HC Deb 06 June 1991 vol 192 cc407-26 3.30 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

May I ask the Leader of the House to tell us what will be the business for next week?

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

Yes, Sir.

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 10 JUNE—Timetable motion, followed by proceedings on the Dangerous Dogs Bill.

TUESDAY 11 JUNE—Progress in Committee of the Local Government Finance and Valuation Bill.

WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE—Conclusion of Committee and remaining stages of the Local Government Finance and Valuation Bill.

THURSDAY 13 JUNE—Opposition Day (13th allotted day).

There will be a debate on an Opposition motion described as "The Impact of the Government's Recessionary Policies on Business".

FRIDAY 14 JUNE—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 17 JUNE—Committee and remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 12 June to consider Document No. 6033/90, relating to supplementary protection certificates for medicinal products.

[Relevant documents:

Wednesday 12 June

European Standing Committee B

Relevant European Community Document 6033/90 Medicinal Products (Legal Protection)

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee HC 11-xxv ( 1989–90) and HC 29-xxii (1990–91)]

Dr. Cunningham

Why are the Government introducing a timetable motion on the Bill to control dangerous dogs, which the Opposition do not intend to oppose? Is it not a ridiculous state of affairs that the Government want to guillotine the debate on a Bill which, broadly speaking and in principle, the Opposition welcome? That will force debate and decisions on the Bill into the middle of the night and early hours of the morning when, with proper agreement across the Floor, the House could have a far more sensible debate on that very important problem—and almost certainly reach far more sensible decisions. It must be unprecedented for a Government to cut short debate on a Bill that the Opposition support in principle. Is not the Government's real problem that they want to timetable the Bill to prevent their own supporters from causing difficulties when they rightly intend to vote for a dog registration scheme—which we will certainly support, and which, as all the evidence shows, has the overwhelming support of the public.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

Why did not the Opposition support one in the past?

Dr. Cunningham

The hon. Gentleman, who bellows at me from a sedentary position, must have a short memory. We have consistently supported a dog registration scheme, and we will do so again.

I invite the Leader of the House to arrange with the Government Chief Whip a free vote on that issue—with which we would also co-operate—to ensure that the House genuinely reaches an honest decision on whether Britain should have a dog registration scheme.

I know that the Leader of the House has not been able to find time for a debate about European Community affairs next week. May I impress on him the urgent need for such a debate, given the important developments that we have seen throughout Europe—not just in the Community? Can the debate be held before the European summit that is to take place in Luxembourg towards the end of the month? I believe that there would be widespread support for it. Given the current interest in European developments among Conservative Members, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will want to satisfy the wishes of his right hon. and hon. Friends as well as helping the Opposition.

Why are we to spend next week debating yet another Local Government Finance Bill, which, by definition, will perpetuate the existence of the poll tax for another two or three years? Why cannot a proposal to abolish the poll tax immediately be embodied in a simple clause, or group of clauses? The Opposition would co-operate fully in order to remove this abysmal, capricious tax from the statute book at the earliest opportunity.

When do the Government intend to arrange a debate on their own White Paper on the environment, "Our Common Inheritance", which was published with great fanfares nine months ago but has now disappeared without trace? Are the Government now putting important decisions about environmental policy on the back shelf because the environment is no longer considered to be politically opportune or fashionable? A debate on the White Paper would be in the interests of the House and the country.

Mr. MacGregor

I believe that the House and the whole country think it important for us to put the Dangerous Dogs Bill on the statute book as quickly as possible—

Dr. Cunningham

We have already co-operated to accelerate its progress.

Mr. MacGregor

I am explaining why we are tabling a timetable motion. It is important to get the Bill on the statute book, not only to protect innocent people who may be subjected to the behaviour of fighting dogs but to ensure that the breeding of such dogs is stopped so that matters go no further. I believe that, if we are to do that as quickly as possible, it will be necessary to take the Bill through the House in the way that the Government suggest. I also believe that that is what the House wants.

If the Opposition do not wish to oppose the Bill, as the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said—and I was very pleased to hear him say it—they will no doubt assist us in accelerating the debate. We are taking steps to ensure that the Bill gets through, but—as hon. Members will see when the timetable motion is tabled later this afternoon—we are allowing as much time as possible for the Bill to be debated on the one day allotted to it. I think that the House will want to get it through in a day, and the guillotine motion will ensure that that happens.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are allowing plenty of time for sensible debate. Let me point out that we shall have even more time if we debate the guillotine motion briefly: then we can get on to the Bill quickly. That would suit me as much as it would suit the hon. Gentleman. He will see when he reads the motion that we are allowing plenty of time for debate on the dog registration issue.

I agree that Europe is a very important subject, and I hope to arrange a debate in the near future. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will take place before the European summit in Luxembourg. I am not sure that I am helping the Opposition in arranging the debate, as it will certainly expose the divisions in their ranks, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for it.

The reason why we have not introduced a single clause to this effect in the Local Government Finance and Valuation Bill, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, is that it would then be necessary to replace the community charge with an alternative system. The council tax that we propose deals, in a way that the Opposition's proposals would not, with all—or virtually all—the defects of both the old domestic rating system and the community charge. I defy the Opposition to propose a single clause to cover all the alternatives to the community charge.

