HC Deb 19 November 1992 vol 214 cc417-29 3.52 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

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

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

Yes, Madam. The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 23 NOVEMBER—Opposition day (6th Allotted Day). There will be a debate entitled "Conduct of Ministers on Arms Exports to Iraq" on an Opposition motion.

TUESDAY 24 NOVEMBER—There will be a debate on the European Community White Paper, European Community budget and future financing, on a Government motion.

WEDNESDAY 25 NOVEMBER—Until about 7 pm, motion relating to Members' pay, followed by proceedings on the Car Tax (Abolition) Bill.

THURSDAY 26 NOVEMBER—Debate on the management of the public service, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 27 NOVEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 3o NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Social Security Bill.

The House may also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet on Wednesday 25 November at 10.30 am to consider European Community document No. 8586/92 relating to cosmetic products.

[Tuesday 24 November
Floor of the House
Relevant European Community Documents
(a) 4829/92 Community Expenditure 1993–97
(b) 5201/92 Community Finances to 1997
(c) 5202/92 Own Resources
(d) 5203/92 Inter-Institutional Agreement
(e) 6569/92 Community Expenditure since 1988
(f) SEC(92) 1412 The United Kingdom Abatement
(g) COM (92) 140 1993 Budget
(h) 7933/92 1993 Budget
(i) 8209/92
(j) SEC(92)1990 Subsidiarity
(k) Annual Report from the European Court of Auditors for the financial year 1990
(l) Cmnd 2065 Development in the European Community January-June 1992
(m) 8567/92 Establishment of a Cohesion Fund
(n) 9901/92 Proposed amendments and modifications to the Draft Budget
(o) Un-numbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted by Her Majesty's Treasury on 19 November—proposed amendments and modifications to the Draft Budget

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 79-i (1992–93)
  2. (b) HC 79-i (1992–93)
  3. (c) HC 79-i (1992–93)
  4. (d) HC 79-i (1992–93)
  5. (e) HC 79-iv (1992–93)
  6. (f) HC 79-vi (1992–93)
  7. (g) HC 79-v (1992–93)
  8. 418
  9. (h) HC 79-vi (1992–93)
  10. (i)
  11. (j) HC 79-ix (1992–93)
  12. (k) HC 24-xii (1992–93), HC 79-i (1992–93)
  13. (l) —
  14. (m) HC 79-ix (1992–93)
  15. (n) —
  16. (o) —

Mrs. Beckett

As the Leader of the House failed to announced the resumption next week of the Committee stage of the Maastricht Bill, will he confirm that the vital issue of principle on which the Government and the Liberal party claimed that Labour's amendment had to be defeated is now down to a difference of precisely one week? Does that not show, first, the incompetence of the Government in courting defeat on such an issue, and secondly, what a mistake it is to trust a word they say?

Is the Leader of the House aware of the urgent demand for a full statement next week on the revenue support grant? That is especially true as, though there is considerable doubt about the extra revenue for local authorities that the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement, there is no such doubt about the impact of the withdrawal of funding for the urban programme. Will the Leader of the House ensure that our Scottish and Welsh colleagues have the fullest opportunity to question their Secretaries of State, and there will not merely be an announcement through a written answer?

Will the Leader of the House find time as soon as possible for us to debate the Government's transport policy—or lack thereof—in the light of the dispute about the planned support for urban transport in the autumn statement, the evidence given to the Select Committee, and the suggestions of road pricing?

Finally, as an aid to planning, will the Leader of the House soon be able to tell us the dates of the Christmas recess?

Mr. Newton

I will take the hon. Lady's questions, for once, in the order in which she asked them. Given the performance of the Opposition on European questions, I find it somewhat strange that words should be uttered about whether the Government can be trusted on the issue. The Government's position was that it. was right to undertake some further consideration of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill before the Edinburgh summit. The issue in the debate involved, to some significant extent, whether that should take place, and the Opposition tried to prevent it. The Government still intend that there should be further discussion of the Bill before the Edinburgh summit, and I expect to say more about that in my business statement next week.

I do not expect that the hon. Lady will have to wait beyond next week for further details about the revenue support grant settlement. She will no doubt be aware that these matters are not dealt with in identical ways in England, Scotland and Wales, but I know that my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales will seek to ensure that the House has opportunities to be informed.

I cannot promise a debate on transport policy of the sort that the hon. Lady requested, but I draw her attention to the fact that the Secretary of State for Transport will be here is person on Monday to answer questions from her and other hon. Members.

