HC Deb 12 December 1991 vol 200 cc991-1004 3.31 pm
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

Will the Leader of the House please tell us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY I6 DECEMBER and TUESDAY I7 DECEMBER—Remaining stages of the Local Government Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY I8 DECEMBER and THURSDAY I9 DECEMBER—Debate on the outcome of the European Council at Maastricht on a Government motion.

FRIDAY 2O DECEMBER—Debates on the Adjournment.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Commitee B will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 18 December to consider the unnumbered explanatory memorandum relating to the dignity of women and men at work.

[Relevant report of European Legislation Committee HC 24-iii (1991–92)]

Mr. Grocott

Is the Leader of the House aware that we are not at all happy about the way in which time is being allocated for debates which the Opposition choose? We had an Opposition day last Thursday, on 5 December. There is none this week, there will be none next week, and we then have the three-week Christmas recess, so the earliest possible date for a debate will be the second week in January. We fully understand that the Government will not want us to pick subjects for debate in the run-up to the general election. Perhaps the Government are beginning to clear the decks for the general election, which of course we would warmly welcome. However, we should not be deprived of our time meanwhile.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an absolute assurance that there will be an Opposition day in the first week of our return, when we can have a debate on a subject of our choosing?

In view of yesterday's figures on homelessness, showing that no fewer than 60,000 people are in temporary accommodation and will be, presumably, throughout the Christmas period—an increase of 33 per cent. on last year—can the right hon. Gentleman undertake to arrange for a Cabinet Minister to make a statement on the crisis of homelessness one day next week? We know that there is to be a debate later tonight, but that is not enough.

May we have a specific day on which we can debate conditions of employment throughout Europe, not as part of the European debate on Wednesday and Thursday next week? Now that we know that the Government's platform is to argue that British working conditions should be the worst in Europe, we want an opportunity to discuss—[Interruption.] Tory Members do not like this, but they will hear a lot of it before the general election. We want an opportunity to demonstrate our agreement with virtually all other informed public opinion in Europe that good working conditions lead to efficiency and higher productivity. Until the Government understand this, we shall keep pressing it.

Mr. MacGregor

On the first point, we are very happy to have Opposition days, when we can exploit all the divisions and difficulties in Opposition policies. However, this week, with the agreement, I think, of the whole House, we are anxious to get the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Bill through. Then there are all the various debates which we are obliged to have before Christmas and which have to be taken this week. That is why I was unable to suggest a Suppy day this week.

I believe that the House regards it important to have two days next week on Maastricht. It is also very important to get the Local Government Finance Bill through the House before Christmas. That is why we have to deal with it next week. It is a question for the usual channels, but I shall certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request for a Supply day fairly soon after we get back.

On homelessness, the hon. Gentleman will know well that the Government have taken many initiatives. Over three years, about £100 million is being spent on providing accommodation for the homeless in London where there is a heavy concentration of the problem because many people come to London. The hon. Gentleman will know that that initiative is having substantial and beneficial effects. I cannot promise him a debate next week, for the reasons which I have already given.

Conditions of employment throughout Europe can certainly be debated next Wednesday and Thursday. All my right hon. and hon. Friends will be happy to have that topic debated next week, when we can draw attention to the British conditions and traditions and the dangers of militant union leadership which we saw so clearly throughout the 1970s. The employment aspects of the social chapter could be very damaging to conditions of employment here. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that lost jobs are the thing most of all that people in this country would not wish to see. That could well follow from some aspects of the social chapter. I would be happy for the matter to be debated next week.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that this is a private Members' day, with an Adjournment motion and a number of important subjects to be debated under the Consolidated Fund Bill. I ask hon. Members to confine their questions to business next week and not to refer to general matters which may be raised later.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

Will my right hon. Friend resist the claim for a separate debate in the House about conditions of employment on the continent of Europe? Surely that is not within the sovereign control of the House. Would it not be odd to accede to the request of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) since he wishes to give control over these matters to another assembly and to take it away from the House? Is not my right hon. Friend right to say that those matters can be referred to peripherally in the very welcome debate which we shall have next Wednesday and Thursday?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend except on one point: I do not think that the matter would necessarily be peripheral to the debate next week because it is an important aspect of the successful conclusion to the negotiations which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister achieved. I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend on his other points, which is why I have resisted the request from the Opposition for a separate debate.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

The Leader of the House will be aware that last night there was an extensive debate on the fishing industry. In the busy schedule for next week, will he be able to ensure that there will be a report back from the Fisheries Council, because the matter is of such great importance to many of our constituents?

