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Commons Chamber

Volume 131: debated on Thursday 14 April 1988

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House Of Commons

Thursday 14 April 1988

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

London Regional Transport Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [10 December], That the Bill be now considered.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 21 April.

TEIGNMOUTH QUAY COMPANY BILL (By Order)

YORK CITY COUNCIL BILL [Lords] (By Order)

ASSOCIATED BRITISH PORTS (No. 2) BILL (By Order)

CARDIFF BAY BARRAGE BILL (By Order)

CITY OF LONDON (SPITALFIELDS MARKET) BILL
(By Order)

FALMOUTH CONTAINER TERMINAL BILL
(By Order)

NORTH KILLINGHOLME CARGO TERMINAL BILL
(By Order)

ST. GEORGE'S HILL, WEYBRIDGE, ESTATE BILL
(By Order)

SOUTHERN WATER AUTHORITY BILL (By Order)

Orders for Second reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 21 April.

BRITISH RAILWAYS (No. 2) BILL (By Order)

Order read for resuming debate on Question [15 March], That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Debate to be resumed upon Thursday 21 April.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE TOWN MOOR BILL [Lords] (By Order)

Order for Second reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday 21 April.

Oral Answers To Questions

National Finance

Personal Incomes

1.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is his estimate of the effect on the weekly income of a single unemployed person with no private income of his Budget changes.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has asked me to apologise to the House for his absence today. He is attending meetings of the interim and development committees of the IMF and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Washington.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that the Budget is about tax and will not therefore have a direct effect on the incomes of those who do not pay tax.

Can the Chief Secretary justify an unemployed young person under the age of 25 having his social security benefit reduced to £26·05 a week when one of the right hon. Gentleman's millionaire friends earning—or should I say, receiving—an income of £1 million a year has been given £3,729 a week as a result of the Chancellor's Budget? Is that not a disgrace, and does the right hon. Gentleman not go in fear that his rich friends might now become part of the dependancy culture of which his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is so fearful?

A substantial part of that question does not arise from the original question. However, more than half a million people under 25 gain in cash terms, as the hon. Gentleman should know.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the unemployed, and the Budget does several things of material interest to them. First and foremost, it will, in my judgment, improve their chances of getting a job. Secondly, when they have jobs the Budget will raise the threshold at which they will pay tax. Thirdly, it reduces the basic rate at which they pay. Fourthly, the unemployed will receive any tax rebates speedily, and they will be substantial rebates if they have been unemployed for some time.

Despite the precise wording of my right hon. Friend's original answer., does he agree that as a result of the Budget some of those who were paying tax will not now pay it?

I am entirely content to agree with my right hon. Friend about that. The figure that my right hon. Friend perhaps had in the back of his mind was 780,000—the number of people who will not pay tax and who otherwise would have done so.

We will refuse to separate the tax cuts of the Budget from the benefit cuts of the social security changes. Does the Minister agree with my estimate that, after this Budget, a person earning £100,000 a year will receive a staggering extra £268 a week, while the benefit changes mean that a single unemployed person will receive less than one tenth of that amount? Can the right hon. Gentleman—he is spoken of as a future leader of the Conservative party—not see what anyone with a basic sense of fairness can see, namely, that it is the function of government to eradicate social injustice, not deliberately seek to create it?

The Government spend one third of their income on social security to eradicate social injustice.

Economic Growth

2.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for how many years the rate of economic growth in the United Kingdom has averaged 3 per cent., or more.

The six years to 1987 saw average economic growth of 3 per cent. a year. This is the longest period of steady growth, at around this rate, for half a century.

Are not those figures an eloquent testimony to the success of the Government's economic policies? Is it not interesting to note that in the last year, when we have had growth of 4·5 per cent., we have been firmly at the top of the international league of growth of our major competitor countries?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a great contrast with the 1960s and 1970s, when we were bottom of the international growth league. It is a contrast also with the performance of the last Labour Government, when the growth rate in every year was lower than the average of the last six years under this Government.

What will happen to growth if exchange rates are at a high and uncompetitive level? Will the Minister heed the warnings of the CBI and others about the effects on GDP of what is happening to exchange rates, or would that be bucking the market?

I am happy to say that the outlook for growth is very favourable and we remain one of the more rapidly growing countries in the Western world.

Does my hon. Friend agree that industrial growth is proceeding well and that it was fed very much with the pound much lower than it is today? My right hon. Friend the Chancellor, who is in Washington, says that we will have a stable pound. Without a stable and lower pound we will not maintain economic growth.

Economic growth has been improved and our economy transformed by a series of measures to improve the supply side performance of the British economy. That is of the utmost importance and has been achieved within a monetary framework which keeps monetary policy bearing down on inflation and ensures that exchange rates are reasonably stable.

Given that the Minister thinks that the Government's economic record is so wonderful, can he tell us how many people are in full-time employment in the United Kingdom now compared with the figure for the last year of the Labour Government?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that over the past year the fall in unemployment has been greater than ever previously recorded.

Business Taxation

3.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what responses he has received to his Budget proposals for changes in business taxation.

10.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what responses he has received to his Budget proposals for changes in business taxation.

The proposals that my right hon. Friend announced in his Budget statement have been widely welcomed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the responses which may well have come in congratulate the Government on establishing a single rate of inheritance tax? Will not this measure ensure that it will be much easier to pass on family businesses and retain those family businesses in operation for future generations?

My hon. Friend is right, but that was, of course, just one of the measures in the Budget. It will, as he said, enable family businesses to be passed on to future generations, which is a good thing. The Budget was widely welcomed. The CBI said:

"This is the Budget we have been waiting for. It will help to maintain the momentum of Britain's economic recovery and should boost business confidence."

Is it not right that, because of the Budget, we now have one of the lowest rates of business taxation in the Western world? Is that not a major boost to companies wishing to invest here, to companies that are already here, and to the revenue?

My hon. Friend is right. We have one of the lowest rates of corporation tax in the Western world, and the small business rate of tax is at the lowest level ever. This should be a great magnet, bringing further inward investment into this country, and should be welcomed by everyone.

Has the Chancellor received representations on the business expansion scheme proposals, to the effect that it is wrong to provide a tax shelter for those who are the richest in society to enable them to set up rented accommodation, often to exploit those at the poorest end of society?

We have not received representations to that effect. The hon. Gentleman may be interested, and perhaps surprised, to hear that we have had some representations from people protesting because we have narrowed and limited the relief fund of the business expansion scheme. We did that because we wanted to concentrate on start-ups and small businesses. We think that it is well worth while extending the scheme to the private rented sector. We need more rented accommodation.

Do the Government not recognise that their own commissioned survey of the business expansion scheme has shown that it has relatively minor job creation effects, that it has tended to concentrate on low-risk, asset-based enterprises and not on high risk ventures, that it is largely based in the south-east, and that it has tended to transfer funds from the north to the south? In addition, it is being used as a tax haven rather than as an efficient way of channelling private investment into enterprise and wealth creation. Far from expanding it, should the Government not have changed it radically or even scrapped it?

The hon. Gentleman seems to be ignoring what I have just said. In many respects, we have narrowed the scheme. It is obvious from his question that he is unaware that we had a survey of the scheme done by Peat, Marwick, Mitchell and Co. which reached very different conclusions from those to which the hon. Gentleman referred. It s precisely because we think that the scheme should not he used to create asset-backed investments at the taxpayer's expense that we have narrowed its application to £½million small businesses. That will deal precisely with the point that the hon. Getleman raised and he should acknowledge that.

Budget (Representations)

5.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations he has received on his Budget.

