HC Deb 07 November 1991 vol 198 cc573-84 3.31 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:

It may be for the convenience of the House to know that, subject to the satisfactory progress of business, the House should rise for the Christmas recess not later than Friday 20 December. It may also be for the convenience of the House to know that as Easter day is relatively late, on 19 April, the Easter recess will include the whole of the week beginning Monday 13 April.

Dr. Cunningham

Members and their families will be grateful to the Leader of the House for making the latter announcements. I certainly thank him on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Competition and Service (Utilities) Bill will be not only given its First Reading tomorrow but printed and published so that we have the traditional two full weekends before the Bill comes before the House for its Second Reading?

Will the Leader of the House confirm that, well before the Maastricht summit, we shall have two days of debate on the important developments in the European Community? Does the Prime Minister intend to speak in that debate, as we believe he should? Can the Leader of the House assure us that the Government will table a substantive motion for that debate which sets out clearly and unambiguously the position of Her Majesty's Government and the details of that position?

Will the Leader of the House think again about the Government's apparent determination to railroad the poll tax No. 2 Bill through the House? May I remind him that the Prime Minister said on radio during the Conservative party leadership election last year that the Government and the House had been bounced into the poll tax because proper consideration and thought were never given to it? The Bill was railroaded through the House; there was never an honest majority for it.

Is it not ridiculous, given the chaos that the Government have caused in local government finance, to repeat that folly with the Bill to replace the poll tax, whose Second Reading will take place next week? I urge the Leader of the House, in the interests not merely of the

Opposition but also of local government and all those responsible for and involved in the provision of services, to think again about how the House will deal with that Bill.

Has the Leader of the House seen the report that I have here—"NHS Reforms: The First Six Months", a survey of directors of public health medicine, which was carried out by Middlesex polytechnic? Is he aware that almost two thirds of directors responding expressed concern for the future well-being of the services and their ability to meet their obligations to patients under the Government's health service reforms? They also expressed anxiety about the future of funding from public expenditure for those services. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement in response to the serious matters raised in the report?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. As he knows, it was in fulfilment of a promise to the House that I would always endeavour to announce the dates of those two recesses as early as possible, because I well understand that that is for the convenience of Members.

It is the intention to publish the Competition and Service (Utilities) Bill tomorrow, as we are anxious to fulfil the commitment of two weekends' notice.

I confirm that I will arrange a two-day debate in advance of the Maastricht summit and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will lead for the Government in that debate. We are considering the form of the debate, but at present we are inclined to have a substantive motion.

On the question of a timetable motion for the Local Government Finance Bill, we are providing two full days for the Second Reading on top of the debate yesterday in the Queen's Speech. In addition, as the hon. Gentleman will see when the timetable motion is published later today, we are giving considerable time for debates in Committee on that Bill. The crucial point is the need for local authorities to have time to introduce the council tax in place of the community charge. That is precisely our desire—to ensure that we get a replacement within the timetable that we have committed ourselves to—and it is important that local authorities have plenty of time to prepare for it. That is why, while giving full time for debates in the House, we are anxious to get on with the Bill with all due speed.

I have not had a chance to look at the NHS document that the hon. Member for Copeland referred to, but it does not seem to me to be an appropriate subject for a statement. The hon. Gentleman will know that we could have debated the health service this week if the Oppositon had so wished; and there will be other opportunities for health service matters to be debated in the House.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. There is great pressure on time today, and I regret that I shall have to put a 10-minute limit on speeches on the last day of debate on the Queen's Speech. I ask for single questions directed to the business for next week and not on wider matters.

Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

In view of the poor coverage in the newspapers of the five-day debate on the Queen's Speech—on some days there was not a line of report even in the so-called quality papers—would my right hon. Friend consider——

Mr. Speaker

Is this to do with business for next week?

