HC Deb 04 April 1985 vol 76 cc1347-53 10.32 am
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for the week after the recess?

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

Yes, Sir. The business for the first week after the Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY I5 APRIL—Second Reading of the Surrogacy Arrangements Bill.

Remaining stages of the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill.

Proceedings on the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

TUESDAY I6 APRIL — Second Reading of the Prosecution of Offences Bill [Lords]. Motions on the Police (Anonymous, Repetitious etc Complaints) Regulations, the Police (Complaints) (Mandatory Referrals etc) Regulations, and on the Police (Complaints) (Informal Resolution) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY I7 APRIL — Conclusion of remaining stages of the Interception of Communications Bill.

Motion relating to the Wireless and Telegraphy (Broadcast Licence Charges and Exemption) (Amendment) Regulations.

THURSDAY I8 APRIL — Remaining stages of the Social Security Bill.

FRIDAY I9 APRIL — Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 22 APRIL — Opposition day (10th allotted day).

Mr. Hattersley

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman three specific questions? First, he knows very well that there is increasing concern on both sides of the House about the mounting tragedy in South Africa. Are we soon to have a debate on that subject?

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman knows that last night the Prime Minister announced, through a written answer, additional powers that Ministers are taking to influence the career of civil servants whom those Ministers designate as subversives or security risks. Clearly that statement ought to have been made to the House and been subject to questions in the House. May we have a statement on the subject next week?

Thirdly, are we to have a debate on this week's several White Papers on employment? If the Government intend to preserve the pretence that those documents are anything other than Conservative propaganda financed out of the taxes, there has to be a debate so that the implications of the Government's policy can be examined.

Mr. Biffen

With regard to the general foreign affairs situation, which of course will encompass South Africa, it is my hope that we shall very shortly have a debate on that topic.

The powers announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday are derived from a report by the Security Commission in 1981 and the definition of subversion is that recommended by the Security Commission. Of course, we will look at this matter through the usual channels, as requested.

Finally, as will be evident, I have provided no time for an employment debate in the week of our return.

Thereafter we will see how we go, but there will be plenty of economic debates related to the Budget and doubtless it could be incorporated in one of them.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)

On Tuesday's business on the Second Reading of the Prosecution of Offences Bill, will my right hon. Friend pass on to the Home Secretary the hope that he will make it clear during his speech that the Government do not intend to reinstate the clause defeated in the House of Lords about the right of the prosecution to appeal to the Court of Appeal in sentence matters?

Mr. Biffen

This is a contentious issue, but of course I will pass on to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary the point that my right hon. and learned Friend made.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 558, which draws attention to the unacceptable and improper cash offer made by Political Research and Communication International Limited on behalf of Lead Manufacturers Limited to pay the travelling expenses to Sweden of the Select Committee on the Environment?

[That this House strongly deprecates the action of Political Research and Communication International Limited in offering to bear the travelling expenses of the Environment Committee so that the Committee can examine an advanced system for disposing of radioactive waste in Sweden; and considers that this offer by a financially interested party is, or may be seen as, an attempt improperly to influence and subvert the Committee.] This is an important matter involving a commercially motivated attempt to influence the work of a Select Committee and the activities of a PR firm of which an hon. Member of the House is chairman. Will the Leader of the House, bearing in mind his special responsibilities to the House as a whole, arrange for an early debate or statement so that the issues raised can be fully explored and rules of conduct properly established for the future?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman raises an evidently serious point. I am sure that the whole House would agree that it would be improper for any Select Committee conducting an independent inquiry on behalf of the House to accept funding from an interested private party. Any further action arising on this matter would be for the Liaison Committee to consider in the first instance. Perhaps we may see how matters proceed from there.

Mr. Gerrard Neale (Cornwall, North)

In view of the fact that interminable delays are suffered in public inquiries, and, in particular, in view of the extraordinary and lamentable decision by a Committee of both Houses yesterday to overrule the decision of a public inquiry on the Okehampton bypass, will my hon. Friend consider providing time for a debate in the near future to enable the House to consider how the public inquiry system can be reviewed so as to give all parties a full and fair chance of presenting their case but at the same time enable an early end date to such inquiries which also include the granting of planning consent to be set?

Mr. Biffen

The Government will now study the Joint Committee's report and consider what can best be done. In the meantime. I will bear in mind what my hon. Friend has just said.

