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Business Of The House

Volume 178: debated on Friday 12 October 1990

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3.32 pm

Will the Leader of the House tell us the business for next week?

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

Yes, Sir. The business of the House will be as follows:

  • MONDAY 29 OCTOBER AND TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Environmental Protection Bill.
  • WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on noise abatement and the environment, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
  • THURSDAY 1 NOVEMBER—It will be proposed that the House will meet for prorogation.
  • The House may be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received, and any other business as necessary.

As the Prime Minister is always anxious to address the House on European Community matters, may we have an assurance that she will make a statement on her return from the European summit next week?

Will the Leader of the House respond to requests from all parts of the House for the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to be ready to make a statement to the House before prorogation if at any time there are major changes in the serious situation in the Gulf?

May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Energy on the report of the Cullen inquiry into the Piper Alpha tragedy in the North sea? As that report will have important lessons for not only that tragedy but the continuing safety of operations in the North sea, and as we understand that it is now in the hands of the Secretary of State for Energy, can we have an oral statement to the House before prorogation?

On Monday and Tuesday next week, the House is being asked to consider no fewer than 436 amendments to the Environmental Protection Bill. That alone shows the mess that that legislation is in following its consideration in the House and in the other place. Can we at least be assured that the House will have an early opportunity to vote on two important issues in it? First, I again invite the Leader of the House to ensure that we can have a free vote on the dog registration scheme, so that the real will of the House of Commons can be expressed. Secondly, can we have a convenient vote on the proposals for the Nature Conservancy Council, which are also controversial?

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, as he knows, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister generally makes a statement to the House on her return from such meetings, but I shall bring his request to her attention.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House yesterday, but I understand why the hon. Gentleman remains concerned about the matter, and I shall bring his request to my right hon. Friend's attention.

The Cullen report on Piper Alpha is in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. I understand that it is a substantial document. My right hon. Friend is arranging for it to be published and will make a statement in due course.

The hon. Gentleman draws an uncharacteristically misguided conclusion from the fact that there are 436 amendments to the Environmental Protection Bill for consideration—[Interruption.] It is a lot, but the amendments show the extent to which the Government, in their consideration of this matter in another place, have been willing to respond sensibly to sensible discussions.

I agree that the two items to which the hon. Gentleman referred, particularly dog registration, require consideration. If the House is able to handle the rest of the legislation reasonably expeditiously, it is obviously desirable that those matters be considered at a reasonable hour. I think that that issue can best be discussed further through the usual channels.

In his significant evidence to the inquiry by the Select Committee on Procedure into the workings of the Select Committee system, my right hon. and learned Friend made the significant proposal that Select Committees should, wherever possible, attempt to reach a conclusion. In response, the Select Committee concluded that the subject of science and technology was too important a matter to be absent from the agenda of the House of Commons.

The Select Committee made the interesting proposal that two Members of the House should be added to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology and that that Committee should be made into a Joint Committee on that subject. How soon does my right hon. and learned Friend expect to respond to that extraordinarily interesting and important suggestion? How soon may we expect to debate this equally interesting report?

I must admit that I approach with some hesitation a question that starts from the premise that I have been giving significant evidence about something. I have noticed this proposal in the report of the Select Committee on Procedure, but I have not yet had time to study it. I know of my hon. Friend's interest in this matter, and I shall study the report with all the more care because of that.

Will the Leader of the House ascertain whether there will be time next week for a debate on what appears to be a totally novel development in the management of the health service? Hospitals—the name of the one announced was Guy's hospital in Southwark—are now sending their nurses and doctors, who have been trained for and paid for here and have been engaged here, to work in hospitals abroad during their time of contract to the NHS. In that case, they are being sent to a military hospital in Saudi Arabia.

Secondly, as we now know that there will be an Adjournment debate on Wednesday on an environmental subject, will the Leader of the House tell us whether that betokens a welcome change, in that there will be a regular annual occasion, on a more formal basis, for proper debates on the state of the environment? Shall we not have to rely on the occasional allocation of spare time because such debates will be a built-in part of our agenda?

