HC Deb 07 February 1991 vol 185 cc420-32 3.52 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.

MONDAY II FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Bill [Lords]

TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the British Technology Group Bill

Committee and remaining stages of the Namibia Bill [Lords]

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

WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY—There will be a debate on a motion to approve the Chancellor of the Exchequer's autumn statement.

Motion on the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order.

THURSDAY 14 FEBRUARY—Opposition day (6th allotted day). Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "The Crisis in Farming". Afterwards, there will be a debate entitled "The Crisis in Fishing".

Both debates will arise on Opposition motions in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

FRIDAY 15 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 18 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Maintenance Enforcement Bill [Lords].

Committee and remaining stages of the Ministerial and Other Pensions and Salaries Bill.

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

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

Can we have some clarification from the Leader of the House about the severe weather payments changes that were announced in a most unsatisfactory way through a planted question to the Prime Minister this afternoon? On a matter of this importance, which the Opposition have repeatedly been drawing to the Government's attention, we need a proper statement from a Minister to which we can properly respond. It is not good enough, when the whole country has known perfectly well that we were heading for a period of severe weather, for the problem to be dealt with by means of crisis meetings between Ministers. We want a proper statement and a proper review of the system.

While the Government are about it, how about having a Minister from the Department of Energy at the Dispatch Box next week to explain to us that if only the energy conservation programme of the last Labour Government had remained in operation, some 6 million homes that are not insulated would now be properly insulated? Let us have an apology from a Minister on that.

Why are we having only a half-day debate on Tuesday on the British Technology Group Bill? The Government's privatisation schemes have repeatedly ripped off the taxpayer over the past 12 years. Surely we owe it to taxpayers to spend more than half a day explaining why their assets are being sold against their will.

As I or my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) have repeatedly asked the Leader of the House for a debate on the Cullen report on the Piper Alpha disaster, I raise the matter again with some desperation. The Leader of the House has repeatedly said that we do not have time for such a debate. Will he now give us a specific time and date when that important matter can be debated?

Mr. MacGregor

In the light of the recent severe weather and this morning's meeting to discuss what further steps could be taken—I am talking about further steps, because the Government have taken many steps in relation to the position of the elderly and the disabled in cold weather—it was right that the House should be informed of any decision as early as possible.

Moreover, if the hon. Gentleman regards the announcement as important, as I do, he will agree that it was right to give it full prominence during Prime Minister's Questions, which many people will have been able to see on television. The hon. Gentleman will also know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has always taken a close interest in the matter. He was a Minister at the Department of Social Security and I was Chief Secretary when this policy was first developed. Many members of the Government have taken an interest in this matter. Therefore, the steps taken today are entirely right.

I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy the hon. Gentleman's request about energy conservation. However, I do not think that there will be an opportunity to debate the matter next week.

The successive steps that we have taken on privatisation, of which the British Technology Group Bill is only one of many, have been extremely popular and we shall see clearly in the vote next week that this measure, too, has the support of the House. The business for next week has already been agreed, but I shall consider through the usual channels the hon. Member's point about time.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the Cullen report, which I recognise is an important issue. We clearly have a lot of legislative business to get through next week, but I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's point in mind, because I am keen for the House to debate the report as soon as possible.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a busy day ahead of us, and the purpose of business questions is to ask the Leader of the House about the business statement that he has announced today, not to dwell upon more general matters.

Sir Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

In case my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and other Ministers have reached the conclusion that all their hon. Friends agree with the proposition put forward in an early-day motion signed by some 70 of our colleagues to the effect that the financing of education should be transferred to the Exchequer, may I remind him that it continues to be the aspiration of Ministers to reduce income tax to 20p in the pound and that, in advance of any conclusions being reached on the review of the community charge, there is a strong argument in favour of having a separate debate on the whole question of the financing of education?

Mr. MacGregor

I note what my hon. Friend says. He will know that I have taken a close interest in the matter and shall continue to do so, but I do not think that such a debate is likely to arise next week.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Hon. Members in all parts of the House would welcome the opportunity to debate farming and fishing next week. Will the Government's statement on the hill farming review have been given by the time of that debate?

