HC Deb 21 April 1983 vol 41 cc417-21 3.31 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

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

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 25 APRIL — Progress in Committee on the Finance Bill. Motions relating to the National Health Service (Charges for Drugs and Appliances) Amendment Regulations.

TUESDAY 26 APRIL—Opposition Day [11th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion on the Government attack on local government and community services. Motions relating to the National Health Service (Charge to Overseas Visitors) Amendment Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 27 APRIL—Further progress in Committee on the Finance Bill until about 7 o'clock. Afterwards, Second reading of the Education (Fees and Awards) Bill.

THURSDAY 28 APRIL—Completion of consideration in Committee on the Finance Bill. Motions on the European Community documents 10657/82 on vocational training policies and 10235/82 on the European Social Fund.

FRIDAY 29 Amt.—Private Members' Bills.

[Debate of 28 April:
Vocational Training Policies Doc. No. 10657/82
Commission opinion on the Review
of the European Social Fund Doc. No. 10235/82

For relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for some of the rearrangement he has made of next week's business in response to our request, but what he has proposed about the Finance Bill is not really a proper way of getting a Finance Bill through the House of Commons. He is bulldozing it through much too speedily. He should give more time for hon. Members in all parts of the House and people throughout the country who wish to make representations to have a chance to put their case. Will he, even at this late stage, look at the possibility of postponing a part of the consideration of the Finance Bill until a later stage?

I have asked time and again that we should have a statement from the Government on steel to allay the widespread fears, particularly at Ravenscraig and elsewhere. I hope that we shall have some assurance on that.

On the question of the citizens advice bureaux, I do not know whether there has been any progress. What has happened to the inquiry, what has happened to the Minister, what has happened to the appalling mess that the Government have made of it and when shall we be given further information on the subject?

On the training of probation officers, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, particularly with the Home Secretary sitting next to him, will understand that there is widespread concern in the service about the pay cut that has been imposed. There is to be a lobby on the issue next week. A strike is threatened and I believe a strike has never before taken place in the history of the service. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will give a clear assurance that the Home Secretary will make a statement to the House at the beginning of next week.

With the Home Secretary on the Front Bench, I must say that we are glad that the Government have at last yielded to the representations that have been made throughout the country, and presented strongly from the Government Benches, about the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. We are glad that they have made the concessions which a few days ago they were saying they would refuse to make. Nevertheless, would it not be better to take that mangy Bill away, screw its neck and never bring it back?

Mr. Biffen

Only the most partisan spirit could lead the right hon. Gentleman to describe the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill as mangy. It is a measure that we have been prepared to consider in the light of representations, and there is recent evidence of that. The House will have a full opportunity to consider all the points made in Committee in the reasonably near future.

To answer the right hon. Gentleman's questions about the probation service, the Home Secretary, who is at my side, will have heard his request and doubtless will pay due regard to it.

I come to the question of the citizens advice bureaux and the felicitous inquiries which the Leader of the Opposition made about the Minister for Consumer Affairs. I assure him that tomorrow my hon. Friend will be in his place answering the Adjournment debate, and I should have thought that that was answer complete enough. There will be questions next week concerning the Department of Trade. I take note of the general concern on the subject. I know that my hon. Friend intends to make an announcement on the inquiry into the CAB, and I take note of the concern that has been expressed on that.

As for a statement on steel, my right hon. Friend is considering the corporate plan. When he has completed those deliberations he will of course make a statement to the House.

I shall, naturally, pay regard to any anxieties that the Leader of the Opposition may express on the timing of the Finance Bill. I do not think a dispassionate observer would believe that what is now proposed bears the hallmark of bulldozing, but I take note of what he has said.

Mr. Foot

May we have an assurance that there will be a statement about the cut in pay of training probation officers?

Mr. Biffen

I am assured by the Home Secretary that there is no cut in their pay, but I shall convey to him what he has, of course, already heard —the anxiety of the Leader of the Opposition that a statement should be made on the matter.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the ill-fated Madrid CSE talks have now reopened. May we soon have a ministerial statement about them? Many of us are beginning to wonder how long the Russian troops will have to remain in Afghanistan and how long the people of Poland will have to go on being repressed before we all come to the conclusion that the relevant provisions of the Helsinki final act are not being observed.

Mr. Biffen

I shall at once draw the attention of the Foreign Secretary to that point.

Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)

Has the Leader of the House seen the list of Queen's awards for export achievement, which includes an award to A. and P. Appledore International, a Newcastle firm? Its achievement involves the export of British management skills and expertise to start up two South Korean shipyards. That amounts to exporting British workers' jobs and will result in the dumping of Korean-made ships in Great Britain. Does this not debase the Queen's award, and will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for Industry to make a statement next week?

Mr. Biffen

It does not debase the Queen's award on exports, because once this country began to disparage the export of services and goods which were related to development overseas — and which had a consequence for British manufacturing in this country—rather than merely the export of goods from this country, we should be showing a very narrow concept of our historic trading role. I cannot guarantee that there will be a statement on the subject next week.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

Can the Leader of the House explain why, once again, there is no reference to the debate on arms control and disarmament which we have been promised? Are we likely to have the debate during the first four years of the present Administration's life?

