HC Deb 13 January 1994 vol 235 cc335-46 3.30 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

Would the Leader of the House be good enough to give us the business for the forthcoming 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 17 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill.

TUESDAY 18 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill.

Motion on the Farm and Conservation Grant (Variation) Scheme.

WEDNESDAY 19 JANUARY—Motion on the Industrial Training Levy (Construction Board) Order.

Motion on the Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Construction Board) Order.

Motion relating to the Education (Mandatory Awards) (No. 2) regulations.

Motion relating to the Education (Student Loans) (No. 2) regulations.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

THURSDAY 20 JANUARY—Opposition Day (first allotted day).

There will be a debate on Accountability and Waste in the National Health Service on an Opposition motion.

FRIDAY 21 JANUARY—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 24 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Bill.

Mrs. Beckett

As the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill is a piece of gerrymandering so shameless as to make Westminster city council look like rank amateurs, will the Lord President withdraw it for debate on Monday and put in its place a debate on the Child Support Agency? As he will recall, there has been neither a statement nor a debate in the House on that matter. He will know, as I do, that there is widespread anxiety in every party represented in the House and widespread dissatisfaction at the changes made so far by the Government, which are regarded by all parties as wholly inadequate. That seems to us to be an urgent subject for debate.

In view of the unprecedented attempt by Lord Howe to undermine the independence and integrity of the Scott inquiry, will the Lord President ask the President of the Board of Trade to come to the House so that he can set beyond doubt on the record the Government's complete dissociation from the statements made by Lord Howe and their undertaking that not only the Prime Minister but no Minister or official of the Government gave Lord Howe any support or had any discussions with him before he made that statement to the Scott inquiry?

May I remind the Lord President that we have repeatedly sought a statement from the Home Secretary on the neglect of voter registration in Conservative boroughs such as the London borough of Brent. That neglect threatens to remove from thousands of British citizens the most basic right in a democracy—the right to vote. Will the Lord President bring the Home Secretary to the House to answer on the matter?

Mr. Newton

On the latter question, the Home Secretary has just been here and no doubt there would have been opportunities to raise that matter with him. I shall bring the right hon. Lady's question to his attention.

As for Lord Howe, I am certainly not aware of any discussions that he had with members of the Government before making his remarks to the inquiry yesterday and I am tempted—as my right hon. Friend clearly said in response to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), the Chairman of the Select Committee on National Heritage, a few moments ago—simply to refer once again to the two answers that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave on the Scott inquiry.

On the Child Support Agency, there has been a general welcome for the changes that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security announced just before Christmas. There will be opportunities for debate in due course on the regulations required.

I do not accept the right hon. Lady's strictures on the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill and have no intention of removing it from the list of business.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Despite all the pressures that will be on my right hon. Friend during these business questions, does not he think that it would be a good idea to get back to basic content and consider one of the most important things that has happened this week —the summit conference in Brussels over the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Western European Union? Does he believe that, perhaps not next week but within a reasonably short time, we should have the opportunity to debate the future of those two organisations and our attitudes towards them?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend is certainly right to advert to the great importance of those discussions and he will be aware of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about the outcome yesterday. On the question of a debate, perhaps I can simply undertake to bear in mind my hon. Friend's request.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

May I press the Leader of the House on the Child Support Agency? Will he confirm that the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security on 22 December will require statutory instruments to effect the change and that those instruments will be considered under the affirmative procedure? Does the Leader of the House understand that that matter is becoming extremely urgent and that if he cannot find time for a debate to implement the orders next week, hon. Members on both sides of the House will be looking for a statement during business questions next week to ensure that such a debate is organised for the week thereafter?

Mr. Newton

The Government's appreciation of the need to move speedily, especially following the report of the Select Committee, was well illustrated by the speed with which the statement followed the report. Of course, we shall not seek to delay the necessary measures. I would need to check how they fall between affirmative and negative orders.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

My right hon. Friend will know that the persistent question of blight has long been one of the most difficult for any Government to resolve. Given the fact that there are more and more public infrastructure projects, many of which take up to 14 years to complete, and that thousands of people see their property values destroyed by public works, will he consider a debate on that major issue?

