HC Deb 22 April 1993 vol 223 cc511-26 3.31 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 26 APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

TUESDAY 27 APRIL—Until about seven o'clock, Second Reading of the Non-Domestic Rating (No. 2) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Disability (Grants) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 28 APRIL—Remaining stages of the National Lottery etc. Bill.

THURSDAY 29 APRIL—Debate on Bosnia, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 30 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

As the following Monday is a bank holiday, I thought it would be helpful for the House to have, on the usual provisional basis, an indication of the business that we have in mind for Tuesday 4 May. Subject to progress in Committee, there will be progress on remaining stages of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.

It may also be for the convenience of the House to know that the House will be invited to approve the motions on the Order Paper relating to the House of Commons Members Fund tomorrow, Friday 23 April.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet on Wednesday 28 April at 10.30 am to consider a European Community document on distance selling.

[Wednesday 28 April:

European Standing Committee B

Relevant European Community Document

7151192 Distance selling

Relevant Report of the European Legislation Committee HC 79-vi (1992–93).]

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. The Opposition strongly welcome his announcement of a debate on Bosnia on Thursday. We all very much appreciate the speedy response from the Government to our pressure on them to find time for such a crucial debate.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the evidence given yesterday to the Public Accounts Committee showing that, following disclosure of millions of pounds worth of mismanagement and fraud in the West Midlands regional health authority, the chair of that authority relinquished his post, whereupon a golden handshake of some thousands of pounds was personally authorised by the Secretary of State for Health? Will he arrange for the right hon. Lady to come to the House and make a statement about why she authorised that payment?

Could the right hon. Gentleman also arrange for a statement about the future of Prime Minister's Question Time? He will recall that last week, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), he was good enough to say that he considered Prime Minister's Question Time an effective means of scrutiny. Has he seen the statement in today's Financial Times, suggesting that the Prime Minister does not think so and proposes to arrange televised press conferences at which he will be enabled to present his point of view unhindered by the House of Commons? What progress has been made in those discussions, and will the Leader of the House arrange for discussions with the broadcasting authorities so that we may have a balance, with other parties having a similar facility?

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider making time to deal with two ten-minute Bills passed yesterday, one at its Committee stage and the other on Second Reading? Both Bills help to address some aspects of rising crime that are worrying the British public. The Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) gives the Government the opportunity to end, without having to wait for major legislation, the anomaly in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 that stops magistrates and judges giving proper consideration to previous convictions. The other Bill, which completed its Committee stage in one sitting, is that of the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) and deals with repetitive car offences such as death riding. I understand that it has been greatly improved by amendments introduced in Committee by my party. We would welcome the Government considering finding time for those measures; and, of course, we would like an Opposition day.

Mr. Newton

I note the right hon. Lady's last request, which I thought might come. I think that I have been meeting the right hon. Lady's frequent requests at the rate of about one a week, so I am not doing too badly. I shall continue to bear her last request in mind.

The right hon. Lady asked about the Public Accounts Committee and the West Midlands regional health authority. I think that the House will agree that it would not be appropriate at this stage for me to comment on what the right hon. Lady said. I shall certainly draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who is to answer questions on Tuesday 4 May.

The right hon. Lady asked about ten-minute Bills. She will know that it has not been our practice to make Government time available for private Members' Bills. She will also know that it is not impossible for such Bills to make progress, provided that there is sufficient co-operation in the House. I take her remarks as an indication that such co-operation would be forthcoming.

The right hon. Lady spoke about Prime Minister's Question Time and referred to press conferences. I think that she will agree that the main thrust of her question was primarily for the broadcasting authorities and not for me. I imagine that the answer would depend in part on whether it was felt that what others had to say was of as much interest as what my right hon. Friend had to say. Any thoughts that my right hon. Friend might have about communicating more widely certainly do not call into question the effectiveness of the process that we witnessed over the past 20 minutes.

I am glad to have been able to make time for a debate on Bosnia, and I know that many of my hon. Friends will also be pleased about that. It was kind of the right hon. Lady to be so generous in her observations. Some of the discussions—I hope that I am allowed to say this—through the usual channels that led to that took place when we found ourselves in the same Lobby late last night. I hope that the right hon. Lady will take that as an encouragement to be in the Government Lobby more frequently.

Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash)

Would my right hon. Friend consider a debate in the next few days on financial mismanagement by some local councils? Many or my constituents are concerned about the way in which the police are hampered in their excellent job by the failure of Derbyshire county council to give them the funds they need. Is that poor financial priority not one of the reasons why constituents such as mine who live in a Labour area will, on average, pay £100 more in council tax than they would pay if they lived in a Conservative-controlled area?

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's request, and I fully understand the reasons for the concern that has led her to raise the matter in this way. Therefore, I am all the more sorry that I cannot immediately promise such a debate.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

In view of the deadline of 15 May for the return of the IACS forms, will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on early day motion 1763?

[That this House, noting the commitment of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to reduce bureaucracy and the comparative simplicity of the administration in other EC member states, calls upon the Prime Minister to set up an immediate reappraisal of the Integrated Administration and Control System for the arable area, beef special and suckler cow schemes as part of his deregulation initiative.]

It deals with the maladministration of the scheme. Is the Minister aware that the scheme is much more complicated than those in any other European Community country, that it is expensive for farmers, in some cases, to hire surveyors to measure their fields, and that Ordnance Survey is unable to supply the required maps for some of them? Therefore, it is urgent that the matter be debated in the House.

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to provide time for such a debate, but I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have been assiduously attending meetings around the country to explain their proposals and the position on the forms. They have found that the reception, when farmers have found that the forms are not as difficult to fill in as they thought, has been good.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I am delighted to note that we shall have a debate about Bosnia, although I doubt very much that the United Kingdom will have much effect on the fate of that country. Could we have a debate about a part of the United Kingdom where British troops are committed, where we have a responsibility and where we can have some effect? I am talking about Northern Ireland. That is without reference necessarily to Dublin or Washington.

Mr. Newton

As my hon. Friend knows, we have a number of opportunities to debate Northern Ireland matters. That includes one last week, quite apart from Northern Ireland questions within the last hour and a quarter or so. I cannot immediately undertake to provide time for another debate, but. I am sure that it will not be too long before there will be an opportunity for one.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

The Leader of the House will be aware of the significant rise in poverty-related diseases such as scabies, tuberculosis and dysentery. Many Labour Members are concerned about public health, and know that there are many reasons for that rise, not least privatisation of the water industry and cuts in benefits. Will he make time for an early debate on that urgent matter, and will he bear in mind the fact that such diseases do not respect class and, quite often, those at the top of the hill get the diseases as well?

Mr. Newton

Leaving aside some of the over-political messages in the first part of the hon. Lady's question, which I do not accept, she will know that there have been a number of opportunities in the House—probably more than under any Government for some time—to discuss general matters in the improvement of public health. In recent times, that has been not least because the Government have a more developed strategy for the improvement of the nation's health than any in the country's history.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Every right hon. and hon. Member should welcome the improvement in the economic information that is coming through day by day. In order to build on that, and to reduce the heavy costs to the country and the taxpayer of unemployment, will my right hon. Friend find, at an early date, time for a debate on industry and trade, which is so important to the improvement of the economy, so that hon. Members on both sides of the House can share with the appropriate Secretary of State their views on such matters as the importance of import substitution and investment allowances, which can be so beneficial in further improving the recently improved economic indicators?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks about the improved economic indicators. I hope that he will not take it amiss if I acknowledge his question as a trailer for the Adjournment debate that I understand that he has tonight on import substitution. I am sure that, having heard him this afternoon, everyone present will now be here to hear him tonight.

Ms. Ann Coffey (Stockport)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the aerospace industry, in view of Lord Weinstock's evidence to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, which showed that the decline of Government investment in the industry is prejudicing our future ability to compete with countries such as Japan and the United States, whose Governments are putting in a far higher level of investment and research—for example, in new materials?

Mr. Newton

I understand why the question has been raised in that way. I recall that a somewhat similar question was asked of me last week, when I made a point that I shall repeat now. There can be no doubt of the Government's commitment to the aerospace industry, not least as evidenced by the efforts of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the President of the Board of Trade and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in obtaining further orders for it.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

How is my right hon. Friend getting on with the excellent all-party Jopling report? Is he aware that there is increasing exasperation in all parts of the House about getting these reforms implemented?