Mr Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Does the Leader of the House recall that after the last general election many hon. Members on both sides of the House were concerned about the methods and procedures of the Boundary Commission, exemplified in a small way — but it emphasised the daftness of it—by the silly names that were given to some constituencies? I have raised the matter on a number of occasions and quite properly, my suggestion that there should be an inquiry was guided to the Home Secretary. It was put to me that it might be a good subject for a Select Committee of the House. However that may be, it is now two years since the general election; the boundary setting was done badly; the procedures were often much too short. Can something be done about it? Nothing much needs to be done for about 10 years, but something ought to be done because there is concern.

Mr. Biffen

I have every sympathy with that observation. The time honoured and civic traditions of Oswestry are now extinct and have been replaced by a mere geographic abstraction called Shropshire, North. Many right hon. and hon. Members must feel exactly the same way. If I had the constituency title that the right hon. Gentleman has, I would bear it very heavily. However, I shall look into the matter and see what further progress can be made.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that it is nearly four months, if not more, since the Computer Sub-Committee undertook a wide-ranging survey of the information technology needs of Parliament and, with the unanimous support of the House of Commons (Services) Committee, presented a report containing specific recommendations about what should be done. Is anything to be done, or will the report simply lurk in a pigeon hole for ever?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly be in touch with my hon. Friend, and I hope that I can give him some assistance.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

How long does the right hon. Gentleman expect Wednesday's motion on the broadcast licence fee to last? Would not a one and a half hour debate on such an important subject be inappropriate? I understand that under the Social Security B11, which will be disussed on Thursday, the Government propose to introduce some of the national insurance contribution changes presaged in the Budget. If that is so, will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that those amendments will be tabled by the Government on Monday 15 April?

Mr. Biffen

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, I take at once the force of what he says and shall see what can be done. He asked about Wednesday's business, but it is not in my gift to say when one item of business will conclude and the next begin. However, such decisions on licence fees have previously been resolved in 90 minutes.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the business that he has announced for the week after the Easter break — short as it is — is relatively light and not terribly important? I hope to be in my place then, but that will not be true of all hon. Members after the Easter break. Will my right hon. Friend consider sending our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a message, supported by the whole Cabinet, suggesting that she might like to take a few days off on her return from the far east, and perhaps go to the Mediterranean, to some nice quiet spot beside a golf course?

Mr. Biffen

I am not sure what would happen to me if I conveyed the second part of that message. But I have a message for my hon. Friend, and that is, that for my hon. Friend to describe the surrogacy legislation, the Second Reading of the Prosecution of Offences Bill and the Interception of Communications Bill as falling into a somewhat second league category shows that he has fallen slightly below his normally acute vision.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

Did the Leader of the House pluck up the courage to have a word with the Prime Minister before she left about the need for a debate, or at least a statement, on star wars? She went to the United States and recklessly pledged our support for that, although research costing $26 billion is involved. When the Prime Minister returns from her tour of the far east, she will no doubt make a statement boasting about what she has achieved there, and highlighting the opening of a dam that was built with money given by the Labour Government. It cost just over £100 million. That will merit a statement from the Dispatch Box, but $26 billion which could have been gone on much-needed aid for the far east will be spent without even any mention of it being made in the House.

Mr. Biffen

Governments come and go, but taxpayers are the constant factor. They supply the public funds, whether that money is spent, overseas or at home. However, I shall of course draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that since before Christmas right hon. and hon. Members have been subjected to organised lobbying campaigns in relation to badger baiting, the possible extension of VAT, the taxation of pensions, the limited list, tuition fees and so on. Most of that lobbying has been carried out courtesy of a word processor. Members of Parliament have received threatening letters from, for example, the Roche drug company. Has not the time come for a debate to be held on the nature of the lobbying of Members of Parliament and the manner in which it is carried out, as well as on how we should respond to such organised campaigns?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a point of widespread interest to the House. We have to learn to live with this, but I am not sure that we would make living with it that much easier if we shared our collective agonies with each other in a debate.

Mr. Alf Dubs (Battersea)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his approach tends to be that when requests are made to him either too meekly or too aggressively he resists them? Therefore, will he take note of the fact that I am trying to steer a middle course in asking him yet again what the chances are of having a debate on the Commission for Racial Equality report on immigration control procedures?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman is being terribly moderate. I did not think that he was a great devotee of the middle of the road. Doubtless he, like me, holds to heart Aneurin Bevan's strictures on the subject. There is no likelihood of an early debate on the topic, but I shall continue to bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's claims.

