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Commons Chamber

Volume 173: debated on Thursday 7 June 1990

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House Of Commons

Thursday 7 June 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Birmingham City Council (No 2) Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [26 February],

That the Bill be now considered.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 14 June.

British Railways (No 2) Bill (By Order)

Medway Tunnel Bill Lords (By Order)

Orders for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 14 June.

As all the private Bills set down for Second Reading have blocking motions, with the leave of the House I shall put them as a single group.

Cattewater Reclamation Bill (By Order)

Shard Bridge Bill (By Order)

Vale Of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill Lords (By Order)

London Underground Bill (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 14 June.

Exmouth Docks Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [29 March],

That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 14 June.

Great Yarmouth Port Authority Bill Lords (By Order)

Heathrow Express Railway Bill Lords (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 14 June.

London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Questions proposed [10 May],

That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 14 June.

Southampton Rapid Transit Bill Lords (By Order)

Port Of Tyne Bill Lords (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 14 June.

Oral Answers To Questions

National Finance

Personal Equity Plans

1.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what representations he has received on his proposals to change PEPs.

The improvements in PEPs, which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in his Budget statement, have been widely welcomed.

Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the financial institutions that at one time had deep reservations about the effectiveness of PEPs now welcome them as a most essential, important and attractive component of the savings market? Does he foresee, in respect of either PEPs or TESSAs, the possibility of a similar conversion on the part of the Labour party?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the institutions have put their whole weight behind PEPs, and that is why they are now going extremely well. I am afraid that confused messages are coming from the Opposition about such matters. Some Opposition Members say that they are in favour and some say that they are against. I do not foresee any conversion and certainly there is no uniformity of view among the Opposition.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the encouragement to small savers since the Government came to office has meant that they have increased in number from 2·75 million to 11 million today?

I am not sure how my hon. Friend defines small savers, but he is perfectly correct that there has been a big increase in their number. As regards personal equity plans, in the first quarter of this year the number of new plans issued was a quarter higher than in the whole of 1988. That is excellent news.

Income Tax

2.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer by how much the basic rate of income tax has been reduced since 1979; and what are his future plans for the rates of income tax.

The basic rate of income tax has been reduced from 33 per cent. in 1979 to 25 per cent. in 1990. Moreover, the borrowing requirement, which was a deferred tax liability, has given way in the past three years to a Budget surplus. It is our objective to reduce the basic rate of tax to 20p in the pound, but only as soon as it is prudent and sensible to do so.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that every time the Government have reduced the basic rate of income tax, the Labour Opposition and the Liberal Democrats have bitterly opposed the reduction? Is not it the case that had Labour still been in power we would still have a basic rate of 33p in the pound? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, were he to adopt the policies and commitments in the Labour party's policy review document, the basic rate of income tax would have to be massively increased for everyone? Has not the Labour party always been the high-tax party and will not it always be?

My hon. Friend makes his point entirely clearly. I am not sure that is wholly true to say that the Liberal Democrats have invariably opposed the tax decreases. I think that there was an occasion when they chose not to do so. My hon. Friend is being generous when he suggests that if a Labour Government were in power at the moment we should have a tax rate of 33p in the pound. It might well be noticeably higher. When, in due course, we get round to the detailed costing that Phillips and Drew has already attempted, we may be able to illustrate that it would be higher.

Will the Chancellor explain what he meant when he said that it was not prudent to achieve his objective of an income tax rate of 20p in the pound this year? Is he admitting that he is using the level of income tax as a tool of economic and fiscal management? Will not all Governments have to do that?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that of course I am, as we have done and as I shall continue to do.

Is not it right that the Government have greatly increased personal allowances, so taking out of tax many people at the bottom of the income scale? Does not that give the lie to Opposition parties, which suggest that they are the only people who care about those on lower incomes?

That is entirely true. By almost any measure—there are a variety that one can use—there has been a considerable increase in personal allowances at the bottom end of the tax scale. That is desirable. It is a deliberate act of policy and, of course, it has kept many people out of tax who otherwise would have been in the tax net.

This question seems to have been tabled as a direct attack on the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I hope that the Chancellor will repudiate it. He will recall the Chief Secretary saying on BBC's "On the Record" on 13 May that the prospect of tax cuts at the moment does not look very good, that these things are always uncertain, but there is very little room for manoeuvre. Will the Chancellor explain to the House why, after 10 years of Conservative Government—a Government who have declared that a further reduction in income tax is their main objective—there is now very little room for manoeuvre? Will he confirm to the House that it is highly unlikely that there ever will be enough room for manoeuvre to enable 24 out of 25 taxpayers to pay income tax at a basic rate of 20p in the pound?

Whatever else may happen in this Session of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman just won the palm for brass-necked cheek in his comments of the past few moments. There is no dislocation whatever between the comments of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary and those that I made at the Dispatch Box a few moments ago. One significant difference that is reflected in what the hon. Gentleman chooses to call the tax burden is that this Government tax honestly for their expenditure and do not tax for some, borrow for the rest and leave later generations to repay. When the borrowing requirement of the hon. Gentleman's party is taken into account, the tax burden in 1979 was sharply higher than it is today.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government have shown in the past that reductions in income tax stimulate economic growth and lead to an increase in overall revenue? Will my right hon. Friend take that very much into account when making his tax plans for the future?

I can assure my hon. Friend that it is ever close to my mind that that virtuous relationship exists. As he may know, the top 5 per cent. of taxpayers will pay 30½ per cent. of total income tax this year compared with 24 per cent. in 1978–79 when the top rate of tax could have been as high as 98 per cent.

European Monetary System

3.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on progress on the Madrid conditions for joining the exchange rate mechanism.

8.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer which of the Madrid conditions concerning the United Kingdom entry into the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system have yet to be fulfilled.

17.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he expects that the conditions for the pound sterling's participation in the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system will be fulfilled.

A good deal of progress has been made in a number of conditions for membership of the exchange rate mechanism, but they have not yet all been met.

Will the Chancellor tell us which condition is likely to be satisfied first: a satisfactory reduction in our underlying rate of inflation or the achievement of a level playing field through the abandonment of subsidies by our European competitors?

Significant progress has been made in recent months on a number of the external elements that we require before joining the exchange rate mechanism. We have made our position on domestic inflation perfectly clear and I stand by that.

At a recent press conference the Chancellor seemed to suggest that our underlying rate of inflation was much closer to Community averages than a proper statistical approach would reveal. Was he using that figure to try to persuade the Prime Minister that we really should be joining the exchange rate mechanism, and on those grounds should Opposition Members keep quiet about the statistical flaws in his figures?

