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Business Of The House

Volume 129: debated on Thursday 10 March 1988

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3.31 pm

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. John Wakeham)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 14 MARCH—Progress on remaining stages of the Housing (Scotland) Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments that may be received to the Social Security Bill.

TUESDAY 15 MARCH — My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

European Community documents relevant to the Budget debate will be shown in the Official Report.

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

WEDNESDAY 16 MARCH and THURSDAY 17 MARCH—Continuation of the Budget debate.

FRIDAY 18 MARCH—Private Members' motions

MONDAY 21 MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget statement.

[Debate on Tuesday 15 March

Relevant European Community documents

  • (a) 9561/87 Annual Economic Report, 1987–88
  • (b) Unnumbered Annual Economic Report, 1987–88 (as adopted by the Council)
  • Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

  • (a) HC 43-viii (1987–88) para 4
  • (b) HC 43-xv (1987–88) para 3.]
  • I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. Will he reconsider his proposal that we debate the Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill on Monday? That is an important measure, affecting some of the worst-off people, and, in particular, worst-off young people, in the country. As we speak, at this moment, the Lords have not even finished debating the Bill. Last week, the Leader of the House said of Lords amendments to the Local Government Bill that if Lords amendments were available on Friday morning it was not unreasonable to debate them the following Wednesday. He is now proposing that Lords amendments available this Friday should be debated the following Monday. Surely that is unreasonable.

    Will the Leader of the House arrange for the publication of the Ministry of Defence document "Learning from Experience" which, we understand, shows cumulative overspending of £20 billion on procurement by the Ministry of Defence? Surely that should be made public, brought to the House and debated.

    Will the Leader of the House also arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Services to make an early statement in reply to today's second report of the Select Committee on Social Services so that he can repair the damage done by his ill-informed and contemptuous remarks about the Select Committee?

    In view of the concern in all parts of the House, as expressed by early-day motion 794, about the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on Britain's use in the Security Council of our veto as recently as Tuesday evening to block the resolution proposing certain mandatory sanctions?

    [That this House, taking note of the fact that on 18th July Nelson Mandela will celebrate his 70th birthday and that he has been imprisoned continuously for over 25 years, recalls the repeated appeals by Her Majesty's Government, the United Nations Security Council, the European Council and Council of Ministers, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government, calling for his release; and reiterates its belief that Nelson Mandela should he released immediately and without condition.]

    Labour Members welcome the motion setting up the Select Committee on televising the proceedings of the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Committee will meet before the Easter recess?

    Does the Leader of the House recall that, when we last debated the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, he asserted the right of Tory Members from England to sit on the Committee? Could he tell us when they propose to get on with exercising that right, because the people of Scotland want the Select Committee set up?

    Finally, rather than including the debate with all the other reports from the Procedure Committee, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to put before the House a proposition for a general ten-minute rule on speeches, so that the matter can be debated separately and quickly and there is less frustration among Back Benchers in many important debates?

    The hon. Gentleman asked me seven questions on the business for next week, and I will do my best to answer them. He first asked about the Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill. The Bill will have its Third Reading in another place today. The timing of the debate has, as with all business, been discussed through the usual channels. I hope that the arrangements made will be for the convenience of the House, hut I am perfectly happy to have further discussions through the usual channels if the hon. Gentleman would find that helpful.

    I believe that the Ministry of Defence document was discussed at a Select Committee yesterday. I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to find out the position about publishing it. I can confirm that my right hon. Friend will be making a Government reply to the Social Security Select Committee report which was published recently.

    The hon. Gentleman asked me about early-day motion 794. We support the motion, together with our Commonwealth and European partners. We have long called for the unconditional release of Mr. Mandela and other political prisoners.

    With regard to the United Kingdom veto on the draft Security Council sanctions resolution, we and the United States vetoed the resolution on 8 March because it included a call for mandatory economic sanctions. As we have consistently made clear, we do not believe that such action will help to bring about the peaceful end to apartheid.

    As I said last week, I hope to get on with setting up the television Select Committee as soon as possible. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the names of Members for the Select Committee have been put forward. There is a difficulty in resolving it insofar as the minor parties are concerned. We will have to consider how best we can proceed to resolve it as quickly as possible. If it is possible to resolve it in time to have a first meeting before Easter, that would give me great pleasure.

    The position of the Scottish Select Committee has moved on a bit since last week. I have written to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection and asked him to reconsider the position in light of information that I have given him.

