HC Deb 10 December 1992 vol 215 cc997-1009 3.30 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

Yes, Madam. The business for next week will be as follows:

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. Will he ensure that there is a statement before Christmas on the scale of the sharp increases in food prices which we can expect to see in the new year as a result of the effects of devaluation of the green pound? Should not the public be warned of that and other inflationary consequences of the Government's failures?

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the real and growing concern that the Government's reluctance to listen to debate and to other points of view will be heightened by his announcement just now of a guillotine on the largest ever education Bill? It went into Committee only three weeks ago, and the meat of the Bill is in the early clauses. There will be considerable concern about that.

The Leader of the House may recall that we asked last week for a statement on guidelines on electoral registration because of the position in the Conservative-controlled London borough of Brent. The electoral register there has fallen by 26,000 in the past year. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Mr. Justice Potts has said in court today that there is a case to answer because of the discrepancy between the electoral register in Brent, at under 150,000, and the poll tax register, which shows 190,000? Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider? May I press him again on that statement?

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there will be concern among hon. Members of all parties about the Audit Commission report that, despite the work being speeded up of late, works on fire precautions in this building, which were commissioned in 1979, are not completed? A fire certificate cannot be issued for three or four years yet. That will be of great concern to hon. Members and to staff everywhere in the House.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady asked first about food prices. She will know that some of her right hon. and hon. Friends have been seeking an undertaking that there will be a statement following the Agriculture Council next week. Although I cannot give an absolute guarantee of that at the moment, we are certainly considering the matter and may be able to provide an opportunity of the sort that the hon. Lady seeks.

The hon. Lady asked about the timetable motion on the Education Bill, which will be debated on Tuesday. I remind her that—I think almost unprecedentedly—we gave two full days for the Second Reading of the Bill. Let me state the position simply: the Bill has now been debated in the Standing Committee for 61 hours, and the Committee has only reached clause 13. There is nothing unusual about a Government seeking to make more progress than that on such a Bill.

The hon. Lady's third question related to electoral registration. I have not had an opportunity to study the remarks that she attributed to Mr. Justice Potts but, on the assumption that she has reported them accurately—which I have no reason to doubt—I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will want to consider what the hon. Lady and the judge in question have said.

The hon. Lady asked about the Audit Commission's report on safety precautions. She will be aware that the Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee answered a question on that matter very recently, and that there are significant signs that better progress is being made. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Chairman of that Committee will wish to consider what she has said this afternoon.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Will my right hon. Friend pay some attention to the fact that the Procedure Committee has now been appointed and has met, but that we await a reply from the Government in respect of a number of reports that have already been made? It would be helpful to the progress of the work of that Committee if those replies could be made as soon as possible.

Mr. Newton

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on his re-election as Chairman of that important Committee. He knows that I am anxious to make progress on these matters, which concern, among other things, some useful possible changes in the arrangements for petitions. I hope to respond to my hon. Friend quite quickly.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Does the Leader of the House recall that the President of the Board of Trade assured the House from that very Dispatch Box that, during the review of the 10 pits, no miner would suffer in terms of benefits and payments? Is he further aware that British Coal announced yesterday that it will not be paying what is known as the Christmas bonus, on the ground that the miners are not working underground? I have confirmation of that in a letter from the Minister. Will he drag the President of the Board of Trade away from his lunch and to the Dispatch Box so that we can debate the disgraceful nature of this Scrooge-like decision?

Mr. Newton

This is the latest in what must by now be a long line of occasions on which I have been invited to drag the President of the Board of Trade to the House. I do not think that I can undertake to do that, but I can certainly undertake to bring to my right hon. Friend's attention what the hon. Gentleman has just said.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motions 991, 992 and 1040?

[That this House is concerned that for the last 10 years Councillor J. Brooks has been Labour Leader of Monklands District Council, where with the help of the local Labour Party he has achieved a position of near absolute power which has resulted in ( 1 ) a £1 million land deal for a company owned by Councillor Brooks and his brother, whereby the company acquired council land for £50,000 and forced through planning permission to make the land worth more than fl million the payment of generous fees to Councillor Brooks and his brother and other expenses followed by the company being placed in liquidation with unpaid bills to third party creditors of over £200,000, ( 2 ) the employment by the Council of Councillor Brooks' son in Direct Works, another son in the Planning Department and a daughter in a temporary post, (3) the sacking from council employment of Labour Party member Tom McFarlane at 51 years of age, believed to be the only Monklands District Council worker ever made redundant without being offered alternative employment, because he and his wife had dared to question the internal procedures of the local Labour Party and its corrupt rule of the Council and (4) the attempt by Councillor Brooks to cover up the mafia-like behaviour of himself and other Labour councillors by seeking to obtain council funding for legal fees for a private libel action against the local newspaper and by starting a council-owned free newspaper; believes that other allegations about relationships between the expenditure of council money and benefits to Councillor Brooks and his family need to be independently investigated; and is further concerned that the manner in which the Labour party is governing local councils in Scotland is against the public interest and requires to be independently investigated.]

