HC Deb 14 July 1983 vol 45 cc1015-22 3.33 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

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

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY I8 JULY — Second Reading of the Telecommunications Bill.

Motion relating to the Local Government (Direct Labour Organisations) (Competition) Regulations.

Motion on the British Shipbuilders' Borrowing Powers (Increse of Limit) Order.

TUESDAY I9 JULY—Debate on a motion to approve the statement on the defence estimates 1983, Cmnd. 8951.

Motions on Members' pay and allowances.

WEDNESDAY 20 JULY—Conclusion of the debate on the statement on the Defence Estimates.

The House will be asked to pass all outstanding Estimates.

Motion on the Equal Pay (Amendment) Regulations.

Motions on Northern Ireland orders on housing benefits, housing and housing (consequential amendments).

THURSDAY 2I JULY—Motions on the rate reduction reports 1983–84 on the (Kirkcaldy district), the (Glasgow district), the (Stirling district) and the (Lothian region).

Proceedings on the Medical Bill [Lords], the Car Tax Bill [Lords] and on the Value Added Tax Bill [Lords] which are consolidation measures.

FRIDAY 22 JULY—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 25 JULY — Motion on the summer Adjournment.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that, subject to progress of business, it is hoped to propose that the House should rise for the summer Adjournment on Friday 29 July.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Gentleman has already made some changes in the extremely crowded programme that he originally proposed to put to the House, and I am grateful to him for that. However, there are still some alterations that could be made that would be of great benefit to the House. We hope that the motion on the regulations concerning local government that have been set down for Monday can be postponed. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider that.

The Government have an extremely wretched record on women's rights and equal pay. They have harmed many of the rights previously established and we therefore believe that further and better time should be given to discuss the proposal on equal pay, as it could have controversial aspects to it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider afresh the proposition that I put to him last week about a debate on the economic package that the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented to the House? Perhaps he will comment on that. Given the Prime Minister's answers today, and the statements that have come from the Government on various aspects of the issue, will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that the benefit uprating regulations will be given full and prime time for discussion by the House? There is growing anxiety in the country about the way in which the Government are dealing with all such questions.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will add some of the changes that I have suggested to those that he has already made.

Mr. Biffen

I accept at once that next week's business provides a very full programme. It shows why the House is working through to the end of the month.

We are prepared to consider through the usual channels the anxiety that has been expressed about the local government debate that is proposed for Monday, and the same is true of the representations made about the equal pay regulations. However, I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will allow me to dissent entirely from his ungenerous premise about the Conservative party's record on that topic.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the benefit uprating regulations, and I shall certainly bear that in mind when that issue is considered. Doubtless there will be consultations through the usual channels.

The right hon. Gentleman requested a debate on the very wise economic measure that was announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer a week ago. However, the House will recollect that on that occasion the statement was subject to a very full examination and since then we have had quite a while to consider it in the context of the Finance Bill. I note the interest and suggest that we continue to discuss the matter through the usual channels.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to reconsider the arrangements that he is proposing to the House for dealing with the Supplementary Estimates totalling about £1,000 million, on Wednesday night? If he proposes to deal with them formally, does he agree that there is something improper about inviting the House to pass, on the nod, expenditure of such magnitude without proper surveillance, scrutiny or discussion? Would not it be better to postpone the passage of the Supplementary Estimates at least until the Select Committees are reappointed and the necessary scrutiny can be given to that expenditure? Alternatively, could we make other arrangements so that we can have a full discussion about the way in which the House proposes to spend taxpayers' money?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. He will understand that I have a great deal of sympathy with it, but what is proposed for next Wednesday derives entirely from the absence of the departmental Select Committees and the Liaison Committee. I can give my right hon. Friend the full-hearted assurance that what is proposed is entirely to do with the current situation and should not in any sense be taken as a precedent. I shall consider my right hon. Friend's question.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Education and Science to make a statement to the House about the implications of the Chancellor's statement on cuts in education, especially since the Prime Minister wrote during the election campaign to one of her constituents saying that she intended that spending on the universities should remain at the same level after 1984–85?

I thank the Government for responding to the request that originated from this Bench that the equal pay motion should be taken on the Floor of the House and not in a Statutory Instruments Committee.

Mr. Biffen

I am always grateful for such compliments as are paid in this wearisome world. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's concern about the statement to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

In view of the motion that the Leader of the House has placed on the Order Paper on the difficult question of Members' pay and conditions, does my right hon. Friend recall the pledge that I made to the House on behalf of the Cabinet of which he and I at the time were members that, save in the most exceptional circumstances, the recommendations of the independent review committee would be implemented? Am I to understand that that promise is no longer operative?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that that matter will be thoroughly debated on Tuesday evening.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the operational control of nuclear weapons and missiles in Britain? Is he aware that many hon. Members believe that before we rise for the recess we should have the opportunity to debate the exact arrangements for operational control, the level at which they happen and what contingency arrangements the Prime Minister has in mind? The statement that the Prime Minister made to the House in answer to questions did not explain exactly how the operational control would work.