Mr. Newton

It seems likely that, given the amount of interest in a number of major projects at the moment and the plans that are well known to my hon. Friend, opportunities for discussion on those matters will occur, but I cannot make a specific promise this afternoon.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

As the Government cancelled today's health service debate and put it on the agenda for next Thursday, will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister to go to Whipps Cross hospital in my constituency before next Thursday, preferably one evening, so that he oan look at and speak to the people in the accident and emergency department who have been waiting for up to 10 hours and perhaps longer for treatment and the other people who are jam-packed on trolleys in the hospital corridors, waiting for a bed? Then the Minister could come to the House on Thursday and explain what the Government are going to do about it.

Mr. Newton

It is not the case that, as the hon. Gentleman put it, the Government cancelled today's debate and reinstated it next Thursday. We offered the Opposition a day next Thursday to replace the one that we found it necessary to take for other business today and they chose to transfer the health service debate that they had tabled for today. Of course, I do not in any way complain about that. On the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, shall bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate on a policy initiative that commands support across Dartford, Kent and the United Kingdom—the introduction of a national identity card?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will be aware that certain issues relating to that are being examined. I will, of course, bring his remarks to the attention, once again, of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On Monday's business, may I say to the Leader of the House, without posturing, that in my 31 years as a Member of the House I have never known a more ill-thought-out piece of legislation, from Governments of both parties, than the reforms in the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill. Frankly, that is saying something. Grave doubts have been expressed about the finance for the proposals, after their factual basis was blown apart by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and by the treasurers, and about their effects on education, particularly following the devastating report from the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland. In those circumstances, should not we use parliamentary mechanisms to ensure that after the Bill's Second Reading its Standing Committee is at least able to call witnesses for four to six of its sittings? That would establish some kind of factual basis for the Bill. Between now and Monday, will the Leader of the House at least consider that and talk to the Secretary of State for Scotland?

Mr. Newton

It would be less than courteous of me simply to reject out of hand the hon. Gentleman's request, but I would not wish to raise his hopes that I or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would think it right to proceed down the path that he has suggested. I will, of course, bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my hon. Friend's attention. Otherwise, may I say that the very process of the Second Reading will enable the hon. Gentleman to raise many of those points, should he catch your eye, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time that radio and television stopped using the voice of the actor as a substitute for the voice of the terrorist? If so, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a ministerial statement to be made as soon as possible on the measures that the Government intend to take to prevent the mechanical media from abusing the restrictions imposed upon them?

Mr. Newton

I will bring my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Given the crisis in the national health service, which was described so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), will the Leader of the House consider providing a day in Government time for a debate on it? That would enable every hon. Member to tell the right hon. Gentleman and his fellow Ministers exactly what is going on. Is he aware that the Government-appointed members of the trust in my district health authority are proposing to close two hospitals with the loss of 300 beds and goodness knows how many jobs? In fact that, that decision will destroy the health service in Halifax Is not it time that the Government offered the House a del ete on the health service in their time because they have caused that crisis?

Mr. Newton

I do not regard the word "crisis" as a sensible description of the fact that the number of patients treated rose by more than 4 per cent. last year and is expected to rise by another 3 per cent. this year and the fact that, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in Prime Minister's Question Time, the number of people waiting more than a year for treatment has fallen from about 120,000 to 70,000 since the reforms were introduced.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the grave concern that has been expressed by the wool textile and clothing industries at the lack of a decision on tariffs when the GATT round was signed? In view of the in importance of those tariff barriers to our industries, and therefore the people employed by them, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a discussion on them in the House as soon as possible?

Mr. Newton

I am sure that, in due course, there will be opportunities for further discussion on the generally very successful outcome of the GATT round. I know, however, that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will want to look with care at what my hon. Friend has said.

Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport)

Will the Leader of the House arrange time next week for an urgent debate on the British aerospace industry? Is he aware that, yesterday, during trade and industry questions, the Minister for Industry replied to a question on British Aerospace's venture, AVRO, at Woodford? He said: the general fortunes of this business are improving."—[Official Report, 12 January 1994; Vol. 235, c. 162.] I have heard today, however, that massive redundancies at the Woodford plant will be announced tomorrow. Is not that evidence of the fact that the Minister is unaware of what is happening in the industry? In view of that and of the fact that the GATT negotiations did not resolve the problem relating to indirect and direct subsidy allowable to the British aerospace industry, which puts it at serious disadvantage, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an urgent debate before yet more of my constituents pay with their jobs because of Government inaction in relation to that crucial industry?

Mr. Newton

I am clearly not in a position now to comment on what, from the hon. Lady's initial remarks, I take to be speculation or prediction. However, I can make the point that, since 1979, the Government have provided more than £1.5 billion in support for major aerospace programmes and civil R and D. That is probably greater support than for almost any comparable industry in the country.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate next week on the future of NATO, taking account of the meeting of the Prime Ministers of NATO countries this week, so that the position of Poland can be more fully debated than has been the case and so that we may take account of the feelings of expatriate Poles in this country, many of whom live in Ealing and fought in the Atlantic alliance against German tyranny in the war, and who fear for the future of Poland unless it is inside NATO as soon as possible?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend's question underlines the request for a debate that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith). As I said earlier, I will of course bear that request in mind.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

Will the Leader of the House find time to review the workings of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 in the light of the information that I have sent him about the case of a constituent of mine, Daniel Liddell, who was kicked unconscious and almost killed by thugs in Falkirk? Two of those thugs, Steven McDuff and James Easton, pleaded guilty and were released without being sentenced because the procurator-fiscal got the date wrong for calling them back for sentence. He blamed that on what he said were over-complicated regulations attached to the new Act. George Scott, the procurator-fiscal, said that the reason —

Madam Speaker


Mr. Connarty

I hope, Madam Speaker, that you will not mind me quoting.

Madam Speaker

Order. Yes, I do mind the hon. Gentleman quoting. These are business questions. The hon. Gentleman is going into too much detail about a particular case. What he should be seeking to do is ask the Leader of the House for a debate on an issue. If the hon. Gentleman would come to a conclusion, I should be grateful.

Mr. Connarty

The procurator-fiscal said that it was caused by stupidity in the drafting of the Act. Therefore, I ask that time is found to review that and find out whether that allegation is incorrect or in fact true.

Mr. Newton

What I think the hon. Gentleman has asked me to do is to find time to undertake a review of the matter. Although I cannot promise to do so personally, I will certainly ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is aware of what the hon. Gentleman has said today.

Mr. John Butcher (Coventry, South-West)

Did my right hon. Friend find it rather curious that so many Opposition Members, who yesterday urged the Prime Minister to bomb the Serbs around Sarajevo, seem to have forgotten their history? May we have a debate on Bosnia so that the House may remind itself of the centuries-old ethnic and cultural links between Serbia and Russia? If Russians were treated to the sight of French, American and British planes bombing Serbia, it would feed the extremists in the Russian Parliament and make life very difficult for Boris Yeltsin. The debate could also provide an opportunity for those who urge the bombing to give an understanding that they will not be the first to condemn our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should British soldiers' wives be widowed as a result of the escalation.

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend has underlined what my right hon. Friends and, to be fair, numbers of hon. Members, although perhaps not all Opposition Members, have acknowledged throughout, which is the need to take into account a range of important factors, political and military, before jumping into decisions and actions.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Some 15 minutes ago, the Leader of the House announced the business for next week. Will he tell us what specific factor prevented him from announcing the business for two weeks ahead? That is not something for which he needs anyone's permission.

