HC Deb 25 April 1991 vol 189 cc1209-22 3.30 pm
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

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 (Mr. John MacGregor)

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

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

Motions relating to the Education (National Curriculum) Orders. Details will be given in the Official Report.

TUESDAY 30 APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Debate on motions on estimates and supplementary estimates relating to the community charge and related grants. Details will be given in the Official Report.

WEDNESDAY 1 MAY—Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate to approve the first report (Session 1990–91) of the Select Committee on Broadcasting (House of Commons Paper No. 11), followed by a debate on the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and the Health Service Commissioner, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 2 MAY—Debate on the Royal Air Force on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 3 MAY—Private Members' Bills.

TUESDAY 7 MAY—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Bill, followed by progress on Committee stage of the Finance Bill.

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 23 May until Monday 3 June.

[Monday 29 April

Education ( National Curriculum) Orders

  1. i Education ( National Curriculum) (Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study in Geography) ( England) Order (S.I. 678).
  2. ii Education ( National Curriculum) (Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study in History) ( England) Order ( S.I. 681).
Tuesday 30 April

Estimates and supplementary estimates: Relevant documents:

supplementary estimates for class VIII, vote 14 (community charge and rate rebate grants, emergency assistance to local authorities, non-domestic rates outturn payments, etc, England); class XV, vote 22 ( Rate rebate grants transitional relief and community charge reduction grants, Scotland); class XVI, vote 11 ( Rate rebate grants and community charge reduction grants, Wales) ( HC 377); and

the corresponding main estimates (contained in HC 236-VIII, HC 236-XV and HC 236-XVI respectively).]

Mr. Grocott

I thank the Leader of the House for agreeing to arrange a debate on the work of the ombudsman next week. In view of the fact that the ombudsman is empowered to inquire into cases of maladministration where people have been misled about the likely cost of Government action or have been overcharged because of Government departmental incompetence, would not the prime target for the ombudsman be the shambles of the poll tax?

When may we have a debate on the criminal justice system, particularly in the light of the royal commission that has been announced?

When will we have a debate on the public expenditure White Paper? We have asked for it many times and it is long overdue. We know why the Government do not want to debate the economy and, in view of this week's information, I cannot say that I blame them for not doing so, but it is high time that we had a debate.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that, apart from the poll tax panic Bill that we had just before Easter, the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions (No. 2) Bill to be debated on Monday is the first piece of new Government legislation to be introduced into the Commons since the Finance Bill was presented on 25 March? Is not that absolutely clear evidence that the Government are running out of steam?

If all the press reports are correct—that the Prime Minister is running away from a June election and talking about one in the autumn, or maybe next year—what on earth shall we find to do to fill our time here?

Mr. MacGregor

I know that the hon. Gentleman is standing in for his hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), but that was a most tedious, irrelevant and feeble set of questions. They were irrelevant both to the real issues and to the business of the week. However, I shall endeavour to answer them.

First, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome of the debate on the parliamentary ombudsman, as recommended in the report of the Procedure Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery). I cannot promise that there will be regular debates, because of the pressure of business on the House every year. Those debates will not therefore be automatic. However, it is desirable to have a debate at this stage, in particular because my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) played a distinguished part as Chairman of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration Select Committee. He will be leading in that debate and it will be an important parliamentary occasion.

As for the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on the criminal justice system, I have already said that there is considerable pressure on Government time in the parliamentary timetable. However, I have noted his request. A large number of Government days are taken up with legislation at this time of the year, including Report stages and Third Readings. We have seen that this week, and the same will apply both next week and for some time to come. That is why I cannot promise an early debate.

That also demonstrates the utter nonsense of the point that the hon. Gentleman tried to make about the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions (No. 2) Bill being the first Government Bill since 21 March. He knows very well that most Government Bills are introduced early in the Session, as we have done. This is not a light Session for Government legislation. Already, 35 Bills are going through both Houses—rather more than in the last two Sessions. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's point was totally irrelevant to what is happening in the parliamentary timetable.