It is always a distinct help to the Government if Opposition Members keep quiet, whichever part of the Opposition they may represent. In the remarks to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I was drawing attention to the fact that the British rate of inflation appears misleadingly unreasonable compared with those of our European partners simply because we contain within our inflation rate that which other countries do not, and it was in response to a question about that matter that I made the remarks to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

When we enter the exchange rate mechanism, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to do in the summer, will he go in on the tight band of 2½ per cent. or on the broader band of 6 per cent? Will he share his views on that with the House?

I can neither confirm the date that the hon. Gentleman surreptitiously slipped into his question as an assumption, nor enlighten him on his substantive point.

Will my right hon. Friend assure us that, regardless of the specific matters spelt out in the Madrid conditions, he will not contemplate the entry of sterling into the exchange rate mechanism until he regards it as fully compatible with the needs of domestic monetary policy and, in particular, that he will not do so at any time when it might mean that interest rates would have to be lowered more or more quickly than is necessary for the proper control of monetary conditions and the reduction of inflation?

I am acutely conscious of the point to which my right hon. Friend rightly draws attention. The aim of joining the exchange rate mechanism is to support the policy to reduce inflation, not to damage it, and from that, my right hon. Friend will be aware of our policy.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that entry into the exchange rate mechanism is stage one of the Delors proposals? The Delors proposals are supported by all the Commission's bureaucrats and by all the nation states of Europe, with the exception of ourselves. Paragraph 39 asserts that entry into the first stage shall be taken as acceptance of all subsequent stages.

My hon. Friend has made assertions about what the purpose of stage one might be and about the extent to which that falls within the Delors plan. The fact that the proposal is supported by what he calls the bureaucrats in Brussels does not in itself make it wrong. We have a series of sound economic reasons for joining the exchange rate mechanism. The Government set out the policy that they would join the exchange rate mechanism when certain conditions were met. That remains the policy and it will be in the interests of this country.

Now that United Kingdom membership of the exchange rate mechanism has become the fig leaf behind which the Labour party has chosen to hide the private and unpleasant parts of its economic policy, would not we be better advised to join sooner rather than later so that those inadequacies can be exposed to the public for all to see?

If, as my hon. Friend suggests, the exchange rate mechanism will hide the shortcomings of Labour policies, it will need to be a good deal larger than a fig leaf. It is perfectly clear that the conditions that the Labour party has set out under which it would join the exchange rate mechanism make that pledge——

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is correct. The conditions set out by the Labour Front Bench, without the support of the Labour Back Benches, for joining the exchange rate mechanism are essentially bogus, for the conditions mean that the Labour Front Bench could not enter.

In the context of possible entry into the exchange rate mechanism, will the Chancellor tell us whether the sufficiency of any reduction in inflation will be assessed according to the retail prices index or according to the so-called "underlying" rate of inflation? May I have a direct answer, please?

The direct answer, as I have often said, is that the rate of inflation will be assessed on the proximate rate of inflation, which means——

I am coming precisely to the point. The rate of inflation will be assessed not on the RPI, but o n a comparative basis to the measure in which European nations themselves assess inflation. I have repeatedly made that point clear for a long time.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that when there were recent rumours that this country was about to become a full member of the exchange rate mechanism, the immediate effect was that the stock market rose, the exchange value of sterling became firmer and money market interest rates fell? In view of that positive response, which should have warmed my right hon. Friend's heart towards the idea of joining the exchange rate mechanism immediately, will he bear it in mind that if he felt it necessary to take an executive decision, even while the Prime Minister is abroad, to embark on that, he would earn the recognition of a grateful nation?

I have had some attractive offers in my time. I am not entirely sure to what extent my hon. Friend's offer ranks among them.

I have made it entirely clear to the House now and on previous occasions that I have reached the judgment that, when the conditions that we have set out are met, it will be right for us to join the exchange rate mechanism. We must be aware of the point to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Stewart), drew attention some time ago, that the balance of advantage in due course is clearly to enter the exchange rate mechanism, and in due course that is what we shall do.

European Bank For Reconstruction And Development

4.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what position was taken by the United Kingdom Government in discussions on the European bank for reconstruction and development, in relation to the environmental consequences of any development undertaken.

The United Kingdom, like all other potential members of the European bank for reconstruction and development, supports the promotion of economically sound and environmentally sustainable development in the full range of its activities.

The Chancellor and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury will be aware that Mr. Nicholas Brady from the United States Treasury and other European Finance Ministers have taken the lead in calling for environmental objectives to be built into the role of the development bank. May we assume from the Minister's answer that the British Government will support them enthusiastically? Does he agree that there is a big difference between a lot of talk on green issues and practical proposals such as this, which will clean up eastern Europe?

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not only the recipients of the bank's funds who need to co-ordinate the environmental input into their investment decisions but the industrialised countries of western Europe, which, of course, are the providers of the funds? Is my hon. Friend aware, for example, that the Department of Transport seems to have no accurate comparisons between the environmental input allocated by, say, West Germany or France, as opposed to the environmental input in this country, on transport investment decisions? Would he be so kind as to conduct research within the Finance Ministries of the EEC to see what is actually going on as to the allocation of environmental input in public sector investment decisions?

In so far as that question affects the EBRD, I shall of course ensure that Mr. Attali, when he gets down to his job in London shortly, is made aware of the points that my hon. Friend raises.

The Economic Secretary will be aware that article 2 of the bank's constitution contains a general provision

"to promote in the full range of its activities environmentally sound and sustainable development."
He will also be aware that that provision is due to the leadership and insistence of the United States, not that of the British Government. What practical steps, rather than words, do the British Government intend to take to ensure that that objective is carried out?

If the hon. Gentleman is not satisfied with article 2 of the EBRD's constitution, he should be aware that the EBRD must report annually on the environmental implications of all its policies.

Taxes

5.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many taxes have been abolished since 1979.

Five: the investment income surcharge, the national insurance surcharge, development land tax, tax on lifetime gifts and capital duty. Moreover, in his 1990 Budget, my right hon. Friend announced the abolition of stamp duty on share transactions from late 1991–92 and the abolition of composite rate tax.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that that fine achievement is still incomplete? Will he undertake to abolish in the next Parliament as many as possible of the taxes remaining in this Parliament? I suggest for early inclusion stamp duty on house purchase and inheritance tax.

It remains the Government's objective to find taxes that can be abolished and certainly to simplify the tax system. My hon. Friend might also have noticed that, whereas we have abolished five taxes, in its policy document the Labour party proposes the addition of five brand new taxes.

Is not there one tax that the Government have brought in which should be abolished—the poll tax? Is not it a fact that, for every tax that he has abolished, the Chancellor has abolished many benefits, many jobs and all the other things that go with public expenditure that Labour supported?

The hon. Gentleman should recognise that we have dramatically cut the burden of income tax and that that has gone alongside a considerable improvement in living standards, which have increased dramatically during the past decade.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent record, but is he aware of the disappointment among my hon. Friends that he has not been able to abolish inheritance tax, especially for small businesses? In view of the tremendous contribution that small businesses make to the economy in general, and to employment in particular, if my right hon. Friend cannot abolish inheritance tax, will he at least ease its quite unjustified burden?