Dr. Cunningham

I did not say that.

Mr. MacGregor

If the hon. Gentleman did not say that, he is demonstrating once again his naivety by suggesting that we can leave in limbo the question of local government finance. It was ridiculous to suggest a single clause.

As for the White Paper on the environment, the hon. Gentleman will know that we have frequently discussed environmental matters in the House and have pursued many of the action proposals in the White Paper, which are being followed up. I hope to be able to arrange a debate on the environment because I agree that it is an important subject. I should be only too delighted to have a progress report on all that has been done to follow up the White Paper, but there is a difficulty in fitting it in, given the fact that we have a heavy legislative programme.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Would my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on homelessness in London? Is he aware that today there are more than 20,000 vacant council houses in London, which represents 20 houses for every person sleeping rough in London tonight? Is that not a scandal on which we should have another debate?

Mr. MacGregor

Certainly I think that other reports have drawn attention to the fact that a number of Labour authorities have many vacant houses which have remained vacant for a long time. I agree that it is right that attention should be drawn to that fact.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Where does the Leader of the House expect any opposition to the Dangerous Dogs Bill to come from? Does he not think imposing a guillotine means there is more chance of us getting the legislation wrong than if proper consideration were allowed?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, his right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor introduced important provisions earlier this week for civil legal aid, which seem to restrict greatly the right of ordinary citizens to appear before the courts. When will the House have an opportunity to debate those proposals?

Mr. MacGregor

Let me be clear on the first point. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the House will agree and that the Bill will go through quickly, that will be ideal and admirable, and it is what I should like to see happen. However, there are quite a number of amendments to the Bill, so we want a proper timetable to get it through as quickly as possible, because we all agree that it is urgent.

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways—he cannot say that we do not need a timetable to ensure that the Bill is properly considered and also say that it will go through quickly. We are trying to get the Bill through the House as quickly as possible, concomitant with sufficient debate to get it right. I believe that we have it right, but it is right to allow time for the amendments to be discussed.

As far as the Lord Chancellor's consultation paper is concerned, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Lord Chancellor has made it clear that he has an open mind especially on the main option but also on others canvassed in the paper, and has allowed until 31 October for consultation. We have a crowded programme, so I do not know at this stage whether we shall have the opportunity to have a debate in the House before the end of the consultation period or afterwards, but I note the hon. Gentleman's request.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, when he carries through the experiment that he announced in written questions yesterday dealing with the Procedure Committee's recommendations on Lords amendments, which one hopes will make it simpler for the House to carry through and understand the way in which Lords amendments are dealt with, there is a notice on the Order Paper so that hon. Members have the new procedure drawn to their attention? Perhaps the House would attend during the Lords amendments to ensure that the new procedure works to their benefit.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to his Committee for the proposals for dealing with Lords amendments. I am also grateful for the opportunity to draw to the House's attention the written answer which shows how we propose to proceed. At this stage, it is still experimental, and in a sense it is a dummy run to see whether the suggestions by my hon. Friend's Committee will benefit the House and be advantageous in considering Lords amendments. Once again, it is an example of the constructive work done by my hon. Friend's Committee; I pay tribute to him and make it clear that, once again, the Government are responding positively.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

On the question of an early end to the poll tax, is the Leader of the House aware that my constituents who, I think are fairly typical, are now complaining because they are confused and misunderstand the different schemes to rebate the poll tax and subtract £140—to such an extent that the council in Oldham is now receiving complaints at twice last year's level? That is likely to continue until the poll tax is ended.

Is there not some way in which we could debate bringing forward the ending of the poll tax? At least that would help the Government, if nothing else.

Mr. MacGregor

There is absolutely no confusion about the switch of the £140 from which the hon. Gentleman's constituents are greatly benefiting. I hope that he will draw to their attention the benefits that they are getting from it.

On our alternative—the council tax—as the hon. Gentleman knows, we are consulting for just over another week. The Government will then come forward with proposals. We are moving very fast on this matter—as fast as is practicable. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the proposals that we shall make are much more beneficial to his constituents than the proposals of his own party.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement next week on the plight of those British subjects whose careers were shattered and possessions plundered during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait? Will he ask his ministerial colleagues to consider whether it would be fair to compensate them out of the Iraqi assets that are frozen in this country?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot promise a debate on the point that my hon. Friend raises, but I will certainly draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friends.

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

If we can prove conclusively that the Iraqi Government have breached United Nations resolution 688 and have resumed oppression against the Kurdish peoples, would that be sufficient to warrant a statement from a Minister?

Mr. MacGregor

There is no evidence that there is any systematic or widespread repression of the Kurds at present. We are in close contact with other joint force members to agree ways of providing reassurance to the Kurdish population if and when forces are withdrawn.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mr. MacGregor

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I wanted to make that point absolutely clear. On his hypothesis, clearly in that situation we would obviously consider making a statement to the House, and I can give him that assurance.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

Given that plans are afoot for the imposition of an expensive additional layer of regional government, which in our case would be run from Newcastle, not Teesside, and given that the development corporations and many of the Government's presently active inner-city initiatives will be scrapped, would it be possible for us at an early opportunity to debate the Labour party's proposals for the northern region and other English regions?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early opportunity in Government time, but I am sure that he will be able to find opportunities in the House for making the cogent criticisms that I am sure he would wish to develop.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

Given the Prime Minister's stated wish to raise the political profile of Edinburgh by holding a European Community meeting there, why is the Leader of the House undermining that wish by not holding even one Scottish Grand Committee meeting in Scotland's capital city?

