HC Deb 13 June 1991 vol 192 cc1041-53 3.31 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

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 (Mr. John MacGregor)

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 17 JUNE—Committee and remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill.

Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order.

TUESDAY 18 JUNE—Opposition Day (14th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The Priorities of the Water Industry".

Motion on the Education (School Teachers' Pay and Conditions) Order.

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

WEDNESDAY 19 JUNE—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Planning and Compensation Bill [Lords]. THURSDAY 20 JUNE—Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill.

Motion on the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order.

FRIDAY 21 JUNE—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 24 JUNE—Opposition Day (15th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats described as "The damaging consequences caused to British interests as a result of Government policy in relation to European monetary union and a single currency".

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Bill [Lords]. The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

Dr. Cunningham

The Leader of the House made some delphic comments in the debate on the timetable motion on Monday about the Government's decision on the summer recess. Is it possible for the Leader of the House to be more specific about when the House might rise for the summer? I am sure that it would be a great comfort to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister if that happened sooner rather than later, as well as being a great convenience to many hon. Members, especially those from Scotland where the school holidays come earlier than in England and Wales.

Today again we have, regrettably, seen a record-breaking rise in unemployment, the worst May rise in unemployment since records have been kept. May we have an assurance that soon, preferably before the summer recess, we shall have a debate in Government time on the Government's disastrous unemployment record?

May we be assured by the Leader of the House—if not by the Prime Minister, who, not surprisingly, ducked the question since he used the memorable phrase, "If it isn't hurting, it isn't working."—that the Government dissociate themselves from the remark of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this is a price well worth paying? For people losing their jobs, is not the only price worth paying when the Government lose their jobs and are thrown out of office?

Last week, the Leader of the House promised us an early debate on developments in the European Community and he assured us that that would take place before the imminent European Community summit in Luxembourg. It is a disappointment that that debate will not take place next week. May we have a guarantee today that we will have a debate on those important issues the week after next? May we have an assurance that we will not have to wait for the Prime Minister to re-establish diplomatic relations with the Bruges group, since clearly that is going to take a very long time? Also, may we be assured that, when that debate takes place, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will speak from the Government Front Bench and that we will be able to debate a motion that covers all aspects of developments in European Community affairs?

Mr. MacGregor

On the first question, I should like to be more specific because I appreciate that hon. Members on both sides of the House and from all parts of the United Kingdom would find it helpful to have an early indication of when the House will rise for the summer recess. However, I am afraid that it is not possible to give a specific date at the moment. We have a heavy programme of work to do—we are undertaking a very heavy programme indeed—and the date of rising will be dependent upon our progress. I try to be as helpful as possible, and I will say that I hope that it will not be necessary to sit beyond the week ending 26 July; but I cannot give any undertaking that that will be so.

On the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on unemployment, he will know that that matter can be raised in the debate later today and that there are many occasions on which it can be raised. He will also know that there has been an increase in employment since 1983, and that unemployment is 21 per cent. lower than it was at the time of the last general election. If he is concerned about levels of unemployment and the unemployed, I hope that he will consider dissociating himself from Labour policies, especially that of a national minimum wage, which would undoubtedly greatly increase unemployment. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I shall be happy to explain when I have the opportunity to do so in a debate and that is certainly something that we shall continue to do, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment did earlier this week during Employment questions.

I entirely understand the hon. Member for Copeland's argument about a debate on Europe, and I assure him that I hope that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will be able to open that debate, on the basis that he described —a wide-ranging debate on developments in the European Community. That is part of the point about exact timing, because I am anxious that my right hon. Friend should be able to open the debate. I can confirm that it is the intention to have the debate in the week after next, if that is at all possible. I said that we would wish to have it before the European Council meeting. We are anxious to have a debate, because it would help to expose the many divisions among the Opposition.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. As the House knows, this is an Opposition Day and there is to be a statement after business questions, so I may have to curtail business questions. I shall allow questions to continue until 4.10 pm and then we shall move on to the next statement. Will hon. Members ask single questions about business next week? I hope that in that way all hon. Members who rise will be called.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Can my right hon. Friend find time for us to debate the fact that the European Commission is trying to make us ban the advertising of cigarettes to reduce consumption, yet is also trying to make us reduce the tax on cigarettes, which would increase consumption? Can he confirm that that is the kind of matter that ought to be decided here at Westminster? Should not the country and the whole House unite around that?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend has made a very good point about the inconsistency of the policy. He will know that the levels of excise duty that the Commission is suggesting are well below those in this country, and, as he points out, that that arrangement is hostile to our health aims.

