HC Deb 27 February 1992 vol 204 cc1115-30 3.32 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

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

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 MARCH—Until seven o'clock, motion to take note of EC documents relating to asylum and immigration. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Debate on the report from the Select Committee on Sittings of the House on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure.

TUESDAY 3 MARCH—Remaining stages of the Further and Higher Education Bill [Lords].

Proceedings on the Taxation of Chargeable Gains Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

Motion on the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order.

WEDNESDAY 4 MARCH—Supplemental timetable motion on and consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government Finance Bill.

Completion of remaining stages of the Transport and Works Bill.

Remaining stages of the Offshore Safety Bill [Lords] and the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Social Security (Disability Living Allowance) (Amendment) Regulations.

THURSDAY 5 MARCH—Estimates day (2nd Allotted Day, 1st Part). There will be a debate on Yugoslavia. Details of the estimate concerned and the relevant Select Committee Report will be given in the Official Report.

Debate on Northern Ireland affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

At ten o'clock the Question will be put on all outstanding supplementary estimates and votes.

FRIDAY 6 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 9 MARCH—Second Reading of the Friendly Societies Bill.

Debate on the report of the Accommodation and Works Committee in respect of phase 2 parliamentary building.

The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee 'A' will meet at 10.30 am on Wednesday 4 March to consider European Community document No. 8910/91, relating to common organisation of the market in the sugar and isoglucose sector.

[Monday 2 March, Floor of the House

Revant European Community Documents

(a) 8810/91 Right of Asylum

(b) 8811/91 Immigration

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 24-x (1991–92)

(b) HC 24-x (1991–92)

Wednesday 4 March, European Standing Committee A Relevant European Community Document

8910/91 Sugar and Isoglucose Sector (Court of Auditors Special Report No 4/91)

Relevant Report of the European Legislation Committee HC 24-vii (1991–92)

Thursday 5 March, Estimates Day (2nd Allotted Day, 1st Part), class II, vote 2, Foreign and Commonwealth Office: other external relations, in so far as it relates to Yugoslavia.

Relevant report: First report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1991–92 (HC 21): "Central and Eastern Europe: Problems of the Post-Communist Era"].

Dr. Cunningham

On the business for Monday—the sittings and conduct of business in the House—will the Leader of the House take time to explain why he has apparently advised the Commissioner of Customs and Excise not to answer questions when giving evidence before the Select Committee on Trade and Industry in the inquiry into the supergun affair? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will confirm whether that is indeed the case, as that gentleman said. What has the Customs and Excise to hide in that inquiry? Is it not rather odd for the Leader of the House himself apparently to be undermining the work of Select Committees of the House? May we have an explanation of those events, please?

May we express disappointment that the Leader of the House has not provided either a Government Supply day next week or an Opposition Supply day to debate Britain's abysmal trade performance? He must surely be aware of the appalling deficit of almost £800 million in January, with Britain's trade in the depths of the longest recession for more than 50 years. Does that not demonstrate beyond doubt the depths to which the Government's economic mismanagement has brought the British economy? Should we not have an opportunity to debate that next week?

I thank the Leader of the House for acceding to our requests to have next week's guillotined debate at a more appropriate time—on Wednesday in prime time—than the time that he originally intended? Will he ensure that the Secretary of State for the Environment, his right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), comes to the House, and that when he talks about what he described as the "Tory tax"—the poll tax—he explains why this year average poll tax bills will be about £50 more than the Secretary of State for the Environment suggested that they would be—and why people are still paying an extra 2.5 per cent. VAT on their expenditure subject to that tax? May we have an explanation of those matters from the Secretary of State for the Environment next week?

Last week I asked the Leader of the House to give us a guarantee that the House would have the normal time to debate the Budget when it is introduced on 10 March. Will he assure us that the Budget debate will not be cut short and guillotined because of the Government's 9 April general election programme? May we have that assurance —yes or no?

