HC Deb 21 January 1993 vol 217 cc499-511 3.30 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 25 JANUARY—Second Reading of the National Lottery etc. Bill.

Money resolution (No. 2) relating to the Education Bill.

Money resolution (No. 2) and Ways and Means resolution (No. 2) relating to the Housing and Urban Development Bill.

TUESDAY 26 JANUARY—Opposition Day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate described as "The Crisis in the National Health Service" on an Opposition motion.

Motion relating to financial assistance to SCA Aylesford Ltd.

Motion on the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Oil and Chemical Pollution of Fish) Order.

WEDNESDAY 27 JANUARY—Progress in Committee on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, eighth day.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Described as progress.

Mr. Newton

I shall give the hon. Gentleman that one, and continue with the business statement:

THURSDAY 28 JANUARY—Further progress in Committee on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, ninth day.

FRIDAY 29 JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY I FEBRUARY—Yet more progress in Committee on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, tenth day.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committees will meet on Wednesday 27 January at 10.30 am to consider European Community documents as follows:

Standing Committee A—Document No. 8066/92 relating to the creation of a combined transport network.

Standing Committee B—Document No. 8403/92 relating to the utilisation of immovable property on a timeshare basis.

  • [Wednesday 27 January:
  • European Standing Committee A
  • Relevant European Community Document
  • 8066/92 Combined Transport
  • Relevant Report of the European Legislation Committee
  • HC 79-x (1992–93)
  • European Standing Committee B
  • Relevant European Community Document
  • 8403/92 Timeshare
  • Relevant Report of the European Legislation Committee
  • HC 79-vi (1992–93).]

Mrs. Beckett

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement.

It is becoming apparent that, with the concentration of parliamentary time on the Maastricht Bill, there is a growing danger that other matters of considerable importance will be neglected. I remind the right hon. Gentleman, for example, that both sides of the House have an interest in an early debate on the revenue support grant, and Opposition Members at least had anticipated that that debate might take place before the end of January, particularly in view of the predicted job losses in local authorities of all political shades.

I should like to press the right hon. Gentleman for an assurance that there will be a debate, in Government time, on the full public expenditure programme—a debate that we should normally expect to be scheduled for the near future.

Will the Leader of the House please ensure that there will be an early statement on the reorganisation of health authorities? This seems to be taking place almost by the back door. I understand that recent remarks by, I think, an Under-Secretary of State for Health indicated that the Government expect that the original figure of about 190 will ultimately be reduced to 85. A structural change of that magnitude should surely be reported properly in a statement to this House, but it has not been so reported.

Now that we have the report of the Select Committee on Employment and hope shortly to have the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, the House expects the right hon. Gentleman to find time soon for a debate on the future of the coal industry.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady is perhaps overstating her case in raising the first point in a week in which we shall be dealing with two important matters as well as the European Communities (Amendment) Bill and a week in which the Opposition have been provided with a further Supply day.

The hon. Lady specifically asked about the revenue support grant orders. While, as she observed, they are not in the business for next week, I do not think she will have an infinite time to wait before she has the opportunity for which she evidently craves.

The answer to her public expenditure programme question is that there was a two-day debate on that matter in Government time before Christmas. In the coming few weeks, the departmental reports flowing from that will be published. It is perhaps in the wake of those publications that further consideration might be given to the point that she raised, but I cannot give a definite undertaking.

I was surprised at the hon. Lady raising the point about health authorities, not because it is not an important issue but because, as it happens, next week an Opposition day debate is to be devoted to health service matters, and on that same day the Secretary of State for Health will be answering questions, which should provide some opportunity for those points to be raised.

I note what the hon. Lady said, perhaps predictably, about the Select Committee reports on coal. I would prefer not to add to what my right hon. Friend and the Minister of State said in answer to questions on that subject yesterday.

Mr.William Powell (Corby)

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1129 relating to war crimes in Yugoslavia and the need to establish an international court so that those who have committed crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia can be brought to trial.

