HC Deb 04 March 1993 vol 220 cc468-81 4.22 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week:

MONDAY 8 MARCH—European Communities (Amendment) Bill: progress in Committee, 15th day.

TUESDAY 9 MARCH—Opposition day, 10th allotted day: there will be a debate described as "The collapse of manufacturing industry and the rise of unemployment", on an Opposition motion.

Motion on the Public Lending Right (Increase of Limit) Order.

WEDNESDAY I0 MARCH—Until Seven o'clock, motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 (Continuance) Order.

Remaining stages of the Foreign Compensation (Amendment) Bill [Lords].

Motion to take note of the annual report of the European Court of Auditors concerning the financial year 1991, together with the institutions' replies. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion on the Plymouth Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order.

THURSDAY II MARCH—European Communities (Amendment) Bill: progress in Committee, 16th day.

FRIDAY I2 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY I5 MARCH—Second Reading of the Disability (Grants) Bill.

[Wednesday 10 March:

Relevant European Community documents—OJ C330 Vol. 35, Court of Auditors reports for 1991; Unnumbered, Budget for 1991: Council's discharge.

Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee —HC 79-ix 1992–93); HC 79-xxi (1992–93).]

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. I hope that he will find time for an early debate on the recently announced rise in prescription charges. It is, as I understand it, the biggest rise ever, at 13 per cent.—eight times the rate of inflation. It was outrageous that it was announced without a statement to the House. It would be even more outrageous if it passed without our having a chance to discuss it. So, as I say, I hope that he will find time for an early debate.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the defence estimates debate is still outstanding.

I hope—as I know do many hon. Members on both sides of the House—that he will look for an early statement on the issue of the coal industry. There are worrying rumours that a statement and the White Paper may not be available until after the Budget. That takes us very near the Easter recess, and I am sure that the Lord President will bear in mind that the present contracts run out on 1 April. That is a matter of great concern on all sides of the House, and I hope that he will look at it.

Can he also say when he expects primary legislation to be before the House with regard to the increase in the number of European constituencies? The Prime Minister announced this increase in December. We are well aware of the need for the Boundary Commission to ensure as wide consultation as possible on the review of the boundaries, so clearly it is important for us to have early notice of how and when this legislation will be brought forward.

Finally, given that the right hon. Gentleman has announced an Opposition day for Tuesday, I very much hope, and indeed believe that the House will expect, that the Government will try to avoid scheduling statements on that day.

Mr. Newton

First, so far as prescription charges are concerned, I would simply make the point that it has been regular practice to make the annual announcement concerning prescription charges by way of a written answer, so I do not entirely accept the comments that the right hon. Lady made in that respect. She will, of course, have an appropriate opportunity to debate any necessary order in due course.

On the question of defence estimates, I cannot, I am afraid, add to what I told the right hon. Lady last week, when I said that I thought that the question of a debate was best left to discussion through the usual channels.

On coal, I note the right hon. Lady's request, but I am not in a position to add to what I have said on other occasions. Obviously, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will want to make a statement as soon as he can do so, but I cannot at present predict precisely when that will be; nor, indeed, can I predict at this stage precisely when it will be appropriate to bring forward the legislation to which the right hon. Lady referred in respect of Euro-constituencies.

Lastly, I note the right hon. Lady's point about statements, but statements are sometimes appropriately made, and the House is often very anxious to hear them, at times which are not ideal for either the Government or the Opposition. We have to look at the whole range of considerations in determining when they should be made.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Does my hon. Friend realise that it is now a year since the Jopling report was published? Can we expect a statement from the Government either this week or, certainly, before the Budget on the exact action that they will take on this? The Jopling Committee only sat for the last Parliament and it will rest with the Procedure Committee to take action if we do not find that the Government are willing to proceed as soon as possible.

