HC Deb 09 February 1984 vol 53 cc1025-30
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

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 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.

TUESDAY 14 FEBRUARY — Motion On the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Amendment Regulations, and on motions relating to housing benefits.

WEDNESDAY 15 FEBRUARY — Opposition day (9th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion on the problems of low pay.

THURSDAY 16 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 17 FEBRUARY—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 20 FEBRUARY — Motion to take note of European Community documents on the draft general budget for 1984. The relevant document numbers will appear in the Official Report.

Remaining stages of the Occupiers Liability Bill [Lords].

Documents for debate on EC budget: 20 February 1984

  1. a. Preliminary draft general budget for 1984 — COM(83)180
  2. b. Draft general budget for 1984
  3. c. Letter of Amendment to the 1984 budget
  4. d. Modifications and amendments by the European Parliament to the 1984 budget—10447/83, 10105/83
  5. e. Decisions by the Council on modifications and amendments by the European Parliament to the 1984 budget
  6. f. Financial compensation for the United Kingdom and Germany for 1983—11094/83
  7. g. Annual report of the Court of Auditors for 1982—O.J. C357

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

  1. a. HC 78-i (1983–84) paragraph 15
  2. b. HC 78-ii (1983–84) paragraph 7
  3. c. HC 78-viii (1983–84) paragraph 8
  4. d. HC 78-viii (1983–84) paragraph 8
  5. e. HC 78-xiii (1983–84) paragraph 3
  6. f. HC 78-xi (1983–84) paragraph 7
  7. g. HC 78-xiv (1983–84) paragraph 3

Mr. Hattersley

May the House take it for granted that it will be kept informed about the safety and prospects of British subjects in the Lebanon? I take it that the Government and the Leader of the House will be most anxious to do that.

Do the Government propose to debate the White Paper entitled "Training for Jobs"? The importance of the subject justifies it and we would welcome advance notice of when that debate may take place.

Do the Government agree that the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Bill should be considered under the Special Standing Committee procedure? It seems to many of us on both sides of the House that it is the sort of Bill that would particularly benefit from that type of scrutiny.

When is the House to debate the Government's bungling of the matters at the GCHQ in Cheltenham? It would be intolerable if the House were not allowed to give an opinion on this matter before 1 March. As other consultations—some bogus and some genuine—are to proceed, it is essential that the House be given the opportunity to express its opinion of the Government's record and conduct.

Mr. Biffen

Although the GCHQ at Cheltenham raises most important issues, no provision has been made to debate it next week in either Government time or, I note, in Opposition time, but it is obviously a matter about which we will be in touch through the usual channels.

I recognise that the Special Standing Committee procedure for the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Bill can have a beneficial impact on the subsequent stages of the Bill and I have no wish to sound negative about it. I hope, therefore, that we can examine the matter through the usual channels.

I note the interest in a debate on the White Paper entitled "Training for Jobs". Again, I think that it would be appropriate if that matter were considered through the usual channels.

I gladly give an undertaking that the House will be fully informed at all appropriate moments of the safety of our subjects in the Lebanon.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it will be appreciated that the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Bill is a complicated and technical measure and that the Special Standing Committee procedure may be a useful one for its consideration? Is he aware also of the deep concern about the implications of the part of the Bill that would enable divorce to take place after only one year of marriage? In view of the great importance of this specific issue and the fact that opinions on it run right across party lines, will my right hon. Friend seriously consider so arranging the progress of the Bill that clause 1 is debated on the Floor of the House and is subject to, and decided upon, a free vote.

Mr. Biffen

I recognise that the controversial character of the Bill in no sense coincides with party loyalties. My hon. Friend raises a substantial point in asking that part of the Bill be committed for consideration on the Floor of the House. Of course, I shall wish to consider that matter, and I shall be in touch with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

Bearing in mind the statement of the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry on Scott Lithgow, will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on that issue at the earliest opportunity? I ask him to do so from a constituency point of view because Albert Granville, the chairman of Howard Doris—the firm is based at the Kishorn yard in my constituency—has today issued a statement, which I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bring to the attention of his hon. Friend the Minister of State, in which he makes it clear that Howard Doris is extremely sincere about taking over the yard, and that unlike Trafalgar House has not had to visit the yard to assess its viability. Howard Doris is experienced enough in the industry, and has enough professional standing within it, to know that the yard will be viable if run in conjunction with the yard which is operating successfully in my constituency. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to bring this matter to his hon. Friend's attention?