Mr. Biffen

Subject to the Chair's decision, I should think that the speech that the hon. Gentleman wishes to make could be made during the two-day debate on the defence Estimates.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are grateful for the fact that there is to be a two-day debate on the defence White Paper, which reverts to the earlier practice? May we have an assurance that the tradition of having single service days will be maintained so that in the autumn we can have a full day's debate on each of the services?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. and learned Friend says. Perhaps he will allow me to defer any more substantive comment until the autumn.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Has the Leader of the House seen early day motion 21 about the execution of Baha'i men and women in Iran which has been signed by 120 hon. Members on both sides of the House? Will the Government make the strongest protest to the authorities in Iran against the persecution and murder of those unfortunate people on the ground of religion?

[That this House condemns the cold-blooded executions by the Iranian Government of 10 women and six men of the Baha'i faith; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to make strong protests against these executions.]

Mr. Biffen

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's interest in the topic and I shall, of course, refer his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Does my right hon. Friend realise that it is difficult to reconcile his role as Leader of the House and defender of Back-Benchers with the terms of the resolutions on Members' salaries and conditions? Will he reconsider the terms of the resolutions and put forward proposals that recognise the logic and justice of the Plowden report as well as the need for a reasonable degree of respect?

Mr. Biffen

I recognise my hon. Friend's feelings. The motions are now before the House, but at the end of the day the House must decide whether to accept them.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

What arrangements has the Leader of the House made for regular meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee to be held in Edinburgh in this Session?

Mr. Biffen

To date, none. If I had clear evidence that there was a preponderant desire for that, of course I should consider it because it is not a matter on which any Leader of the House would have a closed mind.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

In view of the votes last night on the death penalty, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Government will not cease to protect the poor and the unimportant in our society? Will he also never forget that we are Members of the House of Commons and represent the common people as well as the intellectuals and progressives and all the talkers in the media?

Mr. Biffen

I am more than delighted to give that assurance. It is appropriate to record also that, whatever one's views on capital punishment, it must be a unifying factor throughout the House that there is a great and overwhelming determination to provide a proper structure for the protection and defence of law and order.

Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central)

Will the Leader of the House consider early day motion 73 which extends good wishes to Nelson Mandela on his 65th birthday?

[That this House extends its good wishes to Nelson Mandela on reaching his 65th birthday on 18th July; and calls upon the South African Government to release him from imprisonment forthwith to enable him to play a full part in the struggle to achieve the free, democratic and unracial South Africa which has been his life and work.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is appropriate, after the decision by the MCC yesterday, that the House should be able to express its opposition to the apartheid system in South Africa? Is not it appropriate that that should be done by sending Nelson Mandela best wishes on his birthday since he has stood against the apartheid regime? Will the Leader of the House find time for a discussion on that subject?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman obviously feels strongly on that subject, and that is proper. I suggest that he tries his good fortune in the arrangements for the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill debate on Monday week.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

May I refer to the question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) and ask two questions about Select Committees? First, when does he expect that they will be set up again and what is holding up the decision? Secondly, is my right hon. Friend aware that reference has been made to a draft report which has not been fully considered? Many scores of amendments remain to be debated and no final vote has been taken. Why did the report have to be published? Will he put that point to the Procedure Committee because I am sure that it affects the deliberations of many Select Committees?

Mr. Biffen

The answer to the second question may be that the decision to publish is within the competence of officers of the Select Committees. I shall look into the matter and be in touch with my hon. Friend. On the more general issue of departmental Committees, the reason for not immediately establishing the Select Committees was set out in my speech at the end of the debate on the Loyal Address. I hope that we can proceed in the autumn.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who are rising now.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does the Leader of the House recognise the need for a wide-ranging debate on Northern Ireland and its future? Will he bear in mind that if the events now taking place there were taking place on the mainland on anywhere near the same scale, and if they involved murder and all the other crimes occurring in Northern Ireland, there would be no hesitation about having not just one debate, but a series of debates? Why, therefore, is there reluctance to debate Northern Ireland? If we will not initiate such a debate before the House rises, can he give a promise that it will be one of the first priorities when the House returns?

Mr. Biffen

Any Leader of the House is under pressure to hold debates on a variety of subjects, which in their totality could not conceivably be encompassed within the time available.

The business that I have just announced covers the week when Northern Ireland questions come up for answer and the debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, when the hon. Gentleman may raise this issue. I recommend that he take that course.

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)

Further to my right hon. Friend's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), is it not a most extraordinary quirk of our procedure that the appointment of Select and other all-party Committees is being held up by the archaic election procedures of the Labour party? Why does he not move a motion that the Conservative and minor party representatives on these Committees be appointed and let the dear old Labour party chip in when it is ready?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend should not be so tempting. He will recollect that in my speech at the conclusion of the debate on the Loyal Address I said specifically that it was not the electoral procedures of the Labour party that were responsible for the Government wishing to wait until this autumn before establishing the departmental Committees. I re-emphasise that.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Petroleum Royalties (Relief) Bill, which provides for the abolition of royalties, and allows the marginal oilfields—in private hands, of course—to operate with Government assistance, is before the House? He should be consistent and encourage the Cabinet to look at the possibility of a parallel Bill to provide assistance to marginal pits.