On the first point, I am afraid that I cannot comment on the substance of what the hon. Gentleman says and I cannot offer him the prospect of a debate on that topic in the few days remaining of this Session. However, I will bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

On the environmental matter, the hon. Gentleman should be content to count his blessings for the week ahead; we can see how we get on thereafter.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend feel that there is a hope of having a debate next week on the plight of the hostages in the middle east? I have a constituent who is in that unfortunate position, and who is not a guest, but a hostage of Iraq. When I read in the papers that the French are sending mail through the diplomatic bag and are allowing families to telephone French hostages on a freephone service to Iraq, I wonder whet her we are doing sufficient. Can my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate on that matter?

My hon. Friend will have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs making a statement on that and other matters yesterday. He will have told the House, as is the position, that the welfare of British people in Iraq and in Kuwait, as well as the welfare of those still held hostage in the near east, is one of his first and continuing concerns. One must recollect that the plight of the hostages in Iraq and in Kuwait is the consequence of the gross misbehaviour of the Government of Iraq. I will bring my hon. Friend's specific concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion 1453, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan).

[That this House applauds the Right honourable Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup for helping to secure the release of some British hostages from Iraq; calls on the Prime Minister to publicly thank and congratulate her Right honourable Friend; and urges her to maximise diplomatic pressure on the Iraqi authorities for the release of all hostages, of whatever nationality.]

If the Government had made official representations on behalf of the very sick and the aged, Mr. Ron Duffy might still be alive. Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister whether she believes in the statement made by Winston Churchill many years ago:
"To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war"?

It is difficult to dissent from the quotation rightly attributed to Winston Churchill. One of its consequences is that unprovoked naked aggression such as that committed by the Government of Iraq is wholly to be condemned by either standard. On early-day motion 1453, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his statement yesterday made it clear that we welcome the release of the British nationals who have been released, and we look for more.

Could we have a debate shortly about a daft EC draft directive on birds? For many years, those of us who live in the countryside have known that there are three kinds of birds: protected birds, game birds and pests. As the Italians and the French slaughter all their birds indiscriminately in what the French call "la chasse", the EC directive will prevent us from culling pests such as wood pigeons in a sensible way. Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure all those in the countryside that we take these matters seriously, that this is an issue where national sovereignty should be paramount and that we will not allow ourselves to be run over by yet another daft EC directive?

My hon. Friend may seek to draw constitutional implications that are a shade wider than is deserved by the ornithological subtleties which he is discussing. However, I shall bring his point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Is the Leader of the House aware that he has decided to close down Parliament for this Session five hours before I got No. 1 to the Home Office? Is he aware that the question asked for free television licences for all old-age pensioners? I have a suggestion for the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He reckons that he has power, and he is supposed to be the deputy Prime Minister. Why does not he get the proposal into the next Queen's Speech? We will guarantee to support it and to get it through in 24 hours.

Had I known that we were closing the House down five hours before the hon. Gentleman had a question to pose, it would have enhanced my enthusiasm for that proposition; nevertheless, he has taken the opportunity to bring this issue to the attention of the House. The answer to his argument is a familiar one—that the cost of any such concession would have to be borne by other licence holders. That is one of the questions which is never addressed by those who advance the argument for free licences.

On the announcement by the Secretary of State for Transport about the central London rail study, will my right hon. and learned Friend invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to come forward shortly with proposals on the public transport element of the London assessment studies, so that London south of the river can benefit from the same increased investment in public transport which is now happily being given to London north of the river.

I will bring my hon. Friend's point, understandably put forward on behalf of his constituents, to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I cannot promise that he will respond in the course of the next few days.

Will the Leader of the House please arrange for an early debate on the extortionate rates of interest charged by many licensed moneylenders? In the Leicester area, and no doubt in other parts of the country, interest rates are pushing towards an annual percentage rate of an incredible 2,000 per cent. Is he aware that those moneylenders batten on to the very poor, usually the unemployed, and always on to people who cannot get loans from banks or building societies? Will the Government deal with this disgrace at once, or at least allow the House to debate it?

The hon. and learned Gentleman has done a modest service to the cause he advocates by publicising it in the House today. He will know that that matter has preoccupied Governments for many years. I was responsible for introducing the Consumer Credit Act as long ago as 1973. I shall bring his up-to-date concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Could we have a statement on the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights that purports to set aside the British system of parole? Does that institution serve any useful purpose? It seems to meddle a lot in our domestic affairs. As we are not willing to concede sovereignty to the European Community, why should we concede it to a bunch of unelected foreign lawyers?

