HC Deb 14 February 1991 vol 185 cc1001-12 3.35 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

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

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

The business for next week will be as follows: 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 has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

TUESDAY 19 FEBRUARY—Opposition day (7th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The Impact of the Poll Tax".

Afterwards there will be a debate on another Opposition motion entitled "The Impact of Government Policies on Manufacturing Industry".

WEDNESDAY 20 FEBRUARY—Progress of remaining stages of the Criminal Justice Bill.

THURSDAY 21 FEBRUARY—Opposition day (8th Allotted Day, 1st part). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Gulf War Aims and the Restoration of Peace in the Region". The debate will arise on an Opposition motion in the name of the Scottish National party.

Remaining stages of the Representation of the People Bill.

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

FRIDAY 22 FEBRUARY Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 25 FEBRUARY—Conclusion of remaining stages of Criminal Justice Bill.

Dr. Cunningham

I begin by congratulating the Leader of the House on his 54th birthday—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is that all?

Dr. Cunningham

—and wishing him many happy returns to the Opposition Benches.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the House will have a debate on Welsh affairs as close as possible to 1 March, which is St. David's day, so that we may have the traditional annual debate on all aspects of affairs in the Principality?

Whilst affairs in the Gulf have understandably overlain many other issues, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on important developments in countries in central and eastern Europe, with particular reference to the assistance given to them by Britain and the European Community? That is a very important issue in European terms, and I hope that time can be found to debate it.

When may we debate the Government's public expenditure White Paper? We understand the Government's continuing reluctance to provide time for such debates, given the deepening crisis and the widening and damaging economic recession—highlighted again today by a dreadful increase in unemployment and appalling figures for the reposession of houses because people are no longer able to keep up their mortgage payments. There is widespread concern, particularly on this side of the House, about the continuing failures of Government policy in that area. We are entitled to a debate on the public expenditure White Paper, and I hope that we shall have one soon.

Mr. MacGregor

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind good wishes on my birthday. For the first time in my life, I found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), when he remarked from a sedentary position, "Is that all?" in relation to the number of years.

I confirm that it is our intention to have the traditional debate on Welsh affairs at around the time of St. David's day.

European Community aid to the Soviet Union is, I agree, a very important matter. As I have said on other occasions, I hope very much to find a suitable opportunity for us to consider it before long.

There is absolutely no "continuing reluctance" on the part of the Government to arrange a public expenditure debate. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can say that, given that we had a full debate yesterday on the economy and the various matters that he has raised—the debate on the autumn statement. I agree, however, that a further debate should replace the traditional White Paper debate, and we intend to organise one. Given that we no longer have the original public expenditure White Paper, I think that the arrangement and timing of any such debate is best left to the usual channels.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Let me again remind the House that this is an Opposition day, and that many hon. Members wish to participate in the debates on agriculture and fisheries. I ask hon. Members to confine their questions to next week's business rather than raising more general matters, and to speak briefly.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Will my right hon. Friend pay some attention next week to the results of the first two sittings of the European Standing Committees? He has promised to review them at the end of the year, but other matters have arisen relating not to procedure but to the workings of the Committees—papers have not been available, for instance, and it is felt that not enough time was provided. It would be very helpful if my right hon. Friend referred to a letter that he will have received from the Chairmen of the first two Committees, and decided whether it would be possible to deal with those criticisms as soon as possible.

Mr. MacGregor

I said last week that, given that the European Standing Committees are a new experiment, teething troubles would be likely, as well as the need for a review at the end of the summer. I am therefore prepared to consider issues that arise in the early stages.

I have seen the letter that my hon. Friend mentioned, and will respond. I am considering the points raised in it. The Standing Committees will not be sitting next week, partly to ensure that we can make all the papers available. I cannot guarantee that that will always be possible, however, because they frequently arrive fairly late from the European Community. Certainly I am anxious to do all that I can to make the new experiment a success.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware of the evacuation of the Tartan Alpha platform earlier this week, which is a reminder of the fact that working in the offshore oil industry is still a very hazardous occupation. Can he assure us that not much more dust will gather on the Cullen report before the House has an opportunity to debate it?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have accepted all Lord Cullen's recommendations and conclusions, and are acting to implement as many as possible with all practicable speed. I am sorry that we have not so far been able to find an opportunity to debate the matter. As is clear from the number of important issues that hon. Members are raising, it is difficult to fit them all in, but I still intend to arrange a debate on this topic as soon as I can.

Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

As the Government have now become deeply embroiled in the aviation dispute with the United States stemming from the application of United Airlines of the USA to take over the Pan Am routes, should not the Secretary of State for Transport report next week on the current state of the negotiations? Would it not be a good idea for him also to mention that some of us are becoming rather tired of the nonsense whereby Governments intervene in decisions relating to the level of transatlantic air fares? We feel that such decisions should be left to the marketplace, and should relate to what the airlines believe they can charge, subject only to predatory action.

Mr. MacGregor

I am bearing in mind what you said, Mr. Speaker, about the anxiety of many hon. Members to speak in the following important debate. I shall therefore confine myself to procedural points and will not deal with any policy points raised by my hon. Friend or any other hon. Member.

We must consider when it would be appropriate for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to inform the House of the state of the negotiations, and I shall discuss that with him in the light of what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Tony Benn: (Chesterfield)

Does the Leader of the House recall that, when I asked last week about Government statements on the Gulf, he assured us that such statements would be made as necessary? This week there have been the horrific casualties in Baghdad and the British Government's decision to try to make the Security Council meet in secret so as to stifle criticism of what is happening. There have also been crucial discussions in America, in which the Secretary of State for Defence took part, about the timing of the land war, which might lead to many casualties among British troops.

Is it not clear that the Government do not wish the House to discuss these matters? Were it not for the fact that the Scottish National party has tabled a motion this week, is it not clear that the Government would have had no intention of involving Parliament in something that concerns the lives of many thousands of people, including our own troops and their anxious families waiting at home?

Mr. MacGregor

No, that is not the case. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there were questions to the Foreign Secretary yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I review regularly when there should be a debate or a statement. Certainly we are open to representations from Members in all parts of the House about that. I welcome next week's debate, which will give the House another opportunity to discuss these matters. I shall continue to review carefully when further statements should be made.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Does it not strike my right hon. Friend as bizarre that British correspondents and cameramen are in the very heartland of enemy territory pumping back information which is almost wholly in favour of Saddam Hussein and his evil intents? Does he not think that we ought to address that matter next week?

Mr. MacGregor

I know that many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members generally, as well as members of the public, feel strongly about that issue. Representations have been made to the broadcasting authorities along those lines. That, of course, is a matter that can be raised in next week's debate.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Is it not extraordinary that, in the week that is to follow the announcement of the awful unemployment figures, there is to be neither a debate nor any other opportunity to discuss the catastrophic effect that unemployment is having on the lives of our constituents? Does the Minister not realise that, while he and his colleagues have their jobs, those of everyone else are at risk?

Mr. MacGregor

We had a full debate on the economy yesterday.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

When does my right hon. Friend expect to reintroduce the War Crimes Bill?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot give a precise date, but we have given a clear commitment to do so.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Notwithstanding the fact that later today there is to be a debate on the fishing industry, can the Leader of the House assure us that the prayer which has been tabled against Statutory Instrument 139 will be debated in the near future, given that four Opposition parties have tabled prayers against the statutory instrument and that amendments to the statutory instrument have been tabled before we have even discussed it?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not wish to give an absolute assurance now; we must see how today's debate goes. However, I shall certainly consider the matter after the debate.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Will the Leader of the House consult the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and ensure that next week the Secretary of State makes a statement on the new evidence that has emerged about the imprisonment of four Ulster Defence Regiment members who are serving time in Armagh prison for murder? Will he draw the Secretary of State's attention to the fact that the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which has been engaged in forensic tests of the so-called confessions, has now got the results of those confessions but will not release them? Will he ensure that the results of the forensic tests are released?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Leader of the House will remember that yesterday I asked whether a statement would be made today on that very subject. In the light of the Secretary of State's earlier comment—that there should be debates in which Northern Ireland Members of Parliament could participate—he ought to bear in mind that this is the only place where representatives of Northern Ireland can deal with such issues. Should there not be a statement next week on an issue that affects servants of the Crown?

