Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 178: debated on Friday 12 October 1990

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Thursday 25 October 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Redbridge London Borough Council Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [24 October],

That this House doth agree with Lords in their Amendment, to leave out Clause 6.

Debate further adjourned till Tuesday 30 October.

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 8 November.

As the four private Bills set down for Second Reading have blocking motions, I propose to deal with them as a single group.

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

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 8 November.

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

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

That the Bill he now read a Second time.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 8 November.

Southampton Rapid Transit Bill Lords (By Order)

Killingholme Generating Stations (Ancillary Powers Bill Lords (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 8 November.

Oral Answers To Questions

National Finance

Manufacturing Output

1.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the prospects for manufacturing output in 1990.

I shall be publishing a forecast of manufacturing output in 1990 with the autumn statement.

Will the Chancellor confirm that, according to his officials, the manufacturing side of the British economy is now in recession? Will the right hon. Gentleman also give up his previous habit of trying to alter the definitions of expressions such as "recession", renaming it "technical recession", which we understand is the current ministerial sales line, just as he has done with "inflation", renaming that "headline inflation", with "convergence of inflation" in the Madrid conditions becoming "divergence of disinflation"? Does he accept that what industry now wants from the Government is some leadership out of recession so that just entering the exchange rate mechanism is not seen as the answer, because on its own that can be no more than putting on a gas mask full of carbon monoxide?

I have rarely heard such a short point put at such length. I can certainly confirm that output is slowing and has been slowing over the past two or three months, as I have repeatedly said. Whether it is within the normal definition of "recession"—which is, of course, why my officials and subsequently I use that term—is a matter that we shall soon see. It is not entirely clear yet. It is conceivable that it is, but we must wait and see.

Will my right hon. Friend remind the macho champions of manufacturing interests on the Opposition Benches—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—that in the past decade, manufacturing output in Britain rose faster than in any other EEC country, according to OECD figures, and that during the period of the previous Labour Government, manufacturing output fell?

I can certainly confirm those OECD figures. I can also confirm that manufacturing investment has grown on an annual basis over the past decade, whereas that also fell during the period of the previous Labour Government.

Has the Chancellor noted the bleak report produced by the British chambers of commerce earlier this week? Recognising that the task of manufacturing industry will not be any easier in the early days of the ERM, will the right hon. Gentleman help it by seeing that we get more investment in skills and skill training and in transport for access to markets so that it can have some hope of increasing competitiveness?

I read that survey with some interest. It has, of course, been only a recent survey and has not yet passed through a complete economic cycle. There are signs that some of the observations in that survey were a little overdone, but we must wait and see what happens in the next few months. It is certainly consistent with the slowing down in the economy that we are seeing. That is a necessary part of the cycle. It has been predicted, it is expected and it is here, and the sooner we have it, the sooner we shall be through it and back to low inflation and growth again.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that wage restraint is needed from the very top of industry, but that it is failing to give the right lead? If industry is to become profitable, it is no good having 6 per cent. wage increases in the German car industry while Rover and other workers are getting 13 per cent. That is the way to ruin and to losing jobs, not the way to prosperity.

I agree with my hon. Friend. He will recall that it was about a year ago, possibly in answer to one of his questions, that I first made the observation about pay affecting people at the top of industry as well as on the shop floor. That was true when we had that exchange a year ago, and it remains true today.

Mortgage Repayments

2.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the present number of people six to 12 months in arrears on their mortgage repayments.

Figures published by the Council of Mortgage Lenders show that at end June 1990 there were 76,280 mortgage loans six to 12 months in arrears.

Is the Minister aware that in the past six months more than 400,000 people were two to three months in arrears and well over 14,000 had their homes repossessed? Does he think that his 1 per cent. cut in interest rates will make much of a dent in those figures?

I am sure that any cut in interest rates will help people who, for that reason, are in trouble with their mortgages. While all of us feel a great deal of sympathy for people in difficulty with their mortgage payments, the problem should be kept in perspective. The level of repossessions in the year to 30 June was less than one third of 1 per cent. of all mortgages, and we should keep the problem in perspective.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the great tributes to the Government's economic performance has been that mortgages have been readily available to people at prices that they can afford, which has encouraged the responsibility of home ownership? Will he do what he can to use his good offices to encourage the building societies to help fund the excellent debt advice services currently run by the Advice Services Alliance?