I shall of course arrange for the particular point raised by my hon. Friend to be studied by those responsible. My hon. Friend might recollect that the jurisdiction of the court and the commission was established in the early 1950s largely on the basis of proposals put forward by Her Majesty's Government as part of our determination to establish respect for human rights throughout the continent, which still remembered vividly the deprivation of those human rights following Nazi activity during the war.

Last week, the Leader of the House suggested that he would hasten slowly on the Select Committee on Northern Ireland. In the light of the Precedure Committee report published today, is there any justifiable reason for continuing a delay that has extended from 1978 when the then Procedure Committee recommended such a Select Committee?

If a Select Committee on Northern Ireland was set up, it would deliver a message from this House to those trying to detach Northern Ireland from the kingdom. That Select Committee could deal with those affairs of Northern Ireland that would never be under the scrutiny of a devolved administration in Northern Ireland.

The whole House is always mindful of the points advanced by hon. Members representing Northern Ireland, not least in the light of yesterday's particular tragedies. I do not want to sound in any sense dismissive of their deep concern, but my recollection of the report of the Select Committee is that it concluded that now is not a sensible time to establish a Select Committee on Northern Ireland. That is the recommendation, so it does not induce me to take a different view. I shall, of course, study the matter with the care that it deserves.

On noise, and having asked for it exactly a week ago, may I warmly welcome the decision of the Government to hold a debate on it next Wednesday? However, although the lead Department in this matter is obviously the Department of the Environment, may I draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend to the fact that a large proportion of the matter with which the report on noise deals is transport noise, whether from aircraft, helicopters, lorries or trains? Therefore, could he consider how to draw into the debate Ministers from the Department of Transport as well who might listen to the debate and take account of the wishes of the House?

I know that my hon. Friend, having had years of practice speaking under the flight paths from Heathrow, has developed a powerful noise-emitting organ on his own part. I will draw the point he makes to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport. I hope that my hon. Friend will not conclude from the speed with which I responded to his request that I shall always do so with similar speed in future.

Will the Leader of the House take note of early-day motion 1446, "Retention of the Multi-fibre Arrangement":

[That this House welcomes the lobby of the textile workers and expresses strong opposition to the Government policy of phasing out the Muliti-Fibre Arrangement from 1991 without any safeguards yet in place and without any transition period to ensure preservation of a strong textile industry; and reminds. the Government that child labour, absence of health and safety laws and trade union rights, dumping, outward processing and fraudulent trade marks are the hallmark of some areas of so-called competition, and that without proper safeguards there will be further catastrophic job losses, in an industry already struggling against high interest rates and an over-valued pound and more members of a skilled and dedicated work force will be thrown on the scrap-heap.]

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that all this week, a Trades Union Congress delegation is lobbying Members of Parliament because of great concern over the fact that the Government are now admitting that they are accepting Common Market policy to phase out the multi-fibre arrangement without any provision for safeguards through the general agreement on tariffs and trade and no phasing-out period to ensure that we develop a soundly-based, confident textile industry? Many jobs are threatened in the textile and clothing industry, including in my constituency, where 14,000 jobs depend directly on the textile industry. What action will the Government take to reassure the industry? Will they retain the multi-fibre arrangement, which has served the industry well in the past and is needed for confidence in the future?

The hon. Gentleman speaks as though there is something surprising in what he says. The Government have repeatedly made it clear that we are firmly committed to the Community policy of phasing out the M FA after the present extension expires next year. But it is also clear that that should take place as an essential part of the general strengthening of GATT rules and disciplines and the lowering of trade barriers generally, which are at the heart of the objectives of the Uruguay round. The Uruguay round is intended to promote trade opportunities generally, including for those in the third world for whom the hon. Gentleman sometimes seeks to speak. It must all be put in the proper context, and there is no surprise about the policy to which he draws attention.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for the earliest possible debate on the management of the commuter rail services in Network SouthEast because, despite the record levels of capital investment from the Government going into British Rail, it seems that the managers persist in producing ill-timed trains and bad timetables for my constituents and others in south-west London?

