HC Deb 29 July 1982 vol 28 cc1229-36 3.30 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for the first week after the recess?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

The business for the first week after the Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 18 OcToBER—Remaining stages of the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill[Lords].

Second Reading of the Insurance Companies Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

TUESDAY 19 OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Administration of Justice Bill [Lords].

Motion on the code of guidance on sites of special scientific interest.

WEDNESDAY 20 OCTOBER—Debate on a subject to be chosen by the Opposition.

Motion on the Driving Licences (Community Driving Licence) Regulations.

THURSDAY 21 OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill.

Remaining stages of the Insurance Companies Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Extension) Order.

FRIDAY 22 OCTOBER—A debate on the report of the Scott Committee of Inquiry into the value of pensions, Cmnd No. 8147, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House may also be asked to consider other business as necessary and it is expected that the new Session will be opened on Wednesday 3 November.

Mr. Foot

On previous occasions I have asked for a statement from the Secretary of State for Energy about the sale of BNOC assests. A statement was made on Monday. May we have an extension of that statement to ensure that no action will be taken by the Government without a statement and a debate?

Replies by the Prime Minister show how necessary it is to have still further debates on unemployment. In recent weeks the Government have refused to provide the time for such a debate. We supplied the time this week. I hope that the Government will supply time for a debate before long because before we return two further unemployment figures will have been issued showing further increases in unemployment.

Mr. Biffen

I note what the Leader of the Opposition says about a debate on unemployment after we return from the recess. He will appreciate that our return is but a span which is under the shadow of the Queen's Speech. Such matters will be central to our debate on the Queen's Speech.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy explained to the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) the technical problems which prevented the laying of directions covering the ultimate disposal of British Gas Corporation assets before the recess. No irrevocable steps on the disposal of the British Gas Corporation's offshore oil assests will be taken before right hon. and hon. Members have had an opportunity to debate them.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

The Leader of the House undertook last week to see whether it was possible to have a debate and vote on the student grants prayer. That topic will come up on the debate on the Consolidated Fund, but there will be no opportunity for a vote. Will the Leader of the House honour his undertaking?

Mr. Biffen

Yes. I have examined the problem and I am anxious to accommodate the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps we can arrange through the usual channels for the issue to be debated upstairs.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Will it be convenient in the week that we return for the Government to make a statement not only on Lord Belstead's recent visit to Gibraltar but on any other visits made to Gibraltar by Ministers, particularly in relation to the commercialisation of the dockyard?

Mr. Biffen

No arrangement has been made for such a debate in the first week after the recess, but there are plenty of opportunities for raising the matter through the facilities available to Back Benchers.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

As we know from experience that the Government will make unpleasant statements as soon as the House rises for the recess, and since we cannot debate such matters in the first week after the recess, will the Leader of the House arrange for Ministers to make all their unpleasant statements tomorrow?

Mr. Biffen

That would be a dangerous innovation.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his decision at last to debate the Scott report on Friday 22 October is welcome? Will he ensure that the relevant Minister makes clear to the House the Government's broad response to the Megaw report since the two matters should be considered together?

Mr. Biffen

Yes. My hon. Friend makes a valid point. He will acknowledge that the Government have an obligation to undertake widespread consultations on the Megaw report outside the House. I am sure that it will be possible to meet my hon. Friend's request.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)

Will the Leader of the House look at page 3777, item 20, of the Order Paper which asks that the Scottish Grand Committee should meet in Edinburgh during the recess to discuss the Hunter report? We understand that urgent action is required, possibly tomorrow, if that is to be facilitated. Because of the widespread interest and the need for Scottish Members to comment on that issue of privilege, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to take action in the House tomorrow?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly examine item 20, as requested. The hon. Gentleman will concede that his request involves an important innovation and that therefore I cannot guarantee that I shall answer in a way which is helpful. None the less, I shall consider the matter.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

I assume that the Leader of the House is not willing to give way to that important innovation. Is it not strange that the Hunter report is not scheduled for debate in the first week after the recess?

