HC Deb 21 July 1983 vol 46 cc565-74 3.31 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 25 JULY — Motion on the Summer Adjournment.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

TUESDAY 26 JULY—Until about 7 o'clock, motions on the Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report (England) 1983–84, and the Supplementary Report (England) (No. 3) 1981–82.

Afterwards, motions on the Welsh Rate Support Grant Supplementary (No. 3) Report 1981–82 and on the Welsh Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report 1983–84.

Motions on Members' pay and allowances and on the Ministerial and Other Salaries Order.

WEDNESDAY 27 JULY—Until 10 o'clock, a debate on orders and regulations on social security uprating of benefits, and on the Pensioners' Lump Sum Payments Order.

Afterwards, motions relating to housing benefit regulations and equal treatment in social security benefits. The relevant orders will be listed in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 28 JULY—Motions on the code of Local Government Audit Practice for England and Wales, and on the Traffic Areas (Reorganisation) (No. 2) Order.

FRIDAY 29 JULY—It will be proposed that the House should rise for the summer Adjournment until Monday 24 October.

Mr. Foot

As legislation on the housing benefits regulations which became law more than a year ago has not yet been fully implemented in many parts of the country, would it not be better to have a general debate on the question rather than debating particular regulations, which is not the best way to discuss the general principles involved? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider that possibility.

Because of the uncertainty created by the Prime Minister's replies earlier this week about whether the Office of Fair Trading's case against the restrictive practice of the Stock Exchange is to be allowed to go ahead or to be blocked by the Government at the City's behest or requirement, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a short debate next week on that subject so that the House may give its views on what is obviously—no one can deny it—an extremely important question?

Even at this late stage, will the right hon. Gentleman consider afresh the proposal I put to him a couple of weeks ago for a debate on the Government's plans for public expenditure cuts? The Prime Minister pretended that there will not be cuts, but I do not suppose that that was the mood in which the Cabinet discussed the issue this morning. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate or, at least, suggest that there should be a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer before we rise for the recess?

Mr. Biffen

I shall take the right hon. Gentleman's points in reverse order. If he is still anxious to press for a debate on the public expenditure announcement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer a couple of weeks ago, we can pursue that through the usual channels.

On the right hon. Gentleman's second point about the Stock Exchange and its status with the Office of Fair Trading's inquiry, I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who is fully aware of the significance of the problem.

I shall bear in mind the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion of a general debate, followed by the votes, on the social security rerating of benefits. We can consider that through the usual channels.

Sir Hugh Fraser (Stafford)

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the instruments to be debated on Tuesday will reflect precisely the various decisions of the House on Members' pay? Can those instruments be adjusted or must they remain in accordance with the motion passed by the House on Wednesday morning?

Mr. Biffen

I assure my right hon. Friend that it is the Government's intention that the order to be tabled on Tuesday on Members' pay will reflect the decision of the House. He will understand that having reached a decision there must be some assessment. I am happy to discuss that matter with him. The order is not amendable.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the reduction in standards in local authority schools in England recently revealed in Her Majesty's inspectors' report before there are any further damaging cuts in education expenditure that would make the position worse?

Mr. Biffen

There is clearly no scope for such a debate in the business that has been announced for next week. I have no doubt that we can return to that topic in the autumn.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

Further to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Sir H. Fraser), will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear that the resolution to be proposed will include the modification moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and myself on the linkage of Members' pay? That is most important. My right hon. Friend said that the resolution would not be amendable. Surely it would be amendable save in a way that would raise expenditure under it.

Mr. Biffen

The answer to my right hon. Friend's first point is "Yes". I shall consider his second point. As I understand it, the motion is not amendable.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made to sort out the position between the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who said that the question of arms sales to Chile was not discussed during the visit of General Matthei, and the Foreign Secretary, who said that it was discussed?

Mr. Biffen

I can offer no prospect of such a statement next week. I shall certainly draw the attention of the Ministers concerned to the hon. Gentleman's point.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Has my right hon. Friend observed that, in the very week in which it was announced that the Madrid conference on European security and co-operation had agreed on a document that would strengthen human rights in Europe, there were signs of increased violation of human rights in Poland and Czechoslovakia? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that before the Government agree to that farcical document the House will have a statement or preferably a debate?

Mr. Biffen

I know that my hon. Friend's point commands great interest in the House. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to it.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there was obvious and widespread anxiety on both sides of the House when he failed to give a direct and categoric answer to the question of the right hon. Member for Stafford (Sir H. Fraser) about the orders due for debate next Tuesday? We recognise that they must be framed in technical language, but will the orders precisely and accurately reflect the substance of the motions that were agreed by the House on Wednesday morning?

