HC Deb 05 December 1985 vol 88 cc440-7 4.20 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House if he will state the business for next week?

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 9 DECEMBER—There will be a debate on the Channel fixed link on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Afterwards there will be a debate on a motion to take note of European Community documents relating to hormone growth promoters. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

TUESDAY 10 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Gas Bill.

Remaining stages of the European Communities (Spanish and Portuguese Accession) Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 11 DECEMBER—Opposition day—(2nd Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The Housing Crisis and Urban Deprivation".

Motion relating to the Crown Prosecution Service (Transfer of Staff) Regulations.

There will be a debate on a motion to take note of European Community documents relating to the European regional development fund. Details of the documents concerned will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 12 DECEMBER—There will be a debate on a motion to approve the Chancellor of the Exchequer's autumn statement.

Motion on the Social Security (Contributions, Re-rating) Order.

FRIDAY 13 DECEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 16 DECEMBER—Until seven o'clock, private Members' motions.

Remaining stages of the Education (Amendment) Bill.

Motion on the Education Support Grants (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations.

It is expected that the Chairman of Ways and Means will name opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that it will be proposed that, subject to the progress of business, the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment on Friday 20 December until Monday 13 January.

[Debate on Monday 9 December
Relevant Documents
(a) 7948/84 Draft Directive to amend Directive 81/602 on use of hormones in animals
(b) Unnumbered Amendment to Document No. 7948/84
Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee
(a) HC 78-xxxv (1983–84) paragraph 1
(b) HC 21-ii (1985–86 paragraph 1
Debate on Wednesday 11 December
Relevant Documents
(c) 9563/84 Report on European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)
(d) 9506/85 Tenth Report on ERDF 1984
Mr. Kinnock

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that at Prime Minister's Question Time the Prime Minister said that the memorandum of understanding on British participation in the strategic defence initiative research was still being negotiated? Will he give an undertaking that before such an agreement is signed we shall have at the very least a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence, but preferably a debate, so that the views of the House can be properly put on such a vital matter?

Secondly, why is Monday's debate on the Channel fixed link to take place on a motion for the Adjournment, and not on an amendable motion, as the latter procedure would have allowed a much clearer declaration of views and presentation of arguments?

As proposed amendments to the EEC treaties will require legislation, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to provide proper time—I refer not just to the length of time, but to the need to debate these matters at appropriate times of the day—for consideration of any changes?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is mounting concern in all parts of the House and outside about matters relating to the City of London and its role in the British economy? Will the right hon. Gentleman provide time for a full debate on those matters before Christmas and in Government time?

Why have the remaining stages of the Education (Amendment) Bill and the motion on the Education Support Grants (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations been put down together for debate on Monday week? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is an entirely inappropriate way to go about that business because, although the issues are related, they are separate matters and should come before the House separately? Will he reconsider the timing of that brace of debates?

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that on 14 November I asked for a debate on the wild allegations by the Minister of State, Home Office about hon. Members who were legally helping visitors to secure entry to this country at ports of entry? When related matters were raised yesterday, the Leader of the House suggested that they should be raised on next week's business and that he would treat the matter seriously. When are we to have a debate during which the House can discuss the original allegations and related matters of interest?

Finally, why are details of the licence which will give the privatised British Gas Corporation a 25-year monopoly and establish the price formula and provisions for standing and other charges to be published only one day before the Second Reading debate on Tuesday? That document must surely exist already. Why are the Government afraid to release it this week so that it can receive proper consideration?

Mr. Biffen

I shall take the various points in reverse order.

With regard to the debate on the Gas Bill, I appreciate that the schedule is very tight and that it is inconvenient that the licensing document could not be made available earlier. There is, however, nothing sinister or wayward about the timing of the release of that document so that it can feature in the Second Reading debate.

