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Business Of The House

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 10 December 1987

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3.31 pm

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY I4 DECEMBER — — Until 7 o'clock private Members' motions.

Afterwards progress on remaining stages of the Local Government Bill.

TUESDAY I5 DECEMBER — — Completion of remaining stages of the Local Government Bill.

Motions on the Welsh Rate Support Grant Report 1988–89 (HC 142), the Welsh Rate Support Grant Supplementary (No. 2) Report 1984–85 (HC 158) and the Welsh Rate Support Grant Supplementary (No. 2) Report 1985–86 (HC 159).

WEDNESDAY I6 DECEMBER — Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill (1st day).

Motion relating to the appointment of Mr. John Bryant Bourn CB as Comptroller and Auditor General.

THURSDAY I7 DECEMBER — Completion of Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill.

FRIDAY I8 DECEMBER—Adjournment motions.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for responding positively to our representations about providing two full days for the debate next week on the poll tax Bill. In view of the importance of the business and the number of hon. Members who will undoubtedly want to speak on Second Reading, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that, if there are lengthy statements or other business before the debate on the poll tax, business may continue after 10 o'clock? Following the right hon. Gentleman's discussions with the Secretary of State for the Environment, after his promise last week, will the right hon. Gentleman inform us when the poll tax rebate regulations will be published since those details must have a direct bearing on the debate on the poll tax Bill?

Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to make a statement next week on the reasons why the report by Sir Robin Ibbs on the career Civil Service is not to be published? In that context, does he accept that it is important that that statement is made, in the light of the words of the former Cabinet Secretary, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, in The Times this morning that
"the issue of lifelong confidentiality is a red herring: what that argument is about is unauthorised disclosure"?
The Home Office has recently announced a change in the manner in which immigration cases are to be handled. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that those are not fully implemented until proper consultations have been undertaken to ensure that Members of the House who are involved in such cases have a direct involvement?

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the Government's defence policy in the wake of the treaty and the super-power meeting in Washington this week? The Secretary of State for Defence told the NATO Defence Ministers last month that he wants what he called "compensations" for the withdrawal and discussion of land-based intermediate missiles? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a statement is made next week so that the Secretary of State for Defence can tell us about his ambitions for rearmament?

I note that there is to be no debate next week on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and the serious situation that has arisen as a result of the report of the Committee of Selection that it is not able, at present, to recommend the setting up of that Committee? In the light of that unexpected report from the Committee of Selection, I understand that it would be sensible to allow a short period for reflection in the hope that a way forward can be found. However, the Leader of the House will recognise that this issue must come before the House as early as possible in January, regardless of the embarrassment that that will cause the Government.

I am not sure that it will cause the Government all the embarrassment that the right hon. Gentleman anticipates. Let me answer the questions that the right hon. Gentleman asked me in the order in which he asked them. First, he asked me about the Local Government Finance Bill. We can certainly have discussions through the usual channels to see whether what he suggests would be helpful to the House. I give an undertaking that I shall do my very best to keep statements away from those days to enable as long a debate as possible.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the decisions to be made about uprating income support in relation to the community charge. All I can tell him is that decisions on the amount of uprating will be announced in due course. I cannot be more specific than that at the moment.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the report of Sir Robin Ibbs. I shall refer that to the Prime Minister, but I am unable to give him the information that he requires at the moment.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the Home Office review of hon. Members' correspondence and stops. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department announced on Second Reading of the Immigration Bill on 16 November, he is reviewing the procedures under which hon. Members take up immigration cases with his Department, whether in the form of written representations or of interventions, especially stops in port cases. The review is not yet complete, but when my right hon. Friend and the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), have reached detailed conclusions they will be the subject of consultation with both sides of the House and with hon. Members generally.

I shall refer the question of a statement on defence to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

As the Leader of the Opposition said, I stated last week that I was happy to arrange a debate on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs before Christmas, if that was the wish of the House. However, following discussions through the usual channels, I understand that it would be for the more general convenience of hon. Members if there was a longer time to consider the report of the Committee of Selection. Taking account of that, I propose to arrange a debate on that matter immediately after the House returns in January.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that he gave a modestly encouraging reply to a question that I first started putting to his predecessor before Christmas 1986 about a debate on science policy? When are we to have such a debate? It is becoming rather urgent.

I recognise my hon. Friend's deep concern about those matters and his persistence. I hope that he will be tolerant of me for a little longer.