As for the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on the public expenditure White Paper, I confirm that I hope to arrange such a debate reasonably soon. I have already made that clear. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of legislation to be got through.

The hon. Gentleman was again off beam when he suggested that the Government do not want to debate the economy. During the last few weeks, we have debated the economy on many occasions, and there will be an opportunity to debate it again for a full day next Tuesday. That will provide us with the opportunity yet again to deploy our arguments as to why our economic policies are right and to expose the total inadequacy of the Opposition's economic policies.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

My right hon. Friend will have noticed early-day motion 667.

[That this House notes with grave concern the findings of a survey by the National Association of Taxi and Private Hire Licensing and Enforcement Officers which revealed that in the 136 councils that replied 486 criminal records had actually been discovered in a 18 month period, none of which had initially been declared during the interviews which took place under the provisions of the Local Government ( Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 which required a district council not to grant a licence unless they are satisfied that the applicant is a fit and proper person to hold a taxi driver's licence; calls upon the Home Office, the Department of Transport and the Association of Chief Police Officers to co-operate in the release of past criminal records of all new applicants to the chairmen of district licensing committees in a confidential file, so as to prevent any recurrence of what occurred in Southampton where a licence was given to a convicted rapist and calls fir a similar system to be introduced as that practised in London where the Metropolitan Police have access to criminal records when determining applicants for Hackney carriage driver's licences to be expanded to all district councils in the United Kingdom.]

It points out that people in the London area are fully protected because the Metropolitan police use their police records to vet taxi driver applications, whereas outside London there is no collusion between the police computer and the chairmen of the licensing authorities. Many anomalies are growing up whereby rapists and people accused of causing grievous bodily harm, exposure and molesting young children, as well as of other offences, are managing to get a taxi driver's licence. May we have a debate as early as possible about this most serious national issue?

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of my hon. Friend's interest in the issue and I have seen early-day motion 667. Recently the Home Office discussed with the Association of Chief Police Officers whether the police could take on the task that is mentioned in the early-day motion. The question will be looked at again in the light of the forthcoming report on Home Office scrutiny of criminal records. I suggest that that is the time when we ought to consider whether there might be some way of raising the matter in the House, although I cannot promise a debate.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

The Leader of the House will be aware that in its report on Ravenscraig the Select Committee on Trade and Industry recommended that there should be an early debate on the steel industry in the United Kingdom as a whole. Since British Steel is now apparently engaged on dismantling the steel strip mill at Ravenscraig and transferring elements of it to south Wales. Is the Leader of the House able to say when it will be possible to have a debate on the steel industry so that both those issues, and others that affect the industry in the United Kingdom as a whole, may properly be discussed?

Mr. MacGregor

The Government are carefully considering the Select Committee report, including its recommendation for an early debate on the future of the steel industry, as the hon. and learned Gentleman requested. We shall respond in the normal way. I cannot give an undertaking that there will be an early debate in Government time, because, as I said a moment ago, there is considerable pressure on Government time. It is always open to those who have time available for debates to raise the matter.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

As the recession appears to be much worse in the south than in the north, and as the strip mill to which the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East referred is moving to Teesside, is it not high time that we had a debate on the north-south divide? We could then discuss the excellent Government policies which are regenerating our regions, and which are being so ignobly glossed over by Opposition Members who wish to ignore that transformation.

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend about the excellent Government policies that have made such a difference to areas such as his. There will be opportunities when we are debating economic affairs—including, perhaps, next Tuesday's debate—for him further to develop the points that he has made.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 691 on the import of Japanese tosa dogs?

[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 fir 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.]

They are the sumo wrestlers of the dog world. They can grow to a weight of 17 stone, and can stand 6 ft. on their hind legs. They are absolutely lethal, having been bred to fight to the death in public. In view of the frightening attacks on children in recent years, and as last year there were 7,400 dog attacks on postmen—leading to 5,300 days of absence—will the Leader of the House ask the Government to make a statement and to introduce early legislation to ban the import of such dogs?

Mr. MacGregor

I understand the concern about those dogs, as I said last week in response to points raised by a number of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members. I have raised the problem with the Home Office, and I have nothing to add to what I said last week.

