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Business of the House

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 (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : The business for next week will be as follows :

Monday 4 December----Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill. Motion on the Appropriation (No. 4) Northern Ireland Order. Tuesday 5 December---- Second Reading of the Education (Student Loans) Bill.

Motion on the Teachers Pay and Conditions (Continuation) Order. Wednesday 6 December----Second Reading of the Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Bill.

Motion on the Local Government Act (Competition in Sports and Leisure Facilities) Order.

Thursday 7 December----Second Reading of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill (First Day).

Friday 8 December----There will be a debate on action to tackle the misuse of drugs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Monday 11 December-- --Second Reading of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill (Second Day).

Debate on a motion to take note of EC documents relating to the 1990 EC budget. Details will be given in the Official Report. [Monday 11 December

Relevant European Community Documents

(a) COM(89)175 Preliminary Draft Budget of the European Communities for 1990.

(b) 8271/89 The Draft Budget of the European Communities for 1990.

(c) 9704/89 The European Parliament's proposed amendments and modifications to the Draft Budget.

(d) 8848/89 Letter of Amendment No. 1 to the Preliminary Draft Budget of the European Communities for 1990.

(e) 9627/89 Letter of Amendment No. 2 to the Preliminary Draft Budget of the European Communities for 1990.

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

(a) HC 15-xxxii (1988-89), para 3.

(b) HC 15-xxxvii (1988-89), para 3.

(c) No Report yet made.

(d) HC 15-xxxvi (1988-89), para 8.

(e) HC 15-xxxviii (1988-89), para 8].

Dr. Cunningham : I thank the Leader of the House for responding so positively to our request for a two-day debate on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. In view of the Government's difficulties and their well-known desire to have a break, has he been able to reach any decision about the dates of the Christmas recess? I suspect that it would also be convenient for the House if he could tell us something about the likely dates of the Easter recess as well.

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Has the Leader of the House seen the graphic reports by Michael Buerk, the BBC correspondent, about the impending catastrophic famine in Ethiopia, a matter which my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has sought to raise in the House several times this week? Given the huge amount of public interest in Britain in that impending tragedy, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman provide time next week for either a statement by the Minister or, better still, a debate on that important issue and the British Government's response to it?

We look forward to receiving an apology from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in a few moments, to the House and to the British taxpayer, for the Government's appalling squandering of more than £200 million of taxpayers' money over the Rover fiasco. A brief statement is no substitute for proper public debate about the fiasco--in fact, a scandal. Will the Leader of the House provide time next week for such a debate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I shall deal first with the last point raised by the hon. Gentleman. When I became Chancellor of the Exchequer the most formidable burden that passed across my desk was the unending series of bills--billions of pounds, not hundreds of millions--for losses in nationalised industries. That included the continued outpouring of billions of pounds to the British motor industry. One of the Government's most formidable achievements has been to staunch that flow by the privatisation of about half of the nationalised industries. We have successfully achieved that result with the Rover Group and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will defend that later this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman talked about billions of pounds being lost to the British taxpayer, but he should remember that it was Opposition Members who squandered those resources without any limit. We have brought an end to that. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments on the arrangements for the two-day debate on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. That was also arranged in response to a question from the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) on behalf of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party.

I hope that it will be possible to make an announcement about the proposed date for the Christmas recess in my business statement next week. In the light of what the hon. Gentleman said about the subsequent recess, and the fact that Easter is likely to be later than usual next year, I shall see whether it is possible to take account of that in the arrangements I make and I will tell the House as soon as possible.

As I have said before during business questions, the whole House is very concerned about the continuing threat of famine in Ethiopia. We have provided some 17,000 tonnes of food aid this year and, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development announced a further £2 million of emergency aid on 27 November. The only long-term answer is to end the civil war as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, we have been trying to persuade all the parties to the conflict to permit free access across the lines for relief supplies.

