HC Deb 27 October 1983 vol 47 cc425-32
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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

  • MONDAY 31 OCTOBER—A debate on a Government Motion on the NATO 1979 decision on intermediate range nuclear forces.
  • TUESDAY I NovEmBER—Proceedings on the British Shipbuilders (Borrowing Powers) Bill.
  • Motion relating to the Education (Fees and Awards) Regulations.
  • WEDNESDAY 2 NovEMBER—Remaining stages of the Petroleum Royalties (Relief) Bill.
  • Motions on the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) Regulations for England and Wales, and for Scotland, and on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order.
  • THURSDAY 3 NovEmBER—There will be a debate on foreign affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
  • FRIDAY 4 NOVEMBER—A debate on Government measures to assist small businesses, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
  • MONDAY 7 NovEmBER—Second Reading of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill.

Mr. Kinnock

The Opposition welcome Monday's debate on intermediate range nuclear forces. It will give the House an opportunity to examine in some detail the Government's serious lack of concern about the increasing nuclear arms race. Do not the Government realise that the events of the last few days have greatly increased the anxieties of the British people about lack of proper control over the cruise missiles which, apparently, are to be emplaced in this country?

The Opposition are willing to facilitate Tuesday's proceedings on the British Shipbuilders (Borrowing Powers) Bill, because we recognise that the future of the crucial shipbuilding industry is threatened by Government policies. We shall want a further discussion in the House on the imminent collapse of the industry.

I regret that Thursday's debate on foreign affairs will be on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. That forbids the possibility of our tabling a motion and dividing the House. That might not be unconnected with this week's events. Are the Government aware that we will welcome a wide-ranging debate on their multiple failures in foreign affairs?

Will the Leader of the House have urgent discussions through the usual channels about the setting up of the Select Committees? I shall expedite the appointment of the Opposition Shadow team.

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to arrange an early debate, in Government time, on the future of British Rail? The Secretary of State for Transport has taken £200 million from British Rail. We want to be sure that the Government are not introducing the Serpell report by the back door.

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate, in Government time, on the serious allegation made this morning by Mr. Harold Evans, the former editor of The Times, that the Government allowed Mr. Rupert Murdoch to acquire Times Newspapers Limited on the basis of figures about the profitability of The Sunday Times that were intentionally miscalculated?

Mr. Biffen

This is my first opportunity to welcome the right hon. Gentleman to our gentle Thursday exchanges. I know that he comes from south Wales and is, therefore, happily blessed with the inspiration of Aneurin Bevan—a man who loved his country and, above all, the House of Commons as an institution in giving expression to the aspirations of his country. I hope that, with that happy background, we shall find that our proceedings have the correct blend of amicability and acerbity.

I turn immediately to the right hon. Gentleman's sixth point. I gather that I am in some way the central figure in the detestable drama concerning The Times. I cannot offer any guarantee that Government time will he made available for a debate, but I shall consider the right hon. Gentleman's point. I have not seen any of the reports; I have not been blessed with a copy. However, I shall take note of what has been said.

The House has had, an important statement about British Rail, followed by a useful Question Time. I cannot guarantee to make time available for a debate, but I shall understand it if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to proceed with that matter through the usual channels.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the important issue of departmental Select Committees. I share his enthusiasm and anxiety that they should be established as quickly as possible. He offered the facilities of the usual channels to that end. We hope that it will be possible for the Committee of Selection to table the necessary nomination motions next week.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that the foreign affairs debate will take place on a motion for the Adjournment. I am sure that he will acknowledge that that is frequently the device chosen because it enables a wide-ranging debate to take place. I should be surprised if, during the debate on Thursday, matters affecting the middle east, as well as matters in the Caribbean, were not raised. However, the right hon. Gentleman has asked me to consider his point, and I shall do so.

The great zeal for debating shown by the right hon. Gentleman is consistent—[Interruption.] He is a practitioner of debating. However, I have to balance all the demands on the time of the House. I noted his point about a debate on the shipbuilding industry.

