HC Deb 02 February 1984 vol 53 cc404-10 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 6 FEBRUARY—Opposition Day (8th Allotted day): There will be a debate on a motion on the damaging effects of European Community and United Kingdom Policies on Northern Ireland agriculture. This subject has been chosen by the Ulster Unionist party.

Motions on the District Electoral Areas Commissioner (Northern Ireland) Order and on the European Assembly Elections (Northern Ireland) Regulations.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

TUESDAY 7 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Cooperative Development Agency and Industrial Development Bill.

WEDNESDAY 8 FEBRUARY—Until about seven o'clock, motion on the Welsh rate support grant report 1984–85.

Afterwards, Motion on the Fishing Vessels (Financial Assistance) Scheme 1983, and motions relating to Sea Fisheries Conservation (Variation) Orders.

THURSDAY 9 FEBRUARY—There will be a debate on the report by Sir James Hennessy on security arrangements at the Maze prison, House of Commons Paper No. 203, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY I 0 FEBRUARY—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 13 FEBRUARY—Until seven o'clock, Private Members' motions

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that statement.

In view of the Prime Minister's recent statement that there is no racism in the Conservative party, may we have time for a debate on the subject, preferably on the motion debated at the Conservative party's annual conference last year?

With reference to next week's business, can the right hon. Gentleman give the publication date of the White Paper on public expenditure? I should add that a statement on the White Paper will not be enough, so can he assure us that there will be a full day's debate, in Government time, on the subject?

The Co-operative Development Agency and Industrial Development Bill, which is to be debated next Tuesday, is a bit typical of the Government's muddle on these issues. It is two Bills rolled into one, and an attempt to smuggle through cuts in regional development aid of between £150 million and £200 million. To shed more light on the subject, the Opposition will therefore be tabling a reasoned amendment.

Finally, will there be statements soon first on the A320 airbus and, secondly, on the second Severn crossing?

Mr. Biffen

I shall answer those questions in reverse order. I certainly expect statements to be made very shortly on the Severn crossing and the airbus. I note that the debate on Tuesday will turn upon the stratagem of a reasoned amendment and, of course, the controversy will take that into account. I confirm that I am anxious to meet the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety that, rather than a statement, there should be a debate on the White Paper on public expenditure. Indeed, I know that that will also be the wish of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), Chairman of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee.

The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) mentioned the possibility of a debate on political attitudes within the Conservative party. While I am almost second to none in my deference to the Conservative party conference, I do not regard its procedures as necessarily the best guide for the House.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week, or soon thereafter, for a debate in Committee or on the Floor of the House on the prayer to annul the Scented Erasers (Safety) Order, which was introduced on Monday to take effect on Tuesday? As there has not been one recorded accident to any child in Britain, and as there are several million pounds worth of stocks of such erasers all over the country, might it not be appropriate to hold a debate in emergency time before the order comes into effect?

Mr. Biffen

I will look into that point and will get in touch with my hon. Friend.

As a postscript to my answer to the Leader of the Opposition, I should say that I hope that the White Paper on public expenditure will be published on Thursday, 16 February.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

As the fishery orders are to be taken next Wednesday, will the right hon. Gentleman consider arrangements for the corresponding Northern Ireland regulations to be debatable at the same time? Such arrangements have previously proved convenient.

Mr. Biffen

I will certainly consider that point, and perhaps the matter may be taken further through the usual channels.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Will the Leader of the House consider the seriousness of a number of gas explosions that have happened all over the country, and in particular the possibility of the storage of two tanks of 6,000 gallons each of liquid petroleum gas in east Leicester, which is of great concern to my constituents, who feel the need of protection? We hope for an early opportunity for a debate on the subject.

Mr. Biffen

I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to the serious point that my hon. Friend has made on behalf of his constituents.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Will the Leader of the House give us an undertaking that the Government do not intend to guillotine the rate capping Bill so that it will reach the other place before the Trade Union Bill, because of their fears about opposition to that Bill in the country and the other place?

Mr. Biffen

I am not sure of the convention on the extent to which I am expected to refer to the progress of Bills in Standing Committee. I understand that the debate on the sittings motion has barely been concluded. That being so, I am not yet in a position to talk about guillotines.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Bearing in mind my right hon. Friend's undertaking that he would not offer Conservative party resolutions for debate on the Floor of the House, will he undertake not to invite the Leader of the Opposition to put any Labour party resolutions before the House in Opposition time?