In view of today's recommendation by the British Caledonian board to its shareholders in favour of the partnership with SAS, will the Leader of the House make arrangements for a statement to be made as soon as possible giving an assurance on behalf of the Government that there will be no ministerial interference with the Civil Aviation Authority to prevent the shareholders making a decision in the interests of a strong, second-force airline in Britain and competition for the consumer?

As I understand it, the Secretary of State for Transport has certain statutory duties in this matter that follow from any report that he should receive from the CAA. I do not believe that I can say anything else about this matter other than that I shall report the right hon. Gentleman's concern to my right hon. Friend.

As the Government expect to secure the Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill next week, can my right hon. Friend say whether he has any plans to take the Committee stage of part I of the Bill, dealing with the community charge, on the Floor of the House in view of the constitutional importance of the decision and the fact that many hon. Members will wish to discuss that matter in detail?

I have a feeling that we shall have plenty of time to discuss all the implications of the Bill. I have no plans to take any part of it on the Floor of the House.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 429?

[That this House calls for the profits made by the House of Commons Refreshment Department, including the Kiosk, during the week 14th December to 18th December inclusive, to be donated to the Ethiopian Famine Appeal.]

It calls for the profits made by the Refreshment Department next week to be donated to the Ethiopian famine appeal. Does he agree that the vast majority of Members and visitors, who will be spending a large amount of money next week through the Refreshment Department, would welcome a proportion of that money going to that important appeal? Does he also agree that where there is a political will there is always a way? Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman use his best endeavours to cut through the red tape to ensure that starving people are helped by this House next week?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern. However, the direction of excess funds from the Kiosk is generally a matter of the House of Commons Commission. The Government have made clear their concern about human rights in Ethiopia and the failure to provide agricultural incentives. In the present circumstances, the overriding need is to deliver food to those who face another major famine.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the annual report on Hong Kong is likely to come out next month. Will he arrange for an early debate on the report on the territory, preferably as soon as possible and before the publication in Hong Kong of the White Paper proposals regarding representative government in the territory? Those proposals are due to be published in February and it would be helpful if we had a debate in the time between publication of the report and the White Paper.

That is certainly an important issue and I shall look at the possibilities for an early debate.

I refer to exchanges initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) yesterday which you, Mr. Speaker, said could be dealt with now. They concerned the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Lord Advocate, whose responsibilities are also covered by the Secretary of State in this House.

Is the Leader of the House aware that my hon. Friend asked about the background to the pre-dawn raid by Strathclyde police on executives of the BBC in February? In reply to those questions, first the Parliamentary Under-Secretary and then the Secretary of State for Scotland denied responsibility for answering my hon. Friend's supplementary question. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary said that my hon. Friend's question was
"beyond my sphere of responsibility … and goes to the root of intelligence matters that are the responsibility of others." —[Official Report, 9 December 1987; Vol. 124, c. 433.]
Can the Leader of the House say specifically to which others we should address our questions?

I think the best thing I can do is to tell the hon. Gentleman that the Minister quite properly took the view that the supplementary question concerning grounds for suspicion related to intelligence matters. If, however, the question was intended to relate to the grounds on which the original warrant had been granted, a reply could have been given. I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister has written to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who asked the question, and the confusion arose as a result of a late correction to his question by the hon. Gentleman as to the date of the seizure of the material.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is no provision next week for a debate on the formation of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Can he confirm that that omission was at the insistence of the Opposition? If he can., what conclusions does my right hon. Friend draw about the attitude of the Opposition to Scottish business? Is he as concerned as I am that the Scottish people are being denied important representation in this House because of the obstructive tactics of the Opposition? When will we have a debate on the formation of the Select Committee?

We will have a debate on it as soon as we come back from Christmas. I shall leave it to my lion. Friend to draw conclusions about these matters. I reiterate that the discussions took place through the usual channels, and it was generally agreed that it would be for the convenience of the House not to have a debate next week.

Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that Opposition Members are extremely anxious that the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs should be set up? Without criticising the Committee of Selection, I may say that the motion tabled in the name of the Chairman of that Committee was not really satisfactory in enabling the House to reach a satisfactory conclusion that would serve the interests of the whole House.

If there are to be strictures regarding the setting up of the Scottish Select Committee and the representation of Scotland in it, I refer the Leader of the House to the Committee considering the Health and Medicines Bill in which the absence of a Scottish Minister is to be deplored, particularly as the Opposition have two hon. Members of great expertise who wish to question the Government in Committee line by line and clause by clause on the operation of the Health Service in Scotland. Is it not a scandal that the Under-Secretary of State, who acknowledges the Adam Smith rule, is not willing to be seated on that Committee?

