HC Deb 03 May 1984 vol 59 cc539-44 3.30 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

Will the Leader of the House state the business of the House for next week?

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Biffen)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

TUESDAY 8 May—Second Reading of The Cable and Broadcasting Bill (Lords).

Motion on European Community documents on the European regional development fund. The relevant numbers will appear in the Official Report.

WEDNESDAY 9 MAY—Progress in Committee on the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill.

Motions on the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order and on the Fines and Penalties (Northern Ireland) Order.

THURSDAY Io MAY—Further progress in Committee on the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill.

Motions relating to the Supplementary Benefit (Conditions of Entitlement) Regulations and the Supplementary Benefit (Single Payments) Regulations.

FRIDAY 11 MAY—There will be a debate on policing in the Metropolis, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 14 MAY—Progress on remaining stages of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill.

[European Community Documents and relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee, debate on Tuesday 8 May.

European Regional Development Fund

The following documents are relevant: a. 8833/81 New regional policy guidelines

b. 12104/82 Special report of the Court of Auditors on job-creation in the granting of aid to regional investments

c. 11232/82 Second series of specific Community regional development measures

d. 9449/83 Aid from the ERDF for infrastructure projects

e. 9361/83 Eighth Report on the activity of the ERDF in 1982

f. 9938/83 Amendments to draft Regulations concerning measures under Article 13 of the ERDF Regulation

g. 10705/83 Amendment to Regulation establishing ERDF

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee

a. HC 32-xxxiv (1980–81) para. 2

b. HC 34-xii (1982–83) para. 1

*c. HC 34-viii (1982–83) para. 1

d. HC 78-iv (1983–84) para. 2

e. HC 78-v (1983–84) para. 7

*f. HC 78-viii (1983–84) para. 7

g. HC 78-xi (1983–84) para. 5.]

Mr. Kinnock

Can I notify the right hon. Gentleman that on Tuesday we shall want a three-hour debate on the European regional development fund? I hope that he can allow time for that business. Does he agree that it is ironic that on the day when millions of people will vote in local elections, he announces that next Wednesday and Thursday the House will debate a paving Bill, which will result in the removal of voting rights from 30 million people in the GLC area and metropolitan counties? I and many other hon. Members, including Conservative Members, should like the Government to remove the business. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot do that, can he arrange to split the business so that we debate the issue on two separate days, with an intervening period, not only for purposes of rest and recuperation, but also reflection on the business undertaken on the first day?

In the light of the publication of the new Ireland forum report, we should like a full day's debate in Government time as soon as possible. The report represents a unique initiative in recent Irish history and deserves the thorough attention of the House, as the right hon. Gentleman will agree.

In view of the fact that British Airways announced a post-tax profit of £181 million, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate in Government time about the future of British Airways so that before the Government take the irrevocable step of privatising British Airways, we have time to pause and reconsider the acceptability of the denationalisation of this major asset of British taxpayers?

Mr. Biffen

Perhaps I could reply to the right hon. Gentleman's points in the order in which they were presented. First, I am happy to confirm that on Tuesday provision has been made for a three-hour debate on the motion of the European regional development fund.

I have also noted the right hon. Gentleman's wish that the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill should be so structured as to provide orderly and expeditious progress. If that can be secured through the usual channels, I would join him in a sense of relief and satisfaction.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he wishes to have a debate in Government time on the measured and significant report of the new Ireland forum, which I am sure will be of great interest to the House. He also wished to have a debate on the remarkable success story of British Airways, as revealed by its latest accounts. I cannot guarantee that Government time will be available in the near future for such debates, but we can consider the matter through the usual channels.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

My right hon. Friend will remember that I wrote to him some time ago informing him that I had asked the Secretary of State for Defence to make arrangements for colleagues to attend the D-day ceremonies in Normandy next month. I confidently expect a favourable reply from the Ministry, but I should be most glad to have my right hon. Friend's support so that we know the arrangements in good time.