May we have an early opportunity to debate the behaviour of Monklands district council—and, in particular, the Labour leader of that council—so that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland can give us their views on the conduct of the council?

Mr. Newton

I made some observations on that matter a few moments ago, albeit wearing a slightly different hat. I shall not add to them, except to say that my hon. Friend will recall that the first items of business that I announced for next week were the motion for the Christmas Adjournment and the proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill. I leave it to him to decide whether on the former he might argue that the House should not adjourn until the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has had an opportunity to say something about the matter.

Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)

Has the Leader of the House taken note of the considerable and growing concern expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about private wheel clamping? Will he make time next week for the Home Secretary to make a statement about the instigation of the public consultation that has been promised for so long?

Mr. Newton

I am aware that a number of comments—some of them criticisms—have been made on that subject, and also that it is one that the hon. Gentleman has been pursuing. I shall bring to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary the point that he has just made.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

As it cannot really matter whether we debate the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Bill next week or when we come back after Christmas, may I urge my right hon. Friend to think again about the business for next week and give us a debate on foreign affairs? It really would be appalling if Sarajevo fell during the Christmas recess and the House had not debated the matter.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise my hon. Friend the debate that he seeks but, to echo something that I just said, it is clear that there are a number of opportunities between now and the recess on which my hon. Friend and other hon. Members could make known their anxieties on that matter.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Can we have an urgent statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland concerning the scandalous suggestion that water privatisation should be within the trade? Would that not repeat the folly of electricity privatisation, since we have discovered that contributions deducted from workers' wages to pay for their electricity bills were used by a purchaser of one of the businesses to pay for that business?

Mr. Newton

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

Will my right hon. Friend consider whether he could ask our right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to make a brief statement in the House next week about progress on the coal closure issue? Following on from the question of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright), I think that there is much concern and not a little confusion about exactly what is happening, and whether British Coal is taking the correct action.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend's concern for those matters is well known and well documented. She will be aware that my right hon. Friend gave evidence to a Select Committee earlier this week, in which a number of further points were raised, which I hope made it clear that the review is genuine and real, and not simply a rubber-stamping exercise.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a petition containing half a million signatures was handed to Downing street this morning to save St. Bart's hospital from closure? Now that Londoners have delivered their democratic verdict, will he ensure that the Secretary of State for Health comes to the Dispatch Box next week to announce that Professor Tomlinson's mad, bad and sad proposal to close that hospital will be assigned to the dustbin of medical history?

Mr. Newton

I hope that, in giving a more measured response than the hon. Gentleman's question, I shall not be misunderstood if I say that it is well recognised—I am not commenting on a particular proposal—that it is right to deal with the balance between primary care and other forms of health spending in London against the background of a long period in which health care in London has received far more per head of population than that in other parts of the country. I do not think that it is wrong to examine issues arising from that.

As far as the specific case is concerned, I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will be aware of the petition and will take it into account, but she is considering a wide variety of issues and representations and intends to respond in a proper, measured way in the new year.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his announcement on the timetable for the Education Bill will be widely welcomed? As he said, about 61 hours have been spent on the Bill and only 5 per cent. of it has been achieved. We are anxious to make progress, despite the filibustering efforts of Opposition Members. In his statement, my right hon. Friend referred to the fact that, unprecedentedly, two days were spent discussing the Bill on Second Reading. Will he agree to a further two days being spent on the Bill on Report?

