HC Deb 24 November 1983 vol 49 cc458-62

i. HC 78-ii (1983–84) para. 5.

j. HC 78-ii (1983–84) para. 6.

k. HC 78-iv (1983–84) para. 3.

l. HC 78-iv (1983–84) para. 4 and HC 78-vii (1983–84) para. I.

m. HC 78-iv (1983–84) para. 6.

n. HC 78-iv (1983–84) para. 7.

o. HC 78-iv (1983–84) para. 5.

p. HC 78-iv (1983–84) para. 8 and HC 78-vii (1983–84) para. 2.

q. HC 78-vii (1983–84) para. 3.

r. HC 78-vii (1983–84) para. 4.

s. HC 78-vii (1983–84) para. 5.

t. HC 78-vii (1983–84) para. 8.

Mr. Hattersley

Is it the Government's intention to arrange a debate in Government time on the report of the Policy Studies Institute on the Metropolitan police? The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Deputy Prime Minister was the police authority for London during the period that has been so deeply criticised. Therefore, the Government are literally responsible for the criticisms in the report and should provide time to debate them.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that last week's announcement about the changes in the housing benefit scheme will further complicate a system that is already in chaos. Can the appropriate Minister make an early statement on the workings of a scheme that is increasingly being revealed as inadequate?

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman will know that on Friday 2 December, my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) is to introduce his Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that the Government will not impede the Bill's progress in any way?

Mr. Biffen

I was unaware that the Bill of the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eddie) was particularly contentious, but I shall certainly look into the matter. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the housing benefit scheme. That is clearly a matter of general concern and I shall see whether there is a possibility of a statement. Perhaps we can discuss the issue through the usual channels.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that, although the PSI report is immensely important, it is not a Government report. Obviously, I shall consider the matter in the context of his request, although I would ask to be excused from giving an immediate response.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. As the House well knows, there is a very important debate to follow on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's autumn statement. I propose to let business questions run until 3.45 pm

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

On 17 November, the Leader of the House said that there would be no Whip for the debate the following day on the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amendment) Bill. Can he explain why I received a reply from the Secretary of State for Transport on 22 November saying that he had cancelled his official visit to the port of Liverpol so that he could vote in that debate? Is it not tragic and disgraceful that a Minister should cancel an important visit so that he could vote against the sick and disabled?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of Parliament for many years, and knows that occasionally Governments quite reasonably expect members of the Government to support their view of a Bill. That has happened several times, including last Friday, and also on similar issues in the lifetime of the Labour Government. Thus, there is nothing extraordinary or new about it. I doubt whether we shall add much to our public esteem if we try to whip up moral fervour about something that does not really merit it.

Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)

May I refer my right hon. Friend to the excellent investigation and report of Mr. Peter Oglesby, which has just been placed in the Library, and which relates to delays in processing mobility and attendance allowances? It makes many far reaching recommendatins, including some concerning medical adjudication and appeals. May I urge my right hon. Friend to arrange an early debate on those important subjects?

Mr. Biffen

I thank my hon. Friend for that information. I shall certainly look into the matter and discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services what further parliamentary attention can be given to it.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

As the report of the Policy Studies Institute on the Metropolitan police is, as the right hon. Gentleman has just said, immensely important, and contains severe strictures on the work of some members of the Metropolitan police force, and clear lessons for political accountability and democratic control of our police forces, may I reinforce the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparbrook (Mr. Hattersley), that we should have an early debate in Government time on that extremely important subject.

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. He has a long-standing interest in this matter, but I am sure that he would not expect me to be more forthcoming to him than I have been to the deputy leader of the Labour party.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that his motto should not be "procrastination now"? As it is some weeks since he said that he hoped to hold an early debate on the report of the Select Committee on Procedure (Finance), could we not have a debate on that subject next week?

Mr. Biffen

The answer to that is: not without some fairly unprecedented, last-minute reorganisation of business. However, I take my right hon. Friend's point. He has chaired that Committee with great distinction, and it would be only courteous to have a debate on that subject as soon as possible.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Is the Leader of the House aware that yesterday an inquest on a 15-year-old boy in my constituency revealed that he had died after inhaling the toxic chemicals from a pain reliever spray? Will the right hon. Gentleman allocate time to debate the disturbing increase among schoolchildren and the young unemployed of glue sniffing and the inhalation of such sprays? In that way the House can take account of the recent announcement by the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security that only £2 million is to be allocated this year for the treatment of drug addiction.

