HC Deb 18 July 1991 vol 195 cc497-516 3.31 pm
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

May we have the business for next week, please?

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 22 JULY—Motion for the summer Adjournment, followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

TUESDAY 23 JULY—Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Ports Bill.

Proceedings on consolidation measures. Details will be given in the Official Report.

WEDNESDAY 24 JULY—Opposition Day (19th allotted day). There will be a debate described as "The Failure of the Government's Economic Policies" on an Opposition motion.

Supplemental timetable motion on and consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Dangerous Dogs Bill.

THURSDAY 25 JULY—Debates on the Adjournment.

The House may be asked to consider any other Lords amendments which may be received.

It may also be for the convenience of the House to know that the provisional business for the first week after the summer Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 14 OCTOBER and TUESDAY 15 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on a Government motion to approve the Defence Estimates 1991 (Cm 1559, volumes 1 and 2).

At the end on Tuesday, motion to take note of EC document No. 5577/91 relating to the future of the European Coal and Steel Community. Details will be given in the Official Report.

WEDNESDAY 16 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Cardiff Bay Barrage (No. 2) Bill, subject to the decision of the Select Committee on Standing Orders.

THURSDAY 17 OCTOBER—Debate on a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied.

FRIDAY 18 OCTOBER—Debate on the policing of London on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House may be asked to consider any other Lords amendments which may be received.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee A will meet at 10.30 am on Tuesday 23 July to consider European Community Document No. 4717/91 relating to the Environmental Labelling Scheme.

[Tuesday 23 July:

Tuesday 23 July:

Tuesday 15 October:

Mr. Grocott

Following the exchanges at Prime Minister's Question Time on the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, can the Leader of the House arrange for either the Secretary of State for Employment or the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement to the House to spell out exactly what has happened to two letters, one dated 12 June last year and one dated 19 June last year, which drew attention to the serious problems facing BCCI and which now seem to have gone missing? My hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) received totally unsatisfactory answers. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the relevant Secretary of State comes to the House to give an answer?

I wish to refer to the controversy over the Government's failure to make a statement on Rosyth and related naval matters earlier this week. Will the Leader of the House confirm what we know to be the case, but we want to see it on the record, that at no stage did the Government offer us, the Opposition, a statement on Rosyth on Tuesday? We should like public confirmation of that.

On another matter relating to defence and the need for a statement, will the Leader of the House undertake that the Secretary of State for Defence will come to the House next week to give us details of the proposed regimental changes and—this is important to many of our constituents—their implications for the civilian employees of Ministry of Defence establishments? We want to know the Government's precise plans as early as possible.

Given today's horrendous unemployment figures—this is the 15th consecutive monthly increase—will the Leader of the House confirm that our only opportunity to debate that will be in our precious and limited Opposition time next Wednesday and that, once again, not surprisingly, the Government have refused to find time for a debate on the jobs crisis that is affecting so many people?

I turn now to another important point—[Interruption.] I am sorry if the Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), is getting upset, but these are important matters—[Interruption.] Believe me, the Leader of the House is nothing to do with me.

I am sure that, like us all, the Leader of the House recalls that the House was rightly recalled during last summer's recess for an emergency debate on the Gulf. We all fervently hope that there will not be any comparable need for Parliament to be recalled during this recess, but may I have the absolute assurance from the Leader of the House that if there is a crisis, either abroad or domestically, which leads us, the Opposition, to ask for a recall of Parliament the right hon. Gentleman will see to it that Parliament is rapidly recalled?

The one reason—[Interruption.] It is always nice to annoy Conservative Members, Mr. Speaker. Finally—Conservative Members will not like this one either—the real reason why we should dearly like Parliament to be recalled during the summer recess is so that the Prime Minister can dissolve the House of Commons and call a general election. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that there is no prospect of the Prime Minister plucking up the courage to do that?

Mr. MacGregor

That was a large number of questions and I should be here for a long time if I were to reply to them in full, which is what I am tempted to do. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's first point about the letters, I have answered the main substance of that, as I understand it. I said that the letters related to redundancies at BCCI and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has responded to that. I have said that another point that was raised in the letters is now being looked into. I shall certainly ensure that the House is informed, but that it is informed in the appropriate way. We must judge the right way to inform the House.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's point about a statement on Rosyth, it is always difficult to strike a balance between ensuring that we get on with the announced business of the day, which is often very full, and deciding on the number of oral statements that should be made, and when. The hon. Gentleman knows that, through the usual channels, we spend a great deal of time trying to get that right in the interests of the House. I hope that I have got it right on most occasions, although I do not claim that I have always done so. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence discussed with me the possibility of an oral statement, but it was my understanding that the Opposition did not want an oral statement on their half-day Supply day. Therefore, I decided that it would not be appropriate to have an oral statement on that day. I wish to make that clear. There was a genuine misunderstanding about the matter. I hope that the House feels that the decision that we took following discussion between the usual channels to make a statement yesterday was the right way to proceed.