I am sure that the Ministers on that Committee will give a good account of themselves and will answer all the questions raised in the debates there. I cannot say anything further about that.

As for the hon. Gentleman's other question about the Scottish Select Committee, as I have said from the Dispatch Box on many occasions, I am anxious to set it up as soon as possible. If I have the hon. Gentleman's support in doing that, we may make some progress.

When my right hon. Friend considers setting up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, will he bear in mind that some Conservative Members will welcome the opportunity to debate what was wrong with it and why it did not perform its duty satisfactorily in the way that the other Select Committees—I served on two of them—did?

My hon. Friend does not need any encouragement from me to find an opportunity of expressing his views on these matters. My concern is to try to get the Select Committee set up in a proper and acceptable manner.

At some time during the two-day debate on the Local Government Finance Bill, will the Leader of the House try to ensure that the House—in particular hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies — is told why the poll tax proposals will not extend to Northern Ireland? After all, if the poll tax is for the benefit of all the citizens of the United Kingdom, surely the citizens of Northern Ireland should have the advantage of it, too.

The issue of who is called in debates is not a matter for me; nor is that of whether these matters are in order. However, I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Could my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary be asked to confirm to the House next week that the Goverment have not forgotten Mr. Terry Waite and other British hostages in the Lebanon, and that every diplomatic opportunity will be taken to bring pressure to bear on sovereign Governments—not terrorists—to bring about their release?

Of course, I am sure that the whole House wants and expects my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to do whatever is open to him to assist in this matter. I confirm that that is what he is doing.

Will the Leader of the House perhaps find time in the early new year for a general debate on the issue of freedom of the press? No doubt he will agree that the growing rash of writs from the Attorney-General seeking to gag parts of the press and some people is most worrying. Will he bear in mind that it is often a free press that separates a democracy from a tyranny?

The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to comment on those points, but I shall certainly bear them in mind.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that most people in the free world strongly support the INF treaty recently concluded in Washington? Does he accept that the treaty has created expectations which, if combined with major defence cuts by the United States, could have a major impact on the defence of Britain? Is not that a reason for a special defence debate, over and above the ones that we can normally expect, early next year?

I am sure that other hon. Members would support my hon. Friend, but I do not see an early prospect of having such a debate. My hon. Friend may be able to find an opportunity on Wednesday to ask the Foreign Secretary a question about this.

In connection with the appointment next Wednesday of the Comptroller and Auditor General, has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 427 which is in my name and in the names of an increasing number of my hon. Friends?

[That this House considers that, as the Comptroller and Auditor General is an Officer of the House under the National Audit Act ( 1983 ) , appointments to the post should be made on a motion put down by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and that the appointment should not involve any consultation with the Prime Minister; and further considers that the requirement for the agreement of the Prime Minister to the appointment of an officer whose responsibility is to examine the financial management of the Government is constitutionally unacceptable.]

It draws attention to how unacceptable it is that the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General, now a servant of the House whose job it is to inquire into the financial management of the Government, should be subject to the approval, even the veto, of the Prime Minister. Will the right hon. Gentleman seek to table an amendment to the National Audit Act 1983 to establish that the appointment shall be made by the Public Accounts Committee and on a motion by its Chairman? Will the right hon. Gentleman hold up this appointment until such an amendment has been debated in the House?

No, I cannot agree to that. The procedure for the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General is laid down in section 1 of the National Audit Act 1983 and that procedure will be strictly followed. This is a matter for the House, but the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has been consulted and I understand that he has given his approval to this appointment.

Will my right hon. Friend consider delaying the Report stage of the Local Government Bill? Is he aware that this week about 50 of my right hon. and hon. Friends signed an early-day motion critical of the way in which local authorities exercise their powers under the Race Relations Act 1976? Is he further aware that an amendment has been tabled today to repeal section 71 of that Act? In fairness to local authorities, they ought to know that there is a serious risk of that amendment receiving the approval of the House and they ought to have time to put forward their claims to continue to exercise what many Conservative Members regard as their pernicious powers.

A reasonable time has been allowed to deal with these matters. No doubt my hon. Friend will forcefully put his point of view in next week's debate.

Will the Leader of the House give the House time—if not now, certainly after the recess—to consider the matter of loan sharks and the credit problem, which has become a matter of public concern? Does he agree that the House ought to pay more attention to the problem of the exploitation of the most vulnerable sections of working people, many of whom are now at risk because of their indebtedness to loan sharks who demand gross rates of interest on loans?