Mr. MacGregor

I know that several Scottish Grand Committee meetings are coming forward in the immediate future— [HON. MEMBERS: "Not in Edinburgh."] That is a matter that I would obviously have to look at.

Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome)

My right hon. Friend will know that the Secretary of State for Defence made a far-reaching and important statement on the future of the armed forces, particularly as regards the size of the Army. That will affect many of our constituents. Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that we will be able to debate that matter well before the White Paper is introduced, so that we can put our concerns to the Secretary of State and also show up the disastrous review that took place in the 1970s and 1960s when the Labour party was in power?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance as to the exact timing of any debate, because there is a great deal to be fitted into the programme at the moment, but I can assure him that there will be a number of occasions in the comparatively near future when we will be able to debate these matters.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week on the rules governing Ministers—which, as he knows, are based on the principle that Ministers should order their affairs so that there is no conflict between their public duty and their private interests? Will he make a statement about the four Cabinet members who are members of Lloyd's, at a time when Lloyd's members are organising a campaign to obtain tax concessions which will directly benefit Lloyd's members, including the four members of the Cabinet? How can that conflict of interest be maintained? Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement making it clear that Ministers should divest themselves of those private financial interests?

Mr. MacGregor

The rules relating to Ministers' interests are very clear and, I am sure, are being wholly abided by. I do not see any need for a statement on that matter next week.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Earlier this week, I may have inadvertently misled the House when I referred to changes in the rules relating to people who suffer from diabetes which seem to have been introduced by an order without any debate or discussion in the House. I distinctly remember the announcement that those who suffer from diabetes would receive their medication free. Earlier, I misled the House into believing that those who suffer from diabetes but do not take medicine as their diabetes is controlled by diet would no longer receive their medication, testing equipment and other things free of charge. I have since learnt that the position is worse than that. Only those on insulin will have their medication free. The House and the country have been misled. There should be a statement in the House at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. MacGregor

I do not know about that matter, so I will have to discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Leader of the House aware that Question 13 to the Home Secretary was not reached? Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement about free television licences for old-age pensioners? It must be wrong for old-age pensioners on one side of the street to receive free television licences while those on the other side of the street do not. Some pensioners in the same warden accommodation do not qualify for free television licences while others do. Some pensioners who have been in such accommodation for five years qualify, while those who have only just arrived do not. The Prime Minister talks about a classless society. Let us see that put into practice and have less talk. There should be free television licences for all old-age pensioners.

Mr. MacGregor

I did not notice that Question 13 had not been reached, but I assume that it was tabled by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and that he has just found a way of making his point to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, that is not the correct use of business questions. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bolsover will, with his usual persistence, table his question again.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

In the light of the interesting speech by Mikhail Gorbachev in association with his Nobel prize, would it be possible next week or the week after to debate the bipartisan amendment to early-day motion 891, which is linked to the plea that the British dependants Maria and Anna Gordievsky and their mother Leila should be allowed to join their father in this country after being separated for six years? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is the best way to show that there is a new USSR and not one that is still controlled by the KGB?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot arrange a debate on that in Government time next week. However, in relation to early-day motion 891, the Government welcome the programme link-up between the United Kingdom and Soviet Parliaments broadcast on 5 June. We entirely agree that the Gordievsky family should be allowed to be reunited in Britain without any further delay.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In view of the mounting concern in Britain about what could happen to the Kurds if the allies decide to leave northern Iraq, surely it is necessary for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement to at least tell us the allies' intentions? Do the allies intend to leave or not? Why should the Kurds be at the tender mercy of Saddam Hussein and his thugs? We need a statement as quickly as possible so that we can know precisely what the allies intend to do.

Mr. MacGregor

I have already said something about that in reply to an earlier question. I will convey the hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. As I said earlier, no doubt at an appropriate time, information will be made available to the House.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

As the former and very successful Minister for small businesses, will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate at the earliest opportunity on the conditions of bank lending to smaller firms? My right hon. Friend will agree that it is not an issue that can be dealt with sensibly in superficial questions at Question Time. It is a deep subject. It is not an easy matter, but it would be right for the House to debate it at this time.

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend knows, I yield to no one in my enthusiasm for encouraging and helping small businesses. He and I have done many things together in that regard. He will be aware of the comments that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made on Tuesday on the matter and of the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is having at present. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate on the matter next week, but I continue to take a close interest in everything to do with small businesses. At an appropriate time, I should be delighted to have a debate on the subject.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

The Leader of the House knows that the Government's response to the Procedure Committee's report on Select Committees places the status of the Comptroller and Auditor General in jeopardy. Why did the Leader of the House allow that response to be published when clearly it had not been thought through? When will he make a statment on the subject?

