HC Deb 24 January 1985 vol 71 cc1131-46 3.31 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

Will the Leader of the House state the business 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 28 JANUARY — Second Reading of the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill.

Proceedings on the Brunei and Maldives Bill (Lords)

TUESDAY 29 JANUARY—Progress in Committee on the Representation of the People Bill.

WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY—There will be a debate on the inspector's report on the airport inquiries 1981–83, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion relating to the Immigration Appeals (Procedure) Rules.

THURSDAY 31 JANUARY—A debate on the Royal Air Force, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 1 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 4 FEBRUARY—Opposition Day (7th Allotted Day): subject for debate to be announced.

Mr. Kinnock

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for postponing the Committee stage of the Hong Kong Bill so that further preparatory work can be done by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

It is unprecedented and entirely inappropriate for a report that commands as much interest and is as important as the Eyre report on the future of Stansted to be debated on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. May I ask for an absolute assurance that, if the debate has been arranged only to hear the views of hon. Members, there will be another debate on a specific motion before the Government take a final decision on the future of Stansted?

In the light of allegations made in today's New Statesman about a deal between Britain and the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile during the Falklands war, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement early next week about the changes in voting by the Government at the United Nations on human rights violations in Chile, and about the Government's decision to end the arms embargo to Chile?

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us notice of when he expects a debate on the special order required to make the unnecessary and unacceptable increases in water charges in the London area?

Mr. Biffen

To take those points in the order in which they were made, I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his comments on the Committee stage of the Hong Kong Bill. It enables me to underline the fact that our decision was taken at the request of the Opposition, and it in no way diminishes the great importance attached to the legislation. I hope that it will pass speedily through the House.

Secondly, as to the comments upon Stansted, it is by no means unprecedented for a motion on the Adjournment to feature in this kind of debate, but I take the point that the right hon. Gentleman argues. After the decision has been taken, the House will be given the further opportunity to debate and, if it wishes, to vote upon the Government's airports policy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be touching upon this in his speech on Wednesday.

I will of course draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to the points concerning Chile.

Finally, the water order to which the right hon. Gentleman refers does not feature in next week's business, but I take note of his keen interest in the matter.

Mr. Kinnock

The right hon. Gentleman may inadvertently have misled the House. When he said, "after the decision has been taken", in the context of his remarks on the Stansted debate, did he mean after the debate has taken place or that we would have a debate after the decision was taken?

Mr. Biffen

After the decision on the inspector's report.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

May I refer my hon. Friend to the question that has just been raised by the Leader of the Opposition about the debate on Stansted on Wednesday? A rumour is going around in the Manchester area that we are to have a two-day debate on Stansted and that the Opposition are giving up one of their days so that the House can have two days to debate this urgent question. Can he confirm or deny that the Opposition are giving a day? If the Opposition are not giving an extra day, could he perhaps extend the debate? There is a tremendous demand by hon. Members to speak on the subject, which is of great interest not only to Essex and Heathrow but also to the north of England?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that my hon. Friend will have noted that it is a one-day debate that proceeds next week. I take note of what he says about the possibility of suspending the 10 o'clock rule. Perhaps that matter could be further considered through the usual channels.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Why cannot next Wednesday's debate on Stansted take place on the basis of an amendable motion? Why can we not have a motion that can be amended to take note of the report, so that hon. Members on both sides of the House can give the Government a clear indication of their viewpoint on this important issue? Can the Leader of the House help us on a matter of the first importance?

Mr. Biffen

Of course I recognise the importance of the matter, and I recognise the deep interest that the right hon. Gentleman has in this topic. The point that he now suggests was considered, but it was thought more appropriate that the debate should arise on the motion on the Adjournment and that my right hon. Friends who have a certain status in these matters should be able to sit and listen to the debate.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

In view of the somewhat selective reference that the Leader of the Opposition made to human rights in connection with Chile, would not my right hon. Friend agree that there is a very strong case for the House to have the opportunity to discuss the violation of human rights all over the world and its relationship to foreign policy generally?