Sir Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

As my right hon. Friend is aware, one of the most appalliing events in Kuwait during recent months was when Iraqi scientists, doctors and academics went to Kuwait university and the medical school—which I have just visited—and took away masses of equipment, fine libraries and so on. May we have a statement from the Government setting out what can be done to restore those objects to their rightful owners in Kuwait?

Mr. MacGregor

I understand my right hon. Friend's concern, and I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friends in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 726, which I tabled last week, referring to the closure of two factories at Pilsley and Stonebroom in my constituency?

[That this House is appalled at the announcement of the closure of the Reeve Burgess bus factories at Pilsley and Stonebroom, in the constituency of Bolsover, with the loss of more than 160 jobs; notes that the letter signed by the Chairman of Reeve Burgess blames the Government for failing to respond positively to the proposals of the Bus and Coach Council to encourage the development of the bus as the major means of tackling congestion in our towns and cities and providing effective public transport; and calls upon the Prime Minister and his colleagues to reverse the dole-creating policies that bring so much misery to thousands of families in every area in Britain.]

The firm of Reeve Burgess is more than 100 years old, and 160 workers have been thrown on to the scrap heap by Plaxton plc, which is transferring the work to Scarborough. May we have a debate on that matter—or, better still, a debate on unemployment—so that we can discuss the issues?

Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and ask him to meet the workers at Stonebroom and Pilsley so that they can put their case for saving their factory and their jobs?

Mr. MacGregor

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, the closure of the Reeve Burgess bus factories in the east midlands—whose impact on local employment is to be regretted—is part of a rationalisation of bus manufacturing——

Mr. Skinner


Mr. MacGregor

It is part of a programme of rationalisation of bus manufacturing capacity by the parent company, Plaxton, to its more modern Scarborough plant that is currently under-utilised. That is a commercial matter for the company to decide.

We welcome every opportunity to debate the Opposition's alternative employment policies and to draw attention, as I did last week and as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did earlier, to the impact on and the great increase in unemployment that would occur if the Opposition were able to implement their proposals.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, last Saturday, the Woolf report on prisons was discussed at a seminar held in All Souls? Will he consider providing time to discuss the findings of that seminar, which offer a way forward on several aspects of the Woolf report, such as a pilot scheme and experimentation? Some of the findings were very interesting.

Mr. MacGregor

I have not had the chance to acquaint myself with that seminar. I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I do not see an opportunity in the immediate or early future for a general debate on these matters because of the pressure on the parliamentary timetable.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

Will the Leader of the House raise with the Foreign Secretary a matter of major importance to the whole House? Nine days ago there was tabled by the Luxembourg presidency the draft of the treaty on political union which will affect the rights of this Parliament and which seeks greatly to extend the area of control and competence of the European Community over the affairs of this nation. The treaty has not yet been made available to the House, despite many queries by hon. Members. Will the right hon. Gentleman please ensure that the draft treaty is made available without delay—there have been delays on these matters previously—so that we can study it and, if necessary, raise it with him and his colleagues at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. MacGregor

Of course I recognise the importance of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman is raising, and I shall look into the matter straight away.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the growing distaste of our fellow citizens for those who have deliberately not paid their share towards the cost of local government finance by not paying their community charge. Will he arrange as a matter of urgency for a statement to be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to ensure that these lawbreakers will be pursued in the near future and until the provisions of the council tax are in place and operating?

Mr. MacGregor

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance now. It will not be necessary for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that there is great public disquiet among all those who pay the community charge—this issue is raised all the time in our constituencies—and complaints about those, often among the better-off, who do not pay their community charge and thus run the risk of causing higher charges to be imposed on those who are law-abiding and who pay. We have consistently drawn attention in the House to Labour Members and Labour councillors who have not paid. There is a great deal of criticism of them. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that those who do not pay and who should be paying will be pursued. He is right to say that they should continue to be pursued until the new council tax takes effect.