    With regard to procedure, I recognise that there is a desire to get on with this. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have invited him to have a meeting to discuss those matters, because it is best to proceed with as much agreement as possible. I hope to have a meeting with him in the near future to discuss the matter he raised and other outstanding matters, and to decide how best to proceed.

    I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 6.

    [That this House deplores the fact that, alone among public service pensioners, those whose service was overseas cannot count pre-appointment war service towards their pensions; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to remedy this injustice to a dwindling group of elderly people whose working lives were spent in adverse conditions while dedicated to the service of British interests overseas.]

    The motion has been signed by 331 colleagues. Bearing in mind how many hon. Members do not sign early-day motions, will he find time for a debate in the fairly near future?

    I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I do not think I can find time in the near future to debate the matter. I recognise how strongly he and my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) feel. My learned Friend the Member for Orpington has had a long interest in the matter and has raised it in the House on many occasions. We recognise how strongly colonial service pensioners feel about the issue and we will keep it under careful review. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, there are many claims on public expenditure resources.

    Does the Leader of the House appreciate that the last meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee was on 23 March 1987 and that on 30 November 1987 the House agreed that the Scottish Grand Committee should discuss education in Scotland? When does the Leader of the House foresee a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee taking place?

    Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to hold a debate on the Prime Minister's statement on Monday on the inner cities, or does he think that there was insufficient new matter in that statement to merit a debate?

    I cannot promise an early debate on inner cities, but I believe that the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister contained some important points and it would be a very good idea to have a debate. However, I cannot promise one in the immediate future.

    With regard to the Scottish Grand Committee meeting, I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has written to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) proposing arrangements for and seeking his agreement on three Scottish Grand Committee meetings in the near future. No doubt we will have discussions on that through the usual channels.

    Am I to understand from what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said a few moments ago that, as a result of the letter to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, when that Committee next meets it will have sufficient personnel to complete the appointment of the long outstanding Select Committee on Scottish Affairs?

    The selection of Select Committees is not a matter for me. I have been doing my best to resolve some of the difficulties that arose in that matter and I have communicated with my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. It is best for him to decide how best he should proceed as a result of receiving my letter.

    Is the Leader of the House aware that all service personnel who are disabled by negligence can now sue for compensation? Those who were disabled by negligence before December 1986 can, as a result of firm Government policy, neither sue nor receive an ex gratia payment. May we debate the setting up of a trust fund to give ex gratia payments to those disabled ex-service men?

    I recognise that the law has been changed and that that change was an improvement. However, there is always a difficulty over the position that existed before the enactment of any improvement. I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend.

    Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the need for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, if not for the whole of the United Kingdom?

    I cannot do so next week. No doubt many hon. Members would want to speak on that subject, but I cannot promise an early debate on it.

    It was most welcome to hear that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland intends to monitor employment recruitment facilities in big companies in Northern Ireland to check on religious discrimination. There has been disquiet on the mainland about the fact that sometimes there has been discrimination in nationalised industries, particularly over promotion. Will the Leader of the House look into the matter and discuss it with his colleagues?

    I am grateful to the hon. Member for what I took to be encouraging words about the position in Northern Ireland. I will take his points on board and will refer his comments to my right hon. Friends who are most concerned.

    Does my right hon. Friend recall how helpful he was at the beginning of this month when the House considered Northern Ireland business? Can he go one stage further and tell us whether he has been able to give consideration to dealing with Northern Ireland legislation on the Floor of the House rather than by Order in Council late at night?

    I have had a number of discussions with some of my right hon. and hon. Friends and others about this question, which I know is not entirely satisfactory to many hon. Members. I cannot promise that we have reached a point at which proposals will be brought forward.

    Has the Leader of the House read early-day motion 792 which deals with the extension of legal rights to grandparents for the adoption of grandchildren?

    [That this House deplores the increasing frequency of grandparents being deprived of the right of access to, care, fostering or adoption of their grandchildren notes with alarm the attitude of some social services employees; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to introduce early legislation to give legal rights to grandparents providing immediate right of access before children are taken into care and the right to be present or legally represented at any official hearing or inquiry regarding future access to, care, fostering and adoption of their grandchild or grandchildren.]

    Within 24 hours, the motion was signed by more than 100 hon. Members. It is high time that the Government found time for early consideration of this very pressing matter.