My right hon. Friend has received widespread support for his Budget.

Nevertheless, it is a pity that a Treasury Minister did not have time to meet representatives of the general aviation industry before the Chancellor's Budget, which might then have pleased that industry a little more. Does my hon. Friend think it fair that jet airliners pay no duty on the Avtur fuel that they use, while the general aviation industry, which is 95 per cent. piston engine, pays duty on its Avgas? Does my hon. Friend not think that that is unfair?

I am sorry that I did not have the chance of meeting my hon. Friend on this occasion as I have done in previous years. On his specific question, the duty on Avgas was reduced to half the duty on petrol in 1982, and there is no justification for a further reduction. Avgas is a high-lead petrol and many cars could run on it. The pump price of Avgas limits abuse. If the duty were removed there would be a serious risk of the diversion of Avgas to road fuel use and significant revenue loss.

Given that economic stability at home and constructive economic co-operation abroad are among the Budget's prime objectives, how does the Minister reconcile yesterday's G7 commitment to stable exchange rates with recent serious policy disagreements within the Treasury and at No. 10 about both interest rate and exchange rate policy?

Given the first half of the hon. Gentleman's question, he must have been very pleased by yesterday's announcement.

Is my hon. Friend aware that this is a Budget, not for the rich people of this country, but for the 25 million people engaged in employment and producing the real wealth of this nation? Is it not the result of those people keeping more of their own money that indirectly leads to our creating more real wealth for use in our health services and social benefits programmes?

My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the fact that the Budget does not involve a giveaway. It involves less money being taken from taxpayers. My hon. Friend is also entirely right to say that it is the success of the whole economy that has contributed to our present prosperity.

Is the Minister aware of the widespread resentment at the Chancellor's rates bill for his mansion at Dorneywood in Buckinghamshire? That bill will fall from £6,400 to a mere £400 for the Chancellor and his wife when the poll tax is introduced. That sort of unfair taxation has caused widespread resentment.

Some of the difficulties that the Opposition are experiencing at the moment may arise from the fact that that question has absolutely nothing to do with the original one.

So that the Labour party may make a proper international comparison, can my hon. Friend confirm that the top rate of income tax in the Soviet Union is 41 per cent.?

My hon. Friend has always been a man of the widest possible information, and I am delighted that he has added to mine.

Bearing in mind that the Minister has other political responsibilities as well as his duties at the Treasury, can he estimate how much the Conservative party will gain and how much the Revenue will lose as a result of the proposal in the Budget to remove inheritance tax completely from all donations to political parties?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right to draw attention to the fact that I have separate responsibilities. The office of Paymaster General is quite separate from the Treasury. In neither capacity, however, do I propose to crystal gaze on the question that the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked.

Will my hon. Friend reconsider the matter of Avgas in view of the experience with other fuels, namely that by changing the colour of the fuel one can ensure that it is not used improperly? Does my hon. Friend agree that that method is better than using taxation for the same purpose?

I will treat my hon. Friend's question as a very early representation for next year's Budget.

Personal Incomes

6.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is his estimate of the weekly gain for a single person earning £50,000 a year from his Budget tax changes.

Just under £80 for an individual with no reliefs other than the single person's allowance.

Does the Minister agree that it would have been better to give that money to the pensioners, who have received nothing from the Budget? What has the Minister to say to the pensioner from my constituency, who has travelled here today, whose total income from a state pension and a British Rail pension is £60 per week and who received nothing from the Budget, but last Monday lost £8 as a result of housing benefit cuts? When will the Government stop taking from the poor and giving to the rich?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not the custom to announce pension increases at the time of the Budget. That will be done at the time of the Autumn Statement. A single person with an income of £60 per week will be paying tax and will benefit from the Budget. The contribution made by the cuts in tax rates is that they will continue the economic growth that has enabled us to increase the total pensions and social security bills by very considerable amounts.

How does my hon. Friend account for the fact that when higher rates of taxation reached a maximum of 83 per cent. under the Labour Government they raised only £800 million, whereas today, when the highest rate is 60 per cent., £3,800 million is raised? Does this not show the logic of reducing, and continuing to reduce, higher rates of taxation?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point.

He and the Opposition may be interested to know that in 1978–79 the taxpayers on higher rates produced 19 per cent. of tax revenue, whereas the figure for this year is 30 per cent. We have thus demonstrated that it is possible to cut rates and increase revenue, as my hon. Friend has pointed out on this and other occasions.

Will the Minister confirm that as a result of the Finance Bill published today £800 million will be given in tax handouts to the very small minority of people with earnings in excess of £100,000 per year? Will he also confirm that for the same amount of money no pensioner need suffer a cut in housing benefit, no family need suffer a freeze in child benefit and no one at all need feel compelled to beg or borrow from the state charity that has been set up in the form of the social fund? Does he accept that in all sections of the community there is deep revulsion against the two-nation Toryism which he now represents and which has produced the most unjust, the most unfair and the most socially divisive Finance Bill this century?

I do not see anything "two-nation" about 70 per cent—[Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen to what I have to say. Seventy per cent. of the cost of the Budget is going on basic rate cuts and increases in personal allowances. I also see nothing "two-nation" about 23 million people benefiting from the basic rate cut.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reductions in the higher rates of tax will encourage the internationally mobile either to stay in the United Kingdom or to come back to it? Does he agree also that the presence of leading surgeons and leading industrialists, and leaders in other areas, can only benefit Britain?

That is no doubt why cutting the higher rates in the past has increased revenue. My hon. Friend rightly emphasises that we need to attract inward investment, and we also need to attract the managers that go with those projects. That is just one of the reasons why the higher rate cuts are to the benefit of the whole economy.

Departmental Votes (Transfers)

7.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what arrangements his Department has to vire money between one Department and another.

The Treasury has no power to vire money between Votes. That can be done only by the presentation of Supplementary Estimates.

Will the Minister concede that the Treasury's monthly returns show an increase in spending in the last three or four months of the financial year which is due to Departments trying to spend up to their limits, and that if there were an effective viring system, transferring money from one Department to another, greater spending could take place on housing and social security?

There has for a long time been bunching in public expenditure, and not only at the end of the year. It is precisely to deal with unexpected demands that we have a contingency reserve that is unallocated at the beginning of the year. This year, that was substantially used.

Will my right hon. Friend move more towards three-year funding arrangements for more Government Departments?

We agree a public expenditure settlement that spreads far further than one year.

Balance Of Payments

8.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement about the impact on the current account of the balance of payments of the basic and higher rate income tax cuts announced in the Budget.

9.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement about the impact on the current account of the balance of payments of the basic and higher rate income tax cuts announced in the Budget.

The current account deficit is forecast to remain below I per cent. of national income in 1988.

Is the Minister aware that the CBI trend survey for March suggested that manufactured imports would grow more than twice as fast as exports in 1988? If so, will he explain to the House why the Chancellor gave away billions of pounds in tax cuts to the rich in the same month? Does he not understand that, as well as being socially divisive and unjust, those tax cuts can only serve to damage the long-term economic interests of the nation? They will lead to the sucking in of even more imports and thereby worsen an already critical trade imbalance.

Our forecast for the balance of payments in the coming year is based on the tax cuts that were announced in the Budget. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that instead of running a surplus of £3 billion we should run a surplus of £7 billion. We are running a surplus on public account, and he believes that that has some impact on the balance of payments. So far, our track record in forecasting the economy is much better than that of most outside bodies. Of course, there is a degree of uncertainty about it, but we believe that that is the best estimate that can be made.

