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Business of the House

3.30 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : Will the deputy Prime Minister tell us the business for the first week after the summer recess?

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

Hon. Members : Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker : Order. We have a busy day ahead of us. I call the Leader of the House.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The business for the first week after the summer adjournment will be as follows :

Tuesday 17 October----There will be a debate on the Griffiths report and community care on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Wednesday 18 October/Thursday 19 October----There will be a debate on a Government motion to approve the Defence Estimates 1989 (Cm 675)

Friday 20 October----There will be a debate on top-up loans for students on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Mr. Dobson : May I thank the deputy Prime Minister for his statement and welcome him to his new job? I fear that it bears an uncanny resemblance to a Government training scheme, with him dogsbodying around for an ungrateful boss but with no--


Mr. Speaker : Order. This is a day for Back Benchers. Let us get on with it.

Mr. Dobson : --with the right hon. and learned Gentleman dogsbodying around for an ungrateful boss, but with no guarantee of a proper job at the end of it.

May I thank him also for so promptly honouring the undertakings of his predecessor and for arranging debates in Government time on the Government's response to the Griffiths proposals on care in the community and for the debate on the proposals to replace student grants with student loans? We would, of course, have preferred both those debates to be on substantive motions, and we especially object to the student loans debate being held on a Friday.

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman during the recess-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I appeal to the House to settle down. I repeat that this is a day for Back Benchers, but these interruptions are taking up a lot of time and I am anxious to call as many hon. Members as possible in the next debate.

Mr. Dobson : May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give some thought during the recess to establishing a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? The people of Scotland and their elected representatives feel cheated at the failure to establish this, the only Select Committee that has not been established as required under the Standing Orders of the House. As there is now a new Back Bencher for Scotland, the Government may find it easier to find Tories to take their places on that Committee.

Finally, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that the much postponed debate on Members'

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pensions and on the possibility of severance payments for Ministers will be arranged during the spill-over period? I am sure that he will agree that the House should have an opportunity to vote on the severance pay proposals before the next reshuffle.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I acknowledge the benevolent part of the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks and I shall leave the rest on one side by expressing my gratitude for his observations about the debates that we have been able to arrange on the Griffiths report and on top-up loans. I note his point about the arrangements for debates. At present, they are designed for the general convenience of the House. If he wishes to have any alternatives considered, that can be done through the usual channels.

The hon. Gentleman also raised a topic that is not unfamiliar to the House- -a Scottish Affairs Select Committee. One regrets the inability to form a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I think that, in the light of whatever factors he cares to mention, if anyone has any new proposals to make on that, they too can be considered through the usual channels.

It has also proved difficult to arrange a debate on parliamentary pensions and severance payments. I hope to be able to find time for that shortly after the House returns in October.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath) : My right hon. and learned Friend is aware, from his highly distinguished service at the Foreign Office, that the House of Commons is remiss at debating foreign affairs. Will he give his attention to that matter, in view of the enormous changes that are taking place in the world and our inability to consider them?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am clearly aware of the importance of the matter my hon. Friend has raised. It is important to acknowledge that my predecessor recently arranged for two debates on foreign affairs, so I cannot rush in, ambitiously, in the near future.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the distinguished office he has now assumed. Those of us who have been in the House on Thursdays for business questions have heard the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) quite properly ask for for debates on the Griffiths report and student top-up loans. I am pleased that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has managed to deliver them so quickly. If he repeats that performance over many Thursdays, he will be an especially popular Leader of the House.

In view of his legal background, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman arrange a debate on the White Paper on legal services, as the House has never had an opportunity to comment on the Government's proposals? In view of his experiences this week, will he arrange a debate on homelessness and those threatened with homelessness?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. I do not feel impelled by any experiences this week to consider his last suggestion. Obviously it can be looked at. I am grateful for his appreciation of the announcement about debates on the Griffiths report and top-up loans. Legal services are an important issue and I am prepared to consider what can be done about a debate on them.