I note what my hon. Friend says, but I am sure that he will acknowledge that we have dramatically reformed the punitive rates of taxation on businesses in capital transfer tax and that we have greatly increased the reliefs for businesses, which make it much easier for small businesses to be transferred from one generation to another. That has been recognised by the small business lobby, but I note what my hon. Friend has said.

In pursuit of the objective of honest taxation, which was identified by the Chancellor a few moments ago, will the Chief Secretary now give us the other side of the balance sheet and list the taxes that have been increased under this Government, starting with VAT and national insurance contributions, and finishing with the poll tax?

As I have already pointed out in reply to the main question, although indirect taxes have been increased, they are taken into account when measuring real standards of living—and real standards of living have dramatically increased on a per annum basis far more than ever happened when the Labour party was in power.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the greatest benefits to the regional economies has been abolition of the taxation and bureaucratic burdens that lay upon them? Will he speculate on the damaging effects of a payroll tax and a regional assembly with taxation powers of its own, as proposed by the Labour party?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Labour party is proposing new tax-raising powers for an elected Scottish Assembly. It has also advanced the idea of a training levy, which would be yet another new tax on jobs. We know that when it was in power the Labour party imposed taxes on jobs and destroyed jobs through the tax system.

Invisibles

6.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what he forecast for the surplus on invisibles in 1990 in the 1989 autumn statement; and what is his latest forecast.

The Chief Secretary will understand my scepticism about his forecasts, given the Government's bad historic record of forecasting the balance of payments. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that when Opposition Members have complained about the deficit on manufactures, his Government have frequently told us that we should not worry about that because everything would be made up by the invisibles? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it was a mistake so to damage the manufacturing sector that it is incapable of performing in the way that the nation needs? What does he intend to do to ensure that global shortfall in the balance of payments is made up?

On the hon. Gentleman's first point about forecasts, the Government's forecasts on the current account do not differ substantially from those of the vast majority of outside forecasters. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) described the forecasts of the Government of which he was a Member as being rather like long-range weather forecasts—better than nothing. We have a higher opinion of our forecasts than that.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the deterioration on the invisibles account. That is due to a number of factors to which I referred at our previous Question Time, including the timing of EC payments. That is why, despite what happened in the last quarter of last year, we are expecting the position to improve according to the forecasts that I have given to the House.

Will my right hon. Friend give some thought in future to whether, when publishing the invisibles figures, a clearer distinction might be made between interest and dividends received, intergovernmental payments, and the sale of services to non-residents—all of which are conceptually different elements in the national income account, and distinguishing between them might avoid some of the confusion that has given rise to some of the questions this afternoon?

I shall certainly look into the point that my hon. Friend has raised. Several points have been made about the compilation of the invisibles account, including, for example, the fact that appreciation of our overseas assets does not score, although it might be argued that it should count against interest payments and dividends.

The Chief Secretary might be squirming, after 10 years, that his Government have achieved the record that the tax burden has increased sharply since 1979. The total tax burden is much higher now.

Yes, it is, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows it. He also knows that the balance of payment on our visibles is much lower now than it was in 1979. He has achieved the unique record after 10 years of his Administration that he managed to wipe out the balance of payments on our invisibles in the last quarter of the last year. Instead of simply telling the House that he expects this shameful state of affairs to improve, will he tell the House precisely why he expects it to do so?

I explained carefully to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) why we expected an improvement in invisibles. We also expect an improvement on the current account because we expect the economy to slow down as a result of the measures that we have already taken. We have repeated that on many occasions.

Charitable Giving

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the estimated cost to the Exchequer of his proposals to assist charitable giving.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that charitable giving has doubled in the past 10 years and say how much the cost of tax relief has increased over that period?

My hon. Friend is right that the amount of charitable giving in Britain has more than doubled in real terms during the past decade. Tax relief has risen in real terms by 120 per cent. and has been a major stimulus in that welcome increase.

Is it true that the Adam Smith Institute, a right-wing think tank and the keeper of the sacred flame of Thatcherism, benefits under the legislation governing charities? Is it fair that it can call itself a charity? Is not that an abuse of charity law and should not the law be changed?

I can neither confirm nor deny the hon. Gentleman's point. Of course, he could look it up in the public records. However, I have been lobbied in the past on behalf of the Fabian Society for alleviation of inheritance tax. Apparently it receives a large proportion of its moneys from inheritances from deceased members.

What does my hon. Friend think would be the effect on charitable giving if the 171 promises for increased spending in "Meet the Challenge, Make the Change" were implemented, estimated by Phillips and Drew at £19·5 billion?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Undoubtedly, the increase in charitable giving was due not only to the physical incentives that we gave but to the fact that people have more money in their pockets because taxes are lower. They are able and willing to give more. If that were not the case charitable giving would decrease, as it would under the heavy and increased burden of tax which the Labour party would impose.

Although I welcome the increase in charitable giving, does the Minister agree that many charities are disappointed that more citizens and taxpayers have not used the give-as-you-earn scheme?

I confirm that there is considerable scope for improvement in the use of the scheme that we have introduced. However, last year the number of donors through the payroll giving scheme increased by 50 per cent. and the amounts given increased by 100 per cent. I pay tribute to the level of giving of all kinds in the hon. Gentleman's Province. Although the Province has the lowest income, it has the highest level of giving per head and is an example to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Why is not inheritance tax paid in respect of donations to political parties? What justification can there be for that?

Because the decision was taken, alongside other changes in inheritance tax, by the Committee that considered the Finance Bill last year, without a great deal of dissent.

Investment Growth (Ec)

9.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was the total investment growth in the 1980s across European Community countries.

Since 1980 growth of total investment has averaged 2·1 per cent. a year across EC countries.

Do not those figures confirm that Britain and our European partners are preparing well for 1992? Does not that provide a sound basis for future export performance? Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the confidence recently shown by business men in Norwich about future export performance?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Our investment performance compares well with that of other countries. The average for the European Community is 2·1 per cent., whereas total investment in this country between 1980 and 1989 has gone up by an average of about 4½ per cent. a year. That is an extremely impressive record.

Is not the Minister rather easily impressed? He should look at the answer given to me by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Tuesday in which he suggested that had we achieved a rate of increase in manufacturing investment during the lifetime of the Government comparable to that achieved by France and West Germany we would have had £18 billion more investment and, according to the Chancellor's figures given in that answer, had we achieved the rate attained under the previous Labour Government, we would have had an extra £30,000 million of manufacturing investment. Does not that explain why we are unprepared for 1992?

