HC Deb 24 February 1983 vol 37 cc1057-63 3.37 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 28 FEBRUARY—There will be a debate on policing in the Metropolis on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

TUESDAY I MARCH—A debate on the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

WEDNESDAY 2 MARCH—Motion on the Parliamentary Constituencies (England) Order.

THURSDAY 3 MARCH—Until about Seven o'clock, a debate on the CAP price proposals for 1983–84, and other measures. The relevant document numbers will appear in the Official Report.

Afterwards, motion on the Parliamentary Constituencies (Scotland) Order.

FRIDAY 4 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 7 MARCH—Debate on a motion to take note of the review by Lord Jellicoe, Cmnd. 8803.

Motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (Continuance) Order.

[Documents for Debate on Thursday 3 March and relevant reports of European Legislation Committee: 4020/83, 11946/82, 4376/83: Agricultural Price Proposals 1983–84 and related matters (See HC 34-x (1982–83) para. 1); 11089/82 Intervention prices for butter, skimmed milk powder and certain cheeses (See HC 34-iv (1982–83) para. 6)]

Mr. Foot

I put to the right hon. Gentleman four matters which, I am sorry to say, I have had to put to him before, but their urgency grows week by week.

First, on the takeover of Anderson Strathclyde by Charter Consolidated, the right hon. Gentleman has sometimes sought to escape from our request for a debate by saying that the question about the Minister involved has now been dealt with. However, the major question is the overruling of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and the employment considerations that are involved. We still ask the Government to provide time for a debate on that matter.

Secondly, there are the reports, which have given rise to widespread questioning in the House and throughout the country, on the so-called "family policy" discussions in the Government. We ask that that matter should be debated in the House of Commons and that the Government should tell us exactly what their proposals are. The House should have a chance of debating them.

There are a further two major questions that I have put constantly to the right hon. Gentleman. I repeat them now. The new Brandt report was presented a few weeks ago. I hope that the Government will agree to a full debate on the matter. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to put copies of the new Brandt report in the Vote Office. It is a substantial report. This is a very important matter. Hon. Members should have the chance of reading the full report before the debate. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to concur with that request.

Finally, and most important, we have constantly asked for a debate on disarmament. The proper way to do it now would be to have a full two-day debate on the subject, which is becoming more important, particularly in the light of the misrepresentations included in the political broadcast last night sponsored by the Government, when the Secretary of State for Defence spoke. The more that happens, the more it is necessary that we in the House should have the opportunity of debating those matters. I hope that there will be no further delay in the right hon. Gentleman arranging for that debate.

Mr. Biffen

I shall take the four points that were made by the Leader of the Opposition in the sequence in which he presented them. I note that his concern about the Anderson Strathclyde issue is no longer about the propriety of the action of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade or of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Trade but about the employment consequences. I can offer no prospect of Government time for such a debate next week. The right hon. Gentleman might like to consider such a debate, as Opposition days have recently been devoted to employment prospects in various parts of the United Kingdom.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the discussion of the so-called "family policy" group, which was featured in The Guardian. As we are now coming to the phase of parliamentary life that is dominated by the Budget, many of those economic considerations are bound to colour our discussions. That will be a useful trailer for the general election debate, which I know the right hon. Gentleman anticipates keenly.

I accept that the Brandt report is a matter of major substance. I cannot at this stage say whether time will be available for a debate on the report, but I should like the right hon. Gentleman to believe that I am sympathetic to the proposition. I take very seriously the matter of copies of the report being available ahead of the debate, should it come about. On the last occasion that facility was guaranteed.

I said last week that I looked forward to having a debate on disarmament. I cannot state the precise date, again because of the exigencies of the Budget debates, but I note the importance that the right hon. Gentleman attaches to the topic and his desire that there should be a two-day debate. Doubtless he would like to consider providing 50 per cent. of the time.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away with it as easily as that. I am in favour of a two-day debate in Government time. I hope that the Government will seek to provide it.

With regard to the Brandt report, it is absurd that the Government should wait until the debate before the document is put in the Vote Office. The right hon. Gentleman has been forthcoming about the promise of a debate on the matter. I am glad that that has been agreed.

The right hon. Gentleman must not misrepresent what I said about the first matter that I raised. We are concerned about the employment consequences in Scotland. My right hon. and hon. Friends from Scotland are constantly seeking to raise employment questions whenever they have the opportunity. However, this is a special case of a takeover overriding the recommendation of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would recognise that in such exceptional circumstances, which include the employment consequences, he must provide time for a debate.

Mr. Biffen

With regard to the provision of copies of the Brandt report, I dealt with that question by correspondence after it was raised on a point of order last week by the hon. Member for Waltham Forest (Mr. Deakins). I shall see how speedily the report can be made available to the House. With regard to the other point that the right hon. Gentleman raised, I am afraid that I cannot offer the prospect of a debate in Government time on the Anderson Strathclyde decision.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

Why not?