Mr. Biffen

I recognise that point. I have none the less to be rather unhelpful in the sense that no provision is made for the subject next week, and I do not think that there is an early likelihood of such a debate taking place in Government time. But it is a very important issue.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted the precedents, which show that, during the miners' dispute of 1974 the then Conservative Prime Minister granted four debates in Government time? Is it not now absolutely clear that the Government are as afraid of a debate on the mining industry in the House as they are of negotiations between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board? Is he also aware that. Mr. Speaker now having 18 times ruled that a debate on the mining industry is not specific, urgent or important enough to take precedence over the Orders of the Day, he, as Leader of the House, is in effect trying to exclude any parliamentary examination of the wholly fraudulent economic arguments used to justify the attack upon the mining industry?

Mr. Biffen


Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that in that question the right hon. Gentleman was not alluding to me.

Mr. Benn

Mr. Speaker, I was referring to the fact that 18 times since the strike began, you have felt unable to grant a request for a debate under Standing Order No. 10. I have checked in the Library that four times in the 1974 dispute the then Government gave time. My remarks were addressed to the Leader of the House. He is trying to prevent Parliament from discussing the mining industry. That is manifestly so.

Mr. Biffen

I shall look at all those points and draw such comfort as I can from the comparison between the current mining dispute and that in 1974.

Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)

The acoustics may not be perfect, and I should like to be clear about the debate on Stansted. Some of us feel that it would have been of benefit to the Minister in considering the issue if the voices had first been counted on the desirability of allowing for a 15 million passenger expansion at Stansted. Did my right hon. Friend say that there had been no request for an extension of the debate to two days, and that the suggested day's debate would take place only after a decision had already been made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, so he would not know how many hon. Members hold strong feelings about the issue before he made his decision?

Mr. Biffen

The answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's question is yes, but doubtless my hon. Friend will be able to pursue that point later. As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be touching on that issue in his speech on Wednesday. Representations have been made to me this afternoon about the desirability of extending the debate and, as I have said, we shall consider that through the usual channels.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great concern about the draft proposals for limited list prescribing? Will he give an undertaking that there will be a full debate on those proposals, and that the issue will not be hidden away in a one-and-a-half hour debate after 10 pm?

Mr. Biffen

I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's point about the concern. There has certainly been considerable correspondence on the matter. I cannot give any undertaking about the amount of time allocated to the debate, but I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

May I reinforce the remarks made by the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris)? Every hon. Member must be receiving an enormous volume of letters from general practitioners and their patients, all of whom will be adversely affected by the Government's proposals. It is not sufficient for the Leader of the House to duck the question. Will he give a firm guarantee that there will be a full day's debate on that important issue?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. However, I cannot accept the premise of his argument about the amount of adversity that the proposals have given rise to. The hon. Gentleman has made a request about the amount of time needed for a debate, but he will know that such matters are normally dealt with through the usual channels. Nevertheless, I note what has been said.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

My right hon. Friend will doubtless have heard Lord Stockton's eloquent and scintillating plea that the country should adopt new technology with more enthusiasm. As their Lordships have set us an interesting example in that regard, perhaps my right hon. Friend will agree that there are many directions in which this House could move. How soon will we have an opportunity to accelerate the adoption of new technology here?

Mr. Biffen

The House wuld probably wish to adopt rather more measured techniques than my hon. Friend has in mind.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

Will the right hon. Gentleman allow time for an early and full debate on the De Lorean affair? The Public Accounts Committee has said that that affair involved one of the gravest misuses of public money. We must go further than we have done so far, and hold a debate in the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accede to that request, which comes from the whole Committee.

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for informing me that he would raise that point. He has raised an issue of real substance and I shall look into it, and be in touch with him.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Does the Leader of the House mind me drawing his attention to early-day motion 36, which stands in my name and which argues the case for a blindness allowance?

[That this House, whilst appreciating all that has been done for the blind by this and previous governments, wishes to remind the Government of the acceptance by successive Ministers of the case for a blindness allowance; and, in particular, the statement by the then Minister of State for Social Security and the Disabled (the Right honourable Member for Daventry) on 24th July 1979 that the case for an income in the form of a blindness allowance is unanswerable on its merits; points out to the Government that the blind do not normally qualify, for mobility, invalidity, attendance or other allowances, unless suffering from a second disability; and calls upon the Government to take immediate action to replace the existing range of benefits available to the blind with a means-tested blindness allowance.]

