HC Deb 05 March 1992 vol 205 cc443-60 3.31 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement about the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 9 MARCH—Second Reading of the Friendly Societies Bill.

Debate on a motion to approve the report of the Accommodation and Works Committee in respect of the new parliamentary building (phase 2) (House of Commons Paper 269-I).

Motions on the Social Security (Class I Contributions—Contracted-out Percentages) Order and the State Scheme Premiums (Actuarial Tables) Regulations.

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

TUESDAY 10 MARCH—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

WEDNESDAY II MARCH and THURSDAY 12 MARCH—Continuation of the Budget debate.

FRIDAY 13 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 16 MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget statement.

Mr. Hattersley

As the Government have already told the broadcasting authorities that they will announce the general election next Wednesday, how does the Leader of the House justify making a business statement which he knows to be wholly fictitious? The Government are ending their term of office in exactly the same shabby way that they have conducted themselves during the past 13 years.

Mr. MacGregor

The right hon. Gentleman began with a fictitious comment: the Government have done no such thing.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Will the Leader of the House tell us what progress he expects to be made in the other place on the Asylum Bill? Is he aware that yesterday members of the Home Affairs Select Committee, who are considering the policing of European Community frontiers, visited Gatwick airport and witnessed no fewer than 30 men, women and children who had come from Casablanca, who were supposedly in transit at Gatwick airport, claiming political asylum? The immigration authorities at the airport made it clear that, if the provisions of the Asylum Bill were in place, that kind of incident would not recur. Can my right hon. Friend explain why there is such opposition from the Labour party to that essential Bill?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot comment on the particular cases that my hon. Friend mentions. On the generality of the issue, I believe that the vast majority of people in this country want to see the Asylum Bill in place as quickly as possible. That is why the Opposition are entirely wrong to be opposing parts of that Bill. I assure my hon. Friend that it is our intention to get the Asylum Bill, whatever the opposition from hon. Members opposite, on to the statute book as soon as we can.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East)

Will the Leader of the House come clean and say that he will make another statement next week about the general election? Is he telling the House this afternoon that he will not make such a statement? In other words, will he deny that he will not be making a statement next week?

Mr. MacGregor

My job today, as always, is to announce the business for next week, and I expect to be making a business statement next week as usual.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate soon on the renegotiation of the Uruguay round of the general agreement on tariffs and trade, which is a matter of considerable importance to United Kingdom agriculture, the farming industry and all those involved in rural areas, in addition to such industries as textiles and clothing, which need support from the House as a vital part of the nation's economy?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the GATT Uruguay round. In view of some of the rumours circulating today about the death of the Uruguay round, I must say, to paraphrase Mark Twain, that those rumours have been greatly exaggerated. Only on Monday of this week, European Community Trade and Agriculture Ministers reiterated that an early, positive conclusion to the round is vital for the international community. That continues to be our view. As for when we might have a debate, I would obviously wish to have one at the appropriate time.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

Next week's business is rather more important than the right hon. Gentleman seems to think. May we have a guarantee that for the Budget, which is probably one of the most important Budgets to be placed before the nation because we have seldom been in such a grievous economic situation, we shall have four full days of debate? May we also have an assurance—will the right hon. Gentleman give his word—that he is not deliberately deceiving the House today?

Mr. MacGregor

I am certainly not deliberately deceiving the House today. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that next week's business is extremely important. I agree that it will be a very important, and, I am sure, a very good, Budget. But I totally disagree with his assessment of the economic situation. As a result of so much that has been done to strengthen the economy in the past 10 years, I believe that, as we move out of the world recession, the British economy will be in a more competitive state than it has been for a very long time. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, under a Government of whom he was a member, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to go cap in hand to the IMF to bale us out.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week on education? During that debate we could perhaps mention the visit of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) to St. George's school, Gravesend, a grant-maintained school, where he did not noticeably tell the parents that he would overrule their vote by nine to one to become a grant-maintained school and claw their funds back to the centre of bureaucracy and away from the school, where they deserve to be spent.

Mr. MacGregor

I would like to oblige my hon. Friend with a debate next week. I am glad that he raised the point, because he has re-emphasised that, not only in Gravesend but right across the country, parents are voting strongly for grant-maintained schools. There is a big demand for places in them and we are seeing an increasing number of them. As always in education, the Labour party would deprive them of that choice.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Will the Leader of the House say whether failing to announce legislation to change the requirements for registering candidatures for Parliament reflects the fact that the Government have moved away from that foolish ploy, bearing in mind the fact that we are all equal in this place and that for 20 years we have been putting our names—and our addresses—forward for election? Also, may I plead with the right hon. Gentleman to urge the Chancellor to have better news on Tuesday for the British shipping industry?