Sir John Stokes

Yes. I hope that it will be dealt with immediately, Sir. As a matter of urgency, will my right hon. Friend consider whether the high price of Hansard can be reduced so that the public may read what we are doing here?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that that is a matter for me. I believe that an announcement on this matter was made by one of my hon. Friends, but I shall look into it. We endeavour to cover the costs of Hansard. That is why the current move was made.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Leader of the House may know that on this Bench we do not have any objection in principle to timetabling legislation from the outset, but think that it should be done only if there has been proper consultation with all the Opposition parties and, indeed, with interests on the Government side. What steps has he taken or does he intend to take before tabling the timetable motion to consult widely throughout the House to ensure that particular matters of contention, including specific provisions relating to Scotland, are given adequate time for debate?

Mr. MacGregor

Consultation is taking place in the usual way, although it is open to hon. Members to make representations. The hon. Gentleman's general point is appropriate for the Committee under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), which is looking at various matters affecting sittings and timetables.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Will my right hon. Friend consider rearranging one of next week's debates so that we can have a debate on the Labour party and its history, bearing in mind that its founders were men and women of conviction, determination and principle, none of which we are seeing on the Opposition Benches today? Does he also agree that the only person of principle on the Labour Benches is the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who said the other day, If we've changed our mind to win, we could change our mind when we've won"?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not want to get too contentious in business questions, but my hon. Friend's point about the fact that the Labour party has changed a large number of its principles and certainly a large number of its policies is one that I make frequently as I travel round the country. The reason is that we have been successful throughout the 1980s in the principles that we have followed and the policies that we have pursued. My hon. Friend's comment about the statement of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is accurate and needs to be repeated time and again.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

On a point of order——

Mr. MacGregor

Fortunately, the right hon. Gentleman's prediction will not happen.

Mr. Foulkes

On a point of order——

Mr. MacGregor

What may happen and is possible is to have, not next week——

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. MacGregor

—but on some future occasion an opportunity to debate these matters.

Mr. Foulkes

That is better.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that my plea does not fall on deaf ears. We have a heavy day ahead of us.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Is it not morally offensive and a very urgent matter that people who, in order to sustain their breathing, now have to pay not only for nebulisers but also a service charge plus value added tax? Is the Leader of the House aware that people who are poor and chronically ill are now being charged £20 for servicing plus £3.40 VAT? Is that not the first tax ever on breathing? May we have a statement about it next week?

Mr. MacGregor

Statements have already been made. We have made it clear and spelt it out time and again that there can be no charges for national health services except where specifically allowed by statute.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

In the light of a continuing series of tragic events arising from hooligans snatching cars for so-called joyriding, can my right hon. Friend give the House any intimation of progress towards legislation, which, I am sure, would be agreed on both sides of the House, to deal with these outrages?

Mr. MacGregor

There is concern on both sides of the House about this matter and I am sure that both sides would agree that joyriding is not the right description. I am glad that my hon. Friend referred to it as "so-called" because it is far from joyriding. We are making good progress on the technical details of the legislation. I can confirm that we shall introduce the Bill as soon as we can.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Will the Leader of the House consider that, in the run-up to next Wednesday's debate on the Asylum Bill, Government Members, particularly Back-Bench Tory Members, and tabloid newspapers will attempt to create an atmosphere to justify the Bill by talking about numbers? Is it not a fact that in 20 of the past 27 years there has been a net outflow of people from this country? In July, the Home Office admitted to me that since 1964 786,000 more people have left Britain than have entered it. When we discuss the Asylum Bill——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is not that the sort of speech that might be made in a debate? Will the hon. Gentleman ask a question about the debate?

Mr. Nellist

When we discuss the Asylum Bill next Wednesday, will it be in order for me to accuse the Government of playing the pre-election racist card?

Mr. MacGregor

That is an outrageous suggestion, and I refute it entirely. The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong, because the Asylum Bill deals with people seeking political refugee status. It does not deal with immigration generally, or net inflows and outflows. I make that absolutely clear to the hon. Gentleman. The Bill is about political refugees, and we have made it clear that there will be no change in the position of genuine political refugees. We are concerned, however, that the number of applicants for asylum status has risen from 100 a week only three years ago to 1,000 a week. Not all of those are likely to be proved to be genuine political refugees, so it is important that we improve the mechanisms for dealing with the position. The hon. Gentleman should not try to interpret the Bill in any other way.

Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North)

During next week's debate on the citizens charter, will there be an opportunity to explain to the patients in my constituency why expenditure on the national health service fell by 2 per cent. between 1974 and 1979 and has increased by 20 per cent. since the Government took office?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I know that he carries out his constituency duties with great devotion on Fridays, but I hope that he will be here to make that point and many others on the citizens charter in relation to the health service.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to the Prime Minister that the heritage lobby wants no feminist gesture in any impending and important appointments in the heritage field? Think about it.

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that there will be no gestures. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is talking about, but I am sure that the decision will be taken on merit.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week specifically on local government in our inner cities? If we have such a debate, will the House be able to analyse why there is a peculiar triple achievement in too many councils? A combination of high spending and rotten services has been brought about by Labour councils.

Mr. MacGregor

It will be appropriate for my hon. Friend to raise those points in the two-day debate next week.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

On the debate to be held on Monday and Tuesday next week, will the Leader of the House advise us on whether the Government will publish additional information on the implications of banding and how it will affect people, in order to assess the level of payment that people will have to make? Is he aware, for example, that we have calculated that the Secretary of State for the Environment, who will lead for the Government on that Bill, will pay considerably less for his sumptuous home in Belgravia—his second or third home—than a first-time buyer in Scotland's Grampian region?

Mr. MacGregor

We have already published a great deal of information on the Bill and have no intention of publishing any more between now and Monday.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is grave concern that we shall not have a debate on Europe until 21 November, because during that time the Opposition's policy may change yet again and we shall not be able to hear why Labour Members are so enthusiastic for a single currency immediately?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend has in mind the seven changes that have already been made to the Opposition's position. We shall have to wait and see whether another change is made between now and the time that we hold the debate. I cannot absolutely confirm the date of that debate. We hope to hold it on 21 November. However, as I told the Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale when giving evidence to it earlier this week, when one discusses business more than one week ahead, it must always be subject to changes that inevitably take place. We intend to hold the debate about 21 November, and my hon. Friend will have to be patient until then.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motions Nos. 46 and 47?

[That this House calls upon the Government to establish an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the events in London in September 1986 in which Mr. Mordechai Vanunu was lured out of London to Italy, whereafter he was drugged, kidnapped and returned to Israel where he is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence in solitary confinement.]

In view of the bizarre and mysterious death in the Atlantic this week of the British publisher, Robert Maxwell, and the claims being made this morning that he may have been murdered, and given the riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma which the whole issue of the so-called Mirrorgate has now become, will the right hon. Gentleman allow a debate to take place and, in view of the call that has already been made to him—he said that he would give the request consideration—conduct a Government inquiry into the whole issue of Mirrorgate and the sinister and mysterious events?

Mr. MacGregor

Let us be clear about what I said when the matter was raised previously. I said that, if there were any allegations about companies involved in illegal arms sales, it would be right for those to be investigated. But I made it clear that there had to be specific allegations, and then the Department of Trade and Industry would look into them. That is what I said, and I wish to make it perfectly clear.

As for a debate in the House, I feel that in the light of yesterday's tragic incident—others have paid tribute to Mr. Robert Maxwell—I do not think that this would be the right time to discuss the matter.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Given the increasing perception of the importance of the traditional and rigorous methods of education for improving standards in classrooms, and Government reforms in relation to the national curriculum assessment that is underpinning them, may I ask my right hon. Friend to arrange a debate next week to see what actually goes on in the classroom? We could then, in particular, refer to the desire of the Labour-controlled Manchester city council to introduce an idiotic form of anti-sexism by which it would ban the use of words such as "chairman", "manning the office" and even "master bedroom"? Is that indicative of the kind of non-rigorous standards which too often apply to Labour-controlled local education authorities and which are doing nothing to benefit education standards in this country?