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's request and endorse some of his earlier comments. We shall consider what should be in the motion that we shall invite the House to endorse—I deliberately reply in general terms—and that will be against the background that what we did at Second Reading clearly demonstrates that there is no question that we are seeking arbitrarily to curtail discussion of the Bill, but rather that we are seeking to provide a proper opportunity for it to be discussed sensibly.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the President of the Board of Trade and the Attorney-General to make early statements about the protection given to would-be holidaymakers? Is he aware of a letter that I received today from the Prime Minister, which confirmed that the Government knew that Land Travel had liabilities over assets totalling £2.1 million a year before the collapse of that firm? The letter states: the Department of Trade and Industry did in fact receive a complaint about Land Travel in August last year … the Department had overlooked this letter when they were consulted over my earlier correspondence to the Prime Minister. In the light of that, and given that that company must have been trading illegally, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that compensation should be provided to those who lost their savings, and that early criminal action for fraud should be taken?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate, in view of some of the points he made, and particularly his suggestion of possible criminal charges, that I must respond cautiously. I shall make sure that the President of the Board of Trade is aware of what he said. I should perhaps make it clear that the Department of Trade and Industry has no general monitoring role in relation to companies; nor is it responsible for scrutinising company accounts.

Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash)

I thank my right hon. Friend for announcing the timetable motion on the Education Bill. Is he aware of the concern that is felt by Conservative members of the Standing Committee at the fact that the Bill has been taking, on average, six hours per clause—which, at the current rate of progress, would have meant 1,500 hours in Committee? Is he also aware of the great concern of many parents in my constituency that so much time should have been spent on a handful of clauses rather than the Committee getting on with the proper job of scrutinising the Bill?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for a singularly striking statistic, which shows that we are being reasonable in proposing that there should be a different way of making progress with the Bill.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

Bearing in mind the almost universal and informed criticism of the Government's lukewarm response to the Warner report, dealing with the plight of many children in residential care, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman for an assurance that that report will be debated at the earliest possible moment? Is he aware that, unless its recommendations are carried out quickly, more children will suffer at the hands of people who are not trained to deal with them but are there simply to abuse them, since the vetting processes for people looking after children in care are very poor indeed?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady, who has taken a long and careful interest in those matters over many years, will be aware that, far from dragging her feet—to summarise the suggestion in the hon. Lady's question—the Secretary of State for Health has already instructed local authorities to take immediate action on that aspect and to report back to her by Easter. I do not regard that as foot-dragging.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

Can my right hon. Friend advise the House of likely timings for discussions on the reform of Sunday trading? He will be aware that a Bill, of which I am a sponsor, is currently being published by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), and that there is another Bill in the name of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell). Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be sensible for the Government to introduce their own proposals in debate before wasting time on private Members' legislation which would probably prove to be unnecessary?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will know that, in addition to the measures to which he referred, there is another with a somewhat different purpose due for debate early in the new year. I shall bring his remarks to the attention of the Home Secretary, who has made it clear that it is not possible at present to take a decision quite in the way that my hon. Friend suggests, not least because we have not yet had the judgment of the European Court of Justice.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 615 dealing with the Caring Costs campaign.

[That this House welcomes the launch of Caring Costs, the campaign for an independent income for carers, which has the backing of 45 voluntary organisations and charities; recognises the substantial contribution made to community care by Britain's six million carers; and urges the Government both to review the level of financial support given to older carers and hold a debate on the financial aspects of providing care and support at home.]

Is he aware that that motion today received its 150th signature, confirming the support it has in all parts of the House? Carers save the country £24 billion a year, yet are racked with poverty, although they provide care for 24 hours a day, seven days a week? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time we had an early debate on the subject, as is clearly requested by many hon. Members?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have invested much effort over a long period into improving matters for carers, and we expect further improvements as a result of the move to community care from April onwards. This is a subject about which I know something, having played a part, in a former incarnation, in making a number of significant improvements in social security benefits for carers, which now involve expenditure in their support of £260 million a year.

Mr. Harry Greenway: (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week on pedestrian safety? Could the motion take account of the people of Northolt, who have great problems arising from the opening of the Hayes bypass, which is pouring large amounts of traffic into Northolt? Could it be coupled with concern for Hanwell, where the children of Hartmain school have been to see me to seek a pedestrian crossing in Greenford avenue, where the traffic is very dangerous for them?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend's question is, as ever, a tribute to his vigour in pursuit of his constituents' interests. He seems to have raised points that would classically be the focus of the Christmas Adjournment debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May I draw attention to early-day motion 1041 on delegated legislation?

