HC Deb 07 March 1991 vol 187 cc457-71 3.30 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

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

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

Yes, Sir. The business of the House for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY II MARCH—Until seven o'clock Estimates Day (1st Allotted Day, 2nd Part). There will be a debate on class VII, vote 3, transport industries, in so far as it relates to London Regional Transport, followed by a motion on the Northern Ireland (Appropriation) Order.

At ten o'clock the Question will be put on all outstanding supplementary estimates and votes.

TUESDAY 12 MARCH—Second Reading of the Planning and Compensation Bill [Lords], followed by a procedure motion relating to the War Crimes Bill.

WEDNESDAY 13 MARCH—Opposition Day (9th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate on an Opposition motion described as "The crisis in national health service hospitals". Afterwards there will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by a motion to take note of the report by the European Court of Auditors for 1989. Details will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 14 MARCH—Motion for the Easter Adjournment followed by proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

FRIDAY 15 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 18 MARCH—Second Reading of the War Crimes Bill.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee A will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 13 March to consider European Community Documents Nos. 9228/88 and 10333/90 relating to seat belt wearing.

European Standing Committee B will also meet at 10.30 am on the same day to consider European Commuity Document No. 9025/90 relating to nuclear fusion.

It may be for the convenience of the House to know that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House will rise for the Easter recess on Thursday 28 March until Monday 15 April.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I wish to refer to a matter which is not part of the business for next week. I understand. Mr. Speaker, that you have today announced that you do not propose to stand as a parliamentary candidate at the next general election, whenever that may be. This is not the occasion for tributes, and, indeed, since this is not part of next week's business, I run the risk of being called to order, Mr. Speaker, but as Leader of the House I should like to say on behalf of us all that we gladly acknowledge that since you were unanimously chosen Speaker you have presided over the proceedings of the House with distinction, fairness and impartiality in historic times. I would like particularly to draw attention to how well you have looked after the interests of Back Benchers on both sides of the House.

Your decision today, Mr. Speaker, means that you will not serve in the Chair in the next Parliament, and, as I have said, the time for proper tributes will come later. Can I say now that we are all delighted to know that you will continue to preside over our proceedings until then.

[European Standing Committee A

Wednesday 13 March

Relevant European Community Documents

  1. (a) 9228/88
  2. (b) 10333/90
}Compulsory use of seat belts in road vehicles

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 15-vi (1988–89), HC 15-xxxi (1988–89) and HC 29-xiii (1990–91)
  2. (b) HC 29-viii ( 1990–91)

European Standing Committee B

Wednesday 13 March

Relevant European Community Documents

  1. (a) 9025/90 Nuclear Fusion Research
  2. (b) 8305/90 Nuclear Fusion Programme

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 29-i ( 1990–91)
  2. (b) HC 11-xxxiii (1989–90)

Floor of the House

Wednesday 13 March

Relevant European Community Document

Unnumbered Court of Auditors' Report for 1989

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee HC 29-xiii (1990–91)]

Dr. Cunningham

I begin by echoing the sentiments expressed by the Leader of the House on behalf of the Government and associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with them. You have today, Mr. Speaker, announced the beginning of the end of a long and honourable career as a Member of the House, serving the people of Croydon for 27 years, and culminating in the distinguished holding of the historic office of Speaker of the House of Commons.

That election to the Chair by your colleagues must have been the highlight of your career, indicating the trust and confidence that Members in all parts of the House placed in you when they unanimously elected you the Speaker. I can well understand that, among other things, your ultimate retirement will allow you to devote more time to your hobbies, among which, I notice, you number your grandchildren.

May I ask the Leader of the House, who has announced an inordinately long Easter recess, why an important measure that completed its Committee stage more than a month ago, the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill, has still not come to the Floor of the House for its Report stage and Third Reading? If the Government can find time for such a long recess, surely they can find time to complete the consideration of such an important measure. Why has the Bill suddenly disappeared down some black hole in the Department of Education and Science?

