HC Deb 16 May 1991 vol 191 cc427-44 3.32 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

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

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 20 MAY—Debate on "Next Steps" in the civil service on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion to take note of EC Document No. 4936/91 relating to the European energy charter. Details will be given in the Official Report.

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

TUESDAY 21 MAY—Until about seven o'clock consideration of Lords amendments to the Disability Living Allowance and Disability Working Allowance Bill, followed by:

Motion on the Charge Limitation (England) (Maximum Amount) Order.

WEDNESDAY 22 MAY—Remaining stages of the New Roads and Street Works Bill [Lords].

Motion on Members' resettlement grant.

THURSDAY 23 MAY—Debates on the Adjournment.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet to consider European Community documents as follows:

Wednesday 22 May at 10.30 am

Committee A—Document Nos. 8149/88, 9204/89, 5807/90 and 4684/91 relating to natural habitats; and

Committee B—Document No. 10146/90 relating to labelling of tobacco products.

[Monday 20 May:

4936/91 European Energy Charter

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee

Wednesday 22 May:

(a) 8149/88 Protection of Wildlife and Natural Habitats
(b) 9204/89 Protection of Wildlife and Natural Habitats
(c) 5807/90 Protection of Wildlife and Natural Habitats
(d) 4684/91 Protection of Wildlife Nature Habitats
(e) 6553/90 Import Ban on Furs
(f) 5618/91 Import Ban on Furs
(g) 6719/90 Nature Conservation(ACNAT)+ ADD 1
HC 29-xi (1990–91) and HC 29–xx (1990–91)]

Dr. Cunningham

Can the Leader of the House confirm what the press has apparently already been told—that the much-delayed White Paper on education and training will be published on Monday next week? If the right hon. Gentleman can confirm that, as I expect that he should be able to do, will he assure us that there will be an oral statement in the Chamber on the publication of this important White Paper? It can hardly be argued that next week is a particularly heavy week for business. Indeed, I was tempted to say when I put the question: "Will the Leader of the House tell us the business for next week, if there is any?"

May we have an assurance that the appropriate Ministers will come to the House of Commons to announce their proposals and policies and will not announce them in a press conference outside Parliament?

I am sure that Members on both sides of the House were dismayed by today's unemployment figures. I share the view that Tory Members are concerned—they certainly should be as concerned as we are—about the awful, record rise in unemployment last month, the worst figures for April since the war.

That was coupled with two surveys, one from the engineering union pointing out that about 100,000 jobs had been lost in manufacturing industry, and one from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations showing that about 33,000 training places for people with disabilities had been lost because of Government cuts.

May we have an early debate on the Government's employment policies? It must be in the interests of the reputation of the House of Commons that we should have such a debate, and one would have thought that the Government would want an opportunity to give an explanation of what has happened in that context. I hope, therefore, that the Leader of the House will arrange for an early debate on employment policy and the disastrous consequences of the Government's economic policy failures in respect of jobs.

It is clear that the Government do not have much business for the House to conduct. In those circumstances, why do they continue to refuse our offer to co-operate now on legislation to abolish the poll tax? Why must we wait for the abolition of that detested tax when there is all the parliamentary time in the world to introduce a Bill right now? Why are the Government declining our offer?

Mr. MacGregor

I will answer first the first and last points made by the hon. Gentleman. On the first, the hon. Gentleman tries to pretend every week that there is not a great deal of Government business. The House will have noted that we have been very busy this week, and I suspect that we shall be very busy today dealing with amendments to the Planning and Compensation Bill [Lords]. Is he suggesting that we have no business to conduct today? If so, and if, as he said, we have little business to conduct, does he agree that we shall get through today's business extremely quickly and that the House will rise shortly?

Dr. Cunningham

Answer the question.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman is obviously getting embarrassed by this line of response. He says each week that we do not have much to do, when it is obvious that the House has a great deal of legislation to take through, and that will be clear today as it will be next week. So he cannot go on peddling that line, which is far from reality. In fact, the House has been dealing with 35 Bills, with quite a number still to come, leaving aside the Finance Bill. That is more than in the past two Sessions. The House still has a great deal of business to do.

The hon. Gentleman employs the trick of asking for a debate on one thing or another and then, when I grant it —as I did with the public expenditure debate this week, which he knew I was keen to have—he claims that it is a light week. He cannot have it all ways. The hon. Gentleman talks total nonsense.

