HC Deb 30 June 1983 vol 44 cc701-9 3.30 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)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:—

MONDAY 4 JULY—Second Reading of the Petroleum Royalties (Reliefs) Bill.

Motion relating to the Rating (Timetables Procedures) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations.

Motion on the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 (Section 111) Amendment Order.

TUESDAY 5 JULY—Second Reading of the Housing and Building Control Bill.

Motion on the Pools Competition Act 1971 (Continuance) Order.

WEDNESDAY 6 JULY—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Motion relating to the Merchant Shipping (Medical Examination) Regulations.

THURSDAY 7 JULY — Proceedings on the Local Authorities (Expenditure Powers) Bill.

Motion on the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order.

FRIDAY 8 JULY—There will be a debate on the youth training scheme on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 11 JULY—Proceedings on the International Monetary Arrangements Bill.

Mr. Foot

First, will the right hon. Gentleman rearrange the timing of the debate on the youth training scheme, which is proposed for next Friday? We are all in favour of having the debate, but surely it should take place earlier in the week, particularly in view of the serious and continued rise in unemployment and the fact that almost a million young people in this country have no job and not much prospect of getting one? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will change the time of the debate so that all hon. Members can participate in it.

Secondly, I refer to the Prime Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), who asked that we should discuss the report referred to in the report of the Select Committee on the Environment. That report discusses the suggestions made by the so-called Think Tank, before the riots took place, about what conditions might lead to riots. That matter ought to be debated in the House.

Finally, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider my request to the Prime Minister for an undertaking that, before the Government take any step that would result in a real cut in pay to the unemployed, the matter should be debated in the House. We could thus avoid what happened in the last Parliament, when over several years the unemployed were denied the full benefit to which they eventually secured entitlement through the operations of the House.

Mr. Biffen

Taking the right hon. Gentleman's third point about the re-rating procedures, I shall certainly consider how matters stand, what is legislatively required and what the most appropriate procedures for the House would be. That investigation will be conducted through the usual channels.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the report of the Environment Committee. Very often, the House has taken an opportunity to debate the findings of such a report or of a Select Committee report when engaged in other discussions on motions or on legislation. However, I will consider the right hon. Gentleman's point.

It is only courteous for me to say that I will consider the right hon. Gentleman's point about the present arrangements for Friday's debate, but I do not wish the right hon. Gentleman to be misled by the emollient tone of my remarks into supposing that I am at once going to agree with him. Friday is an important day for debating. It should not be so devalued that we cannot consider matters of major topicality on that day.

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

Is it not a pity that the Opposition are blocking the re-establishment of the Select Committees? Will my right hon. Friend nevertheless press on with it?

Mr. Biffen

I do not consider that that is a fair description of the situation. I ask my hon. Friend to cast his eye across the speech that I made at the conclusion of yesterday evening's debate, when I made clear my own reservations about a speedy determination of the membership of those committees.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

The Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order is to be debated next Thursday. In the light of the report of the Procedure Committee (Finance), will the Leader of the House consider alternatives to the present procedure for handling these matters, which places an unnecessary burden on Opposition Members and is not to the advantage of Northern Ireland itself?

Mr. Biffen

With regard to the specific debate next Thursday, I hope that we shall reach the motion on the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order at a reasonably early hour in the evening. I should like time to consider the wider points made by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many important Select Committee reports left over from the previous Parliament have never been debated? Is it his intention to find time to debate them during the coming Session?

Mr. Biffen

I think that it will be for the House to adapt its conduct to the existence of a range of important Select Committee reports. We shall have to graft what they provide on to our existing proceduress, because time will not be available for specific debates on them.

Mr. Jack Dormand (Easington)

Will the right hon. Gentleman say when the report of the Top Salaries Review Body will be debated? Will he give a firm assurance that the Government's intention on the recommendations will be made known before the recess begins presumably in about four weeks' time, so that the House will be able to make its views known? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Opposition have very strong views about the recommendations.