[That this House notes with alarm that over three thousand statutory instruments have been issued so far in 1992 and that this quantity of delegated legislation is unprecedented in the history of Parliament; regrets that the Government is reluctant to grant time for debate on Prayers against such instruments, and that affirmative instruments can be debated even before the Joint or Select Committees exercise their scrutiny; further regrets that any change in this arbitrary and unhelpful procedure has been rejected by the Leader of the House; and concludes that the increased burden of statutory rules, regulations and orders comes from a Government dedicated to arbitrary, centralised and undemocratic control.]

Will the Government make a statement devoted to removing regulations from the backs of small businesses and other organisations, because the Government have issued 3,000 statutory instruments in the past calendar year, which is an unprecedented number in the history of Parliament? Moreover, they are still being issued. Will the Leader of the House recognise that such a statement would be handy in providing an opportunity for hon. Members to debate prayers against statutory instruments to make up for the significant democratic deficit that exists in the scrutiny of the huge flood of statutory instruments which the Government are producing?

Mr. Newton

May I reply in a slightly different tone by paying tribute to the work of the hon. Gentleman arid his Committee for their detailed work in that area for the House? I shall do what I can, within practical limitations, to ensure that his Committee's work continues to be effective.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the deep sense of outrage among parents of children with special educational needs at the statement by the deputy leader of the Labour party that the section of the Education Bill on special educational needs was not part of the "meat" of the Bill? Is that not why we need a timetable motion for the Bill? Will he ensure that that section of the Bill receives adequate time for proper scrutiny and debate, because Conservative members of the Committee wish to see that the interests and needs of those children are taken fully into account?

Mr. Newton

I very much endorse what my hon. Friend says. From my constituency experience, I am well aware that many parents with some of the most difficult problems see the special needs provisions of the Bill as a key element of it and a good reason for getting on with it.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the announcement that has been made this afternoon by means of a planted question that tells the House that 182 jobs are to be removed from the royal naval ordnance depot at Eaglescliffe in Stockton, Cleveland? Is he aware that this is the second time that the Ministry of Defence has betrayed the Cleveland community in less than 18 months? Is he further aware that that announcement has been made in a surreptitious way after meetings at which the Minister of State for the Armed Forces undertook to give the basis of the costings on which Admiral Pulvertaft founded his so-called recommendations?

Will the Leader of the House seek to bring the Minister of State to the Dispatch Box where he can be questioned openly, in public, about the falseness of the advice that he has received from the treacherous mandarins in his Department?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman no doubt has, as I have, a copy of the answer that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has given. It makes it absolutely clear that my hon. Friend has thoroughly conducted the required consultation and carefully considered the points that were raised, but has nevertheless come to that decision.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the European single market commences on 1 January, and that a number of freight forwarders and customs clearance agents in my constituency will lose their jobs as a result of their work no longer being required. My right hon. Friend will also be aware that I have received assurances from the Department of Employment that moneys will be made available for retraining purposes and that money will be made available through the European social fund. I understand that the Government will ensure that that money is available.

There is no evidence that the money will trickle down to the companies and people who will be made redundant. Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that, if necessary, the House will be recalled, so that we can call the Ministers and civil servants to the Bar of the House if the money is not made available to the companies for the benefit of those who will be made redundant?

Mr. Newton

I hope that my hon. Friend will understand if I do not immediately give him the undertaking that he requests. I am sure that he will accept that I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is made aware of the point that he has made.

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

Will the Leader of the House make time for his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to come to the House and make a statement about security in London, given that two bomb explosions occurred in Wood Green in my constituency this morning? I have just returned to the House from visiting the scenes of the explosions. A number of members of the public and police officers have been injured. I am glad to be able to report to the House that all of those members of the public and police officers have now been released from hospital.

I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the police and the emergency services who responded so promptly and efficiently to this absolutely contemptible and cowardly attack.

Mr. Newton

The House will appreciate both the reasons for the hon. Lady raising that matter and the way in which she has done so. I will ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is made aware of both matters.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Is there any possibility of having a debate on either the Edinburgh summit or the GATT round to enable hon. Members to point out gently to our French partners that Europe has consumers of food as well as producers? French farmers, who expect to export a high proportion of what they produce, have no right to block the exports of others, be it grain from the United States or lamb from Britain.

Can we have an opportunity to make the point that European consumers already heavily subsidise French farmers and have no right whatever to insist that European consumers buy French food? European consumers should be free to buy the food of their choice.