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Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden) : I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend in his new role in the House. Does he consider it appropriate to have a debate on the European monetary system and monetary relationships with the European Economic Community, in view of the recent comments of President Mitterrand of France?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not think that the House normally feels impelled to have a debate simply because of the observations of a Head of State of a friendly nation, which I have of course, noted with interest. My hon. Friend will recall that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently tabled a full paper on that subject for consideration by a Committee in the House. That is the best way to handle it.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Will the deputy Prime Minister capitalise on the very warm reception he has just received from the House by trying to be a reforming Leader of the House? Will he start with the private Bill procedure, which has developed into a shambles in recent years? Will he notice the large number of Bills that are now being blocked? Will he take note of the excellent report of the special Procedure Select Committee on reforming private business, as that needs to be implemented as soon as possible, even if it involves having a "high noon" with the people who have just appointed him to his new post?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I know of the hon. Gentleman's close interest in the important but extremely complicated subject of private Bill procedure ; I also know of the reports which have been considered recently, but which I have not yet had time to study fully. I shall certainly endeavour to do so during the recess, and to consider the matter in the light of the hon. Gentlemen's observations.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that it was hoped in some quarters that a Government statement might be made about Hong Kong and the so-called flexible package before the rising of the House. It is quite understandable that that has not proved possible, but will my right hon. and learned Friend convey to our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that, should he feel during the recess that circumstances in Hong Kong require him to introduce a new policy, he should not feel constrained from doing so, but will operate in accordance with Hong Kong's needs and interests rather than waiting until Parliament resumes?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My right hon. Friend will gather from the new arrangements made for ministerial duties in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that my right hon. Friend the new Foreign Secretary manifestly attaches importance to the subject of Hong Kong. I shall certainly draw my right hon. Friend's proposal to his attention, however, so that he can keep it well in mind.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth) : The Leader of the House will be aware that, for some of this week, 10 Downing street appears to have been operating as a rather less than efficient estate agency. In view of that inefficiency, can we expect the announcement, soon after the recess, of a debate on the privatisation of the various stately homes handled by the Prime Minister?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that most, if not all, of the stately homes in which

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he takes such a close interest are not in state ownership, but are owned by trusts established for the purposes for which they are being used.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) : May I congratulate the Leader of the House on his appointment to a position that will bring him into close touch with all Members of Parliament? May I also congratulate the Prime Minister, who has been the subject of some cheap and hurtful gibes, on the appointment of the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Would it be possible to debate the political situation in Northern Ireland immediately after the recess to see whether we can make new political progress?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. Of course I understand his continuing interest in the topic that he has raised ; the House has had several recent opportunities to discuss Northern Irish affairs in some detail, but I shall certainly keep his suggestion in mind.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) : Will the Leader of the House ensure that next year's defence debates follow soon after the publication of the defence White Paper? For three years, there has been a pause of five to six months, to which I believe many hon. Members on both sides of the House object.

May I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his unfailing courtesy and distinguished service as Foreign Secretary over the past six years?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those last remarks. If what he has described has happened in each of the three preceding years there may well have been good reasons for it, but I shall certainly take account of what he has said.

Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn) : Let me join other hon. Members in welcoming my right hon. and learned Friend warmly to his new and important post. In view of the major outbreak of salmonella poisoning in my constituency and in other parts of the north-west, and the statement on food safety that we are about to hear, can my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that an early debate on food safety and the Government's proposals will be possible after the summer recess?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand my hon. Friend's interest in that topic, particularly in the light of recent serious problems in his constituency. I shall look carefully at his suggestion after studying the consequences of his afternoon's statement.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : In the short time for which he has occupied his new position, has the right hon. and learned Gentleman had an opportunity to read early-day motion 1245, concerning the sacking of Tilbury docks shop stewards?

[That this House is outraged by the brutal attack upon the rights of free trade unionists by the arbitrary decision of the port employers at Tilbury Docks to summarily dismiss only the 16 shop stewards in a clear and provocative attempt to intimidate trade unionists acting in full compliance with the Government's onerous laws.]

Does he not realise that there should have been a debate on the matter-- even, perhaps, at this late hour--particularly as the redundancy payments scheme is being used in such a flagrantly anti-trade union and

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anti-democratic manner? Is it not a disgrace that shop stewards should be sacked in this way and that other ordinary members of the dock unions should then have been placed in an almost impossible position because, if they had stayed out, the dockers who have been sacked would get no compensation whatever? It is the worst possible use of money in an anti-trade union way, and I hope that that will be taken on board by the Government.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman was first elected to this House from Merseyside on the same day as I was, and I have known of his interest in the future of the dock industry since that time. However, I confess that I do not think that the advice that he has given his fellow workers in the industry has served them to the best advantage. The Government have been obliged to introduce legislation which was recently enacted in respect of the dock labour scheme. The shop stewards who were dismissed were among a larger group made redundant by their employers and, despite risking dismissal for breach of contract by going on strike, they have received special compensation of up to £35,000 in redundancy.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : In welcoming my right hon. and learned Friend to his new tasks, may I ask him whether, as deputy Prime Minister, he will look at all aspects and give proper guidance about Government policy, perhaps in a fuller way than he has been able to do in the past? If he will not move to adventurous experiment on procedure, may I urge him at least to work for a consolidated advance to modernise our procedure in the House? Lastly, the Procedure Committee consists of many senior men who spend many hours trying to bring forward concepts for modernisation. Could we have early debates on the Committee's reports and not have them deferred as has happened in the past?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I can tell my hon. Friend in response to his first observation that I shall of course endeavour to discharge the duties of my office to the best of my ability. My hon. Friend has a considerable and quite proper interest in the procedural reform of the House. I shall study all the reports that have so far been produced and look forward to those that will be produced in the years to come. I shall try to reach a balanced conclusion, which is what I think my hon. Friend is urging upon us.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Is the deputy Prime Minister aware that the reception that he received upon reading out the Government business for when we come back was probably the greatest accolade that any Tory Minister has received in the 19 years that I have been in the House? Is he also aware that the Prime Minister cut a very lonely and beleagured figure next to him? In view of that

