HC Deb 28 November 1991 vol 199 cc1069-80 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: MONDAY 2 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Transport and Works Bill.

Motion on the Industrial Training Levy (Construction Board) Order.

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

TUESDAY 3 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Prison Security Bill.

WEDNESDAY 4 DECEMBER—Motion to take note of EC documents relating to the reform of the common agricultural policy. Details will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 5 DECEMBER—Opposition day (2nd allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion described as "The Economy and the Continuing Recession".

FRIDAY 6 DECEMBER—Private Members' Motions

MONDAY 9 DECEMBER—Proceedings on the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Bill.

As I announced last Thursday, I can now confirm that European Standing Committee B will meet at 4 pm on Monday 2 December to consider European Community documents relating to indirect taxation. Details have already been given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 4 December

Floor of the House

European Community Documents

a) 8356/90 Agricultural Production Methods
b) 7570/91 Development and Future of Common Agricultural Policy
c) 8886/91 CAP Reform: Legal Texts
d) 8950/91 CAP Reform: Legal Texts (Milk Sector)
e) 9136/91 CAP Reform: Legal Texts (Accompanying Measures)
f) 8766/91 Raw Tobacco

Reports of European Legislation Committee

  1. a) HC 29-ii (1990–91)
  2. b) NC 29-xxix (1990–91), and HC 29-xxx (1990–91) and HC 24-iii (1991–92)
  3. c) HC 24-ii (1991–92)
  4. d) HC 24-iii (1991–92)
  5. e) HC 24-iii (1991–92)
  6. f) HC 24-ii (1991–92).]

Dr. Cunningham

I welcome the debate on agriculture and the reform of the common agricultural policy. I thank the Leader of the House for arranging the debate which, I am sure, will be generally welcome throughout the House. May I press him to give consideration now to a debate on the fishing industry at an early date? There is widespread concern in the country—particularly in fishing port constituencies and not least in my constituency of Copeland—about the problems facing the British fishing industry. I am sure that a debate on fishing would also be generally welcomed by hon. Members.

As today we have heard more than 900 redundancies announced by British Rail Engineering Limited and more than 400 further redundancies regrettably announced by Rolls-Royce, as well as reports of increasing difficulty, even among graduates, in finding employment and career opportunities, is it not wholly appropriate that next week we are to have a debate in Opposition time on the economy and the continuing deep and damaging recession? As that debate is to be held on Thursday, in part at least to accommodate the timetable of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when business questions will inevitably eat into Opposition Supply time, may we have a guarantee that the Government will not make any additional statements that day?

I remind the right hon. Gentleman of my request last Thursday for a debate on the economy of London. Has he seen the reports today of the imminent report by Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte on the way in which our capital city is losing its world status due to the problems of decline, congestion and poor transport? Is he aware that such a loss damages not only London but the nation as a whole? I urge him to reconsider his decision of last week and to find Government time for a debate on the future of London and its economy.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the debate on the common agricultural policy. It is a timely debate. We have reached the point in negotiations on reform when it would be useful to have a debate in the House. I appreciate the difficulties that have arisen in arranging the debate next week at a time convenient for everyone. I have endeavoured to do my best and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's remarks about that.

I recognise the importance of fishing and we are coming to an important point in the European Community's year on fishing. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am endeavouring to arrange an early debate, and in good time, on that point.

Regarding the hon. Gentleman's comments about next Thursday's debate, he knows that it is not possible to give a guarantee because absolutely urgent matters, about which the House may want a statement, may arise on the day. Of course, I cannot predict whether that will be the case. I shall use my best endeavours to ensure that we do not have a statement on that day, thus allowing as much time as possible after the business statement for the debate.

The debate next week will be about the economy in general, and I am sure that it will be possible then to refer to economic matters affecting London. As is clear from the business of the House just now, in the run-up to the Christmas recess there is a great deal of legislative business to be undertaken, so I cannot promise a separate debate on London's economy in Government time. Hon. Members wishing to speak on the subject will have to endeavour to use the opportunities next week.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Will my right hon. Friend explain why, when between five and six days were given to the discussion of the Queen's Speech, only two days were given for discussion of Maastricht, and then only about a quarter of those hon. Members wishing to speak were able to do so, and they were subject to the Whip? In the future, may we please have a three-day, open-ended debate, without the Whip?