Mr. Newton

I am obviously very conscious of the close interest that my right hon. Friend has taken in these matters over a long period, and indeed of the importance of the role that he plays as Chairman of the Procedure Committee. I also very well understand the anxiety of hon. Members, on both sides of the House, I think, to see further progress made. As my right hon. Friend knows, and as the right hon. Lady the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) knows, discussions are proceeding through the usual channels and in various ways not a million miles removed from some with which my right hon. Friend is very familiar. It remains very much my hope to make progress at an early stage, but I cannot give my right hon. Friend the exact commitment that he seeks from me this afternoon.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement next week on the future of an Army personnel centre at Glasgow designated for 1995? Is he aware that rumours are circulating in Scotland that the centre is now to be placed in Stockport? Those rumours have been published in one of the national newspapers in Scotland. Given the prominence of written questions on this subject, does he accept that it would be preferable to have an early statement next week, because it is in no one's interest that there should be continued speculation on the matter when 1,000 jobs are at stake?

Mr. Newton

My right hon. and learned Friend is giving the House further information about the matter this afternoon, to the effect that a number of representations have been received during the consultation period set out in his earlier statement. One of the representations has proposed an alternative building for the centre in Stockport at a purchase price to the Ministry of Defence of rather less than £4 million against a purchase price of about £20 million for the original proposal. My right hon. and learned Friend will be telling the House this afternoon that the representations are being considered but no decisions have been taken, and he will make a further statement on the Government's intentions as soon as possible.

Mr. John Ward (Poole)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week to have a debate on the failure of the French Government to provide protection for British lorry drivers on cross-channel ferries, especially in view of the fact that, in the past 24 hours, a lorry carrying fish which was travelling from Poole to Cherbourg was badly damaged? The lorry driver could well go out of business as a result, and the contribution of the French police was to act as spectators, taking no action whatever.

Mr. Newton

Obviously, I am disturbed—as I think all hon. Members would be—by the account which my hon. Friend has just related. He will understand that I cannot promise a debate, but perhaps I can point to the fact that the Secretary of State for Transport is answering questions on Monday and the Foreign Secretary on Wednesday, so there may be opportunities for him to raise those matters at other times.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Would it be possible for the Secretary of State for Social Security to come to the House on Monday and explain why, during this very cold spell, not a single penny of cold weather payments has been paid during the week? It is a shabby state of affairs. I checked with the Library beforehand, and that is the position. Why are so many people who are retired or living on low incomes being penalised and punished day in and day out, especially after the Prime Minister's statement—

Madam Speaker

Order. I regret having to call the attention of the House once again at business questions to the fact that we are asking the Lord President about next week's business, not indulging in arguments across the Floor of the House. Next week's business statement deals with next week's business. Hon. Members are asking the Lord President to change the business or alter it in some way so that they may have their specific topics debated next week.

Mr. Winnick

I ask for a statement.

Mr. Newton

As it happens, I do not need to change the business for next week in order to provide the hon. Gentleman with the opportunity to make the point, which he clearly wants, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security is answering questions on Monday week.

Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)

I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 1452.

[That this House joins with all other parliaments throughout the Commonwealth in the observance of Commonwealth Day on Monday 8th March; recognises the Commonwealth theme for 1993 which concerns fundamental human values, protecting the rights of the individual and the promotion of good governance; and also notes that the United Kingdom Branch of the CPA continues to serve the interests of honourable Members by holding parliamentary conferences and seminars in London and by arranging parliamentary visits to and from Commonwealth countries.]

It relates to the commemoration of Commonwealth Day on Monday 8 March. I ask my right hon. Friend to make arrangements to have a debate specifically on the Commonwealth so that the remarkable contribution which it makes to the world in the development and sustenance of democracy in so many different countries can be discussed and properly appreciated therefrom.

Mr. Newton

I may have some difficulty in finding time for such a debate, especially with the Budget coming immediately after the period to which I have referred in my statement. Certainly I have a lot of sympathy with my hon. Friend's sentiments; indeed, the Government fully support the statements in the motion.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

Would it be possible for us to have an early debate on the Government's inconsistent attitude to small businesses, so that we could raise the problem of a firm in my constituency which created 15 jobs with Government assistance but has been forced out of business apparently because Customs and Excise was not prepared to wait a month for a small amount of VAT?

Mr. Newton

I am obviously unable to make a detailed comment on any particular case, but I dispute the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there is some inconsistency in the Government's approach. The Government are consistently anxious to encourage small businesses, but obviously that has to be done within a framework of law about taxes and obligations.

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

May I urge my right hon. Friend to go a little further than he did in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery)? There has now been a long delay in implementing the Jopling report or, indeed, parts of it. Does my right hon. Friend intend at least to make a statement before Easter so that the matter can be debated afterwards and the House can decide what changes it wants to make?