The recess dates must necessarily be subject to the progress of business, but I very much hope that it will not be too much longer before I can give the House some idea of those dates.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Monday's debate will be widened to include the conduct of Opposition spokesmen, to give Conservative Members an opportunity to quiz the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) about his campaign of insinuation and innuendo? The hon. Gentleman's own record, of course, includes a conspiracy to place a mole in the Department of Health, and his infamous "Jennifer's ear" election broadcast was condemned by Labour's own general secretary as inadequately researched.

Mr. Newton

Were it not for my desire to be emollient in this role, I would congratulate my hon. Friend on making points that I could not have put better myself. I can only hope that he finds the opportunity either to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Livingston or to catch the Chair's eye during the debate.

Mr. Stephen Byers (Wallsend)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for the Secretary of State for Education to come to the House to make a statement about the fiasco surrounding the publication of the school examination results league tables? Is he aware that the Government's expert survey control unit had no involvement in compiling the league tables, and that the responsibility was given to two organisations with no previous experience of an exercise on this scale? The House should have an explanation; parents and schools affected should have an apology; and these misleading and inaccurate league tables should be withdrawn.

Mr. Newton

My emollience is in danger of deserting me. I am almost tempted to give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking that he requests, if only to ensure an opportunity for the Opposition spokesman on education to explain why the Opposition want to deny parents the information which they manifestly want.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a total waste of valuable parliamentary time to have a debate on Monday on a subject, the facts about which are being fully investigated by a lord justice of appeal? Does he agree that the Opposition know nothing about it and will use the debate only as an excuse for muck-racking—their sole activity in this place?

Mr. Newton

I shall retreat into emollience and say that I am sure that many will have sympathy with my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Will the Leader of the House require the Secretary of State for Education to come to the House on Monday to tell us how he intends to put right the grievous wrong done by the Department to Manchester high school for girls in my constituency? The Department announced yesterday that only 16 per cent. of the pupils there had GCSE passes, whereas in fact 100 per cent. of the fifth formers achieved them. It is intolerable that, after the school had pointed out this error to the Department before publication, the Department went ahead and inflicted this great damage to the school. What will the Government do to put it right?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has already taken action. As the right hon. Gentleman may know—I hope so—an erratum slip has been issued with the tables for Manchester, the press were notified of the error yesterday, and the Under-Secretary of State has written to apologise to the headmistress in a letter which I have here, and which is dated yesterday.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

Will my right hon. Friend initiate next week a debate on road safety, a matter of grave concern to my constituents and all those who live near motorways? Since 1988, all large lorries in Britain have had to be fitted with mirrors on each side. That requirement does not apply to lorries coming here from our EC partners or from non-EC countries—a matter of grave concern to my constituents and others who use motorways. Will my right hon. Friend initiate such a debate, so that we can obtain an assurance that we are pressing our fellow EC members to introduce legislation similar to ours so that my constituents can travel safely on motorways'?

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's concern. As my constituency practically borders his and much of the same traffic passes through both, I too am aware of that concern. I shall alert my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to the fact that my hon. Friend may seek to question him on the matter on Monday.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Did I understand the Leader of the House to say that the revenue support grant statements to be made next week would include not just those for England and Wales but for Scotland as well?

While he is on his feet, will he say what the Government propose to do in order to give the House an opportunity to hear Ministers' reactions and to debate the situation surrounding the GATT negotiations, which have some important implications for agriculture, textiles and other sectors of industry?

Mr. Newton

I well recognise the importance of the GATT negotiations and the associated agricultural issues. As the hon. Gentleman knows, discussions are going on in various ways in the hope of achieving a settlement. I cannot promise a debate at the moment, but we shall keep the matter under review and discuss it through the usual channels.

I am sure that I did not give the commitment that the hon. Gentleman mentioned in the first part of his question. The matter is handled in different ways for the three countries, but I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the concern that he has expressed.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

Has my right hon. Friend had time to see early-day motion 878 in my name on Macedonia?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to use its best efforts to secure the earliest recognition of that portion of the former Republic of Yugoslavia known as Macedonia as an independent sovereign state; and bearing in mind the present desperate economic and social situation there, further urges Her Majesty's Government to use its influence to help ensure a regular flow of oil needed to sustain the essential needs of the population and their economy.]

Is he aware that in that part of what was Yugoslavia there is a tremendous tragedy waiting to happen which is not being closely followed by the major powers? Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate the problems of Macedonia, particularly the question of its recognition as an independent republic?

