§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)
The business for next week will be as follows:
MONDAY 18 MARCH—Second Reading of the War Crimes Bill.
Motions on the membership of Select Committees.
TUESDAY 19 MARCH—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.
The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.
WEDNESDAY 20 MARCH and THURSDAY 21 MARCH—Continuation of the Budget debate.
FRIDAY 22 MARCH—Private Members' Bills
MONDAY 25 MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget statement.
Mr. Speaker, the House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee A will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 20 March to consider European Community Document No. 10541/90 relating to the common fisheries policy; and European Standing Committee B will meet on the same day at 10.30 am to consider European Community Documents Nos. 8073/90, 8792/90, 4112/91 and 8075/90 relating to Community social matters.
§ [European Standing Committee A
§ Wednesday 20 March
§ Relevant European Community Document
§ 10541/90 Common Fisheries Policy
§ Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee
§ HC 29-xiii ( 1990–91).
§ European Standing Committee B
§ Wednesday 20 March
§ Relevant European Community Documents
|(a) 8073/90||Regulation of Hours of Work|
|(b) 8792/90||Employment of Pregnant Women and Recent Mothers|
|(c) 4112/91||Employment of Pregnant Women and Recent Mothers|
|(d) 8075/90||Minimum Safety and Health Requirements for Temporary and Mobile Work Sites|
§ Relevant reports of European Legislation Committee
- (a) HC 29-i (1990–91)
- (b) HC 29-ii (1990–91)
- (c) HC 29-xii (1990–91)
- (d) HC 29-ii ( 1990–91)].
§ Dr. Cunningham
Is it not the clearest indictment of the Government's economic and industrial policy failures that unemployment has again exceeded 2 million? Is it not a shocking disgrace that, for the second time in a decade, the Government have forced our economy into such a deep and damaging recession? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, when we debate the Budget next 1098 week, the Secretary of State for Employment will be at the Dispatch Box to answer for those absymal failures of the Government's term in office?
Why has the Leader of the House still not found time for us to continue our consideration of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill? What have thousands of teachers done to cause the Government to fail to continue consideration of the measure, which is important for teachers and for the future of our children's education? Why is not the Leader of the House candid about the ever-increasing delay? It is now more than six weeks since the Bill left Committee. When will the House have the opportunity to find out what is in the Government's mind?
Can we have time next week for a statement on the Government's intentions to privatise electricity in Northern Ireland? There will be considerable interest among all hon. Members in that important and controversial measure.
I support the request that has already been made that we have a debate at the earliest possible opportunity on the report by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, which covers the crucial issue of steel in Scotland and the importance of Ravenscraig and other steel plants for the economy and for employment in Scotland. Scottish Members could then call the Government to account for their continuing failure seriously to address the damage to the Scottish economy which results from Government policies and from the policies of British Steel.
It is widely reported in the press today that there have been heavy briefings from Downing street on the Government's intentions with respect to the future of the poll tax. Is it not essential that, if the Government have made a decision, it is announced in the House? If the decision is, as it should be, to abolish the tax, will not the Leader of the House find time to take up the offer made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) for the Opposition to co-operate with the Government immediately in a Bill to abolish the poll tax and to replace it with a property tax? Whatever the decision, is it not time that not only Parliament but the country saw an end to all the flarching and callifuggling about the future of the poll tax, and that we had some honest answers from Ministers—including the Prime Minister—about their intentions?
Has the Leader of the House had time to reflect on the shameful and contemptible behaviour of Tory Members in yesterday's debate on the abolition of the poll tax? They attempted to wreck the speech—[Interruption.—some of them are here now and are attempting to wreck my question—of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham.
Has the Leader of the House seen that the Official Report shows that there were 16 bogus points of order from Conservative Members? Conservative Members defied the ruling of the Chair nine times and persisted in trying to interrupt when it was clear that my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham was not giving way. Mr. Deputy Speaker ruled 18 times that Tory Members were making or trying to make spurious and bogus points of order. There were 11 occasions on which Mr. Deputy Speaker had to intervene and call for order, and 12 other instances when Hansard recorded interruptions, all from Conservative Members. Will the Leader of the House find time soon for a debate on that boorish, loutish and unacceptable behaviour?
