HC Deb 26 July 1984 vol 64 cc1237-42 3.32 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the week after the summer Adjournment?

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

Yes, Sir. The business for the first week after the summer Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 22 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on the Army, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER—Motions on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) (No. 2) Order, and on the Fire Services (Northern Ireland) Order.

WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER—Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Ordnance Factories and Military Services Bill.

Proceedings on the Rent (Scotland) Bill [Lords], the Foster Children Bill (Scotland) Bill [Lords], and the Building Bill [Lords], which are all consolidation measure.

THURSDAY 25 OCTOBER—Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill.

FRIDAY 26 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on the development of higher education provision, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House may also be asked to consider any other Lords amendments and messages which may be received.

It may be for the convenience of the House if I indicate that Government business will also be taken in the week commencing 29 October.

It is expected that the new Session will be opened on Tuesday 6 November.

Mr. Kinnock

We shall hear a statement later today about the water shortage in Wales. Why must be wait longer for a statement on the water shortage in England? The problem should be tackled nationally. Why are the Government so disorganised in their approach to a great and growing problem that is affecting so many areas of the country?

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that there will be a full statement on the Civil Aviation Authority report before the recess? The Secretary of State for Transport has created a civil war in the industry by implementing by stealth some of the CAA's recommendations on route transfers. In view of the great anxiety caused by the threat to thousands of jobs and to the future of civil aviation in this country, will he tell us why we have not had a statement already?

We shall want an early debate in Government time on the report of the Select Committee on Social Services on funding for the National Health Service as soon as we return in October. The report gives the lie to the Prime Minister's claim that the Health Service is safe in her hands by demonstrating that the rise in expenditure has not been 17 per cent. but, in truth, 7 per cent. There are other matters which deserve the consideration of the House, but I hope that we can look forward to a debate on the report as quickly as possible.

Mr. Biffen

On the question of a statement on the water situation in England, I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman feels aggrieved that the statments are being made on successive days. If that is a difficulty which can be avoided in future, I am sure that through the usual channels we shall do all that we can to secure it.

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the important Civil Aviation Authority report was debated last night following the Consolidated Fund Bill, and I cannot helpfully add to what was said then from the Treasury Bench. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is giving urgent consideration to the CAS report, and I know that the Leader of the Opposition will agree that this is a complex and important matter which deserves the most careful consideration. Perhaps we might keep in touch through the usual channels.

Finally, as to the question of a debate on the report on the funding of the Health Service, I am sure that we can consider that in the autumn.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)

In view of the fact that there is obviously a possibility that some agreement will be arrived at during the recess over the future of Hong Kong, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that should that happen we would hope for an early debate on any such agreement?

Mr. Biffen

I shall most certainly bear that point in mind.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

May I press the right hon. Gentleman on the need for a statement before the recess from the Secretary of State for Transport on the Civil Aviation Authority's report on airline competition policy? If there is no statement, may we have an assurance that no decisions will be taken behind the House's back during the recess?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot add to what I said to the Leader of the Opposition, but I shall most certainly convey to my right hon. Friend the anxiety of the right hon. Gentleman.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

My right hon. Friend will know that the first report of the Select Committee on Procedure will be published tomorrow. As its recommendations concerning speeches will affect every hon. Member, will he do two things? First, will he see whether the report can be debated, if possible, during the week of 29 July, during this Session. Secondly, will he urge Members to read the report during the time that we are away so that they will be prepared to debate it when we return?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the authorship of the report will command the reading appetite of the House, but I am very happy to add my endorsement to what I am sure will be the opinion of many others about the importance of the report and its utility to the House. I shall bear in mind the necessity to have it debated as soon as soon as possible.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we have a debate on the "Ethnic Surveys of Non-Industrial Staff in the Civil Service in the North-West and Avon"?. The report was deliberately hidden by the Government so that when I asked a question last week the Minister involved said that the document had been lodged in the Library. It had just been lodged, in defective form, so that we could not get it before. That is no way to treat the House. The document shows a scandal which the Government were trying to hide. May we have a debate on the matter on the first possible opportunity?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. and learned Member is making serious allegations about the propriety of ministerial conduct. Of course I shall look into the matter as I am sure that there was no malice in anything that happened.

