HC Deb 07 June 1984 vol 61 cc447-52 3.30 pm
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for the coming 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 11 JUNE — Motion on the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order.

TUESDAY 12 JUNE — Second Reading of the Parliamentary Pensions Etc. Bill.

Consideration of Lords Message on the Housing and Building Control Bill.

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

WEDNESDAY 13 JUNE — Remaining stages of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Bill [Lords] .

THURSDAY 14 JUNE—There will be a debate on the arts and heritage on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 15 JUNE — Remaining stages of the Parliamentary Pensions Etc Bill.

Remaining stages of the Food Bill [Lords]of the Mental Health (Scotland) Bill [Lords]and proceedings on the Road Traffic Regulation Bill [Lords]which are consolidation measures.

MONDAY 18 JUNE—Debate on a motion to approve the statement on the Defence Estimates 1984, Cmnd. 9227, which will be concluded on Tuesday 19 June.

Mr. Shore

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. In view of the great importance of the debate that is to follow, I shall be brief.

The Leader of the House will know that we regret that it has not been possible to accede to our request for a debate in Government time on the London economic summit. Therefore, there is all the more reason for the Prime Minister to make a full statement on the outcome of what is a most important conference. I hope that the Leader of the House will give us that assurance.

Secondly, I ask the Leader of the House to put it to the Prime Minister that a statement is most urgently required in the light of the disclosures in the press, which have had a most serious effect on the negotiations that are to be resumed tomorrow between the National Coal Board and the NUM. It may be that a separate statement is needed — no doubt this can be discussed with the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General—by the Attorney-General in view of his special constitutional importance and the specific reference to him in the correspondence.

I hope that the Leader of the House will press both matters.

Mr. Biffen

I confirm that there will be a comprehensive statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the economic summit, and it is likely to be made on Tuesday. I realise that there is a widespread interest in this topic and I share the regret that we cannot have the debate, such were the exigencies of time. As to the statement in the Daily Mirror, associated with Mr. Paul Foot, I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the points that the right hon. Gentleman has made.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will my right hon. Friend provide an early opportunity for a debate in the House on the aspects of the European Community affecting the growing of raspberries, and the problems that have resulted from the dumping through Holland of eastern European raspberries in this country? There should be an early debate on this important subject.

Mr. Biffen

Heroically, I shall resist all temptation to indulge in schoolchild humour. I know that this subject is a real problem in my hon. Friend's constituency, and I shall convey his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on the privatisation of the National Health Service, which is growing rapidly? Will he note that 92 women who work in the domestic service at Barking hospital have been on strike for 13 weeks because their private contractor has cut their wages by 40 per cent.? The hospital is becoming dirty, unhealthy and unhygienic. That is what privatisation does for the NHS.

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Lady, who is a fair controversialist, will recognise that recently the House had a day's debate on the National Health Service. Therefore, I cannot offer an early prospect of a debate in Government time on the subject. I wish her success in any quest she may make to have the specific constituency point raised on the Adjournment.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

Following yesterday's celebrations of the 40th anniversary of D-Day, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on disarmament and foreign affairs? Should we not remember that the nations of western Europe were liberated by the allied armies, and the nations of eastern Europe, including Poland and Czechoslovakia, for whose freedom we went to war, were conquered by the Red Army and remain in bondage?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly raise that point with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. However, I must say at once that there is no immediate likelihood of a general debate on foreign affairs.

Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)

As the Daily Mirror revelations clearly show that the Government have an incomes policy, although it is not explicitly stated or debated in the House, will the right hon. Gentleman provide an early opportunity to debate the reports of the review bodies on nurses' and midwives' pay and the others apparently being published today, together with the whole of the Government's incomes policy, so that we may have the policy in the open and agreed properly?

Mr. Biffen

I must repudiate at once the premise on which that question was based. Of course, I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of the relevant members of the Government.

