HC Deb 15 November 1984 vol 67 cc797-807 3.32 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 19 NOVEMBER—Second reading of the Films Bill. Motions on the Gas Catalytic Heaters Regulations and on the Legal Aid and Advice Orders for England and Wales, and for Scotland.

TUESDAY 20 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the New Towns and Urban Development Corporation Bill. Remaining stages of the Elections (Northern Ireland) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 21 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill. Motions on the Social Security Orders on contributions, re-rating and Treasury supplement.

THURSDAY 22 NOVEMBER — Opposition day (2nd Allotted Day). There will be a debate on public expenditure on overseas aid, on a motion in the name of the leader of the Liberal party. Remaining stages of the Friendly Societies Bill.

FRIDAY 23 NOVEMBER—A debate on the report of the Warnock committee on human fertilisation and embryology, Cmnd. 9314, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 26 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Social Security Bill.

Mr. Kinnock

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. I remind him of his reply to me last week, in which he assured me and the House that the debates on Monday and Tuesday of this week on the Queen's Speech would not supersede the usual full day's debate on the Chancellor's autumn statement. Can he confirm not only that we shall have that debate, but that we shall have it before the end of the month, as I asked last week? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that we shall have, in Government time — this is a Government responsibility—a debate on "The Rate Limitation Report 1984", a copy of which was laid before the House as long ago as last July?

Mr. Biffen

I am happy to confirm the intention to have a debate upon the autumn statement. I note the right hon. Gentleman's preferred timing and I am sympathetic to his request, but perhaps we should consider this further through the usual channels.

I note also the right hon. Gentleman's concern that there should be a debate on the rate limitation report. This can be seen in the context of the rate support grant, but we can talk about timing through the usual channels.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

Can my right hon. Friend explain the indecent haste for the Civil Aviation Bill? It was printed on Friday, and apparently it is to have its Second Reading next Wednesday. Can he explain to some of us who are rather suspicious about the motives of the Bill why it is being pushed through in this rushed way? Many of us feel that it will be a boost for Stansted and against the provincial airports. If it is true that the report on Stansted is to be announced on Thursday, why are we having the Second Reading debate on the Bill on Wednesday?

Mr. Biffen

I am anxious to assure my hon. Friend that the Civil Aviation Bill stands in its own right and is quite unconnected with the wider issue of Stansted, which will be the subject of an inspector's report and a Government comment on that which in due course will be considered by the House. I hope that when the time comes for Wednesday's Second Reading debate my hon. Friend will have a chance to take part and have his fears assuaged.

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

On next Thursday's business, will the Leader of the House ensure that the Foreign Secretary gives a precise and unambiguous statement of the implications of the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for overseas aid and other related aspects of the Foreign Office budget? Will any statement be informed by some further Cabinet discussion before then?

Mr. Biffen

All Foreign Office statements are precise and unambiguous, and I have no doubt that next Thursday will provide no exception to that rule. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, I shall make certain that his remarks are referred to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is widespread concern in all parts of the House about the decision to discuss the Warnock report on a Friday, when most right hon. and hon. Members are performing their duties in their constituencies? Will he consider rearranging the date for this debate, which is a very important one for all right hon. and hon. Members?

Mr. Biffen

It will be a sad day for Parliament when Fridays are so devalued that this kind of topic cannot be debated on a Friday. If it is of the importance that my hon. Friend suggests—and I believe that it is—right hon. and hon. Members will make it their duty to be here.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

Will the Leader of the House take note that in respect of Tuesday's proposed business there are a great many detailed and difficult matters to be considered during the Committee stage of the Bill and that it will also be necessary to have a Third Reading debate, even if the Government have not seen fit to make amendments to the Bill in Committee?

Mr. Biffen

I shall bear in mind those ominous words. If we cannot make the necessary progress, we shall have to consider additional time.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

In my right hon. Friend's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery), he said that there was no connection between the Stansted report and the Civil Aviation Bill. Will he explain, therefore, why he is proceeding with such indecent haste? In July, the Civil Aviation Authority produced a 68-page report on civil aviation. The Government responded to that on 5 October with their White Paper. There has been no debate on the White Paper. Within three days of the opening of Parliament, the Civil Aviation Bill had its First Reading, and seven days later it is to have its Second Reading. What is my right hon. Friend up to?