My right hon. Friend will no doubt recollect that some weeks ago an Adjournment debate on that subject was initiated by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt). With his customary generosity and courtesy, he allowed me to intervene in it. As the early-day motion has now been signed by 201 hon. Members, will my right hon. Friend accept that there is an urgent need for a more general opportunity to debate the issue as soon as possible?

Mr. Biffen

I thank my hon. Friend, who also gave me notice of his intention to draw my attention to that early-day motion, and I congratulate him on the skill with which he is conducting his campaign for the allowance. I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate, but we are beginning to approach the Budget season and I am sure that the formidable arithmetic contained in the numbers who have signed the motion will not have been lost on my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Has the right hon. Gentleman had time to look at early-day motion 285 standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) and 112 right hon. and hon. Members concerning unemployment in the construction industry and the fact that there are now 450,000 unemployed building workers?

[That this House, concerned at the mass level of unemployment in the construction industry and the number of families on local authority housing lists, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to initiate a massive increase in public investment, to construct more housing, new and improved roads, to carry out an overhaul of water and sewage systems and an increase in public works, as suggested by the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry, the building trades employers and construction industry trade unions in an attempt to get 450,000 unemployed building workers back to work and put new life back into the industries that supply the materials, thereby creating even more jobs.]

Bearing in mind the fact that the report, published today, of the committee chaired by the Duke of Edinburgh states that we need to spend £50 million to put our housing stock in order, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the important issue of unemployment in the construction industry?

Mr. Biffen

I am at one with the hon. Gentleman in underlining the importance of the subject, but I regret that I cannot offer him the prospect of a debate next week either on the subject generally or on the terms of the early-day motion. However, he may have a chance to make some of the points he wishes to make in the debate that we shall be having on the White Paper on public expenditure.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Following the question from the Leader of the Opposition, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the somewhat disingenuous and pusillanimous procedural device of having Wednesday's debate on the Eyre report on the Adjournment? Although the Secretary of State for Transport has repeatedly emphasised that, because of his quasi-judicial position, he is unable to comment in any way on the findings of the Eyre Report, that will be the subject of our debate. Would it not be better to have that debate on, say, early-day motion 146 entitled "Stansted and the Regions", which would give the House as a whole a chance to express its view?

[That this House, deeply concerned to achieve balanced economic growth throughout the United Kingdom, and believing that the proposed massive expansion of Stansted Airport would produce unjustifiable urban growth and congestion in North West Essex and East Hertfordshire, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to opt now for a policy which, while providing for a modest increase in activity at Stansted, subject to a fixed ceiling, would place the greater emphasis on taking all possible steps to expand the use of provincial airports to meet demand in the region of its origin, the case for which has been well documented and shown to be financially viable by various groups, notably the North of England Regional Consortium.]

Mr. Biffen

I take note of the representations that my hon. Friend makes, but I do not want to raise his hopes too high, having told the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) that we considered the two alternatives and decided that on balance there was virtue in choosing the Adjournment motion as the means of promoting the debate.

Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)

Has the Leader of the House noted early-day motion 266, which has been signed by 175 hon. Members, and early-day motion 299 entitled "Homelessness in Severe Weather"?

[That this House is deeply concerned at the plight of those people without shelter or a roof over their heads at night at this time of intense cold and severe winter conditions; and calls on the Government to take emergency steps, in consultation with local authorities, to ensure that warm shelter and beds are provided for those in need by the taking over of buildings together with other emergency action such as the use of underground railway stations, &c.]

[That this House calls upon London Regional Transport to open one or more Underground stations at night during severe bad weather to allow homeless people to take shelter there; notes the generous offer of the Salvation Army to supervise people taking advantage of such a facility at no public charge; and welcomes the donation of well over 2,000 blankets by firms and members of the public for the protection and comfort of those without shelter.]

Has the right hon. Gentleman spoken to the Ministers concerned and asked them to make a statement to the House—I am not asking for a debate—on the important issue of people who are out in the cold without any night shelter? As hon. Members on both sides have raised this matter, may we have a statement next week to the effect that something serious will be done to help those people?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly convey that request.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Will my right hon. Friend agree that the first day of the television experiment in another place tended to confirm the fears of those of us who believe that such an experiment here would change the character of this place by concentrating the attention on theatrical performance rather than on the debate and the words that come out of our mouths?