I shall take up my hon. Friend's second point first. As he probably knows, the Government already give a grant of £11 million to citizens advice bureaux. On his first point, it is worth recalling, when considering the figures, that during the past 11 years there have been 3·5 million additional home owners—more than ever before, and 3 million of whom have mortgages—and 900,000 additional mortgages have been taken out in the past two and a half years.

Is the Minister aware of the number of people who, because they could not find rented accommodation, decided to buy a house, and were actively encouraged to do so by the Government and building societies, but who now find themselves—certainly in the west midlands and my district—in tremendous difficulties? A number of my constituents face the repossession of their homes, with the local authorities not always being able to help. Is the Minister further aware that those and millions of other people who are just able to cope with paying their mortgages do not have the benefit of the tax havens mentioned inThe Sunday Times last Sunday? When will that loophole be closed? Why is it that time and again the rich are rewarded with the advantages of loopholes that other people cannot use?

If the hon. Gentleman is so worried about the unavailability of rented accommodation, perhaps he should not have had such a doctrinaire opposition to the various rent Acts and supported us when we tried to free that sector of the housing market. As for people having difficulties with their mortgages, as I said, that is certainly true and all hon. Members have a great deal of sympathy with such people. However, most arrears are sorted out and few short-term arrears turn into long-term arrears. The figures for repossession show that the total number of repossessions in the past 12 months has been 21,780, and in 1987 it was more, at 22,930. During the intervening period there have been nearly 1 million more mortgages. Perhaps the figures do not bear out what the hon. Gentleman said.

Will my hon. Friend consider what the position would have been if interest rates had not gone up last year, when house prices were going up at a rate of 20 or 30 per cent., particularly in the south-east and south-west, and the first-time buyer was being completely taken out of the market? Has he noticed that during the past year, house prices, particularly for the first-time buyer, have gone down by 10 per cent. in those districts?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. There was no way that house prices could continue to rise at the 20 per cent. a year at which they were rising, which was damaging for potential home owners. Some adjustment was long overdue.

Child Poverty

3.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he last met representatives of the Child Poverty Action Group to discuss the effects of the Government's policies on child poverty.

9.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he last met representatives of the Child Poverty Action Group to discuss the effects of the Government's policies on child poverty.

I have not myself recently met representatives of the CPAG, although I am aware of their representations to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary.

Will the Chancellor consider that between 1979 and 1987, 1·5 million more children were living in families on half the average income; and that from 1987 child benefit was frozen, so its value in real terms this year had fallen by £1·35? Has he got his priorities right, taking into account the fact that people earning £70,000 a year have had tax cuts 200 times greater than families living on £5,000 a year?

There are two points in the hon. Gentleman's remarks to which I want to refer. It is relevant that the total amount of money now available for child benefit has risen from something under £2 billion 10 years ago to something over £4½ billion this year—a substantial amount.

Of course, the missing element in the hon. Gentleman's equation about average income is important: the extent to which average incomes generally have risen dramatically and to which the impact of direct taxation has fallen correspondingly. On the greater level—this is what lies behind the hon. Gentleman's question about family benefits in total—expenditure has risen from well under £2 billion when we took office to well over £5 billion today.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is no longer acceptable to take tax from people who earn less than a third of the national average wage to give child benefit to the richest people in the country? How much money would be saved if only those earning under £20,000 a year received child benefit?

I cannot immediately give my hon. Friend an answer. It would certainly be a substantial amount, but child benefit is recognised as a universal benefit paid to the mother, and we have no intention of changing that arrangement.

Will the Chancellor explain how it is that a Government who purport to put the family at the heart of their policies have presided over an increase by more than a half of families living on or below the poverty line, who now number 6·2 million? How does that square with the party of the family? How does he explain a situation in which targeting the first-born is seen as some sort of a substitute for coherent family policy? There may be an historical precedent for that, but it did not do Pharaoh any good and it will not do the Prime Minister any either.