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to find time to debate that matter, but I can assure my hon. Friend, whose close interest in the matter is well known, that the Government arc working to secure the recognition of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia on terms which will secure good relations with all its neighbours, but he will be aware how difficult that it.

Mr. Brain Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

Will the Leader of the House invite the Secretary of State for Education to come here next week to explain how it comes about that, at seven secondary schools in Hackney, no pupils are recorded as having sat A-level or AS-level examinations, whereas in fact the seven schools all seconded staff and pupils to the sixth form centre, with impressive results?

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to bring my right hon. Friend here in that context, but I will ask him to be in touch with the hon. Gentleman on that point.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that there are many shades of legal opinion on all the substantial and important issues of the Maastricht treaty? It is very difficult for the House to understand how the treaty will be interpreted in Europe. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, when the House comes to consider all the important sections of the treaty, we are told the views of the Commission and, if possible, the European Court, and the way in which they are likely to interpret the proposals involved? We shall then not be entirely dependent on a highly favourable gloss from the Government.

Mr. Newton

I undertake to ensure that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's attention is drawn to what my hon. Friend has said.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

May I press the Leader of the House to clarify the answer that he gave to the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett)? Did he not omit mention of Northern Ireland when he referred to income support? Scotland and Wales were mentioned, and the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned "three countries", but the kingdom has four parts, and supply comes from the House.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 747?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Attorney-General to examine the report from the RUC to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Solicitor as a matter of urgency and thereafter to commence proceedings for the extradition of Finbar Ross from the United States of America with a view to prosecution in respect of conspiracy to defraud investors, resident in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, in International Investments Ltd., Gibraltar (in liquidation).]

The motion is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) and those of more than 100 other right hon. and hon. Members, and it deals with international investments. May we have a statement from the Attorney-General about why conspiracy charges against an associate of Finbar Ross, a Mr. Murray, were dropped? Why are such matters being let go?

Mr. Newton

I did not refer to Northern Ireland earlier, because I was not asked about it. As the hon. Gentleman will know, matters are not necessarily dealt with in the same way there as they are in the rest of the United Kingdom, but I shall bring his comments to the attention of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman's second question is a matter for the prosecuting authorities in Northern Ireland, and I understand that they are considering it. The decision on whether to seek extradition is one for the relevant Secretary of State.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

In what way will the motion on Members' pay affect those who have left the House and are drawing pensions, and the widows of former Members? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although we have responsibilities for ourselves that are conditioned by the economic circumstances, we have exceptional responsibilities to widows and pensioners; and that they should not suffer?

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's concern. The motion that the House will debate next week concerns only the forthcoming year, and I do not expect it to contain special provision for pensioners; but the House will need to give further consideration to longer-term issues relating to both pay and pensions, and I think that that will be the appropriate time at which to address the matter.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

No doubt the Leader of the House is aware of the possibility of industrial action on London Underground next week in connection with a possible 5,000 job losses. Will he find time for a debate next week—preferably before Tuesday—on the management of London Underground to give the Secretary of State for Transport an opportunity to account to the House for steps that he has taken to try to avert damage to London's economy?

Mr. Newton

As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be answering questions on Monday. It is increasingly clear that he will have a busy day.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the dilemma faced by a number of small private nursery schools—many of them voluntarily run—which face difficulties relating to the Children Act 1989? I am sure that those difficulties were not foreseen when the Act was passed, but they will lead to closures if something is not done very quickly to exempt such schools from its provisions.

Mr. Newton

I will bring that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the continuing danger posed to the lives of Northern Ireland fishermen by the failure of the agreement regarding submarines in the Irish sea and the north channel? A couple of weeks ago, a constituent of mine nearly lost himself, his crew and his boats after being snagged by a United States submarine. No one went to him and asked what had happened, and what damage had been done. May we have a little time to debate that on-going and serious matter? The arrangements that exist are either ineffective or not being operated properly.

Mr. Newton

I shall ensure that that point, together with a number of others, is brought to the attention of the relevant Secretaries of State. However, as the hon. Gentleman's question is one that could be raised during Northern Ireland questions, for example, I ought to point out that on Thursday next my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be here.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the most worrying problems today is the serious growth in juvenile crime throughout the country, even in comparatively civilised areas such as the west midlands and mid-Warwickshire? In view of the apparent inability of the authorities to do very much about it, is it not time that we had a serious debate on the subject?

