HC Deb 30 January 1992 vol 202 cc1080-91 3.57 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Will the Leader of the House tell 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 3 FEBRUARY—Until seven o'clock, private Members' motions.

Motions on the Caribbean Development Bank (Further Payments) Order and the African Development Fund (Sixth Replenishment) Order.

TUESDAY 4 FEBRUARY—Motions on the English revenue support grant reports. Details will be given in the Official Report.

There will be a debate on motions to approve the supplementary estimate 1991–92 relating to the budget of the European Communities, Class XX vote 1, (House of Commons Paper 182) and the estimates 1992–93 (vote on account) (House of Commons Paper 183).

WEDNESDAY 5 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Bill.

Proceedings on the Social Security (Mortgage Interest Payments) Bill.

Motions on the Welsh revenue support grant reports: details will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 6 FEBRUARY—Opposition day (4th allotted day).

There will be a debate described as "Government responsibility for the continuing recession in British industries" on an Opposition motion.

FRIDAY 7 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 10 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Offshore Safety Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Transport and Works Bill.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet on Wednesday 5 February at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows: Committee A, document No. 9997/91, relating to Common Market organisation and milk products; Committee B, document No. 6748/91, relating to tobacco products.

[Tuesday 4 February

English revenue support grant reports

  1. 1. Revenue Support Grant Report (England) 1992–93
  2. 2. Revenue Support Grant Distribution (Amendment) (No. 2) Report (England)
  3. 3. The Population Report (England) (No. 3)
  4. 4. The Special Grant Report (No. 3)

Wednesday 5 February

Welsh revenue support grant reports

  1. 1. Welsh Revenue Support Grant Report 1992–93 (HC 151)
  2. 2. Welsh Revenue Support Grant Distribution Report (No. 3) (HC 152)
  3. 3. Distribution of Non-Domestic Rates (Relevant Population) Report for Wales (No. 3) (HC 153)

Wednesday 5 February

European Standing Committee A

Relevant European Community document

9997/91 Whole Milk Marketing

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

European Standing Committee B

Relevant European Community document

6748/91 Advertising Tobacco Products

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee HC 29-xxix (1990–91), HC 24-i (1991–92) and HC 24-iv (1991–92)]

Dr. Cunningham

Will the Leader of the House accept that, in spite of his panic about business last night and his subsequent changes, he has made an important decision in saving the Opposition's Supply day for next Thursday? Will he assure us that the Government will not erode that Opposition time by allowing statements before it, as has happened on previous Supply days? Is it not important to preserve that time so that the House may have the opportunity to debate the Government's policies on industry over the past 13 years, which have, to quote the Confederation of British Industry report, led not only to no recovery in the second half of 1991 but to continuing falls in employment, investment and output? It is important, in the approach to the general election, that, even if the Government will not provide time to debate their record, the Opposition have the opportunity to do so.

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the comments in The Times today about the Government's feeble proposals for the future government of London and about the mean and spiteful decision taken, admittedly under a previous Prime Minister, to abolish the Greater London council. Is there not now a wide consensus for the re-establishment of an elected authority for London? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Given what The Times has said, should not we have an opportunity, in Government time, to debate the future of London, its government and economy?

Mr. MacGregor

There was no panic reaction last night; there was a considered and ordered response to the situation that we faced, and I hope to say something more about that in a moment.

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said about the Opposition Supply day next Thursday. I am responsive to the need to find time for Supply days. One of the reasons why I was so concerned last night at the way things were going was that at one time I thought that we might not have time for a Supply day next week. I understand the hon. Gentleman's position, and I have been happy to meet his wishes on this.

As for a statement, I can only say what I have said before, which is that I cannot predict what matters will arise, but I have noted what he has said.