[That this House notes the evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia provided by the Reports of Sir John Thomson, Ambassador Correll and his colleagues, Mr. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the former Prime Minister of Poland and Dame Anne Warburton; welcomes the Statement of 51 Foreign Ministers of the CSCE on 15th December 1992 calling for 'proposals … including the possibility of the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal', as well as the Statement of 16th December 1992 by Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger calling for a 'second Nuremberg' which was followed in December 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly resolution urging 'the Security Council to consider recommending the establishment of an ad hoc International War Crimes Tribunal to try and punish those who have committed war crimes in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina when sufficient information has been provided by the Commission of Experts'; and urges Her Majesty's Government to promote in the Security Council such a tribunal and to instruct the existing Commissioner of Experts to prepare the statute for such a tribunal.]

In view of today's report by Amnesty International confirming some of the most distressing evidence about rape being committed on a wide scale, and apparently with official sanction, in Yugoslavia, will my right hon. Friend make time available to enable the House to discuss how we can make further progress to establish an international tribunal, which is now accepted by Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Newton

I cannot give my hon. Friend an immediate undertaking about a debate, but he will be well aware of the concern, to put it very mildly indeed, that the British Government have expressed about those matters, and we very much understand the views that my hon. Friend expresses. The United Nations commission of experts is due to report its findings and recommendations for further action to the United Nations Secretary-General at the end of this month. The British Government will take a close interest in what follows from that.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

May we have an early debate about hill livestock farming in view of the dismay in many parts of the country where hill sheep farming is the predominant agricultural activity at the cuts announced by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in hill livestock compensatory allowances? Will the Leader of the House look at early-day motion 1208 and other motions which draw attention to the seriousness of the situation?

[That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the Hill Livestock (Compensatory Allowances) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 ( S.I., 1993, No. 70) dated 18th January 1993 pending the report of the Select Committee on Agriculture and further consultation with the industry on their level and effect, in the light of the clear evidence of depressed incomes in this sector and widespread impact on the fragile local economies of the hill areas concerned.]

Mr. Newton

I seek to keep abreast of early-day motions and others, but I cannot add to what I said on the subject this time last week. I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman's concern, but he may agree that it is reasonable to expect him to acknowledge that, in view of the background to the matter, hill sheep farmers can expect to be considerably better off this year.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)

May we have a debate on the engineering industry and the role of the engineering profession in safeguarding our economic future and spearheading the recovery? Does my hon. Friend agree that, as part of that debate, it is important to examine the announcement made by the Jaguar Car Company today about the investment of £700 million in three new models, which will safeguard great tranches of the industrial engineering sectors not only in the midlands but nationally? Does he further agree that the proposals should be welcomed and examined for their significance?

Mr. Newton

I agree with my hon. Friend, and his sentiments extend over a longer period than the announcement today to which he referred. Decisions about motor car investment, and not least decisions about investment involving overseas firms coming here to make cars, have been an encouraging feature of the fundamental strengthening of Britain's manufacturing base.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

Will the Leader of the House undertake the Herculean task of finding the Secretary of State for Education, who these days seems to be skulking like Achilles in his tent? Will he bring him to the House to explain why, at a time when he is attempting to put through major education proposals, he so underestimates teachers that he offers them a rise of between nought and 1.5 per cent. and promises that they will never catch up on their pay. Is that not a disgrace?

Mr. Newton

It seems to me that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is very much in evidence, with a series of announcements much welcomed by the public and very foolishly, in my view, opposed by Her Majesty's Opposition.

Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on local government expenditure? We hear so often, particularly from councils run by the Labour party, that they are short of funds and they have not enough money to run the necessary social services and so forth, but we read in the newspapers that in Sheffield, for example, they are funding political offices for their Members of Parliament.

Madam Speaker

Order. May I tell the entire House that we are questioning a statement about business for next week. I shall not tolerate further questioning that does not relate strictly to the business statement; but perhaps the Leader of the House would like to make some comment.

Mr. Newton

As the question has been asked, Madam Speaker, perhaps I might be allowed to make the point that of course local authorities must act within the law and they are answerable to various bodies, including the Audit Commission, which will no doubt take a keen and critical interest in the point to which my hon. Friend has adverted. I assume that, if this sort of help is being made available to some Members of Parliament in the city, it will be made available to all, including my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), who is sitting not far from me.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

May we have a statement next week on Government intentions about pornography and obscenity, particularly in the light of developments in telecommunications and the possibility of our having videophones with a line into the home and sex lines that have been perturbing parents? It would be better to shut the stable door before the horse bolts.

