HC Deb 18 April 1991 vol 189 cc584-98 4.18 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week, which will be as follows:

MONDAY 22 APRIL—Until seven o'clock, private Members' motions.

Remaining stages of the Coal Mining (Subsidence) Bill.

Money resolution and Ways and Means resolution relating to the Agriculture and Forestry (Financial Provisions) Bill.

TUESDAY 23 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Ports Bill.

Motion on the Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Board) Order.

WEDNESDAY 24 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Atomic Weapons Establishment Bill.

Motion on the Broadcasting (Restrictions on the Holding of Licences) Order.

THURSDAY 25 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 26 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 29 APRIL—Second Reading of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions (No. 2) Bill.

The House will also wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that European Standing Committee A will meet on Wednesday 24 April at 10.30 am to consider European Community Document No. 8745/90 relating to sweeteners for use in foodstuffs.

[Wednesday 24 April European Standing Committee A Relevant European Community Document 8745/90 Sweeteners in foodstuffs Relevant report of European Legislation Committee HC 29-ii (1990–91).]

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Is it not disappointing that the Leader of the House has not yet found time for a debate on criminal justice in Britain? Given the important and, in some cases, shocking events of the past few months, may I remind him again that hon. Members on both sides of the House would welcome the opportunity of such a debate.

We have been told that the Cabinet apparently reached a decision today about the Government's alternative to the poll tax. Is it not curious that no statement has been made in the House? Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that any announcement made next week about the future of the poll tax will be made first in the Chamber of the House of Commons rather than at some press conference? Will he also assure us, if it is possible—which I doubt—that all the various options will not be leaked by the Secretary of State for the Environment in the meantime?

Is it not shameful that, while the Government have dithered for months trying to paper over the cracks in the Cabinet and the Conservative party on the poll tax, unemployment has risen so disastrously and dramatically above the 2 million mark? Should not the Secretary of State for Employment have had the courage—the guts — to come to the House and make a statement today about the biggest rise in unemployment since records began? Should he not have told us what the Government intend to do about it?

Is it not now clear beyond peradventure that it was a disastrous error for the Government to cut investment in training, as they did in the Budget? May we at last debate their public expenditure proposals so that we can hold Ministers to account for their calamitous mismanagement of the economy, which has resulted in today's disastrous unemployment figures?

Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Government have done a U-turn and have abandoned their proposals to implement the remaining parts of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986? Is it not curious that the Government—who have said for some time that they will implement the remaining provisions of an Act which was put on the statute book after some excellent work by my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and others, and which brought so much hope to so many people with disabilities and to their families and carers—now apparently intend not to proceed? Sir Brian Rix, the chairman of Mencap, has described their decision as disastrous for disabled people. Is this really the Government's intention? May we have a statement about it as soon as possible?

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman will know, during this Parliament we have had many opportunities to discuss various aspects of criminal justice and to extend the discussion widely to all the aspects of crime to which he referred. I shall bear in mind what he said about the need for a debate, but, as the business statement shows, we have a very busy programme next week: obviously there will be no opportunity then. He will know that I try to respond to his requests—although it is not always possible to do so immediately —and to find time for the debates for which he asks.

I am a little surprised by the hon. Gentleman's implication that we should have said something about the community charge this afternoon. He will know that his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) took exactly the opposite line in a letter to The Times yesterday, suggesting that it would be strange indeed for us to make an announcement this afternoon; he was very critical of the idea. We are completing the consideration following this morning's discussions about the Government's proposals, and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, we shall publish the documents early next week.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be a statement when we have completed the final consideration. Let me make it clear what I mean by "final consideration". We shall publish the consultative documents, which must be printed and put together in the light of today's discussions. I should have thought that that was in no sense a matter for criticism. His hon. Friend would have thought it odd if the documents had been published this afternoon.