We return to the definitional point with which we commenced Question Time. What the hon. Gentleman refers to as the poverty line is the level at which social security benefits start. Because we have extended them much more dramatically than the previous Government, more people automatically fall within the statistics.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that under the Conservatives payments to the family have risen by more than a quarter while under the previous Labour Government they fell by 8 per cent?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, except that the figures are, I think, a little more favourable to the present Government than she said.

Taxation

5.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what proportion of gross earnings a married couple with one earner on average earnings, with two children, paid in tax, treating child benefit as negative income tax, in 1978–79 and in 1989–90.

A one-earner couple, with two children, on average male earnings saw the proportion of gross earnings paid in income tax fall from 14·4 per cent. in 1978–79 to 12·3 per cent. in 1989–90.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but it would be good if he answered the question on the Order Paper. Does he agree that the information given by the Library shows clearly that in 1979 the tax referred to in the question that the Minister has not answered was 35·2 per cent. and is now 36·6 per cent. and that that represents for the average family an increase in taxation of £300 a year? Does not that underline what many are saying—that the Government are the Government of high taxation?

I answered the hon. Gentleman's question. He may have asked the wrong question but I gave the right answer. The level of taxation for average households has fallen considerably. A further fact, of which he may not be aware but which is worth sharing with him, is that real net income for the average household has risen by 34 per cent.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, despite massive reductions in income tax rates, we have seen over the past decade a massive increase in income tax yields? The top 10 per cent. of taxpayers now contribute nearly 30 per cent. of the yield as opposed to 24 per cent. when we came to power. That demonstrates that tax reductions help the country to find the money to spend on social services.

My hon. Friend makes the point well. Very high tax rates provide no benefit at all for the country. They do not result in extra tax yields but drive successful people who are on high incomes overseas to be taxed elsewhere. That is of no benefit to anyone. The only other thing that they do is to appease socialist spite and envy.

The Minister must know that one person's tax dodge is another's tax burden. Is not it time that tax dodges by a wealthy minority, such as those publicised inThe Sunday Times last Sunday, were brought to an end? That question was put to the Economic Secretary and, significantly, was not answered. Why do the Government permit the easy avoidance of tax by a wealthy few using offshore trusts while ordinary families have to pay every single penny that is imposed on them?

The short point is that, above all, what creates tax avoidance and made the tax avoidance industry in the 1970s one of the most successful industries in the country is a high level of taxation and complicated tax laws. Of course, there may be a problem here and we are looking closely at it. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that the right way to deal with such complicated international matters is to leap to instant conclusions, I am afraid that we part company with him.

Is it the case that four out of five families with children of school age are direct tax payers? If that is so, will my hon. Friend tell the House how their family lot could possibly be improved by the high taxation policies of the Labour party?

When a party proposes reckless increases in spending, as the Labour party has, the only ways in which that can he paid for is either by increasing taxation, which would hit precisely the families to which my hon. Friend refers, or by borrowing. We all know the disastrous effects that that had in the 1970s.

6.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what proportion of non-oil gross domestic product he forecasts taxes and national insurance contributions will represent in 1990–91.

My right hon. Friend will publish a forecast of tax receipts in the autumn statement.

In view of the fact that last year, in 1989–90, the proportion of non-oil GDP taken in taxes and national insurance contributions was 36·75 per cent., which compares with 34 per cent. in 1978–79, whatever the Government say by huffing and puffing at the polls, will the Minister now admit that the Conservative party is the party of high taxation?

That is an odd contention in view of the much lower levels of taxation that now prevail. The Government fund their spending honestly by taxation and not by borrowing. When the previous Labour Government left office they had a PSBR of no less than 5 per cent. of gross domestic product. We have chosen to reverse that and to raise honestly the money that the Government spend, by taxation. If Labour's tax regime had remained in force in the way that it was in 1979, the tax burden would now have increased by £12 billion a year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Opposition's promises on benefits and public spending mean that the proportion of taxation taken by any Labour Government would be vastly increased, to the detriment of ordinary taxpayers as well as the rich?

That would be the inevitable consequence. Such reckless promises—of which the Labour Front Bench cannot even keep count—would have to be funded either by higher levels of taxation on everybody or by borrowing, which would be disastrous.