The Patronage Secretary and I, who sit alongside each other on the Front Bench, both represent constituencies in the same region, and I do not think that either of us would wish completely to repudiate on behalf of our constituents the points made by my hon. Friend. I would not go further than that in accepting the points he makes, but I shall bring them to the attention of those responsible for the management of the railway system.

The Leader of the House will he mindful that, just before the recess, he placed in the Library the document on privatisation recommendations and consultative matters. He and others will be fully apprised of the difficulties concerning private Bills. They become quite an embarrassment sometimes, and there are illogicalities in the procedures, some of which are serious. For example, this week we had the Third Reading of the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill at a time when the Queen's Speech is likely to announce enabling measures for privatisation. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman announce, now or next week, the extent to which progress is being made to achieve some changes in the privatisation proposals?

Two points are intermingled there. The privatisation proposals are a separate policy question, and the hon. Gentleman will have to await the Queen's Speech before he learns the Government's intentions in that respect. Private Bills are an important topic, the management of which has been preoccupying myself and others for some time. We are still considering the way in which we should proceed in the light of my consultation document, and I hope that we shall be able to get ahead with it as quickly as possible.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the number of deaths prevented by the wearing of seat belts has been remarkable. However, when cars are fitted with rear seat belts but those belts are not worn, more injuries are being caused to rear seat passengers. At present, the law says that only children must wear rear seat belts. Will he find time in the near future for a debate on the compulsory wearing of rear seat belts?

I will certainly draw my hon. Friend's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and see how far we can consider it in the light of what he said.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Social Services to come to the Chamber and make a statement before the House rises on women's refuges and the way in which the change in the benefit laws has put more and more women at risk from personal violence because they are unable to claim support from the Department without disclosing their whereabouts? Individual refuges are suffering as a consequence.

I cannot promise an early debate on that topic, but I shall bring the point to the attention of my right hon. Friends. The hon. Lady may have the opportunity of raising the matter during the debate on the Queen's Speech.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend try to arrange a debate on the textile industry? When the textile mills ran into difficulties in the north-west, the workers did not get lucrative redundancy payments and a job at another mill somewhere else, as the miners did in another pit, but had to work hard, and the survivors are doing well. They will continue to do well as long as there is fair trading and no dumping into the United Kingdom. Can we impress on the Government that, when the new arrangements are made, they should bear that aspect in mind? We are fighting for the future of an industry on which this country was founded.

I certainly need no reminding of the importance of the textile industry, and I fully understand my hon. Friend's point, which is in the Government's mind as they seek to promote liberal but fair trading conditions. I shall bring that point to my colleagues' attention.

Does the Leader of the House agree that the reason that not one Scottish Tory is present in the Chamber this afternoon is because they have read the second report of the Select Committee on Procedure and are too ashamed to come here and admit that it put the finger on them as being primarily responsible for the fact that there is no Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that in Scotland we face problems in the steel industry and damp housing, and that there is low morale in education, yet we continue to be denied a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, the legitimate instrument to bring the Government to account.

Will the right hon. Gentleman talk to the man next to him, the Patronage Secretary—the Chief Whip—get hurl to bend a few arms up a few Tory backs, and ensure that, when we go into the new Session, Scottish Tories face up to their responsibility to the Scottish people and provide us with the instrument of investigation that every English Department has?

The hon. Gentleman has a total misunderstanding of the gentle techniques of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. I notice that the Select Committee's report urges the Leader of the House to continue to search for a solution to that problem, and that reaching such a solution may require compromises on all sides. I have tried to achieve that in the past. There a re ample opportunities for important Scottish matters to be debated in the House in a number of ways.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the contribution that United States bases such as Burtonwood and Warrington make, both to local economies and Anglo-American relations. Will he find time next week to arrange a debate to discuss the impact were any of those bases to close?

The Government have already announced this year that a total of four United States' facilities in Britain have been or are being returned to the control of the Ministry of Defence, but no further changes have yet been decided. The Ministry of Defence is in close contact with the United States authorities over any possible future changes. I cannot go beyond that now, but I shall certainly bring my hon. Friend's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

In a week when House of Commons chefs walked out because of salmonella scares, will the Leader of the House say when he intends to find time to debate the way in which this place is run? Will he have some regard for health and safety issues? When he walks around the corridors—not the main ones, but those outside—will he look at the totally unacceptable standards of cleanliness in this building and come forward with real proposals for food nutrition and food handling standards, bearing in mind that many thousands of people use the facilities of the Palace of Westminster?