Mr. MacGregor

I am happy to deal with the first point now, because the hon. Gentleman has got it all wrong. It would have been very helpful if the hon. Gentleman had checked his facts. I must say that I am very dubious about many of his charges, given how wrong he is on that one. The Customs and Excise official asked my office for guidance as to what the Government's response was to the Select Committee on Procedure recommendations in relation to prosecution authorities' answers in front of Select Committees. My office referred him to an official who gave him the information, which is publicly available, about the Government's response to the Procedure Committee's remarks. That is all that happened. The hon. Gentleman made an absolute meal out of it and got it totally and completely wrong. It makes one wonder about the other charges that he makes.

As for the point about the trade figures, of course it will be possible to discuss the economic situation, yet again, soon. We shall be happy to do so. The hon. Gentleman will know that the figures for the past three months show that the balance of payments deficit is broadly in line with the quarterly average for last year, and that the underlying trade performance is good and improving. Export volumes in the past three months were up 3.5 per cent. on a year earlier, despite the slowdown in world trade. Manufactured export volumes are also up by 3.5 per cent. over that period and exports to the European Community are 4 per cent. higher. On the same basis, total imports are up just 1 per cent. So we would be happy to debate that matter.

As for the hon. Gentleman's third request, as he knows, I always try to arrange business as much as possible in ways that are suitable to both sides of the House. He made a point about the community charge. Once again, the Opposition are peddling figures which have no basis in fact. The real figures for community charge increases this year will include an element for those who did not pay their community charge. And who encouraged many people not to pay? It was Opposition Members and many Labour councillors around the country.

On the hon. Gentleman's final point, Mr. Speaker, you urged me and others to concentrate on the business for next week. As the hon. Gentleman knows, his final point was not about next week's business. But I shall be happy to deal with it in next week's business statement.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I refer again to what the Leader of the House just said. Let us deal with next week's business, please.

Sir David Mitchell (Hampshire, North-West)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate or, failing that, a statement on the problem of itinerants, new age travellers and gipsies? Can we have some action?

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern and that of many of my hon. Friends about that matter, and I share it. I know that my hon. Friend took the opportunity of raising the matter in the House on 12 December on the Adjournment. I am also aware that he recently met my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning to consider the matter. The Government are certainly aware that there are difficulties with the operation of the provisions of the Caravan Sites Act 1968. A review is under consideration. I assure my hon. Friend that that work is proceeding with all due pace. However, I am not sure whether we shall be able to make a statement next week.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

As a former Fisheries Minister, the Leader of the House will know that for some time many of us have pressed the case for a decommissioning scheme to be introduced by the Government. Can he confirm reports that an announcement to that effect is imminent? Will the relevant Minister come to the House next week to make that statement?

Could the Leader of the House also secure the attendance of a Minister to respond to early-day motion 129?

[That this House recalls the special arrangements made by the Government to increase benefits to pre-1973 war widows; notes that beneficiaries of the armed forces pension scheme who were invalided from the service prior to 1973 do not benefit from the improvement made to that scheme introduced in 1973 in the same way that pre-1973 war widows did not benefit until recently; and therefore calls upon the Government to take immediate action to remedy this situation and upgrade armed forces pensions payments to those former servicemen who left the services prior to 1973, particularly those who were invalided from the services and suffered disability in the service of their country.]

The motion calls for equality of treatment in terms of pension for those invalided out of the armed services before and after 1973. In recent months the Government have shown common sense in relation to compensation for haemophiliacs who contracted HIV. Previously they did so for war widows widowed before and after 1973, allowing proper treatment for them. Surely those who suffered disability in the service of their country deserve equal treatment too.

Mr. MacGregor

On the second point, as the hon. Gentleman rightly recognised, the Government introduced special payments for pre-1973 war widows in recognition of the view widely held in Parliament and in Britain at large that they were a unique group for whom exceptional treatment was appropriate. The position on pre-1973 war disability pensioners is somewhat different, and it is not considered that similar special action is justified.

