May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?
Motions on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) (No. 3) Order and the Revaluation Rate Rebates (Scotland) Order.
Motions relating to Scottish rating and valuation regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report. WEDNESDAY 20 JANUARY—Debate on motion to take note on the White Paper on the annual report on Hong Kong 1987 (Cm. 293).
Motion on the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) Order The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at Seven o'clock.
Remaining stages of the Duchy of Lancaster Bill.
FRIDAY 22 JANUARY—Private Members' Bills MONDAY 25 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Regional Development Grants (Termination) Bill.
Non-Domestic Rates and Community Charges (Timetable) (Scotland) Regulations 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 2167); Abolition of Domestic Rates (Domestic and Part Residential Subjects) (Scotland) Regulations 1987 (S.I., 1987 No. 2179).]
I am grateful to the Leader of the House. I congratulate him on his additional appointment, although I am sure that all hon. Members will regret the reason why that additional office had been thrust upon him.
Now that the Secretary of State for Social Services has conceded to the presidents of the royal colleges that it is necessary to increase "total resources", to use the Secretary of State's words, and the efficiency of their use in the National Health Service, can we look forward to further candour from the right hon. Gentleman during the Opposition day on the Health Service next week? Can we look forward to, for instance, the announcement of further funds which are essential if hospitals are to clear the £70 million-worth of deficits which still remain in this financial year and which must be lifted if the next financial year is not to begin with another under-funding crisis in the NHS?
Yesterday the Secretary of State for the Environment confirmed in a written answer that he had asked the Nature Conservancy Council to examine the scope for the privatisation of the nation's natural reserves. May we now have an urgent debate on the Government's intentions towards conservation and the future of the national heritage? Clearly, nothing is safe from the Government's predatory instincts, not even our countryside.
Given that this week we have seen yet a further erosion of the Government's support for firms involved in high technology, may we have a statement on policy for industrial research and development which will explain exactly how the Government propose that withdrawing assistance from innovation will somehow advance those industries on which our future as a nation depends, especially when our competitors are doing the opposite and giving more support to their advanced industries?
The House will have noticed the gravity of the threat posed by the massive increase in illegal imports of cocaine. May we have a statement on what the Government intend to do about this and whether they will recruit the 500 extra customs staff that are estimated to be necessary to deal with this murderous traffic?
Finally, will the Leader of the House now tell us when the House will have an opportunity to debate the televising of the House of Commons? Can he also tell us whether he is willing to cast off his coyness and join those of us who want this change and want it quickly?
First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks at the beginning and say that I am sure the whole House is sad that Lord Whitelaw has had to retire from active politics. We all wish him a continued and speedy recovery, which is going on at present. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
With regard to the other matters that the right hon. Gentleman raised, of course the debate next week will enable my right hon. Friend to make quite clear the position regarding funding of the National Health Service. As I understand it, the meeting with senior medical gentlemen that took place yesterday was to discuss the way that the increase in funding that had already been announced was going to assist the NHS and continually improve its record.
With regard to the Nature Conservancy Council, as I understand it too—but I will check the matter with my right hon. Friend — a period of consultation and discussion is still going on, but I will see when is the most appropriate time to have a debate. It is obviously a very important matter that we shall have to come to in the House.
With regard to research and development plans, it is not right for a statement to be given at the moment, but many of the issues raised are just the sort of issues, subject to you, Mr. Speaker, that could well be part of the debate on the Regional Development Grants (Termination) Bill that will take place on 25 January.
On the question of cocaine and drugs generally, I will certainly refer the matter to the Home Secretary, but I have nothing to say at the moment.
I am sorry that I have not been able to announce today the date of the televising debate, as I had intended to do; but I can undertake to announce a date in my next business statement next week. I am anxious to have a debate at the time I said—around the end of the month. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will have to wait, if it is of any concern to him, for the views that I shall express on that day.
The Leader of the House will know that the issues relating to abortion are often emotive. I hope that he will agree that a private Member's Bill that has secured time for debate on the Floor of the House will be enabled to be discussed fully for the House to arrive at a conclusion. I ask my right hon. Friend, therefore, whether he will give an undertaking that, if any attempt is made to prevent a proper debate on Friday week, he will ensure that the House is given an opportunity to reach a decision on this most grave and important matter?