Finally, when will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bring forward proposals to remove Crown immunity from the Palace of Westminster?

I am afraid that I did not hear every component of the hon. Lady's question; but on the general point that she made, I would not accept such a far-ranging and comprehensive condemnation of every aspect of the House or of every aspect of the catering system, but I would readily agree that there is substantial room for improvement in many respects. That is one of the reasons that has prompted the Commission under the chairmanship of Mr. Speaker to invite Sir Robin Ibbs to prepare a report on improving the management of the House, and the Commission will, I hope, be considering that report shortly. The hon. Lady will find that it is directly related to some of the management issues with which she is concerned.

May we have an early statement on the finding by a judge in the High Court this week that the former Ealing Labour council acted improperly in 1987 when granting planning permission to a small sect for a mosque and town houses on an industrial estate in Northolt? Could that matter be brought to the attention of the House and properly debated, since the council acted improperly, in total disregard of the feelings of local people and industry and everyone concerned with the matter—and especially since not a single member of the sect lives in Northolt?

My hon. Friend is second to none in bringing to the attention of the House the shortcomings of the formerly Labour-controlled council that covers his constituency. I could not possibly accede to every request that he makes for these matters to be debated here, but he may take some comfort from the fact that the electors in Ealing passed their own judgment on that council at the last election.

May we have another debate on the exchange rate mechanism? Is it true that the Governor of the Bank of England commissioned a report from the economics division of the bank into the appropriate rate of entry for sterling? Is it also true that an interim report was produced but that the Governor expected a figure to be submitted to him—a figure which was not submitted in time for the Chancellor's statement, so that there is now some confusion in the Bank of England about why its views and all the work that it has done on the matter were completely ignored by the Government? Does not that show that entry was a political decision taken irrespective of its economic consequences?

Nobody is more adept than the hon. Gentleman at launching into proceedings of this sort a whole series of allegations at a time when they cannot be assessed or responded to. He had the opportunity to raise these points when the Chancellor was answering questions earlier this afternoon, and he might have taken that chance.

May we have a debate next week on airport security? I ask that in the light of the report in today'sManchester Evening News by the paper's reporter Peter Spencer that, on Tuesday, officials of the Department of Trade and Industry went to Manchester airport on an inspection visit and discovered a serious security breach which involved the carrying of a gun and explosives through the security area. Had the officials been terrorists, they would have been allowed to get on an aircraft. That is very worrying for my constituents who use this airport, so will my right hon. and learned Friend undertake to refer the matter to the Secretary of State for Transport and to ask him to make an urgent statement in the House on the matter?

I cannot promise either a debate or a statement on the matter. Of course, it does need to be taken seriously, and I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

In view of the somewhat sleazy appointments by the Prime Minister of some of the trustees of the boards of the national institutions, and in view of the conviction of Gerald Ronson, when can the House have a statement on what the Prime Minister intends to do to get that gentleman off the board of the natural history museum, to which she appointed him?

I cannot offer any comment on the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for the Arts is lurking around the premises and I shall draw it to his attention when he joins me on the Bench.

My right hon. and learned Friend is well aware of the concern expressed in the House about the possible effects of the proposed European directive on traffic in live animals for slaughter. When he is looking into the business for the next Session, will he be good enough to seek an opportunity for the House to debate that directive before it becomes a fait accompli? As Chairman of the Select Committee on the Televising of Proceedings of the House, will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for that debate to be held not at 3 o'clock in the morning, but in prime time?

I find it hard enough to manage the affairs of the House and fit them into the hours that are available for general purposes. If I had also to take into account the need to meet my hon. Friend's ambitions to get the best television coverage, my task would be even more difficult. I shall certainly bring my hon. Friend's general point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

As it is now widely recognised that the victims of medical accidents get a raw deal in the courts system, may we have an early debate on the setting up of a no-fault compensation scheme so that money can go to the victims and not to the lawyers?

I cannot promise a debate on that topic in the limited time available before the House is prorogued at the end of this Session. Of course, the hon. Lady will have many opportunities in future to draw the matter to the attention of the House.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the prospect, and encourage a White Paper on the whole question, of economic and monetary union, and will he follow it with a debate? Does he agree that the idea that economic and monetary union attached to the principle of subsidiarity is a one-way ticket to a federal train and a central bank of the kind outlined not necessarily by Mr. Delors but by Mr. Christophersen in the European Commission?