The hon. Gentleman asked about a statement on the review of the regimental system. I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will make a statement before the House rises for the summer recess. I am not sure whether it will cover civilians, but I shall certainly convey to my right hon. Friend the hon. Gentleman's request. The hon. Gentleman said that the matter caused anxiety among his constituents. I am sure that he accepts the point made rather frequently yesterday that one cannot express anxiety about such matters and possible losses of jobs as a result of the changed requirements facing defence and at the same time advocate much larger reductions in defence expenditure. I hope that that will be borne in mind when my right hon. Friend makes his statement.

I am tempted to give the hon. Gentleman a long and full answer on unemployment, but I shall forbear to take the opportunity to do so. There have been many opportunities, including in Government time, to discuss economic matters and unemployment. It was possible to do so during the proceedings on the Finance Bill and on several other occasions. It will be possible to raise unemployment next week in time other than the Opposition Supply day. It could be raised on the motion for the Adjournment, in the Consolidated Fund debate and in the debates on the Adjournment on Thursday. If unemployment is raised in the debate on the motion for the Adjournment, I shall certainly point out the consequences for employment of Labour policies.

Naturally, if there is a crisis which justifies recalling Parliament, we shall do so. Whether it was justified would have to be a matter for discussion through the usual channels.

In response to the hon. Gentleman's point about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, let me say that the Government have a great deal of excellent business still to do. The Government are getting ahead with the firm and proper business of government. I have the utmost confidence in my right hon. Friend's judgment, including his judgment about when we should have a general election.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. May I draw the attention of the House once again to the busy day ahead of us? I ask hon. Members to ask questions about business next week or when we return. Will they also bear in mind the ballot that has been taken to select the subjects for the Consolidated Fund Bill debates? I ask hon. Members not to ask questions about matters which will be the subject of a debate on Monday.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will probably be no statement about the channel tunnel rail link route before the House rises for the summer recess? Is it seriously proposed that there should be no public statement until the House reassembles on 14 October? In view of the great interest in the route, the great anxiety that the matter causes and the related problem of blight, will my right hon. Friend persuade the Secretary of State for Transport to make an official statement during the recess followed by a statement in the House as soon as we return?

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of the great interest in that matter. I will certainly discuss with my right hon. and learned Friend the suggestion made by my hon. Friend. I am aware of the anxiety of many people that a statement should be made as soon as possible. However, my hon. Friend will recognise that we have a crowded programme for next week.

Mr. Speaker

It may be for the convenience of the House, if the House will allow me, to draw attention to the first 12 debates that have been drawn out of the ballot for the Consolidated Fund: first, United Kingdom relations with Latin America; second, Her Majesty's Government's policy with regard to Cambodia; third, the Department of Health's decision to license RU486; fourth, BCCI; fifth, nuclear deterrence; sixth, the number of High Court judges; seventh, trade union reform; eighth, economic and employment prospects for Londoners; ninth, European Community agricultural policy; tenth, training and enterprise councils; eleventh, tourism and the case for a tourism ombudsman; twelfth, the construction industry.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

As a member of the Select Committee on Procedure, may I congratulate the Leader of the House on responding so promptly with the motion to be debated today on the Committee's report on Select Committees? In that the motion allows for an expansion of the remit of the Scottish Affairs Committee, and knowing that the Leader of the House would not wish the House to embark on an academic or window-dressing exercise, may we assume that next week the motion will be laid for setting up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. I must tell him in all honesty—because I always believe in being frank in these matters —that he is being a trifle optimistic in his hope for next week.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

If, as seems likely, during the summer recess the Labour party falls apart over militants, Europe, defence and trade union matters, will my right hon. Friend consider recalling Parliament so that the nation may be aware of exactly where the Labour party stands on all those issues and so that we on this side may capitalise on it?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend makes an ingenious suggestion, but it is not in the category of crisis because the Labour party will not have the opportunity of applying its policies in practice. A number of other events will be taking place during the recess, not least two conferences, where I have no doubt that the divisions in the Labour party will be clearly revealed.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Has the Leader of the House seen today's publication of the Public Accounts Committee report on the debacle of the abolition of the dock labour scheme? Is he aware that that report says that the scheme was intended to cost £25 million but actually cost the Government £141 million? According to the report, that was due to the crass incompetence of the Government rushing through the legislation without any checks. The Conservatives' blinkered ideology led them to push ahead without considering the consequences. Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate so that every member of the Government may bear his share of responsibility? If the municipal treasurer of any Labour-controlled authority had made such wildly wrong estimates and cost his authority such a great sum, he would be drummed out of office, as the Government soon will be.

Mr. MacGregor

The Government will reply to the report of the Public Accounts Committee in the usual way, and a debate will take place on those matters also in the usual way.

Sir Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

My right hon. Friend will have seen that 43 right hon. and hon. Members have added their signatures to early-day motion 1084 under the heading, "Immigration: (Carriers' Liability)".

[That this House, whilst recognising the intention of restricting improper attempts to enter the United Kingdom, as outlined by the Home Secretary in his statement of 2nd July 1991, is of the opinion that the doubling of the £1,000 charge payable by the carrier for each passenger who fails to produce valid documents is an unfair imposition on the great majority of British shipping and aviation carriers who have attempted to comply with the requirements of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987.]