Frankly, if the Government can find time for such a long recess and are not interested in bringing business before the House, they should simply announce the dissolution, have a general election and let us bring more important business before the House for consideration.

The Leader of the House announced the Government's intention to employ provisions of the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1948 in respect of the War Crimes Bill. There is a certain irony in the Conservatives, of all Governments, invoking the provisions of that Act against their colleagues, in the majority, in the other place. But for the moment, since we shall be debating the matter at length next week, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to confirm that he is following the normal processes and procedures in introducing the provisions of the Parliament Acts next Tuesday?

If the Government ever reach a conclusion about their review of the poll tax—we hope that they will, since each day we learn of further horrendous costs to local authorities and their poll tax payers—may we be assured that an oral statement about that matter will be made in the House and that an announcement will not be slipped out on Maundy Thursday as the House rises or at some time during the Easter recess?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Chris Patten)

Don't you worry.

Dr. Cunningham

From a sedentary position, the Chairman of the Conservative party tells me not to worry. I suggest that right now he has more to worry about than I have—[Interruption.] We shall be first in the real election when it comes.

Has the Leader of the House seen the story on the front page of the Daily Mirror today about yet another increase in prescription charges? Does he recall the promise made to the nation by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) in 1979, when she said, We have no intention of raising prescription charges"? There have been 13 increases in prescription charges under this Government.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

What has this got to do with next week's business?

Dr. Cunningham

Will the Leader of the House assure us that, if the Daily Mirror story is true, the Secretary of State for Health will face the House and make an oral statement about why, for the 14th time under this Government, the Government have ratted on their promise on prescription charges which hon. Members like the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) supported on every occasion?

Mr. MacGregor

It seems to me that most of the right hon. and hon. Friends of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) have already left for the recess. They did not seem to complain very much about the length of the Easter recess.

The House will have completed a great deal of business in the 11 weeks that we will have been sitting by Maundy Thursday. We have dealt with a considerable amount of Government legislation and a great deal has been done in Standing Committees. We have also debated events in the Gulf at some length. I believe that the arrangements that I have announced will be for the general convenience of the House. Arrangements will be made for the private Members' day set down for. Friday 12 April to be rescheduled. The hon. Member for Copeland must not become over-anxious about' the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill. It is essential next week to pass the Northern Ireland (Appropriation) Order and the Consolidated Fund Bill and hence the allotted estimates day. Next week, there will be the Second Readings of two major Bills referred to in the Gracious Speech, as well as an Opposition Supply day. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is a few weeks since we had one of those. If I had not come forward with one, I suspect that he would have criticised me. That is a full programme by any standards, and I remind the hon. Gentleman that the House will not rise until Thursday 28 March. He must contain his enthusiasm for the rest of the Government's programme for a little longer.

The hon. Member for Copeland is aware that the Gracious Speech contains reference to the War Crimes Bill. I can confirm that the procedure with regard to that Bill is consistent with the usual practice in these matters. Indeed, it is entirely consistent with the last time that it occurred. It may be for the convenience of the House to learn that the procedure motion that we are taking next week before the Bill's Second Reading is a procedural means to keep open the possibility of the use of the Parliament Acts if the Lords were to propose changes that the Commons could not accept; but of course the Government hope that we will end up with a Bill in a form that commands the support of the majority in both Houses.

As for the community charge, we always make statements where and when appropriate. It was hardly for the hon. Member for Copeland to complain about the comparative positions on prescription charges. I remind him that 70 per cent. of the population do not pay prescription charges and 80 per cent. of the items are dispensed free, compared with 60 per cent. in 1978 under the Labour Government at the time about which he was speaking. There is a big difference between us. We shall make an announcement on charges for 1991–92 at the proper time and in the usual way.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

As, in his statement about the end of Mr. Speaker's tenure, my right hon. Friend, though saying that he was unanimously elected, omitted to state that he is the first Speaker in living memory to be elected against the wishes of the Government of the day by the House of Commons, can my right hon. Friend find time during this week to make a statement reminding the House that, for the first time in living memory, it has brought back to itself not only the fiction but the fact of electing its Speaker, and to give an undertaking that, while he is Leader of the House, no Government will again attempt to impose a Speaker upon the House?