If there is to be a statement on cold weather payments to supplement the Prime Minister's welcome comments today, could it make it clear whether payments will take into account the wind chill factor? A TV weather forecast shows that, although the temperature in my constituency is minus 2 deg C which would not trigger a cold weather payment, the wind chill temperature is minus 5 deg C, which would.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman's second point concerns policy, rather than the business of the House, but I will bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security.

I agree that it will be useful to debate farming. Major issues confront us in the Community and in the GATT Uruguay round. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will speak in next week's debate and welcomes the opportunity that it will provide to indicate the Government's position. We are making a robust defence in the European Community against those elements of the Commission's thinking that are clearly discriminatory and which go in the wrong direction. I cannot at this stage say whether my right hon. Friend will be able to make a statement about the hill livestock compensatory allowance, but I know that he will do what he can in that respect.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

On the resettlement grant review initiated by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House agreed to refer that matter to the Top Salaries Review Board. When it reports, will my right hon. Friend undertake to lay the necessary regulations before the House at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. MacGregor

I have published in Hansard, as part of a written answer, the TSRB's revised terms of reference that resulted from last week's debate. I cannot guarantee what the Government will do with the board's report, but I certainly want the House to have an opportunity to debate it.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Skinner.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

It is like being a member of a club, without the supper.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member was the final questioner last week, so I am calling him earlier this week.

Mr. Skinner

That is fair. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate next week on water privatisation and the massive increases that are burgeoning from water authorities? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Severn-Trent water authority, which covers my region and many others in the north, has announced a price increase of 15.2 per cent., which it claims conforms with Government guidelines? If that is true, it is high time that the Government defended their record.

Mr. MacGregor

Water authorities are engaging in massive capital expenditure over the next 10 years to deal with environmental considerations, among other things. I recall the hon. Gentleman emphasising the need for such action. That is one reason for any increase. Nevertheless, there will be no opportunity next week for a debate on that issue.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 394, which is in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and others.

[That this House notes the increasing numbers of complaints which are being received by right honourable and honourable Members from constituents who are rightly concerned by the approach taken by the BBC and ITV companies to the reporting of events in the Gulf; regrets that at times this reporting has been irresponsible, tedious and obsessive; and believes that the continual promotion of criticism of the international coalition's policy and military strategy provides succour to Saddam Hussein.]

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the disgraceful reporting from Iran by ITV? It claims to be censored news, but ITV is showing the news that is not censored. The news from Iraq that is censored is not shown. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the broadcasting of black propaganda of that kind is distinctly unhelpful during a very difficult period?

Mr. MacGregor

I know that there is concern about that issue, among not only right hon. and hon. Members but the general public. The BBC and ITN have issued guidelines to their staff on the reporting of events in the Gulf. Perhaps that issue should fall within consideration of what kind of debates and statements on the Gulf the House should have. There is general agreement that there should be a reason for them. Nevertheless, I am sure that my hon. Friend will have other opportunities to express his views, which I hope have been noted today.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Could we have a statement next week on the process of negotiations on the multi-fibre arrangement in the general agreement on tariffs and trade? As the Leader of the House knows, it is an important set of talks. The textile industry is suffering under high interest rates, jobs are being lost, there is short-time working and there is a great deal of uncertainty which needs clarification to give confidence to the industry. At the moment, the talks are concentrating on agriculture, but we should have a report on what is happening as soon as possible so that the House can be kept up to date, for the sake of the textile industry, which in Bradford alone directly employs nearly 14,000 people.

Mr. MacGregor

Without getting into details of the negotiations, the hon. Gentleman will know that discussions are going on, with a view to restarting formal negotiations as soon as possible, and that Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council earlier this week have instructed the Commission to pursue whatever action is needed, both multilaterally and bilaterally, to achieve agreement. We obviously regretted the suspension of negotiations in December. The multi-fibre arrangement, will run out at the end of this year unless agreement is reached in the GATT round. It is premature to have discussion, a debate or a statement on that aspect until we are clearer how the informal discussions are going.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

Could we have an early debate on the subject of Opposition day debates? Although we ought to be very grateful to the Opposition for their choice of subject yesterday—science and science education—which allowed us to draw attention to the Government's excellent record in these matters, unfortunately only five or six Opposition Back Benchers attended. Surely that is unsatisfactory.

