HC Deb 25 October 1984 vol 65 cc813-8 3.45 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

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

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

Yes, Sir.

  • MONDAY 29 OCTOBER—Further consideration of Lords amendments to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. Motion relating to the Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations. Lords amendments to the Co-operative Development Agency and Industrial Development Bill. Completion of remaining stages of the Rents (Scotland) Bill [Lords] which is a consolidation measure.
  • TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on the unemployment situation on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
  • WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER—Motions on the General Consumer Council (Northern Ireland) Order. Ratification of treaty amending the status of Greenland within the EC order. Motion on salary of Data Protection Registrar. Debate on motions to approve the first report from the Select Committee on Procedure 1983–84 No. 570 on short speeches. Debate on motion to approve the report of the. Services Committee on all-party groups.
The House may also be asked to consider other business as necessary. Prorogation will be on Wednesday 31 October and the new Session will be opened on Tuesday 6 November.

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement.

I am glad that the Government are providing an opportunity on Tuesday for a debate on the deteriorating unemployment position, but I am rather surprised and sorry that apparently the Prime Minister will not be contributing to that debate. Given the Lord Privy Seal's relationship with the right hon. Lady, could he prevail upon her to change her mind about speaking in Tuesday's debate?

Before the summer recess, the right hon. Gentleman assured me that we could have a debate in Government time in the autumn on the report of the Select Committee on Social Services. The report shows that the increase in National Health Service expenditure has been not 17 per cent. as the Government claimed but 7 per cent. May I press the right hon. Gentleman again to ensure that the House has an early opportunity for a debate to show that the Health Service really is safe in the Government's hands?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman asks for a debate on the report of the Social Services Committee. I suggest that that is a matter that we should pursue through the usual channels.

As for Tuesday's debate on unemployment, the right hon. Gentleman asks why the Prime Minister decided not to contribute. I think that it was out of a sense of anxiety about the right hon. Gentleman's own reckless masochism.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

On Monday we shall continue to debate the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. Can my right hon. Friend now say whether the Government intend to oppose Lord Scarman's amendment, as they did in the other place? Has my right hon. Friend had a chance since this morning to read Ronald Butt's excellent article on the subject in The Times?

Mr. Biffen

The answer to my hon. Friend's second question is no. The answer to his first question is also no, in the sense that that information will be imparted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Government arrange time for a ministerial statement about what representations the Government have made to ensure that the gentleman who committed the outrageous crime of bringing explosives into the country from France is prosecuted in an English court for that offence? Will the right hon. Gentleman also ensure that in that statement we are told why that person was treated by the Metropolitan police with a degree of favour which would not be vouchsafed to a British subject, who by now would probably be in Brixton prison?

Mr. Biffen

I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in a very dignified manner, expressed the disquiet felt in the House about that episode. What is more, she had the good sense to put it in the context of a balance. I do not think that I can helpfully add to what she said.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will give early priority to a full debate on the report of the Public Accounts Committee and the Government's reply on the scandal of the De Lorean company?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly bear my hon. Friend's point very much in mind.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Will the Leader of the House explain why there cannot now be a debate on the dispute in the mining industry for nearly three weeks, until the Queen's Speech and the Humble Address are disposed of, particularly as the courts have today decided to sequestrate the entire assets of the National Union of Mineworkers? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Conservative Members may applaud, but the consequences of that action are bound to be very grave. You, Mr. Speaker, have ruled that it is not a matter that in your judgment should take precedence over the business, and my right hon. Friends have no power in the matter as all the Supply days have been exhausted. Will the Leader of the House explain why he is prepared to allow the dispute to continue without any parliamentary discussion for a period of three weeks?