Mr. MacGregor

It will be at least some time before that matter will have to be considered. I am sure that my hon. Friend will happily agree with all the tributes that I paid to you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

I am not suggesting that you, Mr. Speaker, do not have the right to make such an important personal decision, but it will be received with much regret not only on this Bench but by all Northern Ireland Members of Parliament. The Leader of the House mentioned the next Parliament, which we fear will be very much poorer as a result of your retirement.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that every Back Bencher will wish to be associated with the tributes that have been paid to you.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider what he said about the War Crimes Bill? Is he aware that many people will think it grotesquely inappropriate that, while the butcher of Baghdad remains in power, we are turning our attention to aged men? I am not suggesting that some of them may not have done terrible things, but will my right hon. Friend please at least guarantee a free vote on that Bill?

Mr. MacGregor

Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend expresses his own view on the matter, but I know from the pressures on me that many hon. Members feel differently. The House should have another opportunity to debate the Bill. I confirm that there will be a free vote on it.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Mr. Speaker, may I join the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House in expressing gratitude for your services in the Chair? Despite your somewhat shady past in a previous incarnation, you have been assiduous in dealing fairly with the minority parties, for which we are grateful.

Is the purpose of the two-week Easter recess to enable the Government to prepare for a general election? If so, will the Leader of the House be kind enough to give us the date of it as soon as possible—the sooner the better for most of us?

Before the election is held, will the right hon. Gentleman, as a Scotsman, pay attention to the scandal that the Scottish Office remains the only Department of State that is not scrutinised by a Select Committee? As the Government resist all wider constitutional change in Scotland, when will they respond to the comments of the Select Committee on Procedure on the issue?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about you, Mr. Speaker, having a shady past. I remember that period, which you will also well recall, with much affection.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that you, Mr. Speaker, have acted in the interests of the whole House throughout the period in which you have served with such distinction as our Speaker. We look forward to you continuing for some time.

There is no connection between my announcement of the Easter recess and the date of the general election. The right hon. Gentleman will have to wait patiently to decide where and when, and in what country, he wishes to stand. I have nothing to add to what I have already said many times about the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Hostilities in the Gulf have ceased and the allied prisoners of war have begun to return, but is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of Conservative Members are concerned to ensure that human rights abuses in Kuwait are properly investigated, and that they are concerned that the Iraqi Government seem unable or unwilling to acknowledge that they are holding no fewer than 30,000 Kuwaiti civilians and soldiers, contrary to the Geneva convention and to United Nations resolution 686, which underpins the ceasefire? May we soon have a debate on those important issues?

Mr. MacGregor

As always, we must decide when it is appropriate to make statements or hold debates on the Gulf. I cannot comment on the number of detainees whom my hon. Friend mentioned, but he will know that both the points that concern him concern the whole House and are being pursued by the Government.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Has the Leader of the House received a request from the Minister who has responsibility for the Stock Exchange for an opportunity to make a statement on the sale of the shares in Bioplan Ltd., which has built 10 hospitals on NHS land and which apparently is holding talks with a French company and an American health company about taking over those facilities? If it did so, American Medical International would have a monopoly of private health care, including facilities within the NHS. I trust that, by next week, his hon. Friend will come forward with a statement before the deal goes ahead, without any consultation with the NHS.

Mr. MacGregor

I know nothing of such a matter. The short answer to the question is no.