No provision for a debate has been made in the business that I have announced, and I cannot see any likelihood of its being included.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

The Leader of the House may be aware that some of us, on both sides of the House, who recently have had an opportunity to investigate and discuss this matter have concluded that Parliament would be well served by an organisation similar to the Office of Technology Assessment. He may not be aware that my attempts to raise this matter on the Consolidated Fund failed on the rather interesting ground that no Minister would be responsible for such expenditure—indeed, that the Chairman of the House of Commons Commission alone, who does not answer questions, would have to deal with it. As the matter arouses considerable interest and this example is now being followed by no fewer than three European Parliaments, may we have at least a half day's debate on it early when we resume?

Mr. Biffen

I am fascinated by the discovery of public expenditure for which there is no ministerial responsibility, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on having discovered such a concept. I very much hope that he will try his hand at all the opportunities available for a private Member to raise this matter, because I cannot immediately offer the prospect of Government time.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that there is to be an important statement on water and I have had notification of two Standing Order No. 10 applications. There then follows an important Back-Bench opportunity for debate, so I shall limit questions to a further 10 minutes on this matter.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware of the great concern at the effects of the drought in Scotland, in the south-west of Scotland in particular? With no disrespect to Wales or England, may I ask when we can have a statement on its effects in Scotland?

Mr. Biffen

I think that we are to have a measured experiment to see whether ministerial statements have absolutely any impact on the drought.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

In view of the fact that opinion among miners and miners' wives seems to be ebbing away from the intransigent line taken by Mr. Scargill, and since fears about that policy are being voiced even by Opposition Members such as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), will my right hon. Friend stand ready to have an early debate when the House returns, if the miners' strike has collapsed during the recess?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of that proposition. I am sure that a debate would be of great interest to the House.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

The Leader of the House will know that the Secretary of State for Transport has now had in his possession since the end of June the British Rail strategy for the inter-city programme and electrification of the east coast route. Since the Secretry of State for Transport gave an undertaking that he would try to make a statement before the recess, will the right hon. Gentleman use his best endeavours to ensure that vie have one next week?

Mr. Biffen

I will certainly draw my right hon. Friend's attention to that point about the railway programme.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the limelight that has been attracted to the other place in recent weeks? Has he read this morning's report that the other place is to give a six months' trial to its being televised? Does he agree with the decision of this House when the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) raised the matter and we voted on it, and does he realise that we, too, should like a little limelight?

Mr. Biffen

When we exhaust the run-of-the-mill controversies of politics, we can turn to the sharp bitterness that this topic will evoke. I realise that many hon. Members have signed an early-day motion, which reflects the general interest of the House that the matter should be considered.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

I am worried about the right hon. Gentleman's rather insipid reply on Hong Kong. Many of us with constituencies in the northwest have large Chinese communities who are extremely worried about the issues arising out there. They are particularly interested in knowing how people are to be consulted about their future. May I press the right hon. Gentleman specifically to state the Government's intentions to consult the House about the negotiations which are now taking place and which are due to be finalised by September?

Mr. Biffen

I think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is conducting most difficult negotiations with great skill, and certainly he is very anxious that the House should be informed at all stages. I take account of the representation just made, as I did that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle). Certainly I shall bear the matter in mind.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that we on this side of the House are very pleased to hear that, through the usual channels, discussion will take place about whether it is possible to make an announcment before the recess about the decision in relation to the extraordinary CAA document on. British Airways? Will my right hon. Friend take account of the fact that it also impinges severely on the expected decision on a future London airport?

Mr. Biffen

I take account of that. My remarks to the Leader of the Opposition were carefully drawn and were intended to be as helpful as they could be. Certainly the subject raises wide-ranging considerations, including airport policy, as my hon. Friend says, so it would not be wise to proceed precipitately.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that when at least two major Departments — the Departments of Social Services and Trade and Industry—prepare recommendations or regulations, they have extensive consultations outside the House, and that the advance documents are not available to hon. Members at that time? Will he seek to ensure that all Secretaries of State involve hon. Members in discussions at an early stage rather than too late?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. He speaks with authority, and is respected in the House. If he has knowledge of a particular instance of general anxiety and refers it to me, I shall certainly have it investigated.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that if the miners' strike unfortunately continues into the summer recess the Government will make every attempt to make the issues clear to the public—the threat to personal liberty and the threat to constitutional government? Will the Government also make it clear that they will not hesitate to use emergency powers, should they be necessary, to safeguard the lives of ordinary people, particularly the humblest in the land, who are those most hurt by strikes?

Mr. Biffen

I thank my hon. Friend for his faith in the efficacy of Ministers in the advocacy of the cause, and I hope that I can accommodate him on every point that he has raised.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

If the Leader of the House has that faith in the Government's case, why is it that, although we are now in the 21st week of the miners' strike, the Secretary of State for Energy who, by reason of his office, is responsible for the nation's energy assets, has failed to meet the union's leadership? Can he persuade his right hon. Friend to do that? Will he ensure during the coming weeks—indeed, days—that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy lives up to the office for which he is paid?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has handled the ministerial aspects of this dispute admirably, and it is his very success that causes the grudging comments that I now have to listen to from the hon. Gentleman. I advise him to go away and have a good holiday.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Has my right hon. Friend any view about how or when the House will consider the first report of the Committee of Privileges, which vindicated the complaint against the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks).

Mr. Biffen

I think it would be wise for the House to have a chance to consider the findings of the Committee of Privileges, and we can perhaps consider the matter further in the light of reactions.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion 931 about brutality in Hong Kong against civilians and children.

[That this House deplores the action of the Hong Kong Police in using physical violence against civilians in squatter areas, including women and children, the deployment of 40 Blue Berets from the Special Police Tactical Unit and the handcuffing of young children; reminds the Hong Kong Government that its colonial rule is coming to an end; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that similar tactics will not be used in the future.]

Will he ask the Foreign Secretary to ensure that no similar disgraceful incidents occur during the summer recess, otherwise there may be serious riots in the colony?

Mr. Biffen

I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend is currently consulting the authorities in Hong Kong on this matter. I shall certainly draw his attention to it.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

As there is such deep public concern about the fact that a local council can run up an advertising budget of £10 million on advertising against the Government, is it not surprising that we are not to have a statement from the Government to the effect that some action will be taken to stop the GLC and metropolitan councils from advertising on this scale? May we have an assurance as soon as possible that we shall not replace one irresponsible body in London with an advisory body in London?

Mr. Biffen

Initially, at any rate, my hon. Friend will have a good opportunity to ventilate that anxiety in the debates on Monday.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the question of the death grant has been raised in the House from time to time. May we have a statement next week on the matter? If the right hon. Gentleman intends to take up the suggestion about Ministers propagandising on the miners' strike, will he arrange for Ministers to go to the mining communities where such matters are understood?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that all constructive suggestions about the Government's campaign will be thoughtfully received. There is no prospect of the death grant being debated either next week or in the first week after the summer recess.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

My right hon. Friend will probably have read a report of last night's debate on the Civil Aviation Authority and noted the overwhelming praise for British Airways, Lord King and the staff and the magnificent turnabout which they have achieved. However, during the debate there was massive criticism of the CAA document for the Minister to consider. Mention was made of public utterances by the chairman of the CAA. That was deplorable. Is it not time, therefore, to debate the CAA, bearing in mind the fact that it was formed well over 10 years ago?

Mr. Biffen

There is no prospect of a debate on the CAA next week and no arrangements have been made for such a debate in the first week after the summer recess.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Bearing in mind that you said that it would be necessary to curtail business questions because two applications under Standing Order No. 10 were in the pipeline, is it possible for you to rule out completely Standing Order No. 10 applications on Thursday?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member knows that that is not possible.