The hon. Gentleman quoted a CBI report, but I could quote large tracts of CBI reports that make it clear that it believes that the British economy has become much more competitive, that manufacturing industry has greatly improved in performance, that exports are well up, and that the policies that it wants to continue into the 1990s are those which we have been pursuing rather than those of the Labour party. However, I shall not pursue that, because I am anxious to move on rapidly to the next debate to allow the maximum time for it. I hope that the debate on the guillotine motion will be short, so that we can get on to the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman will have sensed from the reaction to his comments on the government of London that he is far from right when he says that there is a consensus about the abolition of the GLC. That move was widely welcomed. We would welcome a debate on London, but, in view of the pressures on the timetable, I do not think that it is likely to be in the near future.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Let me make a special plea to the House. Will hon. Members keep away from electioneering matters and deal with the business for next week? As I understand it, what happened last night was the result of lack of time, and if the guillotine motion is passed, the debate tonight will be concluded at 10 o'clock. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members will ask questions about the business for next week.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

My right hon. Friend will know that we spend a large amount of time discussing coal in our debates on energy issues. May we have an early debate on other forms of energy, particularly oil, gas and nuclear power? My right hon. Friend will know that my constituency has the largest onshore field producing those products. Can we debate the implications of the statement made earlier today for the export by rail of gas from my constituency, and whether that can be traded on the European market?

Mr. MacGregor

I understand my hon. Friend's interest, but it is unlikely that I shall be able to find Government time to discuss that issue in the near future. However, he might be able to find time himself to do so.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Having made up my mind about the difference between May day and St. Andrew's day, may I ask the Leader of the House to confirm that agreement has been reached about the meetings of the subject days for the Scottish Grand Committee? Is it the case that there will be one full day in Edinburgh and two half days in London? Against the background of constitutional trauma and clamour for change in Scotland, does it not seem ridiculous that not all the Scottish Grand Committee meetings are to be held in Scotland so that people can, rightly, hear what we all have to say?

Mr. MacGregor

I can confirm that agreement has been reached on the discussions to take place in the Scottish Grand Committee. I am pleased about that, because it is important that the issues are fully debated. So much of the debate has until now been somewhat unrealistic, and I am anxious to ensure that the issues are properly debated on a realistic basis within the Scottish Grand Committee.

I confirm that one day will be spent in Edinburgh, as I understand it, and two half days here. I am sure that the hon. Lady will agree that the fact that some issues are debated here does not mean that they are not heavily reported in Scotland. There has been an endeavour to reach an agreement which, I hope, will be acceptable to all involved. The important point is that the debates will take place.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

Is not the way round the problem which was drawn to the attention of the Leader of the House by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) to persuade the Opposition to change next Thursday's debate to a debate on the private notice question that they tabled today? They would then have the opportunity to hear about the success of National Power and PowerGen in my constituency, which are efficiently building two combined cycle gas turbine power stations to ensure that there is no damage to the environment and that the customer gets cheap electricity.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I hope that if he and my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) catch your eye, Mr Speaker, they will raise that issue and elaborate on it during the debate next Thursday.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

Will the Leader of the House consider setting a time for the House to discuss the crises of student grants and student accommodation, especially as they affect polytechnics, such as the polytechnic of Wales, which are now seeking university status and where continual funding crises often mean that student accommodation is being dumped on the local authority as a perennial problem?

Mr. MacGregor

Clearly it would be wrong for me to go into that issue now. I cannot promise a general debate on that subject, but it might be relevant when the Further and Higher Education Bill reaches the Floor of the House. I shall reflect on that, but that seems to be the nearest opportunity.

Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham)

Can my right hon. Friend say when he will make time for the Friendly Societies Bill?

Mr. MacGregor

That was certainly in my mind when I was considering the issue that faced the House last night, because, as I shall elaborate in a moment during the debate on the timetable motion, I take many issues into account when working out the House's business. As I have told the many hon. Members and hon. Friends who have written to me about it, we are making good progress on the drafting of the Bill and I certainly hope to be able to introduce it this Session, but it depends on the other pressures on the timetable.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Is the Leader of the House aware that in Scotland—in Faslane and Coulport—men in a private security company are breaking every rule in the book? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement about my constituents and others who have been asked to work more than 10 hours, 20 hours, 30 hours or 40 hours in a row to guard national security and being paid £1.85 an hour for that terrible task? I ask for the Secretary of State to make an urgent statement, because many of our constituents are concerned.