Mr. Newton

If I may say so, what happened yesterday constituted quite a good illustration of the need to retain flexibility at times.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Since later today a distinguished group of colleagues and myself hope to put down an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill which will allow the courts to use corporal punishment in place of imprisonment for certain categories of young offenders, could my right hon. Friend be kind and courteous enough to undertake to allow us to debate the matter on the Floor of the House, with a free vote, as many of my, and perhaps his, constituents would feel that that would lie as well with the "back to basics" campaign as some of the other issues that have been treated accordingly?

Mr. Newton

I cannot quite give my hon. Friend that undertaking without giving some consideration to the matter.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

Does the Leader of the House recall the Government White Paper "Scotland in the Union—a partnership for good" released last year which said that there could be many more meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee so that more Scottish issues could be determined in Scotland? Given that, would not it be a good idea to refer the Committee stage of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Grand Committee and allow Scottish Members of Parliament to determine that subject? If the union really is a partnership, why should the votes of English Tory Members of Parliament be required to gerrymander Scottish local government?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman, as ever ingenious and tendentious, raises what he may regard as an interesting point, but one to which I propose to respond with caution. We are in a little difficulty in pursuing proposals, whether of his kind or of those that we might prefer, in the absence of what are known as the usual channels.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Will my right hon. Friend find time soon to debate the appalling management of council housing finance in—[HON. MEMBERS: "Westminster!"]—a number of Labour-controlled boroughs in London—in particular, Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth, which have been singled out by the district auditor? Is he aware that, in 10 boroughs in London, more than 20 per cent. of the council housing rents remain uncollected, a matter of considerable concern to London and something of which Opposition Members should take notice?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about our attitude to such matters when allegations are shown to be founded, wherever they may occur.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Is the Leader of the House aware of early-clay motion 310 concerning the detention of Jamaican citizens at Gatwick?

[That this House deplores the decision of immigration officials at Gatwick Airport on 21st December to detain 190 out of the 326 passengers on charter flight YULE 966 from Kingston, Jamaica; notes that no justification has yet been made for why so many individuals should have been detained or why this particular flight should have been singled out for action on this scale; further notes the failure of immigration officials at Gatwick promptly to notify waiting relatives and friends as to the reason for the delay; condemns the decision to hold 57 passengers overnight, and in some cases for several days, at Campsfield detention centre in acfordshire; is concerned that some of the detainees claim to have been mistreated; notes that there is no evidence that any of the individuals detained were implicated in criminal or drug-related activities; notes that those removed and returned to Jamaica will encounter severe difficulties in ever returning as visitors to the United Kingdom; notes further that the abolition of appeal rights against visitors' refusals in the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, leave those refused entry without any effective means of redress against an unfair decision; believes that this incident will severely damage the United Kingdom's reputation abroad as a country which welcomes visitors; believes further that this incident will damage race relations; notes that this incident is symptomatic of the discrimination and lack of accountability in the United Kingdom's immigration system; and urges the Home Secretary to institute a full public inquiry into this case.]

Is the Leader of the House aware that one of the passengers who arrived on the charter flight was a Jamaican woman who had been issued by the British authorities in Jamaica with a visa entitling her to settlement in the United Kingdom, which usually would have meant that she would have been admitted within minutes of arrival? Instead of that, she was kept waiting for 12 hours and, as she was four months pregnant, it is clear that that wait caused her considerable distress.

As the Government have refused even to name the passengers who were deported on Christmas day, or to give any reasons why they were refused entry, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to give an early statement so that he can be called to account for the exercise of brutal state power that took place on Christmas day when 27 Jamaicans were deported back to Jamaica?

Mr. Newton

I simply do not accept the hon. Gentleman's phrase "brutal state power". I think that he will be aware that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has written to the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) about the matter generally and has placed a copy of his letter in the Library. It makes it clear that the immigration service had good reason to pay particular attention to that flight, although each individual passenger was considered individually on merit. There was a delay in completing all the necessary interviews, but an inquiry point for waiting friends and relatives was set up promptly and used by many people. However, I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will wish to look into the particular case to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside)

Further to the reference by my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) to the district auditor's report on Lambeth council issued in May 1993, will my right hon. Friend also consider the alleged goings on in Monklands district council and, taking that into account, seriously consider an early debate on the performance of these Labour councils?

