HC Deb 01 March 1984 vol 55 cc397-401 3.53 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business of the House 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 5 MARCH — Consideration of a timetable motion on the Rating and Valuation (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill.

Opposition Day (11th Allotted Day) (First Part). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion on the use of the immigration rules to attack family life.

TUESDAY 6 MARCH—There will be a debate on a motion to take note of the "Government's Expenditure Plans 1984–85 to 1986–87", Cmnd. 9143.

WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH — Second Reading of the Agricultural Holdings Bill [Lords].

Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limits) Regulations.

THURSDAY 8 MARCH—Estimates days (1st Allotted Day): Consideration of the following Estimates:

Class XI, Vote 1 (Health and personal social services, England) (Compensation payments to NHS staff)

Class IV, Vote 3 (Assistance to the coal industry)

The appropriate reports will be shown on the paper as relevant.

The Question will be put on all outstanding Votes and Supplementary Estimates.

FRIDAY 9 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 12 MARCH—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. Kinnock

Monday's business next week sees the Government impose a guillotine on the rate-capping legislation as it affects Scotland. The Opposition bitterly oppose this limitation on a measure which includes a major constitutional change and results in great disadvantage for Scottish communities. On Wednesday we shall be voting against the Second Reading of the Agricultural Holdings Bill [Lords], since it imposes threats to the security and livelihood of tenant farmers. It is to be condemned, especially as it comes from a Government mainly composed of large owner farmers.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while the following week's business will be taken up by a debate on the Budget, we shall want a debate in Government time on the devastating indictment of the Government included in the unanimous report of the Select Committee on electricity price increases?

It was regrettable that at the back end of last year time was not provided for a debate specifically about the Athens summit. May we have an assurance that we shall have a debate after the Brussels summit on 19 March?

Will we soon have a debate on foreign affairs, especially in the light of the dangerous situation arising in the war between Iran and Iraq?

Mr. Biffen

I note that there will be the most vigorous opposition to the proposed timetabling motion, which has been drawn only with proper consideration of all the issues involved. Nevertheless, I look forward to the debate on Monday.

I accept that during the course of the debate on the Agricultural Holdings Bill [Lords] on Wednesday the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will wish to demonstrate why they seek to vote against this legislation. If they intend to engage in some sort of socio-economic analysis of the membership of the Conservative party and its relationship to land ownership, that will certainly be a diversion that will help enliven what might otherwise be a rather technical consideration.

The Government will be responding in due course to the findings of the Select Committee on energy prices. Whether these matters should lead to a debate is a matter that we can consider through the usual channels.

The whole House will recognise the importance of debating the consequences of the European summit meeting in Brussels and the importance of a general foreign affairs debate, but particularly having relevance to the issues in the middle east. Again, this is a matter that we can discuss through the usual channels.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

Is my right hon. Friend aware, that despite the short time between the publication of the Government public expenditure White Paper and the debate scheduled for next week, the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee has managed to complete a report on the subject, which should be available early next week and which should be of help to those who wish to take part in the debate?

Mr. Biffen

The whole House will recognise that we are in debt to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee for the speed with which it has worked on this topic. I shall see that the report is put down as a relevant document for the debate.

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

Has the Leader of the House seen the remarkable decision by the Court of Appeal last week to the effect that doctors have no obligation to disclose the risks of medical treatment to patients? As that decision has far-reaching implications for doctors and patients, and suggests that we need legislation to give patients the right to know, may we please have a statement on the subject next week?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not comment on the Court of Appeal decision. However, I shall draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Social Services to the point.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

My right hon. Friend wall be aware that, following the publication of the powerful and illuminating report by a Select Committee in another place on science in Government, the Government responded by asking the advisory board and research councils to produce, for the first time, an annual report on research for the nation. That has been done and it has been debated in another place. Should it not be debated here?

Mr. Biffen

I am afraid that I can offer no Government time for such a debate next week, but as my hon. Friend is a most effective campaigner on this issue I can but draw to his attention all the opportunities that are contained in the proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

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

May I impress on the Leader of the House the need for an early debate on electricity prices? The Government are making the electricity industry to behave like the worst kind of monopoly, forcing up the price above what would be a commercial rate. In view of the right hon. Gentleman's past interest in the vices of monopolies, will he agree to take part in the debate?

Mr. Biffen

I will respond neither to the controversy contained in the initial remarks of the hon. Gentleman nor to the flattery in his concluding remarks. The Select Committee report on energy prices is of proper political concern.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

Can the Leader of the House give the date when the House will resume after the Easter recess? Until the date is announced there will be some confusion about booking trips round the House and making other parliamentary arrangements.

Mr. Biffen

I am ever mindful of both the anxiety of the House to be certain about the dates of the recess and the anxiety of the Government to have sufficient time to conclude their business. I will try to make an early statement that will clear up any difficulties.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

From time to time I have asked the Leader of the House if he could arrange for statements to be made about the progress of various peace negotiations such as Stockholm and Geneva, and he has invariably referred me to foreign affairs Question Time.

While Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are together enjoying 11 Question Times between Christmas and Easter this Session, only three Question Times are devoted to foreign affairs. We therefore have little opportunity to put such questions. If we can spend a long time discussing football hooligans, could we not spare a little time to discuss matters of infinitely greater importance.