The Financial Secretary is wrong if he believes that Labour is the party of low taxation—[Laughter.] Will he confirm that the percentage of GDP taken in taxation has been much higher during this Conservative Government's years in office compared with the halcyon days when Labour was in office—[Laughter.] Oh yes, the figures are there to prove that, and the Financial Secretary does the House no good by trying to deny them. When will he tighten up the offshore tax concessions that have proliferated during the past 10 years? When will he bring down taxation for the British people to what it was in the 1970s?

It is good fun to be lectured by a member of the Labour Front Bench for being a party of high taxation, compared with the Labour party's wonderful history of low taxation—although under Labour taxation levels rose to 83 per cent. and 98 per cent. in the pound. If that is low taxation, thank heavens Labour never went in for high taxation.

Government Expenditure

7.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is his latest forecast for the share of gross domestic product to be taken by central Government expenditure.

The forecast for the unadjusted ratio of general Government expenditure, excluding privatisation proceeds, to gross domestic product published in the "Financial Statement and Budget Report" is 39¾ per cent. The central Government component of that was 29¼ per cent. of gross domestic product.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a substantial proportion of the gross domestic product taken by central Government is spent by local authorities, and that that spending has recently risen dramatically? Will he further confirm that it is an outrageous and unacceptable burden on ordinary people, which must not be allowed to continue?

My hon. Friend is right. Local authorities in England this year increased their current spending by 13¼ per cent. That is quite unjustified. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has made it clear that the Government intend to make vigorous use of their community charge capping powers if that continues.

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have introduced a new local authority capital finance regime, which we believe will help to deal with the problem of overspending on capital. My hon. Friend was right to say that it is a serious problem.

To meet that expenditure, what percentage of revenue does the Minister expect to come from oil revenues? As there has been a dramatic rise in the price per barrel—it is touching $40—can we expect an increase in revenue that might, perhaps, touch £5 billion?

The hon. Gentleman takes a special interest in energy matters, so he will be aware that the revenue from North sea oil is a small proportion of total tax revenue. I speak from memory, but I think that it is about 2 or 3 per cent. The level of oil revenue would be affected if there were to be a sharp rise in the oil price, but it would not have a significant effect on total tax revenue.

Inflation

8.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the current level of inflation.

As there is a clear need for pay restraint, does my right hon. Friend agree that those chairmen and chief executives of major companies who received highly publicised and spectacular pay rises last year—which, by and large, were supported because they were linked to increased profits—must equally accept reductions in their salaries this year, which should be equally spectacular if their profits are suitably reduced?

As I said earlier, if there is a need for wage restraint throughout industry to ensure greater competitiveness, it must apply at the top as well as at the bottom. I am happy to reiterate that.

Does the Chancellor realise that we are now two years into the counter-inflationary strategy of relying on high interest rates? Does he realise that, by increasing the retail prices index—which is what high interest rates have done, through mortgage interest rates, quite apart from the other factors—the Government are now relying on exhortation, and that exhortation will not be enough as the RPI rises?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a better case against the way in which we measure prices than against the policy that will bring inflation down.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most sensitive guides to the direction that inflation is taking is not the latest RPI figure but the movement of monetary aggregates? Will he confirm that there has been a steady decline in monetary aggregates over the past six months—particularly in MO but also in M4? Does he agree that that is a good sign that he has got inflation under control and that the Government's policies are working at last?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend's view. The reduction in MO has occurred over the past six months or so and the reduction in broad money has continued throughout this year in each and every month since January.

Like his predecessor, the Chancellor is constantly explaining to us that he is trying to bring down the rate of inflation. Why does he talk as though it was an act of God that caused inflation? Why does not he admit that the Government did it? Why is it that, with the bonus of North sea oil, which no other country in Europe has enjoyed, our inflation rate is higher than those of our European counterparts—in some cases twice as high?

At no stage have I placed the blame where the hon. Gentleman suggests I have. The problem that created inflation was excessive demand, as I have repeatedly stated. That is accepted by commentators and it is broadly accepted by hon. Members on both sides of the House. As a result of monetary policy, demand is falling away, and inflation will come down as well.

Investment

10.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he last met the Governor of the Bank of England to discuss levels of investment.