Even given the relative simplicity of my hon. Friend's question, I would be unwise to attempt an answer during business questions.

Does the Leader of the House recall that my hon. Friends the Members for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) and I went to Iraq last month on a peace mission? Therefore, may we have a debate on early-day motion 1453 so that the whole House may have an opportunity to congratulate the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) on having the courage to follow in our footsteps and on helping to secure the release of some of the British hostages?

[That this House applauds the Right honourable Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup for helping to secure the release of some British hostages from Iraq; calls on the Prime Minister to publicly thank and congratulate her Right honourable Friend; and urges her to maximise diplomatic pressure on the Iraqi authorities for the release of all hostages, of whatever nationality.]

Does the Leader of the House accept that the plight of the hostages is far too important simply to be left to a few Back Benchers and a former Prime Minister, and that it is up to the Government to accept their responsibilities and do everything possible to maximise the diplomatic pressure on Saddam Hussein for the release of all the hostages of whatever nationality, because he has no moral right and no right under international law to hold any of them?

I hesitate to follow the hon. Gentleman into an assessment of the comparative courage of himself and my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). It is important that, on humanitarian grounds, we should welcome, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs did yesterday, the release of British nationals. That is welcomed by us all. I was glad that the hon. Gentleman went on to agree with the Government by saying that the fundamental cause of this problem is the brutal illegality of the action taken by the Government of Iraq. We must all continue to devote our united efforts to that issue.

I regret that there is no provision next week for a debate on security in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that statements of the sort that we had yesterday are unsatisfactory, not only because they involve invidious choices about which incident one responds to, but because the brief time available for discussion after such a statement and the limited range of questions that can be asked do not allow for a proper exploration of all the issues. Will he arrange for a proper debate in which, perhaps, the Government could take some steps to resolve the constitutional uncertainty which is the root cause of the terrorism from which we suffer?

I do not begin to underestimate the importance of both aspects of the hon. Gentleman's question. I shall certainly remind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland of the continuing wish not just of those who represent that part of the United Kingdom to have the matter under continuous and serious scrutiny in the House.

Yes, and properly discussed. Nevertheless, it must take its place among the many other matters for which the House is responsible. I understand why the hon. Gentleman feels that yesterday's statement and subsequent questions were not sufficient to exhaust the topic.

It represented what it was meant to represent—an instant response by the House and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the deep concern about those incidents. In fact, we accommodated the statement alongside two other statements in a very crowded parliamentary afternoon. That is a sign of the extent to which the House is concerned about the very points that the hon. Gentleman raised. I shall certainly bear in mind the way in which he put them.

As it is generally accepted that lone parents have had a raw deal on income during recent years—not least because of the change in 1987 that made it more difficult for them to work and retain benefit—will the House give two cheers for the White Paper that is due to be published next week? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman arrange for a statement on the day that it is published so that hon. Members will have an opportunity to question the Government about the proposed quango? The point must be made that, during the past seven years, the Government have cut by one third the number of staff in the "liable relative" section of local social security offices—yet the National Audit Office says that those staff made benefit savings for the taxpayer and gained extra benefits for parents totalling eight times as much as their wages. Are those savings from staff cuts now to be used to create another quango, while lone parents remain the losers? It is crucial that a statement is made, so that the issue can be clarified before we debate the White Paper.

Contrary to the impression given by the hon. Gentleman, Government policies have been directed towards the maintenance of and an improvement in the way that lone parents are treated. On a less contentious point, I welcome his two cheers for 'the prospective White Paper. I shall draw his request for a statement to accompany the publication of the White Paper to the attention of my right hon. Friend 'the Secretary of State for Social Security.

May we have an early debate on the enormous difference in constituency work load carried by individual Members? Some Members—they include some Conservative Members—are struggling with constituency caseloads that are actually breaking their backs, while for other Members—they are mostly on the Conservative Benches—the only problem appears to be working out which garden fete to open on a Saturday. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman inform the House of any other occupation that would have such a disparity in work loads, but still allocate exactly the same resources to each individual?