My hon. Friend will know the position taken by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer at ECOFIN. I assure him that his point about the levels of excise duty on tobacco has also been made by my right hon. Friend.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

Following the publication of the report of the Royal Navy board of inquiry investigating the tragic loss of the fishing vessel Antares, will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on its findings and, indeed, on the general question of the safety of fishing vessels at sea?

May I crave your indulgence on this one occasion, Mr. Speaker? A month ago, the Leader of the House promised me that he would consider and reflect on my request for a debate on the beleaguered fish farming industry in Scotland. I wonder whether he has done so.

Mr. MacGregor

I cannot promise a debate on either matter. As I said a few moments ago, we have a heavy programme of work to undertake before the House rises for the summer recess. I fully recognise, however, that both matters are important, and there are other ways in which the hon. Lady can raise them in the House.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

In the business statement, my right hon. Friend announced three occasions next week on which the House will be discussing private legislation. How much longer are we to proceed with this farcical, obsolete Victorian system?

Mr. MacGregor

Actually, I think that it was two occasions.

My hon. Friend knows that I entirely sympathise with the point that he has made. We are taking action on the matter, as fast as is possible within the rules of the House. In recent weeks, we have already passed Standing Orders that will accelerate the passage of private Bill business next Session.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has given his response to the report that deals with the implementation of the various road, rail and other undertakings that form so much of private Bill procedure. As I have told the House before, we intend to introduce the legislation as soon as we can. That will make a considerable difference to the problem that my hon. Friend has very fairly raised.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Will the Foreign Secretary be ready next week to make a full statement on the position in the middle east? We have not had a debate on the Gulf since before the bombing began in January. Since then, reports from the United States suggest that as many as 200,000 civilians may have been killed. According to the Harvard medical report, 170,000 babies' lives will be at risk from cholera and dysentery over the next 12 months. The Palestinians have achieved no satisfactory solution to their demands; the Kurds are insecure; Saddam is still there—and there is to be a victory parade this week. Meanwhile, the House has not assessed the ghastly ecological and human damage done by the conflict. When may we do so?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not wish to comment on all the points that the right hon. Gentleman has made. That would be inappropriate during business questions. I can tell him, however, that I hope to find an opportunity to arrange a debate on the Kurds before long. I shall report what the right hon. Gentleman has said to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, but Government time will be very limited in the next few weeks.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 776, which has been signed by more than 200 hon. Members on a cross-party basis?

[That this House, conscious of the fact that real care for the men and women of our armed forces has enabled oar country to rely, even to the point of ultimate sacrifice, upon their loyalty, steadfastness and efficiency in times of grave national threat, is astounded to note that, when digging a trench during an official Army exercise in Canada in July 1989, three men of the Grenadier Guards (Adrian Hicks, John Ray and Sean Povey) detonated a six year old unexploded shell which not only rendered them limbless but caused them such grievous wounds that Mr. Ray and Mr. Povey are still, after almost two years, in receipt of hospital treatment; notes that the Ministry of Defence find themselves unable, on the grounds of unattributable negligence, to pay compensation; and calls upon the Prime Minister to review this case personally and to ensure that, regardless of the possible legal responsibility of some unknown nation who failed to "clear" the shell some six years previously, Her Majesty's Government is seen to follow truly a policy that shows an appreciation of human understanding, human dignity and the value of a human file on earth by awarding generous compensation and a return the accumulated legal costs to these youthful British Grenadiers.]

Last week, there were no fewer than three requests for a debate on this matter, but my right hon. Friend has not announced one today. I remind him that the motion refers to three Grenadier guardsmen who were ordered to dig a trench in a live firing exercise area in Canada in 1989. As a result of their striking an unexploded shell, the legs of all three were blown off. The board of inquiry report has not been made available to anyone except the Government.

How can a Minister blandly say that no one is to blame, when those guardsmen as yet have had no chance of proving negligence? Will my right hon. Friend ask the Prime Minister, when he investigates the case, to view it with common sense, common decency and compassion?

