HC Deb 18 July 1985 vol 83 cc477-84 3.31 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

May 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 until the Adjournment will be as follows:

  • MONDAY 22 JULY—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Social Security Bill, the Interception of Communications Bill and 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.
  • Motion on European Community Document No. 9427/79 draft directive on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of all member states concerning liability for defective products.
  • The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.
  • TUESDAY 23 JULY—A debate on a Government motion to approve the statement of changes in immigration rules laid on 15 July (House of Commons Paper No. 503).
  • Motion relating to the statement of changes in immigration rules, Cmnd. 9539.
  • Remaining stages of the Child Abduction and Custody Bill [Lords]
  • WEDNESDAY 24 JULY—Motion for the summer Adjournment. It will be proposed that the House should adjourn until Monday 21 October.
  • Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.
  • THURSDAY 25 JULY—Motions on orders and regulations relating to the uprating of social security benefits and other related matters.
  • Motion relating to the Housing Benefit (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations. Details of relevant documents will appear in the Official Report.
  • FRIDAY 26 JULY—Debates on the motion for the Adjournment.

European Community documents to be debated;

Monday 22 July

Relevant documents

9427/79 Liability for Defective Products Explanatory Memorandum by the Department of Trade and Industry dated 1 July 1985

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

Thursday 25 July

Relevant documents

Report by the Government Actuary on the draft of the Social Security Benefits Uprating Order 1985, Cmnd. 9567.

Uprating of mobility allowance Statement prepared pursuant to section 37A(4) of the Social security Act 1975 as amended by Section 3(2) of the Social Security Act 1979

(House of Commons Paper No. 491)

Mr. Hattersley

May I ask the Leader of the House two specific questions? In the light of today's publication of the report by the Select Committee on Defence about the future of the royal dockyards which unanimously condemns the Ministry of Defence's approach to privatisation and the Ministry's failure properly to consult, may we be categorically promised an early debate and chat no action will be taken until the debate is held? Secondly, after the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol, Etc.) Bill is passed—I hope that it will be and that my hon. Friends will ensure that it is—are we to hear no more about violence and safety at football grounds? Is it a fact that after the Prime Minister made the headlines in Downing street two months ago we are to be left simply with that wholly inadequate measure?

Mr. Biffen

Public order legislation has been promised for the next Session of Parliament and doubtless will feature prominently in our discussions then. We shall consider the right hon. Gentleman's first point through the usual channels.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 895?

[That this House believes that, in the interest of obtaining better value for money, local authorities should be required by law to submit to competitive tender a wider range of their functions and services.]

It stands in my name and those of no fewer than 191 of my colleagues. It seeks to compel feeble local authorities, in the interest of ratepayers, to submit their contracts to competitive tender. Although I accept that there may not be time to debate this matter before the House rises for the recess, can my right hon. Friend assure us that the Government have not lost their nerve on this issue, even if some local authorities have?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is a touch pessimistic in the sense that there are a number of opportunities during the week ahead when that matter might be debated. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to that point.

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

Will the Secretary of State for Education and Science make a statement next week on the Prime Minister's proposal to reintroduce direct grant schools and student loans, or does the Secretary of State need more notice of these proposals, in which case he might prefer to make the statement after the recess? Why will the debate on Tuesday on the immigration changes be taken on a Government motion rather than on a prayer tabled by my colleagues? Are the Government so desperate to get their word in first?

Mr. Biffen

It is a sign of the seriousness that the Government attach to this matter that the subject will be debated on a Government motion. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman finds anything extraordinary in that.

Of course I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to the hon. Gentleman's first point. I am sure that he will not have overlooked the fact that Tuesday is Question Time on education matters.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members support what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about direct grant schools? It is extraordinary that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) had the nerve to raise that matter since it was the president of the SDP, when she was in the Labour party, who did away with those schools. If we cannot bring back direct grant schools, will the Cabinet realistically discuss some means of increasing the number of free places that are available in public schools and make all public schools give some free places to children who do not have the chances that I had as a boy when I went to grammar school?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has clearly shown that Parliament will have a lively debate on this topic, and dare I suggest that it might start on Tuesday.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

Can the Leader of the House confirm that, following consultations through the usual channels, the Nursing Homes and Nursing Agencies (Northern Ireland) Order will not be moved tomorrow so that further discussions can take place?

