HC Deb 17 May 1984 vol 60 cc507-15 3.30 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 21 MAY — Until seven o'clock, private Members' motions. Afterwards, Third Reading of the Ordnance Factories and Military Services Bill.

Motion relating to the Social Security (Adjudications) Regulations.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Amendment Bill.

TUESDAY 22 MAY—Completion of consideration in Committee on the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 23 MAY—Opposition Day (14th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion on the Government's decision to bring American cruise missiles to the United Kingdom.

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

Second Reading of the Mental Health (Scotland) Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

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

THURSDAY 24 MAY—Completion of remaining stages of the Local Government (Interim Provisions) Bill.

FRIDAY 25 MAY—It is being proposed that the House should rise for the spring Adjournment until Monday 4 June.

Fisheries Debate on 23 May


  1. a. Total Allowable Catches for 1984—Document No. 11209/83 and Document No. 11209/83 Amendment 1
  2. b. North Sea Herring: Norway — Document No. 4969/84
  3. c. Total Allowable Catches for 1984: Amendment—Document No. 5390/84
  4. d. North Sea Herring: interim—
  5. e. Fishery Conservation, technical measures—

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee

  1. a. HC 78-xii (1983–84) para. 4
  2. b. HC 78-xvi (1983–84) para. 4
  3. c. HC 78-xx (1983–84) para. 5
  4. d. HC 78-xii (1983–84) para. 5
  5. e. HC 78-xxvi (1983–84) para. 1

Mr. Kinnock

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for responding to my request of last week and providing some Opposition time next week. In view of the proposed abolition of the GLC and metropolitan county councils, will he ensure that Government time is made available for a debate on the consequences for the arts of that destructive series of proposals since the matter is causing deep anxiety among consumers and providers of the performing arts?

The Leader of the House will, I am sure, agree that there should be a debate on the White Paper on the European Community well before the European elections on 14 June, and I wonder whether he will give me an undertaking about such a debate. Further, will it be possible for the House to adjourn for at least one day on the day of the European elections?

Finally, will it be possible to debate the report of the New Ireland Forum? I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that the Government should provide time for the House to discuss this initiative and the opportunities that it might offer. I have raised this matter previously, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can go a little further today than he did before.

Mr. Biffen

I agree at once that next week's business is well balanced in that on Wednesday there will be a debate on a subject chosen by the Opposition. I accept that there is great interest in the arts and, more generally, in our heritage, and I hope that it will be possible to arrange a debate upon that subject in the near future.

As to the point about the House having the chance to debate the European Community White Paper before 14 June, again I acknowledge the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes, which I think would be echoed in many parts of the House. Perhaps this is something we could consider through the usual channels.

I note the suggestion that we might adjourn for the day on 14 June. I must confess that at the moment I have no plan to interrupt the smooth and productive flow of the work of Parliament during the week beginning 11 June, and I think that it must remain my settled view.

Finally, I do not in any sense diminish my respect for the view that there should be a debate on the New Ireland Forum, but the timing of it is a matter for consideration and I cannot go any further this week than I could last week. However, I have taken note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

While the report of the New Ireland Forum might well be referred to in a future debate on Northern Ireland which many of us want, would it not be more relevant to the business of the United Kingdom to have an early debate on the document of the Ulster Unionist Assembly party, "The Way Forward", which indeed reveals the way forward for Northern Ireland?

Mr. Biffen

That point was put to me two or three weeks ago. I then replied that I thought generously in terms of that document, and I remain of that view.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Is it not extraordinary that once again we should be going on holiday without having had a debate on the miners' dispute? In view of the fact that the Opposition, who control totally the opportunities for debate, have not seen fit to allow a debate, will the Leader of the House give a promise to those of us, on both sides of the House I think, who feel that there should be a debate that he will initiate a debate in Government time immediately after the holiday if the Leader of the Opposition has not plucked up enough courage to have a debate?

Mr. Biffen

No provision has been made for a debate in Government time on the current industrial dispute in the coal industry. I cannot guarantee that such a debate will be forthcoming in Government time immediately after we return. This is always a matter that is kept under consideration, both in respect of debate and statements. That is how the matter must continue.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the allocation of Opposition days. All I can say is that I am bound by Standing Order No. 6, which is relevant in these matters, and that both the Liberal party and the Ulster Unionists have had advantage of the conventions that flow from that.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Has my right hon. Friend had time to notice that an official rugby team has now arrived in South Africa to play against South Africa, a gesture which I warmly welcome? Is he aware that the Soviet Union and her eastern European satellites have decided to boycott the meretricious Olympic games? In these circumstances, would it not be useful, if not next week certainly in the near future, to have a debate about the relevance of international sport?

