Will my right hon. Friend find time to consider the greater degree of choice that the Government's housing policies afford to council tenants? Does he agree that allowing tenants to choose their landlord is the best way of raising standards? Is he aware that Gloucester city council is providing such a choice by offering its tenants the opportunity to opt for one of the best housing associations?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend that the best way of raising council tenants' standards is to give them a choice of landlord. The Housing Act 1988 achieves that through the tenants' choice provisions and I am sure that council tenants will welcome those new rights. I am also aware of Gloucester city council's proposals for transferring its housing, but I must resist the temptation to comment on them, because the council may wish to apply to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for a consent to dispose of that housing and I would not want to prejudice his consideration of the application.
May I inform the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] Mr. Speaker, may I inform—[Interruption]
May I inform the right hon. Gentleman that the Opposition fully support the firmest international action against the threats that have been made on Salman Rushdie's life? The great majority of Moslems, although devout in their faith and offended by what they have been told that Mr. Rushdie has written, are nevertheless law-abiding citizens who are opposed to any illegal act. I also repeat my conviction that Mr. Rushdie is free, under the law of this free country, to publish, and no power has the right to menace or oppress his liberty to do so.
Will my right hon. Friend find time to look into the compensation arrangements that follow compulsory purchase? Does he accept that they are often felt to be unfair and resentment of them contributes to further delays in infrastructure projects?
My hon. Friend knows that we keep these matters under review and he will be pleased that we have substantially increased home loss payments to a minimum of £1,200.
In view of yesterday's events at Shrewsbury, does the Leader of the House first accept that Opposition Members do not wish yesterday's events to be seen as a way of resolving the problems of a unified Ireland?
Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that very grave concern is felt by those who use service camps about the way in which privatisation has resulted in a plethora of contractors not using proper screening methods? When I recently visited accommodation outside Catterick camp I was informed that, although service and Civil Service personnel were vetted and supplied with proper passes, contractors' employees who provide catering and other services were not. Will he investigate that matter?
I know of no evidence to support what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I shall take note of it and see that it is examined by the appropriate authorities. The attack on Clive barracks was another callous attempt to kill and maim soliders as they lay asleep. It was thwarted by the vigilance of the guards, and their courage and presence of mind prevented a serious loss of life. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to comment on security arrangements or any details of them.
Notwithstanding the supplementary question, which was a far from accurate reflection on the state of security on British forces bases, will my right hon. Friend take time during his busy day to ensure that the Secretary of State for Defence communicates to the commanding officer of the 2nd Parachute battalion the congratulations of the House on the vigilance of that battalion in having secured a large base? Will he also commend the courage of Private Norris, who fought off the attackers?
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that a review is carried out into whether sentries guarding military bases should have their weapons loaded? The fact that they were not on this occasion is not the fault of the individual private or of his commanding officer—it is current MOD policy.
I shall certainly pass on what my hon. Friend says. I am sure the whole House would want to pay a warm tribute to the young men who, asleep or on duty, are at grave risk for our safety.
With regard to the safety arrangements at the camp. the appropriate measures are taken in the light of the changing threats. Measures are constantly reviewed. At Clive barracks the soliders were armed with weapons and had immediate access to ammunition. I would not want to comment on any other speculation.
Is the Leader of the House aware of recent reports that have suggested that contact with certain bleached paper products, particularly women's sanitary wear and children's nappies, could lead to the users being infected with dioxin? Does he agree that the manufacturers' response to that has been inadequate and in some respects patronising, and what will he do about that?
The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that there has been some trouble in this area, but it is of small proportions. It is being examined to check what can be done to relieve the problem.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the valleys initiative, together with the 67 per cent. increase in this year's urban programme allocation, shows the Government's determination that all areas should benefit from the economic transformation that is taking place? Does he also agree that the Opposition's clear embarrassment by the initiative is simply because this Government are doing for their traditional heartland what they lamentably failed to do when in office?
My hon. Friend is right. I was present in the Chamber yesterday when the Opposition gave a great deal of publicity to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales this morning, in which he pointed out that in 1988 there was new inward investment in the valleys every two weeks, and more than half those projects were for more than £1 million. In total those investments will provide several thousand new jobs, and unemployment in the Welsh valleys has fallen by 38 per cent. over the past three years.
Will the Lord President make it clear to the Prime Minister that not even the best efforts of her publicity machine will persuade us that the German Government are out of step in NATO on the issue of premature modernisation of short-range nucler weapons? A fortnight ago she told the House that Norway was a loyal NATO ally. The Lord President may know that Norway and Denmark have joined the Germans in resisting this move. Does he accept that we believe that this country should spend the next two years seeking further reductions in nuclear and conventional weaponry on the Warsaw pact side, and that it is the British Government who are out of step?
When the Leader of the House considers with the Prime Minister, as he must do from time to time, the legislative programme of the House, will they take on board the supreme difficulty, indeed the impossibility, of a British jury deciding on blasphemy in respect of' Christianity, let alone other religions, and accept the reality of life in this country, that in effect our national religion is one of freedom, and take the considered report of the Law Commission and bring forward legislation to abolish the law on blasphemy and replace it with public order offences?
I will certainly take the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question and discuss it with my right hon. Friend, but the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to answer him here now.
Many hon. Members and all Conservative Members will welcome the downward trend in long-term unemployment. Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of the House on that and also express the thanks of the House to all those, often lowly paid, civil servants in jobcentres who made this trend come about?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw the attention of the House to the excellent figures released today, showing that long-term unemployment is down by about 280,000. It has fallen in all regions, which is excellent news, and total employment is at its highest ever.