Mr. Biffen

We will all proceed under self-constraint.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

There has been some most interesting questioning during Prime Minister's Question Time about the Government's decision on GCHQ, but the meeting at No. 10 yesterday and the reports today show that many wider aspects of the matter remain to be considered. A number of hon. Members have received letters from the strangest places in Britain stating that they too are affected by the Government's decision. Should we not therefore have a fuller debate of that decision next week?

Mr. Biffen

I do not hold out any hope of a debate next week, as no time has been allocated for such a debate.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

A further week has passed, and the people of Cleveland continue to live under the Damoclean sword of nuclear waste being dumped at the anhydrite mine in Billingham. The longer the Government continue to fudge a denial, the greater the opposition becomes.

Mr. Biffen

I will ensure that my hon. Friend's remarks are conveyed to the appropriate quarters.

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

Would not the Leader of the House agree that the report of the parliamentary commissioner on the wrongful imprisonment of John Preece is a scathing indictment of the Home Office? It raises disturbing questions about the attitude and behaviour of Home Office officials, the possibility of other miscarriages of justice, and the need for many changes to be made so that similar cases never arise again. As, in the last resort, Parliament is responsible for the liberty of the individual, could not the right hon. Gentleman arrange for this vital issue to be debated in the House?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman very properly draws the attention of the House to a most serious matter which has affected his constituents and has wider ramifications. The right hon. Gentleman has written to me on the subject, and I will reply to his letter shortly.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Today the Government are at long last publishing their response to the report of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs on water in Wales, nine months after that report was published. Will the right hon. Gentleman find an early day on which we could debate the report and the Government's disgracefully deficient response?

Mr. Biffen

I should be the first to underline the report's importance. I will draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, but I must make it clear that there is no prospect of a debate being provided in Government time in the near future.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

If, in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), it is impossible to have a debate on the issues arising out of the GCHQ, and if the Government are complaining, about the GCHQ operations in the run-up to the Falklands war, can we have an explanation of why there was no mention of that in the evidence to the Franks committee? Could we further have an explanation from the Foreign Secretary as to why he was so quick on the draw to rule out President Alfonsin's suggestion about United Nations troops?

Mr. Biffen

I will draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to the points made by the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot give a substantive answer.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Following the request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) for a debate on the GCHQ, will the Leader of the House reconsider what he said about that, because we have now had disturbing news that these restrictions are not solely at the Cheltenham GCHQ but have been extended to Cheadle Stoke GCHQ? Mick Bradshaw, one of the union representatives there, has been told by senior management that he must under no circumstances appear on Granada Television's programme "Union World" to defend his union on the issue of outlawing trade unions at Cheltenham, or disciplinary proceedings will be taken against him. Is it not a scandal that the Government are taking away trade union liberties while at the same time refusing to debate the matter in the House of Commons?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot helpfully add to what I have already said about the time available next week for debates. I will of course draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Will the Leader of the House turn his mind to the advent of the publication of the report by Sir Douglas Lovelock on the functioning of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux? In the event of it being published before his next business statement, will he assure us that the Minister will appear in the House on the day of publication to give the Government's view of it?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot give a categoric undertaking that such a statement will be made. The report will be of real interest to the House and doubtless will be assessed in that light.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Further to the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), and in view of the review of all cases of people who have been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment as a result of the evidence of the forensic scientist Dr. Alan Clift, can we now have a debate on how many other people are imprisoned and have lost their rights due to the forensic evidence of other people including Dr. Keith Guigan?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that I can add to what I said to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), but I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is made aware of these exchanges.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Will the Leader of the House return to the subject of the citizens advice bureaux? I understand that the report is due to be published during the middle of next week, and, therefore, we will not have a chance to put this matter to him before publication. He will bear in mind the unfortunate background to the original attempt to deal with the matter and the embarrassment leading, eventually, to the dismissal of the Minister. He will also bear in mind that the report was promised before the end of last year and then before the end of January. We are now into February, and at last it is to appear. That is almost a full 12 months. The Minister should be in a position to make a statement to the House when the report is published.