Mr. MacGregor

Obviously, I cannot comment today on what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will say on Tuesday. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have asked me to consider the question of electoral addresses and there has been support for them from elsewhere. I have been consulting the various parties in the House on the matter and we are now consulting more widely to assess Members views. I have noted the hon. Gentleman's comments in that context.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on early-day motion 785?

[That this House, noting that the Manor House Hospital is independent of the National Health Service; that the 1979 TUC Conference called for the Manor House Hospital to be absorbed into the National Health Service and Or all affiliated unions as a matter of principle to discontinue any relationship with the Manor House Hospital; that it is Nalgo policy to campaign for the assimilation of Manor House Hospital into the state service; is surprised that Mrs. Glenys Kinnock has supported a fund raising event at the hospital; and condemns the double standards which enable Labour supporters to praise Manor House Hospital whilst condemning the use of private health care by others.]

Is he aware that one of those who helped in fund-raising activities at that independent hospital is none other than the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook)? Is it not hypocritical of the hon. Gentleman to object to private health care and then encourage fund-raising activities by an independent hospital?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is typical of the double standards adopted by the Labour party towards private health, which adds to the total income available to health services in this country. The Labour party should come clean on the matter and say whether it supports private health care, or whether it is only for certain trade union members. It should also say whether it would remove pay beds from the national health service. I noticed what the Leader of the Opposition said a few moments ago. The Labour party's policy would deprive the health service of £100 million in additional income. I notice that it has made no pledges to increase the overall funding of the health service.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that, if an announcement is to be made in the middle of next week, the first day's debate on the Budget statement lasts until at least 10 o'clock on Tuesday so that I have a chance to ask the Chancellor whether he is aware of a chamber of commerce survey in Coventry some 15 months ago on the health of 150 local firms? When the chamber of commerce tried to repeat the survey a few weeks ago, it found that only 64 of those businesses were still in existence. With fewer than 300 vacancies in Coventry's job centre, and with 20,000 people chasing those vacancies, I would ask the Chancellor whether he still thinks that the misery of the people in Coventry is a price well worth paying.

Mr. MacGregor

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I intend that the debate should run until 10 o'clock on Tuesday. Whether he will be called to speak, however, is not a matter for me. If he is, I hope that he will give the House his reflections on the Confederation of British Industry's report today, which, after a widespread trawl of its members, has concluded that any attempt to impose a statutory minimum wage would add at least 150,000 to the unemployment figure, and that, if existing differentials are maintained, the extra payroll costs could amount to £50 million. The hon. Gentleman will accept that that could have a devastating effect on jobs in Coventry and elsewhere.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Could we have a debate next week on parking and the use of roads so that I can raise the problems of my constituents, many of whom have great difficulty in Ealing, North, Northfields, Perivale, Hanwell and west Ealing, in parking their vehicles and making progress on the roads when going about their business? Something must be done about that urgent and important matter.

Mr. MacGregor

As ever, my hon. Friend is extremely assiduous in raising issues that affect his constituents. I am sure that he will pursue those matters locally and will find opportunities next week—other than in Government time, which he will recognise is fully taken up—to pursue them in the House.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

May I ask the Leader of the House about next week's business in the hope that, on Monday—given that the Budget will not have been presented by then—he will encourage as many hon. Members as possible, first, to see the exhibition on the new building in Westminster Hall, which you, Mr. Speaker, were kind enough to open last Monday; and, secondly, to try to participate in the debate on the new building? It is no good hon. Members talking about proposals for the new building after they have been accepted by the House unless they have participated in the debate on the new accommodation which Members will require in the future.

Next week there will be a draw for private Members' motions. Last week, I was fortunate enough to be second on the list for private Members' motions on Friday 13 March. It broke my belief in the superstition, because after seven years my name had come out of the ballot. I hope that the Leader of the House will guarantee that, after waiting seven years, on Friday 13 March the opportunity will still be afforded me to present an important proposal on unemployment, the underfunding of the training and enterprise councils, and the necessity for the Government to do something about training programmes.