I of course recognise my right hon. Friend's concern in the matter, although the point that he raises is hypothetical at present. I hope very much that it will not become a reality. However, I am sure that the House would wish to protect private Members' time if the chance to reach a decision on the Bill were threatened by the use of procedural devices.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that the announcement that he has made about the motions relating to Scottish rating and valuation on Tuesday night arises on a prayer that has been tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends? If that is the case, may I warmly welcome the fact that these important regulations on poll tax implementation can be discussed? The opportunity to do so will be widely welcomed.
Has the Leader of the House yet had time to assimilate the results of the debate that we had only last night on the setting up of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? May we expect a statement and debate in the near future so that the Committee may be set up and start working on important issues north of the border?
I use the word "friend" with some care in these matters, but certainly the hon. Gentleman sitting on the hon. Member's left, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), wrote to me on these matters and I confirm that it was what I take to be the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends who tabled this prayer that will be the subject of the debate next week.
As regards last night's debate, I was pleased to see the more flexible stance taken during the debate. The next thing is to read Hansard and see exactly what everyone's position is. Then we will decide how best to proceed from there.
Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to study early-day motion 372 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)?
[That this House believes that honourable and right honourable Members should keep their speeches to 10 minutes or less when requested by Mr. Speaker in order to give more backbench Members of all parties an opportunity to speak, excepting only the four principal speakers in each debate.]
Will he consider, in conjunction with Mr. Speaker, the possibility of reintroducing the experiment which was very successful in the last Parliament, because any restraint on the length of speeches by windbags, especially Privy Council windbags, would be very welcome?
I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend. The intention is to get agreement to change Standing Orders to make this a permanent feature, but it is one of a number of procedural changes that we are considering, and I will make progress as soon as I can.
Will the Leader of the House reflect a little on what he said in reply to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) about the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? Will he concede that the initiative lies in his hands and that, while the Committee of Selection could theoretically take certain steps, he should take the initiative and put down a motion to get the Select Committee established? Since Opposition Members have shown flexibility, is it not his responsibility, in keeping with his duties as Leader of the House, to take the initiative and put down a motion as soon as possible?
I recognise that the Committee of Selection is awaiting further guidance but, as I said to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), I was pleased to see the flexible stance taken by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (M r. Dewar). If that had clearly been the Labour party position earlier on, the Committee of Selection would not have needed to report in the terms that it did. Once we have studied last night's debate in Hansard, it will be a question of proceeding to discussions.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, in the exceptionally interesting and wide-ranging paper on the reorganisation of the Department of Trade and Industry published yesterday, there is a proposal that part of the Department should be restructured so that it could play a full part in assessing the contribution which science and technology could make I o the economic success of the nation. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that not only the DTI but also this House should have an opportunity to make such an assessment? Is such an assessment not long overdue?
I agree with my hon. Friend that discussions on matters of science and technology acre something for which he has been pressing me for some time. He puts it in a slightly different way, but I recognise the validity of his case. It is an important matter, but I hope that my hon. Friend will also appreciate that at this time in the Session there is a considerable amount of important Government business to deal with, so I cannot offer him time for that in the immediate future. I will, however, bear it in mind and, as soon as we have a bit more scope, we will do something about it.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the Cabinet papers just released under the 30-year rule show that, at the British nuclear tests in the Pacific, no high-level consideration was given to the safety of our service men, and the chiefs of staff admitted that they were dealing with an unknown quantity? As British nuclear test veterans have still received no compensation, could we have a debate on the matter as soon as possible?
Is the Leader of the House aware of increasing concern that the Murdoch group is to take a larger stake in the Pearson group, so that the Financial Times could come under the control of Mr. Murdoch? Will the Leader of the House recognise that it would be completely wrong for that gentleman to own even more of the British press, and will he promise a statement early next week if necessary?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, clear rules are laid down governing mergers and takeovers of newspapers. I assure him that my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will conduct himself entirely in accordance with those rules and that a statement will be made if one is required.
Bearing in mind the request made by the Leader of the Opposition for an early debate on the televising of Parliament, does my right hon. Friend agree that the scant respect for the great traditions and values of the House of Commons shown by many Opposition Members will do nothing to advance the cause of an early debate or, indeed, of the televising of Parliament?