Mr. Biffen


Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Can the Leader of the House tell us when we will have the report stage of the Co-operative Development Agency and Industrial Development Bill? Will he try to make it the earliest possible date?

Mr. Biffen

Yes. I cannot promise when it will take place, but I take account of the point represented to me by the right hon. Gentleman.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

I was rather puzzled that the Leader of the Opposition did not propose that there should be a debate on the coal mining dispute? Will my right hon. Friend and the Leader of the Opposition consider having such a debate on 14 June when the Euro elections are taking place?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says. I do not think he is expecting an answer.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 81 on the subject of acid rain?

[That this House notes with great concern recent studies: (a) by the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology which shows that rainfall in Scotland is commonly 30 times the normal acidic level and in some cases much more than this and (b) by the United Kingdom Review Group on Acid Rain which, in its preliminary Report identified the areas in the United Kingdom which receive the largest inputs of acidity as the West Central Highlands of Scotland, the Southern Uplands of Scotland and parts of Cumbria and which pointed out that in these areas the amount of acid deposited was of the same order as in regions of Scandinavia; further notes that tens of thousands of Scandinavian inland water masses are now 'dead' because of acid rain and that one million hectares of forest in Central Europe are badly affected by acid deposition; observes with disbelief that, in the face of this evidence, the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States of America were satisfied that the recent Stockholm conference on the Acidification of the Environment ended without adopting specific goals for the reduction of sulphur emissions; is fully aware that, with thin top soils and extensive forestry, most of Scotland is in grave danger of becoming the next casualty of acid rain disaster; and calls on her Majesty's Government to take the most urgent steps to reduce the emission of sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides into the atmosphere by: (i) energy conservation measures and (ii) the use of already available technology to control and clean emission and to give increased research funding for the continued study and monitoring of the acid rain problem.]

In view of the interest in this subject and recent research on it, will he be prepared to consider having a debate after the recess on the pollution of the atmosphere?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot hold out great hopes for such a debate in Government time. I recommend that the right hon. Gentleman tries his chance for one of the spring Adjournment debates on Friday 25 May.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Following the answer given to me earlier by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minster, and in view of the grave incident in the Gulf war yesterday, can my right hon. Friend confirm that if there are any developments to report next week to the House about initiatives taken by the Government in the Security Council my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will make a statement to the House?

Mr. Biffen

I am most happy to give that assurance.

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

While everyone is rightly focusing on the miners' dispute, is the Leader of the House aware that a most important report about mining districts — the Waddilove report on subsidence damage—is being pubished today? As that affects many families in areas where there is mining damage, will the right hon. Gentleman find time to debate that important subject in the near future?

Mr. Biffen

I readily accept that the report covers an important subject. However as the right hon. Gentleman said, it is being published only today. We need time to consider and reflect on it. We must wait for that process to be completed before commenting further on the likelihood of a debate.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

My right hon. Friend has now been asked many times about the procedure necessary before any extra payment can be made to the EC. What authority is required from the House if an extra loan is made to the EC by the Government?

Mr. Biffen

I imagine that in the first instance the matter would be embodied in a Community document, which would go before the Scrutiny Committee, which would then make recommendations.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

As there is to be an important economic summit in London on 8 and 9 June, dealing with interest rates and the proposed lifeboat for Third world debt, can the Leader of the House offer an early date for a debate on the consequences of the summit?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot do that. Judging by what has happened at most such summits, I am not sure that it would be worthy of a debate.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 752.

[That this House deplores the instruction to Mr. Colin Kempster of Perivale and other ASLEF members by that union's executive that they pay 50 pence per week for four weeks towards the miners' strike in default of which they will automatically lose all union rights and entitlements; deplores the total lack of consultation with ASLEF members over this decision; and notes that British Rail employees who are ASLEF members could lose their jobs if they elect to ignore this instruction thereby refusing to submit to political blackmail.] It refers to the case of my constituent Mr. Colin Kempster of Perivale, an ASLEF member and a relief train driver. What he regards as a fine has been imposed on him for the past four weeks. Without any say in the matter, he has been obliged to make a contribution to the miners' strike. He is refusing to do that as he regards the strike as undemocratic. He also feels that being ordered by a small group of men to pay the levy is equally undemocratic.