Mr. MacGregor

I note that the hon. Gentleman has also raised this point. I can only repeat that I shall discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to see early-day motion 459 on the talks on the general agreement on tariffs and trade and on the British textile industry?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to press for the early re-opening of the GATT talks; and calls upon them to recognise the vital importance of the British textile industries, both regionally and nationally, which will be undermined unless there is an orderly transitional period of at least 10 years into the new system of international trade which must include effective anti-dumping measures.]

I am sure that he is aware of the great importance of the industry to many areas of the country, not least to my own constituency. May we have a fairly lengthy debate on those matters in the very near future?

Mr. MacGregor

I well understand my hon. Friend's interest in the matter and I am also well aware of its importance. On the GATT talks, informal discussions are taking place under the auspices of the GATT director-general and they are continuing with a view to restarting formal negotiations as soon as possible. We must see exactly how they develop. I will bear in mind the point about a debate. However, I must stress that we have a heavy programme. Many subjects for debate have been raised and it will not be possible to accommodate them all.

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

Is Mr. Bill Pinkney going to buy the transport section of the Crown Suppliers? I have repeatedly asked the Leader of the House to arrange for a statement.

Mr. MacGregor

I have nothing to add at this stage to what I said last week.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

Could my right hon. Friend arrange to have a debate very soon on the "Options for Change" in the defence review? May we discuss especially the facilities for training for our armed services? It has been demonstrated in the Gulf conflict how good our training has been. Hon. Members of all parties would like to express their views on many of the facilities in West Germany that are now to be withdrawn or that are under threat in constituencies such as mine—I refer to the Portland naval base in south Dorset.

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend knows, we have normal arrangements for debates on defence matters and for services days. I cannot give a date now for when those debates will be, but that will, of course, be an opportunity to raise the points that my hon. Friend has in mind.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

In view of early-day motion 468, may we have from next week more regular ministerial statements if necessary daily, about the conduct of the Gulf war?

[That this House condemns the barbaric slaughter of innocent men, women and children in Baghdad, which was caused by bombing.]

When was the last time that a British Government were collectively responsible for the massacre of 500 innocent civilians and then sought refuge in a secret session of the United Nations Security Council in an effort to avoid adverse publicity and public scrutiny? Will the Leader of the House next recommend secret sessions of Parliament in case the public find out the truth about that senseless and destructive conflict?

Mr. MacGregor

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answered questions on large parts of those points.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is concern that the Iraqi embassy may have been storing arms and ammunition, and that some of Iraq's friends may be coming into the country with arms and ammunition in the diplomatic bag? As there is a legal right under the Vienna convention to go into the premises of a former mission and inspect it, and to inspect electronically the diplomatic bag, will my right hon. Friend invite the Foreign Secretary to come to the House next week to reassure us by making a statement that in no circumstances will any embassy or any ambassador's staff be allowed to bring into the country, or to store, arms and ammunition that might be used for terrorist purposes in Britain?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. and learned Friend knows of action that has already been taken in many ways in relation to the embassy here. I will discuss his point with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

We are to have a debate next week on the Criminal Justice Bill. Is the Leader of the House aware of the utter revulsion of hon. Members of all parties and of the general public about a decision by the Court of Appeal this week to free two people who had been convicted of brutality towards a young child that led to that child's death? They were released because of a loophole in the law. Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the Home Secretary to ensure that no other child abusers who are now in prison will use the same legal loophole to get their freedom as that used by the two who have just been released?