As for next week, the hon. Gentleman will know that on Tuesday we shall be dealing with two major items, one of which involves 63 amendments from the House of Lords—the Disability Living Allowance and Disability Working Allowance Bill, and the remaining stages of the New Roads and Street Works Bill. That is a major undertaking. He cannot claim that the House is facing a light load when the position is entirely the opposite. There is a great deal of work to be done.

That is partly the answer to the point the hon. Gentleman made about unemployment. A number of the debates that we have had—on the Finance Bill, public expenditure plans and so on—all enabled employment issues to be raised, as they were raised in the debate yesterday, when it was clear that the Opposition proposals would greatly add to unemployment, rather than the reverse.

I noted that, when the hon. Gentleman talked about Government cuts in relation to employment measures, he added yet again to the range of issues where the Labour party is proposing to spend a great deal more money and is not prepared to face up to the need for higher taxation that would be involved under its policies.

I can confirm that there will be a White Paper on education and training, although I cannot at this stage confirm exactly when. But I have noted the hon. Gentleman's request—that there should be an oral statement in the House—and I hope to agree to that.

Mr. Speaker

The House has just heard what the Leader of the House said. Thirty-four groups of amendments have been tabled to the Bill under consideration this afternoon. Will hon. Members therefore ask questions about next week's business and not make general points?

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

Will my right hon. Friend allow time for an early statement on the adequacy of safety precautions for the transport of toxic or flammable goods by rail? Is he aware that, in the early hours of this morning, at Bradford-on-Tone near Wellington in my constituency, there was a derailment followed by an immense fire in which, thankfully, no one appears to have been injured? However, great concern and alarm has been caused in the surrounding community. We must thank providence that the accident did not happen as the train passed through a built-up area. May we have an urgent inquiry into the causes of the accident, and can the results be brought before the House?

Mr. MacGregor

I understand entirely my hon. Friend's point and agree that it was fortunate that no injuries were reported. As he knows, as a result of the fire, the line is likely to be closed for about two days. It is too early for the cause to be established, but I confirm that British Rail will be holding an internal inquiry. The Health and Safety Executive's railway inspectorate is in close touch with British Rail. I have noted my hon. Friend's request that the results of the inquiry should come before the House once the inquiry has been completed.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on unemployment which will allow us to examine not only the Government's abysmal record but the unemployment consequences of Labour's national minimum wage policy? Can the right hon. Gentleman also make time for repealing the Antarctic Minerals Act 1989, given the welcome statement by the Prime Minister that there will be a moratorium on mining in the Antarctic?

The Leader of the House has not stated the business for the first week after the recess. Does he know something that we do not?

Mr. MacGregor

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, if he had been present on the numerous occasions when that question has been raised—I am sure that he was here—he would know that much attention has been focused on unemployment issues, especially on the point that he raised—the serious consequences for higher unemployment of the Labour party's proposal for a minimum wage.

As for a Bill to repeal the Antarctic Minerals Act, we still have a great deal of legislation to take through the House this Session and I do not contemplate adding such a Bill to the already heavy load.

The significance of my not making a statement on business for the first week after the recess is that I am embarrassed by the choice of business still to be conducted in the House. There is no lack of choice but rather too much, and I hope to be able to make that choice soon. It is difficult to do so today, but I intend to make a statement on that subject next week.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, although it is important to have a debate on the civil service, an issue that concerns not only the House but the whole country is the world environment? It is time that we had a debate on the report of the Select Committee on the Environment on tropical rain forests and other such matters, all of which are vital to us and future generations. The report seems to have been shelved for so long that there are inches of dust on it.

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend that that issue is important. I have said in past business statements that I hope at some stage to find time to discuss it. It is a question not simply of the Select Committee report but of the Government's response to it. I hope that we can debate those matters, because they are important. I know that my hon. Friend did not wish to underestimate the importance of the debate that we shall have for half a day on Monday. He will have noticed that we shall deal with opposed private business at 7 o'clock.

The next steps reforms in the civil service are among the greatest undertaken in the civil service for a long time. They will achieve much greater effectiveness and value for money, which is what the Government's policies are about, and are already making considerable progress. The document "Making the most of Next Steps" is being published this afternoon and the debate is therefore relevant.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

In the light of an event this week, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week that there will not be a summer general election?

Mr. MacGregor

That is not a matter for a business statement at this stage, and I certainly do not intend to make such an announcement.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

As the NATO summit has been postponed from June until the autumn because the allies have been unable to agree on a European strategy, will my right hon. Friend make time for a wide-ranging debate on defence and security, especially as it affects Europe?