Sir Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

When we discuss transport votes on Monday in relation to London Regional Transport, can my right hon. Friend confirm that it will be within the restrictions of such a debate to refer to such matters as the deregulation of London buses, for example, and the possibility of road pricing in central London to discourage some commuters from bringing in their cars as they do at the moment?

Mr. MacGregor

I would think that it would be possible to discuss any matters that relate to London Regional Transport.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

I shall hope to pay my respects to you, Sir, in due course. Those valuable words can wait a while.

Since it appears that it is my private Member's Bill to deal with the illegal sale of cigarettes to children under 16 that cannot be pursued now on 12 April, may I have an assurance from the Leader of the House that it will be dealt with on the first Friday after we come back, since I was No. 1 in the ballot?

Mr. MacGregor

Clearly we shall have to reschedule the business for that day, as I have already said. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Obviously I have no wish to do anything that would upset the arrangements that were already in train.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Is the Leader of the House aware that many of my hon. Friends are very concerned about the continued anti-Government bias shown by the BBC, especially through the agency of the "Today" programme? Is my right hon. Friend aware that that view was also shared by the leader of the Liberal Democrat party in an article in The Sunday Times last weekend? Will he therefore arrange for us to have an urgent debate on the continuing anti-Government bias and invite the leader of the Liberal Democrat party to take part in that debate?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate on the matter next week.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

The Leader of the House will recognise that the House of Lords report on manufacturing industry, already referred to today, is of enormous importance. It is of sufficient importance to justify perhaps the unusual step of suggesting that this House, as well as the other place, debates it. If he will not agree to a debate on the broader issue, will he at least consider the urgent problem which is developing in heavy energy-using industries, not least in Rotherham Engineering Steel, which faces enormous difficulty as a result of impending electricity price rises? Will he accept that our competitor countries will make jolly sure that they do not leave their similar industries at the mercy of market forces? Do we really have to see the remaining significant industry in my area being wiped out, along with coal, glass and everything else?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not want to get into the policy issues now, because that would be inappropriate. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Budget statement will be made on 19 March and that there will be the usual Budget debates thereafter, when matters relating to the economy and to manufacturing industries can all be discussed.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

My right hon. Friend will have seen reports of President Bush's address to the joint session of Congress in which he referred to the importance of a major peace settlement in the middle east, including Israel, and referred to resolutions 242 and 338. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, having won the war, it is as important to win the peace, and that we should have an early debate to discuss the whole peace issue in the middle east while it is at the forefront of our minds?

Mr. MacGregor

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has frequently talked about these matters. Certainly I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's request. We shall have to consider at what appropriate time we should debate them.

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

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on foreign affairs in relation to the middle east so that, among other things, the House can debate the recent report by UNICEF, which shows that tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq face death by cholera and typhoid because of the effects of bombing on the water supply, sewerage, communications and medical services?

Mr. MacGregor

I hope that the hon. Lady is even more concerned about what has happened in Kuwait as a result of Saddam Hussein's aggression. Those matters are debated frequently. I have already said that we will have to find an appropriate time to debate affairs in the Gulf.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

First, Mr. Speaker, I should say that London Members wish you well.

Is there any chance of a statement in the House next week on the management of the London borough of Lambeth, which seems to have singular difficulty in setting a fair community charge, and where there are thousands of uninhabited council houses and millions of pounds worth of uncollected rent? Even Labour Members of Parliament from that borough seem to be tearing their hair. As the situation there is almost as bad as it was in Liverpool a few years ago, should not something be done about it?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that many of my hon. Friends and others will wish to refer frequently in the House to the maladministration of the London borough of Lambeth and its proposed community charge. I myself referred to that during Prime Minister's Question Time on Tuesday. I understand that we are still waiting to hear what its community charge will be, but hon. Members will undoubtedly frequently refer to the contrast between Lambeth and Wandsworth, as well as to the fact that some members of Lambeth council are still not paying their community charge.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