Mr. Biffen

In a spirit of end-of-term generosity, I will refer that suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

The matter I raise with the Leader of the House is of importance to all hon. Members and concerns whether answers to written questions should be received by the Press Gallery before they are received by the Members of Parliament who asked them. I refer particularly to what happened on last Tuesday, 12 July. I had tabled four questions to the Department of Transport and three to the Secretary of State for Defence.

There was no answer on the Letter Board by 5 pm, and by 5.30 pm television and radio companies in the southwest were calling me for a comment on the answers to the questions. I had to ask them what the answers were. At 6.30 pm I called on the Secretary of State for Transport and the Defence Department—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has asked his question.

Mr. Steen

I just want to explain the events, Mr. Speaker, so that hon. Members on both sides—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is business questions.

Mr. Steen

Will the Leader of the House please investigate the system within the House by which questions sent by Departments can reach the Press Gallery sooner than Members of Parliament?

Mr. Biffen

If my hon. Friend will let me have the details of the problems that he has encountered, shall have those matters investigated.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Bearing in mind the refusal of the Prime Minister to publish the CPRS report, and given the growing suspicion on Merseyside that she has something to hide because the report predicted the discontent in Toxteth 12 months before it occurred, will the Leader of the House carry out the quasi-promises that he made last week to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? These were that we should have a full debate on the report of the Select Committee on the Environment on the events leading up to the problems on Merseyside? That would enable the Prime Minister—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The rule applies to the hon. Member as it does to the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). This is business questions. It is not the time to make long statements.

Mr. Wareing

May we debate the advantages of council house sales to people in my constituency where 40 per cent. of the adult population is unemployed?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman makes this week the point that he put to me with force last week. I am afraid that I can give no different answer from the one that I gave last week.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that part of the Gracious Speech, referring to Hong Kong, stated clearly and properly that Parliament would have shortly to make up its mind on difficult questions. As the talks are progressing and I believe that the latest stage finished yesterday in Beijing, will my right hon. Friend consider representing seriously to the Foreign Secretary that it is about time that he made a statement to the House about what is going on. Many hon. Members may well be surprised at what is happening. The Government will be well advised to prepare people for what we may have to face in future.

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says. I shall see that his views are conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Does my right hon. Friend intend to put forward on Tuesday the Government's views on long-term arrangements for dealing with the pay of Members of Parliament?

Mr. Biffen

The debate clearly will be on the resolutions that will be before the House for determination. However, I have no doubt that the debate will run rather wider than that.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that again this afternoon, during Home Office questions, a large number of Conservative Members expressed their considerable anxiety about the disfranchisement of electors who are away on holiday during elections? Does he agree with me that it is important that we should have a debate before we rise for the summer recess, bearing in mind that there will be municipal elections in certain parts of the United Kingdom next May and European elections throughout the United Kingdom in June?

Mr. Biffen

The Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill will give hon. Members an opportunity to raise that issue. I recognise the interest that there is in it and the desire for legislation during this Parliament's lifetime.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

Will my right hon. Friend take note that some Conservative Members will be less than happy with the reply that he gave to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) relating to Northern Ireland business? Many of us would welcome an opportunity for a full debate, especially in view of the demonstrable failure of the Nothern Ireland Assembly.

Mr. Biffen

There is simply no prospect of such a debate before we rise for the recess. I take note of the representations that have been made on this topic. They will be considered when we return in the autumn.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the difficulties that hon. Members face in obtaining answers on the difficult and increasing problem of glue sniffing? Is he aware that they are being shunted between the Secretary of State for Social Services, the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Home Secretary? Will he take steps to ascertain which Minister is responsible for handling the matter so that something can be done?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly look into the point that is exercising my hon. Friend and I shall get in touch with him.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early day motion 74 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and 108 right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House which pays tribute to our former friend and colleague Mr. Keith Wickenden, the former Member for Dorking, who was killed so tragically in a flying accident last Saturday, and extend our sympathy to his wife and family?

[That this House expresses its deep regret at the untimely death of Keith Wickenden on 9th July; records its appreciation of his contribution to the House and his friendship with many whilst Member of Parliament for Dorking from 1979 to 1983; and extends its sympathy to his widow and family in their loss.]

Mr. Biffen

I gladly use this occasion to add my sentiments to those expressed by the motion. All who served in the House of Commons with Keith Wickenden were greatly privileged to have had his companionship.

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

When is the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments likely to consider the draft Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) Regulations 1983? Is it likely to be before the summer recess? The matter has been postponed once and is now considered most urgent.

Mr. Biffen

That is a middle stump question. I do not know the answer, but I shall look into the matter at once.