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

Is it possible to have a debate next week to consider the implications now that there has been official acknowledgment that the civil service review board that heard the appeal of Colin Wallace was improperly approached by senior officers of the Ministry of Defence? Until this moment, the Government have pooh-poohed the allegation that this happened and have pushed it to one side. Now that we have an official acknowledgment that the board was improperly approached—undoubtedly by members of MI5—may we have a debate so that everything comes out into the open?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot promise that there will be a debate on the matter in Government time. There are so many requests for debates on other matters that it is not possible to accommodate them all. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are other ways of pursuing issues of concern to hon. Members.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

May we have a debate as soon as possible on the true cost of eating out in London? Has my right hon. Friend heard that the Labour party plans to hold a £500-a-head dinner in London? Should it not be obliged under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 to say on its invitations that, if the dinner helps to get a Labour Government elected, it would end up costing people very much more than £500? Would those who attend be entitled to ask for a refund if they found themselves sitting next to the hon. Member for Kingston Upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)? Is not the case——

Mr. Speaker

Order. How does the hon. Gentleman relate his question to Government responsibility?

Mr. Oppenheim

During a debate on the matter. could not Conservative Members argue that the fact that people can afford to pay so much money for such a daft dinner shows that 12 years of Tory rule have not been in vain after all?

Mr. MacGregor

I should like to be in a position to promise my hon. Friend such a debate so that he can elaborate his case even further. I am sure that we would all be pleased to hear what he had to say and many of us might think that he would make many pertinent points, but I cannot find time for that next week.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Ron Brown—do better than that.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Since Gerald Ratner has made a fortune selling "total crap"—to use his words—may we have a debate next week on consumer protection?

Mr. MacGregor

I have seen the hon. Gentleman's early-day motion and I have equally seen that the gentleman in question said that he made his comments, which were meant to be amusing, in jest, at a time when he thought that his audience was rather sleepy. It reminds me of the comments that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) sometimes makes in the House, which I have to assume that he too is making in jest.

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that questions should be about business for next week.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

My right hon Friend will, like the rest of the House, have thought that the Cleveland child sex abuse saga was behind us. Does he find it disturbing, as I do, that my constituents, whose children were kidnapped and withheld from them for such long periods, are still awaiting compensation as a result of the reluctance of those acting on behalf of the doctors and Cleveland county council who perpetrated the kidnap? Is it not time that something was done in the House of Commons so that compensation due to such unfortunate children and their parents was paid quickly and not when the lawyers finally got round to settling it?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not know the precise details of the compensation aspect, but I am sure that my hon. Friend understands them well, and I understand the importance of the point that he makes. I shall raise it with my right hon. Friend, but I am sure that he too will be pursuing it.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the multi-fibre arrangement to clarify whether the Government intend to support the EEC view that the MFA currently in force should be extended for a minimum period of 17 months in order to provide proper protection for the textile industry which, as the Leader of the House knows, is suffering from short-time working and unemployment, with mills facing closure in west Yorkshire and elsewhere? The textile industry is one of the most important industries in Britain in terms of employment and negotiations on the general agreement on tariffs and trade will not be concluded before the MFA expires and will probably go on well into 1992. This is an important matter on which a statement should be made next week, and I hope that the Leader of the House will arrange for it.

Mr. MacGregor

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point on the need to extend the MFA. We have discussed this at business questions on other occasions, and I will not go into the background of the GATT talks now. The Government accept the need to extend the MFA pending conclusion of the negotiations.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have an early debate on events connected with horses and ponies taking place this coming weekend, so as to draw to the attention of the nation the horror of the appalling suffering of horses and ponies exported for slaughter in European abattoirs that we shall see after 1992 unless something is done? Would it not be appropriate to have a debate on early-day motions 2 and 3, which have been signed by about 150 hon. Members on both sides of the House?

[That this House abhors the prospect of a resumption in the export of horses and ponies to continental abattoirs after 1992; urges the European Community ( the European Commission, European Parliament and all member states) to recognise that the ending of British export controls linked to minimum values would mean the rounding up of Dartmoor and other wild ponies for degrading and wholly unfamiliar transport to and across Europe; and calls for changes to proposed European Community measures on the protection of animals during transport, in order to maintain restrictions which avoid cruel treatment to British horses and ponies during long journeys and at continental slaughterhouses.]