Mr. MacGregor

We certainly must find time for our usual defence debates. I hope to find time during the summer. We have already had one such debate.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Has the Leader of the House any information about whether there might be a statement early next week about the "World in Action" programme on the Larry Goodman agricultural empire, particularly as it affects the economy of Northern Ireland, bank loans and the employment prospects of many people?

Mr. MacGregor

I have no such information.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

May I urge my right hon. Friend to accede to the request of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) for a debate on employment? Given the recent decision by the Sabanci group in Turkey to create several hundred jobs in textile manufacturing in my constituency, we would welcome the opportunity to highlight this Government's policies, which have made Britain the foremost place in Europe for inward investment by those seeking to invest in the heart of the world's manufacturing zone. Such a debate would also give us a wonderful opportunity to contrast those policies with the Opposition's policies, particularly those on minimum wages, which would wipe out millions of jobs in this country.

Mr. MacGregor

I very much agree with my hon. Friend that we want to seek every opportunity to contrast the Government's employment policies with those of the Labour party. We have done so frequently recently, and with increasing effect.

Dr. Cunningham

Let us have a debate.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman says, "Let us have a debate", but we debated the subject yesterday. Perhaps he was not here to hear the issues being debated, but I was, and effective arguments were deployed by Conservative Members. It was clear which party had the best policies.

I note what my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) said on inward investment, and the specific example that he gave. I hope that he will find opportunities to make that point again.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

I know that not many of us enjoy vindaloo curry, but may we have the subject of press abuse on the menu next week because it is important to all of us?

Mr. MacGregor

No, Sir.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have a debate next week on dogs, and particularly on the increase in the vicious practice of dog fights? May we include in that debate discussions on penalties for the promotion of dog fights, bearing in mind the fact that the Protection of Animals (Penalties) Act 1987 that I introduced a few years ago, which doubled the penalty for such behaviour, is proving inadequate?

Mr. MacGregor

I know of the concern among hon. Members about recent attacks by dogs. The subject has been raised on a number of occasions. I fully understand and share my hon. Friend's concern. As he knows, a number of possible options for toughening the law on dogs were set out in the Government's consultation paper on the control of dogs. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering those options and will bring forward his proposals in the summer. From April 1992, the Government intend to implement the package of dog control measures contained in the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

Will the Lord President seek to find time to debate the future of ICI? Does he agree that it is the wickedest face of capitalism, as well as the unacceptable face of capitalism, for Lord Hanson to buy £250 million-worth of shares in the company and see the price rise again today by 65p so that he can without any effort make a tidy profit on the backs of those on Teesside who work for, are committed to and respect ICI? Are we not seeing the worst aspect of Tory Government in operation across the floor of the stock exchange?

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, if Hanson does acquire a large enough stake in ICI or makes a takeover bid for that company, it will fall to be considered by the European Commission, under the European Community merger regulations, or by the United Kingdom competition authorities. Obviously, those are hypothetical matters and I am basing my remarks on that hypothesis. The acquisition by Hanson of what I understand to be a 2.82 per cent. shareholding in ICI does not constitute a qualifying merger under the merger control provisions of the Fair Trading Act 1973. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the City code on takeovers and mergers lays down the circumstances in which an announcement about a takeover bid is required. That would be a matter for the takeover panel to supervise.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

Will my right hon. Friend use his influence to have employment, not unemployment, figures published? Today the fact has been published that there are more people at work in Scotland than there have ever been, and half a million more than under a Socialist Government. Will he also arrange a debate, next week if possible but soon thereafter if not, to trumpet abroad the fact that under their economic policy the Government have in 10 short years achieved a triumph in the transformation of the life and culture of Scotland? They have housed the Burrell collection, renewed the national gallery of Scotland, the national library and the new museum of modern art., given funds for the new museum of Scotland and done a thousand other things.

Mr. MacGregor

I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend about the transformation in Scotland. It has been a good example of the success of the Government's policies in the past 12 years. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend could name a thousand other things, and I could add many to those that he mentioned.

My hon. and learned Friend was also right about employment. It is important to keep stressing the fact that the work force in employment has increased by more than 3.1 million since March 1983 and that there are almost 27 million jobs in the United Kingdom. The facts of employment show that there were considerable advances during the 1980s.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the rules on ministerial conduct require that on a visit a Minister must ensure separation between his political activities and those that he undertakes in his ministerial role? In that context, will the Secretary of State for Wales make a statement next week to explain why, on a recent series of official engagements, he has been using the official sections of his visits to advance the candidacy of a local prospective parliamentary candidate?

