HC Deb 11 March 1993 vol 220 cc1114-26 3.57 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)

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 15 MARCH—Second Reading of the Disability (Grants) Bill, followed by motions relating to the National Health Service Amendment Regulations, details of which will be given in the Official Report.

TUESDAY 16 MARCH—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

WEDNESDAY 17 MARCH AND THURSDAY 18 MARCH—Continuation of the Budget debate.

FRIDAY 19 MARCH—Debate on tourism on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 22 MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget statement.

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet on Wednesday 17 March to consider European Community documents relating to Serbia and Montenegro trade embargoes.

[Monday 15 March:

NHS amendment regulations:

National Health Service (Optical Charges and Payments) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 (SI 418);

National Health Service (Dental Charges) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 (SI 419);

National Health Service (Charges for Drugs and Applications) (Amendment) Regulations 1993 (SI 420).

Wednesday 17 March:

Relevant European Community documents:
(a) 7150/92 Trade embargo: Serbia and Montenegro
(b) 7945/92 parts I and II
(c) 8365/92
(d) 8409/92
(e) 10528/92
(f) 11236/92
Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee:
(a) HC 79-vi (1992–93);
(c) also HC 79-xii (1992–93);
(e) HC 79-xiii (1992–93) and HC 79-xxi (1992–93);
(f) HC 79-xv (1992–93).]
Mrs. Beckett

I thank the Lord President for that statement, particularly the riveting information about the European Community documents.

We all recognise that next week's business is likely to be dominated by the Budget, but I remind the Leader of the House that Opposition and even Conservative Members anxiously await statements on several issues. The most obvious and important is perhaps the coal industry. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that contracts will expire on 1 April. We are anxious that an early statement be made so that we can have an opportunity to move the matter forward.

In the light of the appearance today of a report from the Social Security Advisory Committee about the position of Maxwell pensioners, many hon. Members would welcome a clear statement from the Secretary of State for Transport about whether the Government intend to make Mr. Maxwell's crime pale into insignificance by robbing millions of pounds from the British Rail pension fund.

I also ask the Leader of the House to seek a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland which might clarify the position on Scottish water in view of the rather different statements made yesterday in the House, first by the Prime Minister and then by the Secretary of State.

May we seek some clear advice from the Home Office about the boundaries for the European parliamentary seats that will be contested in 1994? There has been some suggestion that the Boundary Commission will not be able to carry out the proposed redrafting of boundaries in time. I understand that that is not the case. The Opposition would consider it an outrage if the Boundary Commission was not allowed to carry out an examination because the Home Secretary preferred to do it himself. I hope that a statement can be made soon about that.

Will the Lord President arrange for a debate in Government time, which might be a Friday—that might be helpful to him—on the affairs of London? I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to address several pertinent local issues, such as transport, the health service and so on.

Mr. Newton

In recent weeks we have shown our willingness to respond to suggestions of subjects for debate on Government Fridays. A debate on tourism was announced in the statement that I have just made. I shall bear in mind the request that the right hon. Lady has made. I shall also bring to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary her remarks about European constituency boundaries.

The right hon. Lady referred to pensions and transport. She may have failed to notice what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport said recently. He assured hon. Members that they could take it that the Government would in no way countenance the funds of British Rail pension schemes being used for purposes other than paying pensions to those entitled to them. He went on to say clearly that recent reports in the press were mischievous and unwarranted scares which showed no concern for the pensioners. I hope that the right hon. Lady will accept that and will do nothing more to encourage those unwarranted scares.

On water in Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear in an interview in The Scotsman this morning, with which the right hon. Lady may not have had time to catch up, that the Government would take full account of Scottish circumstances and that all the responses would be carefully considered. We will, of course, await the outcome of consultations before taking any proposals forward.

Lastly, the right hon. Lady referred to coal. I shall not attempt to add to what my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said in the debate a couple of days ago. However, I make the general observation that there would be more time for debating matters if the Opposition did not behave in the way in which they behaved in the House last night.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that, at an early date, we shall hold an urgent debate on the links between violent offences against the individual and violent scenes on television and through the agency of the video machine? Does he agree that, to many young people, violence shown on television is seen as a form of entertainment, and has therefore become part of accepted behaviour? We need to debate not the definition of the problem but the need to curb the showing of violent scenes on television.