Mr. Biffen

To the rather tedious business of announcing next week's business, which is of an unexceptional character, and of having a Bill presented which has observed all the normal courtesies related to its timing, and to try to persuade my hon. Friend that there is nothing sinister about it. It provides an opportunity for a reasonable and constructive debate on Wednesday, which I hope will be the case.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his reply to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie)? It is not a matter of debasing debates on Fridays. The difficulty is that many of us have already taken on commitments for that day. If such an important debate was of concern to the Government, it would not be arranged for a Friday. Will the right hon. Gentleman think again?

Mr. Biffen

We all know from personal experience that politics is a balancing of priorities. It is an important occasion, of course, and it is on a Friday. If it is that important to right hon. and hon. Members, I believe that they can be here for it.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is unlikely to be a subject of greater importance to future generations that will be debated in the House than the Warnock report? We are grateful to him for the speed with which he has arranged a debate, and there is a strong case for an early debate, but, if many hon. Members make sacrifices and stay here on Friday, will my right hon. Friend ensure that time will be given to us to speak on that day?

Mr. Biffen

I certainly note my hon. Friend's request, which is rather different from the previous request on this matter, and I shall leave it there.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to early-day motion 94, which has been signed by no fewer than 118 right hon. and hon. Members, about the Dreadnought Seamen's hospital in my constituency?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government not to renege on the undertaking given on 10th June 1981 by the then Minister of Health that the future of the Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital in Greenwich is secure; notes the fact that the Report by Price Waterhouse this year concluded that no evidence had been produced to suggest that there would be any financial savings if the facility for seamen were to be moved to St. Thomas's Hospital; accepts that many redundancies would result from the suggested move and the traditions and special skills of the hospital staff would be lost; and accordingly calls on the Secretary of State to terminate procedures to close the hospital.]

In case he believes that that is merely a little local difficulty, may I point out that it is both a national and an international institution? In view of that, does he believe that time should be made available to debate this important matter in the House?

Mr. Biffen

I immediately acknowledge the importance that the hon. Gentleman adjudicates to the early-day motion and I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to the point that he makes.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye)

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that when the Stansted report is published it will be debated in the House and that a decision whether to proceed on its recommendations will be taken by a vote?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises much wider issues than next week's business. I am sensitive to the representations being made on that topic and perhaps on this occasion I shall leave it at that.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

In view of the plight of the research councils, and the moratorium on the Government's information technology programme and its bearing on Britain's industrial future, will the right hon. Gentleman find an early opportunity for a debate on scientific research in Britain?

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry that I cannot offer that prospect, but I realise the importance of the topic and I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's point is referred to those of my right hon. and hon. Friends to whom it is relevant.

Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)

Would it not be a good idea to advance the debate on the Warnock report to Wednesday in order to kill two birds with one stone? Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is somewhat naive for him to say that the Civil Aviation Bill debate is unrelated to the Stansted matter? With the best will in the world, our suspicions are bound to be aroused. Why cannot he postpone the Civil Aviation Bill?

Mr. Biffen

The timing of the debate on Wednesday is appropriate. If I were to change it with Friday's debate on the Warnock report, I certainly would be in the hottest of hot water. I cannot now argue the merits of the legislation. That is what Wednesday's debate will be about. However, I assure my hon. Friend that the legislation stands apart from the substantive decisions that will be taken on Stansted.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

In view of the uncertainty that is felt in Wales, and probably elsewhere, about industrial investment by those contemplating investing in industry, will the Leader of the House give time for a statement next week to clarify the Government's intentions on regional policy?

Mr. Biffen

I have announced next week's business and it does not cover the topic referred to by the hon. Gentleman, but I am conscious of the significance, particularly in his part of Wales, of this issue. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Trade and Industry to the point that he makes.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Does my right hon. Friend realise that most of us expect that the Foreign Secretary will be able to give an unequivocal assurance next week that there will be no candle-end economies to mar our record on overseas aid or to interfere with the activities of either the British Council or the overseas service of the BBC? Will he accept that many of us believe that some of the money that seems to have been put aside for Stansted could be more profitably used in that way?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has kindly given me a trailer of the speech that he would make on Thursday should he be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. Just in case he is not, I shall make sure that his remarks are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Leader of the House accept that we are somewhat surprised at his naive belief that Foreign Office statements are accurate? Will he persuade a Foreign Office spokesman to come to the House and tell us exactly what the Government's attitude is towards the United Nations convention on the law of the sea? We seem to be lagging behind other nations and following on the trail of the United States. Time is short for us to get in line with other nations on that issue.