Mr. Newton

I am certainly aware of the concern that progress should be made. As I have said on a number of occasions, I too am anxious to see progress. I know that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is also keen to see progress, whenever that is possible.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

I am sure that the Leader of the House will be aware of the terribly sad loss of life of citizens from Nottingham, Manchester and elsewhere in the Waco inferno. Will he find time in the Government's programme to make a statement about the consular support to be given to those who survived the siege, and in that statement will he find space for an explanation of the contradictory reports about the events leading up to the inferno?

Mr. Newton

Obviously enough, the United States Administration are conducting their inquiries and we shall follow them closely. As for the hon. Gentleman's point about consular support, the right course would be for me to bring that matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

May I, not surprisingly, thank my right hon. Friend for providing time for a debate on Bosnia? Will that debate be on a motion for the Adjournment, and will both the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence take part in it?

Mr. Newton

I said in my statement that the debate would take place on a motion for the Adjournment. It will be within my hon. Friend's knowledge that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is out of the country, so I had better not make a commitment on his behalf in his absence, but my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will certainly take part in the debate.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Will the Leader of the House arrange to bring the Secretary of State for Scotland here to make a statement regarding what happened to a seven-and-a-half-year-old girl in my constituency? She had a serious accident. When she went to her local hospital, they did not treat her properly. She was given no tetanus jab—no nothing—and was sent home. All she was asked was whether she wanted a private dentist. She went to another hospital, where she was kept in, operated on and fully looked after. The Secretary of State for Scotland ought to come here and make a statement to the House about why my young constituent was not properly dealt with. It was a disgrace.

Mr. Newton

Were my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland here, I am sure that he would certainly undertake to look into the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I shall bring it to his attention so that he can have the opportunity to do so.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)

May we have a statement next week from the Foreign Secretary outlining the Government's efforts to support the worldwide attempt to obtain the release of the Israeli airman, Ron Arad? I ask that question because his family is coming to this place next week to meet a number of hon. Members, including myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), when it would be good to be able to reassure the family that his plight is not forgotten.

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. He knows that the Government collectively, and, I am sure, the whole House, have great sympathy for the families of those who are still held. We shall continue to call for the release of all those who are still held outside the due process of law. My hon. Friend will be aware that the United Nations also has an important role to play.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to make a statement following his meeting with Salman Rushdie, which could be next week, and assure the House that the means of safeguarding his life are to be sustained and continued, that anybody who advocates his death or harm should be prosecuted, and that the Government are determined to work for the day when Salman Rushdie can walk and argue his case freely among the rest of the community?

Mr. Newton

The very fact that my right hon. Friend is due to meet Mr. Rushdie is an indication of the British Government's concern that his rights should be properly protected.

Ms Angela Browning (Tiverton)

Will my right hon. Friend consider holding an urgent debate in the House on school transport? As he will be aware, the regulations are enshrined in the Education Act 1944. The rules and regulations that local authorities have to implement are anachronistic in the 1990s. Anomalies such as the different provision that is made for eight-year-olds and nine-year-olds in the same family are particularly poignant in rural areas, where conditions today are quite different from those in 1944. This issue is causing great concern in my rural constituency of Tiverton.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate but, as ever, I can promise that the matter will be drawn to the attention of one of my right hon. Friends—in this case, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week by the Home Secretary in connection with the deliberations of the Boundaries Commission on the allocation of the six additional United Kingdom seats in the European Parliament? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that strong rumours are circulating in the House that all six seats will be allocated to England, with none for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland? That is a matter for great concern to those of us in the parties that represent those nations of the United Kingdom, and we also recognise that it has important implications for the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady will be aware that the position remains as I have stated it once or twice in recent weeks. The Government are still considering the matter, and once proposals have been formulated, we plan to consult the Opposition parties.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

In passing, I thank my right hon. Friend for his announcement that the National Lottery etc. Bill will be further considered on Wednesday. Many good causes outside the House will applaud the Government for that.

However, looking to the future, may I ask my right hon. Friend to consider a full debate on London soon, preferably in the middle of the week? Conservative Members strongly support causes that try to promote London through the London Forum, and to cut out corruption, which unfortunately is happening in too many London boroughs, but Opposition Members are apparently petitioning to bring back the dreary days of the Greater London council.