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

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the security arrangements for admission into the House have been tightened there have been outside long queues of parties coming into the House? I am particularly concerned about the effect that this has on children, the elderly and the disabled in bad weather. Could he find time for an early debate on this matter to discuss other ways of admitting visitors to the House?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a matter that gives concern to a considerable number of hon. Members, and causes inconvenience for a number of constituents. However, I suggest that, in the first instance, my hon. Friend elaborates his complaints so that they can be considered by the Services Committee.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Following the Government's panic actions to keep blameless Scottish football supporters away from London, may we expect urgent steps to protect the population from young Conservative hooligans?

Mr. Biffen

There must be some sharp rejoinder that buries that subject once and for all, but I regret to say that I cannot think of it.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye)

Over the Easter recess, will my right hon. Friend look at the way in which the work of Select Committees is being persistently held up by the dog-in-the-manger attitude of the alliance in not allowing the replacement of members on Select Committees?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what my hon. Friend says. I know that it causes deep concern among the Chairmen of the Select Committees.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

In arranging the parliamentary business, has the Leader of the House been discussing with the Prime Minister the appointment of peers announced in the newspapers today? In view of the immense talent on the Government Benches, why have no Conservative Members been elevated to the other House? Does not the fear of consequent by-elections and the Government's knowledge that they will be defeated at such by-elections mean that they are not willing to risk them?

Mr. Biffen

These are always matters that lie in the eye of the beholder. I looked at the list, and I thought what a fascinating social change it showed when the Labour Benches in the House of Lords are being stuffed with stockbrokers and merchant bankers.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the concern that I have felt since November that the House is sitting later and later into the night, and in correspondence and questions I have asked my right hon. Friend whether he will consider looking at Standing Order No. 2 and bringing in morning sittings. On Tuesday 16 April, there is the Prosecution of Offences Bill and other Bills, which will certainly go on late into the night as usual. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend look favourably at the possibility of morning sittings, at least experimentally?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is already a noted Member after but a few months' service. However, I have been here long enough to remember morning sittings, and, although they were hilarious for the small number of hon. Members who took part in the proceedings, hardly anybody turned up, hardly any business of substance was transacted, and the whole thing crumbled into farce.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is great anxiety in Scotland about the delay of the announcement of the result of the unnecessary review of Scottish lowland airport policy? I am told, in a little letter from the Secretary of State for Transport today, that, like many other important Scottish announcements, this is to be made by means of a written answer so that we shall not be able to question him. I do not want to delay the announcement any further, but should not the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make an oral statement to the House today so that we can question him?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly pass that request to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Minister responsible for sport to come to the House immediately after the recess to make a statement about sporting fixtures? Will he ask the Minister to include in that statement the challenge by six British girl jockeys of six American girl jockeys to a race at York on 14 June? Will he be backing the British fillies all the way?

Mr. Biffen

That question would be more appropriately directed to the Minister responsible for sport. I shall explain to him the virtues of going to see my hon. Friend after the recess.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Will the Leader of the House tear himself away from the subject of jockeys and turn his attention to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority at Risley and the sacking by Exclusive Cleaners of the cleaning staff who refused to accept a wage cut?

Will the right hon. Gentleman examine in particular the security aspect, because the trade unions claim that normal security procedures are being weakened to allow temporary staff in? Will he explain to the Secretary of State for the Environment that the company has cleaning contracts for the Houses of Parliament? Despite the firm being a massive contributor to the Conservative party, will he consider removing the contract from the firm?

Mr. Biffen

I shall try to moderate my reply, despite the sententious terms of the question. I shall draw attention to what has been said. The hon. Gentleman might seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment since it seems that its wider ventilation would be of advantage.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

When the Prime Minister returns in a fortnight's time from the far east, will the Leader of the House ensure that her statement describes in particular her visit to Sri Lanka a week today? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for a large minority of the population there the visit will be seen as condoning President Jayawardene's policy of virtual extermination of the Tamil-speaking peoples of the north-eastern provinces, his ban on opposition public meetings and his recent lengthy detention of opposition and trade union leaders? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Prime Minister's statement deals with those matters?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has formally identified himself with the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka. I shall draw the Prime Minister's attention to his comments.

Sir John Wells (Maidstone)

Can my right hon. Friend offer an early debate on alternative medicine which was debated in the other place recently? Is he aware of the great national interest in the subject, and has he heard about the recently formed council? Does he agree that views from all parts of the House on this important topic should be voiced?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's pertinent point, but we are moving to a time of the year when time is tight, particularly in view of the Finance Bill. However, I shall consider my hon. Friend's request.

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