    I recognise that there is considerable concern about and interest in what is, in some cases, an important and serious matter. Grandparents may already be made parties to adoption proceedings. Further rights are provided for in amending legislation to be implemented this year and in our White Paper proposals for child care and family services. Something is happening, but I appreciate that this is a matter of concern.

    Further to my right hon. Friend's comments on the Scottish Grand Committee, can he tell the House where it is proposed that the meeting should be held? Does he agree that one problem has been the absurd notion that the Scottish Grand Committee should meet on Monday mornings in Edinburgh? That is extremely inconvenient for the great majority of Scottish Members who neither live in Edinburgh nor have ministerial cars.

    I am sure that it must be in the interests of everyone that the Scottish Grand Committee meet in the most convenient place. Discussions on this matter will take place, and I am sure that my hon. Friend's points will be considered.

    Is the Leader of the House aware that a Mini-Minor will be sufficient to take the Scottish Tories to the Scottish Grand Committee, wherever it meets?

    Will the right hon. Gentleman make certain that on Monday the Government have a proposal that will allow a debate to highlight the position whereby large numbers of people in Scotland live in damp and overcrowded housing while the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Ministers spend £150,000 on moving from one house, New St. Andrew's house, to another house, old St. Andrew's house, to look after their own comfort? Is that not yet one more display of their arrogance and their contempt for the Scottish people?

    I recognise that the hon. Gentleman is concerned to get on with the debate next Monday. He has given us a foretaste of the sort of speech that he may make if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker. It is helpful for the Minister to know the hon. Gentleman's line in advance so that he may give him, no doubt, an adequate reply.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent debate on privileges was one of the most enjoyable that we have had in the House for a long time? For the benefit of those hon. Members who may from time to time in recent years have been the butt of certain journalists—especially those hon. Members who have opposed televising the proceedings of the House — may we have another debate, say, in July, when perhaps a little light relief will be welcome?

    The debate was enjoyable. I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not contribute, because I am sure that he would have had some wise comments to make. I cannot guarantee that I can provide for a repeat of the debate. When it comes, we shall not shirk it, because Tuesday's debate was a good one.

    The Leader of the House must be aware of early-day motion 758.

    [That this House joins with all other parliaments throughout the Commonwealth in the observance of Commonwealth Day on Monday 14th March and recognises the importance of the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association which brings together parliamentarians throughout the Commonwealth who share a community of interests, respect for the rule of law and a commitment to promote the positive ideals of parliamentary democracy.] He must be aware also that Monday 14 March is Commonwealth day, when observances of the ideals of the Commonwealth are organised throughout the 36 nations that form this organisation. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is committed to respect for the rule of law and the promotion of parliamentary democracy. Can the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate so that we may analyse those ideals relative to the demands of our modern society?

    The Government wholly concur with the statements expressed in the early-day motion. I am sure the whole House recognises the value of the work carried out by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, but I do not think that I can find time for a debate next week. Perhaps we do not really need a debate to express our enthusiasm for the hon. Gentleman's sentiments.

    May I refer my right hon. Friend to the question asked by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace)? Will he remind the House that the meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee on what the hon. Gentleman called 30 November but other Scottish Members would call St. Andrew's day was scuppered by the Liberal party before it obtained the alibi or synonym, or both, that it has recently taken? The hon. Gentleman urged my right hon. Friend for a debate on the inner cities. That is welcome to those of us who represent Scottish cities because in Scotland we do not have inner-city problems such as those they have in Kirkwall because we live in them.

    The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) regretted the fact that the Government had to move back into old St. Andrew's house at the cost of £150,000. That would never have been necessary if the Labour party had not ruined the inner city of Edinburgh by moving into New St. Andrew's house in the first place.

    I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his analysis of the situation. I had quite forgotten that the Liberal party was difficult about the meeting of the Committee—I have never known that to happen before — but I shall learn to be wary as I continue in this job.

    Will the Leader of the House consider having an early debate on the shootings in Gibraltar, on the ground that in editorials The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Guardian have shown great disquiet? I have had dozens and dozens of letters, some from ex-SAS men—

    The hon. Gentleman can see them.

    I have already received letters from ex-colonels and others in the Army and from Tories, all of whom have expressed their great disquiet about what has happened. The whole basis of democracy is at stake. May we have an early debate on the issue? We have not yet got into the position of having Government death squads, but it is about time that the House had a full debate on the issue.