He will be aware that that relates to the Government's proposal to increase from £1,000 to £2,000 the fine levied on airlines for carrying immigrants to this country without adequate papers. Has he also noted that a prayer has been tabled to annul that order? Can he guide me on whether, as we approach the recess, the introduction of that doubling of the fine can take place before the matter has been debated in the House, that prayer having been tabled? In other words, any intention by the Government to rush it through will not now be possible until we resume on 14 October.

Mr. MacGregor

I will write to my hon. Friend on the procedural point he raised. Regarding the point of substance in the early-day motion, during the first three months of this year more than 2,400 cases of improperly documented passengers were recorded. We recognise that some carriers are making efforts to check documentation prior to departure, but in many cases those could be made more stringent. Some carriers are known to be making less vigorous checks, or none at all. My hon. Friend will recognise that there is widespread concern in the country about people arriving at United Kingdom airports without proper documentation, and that adds greatly to the problems of dealing with immigration cases and so on. That is why the Government thought it necessary to increase the charge payable.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does the Leader of the House recall that last week he told me he would convey to the Secretary of State for Defence my concern over the case of three soldiers, one a constituent of mine, who lost their legs? Has he seen my new early-day motion 1134, which congratulates The Times on its excellent coverage of, and leading article on, the case on Monday?

[That this House welcomes the leader in The Times on 15th July which called for adequate compensation to be paid to the three guardsmen, Adrian Hicks, Sean Povey and John Ray, who lost their legs in a training exercise in July 1989; recognises the support given for compensation by a very large number of honourable Members as well as very senior officers in the Grenadier Guards and the general public; and urges that this matter be satisfactorily resolved before the House rises on 25th July.]

May we have an assurance that the matter will be dealt with in some way before the House rises for the recess? An injustice has been done to three young men who joined the Army for the very best of reasons and who, through no fault of theirs, have been crippled for life. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood if I say that it is unfortunate —I do not blame the Leader of the House—that the matter has been trivialised by hon. Members wearing or not wearing top hats. The issue is extremely serious and Members on both sides of the House are deeply concerned about it.

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of the concern, and I know that my right hon. Friend is also aware of it. Indeed, I have passed on the concern, not only after it was mentioned last week but on several occasions, and my right hon. Friend continues to give it serious and urgent attention. As the hon. Gentleman will know, these are difficult and complex matters. However, everyone has great sympathy for those concerned and we are anxious to ensure that they have full information. The hon. Gentleman probably knows of a meeting that took place recently between officials and the legal representatives of the three guardsmen. I shall again convey the hon. Gentleman's feelings, which I know are shared by my hon. Friends. I cannot promise a statement next week, but I shall certainly discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend to see how any further information can be passed on during the recess.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Serious allegations have been made of widespread abuse of children in three county council children's homes in Leicestershire during the 13-years period from 1974 to 1986. The allegations are concerned with the sexual abuse and assault of the children. Charges are pending in respect of the allegations —[Interruption.] Therefore, the case is sub judice and I cannot comment further—[Interruption.] I have taken advice on this matter, Mr. Speaker. However, without prejudging the outcome of the case, if those allegations are substantiated, it is my firm opinion and that of the Conservative group leader on Leicestershire county council that there should be a full public inquiry——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that that is enough. The hon. Gentleman has now made his point.

Mr. MacGregor

I recognise that the case is presently before the court and is therefore sub judice. I understand, however, that the local authority has commissioned an independent review and has asked the Department of Health social services inspectorate to carry out an inspection of its children's homes.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) and the Renfrew district council on the case that they have put forward for a national stadium in Renfrew district? Will he find time next week for the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement on the future of a national stadium for Scotland? Does he agree that this is not merely a Scottish matter because the Scots think that supporters of English football teams have a right to see their teams being beaten in comfort?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall not be tempted to answer the last question because I have views on that and it might be unwise to express them. I cannot promise a statement on that matter next week. We have a lot of business and I have already mentioned the problems involved in achieving a balance. Obviously other opportunities are available to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend announce next week the results of the inquiry that he promised to carry out into how executive agencies should report through Ministers to the House? Is he aware that, if we continue with the present arrangements, with answers not being given properly in Hansard, the House will lose control of those agencies, which are staffed exclusively by civil servants paid with public money?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already mentioned ways in which all the information can be made available to the House and the public. My hon. Friend will know, however, that the Procedure Committee has dealt with that issue in its recent report, and I understand that the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee is also looking into it and may have recommendations to make. I shall wish to take account of the views of both Committees in my discussions with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Privy Council Office.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Leader of the House will be aware of concern throughout the country about the continued imprisonment of the UDR Four. Last week we were assured that there would be a statement soon. How soon is soon? Am I being a trifle optimistic in hoping that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will make a statement before the House rises for the recess?

Mr. MacGregor

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the matter and will then decide whether, under his discretionary powers, he would be justified in referring the case back to the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal. I cannot say how soon "soon" is, but I shall have a further word with my right hon. Friend to see whether he can say when he is likely to come to a decision.

Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

In yesterday's all-too-brief Welsh debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales rightly stressed his accountability to the House. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House give an assurance that the Government will allocate a full day's debate on the Welsh Office consultation paper on the structure of local government in Wales before the consultation period on the document ends on 31 October?

Mr. MacGregor

I understand the importance of the matter, and there are many ways in which my hon. Friends can express their views on it. I would not wish to give my hon. Friend an assurance that it will be possible to have a full day's debate on the subject before 31 October. I am very much aware of the pressures on the timetable, and I have already announced the business for our first week back after the recess.

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

May we have a statement on the two letters of June 12 and June 19 last year, which were ultimately sent to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and which the Leader of the House said referred primarily to redundancy? Is it not true that those letters, which came from employees of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, contained allegations of fraud? Did not the writer of those letters predict that, unless the Government acted, there would be a catastrophe for both investors and employees?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already answered that question, and Mr. Speaker has announced that there will be a debate on the matter on Monday.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there would be a wide welcome for a statement on the guardsmen next week? Will he also confirm that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement on the G7 summit, which he conducted with such great skill?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that I can add to what I have already said about the guardsmen.

I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend said about the leadership that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has shown at the G7 summit, at which so many constructive views and decisions were carried forward. I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement on it in the House tomorrow.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

Will the Leader of the House consider setting aside time for a debate on the ramifications of the G7 summit? It should be a debate on, not so much the role that the Prime Minister played in the summit, but on the worries expressed—since the announcements were made yesterday—by those in eastern Europe who fear the wholesale collapse of the economies of the newly democratised countries of Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia because the Russians are not able to purchase their products? It is absolutely essential that the west takes a proper and positive role in supporting the Russian economy so that the newly democratised countries do not collapse.

Mr. MacGregor

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not feel able to acknowledge the outstanding leadership that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister showed at the summit yesterday, and I am sure that many hon. Members will wish to acknowledge that tomorrow. The issue to which the hon. Gentleman referred can be raised when my right hon. Friend makes his statement tomorrow——

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Why tomorrow?

Mr. MacGregor

The answer to that question is simple: my right hon. Friend is having bilateral talks with President Gorbachev this afternoon, and therefore he wishes to report to the House at the earliest opportunity after those talks are completed.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will the Leader of the House try to persuade the Attorney-General to make a statement next week on the specific allegation that Mr. Mohammed Fayed and others sought to discredit and attack the chairman, advisers and members of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry by making the appalling suggestion that they were subject to bribery and corruption? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a far too serious issue to justify waiting till after the recess before a statement is made? Will he seek to persuade the Attorney-General to say what, if anything, the Government propose to do about it?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Leader of the House clarify the position between himself and the other side of the usual channels in relation to the Rosyth statement? I thought that the right hon. Gentleman chose his words extremely carefully. Was it his view that the Opposition did not want a statement on Rosyth?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That happened yesterday.

Mr. Douglas

I understand that, but can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in future, we will have clarification as to what type of statement the Opposition refuse—whether they refuse a general statement or a statement on a specific subject such as Rosyth?

Mr. MacGregor

I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking for the impossible if he wants me to reveal exactly what discussions took place every time a statement is made or not made. Often those discussions cover a lengthy period. I cannot assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall do that in the future.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

My right hon. Friend will know that, from time to time, I have asked that there should be a full day's debate at least once a year on science policy and the allocation of national science resources. My right hon. Friend will also know that the parliamentary office of science and technology has recently produced a report on the relationship between defence and civil research and development. Would it not be appropriate that that document should be one of the basic documents that we discuss during the two-day debate on defence in October?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not know whether we would want to table that document; I shall have to consider that. The main document is the defence White Paper, but matters relating to defence research and development could be raised during the debate.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

Further to the comments of the Leader of the House on the statement next week on the regimental structure, can he ensure that that statement will be made before Wednesday so that the Select Committee on Defence has an opportunity to examine it before the summer recess? When he communicates with the Secretary of State for Defence, can he refer him to column 357 of yesterday's edition of Hansard where the Secretary of State said that the Opposition should tell the truth? Today it has been proved that the Opposition did tell the truth, and the Leader of the House should tell his right hon. Friend to be more modest when he comes to the Dispatch Box next week.

Mr. MacGregor

On the statement next week, I cannot say now precisely when it will be as it is obviously a matter that must be considered early next week when we look at the business. I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's point to my right hon. Friend, but that must be without prejudice to exactly when we make the statement.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)

Has my right hon. Friend seen the early-day motions signed by Members on both sides of the House referring to the loss of heritage and identification in the counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire that has been felt by many of their constituents? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the unhappiness about the loss of ancient county references for postal purposes, road signs and for maps is widespread, not least in the west midlands where, ironically, Edgbaston cricket ground is no longer in the county of Warwickshire? Given that widespread unhappiness, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on this subject, preferably before the end of the recess, as the consultation period is under way now at the Department of the Environment?