Is it not right that, on the Government's own estimates, we are facing in the current year a deficit of £4 billion, that, even worse, in the first two months there is a deficit of £1·6 billion, and that tax cuts will only suck in more imports? Why can the Government not recognise that the Budget was no good for the poor or for the economy?

The deficit forecast for the coming year is, at less than 1 per cent. of GDP, a fraction of the deficits that were run by the previous Labour Government. It is clearly easily manageable. I repeat the point that I made earlier. If the hon. Gentleman is against any tax reductions in the Budget, he is presumably in favour of running an even larger surplus, which is the exact opposite of the Labour party's policy at the time of the election.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the small balance of payments deficit that we are facing is easily contained in the huge reserves that Britain now has, compared with the overall deficit of the previous Labour Government? Since 1979 this Government have had a £20 billion surplus on the balance of payments.

My hon. Friend is quite correct. As a country, not only do we have large official reserves, but we have large net assets overseas amounting to some $90 billion. That puts us in a much stronger position than we were under the last Labour Government.

In view of the sizeable increase in net disposable income which will derive from the Budget tax cuts, and the possibility that some of that spending will be on imported goods, will my hon. Friend pay some attention to the possible effect on our balance of payments of such a move? In particular, will he reassure me that the whole business of control of credit is being given some attention at the Treasury, as to some of us it seems to be getting out of control?

The estimates and projections that we have made take into account the effect of tax deductions on expenditure. I can assure my hon. Friend that the growth that we forecast will be very balanced. We expect consumer expenditure to grow somewhat less rapidly in the coming year than it did in the last year—by some 4 per cent. By contrast, we expect business investment to grow at 9 per cent. per annum. We envisage very strongly investment-led growth in the coming year. Naturally, we keep an eye on credit, and we believe that credit growth is perfectly containable at the moment.

In view of the fact that the current account figures for the months so far this year have been very bad indeed, and that the deficit appears to be getting steadily worse, will the Minister tell the House clearly and precisely what is the Government's strategy for reducing the deficit in the balance of payments?

Clearly it is too early to come to conclusions on the basis of the first two months of the year, when there may well have been exceptional factors resulting from the introduction of the single administrative document. We never make changes in forecasts on the basis of the figures for one or two months. We believe that the sort of deficit we are forecasting is easily containable, and, as I pointed out, it is substantially smaller than that which the Labour Government seemed content to run.

Personal Incomes

12.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is his estimate of the weekly gain of a single person earning £300,000 a year from his Budget tax changes.

Just over £1,000 for an individual with no reliefs other than the single person's allowance.

Is it not ridiculous in the present day that that answer confirms the fact that an income tax saving of £1,037 per week will accrue to someone earning £300,000 a year? Was the Minister not in the House yesterday to hear the Secretary of State for Social Services describe his cuts for the poor as a charter for self-respect? In view of that, will he give an assurance to the House that the next Budget will be one-nation Budget whereby the poor get richer as an incentive, rather than being ground into the dust as they are at present?

The hon. Gentleman concentrates on an extraordinarily small proportion of the tax-paying public, and a very small part of the cost of the higher rate reductions,. Even of the higher rate reductions, 60 per cent. of the gainers are earning less than £40,000, which shows, incidentally, that the point made by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) was wholly wrong arithmetically.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House exactly how many taxpayers are in that position, and by how much the basic rate of tax for the rest of us could have been reduced if their gain had been taken away entirely?

It certainly would not have enabled any reduction in the basic rate for the rest of us.

Is it not clear that the large majority of ordinary taxpayers will be paying tax at 25 per cent. and national insurance contributions at 9 per cent.—a total of 34 per cent. and the higher taxpayers in the land will be paying only 40 per cent.? Therefore, the difference between the people at the bottom and the people at the top paying tax is only 6 per cent. It is not clear that we are now coming to the end of progressive taxation, which has been embraced by every Administration this century until this one?

No. It would be quite wrong to say that the tax system was still not progressive. I point out to Opposition Members that a person on five times average earning will still be paying 10 times the amount of tax of a person on average earnings.

Income Tax

13.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what information he has as to what will be the higher rates of income tax in each of the major industrial countries in 1988–89.

18.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what information he has about the higher rates of income tax in each of the major industrial countries in 1988–89.

The higher rate of income tax in the United Kingdom is now one of the lowest of any major industrial country. I shall arrange for the relevant information to be placed in the Official Report.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that information. Does it not prove that as a result of the Budget Britain is one of the most attractive countries internationally? Will it not lead to an increased number of industries moving into this country, providing more jobs and thus increasing the amount of revenue coming to the Exchequer, for the benefit of all citizens?

We certainly hope and expect that there will be an increased flow of inward investment. However, there has been a substantial amount of inward investment in recent years. There was £6·1billion in 1987 alone, the largest figure ever recorded, and £2·6million in Scotland alone over the past few years.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that penal rates of taxation damage the economy as a whole and help no section of society? Does he further accept that there may be no economic justification for any level of income tax higher than the basic rate?

I am certainly prepared to agree with my hon. Friend on the subject of penal taxation. The subject of a single rate of taxation might be a matter for another day. However, I recall that Mr. Disraeli once proposed the abolition of taxation in an election manifesto and lost.

In view of the proposals for capital taxation, why does the Government's philosophy of easing dependence apply to those who seek social security but not to those who benefit from inherited wealth? Can the Minister offer a scrap of evidence that the sons or daughters of those who benefit from unearned income will use that for the greater good? Why should they be dependent? Why should the enterprise ethic apply purely to the poorest of the poor?

I am not entirely sure that the hon. Gentleman's question follows from the specific question on the Order Paper. In any event, I think that his premise is wholly mistaken.

Do not the Minister's answers represent two-nation Toryism at its worst? Does he recall the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) that a single person earning over £300,000 a year will benefit by £1,000 a week? Will he contrast that with the admission made yesterday by the Prime Minister that a single person earning less than £50 a week will be £7·80 a week worse off after the social security cuts? Does that not represent two nations, or are they both part of the same big happy family?

Perhaps I might remind the hon. Gentleman that before any tax cuts were contemplated in the Budget an extra £2,000 million was allocated to social security expenditure for the forthcoming year. On the matter of higher and lower rates of tax, I must say that high taxes do not redistribute income; all they do is redistribute it to taxpayers and that is of no use to anyone.

Following is the information:

Higher rates of income tax (percentage) for a married couple without children Group of Seven countries

Country

Top rates(s)

Total number of rate-bands

Canada393
43·5
France49
53·913
56·8
Germany56n/a
Italy53
589
62
Japan65
7212
78
United Kingdom402
USA34·72

Notes to figures in table:

  • 1. The rates relate to employment income; it is assumed that this is all earned by the husband.
  • 2. The figures reflect the latest enacted rates, as far as is known.
  • 3. The figures for Canada include provisional taxes at the rate for Ontario; those for Japan include local taxes at the typical rate; those for the USA include State taxes at the Californian rate.
  • 4. The German income tax system does not have rate bands as such. Rates rise gradually from the starting rate of 22 per cent. until the top rate of 56 per cent. is reached.
  • Married Couples (Taxation)

    14.

    To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations he has received since the Budget about his proposals for separate taxation of married couples.

    Will the proposals end the iniquitous tax on marriage and ensure that a married couple pay no more tax than two single people? Will it also stop the taxation of a wife's savings income at her husband's marginal rate of tax? If it will do those things, has my right hon. Friend received the congratulations of the Opposition Front Bench, or are the Opposition embarrassed about not having done that when they had the chance?