Mr. MacGregor

Perhaps that was because many Opposition Back Benchers recognise the Government's excellent record on science education. That is really a matter for the Opposition.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Leader of the House will have heard the statements and the repetition during the Home Office statement. Therefore, bearing in mind the old saying, "The empire strikes back"—we cannot say that any longer, but the nation might strike back—could the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland make a statement next week on the principle of restoring local and parliamentary democracy to Northern Ireland? Bearing in mind that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said 18 years ago that Stormont was suspended to stop violence, and that six years ago the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed to stop terrorism, is not it time that parliamentary democracy was restored to Northern Ireland?

Mr. MacGregor

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as the hon. Gentleman knows, engages in prolonged discussions on these matters. It was right to make a statement today, because of a specific and unprecedented event.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Croydon, North-West)

As it is some while since the House debated the vexed issue of Sunday trading, could we debate it before long? The law is clearly in a mess, but equally, many people, especially those in Croydon and south London, which is a busy area, while recognising that the law needs to be changed, seek some restriction on Sunday trading, so as to maintain a little peace and quiet in a residential area. Could that subject be brought before the House quite soon, because it is important?

Mr. MacGregor

I recognise what my hon. Friend says about the law being a mess. Equally, he will know that there is a variety of views on how that mess should be put right. In view of that, it is unlikely within the near future—I suspect, longer than the near future—that we shall devote a great deal of time to that issue on the Floor of the House with a view to specific action.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Could the Leader of the House make some provision for the House to debate London next week? Is he aware that the population of Wales is about 3 million, but there is a Select Committee on Welsh Affairs and a Welsh Question Time, and that the population of Scotland is around 5 million, but there is a Scottish Question Time? However, London, which has a population as large as those two put together, has absolutely nothing. Since the Government robbed London of its elected government, things have gone from bad to worse in the capital and we have absolutely no forum to debate such matters. Will he please do something to remedy that?

Mr. MacGregor

It is equally the case that there are substantial populations in large areas of the shire counties of England, but we have no specific Question Time for them. We have certainly had a great deal of debate about London issues in the House in recent years and there has been a general welcome for the abolition of the Greater London council. I cannot promise a debate on that subject next week.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week on the future of the European Standing Committees, bearing in mind the off-hand, casual and perhaps contemptuous way in which they have been treated? Is he aware that, while one Committee spent three hours at its first sitting agreeing unanimously to an amendment to motion No. 2 on today's Order Paper, the amendment has not even been printed? Is he aware that, at the second sitting, we were invited to discuss a motion opposing a measure which the Government had agreed to without discussion two days earlier? Is he aware that we found out that a report from the Treasury Solicitor which we had requested was published two days after the Committee had discussed it? In view of all those matters, would it not be better for the Leader of the House to make a statement, rather than go through what is simply a farce and a fraud?

Mr. MacGregor

I absolutely reject the suggestion that the Committee has been treated in an off-hand manner. A great deal of time was spent on developing a new way of dealing with European Commission documents. It is important to recall that one of the reasons for so doing—and the reason why many hon. Members accepted the new Committees—was the need to ease the pressures on the House and reduce the number of occasions on which it sits for long hours after 10 pm. There was a lot of pressure on me to deal with that issue. It was one factor which we took into account when considering new methods of dealing with EC documents.

I remind my hon. Friend that when one embarks on a process with some novel aspects, one naturally wishes to review its progress. Naturally some problems may arise. I said clearly that I wished to have a proper review by the end of the summer. It is possible that certain items may arise that require that the review should take place sooner. However, we should not base our decision on just two days of sittings of the Standing Committee. We should take a little more time to see whether some aspects need to be reconsidered, which is inevitable in a new experiment.

On my hon. Friend's specific point about the motion on the Order Paper today, one learns quickly from such matters. It would be right to put on the Order Paper the motion as amended by the Committee. Therefore, the Government will not seek to move that motion this evening.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is the Leader of the House aware that, by failing to provide the House of Commons with an opportunity next week to debate the war in the Gulf, he is doing two things? First, he is preventing us from discussing the mass carpet bombing of Iraq, some of which is taking place from British bases. The United States former Attorney-General Ramsey Clark confirmed today that the bombing caused massive destruction in Basra and Baghdad.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman is preventing a debate on the 40,000 British ground forces in the Gulf, who are apparently about to be committed to a massive land battle in which great numbers of casualties may occur. Has the Leader of the House noticed that, in The Guardian this morning, an opinion poll showed that over a quarter of the population—more than 10 million people—are opposed to the war?