Mr. Biffen

That is perfectly true. I am grateful for the representations that were made last week which gave rise to that change.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am grateful that the Water (Fluoridation) Bill was not included in the Government's timetable while I was in Moscow with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs? This shows that the Government are open to further argument on the matter. Is the reason why that legislation is not included in next week's business the fact that the Government may be having second thoughts because Mrs. McColl has been granted full legal aid to go to the European Court of Human Rights and that the Government wisely consider that it is better to hear the results of the court's findings before jumping too quickly into legislation?

Mr. Biffen

While my hon. and learned Friend was getting a preliminary sense of Siberia, a number of Conservative Members made the most powerful representations to the Government to ensure that the legislation reached the statute book.

Mr. James Hamilton (Motherwell, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware that all Scottish Back Benchers, with one exception, are very much concerned about the corporate plan for steel? Will he give the House a categorical assurance that no decision will be taken on the corporate plan until the House resumes after the summer recess? Will he assure us also that there will be no inspired leaks and that hon. Members will have all the rights in the world to discuss the corporate plan?

Mr. Biffen

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and the importance of the decisions for Scotland that will be implied in the corporate plan. I shall ensure that his views are conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

In view of the anxieties that are being expressed by the Confederation of British Industry and other representative elements of industry about product liability and the directive which will probably be issued from Brussels in the near future, does not my right hon. Friend think that it is time that we had a debate about this matter because of its very wide ramifications?

Mr. Biffen

I wholly sympathise with my hon. Friend if he nodded during the litany that I announced for Monday's business, which includes precisely the debate that he seeks.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Given the generosity of young people, particularly last weekend at Wembley and in Philadelphia, is it not time that the Leader of the House arranged a debate to illuminate the hypocrisy of his Government, and in particular the hypocrisy of the Prime Minister who on Monday and Tuesday attempted to bask in the reflected glory of the actions of young people over the weekend and then on Wednesday turned on those same young people and removed those under the age of 21 from the protection of wages councils, as if lads and lasses in hairdressers earning £33.40 a week were responsible for the 5 million unemployed in this country?

Mr. Biffen

I always enjoy the contributions of the hon. Gentleman. They are a lively reminder that consensus, thank Heaven, will never reign here. The points that he has mentioned could well be raised either on the motion for the summer Adjournment, or on the Consolidated Fund Bill, or on the Adjournment debates. I wish him well in raising that point on any of those occasions.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

In preparing his speech for the Adjournment debate next Wednesday, will my right hon. Friend be asking the Departments concerned, particularly the Treasury, for all the reasons why between now and Wednesday there should be a further fall in interest rates?

Mr. Biffen

The last time I had to make this speech I took the precaution of not accepting briefs from any Government Department, and nobody noticed the difference.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham. Perry Barr)

Will the Leader of the House seek to add to next Thursday's business on the uprating of social security benefits the latest report of the Public Accounts Committee on the system of paying benefits so that this House can reject early enough, to stop people from worrying, the idea that millions of pensioners should be bribed to stop using post offices to collect their pensions?

Mr. Biffen

It is not within my competence to judge whether it would be in order to make those points in next Thursday's debate, but the hon. Gentleman is probably skilled enough to try—and to try with success.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

While my right hon. Friend is casting around during the summer recess for matters to debate upon our return, will he consider providing Government time for a debate on small businesses and upon the many excellent moves that the Government have made to encourage them?

Mr. Biffen

I shall bear that request very much in mind, but it is not for me to say what will be the disposition of ministerial personnel in the autumn. I have no doubt, however, that in the light of the Queen's Speech there will be plenty of opportunities for my hon. Friend to make exactly the speech that he seeks to make.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Following the question of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) on an early-day motion urging the increased privatisation of local authority services, since the hon. Gentleman is not obliged to declare his own financial interest in these matters, will the Leader of the House give urgent consideration to a debate in Government time on the recent report on the outside financial interests of hon. Members?

