HC Deb 10 November 1983 vol 48 cc413-9 3.32 pm
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 14 NOVEMBER — Second Reading of the Education (Grants and Awards) Bill.

TUESDAY 15 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill.

Motion relating to the Education (Fees and Awards) (Scotland) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 16 NOVEMBER — Opposition Day (3rd allotted day—first part): There will be a debate on the damage to householders caused by Government improvement grant cuts, on an Opposition motion. Afterwards, motions relating to Milk Regulations.

THURSDAY 17 NOVEMBER—Debate on the Army on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 18 NOVEMBER—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 21 NOVEMBER—Opposition Day (3rd allotted day—second part): subject for debate to be announced.

Motions on European Community Documents 6374/83, 6450/83 and 6375/83 on coal and steel.

[Relevant documents: Debate on 21 November: Social measures in the steel industry: Contribution to ECSC Budget 1983–86 Doc. No. 6375/83; 4th Report on aids to the steel industry Doc. No. 6374/83; General objectives for steel 1985 Doc. No. 6450/83. Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee: HC 78-i (1983–84) paras. 3 and 4; HC 34-vii (1982–83) para. 3.]

Mr. Kinnock

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make his autumn statement next week? On what day will that statement be made?

During the first part of the Opposition day next Wednesday the subject is to be the damage to householders caused by the cuts in improvement grants. I hope that we shall have a declaration of policy revising that which has been rumoured.

We also hope that during the debate that the Opposition have initiated next Wednesday the Government will make it clear beyond all possible doubt that they will preserve the traditional method of milk delivery in Britain, which is highly advantageous to both consumers and traders.

We should like a debate in Government time on the scandal of the car tax fiddlers. As a result of Government policy, only 15.75 per cent. of reported offenders were prosecuted or penalised in 1982. That resulted in a substantial loss of revenue, which will be infuriating to honest motorists.

Will the Secretary of State for Energy be back from China by the time that the rise in gas and electricity prices, which have apparently been agreed in his absence, come into effect?

Mr. Biffen

May I take the five points in reverse order?

It is likely that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will have returned by next week to lend his formidable qualities in wholehearted support of the Government's economic policy.

I note the right hon. Gentleman's interest in a debate upon car tax and perhaps we can pursue that through the usual channels.

I cannot anticipate the arguments that will be deployed in the debate that we are to have on the milk delivery methods in Britain, but I note the right hon. Gentleman's point and I am sure that it will be covered in the ministerial answer to the debate on those orders.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction will have heard the right hon. Gentleman's point on the Opposition day debate on housing and I am sure that he will take it into account in his contribution in that debate.

I confirm that there will be the traditional autumn statement from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I cannot say precisely on what day that will be but the matter will be discussed through the usual channels.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 204 and particularly to the amendment that stands in my name and those of 30 of my hon. Friends?

[That this House deeply regrets the continuing dispute at the Messenger Group of Newspapers in the North West of England, the behaviour of the Chairman of the Group Mr. Selim Jehan Shah in trying to break freely agreed contracts with the National Graphical Association, and his apparent determination not to allow employees of his companies to belong to trade union; congratulates Reed International and North Cheshire County Newspapers Ltd. in withdrawing financial support for the Messenger Group of Newspapers; believes all trade unionists and others should refuse to receive these free newspapers through their doors and refuse to co-operate in any way with these companies; and calls on all advertisers not to use these newspapers until such time as Mr. Shah and the Messenger Company agree to carry out the terms of the agreement with the National Graphical Association, and respect the rights of employees to join trade unions and work for fair conditions of employment.

To leave out from 'England' to end and add: 'the behaviour of the National Graphical Association in trying to impose a closed shop in circumstances where the employees concerned after a free secret ballot have unanimously rejected it; supports the Messenger Group and its chairman in their right to maintain the democratic right of their employees to be free to decide whether or not to join a union, which is exemplified by the existence of closed shops for both the National Union of Journalists and the National Graphical Association at two of the companies within the Group; and deplores the pressure which was brought to bear on Reed International and North Cheshire County Newspapers Ltd. to sell their shares in the Messenger Group or its associated companies.']

Is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday that small firm, which employs only 120 people, had 700 pickets outside its offices and that there was intimidation and harassment? Will the Government, or better still the Labour party, give time for a full debate on this issue and so bring to the attention of the British people this example of the unacceptable face of trade unionism?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is a skilled parliamentary lobbyist. Within the past 48 hours he has brought this matter to the attention of the House in an Adjournment debate. I take note of the point that he now makes, but I regret that I cannot offer Government time for its debate. I understand the importance that my hen. Friend attaches to it and I wish him well in his campaign.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devon port)

On the third Supply day next week we hope to be able to support the Labour party on the house improvement grants and we hope that on the second Supply day today it will support us in a similar motion, but what is to happen about the fourth Supply day? Is the Leader of the House prepared to continue with the system whereby the Opposition Supply days are entirely decided by the Labour party? As a major priority, in fairness to the House will he now look at the Standing Orders and ensure that the allocation of Supply days is done by the House as a whole, reflecting the balance of political opinion in Britain?