I shall bear in mind the wish expressed by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to be kept informed. The hon. Gentleman is right to remind us of the

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gravity of the situation there. I assure the House that the Government are mindful of it, and are responding on a continuous basis.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the way that the rules of the House which allow us to discharge our duties with regard to private Bills is conducted has become a total disgrace? Will he make a statement next week to demonstrate that the Government will use the first possible opportunity to change the rules so that those who wish to introduce such Bills will have them dealt with expeditiously?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As my right hon. Friend knows, in the first instance the supervision of private Bills is a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means. He will have seen that a revival motion which includes all the Bills that the Chairman of Ways and Means had set down for debate on Thursday 9 November, is on the Order Paper. We hope that that will receive a favourable response in the House. My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the need to ensure that the private Bill procedure is not used to obstruct the legitimate aspirations of those people who have taken a great deal of trouble to bring a Bill before the House. I am considering that, and I recognise the importance of the issue.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : I note that there is no mention of the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 in the business for next week. Can the Lord President give us an assurance that, when he brings it before the House, the time for it will be extensive to allow us to debate it adequately as it may be the last one to appear before the House?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have already received notice of the importance attached to providing sufficient time for discussion of that subject. We shall see whether we can respond to that request.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend, recognising that, with our adverse balance of payments, the future of the services provided by the Export Credits Guarantee Department is of crucial rather than marginal importance, ensure that Her Majesty's Government issue a Green Paper which is debated in this House before they arrive at any decisions about the future of these functions and how they are carried out? Is he aware that many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House are united in their appreciation that this subject must be debated properly in the House before a decision is taken?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : As someone who was at one time responsible as a Minister for those important provisions, I understand the significance of my hon. Friend's point. I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, but I cannot give any undertaking about how the matter may be brought forward.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) : With regard to haemophiliacs infected by AIDS, does not the Leader of the House find it remarkable that, after many parliamentary questions, early-day motions and deputations to Ministers, including the Prime Minister, most

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haemophiliacs and most hon. Members are distressed at the inadequacy of the money that is offered? May we please debate this matter urgently next week?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The right hon. Gentleman returns to a matter to which he has drawn my attention previously. He knows that discussions are taking place with the Macfarlane Trust and the Charity Commissioners to determine the best way in which to meet the Government's objective of making lump sum payments of £20,000 and continuing help on a more generous scale to those in special need. I have nothing to add to the answer given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health on 23 November.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend reflect on the difficulties experienced by hon. Members when foreign affairs debates are held on successive Fridays? He will appreciate the problem of constituency work clashes. Can he assure the House that he will use his heart and head in an effort to provide a two-day debate on foreign affairs before the House rises--at least before Christmas?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not think that, even if I used my heart and head to their utmost, I could achieve that objective. Neither of those organs needs to be reminded of the legitimate importance of foreign affairs. That is why we have an additional debate tomorrow. I also understand the misgivings that arise from successive Fridays being devoted to the subject. I hope, however, that my hon. Friend will be grateful for the modest advance that we have been able to make.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : On a day when hon. Members will have noticed the flag of St. Andrew flying over Westminster abbey, may I ask the Leader of the House to direct his mind to Scottish affairs? does he think it satisfactory that, with our completely different Health Service structure, provisions to reform the Health Service in Scotland should be tacked on to the end of an English Bill?

With regard to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's announcement on Tuesday night about the future, or lack of one, of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, has he looked recently at Standing Order No. 130, which provides :

"Select committees shall be appointed to examine expenditure, administration and policy of the principal government departments", including the Scottish Office? As a distinguished lawyer, the Leader of the House must know that the word "shall" is mandatory. What right does he have to abrogate the Standing Orders of the House? Does he intend to introduce an amendment to them?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman will recall that the latter matter was discussed fully in the debate on my birthday last year--20 December. I cannot add anything to the analysis then undertaken. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that there is at least a separate part of the Bill on the Health Service which deals with matters in this country, whereas those for the Principality of Wales are subsumed in the provisions for England. So he has some blessing.

Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, since the televising of our proceedings, our conduct has become

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worse and the noise much greater, especially in the past few days and when the cameras are still on? When the cameras are off, quiet descends almost at once. Are we to have this for a further five and a half months, or is there some means by which we can modify our original decision to have this experiment?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I know that my hon. Friend has been a consistent advocate of that point. Another equally consistent advocate is the hon. Gentleman who is sitting bearded on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : I am most obliged.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : He is not notorious for the quietude with which he conducts himself, so noise emanates from some quarters whether we are on television or not. It must be said that one of the more striking features is that much of the noise that blocks out discussion in this Chamber does not come through on the television screen outside. It may behove hon. Members who are disposed to be noisy to recollect that they are doing themselves no good by straining their lungs to such an extent.

Mr. Faulds : I am most grateful for that commercial from the Leader of the House. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that in Tuesday's debate on the economy the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke from 4.13 pm to 4.59 pm? Does he realise that that operation was carried out to prevent any other hon. Member getting in on television transmission time, which terminated at 5 pm on that day? Is he aware that that can only give substance to the suspicion that the Government have established a little, secret body to try to find ways of abusing television transmission time in the House? Will he accept from his nearest and dearest that, were he Prime Minister, we should not have to suffer such deceit and deviousness, and there would be a great deal--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Will the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced and responsible hon. Member, please withdraw that remark about the Prime Minister?

Mr. Faulds : Of course, Sir. To oblige you, Mr. Speaker, and because I should not have said them, I withdraw those two words. However, I maintain the principle that the Leader of the House would have been an admirable Prime Minister.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am not sure that I am fully qualified to compete with the hon. Gentleman in offering commercials as it is a matter to which he has devoted his professional life. It is not right to conclude that the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was directed to the objectives that the hon. Gentleman has in mind. The House will recollect that my right hon. Friend was interrupted frequently and that he gave way frequently, thereby adding to the already interesting quality of his speech. One should not look for conspiracies among Conservative Members, but rather among Opposition Members.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : Does my right hon. and learned Friend recollect that when I asked last Thursday whether we could have a debate on the plight of war widows he told me to await the Adjournment debate later that evening? As nothing of importance came out of that debate, and in view of the

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strong feeling among hon. Members of all parties about the plight of war widows, will he tell us when we shall have a debate on that important issue?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am afraid that I cannot add further to what my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said in response to the debate last week.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath) : The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that the exciting events in eastern Europe are of great interest to hon. Members and to the public outside. In his previous incarnation, he will also have been aware of the considerable efforts made by the Council of Europe to bring about those changes. Does he think that it is now possible for the Government to consider giving a little more attention to the matters of the Council of Europe and to initiate a debate in the House on the work of the Council of Europe at regular intervals?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The range of matters relevant to eastern Europe can be discussed during tomorrow's debate. I do not think that many hon. Members would challenge the importance in that context of the work being done by the Council of Europe and others. The hon. Gentleman may remember that it has been one of the central places in which the agreement on transfrontier broadcasting has been hammered out to the benefit of countries beyond the Community and throughout those represented at the Council of Europe.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend find time for a debate on the future of rural England? Does he agree that the problems of particular parts of the country and of urban areas are often discussed but that the problems facing rural areas such as housing and health, shifting populations and farm incomes are interconnected and merit being debated as a whole?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend represents a substantial part of rural England and he is entitled to make that point. I shall try to bear it in mind.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : Surely the price of having no Select Committee on Scottish Affairs is that Parliament does not have an adequate means of scrutiny over the Scottish Office or of dealing with important Scottish matters, such as the National Health Service, the steel and fishing industries, nuclear dumping and other issues which would be sent to that Committee. Since the official Opposition have an automatic right to call a debate on that issue but are apparently scared to do so, would the Leader of the House consider providing Government time for a debate? Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to columns 715-16 of Hansard for yesterday and seen Mr. Speaker's ruling that he is bound by the Standing Orders as they are and that he can

"rule only on the basis of the guidelines that have been laid down"?-- [Official Report, 29 November 1989 ; Vol. 162, c715.] The Leader of the House has duties with regard to that. Will he now implement Standing Order No. 130 which makes it mandatory to create a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? Will he also obey the ruling by Mr. Speaker and create that Select Committee now?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I have immense respect for any ruling by Mr. Speaker. The one referred to by the hon.