Mr. MacGregor

I fully understand the point that the hon. Lady makes. She is right about the importance of the matter. I hope that we will be able to have a statement on the outcome of the Fisheries Council. I warn her, however, that it may be late in the week.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)

May I agree with the request of the deputy shadow Leader of the House for a debate on social chapter style costs of employment? As we saw yesterday, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what is going on in Europe. It is only in recent years that French and German employment creators have started to complain bitterly about the loss of competitiveness which they are suffering as a result of social chapter style reforms in their countries. As the matter is so key to the European debate, surely we should have a separate debate next week, preceding the full debate on Europe.

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that is possible. I am sure my hon. Friend agrees with me that we want to get the Local Government Finance Bill through on Monday and Tuesday. The point that he is making is very important. I hope to allow extended time for the debate on Wednesday to enable the social chapter and other points relating to the Maastricht outcome to be discussed by as many hon. Members as possible.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

As there will almost certainly be a challenge to the European Court of Justice over Britain's opting out of the social charter, will one of the Law Officers be present during next week's two-day debate? This is an important matter and a Law Officer should be given an opportunity to assess the challenge that will almost certainly be made to the European Court.

Mr. MacGregor

I do not agree with the premise, so it will not be necessary for a Law Officer to be present. However, if the point is raised, one of my right hon. Friends will be perfectly happy to respond to it.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

I thank my right hon. Friend for agreeing to extend the debate on Wednesday night. Will he take this opportunity to confirm that it is not compulsory for Privy Councillors to speak in the debate, particularly not those who spoke last time?

Mr. MacGregor

That is a matter for my right hon. Friends and for you, Mr. Speaker. I am very sympathetic to the matter, however, and understand the great importance of the two-day debate next week. That is why I propose that the debate on the first day should continue until 2 am.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate next week on the important celebration that will take place on 1 January, when badges such as the one I am wearing manufactured from discarded Soviet and American missiles will be sold to raise money for world disaster relief? Should not that cause be highlighted and debated in the House?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot give Government time for that matter next week, beyond what I have offered.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

My I direct the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 365?

[That this House notes the role of Robert Maxwell in providing employment, funds or both to officials and associates of the Labour Party, including Sir Tom McCaffrey, Joe Haines, Nick Grant and Helen Liddell; observes that, had Labour won a General Election, they would doubtless have transferred their skills from running one man's rickety empire to running the country; notes further that contributions in cash and kind have been made from this source towards running the Labour Party; and calls for full explanations, appropriate disgorgement and compensation to the unfortunate pensioners of the Maxwell organisation.]

Will it be possible to fit in a debate next week on links between the Labour party and the late Robert Maxwell? That would prove to the country that there is no difference between them, in the sense that they both like to spend other people's money.

Mr. MacGregor

I have noted the early-day motion. I shall not comment on the first part of my hon. Friend's question, but there will be plenty of opportunities in tomorrow's debate for the second part to be raised. I suspect that it will also be in order to raise various aspects of the Mirrior Group affair. I draw attention to the point that my hon. Friend rightly raises about the willingness of the Labour party to spend other people's money on every problem, which is why it is now saddled with such a high expenditure commitment. I agree with my hon. Friend that that could be raised tomorrow.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week to allow the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on the deplorable service in the north-east of England on the InterCity east coast line? Millions of pounds have been spent on electrification and the service is appalling. People are waiting 11 hours for trains to reach their destinations and trains are being cancelled. Will the Secretary of State for Transport make a statement on what he intends to do about the problem?

Mr. MacGregor

I understand the recent difficulties. As the hon. Gentleman says, there has been a substantial capital investment programme. I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, but I cannot promise a statement because the House will be anxious to spend as much time as possible next week on the Local Government Finance Bill, which has a timetable, and on the important two-day debate on European matters on Wednesday and Thursday.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Is the Leader of the House aware that hon. Members were grateful for the speed with which the original Maastricht text and the amendments thereto were made available yesterday? When will the consolidated text be made available?