Mr. Newton

I am not sure that I have the standing to undertake to draw remarks to the attention of a Minister in another country, but I hope that my hon. Friend's remarks are read in France as well as in the United Kingdom. As to opportunities to raise such matters, I anticipate that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will wish to report to the House following the Edinburgh Council, which is about to get under way.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Given recent events, is it not time that the royal prerogative powers on the dissolution of Parliament, the appointment of Ministers and the signing of treaties and Bills were discussed in the House with a view to them being taken over by the House and perhaps exercised by Madam Speaker rather than by the Crown?

Mr. Newton

I have no plans to bring about such a discussion or a proposal.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

Will my right hon. Friend persuade the Secretary of State for Education to come to the House to make a statement on teacher numbers, which is necessary following a press release issued by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) which suggested that teacher numbers have gone down? It is a fact that teacher numbers have gone up. I am sure that the hon. Member for Blackburn would want to use the occasion to congratulate the Government on achieving such record numbers.

Mr. Newton

On the latter part of the question, I can only say that hope springs eternal. I share my hon. Friend's hopes. I can promise him a splendid opportunity to raise such matters next week, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is due to answer questions on Tuesday.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is it possible for a debate to take place, if not next week, then shortly after we return, about the way in which Government Departments are increasingly seen, with justification, as virtually an extension of Conservative central office? That was witnessed by the way in which the passport records of President-elect Clinton were examined to see whether he had applied for United Kingdom citizenship. Apparently, he had not. Should we not be worried about not so much one particular town—which Tory Members have been on about this week—but the way in which the Government of the day are corrupting public life by using Government Departments in the way I have just described?

Mr. Newton

When one contemplates what has happened in some Labour local authorities over the years, the hon. Gentleman's point seems pretty strange. I can only say, and I do so with feeling, that, from my own fairly considerable experience as a Minister, the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that civil servants allow themselves to be treated as an extension of central office is totally at variance with the facts.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the amendment that I have tabled to the Housing and Urban Development Bill, in which I seek to extend the right to buy to tenants of former Greater London council homes? They gave up their homes on the understanding that they were being transferred to the seaside to take up accommodation which was wholly the same as that of tenants of all other local authorities, to whom the right to buy has been extended. They have since been deprived of the right to buy and are unhappy about it.

As my right hon. Friend is something of a wise owl in such matters and was helpful to me last week, will he give me his advice on how I might persuade the Government to take up that necessary reform, which would affect the constituents of many hon. Members?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's kind words. There must be some limit to the extent to which I can offer him advice, helpful or otherwise, on the Floor of the House. However, I should be surprised if my hon. Friend could not find some opportunity to raise the matter during the passage of the Housing and Urban Development Bill. In any case, I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will read the words that my hon. Friend has uttered.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

In view of all the statements that were made and the questions that were asked at Prime Minister's Question Time, and as the Government refuse to allow local authorities to build homes for people on the streets, would it not be a good idea at Christmas when we pack up for three and a half weeks to shift the rough sleepers in the House of Lords and put in the rough sleepers off the streets? At least one palace—or at least a few rooms—is going empty, and that accommodation could be used.

If any more homeless want accommodation, they can have three and a half weeks here. There are all these empty Benches. The place is warm and well lit. The people would have accommodation, a canteen and all the facilities they need. If the Government are really concerned about the homeless, they should get it going.

Mr. Newton

I am not sure that those in another place will regard that as an entirely helpful and friendly suggestion. However, I shall certainly make sure that my colleague the Lord Privy Seal is made aware of the elegant way in which the hon. Gentleman put it.

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

Will the Leader of the House read the proceedings of European Standing Committee A yesterday? A Member of the House who is not a member of the Committee was able to walk in under the umbrella of a commercial consultancy. On matters relating to that consultancy, he asked detailed questions of a Minister which the Minister was required to answer because of the questioning procedure of that Standing Committee.

What happened was—

Madam Speaker

Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that, if an hon. Member was in a Committee, he was surely there in his own right as an elected Member of Parliament. That should be placed on the record.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

That is absolutely correct, but he was also acting under the umbrella of his consultancy. Although what happened was in order, and the hon. Gentleman did not break any rules of the House, is it not clear that that procedure, as it was exercised yesterday, is incorrect?

While it is of great benefit to Parliament that Members can ask questions in detail, surely some discipline must be exercised personally by Members not to abuse procedures in that way or the Procedure Committee should re-examine the procedure with a view to some reform.

