HC Deb 16 July 1984 vol 64 cc21-4 3.32 pm
The Lord Privy Seal and the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short statement about the business at the end on Wednesday.

The business will now be as follows: Motions on the Dairy Produce Quotas Regulations and on the Dairy Produce Quotas (Definition of Base Year Revision Claims) Regulations. It may be for the convenience of the House if it is proposed that the motions be taken together and that three hours be provided for the debate.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

This is an unexpected statement, and a bad one. Surely the Leader of the House is aware that when hon. Members saw on the Annunicator that there was to be a business statement they expected that the Government would take the opportunity to announce the rearrangement of business for a statement and a debate on the implications of the High Court's condemnation of the serious matter of the breaching of the rules of natural justice by the Government's failure to consult the employees of GCHQ, Cheltenham. When can we expect a debate, or if not a debate an early statement, on this most important matter?

Although we are in favour of additional time to debate these new, additional, ill-judged dairy produce quota regulations, the Leader of the House must know that they make it virtually impossible for any producer to apply for an additional milk quota because of bad weather in 1983. We shall have no chance between today, when the regulations are made, and Wednesday, when they are debated, to have the necessary consultations with the interests concerned. Will the Leader of the House reconsider this foolish decision to have a protracted, late-night debate on so important a subject?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Leader of the House's statement is on the debate on Wednesday on milk quotas, and we cannot have a re-run of Thursdays' business questions. We have three other statements, applications under Standing Order No. 10 and an important debate to follow.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am on my feet. We cannot have a re-run of Thursdays' business questions.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that we are discussing Wednesday's business. Therefore, would it not be in order to raise matters that could form part of Wednesday's business?

Mr. Speaker

That is exactly what I am saying.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Does my right hon. Friend's statement mean that on Wednesday we shall now debate the motions on the rate support grant supplementary reports for England and Wales? Are the milk quota debates in substitution for those debates, or not?

Mr. Biffen

They are additional.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

As the Leader of the House is rejigging the business for Wednesday, will he allow a little time at 3.30 pm for the Prime Minister to make a statement? The right hon. Lady has addressed the House on many occasions about GCHQ. We now learn that the Government's action has been found to be unlawful. Therefore, it is important for the Government to come to the House and tell us their response to the judgment. The Leader of the House has only to say that he will go to the Prime Minister. He told us on the news at 1 pm yesterday that the right hon. Lady was very approachable. Will he approach her today and ask her to come to the House and make a statement?

Mr. Biffen

Perhaps, in the context of that generous question from the right hon. Gentleman, I could say that the text of the judgment concerning GCHQ has been available for only a very short time. It is currently being considered. Perhaps, in the circumstances, the matter might be considered through the usual channels.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Has there been a change of substance in regard to the milk quotas? Many of us who are anxious to see the reform of the common agricultural policy will want to know whether the distortion of the market mechanism is even worse than it was, or whether on balance we can support it because it is a slight reduction in the cost of the enormous surpluses.

Mr. Biffen

I shall not be drawn by my hon. Friend's ideology, but on Thursday I was urged by many, including the Leader of the Opposition, to offer more time for this topic. More time is being offered, and I should have expected a vote of thanks.

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

How did the Leader of the House come to discover a second set of milk regulations of which he had not been advised on Thursday? Was it a helpful way of finding time? If so, does he realise that he could simply have lengthened the time for the existing debate? Although we welcome the time that is being given, the second regulations created additional complications.

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's prepared reply on the subject of GCHQ, will he undertake to make a statement later today on the Government's intentions?

Mr. Biffen

On the latter point, I have nothing to add to what I have said. On the former point, as the hon. Gentleman is closely identified with the dairy industry I should have thought that he would know that the question of the base years has caused great anxiety. Therefore, I am sure that he is delighted that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been able to bring forward the regulations so that they can be debated later this week.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As many right hon. and hon. Members will be considering their position with regard to the milk quota debate on Wednesday night, will my right hon. Friend confirm that if the motion falls on 'Wednesday night it will be impossible for the Government to bring in regulations before October, and that in the meantime the existing system for milk will continue to apply?

Mr. Biffen

That is precisely the kind of question which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will have more time to answer, now that he has three hours.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Although the debate on Wednesday on the dairy industry is important, does the Minister think, in the light of the Government's continued assertion that everybody must obey the rule of law, and in the light of the fact that the Government have now been declared by the High Court to be in breach of the law, that a debate on GCHQ would be infinitely more important than any other that is likely to take place?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will have heard my comments on the GCHQ judgment, and I do not think that I can helpfully add to them.

Mr. Daffyd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that both sets of regulations are subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament, in which case, if the other Chamber were to reject either of them, the Government would withdraw them and reconsider their position?

Mr. Biffen

I think that the hon. Gentleman is right in supposing that the regulations are subject to confirmation by both Houses, but I find it extraordinary that the Plaid Cymru, of all parties, should now be sneaking towards the House of Lords.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

I am encouraged by the right hon. Gentleman's statement on GCHQ, but will he bear in mind that the Government have been turned down not only by the High Court but by the International Labour Organisation?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is doing what I ruled to be out of order. We should only ask the Leader of the House questions on his statement, which is about Wednesday's business.

Mr. Morris

I am asking the Leader of the House whether, in the course of Wednesday's business, in view of the importance of the matter, the debate or statement that we should have could cover not only the High Court's adverse decision, but that of the ILO.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The point is that the business for Wednesday was announced as being consideration of the rate support grant supplementary reports for England and Wales, and a motion on the dairy produce quotas regulations. What the Leader of the House has done is to extend the time for the milk debate.

Mr. Morris

With respect, Mr. Speaker, that is precisely my point. The business for Wednesday has been changed in one material respect—that of time. If that time is available, I consider that it could be better used for the consideration of this grave matter.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)


Mr. Speaker

Order. Raising points of order takes up the time of the House. I wish I knew what is in the hon. and learned Member's mind. He has been rising to put a question on this matter. I hope he is not trying to gain advantage by raising a point of order?

Mr. Janner

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) and I sit on the Select Committee on Employment, which meets on Wednesdays. The Select Committee came to the unanimous view that GCHQ—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is exactly what I feared would happen if I called the hon. and learned Member. We are asking the Leader of the House questions on his statement about extending the time for the milk regulations debate.

Mr. Gorst

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I associate myself with at least one aspect of the Opposition's attempt to raise this matter? The answer very much dictates whether one should raise the matter of GCHQ under Standing Order No. 10 or whether one should seek an opportunity on Wednesday during the slice of time under discussion. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that it might be possible for you to reconsider whether we raise the question of GCHQ—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It may be of interest to the House to know that I have a Standing Order No. 10 application on this subject and that it will be raised later today.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Is the question of the milk regulations on Wednesday more important than the advice of the House of Commons on whether the Government should appeal on GCHQ?

Mr. Biffen

If I may address myself strictly to the business which I have placed before the House, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the milk regulations are very important indeed.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

In view of the continuing interest of my right hon. Friend in containing public expenditure, can he say whether the additional one and a half hours will enable the Government to make plain whether they are reconsidering compensating those who leave milk production, only to produce other items which are already in structural surplus and costly to the taxpayer?

Mr. Biffen

Those are matters which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will wish to answer in the debate. He will now be able to do so at greater length.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.