Mr. MacGregor

It is customary to have the number of days that were allotted to the Queen's Speech debate. Part of those five days involved foreign affairs and other issues, when hon. Members could have raised the matters to which my hon. Friend refers. I endeavoured to find as much time as possible for the debate on the European Community, the run-up to Maastricht and the two intergovernmental draft treaties, and we extended the time to enable more hon. Members to get in. It is always a question of balance. I cannot give any guarantee about what we shall do in future.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will the Leader of the House take urgent action to rearrange the business for Monday so that we may debate the redundancy laws which allow Rolls-Royce Motors Limited to send a motor cyclist courier scurrying around my constituency handing out redundancy notices at 11.30 at night, and British Rail Engineering Limited, a company created entirely through a bargain basement sale of taxpayers' assets, to lay off large numbers of skilled men and women without any proper consultation and without any hope of that company remaining viable in the future, if there should ever be a future in this country for trained builders?

Mr. MacGregor

While I do not wish to comment on the case to which the hon. Lady refers—because I do not know the details—I do not intend to rearrange the business for next Monday. We have important business to undertake on that day. The hon. Lady will know that questions concerning redundancies are for the company concerned. If it is felt that aspects of the procedures are not correct—I cannot comment on that because I do not know—that is clearly a matter for a tribunal.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Is my right hon. Friend really happy with the state of the Sunday trading laws and the announcements made by traders in the past few days? Should not the House deal with the matter speedily? Otherwise, it will be assumed that a suspending power is operating.

Mr. MacGregor

That is certainly not the case. We tried to deal with the matter speedily with a response to a private notice question and a statement yesterday. As the Prime Minister made clear a few moments ago, the House of Lords has referred one aspect of the issue before it to the European Court of Justice and we must now wait to see what the court says. That means that the law is currently unclear, as the Prime Minister said. Once we have received the view of the European Court of Justice and the House of Lords has considered it, the Government will make recommendations and proposals on those matters. The whole House recognises some of the difficulties of the existing law, and I thought that yesterday's exchanges showed the difficulties of reaching an agreement, as we found when we tried to deal with the matter in 1986.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I thank the Leader of the House for saying that there will be a debate next week on agriculture, which will be welcome, and for saying that there will be a debate on fisheries before the European Council meeting.

As we are about to have a statement on NHS trust hospitals in Wales, may we expect a statement next week from the Secretary of State for Scotland on applications for NHS trust hospitals in Scotland? Many of us feel that, with overwhelming opposition from doctors, consultants, nurses, hospital staff and the communities served by those hospitals, the matter should be open and shut: those trust hospitals should not go ahead. Why is the Secretary of State delaying the matter?

Mr. MacGregor

Those are important matters and the Secretary of State for Scotland is giving proper consideration to the recommendations that have been put to him. I cannot give a precise date, but I know that my right hon. Friend is anxious to make a statement as soon as he has made a decision, which I hope will be fairly soon.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at early-day motion 287?

[That this House notes with concern the intention of the Lord Advocate to instruct procurators fiscal generally not to prosecute men involved in homosexual activity with young males aged between 16 and 21 years; notes that this is an arbitrary lowering of the homosexual age of consent in Scotland which has not been debated by Parliament; considers that such a policy will put adolescent males and females at risk; and calls on the Secretary of State for Scotland to request the Lord Advocate to enforce the law.] It refers to a change in the law in Scotland without it having been debated carefully in the House and a decision taken. May we have an early opportunity to debate this fundamental issue, which causes considerable concern?

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend knows, prosecution policy in Scotland is exclusively a matter for the Lord Advocate, who has directed a review of prosecution policy in Scotland in that area of the law. That review has not concluded and the Lord Advocate expects to give guidance to procurators fiscal in the near future in relation to policy on certain aspects of the prosecution of homosexual acts which are criminal offences.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement to the House as to whether he is making any progress in setting up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs?