Mr. Timothy Yeo (Suffolk, South)

Will my right hon. Friend not be too hasty in resisting the Opposition's request for a debate on the Prime Minister's recent correspondence on public sector pay? Would not such a debate provide an outstandingly good opportunity to show that the Government are exercising the proper level of concern for public sector pay settlements, but falling well short of excessive interference?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My dilemma is that, while my hon. Friends can adduce the most formidable arguments, alas, I have to provide the time.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that an oral statement will be made in the House next week about nurses' pay and related matters?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly draw the attention of the relevant Ministers to the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Does my right hon. Friend share the concern of millions of our fellow citizens, who are confused by the fact that one man can raise a private army in excess of 6,000 people that can set about to prevent people from going about their lawful duty in such a way that scores of people are arrested and injured, but that that person is not subject to criminal action? Will my right hon. Friend agree with me that we should review the law in such a way that that person is arrested and put behind bars?

Mr. Biffen

The best thing that I can do is to advise my hon. Friend to try his luck in trying to participate in the debate this afternoon.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Can the right hon. Gentleman give me some guidance on parliamentary language? Does he recollect that he moved a resolution suspending me for five days for using an unparliamentary word? What is the safe and polite term that we should use for a lady who said one thing about the miners' dispute but, as has been revealed in the Daily Mirror, acted very differently? How should we describe that in parliamentary language?

Mr. Biffen

I have always understood that you, Mr. Speaker, were the guardian of what constituted appropriate and orderly parliamentary language and that you had no wish to share that responsibility with anyone else; and I must say that I have no wish to share it with you.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

The Leader of the House will recall that for many months I have been requesting a statement on nuclear waste dumping at Billingham. Since the unfortunate accident at Abbeystead, which no one could have foreseen, the fears of people in the Billingham and Cleveland area have grown. Will he now expedite a debate on the subject?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly bear my hon. Friend's comments in mind. As it is very much a constituency matter—and no less serious for that—I hope that he will also try to use that time of the House which is not necessarily allocated to the Government to obtain a debate on the matter.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that we have a very important debate today on an Opposition motion. No fewer than 29 right hon. and hon. Gentlemen and Ladies have expressed the wish to take part. I propose to allow questions to continue for a further five minutes. If questions are short, it may be possible to accommodate most hon. Members.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

Has the Leader of the House had the opportunity to study and discuss with the Prime Minister early-day Motion 790 in my name?

[That this House notes with concern the statement made to the Sports Council by its Chairman on 12th December 1983, to the effect that he had required the resignation of the Director of the Sports Council because the Minister for Sport believed that the Director was in close association with the then Opposition Spokesman on Sport; recalls that the Minister for Sport has answered questions in the House declaring that he had no involvement in the resignation of the Director and notes that this statement has been directly confirmed to the Right honourable Member for Birmingham, Small Heath, by the Minister; further takes note of the statements made by the Minister to the Right honourable Member containing the information that the Chairman of the Sports Council intends to make a suitable apology and withdrawal at a forthcoming meeting of the Sports Council and learns with regret that the said Chairman has now declared that he has nothing to apologise about or to withdraw; and in these circumstances calls upon the Prime Minister to inquire into these direct conflicts between the Minister for Sport and the Chairman of a body directly responsible to that Minister, and also into the ramifications of this situation so far as Parliamentary accountability is concerned, as well as having regard to the rights of a distinguished public servant to protect his reputation and integrity.]

If he has not already done so, will he discuss with his right hon. Friend the extraordinary situation in which the chairman of the Sports Council required the resignation of the director, saying that this was at the behest of the Minister with responsibility for sport, on the ground that the director had too close links with the Opposition. As the Sports Council receives all its money from the House that suggestion was grossly improper, but, as the Minister has denied it, the chairman and the Minister are now in conflict with each other, and questions arise about parliamentary accountability and the answers given by the Minister. Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to inquire into the matter?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman asks me to refer the points to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. As he has made that request, I shall certainly carry it out.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

At a time when liberty and freedom in Europe are being mentioned a great deal, is the Leader of the House aware that three coaches carrying miners were stopped outside Hanley, the drivers threatened with arrest if they went any further and the passengers turfed off seven miles from their destination? Does he agree that the House deserves a. statement on the erosion of freedom and liberty in Britain?

