HC Deb 31 March 1983 vol 40 cc465-9 10.30 am
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

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

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

Yes, Sir. The business for the week after the Easter recess will be as follows: MONDAY 11 APRIL—Second Reading of the Data Protection Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Ports (Reduction of Debt) Bill.

Second Reading of the Matrimonial Homes Bill [Lords], of the Mental Health Bill [Lords] and of the Pilotage Bill [Lords], which are consolidation measures.

TUESDAY 12 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Miscellaneous Financial Provisions Bill and of the Plant Varieties Bill [Lords]. Motion on the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975.

WEDNESDAY 13 APRIL—Second Reading of the Social Security and Housing Benefits Bill.

Motion on the code of practice on closed shops agreements and arrangements.

THURSDAY 14 APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Motions relating to the National Health Service (Dental and Optical Charges and Remission Charges) Amendment Regulations.

FRIDAY 15 APRIL—Private Members' motions.

Mr. Foot

I wish to put a number of questions to the right hon. Gentleman. The first arises from some exchanges that took place in the House yesterday, and statements that have been made since. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that before the Government force the British Gas Corporation to sell its shares in the Wytch Farm oilfield at a substantial price the Secretary of State for Energy will make a statement to the House that we can debate? After the exchanges yesterday, is that not an obligation on the Government?

Will there be a statement in the near future on the shipbuilding industry, where such serious and tragic developments are taking place?

Can the right hon. Gentleman now tell us when we can expect a statement from the Home Secretary about the amendments that he intends to introduce to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there can be no question of the Bill proceeding along its present lines because of the representations that have been made by so many organisations? I am sure that no Bill has been introduced in this House, even by this Government, that has aroused such widespread criticism from so many different bodies. Are not the House and the country entitled to a statement from the Government before the Bill proceeds any further?

We have asked many times for a statement on the future of Ravenscraig. When will the House be given a statement on the Government's plans for that plant?

I have already asked when we can debate the second Brandt report. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it will be debated soon?

In view of what the Prime Minister has said today about the extremely difficult and dangerous negotiations taking place in Geneva, the Opposition want an extensive debate as soon as possible on those disarmament discussions and the defence situation. Can that take place soon after the House returns from the Easter recess?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to the anxieties that have been expressed about the sale of Wytch Farm. I at once acknowledge that it is a matter of great interest to the House. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to the interests shown in the fortunes of the shipbuilding industry. Indeed, that subject will be debated later today.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will table as soon as possible the appropriate amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. Doubtless the House will have noted the very compelling way in which my right hon. Friend has conducted his discussions with the bishops. There will be plenty of opportunity to consider the more refined thoughts as a result of those exchanges by the time that the Bill is further considered on the Floor of the House.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has received no formal proposals about any development at Ravenscraig. However, I shall draw his attention to the right hon. Gentleman's point. I emphasise what I have said previously: it is my right hon. Friend's intention to make a statement to the House on the corporate plan of the British Steel Corporation as soon as he is in a position so to do.

I gladly recommit myself to the proposition that the second Brandt report should be discussed at some future date. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the House recently had the opportunity of a three-hour debate on that matter. Although I accept at once that that does not invalidate the prospect of a future debate, I must tell him that it will not be in the immediate future.

The right hon. Gentleman's final and perhaps most important request was that we should soon debate disarmament and the discussions currently taking place. I, too, am anxious that we should have such a debate, and I shall use my energies to ensure that it takes place as soon as possible.

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for some of his replies. I was interested in his account of the compelling discussions between the Home Secretary and the bishops on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. What was the nature of the discussions, what did the Home Secretary say and what were the episcopal retorts?

Mr. Biffen

Like the right hon. Gentleman, I have only the advantage of media reports. I assume that any discussions with bishops must, by their very nature, be compelling.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that any debate on nuclear disarmament will take the form of an amendable motion and that he will not listen to the blandishments of the official Opposition to debate it on the Adjournment of the House so that the Opposition's hypocrisy on the whole issue of the commitment to unilateral disarmament—while lecturing the House on the negotiating stance at the disarmament talks—might be fully explored?

Mr. Biffen

I shall bear that point in mind.

Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)

Has my right hon. Friend noted the failure of any puffs of white smoke to emerge from the offices of the Liberal-SDP alliance yesterday afternoon? Will he find time, when we return from the Easter recess, for a debate on the dilemma in which the Alliance finds itself, with two leaders, neither of whom will be Prime Minister?

Mr. Biffen

Experts in these matters might feel that, in view of the signal success of the late Pope John, the alliance might choose an old man in a hurry.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that the business today is devoted to Private Members' debates. I propose that, with the good will of the House, we should finish business questions by 10.45 am.