Mr. Biffen

If that be true, I reckon that we could have put on a better show.

Mr. James Hamilton (Motherwell, North)

In view of the disgruntled feelings of the people of Scotland in general and the senior citizens in particular because extra fuel allowance is being paid to the people of London, Sussex and the south, will the right hon. Gentleman request the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement to the House explaining the logic of a policy that is causing hardship in Scotland?

Mr. Biffen

As I was innovative enough to go to Scotland last weekend, I am happy to confirm what the hon. Gentleman says about the keen interest that exists in this topic, and I shall, as he requests, mention it to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is some consolation in what he said about guaranteeing the House another opportunity to adjudicate on the Government's airport policy, when formulated? In view of the many hon. Members who are concerned about the issue, will my right hon. Friend reconsider whether it would be in accordance with majority opinion if the advice of the House were given in a substantive way before the Government's decision?

Mr. Biffen

I shall take note of what my right hon. Friend says. It is a very formidable request, and not one to which I should make an instantaneous response.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Can the Leader of the House tell us what consideration was given to the request several times recently at business questions for a debate on the current miners' dispute so that all hon. Members could have the chance to ask questions? For example, we want to ask why the spokesman of the National Coal Board, speaking on the radio at 8 o'clock this morning, did not mention anything about preconditions that the NCB would want before discussions started, yet at 11.07 am, when the NUM national executive committee was meeting, the NCB issued a statement to say that it did want preconditions. It is more urgent than ever that hon. Members are given the opportunity to ask Her Majesty's Government such questions.

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that topic is kept under continual review. Although the question is normally asked in the context of the Government making time available for debate, there are many other opportunities that the House possesses. It so happens that next Monday we have energy questions. If the very point that the hon. Gentleman now raises cannot be put then, it would be a reflection on his ingenuity, which I know he well possesses.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

May I press the Leader of the House to turn his attention to the prayer in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends about the Housing Benefits Amendment (No. 4) Regulations 1984, No. 1965? Can we have an assurance that there will be an early debate on the prayer? Also, it is about time that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland came to the House and made a statement about the effects that are being inflicted on the Scottish education system by the current industrial dispute in the teaching profession in Scotland.

Mr. Biffen

In respect of the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I shall certainly look into that matter and be in touch with him. On the second point, about the teaching dispute in Scotland, I shall of course represent to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the hon. Gentleman's anxiety that there should be a statement on the matter.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Since the official consultation period for the limited list of drugs ends next Thursday, will my right hon. Friend ensure that on Monday week the Secretary of State for Social Services comes to the House to make a statement on his revised proposals, as the original draft list was totally unsatisfactory?

Mr. Biffen

I shall most certainly put that request to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Leader of the House reflect further on his answer about the mining dispute? Will he concede that one might take one of two views? One is that the issue is of such importance that it should be ventilated in the forum of the nation, which is the House of Commons, despite what happened in another place yesterday. The second view is that the issue is so delicate that we should have a vow of silence by everybody. If the right hon. Gentleman takes the latter view, because he is being obdurate in hot conceding a debate, will he give an assurance that there will be no public statements over the weekend such as his own at Bathgate last weekend? We have had a proliferation of statements, but the right hon. Gentleman attacked the miners when they had no opportunity to reply. If we are going to have statements from Ministers and interference in the dispute, the place for them to speak is here, which is why we should have a debate here.

Mr. Biffen

At Bathgate — or Livingston, to be precise — I contributed a measured and charitable comment, the tone of which I commend to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Is it not a fact that this morning in Sheffield the full executive of the NUM went into debate having let it be known that it would come to negotiations without any preconditions and that during the time those people were in there, and even when they emerged, they still did not know that the Government had laid down the most important precondition of the lot—a fundamental precondition? They asked the miners to sign a document saying that the 11-month strike was a waste of time and admitting defeat. That is the precondition. I can see the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) nodding in agreement at what I have said. Even the Minister is smiling as I speak, giving the game away about what the Government are really doing. As a matter of urgency, can we now have a debate, or is the Minister going to hold off until the Prime Minister has intensified and deepened the problem once again?