Mr. MacGregor

I have not had a chance to study that case in full to see whether it points to a gap in the law, although, on the face of it, it looks as though it may not do so. We are to devote two days to the Criminal Justice Bill—one day next week and the following Monday—because of the importance of that Bill and the numerous issues to which it gives rise. I hope that during those two days it will be possible to deal with all aspects of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman has raised a separate point, and I cannot say now whether there is a case for a statement to be made or for action to be taken.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his answer to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)? Surely it is extraordinary that we should not be given a full day's debate in Government time at a time when we have huge forces committed in the Gulf and serious matters that need to be discussed by hon. Members on both sides of the House and on which strong views are held. Above all, will my right hon. Friend take it from me that the Government's apathy over the reaction of our constituents to the grotesquely disloyal reporting of the war by ITN and the BBC needs airing in the House?

Mr. MacGregor

On the latter point, I said earlier that representations had been made to the broadcasting authorities and some of my right hon. Friends have made clear the views that have been expressed to us. I very much share the thinking behind my hon. Friend's point. I am prepared to look for an appropriate opportunity for another full day's debate. We are to have a half day's debate next week, and I am certainly prepared to continue to examine the matter through the usual channels.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Foreign Secretary be making a statement tomorrow on the Security Council meeting? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the British delegates called for the meeting to be held in secret? Can he also tell us what plans are being made for humanitarian aid to be given to hospitals in Kuwait and Iraq, bearing in mind the fact that many of them are without electricity, water and medical supplies? Who will speak on Thursday on the Government's behalf about the war aims, given that, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the war aims of the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary are contradictory?

Mr. MacGregor

I reject absolutely all the hon. Gentleman's points about policy. I cannot say whether there will be a statement tomorrow, as we judge these matters by the day.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

As my right hon. Friend seemed to suggest that a saint's day was the right day for a debate on Welsh affairs, may I suggest that he carries that precedent further and makes the other United Kingdom saints' days days for debates on the affairs of Northern Ireland, Scotland and England?

Mr. MacGregor

We have other opportunities to discuss the affairs of each of the other home territories. My hon. Friend has made an ingenious suggestion, but, given the many other demands on our time, I am not sure that I can give him an absolute guarantee that I shall entertain the idea.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

In view of the dramatically worsening unemployment figures that are hitting Wales—and probably the regions of England—is it not time that we had a statement and a debate on regional policy, especially in the light of the changes taking place in the European Community and the development of relationships between the regions and EC institutions? Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made at an early date and for a debate as soon as possible?

Mr. MacGregor

We have recently had rather a lot of debates on economic and industrial matters, and they affect regional affairs. I have already told the House that we are to have another debate on public expenditure and that will clearly also involve the discussion of regional affairs. There will also be an opportunity for such discussion in the debate next Wednesday.

Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Given the events of last week and the IRA attack on Downing street, will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether a review has yet been undertaken of the security of this House and the other place? Could any news of that be given to us next week?

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, indeed. Fairly regular reviews take place and the House will know that, some time ago, a considerable number of extra steps were taken to tighten security. Some of them are fairly open and manifest and obvious to hon. Members. It is perhaps not best practice to refer to all the measures that have been taken, but I can assure my hon. Friend that a considerable programme of further measures—on top of all that we had before—has been undertaken.

Ms. Diane Abbott: (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Is the Leader of the House aware that many people, both pro and anti the Gulf war, believe that the time given in this Parliament to open discussion of the war compares unfavourably with the United States Congress and its committee system? Will he make time for a full debate on the United Nations? Some of us believe that the role of the United Nations in this war could bear examination and that the use of the United Nations to front the military mobilisation is a perversion of the United Nations' aims.

Will the right hon. Gentleman note that, whereas the Prime Minister constantly uses resolution 678 to justify an invasion of Iraq, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who ought to know, when challenged, says that he cannot say whether an invasion of Iraq would be in line with the resolutions? If the Secretary-General of the United Nations does not know, how can the Prime Minister be so sure?