Mr. Biffen

Supply days are operated under Standing Orders which were voted by the House recently and I see no early prospect of their change.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)

Progress is being made on the re-establishment of Select Committees, but will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that in the previous Parliament the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs had the largest number of members—13—which proved highly impractical when it came to detailed interrogation of witnesses? Will he consider either an instruction to the Liaison Committee to enable the Scottish Affairs Committee to appoint a Sub-Committee, which it was not able to do in the previous Parliament, or to reduce the number to more manageable proportions?

Mr. Biffen

I will look at that point, but I do not want my hon. Friend to travel too hopefully i this matter.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Leader of the House prevail on his colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to give a clear and concise statement of Her Majesty's Government's attitude to the third United Nations convention on the law of the sea? I fear that our adherence to the United States' position is causing great embarrassment to Third world nations. Could we make our position indelibly clear?

Mr. Biffen

I will see that the point which very properly exercises the hon. Gentleman's mind is brought to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

The Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Employment are seeking the widest consultation with industry on what are termed the Vredeling and the fifth directive proposals from Brussels. Will there also be an opportunity for the House to be consulted on this matter in the near future with a full day's debate on worker participation, as interpreted in Brussels?

Mr. Biffen

I realise that those proposals are causing controversy. I will bear in mind my hon. Friend's request that they should be subject to debate in the House. However, no provision has been made for such a debate next week.

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

On 27 October the Leader of the House promised my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that he would consider a debate on the sale of Times Newspapers Ltd. No exchanges since then have invalidated the need for such a debate. The issues raised are too important to be brushed aside. Will the right hon. Gentleman now give favourable consideration to the need for that debate?

Mr. Biffen

There have been a number of parliamentary exchanges on that matter, and a number of questions have been answered. That being so, I do not feel able to guarantee or offer any Government time for such a debate.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

During the past fortnight, hon. Members on both sides of the House have presented no fewer than 280 petitions from several hundreds of thousands of their constituents on the subject of doctors ignoring the importance of consulting parents on the treatment of their teenage children. There are more petitions to come. In view of the nationwide interest in the subject, will my right hon. Friend persuade the Minister for Health to make an early statement and, preferably, will he arrange for the House to debate the subject immediately after such a statement is made?

Mr. Biffen

I will draw my hon. Friend's point to the attention of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health. I realise that this topic arouses great feeling. but I also believe that the matter is before the courts.

Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)

Will the Leader of the House find time for the Scottish Office to make statements in the House on health matters? For the second time in four days, the Scottish Office has avoided making a major statement by using a planted question. On the issues of blood and the major reorganisation of the Health Service the 72 Scottish Members should have an opportunity of questioning the Minister, as only one Wednesday a month is allowed for Scottish questions.

Mr. Biffen

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's point and will make those representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government have no intention of allowing their proposals for legislation on rates to be delayed in any way by internal difficulties with Conservatives in local governmert?

Mr. Biffen

I am innocent enough not to know very much about such things.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

When can we have a debate on the opening up of the new coalfields in Leicestershire, in particular the Asfordby pit? Can the welcome absence of the Secretary of State for Energy in China possibly be the reason for the Government's inexcusable and disgraceful prevarication in a matter which threatens the entire future of the Leicestershire coalfields and the livelihood of many of my constituents?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to make his speech next Tuesday, on Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Could my right hon. Friend explain to the House when we may expect prime ministerial statements to follow bilateral summit meetings? The Anglo-Irish summit was followed by a statement, but the Anglo-German summit was not. Why was that?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot explain the reasons immediately, but I will ensure that my hon. Friend's point is transmitted to those who can.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister today to reconsider her decision not to visit St. Paul's eye hospital in my constituency in Liverpool? There are currently nearly 500 people on the waiting list of that hospital, including 181 women and 84 urgent cases, yet the authority intends to close a ward and reduce services and numbers of beds to meet the Government's vicious spending cuts.

Mr. Biffen

Putting aside the charge of vicious spending cuts and speaking in a more charitable fashion, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will transmit his request to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

My right hon. Friend gave a characteristically sympathetic reply two weeks ago to my request for a debate on planning and development. Grave concern is being voiced on that issue in all parts of the House and the country. Would it therefore be possible for us to have a full day's debate? A debate on the adjournment would not be appropriate.

