HC Deb 28 July 1983 vol 46 cc1332-7 3.40 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

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

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

Yes, Sir. The business for the first week after the recess will be as follows:

MONDAY 24 OCTOBER — Second Reading of the Prevention of Terrorism Bill.

TUESDAY 25 OCTOBER — Second Reading of the Tenants' Rights etc. (Scotland) Bill.

Motions relating to the British Gas Corporation (Transfer of shares of subsidiaries) Order, the Gas Act 1972 (Modifications) Order, and the British Gas Corporation (further disposal of offshore interests) directions, 1983.

WEDNESDAY 26 OCTOBER — Motions of the Civil Defence (Grant) and (General Local Authority Functions) Orders for England and Wales, and for Scotland.

THURSDAY 27 OCTOBER—Opposition Day (1st Allotted Day). Subject for debate to be announced.

FRIDAY 28 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on the Civil Service on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Mr. Foot

First, I take up the exchanges that took place a short while ago on the events that are taking place in central America, which are extremely urgent. There is still time for the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Come off it."] Conservative Members do not seem to follow what is happening in the world. There is still time for the Government to make a proper statement to the House, on which the Foreign Secretary could be cross-examined. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement tomorrow so that we may help to clear up some of the confusions and alarums that were created today by the Prime Minister about the British Government's attitude on the matter.

Attempts have been made throughout the week to get a statement from the Government about their public expenditure plans and how the cash limits will operate which they have announced. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that the statement that was made yesterday by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury added insult to the injury that we had already suffered, and that the right: hon. and learned Gentleman did not answer the major questions. Although the Opposition have been pressing from 9 July that we should have a proper statement and a debate, we have had neither. I ask that the right hon. Gentleman alters the business that has been arranged for when we return to ensure that the Government will provide what they should have provided before the House departed for the summer recess—a proper debate in Government time on their public expenditure plans and on what has happened to the Government's programme in that respect.

The right hon. Gentleman said on Monday that he thought that there could be a statement about the access of disabled young persons to the youth training scheme. I think that he gave, in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), an undertaking, or a near undertaking, that there would be a statement on the matter before the House rose for the summer recess. I ask him to say something about that.

Mr. Biffen

I shall start by referring to the exchanges that took place between myself and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). I undertook to refer the matters that he raised about the disabled and the youth training sceheme to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I have been in touch with the Department and I understand that it will be writing to the right hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the statement that was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on public expenditure. If we can be in a reminiscing mood on the penultimate day before the summer recess, I cannot remember any Chief Secretary coming to the Dispatch Box and satisfying his audience. It is not in the nature of the Chief Secretary's job to do that. I sat through the statement and I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend dealt most authoritatively with the problems that arose from the recent statement on public spending. I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said about how we may approach these issues when we return in the autumn.

The position adopted by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the policy of the United States towards central America was authoritative and in no sense gave rise either to confusion or alarm. However, I have noted the right hon. Gentleman's request that there should be a statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. Perhaps we can pursue that request through the usual channels.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

I ask the Leader of the House to take up the Prime Minister's refusal to make any change in the allocation of Supply days. Of course, the right hon. Lady was speaking as a prejudiced source and as a party leader. The right hon. Gentleman is a most unprejudiced and non-partisan source on these matters for, as leader of the House, he has responsibilities for the entire House. I ask for an assurance that over the summer recess he will give some thought to the outrageous mechanism that means that 28 per cent. of the electorate, as represented by the Official Opposition, has total control over Supply days and that 26 per cent. of the electorate has no representation, at all. Bearing in mind his overall responsibilities to the House and, I suggest, to the country as a whole, to maintain justice and fairness I suggest that he is bound to make some changes to the Supply day procedures and that he will not tempt us to take other action, which otherwise we shall be forced to consider.

Mr. Biffen

I have to observe that the Supply day arrangements have been authorised by the House. On the whole, they have served the House tolerably well over the years. As I am asked to think about them during the holiday, and as I am anxious to help in every direction that I can, I shall, of course, think about them. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not seek to intimidate me in my thinking.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

In view of the Government's strong commitment to energy conservation, will my right hon. Friend ensure that time is made available either for a debate or a statement on the matter soon after we return in the autumn? It appears from press reports that there is a strong case for setting up an energy efficiency office within the Department of Energy to co-ordinate this policy.

Mr. Biffen

I note my hon. Friend's suggestion. As he has taken so keen an interest in energy conservation, I hope that he will feel able to pursue the matter with all the advantages that private Members' time offers.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Whythenshawe)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the young disabled and the youth training scheme when I raised the issue with him on Monday, but is he aware that many people will think that it is not good enough for the Secretary of State for Employment to deal with the issue merely by letter? Should there not be an oral statement to the House, on which the Secretary of State could be questioned? We are talking about the careers of severely disabled young people, which will be damaged if nothing is done before the House rises for the recess.

Mr. Biffen

I note the right hon. Gentleman's comment. I am sure that he will appreciate that I gave no commitment that there would be a statement. I said that I would see what could be done, and I stand by that. I shall consider the matter further.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the huge implications for our schools in the Green Paper that was issued today on corporal punishment and school discipline? Does he agree that the House should take a view on this important matter, which could completely undermine the traditional basis of the teacher acting in loco parentis, on which school discipline has been based for many years?

Mr. Biffen

I am certain that all that has much validity, but there is no prospect of the issue being debated today, tomorrow, or, as things stand, in the first week when we return.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

May I prevail upon——

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not the normal practice to have two Front-Bench Opposition spokesmen participating in business questions.