Mr. MacGregror

The hon. Lady's question raises matters of policy, not procedure. On procedural matters, I have not yet seen the motion for next Thursday's debate, but it would seem from the title that some of the matters to which she referred could be raised then.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate next week on the policies of the Labour Lambeth council, which seems to want deliberately to cause homelessness? First, it has yet to issue planning permission for a major hostel project into which millions of pounds of Government money have been put. Secondly, over a long period it has denied housing benefits which are due to existing hostels, thereby putting the hostels' existence in jeopardy. If that is a policy of seeking to cause homelessness, we should know it.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend raises briefly some important points. I hope that he will find opportunities to raise them further in the House because I agree that they are important. However, I cannot promise him a debate in Government time next week.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

In view of comments made during Northern Ireland questions this afternoon, which made it fairly clear that the so-called initiative of the Secretary of State is about, in his words, to arrive at a conclusion, will the Leader of the House agree that there is no excuse for not giving effect to the views of the Procedure Committee on the establishment of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland? Does he further agree that it is wrong for a Department to be allowed to block the creation of a Select Committee?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sorry that I could not be present during questions, so I do not know what was said. I have no further progress to report on the Committee.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this month is the 50th anniversary of the Air Training Corps and that many thousands of young men serving in the Gulf with the Royal Air Force are former members of it? Is he aware that there are 36,000 young boys and girls in the corps? May we have an early opportunity to debate the fact that young people in Britain have come forward during the past 50 years to volunteer to serve Crown and country?

Mr. MacGregor

I am glad to pay my tribute to the work of the corps and all those who have served in it. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to make his point even more fully in our debates on the armed services.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

May we have a debate on Thames Water and the failure of privatisation? I think, for example, of the failure to restore water supplies in St. Stephen's house, where many staff are having to work in virtually insanitary conditions. May we have an early debate, or at least some action on the matter?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman will have seen the note sent to the occupants of St. Stephen's house. He will realise that there are difficulties at present with the water supply in central London. I do not see that it is possible to have a debate.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Surely we need to have a debate on the disastrous state of the GATT talks as soon as possible. Is my right hon. Friend aware that import controls, which now cover a range of products, from steel to cars and food to shoes, cost the average British family more than the poll tax? Therefore, should we not pay more attention to the issues in the House, especially bearing in mind our position as one of the major trading nations?

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government greatly regretted the suspension of the GATT negotiations in December. We are doing all that we can to ensure that the valuable progress which has been made up to that point is not lost. I fully agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the matter. The need to reach a conclusion to the GATT round is very important.

There is a difficulty about holding a debate as we need to know at what time it would be right to have the issue raised again in the House. We need to know what progress has been made and to hold the debate at a time that is appropriate in that context.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 449?

[That this House welcomes the mission to Iraq being jointly organised by the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organisation for the delivery of emergency medical supplies for children and mothers and, more generally, to assess health needs; believes this mission to be firmly within the spirit of the provisions of the Geneva Convention of 1949, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Declaration of the World Summit for Children which states that 'the essential needs of children and families must be protected even in times of war and in violence-ridden areas' and goes on to ask that 'periods of tranquility and special relief corridors be observed for the benefit of children, where war and violence are still taking place'; recognises the high proportion of young children in the Iraqi population; and further hopes that once the mission has visited Baghdad it will make every effort to inspect the conditions of children and mothers in other centres of war, including Basra and Kuwait.]

This week UNICEF and the World Health Organisation are taking medical supplies to Baghdad for women and children and they will be examining health conditions in Iraq. Given the bombing that took place yesterday and the horrendous scenes we have been shown from Baghdad, would it not be particularly appropriate for us to discuss the subject?

Mr. MacGregor

We welcome the proposal to send a World Health Organisation and UNICEF mission to Iraq to deliver emergency medical supplies. Experience from similar ICRC—International Committee of the Red Cross—missions shows that satisfactory arrangements can be made for such missions without organising pauses in hostilities or relief corridors. This is another issue that could be raised next week.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I urge my right hon. Friend to find time next week to debate early-day motion 448.

[That this House notes with great concern the establishment of a secret society within the Parliamentary Labour Party called The Supper Club; notes that its objectives appear to be distancing Front Bench spokesmen from official Opposition policy, campaigning for a new leader for the party, undermining support for British troops in the Gulf and weakening the authority of United Nations resolutions; and calls for an early debate so that club members can clarify their policies and their preferences for a new leader.]