Mr. Newton

Again, I well understand why my right hon. Friend presses me on the matter. I have said that discussions are proceeding in the ways in which they do in the House and my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Procedure Committee is aware of that. I hope that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is also noting the comments that are being made on this side of the House.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

Can the Leader of the House arrange for an emergency debate on the way in which the internal market in the NHS is allowing patients to die? If not, will he ensure that the Secretary of State for Health comes to the Dispatch Box next week to comment on what Dr. Duncan Dymond, the cardiac consultant at St. Bartholomew's hospital, has told The Guardian readers today about how patients are dying as a result of the Government's policies?

Mr. Newton

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that the Secretary of State for Health will make a statement in the terms that he requested. Nor, indeed, do I accept the charges that he made. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will find a way of making her own comments about what has been reported.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Will the Leader of the House undertake to provide a day's debate in the near future for us to discuss the government of the United Kingdom and demonstrate that the last thing that England needs is a new tier of regional government and that to set up a parliament in Scotland and an assembly in Wales would strike deeply at the integrity of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise that debate, but my hon. Friend's sentiments will be widely shared perhaps not only on this side of the House.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a debate on the case of the British nuclear test veterans? Is he aware that three times between May and June last year the Prime Minister assured me that the National Radiological Protection Board study would be published before the end of 1992? Now we believe that it may not be published by the end of 1993—too late for many nuclear test veterans.

Mr. Newton

Both the Secretary of State for Defence and, as I have already said, the Secretary of State for Social Security will be answering questions during the business that my statement covered. In any event, I will draw their attention to the remarks that the hon. Gentleman has made. From my previous incarnation I am well aware how difficult and complex some of these matters are.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

The rate of unemployment in travel-to-work areas determines whether an area is given assisted area status, but the way in which the travel-to-work areas are drawn at present masks some serious unemployment in certain towns in the south of England, including in my constituency. Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether next week or before Easter the travel-to-work areas will be redefined?

Mr. Newton

I cannot give my hon. Friend an undertaking on that point, but he will know that the assisted area map is currently under review. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friends who are involved in that to his request.

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

How much longer do I have to keep on asking the same question?

Mr. Newton

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman how much longer he may be able to go on asking the same question. In addition to what I told him last week, I can tell him that I have had a further useful conversation with my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests. I am now considering how and when we might make the sort of progress that the hon. Gentleman would wish to see.

Mr. David Porter (Waveney)

In the light of the high winds, full moon and surge tides forecast for the east coast next week, will my hon. Friend arrange for a statement, if not a full debate, on sea defence, river defence and evacuation procedures? If he cannot find the time, may I suggest that he take Thursday because to my constituents sea and river defence is a far more important issue than the business that he has already announced?

Mr. Newton

As someone who, as a boy, was living in Harwich on the east coast at the time of the 1952 and 1953 floods, I can well understand my hon. Friend's concern. I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friends concerned, the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

Is it not a disgrace that the President of the Board of Trade has not brought the coal report to this House? Cannot the Leader of the House go and drag him to the Dispatch Box next week so that we can have a statement on the situation in the coal industry?

Mr. Newton

I do not think the actions specifically requested of me would be entirely appropriate. It is right that my right hon. Friend should consider these matters with the great thoroughness that they require and make a statement when he is in a position to do so, which is what he will do.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

In view of the acres of time devoted to the Maastricht Bill—I do not necessarily criticise that—could my right hon. Friend find a little time to debate the increasingly delicate and serious situation in the former Yugoslavia? We need an update, not only on Government policy, but on exactly where we stand.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will understand if I note his request on this important subject but perhaps make the point that I went to some trouble only the week before last to provide, in effect, a full day to debate those very matters.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware that on Tuesday, when the Home Secretary made a statement about juvenile crime, you, Madam Speaker, because of the severe constraints on you and on the time of the House, were able to allow only 40 minutes for the statement and the Front Benches took more than half of that 40 minutes? As juvenile crime and the solutions to it are matters of major importance to every Member, will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate so that those of us who have secure units in our constituencies can advise other hon. Members about the problems, difficulties and successes of secure units?