Mr. McWilliam

I would not normally have attempted to intervene from the Front Bench, Mr. Speaker. However, I feel strongly about the reply of the Leader of the House to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), as well as the reply that he gave me during his concluding speech in the debate on whether we should adjourn for the summer recess. Will the Leader of the House twist the arm of the Secretary of State for Employment slightly harder? It is not good enough for us to read a written reply to an individual Member on a point that interests so many hon. Members. Had I thought that that reply was forthcoming, I should have divided the House on Monday.

Mr. Biffen

That may be so, but Hansard will reveal that I gave no such undertaking. I promised that I would use my best endeavours, and that is where I stand. I cannot add to what I said to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris).

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that the unemployment problem will not go away during the summer recess when many of us will take advantage of the time to see many employers in our constituencies. Will my right hon. Friend seek to arrange, although perhaps not in the first week after we return in the autumn, an open debate on employment, trade and industry so that the House can discuss the problems of unemployment, trde and the way that trading agreements could perhaps adversely affect employment?

Mr. Biffen

I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's points about topics which are of the atmost importance, but they do not feature in the business for the first week that we are back in autumn, and I am not able to speculate on what might happen thereafter.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

The Leader of the House serves the whole House and he knows the difficulties that arise when we hear an announcement, such as the one made yesterday by the Prime Minister, and we are unable to ask any questions until October. Will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence with the Prime Minister so that we may have a statement from No. 10 Downing street about doctors? He knows that the Review Body on Doctors and Dentists Remuneration does not include a clause similar to that being imposed on nurses. He knows that when consultants took industrial action the hospital admission waiting lists trebled.

Mr. Speaker

Order. These are business questions.

Mr. Pavitt

Will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence to get a statement?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw the right hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

Bearing in mind that BBC external services are widely regarded in all parts of the House, that they have already been cut eight times during the past 10 years and that they are desperately short of new transmitters, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate so that we can learn what importance the Government attach to this independent projection of the British way of life and our democratic traditions in a divided and dangerous world?

Mr. Biffen

Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary made a statement which touched specifically upon that point, and, therefore, he was available for questions. In those circumstances, I cannot offer the likelihood of Government time for a further consideration of the matter in the near future.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the training and qualification levels of directors and other senior staff of social services departments? Is he aware that the problem has become particularly severe, so much so that in my constituency there has been no director in post for about six months? The people who have been encouraged to apply or who are shortlisted include a Royal Air force Jaguar pilot, a redundant managing director from Glaxo and a Royal Navy officer from the Falklands. If the right hon. Gentleman will not arrange such a debate to protect the interests of the people, will he do it to protect the interests of the Secretary of State for Defence?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of the importance that the hon. Gentleman attaches to this topic which he might be able to raise during private Members' time. No provision has been made for the debate to take place during Government time in the first week back after the recess.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

Will the Leader of the House accept that the publication today by the Boundary Commission of the new proposals for the European constituencies is another attempt to impose a grossly unfair electoral system on this country? Will he arrange an early debate during the next session so that we can seek the opinions of the House on whether such a system should be perpetuated in this country?

Mr. Biffen

I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's request in mind.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is extraordinary for the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) to ask for further debate on central American affairs when he has not bothered to visit the north American continent for nearly 30 years? Notwithstanding that, does my right hon. Friend agree that, given our position in Belize, this is an important subject which the House should be given an early opportunity to debate?

Mr. Biffen

As to my hon. Friend's first point, experience has taught me the unwisdom of responding to his invitation. As to his second point, yes, of course, I recognise that it is an important topic but many other topics compete for the time of the House. I can hold out no hope of satisfying my hon. Friend during the first week back.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

The House will be adjourned for about three months, and as unemployment will have risen considerably during that period because of the statements of the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary, will the Leader of the House undertake that a full-scale debate on unemployment and the Government's unemployment policy will take place at the earliest possible date?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot give the specific commitment sought by the hon. Gentleman, but I shall bet fairly heavily that the problems of the economy will dominate our discussions in the autumn as they have recently.

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

If, during the summer recess, President Reagan's sabre rattling in central America is translated into direct American military involvement in Nicaragua and other central American countries, thus threatening world peace, will the House be recalled?

Mr. Biffen

The provisions and facilities for the recall of the House are set out in Standing Order No. 143. I hope that we can all leave the Chamber hopeful and expectant that we shall not be recalled until 24 October.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Cynon Valley)


Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)


Mr. Speaker

Order. I was going to call Mr. Joan Evans.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Since the House is going into a long recess as the position in central America is developing, and as deep anxiety is being expressed by large sections of American public opinion, will the Leader of the House seriously consider making contingency arrangements for the recall of Parliament? Parliament has been recalled before when there have been serious international incidents. Will he recall Parliament if the Opposition demand it?

Mr. Biffen

Recess is in no sense analogous with holiday. It merely means that Members of Parliament are not doing their work here: they are doing it in their constituencies and elsewhere. In that context, like marriage, the recalling of Parliament should not be entered upon lightly or wantonly. The provisions are set out in Standing Order No. 143. I cannot add to the reply that I gave previously.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I thank the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for his help. I shall let him have the last word.

Mr. Skinner

Will the leader of the House bear in mind that, if there is any attempt to recall Parliament during the recess, he wants to let the Social Democrats and Liberals know well in advance because I am told that the sabbatical idea is spreading? Will he also bear in mind that during the last session of Parliament, when they had about 20 hon. Members, the Social Democrats' voting record was less than 40 per cent? They were turning up two shifts out of five.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman should not try to turn me into the Social Democrats' protector and godfather.