Conservative Members would find a debate absolutely riveting because the motion, which stands in my name, concerns the revelation of the existence of the parliamentary Labour party's supper club.

The need for a debate is urgent and serious for two reasons. First, we discovered yesterday that Labour Front-Bench spokesmen do not have any economic policies, so if we had a debate next week it might enable the supper club to tell us its economic policies. Secondly, the matter is urgent because it appears that the club is planning to change the leader of the Labour party and we would like to know its candidates.

Mr. MacGregor

I have seen the early-day motion, but my hon. Friend will know that I have no responsibility for the matters referred to therein. It was certainly noticeable in the debate yesterday that there was a total absence of any Labour policies for the future, and I believe that that will become clear in other debates as well.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

I am sure that the Leader of the House, who keeps a keen eye on such matters, has seen that I have tabled a ten-minute Bill for consideration next week. The object of the Bill is to extract additional money for the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Will the right hon. Gentleman support the Bill?

Mr. MacGregor

Since the hon. Gentleman knows that I have no further progress to report on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, and as I have not studied his Bill in detail, it is unlikely that I would want to support it next week. I have already made clear the position in relation to the Select Committee.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the reply that he gave earlier to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)? Will he ensure that, as urgently as possible, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary make a statement to the House on the horrific civilian casualties now occurring in Iraq and what plans they have to negotiate a ceasefire so that the carnage that has been wrought upon the people of Iraq and Kuwait can come to an end? That would mean that all the problems of the region, none of which will be solved by the war, can be addressed in a peaceful, political way rather than with the barbarism that is being used in the region now.

Mr. MacGregor

I know that the hon. Gentleman shares the views of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn); but I also know that there are not many other hon. Members who do so.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have a debate on railway transport and, in particular, the Department of Transport's guidelines that require British Rail to lengthen a large number of station platforms, without any additional money, to conform with the new rolling stock that has been introduced? That is causing British Rail and the travelling public great concern, because in west Yorkshire, for example, many believe that small useful stations will be closed on health and safety grounds when the real reason is that the Government are forcing cuts on British Rail. This would be a useful subject for debate, because it is important that we have an expanding rail network and not one that is continually circumscribed by Government cuts.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman is wrong on both points. British Rail is expanding in terms of investment and rolling stock; there are not cuts. British Rail's investment is at the highest level in real terms for 30 years. The hon. Gentleman mentioned additional rolling stock. Since 1983, Ministers have approved about £1.8 billion of investment in passenger rolling stock and nearly £400 million in locomotives. So that there is much investment, and the basis of the hon. Gentleman's argument falls. However, if he wishes to raise particular local points, he knows that other means are available for him to do so.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House bring forward next week an up-to-date statement on the efforts of the Government to cadge money from other Governments in order to prosecute the Gulf war? If the Irish nationalists are condemned for raising money in America in order to carry out their wishes regarding Irish nationalism, what is the difference between that and the British and American Governments running around the world touting for money for this American-led mercenary war?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman must know that there is the world of difference. The conflict in Iraq is being undertaken under the auspices of a United Nations resolution, and a large number of Governments are participating. The position is totally different. On the issue that he raised about a statement next week, I suggest that he reads yesterday's debate where he will see that the matter was referred to in the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

The Leader of the House mentioned that there would be opposed private business on Monday between 7 o'clock and 10 o'clock, as though it had nothing to do with him or the Government and was purely a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means. If that is so—the measure concerned is the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill—how does the right hon. Gentleman explain the existence of a document, a copy of which I have seen, from the Government Chief Whip instructing all Ministers to be present for the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill and the business which follows it, and telling them also to procure the presence of their Parliamentary Private Secretaries? How does he reconcile that with the reply that the Prime Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) in respect of Government whipping on the Southampton Rapid Transit Bill on 5 February, when he said that individual members of the Cabinet vote according to their individual wishes?

Does the Leader of the House agree that the documentary evidence we have shows clearly that private Bills are being passed through the House under the flag of convenience and that they are, in fact, Government measures? Will he agree to refer the matter to the Select Committee on procedure?

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman knows, whipping is not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary.

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