HC Deb 11 July 1985 vol 82 cc1261-9 3.32 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 15 JULY — Opposition Day (18th Allotted Day). (Second part). Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on the funding of pay awards in the National Health Service, on a motion in the names of the leaders of the Social Democratic and Liberal parties.

Remaining stages of the Oil and Pipelines Bill. Consideration of Lords amendments to the Trustee Savings Banks Bill.

TUESDAY 16 JULY—Motions on the Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report (England) (No. 3) 1982–83 (House of Commons Paper No. 504); the Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report (England) 1985–86 (House of Commons Paper No. 478); the Welsh Rate Support Grant Supplementary (No. 2) Report 1983–84 (House of Commons Paper No. 448); and the Welsh Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report 1985–86 (House of Commons Paper No. 449).

WEDNESDAY 17 JULY — Remaining stages of the Administration of Justice Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Rate Reduction (City of Edinburgh District) 1985–86 Report.

Motion on the Revaluation Rate Rebates (Scotland) Order.

THURSDAY 18 JULY—Estimates Day (4th Allotted day). Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on Estimates relating to export promotion. The Question will be put on all outstanding Votes and Estimates.

Remaining stages of the Insolvency Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 19 JULY—Motions on the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order; The Nursing Homes and Nursing Agencies (Northern Ireland) Order; and the Gas (Northern Ireland) Order.

MONDAY 22 JULY — Consideration of Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill and the Interception of Communications Bill and any Lords amendments which may be received to the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol, Etc.) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

Motion on the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975.

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 subject to progress of business it is hoped to propose that the House should rise for the Summer Adjournment on Friday 26 July until Monday 21 October.

Estimates to be considered Thursday 18 July:

Class IV, Vote 4 (Export Promotion, Trade Cooperation, Corporate and Consumer Affairs):

Section A (Export Promotion) and Section B (Trade Cooperation) so far as they relate to United Kingdom trade with China.

Mr. Kinnock

Yesterday, on a point of order, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) raised the fact that the Home Secretary had slipped through in a written answer an announcement on the Government's changes in the immigration rules. As a parliamentarian himself, does the Leader of the House agree that it would be much more appropriate to make a full statement to the House so that the Home Secretary could be questioned immediately on a matter of major constitutional and human concern to many thousands of people in Britain. Will the right hon. Gentleman make up for the omissions of the Home Secretary and arrange an early debate in Government time so that we can give full consideration to a matter which is shabby and unjust and a cause of great anxiety to thousands of families in Britain?

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that we have an early statement from the Secretary of State for Education and Science on teachers' pay as we are at the end of school terms and the Secretary of State has not been effective in dealing with an increasingly grave matter?

May I press the right hon. Gentleman to provide time for a debate on the Government's attitude towards South Africa? Does he agree that the mounting domestic repression in that country, the change in the attitude of the United States Congress, the recent revelations about the behaviour of the South African arms industry in this country and the attacks on Botswana are matters that would benefit from consideration in the House?

Why has the debate on the Scottish rate rebates order been tacked on to the end of a long and busy day next Wednesday? Have the Government a guilty conscience about the missing £20 million—the amount by which the promised £50 million has been reduced since the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Prime Minister made that promise at the Conservative party conference? Should not the House be accorded a much better time of day in which to consider this major matter of general importance which is of special importance to the people of Scotland?

Mr. Biffen

Perhaps I might take the right hon. Gentleman's points in the sequence in which they were presented. I dissociate myself totally from his strictures against my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary concerning an announcement about a change in the immigration rules, but I agree that there is a good case for a debate on this matter. Perhaps we could pursue it through the usual channels.

I shall of course make known to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety about a statement on teachers' pay. The right hon. Gentleman will realise that at this very moment discussions are taking place, the conclusion of which will probably condition how we should proceed.

I note the right hon. Gentleman's interest in a debate on South Africa. Again, I in no sense underwrite the language he used, but it is a valid request which we could consider through the usual channels.

I know that we are in that rather delicate stage of the session when political motives are invested with all kinds of lurid characteristics, but I do not think that there is any reason for taking the motion on the Revaluation Rate Rebates (Scotland) Order at the proposed time on Wednesday evening other than the crowded condition of the order of business which I have announced this week, which is related to what I believe is a universally welcome aspiration—to rise by Friday 26 July.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

The Leader of the House will have noted that on the Order Paper there is a number of motions expressing different points of view about the strategic defence initiative, but all of them have in common a request for a debate as soon as possible on the subject. Does he agree that, as the other place has had no fewer than four debates this year on the matter, that every Western European Parliament except ours has had a similar debate and that the Western European Assembly has also had a debate, he should consider providing an early opportunity for a debate when the House reassembles so that we are no longer the only Western European Parliament not to have discussed this important subject?

