HC Deb 12 July 1984 vol 63 cc1359-65 3.33 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 I6 JULY—There will be a debate on the Gower report, Cmnd. 9125, on the review of investor protection in the financial services sector, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion relating to the Value Added Tax (General) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations.

Motion on the Appointment of Bishops measure.

TUESDAY I7 JULY—Estimates Day (3rd Allotted Day).

The Estimates for consideration will appear in the Official Report. There will be a debate on Estimates relating to the United Kingdom diplomatic representation in the Commonwealth Caribbean and aid to Grenada, followed by a debate on Estimates relating to the Property Services Agency.

The Question will be put on all outstanding Votes and Estimates.

Motions relating to the Public Telecommunication System Designation Orders.

WEDNESDAY I8 JULY—Motions on the Rate Support Grant Supplementary Reports for England and Wales.

Motion on the Dairy Produce Quotas Regulations.

THURSDAY I9 JULY—Motions on orders and regulations on social security uprating of benefits, and on the Pensioners' Lump Sum Payments Order.

Remaining stages of the Capital Transfer Tax Bill [Lords] which is a consolidation measure.

FRIDAY 20 JULY—Motion on Members' car mileage allowance, and on office, secretarial and research allowance.

Motion on the Lord Chancellor's Salary Order.

Motions on the European Community Document 5064/84 on the withdrawal of Greenland from the Community, and 4692/81 and 4465/84 on the Right of Establishment—Pharmacist.

MONDAY 23 JULY—Opposition Day (19th Alloted Day)—the topic for debate to be announced.

[Estimates Day (3rd Allotted Day)

1. Class II, Vote 1 (Overseas Representation:

Class II, Vote 8 (Overseas Aid)

2. Class XIV, Vote 1 (Civil Accommodation Services) (PSA of the Department of the Environment)

Class XIV, Vote 2 (Administration and Miscellaneous Services) (PSA of the Department of the Environment)

Debate on the Estimates in Class II to be concluded not later than half-past seven o'clock.]

[Debates on European Documents on 20 July Relevant Documents:

(a) 5064/84 Withdrawal of Greenland from the Community
(b) 4692/81 Right of Establishment—
4 4 6 5/ 8 4 Pharmacists

Relevant reports of European Legislation Committee:

  1. (a) HC 78-xv (1983–84) para. 1.
  2. (b) HC 78-xxvii (1983–84) para. 1.

Mr. Kinnock

In view of the speculation in the press about the reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence, will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that the Secretary of State for Defence will at an early date make a statement to the House on that subject?

Further on the subject of defence, will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House when we can expect the three Services day debates? If they cannot take place before the recess, may we have his assurance that they will take place at an early date after the House returns from the recess in the autumn?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that only one and a half hours after 11.30 pm have been allocated for the debate on the milk regulations next Wednesday. As it is likely that a large number of Members want to voice an opinion on this very important matter, will he undertake to extend the time allotted to discussion of the regulations?

Mr. Biffen

Of course we shall be very happy to consider, through the usual channels, whether there should be an extension to the proposed one and a half hours debate on the milk regulations on Wednesday because we recognise the widespread interest in the topic.

May I also confirm that it is our intention to have the Services day debates as early as is feasible after our return in the autumn? Of course, I take account of the importance of the statement on any reorganisation being made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

The Leader of the House will be aware that the Government's programme is subject to what is happening in another place and to certain amendments which will come from there. Is the date when we rise for the summer recess also dependent on what happens in another place? If not, will he tell us why we cannot be told today, in reasonable time, so that those Members of the House who have children will know whether we shall finish at the end of July or go into August?

Mr. Biffen

I would sooner give a reliable judgment than a speedy judgment. Therefore, I have not this afternoon made a statement about the recess dates, but I realise that a statement will be expected of me next week.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

In connection with the Appointment of Bishops measure to be debated next Monday, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have represented to him the desirability of a Government statement on the measure in view of the signification of the Queen's consent to it?

Mr. Biffen

Yes. That is under sympathetic consideration.

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

Will the Leader of the House recognise how important it is to give more time to debate the milk regulations? Will he recognise, too, how difficult it is for the Chair to call Members according to the conventions of the House when the areas most affected are represented either by discontented Members of his own party or by Members of the Liberal party and not by those on the Labour Benches?