Mr. Biffen

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point, and I shall do all I can to facilitate an answer.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Given the widespread sentiment in the House that there should be an independent inquiry into the circumstances associated with the killing — [Interruption.] Given the widespread sentiment associated with the killing of WPC Fletcher, and given the impossibility of anyone putting down a motion for a vote in the House other than the Government or the Leader of the Opposition, will the Leader of the House, in acknowledgement of his responsibility to all hon. Members allow a motion for the establishment of a small all-party committee of Privy Councillors to consider this matter?

Mr. Biffen

No, I cannot helpfully add to the contents of the letter which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wrote to the right hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Owen

But the right hon. Gentleman is the Leader of the House.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Further to the Leader of the Opposition's request for a debate on the future of British Airways, would my right hon. Friend welcome that and could we debate it in the exact terms of the right hon. Gentleman's request, which were that the House would welcome—although he did not say that—the irrevocable decision to privatise British Airways?

Mr. Biffen

If the Leader of the Opposition so happily phrased his words that they have that compulsive attraction to my hon. Friend, that must make this matter an obvious subject for an Opposition Day debate.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Is the Leader of the House aware that this morning the police arrested and detained Afia Begum and her daughter Asma, whose case I raised in the House on 7 March? In view of that, will he bring before the House without delay my Entry Clearance (Change of Circumstances) Bill, which relates to this case? Will he also make representations to the Home Secretary not to deport Afia and Asma until the House has considered the Bill and the European Court of Human Rights has heard this case? In the interim, will he make representations for Afia and Asma to be released immediately?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Give them the Zola Budd treatment.

Mr. Biffen

I cannot offer the facilities for the hon. Gentleman's private legislation, but I shall of course draw the points that he has made to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Now that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has returned from his visit to Hong Kong, could time be found to debate the future of Hong Kong?

Mr. Biffen

I very much hope that there will be a debate in the week beginning 14 May.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

In the light of that answer about a debate on Hong Kong, can the Leader of the House recommend that the same conditions of independence for Hong Kong will be accorded to the Falkland Islands?

Mr. Biffen

That relates to the content of the debate. I am mainly concerned with its timing.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

In view of the appallingly worsening position in Afghanistan, which not only has the largest refugee problem in the world but where more Afghans have been killed than the number of British casualties in the second world war, and since it is clear that the well-meant attempts of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to bring about a settlement have, unfortunately, failed completely, if we cannot have a debate on what is easily the biggest tragedy in the world at present, could we have a statement soon from my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary about the policies that he will advocate in view of the failure of the United Nations to resolve this matter?

Mr. Biffen

I accept at once the importance of the topic raised by my hon. Friend and I shall certainly ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is made aware of his anxiety that a statement should be made.

Mr. Skinner

Does the Leader of the House not think that it is high time we had a debate on the mining industry in view of the fact that since the dispute began there has been only one debate—under Standing Order No. 10? Does he not think that we should have a full-scale debate so that we can draw attention to the fact that in the think tank report it is disclosed that £1.3 billion is being disposed of by the Department of Trade and Industry, and that every farmer receives £20,000 out of the CAP and £7,000 subsidy per employee? If miners got the same treatment, there would not be a single uneconomic pit in Britain.

Mr. Biffen

I shall resist the temptation to try to answer the content of the question. In regard to timing, I cannot offer the prospect of a debate on the mining industry next week, but this matter will be kept under constant review.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

If my right hon. Friend is disposed to give the House an opportunity to discuss the report of the new Ireland forum, will he ensure that the debate covers the more valuable reports on constitutional reform in Northern Ireland issued by the Unionist parties of Northern Ireland—who are, after all, British citizens?

Mr. Biffen

I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to those reports. We are some way away from any debate and as we approach that point no doubt we can think more productively about the terms of the debate.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

Although we support the request for a debate on the report of the new Ireland forum, and also the recent proposals of the Unionists for devolution in Northern Ireland and the EC report, which is a very good one, it would be a good idea if these matters were debated in the House in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said. In particular, I note that he places the Unionist party report alongside that of the new Ireland forum.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern at the regrettable action being taken by teachers? In the event of the examinations faced by many pupils being disrupted, will my right hon. Friend consider giving parliamentary time for a discussion of this serious and grave action?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what my hon. Friend says. As he will realise, we are moving into a rather congested period of the year for parliamentary business, but I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science so that he may take account of them and keep the house informed as he thinks appropriate.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that Labour's attempt last night to amend the Finance (No. 2) Bill to increase the rate of supplementary benefit paid to the long-term unemployed was defeated heartlessly by the Government? In so far as it is clear that the Government do not understand what poverty and need are about, can we have a debate in Government time on the single and important subject of poverty?