Mr. MacGregor

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I agree, and I pay tribute to the work of the Select Committee on Accommodation and Works under his chairmanship, and to all that the hon. Gentleman has done. I echo his suggestion that as many hon. Members as possible should see the exhibition. There has always been great pressure to improve office accommodation, particularly that of secretaries, in the House, so the proposal is important. If we can manage to agree the matter next Monday, it will be possible to move faster on the building programme than if we cannot. Therefore, it will be important to have a debate next Monday, and I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said.

On the hon. Gentleman's second request I shall have to be less obliging. I notice that the debate that precedes his is on taxation and public expenditure. I have a suspicion that many of my hon. Friends and others will wish to participate in that debate and to draw attention to the huge gaps between Labour's spending commitments and its tax commitments. They will also want to draw attention to the substantial public expenditure programmes that the Government have carried through as a high priority, including those relating to training, which are two and a half times bigger in real terms that they were under the Labour Government.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, according to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, £96 million of public money provided by the Government for university tuition fees has not been passed on to universities by some local education authorities? Will he find time next week to discuss that scandal and try to find some way to achieve fairness for the universities and ensure that they receive the money that the Government intend them to have?

Mr. MacGregor

I take my hon. Friend's point. I shall act immediately and do what I am sure he has already done—draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Will the Leader of the House stop ducking the question that he has been asked three times and come clean about the length of the Budget debate? The Government have one of two options next week: to stick to the traditional Government economic policy, which is manifestly a disaster and which will lose them the election, or to change the policy radically by increasing public expenditure and giving people money in their hands in an attempt to cut and run. Given the need to debate the Budget properly, are we to have a Budget debate for four days, or are the Government to prevent us from having even that opportunity to test their policies—yes or no?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman will have to wait and hear my right hon. Friend's Budget statement. I have already stated the business for next week.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Has my right hon. Friend seen the admirable White Paper published by the Ministry of Defence today, "The Future of Britain's Reserve Forces", in which the Ministry of Defence draws on the lessons to be learned from the Gulf war and from the deliberations on the armed forces Bill about the call-out of reserves? Will he ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to come to the House tomorrow or on Monday to make a statement on that issue, as it shows that Her Majesty's Government have a commitment to effective reserve forces, as distinct from Labour party policies?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend says about the merits of our policy, and the distinction between it and that of the Labour party. I am grateful to him for drawing attention to the White Paper. As to whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence can make a statement on the Floor of the House, we have had a considerable number of statements and we have important business today. I felt that it was not possible to have another oral statement today, particularly as we are to have the estimates debate and an important debate on Northern Ireland. Therefore, I fear that I may have to disappoint my hon. Friend on that.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

The Opposition would welcome a debate next Friday on taxation and public expenditure, because we would welcome the chance to hear the Government's views on their bizarre philosophical twist to the economic programme of John Maynard Keynes—that taxation can be cut by increasing the public sector borrowing requirement to £31 billion. That will be a talking point in pubs and clubs up and down the country.

As some of us are superstitious about Friday the 13th, may I invite the Leader of the House, as a Cabinet Minister and a Privy Councillor, to give us a categorical assurance that we will be debating those issues on that day?

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot give a categorical assurance about any aspect of a business statement. I have made the position clear, and there will be plenty of opportunities next week to debate these matters.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will note that, if we had a public expenditure borrowing requirement of the levels that pertained under the last Labour Government, it would have averaged £40 billion and, at its peak under that Government, £55 billion. That is a measure of the irresponsibility from which the country suffered under the Labour Government.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

May we have a debate next week on advertising standards? An advertising campaign is running in my constituency under the slogan, "Made in Britain", but it has become clear that the perpetrator of that campaign, given the opportunity to buy a car, decided to buy Italian. It is a Labour party campaign, and we need another opportunity for the Labour party to tell us what it thinks. Has not the Labour party told the British people, "Don't do what we do, do as we say"?

Mr. MacGregor

I also recall a Labour party political broadcast recently which endeavoured to show falsely that most of the items in the broadcast were made abroad and were not available from manufacturing in this country. That was another attempt to undermine the great success of much of British manufacturing industry in the past few years. Typically, Labour did not comment on the fact that we have increased our share of world manufacturing trade in each of the past three years.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, if a general election is announced next week, it will be the first time since the war that the Budget debate has been curtailed and the first time ever that a Finance Bill has been guillotined from its start?