I wholly reject the hon. Gentleman's charge that we have been dithering for months. Our highly effective review has been conducted at a greater speed than most reviews and certainly at a much greater speed than any conducted by the Labour party. When the documents are published, the hon. Gentleman will see that an immense amount of effective work has been done in coming to conclusions.

The hon. Gentleman requested a debate on unemployment. The Government have taken many measures over a number of years—not least this year—to deal with unemployment. I assure him that we shall not follow the Labour party in pursuing the policies that it announced earlier this week—a national minimum wage, a jobs tax on companies, acceptance of the entire social action programme immediately if Labour ever took office and a strikers' charter. I assure him that all four policies would add greatly to unemployment, and we shall not follow them. It comes ill from him to comment on unemployment when the Labour party confirmed its intention—if it got the chance —to take action on those issues, which would increase unemployment. He knows that employment levels in this country are well above what they were even four or five years ago, and unemployment is still below the European average.

It will be possible to debate some of these issues during economic debates, on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill and during the debate on public expenditure for which the hon. Gentleman asked and which I have promised. It is important to have the Second Reading of the Finance Bill first, and I hope that it will be possible to debate public expenditure soon after that.

I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health about the remaining provisions of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986.

Mr. Speaker

The House knows that I am reluctant to curtail business questions, but there is great pressure on business today and I must put a 10-minute limit on speeches. I ask hon. Members to ask single questions about next week's business, not about general matters.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on charities? I was saddened by the fact that during yesterday's debate the Labour party made clear its dislike of charities. Surely the public want the role of charities to be strengthened and improved.

Mr. MacGregor

I pay tribute to the excellent charity work that my hon. Friend does. I cannot promise a debate in the near future, although I hope that there will be many opportunities for him to raise the issues that he wishes to raise during, for example, debates on some of the measures that we shall consider.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Atlantic treaty parties are meeting next week in Madrid starting on Monday? Last October the House was told that the Government were against mining in the Antarctic. There are now rumours that the Government have changed their mind. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that no change will be announced at the meeting in Madrid until it has first been announced to the House?

Mr. MacGregor

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. He knows that we have played a leading role in these issues, and there is to be an Adjournment debate on the Antarctic next week.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Will the Leader of the House consult the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and ensure that the right hon. Gentleman makes a statement in the House about the alarming position whereby vital security documents are being leaked from the Garda in the south of Ireland? At least one man among those mentioned has been murdered by the IRA as a result. There is now another report that a second document has been leaked and another man in the community is under threat. Will the Leader of the House bear in mind that, when that happened on the other side of the political divide, the Royal Ulster Constabulary ensured that all the people whose names were on documents were visited and warned? Will he ensure that the RUC does that on the Protestant side of the community, in view of the grievous and serious spate of murders taking place in our Province?

Mr. MacGregor

I am not familiar with the report to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention. I will, of course, discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as soon as I have the opportunity to do so.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science to make a statement urgently to explain why the procedures set down by his own Department have not been followed in relation to the report by Her Majesty's inspectorate on Culloden school, which was made public on the same day as it was sent to the local education authority and to the governing body, and was leaked to The Mail on Sunday several days earlier? Will the right hon. Gentleman please ask the Secretary of State to explain how the problem of the school will be helped by allowing it to be used as a political football in this outrageous manner?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not wish to comment on the hon. Lady's views of the matter. I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend look at early-day motion 685?

[That this House supports the invitation issued by the Prime Minister to the honourable Member for Dagenham during the debate on Tuesday 27th March, Official Report, column 975 to place in the Library a copy of the Labour Party document entitled Fair Rates; recognises that only when it is accompanied by detailed financial information can the impact of these proposals on each household be calculated; and emphasises that the absence to date of any such supporting figures renders worthless all claims concerning its alleged advantages.]