The hon. Gentleman so often raises a point that deserves reasonable consideration but overloads it with tendentious and critical points that devalue his contribution to the discussion. A maximum figure is set for office costs, allowances and other matters, and various Members take up that allowance to differing degrees. The House will no doubt have another opportunity, in due course, to consider the matter more widely.

Can we have an early statement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the European Community's seventh directive on the shipbuilding intervention fund? I understand that the directive, which will come into force on 1 January 1981, contains a paragraph inserted by the European Commission to the effect that shipyard communities in what was the German Democratic Republic should be given additional financial aid. Although that aid should rightly and properly be given to those communities, there are shipbuilding communities on the Clyde, on Merseyside and elsewhere that require and demand the same sympathetic consideration by the European Community and the Government.

I cannot promise a statement on that point, despite its importance to the hon. Gentleman, but I shall bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

May I join others in urging the Leader of the House to organise an early debate on the textile and clothing industry? A textile lobby consisting of textile workers from Yorkshire and other parts of the country has this week warned all hon. Members of the danger of recession returning to the industry, which is being crucified by high interest rates and unfair trade.

As the negotiations are being conducted by the EEC, it is only right that the House should give its advice to the negotiators concerning the vital importance of ensuring that proper safeguards are retained for the textile and clothing industry. I urge the Leader of the House to give proper prominence to the industry, which is the fourth largest manufacturing industry in Britain, as well as the fifth largest employer and one of our major exporters. Surely we deserve more than a half-hour Adjournment debate at the fag end of the Session, which is what we got last July. We need a full debate to ensure that Ministers stoop oozing complacency about the problems of the industry and do something to safeguard it.

There is no question of complacency about the problems and opportunities facing the textile industry. The House and the Government are aware of its importance. The Government have made a substantial contribution to the formulation of Community policy on this matter. We are keeping a close eye on it in the management of the Uruguay round and we shall continue to do so. I shall see whether there is an opportunity, when the new Session begins, for a debate on the Floor of the House, although I can give no promise in that respect. The House should not underestimate the importance that the Government attach to the health and prosperity of the industry.

May we have an early debate on the Government's attitude to re-emerging trade unionism at GCHQ? The House needs to know whether the staff federation will be allowed to form links with other trade unions, whether the Government support the certification of the staff federation as an independent trade union and whether we are now witnessing the beginning of the end of the unjust, undemocratic and unjustifiable ban on trade unions at GCHQ.

It is probably not possible to say much that is new about the topic to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. There are no formal links between the General Communications Staff Federation and any other trade union. It was made clear to the GCSF from the outset, by the management of GCHQ, that affiliation to any outside bodies was not acceptable, and that remains the position.

In view of the recent terrible events in Northern Ireland, may the House have an opportunity to pay tribute to those brave people in Northern Ireland who stand up for peace? I am referring to people such as Nancy Gracy, who runs a group that opposes intimidation and terrorism, and to those who are associated with the peace train that will be running from Portadown to Dublin this weekend.

I cannot comment on the cases to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, but the whole House has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to, and support of, those who are trying to bring peace to Northern Ireland in place of trouble, and takes with the utmost seriousness tragic disasters of the kind that happened yesterday.

Can the Leader of the House assure us that there will be another full debate on the crisis in the Gulf and on the middle east before any decision is made by the Government to deploy troops against Iraq? Will he give us the opportunity to have a serious debate not only on the plight of hostages from Britain, France and other countries who are held in Iraq but on the plight of the Bangladeshi people in Jordan and in Turkey, where they are incarcerated in a camp? Will he also allow us a full discussion of the plight of the largest unrecognised nation in the region—the Kurdish people, who number 30 million and who have been abominably treated by Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria over the years?

It is important that we should recognise that peace in the region can come only when the rights of the Palestinian and Kurdish people, and the right to democracy in every country, are recognised. The deployment of troops will not solve the problem: it will merely delay its solution for much longer.

I do not mean to be frivolous, but the length of the hon. Gentleman's question almost amounts to a contribution to a debate on such a scale that we need not have the debate. There will he an opportunity during the debate on the Queen's Speech, when no doubt there will be a day devoted—in the ordinary way—to foreign affairs. I cannot make any promises beyond that. Of course, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will keep the House informed of developments, as he has done heretofore.