Mr. Newton

As this matter has been raised on a number of occasions recently by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and, only this afternoon, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, my hon. Friend will know that the Government share his views. It is absolutely right that my hon. Friend should once again articulate the feelings of many people in the country. I cannot promise an early debate on precisely the lines that he seeks, but I assure him that the Government will do everything that they can to advance responsible consideration of those matters by those concerned.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Does the Leader of the House realise that it is now nearly five years since we had the last debate on tourism, during which time hon. Members on both sides have expressed considerable concern about the discrimination against England? The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that the figures per head for the promotion of tourism from Government funds are more than £8 in Northern Ireland, more than £5 in Wales, more than £3 in Scotland and only 42p in England. In those circumstances, will the right hon. Gentlemans consider whether, under Standing Order No. 100, he should reconstitute the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs to examine this question?

Mr. Newton

I take the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question as congratulation on arranging such a debate. Like many others, I look forward to the contribution that he will seek to make on Friday week.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

Is the Government's defeat on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill on Monday night likely to affect the dates that my right hon. Friend has already announced for the Easter and Spring recesses, and will it affect the date on which the House will rise for the summer recess?

Mr. Newton

Recess dates are always announced with the well-known phrase, "subject to the progress of business". It cannot be said, however, that every hon. Member shows much sign of wishing to make such progress. I should not wish to advise hon. Members to book an early summer holiday.

Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

Of the 5,000 job losses that Rolls-Royce announced today, 1,400 are in Bristol, which has been recognised by the European Community as the most defence-dependent urban area in Europe. Male unemployment in part of my constituency is now 43 per cent. Will the Leader of the House find time for an emergency debate, the effect of which would be to give assisted area status to the county of Avon?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady will perhaps not be surprised that, despite the fact that she has understandably raised the matter, I cannot promise the early debate that she seeks, but she will know that the assisted areas map is being reviewed, and no doubt she will ensure that her representations are taken into account.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his last reply? Does he recall that the Procedure Committee, bearing in mind Scottish Members of Parliament in particular, urged that we should not run late in the summer? If there is a need for extra Government business, we should reduce the recesses at Easter and Whitsun rather than putting Scottish Members at a disadvantage.

Mr. Newton

I note my right hon. Friend's point. At this stage I do not wish to add to what I have said, but many other hon. Members may be inconvenienced by changes to the provisional dates that have been announced. I meant no more in my earlier remarks than to make the obvious point that, if large groups of people in the House set out to frustrate the progress of business, the Government will inevitably have to take that into account when planning the progress of business.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

Will the Leader of the House consider initiating a discussion of early-day motion 1570?

[That this House notes the utter chaos and confusion between the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland over the future of Scotland's water and sewerage services; recalls that on 9th March the Prime Minister stated that he had no reason to doubt that water privatisation in Scotland will be effective and efficient, Official Report, column 783, and that less than one hour later the Secretary of State for Scotland denied any such commitment; further notes that more chaos was created when the Prime Minister, in reply to the same question, refused to rule out the disconnection of water supplies being legalised in Scotland, despite repeated public assurances by the Secretary of State for Scotland that he had no plans to do so; believes that the Government's so-called consultation on the future of water and sewerage services has now been exposed as a sham; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to clarify its position and to recognise that the overwhelming majority of Scots strongly oppose the privatisation or franchising of these services; and expresses the hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will not further exploit the opportunism of the SNP by negotiating any behind the scenes deals on this vital issue.]

The Prime Minister mentioned the matter yesterday, and said when Scottish water would be privatised. In view of the mistakes that have been made south of the border when we were misled and were told that the people who would invest in water would not invest in casinos or hotels, and in view of the 50,000 disconnections south of the border, we do not want privatisation or franchising in Scotland. We want the Prime Minister to get that message good and clear and not to adopt a dictatorial attitude.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will, in his usual well-considered way, take account of the hon. Gentleman's representations as part of his consultation.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, perhaps as we speak, an awesome tragedy is unfolding in Russia? If the situation in Russia continues to deteriorate, serious repercussions may affect us all and dwarf virtually any other subject for discussion in this House. Is this not the time to send a clear signal to Boris Yeltsin and the Russian people—

Madam Speaker

Order. I understand that the House may have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's comments. However, we are dealing with next week's business. If he can put his comments in that context, we would like to hear them.

