HC Deb 04 July 1985 vol 82 cc529-36 3.45 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House to 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 8 JULY—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government Bill.

TUESDAY 9 JULY — Progress on Report stage of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY Jo JuLY—Completion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

THURSDAY II JULY — Estimates Day (3rd Allotted Day). The Estimates for consideration will appear in the Official Report. It is proposed that there will be a debate on Estimates relating to housing and environmental matters followed by a debate on Estimates relating to community care and the mentally ill and handicapped.

FRIDAY I2 JULY — There will be a debate on the reports of the House of Commons (Services) Committee 1984–85 on "Members' Staff: Pressure on Accommodation and Facilities", House of Commons Paper 195 and "Information Technology: Members' Requirements", House of Commons Paper 97. The debate will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 15 JULY—Opposition Day (18th Allotted Day) (Second Part). Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on a motion in the name of the leader of the Liberal party; subject of debate to be announced.

Remaining stages of the Oil and Pipelines Bill.

Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Trustee Savings Banks Bill.

[Estimates to be considered:

Class VII, Vote 1 (Housing, England (Department of the Environment)).

Class VII, Vote 2 (Housing Corporation, Rent Acts and Miscellaneous Administration (Department of the Environment)).

Class VIII, Vote 2 (Central Environmental Services, etc.)

Class VIII, Vote 3 (Derelict Land Reclamation, Urban Programme and Urban Development Corporations, England).

Class VIII, Vote 5 (Central Administration and Environmental Research (Department of the Environment)).

Class XIV, Vote 1 (Civil Accommodation Services (PSA of the Department of the Environment)).

Class XI, Vote I (Hospital, Community Health and Other Services, England):

Subhead A1 (Current Advances to and Payments on Behalf of Health Authorities) so far as it relates to community care, with special reference to adult mentally ill and mentally handicapped people.]

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. We deeply resent the haste with which the Government propose to rush through the consideration of the Lords amendments to the Local Government Bill. The fact that the supplementary guillotine is to be used is strong evidence of the Government's disarray on the issue both in the House and elsewhere. The Bill is an affront to the democratic rights of millions in the metropolitan counties and the Greater London area. Surely it justifies much longer time for consideration in this place. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider that further.

I have asked on a number of occasions for a debate during Government time on the so-called star wars initiative. In the light of Vice-President Bush's visit this week and the welcome news of an East-West summit in the autumn, I ask the right hon. Gentleman again to ensure that we have time to give consideration to the strategic defence initiative before the House rises for the summer recess.

When the debate takes place on Thursday on the Estimates on community care, the mentally ill and handicapped, will the right hon. Gentleman try to ensure that the Minister makes a statement suspending the changes in the board and lodging allowances, which will impoverish and endanger the old and chronically disabled who have gone into private residential homes since 30 April?

Finally, I asked two months ago why we needed to wait until the autumn for a debate on televising the proceedings of the House. I reinforce my demand that we should have that debate before the summer recess so that the televising of our proceedings could commence with the Queen's Speech next Session.

Mr. Biffen

I shall start with the right hon. Gentleman's last question, which was almost enough in itself. The issue of the House resolving whether it wants to sanction an experimental period of television is one which requires a good deal of delicate touch. I do not believe that it would be prudent to try to secure a judgment to enable the opening of Parliament and the Queen's Speech to be the subject of television. It would be very much better if this matter continued to be discussed in the manner in which it has been hitherto. I hope the matter will be available for a Commons decision early in the new Session.

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the board and lodging allowances went before the House earlier this week, but I will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services the right hon. Gentleman's interest in the matter.

On the matter of a debate on the star wars initiative, the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the House had a chance to make its views known on this topic during the two days recently devoted to the defence Estimates. I am quite happy that this matter should be considered further through the usual channels.

I am sorry to be mildly unhelpful over this next point, but it was claimed that precipitate haste had been shown by the Government over the Local Government Bill, and that inadequate attention had been given to it. I have to point out that in this House and in another place almost 350 hours will have been devoted it. The Lords amendments were notified to the House yesterday and the present arrangements are a reasonable and equitable means of trying to secure further consideration of the measure.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Could my right hon. Friend help with an important constitutional problem? This House will not be able to debate the possible withdrawal of the United Kingdom from UNESCO. The United Kingdom National Commission is the only one whose chairman is a Minister in the Government. This precludes the tabling of parliamentary questions on the subject because the Minister will be presenting evidence to a Select Committee of the House. Can my right hon. Friend help us?

Mr. Biffen

I will most certainly look into that matter and I will be in touch with my hon. Friend.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Can the Minister give an assurance that the motion tabled by my hon. and right hon. Friends on the immigration rules affecting Tamils will be debated before we rise for the summer recess?