Mr. MacGregor

I know nothing about the right hon. Gentleman's allegations, so I do not wish to say any thing about them. However, I do not believe that that is the type of issue on which a statement is required next week.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Without impugning anyone's motives—in the way that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) did—does my right hon. Friend nevertheless accept that there might be a need for an early debate on or statement about the developing situation at ICI? In view of the strategic and security implications of some parts of ICI's research and development programme, does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a public interest dimension as well as a share price dimension to the future of that great British company which must be kept under tight parliamentary scrutiny?

Mr. MacGregor

I note what my hon. Friend says, but I do not think that it would be appropriate to have a statement or a debate next week. However, if there are issues that hon. Members wish to raise, there are a number of ways in which they can raise them.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

May we have a debate on the increased price of water? Is the Minister aware that Yorkshire Water has increased its prices by 15 per cent. and that that hurts people on fixed incomes who receive no rebates? More important, is he aware that small businesses are now being forced to install meters and that the private company can force entry if the businesses object? Such a practice is adding to the difficulties facing many small businesses in my constituency.

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that the hon. Lady's last point is relevant to the burden on small businesses. It is widely recognised that for businesses, and perhaps increasingly for households, water metering is a fair way to make charges.

On the hon. Lady's first point, she knows that the water companies are undertaking massive capital investment to improve water quality and to deal with environmental matters, and that has to be paid for. The Opposition call for improvement in environmental issues and in water quality, but often they are not prepared to face the consequence of who pays for it. That is typical of their approach.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 812?

[That this House notes with concern the continuing high level in the United Kingdom of deaths related to the abuse of solvent and volatile substances; further notes that draft figures for 1990 show that at least 120 people died from solvent abuse in that year, a rise of 6 per cent. over the 1989 level of 113 deaths; in this light, particularly welcomes the work of Resolv (The Society for the Prevention of Solvent and Volatile Substance Abuse) in helping to combat this problem; and congratulates those honourable Members who have established a new all-party parliamentary group to examine the issue.]

It draws attention to the continuing high level of deaths related to solvent abuse. Figures for 1990 show that at least 120 people died. Will my right hon. Friend also join me in congratulating Resolv on its work? Will he arrange for an early debate on that important subject?

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend knows, there are various ways in which hon. Members can raise issues in the House. In view of the heavy pressure on Government time, I cannot promise a debate on the issue. I had noticed the early-day motion. The Government are well aware of the problem of volatile substance misuse and are naturally concerned by the number of deaths related to such misuse. Our policy is focused on supporting initiatives that concentrate on the information and education not only of young people at risk, but of adults, including parents, professional workers and retailers who may become involved. We have taken a number of steps in that area.

My hon. Friend mentioned Resolv. We recognise the important part that it plays, and I point out to my hon. Friend that it receives Government support. The Government are monitoring trends in the nature of solvent misuse to see whether further effective action can be taken.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House make arrangements for an early debate on the Government's policies towards the middle east, so that a clear statement can be made on the Government's attitude towards the peace conference proposed by the United States, on—I hope—the inclusion of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in that conference, and on whether the Government are prepared to recognise the right of self-determination of Kurdish people as the only basis for a long-term peace settlement in the region? Too many lives have already been lost as a result of political instability in the region. Surely we now need a debate on a peaceful solution to all the problems and conflicts in that region.

Mr. MacGregor

As I have said, I am prepared to see whether time can be given, either through statements or a debate at an appropriate time, to deal with those important matters. However, it cannot be next week

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Last week, my right hon. Friend said that there would shortly be a debate on the subject of charge capping. As he probably knows, the announcements are being made this afternoon. My right hon. Friend said nothing in his statement about a possible debate. When are we likely to have one?

Mr. MacGregor

There was reference to such a debate in the statement, but it may not have been immediately obvious. The motion on the Charge Limitation (England) (Maximum Amount) Order on Tuesday next week is precisely that.

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

Will the Leader of the House answer a question the answer to which will be of interest to the public. Will he confirm——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the question about business next week?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Yes. Will the Leader of the House make provision for a statement setting out the role of Members of Parliament? Will he confirm that there are at least 100 Members of Parliament, who are all Conservative Members and who are all on the payroll vote because they are Ministers, who cannot ask written or oral questions? They do not have that right. Will the right hon. Gentleman simply confirm from the Dispatch Box that that is the case?

Mr. MacGregor

There has been no change in the position on Ministers in relation to questions. I do not think a statement is required next week.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

My right hon. Friend will doubtless have had his attention drawn to the grave warning issued yesterday by the director general of the general agreement on tariffs and trade that, if the European Community and the United States do not reach agreement early, the collapse of trade, employment and growth could make the great depression look like a period to which we would wish to return. If that is so, should not we debate the matter as soon as possible?