Mr. MacGregor

I have nothing to add to what I have already said about the business for next week.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Will my right hon. Friend try to make time for a debate on the relationship between Australia and the United Kingdom following recent discourtesies to the British Army and Her Majesty the Queen? In passing, should not we send our congratulations to the English cricket team who, with the assistance of Guy the gorilla, thrashed the Aussies by eight wickets?

Mr. MacGregor

I entirely agree, and I am sure that the whole House joins in my hon. Friend's congratulations.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 701 on the Warrington Czech book appeal?

[That this House congratulates the people of Warrington, Warrington Borough Council and all the companies who have assisted in any way in donating goods and money towards the collection of eight tons of books which will be transported to Czechoslovakia at midnight on Saturday 22nd February in transport loaned, fuelled and driven by Warrington people and the business community; and expresses the hope that the twinning arrangements between Warrington and the people of Nachod prosper and goes from strength to strength in the future.]

The motion congratulates the people of Warrington on donating eight tons of books to Czechoslovakia. It also points to the partnership between Warrington borough council and the private sector in transporting the books. In view of the uncertainty surrounding the business for next week, will the right hon. Gentleman, instead of waiting until then, congratulate the people of Warrington today?

Mr. MacGregor

For once, I can take up a request by the hon. Gentleman in a positive way. I should certainly like to add my congratulations and those of the Government to the people of Warrington on the appeal. As the House knows, this is a difficult time for the people of Czechoslovakia, as it is for all who have had to endure communism for so long. One of the worst things for a people as well educated and as cultured as the Czechs has been the absence of free access to books and information. I am happy to underline what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I understand that the Leader of the Opposition is offering the country an adventure. I wonder whether it would be possible next week to have a debate on political adventurism, then we can decide whether it would be more appropriate for the Leader of the Opposition to have a starring role in "Boyo's Own", or, alternatively, to take the leading part in Peter Pan, with its inevitable destination of Never-Never Land.

Mr. MacGregor

I think that there will be plenty of opportunities in the period ahead to make some of the serious points underlying my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

Has the Leader of the House seen the report in this morning's issue of The Guardian that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), is making an announcement about the sale of the four generating stations in Northern Ireland for £1 billion? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although the people of Northern Ireland, through the Northern Ireland Exchequer, paid for the construction of those four generating stations, it appears from the press story that the funding will not be credited to the Northern Ireland Exchequer but will be transferred to the central Exchequer in London? Why are we not to have a statement in the House on this matter? As it increasingly looks as if the Government would be well advised to delay the election until June or July, would the Leader of the House consider initiating a debate on this matter during the next three weeks, because it appears that the Conservative Government are stealing £1 billion from the people of Ulster?

Mr. MacGregor

I have noted the request for a debate within the next three weeks, and I shall bear it in mind. It might be possible briefly to refer to that matter in the wide-ranging debate on Northern Ireland that will take place later today. I shall certainly draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the debate on the National Lottery Bill, at which time Britain shared with Albania the privilege of being the only country in Europe without a national lottery, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) has just returned from Albania to report that lottery tickets are on sale in the streets of Tirana? Therefore, is not the matter of considerable urgency, and will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that a statement or commitment of some kind before the House rises would be extremely popular in the country?

Mr. MacGregor

The further work that was announced by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department on Friday 17 January is in hand, and I, hope that we can announce our conclusions as soon as possible.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have a debate next week on the shameful lack of consultation by Bradford district health authority on the proposed closure of Westwood hospital, in my constituency? No doubt the Leader of the House has noted early-day motion 761.

[That this House is appalled by the privatisation proposals of Bradford Health Authority to be implemented through the closure of Westwood Hospital and the transfer of mentally handicapped patients to Takare plc, Care Solutions Ltd. and AHP Rehabilitation Ltd. in the profit-seeking private sector; notes that Care Solutions Ltd. is a recently formed company with a director resident in Lugano, Switzerland, who has not yet made any returns to Companies House, and that AHP Rehabilitation Ltd. has one hundred pound issued shares and that the company has given an unlimited guarantee on bank borrowings; regards the use of the mentally handicapped as profit sources as immoral and places their future in jeopardy should any of these companies fail; and calls on the Bradford District Health Authority to scrap these odious proposals and retain Westwood Hospital as demanded by those who put patients before profit.]

