HC Deb 26 April 1984 vol 58 cc887-91 3.45 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

Will the Leader of the House 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 30 APRIL and TUESDAY 1 MAY—Progress in Committee on the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

At the end of Monday, consideration of a Ways and Means resolution.

At the end of Tuesday, motion on the Gas (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order.

WEDNESDAY 2 MAY—Remaining stages of the Health and Social Security Bill.

Motion to approve the first report from the House of Commons (Services) Committee in Session 1983–84 relating to House and parliamentary papers.

THURSDAY 3 MAY—Progress in Committee on the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

FRIDAY 4 MAY—There will be a debate on the National Health Service management inquiry by Mr. Roy Griffiths, when the first report of the Social Services Committee, Session 1983–84, will be relevant.

The debate will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Mr. Kinnock

During next Monday's debate on the Finance (No. 2) Bill, will the Government respond to the deep anxiety felt among both employers and workers in the construction industry about the imposition of 15 per cent. VAT on building improvements and conservation? Will the Government use the opportunity of debates on the Bill to announce the withdrawal of that retrograde and damaging proposal?

The right hon. Gentleman may recall that in response to me on 20 March he failed to grasp how the Health and Social Security Bill will result in substantial price increases in spectacles for pensioners. During Wednesday's debate, will the Government announce that the price increase provisions have been dropped?

When can the House debate the issues arising from the Foreign Secretary's negotiations on Hong Kong?

Because of the continuing anxiety about the exercise of proprietorial control over editorial judgment in The Observer newspaper, and in view of the thoroughly inadequate response that we have just heard from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, can the House have a more comprehensive and thorough statement about the Government's position during the early part of next week so that we can further question the Secretary of State?

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the House is kept fully informed next week about developments at the so-called Libyan people's bureau when the murderer and others have left both the building and the country? In view of the Government's approach to other countries arising from the provisions of the Vienna convention, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a statement is made as soon as possible?

Mr. Biffen

On the right hon. Gentleman's last point, the Government are, of course, anxious to keep the House informed as appropriate about developments in what has been referred to as the Libyan people's bureau and related problems.

The right hon. Gentleman has returned from the Easter recess in a less than generous mood if he can find fault with the comprehensive statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about The Observer newspaper. Unless and until an application is made for transfer of title, nothing can reasonably be added to what has been announced this afternoon. However, I shall, as ever, refer to my right hon. Friend the anxieties that have been expressed.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether there would be an announcement about Government policy on VAT for building repairs and on charges for spectacles for retirement pensioners and the elderly. Ambitious though I am for some future in this place, I should not like to take on the role of anticipating whatever statements might be made by Ministers during the coming week's business. However, they will have noted the interest that has been shown.

It was right and proper for the right hon. Gentleman to remind the House of the importance of the recent trip made by the Foreign Secretary concerning Hong Kong and how important it is that that topic should receive an early debate in the House. I am hopeful that that can be undertaken in the week beginning 14 May.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Does my right hon. Friend hope to make early provision in the time normally set aside for these purposes for the continuation of proceedings on the Ginns and Gutteridge, Leicester (Crematorium) Bill?

Mr. Biffen

I will be in touch with my hon. Friend about that.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

Will the Leader of the House make time available for an early debate on the events surrounding the arrest, prosecution and conviction of Michael Bettaney at the Old Bailey, given the fact that two important issues arise out of that? One is the workings of MI5 in relation to Bettaney, and the other is the fact that, apart from the opening remarks of the Attorney-General, the entire trial was in private, which is a matter of great concern to many members of the public.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, as the whole House will agree. The matter is now with the Security Commission, and I would rather await its report before making any further comment.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

In supporting the request of the Leader of the Opposition for a debate on Hong Kong, may I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that the Foreign Secretary makes a statement in the House at the earliest possible opportunity next week when he returns from his important trip?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw my right hon. and learned Friend's attention to that request. My hon. Friend would not expect me to go further this afternoon.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

May we have a statement next week explaining why the Government refused, after the Libyan bombings in Manchester and London, to deport those Libyan nationals who are currently being trained in British defence establishments? Will that statement next week report that those nationals have been deported, or shall we continue to train them to shoot British citizens on the streets of London?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says, and I should like to respond in as conciliatory a fashion as I can. As I say, I shall refer these matters to the Home Secretary so that he may take account of them in deciding how best to conduct matters with Parliament next week.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Would it be necessary for the Government to have the approval of the House before a major loan were given to the European Economic Community, as would certainly be the case if there were to be an increase in own resources? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, if there were a loan, it would effectively be an increase in own resources, except that it would be brought forward? When do the Government intend to introduce measures to deal with those loony Left-wing authorities which are papering the streets of London with propaganda at the ratepayers' expense?

Mr. Biffen

The answer to my hon. Friend's first question is, not without notice. The answer to his second question is that I take account of his anxiety, and perhaps it is a matter that can be further debated in Committee on the paving Bill.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Will the Leader of the House provide time for a full-scale debate on the strike in the coal industry? Must we rely on private notice questions and statements to have the matter discussed in Parliament, when 121 collieries in Britain are not producing an ounce of coal? We have not had an opportunity fully to debate the matter in the House.