May we have a statement next week on the poll tax, which apparently still has to be paid by members of the anned forces serving in the Gulf, a problem which I understand arises from a recent High Court ruling? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that members of the armed forces serving in the Gulf are more keen to know the Government's attitude on that than on war medals or victory parades?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. He will have heard the statement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has already made about that in order to reassure service men and others serving in the Gulf. The Department of the Environment is currently working out proposals on how to ensure that all uniformed service personnel do not have to bear the cost of the personal community charge while serving in the Gulf.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Is it not the case that the procedural motion on the War Crimes Bill will deprive the House of any chance of amending that Bill, whether in order to ensure a fair trial for defendants or in any way at all? Is that not deplorable, and will the vote be whipped?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already replied to the second part of my hon. Friend's question. As to the first part, we had a full debate on the Bill in the House in the last Session, and it was passed with a large majority. It is right to follow the procedures that have been adopted in the past in relation to the Parliament Acts, which is what we are doing; that is why we are having the procedural motion next week, when my hon. Friend can make his points. It will then be a matter for the other place to decide what to do. If it amends the Bill, it will come back to this House.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Has the Leader of the House yet had a chance to study the debate that we had this week after 10 o'clock on the tie-up order for the fishing fleet? Is he aware that that was a debate on an amending order, that the original order is still within time, and that, if the Government chose, they could have a debate on that order in the near future? Having regard to the unsatisfactory nature of this week's debate, will he consider carefully and with some sympathy an early debate on the original order some time next week?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sorry that I cannot promise such a debate next week. We have already debated the matter twice recently in the House.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of strong evidence that his programme for the week's business tends to interfere with the Opposition's dining arrangements? Is he aware that, during the concluding session of debate on the Criminal Justice Bill last week, the shadow Home Secretary was addressing the "thousand club" of 1,000 lawyers paying £1,000 a time?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions should relate to business next week, please.

Mr. King

Will my right hon. Friend arrange the business for next week so that it does not interfere with such arrangements?

Mr. MacGregor

It is for the right hon. Gentleman to decide his own programme. I am sure that he has a capable and hard-working social secretary who will enable him to do that. I am afraid that I cannot adjust the business of the House around any hon. Member's programme.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Can the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the police? He was here during Home Office questions, when he heard colleagues from south and west Yorkshire mention the ludicrous situation whereby the Home Office recommends police levels, but if police authorities budget accordingly they are in danger of being poll tax-capped by the Department of the Environment. Will he urgently investigate that, because to many of our constituents it appears to be madness to take bobbies off the streets with crime soaring? Will he look into this matter so that we can provide proper protection for all parts of Yorkshire and for all our constituents?

Mr. MacGregor

We have been carrying through a heavy Government legislative programme and trying to ensure that a number of other issues of major importance, such as the Gulf, get full time in the House. I have also been endeavouring to give the Opposition every opportunity in Supply days, and if the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue that matter, that is one way in which it can be done.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

When the House debates the War Crimes Bill, will it be in order to volunteer an obvious candidate—Saddam Hussein? Is it not a peculiar religious creed which allows Saddam Hussein to say that the allies must not destroy the holy cities of Iraq when, now that there is civil war there, he seems to have no compunction about fighting in them?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend has clearly made his point in relation to Saddam Hussein. He will know that there is no relationship between the War Crimes Bill and the recent conflict in the Gulf. Both are entirely separate. The measures that we are taking in the War Crimes Bill relate to the second world war, and are no longer necessary for any other conflict.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

To avoid misunderstanding, I shall join my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) in paying my warm tribute to you at a later date, Mr. Speaker. I assure you that it will be worth waiting for.

After the announcement that troops will be returning from the Gulf in the early part of next week, and with particular reference to the Territorial units that will be returning, will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement to be made on Monday or Tuesday of next week about those members of the Territorial forces who were conscripted on the basis that their jobs would be protected and would be there when they returned home?