Mr. MacGregor

I am well aware of the importance of the points raised in the early-day motions. I think that my hon. Friend knows that the Government remain fully committed—I stress—fully committed to retaining control to ensure that horses and ponies are not exported from Britain for slaughter abroad. I know from the many conversations that I have had with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the matter that he takes it extremely seriously in the negotiations. He has made that clear in innumerable letters on the matter, and many of my constituents have raised the matter with me. Therefore, even if I could find time for such a debate in the forthcoming week, I do not think that such a debate is necessary. The Government's determination to go on fighting this is clear.

Miss Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

I am sure that the Leader of the House will wish to join me in congratulating Manchester on winning the bid for the Olympic games. Is he aware from early-day motion 744 that the Minister for Sport has not yet answered an oral question in the House of Commons?

[That this House regrets that the Minister of Sport, although appointed in the summer of 1990, has yet to answer a single oral question on sport in the Chamber; and calls on the Procedure Committee to arrange for sport to have a question time allocation, as do the Arts and Overseas Development.]

If a statement is the only way for us to discuss sport, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for one to be made, particularly so that we can look at the Government's strategy towards building support for the British city for the Olympic games in the year 2000?

Mr. MacGregor

Hon. Members who have put down questions to my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport have not been successful in the ballot shuffle. I am sure that my hon. Friend feels that that is unfortunate because he is unable to answer oral questions. It is purely a matter of the ballot shuffle. There are ways in which the position could be made clear other than by oral statements. However, I will draw to my hon. Friend's attention what the hon. Lady has said.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the press speculation that the Ministry of Defence has decided to buy Challenger 2 as its replacement tank? That follows from the superb performance of Challenger I during the Gulf war. Can my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made in the House as soon as possible? It is vital to many of my constituents who work at David Brown Gears, because their jobs depend on that decision.

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot make any promises at this stage about when a statement might be made or whether it would be appropriate, but I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks and request for a statement to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

As tomorrow will be five years since the nuclear explosion and fire at Chernobyl, which was not only the worst peace-time nuclear accident—equal to 90 Hiroshimas—but the worst official cover-up, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made to allay the fears of the Ukrainian community in this country that 300,000 children and adults will die from radiation-induced cancers? Will the Government increase direct medical aid to the Ukraine and introduce in this country a programme for treating Ukrainian children?

Mr. MacGregor

I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman means about a cover-up. We all recognise the serious——

Mr. Nellist

By the Soviet Government.

Mr. MacGregor

I assumed that that was what he meant. I dealt with various aspects of the Chernobyl disaster and I can assure him that there was no cover-up here.

Mr. Nellist

indicated assent.

Mr. MacGregor

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman accepts that. Complete information was given to the public. The point that he raised is not for me, but I shall draw it to the attention of my appropriate right hon. Friends.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has driven through Stockport, but if he has he will have had plenty of time to admire my constituency because the busiest non-dual carriageway—the A6—runs north to south—or south to north if one is going to Manchester to see the Olympic site there. May we have an early debate on the disturbing news that the A6(M) bypass, which two weeks ago the Department of Transport said was about to be started, is now likely to be delayed or even scrapped because of a Brussels directive which states that there should be environmental consideration of the project? Is not that intrusion into Stockport—and indeed, British—affairs unnecessary, unwarranted and cheeky?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not know the details of the case, but I understand my hon. Friend's concern about the road improvements. I cannot promise a statement for the reason that I have already given—there is great pressure on the timetable—but I am sure that he will draw the matter to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Will the Leader of the House reflect on his answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) about the unemployed? Does he agree that there are more than 2 million reasons why the House should debate unemployment? His words will bring anger to the unemployed because of the way in which he has virtually disregarded the appeal for a debate in the House on such an important and serious matter.