§ Dr. Cunningham
I will not give way. It is indicative of the guilt of hon. Members that they do not want the record to be put straight—[Interruption.]
§ Dr. Cunningham
Does not the Leader of the House recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham deserves and is entitled to an apology on the record from the Leader of the House? Will he ensure that we can have discussions through the usual channels next week? We are not prepared to tolerate such behaviour again, in the interests not only of fair debate, but of the good name of Parliament, about which his hon. Friends seem to care little. If he does not arrange these things, the Government may find that they have great difficulty because we shall use—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes. We shall deploy the legitimate procedures of the House to give the Government a taste of their own medicine.
§ Mr. MacGregor
The hon. Gentleman has referred to unemployment. He will know that the number of people in employment in this country hs been rising for seven years, and has increased by more than 3.3 million since March 1983. Indeed, there are now nearly 27 million jobs in the United Kingdom. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said a few moments ago, the United Kingdom's unemployment rate is lower than the European average and lower than the rates in a considerable number of countries in the Community. It will of course be possible to discuss these matters next week, during the debate on the Budget statement. I expect that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will take part in that debate.
The hon. Gentleman will realise that there will be no opportunity next week to discuss the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill. With regard to the Budget, we shall be following normal practice. The hon. Gentleman will have to be patient.
I hope that it will be possible to make some comment before too long about the privatisation of the electricity industry in Northern Ireland.
With regard to the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises that it will be possible to discuss trade and industry matters fully during the Budget debate.
Hon. Members will know that, this morning, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister chaired a meeting of ministerial colleagues on the question of the community charge. He will chair a further meeting next week, and the Committee's conclusions will then have to go to the full Cabinet. After that, we shall announce our proposals.
In the context of the Opposition's position on the community charge, the hon. Gentleman mentioned yesterday's debate. He suggested that the Opposition would be willing to co-operate if their proposals were incorporated in a Bill. He will have noted that the Opposition's motion yesterday was resoundingly defeated —defeated by a majority of 142. So much for the Opposition's great attempt to push their proposals. So much, indeed, for the Opposition's faith in their own proposals. Clearly, they were unable to get a large number of their Members to come and support them.
The hon. Gentleman described the behaviour of some Conservative Members yesterday as shameful. The 1100 pressure from my hon. Friends was caused by the fact that, despite many attempts, they were getting from Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen no answers with regard to the details of the Opposition's policies. I hope that, the next time these matters are debated, we shall get answers. That will be the way to make progress. That said, I have to add that I am always prepared to discuss any issue that the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise with me through the usual channels.
§ Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)
I should like to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 500, which concerns the Merchant Navy.
[That this House welcomes the recent report of the Joint Working Party on British shipping published in September 1990; notes the vital importance of Britain's merchant fleet for the economy, employment and our strategic defences; recognises the links with regard to economic activity and maritime skills, between the merchant fleet and the marine related industries; notes that British shipping and those marine related industries together contribute some —5 billion a year to the country's invisibles; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to take immediate and positive action to first ensure that the British fleet is strengthened by appropriate stimulation of investment in modern tonnage and second encourage the recruitment, training and employment of British seafarers.]
That motion has now been signed by a majority of the Members of this House, including 66 per cent. of those Conservatives who are eligible to sign. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is very important that we have a debate on this subject, and will he agree to bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor?
§ Mr. MacGregor
As my hon. Friend knows, the Government are actively following up the recommendations in the joint working party report. These deal, among other things, with recruitment and training. As I said on another occasion, assistance with the costs of training Merchant Navy officer cadets is already provided under the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. With regard to financial assistance, as my hon. Friend has indicated, the General Council of British Shipping and others have made submissions to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. My hon. Friend will realise why I cannot make any comment on that.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
I should like the Leader of the House to give consideration to certain proposed Orders in Council that were published recently. Although I have them here, I do not intend to read or paraphrase from them. As can be seen, they are quite substantial documents. I understand that there is provision for consultation up to September, after which the orders will be brought before the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman consult his colleagues with a view to arranging a longer consultation period—perhaps into 1992—to enable the interested parties to digest the material and to respond? Will he also do something to see that all this detailed material is dealt with in such a way that hon. Members can debate it thoroughly and table amendments?