Clearly that will not be the case for many Scottish Territorial soldiers who volunteered for service in the Gulf. Before they start coming to Members' surgeries, could the Leader of the House arrange early next week for the House to be informed who will honour the commitment to these men—a commitment made by the Secretary of State for Defence to encourage them to join up?

Mr. MacGregor

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this afternoon that our troops will start to return shortly from the Gulf. Obviously, that will be phased over some time. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, as I understand it, is making a statement about that later this afternoon. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

Those of us who were not in the House before the last election and were therefore not responsible for your election to your place of honour, Mr. Speaker, are grateful to those hon. Members who were responsible for enabling us to benefit from your unfailingly kind, courteous and patient care for new Back Benchers.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House referred to Easter. One aspect of Easter is an area of transport which will not be covered by next week's debate—river transport. Will he bear in mind the anxiety about river safety, especially in Thameside constituencies? Although we cannot discuss the full report on the Marchioness until prosecution has taken place, nevertheless the recommendations of that report, especially regarding visibility of craft and the noise levels on such craft, are known, and it would be helpful if the House could have an early opportunity to discuss them.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend has already pointed out the problem about the timing of a debate on the full report. I cannot promise him a debate in the near future, but I shall bear in mind what he has said.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House find time before the recess for a debate on housing? Is he aware that we are in the midst of the worst housing crisis since the war? People come to hon. Members' surgeries and tell us that their homes are being repossessed because of mortgage problems. They cannot obtain council housing; there are 7,000 people on the waiting list in my authority.

The past 11 years of Tory policies are responsible for all that. Do not the Government owe it to the thousands who have suffered under those dreadful policies to do something about it? Let us at least debate the matter in the House.

Mr. MacGregor

That is an extraordinary distortion of the true position. The progress is very much in the other direction. I am afraid that there will not be time for such a debate in the near future.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the possibility of a debate along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon)? Would it not give him an opportunity to remind the House that there has been a 12 per cent. increase in the rent arrears owed to English housing associations, and that, while £361 million is now outstanding, the overwhelming majority of that arose under Labour? Is it not entirely wrong for the tenants who pay to have to carry the burden that that represents? Is it not about time that high-spending Labour authorities realised that no rent from some means no homes for others?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend has made his point extremely well. Many other points could be made on the subject, and I hope that they will be made continually at Question Time, in Adjournment debates and on other occasions in the House. I cannot, however, envisage that a debate in Government time will be possible in the near future.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Leader of the House has already given us an extended Easter break. Yesterday, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill was passed, along with a Northern Ireland order. In future, may we legislate for Northern Ireland by means of Bills? Our debates would then proceed much faster than the arguments that go on in relation to orders.

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot immediately promise any change in the procedure. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that we have conducted a good deal of Northern Ireland business in the past few days.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Unfortunately, owing to an appointment with the dentist, I was not present when an extremely important announcement was made about you, Mr. Speaker. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that many hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to be given a special time at which to pay tribute to the urbanity and good will with which you have presided over our affairs throughout the current Parliament?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that my right hon. Friend speaks on behalf of the whole House from his distinguished position. I entirely share his view. I have already said that this afternoon is not the time for proper tributes to be paid, but I personally want an opportunity to say a great deal more than I have today.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps it would be right if I said now that, although I am grateful to the whole House, I think that we should deal with next week's business. We have a busy day ahead of us.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have a debate next week on proportional representation and the first-past-the-post system, so that we can outline the virtues of the first-past-the-post system and the anti-democratic elements of proportional representation?

The Leader of the House has mentioned the Easter recess. Will he assure the House that he does not propose to introduce legislation after the recess to allow members of the royal family to resign their comfortable offices and take part in the political process, and that until then they should keep their mouths shut?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not know what was said, so I shall not comment on the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question; but I am rather surprised to find myself in agreement with his comments about proportional representation.

Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)

My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the recent publication of reports by the core curriculum working parties on the teaching of music and history. He will also be aware that great interest and concern has been expressed both in this House and elsewhere about the implications of the reports. Does he have a sufficiently fond regard for his previous incarnation to put pressure on his right hon. and learned Friend the present Secretary of State for Education and Science to arrange for a debate on those most important matters?

Mr. MacGregor

I certainly do have a fond regard for my previous position. The matters that I dealt with then and that my hon. Friend raises now relating to the teaching of history and music are extremely important. The House will certainly have an opportunity to discuss them when the appropriate orders come before the House.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

When we debate London Regional Transport on Monday, will whatever is on the Order Paper be amendable? Will those hon. Members whose constituents have suffered from bus cuts be able to put on the agenda the fact that services should be restored, or that those who are responsible for the overcrowding and shabbiness of our public transport should be sacked? Alternatively, will we have to wait for the general election to do that to this Government?

Mr. MacGregor

It is simply to be a debate on part of the estimates.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Now that the community charges that are being set for the coming financial year are pouring out in a vast torrent from the town halls, will my right hon. Friend try to find time for the House to discuss the rapidly growing disparity between the low community charges set by Conservative authorities and the high ones set by Labour authorities?

Mr. MacGregor

Those matters will be raised frequently in the House and among the public at large. I am sure that the general public will draw their own conclusions—that the vast majority of prudent authorities with reasonable community charges are Conservative ones, and that the high-spending ones are Labour authorities.

Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

In view of your strictures, Mr. Speaker, that we should confine our questions to debates that are to be held next week, may I ask the Leader of the House to arrange a debate next week on the role of Mr. Speaker in maintaining democracy within the House? In the context of that debate, does the right hon. Gentleman accept from our Bench our view that Mr. Speaker has ensured that the minorities in the House have been heard?

Does the right hon. Gentleman also recollect the statement of Mr. Speaker Selwyn Lloyd when I first arrived here 17 years ago—that we are all minorities? In view of my impending retirement from the House, along with Mr. Speaker, does the right hon. Gentleman also accept that I hope that parliamentary democracy and the recognition of minorities will continue in this Chamber long after we have both retired?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that it will be necessary to have a debate. As I said at the beginning, there is general agreement in the House that you, Mr. Speaker, have behaved with great fairness and impartiality, apart from all your other qualities. The point is already well taken.

Mr. Holt

My right hon. Friend, and many right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, will have constituents who lost their savings as a result of the fraudulent and swindling way in which the savings bank on the Isle of Man operated. No one has yet been brought to justice for that. As a veneer of respectability is given to the Isle of Man by virtue of its allegiance to the Queen and by the fact that we supply its judiciary, is it not time that the House held a debate on the Isle of Man and its relationship to this House and how we can get justice for our constituents who have lost their life savings as a result of fraud by the gangsters who run that island?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot comment on the points raised by my hon. Friend, because I do not know enough about them. However, I cannot foresee a debate being held in the near future in Government time on these matters.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

As the Leader of the House is an Edinburgh man, he will understand that many of my constituents, particularly those with relatives in the Gulf, feel betrayed. The local comprehensive, Ainslie Park high school is about to close. They feel betrayed because they were never consulted. It has come to light that, several years ago, there was a secret deal with World Markets, a finance house. Telford college, which is nearby, sold ground to World Markets. Part of the kickback system was that Telford college benefited from the grounds owned by Ainslie Park high school.

We believe that the matter should be debated, because it is of vital importance. May we have an early debate— perhaps next week—so that we can go into the fine details of this complex matter? I know that that may upset the right hon. Gentleman's friends in high places—the financiers in Edinburgh, who have certainly benefited at the expense of the local community—but it is most important that we should have the facts. If the right hon. Gentleman believes in open government, I believe in open government. Let us get down to the nitty-gritty so that we can explain the issues to the people back home and to the returning soldiers, who are very angry about this matter.