My right hon. Friend meets the Governor regularly and discusses a range of issues.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm not only that investment in this country has risen by 40 per cent. in the past three years but that in the past 10, investment in the United Kingdom has risen faster than in any other industrialised country except for Japan? Will he also confirm that, on current trends, investment in the United Kingdom economy in 1990 will be no less than 40 per cent. greater. in real terms, than it was in the so-called halcyon days of the previous Labour Government?

My hon. Friend is right. Business investment in the past three years has risen by 44 per cent., and in the 1980s, it rose faster than in any other G7 country except Japan.

When the Minister meets the Governor of the Bank of England, will he be reinforcing the view of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that there is a deal-making culture in the City that hurts industry and investment?

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

When my hon. Friend meets the Governor of the Bank of England, will he discuss with him the fact that the greater proportion of foreign investment coming into the EEC comes to Britain, as opposed to the continental countries?

My hon. Friend is right. Under this Government and over the past 10 years, Britain has proved an extremely attractive place for foreign investment.

Unemployment

11.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is his assessment of the effect of high interest rates on the level of unemployment.

14.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is his assessment of the effect of low output growth in 1990 on the level of unemployment.

A period of high interest rates and slow output growth is necessary to defeat inflation. The precise effect of this on unemployment depends crucially on whether wages growth slows as well.

Is the Minister aware that the principal reason for the present large number of bankruptcies is high interest rates? What words of comfort can he give to firms teetering on the brink of collapse?

As my right hon. Friend has repeatedly made clear, a slowdown is necessary so that we can get on top of inflation, and continuing high inflation would do immense damage to all companies, and it is essential for their prospects that we get inflation down.

Mr. Harry Cohen. Is he here? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] The hon. Gentleman may not have heard the whole answer, but he may ask his supplementary question.

Does the Minister believe that the rise in unemployment—by 36,000, in the south-east alone—is a sign of a successful economic policy? Will not unemployment increase enormously in the next two years as a result of the Government's policy of slowing down growth and output because they had overheated the economy in the first place?[Interruption.]

I was going to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his quick thinking, but he has merely repeated what he has said many times before. It is noticeable that this is the first time for many months that Opposition Members have mentioned unemployment. They never mentioned it when we had 36 months of a continuing fall in unemployment. They never acknowledge that we still have unemployment which is below the European Community average, that we have a good rate of growth in jobs and that our record compares well with those of other countries and with that of the Labour party.

Is not it as true now as it was under the previous Labour Administration that one man's pay increase is another man's price increase, that unearned pay increases are a major contributing factor to inflation, and that that is the real cause of unemployment?

It is certainly true that excessive wage claims have a considerable bearing on unemployment. They can cause unemployment, and the unions must judge that. I think that they have to stand by the results of their decisions. They are not my words, but those of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith).

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our successful trade figures for several months now give the lie to the fact that we have poor upward growth and demonstrate that successful British companies are doing well? Is not that reinforced by the fact that Norton is taking over a West German company, and does not it show that British industry should not be written off, as it is by the Opposition?

In recent months exports have been growing faster than imports, and last month's trade figures were the best for three years. The slowdown in the economy is having a beneficial effect on the current pound, as well as being designed to bring about a reduction in the rate of inflation.

Inflation

12.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many countries in the European Economic Community currently have a higher inflation rate than the United Kingdom.

Does the Minister accept that the so-called Madrid conditions are a sham, especially in view of the Government's failure to get the rate of inflation down before entry into the exchange rate mechanism, and that the Madrid conditions were all abandoned in time for the Tory party conference? Is not it true that Britain has one of the highest rates of inflation in Europe because the Government are totally inept at running the economy? Without sound policies on investment and training, entry into the ERM alone will not undo the damage caused by the Government.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have made it perfectly clear that the Madrid conditions have been fulfilled—[Laughter.]

I am going to Madrid the weekend after next, but I am happy to say that unless the Madrid conditions have been framed and put in the Prado I shall not be paying them any attention on that visit.

Does my hon. Friend agree that high interest rates are highly inflationary, that they are particularly damaging to investment and that they are very damaging to manufacturing industry, which in my view is the sole non-inflationary creation of a sound economy? What does my hon. Friend intend to do to help manufacturing industry, which is so important?