Mr. Newton

The first part of my hon. Friend's question was a classic example of what I would call the Oliver Twist mentality in this place. No sooner does one fulfil one demand than another comes along. At any rate, I am glad to have pleased not one but two of my hon. Friends with my announcements this afternoon.

I continue to take note of my hon. Friend's second concern, but just before the Easter Adjournment, the House had an opportunity to debate London matters for some three hours during the debates that substituted for the old Consolidated Fund Bill debates.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) in asking the Leader of the House to provide time for a debate on the British aerospace industry. Although I welcome the small reduction in the number of the unemployed, it is ironic that, on the day on which those figures were announced, 500 people at Rolls-Royce factories in the Coventry area received compulsory redundancy notices in their pay packets. The British aerospace industry, a great leader and export earner for the country, is slowly haemorrhaging away, and needs Government support for research and development and other activities to tide it over a difficult period. I wish that the Leader of the House would find time for a debate on that most important matter.

Mr. Newton

I am afraid that I cannot add to what I said to the hon. Member for Stockport this week and to somebody else last week or the week before, but I hope that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner), too, will draw some encouragement from the improved economic indicators. Part of the underlying problem has been the drop in demand from airlines and others that has arisen from the worldwide recession, so improvements in the economy anywhere will help in due course.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)

May I persuade my right hon. Friend to arrange a debate on the effects of the worldwide and domestic shortage of risk capital for investment, especially in small and medium-sized manufacturing companies in this country? Does he share my sense of urgency, because that shortage of capital for small unquoted companies may impede our industrial recovery? If, for example, we were to signal the abolition of capital gains tax during such a debate we might, in line with the Prime Minister's policy, make this country a haven for inward investment and give ourselves a considerable competitive edge.

Mr. Newton

That is the kind of question I really like. It leads me straight to the first piece of parliamentary business for next week, the Finance (No. 2) Bill. I forecast, Madam Speaker, that my hon. Friend will be seeking to catch your eye.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Earlier today, the House was informed that the Northern Ireland Office was abandoning its plans to privatise water in this Parliament, not for policy reasons but for technical ones—in particular, for reasons relating to EC directives. As these same directives must apply equally to Scotland, may we have an early statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland to confirm that he too is abandoning any plans he may have to privatise Scottish water? I warn the Government that, if they leave Scotland alone to face the prospect of water privatisation in this Parliament, they will be met with resistance, inside and outside the House, which will make the troubles of this year look like the tamest of tame tea parties.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

There will be blood and snot.

Mr. Newton

I do not know whether to regard those as helpful observations, but they were clearly welcomed by the hon. Member for Bolsover. The principal reason for my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement is related to the new customer billing system scheduled for introduction in April 1996. The Government's commitment to water privatisation in Northern Ireland as soon as practicable was reaffirmed. I do not see that it has any implications for the current consideration of these matters in relation to Scotland.

Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

Bearing in mind the considerable public concern that has been expressed about the Government's intention to treat timeshare dwellings as commercial property, and therefore subject to the uniform business rate, will my right hon. Friend give serious consideration to making arrangements for statutory instruments Nos. 526 and 542—against which I have prayed—to be referred to a Standing Committee for debate?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will be aware that such properties are already subject to the uniform business rate, and were during the latter period of the community charge. I know of the concern that has been expressed in some quarters about this, and my hon. Friend's prayer. I cannot give an immediate undertaking of the kind that my hon. Friend seeks, but I will certainly look into the point that he has raised.

Mr. Skinner

Now let's see if the Leader of the House can handle this one. Before the right hon. Gentleman got this job, he used to be well versed in social security—right? Is he aware that a few days ago, when we had the mining debate—in a blaze of publicity—we had a statement on emphysema and bronchitis, and thousands of people in every part of Britain believed that they were going to get payment? Now it seems to have gone dead.

I want to know from the Leader of the House whether, with his knowledge of social security, he can give a guarantee that a statement is going to be made very shortly as to how the payments are going to be made, who is going to qualify and will the widows of miners also qualify. Will he get the answers to those questions for the House? In every constituency, people want to know the answer.

