HC Deb 03 November 1983 vol 47 cc1001-6
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will 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 7 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill.

Motion on the Sheep Variable Premium (Protection of Payments) (Amendment) Order.

TUESDAY 8 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Trade Union Bill.

Motion on the European Community Documents 10664/82 and 9369/82 on the protection of workers and the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances and preparations.

WEDNESDAY 9 NOVEMBER—Proceedings on the Oil Taxation Bill.

THURSDAY 10 NOVEMBER — Opposition Day (2nd allotted day) Until about 7 pm a debate on the lack of employment opportunities for young people, and afterwards, a debate on the disastrous impact of Government cuts on community care through the personal social services.

Both debates will arise on motions in the names of the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party.

FRIDAY 11 NOVEMBER—Private Members' Bills. MONDAY 14 NOVEMBER — Second Reading of the Education (Grants and Awards) Bill.

[Debate on 8 November: Marketing and use of asbestos Document No. 9369/82, Protection from asbestos at work Document No. 10664/82; For relevant report of the European Legislation Committee, see HC 34-xvi (1982–83) paras. 1 and 2.]

Mr. Kinnock

The Leader of the House is obviously aware that the Trade Union Bill will be strongly resisted because it imposes further restrictions on trade union political funds, among many other objectionable proposals. When can the House expect a Bill to restrict the political funding activities of companies?

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept the opinion of a number of hon. Members in different parts of the House, that it would be appropriate to set up a Select Committee on Procedure to examine some of the ways in which we undertake our business? Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early debate, in Government time, on the second report of the social security advisory committee, which is critical of the Government's attitude towards the long-term unemployed, who are growing in number? The matter becomes more urgent following the announcement of today's unemployment figures.

There are still a number of questions about the sale of Times Newspapers to Mr. Rupert Murdoch which, as yet, remain unanswered. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry makes an early statement to the House giving all the information on that sale, in which the House is interested?

Mr. Biffen

I shall take the right hon. Gentleman's last point first. A reply has already been given to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) about the treatment of the Sunday Times accounts for the purposes of the Fair Trading Act. Another answer is being given today dealing with the question of whether there was a comparison with The Observer. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, as in the case of the Sunday Times, the non-newspaper business of The Observer was also excluded. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reflect upon those answers. We can then consider the matter through the usual channels.

I note the right hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on the report of the social security advisory committee, which will be considered.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the desirability of a Select Committee on Procedure. The best method is to explore that through the usual channels with a view to establishing it as soon as is reasonably possible.

On the Trade Union Bill, I accept at once that it is a matter of some controversiality. I have no doubt that as it proceeds through the House —I hope at a reasonable pace — the matter of funding, including funding by companies, of political activities will command the attention of the House.

Mr. Kinnock

I am sure that we shall wish to reflect on the answers, including today's answer, about Times Newspapers. Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House a clearer idea of what he meant by further considering the matter when we feel that our reflections have gone on for long enough?

Mr. Biffen

If the right hon. Gentleman is not satisfied that the matter is being dealt with fairly, it must be pursued through the usual channels.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

As the Leader of the House has admitted that he did not take certain factors into account when the Times decision was made, is not the House entitled to another debate? Will he ensure that he is not too partial on the question? We might even wish to participate in the debate.

Mr. Biffen

I resent any implication of partiality. Throughout the determination of the Bill in 1981 I acted with total propriety and was guided throughout by professional advisors.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The House knows that an important debate on foreign affairs will follow business questions. I propose to cut off business questions at 3.50 pm.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that progress is painful in Committee on the Telecommunications Bill? The matter was discussed at great length in Committee during the last Parliament, but the Bill had to be guillotined so only certain clauses were discussed. Can we vary the procedure this time so that we discuss the clauses from back to front? If we deal with the last clauses first and work towards the middle, we might, over the two Parliaments, discuss every clause in the Bill. Would that not be to the great advantage of the public?

Mr. Biffen

That point is for consideration by the Committee, rather than by me.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

When will the importation of milk regulations for Northern Ireland be available in the Vote Office? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that those for Northern Ireland will be debated together with the corresponding regulations for England and Wales and Scotland that were made on 26 October?

Mr. Biffen

I have had correspondence with the right hon. Gentleman on this point. I shall look at the specific matter that he raises and see what can be done to assist him.

Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that the legislation that was referred to by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services on 14 September relating to the protection of pension rights of those who change jobs will be introduced in this Session?

Mr. Biffen

I am not sure whether I can give that undertaking, but I shall consider the point and write to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Mark Hughes (City of Durham)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a debate on the importation of UHT milk in respect of both the Northern Ireland, England and Wales and Scotland regulations must take place before they become effective and that a delay would be unacceptable?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Sir K. Lewis), will my right hon. Friend please visit the Telecommunications Bill Committee? If he does, he will see that the hon. Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) in particular are doing everything that they can to abuse the procedures of the House, to waste the Committee's time and to prevent serious discussion on this vital measure.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker


Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

He is not allowed to say that.

Mr. Speaker

For the benefit of the House, we should not refer in this Chamber to proceedings in Committee.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Before the Government embark on yet another reorganisation of the management of the National Health Service, may the House have an opportunity to express a view on the committee's proposals?

Mr. Biffen

We have only just concluded a vigorous debate on the Health Service, at which time the Griffiths proposals were known to the House. Therefore, I regret that I cannot guarantee Government time for such a debate.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

Reverting to the acquisition of Times Newspapers Ltd. by Mr. Murdoch, when the right hon. Gentleman is considering a debate will he take into account the fact that, while he may resent attacks on his integrity, his judgment on the matter was, is, and remains very much in question?