Mr. Newton

In this respect I appear to have managed to achieve unusual foresight in predicting demands because I had already arranged a debate on crime and crime prevention for tomorrow.

Sir James Kilfedder (North Down)

May I ask the Leader of the House if he has seen my early-day motion 1511?

[That this House utterly condemns the North Down and Ards Unit of Management, which is shortly to acquire trust status for its despicable decision to replace vitally important cardiac ambulances at the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald with hired taxis for an allegedly trial period of six months from Monday 8 March; calls on the Eastern Health Board to reverse this squalid decision; and calls on the Government to intervene to safeguard the continued use of cardiac ambulances at the Ulster Hospital and its paramedic crew who have made the difference between life and death in a number of cases.]

It refers to the despicable decision by the North Down and Ards unit of management, confirmed by the Eastern health and social services board, to replace the crucially vital cardiac ambulances with hired taxis for the Ulster hospital, Dundonald, in my constituency. Could the Leader of the House provide time for an emergency debate next week so that the authorities can be forced to reverse this squalid decision and to establish an inquiry into the whole financing of the Eastern health and social services board, which apparently provides ambulances free for the Royal Victoria hospital, Belfast?

Mr. Newton

I understand that my noble Friend the Minister responsible for health and social services in Northern Ireland is not only aware of the concern that has been expressed but has requested an urgent report from the Eastern health and social services board. I think that perhaps the first thing would be to see what that report says.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Last Friday the House approved the motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) calling for specific provision to combat hurtful and unjustifiable discrimination against disabled people. May we have a statement next week about the Government's intentions as to implementing that resolution of the House?

Mr. Newton

The right hon. Gentleman will undoubtedly have been present and have participated in that debate and he will know that the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People made a considered statement of the Government's approach to these matters and indicated the way in which the Government would seek to carry them forward. I do not think that against that background it would be appropriate for me to make a commitment about a statement on the time scale that the right hon. Gentleman seeks.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

While it is agreeable to have all these debates on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill on Mondays and Thursdays, can my right hon. Friend say whether there is any particular reason why we cannot have such debates on a Tuesday or a Wednesday?

Mr. Newton

It sometimes strikes me as curious how these questions come from those having a particular view on the Bill—not that I complain about that. I shall simply say, cautiously, that there is a range of factors which determines the pattern of business which the Government suggests to the House.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Is the Leader of the House aware that 2,000 miners and their families in my constituency will be disappointed that we still have not come to a conclusion about their future, and their future work, which was to end at the end of this month. It is now patently clear that the Government cannot sort out the future of the coal industry. We have had a Select Committee report. Can the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate next week on that report? If the Government cannot do it, let this House decide the future of the British coal industry.

Mr. Newton

I have touched on that subject twice already in the course of responding to questions and I have indicated the hope of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade that he will be in a position to make a statement at the earliest possible moment, but I cannot add to what I have said.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Can I follow the point made by my right hon. Friends about the Jopling report? My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will know that there is a recommendation that there should not be controversial business after 7 o'clock on a Thursday evening. He will also know that on 13 July he gave a certain amount of support to that principle. I understand that next week there is controversial business about terrorism until 7 o'clock on Wednesday, but that thereafter it is not particularly controversial. I wonder whether it would be helpful to the House and to my right hon. Friend if Wednesday's business were exchanged with Thursday's business. That would be very much in accordance with what the Jopling report suggested and my right hon. Friend supported.

Mr. Newton

We would all like to make progress, as I have said several times, on the recommendations of the Jopling report, but recommendations such as those to which my hon. Friend has referred were associated with proposals on the other side of the balance for much greater programming of the progress of Government Bills. I accept that those proposals would not have applied to Government Bills on the Floor of the House, but if my hon. Friend could see his way to agreeing to some programming of Government Bills on the Floor of the House, everything might be a little bit easier.

Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley)

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider having a debate as soon as possible on the procedures and practices in this House? I refer him paticularly to the way in which Ministers these days seem disdainful of hon. Members on the Back Benches. We are used to having oral questions dodged, but we are now seeing written questions being dodged and, more importantly, Ministers being unavailable for or unwilling to meet hon. Members on crucial issues.