Mr. Newton

I refer my hon. Friend to what I said a few moments ago and to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said during Prime Minister's questions.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Following the issue of two sets of district auditor reports in Clay Cross, which I represent, two groups of councillors were debarred from office and surcharged and some of them were made bankrupt. The second team of councillors were surcharged to the tune of £2,000, or a little more, to be paid jointly and severally.

May we have a debate on surcharging, debarring and bankruptcy, so that we may contrast Clay Cross, where people behaved honourably and decently, with Westminster, where £21 milion was at stake and where there was no honour or decency?

Mr. Newton

As my right hon. Friend said during Prime Minister's questions, allegations have been made and will now be examined by due process. Those against whom the allegations have been made have an opportunity to make their case and further consideration can take place in various ways. The sensible course is to allow that process to proceed—not the course that the hon. Gentleman invites me to take.

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the activities of Tameside metropolitan borough council, following the investigation on the Radio 4 programme "Face the Facts" this morning, which exposed a company set up to operate the council's nursing homes which has made multi-million pound losses and which is run by Labour councillors, members of their familes and Labour party lackeys?

Mr. Newton

I note that my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Planning is in his place ready to make a statement shortly. I am sure that he will have heard and noted what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

Given the rather idiosyncratic definition that the Leader of the House has given to the term "cancellation" of a debate, would he care to reflect on the impact of the delay in debating the national health service on the delegation that came here today from the Royal Orthopaedic hospital in Birmingham, which is threatened with closure as a result of the Government's health reforms? The delegation comes from a city that stands to lose more than a quarter of its acute beds as a result of the market mechanism.

What confidence can patients and health service staff in Birmingham have that the Government will not find an excuse again next week to duck their responsibility to debate the crisis that they have caused in our national health service?

Mr. Newton

I inadvertently suggested just now that my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Planning was to make a statement shortly—in fact, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to make it.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that it depends on whether the Opposition choose to go on behaving as they did yesterday. We had no wish to cancel today's debate; in effect, the Opposition cancelled it by failing to behave reasonably.

Mr. Stephen Milligan (Eastleigh)

In view of the widespread public interest in the pressure that membership of this House imposes on married life, is not the time ripe for a debate on the hours that the House sits? Can my right hon. Friend confirm reports in the newspapers—or has he perhaps heard it from the Labour party—that the Opposition have welched on their intention to support the reform of our sitting hours and intend to keep us up all hours of the night for narrow party-political reasons?

Mr. Newton

Perhaps I should direct that question at the serried ranks of former usual channels on the Opposition Front Bench who are looking at me now. I note with genuine regret a report in The Independent today, which states: Labour leaders last night confirmed talks between the two sides had collapsed over a recommendation about automatic timetabling. The report goes on to say that a senior member of the Labour party who was a member of the relevant Committee said that he saw 'no prospect' of the Jopling plan being enacted". If that is so, I deeply regret it—but it should be made clear more formally by the Opposition if it is true.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

May I repeat the request for a debate on the divisive and destructive effects of the Child Support Act 1991? If it is not possible to arrange that as a matter of urgency, may we at least have a statement from the Minister responsible for such matters about the particular hardships caused by the disregarding of people with families, both abroad and in this country?

I ask the Leader of the House particularly to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that the status of members of the armed forces with a second family based abroad is not recognised in the calculation of their disposable income. People who are putting themselves on the line to support their country find that they cannot afford to support their own children. May we have a statement to clarify the rule that the Child Support Act should encompass all the children of a person, not just a selected few?