Mr. MacGregor

I have answered questions on the subject on a number of occasions. I confirm that I believe that the GATT talks are extremely important. The British Government regretted that the talks did not reach a conclusion in the timetable for which people hoped and we are using every endeavour to try to achieve a successful outcome of the GATT talks. There will no doubt be times when it will be appropriate to have a discussion in the House, but I do not think that it will be next week.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Does the Leader of the House recall that in the past year I have often asked for a debate on the present condition of the prison service? Since I last asked for a debate, there have been, as the right hon. Gentleman will recall, further suicides in prison. Prisons are overcrowded and more than 800 persons are presently remanded in police station cells rather than in prisons. There have been rulings against us in the European Court of Justice and various other matters have been raised in connection with prison discipline and medical services. It is a disgrace. May we have a debate as soon as possible on the whole future of the prison service?

Mr. MacGregor

I note the hon. Gentleman's request and I am grateful for his reference to "as soon as possible". Contrary to the view that the hon. Gentleman seems to take, my difficulty is that an immense amount of business is being undertaken and there are many requests for parliamentary time. I will bear it in mind.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of early-day motion 667, which has been signed by more than 100 hon. Members.

[That this House notes with grave concern the findings of a survey by the National Association of Taxi and Private Hire Licensing and Enforcement Officers which revealed that in the 136 councils that replied 486 criminal records had actually been discovered in a 18 month period, none of which had initially been declared during the interviews which took place under the provisions of the Local Government ( Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 which required a district council not to grant a licence unless they are satisfied that the applicant is a fit and proper person to hold a taxi driver's licence; calls upon the Home Office, the Department of Transport and the Association of Chief Police Officers to co-operate in the release of past criminal records of all new applicants to the chairmen of district licensing committees in a confidential file, so as to prevent any recurrence of what occurred in Southampton where a licence was given to a convicted rapist; and calls for a similar system to be introduced as that practised in London where the Metropolitan Police have access to criminal records when determining applicants for Hackney carriage driver's licences to be expanded to all district councils in the United Kingdom.]

The matter is worrying many local authorities and it requires legislation and, possibly, a debate next week. Surely we can persuade the police to release criminal histories of would-be applicants for taxi drivers' licences. The situation in many local authorities is a scandal and the House is becoming extremely worried about it.

Mr. MacGregor

I think that my hon. Friend has raised that point before during business questions. Let me bring my hon. Friend up to date. The Home Office has recently discussed with the Association of Chief Police Officers whether the police could take on that task. The question will be looked at again in the light of the forthcoming report of the Home Office on criminal records.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to new clause 3 of the Planning and Compensation Bill which is to be debated this afternoon. That clause provides for the enactment of equivalent legislation for Northern Ireland by an Order in Council subject to negative resolution which, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, is never debated at any time in the House. Is it not inappropriate to add such a clause at virtually the last stage of the Bill, thus depriving Northern Ireland Members of the opportunity of debating its application to Northern Ireland at a later stage? Can the Leader of the House provide a better way of handling that matter and enable us to debate it at another time?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman will be able to raise that matter this afternoon during the debate on new clause 3.

Mr. Trimble

Not when I am attending the Northern Ireland Committee.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

May we please have a debate on the management of public sector pension funds in the light of the report published this week on the management of Derbyshire county council's pension fund by the district auditor, who says that the council has claimed a profit on shares which turned out to be worthless and that councillors voted £2 million of public money to be put into shares in a private company of which they were secretly directors, most of which has gone missing? Does he agree with the district auditor and the council's independent financial adviser that those actions amount to chicanery—that is the word that was used? What does my right hon. Friend feel that we should now do to bring those people to book?

Mr. MacGregor

I have not had the benefit of seeing the report, but I know there is much local concern about the issue. My hon. Friend may wish to find other opportunities to have it discussed in the House.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Before a general election is called, should we not have a debate about the state of the franchise, since it appears from the number of people aged over 18 in the population that 750,000 people are missing from the electoral register? We should discuss how that can be corrected before a general election.