Mr. MacGregor

I doubt whether it will be possible for a statement to be made on that issue next week. The hon. Gentleman has already heard that I am under pressure to ensure that there are no statements on certain days, but I shall draw his point to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

As the Opposition are clearly running scared on health, will my right hon. Friend find Government time to stage a debate on health care? Is he aware that in Cannock, where Mrs. Nye Bevan, otherwise known as Jennie Lee, was the Member of Parliament for 25 years, doctors are delighted at the way in which our reforms are working out? Such a debate would enable me to draw to the attention of the House the fact that in Cannock we have a brand new £22 million NHS hospital which had been promised for 50 years but which was delivered by a Tory Government.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend makes several good points. I would like to be able to find time for a debate to enable him and my other hon. Friends to elaborate those points. I agree that there is no doubt about the increasing support in the medical profession for our reforms, and the growing recognition of the big increases in capital spending that we have undertaken. I hope that my hon. Friend will find time on many other occasions, not just in such debates, to make those points.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we have an early debate on the horrendous and continuing rise in unemployment in the east midlands in general, and in the city of Leicester in particular? Is the Leader of the House aware that, during 1991, unemployment in my constituency rose by 39 per cent., and that it is continuing to rise? Should not that terrible hardship inflicted so unnecessarily on so many people be discussed in the House?

Mr. MacGregor

I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not noticed that we have debated employment issues a great deal in the past few weeks and months—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Unemployment."] We have debated employment and unemployment. It has been said several times that we have one of the highest rates of employment in the European Community, and that Labour policies would greatly exacerbate unemployment. The issue has already often been raised in the House.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 585? [That this House is increasingly aware of how it was misled, and indeed used, as part of a finely calculated and deliberate injustice perpetrated for party political reasons against the honourable Member for Winchester and his constituents on 7th March 1990, by senior Government Ministers and of the abuse of the whipping system on that day to influence the vote of the House whilst sitting in judgment over one of its honourable Members; notes that of the Government Ministers directly involved, namely the Right honourable Members for Surrey East, Mole Valley and Mid Sussex one was a Queen's Counsel and a past Foreign Secretary in charge of MI6 and another, as Home Secretary, is now in charge of MI5; is deeply concerned that if such Ministers, deemed fit to control the secret services of the Crown, can take such blatantly discriminatory and unjust action against a loyal colleague, then no citizen of this land is safe under the law; believes that continued delay by Her Majesty's Government in the face of this obvious case will be seen by the general public either as a cover up or as condoning the gross misconduct of the senior Ministers involved; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to act swiftly, before the election, either to bring this matter urgently before the Committee of Privileges or to allow the honourable Member for Winchester to present his case before Parliament in Government time before further injustice is done in this or any future case.] I also draw to his attention early-day motions 115, 121 —[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Only one early-day motion may be drawn attention to.

Mr. Browne

It is clear that a great and quite deliberate injustice was perpetrated by abusing the privileges and procedures of the House. I first gave notice of that injustice almost a year ago. If the Government, knowing of the case, and of that involving the late Lord Boothby, feel that the people involved are innocent, why does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House continue to resist the idea of bringing a motion before the House so that the matter could be explained, rather than running the risk that every right hon. and hon. Member remains exposed to the same injustice? Will my right hon. Friend allow a debate on the subject, as a matter of urgency?

Mr. MacGregor

No, because the matter was fully debated on a previous occasion. I have nothing to add at present.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider asking the Minister responsible for industry in Scotland to make a statement next week about the way in which regional development arrangements disadvantage areas such as mine, which have no assisted area status? Is he aware that a proposed Sweater Shop factory which would have created 200 new jobs was diverted from Hawick to the west coast of Scotland simply because of the availability of regional assistance, which is not available in south-east Scotland? The situation is serious, and it is about time that the Government made a statement and reviewed the situation as a matter of urgency.