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have been listening not only to what I have said on many occasions about unemployment issues, but to what many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said. As we are discussing the business statement, all I will say now is that there have been many opportunities to discuss employment and unemployment issues. I have welcomed those opportunities because I believe that our policies have ensured that our unemployment levels are still below the European average, and that the number in employment is higher than in most other European countries and a good deal higher than it was even four or five years ago. We have plenty of opportunities to make those points. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no lack of concern. The fact that we can debate the issues so often shows our concern for employment policies to be debated properly. In the coming week, there will again be opportunities to do so.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Would my right hon. Friend arrange for an urgent debate on the restructuring of local government so that we can make it clear to the electorate, before the elections for borough and district councils next week, that this time the Government intend to listen to the voice of the people rather than to the petty political posturings of councillors who hope that their councils will survive? A debate would especially make it clear to constituencies such as Isle of Wight, that have already had a Boundary Commission recommendation, that the elections are nothing to do with the restructuring of local government because that restructuring still requires primary legislation in the House, which will not happen before 1992?

Mr. MacGregor

It is not necessary to have a debate, because my hon. Friend has made the point clearly himself. To make it clear yet again, I point out that we have, as my hon. Friend knows, issued a consultation document on restructuring, and there will be consultation over the summer on that. The intention is that there will be legislation on that issue. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the restructuring cannot take place until that is done. He is right to say that it is not an immediate issue in the forthcoming local elections. What is far more important in those elections is which councils are more likely to deliver the best services at the best value for money, and therefore at the lowest cost to the community charge payer.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Following the happy and successful visit to this country of President Lech Walesa of Poland, may we have a debate on the help that not only Poland but other eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Soviet Union need from us? Bearing in mind the fact that a group of Members of Parliament will shortly go to Poland to visit, among other places, Auschwitz, and that they are very concerned about the growth of anti-sernitism in those countries, will the right hon. Gentleman ask his colleagues who deal with those countries to emphasise to them that it is important to the House that, if they want that help, they should look to human rights in their own countries and not least to the rights of the Jewish communities?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall have the pleasure of being with the President this evening. I am sure that the point is frequently made that the United Kingdom has given considerable aid to Poland. That includes the cancelation of a large element of the debt that Poland has incurred, which is an important contribution in itself and is well recognised. However, I cannot promise the hon. and learned Gentleman an early debate on the matter, for the reason that I have already given.

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement next week on the progress that has been made into the claims of the nuclear test veterans? He will know that I have raised the case of John Hall, a constituent of mine, on a number of occasions. We have tabled an early-day motion and I met the Prime Minister to discuss the case. I had a call today from the royal infirmary in Leicester to say that Mr. Hall's condition has deteriorated rapidly. We are in a race against time. Will the Leader of the House please arrange for a statement next week, and will he bring my comments to the attention of the Prime Minister?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that I cannot comment on the merits of the individual case, although I am very sorry to hear the information that he has just given to the House. I cannot make any promises about a statement next week, but I will, in the normal way, draw the attention of my appropriate right hon. Friend to his comments.

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

May we have a debate on the first report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests on the question of Committee chairmanships? May we have an assurance that we shall have a debate before the end of the Session?

Mr. MacGregor

I would not wish to give an absolute assurance because of the pressures on the timetable. As I hope is clear from the two debates on one day which we shall have next week, I am anxious to find time for debates on parliamentary matters. Next week's debate on broadcasting is the urgent one because we need to get on with the arrangements for the permanent televising of the House; that is why that debate is first. I know of the other Select Committee report and I am in the process of studying it. However, I cannot be sure when we will debate it.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

May we have an urgent debate on the housing crisis that continues unabated, especially in London? Because of the Government's policies, council rents have gone up by three times the level of inflation. The Government allocation for repairs and decorations in my borough has been cut by 30 per cent. this year, virtually no new homes are being built, and people who have huge numbers of points are still stuck on the council waiting list and cannot get a home. Ministers are well housed; why do they not care about those who are not?