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's request and will bear it in mind, but I cannot promise an early debate.

If I may add to my answer to the previous question, I heard, from a sedentary position, the words "Ministry of Defence" being spoken. Defence Ministers will be here next Tuesday to answer questions.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Given the announcement that has just been made about the fast breeder reactor programme, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the Government's attitude towards Select Committee recommendations, which so often in the past they have completely ignored? Does the Leader of the House recall the Energy Committee's recommendation that the research and development of alternative energy technologies should be removed from the ambit of the Atomic Energy Authority? If that were to be done, does it not mean that Dounreay would be the ideal centre of excellence for the pursuit of such research?

Does the right hon. Gentleman have anything to say that is positive—a message of hope for the north of Scotland?

Mr. Newton

I am not sure whether the promise of a debate, which is what I take the question to have been directed towards, would be interpreted as a message of hope, but I am afraid that I cannot undertake to provide time for such a debate.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Bearing in mind the subject that is to be debated next Monday, will my right hon. Friend give the House an undertaking that before Monday he will place in the Library the exact criteria by which Ministers decide to give public interest immunity certificates? Does he also agree that it would help the House in its deliberations on Monday if he were to give the same statistics for the period between 1974 and 1979, when Labour Ministers were required to sign these certificates?

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's request and will ensure that it is looked at by my right hon. Friends, including the Attorney-General.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

With regard to the debate on Members' salaries next Wednesday can we be assured that the Register of Members' Interests will be published by next Wednesday so that those Conservative Members who are so keen on pay freezes can have exposed to view their outside earnings, which inure some of them to such freezes? Many are earning more than their parliamentary salaries from parliamentary advisory jobs, directorships and similar activities.

Would it not be fair to the House for it to have that information by next Wednesday so that, when people stand up and argue that civil servants in particular who are on low pay should be subjected to a pay freeze, we know how busy they are in pursuing their own pocket-lining activities?

Mr. Newton

Leaving aside the more tendentious bits of the hon. Gentleman's question and coming to the question that is principally for me, I am doing everything that I can to encourage the establishment of a Select Committee on Members' Interests in order that the register can be published. I understand that some progress, but not yet enough, has been made with the usual channels. The hon. Gentleman may therefore like to urge the usual channels to come to a conclusion.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

Has my right hon. Friend had his attention drawn to early-day motion 861?

[That this House demands that the President of the Board of Trade make known the information given to him by British Coal that led to his statement that the 10 pits currently in the 90-day statutory consultation period are uneconomic and have no prospect of being so; is concerned that the 7,000 men who work at these 10 collieries, their families and the wider public need to know the evidence which has decided their fate: notes that both the President of the Board of Trade and the Prime Minister have stated that these 10 collieries are not to he considered in the Government's review of energy policy, yet there is considerable evidence that a number of these pits are economically viable; believes that a simple assertion of the collective non-profitability of these collieries is not a sufficient basis for a decision of such magnitude but that it is imperative that British Coal prove its case by making public information on production costs, forecasts, reserves, recent investment, development work and markets on a pit by pit basis; and asserts that, if the case against these pits is so strong that they are to close, this information can no longer be regarded as commercially sensitive.]

It is sponsored by the Coalfields Communities Campaign. No one asks that unproductive and uneconomic pits should remain open, but is my right hon. Friend aware that the economic case for closing those 10 pits and throwing out of work many thousands of people remains unproven? Should not the House have a say? Ought we not to have a debate on the grounds upon which those pits are to be closed?

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's request. He will be aware, however, that I said last week that I would expect the next debate on coal, other things being equal, to take place when we have the outcome of my right hon. Friend's review. In the meanwhile, I understand that, under the statutory consultation process, British Coal has provided the relevant trade unions with an information package about the performance of each pit. Therefore, it seems to me that representations are best made through that process.

Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

Is the Leader of the House aware that Labour Members from the north are disappointed that there will be no opportunity to discuss the economic future of the northern region next week? May we have a debate on the subject in the future, bearing in mind our problems such as long-term unemployment and deprivation, and the fact that, as recently as yesterday, the other place held a very good debate on the subject? We need a debate on the regions, which would enable hon. Members to discuss the problems in their region.

Mr. Newton

We are in the middle of a two-day debate in which it should be possible to make such points. A number of Conservative Members feel that Monday's Opposition day might have been better used to assist the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that 17 December is the launch date for the European Year of the Elderly? This will be a very important year for the European Community. May we have a debate on the subject before Christmas?