Mr. Biffen

I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's request to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there was a strong feeling throughout the House and the country this week about the announcement that the green pound was to be abolished? Many people felt that there was a psychological devaluation of our currency and that the elderly would be placed at a disadvantage with the new coins. Will my right hon. Friend please do the House the courtesy of giving some time for a debate on the matter, because we are talking about our pound note, which is very important to the nation?

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate that this topic excites a good deal of popular interest, but I suggest that it is an ideal subject for an Adjournment debate. I wish my hon. Friend well in the pursuit of that.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will there be an opportunity soon for a debate on the urgent need for reform of the way in which suspected shoplifters are arrested and charged, having regard to today's remarkable victory of Mrs. Maureen Steinberg, who was awarded £1,500 in the High Court for the way in which she was treated by an Oxford street store? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is particularly important at this time of the year that traders and honest shoppers should be warned about the risks?

Mr. Biffen

I genuinely admire the skill with which the hon. and learned Gentleman develops his case and the way that he evangelises, but I do not believe that I can reasonably hold out the prospect of a debate in Government time. However, I am certain that the hon. and learned Gentleman will enjoy himself just as much on an Adjournment debate.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

In spite of the remarks of some bishops and higher clergy at yesterday's meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government still remain opposed to the disestablishment of the Church of England and that the matter will not be discussed next week?

Mr. Biffen

Well, if they are opposed, they are not letting us know next week.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Will the Leader of the House make room in next week's business for the Secretary of State for Defence to tell about his intentions as regards the NATO meeting in Brussels on 3 December on follow-on force attack, a subject about which there has been considerable dissembling by the Government, but on which I have not had satisfactory answers to a series of questions? The defence correspondents tell us that it is the first substantial change in NATO policy for 20 years. Surely we should have a proper, full and frank discussion of the subject on the Floor of the House and in the Select Committee on Defence.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Lady has already made an eloquent contribution to the subject in an Adjournment debate. I cannot promise any helpful answer in respect of the business published for next week, but I will draw her arguments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

Bearing in mind that my right hon. Friend has ably represented a beautiful but distant part of the United Kingdom in north Shropshire for more than 23 years, will he accept from colleagues who represent constituencies that are a good way from the House that having a debate on a subject as important as the Warnock report on a Friday is unacceptable and offensive to those who need Fridays to remain in contact with their constituencies, despite what London-based Members may say?

Mr. Biffen

The records will show that I have managed to eke out a political existence with Shropshire as a parliamentary base and attendance at the House on Fridays without obvious detriment to my existence. The House would have to consider seriously any circumstance that blocked off Fridays for merely less important or trivial business. It is simply not an option that is available to us if we want to make the most of the opportunities that this House provides.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

When will the Chancellor of the Exchequer be making a statement about the bailing out of the Johnson Matthey bank? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Chancellor initially said in letters sent to me that the amount of money required by the Bank of England would be very small? However, it has now emerged that the Bank of England—the taxpayers' bank — is committed to up to £75 million. Is not it ironic that this Government, who talk about letting lame ducks go to the wall and who have allowed manufacturing industry throughout the country to be smashed, should be prepared to bail out people as soon as they see their friends in trouble or their casino economy running into flak without even making a statement from the Dispatch Box? Is it not time that they were allowed to be questioned in the House?

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not found today's Treasury questions sufficiently to his liking, but his difficulties have been—

Mr. Skinner

The Chancellor did not reply.

Mr. Biffen

That is a hazard in this world. However convincing ministerial replies may be, they never altogether answer the incorrigible sceptics. However, I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the hon. Gentleman's discontent, just in case he has overlooked it.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if the Civil Aviation Bill does anything to control air traffic movements at Heathrow it will be greatly welcomed by my constituents, along with the fact that it is being debated next Wednesday?