Mr. MacGregor

It was thought through. I know that there are different views in the House, but the Government's position on the matter was thought through. I discussed it with several people. I hope to be able to introduce new Standing Orders on some aspects of the report—those on which it is for the Government to act—shortly.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Does not my right hon. Friend recall that this Parliament of all Parliaments has imposed more curtailments of free speech through the device of the guillotine? The sophistry that my right hon. Friend wove in responding to the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), did not address the question why, when the House seems to accept that the curtailment of dogs with dangerous tendencies for the sake of the general public has great support in the country, the Government whom I support insist on imposing yet another of these wretched guillotines to deny free speech. Does not my right hon. Friend remember that we legislate in haste and repent at leisure?

Mr. MacGregor

It is because I believe that many people in the House, as in the country, want us to take action on the matter as quickly as possible. If my hon. Friend is right that there is agreement, clearly we shall get the Bill through well within the terms that we have set down in the guillotine.

Mr. Cryer

Not without proper debate.

Mr. MacGregor

If there is general agreement, that is what will happen. If, as the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) seems to suggest, there is great opposition to the Bill, that makes it desirable to put the Bill through quickly. In the timetable motion we shall allow plenty of time for what is after all a short Bill, which the whole House apparently supports. We shall allow plenty of time for the issues to be debated.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a short debate to deal with the traumatic problem faced by the families of Scottish people who have been found dead or murdered on the streets of London? The families are having immense problems in bringing the body back home so that they can deal with it in their own fashion. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Home Secretary knows about the problem and can help prevent Scottish families from suffering such a traumatic problem?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that, if the hon. Gentleman has a particular case in mind, he will bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who will examine it immediately.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Can my right hon. Friend provide an early opportunity to debate the minimum import price into the European Community of raspberries? [Laughter.] Hon. Members find it amusing, but Tayside in Scotland grows more than 80 per cent. of the raspberries grown commercially within the European Community. That product is at risk, because the minimum import price runs out at the end of July, in the middle of the picking season. It must be extended and the European Community must be made to realise that the industry, which receives no public support and is a great asset to Scotland and the United Kingdom, could be put at risk. We will not accept the minimum import price being negotiated away to allow eastern European imports into the European Community.

Mr. MacGregor

I know well, knowing that part of Scotland well, of the importance of that industry to that part of Scotland. When I was Minister of Agriculture, I had on a number of occasions at this time of year to deal with the alleged dumping of raspberries, when the real difficulty was getting the evidence. I assure my hon. Friend that a great deal of attention is paid to the issue. I am sure that he has already drawn the matter to the attention of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and I shall do so as well.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

Some months ago, I raised with the Leader of the House the question of British hostages. At that time I reminded him that, rightly, diplomatic activity should have considerable priority. As no progress seems evident, will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate so that our voice may be heard? Alternatively, will he arrange for a statement to be made to update the House on what is happening?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman will know of the considerable efforts in relation to hostages that the British Government, in particular Ministers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, have been making. In connection with one group, the Minister of State at that Department hopes to make a visit soon. I assure the hon. Gentleman that constant efforts are being made. If and when it is appropriate to make a statement, I shall make sure that one is made.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

May we have a debate in the near future on the progress of the talks in Northern Ireland? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time for the House to show its total support for the efforts that are being made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? That would show those who are at present involved in slaughter in Northern Ireland that hon. Members in all parts of the House and people throughout the country, in every constitutional party, are in favour of reaching some sort of accommodation. That message should be spelled out clearly by the House at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend, and the whole House will welcome the news that agreement has now been reached on the outstanding procedural points and that the four political parties taking part in the talks have decided to begin plenary sessions on 17 June. We hope that the painstaking preparatory work conducted during the last five weeks—I pay warm tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in that respect—will have laid a firm foundation for substantive negotiations. There will be other opportunities before the House rises, not only during Question Time, to discuss Northern Ireland issues.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we please have a debate on the 17th report of the Committee of Public Accounts entitled "National Health Service: Patient Transport Services"? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that Committee unanimously considered it unacceptable that many services in our major cities are not meeting the minimum emergency standards? Does he know that, in many cities, such as Leicester, the ambulance services are overworked and are having the greatest difficulty meeting the needs imposed on them by a growing and aging population? When shall we debate that other defect in the national health service?

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, there are procedures for dealing with Public Accounts Committee debates and for selecting the topics. I cannot tell him at this stage when the next debate will be.

Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

Apart from the important question of principle raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), may I ask my right hon. Friend to explain what possible excuse there can be for guillotining a Bill that the whole House supports?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already said that the need is for speed. We are giving a great deal of time for the Bill to be dealt with, and if there is such great agreement, perhaps we shall finish the debate well within the timing of the guillotine.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a statement to be made by the Government about the serious situation facing Post Office Counters, where management are refusing to go to arbitration to settle a serious dispute on the basis of a 7 per cent. pay offer which is way below the operative retail prices index, and which represents a 1.2 per cent. cut in living standards? Is he further aware that it is the lowest public sector pay offer at present under way? Do the Government agree with the management in making that offer, when another public sector worker, the Governor of the Bank of England, has received a 17 per cent. pay offer, repressenting an increase of £22,500, which is double the rates of maximum pay received in a whole year by a Post Office Counters worker?