Mr. MacGregor

I share my hon. Friend's views on that subject, and I recall other Labour-controlled councils doing such things in the past. It is a great waste of time, effort and money to pursue such courses. As for raising the matter in the House, we shall soon have the Second Reading of the Education (Schools) Bill, and that will provide an opportunity to raise some of those issues.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we have an early debate on the environmental importance of the planting of national forests such as that which is to be created shortly in Leicestershire? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a local campaign—which rejoices in the name "Stump up for woody fund"—has had to be organised to raise funds for such planting? This matter should not be left to private donations but should be considered by the House as an issue of public concern.

Mr. MacGregor

There will be a debate tomorrow on the environment on the Government's progress report on the previous White Paper when all such matters can be raised and when we shall he making clear the substantial progress, over a wide range of issues of environmental concern, that we have made in the past year.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Will my right hon. Friend clarify which Ministers will open and reply to the very significant debate on the citizens charter next Friday? Has he any intention of ensuring that it is well structured and focused debate rather than just a well-intentioned meander?

Mr. MacGregor

I can confirm that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will open the debate. It will be a well focused debate because there is a great deal of material about which we can talk. It will certainly not be a meander.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

As next Tuesday's business will, in all probability, include the introduction of three new Members wishing to take their places here, may I ask the Leader of the House to arrange for a good turnout of the Cabinet on that occasion to welcome such of the Tory candidates who were able successfully to present Tory party policy to the electorate?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman is making a number of presumptions.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that, during questions this afternoon, there has been no objection from Opposition Members to a substantive motion to conclude the two-day debate on Europe? Does he suspect, as I do, that some of them wish to gag other Opposition Members so that they do not expose the differences of view on the Opposition Benches? Maastricht will determine the way in which the people of this country are governed for decades to come. It is absolutely vital that Members are free to speak unwhipped.

Mr. MacGregor

I do not doubt that there are still substantial divisions on this issue within the Labour party, just as there have been some last-minute conversions.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

In light of the discussions about extending the powers of Select Committees, particularly the suggestion that seems to be emanating from the Government that Select Committees should handle the Committee stage of Bills, does the right hon. Gentleman intend to consult the Ulster Unionist party on that matter, because we have an interest in it?

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is wise to hold next Friday's debate on the citizens charter when, despite the importance that the Government attach to it, they have still not managed to publish a charter for the whole United Kingdom?

Mr. MacGregor

We have published a large number of individual charters, and we shall continue to do so.

I do not know where the suggestion about Select Committees dealing with Bills came from, but it did not come from me and was not in the memorandum that I put before the Select Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

May I join the shadow Leader of the House in his request for a debate on railroads so that, in light of yesterday's announcements, Conservative Members can highlight the fact that public transport investment under this Government is at the highest level since the Conservative Government of the 1950s, that in London it is three times the level that it was under the Greater London council and 25 per cent. more than in Paris? That would be better than having to listen to more figures being plucked out of the air by the Opposition.

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend, who has made a good point. If my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he can elaborate on that point later today.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Being a Scot, is not the Leader of the House ashamed to fail to announce that next week he will move towards the setting up of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? Is it part of his master plan to wait until there are no Conservatives north of the border, so that he has a good excuse?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman knows well the position about a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. He also knows that the Scottish Grand Committee has been meeting during the summer to discuss a whole range of Scottish issues. I am glad that we have been able to get that going again.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

When did the House surrender power to the European Community with regard to majority voting on such issues as maternity pay and hours of work? If the House has not surrendered those powers to European institutions by majority voting, can we sort the matter out before we consider surrendering any further powers and being taken for another ride?

Mr. MacGregor

We abstained because we were disputing the treaty base and legal base of the maternity pay issue—the only one that came before the Council yesterday.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

In the near future, may we have a debate, for which I have asked many times, on the prison population and the prison staffing system, particularly bearing in mind the fact that the first contract has now been awarded to Group 4 in respect of the new Wolds prison? Is it not time that we discussed the issue on the Floor of the House?

