HC Deb 23 February 1984 vol 54 cc979-89 3.43 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business of the House 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 27 FEBRUARY—There will be a debate on changes in conditions of service in Government Communications Headquarters on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The first report from the Select Committee on Employment, in Session 1983–84, House of Commons Paper No. 238, will be relevant.

TUESDAY 28 FEBRUARY—There will be a debate on Welsh affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

WEDNESDAY 29 FEBRUARY — Consideration of a timetable motion on the Rates Bill.

Motions on European Community Documents R/113/77 and R1134/78 on contracts negotiated away from business premises, and on 11003/83 on food aid.

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

THURSDAY 1 MARCH—Motion on the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order.

FRIDAY 2 MARCH—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY 5 MARCH—Opposition Day (11th Allotted Day): Subject for debate to be announced.

[European Community debates on 29 February.

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee;

Food Aid

Mr. Kinnock

Although the Select Committee's report on GCHQ is relevant to the debate on Monday, we shall nevertheless, pursuant to the right hon. Gentleman's previous undertakings, take up the question of the Government's prohibition of a willing witness to give evidence to that Select Committee? We shall take up the matter in a separate debate on a future occasion.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his announcement about the debate on Welsh affairs that is to take place on Tuesday. However, in view of the numerous problems in the English regions, will he reconstitute the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs — which has been in disuse for several years—under Standing Order No. 77?

On the guillotine motion to be debated next Wednesday, I accept that from time to time all Governments have occasion to resort to this procedure, but will the right hon. Gentleman accept that on this occasion it is particularly objectionable —indeed, outrageous—because the Government refused to take the Committee stage on the Floor of the House, as requested from several quarters, and because the Committee stage of the Bill has been running for only four weeks—a short time for such substantial and important legislation? Moreover, the Government have rejected the offer that was made by the Opposition for arrangements through the usual channels. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the timetable next week will be more than usually generous in the time that it allows?

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when he can give time to debate the ninth report of the Public Accounts Committee, which involved the activity—or inactivity—of the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Fletcher), when he was the Minister with responsibility for Scottish education? The report concerns the loss of £5 million to the taxpayer as a result of the grossly underpriced sale of Hamilton college of further education. The matter is naturally one that deserves the thorough and speedy attention of the House. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that an opportunity will be quickly afforded to debate it?

Mr. Biffen

I note, of course, the point that the Leader of the Opposition makes about Monday's debate and the question of witnesses appearing before a Select Committee. Secondly, I note his request that we should consider the possibility of having a Standing Committee on Regional Affairs under the general requirements of Standing Order No. 77. The House has had experience of that, and doubtless it will wish to reconsider the matter before making a judgment. Perhaps we can consider the matter further through the usual channels.

I note all that the right hon. Gentleman has said, with the conviction and oratory that I expect, about the guillotine motion. Although I am easily reduced to contrition, I have managed to resist the temptation on this occasion. There are sound arguments to be deployed, and doubtless they will be deployed next Wednesday, on the timetable motion. I am ambivalent only in one respect. I realise that the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans) is poised to snatch the crown from the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) as an expert in these matters, and I fear that the premature closing perhaps of the debate will defer that happening until some future occasion.

In answer to what the right hon. Gentleman said about debating reports of the Public Accounts Committee, may I point out that a number of reports are outstanding. I should like to consider the matter to see how best we can proceed. Of course, I take account of the point the right hon. Gentleman made about the desirability of having the subject of the Hamilton college of further education included in the reports that will be debated.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Can my right hon. Friend say when we can expect to debate this year's public expenditure White Paper? Will it be before the Budget?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, it will.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman represent to his right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary the urgency of a debate in this House on the situation in the Gulf so that we may not find ourselves committed to warlike operations with the House not having had an opportunity to consider the matter in advance?

Mr. Biffen

I recognise the force of what the right hon. Gentleman says and I shall make those representations.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Minister of State, Department of Transport, announced recently the laying of an order to increase speed limits for lorries and coaches that would come into force in two months? Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members are concerned about that? As I have already advised the Patronage Secretary that I cannot support it and that I hope effectively to plot against it, will my right hon. Friend say when we are likely to debate it?

Mr. Biffen

The Patronage Secretary is here and will have noted everything that my hon. Friend has said. I, too, shall take it into account.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

If the Government are convinced of the correctness of their case on GCHQ, will the right hon. Gentleman explain why Monday's debate will be on the Adjournment and not on a positive Government motion? Is that yet another example of a cosy arrangement between the usual channels to prevent the House from voting on the major principles involved?