Mr. Edward Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil)

I reinforce the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) about the urgent need for a statement on Wytch Farm, especially after yesterday's special meeting between the Secretary of State for Energy and the British Gas Corporation. Is the Leader of the House aware that on Monday the Secretary of State misled the House by saying that he was aware of only one report on the valuation of Wytch Farm, although he told me in answer to a question some months ago that he had access to an independent consultants' report? Does not the Secretary of State have a double reason for making a statement to the House on that matter?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says and I shall make certain that his anxieties are referred to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the latest CBI report has shown that there is an upturn in the prospects for industry. Will he try to arrange a general debate on industry and trade shortly after we return from the Easter recess so that all matters relating to trade and unfair trading practices can be debated to ensure that the growth in British industry and trade can continue unimpeded without unfair competition?

Mr. Biffen

Such are the skills of my hon. Friend that I am quite certain that he will be able to say on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill all that he intends to say.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

In view of the nature of the Data Protection Bill, will the Leader of the House consider the possibility of using the Special Standing Committee procedure before the Bill goes to a normal Standing Committee?

Mr. Biffen

I have written to the hon. Gentleman on this matter, as he had corresponded with me making that request. I said that, in view of the extent of consultations that have already taken place on these topics and the wide discussions that took place in the other place, I do not believe that that procedure would be appropriate for the Bill.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

Does the Leader of the House recall the request of his right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr du Cann) that we should have a debate on Civil Service matters? Now that the Treasury is dealing with matters previously dealt with by the Civil Service Department—if anything, that has given rise to even more concern—may we have a debate on these matters in the near future?

Mr. Biffen

I can be no more forthcoming this morning than I have been on previous occasions. I take note of the hon. Gentleman's interest that there should be a debate.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread concern in the House at the out-of-date nature of the laws and procedure relating to insolvency and that many good businesses and the jobs that go with them are being lost unnecessarily as a result of those out-of-date procedures? Will he provide an early opportunity to debate the nil progress being made by the Department of Trade on this matter?

Mr. Biffen

As an initial step, I should like the opportunity to refer what my hon. Friend has said to my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, because I cannot hold out the prospect of an early debate on the subject.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman look into the odd answer given by the Minister of State, Home Office about the poor Romanian shuttlecock? He managed to put in the same answer reference to refugees under the United Nations convention, which was constructed for mass refugees from something like a war, and the phrase "political asylum". Is it not true that the status of persons receiving political asylum is quite different from that of a refugee, and is kept separately in Home Office statistics? Is it possible that the confusion in the junior Minister's mind has actually caused this dreadful incident?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State is an evident example of clear and decisive thinking, so I reject at once the charge of confusion. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) may be able to take part in the debate on the Romanian refugee later this morning, but in any case I shall refer what he says to my hon. and learned Friend, who may correspond with him to clear up any matters that may have given rise to misunderstanding.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early statement by the appropriate Minister about the Football League's decision to grant exclusive rights for the protection of football matches next season to video companies for a fee of £8 million, thereby removing soccer matches from the screens of BBC and ITV and perhaps from the homes and enjoyment of millions of people in this country?

Mr. Biffen

We have the expert in this House, in the sense that the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Dunnett) is proving to be a very robust negotiator in these matters. I am not sure about the ministerial responsibility for this subject, but I shall refer my hon. Friend's anxiety to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

As the prison population has now reached 45,000, and in the light of yesterday's report by Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons, may we have an early debate on the crisis in our prisons?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate, although Home Office legislation is passing through the House, the Committee stage of which will take place fairly soon, when I am sure that many of the points that the hon. Gentleman wants to raise could be made.

Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Basildon)

Reverting to the important and damaging document, the draft code of practice for the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of equality of opportunity in employment, has my right hon. Friend seen the analogy casting our right hon. Friend the Secretry of State for Employment in the guise of a head waiter dishing up rather unpalatable fare that he himself had not made? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the House will debate the matter at an early opportunity, in view of the cost impact for British industry?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot say when the matter will be debated. I can only give the somewhat negative response that it does not appear on the programme that I have announced for the week after the recess. I know that all right hon. and hon. Members will recognise the importance of the subject, even if they do not share my hon. Friend's view.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that many Opposition Members would welcome a debate on the subject just raised by the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor), if only to renounce and denounce the views that he has just expressed, for which he is notorious? I revert to the question that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs). Is he aware of the statement made by the governor of Leicester prison about the grim overcrowding and the terrible effect that it is having not merely on the people inside the prison but on those who work there? If we cannot have a debate, will the Home Secretary make a statement on this important subject?

Mr. Biffen

In answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's first point, as he will have heard from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, it is the Government's intention to secure legislation so that orders on racial equality can be amended. I should add that in the debate that will follow there will be a strong disposition to argue for such powers of amendment and to reject a great deal of the received wisdom of the race relations industry.

I shall refer to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said about the desirability of a statement being made on the problems in prisons.

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