Mr. MacGregor

Those are matters for Post Office Counters management and the unions. I see no opportunity for a debate next week.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Will the Leader of the House consider an urgent debate on the re-emergence and growth of Militant Tendency within the Labour movement and the Labour party so that we can demonstrate to the British people that the Labour party have not been successful, in any whit, regard or particular, in eliminating that problem from the ranks of the Labour party and the Labour movement?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend Other events, including a by-election, may show that Militant Tendency is still alive and kicking in the Labour party. However, my hon. Friend must find other opportunities—as I am sure he will—to raise the matter next week.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate on Gibraltar before the summer recess so that the House can discuss the worrying harassment of British citizens by the Spanish at the border crossing? We could then also consider the controversial Brussels agreement—the ill-conceived airport agreement—which is doing much to wreck the potential commercial viability of the colony, and the European Community dimension as it affects Gibraltar.

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate specifically on that issue. But he mentioned the European Community dimension and, as I have already told the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), I hope very soon to announce a debate on European matters, at which that subject could be raised.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

For some months now, hon. Members on both sides of the House have been asking for a debate on the "Options for Change" implications for the Navy, particularly naval bases. My right hon. Friend will know of my concern and that of my constituents who are based in the royal naval base in Portland, the research establishments and sea systems controllerate. Will he organise a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence next week to tell us what is going on—I understand that decisions have already been made—and an early debate so that we can discuss how we should organise our Navy in the 1990s and the year 2000?

Mr. MacGregor

It is unlikely that there will be a statement next week, but I shall look into the matter and discuss it with my right hon. Friend. There will be opportunities in the coming weeks to debate service matters further.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

During Tuesday's debate, will the Secretary of State for the Environment make a public confession that, according to recent parliamentary replies on local government statistics, the total cost of administering and collecting the poll tax is now well over £1,000 million? That makes the poll tax one of the biggest and most expensive blunders in the history of any Government. If local councillors were responsible for misspending even a tiny fraction of that amount, they would be surcharged and banned from office. Does the Leader of the House agree that the entire Cabinet should be collectively surcharged and that the people should now have the opportunity to kick them out of office?

Mr. MacGregor

That will not be relevant to Tuesday's debate. Without question, one of the causes of the greatest uproar and grievance to the public is the fact that some people have not paid their community charge.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is it not an alarming fact that the number of foreign citizens now claiming political asylum in this country, and therefore being allowed to remain for up to four years, has risen from 100 a week to 1,000 a week? Is not the pressure that is now building up on housing, social security and education in the areas of London in which those people must be settled so great that it is threatening to undermine the social fabric of the region? Will my right hon. Friend consider an early debate or, failing that, a statement from the Home Secretary about how we could restrain, sensibly and with good judgment, that breakaway activity, which is threatening to become worse?

Mr. MacGregor

I fully recognise the importance of the point that my hon. and learned Friend raises, and I shall discuss with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when it might be discussed in the House.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the decision by the Export Credits Guarantee Department to withdraw support from many countries, including the Soviet Union? Is he aware that Germany, by contrast, is increasing support to the Soviet Union, thus helping the long-term interests of its industry? Is it not time the Government started helping manufacturing instead of harming it?

Mr. MacGregor

We offer a great deal of assistance for exports, as the hon. Lady knows, and large sums are involved. She could pursue this matter at Question Time with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, when I am sure he will give a robust response.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

Will there be time next week to debate what is happening in the city of Liverpool, which is a matter of great concern if not to Members on both sides of the House at least to Conservative Members—my elderly mother, for example, still insists on living there? The rubbish is piling up on the streets, the buses are not running, council staff are on strike, and the Labour party in control seems completely to have lost its head when it comes to trying to run Militant out of town—it seems to be failing. Opposition Members who represent the city will not raise the issue; one or two of them are part of the problem; and the Liberal Member does not appear to have raised the issue. So it looks as though we shall have to raise it, and I beg my right hon. Friend to give us the opportunity to debate it.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that one of the reasons why Opposition Members do not raise the matter is that they are part of the problem. It is clear that Militant Tendency is still very alive in Liverpool—as we shall see shortly. I must leave it to my hon. Friend—as she has done effectively this afternoon—to draw attention to these matters in the House and elsewhere.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

May I again draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the case of Mr. Karamjit Singh Chahal, whose plight is outlined in early-day motion 828?

[That this House expresses concern that Karamjit Singh Chahal, a British citizen settled in the United Kingdom since 1974, has been detained in Bedford Prison since August 1990; notes Mr. Chahal is detained subject to a notice of the Secretary of State's decision to make a deportation order under section 3(5)(b) of the Immigration Act 1971 for reasons of national security and other reasons of a political nature; calls for Mr. Chahal to be released immediately pending his being allowed to appeal, with legal representation, against refusal by the Home Secretary to grant political asylum in the United Kingdom; expresses concern that if Mr. Chahal is deported to India he is likely, in the view of Amnesty International to be subjected to torture, disappearance or extrajudicial execution; recalls Mr. Chahal, when visiting India in 1984, was arrested and detained at Mehta police station for nine days, during which he was beaten and otherwise ill-treated and that he was transferred to a police station in Amritsar and held for another 10 or 11 days, during which he was subjected to torture, including severe beatings and electric shock treatments and regrets that a number of Mr. Chahal's relatives have been tortured or ill-treated while held in police custody, that two relatives have recently been killed by security forces, allegedly in fake encounters and that another relative, Kulwant Singh Nagoke, died in police custody.]