The district health authority proposes to transfer patients from the excellent site on which Westwood hospital stands and which gives peace and serenity to mentally handicapped people to a home which has yet to be built by a company which is so fresh that it has not even made any returns to the Registrar of Companies. How can proper consultation have been undertaken with relatives and people with an important involvement when they have not been told about proposals for alternative accommodation, and cannot be, given the nature of the matter? The matter is urgent. Relatives and parents are concerned, and I hope that the Minister for Health will make a statement to the House before the general election.

Mr. MacGregor

I have seen the early-day motion. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Bradford health authority has carefully developed plans for the patients of Westwood hospital. Those plans are in accordance with our widely accepted care in the community policy. I am told that the health authority is satisfied that all the companies mentioned meet the requirements of the Registered Homes Act 1984.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, no matter how short the Budget debate, there should be time to make it clear that, every year since 1986, the yield from income tax has risen despite cuts in the basic rate, and that makes absolute nonsense of the claptrap being peddled by the Opposition parties that there is a choice to be made between cutting income tax and the yield therefrom?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend. The yield from higher rates of tax has risen over the period during which we have cut the higher rates to internationally competitive levels and taken them away from the totally punitive levels of Labour when it was in power. That is the interesting result of the extra endeavour, enterprise and economic growth achieved by our tax policies.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Although the right hon. Gentleman will not much longer be responsible for these matters, will he set in train the process of a re-examination of the taking of points of order? Is he aware that, in the old days, when I came into the House, points of order were taken the moment they arose? Is he aware that the present practice of delaying points of order is yet another result of the deleterious effects of the introduction of television cameras into the House and is designed to prevent Members from raising points of order in prime television time?

Mr. MacGregor

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not a matter for me.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Torbay hospital now approaches its 12th month of self-governing status within the national health service? Is he aware also that during that period 60 extra doctors and nurses have been employed, along with nine extra consultants and several other additional staff? Two new wards have been opened and the largest number of patients ever treated in the hospital have been looked after with marvellous care. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week on such matters so that Torbay hospital and its achievements can be presented to the House?

Mr. MacGregor

I would very much like to do so. My hon. Friend underlines what is happening in so many trust hospitals. We are getting improved health care. The accusations made by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) have been proved in practice to be completely out of touch. It has been demonstrated that the Conservative party is increasing funds for the NHS and carrying through management reforms that enable the funds to be better spent at the front line on patient care.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that many people of Indian origin who have settled in the United Kingdom are extremely concerned at the consequences for them of an extradition treaty between the United Kingdom and India and of a bilateral agreement between this country and India on the confiscation of terrorists' funds? As there is insufficient time for a treaty and the Orders in Council for the agreement to be laid in compliance with the parliamentary rules and conventions on the time that such matters have to be laid before the House, will the right hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance that neither the treaty nor the agreement will be laid before the House in the next few days so that these extremely important matters can be given fresh consideration by a new Labour Government with a new mandate?

Mr. MacGregor

There will not be a Labour Government with a new mandate, but I shall look into the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

My right hon. Friend will know that there have been a number of debates about a minimum wage policy and that there have been comments about it on other occasions. Did he read in the Employment Gazette in April 1991 that the half minimum wage pledge made by the Labour party would cost employers £3.80 an hour, not £3.40, and therefore by extension today's half minimum wage would cost employers more than £4 an hour? Bearing in mind these statistics, I wonder whether we should discuss the matter more fully to give the Opposition a chance to withdraw their foolish pledge.

Mr. MacGregor

Yes. I would couple with that the results of the authoritative survey which was carried out by the CBI, which were made available today. We are all awaiting the comments of Opposition Members on the survey. It is the sort of issue that my hon. Friend might be able to raise in next week's debates.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we have an assurance from the Leader of the House that, before the election breaks upon us, there will be time for a debate on the tragic increase in crime throughout the United Kingdom and the reductions in detection rates in so many places? Is he aware that in Leicestershire crime increased again and again last year and that detection rates fell by more than 6 per cent.? The chief constable has warned that policing will be further hit by cuts of more than £1 million in the coming year's force budget, and has complained about them. With crime rates soaring under the Government, it is surely unacceptable that police forces should be forced by Government cuts to reduce their expenditure on protecting our constituents.