Mr. Biffen

I am certainly well aware of the strong feelings which exist. The hon. Gentleman has made it plain with vigour, but total fairness, over past weeks. I am conducting discussions in the light of the report's recommendations, and I hope that it will be possible for the House to take a view on them before we rise at the end of next month.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Will there be an opportunity this week for the House to discuss the matter of retired chief constables selling their stories to the Sunday press for large sums of money?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that, within the framework of the business that I have announced, such an opportunity will arise. However, the House has a wide range of opportunities to make known its feelings on the subject, and I know that the view which motivates my hon. Friend is widely held.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that, because of the combination of trade and industry questions on one day and the allocation of a short cycle of questioning to a Monday, Welsh Question Time takes up more time, over the period of a Parliament, than Scottish Question Time? As the Scotttish Office represents the equivalent of six Whitehall Ministries and carries a whole range of responsibilities, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the matter and see whether Scottish Question Time can be included, after the recess, in the short cycle?

Mr. Biffen

If I wanted to be provocative, I could say that one could generously consider the possibility of Scottish questions being held on Mondays, but I know that the moment that proposition is put, the whole complexity of the issue is raised. Of course, it is perfectly appropriate for this issue to be reconsidered through the usual channels.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Will my right hon. Friend take note that many of us on both sides of the House are concerned about the continued failure to implement the Lisbon agreement on Gibraltar and would not take kindly to anything that let down a loyal and hard-pressed people? In view of that, will my right hon Friend give an undertaking that a statement will be made soon on Gibraltar, at least before we rise for the summer recess?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly draw that point to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that service men who are severely injured in the course of their duties—other than in military action—and as a result of the negligence of others, are not allowed to sue for negligence, unlike all other public servants? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that one of my constituents is suffering severely as a result of that outrageous anomaly? Will he arrange for a debate on that most important subject?

Mr. Biffen

I am aware of the real difficulties involved, and I shall certainly draw that point to the attention of the Minister responsible.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) about the Top Salaries Review Body, most of us would like a much firmer assurance that the matter will be settled before the summer recess. As we all know, there is extant a report with the stupid idea from the Plowden committee that Members of Parliament should receive 30 per cent. If we are meant to lead the country on to a better path in the fight against inflation, and if we are advising others to take 2 per cent., should we not inform the British people soon that Members of Parliament will lead from the front and not from their back pockets?

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

indicated assent.

Mr. Biffen

I shall not be drawn into commenting on the merits of the Plowden proposals, but there is a resolve in many parts of the House to determine the issue as speedily as possible.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

When the Leader of the House considers the need for a debate on the report of the Select Committee on the Environment, will he also consider the two early-day motions on the Order Paper that call for a debate about the massive unemployment on Merseyside?

[That this House is gravely concerned at the proposed closure of the Crawford Biscuit Company factory in Liverpool, with the loss of 2,000 jobs in an area with more than 140,000 unemployed; and calls on Her Majesty's Government, to have urgent discussions with Sir Hector Laing, Chairman of United Biscuits, in an effort to save this factory and the jobs involved.]

[That this House notes with deep dismay the decision of United Biscuits Limited to close their Liverpool factory, with a subsequent loss of 2,000 jobs; condemns this decision as socially irresponsible and utterly unjustifiable; urges United Biscuits to bear in mind that: (a) no strike has occurred at their Liverpool factory since the turn of the century, (b) of their five factories, Liverpool recorded the highest increase in productivity last year and (c) as there are currently 15,740 people registered as unemployed at the local employment office, while only 143 jobs are available, alternative jobs will not be available for redundant employees; therefore, further urges the management of United Biscuits to think again; calls on the Department of Employment to meet the Trade Union Co-ordination Committee and United Biscuits management as a matter of urgency; and warns Her Majesty's Government that if nothing is done to alleviate unemployment in Liverpool it will simply sow the seeds of bitterness, anger, militancy and crime.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early statement to be made to the House about whether the Secretary of State for the Environment is to assume the title "Minister for Merseyside"?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. Of course, he will appreciate that, if Friday's business stands, it will be perfectly possible to discuss unemployment then.

Mr. Reg Prentice (Daventry)

Given the widespread public discussion of the principle of electoral reform among supporters of all political parties, and the strong support shown for the principle in a recent Gallup poll, should not the House hold an early debate on this subject?

Mr. Biffen

All I can say is that such a debate is certainly not provided for next week.

Mr. Joe Ashton (Bassetlaw)

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer about the chief constable writing his memoirs on the Yorkshire ripper? Is he aware that, although the Prime Minister shed crocodile tears last week about their publication, a report in today's edition of the Sheffield Morning Telegraph states that the Home Office was notified on 8 June that they were to be published, and that action could have been taken by the Attorney-General under the Official Secrets Act during the past two or three weeks to stop publication? The Prime Minister and her Government did nothing to stop publication. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Attorney-General to make a statement on that next week?