I give just one example. The privatisation of Greater Manchester Buses is putting a great deal of difficulty on the work people in that enterprise who do not know from day to day what the future of their pensions is likely to be. Hon. Members from the Greater Manchester area have been refused a meeting with the Secretary of State over that question and I have had questions, as I said earlier, blatantly dodged on that issue. That should not happen and we need a debate to iron out these problems.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has given me one example, but only one, and I do not complain about that, of the kind of concern that he has in mind. I would be prepared to look at any examples that he gives me and I will specifically take up with my right hon. Friend the point that he has mentioned.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on compensation orders? As he knows, the courts have power to award compensation to members of the public who have suffered a burglary, a theft or some other crime against their property, but more often than not the person against whom the order is made gets an instalment order for £1 or £2 a week which is very unsatisfactory. The House should debate whether we should adopt the same system as we have for the Child Support Agency, whereby the state gives the money to the person entitled and then chases, in the case of the Child Support Agency, the absent father, and in the case of victims of crime, the criminal against whom the order has been made.

Mr. Newton

Two things occur to me. First, I doubt that it would be stretching the rules of order to make such a point in the debate on crime and crime prevention tomorrow. Secondly, if that fails, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will be here this day week to answer questions.

Ms. Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

Will the Leader of the House take time to look at early-day motion 1436, which involves the victims of human growth hormone injections?

[That this House notes that 1,980 British children were treated with cadaver-derived human growth hormone between 1959 and 1985 as part of a medical research programme and drug trial conducted by the UKMRC; notes that the treatments were withdrawn after reports from the United States of America of the deaths from Creutzfeld-Jacob disease of United States recipients; notes further that six confirmed deaths amongst United Kingdom recipients have since occurred; notes with great concern that the cadaveric material consisting of approximately 900,000 pituitary glands was collected and paid for by UKMRC with no practical regard for meeting legal requirements on human tissue removal or the screening out of infected glands; notes that administration of human growth hormone continued without the product ever appearing to fall within the regulatory frameworks of the Therapeutic Substances Act 1956 or the Medicines Act 1968 and thus it escaped any regulation with respect to its strength, quality, purity, safety or efficacy; notes with great concern the plight of the remaining United Kingdom recipients and their families who are faced with the prospect of possibly incubating this disease in its pre-clinical state for up to 35 years, that there are no tests that will detect its presence prior to the onset of clinical symptoms, and that once symptoms occur death is inevitable, particularly horrific and usually follows within 12 months; and demands that the Government intervenes to establish a compensation scheme along the lines of the MacFarlane Trust ( Special Payments (2)) for the victims of this scandal and the families of those who have died.]

Will he consider finding time next week for a statement or a short debate on the plight of the 1,908 recipients of those injections who are now at risk of contracting the human equivalent of mad cow disease? Eight people have already died, and there is no way of knowing how many more are at serious risk. Will he consider offering some support to the families of those victims who face a terrible, anguished plight?

Mr. Newton

I well understand why the hon. Lady has felt it right to raise those tragic cases. She will know that the unhappy background is that the treatment concerned was in international use for 25 years and conformed with the best known scientific and clinical practice of the time. In those circumstances, my right hon. Friends have not found it possible to accept that there are grounds for compensation over and above the services available under the national health service and social security Acts.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are a number of early-day motions on the Order Paper criticising the affairs of Monklands district council. Is he further aware that the Labour party in Scotland has today published a report saying that the selection and recruitment procedures of that council are open to criticism? Can we have a debate in which the two Monklands Members might voice their criticisms of the council?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion which I might ask the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) to note and perhaps to pass on to her right hon. and hon. Friends. Were the Leader of the Opposition to join in the request for such a debate —it would be understandable if he did so—obviously I would have to give it close attention.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for an urgent debate on early-day motion 1462 and a further early-day motion that I tabled today on the return of 19th-century working conditions to private licensed mines in my constituency?

[That this House calls upon the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for Wales to condemn the disgraceful behaviour of certain private coalmine owners in South Wales who are openly flouting employment law, contractual agreements with employees and cutting corners on health and safety provisions; and condemns moreover, the backdoor attempts by British Coal to privatise production at Tower Colliery in the Cynon Valley by contracting-out to commercial companies the surface operations at that colliery, a move which will result in job-losses and a scandalous waste of taxpayers' money in the form of recent investment in surface machinery and equipment, the benefit of which will be enjoyed not by the taxpayers but by the private companies contracted by British Coal, many of which have recently been created by former British Coal staff and managers eager to cash-in on the prospect of the privatisation of the industry.]