    No doubt proper inquiries are being made within the services and the police to establish the details of what happened. I should have thought that in any debate the House would want to show its overwhelming support for the security forces, given that many hundreds of innocent lives were saved by their speedy and skilful handling of a very difficult situation.

    May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 275, concerning the national dock labour scheme and standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) and others?

    [That this House believes that the National Dock Labour Scheme is an anachronism which both endangers the viability of jobs in the scheme areas and acts as a deterrent to job creation by new ventures; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to abolish the scheme, and open negotiations immediately with employers and unions to bring that about.]

    In view of the latest report about dockers in Boston turning down £1,200 for two days' work, and as the scheme is responsible for many parts of our inner cities being derelict, may we now have a vote and abolish the scheme once and for all?

    I cannot promise exactly what my hon. Friend wants, but I think that there is a debate tonight on this matter, and no doubt if my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he can express his views then.

    The Leader of the House will be aware that the Government recently announced their intention to withdraw their financial support from the British Agricultural Exports Council for the next financial year. Bearing in mind that the value of United Kingdom agricultural exports is £1 billion a year and also the crisis faced by farmers in the domestic market, will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate so that we can consider the true value of the council in facilitating exports in the light of the modest amount that it needs to ensure financial viability?

    The subject that the hon. Gentleman raises is relevant to any debate on agriculture. I recognise that our last debate on agriculture was dominated by the Brussels meeting, and I am looking for an occasion for 4 further debate. I cannot promise one in the immediate future, but I shall certainly bear the matter in mind.

    As the Government, in deference to American public opinion, are to introduce legislation in Northern Ireland that proposes reverse job discrimination supported by criminal sanctions, will my right hon. Friend undertake to consult the Governments of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and then tell us in a debate whether he intends to introduce measures of reverse job discrimination in England and Wales and Scotland in deference to those foreign Governments?

    The short answer to my hon. Friend is, "No, Sir." However, I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

    Would not next week be a peculiarly good moment to debate early-day motions, 228, 253, 272, 273 and 286?

    [That this House notes in the book, Campaign, by Rodney Tyler, the Selling of the Prime Minister: from behind the doors of Downing Street and Conservative Central Office—A unique inside account of the Battle for Power that the author on page 1, chapter 1, paragraph 1, sentence 1, states 'It was an extraordinary turnaround in fortunes from the moment on 27th January 1986 when Mrs. Thatcher secretly confided to a close associate that she might have to resign …' and on page 3 that 'On the eve of the crucial Westland debate she herself felt shaky enough to doubt her future' though some around her later sought to dismiss this as late evening anxieties of the sort that had disappeared the following morning). It is certainly true that if Leon Brittan had chosen to, he could have brought her to the brink of downfall, by naming the real culprits inside Number 10. Instead he chose to remain silent', and calls on the Prime Minister to give a full account of what transpired between 3rd January and 27th January 1986, at Number 10 Downing Street, in relation to the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter concerning the Westland Affair.]

    [That this House notes that the Member for Aldershot on page 136 of his book Heseltine: the unauthorised Biography, states in relation to the Westland Affair that 'John Wakeham issued an order of the day which contained the trite, if effective message, that it was time 'Or all good men to come to the aid of the party. We did and calls on the Leader of the House, The Right Honourable Member for South Colchester and Maldon, to explain when he first knew the role of the then Trade and Industry Secretary, The Right Honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, in the matter of the disclosure of a selectively leaked Law Officer's letter.]

    [That this House notes that in his hook Mrs. Thatcher's. Revolution, published this week by Jonathan Cape and Co., Mr. Peter Jenkins writes on page 200 'Brittan himself refused to enlighten the Select Committee on any point of substance. However, he is reputed to have told close friends subsequently that not only has she known perfectly well what had happened but that, on the day following the leak, had expressed her satisfaction to him at the way things had been handled. However, at that time, the downfall of Heseltine had not been achieved … He (Mr. Brittan) might point the finger at her (Mrs. Thatcher). Potentially he now had the power to destroy her'; and calls on the Prime Minister to give the House a full account of her conversations with the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Right honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, over theperiod from 3rd January and 27th January 1986, in relation to the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter concerning the Westland Affair.]

    [That this House notes that in The Thatcher Years—A decade of Revolution in British Politics, published by BBC Books, Mr. John Cole, on page 170, considering the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter in the Westland Affair, writes 'why did he (Sir Robert Armstrong) not give her a quick interim report when he discovered that the leak was an inside job, authorised by her office?' Why did Leon Britian not tell her? Or the private secretary concerned? Or his chief, who sits in the same room? Or her press secretary? And why did she never ask?; and calls on the Prime Minister to inform the House of the answers to these questions.]