Regardless of whether it advances the cause of an early debate, it is certainly a factor that a number of my hon. Friends will want to consider in their deliberations on these matters.
Will the right hon. Gentleman keep in mind the fact that he is the Leader of the whole House, including Back Benchers? Does he realise that, if he is to keep the kind regard that many hon. Members have for him, he must be careful to prevent incidents such as the recent placing of a two-line Whip on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill, which was a private measure, and of a three-line Whip against a private Member's Bill sponsored by one of his hon. Friends? In addition, he gave a rather curt reply to last night's debate—he has certainly softened a little this afternoon — which also infringed the rights of Back Benchers who want to be part of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Such incidents do not build up the support that is necessary if the right hon. Gentleman is to follow in the great traditions of his predecessors.
I know that my immediate predecessor was a hard act to follow and I shall do my best to serve the House in all capacities. However, the hon. Gentleman has not got his facts right on the earlier matters to which he referred, and that rather devalues his contribution. Matters of whipping are not matters for me or matters for discussion. I had a very few minutes in which to reply to the debate last night. I believe that we had a useful and satisfactory debate and that the way in which I proceeded will meet with the general satisfaction of the House.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that every year, immediately before our debate on Hong Kong — my right hon. Friend announced this year's debate today—the Hong Kong media seem to regard it as necessary to whip up massive expectations of world-shattering announcements about to be made by the British Government. Will he make it quite clear that this is a routine annual debate, albeit an important one, and anybody expecting dramatic announcements from the Government as a result of it is likely to be disappointed?
Is the Leader of the House aware—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Can't hear."] Shut up. I apologise, Mr. Speaker. Hundreds upon hundreds of my constituents suffer from problems caused by mining subsidence and many of his hon. Friends have similar problems in their constituencies. The reason is that British Coal will not meet the costs of compensation or repairs to those properties but keeps wiping them to one side. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate before Easter so that something can be done to help those people?
My right hon. Friend may be aware that the Welsh Affairs Select Committee has decided to meet more frequently in Wales. Will he look into the possibility of the Welsh Grand Committee meeting in Wales—thus following the example of the Scottish Grand Committee, which meets at least twice a year at the Royal High school, Edinburgh—so that we can be more accessible to the Welsh people?
Will the Leader of the House allow time in the near future for a full debate on the Government's golden share in Britoil so that the House can determine whether it was misled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 31 March 1982, when he spoke of the golden share as being an effective means of protecting Britoil's independence?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is hard enough to find out what is going on in this place without the difficulties posed by the non-appearance of the Order Paper in its proper form and its haphazard distribution around the outbuildings? Will he undertake to see whether the Order Paper and the Votes and Proceedings can be printed properly, in their full form and according to their normal schedule?
I recognise that there have been some difficulties—there were some today—and I apologise to my hon. Friend and the rest of the House for that. We are doing everything that we can to ensure that they do not recur, and I shall report to the House if anything needs to be said.
Does the Leader of the House understand that there is considerable concern in all parts of the House at reports that the Government intend to abolish the rights of Members of Parliament to make representations directly to Ministers on immigration matters? Will he therefore arrange for an early statement from the Home Secretary so that he can be questioned on the Government's intentions in this matter? Will he ensure that the debate that is due to take place the week after next about the immigration rules is given sufficient time to enable all hon. Members to raise the issue of their ability to make representations directly to Ministers on immigration matters?
I can confirm that I shall be announcing a debate on these matters in my next business statement. That will be the occasion to deal with the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I shall ensure that there are discussions through the usual channels to ensure adequate time for that debate.
When my right hon. Friend reflects on last night's debate about the setting up of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, will he bear in mind the two themes that emerged—that there should be such a Select Committee and that its conduct in the last Parliament was widely thought to be unsatisfactory? Is there not an obvious answer to the problem — the Committee of Selection should nominate only those hon. Members who do not serve Scottish constituencies?
When can we have a debate on the special needs of special schools such as Western Park school in my constituency, where the combination of the reductions in funds for education and for health have combined to make life extremely difficult for the people who are trying to care for those children and for the youngsters themselves, especially in physiotherapy?