Mr. Newton

I think that I would be right in saying that important aspects of that matter would be the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage, who will be answering questions on Monday next week.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

On Monday's business, does my right hon. Friend agree that a national lottery will bring great benefits to the arts, sport—

Madam Speaker

Order, Order. Is the hon. Gentleman asking for a change in Monday's business because we are not debating the benefits, the merits or the demerits of anything but are dealing with the business for next week?

Sir Anthony Grant

Madam Speaker, I entirely accept that. My purpose is to obtain a little bit of clarity because, while recognising that there are strong views held the other way would my right hon. Friend not agree with me that what is entirely feeble and wet is to be undecided. Does he know whether the Opposition are still giving—

Madam Speaker

Order. That is a disallowed question. We must make some progress on these matters.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion no. 1010 standing in my name and those of more than 60 of my hon. Friends referring to the report on the transfer of petroleum engineering division from London to Aberdeen?

[That this House notes that the Government's commitment to open government is proving to be paper thin as evidenced by Ministers' refusals to reply to legitimate letters from honourable Members as witnessed by the letter of 9th October from the honourable Member for Aberdeen North to the Minister of Energy asking for the publication of the Ernst and Young Report into the transfer of the PED from London to Aberdeen, which elicited the reply that a decision on the transfer would be made soon, but did not even mention the request for publication of this Report and the honourable Member for Aberdeen North's letter to the Prime Minister on 16th November drawing his attention to this error by the Minister for Energy and calling for the publication of the Report, which attracted the reply that the letter had been referred back to the original source of the dissatisfaction, namely the Department of Trade and Industry, for reply, which in turn elicited the reply from the President of the Board of Trade dated 30th November that a decision would be made soon on the transfer, but again ignoring the question as to publication; therefore believes that this sorry saga of continued failure to answer a straight forward question makes the Prime Minister's and the Government's commitment to open government farcical; and calls upon her Majesty's Government to publish the Ernst and Young Report immediately and in full.]

That independent report has been in the hands of the Minister for Energy since 5 October, more than three and a half months ago, and he will not say whether he will publish it or not. He keeps promising that a decision will be made soon. In view of the importance of this matter to the economy of Aberdeen—which needs more employment prospects, lest people think otherwise—will he ask the President of the Board of Trade or the Minister for Energy to make a statement next week so that we can resolve this matter and, in the interests of open government, get this report published as soon as possible?

Mr. Newton

I do not know whether the hon. Member was frustrated in asking that question yesterday, which is when he would have had an opportunity to address it to my right hon. Friend or my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I am not in a position to add to what has been said previously, but, as he knows and has been told, decisions will be announced as soon as possible.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, whatever line one takes, there is unanimity in the House that the situation in Bosnia should be debated? I asked my right hon. Friend to try to arrange a debate before Christmas. He was exceptionally courteous and on one occasion said that he hoped to be able to arrange a debate before too long. How long is too long?

Mr. Newton

I am not able to give my hon. Friend the undertaking that he requests, and certainly not today. He will know that time has been provided this afternoon for a substantial debate on the deployment of British forces in relation to the middle east and on the Royal Air Force generally. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that my hon. Friend will be able to work in a reference in that debate; but, of course, that would be subject to your view, Madam Speaker.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Would the Leader of the House like to save the Select Committee some time and help to alleviate unemployment by getting the Secretary of State for Transport to announce next week that common sense is prevailing and he is abandoning rail privatisation?

Mr. Newton

That sounds like a triumph of hope over experience. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is presenting his Bill today and expects to publish it tomorrow. I expect it to be debated not long after the period covered by today's business statement.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

During which debate next week will I be able to say that Sheffield city council is sacking thousands of its employees and at the same time paying £55,000 to some hon. Members for office costs? Is that not another example of Labour waste and profligacy in local government?

Mr. Newton

I would be pushed to suggest to my hon. Friend a debate next week in which that would readily be in order. However, I draw his attention to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be answering questions on Wednesday. My hon. Friend may find that a useful steer.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Will a Minister from the Department of Employment be present for Monday's debate to answer the many questions that hon. Members will wish to put about the employment implications for Liverpool, Glasgow and Cardiff of the proposed national lottery legislation?

Mr. Newton

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an instant promise, but I shall make sure that his point is drawn to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Employment.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

During the substantial amount of time that has been allocated to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, will there be time to discuss the fact that the MEP for Sheffield is not paying rent or rates for his office in that city?