We have a battle on our hands against inflation. Raising interest rates is an essential ingredient of that battle. The way that this country calculates the retail prices index considerably distorts the figure. The underlying rate of inflation in the United Kingdom is 8·3 per cent. which has to be compared with the European average of 5·4 per cent. If we look at the average over the past seven years, we find that inflation in the EEC was 5·1 per cent. and that in the United Kingdom it was 5·9 per cent. The difference, therefore, is not all that great.

Does the Minister recall that recently the Chancellor of the Exchequer told Brian Walden that he wished the Government to be judged on their record? Since the Government's record shows that they invented the tax and price index and then abandoned it, returned to the retail prices index and abandoned that, too, and adopted the underlying rate of inflation and then redefined it, is there any significance in the Government ceasing to refer to the underlying rate of inflation, or is there no significance in anything that they say?

Whatever problems we may have with inflation, there is nothing that we can learn from the Labour party—[Interruption.] The Opposition do not like this bit. When they were in office the average rate of inflation was 15·4 per cent. and the lowest was 7·9 per cent. The average rate of inflation under this Government has been 7·9 per cent. Our average, therefore, is the same as their lowest. Over the past six years, the underlying rate of inflation in Britain was 4·9 per cent. The lowest rate of inflation under Labour was 7·9 per cent., so there is nothing that we can learn from the Opposition.

What would be the effect on inflation of the 182 promises made by the Labour party in "Meet the Challenge: Make the Change"?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The answer is that inflation would increase dramatically. During the past few years the Opposition have constantly told us to cut interest rates when that was inappropriate and to raise public expenditure. In the not-so-recent past they urged us to run a substantial public sector borrowing requirement. Had we taken any of those measures, inflation would be far worse than it is today.

Interest Rates

13.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he next expects to meet representatives from the Building Societies Association to discuss the current level of interest rates.

My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary met the Building Societies Association yesterday to discuss a number of issues.

Will the Minister confirm that he will have to reduce the mortgage interest rate by another 1 per cent. if the large number of people whose mortgages are assessed annually are to have any serious relief? Will he also confirm that unless there is expenditure on research, development and the infrastructure, any benefits that might be created by a reduction in interest rates will he lost? Does the Minister acknowledge that it is the result of his Government's ineptitude that home owners have to bear these massive mortgage increases?

On the first point, it is for the lenders to decide when and how to reduce mortgage interest rates for borrowers. As for any further reductions in interest rates—[Interruption.]

I am not used to this degree of acclamation, but I think that I could get used to it. As for future cuts in interest rates, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, there will be no further cuts until it is safe to do so.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is noticeable that most of today's questions, such as this one, from the Opposition relate either to inflation or to interest rates but never to both? Will my hon. Friend confirm that whether one is inside or outside the exchange rate mechanism there is no soft option for curbing inflation and that it is dishonest of the Opposition to try to pretend that there is?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. If we want to cure inflation, there is no alternative to keeping interest rates as high as are needed, getting demand down and keeping a downward pressure on demand. In that way we will secure the reduction in inflation that is essential if we are to return to the periods of sustained growth that we saw during the 1980s. We are confident that the Government's tough policy of maintaining interest rates uncomfortably high is working and will show its reward next year in a substantial fall in inflation.

Investment

15.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what are the latest OECD forecasts for investment growth in the United Kingdom and Germany in 1990.

16.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what are the latest OECD forecasts for investment growth in the United Kingdom and Germany in 1990.

Over the past five years, total United Kingdom investment has increased by 40 per cent. double the rate seen in Germany. The OECD's latest forecast for fixed investment in 1990 was for a fall of 0·5 per cent. in the United Kingdom and a rise of 6·8 per cent. in Germany.

Does the Minister agree that it is a disgrace that we are bottom of the league in terms of manufacturing investment and that we are seeing a fall of 1 per cent. while other European countries, such as socialist France, are seeing an increase of 6·5 per cent. in manufacturing investment? What does he intend to do about that?

The hon. Gentleman obviously did not listen to my reply, which showed that our investment record compares well with those of other countries in Europe. Britain has enjoyed an investment boom. Our investment record compares extremely well with that of Germany. That is the point that the hon. Gentleman raised in his question. but he failed to take in the answer.