On the first point, as the hon. Gentleman probably knows, the Government are considering the conservation issues which are raised as a result of various discussions in the European Community. I am not yet in a position to say when conclusions will be reached. When they are reached, I shall certainly consider how that might be made known to the House.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

May I thank the Leader of the House for receiving my colleagues the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), and the leader of the Ulster Unionists, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), and for listening carefully to the representations made to him that there should be a debate in the House on the affairs of Northern Ireland following the Downing street meeting that we had with the Prime Minister? May I thank him on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland for giving time on Thursday for that important debate?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to hon. Members opposite for raising that matter with me. It is an important debate. He is right to say that it follows the Downing street talks with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I am pleased that further initiatives have followed those talks. I considered it right to respond immediately to their request for a debate. I wish that I could have given longer, but there is a lot of pressure on the House next week. I thought it right to respond to that request for an immediate debate, and I am glad to have been able to do so.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle)

I join the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) in expressing our appreciation to the Leader of the House for the speed with which he responded to the joint request by the three leaders in Northern Ireland, as that will be the first time in the life of this Parliament that a major debate on the situation in Northern Ireland will take place. May I express the hope that all parties will show their concern for the fact that that is the major human problem facing this Parliament by being present and taking part in the debate?

Mr. MacGregor

I thank the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, we give a great deal of time to Northern Ireland issues in the House, and have done so in recent weeks, but this debate is rather different and very special. It follows the initiatives that have been taken recently in the light of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's discussions at Downing street with the hon. Gentleman and others. It is an important debate and I am sure that as many people as possible will wish to be here. However, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the debate will be at a time when many hon. Members will expect to be back in their constituencies. However, I agree with him and I am glad that we have been able to find time for that important and wide-ranging debate.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Would the Leader of the House consider an urgent request from me to try to rearrange business next week to give us the chance to debate education philosophy, given that the Opposition wish to pass a sentence of death on the grammar school, the high school and the city technology college in my constituency? If they had their way, we would end up with an education philosophy which would give only the rich a choice in education.

Mr. MacGregor

I agree entirely. I should have liked to find time next week, and I hope that we shall find time not long afterwards. My hon. Friend is right to say that that is the Opposition's single distinctive contribution on education. I cannot think of anything more deleterious to increasing opportunities, the range of choice, and so on. They would abolish all the opportunities for greater variety and improvement of standards which have been introduced through city technology colleges, the assisted places scheme and grant-maintained schools, and they would abolish existing grammar schools. My hon. Friend is right that that means that opportunities for people from lower income households to take advantage of that range of choice would disappear.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

Will the Leader of the House find out whether the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry noticed the statement last week by Alan Nightingale, chairman of the Apparel, Knitting and Textile Alliance, drawing attention to a large number of methods that other countries are using either to prevent our textiles getting into their countries or to aid theirs getting into our country? Will he also find out whether the Secretary of State would like to make a statement about that to try to save some of the many thousands of jobs which are in danger? He might even let us know what is happening with the GATT talks.

Mr. MacGregor

As the House knows, the Government are keen to see a conclusion to the GATT talks for reasons that we have often debated. So far as the textile industry is concerned in that respect, for the time being, as the hon. Gentleman knows, pending a final outcome of the GATT negotiations the existing multi-fibre arrangement has been rolled on for another year. I shall raise his first point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

Will my right hon. Friend provide an opportunity next week for us to talk about welcome recent Government action on youth crime, especially the measures dealing with joy riding and with bail offenders, and other matters? Will he give the House an opportunity to consider the recent case in which, as a result of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, a judge in Birmingham was unable to give more than a one-year sentence to a 15-year-old boy who killed a 24-year-old woman? The judge said that that had resulted in an injustice.

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend correctly says, in addition to the many measures of previous years, the Government have introduced further measures in the current Session of Parliament to deal with issues relating to crime—such as the measure dealing with offences committed while on bail, and the Aggravated Vehicles Taking Bill. We shall continue to do that despite the fact that the Opposition often turn out to be soft on crime. I can assure my hon. Friend that we shall continue to ensure that proper protection is given to our citizens.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Before next Thursday, may we have some highly secret information published as to how many people are on electoral registers in England and Wales? The registers have been published for Northern Ireland, and provisional figures have been given for Scotland, but we do not have the figures for England and Wales. We need to have them if we are to decide whether an urgent debate is required on the position that they reveal.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman has raised that matter on many previous occasions and I have made clear the exact position. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is so concerned because he feels that his own position will be at risk in the forthcoming general election. On the information requested, the electoral registers will be published in good time.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