Mr. MacGregor

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes and I am grateful for his acknowledgment of the speed with which the latest texts were placed in the Vote Office and the Library. I hope and am informed that the consolidated texts on both the political and monetary union aspects—they will not be consolidated together but a text will be consolidated for each—will be available on Monday. We shall ensure that they are in the Vote Office and Library as soon as possible.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

Is the Leader of the House aware that no statement has been made in the past week by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the fact that all capital expenditure in Northern Ireland has been frozen for the rest of the financial year? No statement has been made to the House, no information has been given to hon. Members from Northern Ireland, and no debate has yet taken place on the appropriations. The measure affects housing, hospital, health and education programmes. If the capital expenditure is to be suspended until 1 April, will the Leader of the House, as a matter of grave urgency, give at least an hour next week for a statement or a debate on this important matter, which is affecting every aspect of life in Northern Ireland?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot promise Government time on that matter next week. As I was not present earlier, I do not know whether the issue was raised during questions. However, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the responsibilities of non-executive directors? Does he recall the debate in another place on 31 January last, in which Lord Williams of Elvel and Lord Donoughue lectured the Government on that subject—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is out of order.

Mr. Wardle

I simply wish to say that both those Lords have been directors of Maxwell companies which filched their—

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

What about Lord Rippon and Lord Havers?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Leave it to me, please. If hon. Members wish to criticise Members of the other place, it must be done by a motion.

Mr. Wardle

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will find time next week for a debate so that those subjects may be aired in this House in the interests of the pensioners of the Maxwell companies whose funds have been filched?

Mr. MacGregor

As you, Mr. Speaker, have already said, there will be opportunities this afternoon and during the Consolidated Fund debates this evening for those matters to he raised.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you ask the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) to withdraw the comment that he made at the end of his question? Will the hon. Gentleman repeat what he said?

Mr. Speaker

I am not asking the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) to do that. I understood him to say that funds had been "filched"—not a word that I would use. The hon. Gentleman did not imply that the noble Lords had done it.

Mr. Wardle

If I did, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw that. I simply wished to say that they were directors of the companies from which those funds disappeared.

Mr. Speaker

That is nearly as bad. I think that I had better call Mr. Nellist.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a full debate on early-day motion 352?

[That this House recognises that this year's Christmas bonus, first paid to pensioners in 1972, would need to be £82.20 to match the increase in earnings since then; and calls for its immediate increase to restore its original value.]

Is he aware of figures given to me recently by the Department of Social Security that show that, if the conditions of 1989 are repeated this year, the number of pensioners who die this month, compared to the average number who die in July, will be 31,000? Why is it that, after 12 years of the Conservative Government and their economic policies, so many pensioners have to choose between food and fuel? If last night's temperatures are repeated, 1,000 of them a night will lose that battle.

Mr. MacGregor

Unless I am misinformed, I think that early-day motion 352 relates to the Christmas bonus. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have paid the Christmas bonus throughout their years of office, unlike the Labour party when it was in government.

On the hon. Gentleman's wider point, there have been substantial improvements in the vast majority of pensioners' living standards in the past decade or more. On the issue of meeting fuel costs, he will know that the schemes that we have introduced have been extended, which will be of great benefit to many people if we have cold weather.

Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)

Having chided my right hon. Friend for the inadequacy of time available for the European debate before the Maastricht settlement, may I warn him that, despite the additional hours that he has allowed, there is likely to be even more dissatisfaction on this occasion, as the overwhelming majority of my right hon. and hon. Friends will wish to participate in the debate to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the tremendous success that he has achieved?

Mr. MacGregor

It was because I was conscious of the requests from many of my hon. Friends and some Opposition Members for plenty of time for the debate that I have extended the time available. I am happy to accept my hon. Friend's chiding on this occasion, because the reason that he gave for it is one of which I entirely approve and fully support.