    [That this House notes that, in the book 'Not with Honour—The Inside Story of the Westland Scandal', on page 142, Magnus Linklater and David Leigh write that "Instead, following Havers's complaint, she spoke privately to Britian about the leak. Although this is something the Prime Minister has failed to disclose, to widespread disbelief, the evidence comes from an authoritative source, who told us: "The Prime Minister knew about the leak. She was pleased it had been done. There was a meeting between Brittan and her after the complaint from Mayhew. Only the two of them were present … Brittan assumed she knew of [the leak's] origins. You must draw your own conclusions." One of Brittan's friends adds, "Nobody thought it was a problem. The complaints were out of the public domain and any inquiry was expected to be a formality. Leon wasn't worried at all about it."; and calls on the Prime Minister to give a full account to the House of the meeting between herself and the Right honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, referred to therein.]

    If she has not done it again, as in Westland, it has been done on her behalf again. Why has the Secretary of State for Education and Science got the Henley treatment? Do the leaks involving letters between Downing street and a senior Government Department happen by alchemy? Will there be a leak inquiry? What on earth are the Government going to do when they cannot send for Sir Robert Armstrong?

    The hon. Gentleman is very ingenious in the way in which he raises these matters. I cannot promise him a debate on the subject next week. Of course, leaks are to be deplored wherever they come from—

    I am busy trying to answer the hon. Gentleman's questions in the way which I think is most appropriate for the House. I have no doubt that those responsible for these matters will decide what is the appropriate form of inquiry necessary to find out what happened.

    As a matter of fact, the most interesting thing about this leak was the reaction of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), because it seemed to me that he aspires to be a member of a Government one day who do not have vigorous discussions within the Government.

    When my right hon. Friend and the Government are considering the venue for the Scottish Grand Committee meetings, will he bear in mind the experience of the previous Parliament and look carefully at the attendances of the Grand Committee meetings that took place in Edinburgh? Will the Government note that often those who screamed to have the meetings in Edinburgh were the individuals who did not attend? For example, the former leader of the Scottish National party, Mr. Donald Stewart, and the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), the leader of the former Liberal party, rarely attended. Many Labour Members who constantly screamed for meetings in Edinburgh never attended either.

    In my innocence, I have just mentioned the existence of a letter written by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). I did not realise that there was so much detail in this matter; otherwise perhaps I would not even have mentioned it.

    If possible, may we have a statement next week on the Settle-Carlisle line? I have asked the Leader of the House about it on several occasions. It is a beautiful 80-mile railway line which is operated with great affection by the staff. It is well used and it covers its costs. British Rail is having to use it for diversions from the west coast electrified route, but an air of uncertainty hangs over it. The Department of Transport is trying to pressure local authorities, which are strapped for cash, into providing the money.

    There is an outstanding Jarvis plc report, relating to a job creation project along the Settle-Carlisle corridor. People who are dedicating their lives to the running of a successful, beautiful and treasured heritage, and who are supported in that by people from all over the country—both in sentiment and in practical travel — have uncertainty gnawing at them, and want the line kept. It is intolerable that that uncertainty should continue.

    My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport recognises the need for the uncertainty about the line to be ended as soon as possible. He is actively considering British Rail's proposals. I understand that he hopes to make an announcement in the near future.

    Order. I draw attention to the fact that we have a Consolidated Fund debate later today and will consider a Third Reading before that. I ask hon. Members to make brief contributions.

    Is my right hon. Friend prepared to consider an early debate on the subject of allegations made last Friday in a Channel 4 programme on the subject of child cancer clusters? If we had a debate, some of us could introduce a bit of balance, because many of my constituents were distressed and worried by the allegations. I dare say similar worries have been expressed in other constituencies.