In view of the extraordinary revelations published in The Sunday Times about the long-held beliefs of the Leader of the Opposition, does my right hon. Friend believe that it would be helpful to the electorate to have a debate on the role of the Leader of the Opposition and his fitness for office, bearing in mind that leopards who protest that they have changed their spots are almost always kidding?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend has made his point. I cannot promise a debate next week, but some of the complete reversals of principle and policy undertaken by the Leader of the Opposition in recent years will be the subject of much discussion in the period ahead.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

The Leader of the House will be aware of the expectation that an order would come before the House to allow the Welsh Grand Committee to meet in Cardiff to debate the constitutional future of Wales—an issue which is particularly relevant in view of this week's opinion poll showing a 2:1 majority in favour of an elected parliament for Wales. What has happened to the order? Will it be debated next week? The Secretary of State for Wales suggested that the Welsh Grand Committee would meet in Cardiff. Is that likely, or is someone holding it up?

Mr. MacGregor

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales said that he would be happy for a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee to discuss those matters, and that included its meeting in Wales. That requires a debatable Standing Order and the pressures on business next week are great.

Mr. Andrew McKay (Berkshire, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is some disappointment on the Conservative Back Benches that the debate next Monday on the sittings of the House report will be taken on the Adjournment? That will mean that many hon. Members, who believe that the intention of that report is about giving Back Benchers more time, will not be able to vote on an amendment. Such an amendment would be directed at the Leader of the Opposition, who uses 40 words when four will do and abuses Prime Minister's Question Time twice a week, which keeps us out.

Mr. MacGregor

The latter point is not a matter for me. On my hon. Friend's first point, he will know that the report of the Committee on working hours, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), covered a wide range of ground and went much further than the simple point raised by my hon. Friend about giving more time to Back Benchers. It is also concerned with other issues as to how we handle the business of the House. It seems to me that the report contains so many recommendations that the House will wish to consider very seriously that it is not possible in the time frame of next week to have a debate on substantive proposals. In view of the wide interest in the report, it is right to have a general debate to establish the general reaction to it as quickly as possible. That is why I arranged the debate for next Monday.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

When the Leader of the House takes time off from considering D-day—declaration of poll day—will he arrange a debate next week, if not sooner, or have a statement made so that we may learn why the Home Secretary and his Ministers of State are increasingly interfering in the decisions of the parole board, such interference having risen from 3 to 30 per cent. in the past five years?

Mr. MacGregor

Not next week.

Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West)

Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate next week on the subject of personal savings so that we may know the attitude of the Labour party to the taxation of those savings?

Mr. MacGregor

I think we know that there are proposals from the Labour party effectively to increase taxation on a large number of savings. I welcome the opportunitty to highlight that as much as possible, and I hope that we shall have that opportunity before long.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Is it normal practice for a Minister to send a reply to a parliamentary question to a prospective parliamentary candidate? I ask that question because an article appeared in my local paper stating——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That seems rather wide of the business for next week.

Mr. Graham

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made next week about an article in my local newspaper stating that the answer to a parliamentary question of mine had been sent to the local prospective Tory candidate? The article stated that the candidate had said that she had seen the reply. Is it normal practice for parliamentary answers to be sent to candidates?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not know the local paper to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and I do not know of the report, so I have to say that I know nothing about the issue.

Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)

With the callous plundering of pension funds by that heartless monster Robert Maxwell, may I ask if my right hon. Friend is aware that my constituents who are today in receipt of pensions have been told that their pensions can be guaranteed only until the end of March and that beyond that date payment is in doubt? With two thirds of the pension fund stolen, and with doubt as to which part of the pension fund moneys belong to which pensions, may I urge my right hon. Friend to arrange for a debate to take place next week, or for a statement to be made, so that we may discuss the matter? My constituents are worried sick. In particular, we should be told whether the new section 58B in schedule 4(2) to the Social Security Act 1990 will be invoked.