Mr. Newton

I cannot find time for a debate on that matter, but I have already suggested the possibility of its being raised during Department of the Environment questions on Wednesday.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a Home Office statement to be made next week on the law on wheel clamping? Early-day motion 1110 makes it clear that the law in Scotland is applied quite clearly and properly.

[That this House expresses concern at the growing practice of private and public organisations employing firms, often with a dubious background and whose employees have no adequate identification, which place wheel clamps on parked cars and then extort large sums of money for releasing the vehicle; acknowledges that this can be a frightening experience especially on dark nights for single women; and urges the Government to make clear that wheel clamping is illegal, extortion a criminal offence, and threats to remove vehicles a serious breach of the peace on which the police should take appropriate action.]

However, in this country spivs are going around clamping cars on land that is often used for car parking and the land owners are co-operating with them to extort sums of £50. There are threats to tow cars away, with the cost of returning a car being another £200. That is often happening to single women, and in a recent case a woman with a blind—

Madam Speaker

Order. All that the hon. Gentleman needs to do is to ask for a debate; he does not need to go into details. We are all fully aware of the situation, I think.

Mr. Cryer

I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, for endorsing what I am saying—that a debate is necessary and urgent, because the Home Office is delaying action.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that you, Madam Speaker, would wish me on your behalf to say that your words did not warrant quite the interpretation placed on them by the hon. Gentleman—at least, I hope that they did not.

On the basic issue, my right hon. Friend will shortly issue a consultation paper setting out the legal position as we understand it and seeking views on possible options for dealing with bad practice, which undoubtedly exists, in this area. Perhaps a statement could be considered at that time, although obviously I cannot give a commitment now.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

My right hon. Friend mentioned that on Tuesday there will be an Opposition debate entitled, I believe, "Reporting progress on the success of the NHS reforms". Will he have a word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that, in addition to other points in her speech, she will refer to the excellent work and contribution of the hospice movement? In particular, will my right hon. Friend note that in my constituency tomorrow the Princess Alice hospice will have its inaugural conference, "Palliative care through education", and is successfully opening its new education wing?

Mr. Newton

I am not sure that the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) would wish me to validate my hon. Friend's rewrite of her description of the Opposition's debate, although of course it is one more acceptable to me.

As to the purport of my hon. Friend's question, the hospice movement is an important and often underestimated area in which we have greatly advanced public policy in recent years. Something that gave me great satisfaction when I had related responsibilities was the amount of additional support and help that we were able to give the hospice movement, with great success.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to a report in the first edition of The Daily Telegraph today that the President of Germany has been unable to ratify the Maastrict treaty because Herr Brunner, the former chief of staff of Herr Bangemann, has brought an action in the constitutional court claiming that the treaty is in breach of the German constitution? That report disappeared from later editions of The Daily Telegraph—[HON. MEMBERS: "What has this to do with next week's business?"] Well, the President of Germany cannot sign the Maastricht treaty until that matter is resolved. Can the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs be invited to make a statement before we resume the debate on the Maastricht treaty Bill next Wednesday and Thursday?

Mr. Newton

I gather that there have been some reports of that kind over a long time. I cannot undertake that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make a statement. I do not need to rehearse my earlier remarks about next week's business for the House to know that there will be full opportunities for airing European issues.

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Notwithstanding tomorrow's business, may I impress on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the need for the Government to publish soon their own Sunday trading Bill? Whatever the widespread range of views on how to resolve that issue, there is a clear consensus that something must be done. Although we recognise that the Maastricht Bill is taking up a vast amount of the time of the House, we all look forward to the opportunity of having a free vote, as outlined by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Newton

We all recognise the importance and difficulty of that issue, apart from the fact that the consensus that something must be done is not matched by a consensus on what needs to be done—and that presents some difficulties. My right hon. and learned Friend outlined his intentions in a very full statement a month or so before Christmas. Work is now proceeding on turning the three kinds of proposals to which my hon. Friend referred, with their varying effects, into legislative form. However, that is a time-consuming business. It involves a lot of consultation and discussion, and I cannot promise that I expect that Bill to be published in the near future.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

In view of the unanimous and critical report of the Select Committee on Employment on the proposed pit closures that was published today, cannot the House immediately debate that subject? The Government would then have the opportunity to say that they made grievous mistakes, will follow the Committee's recommendations, will abandon the closure programme, at least in its present form, and will put an end to the agony of some 100,000 families who have been waiting for a decision for a very long time.