    I recognise my hon. Friend's concern. I am advised that there is no evidence to suggest that the alleged incidence of leukaemia in Humberside is related to the discharge of pollution from Capper Pass. Local variations in the incidence of the disease in relation to industrial sites are already being considered by the small area health statistics unit at the London School of Hygiene. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Mr. Cran) may he lucky enough to debate this matter later today during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

    The right hon. Gentleman may be aware of the total chaos prevailing at Lunar house in Croydon where there are masses of unopened mail containing passports which constituents of all hon. Members are entitled to have returned. Is he aware that that total chaos has arisen because his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was not prepared to listen to the advice that the end of December deadline should be extended so that the civil servants would have a chance to cope with this mass of mail? Is he further aware—

    Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that I have two constituents—a woman whose mother is dying in the Punjab and a gentleman whose father is dying in the Punjab—who cannot get their passports returned to enable them to get out to see their parents before they die?

    Is he further aware—

    This is very important, Mr. Speaker.

    Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that there is a story that all the letters are to he returned to those who wrote them with the request that they send them in later? If that story is true, may the House have a statement from the Home Secretary as to what is intended? We would then have a chance to debate this extremely important matter in the Chamber.

    I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the situation. However, I recognise that, within the general context of his remarks, problems have arisen for his constituents. I shall look into the matter and see what can be done. I will write to the hon. Gentleman as soon as I have any information.

    Will my right hon. Friend check the printing of column 430 of yesterday's Official Report regarding the debate on clause 28 of the Local Government Bill? The name of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) appears to be missing. I understand that he made a strong speech in the debate and also at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party, saying that he felt it was very important for the Labour party to oppose the clause at all stages. My right hon. Friend may be helped in his investigation by considering last night's television programme. I understand that, at about the time of the Division, the hon. Member for Brent, East was appearing on a television programme and was not present in the House to vote.

    I will certainly consider the matter raised by my hon. Friend. However, as the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) says, I do not believe that it will feature in next week's business.

    I wonder whether the Leader of the House was aware of the sabotage carried out a few days ago by Sir Robert Haslam—the head of British Coal—in relation to the miners? He invited the miners to end their overtime ban in the knowledge that wage negotiations and consultations would continue. As a result of a ballot, the overtime ban was lifted and then, cynically, Sir Robert Haslam treated the miners with contempt by telling them that they could not have their back money from November. Therefore, miners will lose hundreds of pounds.

    The Leader of the House is a sort of superintendent of hon. Members, many of whom never turn up for work for weeks and weeks, but they still get their pay. Peers of the realm pick up £100 a day tax-free, with expenses, and some of them just walk through the door and walk out again. Does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that there is some morality in the miners calling for their back pay so that all miners in all the coalfields may be paid the same, in common with Members of Parliament?

    The question of pay within British Coal is a matter for the management and not the Government. I should have thought that Sir Robert Haslam had acted in an extremely sensible and conciliatory way by, immediately after the overtime ban was lifted, paying miners the new rates of pay that they have long wanted.

    Can the Leader of the House spare time for a debate on the contracting out of services in the Health Service and the subsequent effect on patient services? This morning I received a copy of a letter from the district manager of ray district health authority asking staff, including nurses, whether they could work part-time in the laundry. Because of the disastrous effects of cuts and being forced to contract out, he is now asking nurses to moonlight in the laundry. We cannot get enough linen for the wards at weekends and the situation is becoming dire.

    I cannot find time for a debate next week, but I believe that a debate would be a good opportunity to put right the slanted way in which the hon. Lady has put her question, especially given the advantages of contracting out, which has provided £100 million or more of additional funds for patient care.

    Has the Leader of the House noted early-day motion 785?

    [That this House notes the recent decision of the Post Office to increase charges by 35 per cent. for Datapost services for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland only; that these proposals were imposed without consultation with their Scottish Chairman, Mr. Ian Barr, who is to be congratulated for standing by his principles and resigning his position over this latest in a series of discriminatory postal charges imposed upon the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to the detriment of the economic and social life of these communities; and calls on the Post Office to reverse these penal imposts.]

    It relates to the imposition of a Datapost surcharge in the Highlands and Islands. Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the deep dismay and disappointment with which the surcharge has been greeted? It makes the Government's oft-repeated words in support of small business ring extremely hollow in that area. So that the Government may have an opportunity to salvage their reputation, will the right hon. Gentleman schedule a debate on this matter?

    Questions about the competitive Datapost service and the Scottish Post Office are operational questions for the Post Office. I fear that it would not be appropriate to debate them in the House.

    Further to the right hon. Gentleman's replies about the Scottish Select Committee, can he say whether, as a result of the letter that he is about to send to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, he is hopeful that the Select Committee will be set up?

    I should correct the hon. Gentleman; I have already sent the letter. I am always hopeful, but sometimes I am disappointed.