Mr. MacGregor

I also believe in being precise, and I thought that the hon. Gentleman rambled a bit. Let me correct him on one point: I come from exactly halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. I think that the hon. Gentleman will have to find his own opportunity to raise the matter.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on voluntary bodies as soon as possible so that Conservative Members can raise the question of the so-called "thousand club", which has been set up by the shadow Leader of the House to give wealthy socialists privileged access to the shadow Cabinet at £1,000 a time? Does my right hon. Friend agree that only under a Tory Government can people afford to join such a daft organisation, and that most people would require payment to meet the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)?

Mr. MacGregor

For once, I am lost for words. My hon. Friend has made some good points most effectively, but I cannot think of a suitable reply. I hope that he will have opportunities to raise the matter again.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

What are the exact plans for debates on the Gulf? Should we not have a series of debates—one on the setting up of a separate Palestinian state, one on the great humanitarian problems in both Iraq and Kuwait, which is covered by United Nations resolution 666, and one on the supply of arms in the area? We also need a debate on the environmental problems in addition to the welcome debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

Mr. MacGregor

I was going to say to the hon. Gentleman that there will be a debate on environmental matters next Friday, on a motion tabled by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), and an appropriate Minister will take part. The hon. Gentleman has raised important matters, and the occasions on which we debate them should be a matter for discussion through the usual channels in the normal way. I am quite sure that these matters will be discussed quite often in the House in the months ahead.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Has the Leader of the House seen the reports in this morning's papers to the effect that the Lord Chancellor has said that he and the Attorney-General would be quite happy to have a Select Committee established to deal with their functions? Does the Leader of the House think that that happy precedent will be followed by the Northern Ireland Office and that that Department will now stop blocking the creation of a Select Committee to deal with Northern Ireland affairs?

Mr. MacGregor

I think I am right in saying that the recent Procedure Committee report on Select Committees deals with the Law Officers, and the Government will be responding to that report in due course.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to look at early-day motion 538?

[That this House calls on the Government to provide parliamentary time at an early day for proceedings on the Veterans Bill.]

The motion has now been signed by nearly 200 hon. Members representing every shade of opinion in the House. Will the Leader of the House consider whether time can be found in the parliamentary schedule to allow the Bill to have its Second Reading at a proper time, when hon. Members can vote on it, as there is clearly some enthusiasm for it?

Mr. MacGregor

On the policy issues and the creation of a veterans' department, the Government's position has been made clear, and I want to concentrate on the procedural matter that the hon. Gentleman raises. As he knows, the allocation of private Members' time is agreed by the House at the beginning of the Session. It has not been the Government's practice to grant additional time, and I therefore cannot undertake to do so in this case.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made by the appropriate Minister about arms sales from this country to the middle east, which are continuing on a grand scale? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Iran, which is now flexing its muscles in the middle east, is receiving contracts and equipment for computer systems for its weapons technology and that, in spite of all the efforts made to raise the matter, those sales continue? In the past few weeks, we have heard a lot of talk about selling arms and about merchants of death, but arms are still being sold to other countries in the middle east, and it is time that we had a blanket assurance that the Government will stop the arms trade to dictators in any part of the world.

Mr. MacGregor

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has already made clear the position on arms sales to Iraq. The hon. Gentleman will know that all proposed arms exports beyond Iraq are considered case by case and are subject to stringent licensing procedures.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During business questions, the Leader of the House said that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence would make a statement—he used those specific words—about the returning soldiers. This is an important topic and a statement would be welcome to the House, but I believe that the Leader of the House was referring to a planted parliamentary question, which is less than satisfactory. However, he used the word "statement".

Mr. MacGregor

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was repeating what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier this afternoon. I believe that he made clear what will happen in the early stages of the withdrawal of our troops from the Gulf and their repatriation. My right hon. Friend gave the main outline of what will happen in the near future.