Mr. Biffen

The House had the chance of a valuable debate — I agree that it was basically on some of the policing aspects, though it covered the dispute more generally — just before the Easter break, and what I thought was a helpful exchange following a private notice question yesterday.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

As Argentina is purchasing six type TR1700 submarines, including two from West Germany, may we have an urgent debate on the security consequences for the Falkland Islands?

Mr. Biffen

We cannot have such a debate next week. We are beginning to move towards that part of the year when we consider the defence Estimates. If my hon. Friend is patient, he will have a chance to make a speech at that time. He might try his hand at a little free enterprise between now and then.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I thank the Leader of the House for affording us the opportunity to debate next Friday the Select Committee's report on the Griffiths inquiry. I draw his attention to the fact that the Select Committee asked that the debate should be on a substantive motion, not on the Adjournment. Why did the right hon. Gentleman not take that advice?

Mr. Biffen

It was felt that the more open form of a motion for the Adjournment would enable a more flexible debate to proceed and the Government to take account of the views then expressed.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider next week's business and bring forward a debate on the recent report of the Select Committee on Energy on gas and electricity prices? The Central Electricity Generating Board is paying £15 million a week more to use oil, and the cost will have implications for electricity prices. The Coopers and Lybrand report, which was used as evidence for that Select Committee report, suggested that electricity prices should be decreased. That procedure might get rid of the 4 million tonnes of what is called excess coal without having to go through the trauma of strikes in the coalfield.

Mr. Biffen

I realise that a three-day debate on the Finance (No. 2) Bill on the Floor of the House is pretty indigestible, but sooner or later that diet must be endured. I am afraid that I can offer no alternative for next week.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 658 dealing with human rights in Chile which has been signed by 119 hon. Members.

[That this House expresses its horror at the death of nine people as a result of government repression during the day of national protest in Chile on 27th March including an 85 year old woman, a 15 year old youth and two baby sisters aged three and four years old; conveys its deep concern at the possibility that Jorge Palma Dononso, Carlos Araneda Miranda, Hugo Marchant Moya, Marta Soto Gonzalez and Susana Capriles Rojas could face trial by a military war tribunal which could mean a death sentence against which there would be no right of appeal and the procedures of which do not guarantee an impartial trial in accordance with international human rights conventions; registers its protest at the military junta's plans to introduce a new anti-terrorist law with grave implications for the protection of human rights; and urges Her Majesty's Government to make strong and urgent representations on these developments which reflect the continued intensification of repression and to call for the restoration of human rights and democracy in Chile.]

In view of the Prime Minister's statement on 12 April on the Government's attitude towards human rights, as reported in column 526 of the Official Report, it is interesting to note that not one Conservative or alliance Member signed the motion. Will the Leader of the House bring to the attention of the Foreign Secretary the revulsion of this House at the murder of women, children and babies? Is it not about time that the Government stopped selling arms to juntas and Fascist regimes?

Mr. Biffen

I understand that the Government have expressed their anxieties on the matter outlined in the early-day motion, but I shall draw my right hon. and learned Friend's attention to the motion and to the hon. Gentleman's worries.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

When the Foreign Secretary returns on that slow boat and we get the promised debate or statement, will the Leader of the House draw his attention to the fact that many people in the coalfields believe that the Government are operating standards and priorities on foreign affairs that differ from those used on the home front? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the Foreign Secretary that people are saying that the Government have sold out to Gaddafi, have thrown in their lot with the Chinese over Hong Kong, will find £260 million for a loan for the Common Market, which is bankrupt, and yet are trying—although they will fail—to starve the miners into submission?

Mr. Biffen

I shall happily convey that homecoming message and, doubtless, it will inspire my right hon. and learned Friend to bear up stoically to the fate that awaits him in the Chamber.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

The Leader of the House will be aware of the worries of hon. Members from south Yorkshire about the outcome of the Phoenix 2 joint venture. Many steel workers are acutely anxious about the future of their plants and jobs. The right hon. Gentleman will know also that the many representations made on the Floor of the House as well as through questions asked elsewhere have met with no replies, stonewalling or dismissive replies. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the time is right for at least a holding, if not a definitive, statement?

Mr. Biffen

I shall tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry of the anxieties expressed about matters in the steel industry that affect not only the hon. Gentleman's constituency but those of many other hon. Members. There will be scope at Question Time on Wednesday to discuss those matters when trade and industry questions will be at the top of the Order Paper.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), will the Leader of the House contrast the shenanigans and conspicuous display of wealth of two millionaires with the suffering of families in my constituency? The Government assume that families are getting cash, although they really know that they are not getting any and that as a result many people and innocent children are suffering. At some time may we debate the Social Security Act 1980? As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has said, it is wicked to try to starve workers into submission in an industrial dispute. However, fortunately, there is no chance of the Government succeeding. Nevertheless, there should be a debate about that Act as soon as possible.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman is apparently describing what he believes to be a very serious constituency problem. In that case, he might try his luck with an Adjournment debate.