Mr. MacGregor

I have nothing to add to what I have already said on that matter in the House.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Will my right hon. Friend make an early statement on the outcome of his welcome study on the hours, procedures and facilities of the House? Has he had time to reflect on whether it may be for the good order of our proceedings to have rules about facilities such as the Tea Room and the behaviour of Members?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that that point comes within the Select Committee's remit, although I have noticed some comments on that subject today and I think that it is for hon. Members to observe decorum. The Committee is proceeding extremely well and working hard on its remit. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have responded considerably to the questionnaire and many of us have already given evidence. I hope that the Committee can come forward with recommendations in good time for the House to debate them and perhaps even take decisions on them, but that is a matter for the Committee.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the finding of a fair employment tribunal in Northern Ireland that the display of a likeness of Her Majesty at the workplace in Northern Ireland is discrimatory, and therefore illegal, and will have to be removed by the employers? Does it not follow from that finding that Her Majesty's portrait will have to be removed from all Government buildings in Northern Ireland? May we expect a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on that?

Mr. MacGregor

I am not aware of that matter, but I will discuss it with my right hon. Friend.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed in recent years the increasing use of the Order Paper for personal attacks on hon. Members and the way in which some hon. Members are interfering in the constituencies of others, a habit which is not confined to one side of the House? While I appreciate that my right hon. Friend cannot do anything on the business next week, will he join me in deploring this abuse of the Order Paper?

Mr. MacGregor

That is a matter which might be considered by other Committees of the House. I shall certainly bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said. I agree that there have always been conventions which have, on the whole, been well observed in relation to hon. Members raising issues related to other Members' constituencies.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

May we have a debate next week on law and order? We could then ask why—this follows on from the question of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) about hon. Members talking about other Members' constituencies—Maria Jones, who is 31 weeks pregnant, was sentenced at the beginning of this week to 60 days imprisonment for inability to pay the poll tax in Gloucestershire, despite her offers to pay £5 per week out of her £42 benefit? We are given lectures on the sanctity of the law and told that "the law is the law", but when stores such as B and Q open on a Sunday they receive letters from the Prime Minister and the chairman of the Tory party thanking them for memorable and enjoyable evenings at Conservative party conference balls. Is it not true that it is not what one does but who one knows? If the right hon. Gentleman does not like the jibe that the Government have been bought and paid for, perhaps he will arrange a debate to discuss the subject.

Mr. MacGregor

I do not know about the individual case involving the community charge, but a debate would be totally unnecessary because the hon. Gentleman's charges about the company he mentioned and the allegations that he implied are absolutely untrue. I wish to make it clear that I totally reject them. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Question Time, the problem in relation to Sunday trading is that the law is now unclear as a result of the referral to the European Court of Justice by the House of Lords. That is the clear distinction between Sunday trading and other issues such as the community charge, where the law is clear.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Without wishing to associate myself with what has just been said by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), may I ask my right hon. Friend to think again about a debate on Sunday trading? Whatever may not be clear, two factors are crystal clear. Does my right hon. Friend agree, first, that the intention of the law was clear and specific and, secondly, that those people who are violating the law are deliberately holding Parliament in contempt, which is intolerable?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that that is an accurate description of the current position. I believe that it was made clear yesterday that the law is now unclear and we are awaiting the House of Lords ruling following referral of one aspect of the issue to the European Court.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Will the Leader of the House say more about the timing of a statement on hospital opt-outs in Scotland? Is he aware that the Scottish Health Minister intimated on television in Scotland that a statement would be made before the end of the month? If the Leader of the House will not abide by that, will he at least give a guarantee that the statement will be made in public in this place and not sneaked out to one of the few remaining Tory lapdogs on the Back Benches?

Mr. MacGregor

Two things are clear: first, there will not be a statement before the end of this week and, secondly, the statement will be made in the House.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Was my right hon. Friend really saying in a reply to an earlier question that, if an appeal has gone to the European Court via the House of Lords, meanwhile the law should not be enforced even when there is a determined intention to break that law on a wholesale scale between now and Christmas?

Mr. MacGregor

No, I am not saying that. I was making a comment on the uncertainty of the law. As for prosecutions under the Shops Act 1950, Parliament has made it clear that that is a matter for local authorities to decide.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the pressure developing among some countries for an end to the ban by the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species on world trade in elephant ivory? Will he make it clear that Her Majesty's Government totally oppose the ending of that world trade ban? May we have a debate on elephant conservation and other animal welfare issues?