Mr. MacGregor

For reasons I have already given, I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that there will be an opportunity for a debate on those matters, but there are plenty of opportunities to question Ministers on housing policies generally, and we have very good and robust responses on them.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Cabinet has discussed the replacement for the Chieftain tank, and that the Challenger 2 tank will be the preferred replacement? Will there be an announcement on that next week, or is he going to tell us that, as Leader of the House, he does not know?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot add to what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) a few moments ago.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

We welcome the provision for a debate on the omsbudsman next week, but can the Leader of the House confirm that that debate will also include the Northern Ireland ombudsman and the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints, who is responsible for complaints?

Is the Leader of the House in a position to respond to the report of the Procedure Committee on Select Committees? Is he in a position to provide for Select Committees for all the Government Departments? Does he agree that it is quite wrong for the internal procedures of the House not to be considered on their merits but to be left open to the influence of political horse-trading elsewhere involving foreign countries?

Mr. MacGregor

On the first point, I shall have to check, but obviously we want the debate on the ombudsman, since it is an important debate, to range over as many ombudsman issues as possible. If I may, I shall check exactly what motion we will put down and let the hon. Gentleman know.

On the second point, I hope shortly to give the response of the Procedure Committee's report on Select Committees.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

May I press the Leader of the House again for a debate on the deepening recession all over the country, not least in the west midlands, where hardly a day goes by without news of further redundancies and, in some cases, closures? How many more people must suffer as a result of Government policies—policies which, to use the phrase of a certain store owner, may well be described as crap?

Mr. MacGregor

There is to be a full day's debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill next week, and as the Bill contains a number of tax measures of great importance and help to companies, it will be possible to raise economic issues in that debate.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Before the debate on community charges next week, will the right hon. Gentleman direct the Government's attention to the perverse effect of the so-called council tax on one Welsh council where, according to the preliminary figures, virtually half the bills will go up substantially? Detailed analysis has proved that, in Monmouth, bills will go up by a ferocious amount. Monmouth constituents will be the worst hit in Wales as a result of the Government's proposed changes. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider that as a matter of urgency?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will make clear responses on that matter. I hope to be visiting Monmouth shortly, and I shall do the same.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Will the Leader of the House allow time for a serious and urgent discussion on the provision of a heart research centre in the Leeds area to serve the Yorkshire and south Humberside region? Eight months ago, a fund was started to raise money for the heart research centre, but it has now been scrapped. The future of services at Killingbeck hospital hangs in the balance because of the attitude of the Yorkshire regional health authority. This is a serious and urgent matter and the campaign that has been announced by the Secretary of State for Health makes it more urgent. May we have a debate on the provision of a research centre, which is needed in the Yorkshire and Humberside region?

Mr. MacGregor

From what the hon. Gentleman says, that is primarily a matter for the regional health authority. I simply cannot say that there will be time for a debate in Government time. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are opportunities for Members to raise in other ways in the House issues which cause them concern.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Is it part of the Leader of the House's thinking to have a debate on the extremely well written report by the Select Committee on rain forest destruction? Is there any possibility next week of a statement in response to the moving report by the Quakers from Baghdad which foreshadows hepatitis, meningitis, cholera, diphtheria and typhoid and in particular, the moving statement of a Karbala doctor who needed water. He said: To get water I need electricity. To get electricity I need a generator. To work the generator I need fuel. To get fuel I need a tanker. There are no tankers. We are facing a health disaster. May we debate it?

Mr. MacGregor

On the latter point, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have had a statement recently on some of the subjects that he has raised. I will draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. On the Select Committee report, the hon. Gentleman will recognise from the many pressures on me for debates in the House on many different subjects, including matters dealt with by other Select Committees, that it simply is not possible to accommodate them all in the near future.

Mr. Dalyell

On the Consolidated Fund?

Mr. MacGregor

If the matter can be debated in a Consolidated Fund debate, it certainly will not be the Consolidated Fund debate that we shall have on Tuesday week. That relates to the motion that we shall debate on Tuesday evening. Perhaps this is an opportunity to say that the Consolidated Fund debate in the following week will follow from that motion and will be mainly automatic. It is not possible to debate the Select Committee report.

I have noted the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on the Select Committee report to which he referred.