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)
Will my right hon. Friend arrange for us to have a statement shortly on 1101 the role of the district auditor, with particular reference to Derbyshire county council? Is he aware that the council has been sitting on a report from the district auditor on the management of its pension fund for nearly nine months, mainly, we believe, because that report contains details of highly irresponsible and even illegal behaviour? At the moment, only the council has the power to publish that report and there seems to be no way in which anybody can force it to do so. Will my right hon. Friend look into that scandal as a matter of great urgency?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I shall certainly discuss it with my right hon. Friends. I shall be coming to Derbyshire on Sunday and Monday this coming week, when I shall be happy to hear from my hon. Friend about the issues that she has raised before I do so.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
If it cannot be done by Ministers from the Department of the Environment replying to tomorrow's debate on the ecology of the Gulf, will the Leader of the House arrange for a full explanation to be given to the House of Commons next week of exactly what happened before the bombing on the road to Basra? Either it was justified, in which case the House of Commons would listen to a justification, or it was thoroughly unjustified, killing thousands of people, many of whom were from the Indian subcontinent and contract workers, and creating a feeling in the Arab world that it was terribly unnecessary slaughter. One way or the other, the House of Commons should have an explanation.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a debate on important matters in relation to the environment tomorrow, to which a Minister will be responding. I cannot promise him a debate next week on the other point that he has raised.
§ Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)
May I support the plea by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) for a debate on what took place in the House yesterday during the poll tax debate, because that will give the Conservative Members an opportunity to point out that, since 1983, the proceedings of the House have been suspended on more than 10 occasions due to the antics of Labour Members of Parliament? That will give Conservative Members the chance to give the players' benefit to those who did the work during the years preceding yesterday.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
Will the Leader of the House tell us rather more about how the Government intend to respond to the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry into the Scottish steel industry? As he will be aware, British Steel is in the process of closing down the Scottish steel industry, and any action that is to be taken on the Select Committee's recommendations will have to be rapid.
What assurance can we have that the Select Committee's report will not be allowed to gather dust in the Department of Trade and Industry while the Scottish steelworkers are put on the dole? Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made, perhaps this evening, or at the very least guarantee that the 1102 Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, in responding to the Budget debate next week, will be in a position to answer, point by point, the Select Committee's remarks and recommendations?
§ Mr. MacGregor
Clearly there cannot be a statement this evening. It never has been the practice to respond instantly to a Select Committee report. I understand that it is a fairly lengthy report, and the Government must have time to consider it. The Government will be responding to the report in the usual way and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a time scale for the Government's response.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
If the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) were here a little more often——
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Gentleman has been in the House for 21 years. When discussions between the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House take place through the usual channels, will my right hon. Friend have available to him the document that is in the Library, which shows the number of suspensions of hon. Members by the Chair during the past 10 years? Will he remind the hon. Gentleman that, since the 1979–80 Session, when I came into the House, there have been about 13 suspensions, all of them of Labour Members.
Will my right hon. Friend remind the hon. Gentleman of the way in which some Opposition Members behaved when I sponsored a Private bill through all its stages? You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that, apart from one speech which lasted six minutes, I was never heard in the House, and all the disruptions came from Opposition Members. Will my right hon. Friend suggest that, from time to time during the 21 years that he has been in the House the hon. Gentleman should have come into the Chamber to see some of the antics of his hon. Friends?
§ Mr. MacGregor
My hon. Friend makes his point very clearly, and I can well understand his frustration. The figures that he quotes make their own point.
§ Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on local government, so that I can ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to visit the London borough of Hackney, the poorest borough in the country, to see its problems for himself and, above all, so that he can congratulate the leadership of Hackney council on lowering Hackney's poll tax, in the face of enormous difficulties and social problems?
§ Mr. MacGregor
We have had a number of debates on local government, and I am sure that we will have many more.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
In relation to Monday's business, may I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 595?
[That this House recognises that many who voted to avoid the alteration of even a word or a comma in the War Crimes Bill did so with a heavy heart, and wonders why the Labour Party suspended its usual critical judgment of the Government.]