Mr. Biffen

I most gladly undertake to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, including the observations made by Howard Doris.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of the tragedy of Lebanon, it would be appropriate for the House to have a debate on foreign affairs? Bearing in mind the problems of the Lebanon and the rapidly developing events in southern Africa relating to Namibia, does he agree that it would be appropriate for a full day's debate to be held on foreign affairs, during which hon. Members might refer to the ridiculous detention of Bishop Muzorewa, a past Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, by the present regime of that country, so that those of us who feel strongly on the subject, which is vital to the western world, may have an opportunity of expressing our views?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the desire for a full day's debate on foreign affairs is not confined merely to my hon. Friend. However, I must tell him that no provision has been made for such a debate next week. Doubtless it will be a matter for consideration for the future.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

Will the Leader of the House consider an early debate on the Falkland Islands, bearing in mind that 26 men employed on the strategic airport contract have returned home complaining of deplorable conditions? They say that hygiene in the kitchens and dining rooms is deplorable, and speak of cockroaches in the food, a poor water supply that made men ill and food of a generally deplorable standard—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is going into too much detail.

Mr. Hughes

The 26 men say that safety helmets were provided only shortly before the Secretary of State for Defence arrived on the island—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is very important business before us. It is wrong for an hon. Member to go into great detail. Business questions provide an opportunity to ask the Leader of the House about the business for next week.

Mr. Hughes

These revelations are very disturbing, and, what is more, the contract—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is as may be. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question.

Mr. Hughes

Will the Leader of the House also bear in mind the fact that the men were asked to sign a contract at Heathrow airport—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must ask the hon. Member to sit down.

Mr. Biffen

I know that the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) speaks from the heart, but there is no provision for a debate on that topic next week. The best way in which I can help him is by bringing his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Following the Prime Minister's visit to Hungary and the likely resumption of disarmament negotiations in Vienna, would it not be appropriate for the House to discuss the issue of disarmament at the earliest possible opportunity?

Mr. Biffen

I sympathise with my hon. Friend. I believe that any way in which the House could underline its commitment to detente would be advantageous. I will refer my hon. Friend's remarks to the Foreign Secretary so that he may know of the interest that has been expressed.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

When will the House have an opportunity to debate both the Government's poor response to the admirable Select Committee report on the arts and the appalling damage that the arts face throughout the country as a result of the abolition of the metropolitan counties and the GLC?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot hold out much hope of an early debate on the Select Committee's report. However, I know that the hon. Gentleman addresses himself with great enthusiasm to the topic, and he will have many other opportunities to ensure that it is brought to the attention of the House. On such an occasion, we will be able to allay his unfounded fears about the future of the arts in the absence of the GLC.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Before the Government make a final decision about the extension of the categories of people who may exercise a postal vote, may we discuss the matter in the House? Will my right hon. Friend take note of the suggestion that, as British citizens in the south of Ireland are not to have the vote, citizens of southern Ireland who are in this country should also not have a vote?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says. I trust that I shall be able to reassure him by saying that I very much hope that there will be an early debate on the White Paper.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

In view of the vast constitutional importance of the GCHQ matter, and as some of us believe that it involves a corrupt practice of an unprecedented kind and a decision illegal in international law, surely Government time should be provided for the House to consider the Government's decision before it becomes irrevocable on 1 March?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot helpfully add to the answer that I gave to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley).

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 337, signed by 156 hon. Members from all parts of the House?

[That this House congratulates the Government on the success of the pilot Loan Guarantee Scheme, and welcomes the important contribution this has made to the financing of 12,231 new and expanding small businesses; calls on the Government to develop and make this successful scheme permanent, by abolishing the Government's three per cent. premium, and by extending the upper limit for loans from £75,000 to £250,000 so that medium sized businesses, too, can have access to such loan capital for expansion.]