Opposition Members do not like it when we give some of the good facts about the British economy. That is why the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) chose to make a press announcement this morning to celebrate the opening of the World Cup by saying that British economic performance compares badly with that of Italy. During the 1980s, however, we have grown faster than Italy; our investment and manufacturing output has been better and our unemployment rate is lower. Our rate of inflation, based on a comparable measure, is also lower. I fear that the hon. Lady has scored an own goal, and it is a pity. Like Bobby Robson, she ought to play for England.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures are encouraging even if they do not meet the needs of the Opposition? Does he also agree, however, that one of the most important things that we must do is to encourage manufacturing industry to invest in new plant and machinery? When we come to consider new concessions they should be given to manufacturing industry, not to private individuals through individual taxation.

I note my hon. Friend's suggestion; perhaps he is making an early Budget representation. He will also have noticed that in the past couple of years manufacturing investment has grown strongly. I am sure that my hon. Friend, with his concern for manufacturing industry in his constituency, will have welcomed that strong growth.

Mortgages

10.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what information he has on the percentage of total mortgage holders who pay interest on an annualised basis.

More than 40 per cent. of building society borrowers are members of annual review schemes. No precise information is available on banks and other mortgage lenders.

Will the Secretary of State assure those millions of people, of whom I am one, who have their mortgage payments adjusted annually in the spring, that the next time they are adjusted they can look forward to a reduction in payments?

Interest rates will remain as high as necessary for as long as necessary to bear down on inflation. Once inflation has been conquered in that way, interest rates might come down.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is hypocritical for Opposition Members to talk about the impact of interest rates on mortgages when they opposed the right to buy and when their roof tax would bankrupt many householders?

My hon. Friend is right. The Labour party is growing increasingly unsure of itself as those sorts of charges are made.

When the Economic Secretary attacked yesterday inaccurate and misleading advertising of mortgages, was he referring to either or both of the following, beginning respectively:

"John Major might take a year to cut"—
[Interruption ]

Was he referring to either or both advertisements that suggest that the Chancellor might cut mortgage rates or that the surest way in which to ensure that mortgage rates come down is to bring about a general election in which case there would be nothing to pay? When he was referring to misleading mortgage advertisements—[Interruption.]

When the Minister was referring to misleading mortgage advertisements, did he have in mind perhaps the biggest-ever misadvertisement for mortgages—that there was any prospect of interest rates coming down in the immediate future and some relief being given to people who are suffering the enormous mortgage misery that affects so many home owners and home buyers in Britain?

That was a poor advertisement for a sound bite. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is no.

Business Investment

11.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer by what amount total business investment has increased in real terms over the past three years for which figures are available.

Business investment grew by over 40 per cent. in real terms in the three years to 1989, the largest increase over a three-year period since the war.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most encouraging aspect of the investment scene is the amount of investment being made in this country by foreign companies, illustrated this week by the Invest in Britain Bureau, which announced that up to 15 March this year, 233 investments had been made in Britain? It was illustrated also by the fact that 40 per cent. of all Japanese investment in the European Community came to this country, 9 per cent. went to West Germany and only 6 per cent. went to France, proving that other countries know the fundamental strength of the United Kingdom economy.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. This country does well, compared with its competitors, in the receipt of Japanese and American investment. That investment has been into certain key sectors, and there have been particularly important investments in the motor industry. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

Will the Chief Secretary mount an urgent investigation into the latest small business to be registered in Britain, National Front Printers Ltd? Will he ensure that that company, which seems to have come into being aided and abetted by officials and possibly Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry, does not enjoy any tax reliefs or other benefits from the Treasury?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that much of that massive business investment has been in manufacturing industries in Yorkshire, and particularly in my constituency, and that it has contributed to reducing unemployment? Will he congratulate the wool textile export companies which are managing in difficult times to increase their exports?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Last year, manufacturing investment grew by about 6¼ per cent. to reach its highest-ever level, and I agree with her comments about the wool textile industry.

Mortgage Rates

13.

To ask the Chancellor of tht, Exchequer when he will next meet the Council of Mortgage Lenders to discuss mortgage rates.

16.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he will next meet the Council of Mortgage Lenders to discuss mortgage rates.

I have no present plans to do so, although I recently met the chairman of the organisation, Mr. Birrell.

Does the Chancellor accept that the smug levity with which the Economic Secretary answered the previous question about mortgage rates paid scant respect to the hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering profoundly because of the Chancellor's one-club policy on interest rates? Does he accept that, according to the Building Societies Association, over 400,000 families in Britain are subject to legal action for recovery of arrears because of the mounting problems of interest and mortgage rates? Does he have any message of comfort to offer those people, many of them in my constituency, or is what he has to offer represented only by the kind of rubbish that we heard from the Economic Secretary?

There was neither rubbish nor smug levity in what my hon. Friend said. If the hon. Gentleman consults the Council of Mortgage Lenders or the Building Societies Association, they will tell him without reservation that mortgage arrears account for only a small amount of repossessions and that the principal problems that cause repossessions and other difficulties are marriage break-ups and other marital concerns. They have repeatedly made that clear, and Mr. Mark Boleat of the Building Societies Association did so yet again in recent days.

When the Chancellor is told by his Permanent Secretary that 70,000 mortgage holders are six months or more in arrears does he say to himself, "How could I conceivably have been so incompetent, so ignorant and so irresponsible as to ruin the lives of so many people?"—or does he not care?

I understand the concern of people with mortgage difficulties. The hon. Gentleman, who phrased his question with his usual charm, should bear it in mind that the number of borrowers in serious difficulties remains a very tiny proportion, as traditionally they have been. He will be aware, because I know that he takes an interest in this matter, that the Council of Mortgage Lenders recently issued all sorts of indications of precisely how the lending societies can help people who are in mortgage difficulties. The societies are doing so and I hope that they will continue to do so.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Sir Geoffrey Howe)

I have been asked to reply.

Mr right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given an address at the luncheon of the North Atlantic Council at Turnberry. Later today she will begin a visit to the Soviet Union.

As the Prime Minister is about to leave for the Soviet Union to lecture people there about how to run a free market economy, will the deputy Prime Minister use his moment of freedom to tell the House and the nation why he thinks our economy is in such a shambles? What does he say to our constituents who cannot meet their mortgage instalments and to industrialists and employers facing ruin because of the high levels of inflation and mortgages? What does he say about the unparalleled trade deficit and to people labouring under the unfair chaos of the poll tax? What does he say—[Interruption.]

How can this Government lecture others when they have ruined our economy?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will find that the people and the leadership of the Soviet Union will envy the record of this Government's management of our economy over the past 10 years. The problems today are put into perspective by the fact that manufacturing investment this year is advancing on the record level of last year which was itself a record on the year before.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

In view of the link between listeria and French brie, the hallucinatory effect of French wines, the carcinogenous effect of Perrier water and the certain transmissibility of mad frogs disease, will my right hon. and learned Friend make contingency plans to impose a ban on all French agricultural products and comestibles lest France should fail to honour the agreement that was signed in Brussels this morning?