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that a statement would be appropriate. I recall, when I was at the Department of Trade and Industry examining the issue, that areas without development area status were worried about the shift of jobs to areas with such status. That is one of the reasons why we rationalised development area status.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth)? Every reasonable person understands that our reforms are having a beneficial effect on the national health service. Such a debate would give us a chance to consider the statement by Nye Bevan's nephew that the NHS would not be safe in the Labour party's hands.

Mr. MacGregor

Many people have noticed that statement, which comes from someone with considerable practical working experience of the health service, who understands the relevance of the reforms. I have noticed the understandable desire of many of my hon. Friends to debate the health service so that we can explain more of the benefits of our period in office. I shall bear my hon. Friend's request in mind.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Security to make a statement next week about cold weather payments? Is he aware that in Bradford, for instance, some pensioners receive the £6 that is made available while others do not? Even people living in the same street are being treated differently, with those on one side of the street receiving the payment and those on the other side being denied it. Will he investigate urgently that great injustice and grievance, and ensure that proper arrangements are made so that everyone who is eligible receives the payment promptly?

Mr. MacGregor

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge the fact that we introduced the cold weather payments system and that, in the light of experience, we have improved them considerably. As a result, because of the temperatures in the eligible areas, groups such as the elderly and disabled who receive income support have received automatically a payment of £6. So far this year, that has resulted in the expenditure of approximately £19 million, so the system is clearly operating. If the hon. Gentleman has difficulties in relation to particular constituents, I suggest that he writes in the normal way to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

In view of the fact that the Scottish Grand Committee is to debate the constitutional question and the implications of devolution, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Welsh Grand Committee will be given a similar opportunity to discuss those matters as they relate to Wales?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot assure my hon. Friend that those matters can be debated in the same way as they are being debated in the Scottish Grand Committee. If he wishes to raise particular points, I am sure that he will find opportunities to do so.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Will the Leader of the House please find time next week to debate the question of RECHAR? We have had a series of unsatisfactory ministerial statements on RECHAR and it is clear that the Government are cheating some areas of money that is rightly theirs. It is important that the matter be brought before the House so that we can examine it closely and scrupulously.

Mr. MacGregor

I disagree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman's charge. The responsibility now lies with the Commissioner.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the impersonation of Conservative Members to the press for political purposes? Does he agree that it is a most serious matter?

Mr. MacGregor

I think that I shall need further notice of my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Leader of the House will have noticed early-day motion 51 asking for a posthumous pardon for Derek Bentley. It has been signed by 191 hon. Members of all parties throughout the United Kingdom. [That this House welcomes the book To Encourage the Others by David A. Yallop, calling for an independent public inquiry into the hanging of Derek Bentley in 1952; requests the Home Secretary to set up the inquiry as a matter of urgency; hopes that such a request will lead to a posthumous pardon; and feels that this will end a grave miscarriage of justice which leaves a permanent blot on the British judicial system—the hanging of an innocent man.]

Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to speed up the police inquiry so that we can debate the matter in the House?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall look into the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

My right hon. Friend will welcome the opportunity to debate Scotland's constitution in the Scottish Grand Committee. I am sure that he realises that constitutional matters are clearly important to the House, the Union and the unitary Parliament. As there has been a decline in the support for an assembly with legislative and tax-raising powers in Scotland and a rise in demands for independence, is it not about time that the House debated fully what socialist nationalism really means?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I notice that the polls to which reference has been made have shown declining support for an assembly with tax-raising powers. A poll in an Aberdeen newspaper today shows that that support has fallen even further. I suspect that that is a result of the fact that a spotlight has now been put on some of the implications of that proposal, which is why I am keen to have a wider debate on other aspects of the question. I also recognise that, because of the major constitutional matters involved, not only Scottish but many English Members of Parliament would wish to participate in that debate. I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's request, but, for the moment, the right step is the one that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has taken.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Leader of the House has mentioned a debate next Wednesday in European Standing Committee B on tobacco products. Will he confirm that this is a proposal to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship? Will he tell the House when the Government are likely to table the motion for that debate? Is he aware that the Select Committee on European Legislation has issued a number of reports on this matter, the latest of which is published today, contains the summarised views of 40 organisations concerned and will be available in the Vote Office at once as a separate document?