As my constituent could lose his job, and as he will also lose the legal representation guaranteed by his union—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not rehearse the speech that he might make if a debate were granted.

Mr. Greenway

In view of the threat to the livelihood and job of my constituent, will my right hon. Friend allow time for an early debate on the matter, which comes well within the context of the miners' dispute?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a constituency point that has a much wider significance. I congratulate him on the use he has made of parliamentary opportunities to inform us of the main characteristics of the matter, ahead of any success that he may have in the ballot for Adjournment debates.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

Despite the hint from the Leader of the House during business questions last week, there have been no statements about the position at Ravenscraig. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) for a debate on the mining dispute and the position at Ravenscraig? Despite assurances, is not the position at Ravenscraig still in doubt? By the time that we return from the recess, it may be too late to discuss the matter.

Mr. Biffen

I promise to continue the promise that I made last week.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Has my right hon. Friend noted the large increase in the number of visitors to the Palace of Westminster this year? Does he realise that taking a party around the Palace—which I am sure, with his sense of history, he has often enjoyed doing—is now becoming a burden? Will he consider reducing the numbers by, for example, not allowing young children to come to the Palace? Will he do something to ensure that when people come to the Palace they do not chew gum and leave it lying around afterwards?

Mr. Biffen

Taking parties around the Palace of Westminster is a pleasure which, for some reason or other, has always eluded me. I am certain that my hon. Friend is right to say that increasing use is being made of the facilities to take round parties and this is giving rise to some difficulties. I shall look into the matter.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the Prime Minister said on Tuesday that she would possibly be making a decision on the nurses' pay claim after the recess? In view of the fact that by that time it will be three months overdue, may I ask him, in drawing up his programme for the following fortnight, to ensure that at least this House has the opportunity of doing justice to the nurses?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw that point to the attention of the Prime Minister.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

The miners' strike has been front page news for 10 weeks. Will my right hon. Friend bear that in mind when recalling the remark of a great former parliamentarian that this House is the sounding board of the nation? Does he not think that it should be so in this instance?

Mr. Biffen

I pay proper regard to the point that my hon. Friend makes. In the consideration of this dispute, either in terms of debates or statements, the most serious attention will, of course, be given by the Government to the point at which it is appropriate to consult the House.

Dr. Owen


Mr. Biffen

It is all very well for the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) to shout "Disgraceful," but he should not try to rubbish me as though I were a member of the Liberal party.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that at Question Time last Thursday the Prime Minister failed to respond to an allegation that one of the seven guns found after the siege at the Libyan people's bureau had been used to murder a Libyan in this country some time ago? Is he aware that within minutes of Question Time Home Office officials were privately confirming the allegation as being true? In those circumstances, has any further consideration been given by the Government to establishing a full independent inquiry into the activities of Libyan diplomats in Britain in recent years, the events which led up to the siege and the activities of other diplomats in London?

Mr. Biffen

No, but I shall draw to the attention of the Home Secretary the allegation concerning his officials.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the GLC has apparently changed its mind over £300,000 originally earmarked for expenditure on concessionary fares to the elderly and now plans to spend it on political propaganda attacking the London Regional Transport Bill? In view of this disgraceful situation, may I ask my right hon. Friend to consider providing Government time to expedite the excellent Bill introduced into the House yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold)?

Mr. Biffen

Without in any sense disparaging that admirable Bill or the points just made by my hon. Friend, it would be a dubious precedent if the Government were now to provide facilities for private legislation.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Has the Leader of the House got round to reading the latest biography of his leader by Bruce Arnold? What action do the Government intend to take, perhaps in a statement next week, about the comment on page 72 that "Margaret Thatcher told" an unparliamentary word? As Hamish Hamilton Ltd. has expert libel lawyers and is a reputable London publishing house, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to agree that we should have a statement making it clear, one way or the other, whether she did tell an unparliamentary word, as stated on page 72, in relation to the Belgrano?

Mr. Biffen

I hope that I am not contravening the fourth amendment or doing myself undue harm when I say that I have never read a biography of my leader.