    We have not received any representations from the Opposition on this matter. My hon. Friend is right. The significance of this change is that it ends a 180-year anomaly whereby a married woman's income is aggregated with that of her husband and she does not fill in her own tax return. That is obviously wholly wrong and wholly inappropriate today.

    Will the Minister recognise that the only thing that this has done is ensure that women can fill in their own forms? As for gaining any benefit, that is much less likely. Will he confirm that it is still the Government's intention that what used to be the married man's allowance is, in effect, still going to be the married man's allowance because it will be paid to the husband irrespective of the wishes or the earnings of the wife?

    On the second point, no, I do not accept that because, as the hon. Lady knows, since she participated in the debate on the Budget, it is possible for the husband to transfer the unused portion of the allowance to the wife. Secondly, when the hon. Lady says that it is far from certain that these changes will be of benefit to people, she is way off the mark: 1·6 million women will pay less tax. Half of those are elderly people, and 165,000 elderly couples will be taken out of tax completely. I do not call that a rather marginal change. I think that it is a major change.

    Will my hon. Friend give some attention to the proposal whereby the basic tax allowance for a mother could be transferred, in the case of a non-working mother, to the husband, as an encouragement to those mothers who stay at home to look after their children?

    I shall look at the point that my hon. Friend makes, but I think that I have partly answered that in the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong). In most cases what we propose via the transfer will ensure the right result and that the allowances are used in the way that most benefits the married couple.

    Can the Minister tell the House how many super-rich couples will benefit as a result of these proposals and by how much per week, in cash terms, on their unearned income, if they arrange their tax affairs to the best of their ability?

    The hon. Gentleman, like the Opposition in general, is obsessed by the super-rich. The significance of this change is that 1·6million women will pay less tax. The Opposition make the wrong assumption, namely, that the only people who have any savings are rich people, whereas all married women with savings who at the moment have their tax aggregated with their husband's will benefit very significantly from this reform

    Personal Incomes

    15.

    To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer by how much in real terms he expects take-home pay for a married man, with two children, on average earnings to have risen between 1978–79 and 1988–89.

    I expect his real take-home pay to have risen by 27½ per cent. between 1978–79 and 1988–89. This compares with about one half of 1 per cent. between 1973–74 and 1978–79.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that the very welcome answer that he has given the House this afternoon shows that it is this Government who have a real commitment to helping ordinary families on ordinary incomes and to tackling family poverty? Further, will he tell the House how many people have been taken out of taxation altogether as a result of last month's Budget?

    On the last point, 780,000 people who would otherwise have paid it have been taken out of tax as a result of the Budget. My hon. Friend is entirely right in that real take-home pay will be substantially up at all multiples of average earnings, whereas with the 1973 to 1979 position quite the reverse occurred.

    Economic Assistance (Leicester)

    16.

    To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what action he proposes to take to assist the local economy in Leicester.

    The Government's economic policy is creating the conditions for the economy to flourish in all parts of the country. For example, unemployment in the Leicester, East constituency has fallen by over 20 per cent. in the past year.

    Does the Minister agree that one way in which the Government could positively affect the economy in Leicester would be by the Treasury releasing to the Department of the Environment the £30 million that has been stolen from the people of Leicester through cuts in the housing investment programme? Does he not accept that the expenditure of these resources would provide more jobs and more homes for people in Leicester?

    I think that the economy of Leicester is doing very well indeed without the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that the economy of Leicester is much improved as a result of the Budget? Has he seen the great welcome which has been given by the business men of Leicestershire to the Budget proposals? Is he aware that they say that it will increase the economic growth of the area?

    I understand that that excellent newspaper, the Leicester Mercury, started its article on the morrow of the Budget with the words:

    "Reaction from Leicestershire's business community suggests that Lawson's tax-slashing Budget could be the key to job-creating growth."
    To remain within the rules of order, Mr. Speaker, I should explain that the Lawson referred to is my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

    Interest Rates

    17.

    To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the present level of interest rates.

    As exports and the balance of payments continue to attract concern, why has the Chancellor been so reluctant to ease interest rates? There can be few hon. Members on either side who have not received appeals from local industry in recent months.

    Interest rates are at a level which keeps monetary policy bearing down on inflation. That is our first priority. But it is clear from the buoyancy of business and business intentions that investment intentions are strong. As I mentioned earlier, investment is projected to grow by 9 per cent. in the coming year and manufacturing investment by 11·5 per cent.

    Prime Minister

    Engagements

    Q1.

    To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 April.

    This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall have further meetings later today.

    How can the Prime Minister, in all conscience, sleep easily in her bed at night when she knows that thousands of poor, the elderly and the handicapped have lost as much as £20 per week as a result of the vicious changes in housing benefit legislation?

    Because on the whole our reforms have targeted help on the disabled and on low-income families, particularly those who have low pay. There have been changes in housing benefit, as the hon. Lady is aware, with a capital limit of some £6,000. Even so, the amount spent on housing benefit by the people will still be more in real terms than in 1979. We shall still be in the position where every two households have not only to keep themselves but have to contribute to keeping every third household.

    Is it not a true description of the function of the Prime Minister not to do the job of departmental Ministers but so to guide Government policy that the financial and economic strains in it lead to the greatest possible wealth creation, which the departmental Ministers can then distribute?

    I would not leave all the wealth creation for departmental Ministers to distribute. We would not get wealth creation unless people were able to keep a bigger proportion of their earnings. That is the engine of wealth creation. It is the reason why we have a higher standard of living than ever before. It is the reason why now departmental Ministers, especially those involved with social security, are spending a bigger proportion on social security than ever before and a bigger proportion of the national income.

    Does the Prime Minister now agree that the flat-rate poll tax should be replaced by a system which is more closely related to people's ability to pay?

    The community charge takes into account people's ability to pay.—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman of course will be aware that those on income support receive an average payment to pay the 20 per cent. which they would otherwise have to pay out of their income. Above that, there is a rebate from 80 per cent. Taking those two things together, it means between 7 and 8 million people do not pay the full community charge because of rebates.

    I have given the right hon. Gentleman a much better answer than that.

    For once, the Prime Minister could give a much better answer, which would be of interest to me and to my hon. Friends, and I am sure to her mates, too.

    May I make three quick points just to try to get it across to the right hon. Gentleman. The first one is this. In England the community charge meets only a quarter of local authority expenditure. Between 7 million and 8 million people will not have to pay the community charge in full, because of rebates or extra income support. Finally, 10 per cent. of households with the highest income will pay 15 times as much towards the cost of local services as the 10 per cent. of households with the lowest incomes.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread interest in this House and in the country in the meeting which she had yesterday with Mother Teresa of Calcutta? After meeting this very remarkable woman, does she agree with Mother Teresa's assertion that the poorest nations on earth are those that substitute the violence of abortion on demand for love and practical help? Will my right hon. Friend therefore ensure that the amended Bill before the House at the moment, which had a substantial majority on Second Reading and which has passed its Committee stage after reasonable debate and amendment, will have a fair run, and will not be baulked, and that the nation, where we have a majority on this issue, will not be baulked either?

    As my right hon. Friend is aware, every person in this House has the greatest respect and affection for Mother Teresa and for the work that she does. Even though we might disagree with her on one or two things, we still admire and respect her views. My right hon. Friend is very persuasive, but he knows the position with regard to private Members' time. The Government do not give time for private Members' Bills. Private Members are able to take advantage of every procedure with regard to Committees, which is known to them in full.

    Q2.

    To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 April.

    I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

    What message does the Prime Minister have for more than 3,000 school children in Barnsley who have lost their entitlement to free school meals as a result of her Government's means-test mentality, which has brought about the recent social security reforms?