Mr. John P. Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a debate so that we might consider whether legislation should be introduced to compel record companies to place warning labels on recorded material that is unsuitable for children, especially in the light of the irresponsible decision by EMI not to do so? If we fail to do that, there is a danger that there will be a repeat of what happened to my constituent, Mrs. K. Morris of Barry, who unknowingly purchased for her 10-year-old son, and in the presence of her seven-year-old daughter, a cassette which contained the most foul and obscene language. [Interruption.] I am sure that everyone believes that Parliament has a duty to protect mothers and fathers who want to exercise parental guidance and judgment, even if some Conservative Members do not. Will the Leader of the House carefully consider this important issue?

Mr. MacGregor

I think that my hon. Friends were referring to a different matter from that to which the hon. Gentleman believed they were referring. Of course I understand his concern. We all wish to ensure that children are protected by their parents from such incidents as he mentioned, although I cannot comment on the particular case because I do not know about the incident. However, I cannot find Government time for such a debate next week. If he wishes to raise the matter in detail, he must find an opportunity himself.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)

May we have a debate next week on safety in the home, which would give me an opportunity to point out to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how vital it is to adopt the practice that is prevalent on the continent of having moulded-on plugs for electrical appliances? At the same time, it would give me the opportunity to salute the excellent campaign run by The Mail on Sunday, which is urging the Secretary of State to allow that to happen.

Mr. MacGregor

I think that my hon. Friend has already made his point.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Will the Leader of the House allow Government time in the very near future for a debate on the future of the textile industry? Does he acknowledge that, even in areas such as south-east Scotland and at the high value end of the textile industry, there are substantial factory closures and redundancies? The importance of the general agreement on tariffs and trade negotiations and of the Uruguay round to the future of the industry is recognised by all hon. Members, and it would be a good thing if the Government could find time for a debate in the near future.

Mr. MacGregor

I know the importance of the GATT round to the textile industry. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the basis for agreement of the Uruguay round needs to be established by the end of the year. It is now known that the GATT director general, Mr. Dunkel, has announced his intention to table a comprehensive paper embodying the results of the negotiations of all the issues, including textiles, on 20 December. We must all hope that that will enable the round to be concluded formally early in the new year.

As the hon. Gentleman also knows, there has been an agreement to extend the multi-fibre arrangement on textiles for another year in the event of that timetable not being met, but I should have thought that the time to consider a discussion of that matter in the House would be when we know how the GATT negotiations are going.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to study an as yet largely unnoticed declaration to the treaty on the protection of animals and which was included at the special behest of the British Government? Would it not be widely welcomed by our constituents who care deeply about animal welfare, and should not the important success of the British Government be given some prominence in the debate next week on the Maastricht treaty?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am sure that he will wish to go further and to draw attention to the recent success of right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the successful outcome to the negotiations on the directives, which involved, among other matters, the export of live horses.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Leader of the House accept my apologies for being unduly patient with the profligacy of the Government—especially of the Secretary of State for Scotland—in relation to the Sheriff Kearney inquiry into social work in Fife? May we have a statement before the recess on why an inquiry costing £600,000 to the Scottish Office and £1,350,000 to Fife—nearly £2 million in total—has not printed one word and on why we have no sign of when Sheriff Kearney will report? May we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland on that matter?

Mr. MacGregor

Most hon. Members would want us to restrict oral statements next week to those that are most urgent, given that we have a timetable on the first two days and an extremely important debate on the next two. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend, but I would not want to hold out hope of an oral statement.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

In business questions last week, my right hon. Friend heard calls for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement about what and when the Government knew of the serious allegations made against Maxwell Communication Corporation, dating back to December 1990. As the Secretary of State has not made such a statement, can my right hon. Friend confirm that he has not been deterred or fixed by the Opposition, who are clearly worried by the fact that not only is the legal adviser to Mirror Group Newspapers a former Labour Member of Parliament but a director of MGN is the deputy leader of the Labour party in another place—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Business question time is not an opportunity to make that sort of allegation. We are asking about the business for next week.

Mr. Allason

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to come to the House, undeterred by calls from the Opposition, to make a full statement on Mirrorgate?