Mr. MacGregor

I have noted what the hon. Gentleman has said about the document now available. I cannot immediately confirm to him when the motion will be tabled, but, as he knows, we always endeavour to get that done as quickly as possible.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle)

My right hon. Friend has said that next week a European Standing Committee will consider milk and milk products. Will he find another opportunity for the House to debate agriculture and farm incomes, bearing in mind the continuing uncertainty of the GATT negotiations and EC reform proposals? Is this not a matter of widespread concern in which positive Government policies contrast sharply with the absence of any worthwhile strategy among the parties on the Opposition Benches?

Mr. MacGregor

We had a debate before Christmas on these matters. As a former Minister of Agriculture, I am keen to have them debated as often as possible. I agree with my hon. Friend that one of the difficulties is still the uncertainty surrounding the GATT negotiations, and we hope that they will succeed very soon. That may be an appropriate time to have either a further statement or a debate in the House, when some of the points that my hon. Friend has made can be brought out.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the grave concern that is being expressed about the British merchant fleet, a concern that is even expressed in the professional papers, particularly about bulk carriers, many of which have been described as rust buckets sailing the ocean or as disasters waiting to happen? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House on these matters so that the British merchant fleet can be debated here?

Mr. MacGregor

I very much doubt that a statement is appropriate next week, but I will draw the point to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

I am aware of the pressure on time, but can my right hon. Friend find time next week to debate the affairs of the Royal Life Insurance company, one of whose agents, a Mr. Kissane, has swindled about 500 people out of several thousand pounds each? Does he agree that a debate might bring pressure to bear on all concerned to come to a settlement as soon as possible and restore their life savings to a number of people?

Mr. MacGregor

I am concerned to hear what my hon. Friend says. Without knowing the details, I cannot comment on whether a debate would accelerate a solution of the problems. I cannot give Government time for a debate, but my hon. Friend might consider whether the opportunities available to him should be used to deal with the point that he has raised.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

Next week the Government must give their response to a finding by the European Community, after a three-year investigation, that dumping of cotton and polyester yarn has been proved against Turkey, Brazil and Egypt. During the three years that this has taken to consider, 31 spinning mills have closed, with a loss of 4,000 to 5,000 jobs. Naturally, those who are employed in the industry and the employers are very anxious that we give a prompt and positive response to the proposals to stop the dumping, but when I telephoned the Minister's office this morning I was told that no response had so far been prepared. Will the Leader of the House ensure that this is treated as a matter of urgency because of the number of people whose jobs are involved?

Mr. MacGregor

I will discuss the point with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)

May we have a statement next week from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs so that hon. Members can tell him how pleased we are at his announcement today that from now on all electricial appliances must have moulded-on plugs? This will be widely welcomed, particularly by the disabled and the elderly, and the House should have a chance to give him the congratulations that are his due.

Mr. MacGregor

I know of my hon. Friend's involvement in this matter, and I am sure that a great deal of credit is due to him. I hope that we shall all do what he advises to make sure that the Government's position is widely known.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will the Leader of the House address the appalling plight of 62 non-haemophiliac patients, one of whom is a constituent of mine, who have contracted the HIV virus as a consequence of treatment in the national health service?

There seems to be appalling discrimination in that this small group of people do not receive any compensation while others do. May we have an urgent statement from Ministers before more of these tragically unfortunate people lose their lives?