1103 May I also draw my right hon. Friend's attention to his remarks on 6 December in column 463 and to questions 50 and 51, which I hope he will be able to answer tomorrow? What has changed since last year, when the Government seemed to exclude any prospect of the House changing a word or comma of the War Crimes Bill? Is there any way in which the House can decide that the Parliament Acts should not come into effect?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I have seen early-day motion 595. We debated the procedure motion on Monday evening. All things considered, the procedure that we are following is the best way to proceed, and that view was endorsed by a clear majority of hon. Members on Monday evening. Both Houses can still express their view on the Bill.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
May I also draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 500?
[That this House welcomes the recent report of the Joint Working Party on British shipping published in September 1990; notes the vital importance of Britain's merchant fleet for the economy, employment and our strategic defences; recognises the links with regard to economic activity and maritime skills, between the merchant fleet and the marine related industries; notes that British shipping and those marine related industries together contribute some £5 billion a year to the country's invisibles; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to take immediate and positive action to first ensure that the British fleet is strengthened by appropriate stimulation of investment in modern tonnage and second encourage the recruitment, training and employment of British seafarers.]
Hon. Members who signed it will be disappointed by the right hon. Gentleman's response. Is it not time that the Government accepted that since they took office the decline of the merchant fleet has been the worst on record? They have a clear responsibility to respond to the widespread concern that has been expressed about the British merchant fleet. Only Government intervention will revive the fleet, the shipyards and the work related to them.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I have made clear the Government's response to some of the points that have been made on the merchant fleet, particularly on training. I am aware that other points are being made about financial and tax matters. It is not appropriate for me to say anything about that today.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the publication of the interim report of W. S. Atkins on the channel tunnel rail link has been widely welcomed? However, it raises matters of considerable complexity, not least whether the views and legislation of the European Commission on railway lines are being observed. Given the complexity of the issues, will he give us a chance to debate the parameters within which the consultants will be allowed to discuss this matter?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I recognise the importance of this matter, particularly to my hon. Friend's constituents, but I cannot promise a debate before the Easter recess. The House must consider many matters in the coming weeks, but I shall bear my hon. Friend's request in mind.
§ Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)
In calling for a debate on parliamentary behaviour, is not the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) guilty of applying the most 1104 grotesque double standards? As recently as 29 January, in a debate on the rate support grant for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), now the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, made a seven-minute speech in which he was interrupted no fewer than five times by bogus points of orders and by other interruptions.
§ Mr. MacGregor
Points of order are used on both sides of the House when Members of Parliament wish to express points of view or to pursue a particular matter. That is why I said yesterday that much of the frustration felt by my hon. Friends was due to the fact that they were not getting answers to the questions that they had raised.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the press? Has he seen a letter in The Star newspaper this morning asking Members of Parliament to support the closure of Sellafield? Has he also seen the centre page spread in The Star on Tuesday of this week that suggested that British Nuclear Fuels plc had backed off from the Press Council over complaints? Does the Leader of the House know that The Star editors did not include in that article the fact that they had been given a sound drubbing and beating by the Press Council only a year and a half ago when I complained to the Press Council over The Star's bad and inaccurate reporting of matters relating to the nuclear industry? Ought we not to be debating those matters in Parliament? That newspaper is getting totally out of hand, and does not realise what damage it is doing.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I have not seen either the letter or the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers, so I cannot comment upon them. As for the general issue, I cannot promise a debate in Government time in the immediate future, or for some time to come, due to the pressure on parliamentary time. However, the hon. Gentleman has recourse to various courses of action. He obviously feels strongly about the point, so no doubt he will do that, through the appropriate authorities. He can also use the devices of the House to raise the matter in other ways.
§ Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate about the importance of the Government's response to the Select Committee's report on Ravenscraig, which is to be published later today? Does he not appreciate that the rundown of the Scottish steel industry will lead to the loss of thousands of jobs in central Scotland, that it will severely damage our industrial infrastructure, including the railways system and the basic infrastructure of central Scotland, and that, above all, it will close down certain options for future industrial developments by industries that use steel? Does he not recognise that we are talking about the future of Scotland as an industrial nation? That is why we must have clear Government action in response to the report and a debate on what they intend to do about it.
§ Mr. MacGregor
Job losses are of course unwelcome. The Government will continue to encourage British Steel seriously to consider any commercially viable opportunities involving its Scottish plants and any commercial offers for the assets. These decisions were taken on commercial considerations. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Lanarkshire working group is identifying the main constraints to revitalising Lanarkshire's economy 1105 and will be recommending measures to resolve the problems. The restructuring of the local economy is very much in the Government's mind.