The motion calls for the pilot loan guarantee scheme to be improved, extended and made permanent, in order to help growing firms and create more jobs. Could the motion be debated soon?

Mr. Biffen

The Committee stage of the Finance Bill would provide an admirable opportunity for a debate on that topic.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

I call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to early-day motion 443, signed by 35 hon. Members—

[That this House is gravely concerned at the reports of the planned closure of the Carreras Rothmans tobacco factory in Basildon with the possible loss of 1,200 jobs in a town with unfortunately too high a level of unemployment; and, bearing in mind that this factory won the Queen's Award for Exports in 1983, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to have urgent talks with the company to see if the factory can be saved and to try to prevent any loss of jobs.]—

and early-day motion No. 463, signed by 113 hon. Members—

[That this House is shocked at the announcement by the British American Tobacco Company to axe 1100 jobs at their Liverpool factory in an area which has a level of more than 50 per cent. male unemployment and a massive level of female unemployment; and calls upon the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and Employment to have urgent discussions with the Chairman of the British American Tobacco industries and for the Prime Minister to support any measures which will help to save these jobs.]

Because of the decisions of two multinational companies, 2,500 jobs are at stake, not counting several hundred in Southampton. As a matter of urgency, may we have a short debate on those job losses and the future of the tobacco industry?

Mr. Biffen

There is no provision for such debates in the next few days, but I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Secretary of State for Employment to those points.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), can my right hon. Friend confirm that the White Paper will be debated as opposed to there being a Second Reading of a Bill which has been presented?

Mr. Biffen


Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

The Leader of the House must be aware of the amount of phenol that escaped into the drinking water supplies of large parts of Clwyd, Cheshire and Wirral some time ago and the anxiety that it has caused the public. It is now rumoured that more toxic substances might have been let into the water supply. Will the Leader of the House pass on that anxiety to the relevant Ministers and, to reassure the public, arrange for a statement on it to be made next week?

Mr. Biffen

I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's point to my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Wales. I know that the matter gives cause for anxiety in that part of Wales.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As my right hon. Friend is a most doughty and effective champion of the rights and privileges of the House, would it be possible to enlist his support with others to examine some of the instruments which are emanating from the EC? There is a feeling abroad that there are institutions in the Community that are trying to extend the powers and competence of the Community's institutions at the expense of this House. If my right hon. Friend were to look at some of the documents to do with social payments, family leave and so on, I believe that he would be horrified and might agree that these matters were nothing whatever to do with the Community.

Mr. Biffen

The development that worries my hon. Friend is traced by some, if not by many, in regard to the Budget. I therefore hope that he will have a chance to make all of those points in a vigorous speech on Monday 20 February.

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

Has the Leader of the House raised with the Prime Minister's office, as he promised to do two weeks ago, Mr. Bernard Ingham's conversation with the editor of The Observer? When does he intend to come before the House and make a statement about his findings? In the light of the anxiety on both sides of the House about the possible interest of the Prime Minister's family in the Oman contract, has he put it to her that it would be wiser if she made a statement?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already answered points on this matter at Question Time and on 2 February in response to the hon. Gentleman. There is nothing appropriate for me to add to that. As to the point about Mr. Bernard Ingham, the matter is thought to be of such modest significance that, if the House is to retain any sense of proportion, the hon. Gentleman will let it drop.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Bearing in mind his zeal for pure competition and market forces, will the Leader of the House take account of the fact that Trafalgar House and/or its subsidiary Cementation seem to get on the plate before the meat whenever there is a contract around? Will he reconsider his views about getting a statement from the Prime Minister because it seems a little unfair that, according to my reading, only two people have sprung to the Prime Minister's defence outside the House. They are the Omani Minister of Information, who apparently got rid of his shares pretty smartly, and Paul Johnson, who seems to have come back to the fold just for this issue. If she made a statement, one or two Tory Members might be prepared to back her—but then again they might not.

Mr. Biffen

I know that it is always engaging to join the hon. Gentleman in this line, but I am afraid that I have nothing to add to what I said from the Dispatch Box last week.