Mr. Butcher

I would welcome a statement, because the subject could not be more topical or more urgent. Is it not time that we sent a signal from this House to the Russian people that we admire them, that we want to see them part of Europe, that we admire their culture and science, that we want to send a trade mission and that we want to welcome them into the international community? If we do not act now, we may have a very serious international situation on our hands.

Mr. Newton

In his own way, my hon. Friend has perhaps sent that signal by what he has said. On behalf of the Government, I can say that we believe that President Yeltsin has embarked on courageous, democratic and economic reforms. We strongly support them, and we want to see reform continue.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Although I welcome the announcement that European Standing Committee B will meet next week to examine a raft of papers relating to Bosnia-Herzegovina, may I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that that Committee has not met for more than three weeks and that there is an enormous backlog of European documents for it to examine? Why are the Government so dilatory in organising meetings of European Standing Committee B? Does the Leader of the House consider it to be unimportant? Will he ensure that it meets regularly to catch up on the backlog of scrutiny with which it is charged?

Mr. Newton

I certainly take note of the hon. Gentleman's representations. Meanwhile, the hon. Gentleman no doubt listened to the long list of documents that I read out today. I am glad to say that European Standing Committee B should at least be kept busy next week.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

Would it be possible to fit in a debate next week on Rolls-Royce Aerospace? While all Conservative Members deeply regret job losses, it is worth pointing out that that is a highly successful company which has doubled its share of world markets in the past 10 years. That is in stark contrast to the situation in the 1960s, and 1970s, when the company was in deep trouble and had to be taken into state ownership because of its problems as a result of intervention by the Wilson Government to make the company provide engines for the Tristar. That was a totally unsustainable contract. The last thing that we want to do is to provide the kind of subsidies which have created a huge, bloated and corrupt state sector in Italy and France and which have created unsuccessful, loss-making national champions like Philips in Holland.

Mr. Newton

As my hon. Friend was speaking, it struck me how much his remarks chimed with some of the points that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made just under an hour ago. My hon. Friend might well find an opportunity to make further and more extensive comments during the Budget debate next week, should he be successful in catching your eye, Madam Speaker.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does the Leader of the House recognise that he has a responsibility when organising the business to ensure that there is full and proper consideration on such a vital constitutional issue as the European Communities (Amendment) Bill? If there is any abuse by the Government through deals with the Liberal Democrats or anyone else, scenes such as those last night are bound to be repeated because the Opposition have an absolute right to the consideration that we demand, whether we are for or against Maastricht. The Leader of the House should bear that in mind if he is proposing any deal over Friday's business. There is a strong rumour that the Government are out to destroy Friday's business as it is embarrassing to them.

Mr. Newton

I cannot remember, although it sounds likely, whether the hon. Gentleman was present last night. However, whether or not he was here, I can tell him that I shall not listen to lectures about the responsible conduct of public business in the House from people who took part in what happened last night.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have a debate next week on early-day motion 1222, which has been signed by many hon. Members on both sides of the House?

[That this House deplores the growing number of vicious and mutilating attacks upon horses; notes the appalling suffering this causes to the dumb animals in question; and calls upon all who have a responsibility for or care about the welfare of horses and other animals to spare no effort to stamp out this sick and evil practice forthwith.]

It concerns sexual attacks on and mutilation of horses which are now becoming more widespread. Horses are being killed in the most disgusting and disgraceful and meanest possible way. The House should discuss the matter, and something should be done.

Mr. Newton

I cannot promise an early debate, but I share my hon. Friend's abhorrence of these vicious and horrific attacks. I am glad to say that the Hampshire constabulary has set up a special squad of officers in an attempt to carry forward the prevention of such offences and the discovery and prosecution of those who commit them.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

is the Leader of the House aware of magazines such as US Cavalry, featuring illegal and offensive weapons, which is being sent as unsolicited mail through the letterboxes of homes in the United Kingdom? At the same time as we are introducing legislation in Scotland on knives, people can now buy illegal weapons from the privacy of their own homes, using a dedicated telephone number and credit card system. Therefore, to ensure that our streets are safer, will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on illegal weapons such as Italian stilettos which are described in the magazine as having a convincing and sophisticated action? That is wrong.

Mr. Newton

I was not aware of that magazine. Apart from mentioning to the hon. Gentleman that we provided time for a debate on crime in the House very recently, I will undertake to draw to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary the magazine to which the hon. Gentleman has adverted and what he says about its contents.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the appalling conduct of Opposition Members yesterday and their demonstration of verbal violence? Will he endeavour to ensure through the normal channels that, if such conduct is repeated in the House, it should take place after 9 o'clock when the watershed on television ensures that the public are mature enough to see demonstrations of that nature?