As for the recent allegations about observance of the immigration rules, I said in the context of the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) that I would look into the matter, as it was alleged, among other things, that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office had made documents available to a newspaper. I understand that he has since written to the hon. Lady making it clear that that was not so. I am sure that she will be pleased to have that information. I have been in contact with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about the desirability of making a statement on the wider issue, and he hopes to be able to do so before the Christmas recess.

On the education matters, there is clearly a difference of view between the right hon. Member and myself. I should have thought that the similarity of the documents probably outweighed the disparate aspects, but if the right hon. Gentleman feels deeply about it perhaps we may look at it again through the usual channels.

As we are moving towards publication of the Bill relating to financial services, the debate on that measure will be an important occasion for the consideration of many of the wider issues concerning the City, as the right hon. Gentleman has requested. I cannot give a guarantee from the Dispatch Box today about the precise timing of that debate, but again that matter can be pursued through the usual channels.

I take the right hon. Gentleman's point about the desirability of allowing proper time for reflection on any proposed changes to European Community treaties.

As for the debate on the Channel fixed link, I believe that to proceed by way of a motion for the Adjournment is legitimate when the Government are still taking, part in the consultative process. When the Government have decided what feasible proposals exist, we can consider the matter further.

As for the desirability of a statement or debate before any signature is put to British participation in the strategic defence initiative, we shall, of course, be happy to discuss that through the usual channels.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

In view of the appalling ill-treatment of political prisoners in Poland which led my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to send for the Polish ambassador a few days ago to make a vigorous protest about a situation which, incredibly, seems to have worsened since the summit meeting at which President Reagan properly raised the question of human rights, may I make a plea for a foreign affairs debate before Christmas in which the House can express its strong feelings about such barbarities and the damage that they do to the whole issue of détente?

Mr. Biffen

I shall raise that point with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will understand that I have every sympathy with his argument. I am not the possessor of chat much Government time between now and Christmas, and my hon. Friend might like to take the opportunities that are provided by the debates that will arise on the Adjournment.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Will the right hon. Gentleman say when there will be a debate on our prayer opposing the Local Government Reorganisation (Transitional Provisions) Order 1985, about which I wrote to him on 2 December? When will there be a statement on the possible loss of up to 2,000 jobs in the Daily Mirror group of newspapers?

Mr. Biffen

I shall be in touch with the hon. Gentleman about the order. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to the importance of the second point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his reply on the Financial Services Bill? I ask him to give this the utmost priority. Does he agree that it is essential that we have the Bill as quickly as possible so that we can set up effective regulatory bodies, so that any suggestion of misdemeanour within the finance services can be dealt with immediately and thus avoid and obviate unfounded rumours that can do only damage to the City of London?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes his point effectively and supports other hon. Members who have also made that point. I take full account of the importance of having a debate as early as possible, but I cannot guarantee when.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement next week, or at least before the Christmas recess, on whether the Government are prepared to allow a free vote on the Shops Bill? Is he aware of the increasingly strong feeling, not least on his own Benches, that it would be outrageous for such a Bill, if it ever gets through the other place, to be run through this House with a three-line Whip?

Mr. Biffen

I am tolerably modest in ambition, and I have no ambition to take over questions which can properly be answered only by the Patronage Secretary.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

If my right hon. Friend is considering acceding to the request of the Leader of the Opposition for the House to discuss abuse by certain hon. Members with regard to immigration, will he bear in mind the fact that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) yesterday made a complaint against my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office and alleged that he had passed confidential correspondence to the press? Is my right hon. Friend aware that that was quite untrue and that the hon. Lady must have known that because her secretary had been told that morning by the Home Office that the Minister had had nothing to do with it? Will my right hon. Friend consider how the rights, interests and good name of Members can be protected from such accusations, even if the Member concerned is a Minister? There should be an opportunity for a Minister to reject such complaints of improper conduct.

