HC Deb 31 January 1985 vol 72 cc413-7 3.31 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will 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 4 FEBRUARY—Opposition day (7th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion on the coal mining dispute.

Motion relating to the Immigration Appeals (Procedure) Rules.

TUESDAY 5 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Films Bill, the Shipbuilding Bill and of the Milk (Cessation of Production) Bill.

Proceedings on the Town and Country Planning (Compensation) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 6 FEBRUARY — Motion On the Rate Limitation (Prescribed Maximum) (Precepts) Order.

Remaining stages of the Hong Kong Bill.

THURSDAY 7 FEBRUARY—Motions relating to the Water Authorities (Return on Assets) Orders 1984 and 1985.

Ways and Means resolution relating to the GLC grant to London Regional Transport.

Motion on the London Regional Transport (Levy) Order.

FRIDAY 8 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 11 FEBRUARY—Private Members motions until seven o'clock. Afterwards, remaining stages of the Social Security Bill.

Mr. Kinnock

The Government have made no arrangements for a debate next week on the public expenditure White Paper, and the delay since its publication last week is starting to become a little suspicious. May we look forward to this important debate in the near future, and certainly long before the Budget?

Although these are early days, there is already evidence of the success of the televising of proceedings in the House of Lords. When will the right hon. Gentleman provide an opportunity to discuss the televising of this House?

On the motions relating to the Water Authorities (Return on Assets) Orders to be debated on Thursday, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what the Government will do in view of the fact that a large number of Conservative Members are opposed to the completely unjustifiable rise in water rates in the Thames valley area, and especially in the wake of the extraordinary policy of non-intervention in the Division Lobbies which was established last night?

Mr. Biffen

I recognise the importance of holding a debate on the public expenditure White Paper. I hope that we can agree through the usual channels to hold it in the near future.

On the question of a debate on the televised recording of the proceedings of the House, I should like to share with the right hon. Gentleman the answer I gave to the leader of the Social Democrats. I know that it is difficult for the Leader of the Opposition to share anything with the leader of the Social Democrats. I believe that I have met the point of anxiety.

As to the business on Thursday, the Water Authorities (Return on Assets) Orders will be presented to the House. Their case will be argued convincingly by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction, and doubtless we shall have a thoroughly satisfactory result.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

Will my right hon. Friend take the earliest opportunity to make time for a debate on the bias in the television news media as evidenced by the research of Stirling university which shows that during the first eight months of the miners' dispute threequarters of the time was allocated to comrade Arthur Scargill and his crew and not to the obviously unbiased views of the chairman and board of the National Coal Board?

Mr. Biffen

I have made no provision in Government time for a debate of the type that my hon. Friend requests, but if he uses the utmost ingenuity he will find that there is to be a debate on the media on the Adjournment on Monday next week. He might see what he can do then.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

Will the Leader of the House reflect upon the reply that he gave me some weeks ago during business questions about the desirability of a debate on youth, given that the International Year of Youth is now well underway? It is in the interests of the whole House to develop an interest in the political process among young people in this country.

Mr. Biffen

I have already said to one of my hon. Friends that I accepted that it was desirable that we should have a debate upon that topic. I only regret that I cannot give any guarantee as to how soon it will be held.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the business for Thursday goes far wider than water in the Thames valley? If that is not the case, will he please urge his hon. Friend to consider the matter again, as many of us would have the greatest difficulty in supporting the Government.

Mr. Biffen

There is no more convincing advocate than my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction and, therefore, I still travel hopefully about the result.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Ought we not to have an early statement on the Government's reaction to the outcome of last night's debate on the inquiry inspector's report on Stansted and, in particular, on the withering criticisms in one speech after another from the Conservative Benches?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman, who is a fair combatant in these matters, will recognise that my right hon. Friend explained that after the debate he would proceed to carry out his quasi-judicial functions in considering the recommendations of the inspector's report. We must wait for that process to be completed.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the proper time to have a debate on the disgraceful campaign that many of the pharmaceutical companies, and some dentists and doctors, are leading against the admirable sense that is to be brought into the dispensing of medicines? Some of the letters that I have had from my constituents, as have many hon. Members, show that some of those companies are more interested in their profits than in the people whom they are there to help. Has not the time come for such a debate to be held and for that type of disgraceful campaign to be put to rest?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Biffen

I understand the point made by my hon. Friend, and the reception that it received shows that it goes far wider than himself. The House might like to know that the policy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will be the subject of regulations and therefore will be debated in the House.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Why did not the Leader of the House mention my People's Right to Fuel Bill, which is coming up on Wednesday of next week, bearing in mind that over 120,000 households have had their fuel supplies disconnected because they cannot afford to pay their bills? Pensioners in Scotland and the north of England are, in some cases, literally freezing to death because the Department of Health and Social Security is mean and is disqualifying those people from receiving the severe weather allowance. Will the Leader of the House consider my invitation to him to add his name to the list of sponsors of my Bill which is a comprehensive charter to eradicate fuel poverty from this country for ever?