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I do not want to be drawn into the controversy, because I have rather more than enough problems anyway. However, I am sure that it is helpful to have the debate earlier rather than later.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Should not there be an early and urgent debate on the very dangerous situation in central America, where American forces are clearly prepared to invade Nicaragua, to violate that country's independence and to destroy the social progress made? As the British Government have been the most slavish followers of Reaganite policies in central America, should not they be forced to debate in public why they consider it reasonable for the Americans to continue military aggression against the people of Nicaragua?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman deploys his case with fervour, but I am not sure to what extent it is reflected by Opposition Members. I realise that my answer is disappointing, but no provision has been made next week for such a debate, and I cannot see that a debate is likely to take place thereafter. However, it is certainly an appropriate subject for an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Wednesday is not a day too soon for the Second Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill and that many of us would have preferred the Second Reading to be on Monday so that we could bring nearer the day when the Government implement their clear and definite promise to limit the number of flights through Heathrow? As my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) has said, that implementation will be warmly welcomed by millions of people living on the west side of London.

Mr. Biffen

I wish to say nothing that will incite further the mild civil disorder that seems to have broken out behind me. I say only that I believe that next week's business is an admirably judged programme, given the wicked nature of this world.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

May I draw the right lion. Gentleman's attention to an early-day motion that was tabled last Session on the subject of loan sharks? Given how elusive Government Departments are about accepting responsibility for that despicable trade, in which about 600,000 per cent. has been charged to poor, mainly unemployed people living on council house estates, will he give the House the opportunity of debating the issue so that we can identify whose responsibility it is to deal with it?

Mr. Biffen

I can offer no prospect of an early debate, but I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry, as I think that the matter falls within that Department's responsibilities.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will my right hon. Friend show the respect and understanding that we know he has for the starving people of the Third world by ensuring that there will be a decent interval between Thursday's debate on foreign aid and the motion that the Government must bring forward shortly to provide an extra £200 million to cover the Common Market's wild overspending this year on creating and destroying food surpluses?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that that is the type of sentiment that always rests with me.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Remembering the fanfare of trumpets that followed the announcement at Brighton that the Conservative party had discovered a policy to deal with drug abuse and the absence of any mention of such a policy in the Queen's Speech, are we not entitled to a full statement in the House on the Government's policy?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw that suggestion to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend share a deep concern about the threat that drug abuse represents.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has been rumoured for some time that the Stansted report is sitting in the Department of Transport? Is he further aware that people in the north-west regard with the greatest suspicion the debate on the Civil Aviation Bill being held on Wednesday rather than a debate on the Stansted report, which is of enormous importance to the north-west's prosperity?

Mr. Biffen

If the report is sitting in the Department of Transport, it is great news to me. I simply do not believe it.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week to explain whether the Government stand by their figures in the summer months when they claimed that 60,000 miners were working in the coalfields? If the National Coal Board figures for the last few days are correct and 6,500 miners have gone back to work, 'why does the board now admit that only 57,000 miners are working? If we cannot have a statement, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for someone in the Government to take some maths lessons?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has an Adjournment debate on that topic on Monday. He will receive all his answers then and retire defeated from the field.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call all those hon. Members who have been standing.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend take note that Londoners are concerned about reports that the GLC is establishing a burial fund to continue to fight for its retention after its abolition? Since large sums of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money are involved, will he arrange for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to make an early statement to the House on this important matter?

Mr. Biffen

I understand my hon. Friend's anxieties. I shall certainly draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. My hon. Friend can rest reasonably assured that we shall have plenty of debating time in the weeks and months ahead.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Yesterday's debate was on further education, not higher education. Is it possible to have an early debate on the increase in parental contribution, particularly since many married women in work and with adult offspring in higher education will discover that they are paying an effective taxation rate of 64 or 74 per cent. which will allow them merely one quarter of their earnings at the top of the scale? Will my right hon. Friend also put in the Library detail of the agreement for the financial mechanism within Europe?

Mr. Biffen

I shall consider my hon. Friend's second suggestion. I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate, but I shall ensure that his remarks are transmitted to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

In view of the increasing number of prosecutions for Sunday trading, will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on Sunday trading so that we may guage the feelings of the House?

Mr. Biffen

The ballot has just been taken for private Members' motions and it is just possible that one successful hon. Member will take up that subject in a Bill.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that terrorism throughout the western world and in this country has reached alarming proportions? Short of protection and detection, western Governments seem to be short of ideas on how to combat it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the subject is now so serious that we should debate it?

Mr. Biffen

I acknowledge the importance of the topic and the desirability of its being debated in the House. It is a subject particularly suited to the initiative of a private Member using the Adjournment mechanism.

  1. Questions to Ministers 322 words
  2. c806
  3. Right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport 109 words
    1. c807
    2. SOCIAL SECURITY 71 words