Incidentally, which party will the right hon. Gentleman be inviting to choose the topic for debate on the 19th Allotted Day? Will it be another life support job for the Labour party?

Mr. Biffen

May I say how much I deprecate any talk of discontented Members on the Conservative Benches. Therefore, I assure the hon. Gentleman that, in the mood of fraternity that overtakes this House in July, we shall certainly consider the question of an extension of the debate on the milk regulations.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well of the procedures of the House under which the debate will take place on Monday 23 July. I can say no more on that.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

As the coming weekend will be the only opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to discuss with their constituents the final version of the milk quota regulations before the House takes a decision, will my right hon. Friend ensure that that information will be available at the Vote Office before the House rises today? Will he also ensure that a statement is made before the House considers the milk quota regulations about whether outgoers payments will be tax free?

Mr. Biffen

I accept the importance of the points raised by my hon. Friend and will see what can be done.

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

May we have an emergency debate on the economic crisis?

Mr. Biffen

With a degree of ingenuity, that might just about be squared with the Third Reading of the Finance Bill.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

In the same spirit of fraternal greetings that my right hon. Friend spoke about, will he accept that there are many contented right hon. and hon. Members who may not feel the need for an extension of the debate on the milk regulations?

Mr. Biffen

It is my job to refer such matters to the usual channels rather than try to be an arbiter on the Floor of the House.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Does the Leader of the House recall that more than two years ago the House was preoccupied week after week with the future of the Falkland Islands? When will the House have the opportunity to discuss positively the future of the Falkland Islands and the possibility of the restoration of normal relations between Britain and Argentina?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that matter is not in the business announced for next week, but we shall soon have the chance to debate matters that arise in relation to the Consolidated Fund Bill and he may like to try then.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I realise that business questions represent precious Back-Bench time, but we have three statements and an important debate to follow, so I shall limit business questions to 3.50.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

The debate on car mileage, secretarial and research assistance allowances will take place on Friday. That causes considerable anxiety to right hon. and hon. Members who have previous engagements for next Friday and will be unable to take part in that important debate. Therefore, can he arrange for the debate to take place on a day other than next Friday?

Mr. Biffen

Obviously I have much sympathy with my hon. Friend, and in an ideal world the debate would take place during the week in prime time. But similar business has often been debated on a Friday. At this time of year, time is at a premium, so that the debate must stand.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Has the Leader of the House been able to give further consideration to the point that I raised previously on business questions? I refer to the need for an early debate on drug abuse. The right hon. Gentleman conceded that it is a very serious matter. The House should be given an opportunity to discuss it and to reach a decision on the action to be taken.

Mr. Biffen

I have a feeling that the hon. Gentleman may find that the debate which is to take place this Friday will offer him an opportunity to discuss that matter.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

Will my right hon. Friend take note of early-day motion 812 which calls for the abolition of wages councils?

[That this House views with great concern the detrimental effect that wages councils have on the free working of the labour market and in particular the loss of job opportunities for young people; believes that the ending of such restrictions will enable the cost of labour to move to market levels and thereby create new jobs; and therefore calls on Her Majesty's Government to abolish wages councils as soon as its international commitment allows.]

It has been signed by 111 Members. Is he aware that it has been signed by the chairmen of the Back-Bench finance, trade and industry and small business committees? Will the Government make an early statement about their attitude to the future of wages councils?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

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

I refer to a different aspect of the drug problem. Is it not a matter for deep concern that some senior civil servants who advise on the safety of medicines choose to move from their Department to the drug industry? Some of those firms are less than careful about drug safety. Many Members of Parliament are paid by the drug industry for advice. Therefore, is it not time to have a full discussion about what is happening in the drug industry?

Mr. Biffen

If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to develop those allegations of impropriety, the debate tomorrow will be a most appropriate occasion on which to do so.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although the cows in the London borough of Hampstead may be contented, they certainly are not contented in the rural county of Lincolnshire, and that Lincolnshire Members would favour a longer debate on the milk regulations?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says. As I said in reply to the Leader of the Opposition, this is a matter for further consideration.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Has the Leader of the House seen early day motion 867 standing in my name and in those of my hon. Friends about a national maritime policy, bearing in mind that since 1979 this country has lost more than 30,000 British seafarers' jobs and more than 30,000 shipbuilding jobs, and that as an island nation we cannot allow that to go on?