I understand why my hon. Friend is concerned about the way in which matters have proceeded in the last few days. However, he must understand that the most important conclusion is that there should be a properly operating free market in agricultural produce throughout the Community in compliance with the law. I am sure that he will be glad to know that this morning the European Council of Agriculture Ministers reached agreement to end the ban on imports of British beef to other continental countries. The agreement will be considered by legal and scientific experts this afternoon. The Council will reconvene to give its approval to the documents produced. All member states will accept imports of British beef from tonight, and the European Community Commission has reaffirmed its belief that British beef is safe.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food hopes, by leave of the House, to make a statement on these matters at the conclusion of proceedings on the Food Safety Bill.

Will the Lord President tell the House what the standard rate of income tax will be after the next Budget?

In all the questions asked by shadow spokesmen over many years that one beats all records for stupidity. One matter that Chancellors of the Exchequer like, properly, to reserve to their Budget statement is the level at which income tax will be fixed for the year ahead. The nation can take great comfort from the fact that for the past 11 years a succession of Chancellors have progressively introduced lower and lower rates of income tax.

My only criticism of that answer is that I think that the question is even more stupid than the right hon. and learned Gentleman made out. As there is unanimous agreement that he cannot predict the level of taxes under this Government in six months' time, will he ask the chairman of the Tory party to stop asking for predictions about the level of taxation under the next Labour Government?

I am glad to say that successive Chancellors of the Exchequer under this Government have set targets for the reduction of income tax and achieved those targets. This nation continues to display a constant interest in the prospect of tax policy from the Labour party, if that were ever to be relevant. The real point is that the Labour party cannot carry any conviction as a tax-cutting party when successive Labour Governments have always put taxes up.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it remains the Government's policy to protect working people from excessive mass picketing and secondary action, and will he take every opportunity to explain this policy to trade union leaders, perhaps by taking up some of the many invitations to attend trade union conferences that have been rejected by the cocoonist advisers of the Leader of the Opposition?

I am glad to take this opportunity to remind the House and the nation that if there were to be a Labour Government, introducing the industrial relations policies of which the Labour party talks, there would be a risk of a return to mass picketing and the disgraceful scenes, to which the House became accustomed, outside premises such as Grunwick. We should be interested to know why the Leader of the Opposition has shown himself so unwilling to explain his policies, even on this matter, to the trade union movement.

Q5.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Will my right hon. and learned Friend turn his mind again to the subject of beef? Is not it now certain that the French and German Governments have contravened article 30 of the treaty of Rome, and must therefore compensate our farmers for the substantial financial losses that they have suffered over the past few weeks, or are we to have partners who want all the privileges of free trade but none of the obligations?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the need for the rules and obligations of the Community to be uniformly applied and observed throughout the Community. That is why it is so important that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has today been successful in securing the commitment that he has secured at the Council of Ministers.

My right hon. Friend will be able to deal with my hon. Friend's point in his statement this evening.

Q6.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Has the deputy Prime Minister had the opportunity to examine what is happening in the water industry, with the £5 billion that the Government wrote off in debts, the £1·6 billion that was given for the so-called green dowry and the fact that the taxpayer lost in general over £3 billion on privatisation? Is he aware that water charges have increased by more than double the rate of inflation, that in Yorkshire the standing charge has doubled, which means that the people who use least pay most in unit costs, and that the connection charge in Yorkshire has increased from £300 to £1,150? Is not that a shocking and abysmal record? Is not it time that the House had a chance to discuss the situation in the water industry, and who runs it?

The hon. Gentleman would do well to remember that one of the closing acts of the last Labour Government—now many years ago—was savagely to cut investment in the then publicly owned water industry. A principal reason why the private sector, on assuming responsibility for the industry, must now make substantial investments is as the consequence of years of neglect under public ownership and Labour Governments.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that it is apparently possible to increase Government spending by many billions of pounds while, we are told, it is unnecessary to raise income tax on people whose incomes are equal to or less than that of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)?

I cannot begin to explain such reasoning. The House will remember that under previous Labour Governments spending, borrowing and taxes increased, and that income tax payers were especially affected.

Q7.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

The Government are on record as saying that they want to help the countries of eastern Europe to tackle the problems of environmental pollution. Of course, that is vital, but what example are we giving eastern Europe by failing to insist on a full programme of flue gas desulphurisation for our power stations? Moreover, the Secretary of State for the Environment—who is in Brussels today—will apparently argue for a weakening of the EEC commitment to curb emissions of carbon dioxide?

The lesson is that the Government have introduced an effective and comprehensive programme for environmental improvement in relation to all forms of pollution. The realism of our target for carbon dioxide reduction has been specifically confirmed by Dr. Houghton, chairman of the working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He has the best evidence available in relation to our proposals.

Q8.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm the Government's support for Manchester as the venue for the 1996 Olympics? Does he agree that that would be good not just for the north-west of England, but for the entire country, and will he ignore the sour-grapes attitude that has been adopted by certain people in the Birmingham area?

I am not responsible for the attitude of people in the Birmingham area, but I gladly confirm that Manchester is Britain's preferred candidate. Manchester and the north-west have a long and illustrious sporting tradition, and we are glad to support it. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has written to the president of the International Olympic Committee in support of Manchester's bid.

Q9.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Is the Minister aware that nearly all the textile mills in my area have closed? Is he further aware that three more are now to close, including the Mars mill at Castleton, with the loss of 540 jobs? Will he tell the House what the Government will do to help the textile industry, and those workers who have been thrown on the industrial scrapheap?

The Government will continue to support the textile industry in the negotiations that we undertake within the context of GATT and the multi-fibre arrangement. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the most recent survey produced at the beginning this week by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce shows that nearly two thirds of firms expect to increase their export orders, and nearly three out of five expect to increase their work forces in the year ahead. There is substantial evidence for the belief that export performance will continue to improve.

Q11.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

May I, in turn, refer the right hon. and learned Gentleman to a question I put to the Chief Secretary a short time ago? He failed to answer it, so I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will do so. Will he confirm what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on Tuesday—that manufacturing investment in this country would have been £30,000 million higher under this Government had the growth rate under the Labour Government been maintained? Does he think that that is a major factor in explaining why a surplus of £6,000 million on manufacturing trade has deteriorated into a deficit of £16,000 million?

The right hon. Gentleman must have failed to hear the point I made earlier, when I said that even in the current year manufacturing investment is expected to increase. Last year was itself a record for manufacturing investment, as was the year before. Total business investment has increased by some 40 per cent. during the past three years. That is a substantial record of achievement, and it will be maintained.