Mr. Biffen

I understand the importance that my hon. Friend attaches to this subject, but I would point out to him that it was available for discussion during our recent two-day debate on the Defence Estimates. Nevertheless, I shall bear his remarks in mind.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

May I reinforce the plea of the Leader of the Opposition for a clear statement by the Home Secretary on the change in the immigration laws? Because of a reply to a written question the situation is obscure. This matter should not be lost sight of during the normal feverish activities of July.

Mr. Biffen

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. That is why, through the usual channels, we are considering providing an opportunity for a debate.

Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)

May I remind my right hon. Friend that not only is the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg a matter of hot dispute but that it is to be the subject of another decision in January 1986? May I also remind him that the matter has never been debated or voted upon in this House? Is he able to give an undertaking that the Government will ensure that a debate takes place before a substanive decision is made?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot give an undertaking that such a debate will take place in Government time, but I note my hon. Friend's interest in this topic. It is not the first time that he has mentioned it. I very much hope that he will be successful in pursuing the matter.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

Because the Nursing Homes and Nursing Agencies (Northern Ireland) Order has not yet been laid and was unheard of until 24 hours ago, does the Leader of the House feel that we can be expected next Friday to debate this order upon which there has been no opportunity whatsoever for consultation?

Mr. Biffen

I am advised that the Nursing Homes and Nursing Agencies (Northern Ireland) Order which was laid today has been made under the urgent procedure, following representations by interested persons in Northern Ireland. Because the order was made under this procedure, no proposal was drafted and circulated. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is today writing to the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly to explain why the urgent procedure was used. [Interruption.] There is no need for the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) to point as though he were on the other side of the Western oceans. I understand the susceptibilities that have been raised in this House, and I shall discuss the matter with the right hon. Gentleman through the usual channels.

Sir John Page (Harrow, West)

As the Water (Fluoridation) Bill has passed through all its stages in another place and will presumably return here fairly soon, will my right hon. Friend ensure that its passage will not be unduly delayed? Whatever may be one's views on this Bill—and I am neutral—it is important to the water industry and a decision should not be unreasonably delayed.

Mr. Biffen

I note my hon. Friend's question. His observation is relevant, not least in the context of the time that is still available for debate.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Has the special branch reported to the Prime Minister that in Liverpool, Bootle and elsewhere unemployed people are being recruited to fight as mercenaries in Nicaragua? Has the special branch also reported that those who are recruiting these people were also involved in recruiting mercenaries to fight in Angola? What kind of surveillance—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must ask for a debate on this matter.

Mr. Roberts

I am asking for a debate on it, Mr. Speaker. I should like to be told in a statement next week what surveillance the special branch has kept over those people who are still in this country who were involved in recruiting mercenaries for Angola. This is not a laughing matter. Many of the young unemployed people in my constituency have been approached. If they are on heroin, they are easy prey to this kind of recruitment. A statement is necessary.

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer to my relevant right hon. Friend that request for a statement. As to a debate, I think that the hon. Gentleman will be disposed to take the opportunities offered by the recess Adjournment debate.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

As I assume that Her Majesty's Government continue to feel constrained by the wise provisions of the United Nations charter, which prohibit us from looking at the domestic affairs of sovereign states, and as I assume that our interests in countries abroad is mainly confined to the influence of events there on our investment and trading interests, and if, as seems likely, my right hon. Friend concedes a debate on South Africa, may I ask that it include civil order in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole?

Mr. Biffen

I shall take that request into account when any arrangements are concluded for such a debate.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

In view of the trenchant all-party criticism by the Public Accounts Committee report published today on the future of the royal dockyards in Rosyth and Devonport and the financial basis of the Government's options, and the Committee's statement about the inadequacy of the information provided to Parliament on those options, will the Leader of the House undertake that the Secretary of State for Defence will make a statement to the House setting out the financial thinking before he takes any decision on the matter, certainly before the recess?