Mr. MacGregor

The issue could be raised today.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

It would be helpful if my right hon. Friend could say when we will return after Christmas.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his rejection of the request of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) for a statement on the health service? A statement or a debate would allow us to point out that yesterday's commitment to a further £2.7 billion is more than any previous commitment by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and is nearly up to the figures being wafted about by the Leader of the Opposition, from which he is now being forced to back down.

Mr. MacGregor

I gave our record on the health service a few moments ago, and I would be happy to elaborate on it. It is possible to elaborate on the public spending aspects of the health service in today's debate. The only reason for not finding time next week is that we have a lot of Bills to be getting on with and that will dominate the programme, as it always does, in the early weeks. I hope that we shall have plenty of opportunities to return to this issue.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Does the Lord President recall that his predecessor, Lord St. John of Fawsley, led the way in setting up the procedure to enable Bills to be considered by a Committee of the House before being given a Second Reading or being considered in Committee? Did he support that, and if he did will he consider the appropriateness of using the procedure for the Asylum Bill, which has aroused massive opposition from all the bodies that are concerned with refugee and immigration matters? We need to have the facts from them before we consider the Bill in detail.

Mr. MacGregor

The Bill has also aroused considerable support among many people. I remember that procedural experiment. Indeed, one of the Bills that I took through Committee was subjected to it. But to get the real benefit, it must be used for particular types of Bill, and it would not be appropriate for the Asylum Bill.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on overseas trade? A debate would give me an opportunity to draw attention more fully to the plight of three companies in my constituency, one of which has £24 million-worth of contracts in its pocket but the lines of credit to the USSR are not open. The second is having difficulty in getting payment from Turkey, and the third is having a job shipping its goods to Iraq because of United Nations sanctions. My local companies cannot be the only companies in this position. Therefore, a debate would be important.

Mr. MacGregor

These are complex issues and each case is different. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate next week, so he will have to find other ways of raising the issue.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We have a heavy day ahead of us, but I am reluctant to curtail business questions. I shall call the hon. Members who have been rising, provided they are brief. But I hope to get on to the debate by 4.10 pm.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Provided the Prime Minister will stay in the country long enough next week, may we expect a statement from him giving his pathetic, cringing, whingeing reasons why the Conservative party lost all three by-elections today, or does the Leader of the House expect the Tories to win one of them?

Mr. MacGregor

Those matters are entirely hypothetical. Therefore, I shall not comment on the question of a statement because it does not arise.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

Will the Minister allow time to debate the report of Dr. Forwell of the Greater Glasgow health board, which highlights the dire poverty in the Greater Glasgow area?

Mr. MacGregor

Not next week.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Is the Leader of the House aware that an inquiry is being held into toll increases on the Erskine toll bridge? Recent press reports state that the Secretary of State will privatise the toll bridge, sack its 32 workers and employ a private company. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State to make a statement showing whether the public are wasting their time by attending the inquiry and whether all the money that was spent on setting it up has been wasted? My constituents' time is being wasted by the facade of an inquiry, because at the end of the day the Secretary of State will abolish the right of local people to have a say by privatising the bridge.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall put that point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am sure that he will have a satisfactory answer.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

Does the Lord President recall that, when the Prime Minister was a Social Security Minister, he announced the closure of the DHSS resettlement centres but assured the House that replacement beds in the private and voluntary sectors would be available for those who were displaced? Will he take it from me that, when the resettlement centres finally close next March, those replacement beds will not be ready? What is to be done, and may we have a debate in the House?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot fit in a debate next week, and I have already mentioned the pressures on parliamentary time in the next few weeks. We have a full legislative programme—not only all the Second Reading debates but the two-day debate on European issues. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Is it not clear that, in terms of the health service, most people have had their chips, particularly in the Lothian region, where the local health board is trying to set up a deal with Reo Stakis in order to produce the promised new hospital, which should have been resourced under the health service? Is this not disgraceful? Is this not backdoor privatisation? Should we not have a debate next week to discuss it?