Mr. Newton

I am aware of the importance of the year, with which I was concerned in my previous ministerial capacity, but I cannot promise a debate between 17 December and Christmas, unless hon. Members wish to stay here closer to Christmas than I suspect.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

The House is not exactly run off its feet with business, and has met for only 31 of the past 67 weeks. During that period, a miner lucky enough to have a job will have worked 58 weeks. Should we not at least find time to discuss the mining industry in Government time, rather than leaving it to a Select Committee?

Mr. Newton

The House may have sat on the basis that the hon. Gentleman suggests, but Members have been working for many more days than that—many of them in their constituencies.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government are concerned about Scotland and the Scottish people, and that he will arrange an early debate on Scottish local government so that we can consider early-day motion 856?

[That this House is concerned at reports in The Sunday Times on 8th and 15th November which disclose that Monklands District Council is ruled by an elite of 17 Labour councillors, including the Leader of the Opposition's election agent, which has employed 22 wives, sons and daughters of councillors, and that preferential employment practices have resulted in employment for the provost's 'son in the council's work study section, a daughter in the housing department and a son-in-law in the parks department' as well as the Labour Council leader's 'eldest son … promoted to assistant safety officer, … other son works in the council's economic employment section; daughter … a post in the planning department'; notes that a green form system was used to distinguish the job applications from members of the ruling families from the pink ones from the general public; is disturbed that the articles suggest that the Leader of the Opposition has failed to convince his own Labour councillors of the importance of manufacturing industry; fears that the Leader of the Opposition is allowing himself to be dragged into a quagmire of mafioso-like intrigue, nepotism and corruption; and questions the judgment of the Leader of the Opposition in sending a message of support to the council's new free newspaper which has been set up by the Labour councillors in a mafia-like operation to destroy the free enterprise Coatbridge and Airdrie Advertiser and thereby enable the ruling Labour councillors to wipe out the only opposition; and believes that these actions are not in the public interest.]

Such a debate would allow us properly to discuss the attempts of Labour councillors on Monklands district council to cover up very strange matters by using taxpayers' money to fund a wholly unjustified legal action against the local newspaper, which has been exposing strange and undesirable practices in Scottish local government.

Mr. Newton

The Government share my hon. Friend's concern about the allegations and, I need hardly say, firmly oppose any form of discrimination. The allegations can be pursued through the courts, the local authority ombudsman or the Commission for Local Authority Accounts.

Mr. Alan Milburn (Darlington)

May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to early-day motion 858 on drug and alcohol residential homes?

[That this House expresses its concern at the prospect of the closure of over 100 drug and alcohol residential homes following the Department of Health's announcement that the transfer of DSS income support payments to local authorities will not be ring-fenced; and seeks the introduction of an adequate alcohol and drugs specific grant in the United Kingdom.]

It has attracted all-party support. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that between 5,000 and 10,000 people face the prospect of being thrown on to the streets because of the closure of up to 150 of these homes. The Government reneged on a promise given during the passage of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 that a specific ring-fenced grant would be made available to protect the homes. Will he find time next week to ensure that we have a full and proper debate before redundancy notices are issued and people are thrown on the street?

Mr. Newton

I am aware of the points being made, which the hon. Gentleman has repeated, not least because on Tuesday I attended the launch of the European Drug Prevention week. I do not accept the conclusions that he draws from the announcements that my right hon. and hon. Friends have made, and nor do they.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I have been persuaded by Opposition Members that perhaps we should have a debate next week on the publication of examination results and the league tables, and Monday would be ideal for me. It would give me an ideal opportunity to talk about parental choice and education standards and would allow us to consider the results of schools at the bottom of the league, which all appear to be in Labour-controlled local authorities. Perhaps we could consider that and see what action can be taken against those schools.

Mr. Newton

If that was a question, it was a good one, and I wish that I had thought of it myself.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the important issue of the removal of the urban programme, which is worrying in the city of Hull? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what is happening adds up to the fact that there will be no rescue package for city challenge and that, contrary to what the Prime Minister said today at Question Time, there is now no effective grant regime to replace the lost money? If Hull loses its present assisted area status, that will have a devastating effect on our great city.

Mr. Newton

As the hon. Gentleman said, he heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Question Time, and I shall not seek to add to that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is making representations on assisted area status in connection with the present review.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

Has the Leader of the House considered a debate on the grave problems of the steel industry, not least the 20 per cent. cut in production and the huge financial losses announced this week? Does the right hon. Gentleman know that hundreds of jobs have been lost at Shotton steelworks in my constituency, that those manufacturing jobs are important to the whole of Wales, and that we should like the Government to help our steel industry?