I and many other hon. Members invite the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) to produce the figures on which the Labour party's policy on the poll tax is based. I am sure that Labour Members would welcome the opportunity for a debate. If my right hon. Friend is minded to find time for a debate, will he check carefully with the Leader of the Opposition in case he is dining in very high places?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are many questions to be asked—indeed, they have frequently been asked—about the Labour party's figures on the matter. I have taken note of early-day motion 685 and, so far, we have had far from satisfactory responses. It is clear that there is fudge, double counting and, probably, a complete lack of understanding and knowledge. My hon. Friend is on a good point. I do not have the slightest doubt that when we look at our own consultative document on the finance provisions for local government, the contrast between the two, in terms of accuracy and clarity on the one hand and fudge and double counting on the other, will be clear.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Can I press the Leader of the House about the Government's decision to dump sections 1, 2 and 3 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, which has caused such widespread anger and dismay among disabled people and their organisations? Does he recognise that the Government's decision rips the heart out of an Act which became law with total all-party and ministerial support? Indeed, does he know that sections 1, 2 and 3 of the Act were redrafted specifically to meet the wishes of the Government? Ought there not at the very least to be an oral statement next week about a decision that not only brings the Government into contempt but demeans Parliament itself?

Mr. MacGregor

I try to keep abreast of every possibility for answering questions on business statements. However, I am not aware of this matter, and I have already said that I will draw the point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Will my right hon. Friend find an opportunity next week for the House to express its views on the future of London zoo? Many of us would deeply resent any more taxpayers' money going into the zoo and are amazed that those who run the zoo should seek to threaten us by saying that if more taxpayers' money is not available animals will be killed.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend has already made his point. I was going to say that he must find another opportunity to make his point because I can see no chance of Government time being given to the matter next week. My hon. Friend will know that in 1988 the Government announced a further £10 million for London zoo—£5 million of which, I understand, has still not been spent. We have made it clear that, in view of that contribution —and there may be contributions by other means to animal research —the Government do not intend to provide any more money.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Unlike the Leader of the House, I shall not quote what the Labour party's manifesto says about unemployment because we are dealing specifically with the business for next week. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider providing time to debate early-day motion 576?

[That this House calls for a full parliamentary inquiry into the financial and administrative actions of the Mid-Glamorgan Training and Enterprise Council and other training and enterprise councils in Britain; notes with concern that the officers of the Mid-Glamorgan Training and Enterprise Council are making wide ranging decisions without consultation with members of the Board; that these Board members are only called upon to endorse the actions of their paid officers; further notes that the decisions made by these officers are not only causing disruption to trainees on courses but are taking away training managers' future involvement in training and are causing great financial hardship for training companies, particularly in respect of long-term leasing arrangements, capital investment &c. that these companies have had to make in order to give proper training facilities; and, in view of this, calls for adequate financial reimbursement to be made to cover these costs.]

We face escalating unemployment. More than 2 million people are out of work, yet 7,000 devoted trainers operating within the training and enterprise schemes that we have had for the past 10 years have lost their jobs. In my constituency, CATO —community activities and training in Ogmore—of which I have been chairman for 10 years, has had 40 devoted trainers dismissed and 400 trainees displaced. This House must be given an opportunity to discuss the matter. The Leader of the House need not tell us that we should look to our manifesto. He should consider the escalating unemploy-ment and the deprivation that families suffer as a result of it.

Mr. MacGregor

When general issues of employment or unemployment are raised, it is highly irrelevant to draw attention to the proposals in the Labour party's document, which would be extremely damaging to employment prospects. Indeed, what the Oppostion propose would destroy or seriously affect a large number of jobs.

With regard to the early-day motion that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, he will know that the training and enterprise councils operate under a contract with the Department of Employment. Under that contract, they are required to meet a number of financial and managerial obligations. Within those obligations, it is for the TECs themselves to make their financial and managerial decisions, including decisions about the selection of training providers in their areas.