We cannot wait for the Queen's Speech. When persons sitting on green Benches take decisions that will send young men and women to a war of doubtful outcome in deserts, should not there be an urgent, specific parliamentary debate? Does the Leader of the House realise that those of us who attended the Adjournment debate at 2.30 in the morning—heaven knows why a debate on hostages takes half an hour at 2.30 while we spend three hours on Redbridge market; what sort of priority is that—were absolutely chilled by the Minister of State's statement?

Before there is any sneering, has the right hon. and learned Gentleman noticed that, among the most cautious are the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who have distinguished—

Order. It was very late at night, but we are not debating the matter again now. Could the hon. Member please ask a question?

Quite simply, unlike some hon. Members who have been rather casual about the military options, there are those of us who have been tank crew and worn the Queen's uniform. Are we to be dismissed? Are we not to have a parliamentary debate? It is a scandal.

The hon. Gentleman must judge the extent to which we attach importance to Parliament's role in this matter by the fact that we arranged, to general welcome, a special debate during the recess on this important topic and that there was a long period devoted to a statement by the Foreign Secretary yesterday, which started off with a reaffirmation by the shadow Foreign Secretary of the essential unity of the position of both major parties on this matter.

Would the Leader of the House reflect upon the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) and note that today there has been a further insult to Scottish hon. Members: the Secretary of State making a statement on the testing of primary school pupils in Scotland and not to the House, in respose to a written question put by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart)? I crave your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, and that of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), because he has a feel for matters historical.

Could you—and perhaps the Leader of the House—in your procession through the House note that one disparaged leader of the Labour party, Ramsay MacDonald has been put on a pedestal in a place of prominence, whereas the bust of a revered and honoured leader of the Labour party, James Keir Hardie, is skulking about under a display cabinet? Is there any political significance in that denigration of Keir Hardie?

I fancy that the question extends beyond my responsibility in answering business questions. I hesitate to throw in the additional fact that Ramsay MacDonald, unlke Keir Hardie, for a time had the advantage of representing my home constituency of Aberavon and that may be the reason.

Could my right ho.. and learned Friend arrange for a statement at the earliest possible time next week on the all-day closure of the M1 last Tuesday due to a spillage of dangerous chemicals? The spillage seemed to display the inadequacy of the response by the authorities in providing for vehicles coming onto and getting off the motorway. The whole M1 was brought to a halt because they were ill prepared and there was no way for the public to know that the road was totally closed. It caused delays of seven, eight and nine hours to people who had no advance notice that they were going to be stuck on the motorway. No provision was made for them to exit at an earlier stage. I should be grateful if my right hon. and learned Friend could arrange for such a statement next week on that matter and on the implications of potentially dangerous chemical transport in this country.

If the matter is indeed on the scale suggested by my hon. Friend it certainly deserves to be brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I cannot promise a debate about it, but I can certainly bring the topic to his attention.

Bills Presented

Compensation For Medical Injury

Ms. Harriet Harman presented a Bill to provide that persons injured as a result of mishap during treatment by the National Health Service may be awarded compensation without having to prove negligence on the part of the National Health Service; to define eligibility for compensation; to establish a Medical Injury Compensation Board and to make other provision for the assessment of eligibility and payment of compensation; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. [Bill 208.]

Licensing Reform

Mr. Anthony Coombs, supported by Mr. Denis Howell, Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark, Mr. Robin Corbett, Mr. Roger King, Mr. David Gilroy Bevan, Mr. John Bowis and Mr. Simon Burns, presented a Bill to amend the Licensing Act 1964 to make new provision with respect to licensing justices and to the grounds upon which applications for liquor licences may be refused; to require a statement of reasons for any refusal; to set a time limit on the consideration of applications; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. [Bill 206.]

Broadcasting Bill

Ways And Means (No 2)


That for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Broadcasting Bill ("the Act"), it is expedient to authorise the inclusion of—
(1) provisions by virtue of which holders of licences granted under the Act for the provision of Channel 3 or Channel 5 services may be required to make payments to the Independent Television Commission as contributions towards the expenses of the body nominated under the Act in connection with the maintenance of a national television archive;
(2) provisions under which financial penalties imposed on bodies holding licences granted under the Act may be recovered from persons controlling such bodies, and provision for sums so recovered to be paid into the Consolidated Fund.—[Mr. Chapman.]