[Interruption.] I have just found it more congenial to proceed that way. I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's request to the appropriate quarters.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

In view of the critical importance to both the United Kingdom and the EEC of the negotiations to enlarge the Community, will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that the House will have an early opportunity to guide the Government in their attitude in these negotiations, and that at the very least the massively enlarged treaty will be brought before the House before it is ratified by the Government?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that I can confirm my hon. Friend's latter request. As to his request for a debate that would enable the House to take a view on the prospects of enlargement, I should have thought that if we were able to have the debate asked for by the Leader of the Opposition its terms would be such that we could cover the subject.

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

Now that the Select Committee on Members' Interests is examining the question of lobbying, may we have a debate in Government time on the last two reports of that Committee?

Mr. Biffen

I must confess that no provision has been made for that next week, and I cannot think that there will be much time available in the crowded and busy programme that there is between the time when Parliament resumes and the summer recess. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman may wish to give us a prelude of this debate on the subject by himself seeking to initiate one through the Adjournment process.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

In view of the revelations about the foreknowledge of UNITA's activities in Angola and the subsequent taking of British hostages, is it not incumbent on the Government to make another statement on this matter?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot speculate on the newspaper article that I think has inspired the hon. Gentleman's question, but I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary the point that he makes.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Now that we are in the third month of the miners' strike and over 2,500 miners have been arrested, will the Leader of the House authorise a debate in Government time to justify MacGregor attempting to get rid of 100,000 jobs and the Warwickshire police spending £100,000 a day, which is more than enough to safeguard jobs and give decent wages to miners in Warwickshire? Why do not the Government provide parliamentary time to justify their actions?

Mr. Biffen

The Government view these matters with a proper sense of balance. As I have already said, there is no provision in Government time for such a debate next week, but I must point out that the Government are not the sole providers of time on this topic, and if the position were as scandalous as the hon. Gentleman is suggesting there would be a queue to use every other facility.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) initiated an important Adjournment debate the other night on the disastrous impact of the milk quotas on the agriculture industry. I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food gave an undertaking to ensure that there was a debate on this important matter. He said: we shall come back to the subject—at a more reasonable hour".—[Official Report, 15 May 1984; Vol. 60, c. 337.] When might that be?

Mr. Biffen

Strictures on the milk quota arrangements come ill from a party that is committed to diminishing the use of the national veto in the European Community.

Mr. Ashdown

I asked about a debate.

Mr. Biffen

Yes, I know, but I wanted to make that point.

I am sure that what my hon. Friend had in mind about a debate was the statutory instruments that would proceed from section 2 of the European Communities Act which will give authority to the arrangements for the milk quotas, and they will come before the House in the fairly near future.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

If the Leader of the House is insisting that there will not be a debate on the coal miners, will he guarantee that when I put down today a motion calling for a debate on the mining industry he will reconsider that decision, as the motion will have the names of a number of Labour Members of Parliament? If the right hon. Gentleman still insists that he cannot find time, will he make sure that the Minister for Social Security is brought to the Dispatch Box to explain why he has brought out the new guidelines when the miners are on strike with the result that kids in miners' families are starving while the Government can find £500 a week to pay a policeman and can spend £1.5 million of taxpayers' money to allow the Prime Minister to go gallivanting round the world since she took the job and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That has nothing to do with next week's business.

Mr. Skinner

The Government should show some compassion to those miners' families instead of being vindictive and vicious as they have been in bringing out the new Department of Health and Social Security rules and regulations.

Mr. Biffen

The persuasive powers of the hon. Gentleman having been unsuccessful with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Labour party, he now hopes to do rather better with 'me. I have bad news for him. I am just as defective as his leader. The Government will give constant consideration to when it may be appropriate to have a debate on the matter. However, Government time is not the sole available avenue for those who wish to have these matters debated, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. He must not take out on me the anger that he entertains towards his own Front. Bench.

Mr. Mark Hughes (City of Durham)

Will the Leader of the House be clear that he has not misled the House and that there will be an opportunity to debate the details of the dairy regulations which may well be directly applicable? Will he assure the House that we shall have that opportunity, whatever happens?

Mr. Biffen

I shall most certainly consider the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. I do not wish to mislead the House into thinking that there would be a debate on the quota system if there were not an opportunity for one. I am fairly confident on the matter, but I shall consider it. If I have unintentionally misled the House I shall come back and say so.