I cannot comment on the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but I can say that I see no opportunity for a specific debate on the early-day motion. The hon. Gentleman will have other opportunities to raise the matter. Indeed, he has done so at considerable length today.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

Will the Foreign Secretary make a statement about his recent visit to China? There now seems to be some doubt about the future of the new Hong Kong international airport. Surely the House should be given some information about the status of an engineering project that is even larger and more expensive than the Channel tunnel.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's request to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, although I doubt whether it would be appropriate for a statement to be made next week. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will provide the House with further information when he thinks it appropriate to do so.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House have a look at the motion in my name that is down for debate next Monday? Given that it is number three, it may not be reached. Will the right hon. Gentleman adopt a more serious and concerned attitude to the question of unemployment? Will he pay attention to what hon. Members have said today and attach more seriousness to the situation than the Prime Minister did? As the deputy Leader of the Opposition said this afternoon, the unemployment figures announced today are the worst on record. Unemployment damages lives. It damages families and the confidence of people ——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady must not say now what she might say if a debate were arranged.

Mrs. Mahon

Will the Leader of the House please make time for a debate on this very serious subject? May I draw attention to the fact that the House of Lords has reported on the effects of unemployment in manufacturing industry? Next week's business programme is light, and we could easily have a debate.

Mr. MacGregor

I must say to the hon. Lady that it is certainly not a light programme next week; it is a heavy legislative programme.

Obviously this is not an appropriate moment for me to indulge in a policy debate on unemployment. I should have thought that it was clear from the measures that we have taken, our determination to get inflation down to the levels of our most successful competitors overseas, which is clearly a key consideration in terms of unemployment, and our quite accurate criticisms of the Labour party's proposals that we take this matter extremely seriously. A number of opportunities have been taken to debate general economic issues, which have a bearing on unemployment, in the past few weeks and there will be further opportunities in the coming weeks.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Did my right hon. Friend say in answer to the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) that the publication next week of the documents abolishing the poll tax would not be accompanied by a statement from the Secretary of State? I think that the House will want to discuss this matter very soon.

Mr. MacGregor

No. I said the opposite: there will be a statement.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to early-day motion 518 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and 171 other right hon. and hon. Members?

[That this House views with concern the recent Newsnight expose of serious flaws in the evidence which led to the conviction of four members of the Ulster Defence Regiment; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to have the case referred to the Court of Appeal.]

May we have a statement on this issue from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland next week, as there is growing concern in Northern Ireland that there are political measures abroad which are impeding justice being given to servants of the Crown?

Mr. MacGregor

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, the content of the recent "Newsnight" programme which featured the case of the UDR Four is being considered in conjunction with the dossier on the case which was presented to the Secretary of State on 10 January of this year. The Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary has been asked to conduct further inquiries into a number of matters. This process will inevitably take some time. For my right hon. Friend to use his discretionary power to refer the case to the Court of Appeal he would have to be satisfied that significant new evidence existed. I will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

I wonder whether the Leader of the House could arrange an early debate on the Rochdale, Oldham and Manchester railway line, which is under threat of closure. It is of paramount importance to my constituency and I think that we ought to find time to debate it. I am sure that the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) will share that view.

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend knows, there are ways of his finding opportunities to debate the matter in the House.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 697 on the matter of Japanese whaling, signed by 171 hon. Members of all parties in the House?

[That this House registers its abhorrence at the Japanese slaughter of a further 327 Minke whales in Antarctica for so-called research; is outraged that over 13,000 whales have been slaughtered in just five years of the International Whaling Commission's indefinite ban on commercial whaling; is gravely concerned that Iceland, Norway and Japan have threatened to leave the International Whaling Commission this year; is aware of the strength of public opinion within this country and in Europe against the slaughter of whales; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to press for a permanent and enforceable ban and to initiate complementary legislation within the European Community Common Fisheries Policy which prohibits the killing of whales for commercial, research or fisheries management purposes.]