Mr. Biffen

I think that I may say — plagiarising Litvinov — that peace and football hooligans are indivisible. I can, however, offer the hon. Gentleman a novelty. He will shortly have a chance to pursue his interests in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate. I also hope that—with the aid of the usual channels—there will be the prospect of a foreign affairs debate.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the early-day motion on the loan guarantee scheme, which has now been signed by over 160 hon. Members on both sides of the House.

[That this House congratulates the Government on the success of the pilot Loan Guarantee Scheme, and welcomes the important contribution this has made to the financing of 12,231 new and expanding small businesses; calls on the Government to develop and make this successful scheme permanent, by abolishing the Government's three per cent. premium, and by extending the upper limit for loans from £75,000 to £250,000 so that medium sized businesses, too, can have access to such loan capital for expansion.]

Many hon. Members feel strongly that the scheme should be both continued and extended. Will my right hon. Friend allow time for a debate on that important issue?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend may well find — particularly if he is among the carefree conscripts on the Finance Bill Committee—that he has more than enough time to consider such matters.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The right hon. Gentleman will have have seen that, on the basis of legal advice given to the London electricity consumers council, the legality of the proposed increase in electricity prices is now in question. Could we be given a statement next week that would inform us what consideration Ministers are giving to that aspect of a deeply controversial matter?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to comment upon the alleged legality or otherwise of the increase, but I shall refer the matter to the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

I believe that my right hon. Friend is aware of my opposition to the Government's proposals to increase the speed limits for lorries and coaches, which are to be debated on Wednesday. I believe that the proposals fly in the face of what most people in this country believe to be sensible. I have just obtained the statutory instrument from the Vote Office. Is my right hon. Friend aware that either it has no number or the number has been blacked out? Is he satisfied that it is the correct documentation that should now be available to the House? A draft statutory instrument can be unnumbered, but once a statutory instrument has been laid should it not be properly numbered? Would my right hon. Friend therefore consider withdrawing the document and rescheduling the debate for a time when the correct documentation is available and when I shall have had some more plotting time?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend must have been holding a banana skin in his hand rather than the draft White Paper. I shall consider that point and get in touch with him.

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

The Leader of the House gave us a clear undertaking last week that he would raise with the Prime Minister the question whether she declared an interest in the negotiations and discussions that took place with civil servants in relation to the contract to build a university in Oman. Will the Leader of the House give us the answer this week? Did the Prime Minister declare an interest?

Mr. Biffen

I undertook to refer the hon. Gentleman's question to Downing street, and that I did.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Could my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the future of the newspaper publishing industry? That future was severely jeopardised on Tuesday by the trade union's day of rest—an illegal and irresponsible secondary action.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend may find that the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill will give him scope to ventilate that matter.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Did the Leader of the House also, as he promised to do, refer to Downing street early-day motion 517?

[That this House calls attention to the fact that contrary to the Prime Minister's reply on 21st February, Official Report, column 695, Her Majesty's Government have never explained the discrepancy between the statement in paragraph 110 of the Falklands Campaign: the Lessons, Cmnd. 8758, that the Conqueror detected the General Belgrano on 2nd May 1982, and the statement of the Commander of the Conqueror made in the book, 'Our Falklands War: the Men of the Task Force tell THEIR Story', by Geoffrey Underwood, introduced by Major-General Sir Jeremy Moore, K.C.B., O.B.E., M.C., that he sighted the Belgrano visually early in the afternoon of 1st May and followed the Belgrano for over 30 hours; and calls upon the Prime Minister either to make a statement to the House explaining this disparity, or to appoint a judge of the Appeal Court to determine whether her statement or that of the submarine commander tells the truth.]

What joy did the right hon. Gentleman get from Downing street? Might the Prime Minister make a statement next week telling us whether it was she or the submarine commander who deceived us?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, I think that, at the moment, the joy has been deferred. However, I will look into the matter again.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

Concern has been expressed recently inside and outside the House about experiments on animals at the chemical defence establishment at Porton Down. Should there not be an early debate—or, at least, an early statement—on the matter? The House would then know what is going on, despite the unnecessary cloak of secrecy, and could decide whether or not it wishes these experiments to continue.

Mr. Biffen

I recognise that the matter causes widespread anxiety, and I shall draw it to the attention of the Ministers concerned. Meanwhile, I can point out again that the topic is suitable for debate on the Consolidated Fund.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

May we have a statement tomorrow or on Monday about the latest position at GCHQ? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that such a statement is all the more necessary in view of radio and television reports of intense and unfair pressure on GCHQ employees to abandon their democratic right to belong to a trade union?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot in any sense endorse the arguments sustaining the hon. Gentleman's request, but I shall refer it to the Minister concerned.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

I fully support the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) on the importance of debates and questions on foreign affairs. in view of the concern of many right hon. and hon. Members about events in Central and Latin America, would the Leader of the House try to arrange an early debate on the situation in that troubled part of the globe?

Mr. Biffen

I recognise the importance of Latin America in any foreign affairs debate. Above all, I also recognise the real interest that the hon. Gentleman has established in that area. However, I have to agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the middle east is the priority area in any general foreign affairs debate.