Mr. MacGregor

As I said last week in response to my hon. Friend when he raised this point, the House sympathises fully with the three young men involved. At this stage, however, I can add nothing to what I said last week on the background to this unfortunate case.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware that those who have heard about the case—my constituent, Sean Povey, who is only 21, was one of those injured—cannot understand why no compensation has been given? Obviously, there has been much publicity about this matter in the west midlands. The three soldiers were carrying out their duties on a training exercise in Canada. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces has confirmed that they were not to blame. No one can understand how those soldiers can be crippled for life, yet the Ministry of Defence will not pay a penny of compensation.

I asked the Prime Minister whether he would receive a deputation of hon. Members. Like the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), I ask for some understanding, sympathy and compassion for the three young men. They were proud to join the Army and to serve their country, but, they were seriously injured for life through no fault of theirs and are being treated in a disgraceful way.

Mr. MacGregor

I am answering business questions about when statements can be made and debates can be held in the House. I have already given in previous weeks the Government's position on payments to those unfortunate gentlemen. I have discussed this matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who is well aware of the concern in the House about this matter. However, I have nothing to add.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

May we have a debate as soon as possible on sartorial standards in the House so that we can discuss recent revelations in The Independent that Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen are going through a process known as "folletting" to smarten them up? There are reports that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has refused to be folletted on the ground that he cannot be improved any further.

Although the hon. Gentleman may have a point, in that it would be difficult to know what could be done to help him, surely we need to discuss the fact that no amount of folletting, no amount of flashy suits and no amount of tacky plastic red roses can disguise the truth—that the Labour party is still wedded to policies of higher taxes, nationalisation, caving in to public sector unions, led by a——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That point could well be made in a debate, but I think that that is enough, during business questions.

Mr. Oppenheim

The Labour party is led by a wittering Welsh windbag who recently took 220 words to describe the fact that Labour has no policy on Europe.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have called the hon. Member early, but he has taken up time available to his colleagues. Those are the sorts of points which, if they need to be made at all, should be made in a debate.

Mr. MacGregor

I do not wish to comment on image questions—my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) has made his points on that. There will be many opportunities in the House in future, including today, to expose the dangers and damage of the Labour party's policies which lie beneath the glossy image.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the position of ex-service men who are disabled by alleged negligence is far worse than was described earlier? Hundreds of ex-service men campaigned for the abolition of section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, which prevented them from suing for negligence, but, when the law was changed, they were denied the right to sue because the Government would not allow them to do so and would not give them compensation. May we have a statement next week to correct this terrible injustice?

Mr. MacGregor

I believe that I am right in saying that that matter has been dealt with often in the House, so I cannot promise the right hon. Gentleman a statement on it next week.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

May we have an early debate on the interesting answer given by the Leader of the Opposition on the subject of European monetary union, not on the difficult question, which was extremely embarrassing for the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), as to whether the House agreed with it, but on the slightly less difficult although still complex issue of whether the House understood it?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already said that I expect that there will be a debate on European issues. There is also a Supply day in the name of the Liberal Democrats a week on Monday when, I have no doubt, that the issue can be raised. The Leader of the Opposition never knowingly under-phases, and his answer on that particular occasion must be a candidate for the longest and emptiest sentence of the decade. I believe that it covered up the enormous divisions within the Opposition on these issues.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

The Leader of the House will no doubt recall that during business questions last week he told my hon. Friend the Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) that he would consider the possibility of the Scottish Grand Committee meeting in Edinburgh at least once during its current series of debates. What investigations has the right hon. Gentleman conducted into the matter, with whom has he discussed it, and what conclusion has he reached?

Mr. MacGregor

I have not completed my investigations, but I shall write to the hon. Lady when I have done so.

Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)

My right hon. Friend will know that my constituency contains one of the major Royal Ordnance factory units and that, tragically for the families involved, about 500 people are being made redundant. The unit makes guns of all types, especially for British tanks. If my right hon.

Friend cannot allow a debate specifically on the effect of defence procurement on the defence industry, will he advise whether it will be possible to raise that issue in next Monday's debate?

Mr. MacGregor

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. He will recognise that what is happening is part of the changing scene in defence generally, which has many positive aspects as well as the difficulty that he mentioned. I do not think that it would be appropriate for that issue to be raised during the debate on the Bill on Monday, but I hope that before the House rises for the recess it will be possible to have further debates on defence matters when that issue could be raised.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

Will the Leader of the House alert the Secretary of State for Employment to the fact that he might have to make a statement to the House very soon—perhaps next week—about an impending strike at Heathrow by employees of American Airlines, which intends to begin operating from Heathrow with the permission of the Government? American Airlines is insisting that employees give up their membership of various trade unions. Will the Secretary of State for Employment reaffirm his belief that whether workers are members of a trade union is a decision that should be left to them, and not forced upon them by a reactionary employer such as American Airlines?