Mr. MacGregor

There are many early-day motions and I do not carry the text of all of them in my head. I believe that my hon. Friend could raise that issue on the motion for the Adjournment on Monday.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is growing concern on Teesside that the privatisation of the Tees and Hartlepool port as a result of Government legislation that will be considered next week will result in that port falling into foreign hands under the Government's competitive tendering provisions? Is he aware that guidelines for the sale of ports were introduced in another place but are now in the Vote Office? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure me that the guidelines will end up in the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill rather than simply in the Vote Office?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not want to give a guarantee on that as that is a matter for my right hon. Friend. I do not know the details of the matter, but if the hon. Gentleman is right obviously the documents are in the Vote Office now. If that is the case, they are available. I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's point to my right hon. Friend, but this is an extremely late stage at which to consider additions to the Bill.

Mr. Philip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

May we have a debate as soon as possible on air travel so that we can discuss, notwithstanding Lord King's fit of pique, the enormous benefits to air travel of the Government's policy of privatisation and increased competition? A debate would also give us the opportunity to explore the position of the Labour party. On the one hand, it constantly complains that we do not introduce enough competition into privatised industries, but, on the other, it lost absolutely no time in rushing to the defence of Lord King when he started to whine about having to face competition from companies such as Virgin Atlantic.

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend that the policies that we have pursued—privatisation, greater competition and greater liberalisation among the world's airlines—have been greatly to the benefit of the consumer and have led to improved services. They are a clear indication that what we are doing is right for the consumer. I should welcome the opportunity for these matters to be debated in the House and to make the contrast suggested by my hon. Friend. However, I cannot give a guarantee that it will be during the next week or so.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement next week on the disturbing evidence of Mr. Robin Robison, former administrative officer of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who has shown that sophisticated eavesdropping technology is now so totally out of control that many people, including a former wing commander in the Royal Air Force, a former Falklands war hero and possibly scores of Members of Parliament, are having their telephones tapped without the prior knowledge of any Minister, let alone Parliament? It is a constitutional outrage. The Home Secretary should come to the House and explain his role.

Mr. MacGregor

The Interception of Communications Act 1985 requires interception to be authorised by a warrant issued by a Secretary of State. It provides for the oversight of the arrangement by an independent commissioner and provides a mechanism for complaint by individuals to a tribunal. I do not think, therefore, that a separate statement by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is needed. Certainly it would not be right to comment on individual allegations.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

In view of the considerable importance attached by many of my constituents to improved public transport, can my right hon. Friend offer the prospect of an early debate—if not before the House rises, then during the overspill period —on the question of the future of London bus transport? If one is looking for an improved way to carry more people safely and with energy efficiency in London, better conditions for travel by bus are paramount.

Mr. MacGregor

I recognise my hon. Friend's concern, but I cannot provide him with an assurance that during the overspill period, which is never very long, there will be time for a debate on that matter. There are other ways, however, in which my hon. Friend can raise it on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

My question is a matter of concern to hon. Members in all parts of the House—the violence in the security industry and the clear evidence that it has been infiltrated by organised crime. Guns and other dangerous weapons are being used against members of the public and the staff employed by publicans and others in the leisure industry. Is it not time that the Secretary of State for the Home Department made a statement to the House on whether he intends to introduce regulation of the industry to prevent those criminal elements from infiltrating the security industry further, thereby allowing security companies that want to operate effectively to do so, thus protecting individuals, the police and other members of the community from the dangerous activities of these men of violence?

Mr. MacGregor

Although there are many important matters that could be raised in the House, the time available for doing so in Government time, or in statements next week and during the first week after we return from the summer recess, is limited. There are other ways, including putting questions to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, that the hon. Gentleman could use to pursue the matter further.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the amendment to his motion on the Order Paper, "Select Committees Related to Government Departments", which has been tabled by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and myself, proposing that there should be a Select Committee on Northern Ireland? Northern Ireland has——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is referring to today's business?

Mr. Stanbrook


Mr. Speaker

I am going to select the amendment. Does that help?

Mr. Stanbrook

I am asking about the Government's attitude to the amendment, because it will be reached at a very late hour. Northern Ireland has more Ministers per head of population than any other part of the United Kingdom, yet it has the least parliamentary discussion. This is a way in which we can increase the discussion. Will the Government accept that amendment?

Mr. MacGregor

It would be very unfair if I were to deal now with all the matters that are to be raised later in the day. It is appropriate that I should deal with them when we reach them later in the day.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

As the Leader of the House knows, the health service is important to all of us, yet it is disgraceful that the local health board for the Lothian region has repeatedly broken commitments to the community, particularly the community in Leith, which in particular means that a promised new hospital will not be built, unless it is with private money. Is that not something that we should debate next week? Is it not something that we should look at closely because it is a betrayal of everyone who has contributed to the health service? At the end of the day, we are talking not about charity but about a basic right. The Government talk about a citizens' charter. Let us discuss the health service and that hospital above all else.