Mr. MacGregor

I notice that the hon. Gentleman is worried about the election. This is not a matter for which I can find Government time next week.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Why are we wasting yet more time next week on the obsolete Victorian farce of private legislation? Is it not high time that it was all scrapped? At the same time, will my hon. Friend find time for my Established Church Bill, which would scrap Church Measures as well?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not know about finding time for my hon. Friend's Bill next week, but I agree that there is a need to reform the way in which the House handles private Bills. As he will know, we have already proposed changes to the procedures which will come into operation next Session and which will make some difference. But more important than that is the legislation which will follow from the Department of Transport consultation document on various aspects of private Bill procedure for which we hope to find early legislative time. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will shortly be giving the Government's response to that consultation document.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

May we have an early debate on foreign affairs, which would allow the House to review the relationship between Her Majesty's Government and the Indian Government, and discussion of the continuing and serious human rights violations in the Punjab and Kashmir? The House could also consider the case of Mr. Karamjit Singh Chahal, whose circumstances are set out 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.]

If Mr. Chahal has committed offences relating to national security, why is he not being brought to trial in a British court rather than be facing removal to India without the right of appeal or of legal representation—removal to a place where he was tortured in 1984? Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate so that all those matters can be raised by the many right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House who are deeply concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in India?

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware that a number of hon. Members want a foreign affairs debate to be arranged. However, it is not possible to find time for one at present.

As for early-day motion 828 and the case of Mr. Chahal, it is not the practice—as the hon. Member knows —to give detailed reasons for deportation decisions taken on national security grounds. Mr. Chahal has access to legal advice, and he has intimated his wish to make representations to the three advisers. Arrangements are being made for them to consider his case, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will review it fully in the light of the advisers' recommendations.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Will my right hon. Friend provide time for an urgent debate on the position of teachers in grant-maintained schools? Is he aware that there are strong voices in the Labour movement arguing that those teaching in grant-maintained schools should be sacked, discriminated against or denied employment in maintained schools simply because they work in the grant-maintained sector? Is that not a particularly nasty, vicious, and spineless example of modern-day Labour party thinking, and should it not be resisted by the House at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend will know that I am aware of some of the statements made by some Labour education spokesmen on those matters.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

Not from this Front Bench.

Mr. MacGregor

I said "some Labour spokesmen" on education matters. I chose my words with great care. As far as I am aware, they were not said from the Labour Front Bench. However, I know that such action has been suggested, and therefore that there is a debate in the Labour party on that issue. I know also that those threats have sometimes been made. I entirely agree with my hon.

Friend, and I hope that those threats will not be tolerated and will be rejected by the teachers—not least those in grant-maintained schools who are active Labour supporters and who see for themselves their great merits.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the debate that is to take place in European Standing Committee B next Wednesday morning on the labelling of tobacco is distinct from the recent proposal relating to the advertising of tobacco goods? Does he agree that it is wholly undesirable for EEC Commissioners to hold press conferences about proposals when the documents relating to them are not in the possession of the Government, the House, or the British public? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the issues raised by the set of documents on tobacco relate not only to the merits of the matter and to the law, on which very strong views are held in the House, but to who makes the law, where it is made, and under what powers it is determined under the treaties? Both aspects are relevant to the documents.

Mr. MacGregor

I agree that both aspects are relevant, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue so that I can clear up any confusion that might arise in the minds of the public. The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to say that the two matters are distinct. Next week, Standing Committee B will debate labelling and a ban on oral snuff products. It represents an amendment to an existing directive. The proposed new directive relates to the advertising of tobacco products. As the hon. Gentleman knows very well—because this is on the recommendation of his Select Committee on European Legislation—the labelling directive needs to be debated soon, because a decision by the Council on a common position may be imminent. The advertising issue is quite separate, as is its timing.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it will be a good many months before the European Council is asked to make a decision, so it is not urgent, and there will be time to consider the issues in a measured and sensible way. That will include, when the documents are available, scrutiny by the Select Committee of the new draft directive and its decision on what the House should do about it.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

My right hon. Friend will know that local authorities have been given until 14 June to submit evidence to the Department of the Environment about the future structure of local government. Bearing in mind the pressure of time, will he consider arranging a debate soon after the recess so that the matter can be dealt with in the House before local authorities have managed to give their evidence?

Mr. MacGregor

I note what my hon. Friend has said, but I fear that it is extremely unlikely that we shall have time for such a debate before 14 June. That date, of course, marks only the end of the consultation process; there will be time for the House to consider the issues after that.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May we have a debate next week on the allocation of the new accommodation that will become available in the offices in Upper Parliament street? While we are at it, perhaps we could decide in the same debate how we can make our facilities more attractive to ex-Prime Ministers, so that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) can come and make a speech here. I believe that she has been here only three times since last November. We could save her all the time and effort involved in travelling around the world and making speeches in the United States and South Africa—but perhaps she does not feel comfortable sitting among her so-called friends on the Conservative Benches.