    This is taken into account in the cash benefits which are available. However much the hon. Gentleman may try to denigrate them, the economic policy of this Government has led to higher payments on social security, at a time of falling unemployment, than ever before. They are levels that the Labour party could not have dreamt of: £46 billion, including £2 billion extra, an amount which means that working people—the working family—have to pay an average of £64 a week to keep social security going now; £32 a week to keep the National Health Service going, and a further £25 a week to keep education going.

    Q3.

    To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 April.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that when Governments of the past declared war on poverty, poverty always won because of a declining economy and a benefit system that was highly complicated and full of anomalies? Having put the economy right, will my right hon. Friend press on with the difficult but essential task of re-establishing the original aims of the welfare state, which were self-help where possible and accurate targeting of benefits for those who could not help themselves?

    Yes, Sir. Public services can flourish only if we have a flourishing private sector. The private sector creates the necessary wealth to run the social services and to raise the standard of living. We should congratulate all working people on the excellent way in which they are responding and creating that wealth, and on the excellent way in which, after the reforms, it is targeted on those in greatest need—in other words, the disabled and families with children, particularly those on low incomes.

    Q4.

    To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 April.

    I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

    What advice does the Prime Minister give to the many sensible councils of all party political persuasions which have been hit by the proposed restrictions on barter deals? Some are run by the Conservative party. Carrick district council, for example, has plans for Truro city hall, and Restormel borough council has plans for St. Austell centre. Both are low-spending councils.

    We have had to make changes in the capital position of councils because, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, too much creative accounting was going on and getting round some of the existing rules. That is why we had to take steps to change the position.

    Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the great benefits of the social security changes which have just been introduced is that they discourage young people from choosing to escape the authority of their parents by leaving home and living on social security benefits and not genuinely seeking work?

    As my hon. Friend is aware, social security is meant for those who need help because they genuinely cannot find work, are sick, or are too old to work. We know some parents who have been worried that their young people have left home and gone on to the dole to have a flat when the parents felt that the young people could take a job.

    Q5.

    To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 April.

    I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

    Is the Prime Minister aware of the great concern felt by industry, commerce, trade unions, academics and other important groups on Tayside about any possible threatened closure of Dundee university dental school? It cannot make economic sense to spend millions of pounds on a new building elsewhere—[Interruption.]—and to threaten an existing efficient organisation and, consequently, Dundee dental hospital, as well as to impair the whole future of the university. [Interruption.] Will she lend her help to those groups on Tayside who are trying to save those important assets for the region?

    The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to let me have notice of the question that he intended to ask. Otherwise, I could not have heard what it was. The working party of the University Grants Committee—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman may be allowed to hear my reply as he asked a specific question. The working party of the UGC has recommended, among the measures, the withdrawal of the funding of the dental school at Dundee university. It is for the UGC to decide whether to accept and implement the working party's recommendation. However, the committee has consulted the universities, professional bodies and the Government Departments concerned so that all the implications for local dental services can be taken into account before a decision is reached. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy.

    Despite the firm and clear assurances at the recent European Council meeting, the Brussels arrangements announced yesterday are that £225 million is to be spent every week this year on dumping and destroying food surpluses. Will the Prime Minister be willing to put up a fight in view of this breach of promise and this scandalous abuse of public money, which does massive damage to the Third world and which is an insult to every poor person in Europe?

    My hon. Friend asks a complicated question, which could take a long time to answer. As he knows, surpluses and selling them off also damage the Third world as they affect agricultural economies. That is why we tried to do two things in the last Council meeting. We tried to reduce the increase in agricultural production—in some cases, by the price mechanism—and tried at the same time to write off the surpluses that are at present in store, as we hoped, that that would reduce the amount in store. We want to dispose of the surpluses as quickly as possible, preferably by 1992. When we get there, I am sure that my hon. Friend will approve of the policy decisions that we have taken.

    Q6.

    To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 April.

    I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

    In this week, of all weeks, when so many people have been made poorer, when the poorest have been made even poorer still, how can the Prime Minister justify spending £300 per head on a business man's breakfast to launch the campaign for the inner cities?

    I do not agree with the premise behind the hon. Gentleman's question. This week, in cash terms, there will be 5 million gainers from the social security reforms, 2 million people will not face a change in cash terms and there will be a decrease for less than 1 million people. As I stated earlier, we are doing as much as we can to help the inner cities. What the hon. Gentleman is really complaining about is that we are succeeding in presenting our policy properly.

    Business Of The House

    3.30 pm

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

    Before the Leader of the House does that, the House will be aware that I attempt to call as many Back-Bench Members as possible to ask a business question. However, I am bound to have regard to the business already set down on a Thursday and also to the purpose of business questions, which is not so that hon. Members can make the speech that they hope to make on the subject of their choice, nor to obtain an instant ministerial reply, but to ask for a debate and to state briefly why it should be granted. To enable me to continue to be generous in calling supplementary questions to business questions, I ask Back-Benchers to confine themselves to one question each, and not to make speeches.

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

    The business for next week will be as follows:

    MONDAY 18 APRIL, TUESDAY 19 APRIL, WEDNESDAY 20 APRIL, THURSDAY 21 APRIL—Progress on remaining stages of the Local Government Finance Bill (1st to 4th Allotted Days).

    At the end of Tuesday, Ways and Means resolution relating to the Local Government Finance Bill, followed by motion relating to the Standard and Collective Charges (Scotland) Regulations.

    At the end on Wednesday, motion relating to the Personal Community Charge (Students) (Scotland) Regulations.

    • FRIDAY 22 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.
    • MONDAY 25 APRIL—Completion of remaining stages of the Local Government Finance Bill (5th Allotted Day).

    I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and welcome the Government's decision to provide a record fifth day on the Floor of the House for the Report stage and Third Reading of the poll tax Bill.

    In view of the rapidly changing international situation, are we likely to have a debate on foreign affairs?

    In view of the importance attached in recent ministerial statements to the setting up of the Independent Living Fund to assist the most severely disabled people affected by the social security changes, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when there will be a statement on its work, and whether its staff will exceed the one civil servant who is at present in post?

    When will the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs be established? I remind the right hon. Gentleman that on 13 January he told the House that his hon. Friends who represent seats outside Scotland were perfectly entitled to serve on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. When are they going to do just that?

    Finally, the Leader of the House will recall that we asked for consideration of the abolition of the Inner London education authority to be deferred pending the outcome of the parents' ballot, the Government having no mandate at the election for the abolition of ILEA. What they did have a mandate for—I quote from the Tory election manifesto—was to "increase parental choice." As 94 per cent. of the parents of inner London have indicated that they want to save the Inner London education authority, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to have a further debate on the matter or, better still, to bring back that part of the Bill?

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said about providing extra time for the Local Government Finance Bill. As he said, we have five days. It is important that this measure be properly debated before it goes to the House of Lords.

    I recognise the fast-moving international situation and the need for a foreign affairs debate in the not-too-distant future; and I will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said to me a minute ago.

    We have spent a fair amount of time on social security recently. The hon. Gentleman, however, raised a question about the Independent Living Fund. I will refer it to the Secretary of State for Social Services and, if he feels it appropriate, I have no doubt that he will make a statement.

    I am sorry that attempts to set up the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs have taken an enormous time and yet we have achieved nothing. I recognise that this causes some frustration in some quarters. The matter is with the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, and, no doubt, the Committee is considering how best to proceed. There is nothing I can do while the matter is with the Committee.

    I also recognise the hon. Gentleman's particular interest in the Inner London education authority, but would remind him that the Education Reform Bill is now in another place. I have no doubt that we will be getting back to the subject in due course, but I do not think that it is appropriate to come back to it at present.