Mr. Biffen

We had a debate last night and clearly there were not enough Members—

Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend was there.

Mr. Biffen

What about the missing millions? This subject will doubtless be a continuing part of the economic debate which divides the House and on which so far the hon. Gentleman has been unable to convince the nation.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

In connection with the paving legislation, the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill, to be debated next week, will my right hon. Friend accept that those of us on these Benches who endorse the legislation and who have not been taken in by Socialist propaganda on the subject feel that it is time my right hon. Friend introduced legislation to prevent authorities from wasting ratepayers' money on political purposes?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says and I will ensure that his views are conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that confidence in the dairy industry is at a very low ebb? In view of the present proposals and the anxiety felt within the industry, is the right hon. Gentleman willing to let us have a debate on the Floor of the House so that the dairy producers can know exactly where they go from here?

Mr. Biffen

No provision has been made in the business that I have announced, but I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to the points raised by the hon. Member.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

May I reinforce the plea of the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells)? My right hon. Friend was present for recent exchanges and heard the concern expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the impact on small farmers. May we please have a debate so that we can consider measures to soften that impact?

Mr. Biffen

Again, I note what my hon. Friend says, and I ask him to accept the broad answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells).

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week for a debate on the performance of the Home Office in dealing with immigration and nationality matters and applications for British nationality? It seems that there is a discrepancy between granting Zola Budd's application in next to no time and deporting Afia Begum for no reason other than the fact that her husband tragically died in a fire. Will the right hon. Gentleman make representations to the Home Secretary to ensure that Afia Begum and her daughter are immediately released from Harmondsworth detention centre, are given the same treatment as Zola Budd and are allowed to remain here permanently?

Mr. Biffen

The case of Afia Begum was raised with me by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). My answer to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr Corbyn) is in the same terms as my answer to the hon. Member for Leyton.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

As the exports of highly subsidised food and wine to the Soviet Union have further increased to the staggering level of over 100,000 tonnes a week and are clearly providing a major boost to the Soviet economy, does not my right hon. Friend believe that we should discuss that enormous expenditure instead of talking about some of the rather nebulous EEC issues that we have to consider late at night?

Mr. Biffen

Yes. I do not want to guide any discussion on the European regional development fund, but it seems to me that the parts of the Community that are covered by that fund involve a great deal of agricultural output.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

If there is a continuing threat to coal supplies for the steel mill at Ravenscraig and the Leader of the House cannot find time for a debate next week, will he at least give us an assurance that a Minister will come to the Dispatch Box and explain the situation, so that we may have a chance to comment on the dire circumstances that are arising at Ravenscraig?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious point. All comments should be measured to produce a reasonable outcome to the dispute rather than to exacerbate it, but I will refer his anxieties to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Doubtless he will take the hon. Gentleman's comments into account.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Has my right hon. Friend noted the growing number of hon. Members who have signed the early-day motion on tendering by local government? Will he give the House the opportunity of an early debate on that important subject?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the number of signatures demonstrates both the importance of the topic and the strong sense of commitment to it on the Conservative Benches. I do not think that I can go further than that today.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Bearing in mind the Government's welcome announcement today of measures to combat glue sniffing and to prosecute those who push glue to would-be sniffers, and following my Bill on this important matter, will my right hon. Friend assure us that the legislation will be introduced at an early date, because there is an epidemic of glue sniffing in this country?

Mr. Biffen

I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety and the importance of the topic. I am not sure that I can be forthcoming about the speed with which the legislation will be brought forward, but I will look at the matter.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

Will my right hon. Friend give the House an early opportunity of discussing the recent Select Committee report on children in care? Many hon. Members in all parts of the House have signed an early-day motion, making it clear that they feel that our child care law is close to a national disgrace.

Mr. Biffen

I shall consider that point and get in touch with my hon. Friend.