Mr. Biffen

My smile was but a wry reflection on how unfair it was that I should ever expect the hon. Gentleman truly to reflect the dispositions and temperament of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. That being so, I found the premise—

Mr. Flannery

It is a bit difficult.

Mr. Biffen

That remark proves my point. The hon. Gentleman's premise did not justify the conclusion that he drew.

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

Is it not demeaning to Parliament that, despite the fact that it is possible to debate the coal mining dispute on television, in the press and in public meetings throughout the country, the Government refuse to have a debate in the House in Government time? The only debate we have had so far has been as a result of one Standing Order No. 10.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to argue that this is a topic of such seriousness as to require a debate in Government time, and I keep that proposition under constant review. Equally I am entitled to say that it is a topic that comes to the House in many guises, in many forms and on many days, and it will certainly be with us on Monday.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that none of the friends of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) should be allowed to deflect or deter the democratic process anywhere? Will he further accept that many of us believe that yesterday's proceedings on television were interesting and successful? Will he guarantee that, when the other place has concluded its experiment, we too can debate this matter?

Hon. Members


Mr. Biffen

This may be the occasion for a measured, low-profile response to the drama that took place down the road. It is far too early to make a judgment on what has occurred. On the other hand, my hon. Friend is right to say that this will be a material factor in the debates that we have about whether or not television is allowed into the House of Commons. All this will take a period that will reflect the broad mood of the House.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider one aspect of the call which I made in the House yesterday for a debate on the current problem in the mining industry? The Government have emphatically rejected and condemned the decision of the European Assembly to consider the coal strike. They have rightly argued that this is a matter for the Westminster Parliament, rather than for the European Assembly. Given that response, is it not reasonable for us to suggest that the Government should act consistently and arrange for the Westminster Parliament to consider in debate that which they felt inappropriate for the Assembly in Strasbourg?

Mr. Biffen

I think that what the Assembly in Strasbourg had in mind was something more challenging than mere debate. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and I keep this matter under consideration.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be unfortunate if the impression were to be given that it is only the Left wing of the Labour party that thinks that the House should debate the miners' strike? Are not the points made by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) extremely pertinent — points about the rights of those who have been balloted and the right of people to be protected from intimidation? Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the country and the House that the Official Opposition have ample opportunities, such as Supply days, one of which is due to take place on Monday week? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Labour party wants to debate the miners' strike, all that the Leader of the Opposition has to do is to nominate Monday week, 4 February, as the day for that debate?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. That is why I am giving a relatively generous response to all the points that are put to me on this subject.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House explain why, if the Government claim that they have such a strong case in respect of the mining dispute, they do not present the House of Commons with an opportunity to debate the issue in their time? Then they could put the case that they put in the media on other occasions. There is a contradiction. If they had such a strong case and wanted to knock the Labour Opposition about, they would use the opportunity several times over. Is not the truth of the matter that the Tory Government are frightened to have the matter debated in their time, for the very good reason that some of us would be able to point out that the cost of the strike is causing a debilitating drain upon the pound sterling? According to stockbrokers, it is costing £100 million a week. We would be able to point out as well that, if it is right for the National Coal Board and the Government to call upon the National Union of Mineworkers to give a written undertaking about uneconomic pits, we could quite properly call upon the National Coal Board to give a written undertaking to review the closure proposals that it made in the first place.

Mr. Biffen

The contribution of the hon. Gentleman makes my dilemma clear. I am asked about parliamentary involvement in the coal disupute in terms of providing a debate in Government time. That is a proposition which I keep under consideration, but I am also aware that there are plenty of other opportunities whereby. week after week, the topic is brought before the House, and never so much as in questions relating to the next week's business when the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) makes speech after speech after speech. To say that they have any relation to next week's business is a touch of generosity on my part. It performs a role, because through his speeches we can trace the slow decline of the strike which was intended to transform society and the economy and is now on its last legs, thanks to the resistance of the industrial working class.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

May I return to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Mr. Hamilton) about the special needs payments to old people for heating? Is the Leader of the House aware that the Prime Minister has said three times from the Dispatch Box and that social service Ministers have repeatedly said that the criteria for triggering the payments are under review? Is he aware that a review announced in the height of the summer is a fraud perpetrated on old people? In these circumstances, will the Leader of the House ensure that the review is completed expeditiously and that we have a statement within the next week or 10 days giving the new criteria that will trigger these payments more generously.