Mr. Biffen

I accept that that reference was a matter of great political contention and that I have never resented; it is part and parcel of being in politics. However, an attack upon integrity is a different consideration.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

As one who spoke and voted against my right hon. Friend in the debate on the takeover of The Times and the Sunday Times, I do not think that we should have a debate on the issue, mainly because when I rang Mr. Harold Evans at the time to ask for information about the Sunday Times he failed to give it to me. It is not the function of the House to help Mr. Evans to sell his book and to allow him to choose his timing on releasing what he believes to be relevant information years late.

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to a statement made by the Secretary of State for the Environment that he will send Commissioners into Liverpool city council? Is not that a blatant interference in the democratic rights of elected councillors? Will he press his right hon. Friend to put before the House the third environmental report on Liverpool which outlines the serious problems that that part of the world has to face?

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's point to my right hon. Friend.

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

Bearing in mind the damage that the Government's proposals to wreck local democracy are causing among local government staff, is it not high time that the House had a real opportunity to discuss the disgraceful White Paper that was released during the recess and on which hon. Members have had no opportunity to have a real discussion at a time when local authorities are being refused real and proper consultation?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman, not least because of the language in which he put his proposition. It implied premises that I do not accept. There will be opportunities to discuss the rate support grant. when many of those issues will be germane.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on coal to take place as soon as possible, in view of the recent statement by MacGregor that he wants to close down all the Welsh and Scottish coalfields in line with a document from the EC only a few months ago? Such a debate will enable some hon. Members to discuss and put into proper perspective the lunatic idea that has been put forward, according to the newspapers, by the Treasury Minister, to privatise parts of the coal industry. That will show that privatisation never worked in the past. It brought the coal industry to ruins and it will do the same again.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has made a robust speech and will have a chance to do so again if he is lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, on the Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill which will shortly he before the House.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the statement that was made earlier today by the Home Office that it has no intention of building public shelters for people in the event of a nuclear attack? Will he make a statement to the House as to who will be allowed into the Prime Minister's private ark while the rest of the population are sacrificed on the altar of her nuclear toys?

Mr. Biffen

The responsibility for making any such statement lies with the Home Office; I shall pass the hon. Gentleman's comments on to the Home Secretary.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

May I support the demands that have been made today for a debate on the Sunday Times affair, not just because of the serious nature of the allegations that have been made but also because it is not sufficient for the right hon. Gentleman to do as he has today and say that, because he ignored relevant factors when considering TheObserver case and because the same factors were ignored in the acquisition of The Times, that makes his judgment and action correct? It does not. It is still perfectly possible not only for his judgment to be at fault but for him to have acted illegally.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman is alleging to be relevant what was judged by professional advisers of the Board of Trade not to be relevant. Therefore, I cannot accept his argument.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

May I press the Leader of the House on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short)? Last Thursday we discussed the Health Service cuts but we have not yet discussed the Griffiths report. This is the third massive reorganisation, and it will rend the NHS from top to bottom. Before its implementation, which will result in another shakeup, hon. Members should have the right to discuss it.

Mr. Biffen

Despite the charming way in which the hon. Gentleman always makes his requests, I cannot be any more forthcoming to him than I was to his hon. Friend. However, I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to the point that he has made.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

Has my right hon. Friend had his attention drawn in suitably ringing tones to the thoroughly unsatisfactory nature of the House of Commons answering service? Is he aware that it is upsetting many constituents and that urgent action is required?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, the matter is before the Sub-Committee, and I shall contact my hon. Friend in due course.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 193 and its amendment on the crisis on Merseyside?

[That this House congratulates the Labour controlled Liverpool City Council in taking the initiative to create 1,000 jobs and to carry out a public sector housing renewal programme to alleviate the twin problems of mass unemployment and the serious shortage of public sector housing for rent; condemns the Government cuts in the rate support grant which has created major problems for cities such as Liverpool and other cities throughout the United Kingdom; further condemns the inaction of the Government to deal with the unending number of closures and redundancies on Merseyside and, in particular, the recent decisions affecting United Biscuits, Cadbury Schweppes, Central Oils, Huntley & Palmers and major High Street stores, such as Woolworths & Binns with a threatened loss of 7,000 to 8,000 jobs; and supports the decision taken by the Liverpool Labour controlled district council and supported by the Liverpool Trades Council, the Merseyside Association of Trades Council, and the Liverpool District Labour Party to organise a rally and demonstration on 19th November against mass unemployment, attacks upon the Health Service, the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the savage cuts in the living standards of working people.]

May we have an early debate on the questions raised both in the motion and in the amendment, particularly as earlier this afternoon it was suggested that 1,000 new jobs had been created. However, in the private sector a further 1,000 jobs have been lost as a result of the withdrawal of grants from private companies and a further 1,000 jobs——

Mr. Speaker

Order, That sounds rather like a speech to me.

Mr. Biffen

I regret that I can offer no early prospect of such a debate in Government time.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

Will the Leader of the House accept that it is no proper way to deal with serious allegations by the distinguished former editor of the Sunday Times and The Times by the backdoor method of written parliamentary questions? Will he accept that in everyone's interest, including his own, the proper way in which to deal with this affair is by a debate on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot be more helpful than to repeat what I said in reply to the question put by the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a firm assurance that the House will be able to discuss the proposals in the White Paper on the streamlining of cities well in advance of the date for the receipt of considerations by local authorities, which is 31 January?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's argument. I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Before we go any further with the matter of a debate on Times Newspapers Ltd., will my right hon. Friend accept from someone who disagreed with him when he made his decision, that there is no substance in the charge that he misled the House of Commons or behaved in any way other than with his usual scrupulous fairness towards the House?

Mr. Biffen

Again, I shall confine myself to saying that I note what my hon. Friend says.