It points out that the Japanese are continuing to slaughter whales under the guise of so-called scientific work. Great concern has been caused throughout the House by the letter sent to certain hon. Members by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which clearly seems to indicate to many of us that the British Government are about to allow a motion for the resumption of limited commercial whaling. I shall be very grateful if the Leader of the House is able to take advice now, go to the Dispatch Box and say that there is no chance whatsoever of the British Government's agreeing with the Japanese, the Icelanders or the Norwegians about the restoration of even limited commercial whaling. May we have a statement or a debate on this very important issue next week?

Mr. MacGregor

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, the Government have been taking a lead in these matters. I am grateful to hear him confirming that. I assure him that we will continue to take a lead in pressing for the proper conservation of whales and in resisting any whaling research that cannot be fully justified. The interpretation which I think he has put on my right hon. Friend's letter is not right.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) will next week be seeking leave to introduce a ten-minute Bill to reform Sunday trading? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the shopping centre of the Thorp Arch trading estate in my constituency is now threatened with closure as a consequence of the Leeds council's decision to seek injunctions to prevent trading on Sunday, when over half the traders' business is done? It is some years since the Government attempted to reform the mess of Sunday trading. Cannot the Government take urgent action to save important jobs and provide a service for consumers which is very much valued?

Mr. MacGregor

I can confirm that there will be a ten-minute Bill next week that will deal with some aspects of the Shops Act 1950, but I have to say that it is some very specific aspects of it.

On the general question of Sunday trading, I am sure that my hon. Friend will know of the great attention that the Government have been giving to these matters over some time and the review that we are continuing to conduct in consultation with all those affected. Equally, he will know of the difficulties in reaching an agreement which can achieve a consensus in the House to enable us to reform the laws, which I agree need reform. The difficulty is to find a way of doing it with which most people can agree.

Mr. Gareth Wardell Gower)

I am sure that all hon. Members would wish to congratulate the Parliamentary Commissioner on the splendid work he did on Barlow Clowes. He has obviously had a long, well-deserved rest since then, and I am concerned that it has taken over two years for him to look at the complaint that I have made against the Welsh Office and referred to him. I am worried that my constituent may not survive to the end of this century, and I am wondering whether the Leader of the House would be prepared to look at the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner and perhaps arrange a debate so that Members who have had experience similar to mine may have an opportunity to debate the matter.

Mr. MacGregor

My responsibilities extend only to finding time for a debate on the general work of the Parliamentary Commissioner. I cannot promise a debate in the near future because there are a number of other matters for which time will have to be found next week and beyond. However, I will bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request.

With regard to the specific case, I am sure that the hon. Member will pursue it with all the vigour at his command and, if he considers it absolutely necessary, will find an opportunity to raise it in the House.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)


Mr. Speaker

Was the hon. Member for Billericay in her place when the business statement was made? No? I will call the hon. Lady later.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 691 on Japanese fighting dogs, signed by hon. Members of all parties?

[That this House draws attention to the proposal to import a second Japanese Tosa dog for breeding purposes; notes that this species of dog grows to 17 stone and was originally bred for fighting; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to propose amendments to the law so that the import of new breeds of dog may be prohibited if it is against the public interest by virtue of the size, nature and purpose of the animal and so that, where appropriate, even where dogs are imported conditions may be attached to import licences as to the custody and breeding of such animals.]

It is based on very good investigative journalism by the South London Press. Will there be a chance to debate that motion next week? If, as I expect, the Leader of the House says no, will there at least be a statement by a Home Office Minister on the consultation paper on the breeding, custody and import of Tosa dogs before this country is invaded by another load of Rottweilers mark 2, to the danger of the population? Will the Leader of the House ensure that a statement is made next week?

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of the concern about this matter. I cannot promise a statement next week—in fact, there will not be a statement next week, I think—

Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy)

They are as big as the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. MacGregor

Bigger, actually—almost as big as the hon. Gentleman. These are rather more serious matters than that intervention would imply and I understand the concern, but I do not think that there can be a statement next week. The Government are currently considering their responses to the consultation paper to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

There are significant difficulties in seeking to control the import or breeding of specific breeds of dog or, as in this case, cross breeds. Legislation is already in place to deal effectively with any dog which presents a danger to the public and to ban those who have such dogs from keeping a dog in future. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is keeping the position under review, and I will certainly draw to his attention the concern that the hon. Gentleman has expressed.