Will the Leader of the House press the Home Secretary to intervene before Mr. Chahal is heard on Monday under the discredited "three wise men" deportation procedure? If he has committed any security offences in Britain, why is he not being dealt with by the British courts? If he has not, why has he not been allowed a full, open, independent appeal, with the right to legal representation, so that all the facts can be brought out and his case can be properly defended?

Mr. MacGregor

I reject the view that this is a discredited procedure, and I repeat what I told the hon. Gentleman recently: the Home Secretary will review the case fully in the light of the advisers' recommendations.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a growing sense of unease on both sides of the House about the case of Guardsmen Povey, Hicks and Ray which was raised in an Adjournment debate by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) the other evening? Although the case involved only three people, the House should be concerned about their fate. The explanations given so far have been appalling, implying that the men were digging a trench for their own benefit and fun.

Such men have to go into places that are sometimes dangerous, and if we do not protect them, the attitude of the Government to looking after those selected to serve in the armed forces will be discredited. The sums of money involved are small when set against the sacrifice and service that we demand of such men. So will the Leader of the House rescue the Government from what will be an increasingly embarrassing problem and see that justice is done for those who serve under the Crown on behalf of the people of this country?

Mr. MacGregor

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is aware of this case and I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to his attention.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Does the Leader of the House recall that, on every occasion when this country has taken up arms, ever since the Crimean war, through the Jameson raid to the Falklands, the House of Commons has had a serious debate in the aftermath of each conflict?

Before the so-called victory parade on 21 June, should we not have a proper debate on the extraordinary answer that I received on Tuesday from the Minister of State for the Armed Forces? Cancer of the order of 20 cigarettes a day in the short term is in the long and medium term a serious matter in the Kuwait oilfield. Should we not discuss the situation in Kuwait and take the opinion of some of my hon. Friends about the Kurds? Is it not a disgrace that the House can find time for many matters but not for this one?

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have to find time for a great many matters at present. For example, three days next week will be taken up by urgent legislation, and I am sure that that time will be fully used. It is, of course, open to the Opposition to use one of their days for this matter. As I said earlier, when we are debating defence matters, it may be possible to raise some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Given the current brutality in Lithuania and Armenia, the monitoring of the conventional forces agreements and the potential trade credits likely to be given through the Group of Seven to the Soviet Union, could my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on east-west relations and, in particular, on relations with the Soviet Union?

Mr. MacGregor

I have noticed what my hon. Friend says. I cannot promise a full day's debate specifically on the matter that he raises, but I am sure that in the coming weeks there will be opportunities to raise it.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

As I understand it, the Leader of the House was one of those advised to stay in bed today because of the juxtaposition of the planets. I do not know whether that was good advice, or what sort of day he has had. Next week's sleeping arrangements concern us. Will the Leader of the House give some indication of the timetable for the Dangerous Dogs Bill? It would be absurd for him to insist on forcing it through in one day because legislation on the hoof, or perhaps I should say on the paw, will probably be bad legislation. Can we at least have a guarantee that we will be allowed to speak through the night on the Bill, because a day has 24 hours?

Mr. McGregor

I understand that the point about me in today's Guardian relates to my horoscope and the month in which I was born. I see from the newspaper that the critical time was 2.56 pm, which time has already passed. I read the advice for today, which was, "Just go slow, don't rush, and don't expect to achieve a great deal." That sounds like the House of Commons on a bad day. I hope that Monday will be a good day, and that we will not have to rush. I hope that we will achieve a great deal. We have allowed almost two days for the debate, because the guillotine will operate until 4 am.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

My right hon. Friend will recall being challenged by the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), at business questions on 2 May. The hon. Gentleman said: Ministers in the Welsh Office are writing letters to hospitals pressurising them to opt out of the NHS … as a Minister in the Welsh Office has done recently."—[Official Report, 2 May 1991; Vol. 190, c. 439.] I was perturbed to learn that my colleagues in the Welsh Office were doing that. I challenged them about it, because the House knows that it is impossible for hospitals to opt out of the NHS. All my colleagues in the Welsh Office assured me that they had written no such letter. They told me that they had invited the hon. Gentleman to produce the letter that they are alleged to have written, but that he has failed to do so. Will my right hon. Friend make a statement about the matter or at least invite the hon. Member for Copeland to withdraw the allegation, which still stands on the record?

Mr. MacGregor

I well recall the matter being raised during business questions on 2 May, and I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales has written to the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about the letter, challenging him to produce it. The hon. Gentleman is always courteous, and I am sure that he will now arrange for a retraction of his statement, because I gather that the letter does not exist.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 919, which is supported by more than 80 hon. Members?