Mr. Biffen

Because I judge that the business announced for next week is what is necessary for the fulfilment of our commitments for the current Session and because I am sufficiently realistic to know that the topic will feature considerably in the debate on the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South)

Will my right hon. Friend consider making time available for a debate on the effects of the strike among social security officials? That would give us all a valuable chance to see whether the Labour party is keener to support the strikers or the elderly pensioners who are the defenceless victims of the strike.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend indicates why such a debate would certainly have a lively character, but there is no possibility of its taking place next week.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

If there were a famine in Britain rather than Ethiopia, many of us would be claiming that the response of the international community was inadequate. Will the Leader of the House find time next week for us to debate the Government's response?

Mr. Biffen

Obviously, the programme for next week is as I have announced, but I say at once that I am fully conscious of the deep anxiety about the famine in Ethiopia, and I hope that we shall soon have a chance to debate it.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 1005, in my name and the names of 50 other hon. Members?

[That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to provide Parliamentary time for an early debate on the question of the death penalty being made available for acts of terrorism.]

Will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of finding time, either in this Session or early next Session, to enable a debate to take place? Will he also bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary? I think that the House is very concerned that 91 people have been killed and over 1,000 injured as a result of terrorism.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend informed me, via the letter columns of The Times newspaper, that it is his intention to introduce a Bill in the next parliamentary Session, so I realise that he will be turning his energies in that direction. As the question of Private Members' Bills will be resolved very early in the next Session of Parliament, perhaps we can wait and see what happens then.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Is the Leader of the House aware that defence Ministers will meet in Brussels in December to consider, as recommended by their officials, the adoption of the airland battle strategy? If that strategy is adopted, it will take us another giant step towards total nuclear annihilation. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that hon. Members should have an opportunity to speak to the Secretary of State for Defence before he goes to Brussels? Will the Leader of the House give us an opportunity to ask the Secretary of State to make a statement to this House?

Mr. Biffen

In view of the timing of the meeting to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, it is clear that it is a topic which can feature in the debate on the Queen's Speech.

Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1016: [That this House calls for an early debate of the Warnock Report on Human Fertilisation and Embryology.]

It has been signed by 66 hon. Members, and that is an indication of the importance that many hon. Members attach to an early debate. Can my right hon. Friend hold out any hope that we shall be able to discuss the report in the very near future?

Mr. Biffen

In the words of all those who have stood at this Dispatch Box down the ages, I can hold out sympathy and it might stretch to hope, but I would not like to push it much further.

Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian)

I refer to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) concerning the news on the tape that the funds of the NUM have been sequestrated. It is a very serious matter, despite the howls of approval that we heard from the Conservative Benches. Am Ito take it from the right hon. Gentleman's answer to the question on this very serious action—it will be regarded as provocative—that he does not intend to make arrangements for a Minister to come to the Dispatch Box, either today or next week, to make a statement?

Mr. Biffen

If my remarks about a debate on the coal industry are to be regarded as provocative, there must be an army of people looking feverishly for provocation. Of course, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the possibility of a statement to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. I remind the House that energy questions are first for answer on Monday 29 October. Hon. Members should try to exploit that opportunity as well.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

As the House will be sitting rather late on Monday night, would my right hon. Friend like to spend some time on Monday night reflecting on the advantages of the special procedure by which Standing Committees can take evidence, and would he like to think of applying that procedure next Session to the Bill which is designed to give legislative effect to the White Paper on buses?

Mr. Biffen

I am certainly not prepared to accept the premise about the House sitting late on Monday. As I do not accept the premise, I am immediately excused from considering any consequences.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May the House have an early opportunity to debate sentencing policy in the light of the derisory sentences that are so often imposed on those who kill on our roads, and particularly in the light of the case during the recess when a hit-and-run driver who had been drinking and who was untaxed and uninsured, ran down and killed a child whose body was thrown over a fence, and was then sentenced to a mere £500 fine and three years' disqualification? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the House should discuss the public outrage at such cases and the fact that the courts and the law are being brought into disrepute by such cases?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. and learned Gentleman raises a serious point, but in the first instance it might be suitable for an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that any statement on the dreadful famine in Ethiopia should deal not only with the important matter of immediate food relief but the equally important long-term question of helping the people of Ethiopia to grow food with which to feed themselves?