On Monday's debate on intermediate range nuclear forces, I accept that there is now an added topicality which gives it that much more importance.

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

To ensure that there is time for all the debates, will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that there will be no debate on the Government's local government proposals until there have been many further discussions with local authority associations and others concerned? Is he aware that, as the proposals stand, they are pretty muddled, likely to be costly and ineffective, generally undesirable and a further reinforcement of what the Lord Chancellor called "elective dictatorship".

Mr. Biffen

I know that, as my right hon. and learned Friend is an heroic realist, he will not expect me to comment on the merits or otherwise of his observations. There are no immediate plans for legislation on that matter.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from a Minister at the Department of Employment on what has happened to the equal pay regulations, as we understand, following representations from my noble Friends in another place, that the matter is not being proceeded with?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also arrange for a statement to be made by a fisheries Minister on progress in EC negotiations during the summer? There are great fears in the fishing industry that important fisheries—herrings, sprats and lobsters—will be closed to our fishermen as a result of decisions taken now.

Mr. Biffen

I shall immediately refer the hon. Gentleman's point about fisheries to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The regulations on equal pay are still before another place. I shall look into the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that we shall at last make progress with re-establishing the departmentally related Select Committees, but will he be good enough to say clearly that the recommendations of the Chairmen made in the previous Parliament through the Liaison Committee will be accepted for their further improvement?

Mr. Biffen

Clearly that is a material matter with which the Government will be concerned. I undertook to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to bring forward two amendments to Standing Orders arising from the Committee's recommendations and I propose to table those shortly.

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

Will the Leader of the House find time to include in the business of the House a discussion of the Government's failure to publish all the Mosley papers so that the British people may know how far there was Fascist penetration of the Conservative party in the years before the war as we know that it exists at the present day?

Mr. Biffen

That is a perfectly legitimate subject to be pursued by an hon. Member using all the facilities in the House that are available to a Member.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his helpful answer on the setting up of the Select Committees and assure him that we realise that any delay on that is not due to him. Will he be equally forthcoming and expeditious in announcing what Bills he intends to submit to the new public Bill procedure which has proved a helpful adjunct to the procedures of the House?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend knows full well that that rather bland question conceals a more controversial situation than the innocent observer might have supposed. However, I shall look at that. All I can say is that none of the legislation that has been announced for next week's business could conceivably fall within the requirements of that procedure.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition mentioned the right hon. Gentleman's central role in the acquisition of Times Newspapers Limited by Rupert Murdoch. May we have a statement soon on the serious allegation that is made by Harold Evans in his book published today that the right hon. Gentleman, when Secretary of State for Trade, deliberately misled the House and juggled the figures of Times Newspapers Limited to convey the impression that The Sunday Times was unprofitable so that he could avoid referring Murdoch's acquisition of those newspapers to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission?

Mr. Biffen

I have made it clear that I have not seen those accusations. Of course, I shall take account of the points raised this afternoon, but I do not think that I can reasonably go beyond that.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the importance of Select Committees is to be measured not by the number of hon. Members who are occupied upstairs or elsewhere than at Westminster but by the amount of time that the House is able to give to their deliberations? Will he illustrate the importance that he attaches to that by making sure that any changes that he proposes are put before the House for debate before and not after 10 pm?

Mr. Biffen

I shall bear that point in mind.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

In view of the long delay by the Department of Trade and Industry in producing the promised review of the British film industry, can the House look forward to a debate on that matter?

Mr. Biffen

As the hon. Gentleman will have seen, there is no provision for such a debate next week and I should mislead him if I said that this matter had a high priority in the demands on Government time. However, I know that with his vastly growing experience as a politician he will find his own way of ensuring that the matter comes to the Floor of the House.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

While welcoming the general enthusiasm for the early establishment of departmental Select Committees so that the procedural reforms of the last Parliament can become effective, may I ask whether we can have an early debate on the proposals of the Select Committee on Procedure (Finance) which proposed additional reforms which are necessary if those are to be completed?

