HC Deb 19 July 1984 vol 64 cc513-21 3.40 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)

The business until the summer Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 23 JULY — Consideration of Lords amendments to the Health and Social Security Bill.

Motion on the British Steel Corporation (Borrowing Powers) Order.

Motion relating to the Education (Assisted Places) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations.

TUESDAY 24 JULY — Consideration of Lords amendments to the Trade Union Bill.

WEDNESDAY 25 JULY — Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill.

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

THURSDAY 26 JULY — Motion for the summer Adjournment.

Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Housing Defects Bill.

FRIDAY 27 JULY — Motion on the Caribbean Development Bank (Further Payments) Order.

MONDAY 30 JULY — Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill.

TUESDAY 31 JULY — Opposition Day (19th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion termed "The Shambles of the Government's Economic, Employment and Industrial Policies." [HON. MEMBERS: "Say it again!"] It would sound no sweeter the second time round.

WEDNESDAY I AUGUST—It will be proposed that the House should meet at 9.30 am, take questions until 10.30 am and adjourn at 3.30 pm until Monday 22 October.

Mr. Kinnock

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for telling us the business for next week and until 1 August. Does he know that the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, promised a full debate in the House on the new regional policy before the House rose for the summer recess? If it is impossible to squeeze in such a debate before then, what is the earliest date on which we can have that promised debate?

In view of yesterday's interest rate movements in the London money markets, can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that if there are further unfortunate increases in lending rates during the next week or so he will ensure that a statement is made to the House? Will he also ensure that a statement is made to the House before the summer recess about the talks with the Argentine Government in Switzerland?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Prime Minister is here on 31 July to answer the Opposition motion?

Mr. Biffen

On the final point, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister needs no challenges from the right hon. Gentleman.

I realise that the House is greatly interested in the Argentine talks, and I shall be in touch with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to see how best the House may be informed of their progress.

I realise the anxiety about a possible movement in interest rates and take note of the right hon. Gentleman's concern. I have no doubt that that issue could be included within the ambit of the debate planned for Tuesday 31 July.

As to when we can provide a debate on regional policy, perhaps we might pursue that through the usual channels.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that industrial Teesside is coming to a halt? May we have a debate on the extent to which striking dockers and miners are becoming the mothers and fathers of unemployment in my constituency and other constituencies?

Mr. Biffen

I take my hon. Friend's point. That is a contribution that could help to inject some profound common sense into the debate that is to arise on the Opposition Day on 31 July.

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

Is it not an exceedingly powerful weapon in the hands of Government that they can free themselves from parliamentary questioning for up to three months, even if the economic or industrial situation worsens drastically in that time? Will the Leader of the House receive favourably requests for a recall of the House if they come from a substantial number of hon. Members from any party to prevent any possible serious worsening of the industrial or economic situation?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw the attention of the House to the fact that there is a Standing Order that provides that Mr. Speaker can recall the House in circumstances such as those to which he refers.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

In view of the decision of the Common Market Assembly to set up a committee to consider the desirability of bringing in legislation to oblige drivers in Britain and the Republic of Ireland to drive on the right, will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Government to make a statement on their policy on this and say whether such legislation could be imposed by majority vote and whether the veto will apply?

Mr. Biffen

There are more ways of killing that cat than my hon. Friend has suggested, but I shall draw his point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Before the Government decide to use their troops against the miners and the dockers, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange before the Adjournment for the summer recess for the Home Secretary to explain to the House the deterioration in the standard of police activities against miners, the new curfew arrangements now being imposed against young miners in places such as Fitzwilliam and west Yorkshire, and the nearly 5,000 arrests that have taken place during this dispute? After the summer Adjournment date, the Government have at least three months to do what they wish to do without scrutiny or questions in Parliament.

Mr. Biffen

In a fraternal way, I recommend to the hon. Gentleman the proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill on 25 July.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Without implying any criticism of my right hon. Friend, because it has been the habit for more years than I can remember, may I put this to him? When he announces public business for the coming week, he says what it is, but when it is opposed private business he does not tell the House what it is. We would have a better attendance on the important occasions when we discuss private business if on Thursday my right hon. Friend told the House what the opposed private business was. I should be most grateful if my right hon. Friend would be good enough to consider that point, which I do not think has been raised before.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend speaks with such seeming common sense that I know that there must be powerful arguments against his suggestion. I shall look at the matter and see whether I can help.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

Is it not time that we had an opportunity to debate the mounting evidence of bribery, corruption and terror in Oman, and the respective roles of the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and defence chiefs?