Mr. MacGregor

The Government's position is clear. It is not necessary to have a debate on the matter, but I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point about apparent pressure from other countries to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

I support other hon. Members' requests for a debate on Sunday trading. Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us who failed to catch Mr. Speaker's eye on the private notice question and the statement yesterday are strongly in favour of people in a free society being able to choose whether they shop or trade on Sunday, and that we should have liked to point out that many Opposition Members have a considerable financial interest, as they are sponsored by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and other unions, which should be declared before they oppose Sunday trading?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend is certainly right that hon. Members hold a variety of views on the matter. It is not necessary to have a debate on the matter to reveal once again that obvious point, which was made clear in 1986 and which is why at that time Parliament failed to change the law.

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

On that matter, is it not true that the chairman of the executive committee of the national union of the Conservative party and the chairman of the Shop Hours Reform Council are one and the same person, Sir Basil Feldman? Is he not the man who is advocating all this law breaking, and is it not about time that he resigned his position from one of those bodies?

Mr. MacGregor

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would agree that, just as hon. Members can express their views on particular aspects of policy, so may citizens outside.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. It would be helpful if we could confine questions to business next week.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Is there a possibility of changing the business on one day next week to allow the House to debate inflation, which would give us the opportunity to congratulate the Government on their success in bringing inflation down to 3.7 per cent. while at the same time pointing out how damaging the Opposition's high spending, high taxation, high inflation policies would be, being bound to lead to massive unemployment and social discontent of the order that we had in the past?

Mr. MacGregor

I entirely agree, and I could add other matters such as the danger to employment prospects of a national minimum wage. It is not necessary to change next week's business to do that, however, as I am sure that many of my hon. Friends will be making precisely that point in the debate next Thursday.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

May we have a statement from the Home Secretary early next week about Le Pen's proposed visit and an explanation why such a fascist, racist agitator is being allowed into Britain? Before we are given lectures about free speech, as there are laws in Britain about incitement to race hatred, should not the leader of the National Front in France be told clearly that he will not be allowed to come into Britain on the ground that it would not be conducive to the public good?

Mr. MacGregor

I think that the hon. Gentleman knows, as has been made clear before, that Mr. Le Pen's views on racial matters are totally rejected by the Government, but given his position as an elected member of the European Parliament and of the French National Assembly, to ban his entry would be a radical step. Our present view is that the evidence so far does not justify the exercise of the Home Secretary's powers of exclusion.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the result of the present GATT negotiations, which I understand have reached a delicate stage, is important to the British textile industry. Since many people are worried about the outcome, will he find time for a debate which would give us an opportunity to put many of their views forward?

Mr. MacGregor

I well understand my hon. Friend's point in relation to the textile industry, but I am sure that she will also agree that the current GATT Uruguay round is extremely important for many other reasons. We must all hope that agreement is reached on the matter and that the round can finally be concluded by the end of this year. In the meantime, as my hon. Friend will know, all GATT parties have agreed to extend the multi-fibre arrangement to the end of 1992 on existing terms, and the EC is renewing bilateral agreements for one year on that basis, which protects the position for the time being. I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend says, but I cannot promise a debate. We must all hope that the negotiations will have a successful outcome.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

If the Leader of the House cannot make time for a debate on Sunday trading, will he make time to debate the sacking from the New York Irish People of a journalist who wrote an article condemning the attack on Musgrave Park hospital in my constituency? That would give the House an opportunity to make abundantly plain that NORAID is not a benefactor to anyone in Northern Ireland but an IRA support group. It would also give American Congressmen and others an opportunity to take a stand for civil rights in their country.

Mr. MacGregor

I have not read the article in question, but I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman's final two points. I am sure that the whole House does so, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity today to make the position clear.