Mr. MacGregor

I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's point about charity. Substantial funds are being spent on the health service as a whole and on the Lothian health board. I dispute entirely any idea that that health board has been underfunded because it has been funded on the same basis as other health boards. This year it received an allocation of £352 million for recurrent expenditure in 1992. In real terms, that represents an increase of nearly 28 per cent. since 1979.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of growing public anxiety at the shady activities of charity promoters and some charities? Would that be an appropriate subject for debate as soon as possible after the recess, bearing in mind that it is now 10 years since Christian Aid submitted its accounts to the Charity Commissioners? Will my right hon. Friend consider with his Cabinet colleagues legislation to be announced in the Queen's Speech to give the Charity Commissioners some real teeth, bearing in mind the arrogant behaviour of Oxfam which, in its recent report, rejected the criticism of political activity?

Mr. MacGregor

I accept that there is a need to make considerable changes to charity legislation and we are committed to doing that. I should like to see us do so as soon as it is practicable. I cannot say that it will be included in the Queen's Speech because it is a matter for announcement at that time. However, I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that we are keen to undertake major changes in charity legislation as soon as we can.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Has the Leader of the House seen the press publicity this week about the activities of the Secretary of State for Education and Science in a school in Hampshire where children were plainly engaged in party political activity? As a former Secretary of State for Education and Science, does the Leader of the House recognise that the approval of parents and head teachers should have been secured before such activity commenced? Does he agree that the Secretary of State needs to maintain a balance to avoid the accusation that schools are no longer places of education but are being used, as in this case, for the purposes of indoctrination?

Mr. MacGregor

I have been photographed with school children on many occasions on the many visits that I have paid to schools; and I know that the same applies to Opposition Members as I have seen some of the photographs. Therefore, I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's point. If he regrets the fact that it was the occasion of the 100th grant-maintained school, I should tell him that many people believe that grant-maintained schools are one of our most successful reforms. I see frequently that they are widely welcomed by parents and staff and I believe that they will be of great benefit to pupils as well.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

Will the Leader of the House look carefully at the newspapers today and tell me whether he shares my horror and unhappiness at the continuing traumas of the vicar's daughter who was raped and whose attacker is now being let out of prison so early? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the crime of rape against women needs to be punished far more severely and that victims need much greater support? The Government have made large strides through much more sensitive police treatment and handling of these difficult cases, but the reality of that poor girl's plight is that she will now be living in fear and terror of being attacked again.

Mr. MacGregor

I support all my hon. Friend's general remarks and understand fully why she has made them. I cannot comment on the individual case because I have not yet had an opportunity to read the press report. As I have said, I certainly support the general thrust of what my hon. Friend said.

Ms. Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware of the increasing concern about the plight of the thousands of Shias who are stuck in the marshlands of southern Iraq, out of sight of television cameras—apart from one or two brave camera men and women who have gone there—and out of sight of the photographers. As the United Nationas envoy has recently been there, will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement to the House before the recess on whether there is any possibility of the same effort being put into helping the Shias as has been put—rightly —into helping the Kurds?

Mr. MacGregor

I know of the House's interest in such matters, but I cannot guarantee that my right hon. Friend will be able to make a statement because of the pressure of business. However, the hon. Lady could raise the issue on the motion for the Adjournment on Monday if there is not time for a statement.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Does my right hon. Friend believe that this may be the time for a further debate on hospital trusts? Despite the blunders of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and other Labour Members in trying to mislead the public by saying that hospitals that apply for trust status are opting out, is my right hon. Friend aware that the excellent Heatherwood hospital in Ascot, in my constituency, which is applying for trust status, is having its application opposed by the local Labour party? The Labour party is asking the public to sign a petition which states that Heatherwood hospital is going private. That is a straightforward lie and a con, and a debate would give the hon. Member for Livingston and others the opportunity to put right members of the Labour party all over the country and to tell them to stop lying to our constituents.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend has other ways in which to raise that issue, but I entirely agree that it is wholly wrong to suggest that trust status means that a hospital is going private. Everyone knows that that is not true, and such a claim should not be repeated.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

As the Leader of the House has clearly read newspaper reports in the past two or three days about Tory Members of Parliament and some of their acolytes booking the Dining Rooms to make money for the Tory party, may we have a register of all such bookings when the House is sitting and during the recesses? I have the impression that, because the Tory party is losing the money that it once received from British Airways, Lord King and others, it is making up for that through those bookings and is abusing the procedures of the House with the local Tory parties around the country.

Mr. MacGregor

I recall having read in the press not long ago of a large and very expensive fund-raising dinner which took place on behalf of another political party. I merely draw that to the hon. Gentleman's attention.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Can my right hon. Friend find time to widen the debate on the way in which we conduct business in the House? In the past couple of days there has been a row about the problem of finding enough time for statements and to allow us to question Ministers on important matters which are usually of a narrow constituency interest. Will he consider extending the sensible system of Committees of the whole House which examine European business so that instead of going to a press conference Ministers could have a room in the House and access to hon. Members to make statements when there was not sufficient time to do so on the Floor of the House? We should then have a chance to question Ministers in front of members of the press and to have our queries answered.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend will no doubt be able to make that suggestion to the Select Committee on Procedure and the Sittings of the House which we have just set up. However, I know that under all Governments—not just the present Government—a large number of statements are made during Government business on larger and smaller issues. There would be great practical constraints on carrying out his suggestion that all statements should be made in the House.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Is the Leader of the House aware that at a meeting in Oxford today UK Nirex will reach a decision—it may have already done so—about whether Sellafield or Dounreay will be the chosen site for the disposal of low and intermediate level radioactive waste? Is he also aware that UK Nirex has made it clear that that decision will not be made public for some considerable time? In view of the importance of the issue, especially in the highlands of Scotland, will he use his best offices to ask the Secretary of State for Energy to ensure that a statement is made to the House before the House rises next week? The industries and councils of the highlands and islands in particular will want to know whether the cloud has been lifted from their shoulders.