Mr. Biffen

The joy of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill debate is that it is a menu of many courses. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman tries to serve one.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Is the debate on 31 July on the economy a substitute for the debate that the newspapers tell us the Opposition have promised on the coal and docks disputes? If it is, may I give notice to my right hon. Friend and to you, Mr. Speaker, that I intend to challenge the Leader of the Opposition to say not only that he condemns violence but that he has asked intimidating——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question must be addressed to the Leader of the House and not to the Leader of the Opposition or to me.

Mr. Bottomley

Does my right hon. Friend accept, in the terms of that debate, that those who claim to represent the Transport and General Workers Union should speak in that debate as though they represent all of their members and not just their favourite sons?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend shows what a lively occasion that debate will be. Therefore, I hope that every member of the Opposition Front Bench will be there and that none will be deflected by premature holidays.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Has the Leader of the House seen the report in The Guardian and other newspapers today to the effect that the proposals outlined in yesterday's statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment to interfere with local authority capital expenditure may be illegal? Given this Government's record for breaking the law, will he undertake that during the recess those proposals will not be amended and that a moratorium on capital expenditure will not be introduced without the House being recalled or until there is a statement after the recess?

Mr. Biffen

I confess that I have not yet got round to reading The Guardian today, but I shall immediately convey the anxieties expressed by the hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who can then take them into account.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

As the coal strike is likely to continue for some considerable time, will my right hon. Friend ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to consider making a ministerial broadcast next week so that the nation may fully understand all the issues involved?

Mr. Biffen

I shall most certainly convey that suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 867, on national maritime policy?

[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.]

Given that the importance of shipping has been demonstrated in the past few days and that shipbuilding workers are anxious about the fact that on the instructions of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry the chairman of British Shipbuilders yesterday withheld information from the Select Committee on Trade and Industry about future plans for British Shipbuilders, may we have a debate on maritime policy before the recess?

Mr. Biffen

I acknowledge at once the importance of maritime policy, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will consider the advantages offered by the debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

As it is now some weeks since the report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council on the slaughter of animals was published, and as there are important implications for slaughtering policy, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early statement to be made rather than recommend me to go for a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill? After all, this important matter concerns the country.

Mr. Biffen

I think that my colleagues are undertaking the appropriate consultations at present. But I shall, of course, draw their attention to that point.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

As there are such things as Xerox machines, is it satisfactory that the House should have had to wait until Wednesday to obtain a copy of the judgment of Mr. Justice Glidewell? Should not hon. Members have had that judgment at the time that the Prime Minister was cross-questioned? If we had had it, we would have been able to ask even more detailed questions about what prompted her, on 22 December, to give those instructions to her officials out of the blue, three days before Christmas. We could also have pressed her as to precisely what event caused her to give them.

Mr. Biffen

I shall, of course, look into any problems about the speed with which documents can be made available. I shall see what can be done to help.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

Does my right hon. Friend expect the Government to make a statement before the summer recess on the publication of the report of the Civil Aviation Authority on the reorganisation of British airlines?

Mr. Biffen

I am not in a position to answer that question, but I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to the interest shown in that report.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

As a result of the drought, a very serious situation now exists in Wales, and particularly in south-east Wales. It is exacerbated by the fact that plans have not been implemented to deal with such droughts. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for Wales to make a statement to the House next week on the desperate situation in Wales?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to that request.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to consider the findings of the Warnock report? In view of the grave moral and ethical implications of that report, will he arrange an early debate so that the issues may be discussed?

Mr. Biffen

It so happens that I have with me Hansard of 18 July last, at columns 203–4 of which was given the most comprehensive answer to that question.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

In view of the overwhelming support in the country, and especially among disabled people's organisations, for the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amendment) Bill, which I introduced last November, and in view of the fact that in the other place it received support through all its stages there, will the Government now restore at least a little of their honour and allow a proper Second Reading to take place and a decision to be made by this House on my Bill on 27 July? Failing that, will the right hon. Gentleman have words with his immediate superior and ask her whether any opportunity is likely to occur for my Bill before we prorogue?