Mr. Biffen

Many items of business jostle for inclusion on the agenda. I am sorry that my hon. and learned Friend is disappointed at the absence of a debate on the Hunter report. He must not assume that its absence downgrades the importance attached by the Government to the issue.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Before 18 October the Government will have time to examine the decision in the Helen Smith case. An appeal is to be made against the decision to refuse to hold a coroner's inquest. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that has caused widespread repercussions and a feeling that there has been a cover-up by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? A statement would help to clarify the position. May we have a statement in the week commencing 18 October?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw that request to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Will we be sitting in the last week of October?

Mr. Biffen

I think that the business will extend beyond the week that I have mentioned.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

Does the Leader of the House realise that there has been a great deal of strong feeling on both sides of the House in support of the view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas)? Does he accept that the motion does not ask for a revolutionary change and that it would allow Scottish Members the opportunity of an early debate on the vital Hunter report, which is a subject of great controversy in Scotland? Will he give urgent consideration to this matter which is worrying members on both sides of the House?

Mr. Biffen

The proposal may not be revolutionary but it is certainly controversial.

Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

Reverting to the proposed debate on the Scott report on Friday 22 October, dare we hope that, after all the time that has elapsed since the publication of the report, the basis debate will not be a "take note" motion but rather a definitive statement of the Government's policy?

Mr. Biffen

It will take place on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

Will the Leader of the House look again at motion No. 20 concerning the Scottish Grand Committee. Was he not being unnecessarily negative? He says that it is controversial, but if he examines yesterday's Hansard he will realise that there was strong support for the motion on both sides of the House. It is crucial that we should be allowed to debate the matter under the proper rules and privileges of the House. It is not controversial and it would be an innovation, but greater innovations have occurred when the House has been recalled—and it was recalled in April this year. Is there any reason why one Committee of the House should not be recalled? Is it not true that Select Committees can meet in the recess? The innovation is not as great as he suggests, but the demand for it is very great indeed.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has made his case and I take note of it. I have told the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas) that I will examine the matter, and, of course, I shall do so.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

In view of the evidently successful devolution of the Scottish Grand Committee to Edinburgh, may we have an early debate on the desirability of devolving Scottish Question Time to Edinburgh and the substitution therefor of a Question Time for London, bearing in mind that Scotland has 71 Members and London has 92 Members?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend's point demonstrates the momentous implications once one gets into the area of a Committee meeting in Edinburgh.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

We are grateful for the fact that the Leader of the House has said that he will consider motion No. 20. Will he accept that innovation is not necessarily a sin, even in Leaders of the House? Does he not accept that a discussion of the Hunter report in the House would be peculiarly appropriate because of the nature of the report and the subjects with which it deals? It is quite unsatisfactory that there should be no prospect of doing so until October or November, given that the report is to be published next week. Does he accept that there is a strong feeling that the matter has been handled with little competence and some insensitivity, and that by acting quickly tomorrow to facilitate a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee he can do something to put that right?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I cannot sensibly add to the very original answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Dunfermline.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)

While welcoming the fact that we are to have a debate on the Scott report which has been before the House for a long time, and in view of the great public interest in index-linked pensions, will my right hon. Friend tell the House why the debate is to be on the Adjournment of the House and why it is to be on a Friday?

Mr. Biffen

Many important debates take place on a Friday and, indeed, many important debates are taken on the Adjournment of the House. This will enable there to be a wide-ranging debate and it will enable the Government sensibly to assess the temperature of the House on this issue.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

Unless there is a marked relief of the anxiety that is now facing the British steel industry, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that there will be a debate immediately after the House resumes? Has he taken note of early-day motion 639?

[That this House views with revulsion the manufacture in this country of weapons which administer electric shocks and which are very likely to be used for purposes of torture; deplores the sale of this equipment to regions which demonstrate a marked indifference to human rights; and, further, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that such equipment, which is described in both English and Spanish as "ideal for use in penal institutions" in the brochure provided by the manufacturer, is not promoted or displayed at exhibitions or presentations arranged or sponsored by public authorities.]

In the interests of international decency and Government consistency, may we have an expression of disapproval of the manufacture of instruments of torture in this country?

Mr. Biffen

I note the early-day motion to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to his point. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman speaks with support throughout the Chamber.