Mr. Newton

I hope that none of those involved will regard it as a breach of confidence for me to say that I have already spoken to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, who takes a particular interest in such matters. I know that he is aware of the position to which the hon. Gentleman refers and has undertaken to ensure that it is looked into.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan) asked about a review of the procedures of the House and the timetabling of all business. I have asked this question a number of times, but let me repeat it: is it not intolerable that the Opposition can effectively block reform simply by leaving an empty chair? Will my right hon. Friend present the Government's decisions on the matter at an early date, so that we can debate and pass the necessary legislation?

Mr. Newton

I do not wish to add to what I said in my earlier answer, but I hope that Opposition Members who are involved in these matters will note what my hon. Friend has said. His remarks reflect considerable frustration among hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

The fundamental duty of the House is to scrutinise Government policy and executive action. Can the Leader of the House, with his special responsibilities, deal with a fundamental problem?

The Prime Minister has announced that the whole fabric of Government policy will be affected by his "back to basics" strategy and that it will permeate all Departments and policies; yet we have not debated it in the House. Given the number of Conservative Members who are confused about the policy, surely it is the responsibility of the Leader of the House to ensure that, as soon as possible, a full day is set aside for a debate on the "back to basics" policy, introduced by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Newton

The House has had substantial opportunities to discuss, for instance, educational matters and standards. Only the day before yesterday, it had the opportunity to discuss fully the Government's criminal justice proposals. Those are important elements in the programme and the hon. Gentleman has had plenty of opportunities to talk about them.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May we have a debate next week on facilities in the House of Commons? I have looked very carefully, but as far as I can see there are no condom machines in the House. I realise that their installation would come rather too late for some Conservative Members, but it would probably be welcomed by the more circumspect among us.

Alternatively, perhaps we could seek some advice from Mrs. Lorena Bobbitt, who has a very direct way of dealing with members.

Mr. Newton

I do not know whether I can seek your guidance, Madam Speaker, on whether that is a matter for the Accommodation and Works Committee, the Catering Committee or the Administration Committee; but it is certainly not a matter for the Information Committee.

Madam Speaker

I should have thought that the comments of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) were in extremely bad taste, but I refer him to the appropriate Committee.

Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

It was announced during the recess that in future it may be possible to use the eggs from dead foetuses for in vitro fertilisation. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the subject so that hon. Members as well as the general public can discuss it during the consultation period allowed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority?

Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady, who is well informed about these matters, will be aware of the consideration being given to them and will know that recommendations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will follow in due course. I shall, of course, bring her request to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness)

Further to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), if there is not to be an early debate on the Government's "back to basics" policy, will the Leader of the House at least arrange for a copy of this important policy to be deposited in the Library so that hon. Members can read it?

Mr. Newton

I do not know whether it is the usual practice to put into the Library a copy of the speech which, for example, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made at the party conference, but I shall certainly ensure that the hon. Gentleman has a copy because it sets it out very clearly.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

I suppose that it is inevitable that the House will, as usual, rubber-stamp the Scottish legislation to be debated on Monday, but, as the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill is deeply flawed and almost universally opposed by the people of Scotland, and in view of the fact that it will affect every locality in Scotland, may I suggest to the Leader of the House that it is important that as many parts of Scotland as possible are represented on the Standing Committee which will debate the Bill in due course? The Committee should consist of 25 members at the very least. Will he accept that point, regardless of the fact that there are only eight Government Back Benchers from Scotland?

Mr. Newton

The membership of Standing Committees is of course a matter for the Committee of Selection. I have no doubt that its Chairman will note the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

Has the Leader of the House seen press reports suggesting that the 130 river clean-up schemes submitted by the National Rivers Authority and passed to the Secretary of State for the Environment have been reduced to 29?

Is he aware of the tremendous anxiety of my constituents who have been told by the NRA that without Government intervention the clean-up of Stock's beck, a river polluted by dyes and sewage effluent, will have to wait until well into the millennium, until 2005? Will the Leader of the House press his right hon. Friend, who is sitting alongside him, to make an urgent statement on his plans for river clean-ups?

Mr. Newton

I am sure that my right hon. Friend, who, with his usual diligence, is in his place, will consider that point.