HC Deb 28 June 1984 vol 62 cc1157-66 3.31 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will 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 2 JULY—A debate on the New Ireland Forum, and other documents on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order.

TUESDAY 3 JULY—A debate on the 1984 CAP price fixing, in particular milk quotas, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, and when the draft dairy produce quotas regulations and EEC document 6059/84 will be relevant.

Motion on EEC documents on fisheries, the relevant document numbers will appear in the Official Report.

Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order.

WEDNESDAY 4 JULY—Estimates Day (2nd Allotted Day). The Estimates for consideration will appear in the Official Report.

Remaining stages of the Repatriation of Prisoners Bill [Lords].

THURSDAY 5 JULY—Opposition Day (18th Allotted Day). Debate on an Opposition motion on "the Government attack on the National Health Service—The Alternative for Better Health Care."

Motion on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) Order.

FRIDAY 6 JULY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 9 JULY—Consideration of private Members' motions until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, remaining stages of the Cable and Broadcasting Bill [Lords.]

Estimates for consideration on Wednesday 4 July:

  1. 1. Class IX, Vote 8 (Prisons, England and Wales (Home Office)). Consideration of this Estimate to be completed not later than half-past 7 o'clock.
  2. 2. Class VIII, Vote 5 (Central Administration and Environmental Research (Department of the Environment)). Subhead DI (Dog and Game Licences).

Adjournment debate on CAP prices and milk quotas on 3 July.

Relevant Document: Agricultural Prices 1984–85 Document No. 6059/84.

Relevant Report of the European Legislation Committee

HC 78-xxiv (1983–84) paragraph 2.

Fisheries Debate on 3 July


  1. (a) Total Allowable Catches for 1984—Document No. 11209/83 and Document No. 11209/83 Amendment 1.
  2. (b) North Sea Herring: Interim.
  3. (c) North Sea Herring: Norway—Document No. 4969/84.
  4. (d) Total Allowable Catches for 1984: Amendment—Document No. 5390/84.
  5. 1158
  6. (e) Fishery Conservation: technical measures—Document No. 7250/84.
  7. (f) North Sea Herring—Document No. 7248/84.
  8. (g) Fish Stocks/TACs (sprat)—Document No. 7286/84.

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 78-xii (1983–84) paragraph 4.
  2. (b) HC 78-xii (1983–84) paragraph 5.
  3. (c) HC 78-xvi (1983–84) paragraph 4.
  4. (d) HC 78-xx (1983–84) paragraph 5.
  5. (e) HC 78-xxvi (1983–84) paragraph 1.
  6. (f)W HC 78-xxvii (1983–84) paragraph 8.
  7. (g) HC 78-xxix (1983–84) paragraph 2.

Mr. Kinnock

First, I thank the Government for the debate on Tuesday on milk quotas. If the contents of the draft order are not acceptable, will the Minister. of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food give an undertaking that he will revise the order in the light of the views expressed in the House and so forcefully put elsewhere?

Our debate on the NHS on Thursday has been deliberately chosen to take place on the anniversary of the establishment of the NHS. Will the right hon. Gentleman take note that we shall be drawing attention to the fact that the attitude of the Conservative party, now as then, is, to say the least, one of very conditional enthusiasm for the National Health Service? [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Where it is not nonsense, it is very conditional enthusiasm.

In the light of the Prime Minister's statement on the Fontainebleau summit, may we have a full debate, on a substantive motion, in the near future and before the tabling of the legislation that will commit Britain irrevocably to increases in VAT own resources?

Can the Leader of the House give us an assurance that there will be a debate in the near future on the Baker report on the operation of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978?

Will he consider providing time for a debate on the effects of the United States deficit and interest rates on the British economy? In view of a recent answer from the Prime Minister, at least one right hon. Member on the Conservative Benches urgently needs educating about the state of affairs in the United States.