Mr. MacGregor

I am not aware of that issue, but there is not time for a debate on it next week.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Given the continued financial speculation about the Maxwell business concerns, will we have a statement next week if, despite denials, the Daily Mirror is up for sale? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that it would be totally unacceptable for that newspaper to go into the hands of those who already have substantial press holdings? It is wrong that so many newspapers throughout the nation are owned by so few people. Indeed, that in itself should be the subject of an early debate.

Mr. MacGregor

As I think the hon. Gentleman recognises, he is raising hypothetical questions. All that I can say is that I have noted what he has said.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

In the interests of the citizen's right to information, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that next Friday we have a statement on the furious row which is going on in secret between Nuclear Electric and the nuclear installations inspectorate on the safety of Magnox reactors, particularly Trawsfynydd reactor No. 1? Problems discovered with the outlet valves which have caused embrittlement and corrosion could lead to a sudden collapse of the core because of pressure and could eventually result in ignition of the graphite and fuel in the core. This is an important matter because it affects three other Magnox reactors, and it should be publicly debated.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall look into the point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises, because I do not know the details of any issue that may arise, I cannot promise a statement.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a Government debate on cot deaths? There are more than 2,000 cot deaths a year throughout Britain. Recent evidence from New Zealand shows that, when the New Zealand Government mounted a nationwide television and publicity campaign advising mothers to put their children to sleep on their backs or sides, not to smoke and to breast-feed, the number of cot deaths was cut by half. Although the British Government accept that evidence, they have refused to fund a nationwide publicity campaign. Five children in Britain may die today in that way. yet their mothers and fathers are ignorant of that evidence. Why are not the Government acting urgently to publicise that information?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that we all share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about cot deaths. His point about publicity and advertising could be raised in a variety of ways in the House, but I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have a statement next week on the Bradford hospital trust, which is deeply in debt, has lost 300 jobs, closed a baby unit in St. Luke's hospital and is now in crisis because the chief executive, Dr. Mark Baker, is resigning and moving elsewhere before the whole thing tumbles down around his head? May we have an urgent statement about the absurd policy which brought a crisis to Bradford hospitals and a diminution of service to the people?

Mr. MacGregor

We have had opportunities for many debates on and questions about trust hospitals, and there will be other opportunities for the hon. Gentleman to raise points about that matter.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Why does not the Leader of the House throw his weight about with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? I have asked the Minister about half a dozen times to make a statement on dioxin in Bolsover and contaminated milk. Now he knows that Bolsover Coalite will close its incinerator at the end of the month. It will be revealed today in a television programme that there is a cluster of breast cancers among women in the area where the dioxin was found—50 per cent. more than in other parts of Derbyshire. Contamination levels in the River Doe Lea are 1,000 times higher than the appropriate safety levels. It is high time that a statement was made. The Leader of the House should tell the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make one so that he can be cross-examined.

Mr. MacGregor

I have of course raised the issue with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, because the hon. Gentleman has raised it before. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the problem involves three farms, and since the statement was made to the House last June, a detailed research programme on the affected and neighbouring farms is being undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Tests are also being undertaken by Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. The results of the initial testing by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's programme were published on 2 October.

However, the analytical work is complex and time-consuming, and the results of the research programme are unlikely to be available before the new year. I assure the hon. Gentleman that they will be published as soon as the work is completed. It is obviously complex work, but I assure him that the results will be published as soon as the work is done.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Do the Government intend to debate the MORI report commissioned by the Department of Social Security to investigate the plight of 16 and 17-year-olds as a result of the Government's decision to deprive them of the right to benefit, in view of the fact that that policy, which I regard as probably one of the cruellest and most irresponsible pursued by this or any other Government, was the personal work of the present Prime Minister? In view of the fact that the MORI report commissioned by the Government found that decision to be the major cause of destitution among young people, is it not appropriate to debate it? As it is a Government report commissioned at considerable expense, would it not be an extraordinary waste of public money if the report were not debated in the House so that its terrible findings might be acted upon?

Mr. MacGregor

I have not especially studied the report, but, as I have said, Government time in the next few weeks is very short. Clearly other opportunities are available to hon. Members to raise such issues if they wish to do so.

4.10 pm