Business Of The House

3.30 pm

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Sir Geoffrey Howe)

The business of the House for next week will be as follows:

  • MONDAY 11 JUNE—There will be a debate on European Community affairs with a motion to take note of the White Paper on developments in the European Community July to December 1989 (Cm. 1023).
  • Consideration of Lords amendments to the Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Bill.
  • TUESDAY 12 JUNE—Second Reading of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill [Lords].
  • Motion to take note of EC document relating to Community railway policy. Details will be given in the Official Report.
  • WEDNESDAY 13 JUNE—Remaining stages of the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill.
  • THURSDAY 14 JUNE—Estimates day (2nd allotted day). Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate on training followed by a debate on low income statistics. Details of the estimates concerned and the relevant Select Committee reports will be given in the Official Report.
  • Motion on the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Third Replenishment) Order.
  • FRIDAY 15 JUNE—Private Members' motions.
  • MONDAY 18 JUNE—There will be a debate on a Government motion to approve the defence estimates 1990 (Cm. 1022/1 and 1022/2) (1st day).

[Tuesday 12 June:

Relevant European Community Document

4478/90 Community Railway Policy

Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee HC 11—xvi (1989–90) para 3

Thursday 14 June:

Estimates, 1990–91, class VI, vote 1.

Third report from the Employment Committee of Session 1989–90 on Employment Training (House of Commons Paper No. 427) and the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee on 2 May 1990 (House of Commons Paper No. 394-i), so far as it relates to training.

Estimates, class XIV, vote 7.

Fourth report from the Social Services Committee, Session 1987–88, "Families on Low Income: Low Income Statistics" (House of Commons Paper No. 565), the Government's reply to that Report (Cm. 523), the fourth report from the Social Services Committee, Session 1989–90, "Low Income Statistics" (House of Commons Paper No. 376), and memoranda laid before the Committee: "Households Below Average Income: A regional analysis 1980–85", a study commissioned by the Social Services Committee, Session 1989–90, ( House of Commons Paper No. 378-I) and "The Income Support System and the Distribution of Income in 1987", a study commissioned by the Social Services Committee, Session 1989–90, (House of Commons Paper No. 378-II.)]

As the Prime Minister is making a timely visit to Moscow, at a time of important movements in world and European events, can we be assured that on her return to this country she will make a statement in this Chamber on her discussions with President Gorbachev?

Can we now hope that, as the Police Federation conference has taken place, the House will at last have the opportunity to debate, as it should have done many weeks ago, the Police (Amendment) Regulations order concerning the implications of poll tax for policemen and women and their families? Given the latest news of mounting chaos in towns and cities in Britain because of the nightmare of trying to administer that bureaucratic, expensive and unfair tax, should not we have the opportunity to debate the poll tax as soon as possible? I hope that the Leader of the House can now confirm that that long overdue opportunity will be given to the House.

When we debate developments in the European Community on Monday, who will be speaking on behalf of the Government? Will it be the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry giving his view of Government policy on Europe or will it be the Foreign Secretary—or will we hear one view at the beginning of the debate and the other view at the end?

I invite the hon. Gentleman to react in full, as I doubt whether he has yet, the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He will find that it contains many points that are almost exactly in line with those that I made in a speech a week before and which represent a contribution to the important developments that will take place during the years ahead in the EC. It is right that such matters should be advanced.

As for long overdue opportunities, we have been waiting now, I think, since 3 April for the fully worked out alteration to the poll tax which the Opposition's director of communications told us their major policy statement would contain, but we still wait in vain. That is the long overdue opportunity.

Nor was the hon. Gentleman's original question.

The police orders have been the subject of active discussion through the usual channels, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and I am concerned to see that they are debated at a reasonably early stage. I shall make an announcement about the arrangements for their debate in my next business statement.

I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement in the ordinary way on her return from the Soviet Union.

In view of the continued representations from the Liaison Committee, is my right hon. and learned Friend yet in a position to announce that he will take steps to amend Standing Orders so that the Select Committee on Health and Social Security can be divided in order to conform with the split into two Departments?

I can confirm that the Government are prepared to agree that there should be separate Select Committees to reflect the split in the Department of Health and Social Security. I think that it would be for the general convenience of the House if those arrangements were to take effect from the beginning of the next Session.

I welcome the statement that the Leader of the House has just made, but will he confirm that the House will have a chance to vote on the proposal so that the two new Select Committees can start operation at the beginning of the new Session?

I shall need to think about the precise point raised by the hon. Gentleman, but I shall certainly consider it.

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend a question relating particularly to his responsibilities as Leader of the House? May we have a debate soon on Short money? After all, as of this week, we are one party fewer and one campaign more. When does a campaign become a party? How energetic does it have to be? Would I, as an ordinary Back Bencher, qualify to become a campaign and receive Short money, particularly since I am as energetic as any Member of the former Democratic party? In fact, none of them are here today.

I am not sure about my hon. Friend's entitlement to qualify for Short money, but it is clear from his valuable contribution that he is not short of ideas.

Will the Leader of the House tell us now or next week the arrangements for right hon. and hon. Members to see the closed-circuit experiment on sign language for deaf people of our proceedings?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reminding the House about that. As he will recollect, it follows from the experiment on subtitling just before the recess. The recording of Prime Minister's questions, accompanied by on-screen signing for the deaf, will be played back in the No Lobby between 5 and 6 pm today and on Tuesday and Thursday of next week. The broadcasting Select Committee wants the reactions of as many Members as possible to both experiments so that we can assess the acceptability of on-screen signing to the House. I hope that as many hon. Members as possible will have a chance to look at the recordings either today or next week.

The House of Lords is constitutionally entitled to overturn the War Crimes Bill, but this House, as the elected Chamber, is entitled to overrule it. When does my right hon. and learned Friend expect that we shall have an opportunity to discuss that important moral and constitutional issue?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of that topic, which has been debated in both Houses more than once. Both Houses have now voted on the matter in opposite directions, by substantial majorities. Clearly it is right that we should have an opportunity to reflect on that, in view of the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Tuesday.

We are to have a debate on low income statistics next week, but will the Leader of the House turn his mind to a much wider debate on Government statistics—particularly as, last night, the Secretary of State for Health used some very doubtful statistics in supporting the Government's policy of imposing eye test charges? The Secretary of State's statistics were totally at variance with both a survey by my own party of 1,700 opticians and a report by the Consumers Association that is to be published tomorrow. Given the importance of eye tests in preventive health, does the Leader of the House agree that we should have another rally around the course—this time, using proper statistics?

I have never yet encountered a topic on which there has not been an ample choice of statistics. I dare say that that is true in respect of the subject to which the hon. Gentleman refers. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State yesterday presented effective statistics, but I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House for his announcement concerning the future of the Select Committee on Social Services. The work load being undertaken by that Committee is becoming intolerable, monitoring as it does one half of total Government expenditure.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement in the House on the progress of the negotiations concerning the multi-fibre arrangement? I understand from the textile and clothing industry that Britain's Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is standing out against practically every other country, in seeking to phase out the MFA over five years when most of the other countries concerned—and third-world countries in particular—seek a 10-year phasing out. May Britain's important textile and clothing industry, which still employs nearly 500,000 people and is concerned for their future, expect a statement soon from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry?