It is difficult for me to comment on the Select Committee's report, since it has not yet been published, but the Government intend to respond to it in the normal way. I repeat that it is possible to raise all economic and industrial matters next week and in the following Monday's debate on the Budget. Moreover, there will be an opportunity to raise them when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry speaks on trade and industry matters.
§ Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)
I join the shadow Leader of the House in urging my right hon. Friend to have a debate as soon as possible on standards of behaviour in the House, so that Conservative Members can point out that, far from being a bunch of coy little political virgins—goody-goodies and teacher's pets—the type of personal abuse that Opposition Members heaped upon our former Prime Minister far exceeded anything that has ever emanated from this side of the House? It would also provide us with the opportunity to point out that nothing was required from this side of the House to ruin the speech made yesterday by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould).
§ Mr. MacGregor
My hon. Friend has made his point. I would only add that Conservative Members have frequently been subjected to running commentaries from quite a number of Opposition Members for a long time, which have often come from a sedentary position, and we have not complained about that.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
The Leader of the House will know of the intense concern of many about the fate of the British hostages and other hostages in the Lebanon. Will he arrange for the Minister of State, Foreign Office to make an early statement when he returns from his meetings with the Syrians and others?
While he is at it, will my hon. Friend have an urgent word with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and ask them to reconsider their refusal to meet the spiritual leader of Tibet, who is visiting Britain next week? It is a disgrace that the only Cabinet Minister permitted to meet the Dalai Lama is the Lord Chancellor, who has been told not to say anything to him. Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that the Chinese will treat the British Government and others with nothing but contempt if they show weakness? Will he urge the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to hold the proper discussions with the Dalai Lama next week, so that the fate of Tibet can be properly understood and considered by the British Government?
§ Mr. MacGregor
The Government remain concerned about the hostages, and are actively pursuing all their cases. I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's suggestion about a possible way of reporting to the House on any developments that take place. The Government wholly share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the matter.
On the hon. Gentleman's second question, we are following a practice established for some time when the Dalai Lama has visited this country. There is clearly a distinction between his role as spiritual leader, which is 1106 widely recognised, and direct official relationships. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Dalai Lama is due to meet many people when he comes here next week.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)
Will the Leader of the House take note of my support of the request by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) for a debate on the campaign being waged by The Star against British Nuclear Fuels plc at Cumbria? The article contains great distortions. I have been to Japan to see the fast breeder reactor to which the nuclear waste will be returned for fuel. This scare article may cost jobs and alarm the local inhabitants in Cumbria, and we should debate the matter on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I repeat that I have not had the opportunity to read the reports, so it is difficult for me to comment, but I have said that there are other ways of pursuing the matter on the Floor of the House and outside. No doubt my hon. Friend will want for once to strike up an alliance with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) in that respect.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)
I was interested in the right hon. Gentleman's earlier reply, in which he said that he hoped for an announcement in the near future on Northern Ireland Electricity. Did he mean a statement about Government policy or a statement about the procedure in this House for dealing with proposals on the future of Northern Ireland Electricity? Does he recognise that there will be outrage throughout Northern Ireland if any attempt is made to push through an Order in Council to privatise Northern Ireland Electricity without the right of parliamentary debate or the right to table amendments? Does he accept that that is yet another example of an issue that should be referred for proper discussion to a Select Committee on Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. MacGregor
The right hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the statement, which I said I hoped would be made in the House before long.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)
In respect of a possible statement on the abolition of the poll tax next week, will the Leader of the House give us a guarantee of a separate statement on Scotland? Is he aware that the Scottish legislation differs in many respects from that for England and Wales? It has been on the statute book a year longer and been inflicted on the people of Scotland a year longer.
Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that, in the second vote last night, three of the four Scottish Office Ministers—the Minister of State and two Under-Secretaries—declined to support the Government's review proposals? The surprise today is that they are still in their jobs; but Scotland's case is different, and we want an assurance of a separate statement.