Mr. Biffen

I did not mention the hon. Gentleman for the very good reason that, as he has just demonstrated, no one other than himself can adequately represent his particular strand of view. If invited to join my name to his, I will give the matter serious consideration.

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a certain confusion has arisen about parliamentary pensions, perhaps because of the change in the basis upon which they are to be paid, and perhaps for some other reason? Will my right hon. Friend contemplate issuing a statement on the matter in the near future to clear up the confusion?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly consider that point.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

How can the Leader of the House hold forth the olive branch of a debate on youth in International Year of Youth at a time when the Secretary of State for Social Services is preparing to deprive 234,000 16 and 17-year-olds of the right to supplementary benefit? How can the Leader of the House express support for a debate on youth while school leavers are being attacked in such a way?

Mr. Biffen

That is a spurious point, and the reason why I shall offer a debate is that it will provide an opportunity for that to be demonstrated.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Before we have the debate suggested by my right hon. Friend as a result of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark), may we have an even more urgent debate to refute the allegations of the small number of doctors who are debasing their profession and the Hippocratic oath by terrifying the elderly and infirm with wildly inaccurate stories about the Government's proposals for the listing of medicines? If people have cases to fight, is it not more effective and better for them to fight them themselves rather than to use the elderly, the infirm, the defenceless and all the more vulnerable members of society as their proxies?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Biffen

The reaction in the House demonstrates that my hon. Friend's view is widely shared. I have already explained the point about the regulations. This topic is also listed for the Adjournment debate on 7 February.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the importance of the question of disconnection? In the recent past, the supply of an 83-year-old woman — a chronic invalid — was disconnected under the present arrangements and she was deprived of the right to heat. Is not such a case a sufficient reason for the House to debate the present arrangement and to seek to introduce legislation to stop such inhuman acts?

Mr. Biffen

I do not deny that that is a major issue. The best course that I can take, at least initially, is to refer the hon. Gentleman's point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

My right hon. Friend will be aware how strenuously and successfully he and his predecessors have resisted the pressure brought to bear on them by hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly those with young families, to publish a provisional parliamentary timetable for the year. I have in my hand what I am told is a completely accurate provisional timetable extending to the time of the Queen's Speech in November and including the Chancellor's Budget statement. If such information can be made public—and I am told that it is authentic—can it not be made available to hon. Members?

Mr. Biffen

I should very much like to have a copy of the document, especially the Chancellor's Budget statement.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

For the past three weeks the Leader of the House has made sympathetic, though platitudinous, noises about the prospect of a debate about the Housing Benefits Amendment (No. 4) Regulations 1984. Is he aware that the order has only 14 or 15 unexpired days left? May we be assured that if the debate does not take place next week it will be held in the following week?

Mr. Biffen

When the hon. Gentleman has been here a little longer, he will realise that platitudinous statements are the stock-in-trade of the occupant of this post. I will consider what can be done about that point.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

Because of the censure motion this afternoon, the important debate on the Royal Air Force will have to be postponed. In view of the significant decisions that have to be taken on the European fighter aircraft and the new basic trainer, can my right hon. Friend assure the House that that debate will be reinstated as soon as possible?

Mr. Biffen

I can give my hon. Friend that undertaking.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Did my right hon. Friend see the horrifying pictures of starvation in Eritrea and Tigré — the rebel areas of Ethiopia — on television last night? The Government have an excellent record on giving aid to Ethiopia, but as that aid is not getting through to areas such as Tigré, although it is urgently needed, could he arrange for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development to make an early statement on the matter with a view to establishing what can be done?

Mr. Biffen

I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development my hon. Friend's request on a matter that touches all parts of the House.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are to be at least two marches in Leicester on Sunday 3 February? One is effectively in favour of the IRA — it is on "troops out of Northern Ireland"—and the other is by the National Front. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is aware that there is a problem in that the chief constable cannot get a ban for those marches without applying—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member should ask a question about business for next week.

Mr. Bruinvels

Could my right hon. Friend provide time for the House to amend section 3(2) of the Public Order Act 1936 to allow the chief constable to go directly to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary for an immediate ban to protect the citizens of Leicester?

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry that my hon. Friend was unable to ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that question during Question Time. I shall refer what he said to my right hon. and learned Friend so that he may assess the situation.