Mr. Speaker

I am now told that the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) was here for the statement. I confess that I did not see her. I call Mrs. Gorman.

Mrs. Gorman

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I apologise; I was moving around, I must admit.

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week, or as soon as possible, for the House to discuss the serious matters revealed by the case of the Orkney parents and the children removed from them, especially following the similar tragic circumstances in Rochdale and, before that, in Cleveland, since I doubt whether Opposition Members will wish to use some of their time to debate the subject, given their dedication to social workers and reluctance to criticise them?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend that the protection of children from harm is a matter of the highest importance, and hon. Members in all parts of the douse will agree with that. But, as she will know, the Orkney case is subject to an appeal and is therefore sub judice. Therefore, it would be improper for me to comment on it now, and that would be the difficulty about having a statement or debate next week.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

In view of the reply that the Leader of the House gave earlier on the question of Antarctica, and as a letter has been circulated to hon. Members saying that New Zealand members of Friends of the Earth are claiming that the United Kingdom's position on the issue will be a major impediment to the successful protection of Antarctica, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that his remarks gave a different impression? Will he arrange for a statement to be made to the House on Monday explaining precisely what the position of Britain will be at Monday's conference in Madrid?

Mr. MacGregor

Ministers have made clear their position on Antarctica. I have seen and received a number of letters from them in response to constituents' concerns about the issue.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Far be it from me to suggest to the Leader of the House that a possible ban on the importation of cross-breed dogs could be dealt with by the hybrid Bill procedure, but in his statement on the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill yesterday morning—when he, like me, was in a semi-comatose state and when I think he was busking from a non-existent music score—the right hon. Gentleman said that he intended to introduce the Bill this Session, although I understand that he has talked subsequently about it possibly being in the next Queen's Speech.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it will be done by the hybrid Bill procedure and whether it will be in this Session or, in the normal way, on the single day permitted for the introduction of hybrid and private Bills at the beginning of the next Session? Will he confirm that, if the Government and the promoters have two goes to pass the Bill, my constituents and other objectors will have two goes to oppose it?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot speak for the hon. Gentleman, but I assure him that I was not in a semi-comatose state yesterday morning. I said—and I make the position totally clear now—that we were making it a Government Bill and that we intended to get on with it as quickly as possible. I said, in response to the hon. Gentleman's letter asking whether we intended to introduce the Bill this Session, that we hoped to do that. We are now considering the Government Bill following the failure of the private Bill.

The Secretary of State for Wales has made it clear that he will consult widely on the Bill, and he is now doing that with great speed. We are having to consider the drafting of the Bill. The question whether it is hybrid is not for me, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are getting on with it with great speed and that we hope, if possible, to introduce the Bill this Session. That is our intention, and there would, of course, be opportunity for all to comment on the Bill.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

May I underline the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) for a debate on the criminal justice system in the light of the recent series of disasters? The right hon. Gentleman said that there had been many opportunities to discuss the subject, but he is mistaken about that, and Mr. Speaker will confirm that we have repeatedly been told that the cases involved are sub judice.

The Government have decided to set up a royal commission. The Leader of the House will find that there is support on both sides of the House since the issue is not particularly politically controversial between us. Will he try to find time so that we may debate what many people outside the House realise is a serious situation?

Mr. MacGregor

I did not think the hon. Gentleman had particular cases in mind, and in his opening comments I thought that he was referring to the situation in general. I cannot add to what I have already said on the subject. I shall bear in mind the request.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. A number of hon. Members are now rising who were not rising before. Will they ask brief questions, please?

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Will the Leader of the House provide time next week for a debate on early-day motion 717 concerning safety at sea and the fishing boat Marigold?