Mr. Biffen

In response to that request, I shall, of course, ensure that the Attorney-General is made aware of that point.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) about the appointment of the departmental Select Committees? Does he realise that a considerable time passes from the announcement of an inquiry until it has got under way, because papers and research work have to be prepared? It would be of considerable use to the Committees if they could be appointed before the summer recess and could have just one meeting before then, so that they could set their programmes in train and operate properly from the moment that we return in November.

Mr. Biffen

I am sensitive to the points that my hon. Friend has put, but they must be weighed alongside other considerations, and I cannot go beyond what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw).

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who are rising in their places, but I would ask for brief questions to the Leader of the House.

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

Has the Leader of the House noted the ambiguity in the comments made yesterday at Question Time by the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, in reference to regional policy and the in-depth review currently taking place in the Department of Industry? May we have an assurance that, before the review is announced, there will be a full opportunity for the regional groups in the House and the House as a whole to debate regional strategy?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's concern for a debate on the issue.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

Having listened most carefully to what my right hon. Friend said, not only last night but today, may I also reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) about Select Committees? May I add one other reason why this issue should be considered perhaps even more urgently? The Select Committees are supported by a substantial and expensive staff who serve the House of Commons. It is not desirable that they should be less than fully employed for four or five months.

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend has said, but having made that statement at the conclusion of the debate last night it would be wholly misleading if I said that I thought that there could be a speedy change.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

Given that the Government's economic policies have led to the closure of dozens of factories and the loss of 50,000 jobs on Merseyside, and that those policies were decisively rejected by that area's electorate, may we have an early debate on Merseyside and be given a clear idea what the Government propose for that area's industrial and economic regeneration?

Mr. Biffen

There is no plan in the business that has been announced for a debate to be held specifically on Merseyside, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to make his speech if Friday's business stands.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Given the importance of yesterday's decision of the Court of Session in the Strathclyde case to all those in the country who are opposed to the compulsory mass medication of public drinking water, and as the case concluded that fluoridation in Scotland was unlawful, will my right hon. Friend find an early opportunity for a Minister to make a statement in the House about the implications of that decision for public water fluoridation in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly make that point known to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

Given that today is the deadline for a decision by the EC on the British Steel Corporation's corporate plan, and given the importance that the Government attach to investment at Port Talbot Steel, when can we expect a statement from the Minister on the recent discussions?

Mr. Biffen

I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and hope to inform the House accordingly.

Mr. John Spence (Ryedale)

Given what my right hon. Friend has said about Select Committee reports generally, may I draw his attention to the important report of the Select Committee on Agriculture, entitled "Organisation and Financing of Agricultural Research and Development"? It covers an important area and when my right hon. Friend has read the report I do not think that he will disagree with what we have to say. There is an awful lot to be done in this country to bring ourselves up to date on agricultural research. In deciding his priorities for Select Committee reports, will my right hon. Friend give top priority to a debate on the report?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly bear that in mind.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House take into account an alternative point of view on the setting up of Select Committees since a few of us voted against their establishment on a grand scale a few years ago? Will he also take into account the fact that the arguments put forward by many of his hon. Friends and by the Liberals and the SDP about the setting up of the Select Committees before the summer recess leads me to the conclusion that some of them are worried about whether they will have to pay for their own holidays or whether they will get them on the cheap?

Mr. Biffen

The wisest thing for me to do is to say that I note that interesting contribution to our debate.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

Among the great and weighty matters that my right hon. Friend must consider, will he include the plight of new Members, most of whom still do not have a desk at which to work? Is he aware that yesterday I saw one hon. Member, whose name, and therefore party, I do not know, who felt obliged to work from the floor of the cloakroom of the House of Commons? The Dissolution of the last Parliament removed 635 hon. Members and the new Parliament saw the introduction of 650 Members. In view of that and as most Ministers have been appointed for two weeks or so, surely it should not have been beyond the wit of those responsible by now to have given new hon. Members decent conditions in which to work.

Mr. Biffen

The Serjeant-at-Arms is doing a first-class job in this respect, but there are bound to be initial difficulties. I think that to be here is a great privilege and that one should put up with a certain amount of initial adversity in accommodation.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

In view of what the Prime Minister said half an hour ago about the right of self-determination, would it not be appropriate if the Scottish business that the Leader of the House has scheduled for next week were dealt with in the Scottish Grand Committee?