[That this House notes with concern the action of Lewis's Group Ltd. of Leeds, who have raided the company's pension scheme to purchase a property from a subsidiary and to provide the company with a loan at cost of approximately £2 million, including interest to the pension scheme; believes that any surplus should have been used for the beneficiaries of the pension scheme and not to run the business; understands that despite the sacrifice of the workers who had taken a cut in wages of 7.5 per cent. in order to keep the company afloat, unscrupulous employers were able to raid the scheme because of the Government's changes to the pension regulations; and calls on the Government to change the law so that it cannot happen again.]

The company has raided the pension funds of the people who work for it to buy property for development. At the same time, it has asked those workers to take a pay cut of 7.5 per cent. This has happened because the Government have changed the regulations on pension schemes. Will the right hon. Gentleman look into this as a matter of urgency? Will he draw the matter to the attention of the Chief Secretary, and ask him to amend the Finance Bill, which is now being considered in Committee, so that the practice does not continue?

Mr. MacGregor

I can tell the hon. Gentleman straight away that the Government, as he knows, have already taken action to protect the interests of pension scheme members. No payments may be made out of the resources of a pension scheme unless annual increases are guaranteed. We shall shortly introduce regulations to restrict self-investment by pension funds. We have taken the powers to ensure that pension increases will be the first call on funds' surpluses, although no final decision has yet been taken on when this will be introduced.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Could my right hon. Friend allow us a debate on the mechanics of lending to small businesses? In some obscure corners of the House there is misunderstanding of the meaning of margins and the base rate of lending. There was a perfect example this afternoon when the Leader of the Opposition showed his ignorance of these matters.

Mr. MacGregor

If we had to have a debate every time the Leader of the Opposition displayed his ignorance of financial matters, I would be filling up the time of the House with a great deal of debate.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

The Leader of the House may be aware that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement gave the clear impression on Tuesday, during defence Questions, that the long-awaited and long-overdue decision on the Challenger 2 tank would be made before the end of the month. Is the Leader of the House aware that this morning the Ministry of Defence was already back-tracking on the assurance and is now saying that that may not be the case? This intolerable situation could well lead to the loss of jobs and damage the livelihood of hundreds of people in the defence industry. Can we have a statement on the matter next week to clear up the issue once and for all?

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman said, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement made it clear earlier in the week that we recognise the concern that the decision should not be delayed unnecessarily. We cannot be drawn into a discussion of detail now, but it is the intention to make a further announcement before the end of the month.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

With the withdrawal of the conciliation service by the Association of British Travel Agents, saving the association about £700,000, is my right hon. Friend aware that the major means of enabling a person who has booked a holiday either in this country or abroad to seek an appropriate grievance procedure has been removed? With the withdrawal of the service, greater pressure will be placed upon trading standards officers throughout the country. Would it be possible at an early stage to debate the matter, bearing in mind the fact that Britain's fastest growth industry is tourism and that inevitably there will be difficulties between now and the end of the summer? The greatest amount that families spend regularly after the purchase of a motor car is on their holidays, yet ABTA has withdrawn a key element of its service.

Mr. MacGregor

I know of my hon. Friend's great interest in tourism matters. I suggest that he might raise the matter to which he has drawn attention in the ways that are available to him in the House.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made in the debate on the Armed Forces Bill on the true effect of the bombs that were dropped by the coalition forces in the Gulf war? The conflict was presented as a clean war, but it was fought with dirty little weapons. It is clear now that only 7 per cent. of the bombs dropped were precision weapons, and that most of those missed their targets. Will he arrange for a statement to be made so that the House can make a judgment on the future use, sale and deployment of fuel-air explosives, cluster bombs and daisycutter bombs, which are weapons of mass slaughter and high-tech barbarism that should be included in the inhumane weapons protocol of 1981?

Mr. MacGregor

It would not be appropriate for me in business questions to be involved in the substance of the hon. Gentleman's question. I think that he is missing the point of the debate on the Armed Forces Bill, which will take place on Monday 17 June. It would not be relevant to raise on that occasion the matters to which he has referred.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

May I draw to my hon. Friend's attention early-day motion 921, which stands in the names of 28 right hon. and hon. Members, including myself, on the future of the Brigade of Gurkhas.

[That this House believes that the Gurkhas have a unique record of service in the British Army and loyalty to the British Crown, that their qualities of adaptability and devotion to duty will still be required in the defence of Britain's interests in an uncertain world in the future; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to confirm that the Gurkha Brigade will continue to have a worthwhile and viable future in the British Army as previously declared by the Right honourable Member for Ayr, the former Secretary of State for Defence on 22nd May 1989.]

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will make an early statement to confirm that the brigade has a viable and worthwhile future in the British Army? Unlike the county regiments, it does not have constituency Members to represent it: it looks to all those who are Members of this place to secure its interests. After all, the members of the brigade have with their blood served the British Crown with loyalty, courage and dedication. They deserve that we reciprocate in full measure by ensuring that they have a good future in our Army.

Mr. MacGregor

I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the fine record of the Gurkhas, and associate myself with his remarks, as I am sure the whole House would wish to do. In setting out the way ahead for the future role and size of the Army, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made it clear on June 4 that consultations were taking place in the Army on the future structure of regiments and corps. I know that my hon. Friend will understand that it is not possible to make statements about the future of individual units before that process is complete.