Mr. Newton

The same thought occurred to me as has evidently occurred to my hon. Friend. What happened last night did rather less than nothing for the attempts of the Opposition to parade themselves as the party of law and order.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Whatever may have appeared in The Scotsman or any other newspaper, is the House not entitled to a personal statement from the Prime Minister explaining his reply to the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) on Tuesday that water privatisation in Scotland would be effective and efficient, as elsewhere? Does not the statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland that a final decision on water privatisation would not be taken until all the responses to the consultation document had been fully considered demonstrate yet again that, with his phoney stock taking exercise and his prejudicial reply on water privatisation, the Prime Minister is treating the people of Scotland with absolute contempt?

Mr. Newton

I understand why the hon. Gentleman feels it necessary to make that sort of remark. I shall simply say that I do not accept it for a moment.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

It is refreshing to hear my right hon. Friend announce business for next week that is entirely British in nature and content. Will he look into the urgent necessity for a debate on the Royal Navy? Apart from one single-service day in June 1991, there has not been a debate on the Royal Navy in Government time or more than three years. Given the proposed transfer of sea training to Portland and the necessity to order an LPH for the Royal Marines, we need parliamentary backing for the sort of naval programme that the nation requires.

Mr. Newton

I note my hon. Friend's request and the reasons for it. I have not done too badly in recent weeks in finding time for debating both service and foreign matters. There are obvious difficulties in the near future, but I would not wish to rule out a response at a later stage to my hon. Friend's request.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

May I press the Leader of the House on the need for a statement next week on the future of the coal industry? Is he aware that the miners of Taff Merthyr want to dig and win the economic reserves that are available at the pit to supply Aberthaw power station to enable it to provide the energy that the nation needs? At the moment they are being paid to do nothing. Instead of procrastinating, why do not the Government make a statement to reprieve profitable pits such as Taff Merthyr?

Mr. Newton

I have already referred once this afternoon to the remarks in this context of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade a couple of days ago. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that my right hon. Friend will be in the Chamber to answer questions next Wednesday.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

Will my right hon. Friend draw the Opposition's antics last night to the attention of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, perhaps with the help of Madam Speaker and Mr. Deputy Speaker? Does he agree that the extraordinary antics of last night—wearing paper hats, moving around as votes were being taken and so on—demonstrate that Opposition Members hold the House in complete contempt? If such antics were shown on our television screens as happening in Parliaments in Spain, Portugal and Greece, some of my right hon. and hon. Friends would be saying that that was evidence of how incompetent and stupid those Parliaments were.

Mr. Newton

I am bound to observe that I saw some pictures of the Italian Parliament yesterday that might relate to some of my hon. Friend's comments. I have already made several comments about the basic thrust of her remarks. The Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), has had his attention drawn to the matter because he heard my hon. Friend's remarks; and he nodded wisely when he heard them.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)

Will the Leader of the House provide time next week for the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement on the decline of manufacturing industry in Scotland? Given today's announcement that Rolls-Royce is to shed a further 500 jobs in my constituency and the decline of manufacturing jobs generally in my constituency—78 per cent. between 1979 and 1989—it is most urgent that the Secretary of State gives the House an assurance on the future of manufacturing in Scotland.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady would perhaps be rather surprised if I were to respond in the way that she would like, given that we have recently had a full day's debate on manufacturing industry. I understand why she has raised the matter, but I remind her of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said during Prime Minister's Question Time about redundancies at Pratt and Whitney, a major engine maker. It needs to be recognised that the redundancies are part of much wider problems than the hon. Lady recognises.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

It was helpful of my right hon. Friend some weeks ago to give the dates of the Easter and spring recesses. Is he aware that the Admission Order Office has been given instructions to take no bookings post-Easter until my right hon. Friend has formally confirmed the dates of the recesses? He has not done so today. Is he now in a position to do so? If he is not, will he be able to do so next week?