Mr. MacGregor

I did not know about today's meeting, and I can give no guarantee of further statements in the House next week, but I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what the hon. Lady has said.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

As there will be no time for a debate on the volunteer reserve after Monday's Consolidated Fund debate, will my right hon. Friend try to find time for such a debate in the next week? Is he aware of the concern felt by members of the Royal Observer Corps all over the country about the insensitivity with which the recent announcement about their future was made? I should like the matter to be thoroughly discussed, if that is possible.

Mr. MacGregor

It will not be possible for us to deal with the matter in Government time, but my hon. Friend may wish to take advantage of one of the opportunities that will be available to him next week.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

In replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), the Leader of the House referred to a fund-raising dinner held by the Labour party. That dinner was held outside the House, in Park lane; my hon. Friend was talking about the abuse of dining facilities in this place by Conservative Members who are using them to raise funds for the Tory party—and, it appears, bringing in strangers who appear to be charging for the use of those facilities.

This is an abuse, and the Leader of the House must deal with it very shortly. I hope that he will make a statement next week, and that, when he does so, he will tell us what is meant by the "annual quota of dinners" for Conservative Members. I have never heard of that. I have been here for a few years, and I have used the facilities, but I have never abused them. What is going on over there?

Mr. McGregor

I do not know what the annual quota is, so I shall have to look into it.

Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)

As a degree of urgency is involved, will my right hon. Friend arrange before the summer recess for a number of copies of the newspaper Militant to be made available in the Library, the Tea Room, the Smoking Room and Norman Shaw as so many Opposition Members seem to enjoy reading it?

Mr. MacGregor

Many of us are aware of the considerable number of Opposition Members who support Militant policies. I shall be happy to acquaint my hon. Friend and others with some of the documents that I see in this connection; no doubt he will do the same.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

May I press the Leader of the House on the question of the use of the Dining Rooms, and urge him to carry out an investigation? He must know—it has been reported throughout the national press this week, and mentioned in certain court proceedings—that there is an annual allocation of Dining Rooms to Conservative Members——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not referring to a case that I believe may be sub judice.

Mr. Madden

Indeed not.

It has also been claimed that commercial organisations posing as Conservative party fund raisers have free use of the Dining Rooms, and instruct Members of Parliament to take rich American tourists to the shop, the Terrace and the Strangers Gallery. Is it any wonder that our constituents cannot get into this place when it is chock full of American tourists being charged through the nose by these bogus organisations? It is high time that the Leader of the House carried out an urgent investigation and cleaned up this racket as soon as possible.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) mentioned the contribution of British Airways. Last year, for every £1 contributed to the Conservative party by British Airways, the Transport and General Workers Union contributed nearly £40 to the Labour party, but I have not heard anyone suggest that members of the TGWU should not be allowed to come into the House and enjoy its facilities. I think that it is extremely difficult to draw the line.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance today to read an important and interesting article in the national press in which the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), makes it clear that his party's policy of a national minimum wage is "non-negotiable"? Given the immense concern outside the House about the policy and the fact that many organisations, including Labour organisations, have made it clear that the policy could cause up to 1 million jobs to be lost—a number of union leaders have variously described the policy as barmy or nonsensical—does my right hon. Friend really think that a one-day debate next Wednesday on the economy will be sufficient to allow my hon. Friends and I to draw attention to the catastrophic effects of the introduction of a national minimum wage?

Mr. MacGregor

That will clearly be quite a sizeable issue to be raised in the debate on Wednesday. I was interested that the newspaper report to which my hon. Friend referred stated that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) had also said that the Labour party had no intention of phasing in the reform of a national minimum wage. As I understand it, that is a change in the Labour party's policy. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has written today to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East on the matter, and I hope that we shall have an answer on Wednesday.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Could the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on poll tax enforcement procedures? Is he aware that on Tuesday, on Tyneside, Susan Monson, a mother of three, was gaoled for three months—the longest sentence ever imposed for the "offence" of which she was found guilty —for inability to pay the poll tax? The fact was recognised this morning when the Tyneside council concerned withdrew the complaint from the court. It did so—it is to its credit that it did—when it was finally convinced that her only income was income support.