Mr. Biffen

That is certainly my intention.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

In view of the immense constitutional importance of the European Communities (Finance) Bill, will the Leader of the House make a statement next week indicating whether he considers that this Bill should be considered in the other place, and could he give us some indication of how these things are decided and what considerations are taken into account?

Mr. Biffen

The Bill was left in such a state that its Committee stage has not yet been concluded, and I am sure that points might arise on that.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Can the Minister confirm that the second debate to take place on Thursday which arises from the Select Committee report on the care of the mentally ill and mentally handicapped, for which I understand additional time has been allowed, is likely to start by about 6.30 in the evening?

Mr. Biffen

That is my understanding, but perhaps I could get in touch with the hon. Lady when I can ascertain it with more certainty.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Would my right hon. Friend comment upon the fact that during Opposition Supply Days there has been virtually nobody on the Opposition Benches, front or back. In the light of that, will he consider revising the parliamentary timetable so as to afford more opportunity for Back Benchers on the Conservative side who are here in numbers on those occasions? Perhaps he could give us a debate on law and order, for which many of us have been asking for a long time.

Mr. Biffen

If I were to answer those enticing questions, it could only be in such a way as to exacerbate tempers which are already somewhat fragile in this month of July.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House arrange next week for a statement to be made on how much the Government will dole out as a result of the top people's pay review board for judges and others? Will he affirm that the estimate is likely to be twice the Government's going rate for the rest of the country? These people are already earning more than £50,000 a year. So that there can be fair treatment, will he ensure that there will be another statement by the Secretary of State for Education and Science to follow the one on the top people's pay review board so that a proper comparison can be made about how the Government are treating those at the very top of our society in relation to those who are trying their level best to motivate kids at school, many of whom will not have the chance of a job when they leave?

Mr. Biffen

It is the job of the Leader of the House never to excite too much expectation of statements, but I shall nevertheless refer the hon. Gentleman's interest in such a statement to my relevant right hon. Friends.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that star wars is such an important and large subject that it cannot be covered by a general defence debate? As the Leader of the Opposition has suggested this as a subject for debate, would not it be more suitable to hold it in Opposition time?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition will have noted that interesting proposition. As I have said, the opportunity to pursue it through the usual channels is available.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Bearing in mind that the Government have refused to give time to debate the Select Committee report on the Transport Bill, will the right hon. Gentleman find time next week for a debate on the Government's White Paper in response to that report? If we go along this dangerous road, we shall be conducting parliamentary business by correspondence course. Will the Leader of the House arrange for an urgent debate, or is he afraid that the Secretary of State for Transport is so imcompetent that he could not justify the Bill?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that no provision has been made in next week's business for a debate on transport, and I cannot hold out hope of art early debate as we now enter the most congested period in the parliamentary year. None the less, I shall refer his anxieties and strictures to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to read early-day motion 835?

[That this House notes with grave concern that the bankers, Morgan Grenfell and Company Limited were acting for both Arthur Bell and Sons plc and Guinness plc in the period immediately prior to the current takeover being launched; is further concerned at the consequence this may have for the Scottish financial institutions, the investors in Arthur Bell and Company plc and for the workers employed by that company; and believes this takeover should be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.]

If so, is my right hon. Friend aware that the bankers mentioned in that motion have been working for one of the companies involved in the take-over of Arthur Bell and Sons? They have also been advising on that company's corporate and financial structure and other sensitive areas that would be invaluable to anyone else who wished to take it over. Sadly, this cast doubt on how self-regulatory bodies, such as the one operating in the City, work. That must be bad for the benefits that have accrued from the sound financial system that operates in this country. May we please have an early debate on this matter?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. The City panel considered this potential conflict of interest, and we must assume that it was satisfied. I understand my hon. Friend's interest in the matter, but this could well be a possible candidate for an Adjournment debate. I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate in Government time.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last Friday a High Court judge directed that the Home Secretary should reconsider the case of a Tamil asylum-seeker whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman has tried to remove from this country? In his judgment, the judge described as inhuman the Government's policy towards Tamil asylum-seekers. At the very least, should not the Leader of the House insist on the Home Secretary making a statement about whether the Government will appeal against that decision or review their inhuman policy towards Tamil asylum-seekers? Will the right hon. Gentleman also ensure that the matter is fully and urgently debated in the House so that the fear from which Tamils in this country, and those who wish to leave Sri Lanka suffer, can be properly discussed in the open?

Mr. Biffen

The best way to help the hon. Gentleman is to refer him to the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Considering how unrepresentative the other place is when dealing with matters of this kind, can my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will adopt a very robust attitude to its amendments to the Local Government Bill?

Mr. Biffen

I think that the Government have behaved with commendable balance and judgment, and I do not think that my hon. Friend will be disappointed.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we were very pleased that the Secretary of State for Defence was able to find time to attend defence Question Time this week, contrary to his practice in the past? However, the Secretary of State's answers were so arrogant and gratuitously insulting that many Opposition Members expect him to come back to the House and to apologise for his lack of politeness.