Mr. Biffen

It certainly is not. Any hon. Member with a shred of a sense of history will realise that the motion for the Adjournment has been the occasion of some of the most important debates and decisions of the House.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some Conservative Members would welcome a Government motion that would enable us to give an affirmative vote in the House to the good sense of the Prime Minister's policies on GCHQ?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what my hon. Friend says, but I should like to feel that he could none the less confer that support within the terms of the motion that has been selected.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

When will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an opportunity to debate the Government's policy on science and technology? It has been debated in the other place, it affects every Government Department and it is of enormous importance. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that time will be found for a debate as soon as possible?

Mr. Biffen

I acknowledge at once the importance of the hon. Lady's point, but no time can be found next week, and none will be available before the debate on the Budget. However, I shall ever bear in mind the hon. Lady's point.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Further to the earlier request for a debate on the deteriorating situation in the Gulf, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that some hon. Members are anxious, not for the reasons expressed by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), but because of allegations in the press that British companies, and perhaps the Government, may be resupplying the Iranian armed forces with spare parts and military equipment? Is he aware that the matter needs to be debated as soon as possible?

Mr. Biffen

I note that there is a variety of factors, some of which coincide and some of which conflict with the proposition of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), but there is the common denominator that it is an important subject; and we hope that there will be a foreign affairs debate reasonably soon.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

I welcome the studied comments of the Leader of the House on the Public Accounts Committee's report on Hamilton college of education. May I emphasise the urgent need for a statement and a debate on that subject? The report clearly criticises the competence of a Minister who is now in charge of a major area of public and business finance. Therefore, as that Minister is using press briefings and television to answer some, but not the major, criticisms in that report, surely it should be discussed in the House.

Mr. Biffen

The report of the Public Accounts Committee is received, there is then a period before which Government comment is made, and thereafter a debate takes place. I am conscious of the general desire of the House that this should proceed as expeditiously as possible, against the background that a number of other reports will be outstanding. I must conclude, however, by saying that I repudiate entirely the remarks made against my hon. Friend.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has never been a better time to consider the reform of our parliamentay procedures so that we achieve better use of parliamentary time'.' May I draw his attention to an article in the current edition of The Parliamentarian on this subject — not by President Mugabe — discussing the time-tabling of Bills, Prime Minister's Question Time and the limitation of speeches? Will he ask the Select Committee on Procedure seriously to consider the matter?

Mr. Biffen

I will look sympathetically at the point which my hon. Friend raises. I suspect that the Select Committee on Procedure, once established, would need no prompting from me to engage in such reading.

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

Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to make a statement on whether, when she was discussing the contract to build a university in Oman with her civil servants, she made it clear to them that if Cementation was to win the contract she would have an indirect pecuniary interest in that contract through her son being retained at a fee by Cementation International Ltd.? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his right hon. Friend is required to declare that interest to civil servants according to the recommendation in the report of 1974 of the Select Committee on Members' Interests? Will he ensure that she makes that statement telling us what happened?

Mr. Biffen

I will refer the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

In view of some amazing statements made at the Chesterfield by-election, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend would arrange for a debate on the strange statement made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) that the IRA were not terrorists?

Mr. Biffen

The tasks that I have are formidable enough without having to recognise the existence of the Chesterfield by-election. I have tried to proceed as though it were not happening. I suspect that I am the only Member of this House who does not appear to be going there, and I am happy to continue in that state of ignorance.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to consider early day motion 509, which deals with Liverpool city council's rates and budget for 1984?

[That this House notes reports in the national press detailing the Government's alleged intended response in the event of the militant-controlled Liverpool city council failing to bring in a legal rate; condemns those councillors who have irresponsibly plunged the city into this crisis; notes that those councillors contested the last municipal elections on a bonus manifesto which made promises that could only be achieved by a crippling 200 per cent. rate increase; believes that their actions can only jeopardise commercial and domestic ratepayers' interests, and that the ensuing publicity has already acted as a disincentive to potential industrialists and employers and has sapped confidence in the city; and therefore urges the city council's Labour leaders to rethink this kamikaze strategy.]

In view of the way in which the city would be plunged into extraordinary chaos if that went ahead, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the issue should be the subject of an early debate in the House?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. He, too, will have seen at my left elbow the Secretary of State for the Environment, who, I am sure, will also have noted his remarks.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

Reverting to requests that have been made for a debate on the Gulf and the suggestion that it be a rather wider debate than that, may I ask my right hon. Friend, in view of his comment that there might be a foreign affairs debate soon, to accept that so much has been and is going on in the middle east that we should not be content with one of those global-ranging foreign affairs debates? In other words, does he agree that there is sufficient to warrant a debate not only on the Gulf but on the middle east generally?