Mr. Newton

The answer to the original question—which, in effect, was, do I recall being the Secretary of State for Social Security?—is yes. The answer to the other part is that I am aware of the pleasure that was caused by my right hon. Friend's announcement in response to the report from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. I am also aware that, because of the very nature of the scheme, industrial injury claims can be difficult and complex to assess. I shall not attempt to give an off-the-cuff-answer, because I do have that experience as a Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend the current Secretary of State for Social Security and his Ministers will be here on Monday next to answer questions, and I will draw their attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

The Leader of the House has kindly advised us that the Report stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill will start a week on Tuesday. Is it the Government's intention for Third Reading not to be debated until after the Danish referendum?

Mr. Newton

I have no reason to depart from the statements that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others have made about that matter on a number of occasions.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that there will be adequate time on Report to discuss the many aspects of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill? Is the Leader of the House aware that, although the issue of a referendum was decided one way on a whipped vote earlier today, that issue will not go away? The British people are entitled to say whether such a constitutional matter of such crucial importance should take place. Therefore, that whipped vote in the early hours of the morning does not amount to much, no matter how much the two Front Benches combined.

Mr. Newton

Whatever the nature of the vote, from what I observed last night, there was not a great deal of evidence that the Whip had much effect on those who held views opposite to those of the Front Benches. Therefore, I regard the vote as a genuine expression of the real opinions of the House. There was an overwhelming majority against a referendum.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

When the other place exercises its constitutional duty in respect of what happened last night, it will take account of the fact that, although there was a three-line Whip, 100 Labour and Conservative Members defied that Whip and a further 100 were absent after the 10 o'clock vote. In other words, despite the fact that the Front Benches colluded, 200 hon. Members opposed the measure, while fewer than 200 Back Benchers supported it. As the referendum issue is to be introduced in another place, will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House tell the other place now, or make a statement next week, whether he will sustain that referendum or seek to throw it out?

Mr. Newton

It would be quite wrong for me to tell another place what conclusions to draw—indeed, it would probably be some kind of breach of privilege. The conclusion that I draw is that, whatever statistical contortions my hon. Friend engages in, the fact is that well over half the House voted against a referendum last night.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), to ensure that, when my Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill returns to the House, it is not objected to and stopped simply by one person, as happened during its earlier passage through the House? It was stopped only on a closure motion, and no one voted against it. In those circumstances, should there not be some progress on a measure that would improve electoral representation and access to polling stations for disabled people?

Mr. Newton

I will certainly bring the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister of State. However, the hon. Gentleman will understand that whether or not someone says, "Object" is determined not in one mind, but possibly in any of 651 minds.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us who voted to support the Government in respect of the referendum clause last night did so with as much enthusiasm as that expressed by my hon. Friends who take the alternative point of view?

On my substantive question, is my right hon. Friend aware that, due to the complexity and inadequate thought given to the clauses in the Railways Bill, the Bill has been subjected to substantial amendment and is due to leave Committee without any reference to pensions—which, as my right hon. Friend knows, is a very contentious issue? May I therefore flag up at an early date the fact that we need at least three full days for the Report stage, with probably one full day devoted to the pensions issue alone?

Mr. Newton

My gratitude for the first half of my hon. Friend's question waned rather rapidly as he went on. I will do no more than take note of his request.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Can we have an early statement on the Government's proposals, revealed in the press on Monday, to introduce a scheme for the registration of building contractors and building workers? I trust that they are not the new clauses to deal with terrorist funding and racketeering which the Home Secretary said would be added to the Criminal Justice Bill in Committee. While we support the general principle, the detail is quite complex and will require considerable consideration. Unlike the other bodies to which the Northern Ireland Office sent the document for consultation some six or seven weeks ago, the Department has not bothered to consult the political parties concerned.

Mr. Newton

I will bring that complaint—as I take it to be—to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. However, I am slightly surprised that it was not raised with him during Northern Ireland questions not so many minutes ago.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Can my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on adoption policy, so that the House can consider the decision of a committee of the Hampshire county council to allow a lesbian couple to adopt? The question of adoption is absolutely crucial and must always be in the interests of the child. The House should consider whether that decision is in the interests of any child.