Mr. MacGregor

I know nothing of the case in point, but I do not think that it is likely to be suitable for a statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. However, I shall draw the matter to his attention.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Following the excellent speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science about teaching standards, will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate in the House on the teaching and use of the English language? I am sure that he will agree that the Government would not want to give the message that a good example to follow would be that of the Leader of the Opposition and the use of 100 or 200-word sentences, one after the other, which can hardly be described as good style.

Mr. MacGregor

As I said earlier, that especially long sentence was absolutely incomprehensible and perhaps deliberately so, either to confuse everyone about the Labour party's policy or because the Leader of the Opposition did not understand the issue. However, I do not think that it would be an appropriate issue for discussion in an education debate—for example, that due to be held on the order next Tuesday. I share my hon. Friend's view about teaching standards, and I think that it would be more appropriate for discussion during a debate on education rather than during a debate on European monetary union.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary to make a statement about why television detector vans visited a hospital in my constituency and about why, on the following day, its long-term patients were advised that they would have to pay £77 for a television licence? Surely the Leader of the House can arrange for a statement on such a despicable act, which is immoral and a crime against long-term patients in the national health service?

Mr. MacGregor

I know nothing about the incident that the hon. Gentleman has raised, but there are other ways in which he can raise the matter in the House instead of by way of a statement from the Home Secretary.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

May I remind my right hon. Friend that four weeks ago today at business questions I raised with him the fact that the parents and children who were the innocent victims of the Cleveland child sex abuse case have not received a penny piece in compensation? Then, it was over six months since the incident; now it is over seven months. During those four weeks, absolutely nothing has happened; no money has changed hands, and the people concerned have been left as they were. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Health is sympathetic and would, I believe, be prepared to make a statement. I hope, however, that that will not be necessary and that compensation will be paid straight away.

Mr. MacGregor

I assure my hon. Friend that I shall raise that point again with my hon. Friend the Minister for Health.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Although, of course, the Gulf war was a great American military victory, albeit against somewhat minimal opposition, it has since become quite clear that, politically, it was an unmitigated and unnecessary disaster in view of the fact that Saddam Hussein is still safely ensconced and that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Kurds and Shias have been killed, the latter in response to a call to revolt by President Bush. In view of the immense ecological damage that has been caused and the fact that the war has led and will lead to a growth in Islamic fundamentalism, may we have a chance to debate this issue in the House shortly to cover the whole range of disasters that arose from that appalling political misjudgment?

Mr. MacGregor

The vast majority of hon. Members take the view that the consequences of not repelling the forces of Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the invasion would have been infinitely greater than some of the problems that have arisen from doing so. I am sure that that is the view of the vast majority of hon. Members and of people throughout the country.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend has observed the success of early-day motion 667, entitled, "Disclosure of criminal convictions for new applicants for taxi driver's licences".

[That this House notes with grave concern the findings of a survey by the National Association of Taxi and Private Hire Licensing and Enforcement Officers which revealed that in the 136 councils that replied 486 criminal records had actually been discovered in a 18 month period, none of which had initially been declared during the interviews which took place under the provisions of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 which required a district council not to grant a licence unless they are satisfied that the applicant is a fit and proper person to hold a taxi driver's licence; calls upon the Home Office, the Department of Transport and the Association of Chief Police Officers to co-operate in the release of past criminal records of all new applicants to the chairmen of district licensing committees in a confidential file, so as to prevent any recurrence of what occurred in Southampton where a licence was given to a convicted rapist; and calls for a similar system to be introduced to all district councils in the United Kingdom as that practised in London where the Metropolitan Police have access to criminal records when determining applications for Hackney carriage drivers' licences.]

My right hon. Friend will not be aware, however, that practically every local authority in this country is demanding action on this emotive issue, which arouses fear about the dangers of such licensing. Knowing that I have received full support for my early-day motion, which has received more than 160 signatures, will my right hon. Friend make a genuine attempt to provide time, perhaps next week, for us to discuss this emotive issue, with the introduction of legislation in the not-too-distant future?

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend will recognise, I cannot comment on legislation for future legislative programmes. That is done in the Queen's Speech. My hon. Friend knows that it is not possible to introduce such legislation in this Session, given that we already have a crowded programme and that the Session does not have long to run.