Mr. Biffen

I accept that at once. It reinforces my anxiety that the House should have an early opportunity to debate that topic.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware of the great concern in many fishing areas following the decision of the Community Council of Fisheries Ministers in September about the increase in percentage by-catch by the Norwegian pout fishery. It is disappointing not to have the opportunity to discuss the matter on our return from the recess, but will there be an opportunity for a debate near the beginning of the new Session?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman may find that the debate on the Queen's Speech is as good an opportunity as he will have to discuss the matter.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Will my right hon. Friend say when Her Majesty's Government will make a statement to the House about British citizens incarcerated in Libya without charge or trial and how much longer we shall be silent on that subject?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has come back to the House after our break showing a proper regard for that subject. I shall refer his question to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. As this is the last opportunity for business questions before this Session ends, I shall call those Members who have been standing in their places, but I ask them to be brief.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

When will the Government produce a response to the report by the Select Committee on the Environment on acid rain which was published during the recess, and when will the Leader of the House ensure that the House can debate that report?

Mr. Biffen

I am aware of the interest in the Government's response and I also aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), the Chairman of the Select Committee, has been given an indication that time will be found for that matter to be debated.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

May we have a debate on the two-faced hypocrisy of the Government towards law and order, taking into account the following facts? Yesterday someone came across from the Common Market threatening to plant bombs and got away with it, but the bail conditions for two miners aged 18 and 26 from Whitwell, Derbyshire mean that they have to move 400 miles away to Caithness in Scotland in internal exile. We should also bear in mind the fact that today the funds of the miners' union were seized, yet on 30 September the same Government, instead of allowing Johnson Matthey, the gold bullion dealers whose reserves were exhausted, to collapse, used the Bank of England and all their friends and allies in the casino economy to bail them out. Is not that an example of double standards and hypocrisy?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman's question shows that for him politics is a many-splendoured thing. I suggest that a speech as wide ranging as that question can most adroitly be inserted in the debate on the Queen's Speech.

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

As the Chancellor of the Exchequer has attended two international conferences since the beginning of the summer recess—the IMF conference and the Toronto conference on the world debt crisis—is it not time that he made a statement to the House explaining his part in the disgraceful and inadequate decisions taken to deal with poverty in the world today?

Mr. Biffen

Without accepting all or indeed much of the hon. Gentleman's elaboration, I will certainly ensure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is apprised of the hon. Gentleman's anxiety that a statement should be made.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Following the recent excellent campaign by the Liverpool Echo about the massive increase in drug addiction and especially heroin addiction on Merseyside, when will there be a debate in the House on this very important matter?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot say when there will be a debate on that specific subject, but I will cetainly bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

As leader of the House, the right hon. Gentleman represents all Members in all parts of the House. He will be aware of the strong attachment of all Members to Westminster hospital in view of the services that it renders and has rendered to us for a number of years. Is there any chance of the House as a whole being involved in the consultations now taking place which may well dismember important parts of that hospital and eventually lead to its closure? Will the right hon. Gentleman take some initiative on a non-party basis so that the House as a whole may be drawn into the consultations?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly look into that.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

The Leader of the House has already acknowledged that there should be an early debate on Ethiopia. He will recall that the Government published their aid programme in July, but the House has not yet had an opportunity to debate it. Does he agree that we might be in a better position to deal with problems such as those in Ethiopia if we were to adopt a more realistic approach to aid and development?

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate that any debate on the famine in Ethiopia could probably best be prosecuted in a somewhat wider framework. In that sense, I take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Manchester and Liverpool airports are keyed to the economic development of the north-west? In view of Government policy on airlines and so forth, may we expect an early debate on those airports before the Government make any final decision about a third London airport?

Mr. Biffen

I note the hon. Gentleman's point. Indeed, a voice behind me reminds me that concern is not confined to one side of the House. I shall certainly bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

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