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot immediately recall section 58B of that measure. I do not carry in my head the detail of every clause of every piece of legislation, but if it is the section which deals with guaranteed minimum payments in the event of pension funds not being able to pay——

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

It deals with creditors' preference.

Mr. MacGregor

That relates to the eventual situation regarding the protection of pensioners. As for the issues relating to the Maxwell pension funds, my hon. Friend will know that a number of investigations are going on now. I fully understand his concern for the pensioners. We shall have to await the outcome of the investigations before considering what action, if any, is required. The basic minimum pension arrangements are already in place.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his decision not to allocate a half Supply day to the Scottish National party, despite the clear request of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) on behalf of all minority parties? Is he aware that that would have been the ideal opportunity to discuss Scottish matters, particularly the Government's apparent change of heart on the decommissioning scheme which, despite the obvious cynicism involved, will be widely welcomed by hon. Members who represent fishing communities? What does the right hon. Gentleman think will be the reaction at the quayside in Scotland for a Government who have kicked that vital industry from pillar to post for the past six years and now, six weeks before a general election, decide to change course?

Mr. MacGregor

I disagree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Government's position in respect of the fishing industry. As he knows, the main problem facing the European Community and fishing Ministers has been the decline in stocks and the consequent need for conservation. Unless that is tackled, there will be an even more difficult future for our fishermen. It is right for the Government and the Council of Ministers to concentrate on that aspect. As someone who has been involved in that question over the past six years, I assure the hon. Gentleman that enormous efforts are made to ensure that the fishing industry gets the best possible deal in the negotiations, and the Government have frequently been given credit for making them.

As to the hon. Gentleman's demand for a Supply day, I am—as I said earlier—bearing that request in mind, but it is obvious from next week's programme that the House has a great deal of business to complete. I have been giving Supply days fairly regularly, and I thought it right to respond to the request by leaders of Northern Ireland parties to provide time to debate Northern Ireland next week.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I urge my right hon. Friend to reconsider his decision, which he explained in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay), concerning Monday evening's Adjournment debate on the report of the Select Committee on Sittings of the House. Is it not the case that the House has an incomparable opportunity before Parliament is dissolved to benefit from the wide advice of many senior right hon. and hon. Members who are about to retire and who, looking back over decades of experience, know how our proceedings could be improved? If we do not take that opportunity, is there not a risk that the Committee's admirable report is likely to gather dust, and that nothing will be done to improve our procedures?

Mr. MacGregor

No, I certainly hope that that will not be the case. I established the Committee because I was anxious to make progress. The right hon. and hon. Members to whom my hon. Friend referred, who have given many years' service in the House but will not be standing for Parliament again, were able to put their points to the Select Committee—to which I pay tribute again as it completed an enormous amount of work in a short time. Monday evening's debate will provide an opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to express views not only about the report's general tenor but about its specific recommendations.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week on the increasing tendency among health authorities to impose charges in national health service hospitals? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Nevill Hall hospital, Monmouth, proposes to introduce car parking charges for its staff, out-patients, those visiting the sick, and hospital volunteers? Will the House have an opportunity to debate a practice which my constituents consider to be a gross violation of the principle of a free health service, and one that is indicative of the managerialism that is ripping the soul out of the NHS? The public could then decide whether they want a Government who believe increasingly in charging the sick, those who visit them, and those who care for them.

Mr. MacGregor

Those matters have been much discussed in the House and outside, and many of the scare stories have been disposed of. The hon. Gentleman speaks of "managerialism" as though it were something to be deprecated. I am sure that he understands that more effective use of the ever-rising NHS expenditure in directing it at patient care benefits patients themselves. It is indicative of Labour that it dismisses that aspect so easily, and explains why Labour is unable to present proposals for reforms that will ensure better use of ever-increasing resources of the kind that the Government have implemented.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)

May we debate sport next week? As my right hon. Friend knows from his successful visit yesterday to my constituency, Manchester's Olympic bid is very much at the heart of the regional issue. Such a debate would give me an opportunity to record how pleased we are that the Government will back that bid, and how good that will be for the region's development.