In wartime, this House must have the opportunity to hear the views of those who represent people in Fairford, those in the armed forces and, indeed, those who have an interest in a peaceful settlement of the hideous tragedy which is unfolding. Apparently the Government do not intend that Parliament should discuss it at all next week.

Mr. MacGregor

As I have often made clear, I review all the time, in consultation with my right hon. Friends, through the usual channels and through listening to the House, whether there is a need for a debate or further statement on events in the Gulf. It is important that issues that require it are brought to the House. The right hon. Gentleman will know that we have done so on a considerable number of occasions since the hostilities began. I do not anticipate announcing a statement today. If there is a requirement for an emergency debate on the Gulf, we can consider it immediately at the time.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

As my right hon. Friend is a strong supporter of open government, and presumably of open opposition, may I persuade him to find some parliamentary time to debate the activities of a new secret society known as the "supper club"? Is he aware that the club apparently consists of Opposition Members who wish to meet and eat in secret to debate ways of undermining the policies of the Leader of the Opposition, for which they have voted? Could my right hon. Friend arrange by some method to have those riveting debates in the Chamber?

Mr. MacGregor

I was considering whether there is an opportunity to raise the matter next week. I cannot see one immediately, but I am sure that the ingenuity of my hon. Friend and others will ensure that the matter is raised somehow.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I must declare an interest: I am not a member of the supper club or of any other club. I know that that will come as a shock to the House.

I should like to take the Leader of the House back to the answer that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) a few moments ago. Carnage is taking place in the Gulf. There have been thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq; members of the armed forces on both sides are dying; environmental destruction is taking place; and there is enormous opposition throughout the Arab world, throughout Europe and throughout the United States to this war.

Does not the Leader of the House think that it is high time for a debate, in which all those issues, as well as the loss of liberties in this country through censorship and what I believe to be internment, could be discussed? We ought to be discussing how a peaceful political solution to the problems of the region might be found—and we ought to do so before any more people die, any more destruction takes place, or any more money is wasted on this appalling and, I believe, immoral war.

Mr. MacGregor

As I have said, we have already provided a great deal of time for both debates and statements on these matters. We recently had two very clear votes in support of the Government's aims and actions. Those votes left no doubt about the general feeling in the House. However, I repeat that I shall continue to consider whether, at any time, the House should be given a further opportunity, through either a statement or a debate, to discuss the situation.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

The Leader of the House will remember that, in the interests of the people of London, we abolished the Greater London council and the Inner London education authority. That has proved to be very successful. Does my right hon. Friend know that it is now the policy of Her Majesty's Opposition to bring back the GLC and the Inner London education authority? Will he undertake to provide Government time for a debate on this important development?

Mr. MacGregor

As we have a fairly crowded programme of legislation and other matters, I do not think that there will be an opportunity for such a debate for some time.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement on a recent Civil Aviation Authority report, which says that the radar system at Glasgow airport is out of date? Does the Leader of the House know that there was a near miss over Glasgow? Had a collision occurred, there would have been an absolute catastrophe. We need a statement to clarify the problem.

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that there will be a statement, but I shall discuss his point with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Bearing in mind the fact that nearly 80 of my hon. Friends have now added their names to early-day motion 396, may I support the request for an early debate on education finance and local government, so that the true advantages of this scheme may be properly debated and misunderstandings cleared up?

[That this House believes that, following the Government's education reforms, particularly the move towards local management and the introduction of grant maintained schools, there is now a compelling case for education funds to be provided directly from central government.]

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of my hon. Friend's very great interest in these matters, as he and I have often discussed them. I have no doubt that he will find many opportunities, in addition to the early-day motion, to state his views. In reply to his request for a debate, I have to say that, under the current review of the community charge, the options for funding local services are being considered. It would be premature to speculate on the conclusions of that review and it would therefore be premature to have a debate at this stage.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

Does the Leader of the House know how disappointing is his statement that we may not have an early debate, in Government time, on the crisis in the textile industry? That crisis covers much more than the breakdown in the GATT negotiations. Has the Leader of the House seen the press release issued by Mr. Allan Nightingale, the executive chairman of the Apparel, Knitting and Textiles Alliance which makes it clear that, unless there is a reduction in interest rates and an improvement in the exchange rate in the very near future, the textile industry, which employs 480,000 people, will go to the wall completely?