Has my right hon. Friend had time to consider the serious events in the Chamber on Monday? Is he aware that the hon. Member involved in the incident announced on radio the same day that, because of the short term of his suspension from the House, he proposes, if necessary and as he sees fit, to repeat the episode? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend allow an early debate on the procedures of the House, particularly on the disciplinary measures available to the Speaker, in order that any repetition of such an event is met with much more harsh discipline than was the case on Monday?
If there were a strong demand for a debate, I would look into it. The position was pretty clear earlier in the week, and I think all hon. Members hope that we do not have a repetition of that sort of thing.
May I add my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have had the warmest regard over many years, since we first travelled abroad together? I know him better than most. When can the right hon. Gentleman arrange that we should have a chance to debate foreign affairs again, because there are a number of very important issues that many of us would like to examine, such as the appalling conduct of the Israeli Government and its army in the middle east, the developments in central America and the continuing appalling situation in South Africa? Does he agree that these are all major matters that the House should be considering fairly soon?
The high regard of which the hon. Gentleman spoke is reciprocated, but that does not mean that I can find an extra day in an otherwise crowded programme in the next few weeks to debate foreign affairs. It is certainly an important subject and we will have to have a debate before long, but it will not be in the immediate future.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is welcome news that the Treasury will authorise the minting of a £2 coin next year? Nonetheless, will he agree to a debate on the nature of the denominations of coins to be minted and issued and the design to be imposed upon them?
A special tercentenary coin will be minted. I recognise that a debate on the subject may be more interesting and enlightening than some debates we have, but I do not think that I can promise a debate on that subject in the immediate future.
Would the Leader of the House find time to debate the patronage and appointments by Ministers? I am thinking of the Lothian health board, where appointments have been systematically removed and replaced by card-carrying members of the Conservative party. When I was speaking to the board in Edinburgh this morning, one of them openly spoke of himself as being an agent of the Minister. That is unacceptable and cannot go on.
I obviously cannot comment on the particular case the hon. Gentleman raises. My impression, after a few years as Patronage Secretary, is that suitable candidates from whatever political party are hard to find for many jobs in public life. It would be more constructive for all of us to put forward suitable candidates than to criticise those who put themselves forward for public service.
Will my right hon. Friend, notwithstanding next week's Opposition debate on the Health Service, seek to bring a Minister here to make a statement on the current position over meningitis? This is causing great anxiety and many hon. Members are surprised that a Minister has not already come to the Dispatch Box to air the Government's position on the subject. Will my right hon. Friend look into it?
I certainly recognise that this important subject is giving concern. I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend to see whether any statement would be appropriate.
Would the Leader of the House take time to persuade his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come to the Dispatch Box, because today on two occasions a Treasury Minister and the Prime Minister were pressed on comments made in Europe by Lord Cockfield on the extension of VAT? This afternoon we have received assurances on fuel oils, children's clothes, food, and so on, but it is remarkable that we have not received such an assurance on books and newspapers. Perhaps the Leader of the House can persuade the Chancellor to reassure us that there are no proposals to impose VAT on books and newspapers.
Could my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the tremendous damage being done to democracy by the sight of the squalid squabbling among the various factions of the alliance? Is it not true that, when the alliance was formed, its members told us that they would promulgate a new type of consensus politics? Is it not becoming apparent that it is not consensus politics that they are pushing forward, but nonsense politics?
Does the Leader of the House recognise that there is considerable concern about the possible extension of privatisation to the provision of leisure and recreation services by local authorities? Will he give the House an assurance that, if the Government are tempted to move in that direction, the subject will be fully debated in the House, and not sneaked through and added to the Local Government Bill by other means?
I have no doubt that any proposals from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment would be well worthy of debate in the House, and that he would welcome an opportunity of explaining his views. However, I do not think that I can add anything to the answer that I gave to the Leader of the Opposition.
Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate on the report from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on cultural diplomacy? Is he aware of the concern on both sides of the House about the funding and the administration of the British Council, which is so important to our influence and our exports abroad?
That is an important matter, and the report by the Select Committee is also important. However, I am afraid that the pressure of time is such that I cannot offer any prospect of a debate in the immediate future.