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about any irregularities of that sort. I cannot promise him time for a debate in the immediate future, but he might try his hand at applying for an Adjournment debate and see how we get on.

In view of the allegation by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) that his is the only party in Northern Ireland that has no association with paramilitaries, will the Leader of the House find time before the House rises for a debate on paramilitaries? I and my party not only repudiate paramilitaries but unequivocally support the security forces and the rule of law. It is essential to put the record straight.

My hon. Friend seems to have done that effectively, but I cannot promise time for a debate next week.

Will the right hon. Gentleman provide time for a debate on the safety of equipment provided to schoolchildren following upon the death of Billy Walker, my constituent, after swallowing the top of a Bic pen? The executives of the allegedly reputable company have yet again refused to discuss the matter privately. In the circumstances, perhaps the best remedy is to discuss the matter publicly so that the company's heartless and irresponsible behaviour can be held up to the scorn it deserves and so that, at the very least, the company's shareholders will know the way in which the company's executives have seen fit to misrun it.

The hon. and learned Gentleman needs no lesson from me on how to raise matters that he rightly thinks are of concern to his constituents and to the whole country, but I suggest that an Adjournment debate may be a suitable starting point.

Will my right hon. Friend seek to arrange for the Minister for Sport to come to the House to make a statement about the problems the British cricket team is encountering in Pakistan, and to make a comparison between that and the excellent umpiring and refereeing in this country, not least the excellent refereeing in the second round of the Football Association cup last Sunday when Macclesfield Town football club, otherwise known as "the silkmen", demolished an official league club, Rotherham, by four goals to nil?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his football team, and wish it well in future competitions.

All hon. Members will regret what has happened in recent events in Pakistan. Whatever the circumstances, there can be no excuse for flouting the authority of judges, referees or umpires. Such respect is fundamental to the playing of any sport. The enforcement of standards and the discipline of umpires are matters for the cricket authorities.

Will the Leader of the House provide time before the Christmas recess for a statement or debate on the Government's attitude to their golden shareholding in Britoil? Does he accept that there is great concern among hon. Members about the future of the United Kingdom's largest independent oil company, about 1,700 Scottish jobs and about whether the Government had prior knowledge of the BP moves? Does he accept that the Government must make a political decision in the next few weeks and that hon. Members have the right to debate it?

I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a statement, but I will certainly refer his question to my right hon. Friend.

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the amendment to early-day motion 226.

[That this House notes with acute concern the opposition of the honourable Member for Ealing North to the right of the Dawoodis Bohra Muslim Community to have a place of worship in Ealing, despite the support given by Labour and Conservative councillors following detailed consultation in the area,. further notes that following his campaign there has been an increase in racially motivated attacks in the area and that some behaviour at a public meeting has been offensive and came close to breaching the Public Order Act; and therefore calls upon the honourable Member for Ealing North to condemn such behaviour unreservedly and to support the right of freedom of worship.]

The motion points out that the Ealing council has mistakenly granted planning permission to the Dawoodis Bohra Sikhs to build a mosque on an industrial estate in Northolt, and seeks to persuade the council to find an alternative site for the mosque.

As the motion is signed by only 30 hon. Members and the amendment is signed by 70 hon. Members, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate for the sake of the people of Northolt who are deeply concerned, disturbed and angry about the matter?

My hon. Friend raises matters of concern to him and a number of his constituents, but they are matters for the local planning authority, the Ealing council. I cannot promise him that we can find time for a debate in the immediate future.

Will the Home Secretary make a statement next week on the relationship between Gibraltar and Britain on the landing rights agreement with the Spanish Government? We have not had a statement on the agreement, which raises many constitutional issues. For example, if the Gibraltar Assembly were to veto the arrangement, what would happen to the agreement and the broader agreement on air fares in the EEC? The House and the people of Gibraltar deserve a full statement from the Foreign Secretary.

That is an important matter and I will refer it to my right hon. and learned Friend.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the profound concern expressed about the future of the D notice committee? Is he aware that the voluntary D notice system has worked extremely well for many years and was working effectively between the BBC and the authorities until last week? Now that the Government's injunction has smashed to smithereens the reputation and effectiveness of the D notice committee would it not be right for the House to debate whether it should continue to be funded with taxpayers' money and kept going?

I cannot promise a debate in the immediate future, but the Government attach great value to the D notice system and hope that the media will continue to participate.

Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that, if the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments decides to request a memorandum on the Welsh rate support grant orders on Tuesday, the orders will not be taken? I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that there is little point in having a Select Committee to examine orders and report to the House if the orders are debated prior to that report.

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect the Register of Members' Interests to be published? Will it be published early in the new year? May we have a debate on the register because there have been a number of reports about hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), being employed by organisations such as Saatchi and Saatchi, which is lobbying for British Airways in the BA-BCal bid? We should be able to explore the ramifications of the way in which Conservative Members obtain financial advantage from their parliamentary endeavours.

I am sorry that this saga is changing its nature. All hon. Members have now completed an entry to the register and it was laid on Tuesday following a meeting of the Select Committee on Members' Interests. I understand that at the meeting the Committee agreed a short report which will be published early next week. A copy of the register, which is being printed as it stood on 8 December, is in the Library. The hon. Gentleman can study it at his leisure. I cannot answer the question about the Welsh rate support grant without looking into it, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of the fundamental importance of the amendment tabled to the Local Government Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) and his colleagues about the Race Relations Act 1976, and how that applies to local government, and as it strikes at the foundations of the Bill, will he give additional time— perhaps until midnight—on Monday for the debate on the amendment?

Certainly we have given what I believe is a reasonable amount of time. We will waive the rule on Monday to enable discussion to take place. However, there is no fixed time limit as such.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that, as it is currently compiled, the Register of Members' Interests is based upon a system that was devised more than a decade ago? Although it would require hon. Members to show whether they have any interest in stonemasonry, they would not be expected to include any reference to show whether they were freemasons, including those who are honorary freemasons, some of whom may be on the Conservative Benches. Would it not be a good idea, when the Register is compiled next time round—it is apparently ready for publication now — that it should contain a part instructing Members of Parliament who were members of a freemasons' lodge to include that information in the Register, as is the case in many local authorities?

That is of course a matter primarily for the Select Committee on Members' Interests and ultimately for the House.

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week to allow the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) to withdraw and apologise for his disgraceful attack on the Army colonel which was made under the cloak of parliamentary privilege and which has since been proved to have been false?

I do not believe that that is a matter for me. The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) is responsible for what he says and he will have to decide how best to deal with these matters.

Is the Leader of the House aware that I have issued a public statement today about the Queen's Dragoon Guard in which I said that, in view of the fact that the Ministry of Defence had found no evidence to substantiate the allegations, I withdraw unconditionally and apologise to the commanding officer and the regiment?

With regard to Lieutenant Colonel Macmillan, the complaint was not that he broke the regulations, as the MOD has implied. The complaint was that he fined a man £500 for having a very untidy room and another man £500 for refusing to stop his bicycle when asked and for being disorderly. I regard those fines as excessive. The charges and the fines were excessive. Nevertheless, I have said publicly that I regret naming Lieutenant Colonel Macmillan under parliamentary privilege before the allegations were checked.

There is far too much evidence not only of bullying, but of real brutality in the Army. I have made my apology in good faith, but that in no way detracts from my deep and profound concern about my evidence of bullying. I will pursue my campaign to try to eradicate bullying from the Army.

The whole House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that apology as he may have caused serious damage as a result of what he said previously. We much appreciate his apology. However, I cannot accept what he said subsequently. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces have made the position quite clear. I do not believe that that coincides with what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Given that this is apparently a Government of law and order, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement as early as possible about the Post Office letter monopoly and its lack of enforcement in Coventry? Will he explain why the university, the district health authority and a number of businesses are clearly breaking the law by using a firm called Coventry Couriers which, at 10p a time, and with a frank very similar to that used by the Post Office, is delivering mail and breaking the monopoly in Coventry —or will it be like the Chancellor's wife this morning, with another blind eye being turned?

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that if he has evidence of the law being broken there are proper ways to deal with it.

Notwithstanding the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to the leader of the Liberal party, will he consider urgently the possibility of an early debate on civil air transport policy so that the Secretary of State for Transport can explain fully to the House how the Government intend to facilitate transnational mergers within Europe, avoid quasi monopolies by big airlines and maximise competition for the benefit of the travelling public?

I fully recognise the importance of those issues. However, I cannot offer an early debate on the subject. I will keep the matter in mind.

As the Government have introduced the Local Government Bill as a means of extinguishing the scope for mischief-making by the race relations industrialists in local government, why is this democratic Government now emasculating its own handiwork by bringing forward new clause 5 on the instructions of a discredited quango—the Commission for Racial Equality—when it can just as readily, with this Bill, get rid of clause 71 of the totally discredited Race Relations Act 1976?