Mr. MacGregor

I very much enjoyed my visit to my hon. Friend's constituency yesterday—and, indeed, my visit to Manchester as a whole. Before I left, the responses that I was getting told me that yesterday's announcement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would be widely welcomed.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have a debate next week on animal welfare? Does the Leader of the House accept that stuffing 650 letters into hon. Members' postboxes is no substitute for a debate and a statement from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? In the first place, such action constitutes an abuse of the House.

If we had a debate, the Minister could explain why he sent around a limp letter full of excuses about animal welfare, but voted against the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill—along with 12 other Cabinet Ministers—in order to dish the legislation and protect fox hunters, allowing them to go around loosing their bloodlust on defenceless animals. It is time we had a debate to expose the hypocrisy of those Ministers and the Government.

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the fox-hunting issue is not as he puts it. I hope that he will consider what foxes do to other animals. As for animal welfare, I would welcome a debate on that whenever it can be fitted in, because I believe that the Government's record on animal welfare issues is very strong. We have placed great emphasis on such issues, and we have led in the European Community in that regard. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has played a notable part in the process.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that a most important Adjournment debate on the shipping industry is to take place next Thursday? It will make particular reference to Dover's ferry industry, much of whose case may be put during it. The debate is extremely timely—five days before the Budget. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that a Treasury Minister will be present, as well as a Transport Minister?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot confirm which Minister will be dealing with that Adjournment debate, but I can certainly confirm that such a debate will take place on the important issue to which my hon. Friend has referred. I am well aware of the active interest that he takes in the issue: it is, in fact, his own Adjournment debate.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the south-east of Scotland is alive with rumours that the Government will be making a statement about the A1 between Edinburgh and Newcastle? Can he confirm that such a statement will be made at the Dispatch Box, rather than an announcement being made in a clandestine, underhand way? May we have statements from both the Secretary of State for Transport, on the English side, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, on the Scottish side—on the same day?

Mr. MacGregor

I shalll have to consider both the timing and whether a statement would be appropriate; I shall also have to consider whether two Ministers should deal with the matter. I will look into it.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

Will my right hon. Friend consider arranging a debate next week about the security of hon. Members' offices, both here and in their constituencies? He may be aware that my office was broken into earlier this week, and that valuable computer evidence was stolen. Does he agree that such a debate is necessary to nail the lie that has been put about—primarily by Labour Members and, in particular, by the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain)—that a Conservative dirty tricks brigade was responsible? That would be understandable in my case, but it might not be in the case of other hon. Members.

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter. He has enabled me to say that I do not see any need for such a debate because the allegations made by some Opposition Members are totally without foundation.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week to debate the future of the 999 service? It has emerged in the past few hours that British Telecom plans to hive off the service to an independent agency. That will have a massive impact on the quality of service —[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I will explain why. Such a move will pose a massive threat to the quality of service. At present, the 999 service rides on the back of the general operator service. People can drop their general operator work and respond immediately. The proposal also involves shutting down many telephone operator centres, as a result of which those operating the 999 service will have no local knowledge.

This constitutes a severe threat to people's lives and security. Dogma is involved here. The aim is to ensure that British Telecom satisfies the City's objective by cutting its staff in post figures, rather than protecting the public. The Government should make a statement about the matter next week.

Mr. MacGregor

I think that the hon. Gentleman has made a speech about the matter. I had hoped that he would say something about the allegations that he made about the computer issue. As I have said, those allegations are without foundation. I shall now reply to what the hon. Gentleman has just said. I know nothing of this report. I shall have to look into it.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week to debate the chaotic traffic position on one of Britain's arterial roads, the A5, which runs past my constituency? Is he aware that there have been serious accidents on that road? The fact that it has not been improved between Hinckley and Nuneaton means that jobs are being lost in the area, because land by the A5 in Hinckley cannot be developed. Will he deal with this matter with some urgency, please?

