§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement. Following the point of order raised by the Opposition today, and after discussions through the usual channels, the business for Wednesday 20 February will now be:
Motion on the European Community document No. 4421/85 on the milk supplementary levy scheme.
The business on Thursday 21 February will be:
Debate on the Royal Air Force, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 (Continuance) Order.
The debate on the Rate Limitation (Prescribed Maximum) (Rates) Order has been postponed until Monday 25 February.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
The House will know that this late night business statement arises out of the incompetence and muddle of the Secretary of State for the Environment, who once again has managed to confuse not only himself but the whole of the House of Commons by the sheer incompetence and maladroitness with which he handles the business affairs of his Department.
Will the Leader of the House convey to his colleague how dissatisfied we are with these constant difficulties that face the House through the sheer continuous incompetence of what was once a great Department of State? I wish also to convey the great dissatisfaction of the Opposition at being forced to make yet again sudden changes in our business and, above all, being forced to have a two-day diet of retrospective legislation put to the House because of the additional incompetence of the Secretary of State for Transport.
§ Mr. Biffen
I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He is a touch less than characteristically generous, because aspects of the order which the Opposition thought gave rise to great difficulties were raised earlier today and we have tried to meet them by the arrangements that I have just put to the House.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, as it has taken the Government two goes to get a rates order for the House to debate, they will have got it right by Monday, or will it be withdrawn again when yet another error is discovered?
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
Now that the Government's fingers in the till have engineered a bit of flexibilitity in this week's business, instead of the business now set down for Thursday, could we not have a discussion of the Prime Minister's statement in answer to the first question in Prime Minister's questions this afternoon when she said that nearly three quarters of youngsters leaving youth training schemes are getting work, since the Department of Employment estimates, on the basis of a survey that covers a few hundred people, that 947 only about 56 per cent. get work? If the youth training scheme is so good, why is the Prime Minister trying to remove from supplementary benefit all 16 and 17-yearolds who refuse to go on training schemes?
§ Mr. Biffen
I have repeatedly been asked by hon. Members that the debate on the RAF should be held as soon as possible. That is why I am pleased to announce it as Thursday's business.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Is the Leader of the House aware that it is uncommonly awkward to take the Committee stage of the London Regional Transport (Amendment) Bill tomorrow? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Why? Because I do not think that the Secretary of State can take the excitement. What are the precedents for taking the Committee stage so soon after Second Reading?
§ Mr. Biffen
I am touched by the solicitude shown by the hon. Member for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I assure him that what is proposed is with precedent and has inconvenience.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
Why are we not taking the opportunity on Thursday to debate the disgrace to our prosperous country of so many old and poor people suffering from hypothermia? Is it not a damned disgrace that we have not had a full debate in Government time on the danger posed to many people as a result of the dreadful policies of this disgraceful Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Biffen
We are having the business that is set down for Thursday because there is an obligation to have a debate on the RAF, and I have been requested to arrange for that debate to be as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)
I understand that the order which was to have been debated tomorrow has been delayed because the figures in respect of one of the local authorities involved have been got wrong. It is not unlikely that the figures in respect of several other authorities have also been got wrong. Would it not be more sensible for the House to consider orders concerning each of the 948 authorities which are likely to be affected by rate capping, since in each case there are different circumstances which should be debated separately?
§ Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)
Is the Leader of the House satisfied that on Thursday the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1984 should again be debated after the main business? Is it not typical of the Government not to want a proper debate and a good attendance for the debate on Thursday night?
§ Mr. Biffen
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I did not catch what he said. I should be grateful if he would be kind enough to repeat it.
§ Mr. Parry
I ask the Leader of the House why he agrees to the Prevention of Terrorism Act being debated on Thursday when he knows that there is a one-line Whip and that many hon. Members will be absent? [Interruption.] Will he reconsider the position so that we can have a proper debate about that important Act?
§ Mr. Biffen
In no sense can I answer for the attendance of the House. However, the hon. Gentleman is right that this is an important order. It is to be debated at the usual time of the night for such business.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members will be delighted at his decision to bring forward the debate on the Royal Air Force, which is already overdue, because many important decisions need to be taken?
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
What opportunities will be made available to the borough councils concerned to examine the figures produced by the Government in advance of the debate, and when will the figures be made available to hon. Members?