Mr. Biffen

I have already undertaken to make representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services on this point, and that I undertook again this afternoon. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What has happened?"] Nothing has happened yet. I shall add to those representations the very point that has been made by the hon. Gentleman. I remind the House, incidentally, that the matter is the subject of the Adjournment debate next Wednesday.

Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South)

Will my right hon. Friend use his influence through the usual channels to urge the Opposition to announce the subject for debate on Monday week? If this announcement should herald an opportunity to debate the situation in the coal mines, this would not only be welcomed by the House because it would give us a chance to celebrate the large number of miners returning to work in Bolsover and elsewhere but would mean that the time of the House next week—

Mr. Skinner

They are not on 10 per cent. commission in the back pocket, like you.

Hon. Members


Mr. Skinner

I am not withdrawing it.

Mr. Yeo

If the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Fortunately, I did not hear.

Mr. Yeo

If the hon. Member for Bolsover was receiving 10 per cent. for every miner who returned to work in his constituency he would be an extremely rich man.

Mr. Skinner

Taking money off charities.

Hon. Members


Mr. Skinner

No, I will not withdraw.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) ask a question of the Leader of the House, not of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)?

Mr. Yeo

Will my right hon. Friend not agree that much of the time of the House next week would be saved because we would not have to listen to dreary applications under Standing Order No. 10.

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition is very sensitive to the moods of the House.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Given that the Prime Minister referred again at Question Time this afternoon to the dispute in the coal industry as being about uneconomic capacity, when the original target that she and her Government set—of saving £200 million—has been exceeded 20 or 25 times, how can the Leader of the House justify his repeated statements that this Chamber is supposed to be the epitome of democracy and a national debating chamber when he and his Government consistently refuse to put the case in a debate in which the Prime Minister could lead off at the Dispatch Box and to which the official Opposition could respond?

Mr. Biffen

I shall bear in mind the request that a debate should be mounted with the Prime Minister in the lead.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Bearing in mind the disgraceful demonstration which took place in the Strangers Gallery of another place, apparently with the approval and connivance of some Opposition Members, and bearing in mind that that followed the entertainment of a convicted terrorist in the Palace of Westminster by a Member of the Opposition, can my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate to consider the abuse by some hon. Members of the privileges that they enjoy?

Mr. Biffen

Certainly I have been given no information to suggest that the disorder was mounted with the connivance of Members of the House. If any points of substance arise from the incident, they should be referred to the Services Committee.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

What is more—

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is very close, but I called Mr. Ron Brown.

Mr. Ron Brown

What is more important—elected dictatorship or parliamentary democracy? If it is parliamentary democracy, why do we not have a debate on the miners' struggle? Why do we not have a debate on the devastating effects on the Scottish economy. in view of the misery and hardship that the Government are causing? Why does the right hon. Gentleman not give his hon. Friends an opportunity to speak up? Likewise, we will speak up for our friends.

Mr. Biffen

No one can have serious doubts that this is other than a parliamentary democracy when they consider the turmoil and sweat that we have getting reasonable parliamentary majorities week in, week out. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said about future parliamentary debates.

Mr. Speaker

Now, Mr. John Browne.

Mr. John Browne

Will my right hon. Friend accept that a number of my constituents are resentful of what they feel is interference by the recent edict of the European Court regarding corporal punishment in schools? For how much longer, they ask, must we remain subject to a court which, rather than adjudicate the law, now seeks to impose its personal opinions on the internal affairs of sovereign nations? May we have a debate on this treaty?

Mr. Biffen

I can offer no early debate on the treaty which has, prescribed the jurisdiction for the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill, but I look forward very much to the success of my hon. Friend in the Adjournment debate in which we can test the proposition that national sovereignty means freedom from supra national rule.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Following the reference by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to human rights in Chile, has the Leader of the House noted early-day motion 307 about the repression of trade unions in El Salvador, which has been signed by more than 50 hon. Members?