Mr. Biffen

I very much hope so.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the controversy that has broken out throughout the country and elsewhere about the film "Ghandhi"? Will he therefore arrange for the Minister for Trade to come to the House next week to make a statement about how much British taxpayers' money was involved in the film and what the Indian Government's financial contribution was?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend should use his ingenuity during trade questions on Monday.

Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)

Is the Leader of the House aware of early-day motion 451, signed by 91 hon. Members, about the report in The Guardian today alleging that there has been a Rayner proposal calling for savage cuts in the coastguard rescue service?

[That this House rejects any further cuts in H.M. Coastguard's rescue stations, equipment, telecommunications, manpower and responsibilities as recommended in the recent Rayner report commissioned by the Department Trade; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to abandon any intention to force a change upon those rescued or assisted by the Coastguard Service and to wind up the departmental committee now investigating its practicality.]

In view of the urgent need for vigilance to protect seafarers off our coasts, and in view of some of the alarming evidence coming to light in the Penlee inquiry, will he arrange for an urgent ministerial statement to be made on the subject?

Mr. Biffen

I understand that no decision has been taken by the Department of Trade on the Rayner proposals. In view of what the hon. Gentleman says, I shall refer the matter to the Secretary of State for Trade. Meanwhile, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman will use his imagination to raise the matter when trade questions are before the House on Monday.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend make arrangements for a debate on the third report of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) on the new Parliament building?

Mr. Biffen

Yes. I hope that it can be debated reasonably soon. I realise that there is general interest in the matter.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

Is the Leader of the House aware that we have now had two major annual reports from Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons both of which are highly critical of the appalling conditions in many of our prisons? We have had several other reports on individual establishments which point to the appalling conditions in which prisoners and staff have to live. May we have a debate on the report which was presented to Parliament and, if so, when?

Mr. Biffen

I recognise the importance of the topic. I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate in Government time, but I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant and Waterloo)

The Leader of the House will recall that in recent weeks I have sought an assurance from him that we would have an early opportunity to debate, first, the House of Lords report on engineering research and development and, secondly, the ALVI report on the fifth generation computer project. These subjects are important and, in the second case, urgent. Will it be possible in the near future to debate both under a common heading?

Mr. Biffen

While I have sympathy with my hon. Friend, harsh realism tells me that it is unlikely that Government time will be available for such topics. However, I am certain that the problems that give rise to the reports have a fiscal consequence and, therefore, I should have thought that, with just a little imagination, possibly they could be raised on one of the days on which we shall be discussing the Finance Bill in Committee.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Will the Leader of the House comment upon the propriety of bringing forward on Wednesday next the Education (Fees and Awards) Bill when it has not even had its First Reading? Such a debate flouts all the conventions of the House about the proper time lag between First and Second Reading. Although he may have consulted through his usual channels, does not he think that it would have been courteous for the Secretary of State for Education and Science, if he wanted to rush the Bill through, to consult the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts which has already made recommendations on this issue to him? Rushing the Bill forward in this way without such consultation might be dangerously counter-productive.

Mr. Biffen

It is a matter of regret to me that the normal courtesies of allowing two weekends to elapse between the introduction of a Bill and Second Reading have not been observed in this instance. There was a desire to remove the uncertainty about the problem dealt with by the Bill by proceeding with it as speedily as possible. The Bill will be presented today after the statement and will be available immediately thereafter. I should like to apologise to the hon. Gentleman for the fact that he was not informed and, more generally to the House, for the fact that the normal conventions have not been followed.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that a copy of the report on design cost in the PSA is placed in the Library as it has been on the desk of the Secretary of State for the Environment for three months and for a month before that on the desk of his predecessor? Is the reason for the delay the fact that the report shows that it is cheaper to do the work within the PSA than to go outside to the private sector?

Mr. Biffen

I shall look into that matter and be in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In view of the unsatisfactory way in which the case of the Romanian was treated before he was sent back to Romania a few weeks ago, may we be promised a statement so that if that person, having been thrown out of Romania and now having left Austria, applies to come to this country and is refused entry by the Home Office we can hear from the Home Secretary the reasons for the refusal?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman raises a hypothetical case but, none the less, one that I know commands the interest of the House. I shall certainly refer his point to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

Will the Leader of the House consider making time available for a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on the Caribbean and Central America?

Mr. Biffen

I know that it is an important subject, but I fear that I cannot promise an early debate upon it in Government time.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

As the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister seem incapable of presenting the case outside the House for massive expenditure on nuclear weapons of mass extermination, is it possible that a debate on disarmament will be held in the near future and that it will be spread over two days so that all those who want to participate may have an opportunity to do so?

Mr. Biffen

As I said to the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), I hope that the debate will take place in the reasonably near future.