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of the issue and sympathise with the plight of those who have been infected with HIV as a result of blood transfusions. I think that the matter has been debated in the House and considered. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the House decided not to support the principle of no-fault compensation for medical accidents. If the NHS is proved negligent in a court, it accepts its liability to pay damages.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I fear that it will not be possible to call all those hon. Members who wish to ask questions, because we must move to the guillotine motion by 4.30. I ask for brief questions, and I shall call as many hon. Members as I can in the remaining five minutes.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

Did my right hon. Friend see the front pages of The Star and The Sun yesterday which expressed concern about the misuse of ecstasy in the north-west, and especially on Merseyside, where seven young people have died and where a drug centre is using Merseyside regional health authority funds to distribute a leaflet encouraging young people to take ecstasy, a class A drug? May we have time next week to debate this matter and express our concern?

Mr. MacGregor

I share my hon. Friend's concern. We should all be grateful to those two newspapers for highlighting the issue. I do not know whether we can have a debate on the matter, but I hope that it has now been clearly drawn to the attention of the public.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

May I again ask the Leader of the House to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement next week on the proposed bridge to the Isle of Skye, the local planning inquiry for which is now under way? Not least among the problems are the difficulties that objectors encounter through not having public funding to enable them to present their views and have proper legal representation. Another difficulty is the absence of a published environmental impact assessment by the Scottish Office. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State to explain those matters?

Mr. MacGregor

I am not sure that a statement would be appropriate and, as the House realises, I am under great pressure about next week's business. We have a heavy programme. However, I will again draw the point to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

May we have a debate next week on whether the initiation of changes in the law with regard to membership rules for working men's clubs, a highly sensitive issue, should be invested in the unelected, unaccountable Commission for Racial Equality rather than in the House?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that we can have a debate on that matter next week, and my hon. Friend must find other ways to raise it.

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

May we have a debate on regional policy? Would it not be quite improper for Volvo Bus to close a major bus plant in Workington, which has received much taxpayers' money in regional grants, and move to Irvine in Scotland and receive taxpayers' money in the form of regional assistance?

Mr. MacGregor

I recall that there are rules about regional development grants, but I do not know how they apply in this case. It seems to me that the point could be raised by the hon. Gentleman in next Thursday's debate.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will the Leader of the House further consider the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) about cold weather payments? In any debate about that matter, we would say that it is most unfortunate that the temperature has to drop to zero or below for seven consecutive days before any payment is made and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, that such payment is made only to those on income support. It is deplorable that hundreds of thousands or more pensioners, many of them on the lowest possible income, are suffering in this cold weather and are not getting a penny.

Mr. MacGregor

Such schemes were not available during the period of office of the Labour Government. In addition, there have been very substantial improvements in income support and in social security arrangements generally.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Does my right hon. Friend think that it would be relevant, in next Thursday's debate, to raise the success of the policy of contracting out? Perhaps he has noticed that, in the latest redraft of the Labour party's policies on London, there seems to be acceptance of contracting out to private companies and, indeed, to the London boroughs. Surely those are the very things that the Labour party intends to try to replace.

Mr. MacGregor

If my hon. Friend were to catch your eye next Thursday, Mr. Speaker, it would be highly relevant that he should make a contribution on these points.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

Will my right hon. Friend make time to debate the desirability or otherwise of regional assemblies with tax-raising powers? In the north-west—Stockport in particular—there is concern about how horrendous a regional assembly dominated by left-wing Manchester and militant Liverpool would be.

Mr. MacGregor

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. As I pointed out earlier, the discussion of the constitutional position in Scotland—a debate that is about to take place in the Scottish Grand Committee—has much wider implications, involving, in respect of a number of issues, everyone in England and Wales. I hope that in that debate those implications will be made clear. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that those who are putting forward the idea of regional assemblies are doing so for the purpose of getting themselves out of a hole in their own policies and that there is absolutely no support in England for it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I dislike curtailing business questions, but I have managed to call those who were not called last week, and I shall do likewise next week.