Mr. Speaker : Order. What has this to do with next week's business?

Mr. Skinner : In view of that, will the Leader of the House be more magnanimous to the dockers and bear in mind that, like him, many of them have lost their jobs? However, unlike him, they did not get another job at the same rate of pay. Dockers have got the sack, and unlike the Leader of the House will have to scramble to get back to work and go on the dole. Will he re-examine his answer

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to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and try to find some method to stop the employers in the docks treating dockers like cattle?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The future of the docks industry and the dock workers in it has recently been very fully considered by the House. The arrangements now being administered were approved by the House a short time ago.

Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that he enjoys the respect, affection and admiration of the whole House? He may have missed an item in the newspapers last week about what happened to the former Secretary of State for the Environment in a field in Hampshire last Saturday. He went up in smoke. I hasten to add that I was not responsible for his martyrdom, but I am sure that he is aware of the anxiety, indeed the anger and perhaps apprehension, felt by all my constituents about the prospect of Foxley Wood, a new town of 5,500 houses, being built in my constituency. Will he please try to find time for a debate as soon as we return on the whole business of planning and rebuilding within the south-east?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : It took my hon. Friend an uncharacteristically long time to disclose the nature of his inquiry. I am sure that the House will have followed him with interest. Now that he has arrived there, I can agree that the matter of planning in many places, not least in the south- east of England, raises a large number of complex conflicts of interest, in my constituency as well as his. Clearly, this will need to be debated and considered in the house on more than one occasion.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman to his new position. However, can we have an assurance that the translation of the former Secretary of State for Defence to the Back Benches does not ensure that he pursues, perhaps rightfully, a business interest to the detriment of his parliamentary interest, because it would not look well in Scotland if Tory Back Benchers refused to serve on a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, and preferred to pursue interests outside the House? I know of the Leader of the House's interest in these matters, so could we have an assurance that he will make a statement on them when we return? In view of the translation of the previous Leader of the House to the Department of Energy, can we know when the South of Scotland electricity board and British Coal will sign a contract to ensure the continued employment of miners in Fife and central Scotland?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I shall draw the last question of the two raised by the hon. Member to those who know more about it than I do. As to his first question, it would not be proper for me to comment on any personal implications of what he has said. The House has its own rules for considering such matters.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : My right hon. and learned Friend will be well aware that not long ago there was a debate on the Clergy (Ordination) Measure, which took place early in the morning, when there were virtually 100 hon. Members present. Should the measure be resubmitted, will he ensure that it is debated at a better time of the day?