[That this House is greatly concerned at the arrest of Salvador Chavez Escalante, General Secretary of the F.S.R., two days before the congress of the F.S.R., Trade Union Federation of his union by the national police force of El Salvador; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to make urgent representations to President Duarte for Señor Escalante's release and to end the repression of the trade union movement in El Salvador.]

Will the Government make urgent representations to President Duarte asking for the immediate release of Mr. Escalante, the general secretary of the FSR?

Mr. Biffen

I have already told the Leader of the Opposition that I would refer the matter concerning Chile to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. If it would be within the fraternity of the Labour party, perhaps I might include the problem raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Further to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) about the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill, many of us do not want a debate about the subject but want it cancelled altogether. Is it not a most extraordinary measure for a Tory Government to bring forward? Does this ancient democracy require lessons in human rights from Europeans?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the answer to the last part of my hon. Friend's question is no. The answer to the first part—I say this with the disapproving eye upon me of the Patronage Secretary—is is that my hon. Friend will have the best of both worlds, a debate and a vote.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that, on Thursday of last week, the coldest day in Bradford for 20 years, when the temperature was well below freezing, a 95-year-old woman was removed from the Thornton View hospital by the Bradford district health authority, which is engaged in a desperate bid to close the hospital by the end of the month? As the authority is planning to remove further very elderly patients from the hospital today and tomorrow, and as it is snowing in Bradford at this moment, will the right hon. Gentleman contact health Ministers to ask them to do what they have so far refused, which is to request the health authority not to remove any more elderly patients from the hospital at least until the weather improves?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, I shall certainly do that.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call those hon. Members who have been rising in their places to put a question to the Leader of the House but I ask them to put their questions briefly.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

May I, as I always do, Mr. Speaker, take the advice of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) and come to the help of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House? If the Opposition are not granted a second day's debate on Stansted, perhaps he will use his normal suave powers to have an untelevised debate on the miners' strike instead? Alternatively, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) suggested, having taken a caning, perhaps we could have a debate on the miners' strike instead of one on the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill.

Mr. Biffen

To be described by my hon. and learned Friend as suave is something that I should like to reflect upon, as I shall on the other advice that he offered in his question.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

In view of the report of progress in the talks between Mr. Ned Smith and Mr. Peter Heathfield and Mr. Eaton's positive statement on the media this morning, followed by Mr. MacGregor's statement, in the light of the refusal of the Prime Minister to answer the questions of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and bearing in mind especially the right hon. Lady's use of "we", will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Energy to explain to the House what interference the Government have caused in the possible talks between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board in the past 24 hours? Many of those I represent believe that the Prime Minister is acting in her own selfish self-interest rather than in the intersts of the nation.

Mr. Biffen

The Government's position on this important but relatively narrow issue is clear. However, if the hon. Gentleman is not happy with it, he has all the opportunities that are presented by Question Time on Monday.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the British information technology industry accepts the principles and objectives of the COCOM agreement but is becoming increasingly concerned at its scope and operation and with the way in which the United States Government are imposing their own Export Administration Act in defiance of our national sovereignty? Will he give the House an opportunity as a matter of urgency to debate this subject? Pending such a debate, will he give an undertaking that no new regulations under the COCOM agreement will be introduced?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a highly significant issue. Although I can offer no promise of an early debate, I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Has the Leader of the House had time to read early-day motion No. 301 on the dangerous phenomenon of jury vetting?

[That this House expresses its deep concern about the use of jury-vetting and the holding of trials in secret, where it is clear that no issues of genuine national security are at stake; and believes that the processes of justice, especially where there is keen public interest in a case, should be as open and free from political interference as possible.]

As we are prohibited by the rules of the House from discussing jury vetting in the specific case of Clive Ponting, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Attorney-General tells us either this week or next week what principles are established for jury vetting and the guidance that he has established on who should be excluded from sitting on juries in the Ponting case and other cases? Will he ask his right hon. and learned Friend to make a statement about this extremely worrying development?

Mr. Biffen

As with so many topics that have been raised on next week's business, this is one of the utmost significance. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House at least agree to postpone the debate on the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill until it has been possible to identify one person involved directly in education who supports it and until the Government can give a clear assurance that the parents of children who have taken assisted places at private schools will not have to identify themselves to the school and to other pupils by taking their names off the register?