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Member was given in a different context. That point was discussed in the debate on 20 December last year. I cannot add anything to the conclusions then arrived at.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye) : Further to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), may I press my right hon. and learned Friend harder on the subject of the ECGD policy which the Government are to announce? Bearing in mind the correspondence that I have had with him and with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, will he give an assurance that, at the minimum, there will be a statement on the Floor of the House?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The impression that I have already formed of the importance of that subject is fortified by my hon. Friend's support. I shall represent the importance of the point all the more vigorously to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside) : The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion 81 concerning the proposed closure of the British American Tobacco company factory in Liverpool with the loss of 500 jobs. It has been signed by 134 hon. Members.

[That this House deplores the announcement by the British American Tobacco Company of the closure of their Liverpool factory, four weeks before Christmas, with the loss of 500 jobs ; notes that British American Tobacco company's latest annual report shows a projected profit of £2 billion ; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to have urgent talks with the British American Tobacco Company in an attempt to put together a regional investment package which will avert the closure in the Liverpool, Riverside constituency which has the highest unemployment level in England, Scotland and Wales.] Will he ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to meet me and other Labour Members next week to discuss the matter, bearing in mind the horrendous economic effect that it will have on the community?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am familiar with the terms of the early-day motion. As the hon. Gentleman points out, it is certainly a matter for regret, but, at heart, it is a commercial decision by the company. I understand that officials from the Department of Trade and Industry have been in touch with the company about its plans for the future of the factory. The company intends to offer the factory free of charge to the Merseyside development corporation, which will arrange for counselling and other assistance to minimise the effects of the closure. I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's intervention to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest) : As my right hon. and learned Friend will be aware, there have been disturbing reports recently about the failure of the licensing system established under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, particularly with regard to the Huntingdon research centre. In view of the considerable disquiet expressed on both sides of the House when the Bill was debated about the efficacy of the licensing system, will my right hon. and learned Friend find time in the near future for a debate on that urgent subject which concerns many people on an all-party basis?

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Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the importance that many hon. Members attach to this subject. I have to confess that my imputed omniscience does not extend to a detailed knowledge of the point that my hon. Friend raised, but I shall see that it is taken into account by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn) : May we have a debate next week on the poll tax in Scotland, particularly as it affects local authorities? The Leader of the House may not know that Strathclyde has been forced to send out 300,000 warnings to people in the region saying that if the poll tax is not paid sheriffs' officers could be calling at their doors. Surely we do not want that to happen at Christmas or thereafter.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Certainly local authorities in Scotland are proposing to make use of the available powers to collect arrears from those who persist in not paying the community charge, but the great majority of people are paying it, even in the areas that the hon. Gentleman talks about. The most effective answer would be for those affected to respond by paying promptly the tax for which they are liable. It is important not to get reports of supposedly high non-payment levels out of perspective.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton) : Regarding early-day motion 2 on war widows' pensions--

[That this House recognises the unfair treatment of the war widows of the servicemen who retired before 31st March 1973 and those widows who married their husbands after their retirement from the armed forces both prior and subsequent to the 6th April 1978 ; and urges Her Majesty's Government to remove these artificial time bars in order that all war widows and widows of servicemen may receive the current rate for those pensions irrespective of the date of their husbands' retirement or the date of their marriage.]

--will my right hon. and learned Friend reflect on the old saying that "If you are in a hole, you should stop digging"? Since the Government's position on this matter cannot be defended, will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange to change it next week?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend has repeated a well-known proposition that formed the text of a newspaper leading article earlier this week. I shall certainly--because I cannot do otherwise--remind my right hon. Friend of the importance that my hon. Friend and others attach to this subject. I cannot say more than that.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider the reply that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)? Is it not time we had a debate on British manufacturing industry? The right hon. and learned Gentleman has argued that the last Labour Government were responsible for job losses. He must have a short memory. Is he not aware that had the Labour Government at the time not taken over those industries there would have been no industries left in this country, because private enterprise was collapsing? Had that Government not underpinned those industries there would have been massive redundancies on a scale never seen before. Now that the Government- -

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman's question must be about the business for next week.