Mr. Biffen

I have no proposals to provide privileged status for any private Member's Bill on 27 July.

Mr. John Watts (Slough)

Will my right hon. Friend impress on the Secretary of State for Transport the urgency of having a debate on the Civil Aviation Authority report on airline competition policy in view of the threat which some of the proposals in that report pose to the livelihood of many of my constituents who work for British Airways, in particular the proposal to transfer a chunk of its business to other British airlines?

Mr. Biffen

I note — indeed, wholeheartedly acknowledge—the validity of the points that my hon. Friend makes. Although I realise that this proposition may sound a little threadbare, the Consolidated Fund Bill would give him the chance to make precisely the arguments that he wishes to adduce.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does the Leader of the House not think it disgraceful that no serious debate on foreign policy is planned between now and the recess? What plans does he have to ensure the correctness of the Government's position on arms sales and policy in central America should the Americans decide to invade Nicaragua between now and the resumption of Parliament in October?

Mr. Biffen

I join the hon. Gentleman in regretting that the pressure on time and business is such that we cannot have a further debate on foreign affairs so soon after the last one, but I shall refer the points he makes to the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As I am sure that my right hon. Friend is very much in favour of effective democratic legislative control over Executive power, will he give an undertaking that we shall not again have to go through that which happened last night, when an important and sensitive measure having a major impact on the well-being and livelihood of thousands of British farmers was debated for only three hours after midnight, without the possibility of many points being put forward and without the possibility of any amendment being made; or is he prevented from giving such an undertaking by the European Communities Act?

Mr. Biffen

No, but we must recognise that the debate last night was but one of several that have taken place on this topic. It is a matter of major significance, and I appreciate that as much as anybody, given my constituency interest.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I did not speak either.

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not speak. His views, nevertheless, were vigorously communicated in the short and succinct fashion of that interruption.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) that there is nothing novel about the use of statutory instruments for issues of this kind. I hope that the House will not disparage the idea that, because business is transacted late at night, it is treated as being second class. Historically, many of the most important decisions have been conducted in those circumstances.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

May I bring to the attention of the Leader of the House the widespread concern and dissatisfaction about the apparent haste with which decisions on the travel-to-work areas of Great Britain are being rushed through without any real consultation with local authorities or hon. Members? Will he ensure that these changes are not made until the House has debated them if necessary, after the recess?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious point. I shall be in touch with my appropriate right hon. Friends to see what can be done to meet it.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many lives have been lost on unlit parts of Britain's motorways? A great deal of anxiety is felt throughout the country and on both sides of the House about the matter. I and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) produced a pamphlet called "Light up the Roads", and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) reviewed the problem in "The House Magazine". Because fatalities on Britain's motorways at night cost £200,000 per accident, will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement in the House on this important subject?

Mr. Biffen

The best encouragement that I can offer my hon. Friend is to say that he should convert his pamphlet into an Adjournment debate.

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

Following revelations about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Robin Edgar Walsh in a prison in Oman in July 1983, will the Leader of the House arrange for a full statement to be made by a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask for a statement from the Home Secretary about why, in the case of Mr. Robin Edgar Walsh, the Home Secretary used an exemption certificate for the clearance of the remains when it is maintained that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have followed the procedures set out in the Coroners Act 1887 which would have provided for a full investigation into Mr. Walsh's death?

Mr. Biffen

I shall, of course, take up that matter with the relevant Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

When the House returns in the autumn, will my right hon. Friend use his undoubted influence with the Government Front Bench and, through the usual channels, with the Opposition Front Bench to limit Front-Bench speakers to speaking for half an hour or less in other than major debates such as on Supply Days? Is my right hon. Friend aware that last Friday the two Front-Bench speakers took up the best part of two hours in opening the debate, and therefore effectively killed it? Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House are becoming exceedingly tired of that practice.

Mr. Biffen

I have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend said. I have no doubt that his point will be marked and will be read in Hansard.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

Recalling the sympathetic comment a few moments ago from the Leader of the House about the lack of a debate on foreign affairs, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the talks in Berne with the Argentines about the future of the Falkland Islands have broken down because of the refusal of British representatives to discuss sovereignty? Is it not therefore imperative that there should be a debate in the House forthwith on the future of the Falklands?