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that we can have a debate about accommodation next week. Perhaps worry about his own accommodation is at the back of the hon. Gentleman's question; if so, he knows that there are those to whom he can make application.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Has my right hon. Friend read early-day motion 776?

[That this House, conscious of the fact that real care for the men and women of our armed forces has enabled our country to rely, even to the point of ultimate sacrifice, upon their loyalty, steadfastness and efficiency in times of grave national threat, is astounded to note that, when digging a trench during an official Army exercise in Canada in July 1989, three men of the Grenadier Guards. (Adrian Hicks, John Ray and Sean Povey) detonated a six year old unexploded shell which not only rendered them limbless but caused them such grievous wounds that Mr. Ray and Mr. Povey are still, after almost two years, in receipt of hospital treatment; notes that the Ministry of Defence find themselves unable, on the grounds of unattributable negligence, to pay compensation; and calls upon the Prime Minister to review this case personally and to ensure that, regardless of the possible legal responsibility of some unknown nation who failed to 'clear' the shell some six years previously, Her Majesty's Government is seen to follow truly a policy that shows an appreciation of human understanding, human dignity and the value of a human life on earth by awarding generous compensation and a return of the accumulated legal costs to these youthful British Grenadiers.]

The motion, which has been signed by more than 160 right hon. and hon. Members on a cross-Bench basis, refers to a tragic Army training accident in Canada, in which three men of the Grenadier Guards—Adrian Hicks, John Ray and Sean Povey—had their legs blown off. Their injuries were so grievous that now, after two years, only one of them is fit enough to be invalided out of the Army; and he was invalided out with legal benefits that can at best be described only as derisory. That was the fault not of the Army, but of a gap in the Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Act 1987. May we please have a debate on the Act so that we can ensure that that gap is filled?

In the meantime, will my right hon. Friend urge the Prime Minister to look at the matter personally and urgently to ensure that generous ex gratia compensation is given to those men? If that creates a precedent, so be it: surely we are here to create a good precedent.

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that every hon. Member fully sympathises with those three service men, and was very concerned to hear what happened to them. I assure the House and my hon. Friend that the Government are dealing fully and sympathetically with the matter, and would do the same for any other service man injured as a result of serving in the armed forces.

As my hon. Friend knows, in this unfortunate case the Ministry of Defence was not legally liable for the injuries that were sustained. None of the three service men is in receipt of a service invaliding pension from the Ministry. I understand, however, that yesterday the Department of Social Security approved the award of a war pension to one of them. If they are discharged, the other two will be entitled to apply for such award. Once such awards are approved, the Ministry of Defence converts the service invaliding pensions already being paid to service men to tax-free service attributable pensions.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

The Leader of the House will be aware that between 1964 and 1966, and between 1974 and 1979, both the major parties in the House required hon. Members to be brought into the precincts of Westminster when they were ill—sometimes seriously ill. On occasion they were brought from hospital so that they could be nodded through and majorities could be maintained or, in some instances, challenged.

Given that, at the next general election, the electorate may not confer an absolute majority on one party, would it not be a good idea to embark on urgent talks so that we can find a far more civilised way of enabling hon. Members to vote when they are critically ill?

Mr. MacGregor

That is not a matter for the business of the House next week. The hon. Gentleman raises a hypothetical question. I expect that the Conservative party will be on this side of the House for some time with a big enough majority.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

My right hon. Friend will recall that, on the relief of Mafeking, the House sent a message of congratulation to its people. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate so that a similar message can be sent to the people of Brent? The people in that beleaguered borough were relieved last night from the yoke of a Labour council when two Labour members defected to an independent party which supports the Conservative party. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate so that the Liberal party can explain to the country why, when even Labour elected members found the policies of their party unpalatable, the Liberals supported them to the end?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend makes an effective point. I am sure that he will continue to make it, and that it will be made clear to the people of Brent.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Will the Leader of the House give the most serious consideration to an early debate, even just a three-hour debate, on the current circumstances of the United Kingdom shipbuilding and marine engineering industry? That industry has become the forgotten industry of the United Kingdom. We have not had a debate on it for some considerable time. We should be allowed to examine the implementation of the seventh directive on the shipbuilding intervention fund and other matters such as the threat by Kvaerner Kincaid to cease building marine engines in my constituency. Many people in that industry are deeply worried about the parlous future that they face. Surely we are entitled to ask for an early debate on their future.

