wales have come down against the proposals?

Was not the whole matter misconceived in the first place by wanting to please the Scots, when those of us in Scotland who knew and cared most were passionately against the expensive, costly, wasteful and absurd break-up of the Nature Conservancy Council? In the circumstances, should not there be a statement next week, before we get down to amendments, that the Government have given up the idea, at any rate for this year? There would be no shame in doing so. The time that is saved could be used for a proper statement and a debate on the middle east.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It sounds as though the hon. Gentleman may have some observations to make during our consideration of the Lords amendments to the Environmental Protection Bill on Monday week.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Did the Leader of the House see The Observer magazine last Sunday, which revealed the increasing number of hon. Members who hold outside financial and commercial interests, with the potential for a conflict of interest where the Chairpersons of key parliamentary Committees hold financial and commercial interests that have a direct bearing on the work of their Committees?

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore have any plans to enable the House to decide whether it thinks it right that the hon. Members for Shipley (Sir M. Fox), for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren), for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) and for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), who are all Chairpersons of parliamentary Committees, should hold extensive financial and commercial interests which have a direct bearing on the work of their Committees? Will the Leader of the House give us an opportunity to decide whether we think that that is right, because I can tell him that many of us think that it is entirely wrong?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That colour supplement made a great deal more than I should have imagined possible out of some relatively modest factual material. The questions that both it and the hon. Gentleman have raised are appropriate for investigation in the first instance not by the House but by the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which has been investigating some of them. That is the first place to which any such complaint should be referred.

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

Will the Leader of the House give some sympathetic consideration to the holding of a debate on the present circumstances of the United Kingdom's maritime industries? I refer in the main to shipping, shipbuilding, marine engineering and, of course, to the fishing industry. Many thousands of people employed in those industries genuinely believe that they, their industries and their communities face a bleak future. Hon. Members representing Scotland find the Scottish Grand Committee and Scottish Question Time a poor substitute for a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, especially when it comes to giving tough-minded scrutiny to Government policy on these and other industries. I urge the right hon. and learned Gentleman to accept the need for such a debate in the near future.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot undertake to arrange a debate on that topic in the near future, but I know that that question is of interest not only to Scottish Members but to hon. Members representing other parts of the country—not least because my Parliamentary Private Secretary represents a fishing constituency. I shall certainly bear the matter in mind.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will the Leader of the House please arrange an early debate on the continuing, alarming and unacceptable increase in the crime rate, which, unfortunately, has been at its worst in the county of Leicestershire? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind the fact that hon. Members of all parties, including particularly his hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), have been pressing continually for years for proper policing in accordance with the wishes and requests of successive chief constables? It is not enough to declare a vague promise at the Tory party conference that the number of police will be increased. Hon. Members who represent Leicestershire on both sides of the House demand increased resources now before the crime rate gets even worse in our county.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. and learned Gentleman can be relied upon to overstate the case. He talks about vague promises at the Tory party conference. Everyone is concerned about the level of crime, and the fact is that under this Government there has been a massive increase—

Mr. Janner

A massive increase in crime.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There has been a massive increase in resources, including police officers in service, as a direct result of the Government's policies. Our concern has been expressed by actions rather than by words, at which the hon. and learned Gentleman is an expert.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Now that the economy has moved into recession, the unemployment figures have risen several months in succession, and bankruptcies and liquidations have trebled in the past year, why does not the Leader of the House arrange a debate on bankruptcies and the economy? We could not only discuss the massive unemployment that affects my hon. Friends' constituencies; we could also invite Tory Members to talk about the demise of Murdoch's empire, in which shares have fallen in value by two thirds this year, and the winding up of the Tory party's little Blue Rosette company with debts of £100,000, which meant that, at the Bournemouth conference, the Prime Minister's face had to be taken off every single mug?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I take note of the characteristically good-natured way in which the hon. Gentleman expresses his interest in the matter. He will surely appreciate that much of what happens to unemployment in the months ahead, as in the years past, depends on the attitude adopted by pay negotiators on both sides of the industry. I hope that he will lend his support to the cause of pay moderation.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Does the Leader of the House recognise that the erosion of farm incomes in the hills and uplands of Scotland is catastrophic? Does he accept that there is an urgent need for a debate while the autumn review is pending, to enable hon. Members to bring their knowledge of the matter to the attention of responsible Ministers before decisions are taken, not only in Brussels but by our domestic Ministries, on the hill livestock compensatory allowance levels?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House when I dealt with that point some time ago. The matter can be dealt with time and again. Of course there is anxiety on both sides of not only the House, but virtually every democratic assembly in the industrialised world about the state of the farming industry. It is caused by the manifest capacity to produce surpluses, which is not mitigated by the existence of massive protection. It is for that reason that the Government have taken and are taking the lead in the necessary worldwide reform of agricultural protection. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has kept the House fully informed of the results of his work and will continue to do so.