Mr. Michael Irvine (Ipswich)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that at a late hour last night the House debated the European Community budget. He may not be aware that, of the 90 minutes allocated, no fewer than 65 minutes were taken up by the speeches of the two Front Bench spokesmen, leaving Back Benchers only 25 minutes to discuss that incredibly important subject. I can tell my right hon. Friend that there was a deep sense of anger among Back Benchers at the way in which our time was limited. That anger was felt not only on both sides of the Chamber, but by Euro-sceptics and Euro-integrationists alike. In the light of that, will my right hon. Friend consider making more time available during the current week to debate again the European Community budget and its implications?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sorry that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends and other right hon. and hon. Members were unable to participate in last night's debate. I will bear in mind my hon. Friend's comments about the length of speeches. I remind the House that we have just had a two-day debate on European Community matters. I followed pretty well the normal practice in relation to last night's budget debate. A slightly longer period was available last year, but on this occasion I had to bear in mind our recent two-day debate. I also took into account the fact that next week the House will have a further full day's debate on the common agricultural policy, which takes up about 65 per cent. of the Community budget. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who could not participate last night will be able to speak in next week's debate.

Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central)

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 173 on South Africa.

(That this House welcomes the convening of an all-party conference in South Africa to prepare the basis for a new democratic and non-racial constitutional order based on one person, one vote in South Africa; expresses the hope that this will lead to rapid agreement on the establishment of an interim government to rule South Africa during the period of transition; and urges Her Majesty's Government to use its influence with its partners in the European Community and the Commonwealth as well as in the United Nations to achieve an international consensus in favour of such an agreement.]

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and the House agree that there have been significant developments in South Africa, such as the convening of the all-party conference at the end of this week and again later in December. When Nelson Mandela attends the United Nations General Assembly next week, it may pass a consensus resolution which has existed since 1979. A similar resolution may be passed at Maastricht. Those developments are probably as significant as the release of Nelson Mandela and ought to be the subject of debate, as early-day motion 173 suggests. Will the Leader of the House allow time for that?

Mr. MacGregor

The Government's position in relation to constitutional talks and other developments is clear. We hope that they will start as soon as possible, and are encouraged that negotiations may begin before the end of this year. We shall continue, with our Community partners, to use our influence to encourage South Africa's transition to a non-racial, democratic society. As I cannot find time for a debate next week, the hon. Gentleman will have to raise that issue in other ways. Nevertheless, the Government's position has been made clear on many occasions recently in the House.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

May I help my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House by giving him some advice on the subject of next week's business? If the House had more debates and less legislation, many of the points made to my right hon. Friend by right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House—for example, in relation to the EC budget debate—could be met.

I support the plea made in all parts of the House for a debate next week on Sunday trading. It is not good enough for my right hon. Friend to say that it is up to local government to decide whether to take legal action, when the big supermarket chains have threatened to take local authorities to the cleaners on costs if the authorities lose their cases. There is a Shops Act on the statute book. Until it is taken off the statute book or amended, the Government should condemn the action of those large supermarkets.

Mr. MacGregor

I have already made it clear that I do not think that there will be time for a debate on the Shops Act next week.

As for my hon. Friend's opening comments, I analysed the amount of time spent on Government legislation on the Floor of the House before I gave my personal evidence to the Procedure Committee. It was interesting to note that about 25 per cent. of the time is taken up with legislation, while 75 per cent. is devoted to general matters. At this time of year, when we are anxious to get the legislative process going and the Bills into Committee, there is rather more concentration on legislation. That is inevitable, and it places some constraint on general debates.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 270, entitled "Mr. Tindall's national insurance contributions"?

[That this House is dismayed that a person can work for 37 years and pay full national insurance contributions, be made redundant due to a pit closure, then in two subsequent years obtain full national insurance credits, topped up only with four voluntary contributions, suffer a heart attack and then be refused consideration for invalidity benefit on the grounds that he does not have sufficient contributions or credits to his name; notes that this has happened to Mr. Tindall of 69 Staniforth Avenue, Highwood Park, Eckington, Derbyshire, because he went on a fortnight's holiday in 1988 after being badly advised at an unemployment benefit office, thus cutting across three weeks during which he could otherwise have signed on for work and that he also started work in the final week of the 1988–89 tax year and thereby lost a further credit; notes that Mr. Tindall made voluntary payments to cover these four "missing" weeks but that these contributions can only be used for pension purposes and not for invalidity benefit considerations; further notes that Mr. Tindall cannot qualify for income support due to his wife's modest earnings; believes that a great injustice has been done due to the inflexibility of current Government rules; and calls for the necessary changes in the regulations forthwith.]