Mr. Biffen

I am fully resolved that that should be the case, and I am satisfied that it is the case.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the latest proposal of the Commission for Racial Equality will not result in further legislation which might impose additional burdens on English people?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot give the assurance in the terms that it is sought, but I shall report to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment the point that my hon. Friend makes.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Will the Leader of the House consider arranging an early debate on the subject of television licences for the elderly which has concerned my constituents before, during and since the election? People who live in sheltered accommodation pay 5p for the licence while people who do not pay the full licence fee.

Mr. Biffen

I cannot promise to find Government time for discussing that subject in the coming week. In any case, it is a matter on which possibly the hon. Gentleman could use the advantage of private Members' time. Perhaps he will be successful in the autumn.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that we shall not have a replay of what happened on Members' pay on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning? I was filled then with a nostalgia that I never expected to have. That might have been prevented if the matter had been sorted out by shop stewards on both sides of the House over beer and sandwiches at No. 10 Downing Street.

Mr. Biffen

As I soldiered through the night, I was aware of many sentiments, but I must admit that nostalgia was not one of them. However, I am glad to know that it was in the mixture with much else.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

As the Government's policy has doubled the number of unemployed in Merseyside, and as there are no jobs for this year's school leavers in my constituency, why shall we not have an opportunity to debate unemployment on Merseyside before October? Is it because the Government have nothing to offer the people of that area?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman should try his luck at securing an opportunity to speak in the debate on Merseyside which will take place on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill on Monday.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 97 on captive nations week?

[That this House wishing to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the designation by President Eisenhower of the United States of America of the third week in July as Captive Nations week in the United States of America, and recognising the common commitment to the principles of freedom, democracy and self-determination of peoples shared by the United States of America and United Kingdom, urges Her Majesty's Government also to designate officially the third week in July as Captive Nations Week in the United Kingdom as a symbol of the British nation's support for the restoration of the right to self determination, democracy and freedom for the peoples within the Soviet Union and of Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain.]

It stands in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker), my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw), for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki) and myself and no fewer than 114 other right hon. and hon. Members. The motion asks that Her Majesty's Government should designate every year the third week in July as captive nations week, as is officially done in the United States, to commemorate those who live without human rights behind the Iron Curtain.

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to my hon. Friend's point but, as my statement is about next week's business, I can add nothing to it in that context.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 105 standing in my name?

[That this House views with grave concern the standards of residential accommodation provided in some hospitals for nurses; notes that, because of the failure to provide economic rented accommodation during the last four years in inner city areas, there is now a greater demand for residence within hospitals, but that cuts in public expenditure have meant that the upgrading and maintenance of old properties has obtained a very low priority in the allocation of reduced funds and the failure to do routine work has led to living standards which are unacceptable; and therefore urges Her Majesty's Government to make a special central allocation of funds to each regional health authority to provide adequate toilet, bathroom and other facilities, together with equipment which would make a nurse's living standards comparable with that which she would enjoy in her family home.]

It concerns the squalor in which many of our nurses in residence must live. Since I tabled my motion, two other early-day motions have appeared on the Order Paper. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is widespread concern in the House that this has come about because of the rundown in repairs over a number of years? Despite the fact that we shall have no time to debate this matter before the summer recess, will the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements for the Minister for Health to make a statement?

Mr. Biffen

As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, his early-day motion is paralleled by two others, which shows the amount of interest there is in this topic. This will be the subject of a debate before the recess to be initiated by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). I will, of course, draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to the hon. Gentleman's request for a statement.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

Reverting to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) about the Madrid conference, as it appears unlikely that there will be either a statement or a debate before the recess, will my right hon. Friend reconsider a request that I made earlier that a document should be placed in the Library setting out precisely what, if any, improvements in the observance of human rights have taken place by the signatory power, the Soviet Union, since the last Helsinki conference?

Mr. Biffen

I have said that I shall approach my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary on this matter and in so doing I will attach to my representations my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

In view of the tragic deaths of many British tourists in holiday flats on the Algarve, do the Government propose to make a statement before we adjourn for our own holidays about the dangers for British tourists in that area? If not, may we have a debate on the subject so that those who go there will at least know that they are not running into hideous danger?

Mr. Biffen

No arrangements have been made for either a statement or a debate. I should have thought that the topic had been widely ventilated.

Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing anxiety among many people who change their jobs who discover that in the process they lose rights under private pension schemes? I accept that the Government would prefer the pension companies to attend to this matter without the intervention of legislation, but is it not becoming increasingly clear that that is unlikely? If the Government are not ready to introduce legislation, there may well be an argument for having a wide-ranging debate on the subject.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a formidable topic, as I am sure he realises. I shall bear in mind his point about the desirability of a debate, but I must say at once that there is no prospect for it next week. Perhaps we may consider the matter when we return in the autumn.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Cynon Valley)

The Prime Minister has confirmed that the Cabinet were discussing public expenditure cuts today. If we cannot have a debate on the matter next week, may we at least have a statement so that we can go home to our constituencies to tell the people what employment benefit and other social service cuts are being considered by the Government? At the same time, may we have a statement on the breakdown of talks in the Common Market today in view of the implications for Britain's contribution to the EC?

Mr. Biffen

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I cannot reasonably add to what I have already said to the Leader of the Opposition. On the second point, I will consider the desirability of the making of a statement.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Bearing in mind early-day motion 90 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), and the considerable and rising public concern about crimes of violence, will my right hon. Friend say whether it will be possible to have a debate soon after the House returns in October on increasing the punishments for such crimes?

[That this House notes the result of the Debate on the Death Penalty, and regards it as a final and irrevocable settlement of a great domestic question; looks to the courts to ensure that public outrage at crimes of murder and violence is fully met by severe prison sentences in all cases except where there are exceptional mitigating factors; and calls upon the Home Secretary to review all statutory provisions for sentences for crimes of violence to see whether any more rigorous mandatory provisions should be recommended to Parliament in fresh legislation.]

Mr. Biffen

It will be considered when the House returns in the autumn, but I suggest that, as my hon. Friend takes such a lively and respected interest in this topic, he might use the advantage of private Members' time.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does the Leader of the House recognise that there is bound to be a great deal of public concern in our constituencies about public spending cuts? As the subject will be endlessly discussed and speculated about in the press, surely the House of Commons should have a statement before the recess from Ministers, and in particular the Prime Minister. Is the Leader of the House telling us that no statement on the public spending cuts will be made before we break for the recess?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot accept the premise on which that question was postulated. As for a debate on the economy, I said that the matter was for consideration through the usual channels.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

As it appears that the mass medication of the water supply by the addition of fluoride is as unlawful in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as it has just been held to be in Scotland, should we not have a statement before October about the Government's intention?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot immediately accept my hon. and learned Friend's premise about whether it is lawful, but I will look at the proposition. I can say without hesitation that no provision has been made for such a debate or statement next week.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

A letter has been sent by the Minister of State, Home Office this week to Members of both Houses which undermines Members' rights to make representations on immigration matters. Does the Leader of the House appreciate that, so long as we have the most unfair and unjust immigration laws, it is important that we have the right to make representations, especially when hon. Members are unwilling or unable to make those representations in the first instance? Will he arrange for that letter to be withdrawn in the interests of fairness rather than giving Ministers a quiet life from considering representations?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot make a judgment immediately in response to that question, but if the hon. Gentleman would refer the document to me I will consider it.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it might be helpful to the Government to have an early statement on the whole question of public expenditure and to debate the issue in the first week after we return in the autumn?

Mr. Biffen

I note my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

If the Leader of the House is saying that there will not be a debate on the Cabinet decision this morning to cut public expenditure, so throwing more people out of work and creating more poverty in the land, and if he cannot guarantee that a statement will be made next week, what guarantee can he give that there will be no private briefing sessions during the long summer recess to tell the press what took place this morning? If he will not guarantee that, what assurance can he give that the moles will not begin to operate in the various Government Departments? Is he aware that the only way to stop them is to put locks on the photocopying machines?

Mr. Biffen

I note all that. I reject absolutely and entirely the description of what allegedly happened at public expenditure considerations by the Cabinet. I reiterate what I said to the Leader of the Opposition: if there is a keen desire to have a debate on the economy, that can be considered through the usual channels.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

I refer my right hon. Friend again to early-day motion 7 which has been signed by more than 200 right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government immediately to take steps to enable people on holiday to be eligible for postal votes at a General Election.]

Has my right hon. Friend been advised whether the Home Secretary intends to make a statement next week on the subject of postal votes for holidaymakers? Has my right hon. Friend seen, for instance, the postcard registration and absentee ballot request form which is made available by the United States Government to all American citizens? If I give it to him, will he look at it, pass it on to the Home Secretary and tell him that he, the Leader of the House, is getting fed up will all my questions and would he, the Home Secretary, please put my right hon. Friend out of his misery?