Mr. Biffen

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition for the points that he has put, and take up immediately his observations about the possibility of a debate upon the effects of the United States deficit? Of course, these matters can be considered through the usual channels, but I should have thought that, as we are now close to the Report stage of the Finance Bill, that could well provide an opportunity for discussions of this kind.

The Baker report is an important document and, indeed, relevant to the debate on Thursday. I will be looking for an early opportunity to arrange a debate on this matter, but, as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, there is insufficient time for it next week.

I note the anxiety that the House should have an early opportunity to debate the European Community, particularly in the context of the Fontainebleau decisions, and I very much hope that that can be arranged.

I note that Thursday is to be signalled as the anniversary of the National Health Service and I am sure that in what will be a constructive and wide-ranging debate my hon. Friends will wish to assert their formidable record in the development of the service and in making it an integral part of the consensus of British politics.

The debate on milk quotas will be in the context of a draft order, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister will wish to take account of the debate when making his final judgments.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

My right hon. Friend will have noticed not only today but on other days concern about the future of the mining dispute and the associated issues of reducing injuries and deaths as well as considering whether future money for the coal industry should go into profitable pits or continue to go in subsidies to unprofitable ones. Will he find an opportunity, if not next week then the week after, on a motion for the Adjournment so that Members on both sides of the House can put forward their views, first, to call for an end to violence as well as condemning it, and, secondly, to give their views on where the investment should go—to profitable investment or to unprofitable investment?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly bear in mind the virtues of an Adjournment debate upon the coal industry dispute, but I have to say to my hon. Friend that there is no prospect of one next week.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Can the Leader of the House give an assurance that neither Mr. Lepem nor any other National Front leader from France will be permitted into this country to attend the Fascist rally in Maidstone shortly? If he is unable to do so, may we be assured that there will be a debate in the House so that we do not suddenly find that, without the House having had the chance to express an opinion, we have an invasion from across the Channel of Fascist leaders, whether or not they are Members of the European Parliament?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot give such an undertaking because I have no departmental responsibility in the area that has been raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I will certainly draw the points that he makes to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

May I ask my right hon. Friend about the title of the debate for Monday? It appears to some of us that there are a number of equally important and significant documents that have been produced about the future of Northern Ireland, and to single out one may give some undue significance to it.

Mr. Biffen

It may be for the convenience of the House if I say that the reference to "other documents" covers the Official Ulster Unionist document "The Way Forward", the Official Report of the Northern Ireland Assembly debate on the forum report, "The Unionist Case", which is a Democratic Unionist party document on the Forum report, and a discussion paper on joint sovereignty produced by the Alliance party research committee. I understand that those documents are available in the Library.

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

Will there be an opportunity next week—and, if so, on what day—to discuss proposed changes in the membership of Select Committees? Will the right hon. Gentleman also give us an opportunity next week to discuss—as he has often suggested—the arrangement by which 16 days of Opposition time have been taken by the Labour party, one day by the alliance, half a day by the Ulster Unionists and half a day by the Government? Will he also provide an early opportunity to discuss the order under which 5,000 rural telephone boxes are threatened with closure as a result of the Government's privatisation of BT?

Mr. Biffen

I shall consider all those points and be in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Since our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday that the main reason for allowing an increase in VAT own resources to the Community was to allow for its enlargement to incorporate Spain and Portugal, and since as my right hon. Friend may know—although it has not yet been published—Commission estimates show that the inclusion of Spain and Portugal may cost nothing and is most likely to cost only 0.15 per cent. of VAT starting in 1986 and not fully arising until 10 years after that time, and as it is therefore unlikely that the accession of Spain and Portugal could necessitate any increase in VAT, may we have a rapid debate on the enlargement of the Community to include Spain and Portugal?