Mr. Biffen

Because I have to judge the many demands that are made on Government time and the priorities that have to be attached to them. The Opposition have to do likewise with the time that they have. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Cover-up".] It is not a cover-up. It is a practical judgment.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

In view of the catastrophic shrinkage of the Merchant Navy, which has lost half its ships in the past six years, does not the Leader of the House think that that should be of grave concern to the House? Will he arrange for a debate on the subject at an early date?

Mr. Biffen

There was an Adjournment debate recently on trade, which was answered by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who has responsibilities for shipping in the Department of Trade. In view of that recent debate, I cannot hold out the hope of an early debate in Government time on the topic requested by the right hon. Gentleman.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that the debate on disarmament, which will be just as welcome on Government Benches as on Opposition Benches, whether it is for one or two days, will be broad enough to cover the entire defence posture of this country and not just disarmament proposals as more Conservative Members are becoming more bewildered about exactly what is or are the defence postures among those in the Opposition? Every time we listen to a television programme, we become more bewildered than we were before.

Mr. Biffen

I take at once the point that my hon. Friend has raised so constructively. I am sure that the motion for the debate can be drawn in such a way as to enable a wide-ranging debate to take place.

Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)

Has the Leader of the House reflected on my comments in the House last Monday about the presence of Boundary Commission personnel and officers in the place reserved for Government advisers? What are the Government's intentions for the relevant debates next week?

Mr. Biffen

I hope to write shortly to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend allow time for discussing the most important topic of jury service? Is he aware that there is now a danger of wholesale bribing and in some cases terrorising of jurors and that the whole system is liable to break down? Will he assure me that there will be a debate and action on that subject at least before the general election?

Mr. Biffen

I am glad that I was allowed the leeway of having such a debate before the general election. While I can say certainly that the debate will not be next week, I cannot be certain that it will be before the general election. If my hon. Friend uses his ingenuity, as I am sure he can, he could make some of the points that he wishes to make in the debate on policing in the metropolis on Monday.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

As the Leader of the House is concerned about Back Benchers, will he seriously consider the problem that, after a full day's debate on private Member's Bills, the House does not have the chance to make a decision? Will he consider private Member's Bills debated on a Friday with a view to finding time for decisions?

Mr. Biffen

That problem has been with us since the Flood, but I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

Further to the previous question, in view of the widespread concern on both sides of the House about the procedures of the House, will my right hon. Friend have discussions through the usual channels with a view to re-establishing the Procedure Committee, and will he make a statement?

Mr. Biffen

I well understand my hon. Friend's point. However, it is unrealistic at this late stage of a Parliament to think that much practical good would result from trying to set up that Committee.

Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)

Has the Leader of the House seen the names of several of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself, praying against the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (Commencement No. 8) Order 1983, under which the Government seek to impose a duty on six different councils in Wales, including Wrexham and Maelor district council, to dispose of properties that they own?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 (Commencement No. 8) Order 1983 (S.I., 1983, No. 94) dated 26th January 1983, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th February, be annulled.] Is the Leader of the House aware that that will have serious implications for the Wrexham and Maelor area, as it raises questions about the proper exercise of responsibility of such district councils? Will he provide time for debate on that subject?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) has been in touch with me. I have written to him on this matter suggesting that it may be taken upstairs.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Bearing in mind that Barbie is in French custody and that tremendous sacrifices were made by this country in the war against Nazism, will a statement be made shortly on what action the British Government intend to take to urge the Chilean authorities to extradite Walter Rauff, who is considered to be one of the most notorious Nazi mass murderers not yet caught? The Daily Telegraph stated two weeks ago that he is living openly and in great comfort in Chile.

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's anxiety to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to declare the Government's intention about the commercialisation of the Gibraltar dockyard? This is a very important matter and people there are concerned about it.

Mr. Biffen

I will certainly do that.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

The Leader of the House will have heard the exchanges on the private notice question about itinerant and meddlesome assembly persons visiting Northern Ireland. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that many people feel this is a serious matter of usurpation of the powers of the House and the powers of the Crown by an alien, polyglot and insolent assembly? In those circumstances, ought he not to find time next week, before those people get to Northern Ireland, to debate the matter?

Mr. Biffen

The reply by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland clearly underlines the serious nature of the issue and how the Government have reacted to it. I hope that message is sufficiently clear to those people in Strasbourg without the necessity of the House having to underline it with a debate.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Would the Leader of the House reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) as many hon. Members think the procedures of the House need looking at? Would it not be appropriate for a Committee to sit now and make proposals that a new Parliament would be able to consider?