For example, Crugua colliery in the vale of Neath, owned by Rhys Jeffries, and Parc Level colliery in Rhiwfawr, owned by Rosemary Griffith, have been operating such practices as the denial of payslips in breach of employment contract law to the men working there, refusing to give sick pay or holiday pay and a number of other breaches of contract and employment law. In one case, again in defiance of their contracts, workers were denied the right to opt out of working over Christmas, and were sacked because they refused to do so. Is this an ominous dress rehearsal for the privatisation of British coal which the Government are planning, and could we have an urgent statement?

Mr. Newton

It does not sound to me as if the hon. Gentleman is seriously suggesting that what he describes is an ominous rehearsal for anything, and if he does, I can disabuse him. He is alleging various breaches of the law or of health and safety requirements. The proper thing for him to do is to bring those allegations, if he wishes to continue to make them, to the attention of the authorities responsible for enforcing the law.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Once again, my right hon. Friend has announced that no less than one third of the allocation of parliamentary time for six working days ahead is to go to the ratification process of the proposed treaty on European union. Could he please bear it in mind, particularly as the Budget debate will take up the week after next, that the debate on the defence estimates is long overdue, as the White Paper was published way back in June 1992? Many people in the armed forces and the defence industries will begin to think, as I and many people outside do, that the Government care more for European union than they do for the defence of the realm.

Mr. Newton

They would be quite wrong, as would my hon. Friend, were they to attempt to draw any such conclusion. Britain's position in Europe is of great importance, as are our defence forces. In the past two or three weeks, we have had at least two full-day debates on matters relating to defence.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to early-day motion 1423 on London's health service, which has now been signed by 101 hon. Members?

[That this House is appalled by the Statement from the Secretary of State for Health on the future of London's Health Service and believes her methods are a cynical manipulation of procedure to allow valued and much loved institutions to wither on the vine; further believes that her strategy for the closure of hospitals and the loss of a large number of beds is a product of the internal market and will exacerbate the crisis for the 150,000 people already on the waiting lists and will lead to huge job losses amongst hospital workers; also believes that the Tomlinson Report is seriously flawed in its statistical base and fails to take account of the mobile population of commuters and tourists ; further fails to examine the causes of ill health linked to poor housing and unemployment and that its claims that London is over provided is erroneous; is concerned that the proposals for funding of improved primary care are inadequate to meet the needs that already exist and that the hospital closure programme will seriously damage the accident and emergency services and lose first rate research and teaching facilities; and accordingly calls for the establishment of a London Health Authority which should examine the health needs of Londoners, ensure the best use of existing resources and halt the hospital closure programme.]

Will he now make arrangements for a full debate on the state of London's health service? Can he comment on the fact that the Secretary of State for Health is employing people in her Department to implement the Tomlinson report and to take part in the closure of hospitals and crucial facilities and the loss of a large number of hospital beds and jobs, with no authority whatsoever, from the House or anywhere else? Does he not think it is time that we had a full debate on the fate of London's health service?

Mr. Newton

In view of the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has spoken, I shall say simply that my right hon. Friend made a full statement, and exposed herself to considerable questioning, in the House earlier this month. I might pay even greater heed to his request, which I note, had he made at least some reference to the fact that the Government are proposing to invest £170 million to build up primary health care in London.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

During the next few weeks, can we have a debate on the high-speed rail link? It will not surprise my right hon. Friend to know that hon. Members representing Kent will put up a vigorous defence and call for environmental protection in what may be proposed. Those of us who represent north-west Kent will wish to discuss the prospects for jobs were an interchange station to be located there.

Mr. Newton

Although I come from the other side of the Thames, I well understand the concern felt in Kent. I cannot promise a debate in quite the way I was asked, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be responding to questions on Monday next.

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

Can I draw the Leader of the House's attention to early-day motion 1504, which calls on the Secretary of State for Scotland to step in and cap the rent increases in Kyle and Carrick, in the same way as he is able to cap poll tax rises?