Mr. Newton

I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's reasons for making that point, but the sensible course will be to discuss the report to which he has referred and others at a time when my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has himself been able to study them and to produce his suggested conclusions.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement in the House next week on priorities in local government spending? Will he urge my right hon. and learned Friend to make it clear that the Government's priority is social care and not the provision of plush offices for Labour Members?

Mr. Newton

I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be the next to have an extremely lively time in the House when he answers questions next Wednesday.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

Is the Leader of the House truly aware of the anger felt in agriculture over the abolition of the Potato Marketing Board and the effect of hill livestock compensatory allowance reductions on hill and upland farmers? Given the continuing confusion over the detail of common agricultural policy reform and of the GATT negotiations, will the right hon. Gentleman urgently institute a full debate on agriculture?

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Gentleman's request, but I am obviously not in a position to make an immediate and positive response. I cannot add to what I said earlier about HLCAs. As for the Potato Marketing Board, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government's objectives remain to ensure competition on equal terms for potato production and to ensure that the United Kingdom industry can both meet the needs of the domestic market and contribute to the export drive in agricultural produce.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate or statement early next week about the sickening and apparently growing practice of mutilating horses? It is causing widespread concern and distress. A statement is needed so that the House and the country can get to grips with a very sick and wicked practice.

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's concern for animal welfare—which, indeed, is well known and long running, and is shared by most if not all hon. Members. I cannot promise either a statement or a debate, but my hon. Friend may wish to try to raise the matter in an Adjournment debate.

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

Members' interests.

Mr. Newton

Let me add a little to what I told the hon. Gentleman last week, in case I inadvertently misled him. I have had some discussions with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), and have asked him to consider one or two points that would help us to decide precisely how to proceed. I have no doubt that he will get back to me before long.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

In view of the momentous political changes now being initiated by President Clinton in the United States, should we not, as a matter of urgency, debate the significance of those changes in relation to United Kingdom politics? In particular, should we not give the Leader of the Opposition a chance to come to the House, following his attendance at a lavish bash at the Dorchester—

Madam Speaker

Order. As I said earlier, hon. Members must restrict their questions to next week's business, and their questions must relate to the business statement. The hon. Gentleman's question is wide of the mark.

Mr. Oppenheim

Can we give an opportunity to hon. Members who support the policies to which I have referred to specify the policies that they consider relevant to the United Kingdom? Do they, for example, support President Clinton's—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is out of order. He has had a second bite at the cherry. I now ask him to resume his seat.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate about the Royal Mail? For the past 300 years, my constituents in Carlisle and the rest of Cumbria have lived peacefully alongside their Scottish neighbours; their only differences have been cultural, and related to the existence of a border. On Monday, the Royal Mail is to introduce a new postmark for Cumbria, Galloway and Dumfries. Surely that is nonsense, and the House should have an opportunity to debate it.

Mr. Newton

I hear it suggested that that matter might be raised in an Adjournment debate. The hon. Gentleman may wish to seek such an opportunity. Beyond that, I think that this is a matter for the board of the Royal Mail rather than for my right hon. and learned Friend; but I shall ensure that he is aware of the hon. Gentleman's complaint, as we must assume it to be.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend consider again the request by the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) for a debate about revenue support grant? Would not such a debate enable us to discover why local taxpayers in Sheffield now find that their school crossing patrols have been slashed so that £55,000 of their money can be dished out to Labour Members of Parliament?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend has added an interesting point to what I said earlier about revenue support grant. It is clear from what I said—that the details of RSG will be presented to the House before much longer—that hon. Members will have at least two opportunities to raise the matter, as well as the opportunity presented by next week's questions to the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Leader of the House prepared to reconsider his decision about a debate on coal, given that we have recently been informed that, at some collieries, the pumps used to pump water from workings closed in years gone by cost £250,000 each to operate, which means that, if British Coal and the Government have their way, pits that are economically on the borderline will be closed on the ground that they are baling out water five, 10 or 15 miles away. If we cannot have a debate, will the right hon. Gentleman at least have that put on the agenda for the seminar?