With regard to the question of a debate on the steel industry, the week we return will be devoted substantially to finalising important legislation. But I am certain that following the Queen's Speech there will be an opportunity to debate the issues that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

Will my right hon. Friend consider again the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) about index-linked pensions? Is he aware that the Government's plan to debate the subject on a Friday on a motion for the Adjournment of the House carries the implication that the Government regard this as an extremely hot potato and that it is a subject that they would not wish to have debated on a positive motion or when there are many hon. Members present?

Mr. Biffen

No. It is perfectly reasonable that such a topic should be debated on a Friday. If by some happy circumstance one could have five Wednesdays in a week, that would be much easier for the managers of Government business. Friday is an available day and I am certain that all those who are committed to the subject will find it opportune to be here to lend their voices to the debate.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

When will the House have an opportunity to debate the plight of the 15,000 United Kingdom passport holders who are entitled to settle in this country and the 5,000 available vouchers which are never taken up and which the Government refuse to reallocate? As the system lacks sense and compassion and causes unnecessary hardship, not least to the Asian community in Leicester, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Home Secretary whether he will make a statement on this matter and try to act decently towards these suffering people?

Mr. Biffen

I do not accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's description of the position. I will consult my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, as he requests.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the quality of the Gracious Speech will not necessarily depend on the number of legislative threats and promises that it contains?

Mr. Biffen


Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

Have the Government, through the Prime Minister, sent a message of congratulation to the Archibishop of Canterbury on his memorable and meaningful sermon at St. Paul's on the need for peace and reconciliation? Will the right hon. Gentleman deny the report that the husband of the Prime Minister said that she was "spitting blood" after the service?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman is not so naive that he believes all that he reads.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm or deny that a new Representation of the People Bill is being prepared in line with and to correspond to the new British Nationality Act?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend will not have to wait long for the Queen's Speech. He should not tempt me or anybody else.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

Following the British Nationality Act 1981, when are the new draft immigration rules likely to be published?

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry, but I cannot answer that question. I shall make inquiries and ensure that the hon. and learned Gentleman is informed.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Now that the long-awaited Select Committee on Transport's report on London Transport has been published, for whose publication the Government delayed any action that they intended to take to put matters right, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, as soon as the House returns after the recess, the Secretary of State for Transport will make a statement about the Government's intentions? Even better, will the Government find time to debate this crucial issue because, in the meantime, Londoners are paying through the nose for an ever-declining service under the jurisdiction of the GLC which is almost universally mistrusted?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend will appreciate from my announcement that no provision has been made for a debate during the first week back, but I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to his point about the desirability of a statement.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Has my right hon. Friend read this morning that, after about a year of costly and disruptive legal procedures and court actions, the EEC has finally agreed to the Berisford-British Sugar takeover, which is the same decision that he and the Office of Fair Trading took about a year ago? Would it be possible in the spill-over period after the recess to have even half a day of Government time to discuss the real dangers to British jobs, British investment and major British firms from having a second court of appeal established on essential takeovers, mergers and bids?

Mr. Biffen

I have not read the newspaper report to which my hon. Friend refers. Clearly there is no provision for a debate upon the topic that he has raised in the first week following our return after the Summer Recess. However, I have such respect for my hon. Friend that I know perfectly well that the issue will obtrude on to the Floor of the House by one means or another.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed that, in replying to the short, simple, identical and doubtless unsolicited question for written reply which the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) addressed to the Secretaries of State for Trade, Energy and Wales, each right hon. Gentleman has given in Hansard four or five columns of tedious self-justification? If they must do this, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that in future they do it by oral statements so that we may cross-examine them?

Mr. Biffen

If the answers were tedious, it is possible that they were not all that self-justifying. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) has done no more than has been done on many occasions in the past. Clearly many Departments of State have very good stories to tell and are anxious to have them placed upon the record. It is about as innocent as that.

Mr. John Silkin

Is the right hon. Gentleman really suggesting that we should adopt the revolting European habit of writing speeches into the record? Surely Ministers should be cross-examined in the House.

Mr. Biffen

No, but I am well aware that the opportunity for Departments to place items upon the record in the written answers columns that they believe to be advantageous to policy is long established.

Mr. Latham


Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman is wise, he will leave the matter to his right hon. Friend.