§ Mr. MacGregor
The hon. Gentleman should not draw any significance from the voting list last night for the second Division. I should make it clear that I did not mention any precise time for a statement. I cannot say yet in what form the statement will take place or how it will be announced. I have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the position in Scotland.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
Has the Leader of the House had a chance to read in Hansard of 1107 the changes to Standing Orders for private business? If the right hon. Gentleman has read the report, he will have noted that Hansard records that all the proposed new Standing Orders were ordered to be passed. If the right hon. Gentleman reads the Vote and Proceedings, however, he will find that it is recorded that the Standing Order dealing with environmental assessment was not passed. I understand that my hon. Friends objected to that Standing Order because they wanted to ensure that there would be a debate on the issue and not because they were against it in principle. It is extremely unfortunate that the first measure was not agreed to and that the others were agreed to, and the position should be rectified at the earliest opportunity. Can the right hon. Gentleman arrange for us to have an early debate on the reform of private business?
§ Mr. MacGregor
We cannot amend votes that have already taken place. I shall check what, as I understood it, seemed to be a disparity in the reporting of what happened yesterday. From the reports that I received, I understood that it was the environmental assessment Standing Order to which there was objection. That measure may have to be debated unless the block is removed.
I am aware of the great interest that the hon. Gentleman takes in private Bill procedure. He will be aware that we have placed on the Order Paper the proposals that have emanated from the Chairman of Ways and Means for making changes to our procedures as they relate to private Bills, to be operative from the next Session. We have been considering the responses i o the consultation document from the Department of Transport, and these would involve legislation changes to our private Bill procedure. I hope that before long the Government will come forward with their response to the responses to the consultation document. That is the moment at which we might consider how we debate private Bill procedure in the House.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
Will the Leader of the House confirm that the gathering of hon. Members in the Chamber means that there will be a statement shortly on the Birmingham Six, so that we can celebrate the ending of the outrageous injustice that these people have suffered?
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he has received and seen the report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which was published yesterday? I do not expect a debate or a statement on the report next week, but will he assure the House that he will not try to push it to one side but will give it urgent consideration and bring it before the House, along with the necessary changes to Standing Orders that are recommended in the report, so that the private interests of the Chairmen and members of Select Committees, who he will accept perform an important function in the House, are brought under proper scrutiny and control, not only for ourselves but for those outside who expect decent standards of conduct in public life?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I can confirm that there will be a statement shortly on the Birmingham Six. I think that it would be for the convenience of the House to have the statement, but the court's decision was announced only at 3.30 pm. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make a statement as quickly as that is convenient to the House.
1108 I have seen the report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests. I have not had time to study it in full, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it will have my consideration.
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
Now that the Home Secretary has arrived in the Chamber—my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is present and will respond adequately to the statement for the Opposition—I ask the Leader of the House to have urgent consultations with the Home Secretary, after the statement, about rearranging next week's business so as to allow some Government time to debate the lessons and consequences of the release of the Birmingham Six—not least so that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who is not in his place, can be rightly given due credit for the pivotal role which he has played in the past few years inmaking today's decision possible, and so that The Sun can make an apology to him for having described him and others among us, who have also championed the Birmingham Six, as looney Members.
Perhaps Irish families in my constituency and throughout the midlands can take comfort from the fact that there will be compensation. Most important is the need to stop now the passage through Parliament of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill—the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 arose from the arrest of the Birmingham Six—to ensure that this never happens again.
§ Mr. MacGregor
The hon. Gentleman had better await the statement. In so far as he has raised anything for me on business, there is no chance of rearranging the business for next week. That business is clearly related to the War Crimes Bill and, most importantly, to the Budget, which takes up most of the week.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
When the Leader of the House replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who asked for a statement on the poll tax, he referred gloatingly to the majority of 142 yesterday. Does he recall that those 142 included the Liberals, Democrats or whatever they call themselves—thesalads—who voted against a motion calling for theabolition of the poll tax only a few days after they had scored their victory in Ribble Valley? Bearing that in mind, does the Leader of the House understand that, although there may be many Tories with different answers to the poll tax problem, there is only one party prepared to abolish it—the Labour party?
§ Mr. MacGregor
That question is not directed at me. All I know is that the majority yesterday was clear and resounding.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
Following that question—I am not sure what relation it had to business—will the Leader of the House accept that those of my party who voted against the Labour motion voted against a hamfisted proposal and that— —