The topic of the MFA and its relationship to the textile industry is raised in the House on many occasions—quite often by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). I am not in a position today to add anything fresh, but I shall bring my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

When may we have an opportunity to debate the implications of pit closures? Is the Leader of the House aware that British Coal announced yesterday the closure of Denby Grange colliery—the last remaining pit in my constituency—with the loss of about 500 jobs? That makes total job losses in the Wakefield area under the present Government number 16,000. Is not it scandalous that not one scrap of Government help has been given to Wakefield district to help generate alternative employment? When will the Government give up worshipping market forces and start thinking about human beings for a change?

Decisions on pit closures remain a matter for the British Coal Corporation. The Government are not able to intervene, and do not seek to do so. In making such announcements, British Coal is following the procedure agreed with the unions. The coal industry, like any other, depends above all on competitiveness and efficiency for its survival. I am glad to say that there have been substantial improvements in its productivity in recent years, and we hope that it will be maintained.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House to express their concern at the news that Mr. Gorbachev is apparently threatening to restrict the emigration of Soviet Jews—particularly as there seems to be a misapprehension that a significant number of Soviet Jews are settling on the west bank, which they are not?

My hon. Friend raises two relatively distinct points. Over the years, the House has shared his concern for the freedom for Jewish people, among others, to emigrate from the Soviet Union. So far as it is necessary to do so, I am sure that that matter will be in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this week.

Is the Leader of the House aware that, despite all the efforts made over the years to preserve the lives of kidney patients, recent reports have shown that no fewer than 1,200 people die unnecessarily every year because of the lack of donor kidneys? Is it not possible to take advantage of the fact that 75 per cent. of people are willing to donate kidneys? They cannot currently be accepted, because the system has failed. May we debate that subject next week?

The right hon. Gentleman seldom fails to raise a point of importance, and the issue that he has just raised is one with which the whole House will have sympathy. He raises so many that I could fill almost every week with debates at his request. I shall consider that request as sympathetically as I can.

Is it my right hon. and learned Friend's intention to schedule a London debate before the House rises for the summer recess, as it has been many a month since we last had the opportunity to discuss issues affecting London—including, of course, the many successes of Conservative councils within the city?

My hon. Friend offers a beguiling reason why we should have such a debate at an early opportunity. I am not sure how far I shall be able to be beguiled by him.

Given that the Stevens inquiry stated clearly, without any ambiguity, that there was collusion between the police and terrorist groupings in Northern Ireland, and given the penetrating insights of the Yorkshire Television programme "Shoot to Kill" at the weekend, will the Leader of the House ensure that we get an opportunity soon to debate those fundamental issues within the House?

Neither Mr. Stalker's nor Mr. Sampson's inquiry found evidence of any offence, such as incitement to murder, as would he comprised within what has loosely been called a "shoot-to-kill" policy. There is not and there never has been any such policy in Northern Ireland. No doubt there will be opportunities in the weeks ahead for debates on that and other matters affecting Northern Ireland.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that virtually every day there is a new report of the closure of some reservoir or lake because of toxic blue-green algae spreading across it, following the appalling incident last September in my constituency, when 23 sheep and 15 dogs died? Since this is now clearly becoming a serious national pollution problem, will he arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement about the matter next week?

I cannot arrange to have a statement on that matter next week, but I can and will arrange to draw the strong manner in which my hon. Friend expresses his view to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Is not it important that there should be a debate on the War Crimes Bill as quickly as possible, since all the evidence shows that there remains a large majority in this House who believe that the Bill should proceed? Is not it important that, if there is a conflict between the two Houses, the views of the elected Chamber must prevail?

It is precisely that question which requires reflection. It is only 72 hours since the other place debated the matter. Both Houses have considered it carefully on more than one occasion and have reached conclusions by large majorities in opposite directions. It is plainly good sense to allow some reasonable period to elapse to allow full consideration of what was said in the debates in both Houses.

May I dissent from the view that my right hon. and learned Friend has just expressed? There is widespread indignation in the country, as one poll has already demonstrated this morning, arid there is strong feeling on both sides of the House, that wrong action—wrong both constitutionally and morally—has been taken by the other place. Surely the best thing is for this House to resolve, as quickly as it possibly can, where it stands on the matter and what it wants done.

I understand the strength of feeling on the subject of my right hon. Friend the Father of the House. Both Houses of Parliament have contributions to make to the proceedings of Parliament, and it is right for the views expressed by each House on a matter of this gravity to be considered carefully in both Houses. I understand the strong feelings expressed by my right hon. Friend, but it is a matter on which there are strong feelings not only on both sides of the House but on both sides of the question.

Does the Leader of the House accept that there has been a disastrous effect on the shellfish industry caused by the fishing ban, and the disorganised methods used by the Government to introduce it? Will he accept that there are important unanswered questions, such as why the industry was never consulted and why certain species were banned, yet two days later the ban was lifted on the flimsiest of grounds? Will he also study the situation, as compensation should be offered to the shellfish fishermen, given the state of the industry? As so many Government Departments were involved, and the industry is in deep trouble at present, can we have an urgent debate on the subject?

I understand the anxiety felt by those in the industry about the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health made a statement about one aspect of it in the House on Tuesday, and I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

In view of the persistent and undenied rumours that the Prime Minister has withdrawn her veto on our entry of the exchange rate mechanism, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that whoever speaks for the Government on Monday explains how it is that it will be posible to resolve the conflict between a rigged exchange rate and the requirements of domestic monetary policy and, having entered into stage 1 of the Delors proposals, how we shall avoid being dragged by the Commission and the other nation states of the EEC into stages 2 and 3, with a single central bank and a single currency?

It sounds as though my hon. Friend is likely to make a speech in Monday's debate, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, of as much interest as usual. Having attended the Madrid summit in which we set out quite clearly the conditions on which we would join the exchange rate mechanism, I must confess that I do not recognise his description of a veto in respect of that matter. He will recall that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it plain in her speech in Aberdeen that membership of the European exchange rate mechanism was entirely consistent with effective and strong domestic monetary policy.