My hon. Friend's question is more pertinent to the debate next week than to business questions.

Will the Leader of the House find ways, through the usual channels, to get the Secretary of State for Energy to issue a statement of concern about the sale of National Coal Board houses in Nottinghamshire? Currently 2,000 houses are up for sale and 3,501) ex-miners, most of whom are very old, need help and security. They fear for their future security in their homes. I do not believe that they should be made to wait by the coal board, which is refusing to sell to proper housing consortia which will look after them in their old age.

Does the Leader of the House realise that his comments on the Scottish Select Committee are disgraceful and completely unacceptable, indicating delay, dither and incompetence on the part of the usual channels? It is scarcely credible that the Labour party seems to be going along with it. What is the Leader of the House doing about Scottish Tory Back Benchers who are shirking their duty by refusing to serve on the Committee, and about ideas such as drafting in English Members when duly elected SNP Members who are willing to serve are deliberately excluded? When will this affront to Scotland be ended?

I do not consider it in any way an affront to Scotland that such matters must be considered properly and carefully. The Scottish Select Committee is an important matter. If we are to set up such a Committee which has the support of the House, we must make sure that we obtain agreement as widely as possibly throughout the House.

In the light of today's decision by the five Law Lords, which will prevent journalists from investigating insider dealing and other important matters, will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the need to amend the Contempt of Court Act 1981? Does he agree that Mr. Jeremy Warner of The Independent should defy the Law Lords and not reveal his sources?

I certainly do not recommend anyone to break the law, but I have nothing else to say about the case in the House of Lords.

Is the Leader of the House aware of the early-day motion that I am tabling today—[Interruption.] He may have had notice of it. It calls for Sir Clive Whitmore, chairman of the D notice committee, to convene a meeting of that committee, and to recommend the resignation of all lie members.

Does the Leader of the House understand that the work of the committee is now totally undermined? The committee is recommending one course of action, while the Attorney-General and the Treasury Solicitor are recommending completely different courses. As there is an inconsistency and a contradiction, why cannot the matter be wrapped up in the way that has been suggested?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. However, I can contain myself in patience until I see his early-day motion on the Order Paper.

May I return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas)? Will the Leader of the House seek an early meeting with the Secretary of State for Social Services to see whether an Under-Secretary of State for Scotland can be a member of the Standing Committee on the Health and Medicines Bill? How can we possibly question the likely effects of the Bill on the Health Service in Scotland—as the right hon. Gentleman knows, health is dealt with separately in Scotland — unless someone with responsibility for it is on the Committee?

I have nothing to add to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas).

Does the Leader of the House accept that many hon. Members are very concerned at the appointment of a new Comptroller and Auditor General? I do not intend to cast aspersions on any individual, but the appointment is of someone who has been very senior in defence procurement, and also has a Treasury background. Given the fight that hon. Members on both sides of the House have had to secure the independence of the Comptroller and Auditor General, will he allow his right hon. and hon. Friends a free vote after next week's debate on the appointment, so that they can decide having heard the full facts, and without pressure from the usual channels?

When the hon. Gentleman has been here a bit longer, he will know that we do not talk about whipping matters from this Dispatch Box.

The new Comptroller and Auditor General is a deputy secretary in the Ministry of Defence and has wide experience of public expenditure both in the MoD and in the Northern Ireland Office. He is an eminently suitable person to be appointed, and his appointment will be the subject of next week's debate.

In view of the unsatisfactory replies that we are receiving from the Government over the acute crisis in the National Health Service, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in the spirit of Christmas, whether any arrangements are being made for copies of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens to be given to, every member of the Cabinet to read on Christmas day?

Instead of going on in the way that he does—I accept that it is in the spirit of Christmas—the hon. Gentleman should take heed of what I said to one of his hon. Friends the other day. If the hon. Gentleman looks at some of the figures published in The Guardian about spending on the National Health Service, I think that he will see that the record of the present Government is considerably better than that of the Government whom he supported.

Has the Leader of the House been informed that this morning the Act Now group, representing 40 organisations of or for disabled persons, has launched a campaign calling for the full implementation of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act? In its main leaflet it asks why, given that Royal Assent was granted on 8 July 1986, nothing has happened 17 months later. What reply has the Leader of the House to that question —especially as he was Chief Whip at that time—and will he forgive disabled people for feeling cynical about the Government's inactivity?

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question, I did not know of this morning's announcement. However, I shall refer his question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.