Mr. MacGregor

If and when it is appropriate for my right hon. Friend to do so, I am sure he will. As my hon. Friend knows, these matters are the subject of an inquiry by the Serious Fraud Office and by IMRO, the Investment Management Regulatory Organisation, and they will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend any matters that they feel should be drawn to his attention.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week giving more information, following the Prime Minister's welcome announcement today that additional help will be given to those on benefit who are experiencing difficulties in repaying mortgages? I ask on behalf of constituents living in Hanover square in Bradford, many of whom are pensioners on low incomes or are unemployed. Having sold their homes for £1 to the British Heritage housing trust, they are extremely angry because they cannot afford to buy them back at prices of up to £51,000. May we have a full statement on the help being given to those having difficulty in repaying mortgages? I hope that that will help my constituents to buy back the homes that they are occupying.

Mr. MacGregor

That is a rather different matter from the one to which my right hon. Friend was responding. If and when a statement is to be made, I am sure it will be made as quickly as possible.

Mr. Michael Irvine (Ipswich)

In 1987, the late Robert Maxwell took control of Ransomes and Rapier, a long-established Ipswich company. Five months later he closed it down. It now appears that, not content with robbing several hundred of my constituents of their jobs—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is making a statement. Will he relate it to the business for next week, or raise it later tonight?

Mr. Irvine

I certainly will. It now appears that this socialist millionaire, having robbed several hundred of my constituents of their jobs, went on to plunder their pension funds. I ask my right hon. Friend for an assurance that before long we will have a full day to debate pension funds and how best to protect them against the depredations of unscrupulous directors and negligent trustees.

Mr. MacGregor

I have noted my hon. Friend's request for a debate on these matters in due course. As you, Mr. Speaker, have said, some of those issues can be debated later today.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Attorney-General to come to the House next week to make a statement on Sunday trading? I know that he has already made one, but there is a national outcry at the way in which the Government, including the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister, are standing by while there is an outbreak of lawlessness among the multinationals on Sunday trading. Does the Leader of the House realise that without such a statement many people outside the House will conclude that the Government's inertia and double standards in allowing such lawlessness are not unconnected with the large contributions which B and Q has made to the Tory party?

Mr. MacGregor

That is a disgraceful allegation which has nothing to do with the issue. "Lawlessness" is an inappropriate word to use because the state of the law is now being considered by the highest court in the land. The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. and learned Friend made a full statement to the House the other day, and I see no need for one next week.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the public funding of Opposition parties in this place? There now seems to be a need for public funding for Militant Tendency in this place. If that were true, it would encourage not just the hon. Members for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) and for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) but other Labour Members who are closet Militants to come out of the closet. The Opposition parties would be grateful because they are likely to remain in opposition for a long time.

Mr. MacGregor

I notice that my hon. Friend is due to initiate a Consolidated Fund debate on that very issue tonight, and I hope that we reach it.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Further to the comments made by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), with which I agree, on the extraordinary moratorium on public sector contracts in Northern Ireland which will hit hard several important health projects in my constituency as well as being a poor Christmas present to the construction industry, is the Leader of the House aware that the excuse given by the Northern Ireland Office for that remarkable action is that criminal damage claims have run between £10 million and £15 million higher than budgeted for, a figure which ought to be within the scope of the contingency fund or covered by the many billions of pounds of additional public spending announced recently by the Government, is literally incredible? Is it not more likely that the Northern Ireland Office's finances are in a mess, underlining the need for a Select Committee on Northern Ireland?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already made clear many times the position on the Select Committee. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's first point to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Has my right hon. Friend noted the decision of the parents of St. George's school, Gravesend, by a majority of nine to one, to become grant-maintained, and the same decision of two other schools by similar majorities? Therefore, may we have a debate on the management of schools which will enable us to highlight the Opposition's policy to overrule the decision of the parents in those schools, to claw back education funds to the centralised bureaucracy and, while we are about it, highlight the Opposition's policy to destroy the two excellent grammar schools in Gravesend?

Mr. MacGregor

As an enthusiast for and advocate of grant-maintained schools, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that he will take every opportunity to express his points locally because, in so doing, he is clearly very much on the side of the parents and the extra choice that we are now giving in education as well as the raising of standards.