Mr. Biffen

I understand the force of the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes and I shall look into the matter.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Having had the publication this week of a major White Paper from the Department of Employment entitled "Training for Jobs", having seen over 200 youngsters on youth training schemes lobby the House yesterday, having had the publication of my private Member's Bill on youth training schemes on the same day as the publication of the White Paper, and as nearly 170 hon. Members have signed early-day Motion No. 172 on the subject of youth training schemes, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is about time that the Government provided time to debate no only health and safety and the lack of jobs at the end of youth training schemes but, in particular, the scandal of youngsters getting £25 a week, two thirds of what they should be receiving if the allowance had gone up by the amount that earnings have gone up in the last three or four years? Will the Government provide time to debate the whole question of youth on these schemes?

[That this House is concerned at the lack of legal protection, particularly in areas of health and safety, afforded by the present government to youngsters on the youth training scheme and supports the immediate introduction of legislation to amend this situation.]

Mr. Biffen

The immediate hope — slender it may be, but hope it is — that I can offer to the hon. Gentleman is the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) has chosen the youth training scheme as his private Member's motion, which is second in the ballot for Friday.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Leader of the House will have seen on the Order Paper early-day motions Nos. 366 and 407 concerning bone marrow transplant facilities on Merseyside and in Wales. Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to make an early statement on the funding of such units, which are urgently needed in the region to save lives?

[That this House congratulates the people of Merseyside for raising £100,000 through the Liverpool Echo Appeal for the Establishment of a Bone Marrow Transplant Unit; and calls upon the Government to fund this vital life saving unit, the first in the North of England, and to fund similar units in other regions as a matter of urgency.]

[That this House welcomes the decision of the Secretary of State concerning the establishment of a bone marrow transplant unit at the Heath Hospital, Cardiff; but notes with deep regret and disappointment that the unit will not become operational until 1987 and in the meantime consultants at the hospital will have to take life or death decisions in respect of those 50 per cent. of patients currently on the hospital waiting lists for such operations for whom there will be no prospect of this life saving treatment.]

Mr. Biffen

Yes, I will almost certainly undertake to comply with the request that the hon. Gentleman makes.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

We have heard a great deal today about the wrongful imprisonment of people. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Home Secretary to come to the House next week to make a statement about the mistaken release of prisoners from Strangeways prison in Manchester, which is causing the people of that area great concern and which is also a matter of concern to this House?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that that is so, and I shall refer the remarks of my hon. Friend to the Home Secretary.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Will the Leader of the House discuss with the Secretary of State for Social Services why he has not seen fit to make a statement on the drug Osmosin, which has been related to 600 adverse reports and 20 related deaths?

Mr. Biffen

I will look into that matter and have discussions with the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

With reference to the memorandum by the Secretary to the Cabinet on Ministers' private interests — on the declaration of those interests — has the Leader of the House noted the statement in the document: If any Minister finds himself in doubt or difficulty over this, he may seek the Prime Minister's guidance."? That is in relation to difficulty over deciding whether there is a need to declare an interest. Whose guidance does the Prime Minister seek? Would she seek the guidance of the Leader of the House, or—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must ask a question about the business for next week.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

—or perhaps we could discuss whether the Prime Minister would seek the guidance of the Attorney-General or the Lord Chancellor. Someone must advise her.

Mr. Biffen

As the Prime Minister answers questions every Tuesday and Thursday, that is an interesting topic to be directed to her.

Hon. Members

She is not answering it.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In view of the principle involved in the question of belonging to a trade union — which has now been taken away from those employed at GCHQ — will the Leader of the House ensure that there is at least a statement on the subject next week, even if a debate is not to be provided? Will he make arrangements for the details of free trips to be duly entered in the Register of Members' Interests, and is it not important that we know of trips paid for by foreign Governments?

Mr. Biffen

I have no responsibility for how hon. Members make their entries in the Register of Members' Interests. As for Cheltenham, I can hold out no prospect of a statement on that, but I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that I am one who favours the exploitation of our oil and gas reserves? However, bearing in mind the fact that we now have onshore drilling for oil and gas, there is a special need for added environmental protection. Does the subject not deserve a special debate?

Mr. Biffen

I can offer no prospect of a debate in Government time next week or shortly thereafter, but I agree that environmental factors are an important dimension of energy debates.

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