HC Deb 08 March 1984 vol 55 cc989-93 3.31 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

Will the Leader of the House 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 I2 MARCH—Proceedings on the Consolidation Fund Bill.

TUESDAY 13 MARCH—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

European Community documents relevant to the Budget debate will be shown in the Official Report.

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

WEDNESDAY 14 and THURSDAY 15 MARCH—Continuation of the Budget debate.

FRIDAY I6 MARCH—Private Members' Bills. MONDAY 19 MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget statement.

Documents cited as relevant to Budget debate and relevant reports of European Legislation Committee:

10156/83 Annual Economic Report 1983–84, with the final version as adopted by the Council.

See HC 78-ix (1983–84) para. 7

HC 78-xiii (1983–84) para. 4.

Mr. Kinnock

Since the European Community summit will take place on 19 and 20 March, the House will want an early opportunity to discuss its implications. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that a debate will take place as soon as possible after the conclusion of that summit?

The increasing dangers to many craft and people arising from the war between Iran and Iraq necessitate an early foreign affairs debate. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that that debate will be substantially extended to allow for an examination of many dangers facing the world and posing problems of foreign policy?

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on the Government's 1979 election pledge not to increase presciption charges in the light of the stories clearly and deliberately leaked to the press this morning that the Government are making yet another increase in charges to the sick?

Mr. Biffen

Last week the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the importance he attached to Parliament attending to the issues which would arise at the European summit meeting. He also asked for a debate on foreign affairs so that attention could be paid to the problems in the middle east, especially in Iran and Iraq. I note what he has said this afternoon and repeat that we would certainly wish to discuss the matter through the usual channels. I emphasise my agreement with him that these are matters proper for parliamentary consideration.

The issue of prescription charges is a sensitive one. Only 23 years ago the late Aneurin Bevan left a Labour Government over this issue. I understand that someone who thinks of Mr. Bevan as his hero—together with Prince Charles—would like to see early consideration of a current and topical issue. The debate on the Budget will provide just that opportunity.

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

May I repeat the point of the Leader of the Opposition about the need for an early debate on the near and middle east? Many of us believe that Islamic fundamentalism is probably the greatest threat to peace at present, as the statement that will follow today will bear out.

Mr. Biffen

Without entering into a consideration of Islamic fundamentalism, I say at once that it is important for the House to have an opportunity to debate foreign affairs. However, it must be borne in mind that no time is available in the programme announced for next week.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

The Leader of the House will have noticed that I have debate No. 10 in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate on Monday, which relates to the Prime Minister's behaviour in Oman in 1981. As it relates specifically to the Prime Minister's conduct, can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Prime Minister herself will reply to the debate at breakfast time on Tuesday?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that we would all wish to widen the scope of breakfast time debates, but I remind the House that the terms of the motion relate to the Prime Minister's visit to the middle east in 1981. I cannot give an undertaking such as that sought by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Robert E. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)

As the Inland Revenue seems to have spent so much time, first on postmen's tips and now on milkmen's tips, will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the priorities of the Inland Revenue when investigating the underpayment of tax?

Mr. Biffen

Since the whole of next week will be devoted more or less to the Budget, it will not need too much ingenuity to work in a speech on that subject.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

Does the Leader of the House recall that about four weeks ago I asked him to consider providing time for a debate on the impact of American extra-territoriality on high technology exports? During his busy programme last week, did he listen to an extremely interesting broadcast called "File on Four" on this subject and, in the light of recent statements by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, does he believe that that matter should be brought before the House for serious consideration?

Mr. Biffen

As the hon. Gentleman will notice, no provision has been made for such a debate next week, but I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that I am seeking to pilot through the House a Bill to control the burning of straw and stubble after harvest. My right hon. Friend can confirm that the Government would not wish to obstruct such a public-spirited measure. However, he will be aware that time for debate on such matters is limited. One such day is 13 April, the day on which the House rises for the recess. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if private business is lost on that day an alternative day will be provided?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot answer that, because I do not know what the answer is. If my hon. Friend will keep in touch with me, I shall break the bad news as best I can.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is widespread concern about the Government's decision to send observers to the forthcoming sham elections in El Salvador? So that the House may have the opportunity to express its views on the desire not to be seen to legitimise those elections, in a country where 4,000 people were assassinated last year and where one of the candidates has been described as a psychopath, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that we have time for a debate?