The Minister knows that our investment in manufacturing fell by 6 per cent. between the first and second quarters. Is he going to ensure that manufacturing investment and investment on the supply side are a central part of the strategy of ensuring that our economy and inflation improve over the next few years? Areas such as mine need more manufacturing investment. What is he going to do to support them?

Any slowdown in investment that is likely to happen as a result of the general slowdown in the economy happens from a high base. As I have explained to the House, we have enjoyed strong growth in investment—far stronger than many of our European competitors.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 October.

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

While welcoming the release of a number of hostages from Iraq earlier this week, may I ask my right hon. Friend to make it clear that the Government's and the world's determination to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait remains undiminished?

I gladly respond to my hon. Friend. Of course, we are glad to see more hostages home. We are glad for them and their families. Their return brings to 900 the total number of British nationals who have come back from Iraq and Kuwait so far. We are particularly concerned about those who are left—some 1,400—who have been taken totally contrary to international law. They and their families are suffering and for that we should totally and utterly condemn Saddam Hussein. We stand unequivocally by the United Nations decision that the whole of the territory should be restored to Kuwait, Saddam Hussein must withdraw, the legitimate Government must be restored, the hostages should be released and compensation should be paid to the people of Kuwait for the terrible damage done to their territory.

Will the Prime Minister join me in offering unreserved praise for the humanitarian efforts of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), especially when there are common objectives on both sides of the House and the right hon. Gentleman has undertaken his successful efforts without giving any comfort to Saddam Hussein but giving unending comfort to sick people and their loved ones?

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had already heard me do that. We welcome the return of the hostages whose release was secured by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath): their release brings the total number of those who have returned from Baghdad and Kuwait to some 900. We very much regret that more than 1,400 people are still there, as I am sure my right hon. Friend does, too.

Popular attitudes and aspirations change. Wise political leaders like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister respond to those changes. In the 1970s, she encapsulated them; in the 1980s, she gave effect to them. What is her assessment, her perception, of the aspirations and attitudes of the British people for the 1990s? [Interruption.]

Order. It may take a little time, but let us hear the Prime Minister's reply.

To continue to rise to the responsibilities of defending freedom staunchly, as we have always done in the past; to carry on with the pound sterling, and maintain the current Parliament's powers with regard to the economy and monetary policy; and to continue with policies that have resulted in the creation of more jobs, more wealth and a higher standard than ever before—policies that enabled us yesterday to announce the distribution of a further £5 billion to families with young children and old people.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 October.

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

What action does the Prime Minister propose to halt the destruction of our countryside—especially in areas of outstanding beauty such as the Vale of Glamorgan, where developers propose to build no fewer than six golf courses, four large hotels, three new town settlements and a racing track? This madness must stop.

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, that is a matter for the local planning authorities. As he is also aware, we must try to find a balance between the beauties of the countryside and the importance of providing jobs for the people.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right to give every encouragement to the strengthening of the rural economy, so that we can maintain the social stability and the fabric of the countryside as we all know it? In that context, does she also agree that farmers—as the managers of the countryside—have a specific responsibility, and that they will be unable to undertake that responsibility if real reductions in their income result? I am thinking particularly of hill farmers, and those in the beef and sheep sectors.

I agree with my hon. Friend that the preservation of both the rural countryside and the rural economy is vital. Much of the landscape that we seek to conserve, however, was created by farmers in the first place. There is nothing contradictory about wanting both to conserve the environment and to look after farmers.

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is particularly important to look after the fortunes of hill farmers, and we have tried to do that. We pay hill livestock compensatory allowances of more than £125 million a year, and our total support for the sheep and beef sectors is running at about £750 million to £800 million this year, compared with about £450 million last year. We are trying to make up for the very difficult time that many farmers have had this year.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 October.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that the £5 per week increase in income support payments to care home residents announced yesterday will do nothing to stem the tide of closures and evictions that are affecting vast numbers of elderly and handicapped people? Is the right hon. Lady further aware that the safety net once provided by local council homes is no longer available to many of those people because they, too, have been closed as a consequence of Government policy? Has not the Government's exercise in free market community care been a disaster for vast numbers of elderly and disabled people, who are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society?