The motion is signed by me, and by 70 of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Tindall paid full contributions for 37 years. After being made redundant from the pit, he received full credits over two years, topped up by four voluntary contributions. After a heart attack, he is not eligible even to be considered for invalidity benefit. He cannot obtain any income allowance, because his wife is working as a nurse.

Should we not discuss the silly regulations which prevent Mr. Tindall and others in his position from being considered for invalidity and other benefits?

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of the terms of the early-day motion. I have not had an opportunity to study the case, but I will draw the motion to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Can my right hon. Friend find time soon for another debate on the question of security in Northern Ireland in the light of what has been revealed following last night's assassination attempt on the family of Dr. Laurence Kennedy, which was carried out simply because Dr. Kennedy wishes to stand as a parliamentary candidate?

It was announced this morning that the police had been prevented from questioning the four would-be assassins, who were caught red-handed, by the simple device of a solicitor's asking for a judicial review before they were questioned. The position is serious. However much security we put into Northern Ireland in the form of efficient police action or even extra troops, it is no use if they cannot act quickly when they have a suspect in their hands.

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that the whole House was extremely concerned to learn of last night's attack on Dr. Kennedy's home, and will wish to express its congratulations on the way in which the family responded and its relief that they escaped injury. I will draw the specific point raised by my hon. Friend to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Will the Leader of the House promise us a statement on Monday about the sale of the Export Credits Guarantee Department in Cardiff to its new Dutch owners, which I believe is to take place at the weekend? How many experienced civil servants are to be sent home on gardening leave pending their new employment? Will he also tell us whether the rumours flying around the Cardiff department are correct? It is said that the sale price to the new Dutch owners, and the receipts to the taxpayer, are nowhere near the £100 million to £150 million that was promised during the passage of the legislation, and may be only a peppercorn £5 million or £6 million.

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot promise a statement on Monday, because we have a heavy load of business on that day, but I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on constitutional affairs next week? He may be aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about the extraordinary statement that the leader of the Liberal Democrat party made last week, when he said that his party no longer accepted the sovereignty of Parliament.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend is referring, I suspect, to a referendum. The position of the Government and, I think, of the Labour party has been made clear on that. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point on the stance that the Liberal Democrats appear to have taken. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] Unfortunately, none of them is here to explain their stance, but I hope that there will be opportunities to explore the matter in forthcoming weeks.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed how the appetite of the Opposition Front Bench for debates on health care has diminished sharply as the good news continues to roll in about national health service trusts giving better care for patients and better value for money in the health service? Is he aware that senior medical staff at Queen's medical centre in Nottingham voted overwhelmingly to try to obtain trust status in the next wave, thus defeating Labour's disgraceful smears and scares which sought deliberately to frighten elderly and vulnerable people into believing falsehoods about the NHS?

Mr. MacGregor

I have, indeed, noticed the point that my hon. Friend makes and he is entirely right about the success of our reforms. I hope that we shall find many other opportunities—perhaps very soon—to continue to convey the good news.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

May I support the plea for an early debate on London? Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members would like to point out which London councils have the highest community charges, the most uncollected rent, the worst school results and the largest number of empty council houses and that the Government are giving much more money to London Transport than the Labour-controlled GLC ever gave?

Mr. MacGregor

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who may be able to make some of those points in next week's debate on the economy. They are certainly relevant to the economy in London and he is right to draw attention to the damaging policies of Labour councils.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Further to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), may we discuss at an early opportunity the progress on hospital trust status and on the Government's health reforms? That would give me an opportunity to praise my own excellent health authority, which is not only one of the 30 most efficient in the country and has two hospitals applying for phase 3 trust status, but plans to amalgamate with nearby Bromsgrove health authority to diminish administrative costs, reduce duplication and put the money saved into patient care.

Mr. MacGregor

I am glad that my hon. Friend has been able to make that point. I hope to find opportunities for him to make the same points about his constituency and for other right hon. and hon. Friends to make similar points about theirs.