    As a number of aspects of the conduct of the business of the House need to be considered in parallel with the work of the Select Committee on televising our proceedings, when may we expect to see the Select Committee on Procedure established?

    We have certainly had a number of discussions, and I hope that it will be possible to re-establish the Select Committee on Procedure very shortly.

    May we have a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer next week on the meetings that he has been attending in Washington, where he seems to have espoused a doctrine of exchange rate stability which is not supported by the Prime Minister?

    The hon. Gentleman wants to be careful if he puts provocative remarks to me, because I do not believe them to be true; however, I will refer his request to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor on his return, and he will decide how best to proceed.

    In view of the very welcome statement last night that the new system of social security payments would be carefully monitored, will my right hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State for Social Services to give a detailed statement to the House next week explaining precisely how?

    I thought that I heard my hon. Friend the Minister of State, in replying to the debate, say that he thought that the new scheme should settle down and that we should then look at it and decide whether changes were necessary. Overnight is rather a short time in which to have a considered view of how it is working.

    Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week, in advance of the votes on the poll tax Bill, to explain which Government Department has commissioned Gallup to send people scurrying around my constituency this week telling lies about the amount of poll tax to be paid in Birmingham by using the figure of £186 instead of £249? When asked, the interviewers said to my constituents, "Unofficially, it's a Government matter."

    I will look into that for the hon. Gentleman. When Gallup interviewers go around my constituents, they ask questions, not answer them.

    Are we anywhere near receiving a statement from the Home Secretary on the vexed question of the cost of television licences for elderly persons and the anomalies which have become evident in the present scheme in relation to sheltered accommodation? Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are few items which cause greater distress to elderly people than the seeming contradiction of the operation of this scheme?

    I recognise that this is a very important matter, and also recognise my hon. Friend's concern about it. There are no immediate plans for the Home Secretary to make a statement on it, but I will certainly refer my hon. Friend's concern to him.

    Inasmuch as the stock exchange surveillance department submitted a report to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry six weeks ago identifying between eight and 12 persons who were involved in criminal acts of insider dealing in the shares of Matthew Brown when it was taken over by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, and inasmuch as that report is on the Secretary of State's desk with no action being taken, may we have a statement to the House as to why the Government are dragging their feet over the prosecution of criminals?

    I have not seen the report, I do not know what it contains and I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has seen it. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and noble Friend will take every action appropriate in the circumstances.

    In view of the growing public concern about air safety arising from congestion in the south-eastern airports and the importance of air traffic to the development of the regions, does my right hon. Friend consider that a debate on this important subject is due?

    I recognise that this is an important subject, and that when incidents occur they cause concern. The A accidents Investigation Branch is investigating the circumstances of the recent incident and it would be too soon to say what the outcome of the investigation may be. I recognise the need for a debate on these matters from time to time, and I shall see what can be done, but I cannot promise anything in the immediate future.

    Is the Leader of the House aware of a report that has been published today by the director of social services in London, which shows a serious crisis, including a huge turnover of staff, 4,000 vacancies for social workers in. London and a shortage of occupational therapists and speech therapists? Given the fact that those problems are widely shared throughout the United Kingdom—they are not helped by the crisis in the National Health Service or the social security changes—does the Leader of the House agree that there is an urgent need for a debate?

    As the hon. Gentleman said, the report has been published today. The first thing to do is to read and study it and decide how best to proceed from there.

    Will the Leader of the House set aside time for a debate on the workings of the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951, which repealed the Witchcraft Act 1735? It is common knowledge in the House that many people have been charged with and convicted of offences against children involved in witchcraft initiation ceremonies. We need a chance to discuss the working of witchcraft and how it can be controlled in this country. [Laughter.] People laughed when I spoke nine years ago about child abuse. Those people are now listening, and I am warning the House that witchcraft is sweeping the country.

    My hon. Friend is quite right to pursue matters that he considers important and to bring them before the House. I wish that I could arrange time for a debate next week on the subject, but I am afraid that I cannot. Perhaps my hon. Friend will try his luck at an Adjournment debate in the near future.

    I welcome what the Leader of the House said about the urgency of a foreign affairs debate, but I press him hard about the brutality of the Israeli army in the occupied territories., with the terrible violence and killing and beating of men, women and children that is taking place, so that the Government will press for an international conference at which there could be a settlement about the middle east on the basis of a Palestinian state and an Israeli state standing side by side.

    The hon. Lady will know of the initiatives and pressure that the Government have beer trying to bring to bear to reach a settlement in the middle east. What the hon. Lady says is controversial in some: quarters, but nevertheless it is part of the serious middle: east position and it adds to the strength of the case for a foreign affairs debate as soon as one can be arranged.

    Before we have a foreign affairs debate, would it not be sensible to consider whether it is wise to wander all around the world in one debate discussing large areas in which we have no control and precious little interest? Would it not be better to target the debate on a particular area? Why not the middle east, as the hon. Lady suggested?

    Pursuant to the issue of witchcraft, the Leader of the House will have been pleased to note that Mr. Speaker has given me an Adjournment debate on Friday on the conduct of the Prime Minister's private office. In view of early-day motions 228, 253, 272, 273, 286, 622 and 627, which Minister is in a position to answer?

    [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 shakey 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 Office'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 for 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 book 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 the period 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 Brittan not tell her? Or the private secretary concerned? Orhis chief, who site 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 Brittan 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 Right honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, referred to therein.]

    [That this House notes that in an article by Mr. Paul Foot in the Daily Mirror, dated 28th January, a Ministry of Defence official, Mr. Paul Newbigin, is quoted as having admitted witnessing the shredding and incinerating of the log book of HMS 'Conqueror'; is concerned that if this statement is true, the Ministry of Defence is guilty of having established an entirely bogus investigation into the disappearance of the log book when the facts of its deliberate destruction were already known; further notes the parallel between this case and that of the leaked Solicitor General's letter in the Westland Affair, when a similar investigation was launched despite the availability in advance of all the salient facts; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Defence to set up an immediate inquiry with the genuine purpose of furnishing Parliament with a full explanation of this bizarre series of events.]

    [That this House calls for a debate on the conduct of honourable and right honourable Members of the House, considering the position of back bench members who resort to unparliamentary language and Heads of Government who misuse Law Officer's letters and then display lack of conduct about what they have done.]

    Will the right hon. Gentleman support my letter to the Prime Minister, which states that on this occasion only she can give an authoritative answer? Would she, therefore, be prepared to come to the House herself?

    Will the Leader of the House also explain on what point of law and at what cost the Government took the decision to insult the Scottish Appeal Court and appeal to the House of Lords in relation to Cavendish?

    I have a suspicion that if I were to attempt to answer the hon. Gentleman—I have no intention of doing so—I would stray wider than you wanted, Mr. Speaker, from the business for next week, which includes, as the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, an Adjournment debate on Friday, in which he will doubtless speak and in which a competent Minister will give him an adequate answer—but I doubt very much whether it will be the Prime Minister.

    Order. For the sake of accuracy, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) should know that he was successful in the ballot; I did not "give him" an Adjournment debate.

    When may we expect a statement on the Government's response to the unilateral changes made by the Parliament of the Irish Republic to the extradition arrangements between our two countries?

    I cannot give my hon. Friend the answer, but I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

    Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary for a statement on the allegation in today's Independent that the Government have now accepted that DNA blood testing is indisputable proof of people's parentage? People such as Jack Tar Singh in my constituency, therefore, were clearly wrongly refused entry to the country and kept away from their families, and the Government behaved disgracefully in that respect.