Mr. Biffen

The report is of great significance and I am anxious that we should have a debate in the reasonably near future. Although I cannot give a specific reply to my right hon. Friend, I assure him that I hope that we can proceed in that direction soon.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

In accepting the fact that the foreign affairs debate must, in essence, be wide ranging, will the right hon. Gentleman take on board the fact that we require specific responses? First, may we have a specific statement from the responsible Minister during Monday's debate of the role that the Government now see for the British peacekeeping force in the Lebanon, given the changing circumstances and statements of our allies? It is not the will of the House that one British life should be sacrificed to Presidential megalomania.

Secondly, if air support is requested from Buccaneers and other aircraft stationed in Cyprus, may we have a written assurance that that decision will not be left to local commanders as it was at one stage but will be a matter for decision by the Prime Minister?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is much more competent to answer those points than I. I shall ensure that the Government spokesman in Thursday's debate is appraised of the hon. Gentleman' s points.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the motion to be tabled by the Government in Monday's debate will be a clear and detailed statement of support for NATO's two-track policy which can be voted on by the House and thus be the decision of the British Parliament?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend will not be disappointed.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early day motion 193?

[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 Councils, and the Liverpool District Labour Party to organise a lobby 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.]

In view of the closures and redundancies on Merseyside will he give some time for a debate in the House on the questions and problems facing Merseyside?

Mr. Biffen

I am afraid that I cannot give the undertaking in the form that the hon. Gentleman would like, but I suggest that Friday's debate will have as much scope for the consideration of unemployment as for other aspects of business.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will my right hon. Friend promise us an early statement on the shameful decision of the European Assembly this morning to block indefinitely the payment of a rebate of £450 million which was promised to Britain? Will he also assure hon. Members that early next week he will arrange for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to give an explanation to the House of what he considers will be the implications to the milk industry and doorstep deliveries of the remarkable regulations published yesterday to allow the import of UHT and sterilised milk from the Continent and the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw my hon. Friend's point about UHT milk to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. My hon. Friend may have heard my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary deal with his first point at Treasury questions in a way which I found comprehensive and convincing, but I shall draw my hon. Friend's anxiety to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston)

In view of the need for an early debate on British Aerospace, particularly on the A320 and its development, will the Leader of the House say when the Government propose that that should take place?

Mr. Biffen

No, I am sorry I cannot, but the hon. Gentleman's point will be one of the many factors borne in mind in allocating Government time.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that during the business which he announced for Monday week, the Second Reading of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, it will, as far as it lies within his judgment, be in order to debate matters arising from the accompanying White Paper on complaints and discipline?

On Monday's debate on the nuclear dispositions, will my right hon. Friend discuss through the usual channels the possibility of extending the debate for one hour because of the very large number of hon. Members who will wish to take part?

Mr. Biffen

I think that my hon. Friend appreciates that his first point is a matter more for whoever is in the Chair than for me, but I am sure that it will be subject to the conventional wisdom and generosity of the Chair.

I note what my hon. Friend said in his second point. and I shall give consideration to it.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Leader of the House give some indication in the foreign affairs debate of the Government's posture on the law of the sea convention? Our posture seems to be in line with that of the United States and out of line with the rest of the world. May we have some idea about what the United Kingdom Government intend to do about signing this important convention?

Mr. Biffen

If the hon. Gentleman is fortunate in securing Mr. Speaker's eye, I am certain that he will be able to make his argument and that it will be dealt with. Should he not have that good fortune, I shall try to ensure that he receives an answer in some other way.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call the hon. Members who are now standing.

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)

Now that the appointment of the Select Committees appears to be on the move, will my right hon. Friend give consideration to the early appointment of the Committee on Procedure?