Where does that leave all the assurances that we have had from Ministers that no one who was unable to pay the poll tax would ever be sent to prison? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that we need a debate, during which he could announce that the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987, which abolished the medieval barbarity of putting people in prison for debt, would be extended, as it were, to stop such gaolings in England and Wales?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot comment on the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred because I have not read a report of it and, therefore, I do not know all the details. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are arrangements for community charge rebates for those on lower incomes. He will know also that there is the greatest possible concern—the issue is raised whenever these matters arise at meetings throughout the country—about those who have refused to pay the community charge and who have incited others not to do so.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

May I thank my right hon. Friend for announcing a two-day debate on defence? It will enable many hon. Members to be called, including, I hope, many of the 150 who sympathise with CND. Did my right hon. Friend hear the sotto voce comment of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that he would cancel the whole of the Trident programme? Would not that policy be disastrous for the defence of our country and for our standing in the world?

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I shall say it as loudly and for as long as I can.

Mr. MacGregor

We have had two seated interjections, which have hardly been sotto voce, that have confirmed what my hon. Friend has said. There are clearly considerable divisions in the Labour party on the matter. That is something that can be raised legitimately during the two-day defence debate.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week on the "World in Action" programme entitled "Defending the Realm", during which several eminent people close to the establishment made the serious claim that MI5 and MI6 are out of control and undertake surveillance, including telephone tapping, without ministerial authority? It was said that they have information from the telephone taps that are labelled to the effect that it is specifically to be excluded from information that is given to Ministers. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House in a statement why it is that at GCHQ—this was made clear during the programme—the number of people dealing with telephone taps has been increased to 75? These people could deal with 35,000 tappings a year, and yet the number of warrants that are issued by Ministers amount to only about 500. Is it not time, in the interests of democratic accountability, to stop that spy-crazed mania, which was pointed out by Peter Wright, and to replace it by decent democratic accountability to the House? We could start with a statement instead of a cover-up.

Mr. MacGregor

I did not see the programme to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but I will draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to examine early-day motion 115, on third world debt and the Group of Seven summit?

[That this House is alarmed at the high level of debt of the world's poorest countries; notes that the reality of the world's economy is that through interest payments and repatriation of profits by multi-national companies there is an enormous net transfer of wealth from the poorest countries to the banking systems of the West; further deplores the way in which the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, GATT and Lomé convention are enforcing liberal free market economic regimes on the poorest countries with the consequent disastrous cuts in public spending, high unemployment, deteriorating environment, and health care; and accordingly calls for the G7 summit to propose the writing off of the debt and real increase in commodity prices for the poorest countries' products.]

I am aware that the Prime Minister is to make a statement tomorrow on the summit's outcome, but does the right hon. Gentleman accept the urgent need for a full debate on Government strategy for dealing with indebtedness by third world countries? Such indebtedness has resulted in famine in Africa; cholera in Peru, because of health service cuts there; and devastation in many other parts of the third world. All that is the consequence of debts that are unpayable and a commodity pricing system that robs the poor to give to the richest in the world. Unless we confront that issue, this year's catastrophes will be multiplied many times over the next few years, and we will then face real disaster.

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman knows, because that issue is frequently debated in the House, the Government support a substantial aid programme that includes technical and emergency assistance to some of the areas that he mentioned. The hon. Gentleman knows also that we pioneered debt relief for the world's poorest countries at various international forums, and the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister form the basis of the substantially improved treatment agreed yesterday at the London economic summit. Obviously the hon. Gentleman's point can be raised when my right hon. Friend makes his statement tomorrow.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Whatever may be the reasons, 1 million people are missing from the electoral register—2.5 per cent. of those eligible to vote in England, Scotland and Wales. When can we debate in prime time the problems that that situation creates? I hope that the Leader of the House will not tell me to pursue the issue in other ways, such as on an Adjournment debate, because as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know, I have tried incessantly to do so for the past three years. The Government's lack of concern about electoral registration is an utter constitutional and democratic disgrace.

Mr. MacGregor

I have responded to the hon. Gentleman on that point on a number of occasions.

Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East)

In view of the redundancies and short-time working that are affecting my constituents in Cowley, and car workers at Longbridge, Swindon, and elsewhere in the country, is there not an urgent need for a Government statement or a debate on the consequences for the British car industry of the Government's catastrophic economic policies? In the depths of what is now a slump, ought not the Prime Minister to initiate a review of the high interest rates, high value added tax, and high special car tax policies that are so damaging to the car industry and change them before further damage is inflicted on that vital national industry?

Mr. MacGregor

I reject the hon. Gentleman's charges, but, as he knows, there is to be an economic debate next week.

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

The right hon. Gentleman said that, immediately after the House returns from the summer recess, we can expect a debate on the reports of the Public Accounts Committee. He will recall that when the House returned from last year's summer recess it debated the Committee's outstanding reports, but he may be unaware that during that recess it was not possible for right hon. and hon. Members to discover which reports were to be debated, or which of them had received a Government response—and the reports themselves were not available to right hon. and hon. Members wanting to take part in that debate.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that, this time, a list of the reports will be published, and that those which have received a response from the Government will be identified? Can he confirm also that the reports themselves will be available to right hon. and hon. Members so that they may study them in advance and take part in the debate? I am aware that a number of the reports are embarrassing to the Government, but that is no excuse for not allowing right hon. and hon. Members to read them.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I did not know of the situation last year, but I will look into the matter. The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point, and I will see what I can do to meet it.