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Mr. Heffer : I am aware of that, Mr. Speaker, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman argued a case. I am just making the point--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot make points of that kind at business questions. He must ask a question about next week's business.

Mr. Heffer : I am getting to the point : if the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes out that case, we had better have a full-scale debate in the House so that we can discuss the matter seriously and clearly state that the Labour Government were responsible for saving industries but that this Government have been responsible for destroying them.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman may have forgotten that the topic to which he refers was extensively debated on at least two days during the debate on the Loyal Address. It has been debated in the House with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today. There is a powerful case to be made to the contrary of that put by the hon. Gentleman, and the Government are only too willing to make it. It is the recovery of private enterprise, not dependent on state aid on the scale of that offered by the last Labour Government, that has been at the heart of the recovery taking place in our manufacturing capability.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange to have a debate soon, preferably next week, on the monstrous proposals by London Underground to create one of the largest underground stations in the world within yards of this Palace and to turn the whole of Parliament square into a building site for about four years? That would be wholly unacceptable to most hon. Members. May we have an early statement to the effect that the Government will not back the Bill in question?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is adopting an unusually straightforward and over-simplified approach to the issue. Important works related to the structure of the Palace of Westminister are taking place which, as he knows, have to be carried forward. There are also important projects for the improvement of transport in the city of London which must be seriously considered. We should not conclude too dismissively that it is impossible to reconcile those objectives in a sensible fashion. My hon. Friend is right to underline the hazards which must be addressed, but I hope that he will not conclude that nothing can be done to reconcile the two objectives.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The reason for business questions is to ask about the business next week, not to make general points. There are two statements and an important debate to follow business questions today.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith) : Since the Government claim to support human rights, does the Leader of the House agree that there should be a special debate next week about the case involving Tarek Sharief, a Libyan who is being held hostage in this country due to the misconduct of the Sussex police--a force which I do not particularly like, but that is another matter? Will that case be properly investigated in a debate and will the Leader of the House reply? The Libyan leadership have

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made it clear that they are willing to intervene to help Terry Waite, John McCarthy, Roger Cooper and others, provided the Government allow Tarek Sharief to go free and obtain his passport as he has every right to do.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot comment on the particular case raised by the hon. Gentleman or his relative degrees of affection for different police forces. I leave that to him. I shall bring the case to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many Conservative Members are concerned about the events taking place in Romania? Will he arrange for an early debate on eastern Europe during prime time so that we can put forward our views?

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : There is one tomorrow.

Mr. Dunn : I want one other than tomorrow's debate in prime time.

Mr. Banks : Why?

Mr. Dunn : Because I said so. Will the Leader of the House also consider making a strong recommendation to the Government that every honour and award given to the Romanian Government and the Ceausescu family--which is the same thing--should be immediately cancelled and withdrawn?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend's latter point has been made before in the House and no doubt he can develop it during tomorrow's debate. To have a full day available for debate on eastern Europe tomorrow seems close to making time available in prime time.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : Will the Secretary of State for Health make a statement to the House about why speech therapists have to subsist on such appallingly low pay? This group of professional people, who are highly qualified after four years studying for a degree at university, are expected to accept a pay rise well below the inflation rate caused by the Government's policies. May we have a statement so that we can question the Secretary of State on why justice cannot be obtained for these people?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand the hon. Gentleman drawing attention to the importance of work done by speech therapists, but he should recollect that in the past 10 years, since 1979, speech therapists have benefited from a real terms pay increase of 19 per cent. and the number of speech therapists, including men, employed in the National Health Service has increased steadily and continues to do so. He knows as well as I that pay negotiations for 1989-90 are continuing.

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