Mr. Newton

Since I cannot undertake to find time for a debate on that matter, perhaps the right course is to bring to the attention of my hon. Friend the fact that general policy responsibility in this area rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who will be here answering questions on Tuesday 4 May.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

In his capacity as Leader of the House, does the right hon. Gentleman approve of the letter sent from the Government Whips Office by the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) to Tory Back-Benchers inviting them to speak on the totally innocuous and unopposed Bill which is due for consideration before my Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill tomorrow, leading Tory Members to believe that the Government's intention is to talk the Bill out? Does he approve of that?

Mr. Newton

I am not immediately familiar with the contents of the letter to which the hon. Member is referring. I shall certainly bring what he says—again, I think it is a complaint—to the attention of those at whom it appears to be directed.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the country is in the grip of a car theft epidemic. Would he be kind enough to ask the Home Secretary to come to the House next week to clarify the law on so-called man traps? There are few deterrents available to the police to prevent car theft. One of them is the self-immobilising vehicle which traps a car thief in the vehicle until the police arrive to cart him off to jail. It is a vital weapon in the fight against crime, but there is some doubt about its legality. It is important that the Home Secretary clarifies the matter as soon as possible. Can my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that the Home Secretary will come to the House to reassure the police?

Mr. Skinner

It is a job for a double agent.

Mr. Allason

The hon. Gentleman should know.

Mr. Newton

Is the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) offering? I will bring the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

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

Can we have a full day's debate split into two parts—one on Members' interests and the other on procedure? Was the Leader of the House being serious when, in reply to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) the other day, he suggested that the Select Committee on Procedure should reconsider the whole question of tabling questions effectively to reopen the door to syndicates? Will he condemn the syndicating of questions and thereby close the door once again on matters of principle?

Mr. Newton

I note the first part of the hon. Gentleman's request. He well knows that I am continuing to look for progress in respect of Members' interests. I think that the prospects may be improving at present.

I do not understand the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question. My recollection of the exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay is that it related to the amount of time allowed before the cut-off—it used to be four o'clock, and is now five o'clock— which my hon. Friend appeared to be seeking to have further extended. That is my recollection. I certainly did not have in mind any question of returning to rules which would make syndication easier.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

The House will be reassured by the Prime Minister's commitment to the abolition of unnecessary regulations, especially as they affect many of the 3 million small businesses in the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend find time soon for the House to have a debate on deregulation, especially as it affects matters such as the new regulations on abattoirs, which are causing many small abattoir owners to face bills of £20,000 and £30,000, and the beer regulations which will impose massive costs on pubs throughout the country—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must complete his question.

Mr. Evans

Yes, Madam Speaker. The beer regulations will also impose massive costs on hotels and small restaurants.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will be aware—indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to it not so many minutes ago—of the substantial drive which is going on throughout Government in respect of deregulation. I have no doubt that opportunities for debate will arise in due course. While I cannot promise them next week, I can draw the attention of my hon. Friend to the fact that the Minister of Agriculture will be here answering questions on Thursday 29 April. He has the responsibility for abattoirs.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Will the Leader of the House nudge the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), to take note of early-day motion 1818 signed by me and 10 other Members of Parliament?

[That this House is appalled by the violation of the basic human rights of Alan and Paul Sell of Cardiff and Jamie Humphries of Bridgend in the failure of the Spanish judicial authorities, having arrested them at Calella near Barcelona on 30th May 1991 and imprisoned them ever since, to bring them to trial; and calls on the Foreign Secretary to press the Spanish authorities to ensure that there are no futher delays in bringing this matter to trial, now that 5th May has been set as the date, following the aborting on the day of the trial of the two previous trials arranged in November 1992, and March 1993, since this entire long drawn out legal case has already amply proved the truth of the age-old maxim that justice delayed is justice denied.]

It refers to the imprisonment without trial of my constituents Alan and Paul Sell and the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) Jamie Humphries in the youth prison in Barcelona. They will have been imprisoned without trial for two years on 30 May.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement to the House on how he intends to draw the attention of the Spanish authorities in Britain to the strength of feeling in south Wales that justice delayed to those three young men from south Wales is justice denied, and a gross violation of human rights?