Mr. Newton

I am somewhat puzzled by what I have just heard, and I shall make further inquiries about the matter. As I understand it, the situation is as it has always been. The dates of recesses are announced by the Leader of the House, using time-honoured phraseology referring to the fact that recesses are subject to the progress of business. What confirms the arrangements is not a further statement by the Leader of the House but the acceptance of an Adjournment motion by the House itself, usually only a day or two beforehand.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

I do not know whether the Leader of the House is aware of the fact that, after a good deal of pushing yesterday by Opposition Members, the Secretary of State for Health finally agreed to publish a number of reports on financial scandals surrounding the West Midlands health authority. In view of this decision and of the increasing public concern about the way in which health authorities, not only in the west Midlands but also in Wessex and elsewhere, are operating and about financial scandals, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the need for health authority accountability? Or are the Government interested in accountability only if it is not their own political supporters who are involved?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman refers to the action that has been promised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. It seems to me that my right hon. Friend's promise indicates both openness and accountability. I take note of what the hon. Member has said, but I cannot promise a debate in the near future.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

May I underline the request made from the Opposition Front Bench for an early debate on London? I expect that the reasons for my request are different from those of the Opposition. First, there is the lingering and rather large problem of corruption in local government, especially in London, about which we have still heard nothing from the Department of the Environment. Secondly, there is the question of the totally needless disruption of bus services in London this week by strikers.

Mr. Newton

I note the points that my hon. Friend would clearly wish to raise in a debate. I made what I hope was a tolerably forthcoming reply to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), but I cannot be sure when it will be possible to provide time for a debate.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Leader of the House will have heard concern expressed from all quarters about the decline of manufacturing industry. Could he organise for next week a statement about how the Government's policy affects British shipbuilders and repairers, who are not benefiting from the same subventions as their European counterparts?

Mr. Newton

I note the hon. Gentleman's point. He will be aware that in all countries of the Community help of this kind is supposed to proceed in line with similar rules. However, I shall make sure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks are directed to the attention of my right hon. Friend. As for debating time, I should point out that virtually the entire programme that I announced today is concerned, in a sense, with economic matters. Thus, the hon. Gentleman may get his opportunity next week.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I wonder whether, in the light of previous questions, my right hon. Friend agrees that, bearing in mind 1,000 years of history, the submerging of unconsulted people in an unwanted and unstable European union is much more important than when, or whether, this House has any recesses.

Mr. Newton

I have to confess to my hon. Friend, who is an understandably persistent questioner about these matters, that I am a little surprised that, following weeks of complaint about debate on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill—that is how I interpreted his questions in previous weeks—he is now complaining about the absence of such debate.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

Will the Lord President arrange for a statement to clarify exactly who is in charge of the privatisation of Scottish water? Is it the Prime Minister, who on Tuesday confirmed privatisation, the Secretary of State for Scotland, who on Wednesday denied that a decision had been made, or the house journal of the Tory party—the Daily Express—which on Thursday referred to franchising? Who is in charge of this policy shambles?

Mr. Newton

Earlier I referred to a matter that the hon. Gentleman has not mentioned—an interview given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, published this morning in The Scotsman, which I have not normally heard described as the house magazine of the Conservative party.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South)

I should like to draw my right hon. Friend's attention back to the events in this Chamber last night, when Labour Members sought to defeat orders relating to Scottish business. Had they been successful, the cost to Scottish business, in terms of jobs, investment and rates, would have been horrendous.

Will my right hon. Friend consider providing time for a debate on this matter next week to find out, first, why the Opposition bleat day in, day out, about jobs. but threatened Scottish jobs by their action last night; and, secondly, why, although the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), as her party's spokeswoman, when the statutory instruments were debated in Committee gave every one of them her full support, in the Chamber the Opposition sought to defeat them?

Mr. Newton

That is a very helpful question. It is quite proper that the House should be reminded that, had the Opposition succeeded in frustrating the passage of the orders last night, the effect would have been that the mining and quarrying industry and some other industrial sectors in Scotland would have experienced a 20 per cent. increase in their rates, and the oil-related and petrochemical plants in Scotland would, I understand, have had an 85 per cent. increase in their rates.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a debate on racism in British society? Has he seen my early-day motion 1527 about the conduct of his hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), who last week on television talked about niggers in a woodpile?

[That this House is appalled by the use of the term 'nigger in a woodpile' by the honourable Member of Bridlington on BBC Television's Westminster Live Programme on Wednesday 3rd March; is reminded of the derogatory origins of this phrase, and is aware of the offensiveness of such language to Britain's black community; and calls upon the honourable Member to make an apology to that community for his racist language.]

Does the Leader of the House agree with me that that is a derogatory term which is offensive to black people? Will he take this opportunity of dissociating himself from his hon. Friend's remarks?