Mr. Newton

I think that you would agree, Madam Speaker, that, as I have not read the report to which the hon. Gentleman referred, it would be wrong for me to make any immediate response. I will read it, however.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week so that we can congratulate all concerned on the continuation of semiconductor manufacturing in my constituency, and also to examine the worrying claims in today's Electronic Times? It is said that INMOS—International Metal Oxide Semiconductors—which was valued at £120 million 10 years ago, was sold to a Hong Kong company for less than £6 million; that the Government are prepared to assist the company with a maximum of £3 million, whereas the French and Italian Governments have invested tens of millions of pounds; and that the manufacture of the British-controlled, British-invested transputer will not be conducted in Newport in future, but will take place abroad.

Will the Leader of the House give a guarantee that the new company, Newport Wafer Fab, can look forward to at least the same amount of confidence, support, encouragement and investment from the British Government as the French and Italian companies are given by their Governments?

Mr. Newton

For slightly different reasons, I shall respond nearly as cautiously to the hon. Gentleman as I responded a few moments ago to his hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I can, however, reply in general terms, as well as ensuring that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is aware of what the hon. Gentleman has said. As has been clearly shown, the Government will continue to take a range of actions designed to encourage British manufacturing industry in that and other sectors.

Mr. Alan Milburn (Darlington)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for us to debate the Government's regional policy, in the light of the announcement made by his right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces about the closure of the Eaglescliffe depot? As the Leader of the House will realise, that announcement will have been received with considerable alarm and disbelief in the north-east—not just because this is the second time in 12 months that the region has been let down, but because the skills and expertise of many of my constituents who work at Eaglescliffe have been insulted by the Government's latest decision.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the decision to close the Eaglescliffe facility runs completely against the grain of the Government's declared intent to switch jobs from south to north, and to narrow regional inequalities rather than widening them?

Madam Speaker

Order. Let me issue a long overdue reminder. Hon. Members should be questioning the Leader of the House's statement and asking him to change next week's business; this is not simply a continuation of Question Time. Would the Leader of the House like to make some response?

Mr. Newton

I shall reply briefly, in the light of your strictures, Madam Speaker. Although I well understand why the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) has raised the subject of Eaglescliffe, I cannot add to what I said earlier to his hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook)—except to say that the Government have put considerable effort into bringing new employment to the north-east, as the hon. Gentleman will know from contacts that he and I had in previous incarnations.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

The Leader of the House has told us that the Environmental Information Regulations will be discussed next week. May I draw his attention to column 836 of yesterday's Hansard? The Minister for the Environment and Countryside, who has just left the Chamber, said in answer to a question that the environmental toxic waste regulations should be examined. I have been told, in answer to a question that I posed to the Minister, that the regulations are not yet available. In view of next week's debate, will the Leader of the House impress on his colleague the fact that they should be placed in the Library at the earliest opportunity? I understand that they are in public circulation.

Mr. Newton

I shall certainly look into that, and I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made before the recess about the haemorrhaging of rail freight from British Rail? Hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about that, and also about the state of the manufacturing industries that build our carriages and rolling stock. It has become abundantly clear to the Select Committee that both the rolling stock industry and rail freight are haemorrhaging. Unless ministerial action arrests the process, we are about to lose an important British industry, and the loss of rail freight could lead to Beeching-style cuts in our rail structure with no consideration of the matter by the House of Commons.

The matter will not keep until the new year. May we have a statement next week about the danger to our railway structure and industries?

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to provide time for a debate of the kind that the hon. Gentleman seeks, but I know from my contacts with other hon. Members that his concern has been expressed elsewhere. I have specifically drawn it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an investigation and a statement by the appropriate Minister into the winding up of the pension scheme of the Burlington International Group, leaving a deficiency of £6.5 million and affecting more than 1,000 people, many of them my constituents? They will not be able to get the pensions that they had every right to expect and to hope for. We have seen the same with Maxwell and too many other companies. Is it not time that the Government introduced regulations to prevent the plundering of so-called surpluses from those pension schemes?

Mr. Newton

I am not in a position to comment on the specific case, but I imagine that the hon. Gentleman may have taken it up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, or that he intends to do so. On the more general point, he will know that the Government have taken substantial steps to improve the protection of pension funds over the years but in the wake of the Maxwell case have appointed a substantial inquiry to review that. It is operating on as speedy a time scale as can properly be expected.