Mr. Newton

The House will well understand the anxiety that has led the hon. Gentleman to raise that point. Happily, as he observed, those to whom his question was directed are here to listen to it. I am sure that they will respond appropriately. The Government as a whole well understand the anxiety expressed in his motion. We hope that the trial will go ahead on 5 May. If it does not, we shall consider with the lawyers of the defendants what action is in their best interests.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

I support the calls today for a debate on foreign trade, which is so necessary to the opportunities for Britain. During that debate, could we highlight the rapid growth of many of the economies of Latin America, which qualifies those countries for the introduction or extension of the Export Credits Guarantee Department limits, and above all the importance of our diplomatic missions overseas and the support which they give to our traders?

Mr. Newton

I join my hon. Friend, especially in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in what I take to be a tribute to the increasingly valuable work done by many of our Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials in many countries throughout the world. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will also have noted the other parts of my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

When the Leader of the House discusses with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health the request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) for a statement on the West Midlands regional health authority, will he draw to her attention the urgency of the case, and stress that millions of pounds of public money is being wasted and that the obligation of district health authorities remains? Top executives have been awarded golden handshakes running into thousands of pounds—

Madam Speaker

Order. These are questions about next week's business. All hon. Members should put their question briskly and pointedly to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Burden

I am sorry. During the statement next week which I hope that the Leader of the House will press the Secretary of State for Health to make, will he also draw it to her attention that the reports considered by the Public Accounts Committee were different from those distributed to the public? If the Government are to retain any credibility, we need a statement on the matter next week.

Mr. Newton

Will that do, Madam Speaker? I must make it clear that I did not undertake to ensure that a statement was made next week. I observed that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health would be here on Tuesday 4 May to answer questions. As I said in response to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), I will bring the points about West Midlands regional health authority to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

Many of us are worried that, if the United Kingdom became involved in air attacks on any of the combatants in Bosnia, our troops from the Cheshire Regiment and Royal Irish Regiment would be put at risk. Can the Leader of the House assure us that we shall have a full debate next Thursday on Bosnia before the United Kingdom commits itself to any attacks in Bosnia?

Mr. Newton

The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that any Government in such circumstances must reserve the right to take judgments according to those circumstances. However, part of the purpose of having a debate is to allow the House to express its views before too many more developments have occurred.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen)

I am sure that, when the Leader of the House turned the tap on for his bath this morning, water came out. He will recognise that that puts him in a much better position than the thousands of people who have been disconnected from their supply by the privatised water companies. I am sure that that will make him sympathetic to my call for a statement next week about the growing number of water disconnections.

The Southern water company in my area has made a record number of disconnections. It is disconnecting families with young children, elderly people and people suffering from chronic diseases. The House must have an opportunity to debate that scandal and to call for the prosecution of directors of water companies where disconnection leads to ill health.

Mr. Newton

The right course is for me to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the presence here next Wednesday of the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

Bearing in mind the revelation this morning by the Newbury Green party that the headquarters of Blue Circle Cement was built on the site of a former privately owned nuclear reactor, that Blue Circle Cement intends to vacate the premises because nuclear contamination has been recorded on the site, and that this is the first occasion when a decommissioned site has been restored to use which is open to the public, will the Leader of the House make time available in the near future for a debate on that bizarre and disturbing state of affairs?

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to find time for a debate, but I can undertake to bring the hon. Gentleman's question to the attention of the appropriate Minister.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we may have a debate on opencasting? The recent debate on coal properly focused on mine closures. Opencast was a second area where there was considerable difference between the recommendations of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry and the proposals in the report.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to refer to the debate that we had not so long ago covering the whole range of these matters. Clearly, points relating to opencast would have been within the scope of that debate. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman did not get an opportunity to raise them. I cannot promise that it would be possible to have a further debate on an early occasion.

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

May I urge the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on priorities in local government spending, given the recent report that Enfield council is closing children's playgrounds while at the same time refurbishing its council chamber?

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Why was the hon. Lady not here on Friday?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend helpfully makes a point that perhaps I ought to have thought of earlier in relation to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight). It is only about a week since a Friday debate was devoted to local government matters. My understanding was that the usual channels on both sides of the House had difficulty finding enough hon. Members to speak in it.