Mr. Biffen

I promise my hon. Friend that I am not unsympathetic to the cause for reform. I do not think it will necessarily be enhanced by the setting up of a Committee, which would have, at most, a few months to conduct its investigation and make its recommendation. I am prepared to discuss these matters.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

Since the United Nations has requested that Parliaments debate disarmament, and most Parliaments have responded, there is an obligation on the Leader of the House not only to be sympathetic but to make a definite statement next week on whether the House should have a two-day debate, in view of the anxiety among many people that the Government are channelling funds to organisations to fight the disarmament campaign.

Mr. Biffen

I have already said that I shall arrange for a debate on this subject. It will be helpful to the general political debate ahead of the general election. If more time is needed, that is a matter for negotiation.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As there seems to be a growing problem with the European assembly, and politicians are like any other species in that, when deprived of enough to do, they turn to vandalism, and institutions without power try to acquire power for themselves, can the House have an urgent debate on the curtailment, or perhaps the abolition, of the powers of that wretched and abhorrent institution?

Mr. Biffen

It is an interesting proposition. Given my hon. Friend's somewhat dismissive views of that institution, he might have thought it appropriate to resolve the matter by means of an Adjournment debate one evening.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call each of those hon. Members who have been standing. I hope they will be brief.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

When will the House discuss the Spring Supplementary Estimates under the new procedure? Will it take half a day or a whole day? When will the House discuss the findings of the liaison committee on the development of our new Select Committee procedure?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot really answer either question. The first is a matter for consideration, because the resolutions of the House enable such a debate to take place. I have no plans at the moment for a more general debate on the findings of the liaison committee. There might be some advantage in the House reflecting upon those recommendations before a debate takes place.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is the Leader of the House aware that, during proceedings on the Miscellaneous Financial Provisions Bill, the case for the Government was put by a Treasury Minister when the intention of the Bill is to pay additional grants to the regional development organisations? Is it not right that an industry Minister should be required to attend the proceedings of the Standing Committee to answer questions from hon. Gentlemen on my side of the Committee? Why is he ducking attending that Committee? Will the Leader of the House make sure that he attends further sittings?

Mr. Biffen

In my opinion, Treasury Ministers are among the elite of administration. I hope that the Committee feels flattered rather than the reverse. I will look at the point that the hon. Gentleman raises.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made to clarify the position of the tax relief which will accrue to banks and other financial institutions for arranging loans for those countries that are rescheduling their debts? Is he aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said at Question Time today that the arrangements are still the same. In the third week in January in the financial columns of The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Financial Times and other publications, it was made clear in a letter from the Inland Revenue to the British Bankers' Association on 20 January 1983 that banks would be able to get tax relief on the loans that were made to countries which were involved in rescheduling their debts? In that event, is it not important that hon. Members should be able to question the Chancellor of the Exchequer more closely on this matter so that hon. Members can assure the millions of people in this country who wish to reschedule their debts that they will get the same kind of tax relief that has beer handed out to the banks?

Mr. Biffen

The point that the hon. Gentleman argued could be central and relevant to any discussion the House has on the Brandt report. Pending the resolution as to when the House might debate that subject, I will make sure that the point is known to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Does the Leader of the House recall that, about three weeks ago, a merits commission, after dealing with two orders, complained about a lack of evidence from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, although that Committee had endeavoured to provide the evidence it had taken? Does the Leader of the House realise that the House will deal with the English Boundary Commission report on Wednesday, only a day after the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments will deal with it. If it chooses to take evidence from witnesses who have been asked to stand by, the evidence from those witnesses cannot possibly be checked or published in time to be available to the House.

Does that not reflect an unseemly haste by the Government to get the order through, when, with a week's delay, the Committee set up by the House to examine statutory instruments would be able to do its work? Why does not the Leader of the House allocate those two days, in conjunction with the Opposition, to a debate on disarmament, and take the orders the following week?

Mr. Biffen

The business that I have announced for next week shows, not so much undue haste on the Government's part in relation to the Boundary Commission's reports, as a measured generosity of time. Of course I note what the hon. Gentleman has said about the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and I am sure that it would be a legitimate point for debate on Wednesday.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

Will the Secretary of State for Scotland be proposing any last-minute changes to the Boundary Commission's proposals for Scotland? Can I have an answer to a request that I made last week through the Leader of the House, that the Secretary of State for Scotland should receive a delegation from the villages of Fallin, Plean, Cowie and Throsk, who are to be made the victims of a blatant attempt at gerrymandering?

Mr. Biffen

I understand that the Scottish order is being laid today, and I think that the hon. Gentleman will have to see what follows. He has raised an important point about his constituents and the most likely course is that the matter will be debated when the Scottish orders are before us. However, I can give no commitment about the delegation, although I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the anxieties that have been expressed.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Gentleman describes Treasury Ministers as the elite in this Administration, but how does he define "elite" and why—not so many months ago—was he quite ready to be persuaded to leave them?

Mr. Biffen

I just had an irresistible rush of modesty.