Mr. Biffen

As I have already said, I understand that my hon. and learned Friend has written to the hon. Lady. She is not in the Chamber, and I shall not raise the level of controversy in her absence. The letter was sent in good faith, and I am sure that it will be received in good faith.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate, not immediately, but early in the new year, on various aspects of nuclear policy that are now causing concern? I refer to the figures given on the Yorkshire Television programme this week on incidences of cancer and leukaemia that have never been made public, to the Australian Royal Commission, to the fact that there are still discharges from nuclear installations, to the report that the country is short of plutonium for the nuclear weapons programme and also to the impending report of the Sizewell inquiry. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that involves the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Energy? Will he make the Government's policy clear on a matter that is causing increasing public concern?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman persuasively reminds the House of the great importance of the nuclear topic and that it covers many areas of Government responsibility. I shall consider his remarks, but the right hon. Gentleman is a formidable parliamentarian and I am sure that he will be able to find his own ways of raising the matter in the House.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate the fact that the cost of the proposed joint defence school of music on the coast has now shot up to £10.6 million, and that it would be better to allow the Royal Military School of Music to remain at Kneller Hall in Twickenham, where it produces the finest and most excellent Army bands in the world?

Mr. Biffen

I am happy to endorse the voice of Twickenham. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to the points that my hon. Friend has so eloquently made. I think he will find that an investigation is being carried out by the Public Accounts Committee, and it may be possible for him to give evidence to that Committee.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

Can the right hon. Gentleman yet foresee the date on which the motion for the recess is likely to be moved?

Mr. Biffen

No, but I appreciate that there will be interest in the House that that information be made available as soon as possible.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Can my right hon. Friend say when he will ask the House to renew the ten minutes rule on speeches, as that limit proved to be a great success?

Mr. Biffen

I hope to be able to do so shortly after we return from the recess.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Will the Leader of the House find time after Christmas for a full debate on the future of the British merchant fleet? I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the decline that we have experienced in recent years both in gross registered tonnage and in the number of vessels. I hope he agrees that it would be in the interests of the country and the House to have a full debate on the market opportunities, and also on the fiscal policies, which are crucial if we are to halt the decline, or possibly encourage a growth, in the number of vessels under the British flag.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman draws the attention of the House to an immensely important part of the national economy. I do not wish to mislead him into thinking that there is likely to be Government time available shortly after Christmas for such a debate, but I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to the points that he has made.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

In view of the immense publicity that has been given by the Church of England to the inner cities of what it calls Britain, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on the inner cities of Scotland so that we may remind the Church of England that Britain is not England? In Scotland we live in the centre of our cities, such as Perth, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. We thrive there and, thanks to the Government, they are prosperous and restored.

Mr. Biffen

I am loth to get into more controversy concerning the established Church, but it seems that the Opposition, who are casting themselves as rather more ecumenical than the Church of England, have exactly the debate that my hon. and learned Friend wants which will enable Scotland to be included.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)


Mr. Speaker

Yes. [Interruption.]

Mr. Boyes

I wondered why I was not being called until last.

Does the Leader of the House recall that during recent business questions I informed him that the Supreme Court of Military Appeal was considering the fate of the Turkish Peace Executive? The court met, and adjourned until later this month. I must stress again to the right hon. Gentleman the importance that the Turkish authorities give to the voice of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman informed me that the Foreign Secretary would hear what I was saying. I have had no contact whatsoever with the Foreign Secretary. May I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to get the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on this important matter, because the fate of many people who are in prison for doing nothing more than wanting peace in the world is at stake? They have suffered for long enough in lousy conditions in a rotten gaol.

Mr. Biffen

I shall look into the matter and have it referred once again to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. I shall draw attention to the point that has been made. I know that, understandably, the hon. Gentleman takes the issue very much to heart, so I suggest that he tries his luck with one of the debates arising on the Consolidated Fund.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I apologise to the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes). I had not forgotten him; it is merely that I am so used to seeing him on the Front Bench.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As the flavour of the month in a small part of the House, unpalatable to the majority, seems to be proportional representation, would it be possible for the House to debate the subject? As parliamentarian of the year and Leader of the House, will my right hon. Friend give us a lead, and does he agree that, even in the unlikely event of a hung Parliament and a referendum, he, like me, would oppose proportional representation root and branch?