Mr. Biffen

Wishing to keep the temperature as low as possible, I think that the most helpful comment that I can make is to suggest that the hon. Gentleman should seek the opportunity to make his point in more expanded form in this afternoon's debate.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall any previous occasion when a Prime Minister, presumably fit and well and in London, has not appeared to answer questions on a Tuesday or Thursday? Although the occasion that has led to the absence of the Prime Minister may be unique, will the right hon. Gentleman convey to her our anxiety that he should not have to substitute for her too often?

Mr. Biffen

I cheerfully accept that analysis. I am here at the call of duty and not out of overweening ambition, so I will certainly pass on that message.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

In view of the concern of housing authorities throughout the country about the shortage of housing allocations for this year and continued rumours of a moratorium on housing allocations, will the Leader of the House consider arranging for an early statement or debate on that important subject so that the position can be clarified?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly bring that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

May we have an assurance that the various reports on Northern Ireland will be debated before the summer recess? May we also have a debate on the Export of Goods (Control) (Amendment No. 6) Order 1984 which controls the sale of chemicals to Iraq and Iran, which I am sure he will agree is an important subject?

Mr. Biffen

I should like to consider the second point raised by the hon. Gentleman. On the first point, although I have not been able to give a date for a debate on Northern Ireland, I hope that one can be arranged in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Is not the fact that the Government have chosen to hold a debate on the arts and heritage on the day of the European elections a measure of how slightly they regard the importance of the arts and heritage to our national life?

Mr. Biffen

For an awful moment, I thought that the hon. Gentleman's question would be the other way round. What the timing reflects is the difficulty of composing a timetable acceptable to all.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

Could the Leader of the House make time for a debate on British Rail Engineering? British Rail is proposing massive redundancies which, if they were to take place in my area, woukld kill off communities such as Springburn and many other workshop areas.

Mr. Biffen

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, and I realise the important constituency connotation that the matter has for him. I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

Has the Leader of the House seen that the International Labour Organisation, following its condemnation of the Government for their handling of GCHQ, has now condemned them for cutting the number of wages inspectors to the point at which a minimum wage policy can scarcely be carried out? Will the right hon. Gentleman make time available in the immediate future for a debate on that vitally important subject?

Mr. Biffen

The subject is indeed very important, and the hon. Gentleman does the House a service by raising it. I cannot guarantee a debate, but I will draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Employment to the points that have been made.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

The Housing and Building Control Bill is to be considered next Tuesday. Will the Government now accept their defeats in the House of Lords, and keep accommodation for 200,000 elderly persons available for letting?

Mr. Biffen

I do not wish to ruin the hon. Gentleman's sense of expectation. We must wait and see what happens on Tuesday.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Leader of the House aware that today and yesterday, on Derby day and Coronation cup day, fewer than 200 Tory Members have been present in the House — fewer than 200 out of nearly 800 Members of Parliament? [Interruption.] Yes, two days together. That number is roughly equivalent to the number of miners who have gone to Bolsover pit to work, without producing any coal.

Mr. Biffen

I know that the hon. Gentleman feels rather unwell about Bolsover pit, but there must be a better case than that to be made and I wish him luck in today's debate.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 573 in my name?

[That this House sympathises with the plight of the loyal workforce of Phillips Rubber Co., Dantzig Street, Manchester, and supports their efforts to obtain a decent living wage; recognises that £48 for a basic wage for a 40-hour week is an insult to workers who have devoted their working lives to this company; condemns the board and management for its intransigent Victorian and brutal attitude towards the 100 workers now in dispute for the past three months; and urges the management to resolve the situation by accepting the procedure of mediation.]

The motion is about the dispute between Phillips Rubber Co. in Manchester and its work force. The dispute has been going on since last November. This is a classic case of low wages. The workers receive £48 for a 40-hour week. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is time that all aspects of low pay were debated?

Mr. Biffen

In all candour, I cannot offer the prospect of Government time for such a debate. The hon. Gentleman may try to use an Adjournment debate to bring this constituency matter to the attention of the House.