Mr. Biffen

I do not know about a rapid debate, but, as I have said, I very much hope that we can have an early debate on the Community.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

Will the right hon. Gentleman draw the Attorney-General's attention to our dissatisfaction about the fact that he announced by way of a written answer the Government's decision to suspend the Bingham committee, which is considering certain aspects of contempt? Does not the Attorney-General have a duty to attend the House to meet criticism, and is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his right hon. and learned Friend did precisely the same thing a few weeks ago when he gave his last major statement on picketing in the form of a written answer on a Friday afternoon? Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Attorney-General to make a statement to the House next week?

Mr. Biffen

I know that my right hon. And learned Friend the Attorney-General would be most anxious to be acquitted of any discourtesy to the House, and I shall, of course, draw his attention to that point.

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

As many right hon. and hon. Members were unable to speak in last week's debate on the defence Estimates, does my right hon. Friend have any plans to provide us with a great opportunity to discuss discipline before the summer recess? Will he consider giving three days in future to a debate on the defence Estimates, possibly with only one opening speech altogether and a closing speech on each of the three days, because at present an undue amount of time is devoted to opening and closing speeches?

Mr. Biffen

Although I can give no firm commitment, my hon. Friend will appreciate that we are now moving into the season when the individual Services are debated by this House. In the meantime, I have noted my hon. Friend's observations about Front Bench speeches, and I imagine that they have secured some support.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have already placed in the Library an adequate supply of the Ulster Unionist document to which he referred?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, and I am sure that there will be a good and steady demand for it.

Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Billericay)

When will my right hon. Friend be in a position to announce to the House how legal effect will be given to the proposed increase from 1 per cent. to 1.4 per cent. in our VAT take to the EEC? Will it involve reform of the European Communities Act 1972? Will he give an assurance that the Committee stage of that legislation to amend the 1972 Act will be conducted on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Biffen

I am not really in a position to answer that question, but I am sure that that is one of the topics that will quite legitimately be pursued further when we debate the Fontainebleau arrangements.

Mr. Leo Abse (Torfaen)

May I ask the Leader of the House yet again about the Warnock report on in vitro pregnancies? Since that report is clearly in the Secretary of State's hands and has been widely publicised outside the House, and since the House is the last place in which the matter is to be debated, may we have assurances that the report will be published before the summer recess so that we can have a debate in the Chamber?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw that question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. There are plenty of opportunities for private pursuit and initiatives to ensure that such matters are brought to the Floor of the House.

Mr. Timothy Yeo (Suffolk, South)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the consequences of the international banking crisis and the problems of the Third world, especially of South American debtor nations? May I commend the subject, not only because of the potential damage that could be done to this and other countries, but because it is one of the crises for which the Government cannot be held to blame but the consequences of which they could claim credit for alleviating.

Mr. Biffen

That is rather nice. This is the time of year when we are under considerable constraint in relation to parliamentary time. There is no prospect of such a debate next week or in the near future.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

Since the Stockholm conference on security, confidence building and disarmament in Europe draws to the conclusion of its second stage next Thursday, and since it appears that the Government are now anxious to have warmer and closer relations with the Soviet Union, would it not be opportune for the Foreign Secretary to come to the House to make a statement about progress, and efforts by Britain to make progress at Stockholm to justify the meeting of 35 European and North American nations?

Mr. Biffen

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Foreign Secretary will be in Moscow next week. Parliamentary opportunity to raise such issues could be taken during the debates on the Service Estimates.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the confusion about the future pattern and financing of broadcasting, particularly about direct broadcasting by satellite and about community radio? May we have an early general debate on the future of broadcasting in addition to the detailed consideration that we have had on cable broadcasting?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend might like to take the opportunity available to hon. Members in private time to pursue the matter. I shall, of course, refer my hon. Friend's important suggestion to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the ever-increasing hard drug problem, and will he arrange it in Government time because the Government are directly responsible? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that unemployed youngsters and teenagers, with no hope or stake in their future, are easy prey to the evil drug pushers, that the police are unable to deal with the problem because it has reached epidemic proportions and that the area health authorities do not have the resources to provide for the medical consequences of the hard drug problem? Is he aware that the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise staff have been cut by the Government and so cannot stop the floodgates through which the stuff comes in from Pakistan? Is he aware that worried parents in Merseyside and throughout the country are calling the Thatcher years the hard drug years and that a whole generation is being sacrificed?