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In more general terms, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider giving the House the opportunity to debate the affairs of the Church of England? These tend to be debated in a curmudgeonly spirit despite the Church of England's successes--for example, in launching an urban fund--which show that it is a lively and central institution, and that it would be a good subject on which to have a debate.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I join my hon. Friend in his admiration for many of the works and activities of the established Church. I cannot join him in such close familiarity with the legislative procedures recently affecting it, but I shall look into the matter in the light of his question.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : Will the Leader of the House recap what has happened over the past four Thursdays, when Welsh Members pressed his predecessor to arrange a debate in the Welsh Grand Committee so that the Members can discuss the National Health Service in Wales? Having reflected on the replies that have been given, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman be more positive by ensuring that we have debates on Wales? In the first week that we are back after the recess, will the right hon. Gentleman allow the House to debate the Children Bill? Many people will be looking forward to the implementation of the Bill, and it is high time that grandparents, divorced people and others were protected by the Government through this Bill being enacted. Will he arrange an early debate on the Bill?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : At this stage, I cannot usefully add anything to what has been said by my right hon. Friend the previous Leader of the House on the hon. Gentleman's first point. I know that this is a matter that has caused a good deal of anxiety, and it will no doubt be considered again when the House returns. As to the Children Bill, that is manifestly important legislation that will need to be considered again before long.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, West) : My right and learned Friend has made a great start by announcing a week's business without one of these pointless, frustrating and silly debates after 10 o'clock on European directives. Could we have a day's debate on what our future policy on the EEC should be, bearing in mind that the Government seem rightly to be becoming more and more frustrated at the bureaucratic Socialist nonsense coming from Brussels, but on the other hand seem powerless to do anything about it, apart from complaining, because of the problems of the Single European Act? Is it not high time that, for the sake of democracy, we have a full day's debate on where we stand on the EEC?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I fear that I am unable to take the enthusiasm that I had for the beginning of my hon. Friend's question to its conclusion. The Single European Act has been discussed on many occasions and I am sure that the House will find further opportunities to consider the general matter which my hon. Friend has raised.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Does the Leader of the House agree that, whenever there is a major tragedy, everyone welcomes the efforts of the three emergency services? Will he make time for a debate so that we can ascertain why the members of the ambulance staff are singled out for different treatment from the staff of the

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other services when it comes to wages? Is he aware that officers of the ambulance staff union are balloting members on industrial action? Does he realise that the rest of the country believes that the Government are using patients in the most cynical way by deliberately treating the ambulance service differently from the police and the fire service?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Lady knows that negotiations in respect of the ambulance service are matters for the ambulance Whitley council. The trade union side rejected the management side's improved offer when the negotiations adjourned on Tuesday. As she said, the officers of the trade union side declared their intention to ballot members on their willingness to take industrial action. The outcome of that will not be known until September. I hope that the trade unions will take up the management side's offer of a joint review of the operations of the salaried structure rather than threaten to put patients at risk.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend, who richly deserves both those prefixes and both the offices that he now holds, arrange an early debate on London's traffic, which is causing increasing concern?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I think that there will be an opportunity for discussing that topic during the debates that will take place tomorrow.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the first special report of the EC Legislation Committee, which was published this week, which incorporates correspondence between myself and the former Leader of the House on changes for scrutiny of EC legislation? The proposed changes are welcome, but is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that they do not go far enough? Does he recall that the important report from Mr. Delors on economic and monetary union, which was recommended for debate by two Select Committees, has yet to be debated? Will he arrange a debate early on our return, bearing in mind the fact that decisions have been made by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that bear upon that issue? Does he think that that is a good advertisement for parliamentary democracy?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's close and practical interest in these matters. I am familiar with the special report to which he refers, but I confess that I have not yet re-examined it with the attention that I shall no doubt give it. He will know that the matters which interest him are currently being considered by the Procedure Committee. We shall look forward to its recommendations on the topic.

The decisions so far taken in the European Council in respect of the Delors report have not related to any specific legislative proposals. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put a full explanatory memorandum before the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service and has given extensive evidence to that body on that topic. That is an important manifestation of the interest of the House in this subject.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West) : In view of the discussion about the pay increases of senior

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directors, will my right hon. and learned Friend, with all the authority of a very successful former Chancellor of the Exchequer, arrange for a debate in which he may be able to remind us all, as he did in the past, that such increases do not cause inflation but that Governments, and Governments alone, do so?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have always appreciated the straightforward nature of my hon. Friend's views on the causation of inflation. It must be said that one other factor that plays a part in generating inflationary pressures is expectation. Expectations cannot be influenced in a sensible way that will enable unemployment to fall at the same time that inflation is tackled, if people in positions of senior management award themselves grossly over-inflated pay increases.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : Has the Leader of the House caught sight of statutory instrument No. 247 on credit unions in Northern Ireland, the object of which is to increase certain facilities to members of such organisations? While that concession is welcome, the House should surely debate at an early date the refusal of the Registrar General of Friendly Societies to extend the same concessions to credit unions in Scotland and elsewhere in mainland Britain. Should not the registrar general be reprimanded for his insensitive and foolishly inconsistent behaviour?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I confess that I have not yet devoted a great deal of my time to studying the particular topic that the hon. Gentleman mentions. On that ill-informed basis, it would not be right for me to rebuke the official concerned. However, now that my attention has been drawn to the issue, I shall see whether it is a proper matter for debate.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : I add my good wishes to those that have been expressed to my right hon. and learned Friend.