As the Leader of the House has already said that changes are to be proposed in the rights of hon. Members to represent their constituents in immigration cases, can he ensure that a statement is made in the House next week — the week before the debate? This is yet another attack on the rights of hon. Members to represent their constituents.
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the position is accurate. The reason that we are having a debate not next week but the week after is that that was found to be more convenient for both sides of the House.
Following the very eloquent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), may I make a strong demand of my right hon. Friend that we should have a debate on that subject? My right hon. Friend will be aware that, on Monday, a hitherto totally unknown Member of the House, whom no one had clapped eyes on before, managed by appalling behaviour to get himself ejected from the premises and projected immediately on to our television screens.
This bad behaviour is increasing. Surely, if someone wants to be a martyr, there should be at least a little penalty; a little risk; a little bit of pain. If people want to be burnt at the stake on the Floor of the House, would not my right hon. Friend agree that at least they should pay for the faggots, or even a box of matches? If anyone is suspended from the House in future, surely he should lose his pay at the time when he is suspended.
I recognise the strength of my hon. Friend's argument, and I would guess that many other people think like him. However, I think that such measures would be controversial. It is a matter for the House and, as I have said, if there is a strong wish to debate it, I shall see what I can do. We should, however, take account of the fact that any hon. Member who has been suspended from the House is not relieved of all his constituency duties. Such matters, of course, would also have serious implications for you, Mr. Speaker.
Can the Leader of the House clarify his response to a question put earlier by the hon. Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) about the chance of an early debate on the Department of Trade and Industry? It is very important to many companies interested in investing in the north-east, particularly with inward investment, to know what grants are available for the future.
Could my right hon. Friend find time next week, or in the very near future, for a debate on the conduct of local government? Is he aware that Derbyshire county council recently appointed Mr. Reg Race as its county director, on a salary in excess of £40,000, when his only qualification for the job seems to be that he is a former Labour Member of Parliament? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is disgraceful and an abuse of local government, and if no debate is forthcoming, should we not consider the possibility of a Bill to outlaw such action?
I cannot promise a debate in the immediate future. While I have no wish to suggest any difficulties for Derbyshire, I am quite content that Mr. Race is where he is.
Will the Leader of the House give an early opportunity for a debate to reform the planning legislation that is allowing developers to build on green belt, green field and playing field sites in Marchmont, Morningside and Liberton in my constituency, and on similar sites in many other constituencies up and down the country?
Has my right hon. Friend noticed the growing tendency within some sections of the Scottish media to report matters that cannot be reported in England? If so, will he confirm that the matter can be debated in tomorrow's debate? If it is not raised tomorrow, will it be included in the Government's thinking in their White Paper on these sensitive and delicate matters?
What will or will not be in order in tomorrow's debate is not a matter for me. However, I should have thought that my hon. Friend, with the skill that he shows in such matters, might be able to make some of the points that he wants to make in principle.
Mr. Tam Da!yell:
Has the Leader of the House reflected on early-day motions 228, 253, 272, 273 and 286?
[That this House notes that in the book, Campaign, By Rodney Tyler, the Selling of the Prime Minister; from behind the doors of Downing Street and Conservative Central Office—A unique inside account of the Battle for Power, the author on page 1, chapter 1, paragraph 1, sentence 1, states 'It was an extraordinary turnaround in fortunes from the moment on 27th January 1986 when Mrs. Thatcher secretly confided to a close associate that she might have to resign …' and on page 3 that 'On the eve of the crucial Westland debate she herself felt shaky enough to doubt her future' though some around her later sought to dismiss this as late evening anxieties of the sort that had disappeared the following morning. It is certainly true that if Leon Britton had chosen to, he could have brought her to the brink of downfall, by naming the real culprits inside Number 10. Instead, he chose to remain silent, and calls on the Prime Minister to give a full account of what transpired between 3rd January and 27th January 1986, at Number 10 Downing Street, in relation to the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter concerning the Westland Affair.]
[That this House notes that the Member for Aldershot on page 136 of his book Heseltine: the unauthorised Biography, states in relation to the Westland Affair that 'John Wakeham issued an order of the day which contained the trite, if effective message, that it was time for all good men to come to the aid of the party. We did.'; and calls on the Leader of the House, The Right Honourable Member for South Colchester and Maldon, to explain when he first knew the role of the then Trade and Industry Secretary, The Right Honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, in the matter of the disclosure of a selectively leaked Law Officer's letter.]