Mr. Newton

While I did not see that interview and must therefore accept the way in which the hon. Gentleman has put it, I can only say that, knowing my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), I am quite sure that he did not intend to give racist offence in the way that is suggested.

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

Could time be found next week for an urgent statement about the plight of people who work in the mining industry? Every day they are breaking productivity records, but the Leader of the House will know that their extended redundancy scheme ends on 27 March—16 days away. Is it not time to back the people who are making those records and back off closing down the mining industry?

Mr. Newton

This is the latest of many occasions on which the problems of the coal industry have been raised during business questions. I do not complain about that, but I cannot add to what I said on earlier occasions.

Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South)

I refer the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1158.

[That this House recognises the valuable contribution made to the well being of the United Kingdom over many years by senior citizens; furthermore notes that many of Britain's pensioners will find the television licences priced at £82.88 from April an expensive price to pay; and therefore calls upon the Government to exempt pensioners from the television licence fee with effect from 1st April.]

It calls for recognition by the House of the contribution of pensioners to the well-being of this country, notes that from 1 April pensioners will face an increase in their television licences to £82.88, and calls upon the Government to exempt all pensioners from buying a TV licence from 1 April. Will the Leader of the House bring the motion to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer before he completes the preparation of his Budget?

Mr. Newton

Since the hon. Gentleman has related his remarks to the Budget, he will not be surprised when I say two things: first, that is a matter for my right hon. Friend; and, secondly, it is not a matter on which I am prepared to venture just a few days in advance.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. We must now move on.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Traditionally, business questions are an opportunity for Back Benchers to make legitimate demands for debates. I notice that during today's business questions there have been far more hon. Members present and rising on the Opposition Benches than on the Government Benches. You have allowed questions to run on a little to exhaust requests from Government Back Benchers. Do you not think it would be fairer if every hon.

Member who wished to put a question could do so? That would result in extending business questions by only about 10 minutes and would give us an opportunity to raise matters.

Madam Speaker

I time business questions very carefully indeed. It is not often that I am in a position to call every Member on both sides of the House who wishes to speak. When Members on the Government Benches have been satisfied and are no longer rising, I continue to call Members on the Opposition Benches; but I also have to keep in mind the day's business. There are occasions when I am able to call all Members who wish to speak, but there are occasions when I have to call a halt. Regrettably, this is one of those occasions.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you confirm that what the Opposition did last night was strictly in accordance with the rules of the House; that it was quite proper to vote on the statutory instruments and that we were in number more than we are at present? In 1975 I raised a question about invoking Standing Order No. 39 when only 13 Liberals were voting continually. I was told by the then Speaker that 13 was a sufficient number to justify voting in the Lobbies. Why is it that last night we were stopped from voting in the Lobbies when 40 Members were marching through them, Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike? It is time the record was put straight. The Opposition have got the Government on the run, and we have every right to hound them until we drive them out of office.

Madam Speaker

The Chair of the House never conducts reviews of the previous day's business.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you confirm that, under the Standing Orders of the House, any affirmative resolution on statutory instruments which are allowed to go upstairs is not a resolution on the instrument itself but is only to report to the House that the instrument has been debated—that and no more? If hon. Members have any doubt, there is the alternative under the Standing Orders that they can insist on a debate being taken on the Floor of the House, in which every hon. Member can take part, with a vote at the end.

In view of the unwarranted criticisms flowing from Members on the Government Benches, it seems a good alternative that we should deal with affirmative instruments on the Floor of the House on every occasion.

Madam Speaker

What the hon. Gentleman has said about procedure is correct. Over the years he has had a great deal to do with statutory instruments, and still has. He knows the procedure very well.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Are you aware that, during Prime Minister's Question Time, in reply to the first question about redundancies at Rolls-Royce, the Prime Minister —inadvertently, I am sure—misled the House by saying that Boeing and Pratt and Whitney were the main engine competitors of Rolls-Royce? Will you kindly call in the Prime Minister and tell him that Boeing manufactures airframes, not engines? Clearly someone who does not know the difference between his Boeing and his General Electric should not be Prime Minister of this country.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman credits me with more authority than I have. I suspect that he is attempting to continue the debate, particularly as I recognise that he did not catch my eye during questions.

Mr. Banks

I do not mind; I do not complain.

Madam Speaker

Perhaps next time.