Mr. Biffen

I have to accuse the hon. Gentleman of being unduly sensitive, which is about the worst accusation one can make in this House.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)

May we have an early debate on public expenditure to allow my right hon. Friends to reaffirm their commitment to reducing as well as controlling the proportion it consumes of our national wealth?

Mr. Biffen

I feel uncomfortable that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is breathing down my neck as the surrogate Leader of the House. As my hon. Friend observes, we will take the Finance Bill next week and if my hon. Friend cannot make all his speeches on that occasion I know of none other which can be so accommodating.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Will the Secretary of State for Social Services make a statement next week about further cuts in housing benefit as reported in today's press? If so, will he be telling the House why such a statement was not included in his statement two weeks ago and how he can conceivably justify further cuts on the poor?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot enter into the merits of the argument contained in his premise. It would be a very unhappy day if we based our business on what was contained in newspaper comment and speculation. I will of course draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the point he makes.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

In view of recent events in the middle east, and particularly the upsurge in international terrorism, and in order to give credence to the reports in today's press that there is to be a concerted effort against international terrorism, will my right hon. Friend grant a debate, perhaps on the Adjournment of the House, on the subject of terrorism?

Mr. Biffen

I note my hon. Friend's point. The subject is one of the most profound in topical importance, but I can see little prospect of a debate in Government time, although there are still opportunities left to Members to seek private debates in the weeks that remain.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman determine to delay as interminably as he can manage any consideration of the televising of the proceedings of this House, because if we were to proceed to televise the conduct of the House it would do enormous damage by the performance of some Members and would give a very bad impression of how Members conduct hours of responsible debate.

Mr. Biffen

I have no wish to enter into the controversy whether the House should or should not be televised. I have no wish to rescue the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition from the strictures of his hon. Friend. All I will say is that it has just the appropriate rate of expedition.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the situation that has developed in some of our hospitals because of stress upon the nursing staff and the effect that that stress is having on some of the patients, caused in the main because of lack of staff and lack of resources for the National Health Service? Will he assure the House that there will be time to discuss the serious situation which is developing because of stress on nurses? Will he prevail upon the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services to make a statement that an inquiry will be held as to the causes of stress on nurses? Will he assure the House that something will be done to relieve that stress?

Mr. Biffen

I will pass the request for an inquiry to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. As for the more general issue of a debate, on Thursday we will debate the mentally ill. Since mental health forms a very substantial fraction of the total Health Service, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to make his speech on that occasion.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion 817.

[That this House, aware of the deep concern of the Merseyside Equal Opportunities Project, the Women's Education Centre, the Community Relations Council and the Liverpool Black Sisters, at the proposed deportation of Mrs. Mabel Achinihu with her two children, one aged four years and the other aged two months who were both born in England, notes that Mrs. Achinihu has worked in England since 1976, and on a return to Nigeria her husband was tragically killed in a road accident; and calls upon the Secretary of State for the Home Department to show compassion by allowing this young family to remain in the United Kingdom.]

The motion is supported by more than 90 hon. Members. It deals with the proposed deportation of a young mother with two young babies, both born in this country. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Minister to receive a deputation to discuss this diabolical decision?

Mr. Biffen

I understand that the case is being reviewed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, and I shall bring to his attention the points which have just been raised.

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

As I intend to table an early-day motion on the subject, will the Leader of the House provide time next week to enable the Minister with responsibility for the disabled to explain to this House how the statement made to the Welsh Conservative party conference by the Secretary of State for Wales accords with the express desire of that Minister that public attitudes to the disabled should be altered by means of education, example and persuasion?

Mr. Biffen

It would be only courteous if I were to wait until I saw the terms of the early-day motion. Meanwhile, I will refer the hon. Gentleman's comments to the relevant Minister.

Mr. Max Madden (Belfast, West)

Has the Leader of the House seen the statement issued today by the House of Commons branch of the Association of Clerical, Technical and Supervisory Staffs which makes serious criticisms of the competence and impartiality of the inquiry into water contamination of the Norman Shaw South building? Will he seriously consider those criticisms and also the request for the early establishment of a wholly independent inquiry, which would involve trade union consultation?

Mr. Biffen

I have no reason to doubt the integrity of the inquiry, and I should like to make that amply clear, but I shall look at the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the tremendous pressure which is building up in Strangeways prison in Manchester which now holds nearly twice as many people as it was originally designed for, including people on remand who are not guilty of any crime? Is he also aware that the prison officers there recently passed a motion of no confidence in the governor? Given that things have reached such a pitch, may we have an independent inquiry into events at the prison so that we can be assured that everything is satisfactory or, in the likely event that the prison officers still have some realistic grievances, that something is done to make things easier for them and for the inmates of the prison.

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that such an inquiry would be the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to whom I will refer the points which have just been made.