Mr. MacGregor

The substantial increase in real terms on spending on the police under this Government cannot be described as a cut. High priority has been given to increasing police numbers and improving police pay so that we are not faced with the recruitment and retention problems that had to be tackled when we came to power. We have sought generally to assist the police with modern technology, for example. We have given high priority to supporting the police and to dealing with the issues that the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

May we have a debate on car ownership, so that we can discuss the welcome news that British companies such as Rover are now producing cars of the highest quality and competitiveness, which are being exported with increasing success? Is it not a shame that, rather than backing the boys at Longbridge and Dagenham, the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to aspire to middle-class values and buy his daughter a car has chosen to stick two fingers up at the British car worker and back the boys in Turin by buying an Italian Fiat?

Mr. MacGregor

I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend has said about the improvements in the quality—and every other aspect—of British cars, and I certainly support all that he has said about the improvements in Rover cars.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That was not the kind of question that should be asked in business questions.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall endeavour to call the hon. Members who are now rising, but I ask them to confine their questions to the business of the House, rather than making what are basically straight electioneering points—and not very good ones at that.

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

Every hon. Member knows that the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) is riddled with malice. It is very tragic.

May we have a debate about company contributions to political parties? Is there not a strong moral case for the Conservative party to return the £440,000 that it received from Mr. Asil Nadir? Should not that money be given to the receiver today? Is it not his property? What will the Government—and, indeed, the Conservative party—do about that?

Mr. MacGregor

Let me make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that those donations were received by the party entirely legally and in good faith. As for the general question of funding, as far as I can establish, business contributions are much smaller as a proportion of funds raised by the Conservative party than are union contributions as a proportion of funds raised by Labour. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already pointed out, research shows that, in the last election year, the political spending of a single union on the Labour party exceeded all company donations for all political activities.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

During the Budget debate, may we discuss the position of pensioners, particularly Mirror Group pensioners? As my right hon. Friend knows, they have lost a great deal of money which was given by Mr. Maxwell to the Labour party; perhaps we could discuss the question whether Labour will give that money back.

Mr. MacGregor

I have every sympathy for pensioners who find themselves innocent victims of the gross misuse of pension funds.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In view of what the Leader of the House said to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), will he arrange time for a debate on my Bill which would ensure that all political parties represented in the House of Commons published detailed reports of their finances, and that any moneys—whatever their source—whose donor had no authority to provide them would be returned? The Tory party should certainly return the money in question.

In such a debate, we could discuss placing a limit on the amount that political parties can spend during a general election campaign. If the amount that can be spent on our behalf in our constituencies is to be restricted—and I agree that that is right—why should political parties nationally spend as much as they like? In the last general election year, the Tory party spent between £15 million and £20 million on its campaign.

Mr. MacGregor

I have already pointed out that, in the last election year, a single union contributed more to Labour than companies contributed in political donations. As for the hon. Gentleman's first point, I must tell him that I see no opportunity for his Bill to be discussed in Government time next week.

Mr. Bob Dunn: (Dartford)

I urge the Leader of the House to reconsider the request for an urgent debate next week on car ownership and "Made in Britain" campaigns. After all, what message is being given to workers at Dagenham and in the west midlands by the prospect of the leader of the Labour party buying an Italian car for his daughter, and the leader of London café society driving round in a French car—[Interruption.]

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I say to the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) and the whole House that I hope we can leave our families out of our political arguments. It is quite unnecessary to bring them into the party political arena.

Mr. Dunn

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that it is reprehensible for us to be addressed in that way when the Labour party always attacks the family, manipulates the sick, and, in 1978, would not even allow the dead to be buried.

Mr. Speaker

I say again to the whole House that I hope that we can leave our families out of electioneering. There are plenty of other issues.

Mr. Bell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a serious point of order. The Opposition have sat through a number of entirely untrue comments and allegations made by Conservative Members. One such statement was that pension fund money belonging to Mirror Group pensioners had gone to the Labour party—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let us ask questions about policy.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

And business.