Mr. Biffen

I note the hon. Gentleman's concern about this aspect of Latin American affairs. No time is available for a debate next week. I think that he would be best advised to see what he can secure by way of an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I recognise that an encouraging Budget will dominate the business of the House next week, but will my right hon. Friend ensure that a debate takes place in the House in accordance with the wishes of the Secretary of State for Social Services on the Griffiths report on the management of the Health Service before Government decisions are taken about this matter so that the House can express its views?

Mr. Biffen

I am unwilling to make any commitment on the point that my hon. Friend raises, but I will of course refer it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Andrew F. Faulds (Warley, East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman try to comprehend the urgency of the need for a debate on what is happening throughout the middle east? We have a unique opportunity in Britain to try to restrain our American allies from their ill-considered interventions in that part of the world. Does he not understand that the more the Americans intervene in any area of the middle east, the more they increase the inevitability of radicalisation of that area, not only in religious but in political terms as well?

Mr. Biffen

I would not wish to be drawn into the merits of the hon. Gentleman's argument, and I would be anxious that any debate we had was not tinged with delusions of grandeur about what we might or might not be able to achieve in the middle east. However, it is undoubtedly true that there is a widespread desire that the matter should be debated.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has already asked about the Griffiths report. Does my right hon. Friend intend to allow the House to debate the Binder Hamlyn report and the implications for GPs and doctors in this country? I believe that it is every bit as significant as the Griffiths report.

Mr. Biffen

I had a feeling that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), in all innocence, was opening a Pandora's box, and now the debate is to be widened from Griffiths to include Binder Hamlyn. I recognise the importance of these topics for the House, but my first step must be to inform my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services of the points that have been raised.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I appreciate that business questions are an important time for Back Benchers, but we have next a very important debate on Supplementary Estimates, and also a statement, and a large number of hon. Members wish to take part. I shall call those hon. Members who have been rising, but I ask them to put their questions succinctly.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that, in the light of my question to him two weeks ago that he put it to the Prime Minister that she was required to declare an interest in communications and transactions with civil servants on the briefing in relation to the contract to build a university in Oman and of the fact that she has not been willing to reply to that question, I have this morning submitted a new complaint to the Select Committee on Members' Interests requiring that it investigates whether she was required to declare such an interest in discussions with civil servants?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Are the Government ready to meet the situation which may arise quite shortly when the funds of the Common Market run out and numerous people in this country will be expecting to be paid funds from that source?

Mr. Biffen

I am bound to say yes.

Mr. Mark Hughes (City of Durham)

Will the Leader of the House accept that we have received strong representations from all parts of the House that the Animal Health and Welfare Bill [Lords] should not be submitted to a Second Reading Committee but should be debated on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of the comment and will certainly be in touch with the hon. Gentleman about it.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there are apparently well-founded rumours in the press to the effect that the Secretary of State for Scotland may be about to compel the Scottish Electricity Board to increase electricity charges by 5 per cent — a figure higher than that which has resulted from Government interference in England? If this is so, can he give an undertaking that this will he the subject of a statement in the House by the Secretary of State for Scotland and not be learned from a press release circulated in the House?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to comment on newspaper reports or rumours. I will refer the point he makes to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Why is it that the stories about increased Health Service and prescription charges have been leaked to the press instead of there being an explanation in a statement by the Minister? Does this not happen far too often? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those who have to pay the increased charges will not be very happy with the flippant reply which he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock)?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot make any helpful comment about why — [Interruption] — in his excitement, the hon. Gentleman is not even allowing me to get to the end of my sentence—leaks may have arisen, but I am sure that he and I would be at one in deploring that situation. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to discuss the merits of the issue in the Budget debate. I should have thought that that was a fair comment.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Although there is to be a short debate on the coal industry later today, will the Leader of the House give a guarantee, in view of the growing crisis in the industry, that there will be a statement next week, bearing in mind the fact that there may well be a strike, and that about 18 weeks ago the chairman of the National Coal Board said that he was not bothered about the overtime ban lasting for decades because it would save the National Coal Board and the taxpayer money? As it has already cost the board and the taxpayer £240 million, should not the Leader of the House make sure that the chairman of the NCB—[Interruption]—not the Liberals, who are heckling again; they are fast becoming the hooligans of this House—is put in his proper place for not making the proper fiscal arrangements?

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry about the hon. Gentleman's difficulties with the Liberals, but he has got himself into this scrape ever since he was so unwise as to go through a Social Democratic Lobby.

Mr. Skinner

What about the right hon. Gentleman being in the Labour Lobby in the Common Market debates?

Mr. Biffen

I think I was keeping better company then than the hon. Gentleman is keeping now. By way of consolation, may I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall be in close touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to see whether a statement should be made to the House, depending on the progress of the present difficulties in the coal industry.