Mr. Newton

I shall not attempt to add what I said earlier about the possibility of a debate. I imagine that the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State yesterday; in any event, I shall certainly ensure that my right hon. Friend knows that it is on the hon. Gentleman's agenda.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

I congratulate President Clinton on his inauguration. Is my right hon. Friend aware, however, that there is great concern among hon. Members about recent remarks made by the new special trade representative of the United States, Mickey Kantor, regarding the EC-American farm subsidies agreement, upon which GATT depends? Given the importance of GATT for the world economy, may we have a statement next week so that we can emphasise the importance of achieving a GATT agreement on the fast-track approach by 2 March?

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to arrange for a debate, but I certainly re-emphasise the importance that the British Government attach—as has been very clear in the activities of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others—to the achievement of a GATT settlement. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining that point.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

The Leader of the House will be aware of the hardship and health hazards that result from the disconnection of a household's water supply. In view of the urgency of the matter, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to arrange to make a statement at an early date—possibly next week—so that we can address ourselves to it?

Mr. Newton

The list of questions for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is already long. I reiterate that my right hon. and learned Friend will be here to answer questions of that kind and others on Wednesday.

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton)

May I encourage my right hon. Friend to change the business for next Wednesday so that, instead of discussing the Maastricht treaty again, we can have an emergency debate on unemployment in the far south-west? My right hon. Friend will probably have seen the early-day motion that I tabled recently pointing out that Plymouth has unemployment of 14.5 per cent., which continues to rise alarmingly. An emergency debate would allow west country Members to draw attention to the importance to Devonport dockyard of winning the all-important contract to refit the Trident boat.

Mr. Newton

I cannot undertake to arrange a debate along precisely those lines, although I appreciate the reasons why my hon. Friend has felt it right to ask for a debate. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the important comments made about the Government's general approach to both those questions at Prime Minister's Question Time not long ago.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

Is it not unsatisfactory that there is to be neither a debate nor a statement on the alarming increase in unemployment? Is he aware that Wales is afflicted by the loss of manufacturing jobs in coal, steel and aerospace? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there should be a debate or a statement, bearing in mind the fact that Wales is top of the league for low wages?

Mr. Newton

In the light of the argument advanced by the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members, those on the Opposition Front Bench may wish to reconsider the subject that they have chosen for their time on Tuesday. Clearly that is a matter for them.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a special debate on the problems facing this capital city of London so that emphasis can be placed on the problems of homelessness, buses and trains, the health service and education spending and on the serious social crisis resulting from high unemployment and the lack of a unified local authority for London that can tackle these serious problems?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman is overplaying his hand somewhat. I remind him that, if he wishes to refer to the health service in London, he can use the opportunity that will be provided to him on Tuesday by his right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Stephen Milligan (Eastleigh)

Now that more than two months have passed since the Chancellor's autumn statement, may I ask the Leader of the House whether there will be an opportunity next week to discuss the impact of the measures that the Chancellor announced to help the homeless? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in my constituency of Eastleigh, which had a severe homelessness problem, those measures have enabled more than 200 families—accounting for nearly everyone living in temporary accommodation—to find new homes?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving us that encouraging information. I suspect that it is only one item on a growing list of good pieces of information flowing from the important proposals that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made in his autumn statement.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

The Chairman of the Welsh Grant Committee and a number of hon. Members have expressed to me their concern about the fact that that body has not met recently. It would appear that the usual channels have become gummed up. Will the Leader of the House take whatever steps are necessary to unravel things?

Mr. Newton

That point was raised with me last week. I will ensure that it is drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. In addition, a number of people have expressed the wish that the Welsh Grand Committee should meet in Wales. That would require a change to Standing Orders, which raises rather different issues.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Petrol companies are ripping off service stations which are contracted to them. That is especially the case with Esso. May we have a debate on that serious matter so that we can discuss the situation at the Heath service station in my constituency where the problem will arise tomorrow and where it is likely to continue? We should have an early debate on that topic.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to attempt an off-the-cuff comment on his general point or on the specific case to which he referred. However, I will draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Prime Minister in order to widen the subject of the debate on Monday so that the Prime Minister can explain how high unemployment must rise before it becomes a price that is not worth paying and perhaps offer the country practical solutions to the unemployment problem which would be more effective than his two present solutions, which are to hold a seminar and a raffle?

Mr. Newton

I understand why the hon. Gentleman felt it appropriate to ask that question. However, I am bound to say that I find it impossible to see how I can widen a debate on the National Lottery etc. Bill to embrace that point.