[That this House notes that fishermen's lives continue to be put at risk by the provisions of the iniquitous eight day continuous tie-up and that the fishing boat Marigold sailed from Peterhead harbour on Wednesday 17th April into a forecast of deteriorating weather conditions; sympathises with these fishermen who are being forced to sea in poor weather through economic pressures and their families who have to suffer the anxiety of waiting on their return; and demands that the Government now reconsider their support for a penal policy which does not conserve a single fish but increases the risks for fishermen at sea.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as we speak, the Marigold is at sea in force 8 gale conditions, having put to sea yesterday from Peterhead, against an adverse weather forecast, due to economic pressure and the Government's eight-day tie-up regulations? May we have a debate in which, for once, the fisheries Ministers will treat the communities with some respect, in which we shall be told what we are to say to the families in their anxiety about the fishermen, and in which the Government will have an opportunity to abandon their disastrous tie-up regulations before they cause a fishing tragedy at sea?

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that was a European Community decision taken by the Council of Ministers. As we have debated the issues recently on more than one occasion, I cannot promise time to debate general safety at sea matters in the near future. But if the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise a particular case, with Ministers or in the House, he has ways and means of doing so.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Early-day motion 711 is about British aid to the Kurds.

[That this House pays a warm tribute to the efforts of all non-governmental organisations providing relief to the Kurds, in particular the British Aid for the Kurds organisation which was formed by Lorraine Goodrich of Devon, who had previously organised parcels for the British troops during the Gulf campaign; notes that such bodies have provided a focus for the widespread, generous and humanitarian public concern for the Kurds, who are dying at the rate of a person a minute; further notes that the organisation has been overwhelmed by the response of the public, who have given tons of much needed clean blankets, ground sheets, warm clothes and tents; congratulates the National Courier Network and Track 29 for agreeing to transport these free of charge to the airport where they can be taken to be distributed to the Kurds by the Red Crescent; recognises the pressing need for medical aid and urges the Government and medical companies to give such bodies immediate and generous assistance; presses the Government to make space available to British Aid for the Kurds in its warehouses and other storage facilities for material donated for the relief effort; understands that the relief operation cannot be left to private initiative alone but requires massive, immediate assistance by the state; and therefore calls upon the Government to provide or arrange free transport in Britain and to the front-line for relief material and to make a much increased contribution to the international effort to save the Kurds.]

I raised the matter with the Secretary of State for Defence because a crisis exists in getting aid to the Kurds. For example, people were expecting an aeroplane in Belfast tomorrow to take 150 tonnes of medical supplies, 200 tonnes of other material and 35 medical specialists from burns units, some of whom speak Kurdish, to the area. There is a great crisis, but only Iraq Air seems to be offering assistance. May we have an early debate to discuss the problem? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we need co-ordination on the part of the Government to assist, and act as partners with, those who are collecting valuable materials for which the Kurds are waiting?

Mr. MacGregor

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not give the wrong impression and suggest that not a great deal is happening. He must know that the British Government and various Departments and organisations have been doing much to get supplies to the Kurds. We have been in the lead in many matters concerning aid to the Kurds and the other issues that were discussed earlier today. That is why I say that I hope the hon. Gentleman will not give the wrong impression.

As for the work of British Aid for the Kurds and the materials that it is trying to get to the area, the Overseas Development Administration has been in close touch with it and has assisted in speeding the flow of its supplies to benefit the Kurds. There is a great deal of activity and effort on all those matters now.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

May I press the Leader of the House for an early debate on the unemployment crisis and urge him to warn the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Employment not to blame unemployment on the unemployed, the trade unions and even the weather, for if they were to do so that would be seen as grossly insulting to the 2 million men and women who are now unemployed? If the Prime Minister cannot think of anything to do to combat unemployment, may I suggest that the cuts that are now being made in training programmes and which are denying training to the long-term unemployed and other vulnerable groups in places such as Bradford and York should immediately be reversed to enable those people to receive training and obtain skills so that they may have some hope of getting a job again?