[That this House deplores the council house rent increases in Kyle and Carrick, which are the largest in Scotland, and on average £5 per week, rising to over £15 per week at the top end; notes that this is a direct consequence of the change in political control at the local elections in 1992, and is a warning to voters in other parts of the United Kingdom; recognised that it will be impossible for most people to pay the increases without enormous hardship, since wages are increasing less than the level of inflation, or are frozen or even reduced; and calls on the Secretary of State for Scotland to intervene to cap these rent rises at no more than the current level of inflation.]

Of course, Kyle and Carrick became Tory-controlled at the last local elections in Scotland. Can we have a debate on the subject next week, so that the record of Tory-controlled councils in Scotland, few though they are, can be exposed?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman must be well aware that the increases to which he refers are entirely a matter for the local authority, and Ministers have no power to intervene.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

So far, the Leader of the House has been negative about having a debate on the mining industry next week. Can I put to him the urgency of a statement from the President of the Board of Trade next week on Grimethorpe pit, which supplies coal to industry? The industry that has been taking that coal is now suffering from lack of supplies. It is urgent that the pit be put back into production. Will the Leader of the House please help to do something about it?

Mr. Newton

I will certainly undertake to draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Farther to the Leader of the House's previous answers on coal and the energy review, will he reflect on the fact that it would be completely illogical to have a Budget statement with tax-raising announcements without a White Paper on energy and a chance to debate the funding and taxation of sources of energy in Britain? It would be completely the wrong way round. We need the energy White Paper and a debate on that so that the Chancellor can make the right decisions on energy taxation in future.

Mr. Newton

I am not sure whether I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the logic of the situation, but I have now said several times that my right hon. Friend will make a statement as soon as he is able to do so. I cannot yet say when that will be.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House make an early statement resulting from his inquiries about marriages in the chapel of St. Mary Undercroft, which I suspect has been a voyage of discovery for both of us? Will he confirm that marriages according to the rites of the Church of England can take place in the chapel, under a licence issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury in an Act of 1533, and that future marriages depend on the registration of the chapel, which lies with the Lord Chief Chamberlain, the Lord Chancellor and Madam Speaker? If there is a fair wind for registration, what would be the parliamentary mechanism for achieving it?

Madam Speaker

Order. That is one example of what is not a business question. It was a question for the Lord President to answer when he comes to the Dispatch Box to answer questions on such matters. In this case, the Lord President is not in a position to answer such a question. I shall therefore pass on to Mr. Hughes.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Which one?

Madam Speaker

I am so sorry. I meant Robert Hughes; but now I know who the next questioner will be.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does the Leader of the House recollect that some weeks ago he said that he hoped that there would be an announcement soon on the transfer of the petroleum engineering division from London to Aberdeen? Bearing in mind that the Ernst and Young consultants' report has been in Government hands since 5 October, which is almost five months ago to the day, and that every written answer gets the same response—that a decision will be made soon—can he arrange for the President of the Board of Trade to make a statement next week? Let us get the decision over and done with, and stop dithering about.

Mr. Newton

I recollect the exchange some weeks ago, but I am not up to date with when a statement can be made. I shall certainly seek to ensure that I am better informed by the time that I answer questions next week.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

Could I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1355, which was signed by 110 right hon. and hon. Members, on the decision of the Secretary of State for Wales to authorise a waste disposal plant in my constituency, following the application by a dubious American firm with a long criminal record?

[That this House condemns the action of the Secretary of State for Wales in giving the go-ahead to the American concern Browning Ferris for the construction of a waste disposal plant in the Liswerry area of Newport, Gwent despite the unanimous opposition of the Newport Borough Council and the flagrant disregard of the wishes of the people of the town; and notes the questionable record of the company involved, the traffic hazard near to a heavily built-up area, the danger to cattle and agricultural products, the detrimental effect on property values and on health and the environment, which overall will have the effect of turning Newport, Gwent and South Wales into a dustbin for waste products from all over the world.]

Does the Leader of the House appreciate that that decision has caused great anger and dismay among my constituents? If the Government are going to make such controversial decisions in that questionable field, surely we should have a full debate on the matter in the House so that they can announce their policy.

Mr. Newton

Many decisions on planning matters are controversial, and I accept that that decision was. I understand that it was taken on the recommendation of an inspector following a full public inquiry, as is the case with most such decisions.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. We must now move on.