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

The Leader of the House mentioned that European Standing Committee B, of which I am a hard-pressed member, is to meet next week. Will he confirm that the Procedure Committee will be publishing its report on the modus operandi of that Committee and European Standing Committee A? May we have as soon as possible a statement on the right hon. Gentleman's reaction to that report in order, among other things, to give some sustenance to the members of those two Committees? I am not talking about financial sustenance. We need assistance to deal effectively with a work load which, I suspect, will increase during the next few months.

Mr. MacGregor

I thank the hon. Gentleman and all right hon. and hon. Members who serve on those two Committees, which are doing a valuable job in a more effective way than was done previously. That is the general conclusion that I am reaching from all the reactions that I am receiving.

I look forward to receiving the report of the Select Committee on Procedure, and agree with the hon. Gentleman that, depending of course on what it says, we ought to see whether any further measures could be taken to assist the Standing Committees in their work. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is an interim review. We have had only comparatively short experience, and no doubt we will look more widely in due course. I look forward to receiving the report.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a significant number of my right hon. and hon. Friends are bitterly disappointed that during today's Consolidated Fund Bill debate only one and a half hours have been allocated to discussing pension funds? We would wish to pursue further the criminal frauds committed by Robert Maxwell and others associated with the Daily Mirror. In particular, I ask my right hon. Friend to find time next week to allow us to pursue the role played by Mr. Joe Haines, sometime press officer of a Labour Prime Minister, an executive director of Mirror Group Newspapers—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that he is also a peer—[Interruption.] No, he is not a peer.

Mr. MacKay

I hope, Mr. Speaker, that he never will be. In addition to being an executive director of Mirror Group Newspapers, Mr. Haines cringingly wrote the authorised biography of the late Robert Maxwell, in which he threw out of the window what little journalistic integrity he ever had.

Mr. MacGregor

It is clear that there is considerable interest and concern in the House about that matter. I know that the Consolidated Fund Bill allows for only a short debate, but there will be other opportunities for raising the matter, including tomorrow.

Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)

Is the Leader of the House aware that decisions will be taken in Brussels on 18 December about the permitted level of support for the shipbuilding industry in Europe? Has any consideration been given to allowing right hon. and hon. Members to express an opinion on that matter, either on the Floor of the House or in European Standing Committee B? If not, can the Leader of the House at least persuade the silent Department of Trade and Industry to say something on the subject?

Mr. MacGregor

I will look into the point and will write to the hon. Lady.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

My right hon. Friend intimated that the House cannot expect a statement on Sunday trading next week. Will he give an assurance that there will soon be a full day's debate so that the House can clarify its view, if that is possible, on Sunday trading?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that I can give that assurance in the near future, because my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office is continuing with her discussions. The House has been expressing its view quite a bit recently, such as on the two statements that we had. I would not necessarily say that it clarified its view. Certainly I felt that it made it clear that there were still strongly divided views in the House.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

The business of the House for next week means that we will yet again have a 10 o'clock vote on a Thursday. When the Leader of the House came to the Select Committee on Procedure when it was considering the sittings of the House, he tried to reassure us that right hon. and hon. Members with constituencies some distance from London would, through the usual channels, be able to return to their constituencies to conduct their business at weekends. As the right hon. Gentleman has already heard, we from the north are already having exceptional difficulty in travelling to and from London on public transport. There have been six votes at 10 o'clock on a Thursday evening since the right hon. Gentleman told us that that would not happen.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With great respect to the hon. Lady, what does that have to do with next week's business? Will she ask a question about that?

Ms. Armstrong

It has to do with the way in which the Leader of the House organises the business of the House. He is making it exceptionally difficult, given the commitment that he made to the Procedure Select Committee, for some right hon. and hon. Members to fulfil their responsibilities as Members of Parliament to their constituencies and to the House.

Mr. MacGregor

I did not give any commitment to the Select Committee; that was not the purpose of the evidence. I made known a number of personal views, proposals, and recommendations for the Committee to consider. It is now for the Committee to do that, and to report to the House. I indicated also that, wherever possible, we endeavour—including through the usual channels—to assist right hon. and hon. Members representing constituencies well away from London to return to them on Thursday evening. However, it is not always possible to arrange that. I hope that the hon. Lady understands that next week's debate is of great significance, and I cannot believe that Members of Parliament feel that it would not be right to have that debate and the 10 o'clock vote on Thursday.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

I shall be happy to vote in the hon. Lady's stead.