[That this House notes that in his book Mrs. Thatcher's Revolution, published this week by Jonathan Cape and Co., Mr. Peter Jenkins writes, on page 200 'Britton himself refused to enlighten the Select Committee on any point of substance. However, his is reputed to have told close friends subsequently that not only has she known perfectly well what had happened but that, on the day following the leak, had expressed her satisfaction to him at the way things had been handled. However at that time, the downfall of Heseltine had not been achieved … He ( Mr. Britton) might point the finger at her ( Mrs. Thatcher). Potentially he now had the power to destroy her'; and calls on the Prime Minister to give the House a full account of her conversations with the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Right honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, over the period from 3rd January and 27th January 1986, in relation to the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter concerning the Westland Affair.]
[That this House notes that in The Thatcher Years—A decade of Revolution in British Politics, published by BBCBooks, Mr. John Cole, on page 170, considering the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter in the Westland Affair, writes 'why did he ( Sir Robert Armstrong) not give her a quick interim report when he discovered that the leak was an inside job, authorised by her Office? Why did Leon Brittan not tell her? Or the private secretary concerned? Or his chief, who sits in the same room? Or her press secretary? And why did she never ask?'; and calls on the Prime Minister to inform the House of the answers to these questions.]
[That this House notes that, in the book 'Not with Honour-The Inside Story of the Westland Scandal', on page 142, Magnus Linklater and David Leigh write that 'Instead, following Havers's complaint, she spoke privately to Brittan about the leak. Although this is something the Prime Minister has failed to disclose, to widespread disbelief, the evidence comes from an authoritative source, who told us: "The Prime Minister knew about the leak. She was pleased it had been done. There was a meeting between Brittan and her after the complaint from Mayhew. Only the two of them were present … Brittan assumed she knew of [ the leak's] origins. You must draw your own conclusions." One of Brittan's friends adds, "Nobody thought it was a problem. The complaints were out of the public domain and any inquiry was expected to be a formality. Leon wasn't worried at all about it."; and calls on the Prime Minister to give a full account to the House of the meeting between herself and Right honourable Member for Richmond, Yorks, referred to therein.]
In relation to what was said to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), may I record that some of us have had nothing but courtesy from four Conservative Secretaries of State: Michael Noble, Jack Maclay, Gordon Campbell and, indeed, the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger)? However, times have changed in Scotland, and Ministers now brutally throw people off health boards and other Government committees for the Secretary of State, which has never happened before—good Labour people who have served well.
That is partly the reason why—uncharacteristically, perhaps—for the first time ever, I have been asking questions about one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)—who, absolutely without precedent, announced that he had an interest in a very controversial and contentious Bill: the Housing (Scotland) Bill. I asked whether, on Monday of next week, it would be proper for a statement to be made from the Government Front Bench —as the Selection Committee has put the ball in the Government's court—clarifying the role on the Standing Committee of a Minister who declares an interest in highly contentious legislation.
Is it proper that such a Minister should lead on, and be a major force in, such a controversial Bill? If it is considered that he should remain on the Committee, could we have a statement on whether etiquette, and, I believe. Government rules, have changed? This has never happened before in my 25 years in the House.
I am only prepared to answer the last part of that question. In answer to the first part, I have nothing to add to what I have said earlier. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary himself raised his interests in the debate. He took the necessary steps to check whether he was conducting himself in the best traditions of the House and ministerial practice, and I am sure that he is doing exactly that.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that, before Christmas, I asked for an early statement about Government concern regarding job discrimination in Northern Ireland and that he gave an unfavourable reply? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in view of the imminent election in the United States, American politicians are coming under increased pressure to support the MacBride principles and that that would lead to further reductions in investment and perhaps disinvestment in Northern Ireland? In view of that pressure, is the Minister now prepared to ensure an early statement from the Government so that American opinion can be reassured and so that we can have further investment in the Province and ensure higher employment levels there?
This is obviously an important matter, and I referred it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend and his colleagues spend a lot of time encouraging investment from the United States and other places. If they feel that a statement would be helpful on this matter, I am sure that they will want to make one.