Yesterday's announcement represents a £5 billion increase in all, which is a fantastic amount—made possible by the Government's successful economic policies. As to residential care, the Government are spending, through the taxpayer, £100 for every £1 spent under Labour.

Q5.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 October.

In acknowledging, rightly, that only three out of 10 absent fathers pay maintenance, does my right hon. Friend think it disgraceful that seven out of 10 absent parents, usually fathers, make no contribution to their children's welfare, and in so doing impose an intolerable financial burden on the state and cause untold misery for their neglected families? Although I welcome the forthcoming White Paper designed to overcome that problem, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the pressure groups that ask for legislation do not cause those proposals to be watered down?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Fathers may sometimes walk out on their families, but they must not be allowed to walk out on their financial responsibilities. If they do, conscientious families have to meet not only the cost of looking after their own children but of caring for the children of those who have walked out on their responsibilities. We shall not water down the White Paper. The people in question must make some proper payment towards the cost of caring for the children whom they left behind.

Does the Prime Minister intend to meet today the farmers from all over the United Kingdom who have come to London to lobby? That demonstration began in Llanrwst in my constituency. The right hon. Lady has already answered a question on agricultural policy, but does she understand that as long as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Government policy support a 30 per cent. reduction in farm support in the GATT talks, that will undermine any Government proposals for saving agriculture in the hills?

I have already indicated some of the help given to hill farmers. We acknowledge that it is vital that they should stay farming in the hills. In addition to the support that I earlier described, we recently announced a higher rate of suckler cow premium for hill producers. Next year, we shall pay a special supplement to hill sheep farmers. The 30 per cent. reduction in subsidy in the Uruguay round is effective from 1986, so it takes into account much that has already been done. I believe that the hon. Gentleman would agree that where heavy subsidies are given to small. inefficient farms on the continent, that undermines the opportunities for our larger family farmers to be efficient and to secure a larger market. It is important that they should have a better chance of being very efficient, so that they may enjoy a bigger share of the food market.

Q6.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 October.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to study the Audit Commission report on day surgeries? She will note that it clearly demonstrates disparities in efficiency between authorities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that organisations spending billions of pounds of public money have a duty not only to determine best practice but to implement it?

Yes, Sir. The Audit Commission has done an extremely good job on the education and health services. The report that came out today is particularly interesting. It shows that different district health authorities vary very much in the efficiency with which they use their resources, particularly with regard to day surgery. It points out that if all health authorities brought their day surgery up to the level of the best 25 per cent., 186,000 more patients could be treated at no extra cost. That would help enormously to reduce waiting lists. It would not require any more money, just better use of the money that they already have. Indeed, we have already given a great deal more money to the health service. In the past three years, it has gone up from £24 billion to £26 billion to £29 billion—far better than the Labour party achieved during its time in government.

Q7.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 October.

As the Prime Minister has said that there are incontestable signs that the economy is working in the way in which the Government intended it to, does she gain any satisfaction from the comprehensive report published this week by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce which shows that industries everywhere, including the west midlands, are already in severe recession?

Where we had inflation in the economy—where the extra money supply was going not into extra growth but into extra prices—it was vital that we squeezed it out. The report from the Association of British Chambers of Commerce shows that we were entirely justified in reducing the interest rate from 15 per cent. to 14 per cent. at the precise time when we did, and I should have thought that Opposition Members would have had the integrity to admit it.

Will my right hon. Friend turn her attention to the plight of British agriculture and agree that, basically, it is the fault of the monstrous common agricultural policy, which was devised and is administered by the Commission in Brussels? Is not it time to point out to Mr. Delors that his proposal earlier this week that the unelected Commission will take over all tax, environmental and employment law will be totally rejected by her Government?

My hon. Friend knows that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food battles nobly for British farmers. We object to discrimination in favour of small farmers on the continent, for many of whom farming is not their livelihood, and against British farmers, who have family farms much bigger than those on the continent and a high standard of efficiency. Those with a high standard of efficiency should have a bigger share of the market for food, and therefore should get bigger and better incomes.

Business Of The House

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.

Mr. Dick Douglas
(Dunfermline, West)