Mr. Biffen

All reports from the Public Accounts Committee are subject to a proper and measured response from Government Departments. I am sure that that will be the case in this instance.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

If it is possible to have an early statement on the teachers' pay dispute, may it be broad enough to take account of meetings such as the one that took place in outer London last week? It was addressed by the Labour party's spokesman on education, somebody from the National Union of Teachers, members of Militant Tendency, and sacked miners. It was a small meeting, at which a spokesman said that he was delighted that strikes were taking place at 14 schools in the area, including two special schools. Should not we look hard at the damage that is being done to children's education by the Labour party and such statements?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I understand that he is requesting a statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to his observations.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that a very important meeting of the Council of steel Ministers in Europe is scheduled for 26 July and that the Government expect to receive the British Steel Corporation's corporate plan at the end of July? Does he agree that it would be most unfortunate if we were to go into the recess with any doubt hanging over the future of Llanwern, Port Talbot and Ravenscraig? Will he make sure that a Minister makes a statement before the House goes into recess guaranteeing the future of those great works?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly represent that point of view to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Gerrard Neale (Cornwall, North)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in the west country there is considerable doubt and confusion resulting from the decision of the Select Committee of both Houses on the Okehampton bypass, which continues to frustrate the decision made by the inspector in a full and fair public inquiry? Will he press upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport the urgent need to make a statement so that the doubt and confusion are brought to an end immediately?

Mr. Biffen

I happily comply with that request.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

In view of the widespread concern that has been expressed about the conduct of Treasury Ministers and civil servants in the Johnson Matthey Bankers collapse, will the Leader of the House guarantee that there will be a debate before we rise for the summer recess?

Mr. Biffen

I am in no position to make such a guarantee in respect of Government time. Other opportunities are available to the hon. Gentleman. Knowing him as I do, I expect him to take advantage of them.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page), and as the Water (Fluoridation) Bill has been extensively debated, in every aspect and at interminable length, may we have an undertaking from my right hon. Friend that when it returns to the House from the other place it will be guillotined, in the interests of the majority?

Mr. Biffen

At this stage all that I can say is that I note with great interest the silent majority now becoming rather more vocal.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Can the Leader of the House rearrange the timetable for next week so that we may have a debate on the Select Committee of Employment report about the National Coal Board's dismissal of employees? This matter is very pressing. At least 80 per cent. of those people sacked by the board are not in the category that the Prime Minister and other Ministers shout about from the Dispatch Box—that they are in a position to be found guilty of violent crimes. Some of them have never been in front of a court. This House ought to debate the report on the dismissals as soon as possible, and certainly before the recess, because the situation has given rise to a lot of hardship and low morale in the coal industry.

Mr. Biffen

I cannot undertake to rearrange next week's business to accommodate a debate upon the Select Committee report. That is not because of any unease about the Committee's report; it is primarily because the programme we have already announced is drawn tightly with a view to the House rising on 26 July. There is simply not room for endless additional debates.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Several weeks have elapsed since my right hon. Friend reacted sympathetically to my request for a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs about the plight of Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong. Will he give the House an opportunity to discuss this matter? May I also draw his attention to the increasing interest in the country about the establishment of family courts? Will he give the House an opportunity to consider that important issue?

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but there is no prospect of Government time being made available for those two topics in the near future. As he knows, we will have the recess Adjournment motion and the subsequent Adjournment debates, and those could well give rise to consideration of those topics.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

May I press the Leader of the House further on two aspects of the change in the immigration rules? Does he agree that it is important to have a debate before the House rises for the summer recess? Secondly, could he give an undertaking that such a debate would be separate from the problem of the Tamils on which there is a prayer in the names of my right hon. Friends? It is a totally separate issue.

Mr. Biffen

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. I hope that I will be able to satisfy him on it.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the fact that the wages council regulations which the Government are proposing to repeal contain about the only statutory minimum rights to holidays which exist in our law? Are we to have a debate on those regulations before the House rises, and will we have a debate on the deplorable lack of holiday rights of people in this country?

Mr. Biffen

I regret that there is no prospect of Government time being made available for a debate on those topics.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 791—

[That this House applauds the local councils of Liverpool, Lambeth and Edinburgh, and other local authorities, who are prepared to struggle to defend jobs and services on behalf of ordinary decent people; recognises that Government legislation and policy leaves these local authorities with no alternative but to conduct a campaign to defend working people, existing in hopeless conditions; and, in acknowledging the enormous advances being made in places like Liverpool, in house building and urban renewal, thus creating employment in the public and private sector, calls on the Government to draw back from its attacks on these local authorities.]

and early-day motion 847

[That this House condemns the Government's policies towards local authorities, with their centralised controls and financial penalties, and therefore fully supports those councillors like the Labour councillors in the Liverpool City Council who have made a rate, based on the needs of the people of Liverpool, but who, in the process, are forced to make a stand against Government policy; points out clearly that, if the Government's policies were supported in Liverpool, it would mean cuts in local services and create increased unemployment amongst council workers, in an urea which already has extremely high levels of unemployment; and calls on the Government to restore the rate support grant that has been taken away from the Liverpool City Council, to increase the housing investment programme which has been cut, and to urge the district auditor to drop his present action against councillors.]