Mr. Biffen

No, I think that that is a treat in which we are all invited to share.

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us listened with great interest and some pleasure to his remarks last night about the Select Committee on Procedure? Is he further aware that he will cause grave disappointment to both sides of the House if the appointment of the Committee is delayed until after the beginning of the recess?

Mr. Biffen

There are recognised modalities for securing the establishment of the Select Committee on Procedure. My speech was designed to be consistent with those and not to stray one millimetre beyond them.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

What attitude will the Leader of the House take to the Special Standing Committee procedure in the coming session? If he is not too enthusiastic about it, will he at least give us the chance to debate it? Does he agree that, had we had the benefit of that procedure, the Government might have averted the muddle they found themselves in on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill in the last Session?

Mr. Biffen

There will be at least two views on the hon. Gentleman's conclusions. It would be wise if one proceeded to consider such a procedure on its merits for those Bills for which it was thought to be appropriate.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (North Dorset)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of our disappointment that there was nothing in the Gracious Speech about the implementation of the Cork committee report? Is he further aware that the implementation of this important reform would go some way to reduce the unnecessary loss of jobs? Will he seek to provide time for a debate on this important reform?

Mr. Biffen

I note my hon. Friend's disappointment. He will, I am sure, understand that there is tremendous pressure on the legislative time available. I will bear in mind his views on the desirability of an early debate.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that, shortly before the end of the last Parliament, some of us, including the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), had high hopes of a debate on the Civil Service? Will there be such a debate or will that he dispatched to oblivion as well?

Mr. Biffen

The Civil Service is always with us and is unlikely ever to be dispatched into oblivion as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I will bear in mind what he so charmingly says.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

When will we have time to debate the Select Committee report on the age of retirement? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Members on both sides of the House are interested in the subject and they will be greatly aided in the debate if they can have the Department's response beforehand?

Mr. Biffen

I will make representations to the Department concerning the desirability of a response by it to the Select Committee's report. I can offer no prospect of an early debate on the report as such. As I said earlier, in these affairs we must try to integrate the consideration of these reports with other relevant business.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

May I refer my right hon. Friend to the several early-day motions on the Order Paper concerning postal voting and, in particular, to early-day motion 2?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to invite Mr. Speaker to call a conference to consider the present system of postal and proxy voting, particularly with a view to: (a) providing voting arrangements for electors away on holiday, (b) ensuring the adequacy of arrangements for service voters and their families and (c) providing adequate notice for those eligible for postal votes.]

As my right hon. Friend has now had a further week to consider these matters, may we expect a Government initiative on the subject?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend will be aware that the issues that he mentioned are the subject of a recommendation from the Select Committee on Home Affairs. That recommendation is now with the Home Office and I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

If the Government are not to accede to the request from the Opposition Front Bench on Tuesday night for a public inquiry under an Appeal Court judge such as Lord Scarman or Lord Devlin, what proposals do they have for giving a serious and detailed reply to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) and others who, at great length and in detail, have raised questions on the Belgrano that deserve answers?

Mr. Biffen

We believe that the Franks inquiry dealt comprehensively with this topic.

Mr. Dalyell

He did not cover that.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Will the Leader of the House study the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech yesterday and note the absence of any real proposals to deal with mass unemployment? I press the right hon. Gentleman further on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) and by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that an early debate on the Think Tank report is now essential in view of the unemployment on Merseyside.

Mr. Biffen

I note the hon. Gentleman's comment, but I cannot add to what I have already said to the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk).

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As one who gave evidence to Lord Franks and his committee, I can say that Lord Franks' opening remark to me was that nothing after—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Biffen

It might be helpful to the House generally to say that I misunderstood and did not properly take the hon. Gentleman's point. My suggestion that the Franks report covered it was wholly erroneous. That said, I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's point and refer it to the relevant Minister.

Mr. Dalyell

Thank you very much.

Mr. John Silkin (Lewisham, Deptford)

When is the defence White Paper likely to be published, and how soon afterwards may we have our usual debate?

Mr. Biffen

I am not yet in a position to give a specific date, but I hope that it will be published quite soon and that a debate will take place before we rise for the summer recess.