Mr. MacGregor

I will take up the point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend will acknowledge that there has been a substantial increase in the road-building programme all over the country.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Although we welcome next Thursday's debate, can the Leader of the House assure us that the Prime Minister will take part in the debate so that, following his speech in Scotland last week, he can demonstrate an equal concern for the union with Northern Ireland and also show how we can have a form of decentralisation that is common throughout the United Kingdom? Secondly, on Tuesday's appropriation debate—

Mr. Speaker

Order. In business questions, can we have one question only, please?

Mr. Trimble

Then I shall save the second one for later.

Mr. MacGregor

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not think that simply because one of my right hon. Friends does not participate in a debate it means that he is not intensely interested in the question. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made speeches on the Scottish devolution issue but does not take part in Scottish Grand Committee debates on the subject. I think that it is unlikely that my right hon. Friend will take part in the debate next week, but I have already discussed it with him, following the request that I had from the leaders of the three parties in Northern Ireland. I discussed it with my right hon. Friend before deciding on the business for next week, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend was extremely keen to have that debate. As I say, it follows from the inititive that he took in Downing street.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on post offices for next week? It would enable me to say how well post offices operate throughout the borough of Ealing, generally speaking, and to draw attention to the proposed closure of the Church road post office, Northolt, which would be extremely serious and inconvenient for pensioners and for mothers with young children, among others. The House needs to discuss this very important issue. That post office should be saved.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend is extremely assiduous in bringing the concerns of his constituents to the attention of the House. I am sure that he will find ways of doing so himself.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

May we have a statement on the £55 million that the Government have offered to Manchester in respect of its bid to hold the Olympic games there in the year 2000? That debate would have to take into account the fact that when Manchester made its previous bid the present Prime Minister, who has now agreed to that money, was Chancellor of the Exchequer and earlier Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He was the man holding the purse strings then, and he refused to give Manchester a single penny piece. Now he stands on the doorstep of No. 10 gloating about it. Are not the Tory Government guilty of a bribe a day to keep the voters at bay?

Mr. MacGregor

It is typically churlish of the hon. Gentleman to take that position in relation to the Government's decision to give very substantial support to Manchester's bid.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Could we have a debate next week on NHS fund-holding practices? My right hon. Friend may not be aware that the Marshlands practice at Higham in my constituency has been a fund-holding practice since last April. Since then it has vastly increased the treatment that is given locally, not least by bringing in consultants, it has cut its waiting lists and it is giving better value for money. Does my right hon. Friend not think it important that during such a debate we could highlight the fact that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is so impressed by such an effective piece of NHS reform that he wants to scrap it and put that practice under the remote NHS bureaucracy?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I want to find every opportunity to highlight the benefits that general practitioner fund holding is bringing to GPs and their patients. My hon. Friend has done that well today. I am sure that his constituents will observe the benefits that are being brought to them—benefits that the Labour party would wish to take away.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate next week on early-day motion 715, tabled on an all-party basis, dealing with the pursuit of peace in Somalia?

[That this House welcomes the news that, under the auspices of the United Nations, an agreement has been signed between leaders of the two warring factions in Southern Somalia; is concerned that fighting appears to be continuing and calls on the British Government and the international community to redouble efforts to achieve a lasting peace in Somalia; draws attention to the fact that the parties who are involved in the fighting in the south have no claim, separately or together, to represent the people of Northern Somalia; calls on the international community to recognise that the people of the North have expressed a wish for independence as the Republic of Somaliland; notes that there are very close links between the North and the Somali communities in Britain; notes also that the North suffered for years in a hidden war under the regime of ex-president Barre during which time families, relatives and friends of British Somalis were killed or fled the country; notes that there has been relative stability in the north for the past year under a de facto government which includes the Somalia National Movement and other northern groups; and calls on the British Government and the international community to do all they can to ensure that the representatives of the North are involved in peaceful discussions aimed at achieving a peaceful and long-term settlement by agreement, including settlement of the request for recognition by the Republic of Somaliland in the North.]

Will the Leader of the House accept that this is given special and increased urgency because of a letter that I received today from the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. James Jonah, in which he refers to recent consultations in New York with what he describes as the two Somali factions—Interim President Ali Mandi Mohammed and General Mohammed Farah Aideed. That omits the interim Government of the north, who wish independence as the Republic of Somaliland. The north is the area with which the Somalis in Britain have contact and where they have many relatives and friends who have suffered through the hidden war over the past 10 years that has left many dead and many refugees.