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to provide time for such a debate, but again, what the hon. Gentleman is saying seems relevant to the debate currently taking place in the House, and his concerns are certainly addressed by the proposals in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's autumn statement, which is being debated.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

In connection with the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) about the urban programme, does the Leader of the House accept that to announce a major change of Government policy which will have a massive effect on the lives of many thousands of people in the inner cities in a letter to the leaders of local authorities, with no opportunity for the House to discuss the matter or ask the Minister questions, is not a proper way for the Government to behave?

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Secretary of State for the Environment should make a statement to the House next week and answer questions? He may come reluctantly, but does the Leader of the House not accept that it is his responsibility to bring the Secretary of State to the House so that he can deal with the matter properly?

Mr. Newton

I had better choose my words cautiously, but I believe that I have already hinted to the shadow Leader of the House that there was some possibility that the Secretary of State for the Environment would be here next week in connection with the revenue support grant settlement in England. If so, that would give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to ask his questions.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

Bearing in mind the fact that we have had nearly 30 minutes of bright and not so bright suggestions from Opposition Members for subjects for future debates, might it not be a good thing if in future, when the Opposition have a Supply day the following week, they made their initial inquiries to the shadow Leader of the House?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for yet another helpful suggestion from one of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington)

I am sure that the Leader of the House read with shock and dismay early-day motion 788, concerning the proposed closure of Withington hospital, in my constituency.

[That this House expresses grave concern about the North Western Regional Health Authority's proposal to reorganise hospital provision in South Manchester, involving the closure of Withington Hospital as a district general hospital; regards the proposal as one that has less to do with any rational provision of health care in the district than with the rationing of resources needed to provide hospitals as close as possible to the communities they serve; calls for reconsideration of the proposal forthwith in a review that would take account of Manchester's needs as a whole for hospital provision; and asks the Secretary of State for Health to consult urgently with the City's elected representatives and certainly before any definitive decision is taken.]

Barely four years ago, when the Leader of the House was Secretary of State for Health, he accompanied me and the Duchess of York at the opening of the new children's hospital in Withington, which will now be part of the closure programme. Will he agree to an early debate on the matter so as to secure the future of health care in south Manchester, and in particular to save a hospital which he proudly helped to open?

Mr. Newton

I certainly remember the occasion—although I fear that the hon. Gentleman has promoted me, as I was the Minister for Health, rather than the Secretary of State, at the time.

I understand that there are no formal plans to close Withington hospital, and that South Manchester health authority proposes to develop acute district services at Wythenshawe hospital, and to create a community hospital at Withington. All such proposals are subject to a decision by the various health authorities, and to consultation, before a decision can be made.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

Will the Leader of the House allow an early debate on perfume companies holding consumers to ransom, forcing up prices by one third and blackmailing magazines and newspapers into refusing advertisements for cheaper prices? Will he ensure that the President of the Board of Trade bangs heads together to avoid another nine months of high prices so that you, Madam Speaker, and the rest of us may have a much merrier Christmas?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will be interested in the suggestion of vigorous physical activity on his part. I will undertake rather more calmly to bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to his attention.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

In the light of the 3,500 redundancies announced today by the Royal Bank of Scotland, and in the light of the fact that there have been a number of job losses in the banking industry in the south-east of England, in Edinburgh and in Manchester, will the Leader of the House consider an early debate on the subject? If we are starting to lose jobs in an area that is this country's particular strength, it is an illustration of the extent to which the country faces tremendous job losses and a rundown in its economy. The Government should pay attention to that.

Mr. Newton

I and the whole Government regret these and any other job losses. However, they should be seen in the context of overall employment of 24,000 in the Royal Bank Group as a whole. I understand that the majority of the losses will be achieved by what is rather unpleasingly called "natural wastage"—that is, as a result of turnover.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

I take it that you have taken it out on me for being naughty earlier by leaving me to the last, Madam Speaker. I apologise.

Will the Leader of the House tell us about the future of the consultants' report into the operation of the House? Will he assure me that the story in this morning's newspaper that part of the report suggests a Members' wine bar in the Cellar is nonsense? It sounds a barmy idea at the moment.

Mr. Newton

These are matters principally for the Accommodation and Works Committee and for the Catering Committee. I will draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of both Chairmen.