    Can this statement also include an explanation of how it can apparently happen that a convicted terrorist is allowed to live in this country while decent, honourable people, who are entitled to live here, are kept out?

    The hon. and learned Gentleman has raised two separate points, both of which relate to the Department of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I do not think I can give him a detailed answer, but I shall refer his points to my right hon. Friend.

    Order. I hope that hon. Members will not be tempted to raise two points, in view of what I have said today.

    On the subject of a bit of French witchcraft, will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the proposition from President Mitterrand, as reported in today's press, that the Channel tunnel should be called after a French gentleman named Jean Monet? Will my right hon. Friend organise an early fight back on behalf of English names and a competition to that end? As a first entry, and in memory of those who are good at digging themselves into holes, how about the "Dave Nellist Channel tunnel"?

    My hon. Friend makes a helpful suggestion, but there is nothing that I can usefully say on that subject at the moment. However, I shall refer it to my right hon. Friend.

    The visit of Mother Teresa to the Prime Minister was mentioned earlier. Will it be possible to have a debate on the plight of the homeless, particularly those in London? Mother Teresa said that she was deeply moved that so many people had only a cardboard box for a bed. Surely we should have an opportunity to discuss this important matter?

    There is a Bill going through the House which relates to housing matters. It is highly relevant to this matter, and I cannot promise a separate debate in the immediate future, however important the subject is.

    In view of the unsatisfactory state of affairs over the hijacking in Algiers, and the unwelcome news that the terrorist Proll will soon be entering the country, may we have a debate on how to combat international terrorism?

    This is an important subject and one on which I should like to have a debate, but I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate in the immediate future.

    Will the Leader of the House ensure that sufficient time is set aside during the debate on the poll tax to discuss the importance of the Government amendment affecting the finance of local transport? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this amendment threatens further to disrupt transport in the metropolitan areas, especially in Tyne and Wear, which had a transport system that was the envy of the world until the Government began interfering with it?

    I do not think that I can be faulted for having provided five days for discussion on the Local Government Finance Bill, which by any standards is pretty generous. The selection of amendments and decisions on how the debate is conducted are not matters for me.

    Can my right hon. Friend find a way for the House to discuss the important decisions being taken in Washington this week, in which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is taking part? The international monetary system crucially affects our domestic economy, and it is necessary for us, soon after he returns, to discuss the issues which my right hon. Friend has been addressing in Washington.

    I have agreed that I shall refer this matter to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. The Finance Bill was published today and the Second Reading will enable some of those matters to be discussed. I recognise my hon. Friend's request, and shall refer it to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

    Before we proceed to the Report stage of the poll tax Bill next Monday, will it be possible to have a debate on whether there should be a referendum on this one subject, in view of the feelings in the country? Will the Leader of the House bear in mind also the possibility of having a secret ballot in the Cabinet? All the reports reveal that, without the involvement of the Chief Whip, there would probably be a majority in the Cabinet for dropping the poll tax.

    The hon. Gentleman's obsession with conspiracies is well known. I assure him that there is a united Cabinet—I was going to say, and a pretty united party—on this issue. We have plenty of time to discuss these matters, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will clarify any misunderstandings. I expect that the Bill will proceed very satisfactorily.

    Since this is the fourth business questions in a row in which the Leader of the Opposition has done his disappearing act, will my right hon. Friend arrange through the usual channels for the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) to have a chance at the Dispatch Box, or perhaps the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)?

    It is traditional for the Leader of the Opposition to ask for the business statement; that is a long-established practice. When he is not able to be here, he is always very courteous and tells me so, and I know that he has a lot on his plate at the moment. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) then stands in. I will not say that he does a better job than the Leader of the Opposition, but he has done a very adequate job.

    Is the Leader of the House aware that some local authorities have been waiting for more than a year for a decision from the Home Office on the granting of concessionary television licences to new sheltered accommodation? In view of this delay, which is claimed because of a court case brought by the local authorities against the Home Office, should there not be a statement to the House by the Home Office on whether it will tell the local authorities when those licences will be granted?

    I cannot add anything to what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle). I recognise that there is concern about this matter in some areas, and I have promised to refer it to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

    Will my right hon. Friend urgently consider having a debate on the control of gipsies and other travelling people? Many people in my constituency are frustrated that the law does not seem to enable them to move people on from unauthorised sites when they invade privacy. Will my right hon. Friend ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to reconsider the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider the provisions of the Public Order Act 1986?

    Certainly, as a Member for an Essex constituency, I recognise that there are difficulties in the working of that legislation. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate in the immediate future, but he may find an opportunity in an Adjournment debate to raise some of the issues. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

    As the vast majority of the people of Bradford, including large numbers of single and married pensioners, stand to lose under the poll tax, the Leader of the House will understand the interest in the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Hampshire, West, which offers some mitigation of the Bill's worst aspects. Can the Leader of the House say when the amendment is to be moved? Do the Government intend to accept it and, if not, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for special protection for the hon. Member for Hampshire, West and his supporters from the ravages of the Patronage Secretary and the Whips over the weekend?

    The Member concerned is my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), but that is a minor point. The selection of amendments is not a matter for me; nor is the attitude that the Government will take to the amendment, which is a matter for the Minister responsible for the Bill. However, if I had a crystal ball, I would think it quite likely that the amendment, if selected, would be debated on Monday. While I have no idea what view the Minister will take, having looked at the amendment myself I can see some fairly obvious defects in it.

    Will my right hon. Friend consider giving the House an early opportunity to debate the recent North report on the review of road traffic law, not least to reflect the public concern, which I share, about the inadequacy of penalties for drinking and driving and killing while so doing?

    I am very concerned about this myself, as my hon. Friend will know, because I have some responsibilities for these matters within the Government. The Government are studying the report at the moment and we shall come forward with our conclusions on it, I hope fairly speedily. We can then consider whether we should have a debate.

    Will the Leader of the House invite the Secretary of State for Energy to make a statement about the importation of South African coal into Britain, which reduces the number of job opportunities throughout the coalfields in Scotland, England and Wales? Will the Leader of the House draw the attention of his right hon. Friend to the fact that the South African coal directors were due to come over to Britain and tell him that the House would call upon him and ask that neither he nor any of his Ministers meet those South African coal directors who will put further jobs in jeopardy—

    —and, far from the Government being involved in sanctions, they would be inviting more South African coal into Britain—coal that would have blood on it?

    I do not accept very much of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

    I welcome my right hon. Friend's earlier comments about the establishment of a Procedure Committee, but will he find time, in our busy schedule, for a debate on the conduct of the House? The country at large is deeply shocked and offended by recent events in the Chamber. Is it not time that we addressed this matter, as a House, before further dishonour is brought upon this place?

    I recognise that there is concern and I share that concern. This is a matter that the Select Committee on Procedure, which I hope to establish soon, can consider, but whatever the penalties and whatever the arrangements made, they will not compensate for a lack of self-discipline and common sense on the part of hon. Members.

    Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the reply that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) about an early debate on homelessness? Is it not clear that all those who saw Mother Teresa on television must have been moved by what she said about the London homeless sleeping in cardboard boxes and her equating that with what happens in India? Is it not a disgrace that in this great country of ours—a very rich country—we have people living in cardboard boxes at night? Is it not clear that the Government should arrange an early debate so that we can discuss this matter—rather than leaving it to a Bill which will do nothing about the problem—and express our opinions on this vital question?

    I recognise that this is an important issue, but I do not see any opportunity for a debate in Government time in the immediate future. It is a matter to which we can return when we have a further opportunity.