Mr. Biffen

I am sufficient of an optimist to be happy to extend the thought of the possibility in principle of a debate on foreign affairs, and sufficient of a pessimist to know that there cannot be a series of such debates.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

The Leader of the House will be aware of the deep concern that is shared by many hon. Members about the tragic events in Cyprus following the UDI by the Denktash regime last November. When will the House have an opportunity either to debate Cyprus or have a major statement by a senior Minister on the present position in Cyprus and the Government's attitude to it?

Mr. Biffen

I am afraid that no provision has been made for such a debate next week. I should have thought, particularly given the hon. Member's strong constituency interest in the matter, that he might wish to pursue the issue through private Member's time.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Will my right hon. Friend take note of the large number of hon. Members who have signed early day motion 161 on the loan guarantee scheme? Will he also take note of the widespread public interest in the future of that scheme and consider whether we can have time to debate that and the financing of small businesses in general?

[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 3 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.]

Mr. Biffen

I admire the pertinacity with which this subject is raised week after week. I am saddened that my original suggestion—that it should be contained within the Committee stage of the Finance Bill—has not found instant acceptance.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I welcome the statement which the Leader of the House made about the ninth PAC report. Is he aware that there will be some anger that he is linking it with other outstanding PAC reports, as this is one of the most damaging that the PAC has produced for many years? Is he aware that there will be considerable anger in Scotland that an issue as controversial as this is not to be debated in the House as quickly as possible? Is he aware also that the Secretary of State for Scotland gave approval to the sale and the sums of money received? Should not the Secretary of State for Scotland come to the Dispatch Box as soon as possible next week to make a statement?

Mr. Biffen

I shall not be drawn into an argument about the merits of the case ahead of the publication of the Government's response. I must stand by my earlier replies.

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

Will my right hon. Friend clarify what he meant when he said that we cannot have a series of foreign affairs debates? Is it not a long time since we had a foreign affairs debate? Does my right hon. Friend think that we have enough such debates? Should not we have more of them?

Mr. Biffen

Perhaps afterwards I can have a word with my right hon. Friend to explain at length what cannot be condensed into a few words. If we have a debate on the middle east, it must be of sufficient geographic conception to cover most of the difficult areas. I cannot offer a debate on the Lebanon, to be followed by a debate on the Hormuz straits, to be followed by a debate on Latin America.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the combined effects of the disgracefully high level of unemployment and the reduction in the strength of Her Majesty's factory inspectorate because of Government cuts have caused a growth in the exploitation of workers through sweated labour in areas such as Leicester? May we have a debate on this awful phenomenon which is worrying greatly many cities, including Leicester?

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer the hon. and learned Gentleman's point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

As the White Paper relating to the Representation of the People Acts has been published for some weeks and hon. Members have had the opportunity to study its conclusions, will it be convenient in the next week or two to have the debate that my right hon. Friend has promised the House?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot go beyond what I said on the last occasion that my hon. Friend pressed me on this point. A debate certainly will take place.

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield)

Will the right hon. Gentleman do his best to ensure that on Monday the Foreign Secretary, when speaking in the GCHQ debate, will refer to the serious position that has arisen at the department for national savings in Durham city, where many of my constituents work? They were told that if they wanted to take holiday leave today to come to see me, they could not have it, and that if they wanted holiday leave for any other purpose, they could have it. They were told that they could see me not as trade unionists but "on a personal and private" basis. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Foreign Secretary deals with this affront to parliamentary democracy?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw that point to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that this is the fourth occasion in two months that I have taken the opportunity to ask him whether he could bring to the House the responsible Minister to make a statement on the dumping of nuclear waste in the northeast of England? If we cannot have a statement from the Minister, may we have a statement about a statement?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has been listening attentively to my hon. Friend, and I am sure that there will be a happy consequence.

Mr. Harry Cowans (Tyne Bridge)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is a shame that at this early stage of a major constitutional change he must descend to the level of introducing a guillotine motion when the Opposition's views are shared by his right hon. and hon. Friends? Is it not a tragedy that the party that is supposed to stand up for freedom descends to this level to prevent freedom of speech and the case being argued? Does the right hon. Gentleman hold his position because he has such a weak case he is frightened that, without the use of the guillotine, the weakness of his case will be exposed?