Mr. Biffen

I am of such a good natured disposition that I actually enjoy my hon. Friend's questions. However, that does not in any sense vitiate my view that the point he raises is profoundly important—that is, the need to get reform in our electoral arrangements—and I believe that the Home Secretary is fully apprised of the matter. He has no plans to make a statement in the coming week, but I do not believe that my hon. Friend will be dissatisfied when we consider the record by the end of this Parliament.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement before the recess on allegations of high-powered American salesmen employed in private hospitals selling blood from the blood bank? I tabled questions on Monday of this week, but in view of the public disquiet and the concern of NUPE and ASTMS, which are involved in the National Health Service, will the right hon. Gentleman try to persuade the Secretary of State to make a statement on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer to my right hon. Friend the anxieties which the hon. Gentleman expresses.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern of many inner London parents about Left-wing masters at county hall sending out many Marxist-dominated curriculum documents, without the support of the professional staff at county hall, for consideration and teaching in schools? Is he further aware that they have set up a unit costing the ratepayers about £130,000 a year to fight for the continued survival of the present political and financial structure of the ILEA? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science to make a statement as soon as possible?

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer to the Secretary of State for Education and Science the point that much concerns my hon. Friend and which, I am sure, concerns many others.

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the draft Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) Regulations 1983, which were due to be considered by a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments on Tuesday, will come into force on 9 August? If not, will he please find time for a debate on the matter next week or, failing that, immediately after our return in October?

Mr. Biffen


Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is great anxiety about the mean, philistine, penny-pinching attitude of the Government towards the arts? First, a blow was struck against the theatre museum, which caused great alarm and consternation, and now there is an indication that the Arts Council grant is to be cut by almost £2 million, a large proportion of its total grant. If that happens, a large number of clients who are dependent on Arts Council support to continue to provide the entertainment that our people need and enjoy will have to go, thus creating more unemployment. What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do to give us an opportunity to debate the matter before the House rises for the recess?

Mr. Biffen

I suggest that this is pre-eminently a circumstance in which the hon. Lady can herself pursue the campaign. I regret that no time will be available for her to do this next week, but I wish her luck in the autumn.

Mr. John Silkin (Lewisham, Deptford)

A decision by the Secretary of State for Defence on the ALARM system is overdue. If that decision is reached between now and the rising of the House, will the Leader of the House undertake that it will be given by oral statement to the House and not by written answer?

Mr. Biffen

I recognise the importance of the decision, and I shall examine most sympathetically the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes.

[Orders and regulations for debate on Wednesday 27 July:

Until 10 o'clock

Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 1983

Supplementary Benefit (Up-rating) Regulations 1983

Child Benefit (Up-rating) Regulations 1983

Family Income Supplement (Computation) Regulations 1983

Housing Benefits (Increase of Needs Allowances) Regulations 1983

Social Security (General Benefit) amendment Regulations 1983

Supplementary Benefit (Requirements and Single Payments) Amendment Regulations 1983

Pensioners' Lump Sum Payments Order 1983

Afterwards, Prayers

Housing Benefit Amendment Regulations 1983

Housing Benefits (Transitional) Amendment (No. 2) Regulations 1983

Supplementary Benefit (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 1983

Social Security Benefit (Dependency) Amendment Regulations 1983

Supplementary Benefit (Equal Treatment) Regulations 1983

Family Income Supplements (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 1983]

Mr. Speaker

I have two brief statements to make. The first is about the tabling of questions today. The announcement of the proposed date of the return after the summer recess means that the Table Office can now receive questions for oral answer during the first week after the recess. Questions must normally be accepted by 4 o'clock to be included in the random numbering process. For the convenience of hon. Members, I will extend that time today until 6 o'clock.

Secondly, I remind hon. Members that on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Friday 29 July, up to eight hon. Members may raise with Ministers subjects of their own choice. Applications should reach my office by 10 pm on Monday next. A ballot will he held on Tuesday morning and the result made known as soon as possible thereafter.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Your predecessor, Mr. Speaker Thomas, said at various stages that he would consider the question of substantial questions to the Prime Minister rather than open questions. I was wondering whether, at an early stage during your Speakership, you would be reflecting on the issues involved in open questions and questions of substance.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member may be assured that I am reflecting on all kinds of things in the early stages of my Speakership. He raises a very important matter and it is certainly one to which I shall give consideration, but it is difficult for the Chair to make any absolute rules on that sort of issue.