Could the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent statement this afternoon from the Secretary of State for Transport on the safety implications of the management-engineered dispute involving some 7,000 British Airways workers at Heathrow? Is he aware that I have an eight-page list of 75 engineering faults and incidents that occurred in the 11 days up to Tuesday of this week, many of which could be life threatening? For example, on Sunday, the captain of a Boeing 747 reported that the engine fire detection loop was unserviceable, yet he was given dispensation to take off. Has nothing been learnt from Kegworth? Why will not the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority come clean about the risk to passengers flying British Airways out of Heathrow?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman made the most helpful contribution that could have been made on cool consideration of the subject. I am advised that safety is not compromised and that aircraft are properly certified as safe before they fly.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that those of us representing constituencies in the county of Kent are becoming extremely concerned and anxious about the delay in an announcement as to the final route of the high-speed link? Is he aware that we were promised an announcement at the end of March, again at the end of April and again at the end of May? We are now well into June and the continuing delay is causing great hardship, counter-rumour and upset to many people in north-west, mid and south Kent? Will he please therefore undertake to make the strongest representations possible to those who are responsible for making an announcement?

My hon. Friend, together with others of my hon. Friends who represent Kentish constituencies, makes a point which he is entitled to make, and of course I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. There will be some opportunity to refer to the matter in the debate next Tuesday on the document relating to Community railway policy, but I shall draw his point to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

While I welcome the Lord President's announcement about splitting the Select Committee on Social Services, when does he hope to report progress in setting up a Select Committee on Northern Ireland as that also affects the House?

I cannot take that matter any further today than I have on previous occasions. I shall of course discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for an early debate about the quality of the postal services in this country? Does he agree that the recent report by the Mail Users' Association has fully demonstrated the need to introduce competition into the postal services?

I know that the quality of those services is not a matter that concerns only my hon. Friend. I shall certainly draw his point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to see whether there is an opportunity for it to be considered more widely.

Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman yet found time to mug up on the need for an up-to-date maritime archaeology Bill, a matter which I raised with him many months ago and about which he appeared singularly uninformed?

The hon. Gentleman has been so uncharacteristically episodic in his references to the matter that, although I mugged it up some time ago, I am now almost as ill-formed as I was when he first raised it. However, I will be in touch with him when I have had another look at the matter.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that, according to some sources in the Soviet Union, over 60 per cent. of Soviet agricultural production never reaches the consumer because of defects in the storage and transportation systems there.

Over 60 per cent. of Soviet agricultural production.

According to some Soviet sources, there is a possibility of famine in parts of the USSR next year. Bearing in mind the instability and misery that that will bring and following my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's present visit to the USSR, would it be possible for us to have a debate on how this country could best assist the USSR to move to a freer market, and therefore to a better system for agriculture and transport?

I was struck by the fact that, even on that crucial matter, there was a moment of statistical insecurity between my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed) and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). I do not know how far I can take a discussion in this House on fundamental repairs to the Soviet economy. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will have some interesting things to say about that on her return next week.

Is the Leader of the House aware that, earlier this week, 15 local government officers from Poland came to this country to study local democracy? Given that fact, will he make time for an urgent debate on poll tax capping, when he can explain to the country and to the 15 Polish local government officers how local democracy exists under capping? Why when the people of Calderdale and in the other 19 authorities voted overwhelmingly Labour and for a Labour Government, did the Government decide that they knew better than the ballot box? Would not our Polish friends be confused and say, "We have just got rid of a regime like that. Why are we here learning about one that is doing exactly the same?"?

There is an element of fantasy in the hon. Lady's anxiety to ensure proper information for our Polish visitors about the working of a democratic society under the rule of law. The steps in relation to charge capping are being taken in accordance with legislation passed by this House and following the votes taken in this House, and are now being considered by the courts in accordance with the rule of law. That is an impressive performance to commend to our Polish friends.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm a statement that I think he made at Prime Minister's Question Time? Did he say that there would be a statement from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the outcome of the EC Council of Ministers earlier today?

Yes, Mr. Speaker. As I said in Prime Minister's Question Time, my right hon. Friend is attending a further meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers this afternoon to consider the legal and experts' representations on the conclusions already reached. He hopes to be able to make a statement to the House this evening at the conclusion of proceedings on the Food Safety Bill. That representation has been made to you, Mr. Speaker, and it is, of course, subject to the consent of the House. My impression is that the whole House would like to hear an early statement from my right hon. Friend.

Will the Leader of the House review his decision about the need for a statement about the dangerous game being played by British Airways, in connivance with the Civil Aviation Authority, which has allowed certificates and approvals to be given on unsafe aircraft, including Concorde and scores of others, during the past fortnight? Those aircraft have supposedly been maintained and repaired by a handful of management, when 7,000 engineers are on strike. Nobody would believe that that handful of people could manage, maintain and repair those aircraft. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I have here a computer printout of the number of aircraft that have been flying during the past fortnight, but which are unsafe? He has a duty to the House to make a statement on the matter and to get the dispute resolved.

I will of course bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport the point that was made so vehemently by the hon. Gentleman. If the matter is one tenth as serious as his rhetoric implies, I hope that he will urge upon those who are currently taking industrial action the necessity to get back to work as soon as possible.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the popularity of "spot the ball" competitions. May I suggest to him a parliamentary version in Hansard, called "spot the promise"? My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) said on 13 February that there were only two definite Labour promises, yet even in yesterday's Hansard we find promises from the hon. Members for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) on the first two priorities of the next Labour Government. May I therefore suggest that it must be a very popular competition, and the prizes, which would be very generous, should be supplied by the Labour spokesman making the promise and would he commensurate with the cost to the taxpayer?

I was waiting for the last part of my hon. Friend's question. Of course I am in favour of a competition that is designed to draw attention to the matters that he has in mind. He also had the good sense to indicate how such a competition could be financed.

Is the Leader of the House aware that on Tuesday, under the Standing Order No. 20 procedure, I attempted to get the House to debate the Government's disgraceful and complacent attitude to football ground safety and the fact that, in particular, the Football Licensing Authority, which should have been set up by 1 June under an Act of Parliament, has not been set up? There is no chairman and there are no members. As that vehicle is to implement Lord Justice Taylor's recommendations, and local authorities and football clubs throughout the land are awaiting the tablets of stone from that body, will the Leader of the House agree to arrange a debate on that important subject in the near future?

I cannot undertake to arrange a debate on that topic at this time. I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I hope that the House will join me in expressing satisfaction at the vigorous way in which law enforcement authorities in Italy are already upholding the law in advance of the football competition there, expressing the hope that British football fans will behave with dignity and in a fashion that upholds the honour of this country, and also expressing the hope that our teams are as successful as they deserve to be.

Would not it save a great waste of time and the tedium of listening to a tiresome speech yet again from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) if my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House were to arrange for a junior economist to take him quietly aside this weekend and explain to him the simplicities of the relationship between European currencies, which are so well understood by the other 11 members of the Community?

I commend my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House on the attitude that he has taken towards the vote in the House of Lords about the War Crimes Bill. In that he is absolutely right. He has spoken about the need to maintain the rule of law. That is what the House of Lords has set out to do. It has not been influenced by the lobby being run from California on this matter.

Order. The right hon. Gentleman must have an opportunity to put his point. [Interruption.]

May I ask the Father of the House to calm himself? We do not want to lose him.