    Given the continued occupation by Turkish troops, for 14 years, of the Republic of Cyprus—a Commonwealth country for which we have specific treaty obligations—may we have a statement on the progress made last week during the visit to Turkey by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister towards a settlement in relation to the partition of the island?

    I cannot promise a statement on the matter, but I will certainly refer the point raised by my hon. Friend to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

    Community Charge Registration (Strathclyde)

    3.59 pm

    I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

    "the community charge registration procedures at present being followed in Strathclyde region and this morning's court judgment in relation to it."

    Against the background of the extremely complex tax that has been imposed and the equally complex registration form that has been put out, it is widely recognised that a great many questions have to be asked and I suspect that that is the reason for allowing 21 days for the form to be completed. In Strathclyde region, however, the registration officer has chosen to use a system in which canvassers leave cards calling for the form to be filled in for collection three days later.

    A constituent phoned me last week in deep anxiety. His mother had a stroke some weeks ago and his stepfather is also ill. When he went to see them on Sunday, they were anxious about the form and he helped them to fill it in. As they did not know which of them would be the "responsible person", he properly assisted them, and the form was sent back on Sunday night. Monday was a holiday, but on Tuesday the canvasser returned with the form and the letter but with no answer to their question, although the form drew attention in note No. 1 to their right to ask such questions.

    That kind of fear and harassment, as it is perceived, is happening throughout the Strathclyde region. A case was therefore taken to the sheriff court in Glasgow seeking an interim interdict. In her ruling—

    In her ruling, the sheriff said that the collection cards had no legal basis whatever and, somewhat bizarrely, she was unable to grant an interdict because they had no statutory force.

    For that reason, and because we have only 21 days, it is important that Parliament should pronounce, because for technical reasons a judge could not make a decision on the matter. The matter is specific because it affects not only my constituents but the constituents of every Member in Strathclyde region.

    The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

    "the community charge registration procedures at present being followed in Strathclyde region and this morning's court judgment in relation to it."

    I have listened with interest and concern to what the hon. Gentleman has said on the matter. As he knows, my duty in considering whether to grant a Standing Order No. 20 debate is to decide whether it should receive precedence over the business set down, in this case for this evening. I regret that I cannot find the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20 and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

    Scottish Business (Selection)

    4.1 pm

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am most grateful to you, and I am conscious of the pressure of business. I wish to raise two matters connected with the selection and calling of the Standing Committee which is to consider the School Boards (Scotland) Bill.

    As you may know, Mr. Speaker, the Committee was selected yesterday and has 18 members. One slightly curious factor is that we welcome the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) to the consideration of Scottish business. I mention that merely in passing. The important point is that, under Standing Order No. 86(2)(i), the Committee must include 16 hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies. As in the past, that has been achieved by selecting nine Scottish Members from the Conservative Benches, six from the Labour Benches and one who I believe is a Liberal.

    One of the Conservative Members is the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn), who is well known in the House but who, sadly, through circumstances entirely beyond his control, will be unable to take part in the business of the Committee at least for some considerable time. I should make it absolutely clear that I imply no possible fault on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman. None of us can cater for illness. Indeed, it is appropriate to wish the hon. and learned Gentleman a very speedy recovery. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] He is a long-standing friend of mine and very good value in the House, although his contributions are perhaps better appreciated by the Opposition than by his own party. We all wish him a speedy recovery.

    It is extraordinary, however, that we are reduced to appointing to a highly sensitive and controversial Committee a Member who, at least for a considerable time, will be unable to take any part in its proceedings. I understand why this has happened. It is because there must be 16 Scottish members on the Committee. It is a comment on the Government's weakness in Scotland—a comment which is eloquent in itself and distressing in its implications.

    I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, first, as to whether it is possible to direct the Committee of Selection or to amend the present selection in some way so that the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross can be taken off the Committee, which I am sure would be a relief to him, and some other Scottish Member could be added. I make no comment about which Member it should be, but it would be possible to find that 16th member from any one of four areas of the House—the Conservatives, the Labour party or one of the two smaller parties.

    I do not wish to be partisan about that, but it is in the interests of the House that there should be 16 Scottish Members in a position to fulfil their duties on the Committee, which the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross clearly cannot. It is a mark of the totally unsatisfactory way in which Scottish business is being run that we have been put into this position.

    The second point that I wish to raise with you, Mr. Speaker, is perhaps a technical one, but it has significant implications. The Second Reading of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill took place on Tuesday this week. The Committee of Selection met yesterday and some of the Members appointed to the Committee on the Bill knew of their appointment only this morning, when they received their cards in the post. Unless Scottish Members stay down here on Friday especially for the purpose, which is unusual, they will have only one day in which to put down amendments for a Committee next Tuesday. I appreciate that there is no statutory rule about this, but it seems a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs on such an important Bill.

    The final point on which I seek your help, Mr. Speaker, concerns the fact that hon. Members knew of their appointment to the Committee because they received a card summoning them to a meeting of the Committee next Tuesday. I have before me the card sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg). The card is timed 11 pm last night and I understand that my hon. Friend received it in the post this morning. I may be wrong, although I have made every proper inquiry that I can, but I believe that at the time when the cards were received no Chair had been appointed for the Committee. I understand it to be a rule of the House that it is the Chairman's prerogative to decide when the Committee first meets.

    It seems to me, therefore, that the Committee was summoned—by whom, I know not—at a time when no Member had been appointed to the Chair, that the Committee was thus wrongly summoned and that the meeting called for Tuesday must therefore be incompetent. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to rule accordingly. If the cards were not validly issued. Tuesday's meeting cannot be validly called and I ask you to rule to that effect. In my view, if a Chair has since been appointed it would be quite wrong for new and perhaps valid cards to be issued now at such short notice for a meeting on Tuesday. I therefore ask for your protection, Mr. Speaker, and an assurance that the Committee will not meet on Tuesday.

    The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) was kind enough to give me some knowledge of the points that he intended to raise, which has enabled me to look carefully into the matter.

    As for the appointment of a Chairman to the Scottish Standing Committee, I understand that there was some difficulty in contacting another Member, which resulted in a delay in my making the formal appointment of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox). That has now been done, and the summoning of the first meeting has been validated. When that meeting should be is not a matter for me. I suggest that in the first instance that matter should be pursued through the usual channels.

    The possibility that one Member appointed to the Committee may not be able to attend it should be drawn to the attention of the Chairman of the Committee of Selection.

    First, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for those remarks. I take it from what you say that I am right—you have clearly said that I am right—in my presumption that the Committee has not yet been called because the only cards issued were issued at a time when it was not possible to call the Committee. Therefore, I think that it is clear that we do not know when the Committee will meet at this stage.

    I repeat for the benefit of the Leader of the House that, given that the Committee has not been called, it would he insupportable to try to call it now for Tuesday. That would be unacceptable.

    This is a matter of some seriousness. The House should be careful about how it conducts its business. I am sorry that the matter has been personalised as a result of the unfortunate circumstances of my good friend the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn), but when we could clearly meet the 16 Scots requirement by other methods, I would take it amiss if we went along with an arrangement whereby someone was appointed as a blank, through circumstance, to make up numbers. That would mean that the proper scrutiny of Scottish legislation was not being carried out and would be something of an insult to the process of statutory scrutiny in Britain.

    I do not think that I can add anything further to what I have already said. I hope that the matter will be resolved.

    Orders Of The Day

    Health And Medicines Bill

    As amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.

    Clause 7

    Dental Services

    4.11 pm

    Mr. Ronnie Fearn
    (Southport)