Mr. Biffen

All my instincts tell me that it will be highly desirable if the Bill is debated on Monday. I hope that my hon. Friend will be present to make a trenchant speech.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

As our present stock of battlefield nuclear weapons are said by the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO to be unsafe even before they are used, does the Leader of the House not think that there should be a statement on this very important issue? Does he accept that before the Government agree to further production of these nuclear weapons there should be a full debate in the House on the matter?

Mr. Biffen

If the position were as unambiguous as the hon. Lady describes, I am certain that there would be a tremendous desire for such a debate, but it is just possible that the situation is otherwise. However, I shall most certainly refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence so that he may take account of what she has said.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

Does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House recall that, contrary to the express wishes of many hon. Members, the Second Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill was debated before the inspector's report on Stansted was published? In view of the fate of the Bill in Committee, is it not even more important now that the Stansted issue is debated on the Floor of the House and made the subject of a proper vote? If that does not happen, the regions will regard the absence of a debate as an outrage, especially in view of the enormous economic importance of Stansted to the regions.

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said. I assure him that I am fully conscious of all the difficulties that will arise in any conceivable course of action. It was judged that the best course to be pursued in the handling of the business would be broadly that which has been decided upon.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Has the Leader of the House studied early-day motion No. 311, which appears in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay)?

[That this House notes that in the early hours of Tuesday 22nd January a van driven by Cruise Watch Women, which had sighted a United States Cruise missile convoy, was surrounded by police at a junction on the B3098, and that the police broke the side windows and windscreen of the van with a crowbar, caused injury to a passenger who is still receiving medical treatment and then pushed the van against a post, causing damage to the vehicle; and expresses its horror and condemnation that this incident and similar ones have taken place as part of the increasingly indiscriminate attempts to intimidate the peace movement.]

The motion describes an attack on a group of women who sighted a cruise missile early this week. The attack was made by a group of police who damaged the women's vehicle severely. The windows were broken and glass went inside the vehicle. One of the women was forced to swallow glass from the broken windscreen. She is still in hospital receiving treatment for the injuries that were caused by that.

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that it is necessary for the Secretary of State for Defence to explain to the House why cruise missile carriers are wandering around the lanes of Berkshire? Secondly, does he believe that the Home Secretary should make a statement on the use of the police in following those who are concerned about the presence of cruise missiles on our soil and on the use of the police increasingly as a political arm of the Government against those who are opposed to Government policy?

Mr. Biffen

I am informed that the chief constable of Wiltshire is appointing an officer from an outside force to investigate these complaints. I shall refer the wider issues to my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

In view of the disgraceful scenes made last week in the House by Labour Members, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is staggering that the Opposition Front Bench do not have the bottle to use their Supply day to debate the dispute of some of the miners? Is he aware that Conservative Members who represent mining constituencies will be very happy to debate the issue in Opposition time or Government time so that we can draw to the attention of the House the trade union's repression of working miners?

Mr. Biffen

I recollect what the Chamber was like last Thursday and I am aware of what it has been since. I, like the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, sat at the feet of and drew inspiration from Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, as he now is. I think that we can both agree that a week is a long time.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

I take up the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth). Does my right hon. Friend agree that the behaviour of Members of the Parliamentary Labour Party over the past couple of weeks has left much to be desired and has caused those outside Parliament, especially the House of Commons, to form a bad opinion of us? Does he agree that if Labour Members regard the miners' dispute so seriously, it is rather strange that they did not ask yesterday for a debate on the issue instead of debating post office closures? Is it not strange also that they are not hinting at having a debate on the mining dispute on Monday week? Will my right hon. Friend meet the Leader of the Opposition and give the strongest possible hint that Back Bench Labour Members who are demanding such a debate should be heard? The House is sick to death of being disrupted by appalling requests which obviously delay the business of the House.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes pertinent observations, which will have widespread support among Conservative Back Benchers. My hon. Friend's observations will have been heard by the Leader of the Opposition, who has the prize within his gift of the Opposition clay on Monday week. Doubtless, his distilled wisdom will be apparent in what he eventually decides to do.