Motion 791 is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) and motion 847 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer).

In view of speculation in the media that the House may be recalled because of the situation in Liverpool and that emergency legislation has been prepared, will the Leader of the House allow an emergency debate as soon as soon as possible, and will he state whether legislation has been prepared and whether the commissioner is ready to go to Liverpool?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has touched on an important point, but it would not help if I were to speculate on the use of legislation. I fear that there is such a shortage of Government time for debate over the next couple of weeks that, if the topic is to be raised, it will have to be raised by the hon. Member using such opportunities as he possesses.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House try to accommodate a number of the Members who have raised matters of importance so that they may be dealt with before the recess? One fairly easy way out would be to reduce the three months' holiday that Members of Parliament have just been allocated. That is not the most popular suggestion around, but if we were to reduce it we could have a debate on the Tamils, a debate on the National Health Service, a debate on an amnesty of miners who have been sacked, and a day or two-day debate on that squalid business about Johnson Matthey and all the fraudulent activities within it. We could have a right old time, even if we had only another week.

Mr. Biffen

I am slightly concerned at the prospect of a Bolsover benefit week when all these topics would be poured on us, particularly as we now learn that the hon. Gentleman views the three months in prospect as holiday time. There are very few hon. Members who pack up and go on holiday for three months at the end of July. The hon. Gentleman may make an annual pilgrimage to Skegness, but for most of us it is back to our constituencies, and we see very little of the rest of the world.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Could some room be found for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on his return from South America? If such a statement were possible, could the right hon. and learned Gentleman deal with the question of serious over-fishing in the South Atlantic by virtually every country in the world except the British and the Argentines? For example, the Taiwanese, Bulgarians, Koreans and Russians—virtually everybody except ourselves—are running riot in relation to fishing stocks. Will he also react to the statement in the second item of today's BBC news, of which admittedly we do not have the full text, to the effect that predictably and predicted, foreseeably and foreseen, the Argentines have said "No" to the initiative that has been taken in relation to imports in the absence of any discussion on sovereignty?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, and I shall certainly refer them to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

In view of the impropriety, immorality and, indeed, illegality of the prime purpose rule, and in the light of the Prime Minister's unconcerned and superficial response to me on a question to do with this matter the other day, may I back the Leader of the Opposition's insistence that the House have an opportunity to debate this whole matter before we go into the recess?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly look into that matter.

Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Home Secretary to make a statement next week so that he can inform the House when he intends to introduce legislation to deprive drug traffickers of their ill-gotten profits?

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer that point to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to read the comments of Mr. Robert Caton, the chairman of the Association of Charity Officers, that the Government's new regulations for payments for the elderly and disabled in residential accommodation are leading to a shortfall of £20 a week in rest homes and £70 in nursing homes? Has he also read the comments of Christian Wolmar and Jonathan Foster in The Observer last week that the Prime Minister's recent answer to the Leader of the Opposition showed that she did not fully understand the regulations? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to withdraw these terrible and damaging regulations until Ernst and Whinney, the management consultants, have had an opportunity to look at the levels of payments?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman returns to a subject that on several recent occasions has featured in his requests. I shall of course refer his points to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Last week the right hon. Gentleman intimated that before the House rises for the summer recess there would be a debate on the position of Tamil asylum seekers and refugees as well as the visa restrictions. As far as I understand, he has failed to give a categorical assurance of a debate on the immigration rules announced in yesterday's statement by the Home Secretary. Will he now give a categorical assurance that before the House rises there will be a debate which will include the question of the Tamil asylum seekers, the unprecedented visa restrictions on anyone wishing to leave Sri Lanka and the implementation of yesterday's announcement by the Home Secretary in relation to a European Court decision?

Mr. Biffen

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, which is a repeat of what he said last week. I can best help him by referring to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft).

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Why should the Leader of the house suggest that the debate on Johnson Matthey take place in Opposition time when the Government are £200 million on risk? Surely the debate should take place in Government time. Is it not fair to say that over the past three months the Government have deliberately set out to engineer a failure to debate this matter because they have so much to hide?

Mr. Biffen

I find the innuendo not appropriate to these exchanges. I think that Hansard will reveal that I said that there would be no opportunity for debate in Government time until the end of July.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that information has come to me that an action of interdict is to be commenced in the Court of Session in Edinburth tomorrow against the sale of the trustee savings bank? In the circumstances, what plan has he for the debate he has announced for Monday evening?

Mr. Biffen

I received a letter to that effect just before I came into the Chamber. I will look at the matter as a matter of urgency and get in touch with the right hon. Gentleman.

Forward to