Mr. Speaker

Yes—and business.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster make a statement next week about the £440,000 received from Asil Nadir by the Tory party? That money was given illegally, and, bearing in mind what the Leader of the House has said, I ask why the Tory party does not publish its accounts. The Labour party does. Why does big business give money when the Labour party gets money from the trade unions only after a ballot? If students and people who get money from the social fund have to give their loans back, why cannot the Tory party give the money back to the people? [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Maxwell?"] I hear the word "Maxwell". I moved a resolution, which was successful, at the Labour party national executive committee a few weeks ago which means that if the £43,000 that came to the Labour party was connected with the Mirror Group pension fund that money will go back. That is what the Labour party is doing. Now will the Tory party do the same?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already made the point that the donations were received entirely legally by the Conservative party. I have also noted that there have often been considerable delays in the publication of some union accounts. Furthermore, as I have already said, the Labour party receives a much larger proportion of its total income from the trade unions than the Conservative party receives from companies. Trade unions have considerable influence on and power over the election of the leader of the Labour party, and also made a very significant contribution to its funding. There is no such situation with the Conservative party.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Was it not clear from the exchanges during Prime Minister's Question Time today that my right hon. Friend would be doing a favour to the nation if he arranged for a further debate on the national health service before the House was dissolved so that many of us could make it clear to the Leader of the Opposition that, when his party was last in government, our constituents—often people dying of cancer—were being turned away from hospitals by porters and other ancillary workers, who fund the Labour party and who have no interest in patients whatsoever?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree that it would be highly desirable to have another debate on the health service. What my hon. Friend has said is only one of the many points that could be made. Another would be, that, in order to meet the demands of health service unions, there would be a reduction in the amount of funding for patient care. As the Labour party does not propose any overall increase, that would mean a total reduction. The kind of comments and accusations that we are hearing from some Labour Members are totally off the mark—my hon. Friend is right.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Is there any likelihood of time being found for the Offshore Safety (Protection Against Victimisation) Bill? The Leader of the House will know that it passed its Report stage in another place on Monday. We co-operated actively with the Government to ensure its swift passage. What is to happen to it? Many of our constituents—fine, decent and honourable men—lost their jobs because they had the courage to speak out on safety matters on offshore installations. Lord Cullen said that there was a need to protect those men, but what will happen to them? Is the Bill to be jettisoned?

Mr. MacGregor

I am aware of the Bill and have already told the hon. Gentleman that the Government support its objectives. I shall have to look into the exact position.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

In the light of the earlier remarks of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), may I ask my right hon. Friend to consider initiating a debate early next week on early-day motion 402?

[That this House notes that the Daily Mirror and the Daily Record have over the years played a vitally important campaigning and news role as the only left of centre daily newspapers in the United Kingdom; further notes the need in a free society .for balance in the news media; expresses its solidarity with the journalists, editorial and production staff; and also pledges full support for their current attempt to secure the paper's future by means of a management buyout.]

There is an amendment to that motion which stands in my name and which calls on the Labour party not only to reveal for the first time the amount of cash with which Maxwell supplied it over the years but to disclose details of that which was received in kind. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been reports in quality newspapers of equipment being provided by Maxwell to the Labour party, of jobs being provided for the Leader of the Opposition's children, and of a cut-price Jaguar being supplied? If the information mentioned by the hon. Member for Bolsover is to come out, we need to know about those things. Pension funds have been pillaged by that man—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Ask a question; do not begin a debate.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend raises an important point in relation to the early-day motion. Any proposed transfer of the group will be inspected by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in accordance with the provisions of the Fair Trading Act 1973.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If questions put to the House are found by you to be out of order—[Interruption.] Clearly the previous one was because you rose to stop the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), who persisted despite your previous cautions, but you allowed the Leader of the House to answer it.

Mr. Speaker

I said that the hon. Gentleman should ask a question, not begin a debate.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Before the general election is announced—whenever that might be—should not the electoral registration figures for England and Wales be published for the benefit of hon. Members? Such figures are available for Northern Ireland, constituency by constituency. Provisional figures are available for Scotland, and the number of overseas voters has now been published for England and Wales, constituency by constituency. Why cannot we know the number of voters on each register in each constituency so that we know the general pattern before the election is announced?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman is extremely fearful of the general election because he asks that question week after week. He is clearly highly nervous about the forthcoming election. I shall give him the same answer that I gave him before. Electoral figures for as many parliamentary constituencies as are available will be published immediately before the general election, whenever that may be.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

May I repeat the earlier request for a debate next week on education, so that we can make three points? First, good education is underpinned by competition and by variety and choice for parents. Secondly, it would be a disaster if grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges and especially grammar schools were abolished. Thirdly, it is gross hypocrisy for people who had the opportunity to have a grammar school education—such as 14 members of the shadow Cabinet—now to try to deny the same opportunity to thousands of children.

Mr. MacGregor

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He is 100 per cent. right on all three points, and I hope that he will have many more opportunities to make them.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington. North)

Before the conclusion of this Parliament, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or a special debate on the situation facing old-age pensioners? A statement should enable the state old-age pension to be raised by £17 on 1 April so that it is at least calculated on the same basis as it was in 1980. That would be a start on returning the billions of pounds that have been stolen from old-age pensioners over the past 13 years so that they can at least live in some dignity in retirement instead of having to face the enormous cut in the state pension during the lifetime of this Government.