Mr. MacGregor

There was a debate before Christmas in which textile matters were raised. We have also held a number of economic and industrial debates. I have already made the position clear in relation to the GATT Uruguay round. The hon. Gentleman referred to economic issues and the exchange rate. I draw his attention to the fact that there is to be a debate on the economy next Wednesday.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

In the light of the continuing unrest and conflict in the Baltic states and in other republics of the Soviet Union, and given the growing concern that certain elements of the armed forces in the Soviet Union may have deliberately reneged on the conventional and even the strategic arms agreements, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important for the House to have an early opportunity to debate such important matters, which affect the security of the west?

Mr. MacGregor

I certainly understand the great importance of my hon. Friend's points and I shall bear them in mind.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the strength of feeling in fishing communities about the statutory instrument that imposes an eight-day continuous tie-up? Given that their main opposition relates to safety—that lives could be endangered by the terms of the statutory instrument—will the Leader of the House undertake to ensure that an early debate on that statutory instrument takes place on the Floor of the House?

Mr. MacGregor

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that there will be an opportunity to debate all those matters next week.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

My right hon. Friend knows that, under the provisions of the Security Service Act 1989, the security service commissioner is required, within 12 months of the Act being passed, to supply an annual report to the House. It was due on 18 December 1990, but it has still not been published. I am very surprised that it is not to be debated next week. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that the report will be published as quickly as possible under the terms of the Act?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall look into my hon. Friend's point and write to him.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement next week, in which he can either confirm or deny that he has issued directions to health authorities to postpone operations that require long-stay treatment in hospital until after the Gulf war? I have received complaints from two constituents. One requires a hip replacement and the other a knee operation. They have been told by the Woodlands hospital in Bradford that they cannot have the operations they need until after the Gulf war.

Many people believe and argue that beds and wards that have been closed temporarily and permanently should be reopened so that Gulf casualties can be treated in them, and constituents such as mine can have the operations that they urgently need. Will the Leader of the House take urgent steps to ensure that constituents know whether their operations will have to be postponed and can also be confident that Gulf casualties will be treated properly?

Mr. MacGregor

The Government have already made it clear that the national health service should get sufficient notice of casualties to enable hospitals to cope without having to empty beds in advance. The Government are meeting the full cost to the NHS of Gulf casualties. Therefore, health authorities will be able to use all their normal allocations for their normal work load. There should be no break in non-Gulf emergency work. I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health the specific cases that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

While our thoughts are rightly concentrated on the Gulf—my right hon. Friend has said that there will be statements, as necessary, about the Gulf war—will he also remember that events in other parts of the world cause great concern to right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House? My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) referred to the Baltic states. May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to two other areas? Yugoslavia's problems may lead to instability in central and southern Europe because of the disunity of the Government in that country. There has been a total collapse of government in Somalia. Understandably, that matter concerns many of our constituents.

Mr. MacGregor

I accept my hon. Friend's point. However, there have been statements and debates on issues affecting other parts of the world. That was the case fairly recently with Somalia. I am aware of these concerns, but it is a question of how much time we can devote to them when there are so many other problems to address.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Leader of the House will be aware of early-day motion 433 concerning Lewis's stores and the 6,500 jobs at stake in many cities of our country.

[That this House regrets that Lewis's the department store group, went into receivership on Thursday 31st January; notes that over 6,500 jobs are at stake in areas of high unemployment like Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, Stoke, Leeds and Leicester; and requests the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to have urgent talks with the Chairman of NatWest Bank in order to provide a life-line whilst the search for a suitable buyer continues.]

Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to have urgent talks with the chairman of NatWest bank to see whether a lifeline can be thrown to them? Will he also tell his right hon. Friend that high interest charges are the cause of many problems, particularly in the north-west of England where companies are going to the wall?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall have to look at the early-day motion to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I have heard what he said and will look into it. I cannot make any promises about debates, but some of the economic matters could have been addressed in recent debates and they can be mentioned in the debate on Wednesday.