Ms. Joan. Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the widespread concern throughout the country about reports of human rights violations in Kashmir? Having been there last week and seen some of the evidence, may I urge the Leader of the House to find time before the summer recess to arrange for a full report or a debate, so that we can see how we can contribute to finding a peaceful and lasting solution to the problems that clearly exist in Kashmir?

Mr. MacGregor

I certainly do not think that I can promise such a debate in Government time, but I shall discuss with my right hon. Friend other ways of saying something on the issue raised by the hon. Lady before the House rises.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that, when the Secretary of State for Defence made his announcement about massive cuts in defence manpower earlier this week, he did not do so in the form of a statement, and there was no debate following the announcement? Therefore, the House has been given no opportunity to hear the Secretary of State explain the changes in our national strategy or the changes in the roles or tasks of the armed forces that justify those defence cuts. May we have not only a debate but an urgent debate on this matter before people get the impression that the Government no longer view defence as their prime duty?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend must know perfectly well that his last comment is totally invalid. It is clear that we give strong priority to defence matters. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made clear some of the changes that will have to be considered in relation to "Options for Change" as a result of the changing world scene. I make it clear to my hon. Friend that we are talking about a consultation document, and I assure him that there will be opportunities to debate such matters in the House at the appropriate time.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to come to the House next week to sort out the conflicting policies pursued by the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for Defence, given that, at the same time that the Transport Secretary was saying that we should transfer goods from road to rail, at the central ordnance depot at Donnington, in my constituency, the Secretary of State for Defence was arranging that rail should no longer be used as a means of transport from Donnington and the goods should be transferred to road? He said that the rail link from COD Donnington to the main line would therefore be redundant. If the Government believe in rail transport, is it not time that they at least ensured that the rail links to Ministry of Defence depots are kept open?

Mr. MacGregor

Clearly, each specific issue must be looked at in detail, and I do not know the details of that case. Obviously, there will be different solutions to different problems. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

My right hon. Friend will no doubt have seen the disturbing reports of apparent housing racketeering in the London borough of Hackney, and the suggestion that it may be going on in other boroughs. In view of the shambles in housing in Hackney, where there are empty houses and millions of pounds of uncollected rents, will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to initiate an urgent inquiry and come back to the House with a statement on what is going on?

Mr. MacGregor

The department of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning is in touch with Hackney council, and I shall discuss with him the possibility of his reporting to the House when investigations are complete. We already know that Hackney's housing management is very poor. As my right hon. Friend rightly says, there are a large number of vacant properties and disgraceful delays in processing the right to buy for tenants—an aspect about which we already know. For people who have forgotten what it is like to live under a Labour Government, this matter is yet another example of what would happen if Labour were in power. It shows the excessive and unnecessary spending of so many Labour councils. That is one aspect that my hon. Friend the Minister will address.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

How much respect does my right hon. Friend think that the Government will earn not only from both sides of the House but from sensible people throughout the country as a result of his recent announcement that we shall have to stay here until 4 o'clock on Tuesday morning to discuss whether an important but simple matter affecting dogs should be decided in the way that he hopes it will be? We all have our own order of priorities. I just happen to have read the extremely important debate in the upper House on three Select Committee reports on science and technology, a subject that we have not discussed for five or six years. Yet we have to stay here until 4 o'clock in the morning to discuss this important but quite extraordinary matter. Is there no alternative?

Mr. MacGregor

Science and technology is frequently discussed in the Chamber, but I believe that there will be great respect in the country both for the speed with which the Government have acted to introduce the Dangerous Dogs Bill and the speed with which the House will act on the matter. This is a matter of great urgency. The general view from the House this afternoon seems to be that it is a straightforward and relatively simple Bill, and if that is the case I hope that it can he enacted quickly so that we can protect innocent people from the dangers that exist.

If it transpires that there is general agreement, we may end the proceedings well before 4 am. I am trying to achieve a balance between dealing with the matter quickly, as I think the country wants, and giving sufficient time for the Bill to be properly debated.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Will my right hon. Friend find time shortly for a debate on the citizens charter whereby citizens can expect a decent service and if they do not get that they get compensation? Was it not left to the Conservative party to give parents, council tenants and trade union members their rights? It seems that it will be left to the Conservative party yet again to give the ordinary person in the street his rights.

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend. Giving choice, opportunity and rights to citizens, whether they be patients, parents or trade union members, is a theme which has run strongly through so many of our policies, and it will continue to do so. It will therefore be a theme of many of our debates in the months ahead.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

May I support the request by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) for an early debate on transport strategy, because Conservative Members have good cause to welcome the change of emphasis and the excellent speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to the Financial Times conference last week—particularly the emphasis laid on transporting more freight by rail. Is my right hon. Friend aware that that would enable me to make the point that Taunton Cider in my constituency, despite the withdrawal of British Rail's Speedlink, should be enabled to transport its freight by rail and not clutter up the roads?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend has made his point already.

Mr. George Walden (Buckinghamshire)


Mr. Speaker

Was the hon. Gentleman here for the statement?

Mr. Walden

No, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

Then it is difficult for him to ask a question on it.