Mr. MacGregor

Within the confines of the business statement, I have dealt as much as is reasonably permissible with issues relating to Government action on the unemployed and the dangers of the Labour party's proposals in that respect. I have nothing to add to what I said earlier, when I made it clear that there have been many opportunities to discuss economic matters and that there will be further opportunities to do so in the coming weeks.

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

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there may be a major diplomatic development relating to the Kurds in the next seven days? In view of that, may we be assured that when the Minister for Overseas Development returns to this country she will make a statement so that we may have an opportunity to debate the matter further?

Mr. MacGregor

That is a reasonable request. We are anxious to find every opportunity, when appropriate, to make statements in the House on those important issues, and I shall give very sympathetic consideration to the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week on the textile industry? Given the alarming increase in unemployment, does he realise that that industry is labouring under grave difficulties and high interest rates? The problem of the multi-fibre arrangement has not yet been resolved; it comes up for renewal in July. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that, if no adequate safeguards against imports from 26 developing nations are produced at the general agreement on tariffs and trade negotiations, the MFA will be extended? That is vital to the retention of the British textile industry which is centred on towns such as Bradford, where it still employs 14,000 people directly. Will the Government stand up to the Common Market in the negotiations? It seems intent on abandoning textiles to the wiles of the GATT.

Mr. MacGregor

One reason why we pressed so hard to reach a conclusion on the GATT negotiations in the Uruguay round within the original timetable was that the MFA would run out at a certain point and it was necessary to find other arrangements. The hon. Gentleman well knows what we proposed to deal with that.

I do not think it would be appropriate to have a statement now. We are continuing to do everything possible to bring the GATT negotiations to a successful conclusion in due course.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

We had 30 hours of parliamentary time wallowing in the Cardiff mud—

Mr. Speaker

Order —a question please.

Mr. Dalyell

—and not a sausage of Government time since the third week of January on Iraq and the Gulf. Will the usual channels—for this question concerns them—recognise that ministerial statements, however frequent, are no substitute for debate? It is only in debate that those who believe in unpopular causes, such as at least exploring Saddam Hussein's proposals and questioning the attitude of Iran and the Soviet Union, can make their point.

Did the Leader of the House approve of the abuse with which my polite question was treated by the Defence Secretary?

Mr. MacGregor

The general issue of the Gulf and all its ramifications has been dealt with in statements and in many debates and a great deal of time has been allocated to it. We have certainly fulfilled our obligation to keep the House fully informed and to allow Government policy on the matter to be thoroughly surveyed by the House. We shall continue to do that.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman described the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill as he did. It was a private Bill, and it is one of the responsibilities of this House to give enough time to private Bills. It so happens that the barrage proposals are of great significance to the economy of south Wales, so it was right to allow them that much time. I regret that it was not possible to reach a conclusion on the Bill because of opposition by some Labour Members to it. That has delayed the people of south Wales in benefiting from the barrage.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Does the Leader of the House accept that from time to time Parliament must reflect the fears and wishes of constituents about the issues that affect them? In that context, it is important to ask him again to review what he has already said about unemployment. Another 112,000 people have been added to the more than 2 million people on the pile of human misery, as today's figures show. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot guarantee a debate on unemployment next week, may we have one the week after that? If he cannot do that, let us have a debate on top directors' pay increases of 47 per cent.

Mr. MacGregor

We have had many opportunities in the House to debate economic matters, which include unemployment and employment issues, in the past few months. We shall continue to have such opportunities.I suspect that there will be a chance before long to debate economic matters for another full day. I have already given a commitment to find time before long for a debate on public expenditure. There are many opportunities to raise such matters and I do not want to avoid them. Measuring employment in this country against employment in many other Community countries and against where it stood only a few years ago shows that our actions and their effects compare extremely favourably with the policies of the Labour party, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member. So I am happy to have these matters debated; we have been debating them fairly regularly and we will continue to do so.