Would it be possible to arrange as early as possible a debate on freedom of expression and speech in connection with the Salman Rushdie case, which raises important questions as to the nature of our public society and citizenship? The House has not yet given a clear lead as to the priorities of public society in this country and of British nationality.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand my hon. Friend's interest in the Salman Rushdie case, which caused me considerable concern in my previous office. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made a number of important speeches on that topic, and it rates suficiently important to be worth considering as the subject of a future debate.

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : The Leader of the House will be aware that the Committee stage of the Football Spectators Bill reached its conclusion today. Will he guarantee that its Report stage will not be debated on the Floor of this House at least until the outcome of Lord Justice Taylor's interim report has been announced?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Although I must stop short of an undertaking in respect of a question of which I have only

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just had notice from the hon. Gentleman, I assure him that the Government appreciate the importance of Mr. Justice Taylor's prospective report.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West) : Although my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given evidence before the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, in view of industry's need to enjoy currency stability above all things, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be a good idea to debate the question of this country joining the exchange rate mechanism--particularly as many people both outside and inside the Government apparently believe that we should join it sooner rather than later?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I appreciate that that matter is one of optimum interest and of great importance. Clearly, it may be appropriate at some stage for the House to have an opportunity to debate it.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : I congratulate the deputy Prime Minister on eluding the tricky knitting of the Madame Defarges of Downing street, and welcome the qualities that he brings to this House--which include great stability and sound experience. I welcome also the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement of intent to study before the first week of business after the recess the numerous reports of the Select Committee on Procedure. Will he consider also how he might best bring his good offices to bear in putting a stop to the Government's increasing practice of leaking information to the press before making statements in this House, and of treating the House with disdain and contempt? Will he ponder the fact that only by good examples being set at ministerial level--and by that I mean starting at prime ministerial level--may ordinary Back-Bench Members be expected to behave properly and to conduct themselves with decorum?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I shall not compete with the hon. Gentleman in drawing parallels from experiences of the French revolution, but I can assure him that the Government and all its members are conscious of the need to pay due respect to the House, and that leaking and the other disreputable habits to which he refers are not something for which the Government are properly to blame.

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it was traditionally the case that the request for a statement about the business for the following week came from the Leader of the Opposition, a practice which in recent years seems to have fallen into disuse? Like many doctors, the Leader of the Opposition is availing himself of a deputising service. As the Leader of the Opposition is such an important plank in our strategy for re-election at the next general election, and as Parliament will, in all probability, shortly be televised, is it not necessary to have him here as often as possible?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I shall not join my hon. Friend in offering advice to the Leader of the Opposition, although he may well need a great deal of it. I am sure that the House will want to consider a number of the implications of the early prospect of televising our proceedings.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on low pay, particularly in the National Health Service and British

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Rail? Is he aware that I have two pay slips from British Rail workers in Workington, one of whom supports a wife and three children and the other a wife and two children, and both show a take- home pay of £88 a week? How can people live on such money? What am I to tell British Rail workers when they come to the Labour club in Workington on Saturday to discuss their pay levels with me?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are a number of arrangements within the structure of our social services, of which family credit is one, that may relate to such problems. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have a more general and far-reaching debate, it is open to the Opposition to suggest that.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend please try, through the usual channels, to secure the appointment of a shadow Leader of the House worthy of facing him in the months ahead as the disparity of talent is matched only by that between the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Neither my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister nor I need be preoccupied with that problem.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on local authorities' provision of permanent sites for gipsies and travellers? Is he aware of the latest daft decision of Conservative-controlled Bradford council to spend £1,260 a week of ratepayers' money for private security guards to watch a field and to report if gipsies and travellers return to camp on it? If that same protection were provided for the other 27 sites in the district, it would cost ratepayers £1.8 million a year. Will the Leader of the House urge the Secretary of State for the Environment to refuse to designate the existing two sites in Bradford until a third permanent site is provided, proper provision is made by local neighbouring authorities and the House has had an opportunity to debate the issue?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The details that the hon. Gentleman gives of the particular problem with which he is so familiar underline my impression that that area of legislation and practice is one of extreme difficulty and complexity, which many of us will have come across in our constituencies. All that I can say at this stage is that he should encourage his right hon. and hon. Friends to press for the matter to be debated more widely.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : My right hon. and learned Friend has dealt in an exemplary way with the institutions of Europe--I am particularly thinking of the Council of Europe, the Western European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance--when he has so often been Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and the co-operation that we have all had from him should not be forgotten.

In asking for a debate when we resume, I would go to the most important debate that the Conservative party is facing--the pollution of our environment. We must have a strong policy--certainly in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food--on the dumping of sewage and sludge in the waters around our coast. I am sure that such a debate would be well attended.

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