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

Has the Leader of the House been able to persuade the Secretary of State for the Environment to make an oral statement on the privatisation of the transport section of the Crown Suppliers, in the light of early-day motion 364, which is in my name, and which deals with the activities and irregularities of Mr. Bill Pinkney, the chap who is supposed to be buying the transport section?

[That this House notes a series of parliamentary replies from the Parliamentary Secretary, Department of the Environment, dated 24th January relating to the sale of Crown Suppliers transport section and investigations into the activities of civil servant Mr. Bill Pinkney the prospective buyer; notes the evasive nature of the Ministerial reply, Official Report, column 27, which refers to 'the Crown Suppliers following up the matters arising from that audit'; notes that under the general heading of 'Disciplinary matters', the Crown Suppliers after a full investigation in 1990 did find that the level of Mr. Pinkney's behaviour fell below the level which was expected of an official; notes that the investigation found overpayments, dubious entries, unauthorised payments and a failure to declare a conflict of interest with a company called Turnbulls; notes that the Chief Executive of Crown Suppliers did consider formal charges but decided not to proceed with them as Ministers did not wish to prejudice the sale of the transport section to Mr. Bill Pinkney and his associates; notes that attempts by senior civil servants under instruction from Ministers to hide away the nature of irregularities and disciplinary offences were orchestrated so as to avoid embarrassment to the Government: questions the role of Shandwick, the public relations company, in preparing grossly misleading press releases relating to the sell off to a so-called management buy-out which is not a buy-out at all but an offer funded by a North of England second hand car dealer; and unreservedly condemns Ministers for their shameful actions.]

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure me that that man, together with others, will not be allowed to purchase that organisation? He is not a fit and proper person to have that right.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman raised this matter last week and I have nothing to add to the fairly long reply that I gave him then.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

Many people at this time find it unacceptable that the United Nations Security Council is not in permanent session to discuss the Gulf war. Given that, for the first time in the history of this nation, the Government cited a higher authority—the United Nations—in the issue of whether to go to war, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement next week on why the proposition from the five Maghreb countries and India was refused? Will the Leader of the House urge his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to ensure that the United Nations is in permanent session to discuss this matter?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already made clear the position in relation to statements and debates in the House on the Gulf. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's specific points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week to discuss councillors' allowances and expenses? I raise this because Councillor Bill Axon, a regional councillor in Midlothian, has been accused by the media of coming to London for a hymn service and misusing public funds and so on. Whatever the merits or otherwise of his argument, as I understand it he was here for a good reason.

I speak as an ex-regional councillor and I feel, on behalf of colleagues elsewhere, that there should be a proper way of funding visits to London by members of a local authority. Let us discuss this next week and ensure that people on local authorities are paid properly, so that the media cannot use stories such as that to which I have referred simply to attack visits that have been entered into for good reasons.

Mr. MacGregor

I know nothing of this case, but, bearing in mind the wide and important matters that hon. Members have been raising with me which I am not able to accommodate next week, I see no possibility of a debate on that matter.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that, during next week's welcome debate on farming, his robust friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food makes a statement on the condition of the knackery industry? Unless some urgent action is taken to help that industry, much of it will go into liquidation and thousands of sheep and cattle carcases will be left littering the countryside of Scotland, Wales and England, resulting in danger from diseases such as anthrax and others. It is a grave crisis. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there is a statement next week?

Mr. MacGregor

I understand the importance of the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman. Obviously, my right hon. Friend the Minister will have many issues to address in his speech, but I shall ensure that the Minister who replies to the debate is aware that the hon. Gentleman is likely to raise this matter.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Will the Leader of the House try to find time next week for the House to discuss the Prime Minister's rather misleading reply in respect of cold weather payments? The Prime Minister stated accurately that there were no severe weather payments under the Labour Government. There were not, but there were exceptional needs payments and also an electricity discount scheme, which were far more generous than the cheeseparing scheme that the Government currently operate. While the Prime Minister did not lie to the House, he misled the House. It would be helpful to have a debate to clear the matter up.

Mr. MacGregor

It is important to recognise that the Government have introduced not just cold weather payments but other schemes, such as expenditure on heating additions under supplementary benefit, which have since been incorporated in the income support rates. In relation to the elderly and the disabled, undoubtedly a great deal more expenditure is undertaken by the Government in addition to cold weather payments. I think that that was the point which my right hon. Friend was hammering home.