Mr. Biffen

In pursuing that topic I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find friends on both sides of the House. Perhaps he should try his chances with an Adjournment debate, as that may give the matter further parliamentary attention.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

In the light of recent events in the Caribbean and of the reported discussions of those events and other issues of major importance in New Delhi, is it not time that the House had a full two-day debate on the present operation and future structure of the Commonwealth?

Mr. Biffen

We would have to come back very soon after Christmas if we were to accommodate a two-day debate on that topic, important as it is. However, the return of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister from New Delhi might give my hon. Friend an opportunity to raise that point.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

What arrangements does the right hon. Gentleman have for debating the establishment of Select Committees, if the motions on today's Order Paper relating to them are unsuccessful?

Mr. Biffen

We shall have to see how we go this evening. That is the first hurdle and I hope that it can be overcome.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Given the sombre events in Northern Ireland, will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the constitutional and security matters—which are connected—in the Province?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to that point, which I know gives rise to general anxiety in many parts of the House.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the first of the two debates on Thursday on the EC relates to tie own resources matters that are to be discussed in Athens, not the 1984 budget which, although related, is a distinct topic?

Mr. Biffen

I am not absolutely certain that——

Mr. Spearing


Mr. Biffen

—this matter has been discussed. I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman is authoritatively informed about the exact terms of the debate, but it will be apparent from the document.

Mr. Edward Du Cann (Taunton)

I reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft). Is my right hon. Friend aware of the disappointment felt and the detriment done to the work of the House deriving from the fact that it is now more than five months since this Parliament assembled and the departmentally related Select Committees are not yet established? Should there be any prospect of difficulty today—we all hope that there will not—will my right hon. Friend give a clear undertaking that we shall have an early debate on the matter and come to a conclusion in that way?

Mr. Biffen

I can put on a white sheet and say that none of the difficulties, such as they are, are of my making. That is why I hope that the matter can be speedily resolved. I note my right hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Cynon Valley)

If the Prime Minister is to make a statement on the Commonwealth next week on what day will it be made? What initiative will the Government take to seek an early resumption of the disarmament talks between the Soviet Union and the United States? Will the Government make a statement next week?

Mr. Biffen

I should like to think that the Prime Minister will make her statement on Tuesday.

Any action taken in the light of the breakdown of the Geneva talks should be taken quietly and constructively. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) shares the view of many Government Members that these matters are best discussed in secrecy.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

As the decision on 6 December to increase the own resources of the Common Market will be a vital constitutional issue, does the Leader of the House consider that it is equally vital before that date to give the House an opportunity to express a view on whether this would be the right way to proceed? Will he also give us a clear assurance that there will be a summary, or at least a detailed outline, of the way in which the Government believe that the common agricultural policy should be reformed?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend will not find any difficulty in making the speeches that he wishes and in expressing any views he has to the countrary.

The British Government's policy on CAP will be put to the House by the relevant Minister. It is important that the Government's position during the discussions in Athens has the authority and endorsement of the House.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I am obliged to the Leader of the House for having written to me about the White Paper "Streamlining the Cities". I urge him to consider arranging a debate on this major restructuring of local government. I cannot imagine that we would not discuss this matter on the Floor of the House, so that the Government can consider the views of Members of Parliament before legislation is introduced.

Mr. Biffen

I thought that the hon. Gentleman might be pleased to receive the letter but disappointed with its contents. I must stand by that rather sorrowful reply. I am certain that the House will have no shortage of opportunities during the next few weeks to discuss those matters.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

In case I and like-minded colleagues are unsuccessful in the forthcoming private Members' ballot, and bearing in mind that the widespread concern on both sides of the House makes an Adjournment debate on planning and development inappropriate, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate as soon as possible on this subject?

Mr. Biffen

I thought that my hon. Friend might say that he joined with the leader of the Liberal party in welcoming the recent developments announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. At the moment, I cannot undertake that any time will be made available—certainly in the immediate future—for a debate on this matter during Government time.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Is the Leader of the House seized of the economic importance of the Bill that I shall introduce next Friday on generic substitution for the pharmaceutical services, which would save at least £28 million, and probably £150 million, of public expenditure? In view of the Government's economic position, will he use his influence to prevent the Government from blocking the Second Reading of my Bill?

Mr. Biffen

My influence in these matters is ludicrously overestimated.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Will the Leader of the House bring to the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment the magnificent demonstration that occurred on Merseyside last Saturday in support of the actions taken by the Liverpool city council, which was democratically elected? Will he influence his right hon. Friend to come clean with the House about whether he intends to intervene and interfere with that democratically elected council?

Mr. Biffen

Using my own language, I shall be in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and draw his attention to the march and the principles argued by the marchers.