Mr. Biffen

I will inform my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment of my hon. Friend's point. As my hon. Friend will realise, Members have various opportunities to pursue such topics.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Could we have a further statement next week on the up-to-date situation in Grenada and in particular on the role of the Governor-General Sir Paul Scoon who, in asking for external intervention and appointing an interim Government with himself as their head, seems to be in breach of the constitution which gave him his job and which was approved by this House?

Can the Leader of the House confirm reports that the British Government's plans to use the SAS to rescue Sir Paul Scoon from Grenada had to be abandoned because of the American invasion?

Mr. Biffen

I simply cannot confirm any of the hon. Gentleman's more exotic speculations, but I assure him that if the situation in the Caribbean next week necessitates a Government statement, a statement will be made.

Mr. Rob Hayward (Kingswood)

The last debate on procedure in the House of Commons was held on 19 July 1982. Since then there has been a substantial change in the membership of the House. Could my right hon. Friend allow some time in the near future for a debate on procedure in the House, including the hours that we work and the number of hon. Members in the Chamber?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend may not have been present last week when I announced, in response to a request from the Leader of the Opposition, the Government's intention to set up a Procedure Committee.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Leader of the House may be called upon next week or thereafter to adjudicate upon the article in The Times today by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston). Before he sets up a series of meetings in order to do so, he should check the hon. Gentleman's voting record. Although the hon. Member has complained about the number of opportunities he has to speak in the House, he only managed to vote on 81 occasions out of 332 in the last full parliamentary Session, so he might be hard to find.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Biffen

I am not sure that I have any role as an adjudicator. If I have, it is nice to know that the hon. Gentleman will be my research assistant.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will my hon. Friend urgently consider the reform of Standing Committee procedure? On any important measure, the first half of the time available to the Committee is taken up with mindless filibustering. If my right hon. Friend had the time to meet me outside Committee Room 11, where the Telecommunications Bill is in Committee, I could give him some horrifying evidence.

Mr. Biffen

There is no horror left for me. My hon. Friend might find that the Procedure Committee will address itself to such matters.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

Has the Leader of the House had time to reflect on my suggestion last week that it would be sensible to hold a debate on the purchase of The Sunday Times by Mr. Rupert Murdoch, because of allegations that the figures have been fiddled? While on the subject of fiddlers, will the right hon. Gentleman think again about providing time next week to discuss the appalling issue of the car tax fiddlers, particularly as it probably touches on the rampant way in which this Government have axed civil servants?

Mr. Biffen

In reply to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I cannot add to what I said to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). As for the second part of his question, I cannot add to what I said to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Does my right hon. Friend realise that more than 200 petitions have been presented to the House—with more to come—on the subject of doctors prescribing contraceptives without parental knowledge or consent to girls aged under 16, and that those petitions bear hundreds of thousands of signatures? Is he aware that the early-day motion on the Order Paper has attracted 55 signatures in just a couple of days?

[That this House calls for the withdrawal of the 1980 Department of Health and Social Security Revised Health Service Notice (Section G) which advises doctors that they may provide contraceptive drugs or devices to girls under the age of consent without their parents being consulted; and recognises that many thousands of constituents of Right honourable and honourable Members have expressed their opposition to the Revised Health Service Notice by way of public petition.]

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an urgent debate to be held on that important subject, as the whole nation finds it disturbing?

Mr. Biffen

I accept that the topic is important, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will realise that I cannot really go beyond what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir. B. Braine).

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that we shall have an opportunity to debate the White Paper entitled "Streamlining the Cities", Cmnd. 9063, before 31 January, when the consultation period ends? Certain aspects of it, particularly concerning support for the arts, have national implications and concern all hon. Members.

Mr. Biffen

I cannot give that guarantee, but I shall certainly bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

When will the Home Secretary make a statement telling us why the remaining Mosley papers are not being released? Is the Cabinet afraid that such papers will show even more clearly how establishment and Tory circles were involved in supporting Fascism at home and dictatorships abroad? Should not all the papers be released as quickly as possible?

Mr. Biffen

The more that papers are released about that distinguished refugee from the Labour party, the less easy it will be to maintain a conspiracy view of history. However, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, because I suspect that there is a desire in many parts of the House to see those papers published.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

The hon. Members for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) asked questions about the petitions that have been presented on the subject of contraceptives being given to girls under the age of consent. Is the Leader of the House aware that many of us presented such petitions in good faith, because we were asked to do so by our constituents? However, that does not necessarily mean that we agreed with the details of the petitions. The procedure for presenting petitions is such that we do not have an opportunity to make such points other than, for example, at this time. Will the Leader of the House take that into account in considering the representations made to him by those two hon. Members?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point.