Does the Leader of the House agree that we should debate this matter and ensure that the House, the international community and the United Nations bring all parties to the table to try to achieve peace? Does he agree that that would be better than the danger of the south being led by one faction and the north being left out of the peace deliberations? I am sure that the Leader of the House and the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, will agree with the facts as I have described them. Can we have an opportunity to raise the issue publicly?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not see an opportunity for such a debate in Government time next week. It could be undertaken in ways that are available to hon. Members to raise topics. I am not aware of the letter to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but I have seen the early-day motion. As he knows, the Government welcome the United Nations initiative on Somalia. I understand that a conference is to be held in Mogadishu later this month to which all factions will be invited.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

May I join those who have asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to arrange an early debate on the national health service? Is my right hon. Friend aware that a recent visitor to the Manor House hospital in my constituency described it as a unique hospital with a very high quality of care for patients, many of whom are members of the TUC?

Is not it a double standard to say that private health care is good for members of the Trades Union Congress and bad for the rest of us? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the visitor who displayed those double standards was none other than Mrs. Glenys Kinnock?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend that that shows the Labour party's hypocrisy on this issue. It devotes so much energy to condemning those who pay for their hospital treatment through hospital subscriptions, thus adding to the resources of the health service, as do many at the hospital to which my hon. Friend referred. Such people also help hospitals to raise substantial sums, a process which the Labour party also criticises. I understand that Mrs. Kinnock was praising that fund raising at the hospital last week. It seems that there is one law for TUC members and another for everyone else.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

Many people will be disappointed that the Leader of the House did not announce a debate next week on the future of Kuwait, bearing in mind the fact that tomorrow is the anniversary of its liberation. The Leader of the House will know that many people from this country and others died or suffered to free Kuwait but, now, a year later, 1,053 Kuwaitis are still being held by Saddam Hussein. I have spoken to families who were prisoners of war and had to leave relatives behind when they returned to Kuwait, so they know that they were alive.

In addition, the Kuwaiti Government, whom we saved and restored, are discriminating against members of the New Democracy Movement there and are refusing to allow observers to ensure that the elections are fair. I hope that we can have a debate about that, because we need to expose the hypocrisy of the Kuwaiti Government and we need to achieve true democracy as the United Nations intended.

Mr. MacGregor

It would not be right for me to comment in business questions on the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised, but I recognise the importance of having a debate on Kuwait at some point. The difficulty is simply that many important issues are being raised, and at the request of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs we shall discuss Yugoslavia in next week's estimates debate. It is just a question of if and when one can fit a debate in.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

May I first express regret that the Leader of the House lowered himself by replying to what was obviously a planted personalised and despicable attack on the spouse of a politician? I do not think that that speaks volumes for his confidence about the forthcoming election.

May we have a statement next week on the Government's attitude, especially the Prime Minister's, to national stadiums? We welcome the fact that £55 million may be made available for a stadium in Manchester, but is the Leader of the House aware that meetings have been held and repeated requests made to people up to and including the Prime Minister, by myself and colleagues from Lanarkshire, for a commercially viable proposition for a new national football stadium in Lanarkshire, which would service all sports, would create 3,000 jobs and would require finance, private sector led, of less than £20 million—less than half the amount needed for Manchester? May we have a statement to explain why that cannot be provided, as it would create jobs and an unparalleled resource in Scotland? Only £3.5 million is offered for the patch-up job that is to be done on Hampden.

Mr. MacGregor

I do read newspapers, and I was aware of the report to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) referred. [Interruption.] I will tell the hon. Gentleman why. I think that it speaks volumes for my dislike of hypocrisy. It was perfectly right to draw that issue to the House's attention.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, Manchester made a specific bid for the Olympics and it was right for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to consider it. I am well aware of the working party on Lanarkshire and of the significant sums that are being proposed and spent in the area. I agree that it is right to do so because of the particular difficulties that have been created by the need to restructure the Lanarkshire economy.