Mr. Biffen

That matter was raised last week by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden). I said then that I would refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that today is an Opposition day and that there is to be a statement first. I shall allow business questions to continue until 4 o'clock. If hon. Members speak briefly, they will all be called.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Leicester, which is a Labour-controlled council, has just launched a massive public relations campaign against rate capping? Will he provide time for a debate on the role of the district auditor to act as a warning to Labour-controlled councils throughout the country that they are wasting taxpayers' and ratepayers' money?

Mr. Biffen

As the topic does not involve public expenditure, it is an ideal subject for an Adjournment debate. I wish my hon. Friend well in any such intitiative.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesborough)

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of early-day motion No. 114 about breaches of emigration policy in the Soviet Union under the universal declaration on human rights and the final act of the Helsinki agreement?

[That this House views with grave concern recent Soviet pronouncements that the emigration process is complete with its implications that the Soviet authorities will continue to deny exit visas to those 380,000 Jews still awaiting them; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to urge the Soviet authorities to comply with their human rights obligations and with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Final Act of the Helsinki Agreement.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the breaches constitute serious violations and are worthy of a debate in the House at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Biffen

Clearly this is a matter of great concern, as is shown by the number of signatures attached to the early-day motion and subsequent amendments. However, I must say in all candour that no Government time can be found for such a debate next week.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the 71,000 men employed by the British Steel Corporation are extremely concerned about their future, following the decision of the president of the National Union of Mineworkers to butcher their industry? Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on that matter so that finally the Leader of the Opposition can say whether he supports the president of the NUM in closing down forever Llanwern, Ravenscraig and other major steel plants?

Mr. Biffen

Although trying to secure a clear and unambiguous statement from the Leader of the Opposition is an enticing prospect, I confess that no Government time can be found for that next week.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

In the light of the recent results of the elections to the stock exchange and the growing concern in the City about security protection, and so on, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate—if not next week, in the week following—on the Gower report before any legislation is drafted?

Mr. Biffen

There is widespread feeling in the House that there should be a debate on the Gower report. Although I can give no specific commitment, I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's request sympathetically, if I can.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

On the National Health Service debate next Thursday, will my right hon. Friend use his powers through the usual channels to ensure that there is a reversal of the usual pattern so that those Conservative Members who take an interest in that subject do not find themselves debating with deserted Opposition Benches? Can my right hon. Friend ensure that some Labour Members actually turn up to demonstrate that their concern for the health and welfare of this nation is genuine and not just hogwash?

Mr. Biffen

I have some responsibilities, but, mercifully, they do not cover trying to secure the proper attendance of Opposition Members.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for the House to consider the constitutional implications of the policing of the miners' strike? It appears to some of us that, in some cases, the police are not only making their own laws but are departing from the rules which, in the past, have governed their conduct.

Mr. Biffen

No provision has been made for such a debate in Government time, but if the matter causes such widespread dissatisfaction among Opposition Members no doubt time will be found through the processes available to the Opposition.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

When will the House have an opportunity to debate the British Telecom licence which we understand was recently laid before the House?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. and learned Friend raises an important point which I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

As the Cabinet Secretary appears to be engaged in consultation about recommendations for the appointment of a successor to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what arrangements he proposes to make to ensure that any recommendation carries the full support of the House because of the parliamentary nature of the job?