Mr. MacGregor

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, and I do not in any way underestimate the importance of the issue that he raises. However, the business for the next few weeks makes it extremely unlikely that I shall be able to find time for a debate in Government time. It is, of course, always open to others to find time that is available to them to raise such matters. But I do not underestimate the importance of the industry. I fully understand the great importance of the issues and of the industry.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

As we move into the warmer and open-window season when neighbourhood noise becomes even more of an urban menace, may we have a debate and perhaps a statement so that we can examine the issue and how our fellow citizens can protect themselves from the thoughtless actions of their neighbours? Perhaps the Government could also announce a public information and education campaign to persuade people to be more reasonable.

Mr. MacGregor

I thought for a moment that my hon. Friend was about to refer to the sticky July month here in the House. He will have to find other opportunities to raise in the near future the matter to which he referred. As I have had to say to others, we have a great deal of business to do in Government time.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Why does not the Leader of the House reverse the decision that he has already made about the need for a debate or a statement about the proposed takeover of ICI by the despicable Lord Hanson, whose record has been one of asset stripping——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member knows that he must not refer in those terms to a member of the other place. Will he please withdraw the word "despicable"?

Mr. Skinner

The despicable Hanson Corporation—will that do? [Interruption.] I thought it might. The Hanson record has been one of asset stripping. It is no use the Leader of the House talking about the takeover panel, because it missed the Guinness scandal, which went straight under its nose. There are 52,000 jobs at stake. Let the workers have a ballot and not allow Hanson to take the company over with the Government helping their friends.

Mr. MacGregor

I did not make any decision. I simply made a clear statement of the position on any potential takeover or merger.

Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on damage to the environment caused by some groups of itinerants? Will a Government measure, designed to give stronger powers to keep itinerants off private land, be one of those introduced to keep us busy over the coming months?

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of my hon. Friend's particular interest in this matter. He will be aware of the legislative provisions that are available to deal with it.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on wages and other incomes? In such a debate we could discuss the admirable proposals for a minimum wage. That would help people on poverty wages who have to clock on and clock off. Tory MPs who condemn the proposal would also have an opportunity to explain their position. How many of them, earning £30,000 a year here, are doubling, trebling or quadrupling their incomes by moonlighting as parliamentary advisers, company directors, and so on? We ought to be given an opportunity to expose the rank hypocrisy of those people who attack the poorest of the poor while they use this place to line their pockets.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman knows about having two jobs, for he was a Member of the European Parliament as well as of this House.

Mr. Cryer

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way? [Interruption.]

Mr. MacGregor

On the question of a national minimum wage—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

No point of order arises. The hon. Gentleman must not, from a sedentary position, carry on a conversation. He should listen to what the Leader of the House has to say.

Mr. MacGregor

We shall certainly be very happy to continue to debate the Opposition's proposals for a national minimum wage. I have made that clear several times. The matter has already been debated, and I hope that there will be further debates. Our estimates of the number of jobs lost simply have not been refuted by the Opposition, nor is that possible.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many Government Members would like to have an early debate on the performance of water companies since privatisation? A debate would give the House an opportunity not only to set out the great success of privatisation but to question the shortness of the period over which some capital investment is being written off. Is my right hon. Friend aware, for example, that Eastbourne Water—previously a statutory company—has increased its charges by 100 per cent. over the past three years? That is something that my late constituent and parliamentary neighbour, Ian Gow, challenged last year, as did I. The situation has arisen largely because the director general has allowed investment to be written off over a very short period.

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot promise a debate on this matter, or on water companies generally, in the near future. As I have said, we have a very busy programme.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I am grateful for having been called, Mr. Speaker.

I should like the Leader of the House to do a very simple job next week. He has been good at some things —and he knows what I mean. Will he drag a Treasury Minister to the Dispatch Box to tell the House why the Treasury is interfering with the allocation of finance from Europe, through Commissioner Millan, for areas, such as my constituency, where the Government have closed down mines? The money to which I refer is made available for the specific purpose of helping such communities to overcome their problems by creating jobs where the Government have created unemployment.

Mr. MacGregor

In a moment, I shall say something nice to the hon. Gentleman. In answer to his main charge, I have to point out that there has been a considerable improvement in the employment situation over not many years. The point about a Treasury Minister coming to the Dispatch Box is one that he himself must pursue. I cannot promise Government time for a debate next week.

With regard to the simple job to which the hon. Gentleman referred—I think that I know what he has in mind—I can promise that I hope to have one of the issues settled in the House next week. I know that it is of importance to him. Indeed, provision is made for it in next week's business, and I hope very much to be able myself to see it through the House.