On the subject raised in early-day motion 667, the Home Office has recently discussed with the Association of Chief Police Officers whether the police could take on that task. The question will be reconsidered in the light of the forthcoming report from the Home Office on the scrutiny of criminal records.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The people of Northern Ireland and its politicians have been remarkably patient and have been waiting for many weeks for a statement to be made in the House on the Larry Goodman fiasco, which has affected the people of Northern Ireland, its farming community and its banks. When will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland make a statement—or is he keeping quiet until the investigations in the Republic of Ireland have been concluded?

Mr. MacGregor

I have no information on that matter, but I shall discuss it again with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the need for performance-related pay in the public sector? Such a debate is especially important to the people of Liverpool who are faced with the failure of their council workers to clear litter. There are 12,000 tonnes of litter covering the streets of Liverpool, creating a danger of disease and stench, and there is a danger of rats covering the place. Indeed, those are exactly the criteria that we remember from the last months of the Labour Government.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend is right in believing that it is clear that the people of Liverpool are suffering in a situation which is rapidly sliding into anarchy and is reminiscent of the 1970s. There will be several opportunities in the coming weeks to draw attention to those matters and to remind people that Liverpool is a good example of a Labour administration in practice.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

The Leader of the House will recall that, during business questions last week the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) requested an early debate on regional government, presumably for the spurious reason that northern Tories feel that there is some electoral advantage in opposing it. If regional government is not the subject of intense debate over northern breakfast tables, it is precisely because there has not been sufficient public airing of the matter. The northern group of Labour Members of Parliament would also welcome a debate. We join the hon. Member for Stockton, South in calling for an early debate on regional government in Government time.

Mr. MacGregor

There will be opportunities to debate many matters which affect the northern region, including one this afternoon. Immediately after business questions there is to be a statement which affects a particular part of the north-west. It is not likely that Government time will be found for a general debate on regional government before the summer recess. Of course, it is always open to other parties to raise the matter if they regard it as a priority.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is showing his deep concern for the health service by attending and addressing the Confederation of Health Service Employees conference in Blackpool? May we have an early opportunity for him to report back to the House on the little deals that he has done with COHSE, and, I expect, some of its friends in the National Union of Public Employees, what strikes he will support and, probably most importantly, the effects of the minimum wage and the £500 million that it will cost the health service? After all, as my right hon. Friend knows, there will be no more money for the health service under Labour. We want to know how many more beds the hon. Member for Livingston would close as a result of deals with trade unionists.

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend makes a fair point about the disparity between some aspects of Labour policy on the health service and the fact that the party is committed not to increase expenditure on it. There will be several opportunities to discuss those matters in the House in the coming months.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we have an early debate on the shortage of playing facilities for young children? Is the Leader of the House aware that a petition will be launched in Leicester tomorrow—[Interruption.] Conservative Members may think that the matter is funny, but the parents of children who do not have playing facilities regard it as very serious indeed. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the process of learning starts early and that the Government's education cuts should not affect the education of very young children, as they do now?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that there has been a considerable increase in education expenditure in recent years, and that is to the advantage of the people of Leicester as well as of people everywhere else. The hon. and learned Gentleman will have to find his own opportunities for a specific debate on the matter that he raises.

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that several of his colleagues are disappointed that there will not be a debate next week on the subject of Merseyside, because we could bring out some of the good news from that region, such as the much increased productivity on the docks following the abolition of the dock labour scheme? Does he agree that it is sad that, in a forthcoming contest, neither of the socialist candidates is likely to pay any attention to the good stories which are coming from that region?

Mr. MacGregor

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I only wish that some of the actions taken by the local council which tend to hit the headlines would be reversed so that it was possible to concentrate on the good news. There will be an opportunity in the debate this afternoon and on several other occasions to make such points.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate on housing? Why should the tenants of Calderdale subsidise the inefficient and callous Tory Westminster council which is trying to ship homelessness to Calderdale because it has sold almost all its council houses, refuses to build any more and does not recognise that the Government have caused homelessness everywhere in the country? There is no way that Calderdale can take any more homeless. At present it has 35 homeless families and many hundreds of single people waiting to be housed. May we have an urgent debate on the housing crisis that has been caused by the Government?