Mr. Biffen

I imagine that the hon. Gentleman heard the answer that I gave to the Leader of the Opposition on that topic. That matter is under immediate and active consideration.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will my right hon. Friend find time, if not before we rise for the summer recess then shortly afterwards, to debate the interesting Public Accounts Committee report on the investment by this country of substantial funds in the De Lorean enterprise in Northern Ireland? The report's findings were highly critical of the Government and Ministers, and I believe that it merits a full debate in the House. Will my right hon. Friend, bearing in mind my involvement in that affair, find time to enable many of us who have been done by very badly by the Government to put the truth of the case to the House and the nation?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend, more than any other person, is entitled to make that request. I believe that there is a convention governing the debating of reports of the Public Accounts Committee, and within that convention I shall consider my hon. Friend's request.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motions 547, which is supported by 59 hon. Members—

[That this House congratulates the Democratic People's Republic of Korea for calling for tripartite talks with the Governments of South Korea and the United States of America for the peaceful re-unification of Korea; and, as this is the official policy of Her Majesty's Government, calls upon the Foreign Secretary to use his influence with the American Secretary of State to help realise the aspirations of all Korean peoples for a free, independent and united Korea.]—

and 743, which is supported by 90 hon. Members—

[That this House welcomes the statement by Pope John Paul II supporting the peaceful re-unification of Korea; notes that this is the official policy of Her Majesty's Government; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to support the call for tripartite talks between North Korea, South Korea and the United States of America, for the withdrawal of the 40,000 United States troops based in the South and for the removal of all nuclear missiles which will help to realise the aspirations of all Korean peoples for a free, independent and united Korea, and for the cause of peace and détente in the Far East.]

They deal with the peaceful reunification of Korea. As reunification is the Government's official policy, will the leader of the House ask his right hon. Friends to conduct discussions with the American Secretary of State to ascertain whether we can achieve that aim?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly pass on that request.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Secretary of State for the Environment has said that he will be making a statement to the House before the recess on those local authorities that he intends to designate under the Rates Act? Will the Leader of the House make time for a proper and full debate on that designation list rather than have simply half an hour of questions on a statement made by the Secretary of State for the Environment?

Mr. Biffen

There is much virtue in the House rising on Wednesday 1 August, and I have established a programme which fully extends us until that date. I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that a vigorous Question Time is one of the real advantages for the House.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give time for a debate on the manner in which nuclear weapons are transported from one part of the country to another, especially the circumstances in which nuclear weapons were recently taken through Leicester during the rush hour without warning to the police and fire authorities? If the right hon. Gentleman proposes to reply that I should raise this matter during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, will he give some assurance that the Government will provide an answer to my questions rather than a series of refusals to answer, which I have so far received when raising this matter which is of great concern to all the citizens of Leicester?

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry, but such is the nature of this world that the hon. and learned Gentleman must take his chance on both the timing and quality of the reply.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

If it is true that the Prime Minister decided that the recess should be earlier than originally planned so that she would have one less headache, does the Leader of the House accept that as long as the economy is in its present state, with industrial disputes in the mining industry as well as in the docks, it would be wrong for Parliament to be away for 2½ months? Will he therefore recognise that, as long as those conditions prevail, there will be much pressure for the House to be recalled?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman said rather less elegantly what was said by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), and I shall reply with equal charity.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Although I accept the right hon. Gentleman's eagerness to tell us about the opportunities provided by the Consolidated Fund Bill — of course, it is not necessarily a panacea for dealing with all the frustrations that hon. Members feel when raising questions—will the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to the House debating the docks dispute before it adjourns?

Mr. Biffen

If the dispute is still in progress at the time of the Opposition Day debate, it must be central to that occasion.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are worried that British citizens remain incarcerated without charge or trial in Libya and that it is time that a statement was made in the House to bring some form of moral pressure to bear on the regime in Libya to get our citizens out of gaol and bring them back to this country?

Mr. Biffen

That is a very serious point, and I shall refer it to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Given the Prime Minister's clear indifference to the dispute in the mining industry and her determination not to involve herself in bringing the dispute to a quick end, will the Leader of the House pay serious attention to the need to hold a full debate on the financing of the police operation in the dispute, especially its crippling impact on local, county and police authorities such as those in Greater Manchester?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to endorse his remarks and the premise to his question about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I understand the seriousness of the issue that he raised, but I must point out that we have a very crowded programme of business already, and I cannot add to it.