Secondly, in view of the extremely trenchant criticisms—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is unfair to ask more than one question.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman raises a point which, I am sure, is dear to him and is of topical relevance to the House. I will look into it and be in touch with him.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the high quality of debate going on in the media about the countryside and the views being expressed by the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council? As this matter affects every hon. Member and every constituency, does he agree that time should be found in the reasonably near future to debate it, remembering that the reconciliation of the interests of town versus country are important to us all?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises an important point. This is the time of year when there are a number of private Members' occasions and I hope that, at least initially, we might ventilate this topic, and consider subsequently whether it merits debate in Government time.

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

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) on drugs abuse? Will he tell the Secretary of State for Social Services that we require a programme for action on drugs abuse, particularly in the light of repeated comment in the media in recent months and the fact that the public cannot understand why Parliament does not appear to wish to respond to the major concern on this issue?

Mr. Biffen

I promised that I would refer the remarks, which were reasonably extended, of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) to my right hon. Friend. I am certain that he will regard them appropriately.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Will my right hon. Friend find time, if not next week then in the weeks following, for a debate on the Government's reply to the report on Grenada of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs? It is an uncharacteristically belligerent reply, and I should be grateful if time could be found to make certain that the Government do not repeat the mistakes which the Select Committee pointed out.

Mr. Biffen

I am all for a bit of belligerence in these matters. I am afraid, however, that I cannot provide the facility of Government time to protract the fisticuffs.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the extraordinary statement made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport on Monday, in which he announced an inquiry into a train crash at Morpeth but in the same statement prejudged that inquiry by saying what he thought had caused the accident? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that points of order have been raised in the House on the subject every day this week and that it is imperative that the Minister concerned returns to the House to set the record straight, if only to ensure that my constituent, the train driver, gets fair treatment at the inquiry?

Mr. Biffen

I understand that the point has been raised on the Floor of the House and has since been the subject of a ruling by Mr. Speaker. I shall refer to my hon. Friend the point that has now been raised.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his wisdom in giving us a chance next Tuesday to debate the vexed question of milk quotas. May I ask him in all innocence whether the House will have a chance, before we rise for the summer recess, to amend the detailed regulations which will come before us so that we can achieve the best possible legislation before it passes into law?

Mr. Biffen

I have never heard a less innocent question. My hon. Friend will know that the debate on Tuesday will have before it a document, which will not be the final document. I have no doubt that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will listen carefully to the views that are expressed in that debate before Parliament finally has the opportunity of confirming the order.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that we should discuss the role and responsibility of the chairmen of nationalised industries, particularly in view of the statement of Mr. MacGregor last night that he wanted to see the leadership of the NUM roundly defeated rather than see a quick solution to the miners' strike? Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that that was a responsible statement, and does it not throw into question Mr. MacGregor's suitability for the post of chairman of a nationalised industry?

Mr. Biffen

I am not sure I feel that there is an imperative for Government time to be given up to provide a debate on the role of the chairmen of nationalized industries. If the hon. Lady can persuade her colleagues that the topic is of such significance, I am sure that they will provide the time.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Does the Leader of the House agree that, as we near the summer recess, it is imperative for us to debate the mining industry, particularly in view of answers given by the Prime Minister in which she seems to accept the seriousness of what is occurring not only to the mining industry but to the rest of industry in Britain, although we note her apparent abdication of responsibility for such matters? As the chairman is seeking to prolong the strike rather than shorten it, it is imperative that the House debates the issue. If the right hon. Gentleman is unable to give an assurance that there will be a debate next week, will he agree to arrange a debate before the summer recess?

Mr. Biffen

I assured the hon. Gentleman when he raised this matter last week that the issue was being kept under constant review. He is right in thinking that no provision has been made for a debate next week. None the less, the matter will still be considered.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

What plans does the Prime Minister have to tell the House what she has already arranged to tell journalists through her press adviser about the rumours that are circulating concerning a member of the Cabinet and their lack of substance? Will he confirm that security service reports are the basis of the advice which has been given to journalists?

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's good natured anxiety to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I normally take points of order after statements. I shall take them after the Standing Order No. 10 application, if it arises.