The Tees and Hartlepool port authority is currently being privatised. The board will decide on the preferred bidder on Monday, and the Government will make a statement on Thursday, but we shall have no opportunity to debate the matter in the House. May we have a statement on Monday or Tuesday?

The Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in Banchory was destroyed by fire on 4 December. So far no statement has been made about its future. May we have such a statement?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall have to discuss the hon. Gentleman's second question with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. As for his first question, the Tees and Hartlepool port authority is the vendor in the current privatisation, and it is for the authority to assess bids for the port in the light of its objectives of sale and then to decide which bid to recommend. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will, I know, consider that recommendation carefully, but the decision will he his; I cannot anticipate it, or the exact time when he will make it.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunningham, North)

We are now entering the coldest spell of the year. Once again, statistics show that the mortality rate among elderly people in cold conditions, whose homes lack heating facilities, is higher here than in any other European country.

Opposition Members wish that European standards in this regard could be imported. May we have a debate—not towards the end of the year, when conditions will have changed, but now, while the problem is urgent and immediate—about the effectiveness of support systems for elderly people in cold weather, and the possibility of delivering the pittance that is, potentially, available now, in time for it to have an effect? Can the House possibly be faced with a more urgent subject than that of the thousands of pensioners who will die in the weeks ahead because of a natural element against which this prosperous society has proved incapable of protecting them?

Mr. MacGregor

There is no need for a statement on cold weather payments. The Government introduced those payments, and they have also introduced significant improvements for this winter. All those eligible will be paid automatically and quickly. We also have the facility to base payments on forecasts made by the Meteorological Office, as well as on recorded information. The capital rule has been abolished, and 400,000 more people will be eligible as a result. The links with weather stations have also been improved. No statement is necessary; the Government have done the right thing, and they have already acted.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 373?

[That this House, aware that as a result of the recent agreement at Maastricht the United Kingdom will now move inevitably, despite an 'opt-in' clause, towards a single European currency which will replace the present European composite currency or ecu; recognises that such a new single currency will be heavily influenced by Germany and that its naming is of great importance; suggests the name of Karl, derived from Karl der Grosse or Charlemagne, who in early times achieved the unification of much of Europe; notes that the monetary sign of K, like £, is unique and therefore well fitted to take its place beside the $ and ¥ and urges Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer to put this initiative to his colleagues at the European Council of Ministers.]

Does he accept that the naming of a new single European currency is a matter of considerable importance? Please may we have a specific debate to consider that important matter so that we can present a well-considered British suggestion to our European colleagues?

Mr. MacGregor

I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will wish to make his own suggestions, and he will be able to do so next week. I do not think, however, that I can give a time for a specific debate on that one item.

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

May we have a debate on the future of the bus and commercial vehicle manufacturing industry, particularly in the light of Volvo's decision to close Britain's principal bus manufacturing plant, which is in Workington? Does the Leader of the House agree that it is not for private companies to decide to close strategic parts of British industry, and that it is for a British Government to be fully consulted and to be part of such decisions?

Mr. MacGregor

If the hon. Gentleman is recommending direct intervention in particular commercial decisions, I do not agree with him. Obviously, I have great sympathy for all who have been affected by the closure, but it is for the hon. Gentleman to look for opportunities to speak. I know that he has already tried, but other opportunities are available. I cannot promise a debate next week.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week about the plight of the homeless? We shall not be occupying this place for three weeks during the Christmas recess. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman make a decent gesture, instead of just talking? Why does he not throw open the doors of Parliament to the homeless of London? There is plenty of heat and plenty of light here; there are plenty of places to sleep—plenty of empty Benches. There are catering facilities, and there is plenty of security.

I think that it is high time that the Government did something about homelessness, instead of just talking about it. Open the doors—or will the Government opt out of that as well?

Mr. MacGregor

We have already acted, rather than talking about it, and have provided substantial additional facilities for the homeless in London.