Mr. MacGregor

In view of the time, I do not believe it would be right for me to consider the substance of the hon. Lady's remarks, but I can tell her that I do not believe that there will be an opportunity to debate the matter in Government time.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if there was a city in the United Kingdom where local services had completely broken down due to the inefficiency and incompetence of the so-called moderate Labour council, the people of that city and others would expect the House to debate the matter next week? If so, should we not have a debate on Liverpool and the disgraceful state of affairs in that city?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be extremely enlightening because it would remind people what life is like under a socialist administration. The debate should be not only on Liverpool, but on other places such as Lambeth where the schools are in chaos because of mismanagement. There are opportunities that arise not solely in Government time for a debate, so it may be possible in the near future to discuss such matters.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

As the Leader of the House is the Minister responsible for business in the House, will he find time to make a statement on the serious erosion of parliamentary democracy arising from Ministers' practice of referring parliamentary questions to the chief executives of next steps agencies to be answered? That ensures that the answers do not appear in Hansard and are not available to hon. Members and the public.

Mr. MacGregor

In such cases the letters of response from the chief executives are available in the Library and are available to the public through the Public Information Office. It is often possible to convey more information in a letter than in a parliamentary answer.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

I draw the attention of the House to early-day motion 946 in my name.

[That this House notes that community charge payers in the Borough of Dartford are each having to pay over £14 extra on their current community charge bills, largely as a result of the "can't pay, won't pay" campaign led by the left-wing member of the Dartford Borough Council, Councillor Mike Crosby, of 31 The Grove, Swanscombe, Kent DA10 OAD; notes that the Director of Finance for Dartford Borough Council has estimated the ultimate shortfall as a result of non-payment to be £600,000, which has to be borne by those who paid on time; urges Councillor Crosby to apologise to the people of Dartford and to resign immediately from public life; and further, urgently requests the National Executive of the Labour Party to hold an inquiry into Councillor Crosby's political and public conduct with a view to his expulsion from the Labour Party.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many thousands of people in Dartford and many millions of people in the country are paying a much higher community charge in the current financial year as a result of the "can't pay, won't pay" campaign that is supported and led by members of the Labour party? Will he arrange for an early debate on this subject so that we can bring to the attention of the British people the fact that a number of Labour Members and many hundreds of Labour councillors and supporters have not paid their community charge and are encouraging many thousands of decent people to break the law?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I do not know whether we can find time to debate this issue next week, but it has been frequently raised in the House. People in authority, such as councillors, should not only meet their payments; it is even worse when they urge others not to do so, particularly when that transfers the cost of the payment to other law-abiding people in their area, many of whom will be earning considerably less money. I am sure that most hon. Members would condemn that practice and hope that councillors would not engage in such disgraceful activities.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

This week, the Leader of the House allowed the proceedings on the Dangerous Dogs Bill to go into the early hours of the morning. During the business statement on Monday, the right hon. Gentleman said that he wanted the Bill back here before we rose for the recess. Will he use his good offices to tell those in the other place that the people are extremely concerned and want the legislation in place now?

Mr. MacGregor

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who was assiduous on Monday in making that point. I am sure that he spoke for the vast majority of people.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am determined to do exactly as he asks, and I know that my noble Friend in another place will endeavour to do so as well. That is one of the factors that affect the summer recess date. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern to see that the Dangerous Dogs Bill should be on the statute book before the summer recess.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

When considering the Opposition's request for an early debate on unemployment, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the concern felt in Scotland, particularly by Scots who support Labour—the party of devolution—about decisions made in London at Walworth road that are creating unemployment in Scotland?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend speaks with authority on the decisions that may also be causing unemployment. The decisions made by Labour Members about the kind of policies that they would pursue, if they ever got the chance, would greatly increase the numbers of unemployed people in Scotland.

Mr. Michael Carr (Ribble Valley)

In the light of the Carlton Club education committee finding that there is evidence of a lack of Government policy towards nursery education, and the results of a Liberal Democrat survey showing that 54 per cent. of local authorities wish to expand nursery education but cannot, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to grant time for a debate in Government time on nursery education?

Mr. MacGregor

The number of nursery education places has increased considerably in the past 10 years. It is a matter of priorities and resources. I note that the Liberal Democrats' statement would involve considerable extra expenditure, as would their policies on a whole range of matters. They must make their decisions, as we do, on priorities and the tax burden involved.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry that I have not been able to call the Opposition Members who are now standing. This is an Opposition Supply day, and if I were to call them all, it would take time out of it.

Several Hon. Members

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I will take the next statement first.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point I wish to raise is on this very matter.

Mr. Speaker

It may be. I will take it after the statement.