Mr. Biffen

People with qualities of guilt and shame are never made Leaders of the House.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

This week the Minister of State, Scottish Office, the noble Lord Gray, said that a decision by the Scottish Office was imminent on the level of support to be given to tenant farmers and land owners in the Scottish Highlands for damage to their property during the adverse weather in the new year. Will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to convey to his right hon. Friend the Minister of State the fact that many hon. Members would be delighted if a Scottish Office Minister were to make that statement in the House so that questions could be asked?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly do that.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

In Monday's debate on GCHQ, will the Minister responsible for making the statement on behalf of the Government say whether this is the thin end of the wedge for other trade unionists in, say, the higher echelons of British Telecom and whether their trade union rights will be whittled away? Are the Government thinking about other areas wherein they will offer £1,000 for trade union membership? Will the Leader of the House answer the question put to me in Chesterfield to the effect that there is a strong rumour that Mark Thatcher has refused £1,000 to leave the family?

Mr. Biffen

I believe that the House hopes that on Monday the hon. Gentleman will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, so that he can make his pithy remarks at greater length.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

As the Government have been responsible for poaching about £120 million from the Liverpool city council, and. in view of the abortive nature of the meeting between the council and the Secretary of State for the Environment, does the Leader of the House believe that there is an urgent need to debate the issue so that the House may be made fully aware of the effects of that action and the 10 years of mismanagement by the Liberal party which placed Liverpool city council in that position?

Mr. Biffen

I note the point, to which the hon. Gentleman returns. There is no provision for such a debate next week, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is in the Chamber and will have heard the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Will the Leader of the House use his not inconsiderable powers over the time of the House and his influence on his colleagues to secure support for the passage of the Hearing Aid Council Act 1968 (Amendment) Bill, which amends my Act? Will he bear in mind the kind words last week for pensioners uttered by the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, with responsibility for the disabled, the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton), and the fact that the Secretary of State for the Environment, in a previous incarnation, gave Conservative support to my proposal?

Mr. Biffen

I would not wish to be thought to be forthcoming, but I shall look at that point.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

In view of the uncertainty hanging over the agriculture industry, will my right hon. Friend consider providing an opportunity for an early debate on it so that the House may reflect on the extraordinary achievement of one of our most successful industries?

Mr. Biffen

No provision has been made for such a debate in the immediate future. Such is the nature of the European Community that I believe that through its agencies the subject will enthrall the House from time to time.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

I refer to the point raised earlier about the conduct of the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Fletcher). Is the Leader of the House aware that this is not the first time that that Minister has been found to be incompetent in dealing with matters affecting Scottish colleges of education? This time it is much worse than incompetence, because the sale of Hamilton college is one of the most irresponsible pieces of public asset stripping that any Committee of the House has uncovered. If the Under-Secretary of State refuses to do the decent thing and resign, will the Leader of the House report him to the Prime Minister so that she can sack him, because he is clearly unfit to hold ministerial office?

Mr. Biffen

It is nice to know in which water we are swimming. I repudiate entirely the hon. Gentleman's personal and offensive remarks against my hon. Friend. Clearly the House will wish to have a Government comment on the Public Accounts Committee report on Hamilton college and, understandably, look for a debate thereafter.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

Does the Leader of the House agree that the procedural vandalism and rubbishing of the House of Commons that is now taking place by means of catcalls from either side of the Chamber, sheer noise and the burying of serious debate in the Chamber is the result—

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Of radio.

Mr. Atkinson

No, not of radio, but of the way in which the Government are using their more than 200 built-in majority to ride roughshod over opinion throughout the country? In my constituency, for example, 55 per cent. of economically active people under the age of 20 years are unable to find work. In the London borough of Haringey, a wealthy borough, 40 per cent. of those under 20 years of age are unemployed and unable to work—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are now taking business questions and the hon. Gentleman must ask a question.

Mr. Atkinson

Indeed. I welcome the debate on Welsh affairs next week, for it will provide a means of ventilating serious opinion in Wales, but there is a need for the Government to recognise what they are doing to Parliament. You, too, Mr. Speaker, must look with dismay at what is happening in this place. This is about the worst Parliament that I can recollect in 20 years. There is no level of debate and the answers from Ministers amount to purility. This will drive the British people to bring down the Government physically. That is what will happen if the Government continue to ignore the warnings which come from those who are trying to make serious observations on behalf of their constituents who are unable to work.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question and not advance an argument. The House is taking business questions.