[That this House, concerned at the loss of 30,000 British seafarers' jobs since 1979 and also the loss of over 30,000 jobs in the shipbuilding, ship repair and marine engineering industry, and recalling that nearly 100 per cent. of the United Kingdom's exports and imports are carried in ships and because shipping, shipbuilding, ship repair and the marine engineering industry still employs nearly 290,000 people, believes that, as an island country, the United Kingdom must retain a ship owning, shipbuilding, ship repair and marine engineering capability, and that that industry must have political and financial support during the current world recession; and therefore calls upon Her Majesty's Government urgently to establish a Cabinet Committee and appoint a Minister of Shipping to oversee and co-ordinate a national maritime policy.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an urgent debate to discuss a maritime policy for this country, because we must be the only maritime nation that does not have one?

Mr. Biffen

As I said, the week after next there will be generous opportunities for Back-Bench initiatives in debates, and I recommend the hon. Gentleman to try his hand then.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

Has my right hon. Friend seen the annual report of the British Steel Corporation, and is he aware of the substantial improvement in that concern's economic performance—an economic improvement that was masterminded by Mr. MacGregor? Will he find time for a debate on the improvement in the financial operations of the corporation and the lessons that can be learnt from that by the coal mining industry?

Mr. Biffen

No provision has been made for a debate in Government time in the business that I have just announced, but I shall certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's observations, particularly as they demonstrate a remarkable success in the industry.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

As the Medical Research Council today reached an agonising decision about cutting £2 million from next year's research projects on breast cancer, cot deaths and rheumatoid arthritis, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Education and Science to come to the House next week and make a statement so that hon. Members may consider ways in which the matter can be redressed?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will not hesitate to come to the House next week to announce any measures that may be necessary as a result of the dock strike?

Mr. Biffen


Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

Are we to assume from the reply that the right hon. Gentleman gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) that there will be ample time for hon. Members to have a discussion? Are we to assume that the House will rise for the summer recess after next week?

Mr. Biffen

No. That is a jolly good try, but I am not prepared to have finessed from me the expected date of the recess. In the Back-Bench debates that are normally associated with the Consolidated Fund there will be an opportunity for the House to have the maritime debate that was mentioned.

Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South)

In view of the plaintive cries from the alliance Benches about the allocation of time, the frequency of which is exceeded only by requests for the introduction of proportional representation, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a valuable opportunity to experiment with PR through the allocation of parliamentary time to minority parties in proportion to their representation in this House?

Mr. Biffen

Of course, that would initially be a matter for consideration by the Procedure Committee and the House generally.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Does not the Leader of the House consider that we should at last have a debate on this country's industrial problems? Does not he realise that we have a mining strike, that there is the possibility of a steel strike now that the dock strike is beginning to bite, and that other trade unions could follow suit? Does not he accept, irrespective of the gloss that the Prime Minister puts on it, that the situation is serious? As we are coming up to the recess, although the right hon. Gentleman has not yet announced it, will he tell us whether it is his intention to have a debate on those problems, or will he recall the House if things get worse during the recess?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has made that point on a number of occasions in recent weeks. This afternoon's debate on the Third Reading of the Finance Bill is about the economy. All the factors that he mentioned have an intimate relationship with the economy, and I should have thought that, without too much ingenuity, one could make the speech then.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the imminent publication of the report from the Overseas Development Administration on the official inquiry into the fire at King Edward memorial hospital, Port Stanley? In view of the widespread interest in the report on both sides of the House, will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate on the report before the recess?

Mr. Biffen

I think that the normal convention is to await the Government's response to such a report. Perhaps it would be best if we followed that procedure.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

Will the Leader of the House recognise that the concern felt by local government about a possible moratorium on local government spending, on housing in particular, will have only been added to by an answer given earlier? Does he accept that it would be wrong for such a moratorium to be announced during the recess? Will he arrange for a statement and for a debate, if appropriate, before the recess?

Mr. Biffen

In no sense do I wish to confirm the premise on which the hon. Gentleman is asking that question, but I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to the anxieties to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention.