HC Deb 21 June 1984 vol 62 cc477-84 3.30 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

May I ask the Leader of the House to 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 25 JUNE—Consideration of Lords amendments to the London Regional Transport Bill. At seven o'clock the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.
  • TUESDAY 26 JUNE—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Rates Bill. Completion of remaining stages of the Roads (Scotland) Bill (Lords). Remaining stages of the Animal Health and Welfare Bill (Lords). Motions on Northern Ireland orders on Education, University of Ulster and industrial training.
  • WEDNESDAY 27 JUNE—Debate on a motion to take note of the Government's reply (Cmnd. 9140) to the First Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 1982–83 HC No. 32, on the Representation of the People Acts. Motion on the British Shipbuilders Borrowing Powers (Increase of Limit) Order. Motion on European Community Document 8018/83 on industrial technologies.
  • THURSDAY 28 JUNE—Opposition Day (17th Allotted Day): there will be a debate on an Opposition motion on the widening gap between the rich and the poor.
  • FRIDAY 29 JUNE—A debate on the problems and needs of disabled people, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
  • MONDAY 2 JULY—Debate on the report of the New Ireland Forum and other documents. Motion on the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order.

[Debate on 27 June: European Community Documents and relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee:


8018/83 Research action programme on
industrial technologies.

Relevant Reports

Mr. Hattersley

I thank the Leader of the House for his response to our request for a debate on the New Ireland Forum. Can we take it that during the debate the Government will make a definitive statement on their attitude to the proposals?

Secondly, we take it for granted that the Prime Minister will make a statement on her return from Fontainebleu. Can we also be assured that the House will be given an early opportunity to debate the outcome of that meeting?

Thirdly, will the Government arrange a debate on the latest OECD half-yearly forecast? The Opposition are especially concerned by the suggestion that unemployment is likely to increase even more, and we would welcome the opportunity to advocate the clear course that the western European countries should combine to reflate their economies and reduce unemployment rather than increase it.

Mr. Biffen

Perhaps I might respond to the right hon. Gentleman's points in reverse order. The usual channels can be employed to consider a debate on the OECD half-yearly forecast, although I should have thought that the Opposition day debate on Thursday would cover many of the economic issues which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.

I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement on the meeting of European Heads of Government at Fontainebleu, and there will also be a debate on the European Community in the near future.

Finally, I note with appreciation the right hon. Gentleman's comments on the decision to have a debate on Monday week on the New Ireland Forum report and other documents. In that debate the position of the Government will be stated.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

Will my right hon. Friend recall that two Estimates days, on which important debates may take place, have to be taken before 5 August? Will he agree that it would be unfortunate if both those days were taken towards the end of the period before the recess? Therefore, if he cannot arrange for one next week, will he bear very much in mind the need to have one the following week?

Mr. Biffen

I thank my right hon. Friend for making that point. He will appreciate that we are getting to the time of year when there is some inevitable congestion in the programme. He makes a valid point, and I shall see what can be done.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

How can it be justifiable to include in the business for next week a motion to approve a draft Order in Council, which has been found to be a hybrid order, before the date has passed for the submission of petitions against that order?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman was characteristically courteous and kind enough to give me notice of the point. It has not been in my possession sufficiently long for me to have undertaken the appropriate consultation to give an authoritative reply. Therefore, I should like to deal with it through the usual channels.

Mr. Powell

indicated assent.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

In view of the fact that the controversial Warnock committee is due to present its report next week, I believe, on the subject of human fertilisation and experimentation on human embryos, will my right hon. Friend give the House an undertaking that there will certainly be a ministerial statement on the subject before the House rises for the recess, but preferably that there will be a full parliamentary debate on a matter of the highest importance?

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate the interest and, indeed, the authority with which my hon. Friend speaks on this subject. I shall of course refer his comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

In view of political opinion in the country, whether one takes the European elections or the Portsmouth, South by-election, how does the Leader of the House justify a 17 : 1 ratio in the allocation of days to the Labour party versus the alliance as opportunities to criticise the Government? Since this is a totally corrupt system, is it not time that it was changed?

Mr. Biffen

The system is one prescribed by the Standing Orders of the House. If the right hon. Gentleman——

Dr. Owen


Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman cannot just sit there and say, "Corrupt." As a good democrat, he should seek to alter the system through the processes of the House.

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

Has my right hon. Friend read early-day motion 817 on the virtue of brevity in debate? ["That this House recognises that for a speech to be immortal it does not have to be eternal and that the standard of debate would be greatly improved if all back-bench speeches were limited to 15 minutes and all front-bench speeches to 30 minutes without the specific permission of the House."] Will he introduce my proposal this coming week—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—that Front Bench speakers should not speak for more than 30 minutes and Back Benchers for not more than 15 minutes?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, Sir; and no, Sir.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does the Leader of the House recall that a week ago today he announced the business for yesterday, Wednesday, as being non-divisive Scottish business? Does he recall that this was coupled with Scottish questions which meant that it was a 100 per cent. Scottish day? Yet the Secretary of State for Education and Science made a very important statement which was 100 per cent. related to England and Wales. Since Opposition Members had notice of the statement from only 1 pm yesterday, will the Leader of the House ensure that any subsequent statements which have been a long time in gestation are made with informal notice to those who would like to be present?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot believe that there is anyone in the House who would be so innocent as to describe Scottish business as non-divisive. Therefore, I cannot accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman. I believe that it is up to hon. Members to treat this House as a place of full-time work if they wish to be here to hear statements.

Hon. Members


Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham)

Will my right hon. Friend allow time soon for a debate on the many changes that are occurring in the financial institutions in the City of London today and the measures that are required to safeguard the public interest?

Mr. Biffen

I realise that there is a real and growing interest that the House should have a debate on this topic, and although nothing has been announced for the week ahead, I shall bear my hon. Friend's request in mind.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Does the Leader of the House recall that I raised the matter of the dissatisfaction with the way that the Boundary Commission operated before the last general election, not in a narrow political sense but in the wider sense, and I asked some months ago whether there could be an inquiry? It was suggested that it would be better to wait until the European elections were over. May I nudge the right hon. Gentleman to make sure that the Home Office, which I love dearly, moves with its customary speed?

Mr. Biffen

I accept the nudge and will do my best to transmit it to the Home Office.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Will the definitive statement by Ministers in the debate on the New Ireland Forum make it clear that, while the views of overseas countries are always taken seriously, the paramount consideration of this House is the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Biffen

I would not wish to anticipate the speech which I know that my hon. Friend will want to make on that occasion, but I note what he said.

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

What happened to the second half of the 12th Opposition Day? When it was given over by the Labour party to the Government, was some undertaking given that it would be returned in kind at a later date, or was this another of the cosy arrangements by which the Government secure that they have indefinitely an Opposition that cannot win?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman properly perceives all this in the language of cosiness. I cannot immediately answer him, but I will have a look into the matter.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Might it not be wise to have a debate about the finances of the EEC before the meeting at Fontainebleau? Might there not be some misunderstanding if the Prime Minister committed this country either to a loan or to an increase in own resources without the authority of the House?

Mr. Biffen

I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister understands the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) only too well, and as we are having a debate soon on the European community I hope my hon. Friend will think this is a reasonable deal for the House.

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

Has the Leader of the House had time to read the report in The Guardian that the food industries are trying to pre-empt a Government report on food labelling, and thereby divert legislation, and as the health of many people has been damaged, and this subject has been neglected, can we have a debate on it shortly, please?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says, and as he is a seasoned campaigner on selective issues, I would have thought that he might have tried his chance with an Adjournment debate to give this subject wider ventilation. I shall refer the point that he makes to the relevant Ministers.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Following the question of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), will my right hon. Friend accept that what was non-controversial yesterday was the education statement, to the extent that the hon. Gentleman was here for an earlier statement but he and his colleagues managed to leave the Chamber, even though four Labour Members asked questions on that statement? Can we have an early debate on improving education, as well as on the examination system, because both the hon. Gentleman and I should be able to contribute to that?

Mr. Biffen

I thank my hon. Friend for referring to the previous question, because it enables me to have a quick second thought and say that I would not wish the preponderant majority of this House to be full-time Members. I return to my hon. Friend's point. I shall bear in mind the request for a debate on education, but my hon. Friend will realise that there are many pressures on our time at this time of the year. I hope that he will feel that yesterday's statement made a start.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

The Leader of the House is alleged to be one of the more sensible and perceptive members of the Government, which is not saying much. Can he persuade the Prime Minister to make a statement next week in which she acknowledges that there are no winners in the miners' dispute, that we are all losers and that the language of triumph and victory that she uses, is inappropriate and offensive? Are we not all part of the same community and interdependent, and do we not have to live together? Therefore, in that statement will she, for the first time, act as a Prime Minister rather than as the leader of the Tory party?

Mr. Biffen

I must repudiate the hon. Gentleman's premise. I stand here clothed only in gut Tory prejudice. I am happy to refer the hon. Gentleman's second point to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that the House of Commons Library acquires at the earliest possible moment the forthcoming biography, of the Leader of the Opposition by Mr. Robert Harris? It seems from leaks that it might be a most important document of record.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have an important debate ahead of us. That question has nothing to do with next week's business.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Leader of the House recognise that many of us acknowledge that his responsibilities transcend those of bring a member of the Cabinet and include responsibility to the House and to the nation at large? We are now approaching the period in which we are thinking of the summer recess. Will he concede that it would be disastrous to continue the vexatious and divisive dispute in the mining industry without an attempt either by the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Energy to bring the parties together to resolve the dispute in the interests of the nation and the industry? Will he prevail upon the Secretary of State for Energy to do the job that he is paid to do?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I say to the House again that questions must be directed to next week's business and must not be questions that might be asked of Ministers.

Mr. Timothy Yeo (Suffolk, South)

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will pay no attention to the requests of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) for more time to be given to the alliance, in view of the right hon. Gentleman's habit of requesting debates in other people's time only to show contempt for the House by not attending?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Taking into consideration the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), the fact that the Government have not been able to start, talk or force the miners back to work, the fact that Ian MacGregor has now decided that the strike could go on into next year, and the information that we have had today on the conditions of pits and the probable escalation of the strike, does not the Leader of the House think that it is time the Government initiated a debate on the mining strike and its effects? Would it not be wrong not to have a debate before we go into recess?

Mr. Biffen

We are still quite some way away from the recess. Clearly, the business that has been announced for next week does not make provision for a debate on the dispute, but we have to review the situation week by week.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Further to my namesake's question, in the light of the fact that the Leader of the Opposition has been reported as saying that Mr. Scargill is single-handedly destroying the mining industry, and as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has suggested that Mr. Scargill is on a suicide mission, is it not vital that we have a debate on the mining industry next week? Does not my right hon. Friend think that that would be extremely helpful to clarify the views of the Opposition?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has made succinctly the very points that he would have made if the debate had been held, and he ought to take comfort from that.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the answer given to me yesterday by the Home Secretary in which he admitted that cars used by NUM pickets were being entered on the stolen vehicles index by the national police computer? Is not that an attempt to make all pickets into criminals, or at least to call them criminals, an example of the police state methods that are being used against the NUM, and yet another reason for an urgent debate on the future of the mining industry and ways to end the dispute?

Mr. Biffen

The point that the hon. Gentleman raises is a serious one, and I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a full day ahead of us with an important Opposition debate. I propose to allow questions to continue until five minutes to 4 o'clock.

Mr. Stefan Terlezki (Cardiff, West)

Since the NUM has £35 million in its coffers, would it not be appropriate for Mr. Scargill to advocate to his members——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is a relatively new Member, but business next week has nothing to do wih Mr. Scargill.

Mr. Terlezki

Thank you for your help, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that the leader of the NUM is advocating that there are uneconomic pits, will he not consider taking them over into co-operatives, and release the taxpayer of £2 million per day investment?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get some order into these exchanges. The hon. Gentleman did not even mention the business next week.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Can we have a debate next week upon the evidence given to the Select Committee yesterday of the horrific number of serious criminal offences committed by diplomats in this capital? If not, can we have a statement by the Foreign Secretary or by the Home Secretary which will at least repudiate the implication of a remark made to the Select Committee yesterday by a witness to the effect that the Government do not after all, despite their promises, intend to try to have the Vienna convention amended?

Mr. Biffen

I think that it would be a wise courtesy to await the report of the Select Committee.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

My right hon. Friend, I imagine, expects that in the next week or two he will be receiving some rather interesting and constructive amendments to Government business sent to us from another place. In order to make it easier for him and for the Government in the House, will he look with favour upon some of those amendments coming from another place?

Mr. Biffen

As my hon. Friend would expect of this Administration, everything will be judged on its merits.

Mr. Allen Adams (Paisley, North)

Since you have correctly reminded the House, Mr. Speaker, that questions should relate to the business next week, against the background of the recent European election results, which show that the people of Scotland think very differently from the people of England, may I ask the Leader of the House whether time can be made available next week to discuss home rule for Scotland and the establishment of a parliament in Edinburgh?

Mr. Biffen

No provision has been made for that topic next week, but, should it arise, I think that it would be more embarrassing to the Labour party than to anyone else.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that, following my Adjournment debate on television licensing, I have been approached by a large number of Members on both sides of the House asking for a full and thorough debate in the House on the financing and financial control of the BBC? Could he find time, if not next week, very soon in the future, for the House to debate this most important subject?

Mr. Biffen

I acknowledge at once that this is a most important subject. Equally, I have to confess that no time has been made available for such a debate next week, but of course I will bear in mind the point that my hon. Friend makes.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Could the Leader of the House make some provision, if not next week, some time in the near future, for a debate on drug abuse in view of the widespread concern in places such as Merseyside—and, indeed, in other areas—which is beginning to affect whole communities, given the apparent disregard that the Government have for these problems? Would the Leader of the House not agree that this is an urgent matter, and that time ought to be given for the House to debate it, and to take the sort of actions that need to be taken?

Mr. Biffen

I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. Indeed, it touches upon a topic which goes much wider than Merseyside.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

May I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) as helpfully as possible? My right hon. Friend will be aware of the fact that early-day motion 367, which says that there should be no increase in own resources, bears the signatures of 103 Members, more than half the Conservative majority. Will my right hon. Friend not agree that it would be wise to clear the principle of an increase in own resources before agreeing with our European friends because, were the House later to throw out a proposal from Brussels, it would be embarrassing and difficult for the European Community?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be happy to be reminded of that.

Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)

Has the Leader of the House read the report in this morning's Daily Mirror, which gives a further example of intimidation against strikers and pickets in north Nottinghamshire, where the National Coal Board is effectively threatening to evict coal board tenants who accommodate strikers? In view of the hypocrisy that we have heard from the Government Front Bench about so-called intimidation by strikers, should we not have a debate next week, or at least a statement by the Home Secretary, about the intimidation of strikers and pickets in Nottinghamshire?

Mr. Biffen

I think that the best way that I can help the hon. Gentleman is to refer his remarks to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Report stage of the highly controversial Repatriation of Prisoners Bill is taken on die Floor of the House instead of in Committee, since both previous stages have been taken in Committee and the full House has not had an opportunity to debate the measure?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly consider that, and be in touch with my hon. Friend.