Mr. MacGregor

I would be happy to have a debate on the position in relation to pensioners, but we cannot have one next week unless hon. Members can raise the issue in our debate on the Budget statement. I would be happy to have such a debate because that would enable us to point out yet again that the average income of pensioners—

Mr. Corbyn

Income, not pension.

Mr. MacGregor

I will come to that. The average income of pensioners has risen by more than one third in real terms during our period in office. It has risen faster than for the general population, and it has risen a good deal faster than ever before. Part of the reason for that is the Conservative philosophy and concentration on encouraging pensioners to have a wide spread of occupational pensions, personal pensions, and other savings and not on clobbering them with tax like the Labour party.

We have fully observed our commitment on the state pension. Well above that, we have concentrated substantial sums of extra public expenditure on those who rely on the state pension, and who are therefore less well off, through increases in disability benefit, housing benefit, income support benefit and community charge benefit.

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 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 the 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 fin. Winchester to present his case before Parliament in Government time before further injustice is clone in this or any future case.]

As none of the key issues were even known about when the House debated the matter on 7 March 1990, will my right hon. Friend please publicly correct his reply during business questions on 30 January 1992, as reported in Hansard at column 1083, when he said that all those matters had been "fully debated"?

Mr. MacGregor

During business questions, one can give only a short reply. My hon. Friend had a debate on that matter last Friday when he took up a great deal of the time of the House and he was therefore able to make his case fully. I gave a fuller reply to him then which covered the issues.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In view of the heart-rending delays suffered in the Scottish courts by those who have asbestosis or mesothelioma, what is the Government's reaction to the report of the Scottish Law Commission published today on the effect of death on damages? I have given notice of that question. Is there any hope of quick action? I have also given notice of my next question. With regard to Libya, do the Government understand—and they should have been told by the security services—that one of the so-called Libyans has far more to do with Beirut and terrorist gangs in Lebanon than he has with Tripoli? If there is not to be a statement on Libya next week, may we have an assurance that there will be no military action or sanctions?

Mr. MacGregor

On the second point, I do not know whether there will be a statement on Libya next week. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he would raise his first point. As he knows, the report was laid yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and it is being considered.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

May I remind the Leader of the House that local authorities arc now presenting their budgets to their poll tax payers? Last year's fiasco, caused by the delay in sending out poll tax demands, created many problems for local authorities in collecting the poll tax. The only reason why poll tax bills are being sent out this year is that Tory Members demanded it.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement next week confirming that there will be no delay in the issue of poll tax demands and that they will be allowed to be sent out before 1 April, the beginning of the financial year for local authorities? May we be assured that the Government will not play canny and delay poll tax bills being sent out throughout the country just because an election is pending?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that there is any need for a statement, because my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities made the position very clear in the past 24 hours in response to certain wild allegations.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

As this is probably the right hon. Gentleman's last appearance at the Dispatch Box on the Government side of the House, may I thank him for his courteous treatment of my questions in the past? Will he look at early-day motion 796 about the proposed Canadian seal cull?

[That this House expresses concern at the news that the Canadian Government is contemplating an expansion of harp seal culling; believes there is insufficient scientific evidence to substantiate a claim that seals have significantly contributed to a fall in East Coast cod stocks; notes that Canada still has the largest annual seal hunt in the world with a current quota of 186,000 per year with over 50,000 seals killed last year; calls upon the Canadian Government to put in place improved fishing management schemes in conjunction with member states of the North West Atlantic Fisheries Organisation including the European Community; and warns the Canadian Government that any expansion of seal slaughter will undoubtedly result in a campaign to boycott Canadian fish stocks.]

May we have a chance in the last few days of this Parliament to discuss the matter? If the Leader of the House will not allow that, will he, in the few days left to him, make representations to the Canadian Government about the proposed cull, say how much opposition to it there is in this country, and warn them of the effect that there will be in this country if the cull proceeds?

Mr. MacGregor

I have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman in relation to his opening comment, which I think he will find will not be correct. [Interruption.] I can assure him that it will not be correct. I shall draw his question of substance to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but the Canadian Government are well aware of the long-standing public concern in this country and in other countries about seal culling.