Mr. Biffen

I have made my sympathies known. should like some of the conventional consultations to take place before this matter is concluded.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In view of the anxiety which has been expressed, may we have a statement next week about the way in which the Minister. of State, Department of Employment, is being subsidised out of public funds to carry out his duties as Tory party chairman? Is the Leader of the House aware that this is undoubtedly an abuse of public money and public office?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wishes to be a fair controversialist, and, therefore, that he would like to take account of the fact that since my hon. Friend has been appointed Minister of State he has taken on the task of deputy in discussions on the Trade Union (Amendment) Bill and has taken over responsibility for international matters and financial and staff management, in addition to his other duties.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Has my right hon. Friend yet had time to note that yesterday afternoon concern was expressed by Conservative Members about the draft circular on the green belt issued by the Secretary of State for the Environment? Is he aware that this is only the tip of the planning iceberg and that people in Berkshire and, indeed, the whole of the south-east are worried about the proposed structure plan? May we have a debate on planning in the foreseeable future so that this matter can be discussed and many people's fears allayed?

Mr. Biffen

I should like to consider that matter, because I do not doubt the concern that it has evinced in certain parts of the country. I know that my hon. Friend understands that I cannot give the undertaking in the specific terms that he requested.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Has the Leader of the House seen early day motion 177?

[That this House condemns the threat of deportation to Afia Be gum and her two-year-old daughter, Asma, who were first refused leave to enter Britain on 5th June 1982 on the grounds that Afia's husband's death in a fire in Brick Lane invalidated her entry permit; demands that the Home Office threat be lifted immediately and that she be allowed to stay; and views the sentence imposed by Horseferry Road Magistrates' Court on the five Asian women of the Sari Squad who were campaigning on behalf of Afia, who were bound-over for £1,000 each, as an extreme and unjustified sentence.]

Will he find time for a debate on the motion or, at least, have a word with the Minister at the Home Office and ask him to allow this unfortunate woman to stay and build a life for herself in this country?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot refuse the invitation that I should have a word with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, and I undertake to do so. However, I would not wish to raise anyone's expectations by that gesture.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

Will my right hon. Friend consider arranging a debate on the dependent territory of Gibraltar in view of the economic conditions, the continued closure of the border and the non-implementation of the agreement which was signed on 10 April 1980?

Mr. Biffen

In this sad and sorrowing world, the best chance that my hon. Friend has is the foreign affairs debate on Thursday.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Cynon Valley)

In view of the invasion of the Falkland Islands and Grenada, may we have a statement next week about communications with the Foreign Office in view of the news item that telex messages being sent to London from Grenada went to a Swedish plastic manufacturer and that we received a message from the Grenadian Government on the morning of the American invasion which the Foreign Office said should be put in the post?

Mr. Biffen

I shall ask my right hon. and learned Friend to make a proper evaluation of all these factors and decide whether a statement is necessary.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate in the near future specifically on the implications for the arts of the projected metropolitan county changes, because it is clear that if those changes are carried through the life and work of the arts throughout the country will be gravely hampered if not positively damaged?

Mr. Biffen

I am afraid that I cannot offer Government time for the debate that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Faulds

The Government are doing the damage.

Mr. Biffen

Now that the hon. Gentleman wishes to crusade for the arts from the Back Benches, I hope that he will be able to take advantage of all the facilities that are available to a Back Bencher.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House resist any request for a statement on who should attend the Cenotaph service? Has he heard, for instance, that the leader of the Social Democrats has been complaining about wanting to go there on the appropriate day? Will he remind him that the former leader of the Social Democratic party, who is not with us this afternoon, received a request many years ago from the leader of the Scottish National party, which then had 11 Members of Parliament, and he turned it down? Is it not time that the leader of the Social Democrats, who have only six Members of Parliament, did some homework before he went on with his whining?

Mr. Biffen

Notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman has said, this is a matter that touches deep sensitivities. I think that it would be better to conduct negotiations in my way rather than his.