Mr. Biffen

No. I have always assumed that proportional representation will be negotiable in the most fascinating political circumstances. I would never put that card face up so early in the game. For that reason, I have no wish to use Government time to have the matter debated. Now that Opposition time for debate is available below the Gangway, we shall see how much importance those hon. Members attach to it and whether they will bring the matter before the House.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

May I remind the Leader of the House that in the 1983–84 Session the Select Committee on Social Services carried out a major inquiry into child care, and that some of the recommendations that we made were recently reiterated in connection with the tragic case of little Jasmine? For example, we recommended that family courts should be set up. We are still waiting for the Lord Chancellor to present his proposals. We proposed that more black foster parents should be found, and that there should be three years' training for social workers. The Government's reply was received in July 1984, 18 months go. Will the Leader of the House now undertake to give a day to debate the report and the reply at the earliest opportunity—if possible before Christmas and, if not, immediately after the House returns from the Christmas recess?

Mr. Biffen

Clearly the issue is of considerable and topical importance. I shall draw the hon. Lady's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, who will be answering questions next Tuesday. However, it also could be one of the topics that might interest the House in the Adjournment debates following the Consolidated Fund.

Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that no agreement has been reached in principle by the Government with the French Government on the nature of a fixed link across the Channel? May I add my encouragement to the suggestion that we should debate the Financial Services Bill as early as possible, preferably before Christmas, to ensure continuing confidence in what is, particularly at this time, a most energetic and encouraging market?

Mr. Biffen

I thank my hon. Friend for his point about the Financial Services Bill. There is no doubt that this measure is of great importance in its own right and in trying to establish a better situation in the light of some of the recent developments in the City. On my hon. Friend's first point, I am in no sense qualified to answer a point of policy. It is an issue that should be raised on Monday.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

With regard to Monday's debate on the Channel fixed link, is my right hon. Friend aware that concern is felt in all parts of the House about the usual Channel link fixers, who have arranged for the debate on a motion for the Adjournment, which is unamendable? Is he aware that the so-called consultative process to which he referred is in danger of becoming a farce, because journalists have been told that on 15 or 16 January the winner of the fixed link contract will be announced? If that is so, the decision will have been made with indecent haste and unnecessary secrecy, and without all the facts being presented to the House. Parliament is in danger of being fobbed off.

Mr. Biffen

I cannot accept that. It is a caricature of the Government's position. There is nothing extraordinary about great decisions being taken on the basis of motions on the Adjournment. If it was enough to bring down Neville Chamberlain, it is enough for many of the other decisions in the House. We must see how the debate goes on Monday. There is no doubt that it will be an important part in the consultative process of making decisions and judgments on the issue.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

May I remind my right hon. Friend of a question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Fan) about the racial awareness unit courses being conducted by Leicester city council? Is he aware that today, in response to questions by the Leicester Mercury, the leader of the Labour group, Councillor Peter Soulsby, said that he would deny the opportunity to all council employees in Leicester to carry on working if they declined or refused—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman asking about business next week, because he must?

Mr. Bruinvels

The point is that many of my constituents who work for the council are feeling threatened, and I am asking my right hon. Friend to find time next week for a debate on an important matter. Citizens of Leicester who work for the city council are being denied the opportunity to work if they refuse to go on a racial awareness unit course, which is a scandal. Should not my right hon. Friend find time for such a debate?

Mr. Biffen

I understand my hon. Friend's point. I admire the skill, tenacity and effectiveness with which he brings it before the House and, indeed, before the public in Leicester. I fear that there will not be Government time next week for such a debate, but we are moving into that part of the Session where there are more opportunities than usual for Back-Bench Members. I wish my hon. Friend every success in that direction.

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