Mr. Biffen

I believe that this House of Commons, no less than its predecessors and, I suspect, no less than its successors, will have the capacity to discriminate between the serious and the less than serious. If occasionally it acts as if it were on the terraces, that is no more and no less than what it has been doing for generations. I do not believe that this Parliament is any worse than its predecessors in that respect and, in my view, it is part of its vitality that we would lose, and lose to our disadvantage.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The Leader of the House will be aware that yesterday I raised a point of order about an instruction that I understood had been issued by Treasury Ministers preventing, or attempting to prevent, civil servants from coming to the Lobby today in protest about the union ban at GCHQ. I now have a circular that is headed B 13/84 under the title "Management In confidence". I understand that it has been circulated by one of the Departments of State—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is business questions. There is important business to follow, including a statement by the Minister for Overseas Development. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question and not make the speech which he might have the opportunity of making on Monday if he is able to catch my eye.

Mr. Banks

I should like to catch your eye on Monday, Mr. Speaker, but I shall be in Chesterfield.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman cannot make his speech now.

Mr. Banks

Even with your eye, Mr. speaker, I doubt whether you could expect to see as far as Chesterfield.

Will the Leader of the House impress upon Treasury Ministers that instructions to Civil Service Departments that civil servants will be prevented from attending the Lobby today, and perhaps prevented from hearing the debate on Monday, are in breach of the rights of Members to have access to their constituents and of constituents to have access to their Members? Will the right hon. Gentleman please ask his ministerial colleagues to withdraw circular B13/84?

Mr. Biffen

I shall most certainly take up that issue with Treasury Ministers.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Did those in the right hon. Gentleman's office tell him that I hoped to raise the question of early day motion 517, which has been signed by a former Home Secretary, former Defence Ministers and by some of my right hon. and hon. Friends who know most about the issue?

[That this House calls attention to the fact that contrary to the Prime Minister's reply on 21st February, Official Report, column 695, Her Majesty's Government have never explained the discrepancy between the statement in paragraph 110 of the Falklands Campaign: the Lessons, Cmnd. 8758, that the Conqueror detected the General Belgrano on 2nd May 1982, and the statement of the Commander of the Conqueror made in the book, 'Our Falklands War: the men of the Task Force tell THEIR story', by Geoffrey Underwood, introduced by Major-General Sir Jeremy Moore, K.C.B., O.B.E., M.C., that he sighted the Belgrano visually early in the afternoon of 1st May and followed the Belgrano for over 30 hours; and calls upon the Prime Minister either to make a statement to the House explaining this disparity, or to appoint a judge of the Appeal Court to determine whether her statement or that of the submarine commander tells the truth.]

The motion relates to the conflicting statements on the sinking of the Belgrano. Albeit that the right hon. Gentleman says that he does not are the quality of shame—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The wish to make statements seems to be contagious. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question about business next week.

Mr. Dalyell

My question is related to the early day motion. Has the right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to ascertain whether it was the submarine commander or the Prime Minster who deceived us?

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate the courtesy of the hon. Gentleman in informing me that he would raise this matter. Clearly no provision has been made for a debate next week on the early day motion. I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

To take up the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), will the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week on the future of democracy in Great Britain? We are now facing major attacks on the democratic right to join a free trade union. The guillotining of the Rates Bill next week is a major attack on the democratic rights of local electors. Will he confirm that even now the Government are attacking the freedom of the media? Is there any truth in the rumour that he is supporting the Government Whips in putting pressure on Back Bench Conservative Members who have complained to the BBC because of threats of re-selection by their constituency Conservative parties because they were not included in the "Panorama" programme on Right-wing infiltration into the Conservative party?

Mr. Biffen

As I listened to the hon. Gentleman, it seemed that he had a good all-purpose speech which he should be able to use on several occasions next week.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Will the Leader of the House arrange as soon as possible a full day's debate on transport in Government time? Since 1979 time has been given to transport matters only on Supply days. Surely the complex and urgent problems of transport are the responsibility of the Government as well as of the Opposition.

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry, but I must reply that there is no provision for such a debate next week. I cannot hold out very much hope of an early debate. I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Given the unsatisfactory and inadequate replies to my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the fact that the GCHQ debate on Monday will take place on the 150th anniversary of the Tolpuddle martyrs and the Prime Minister's crazy notion that democracy is defended by suppressing it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ask the question"] I am asking the question. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that certain Ministers are responsible for having instructed heads of Departments within the Civil Service to refuse the right to take annual leave to trade unionists who wished to come to the House today or next Tuesday.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement on Monday to explain why the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are justified in saying that the Government's action stops at GCHQ? Does he accept that those who work in the national savings department and a number of other departments in London and elsewhere have been told that they will not be able to take part of their annual leave, or to make flexi-time arrangements, to attend the House today or on Tuesday next week? Will he ensure that the Ministers responsible answer these questions on Monday?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that I can helpfully add to what I have already said to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I shall draw the remarks of the hon. Gentleman to the attention of my right hon. Friends who will be taking part in Monday's debate.