Mr. Biffen

Yes; that is a very fair request.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that no decisions will be taken or commitments made, particularly those of a constitutional nature, at any inter-governmental conference that may take place between now and the return of the House after the summer recess before the House is given the fullest possible opportunity to debate the proposals?

Mr. Biffen

The best that I can do is to refer my hon. Friend's request, for which I have a lively sympathy, to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Can the Leader of the House say what provision will be made for the recall of Parliament during the summer recess to deal with the problems facing certain local authorities—for example, Liverpool, Lambeth and Edinburgh? Is it not a fact that Parliament would have to be recalled to make a decision before anything could be done? Can he say what will be his intentions during the long summer recess to deal with this very important question?

Mr. Biffen

At this stage I am trying to get to the point where I can recommend to the House that it adjourns. Unless and until I have got that far I would not want to think about its premature recall.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend say when we might expect to hear the Government's intentions in relation to the House of Lords amendments to the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill? Will he bear in mind the widespread objection that there would be in the country to making that Bill an abolition Bill?

Mr. Biffen

That is still under consideration, and at this point I have nothing further to add.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Bearing in mind that a poll organised by the Edinburgh Evening News—not a Socialist paper—indicated 65 per cent. support for the so-called rebel Labour council, will the Leader of the House arrange another debate next week so that the alliance especially may show its support for the Government? It is clear that locally the alliance supports the Tories. Will the Leader of the House ensure that democracy speaks and that the alliance explains its true position?

Mr. Biffen

Last night's debate on the affairs of Edinburgh was rather enjoyable, and things are never quite as good a second time round.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

My right hon. Friend will not be surprised if I return to the theme of law and order and say that throughout the country there will be great disappointment that once again there is not to be a full debate on the subject in the House of Commons, particularly in the light of the remarks this week of the Prime Minister and the Police Federation. Will my right hon. Friend accept that, whether he wants to debate it or not, it is probably the second most important subject that the people of Britain want to have debated in the House?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says. I am sure that he, meanwhile, will be considering how best he can ensure that the matter comes before the House during the Consolidated Fund debate on Wednesday.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

In view of the decision of the House of Representatives in the United States on South Africa, and South Africa's invasion of Botswana, can the House look forward to a debate on South Africa before the recess?

Mr. Biffen

Clearly there will be no debate in Government time, as is indicted by the programme of business that I have announced for next week. I accept at once the seriousness of the situation, but I am sure that it is a topic that will await us in the autumn.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Although the House is to be very busy next week, will my right hon. Friend give serious consideration to having a debate on the workings of the local DHSS branch offices in Leicester, which in the past week have been working to rule? Some of the civil servants and members of the Society of Civil and Public Servants have refused to handle my constituents' claims on the ground that the union is fighting to have no more overtime and no casuals allowed to help. Is not that a shocking situation? Should not my right hon. Friend provide time to protect my constituents who need to have their claims answered?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has outlined a thoroughly unsatisfactory situation. He may well find that there will be opportunities in the Adjournment debates, or in the debate on the Consolidated Fund, for the matter to be raised.

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

In the light of the loss of the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), will the Leader of the House, during the course of Cabinet meetings in the recess, impress upon his Cabinet colleagues the need to introduce a Bill based on Warnock, or some related measure, during the next Session of Parliament, and for its inclusion in the Queen's Speech?

Further, may we have a debate on genetic engineering in the first month of the next Session?

Mr. Biffen

I can give no undertaking to provide time for a debate on genetic engineering in Government time. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that in no sense can I anticipate what might be in the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that, on Tuesday afternoon, I shall be seeking leave to introduce the Local Government (Prevention of Political Corruption) Bill under the ten-minute rule procedure in the light of widespread abuse under sections 137 and 142 of the Local Government Act 1972 by Labour local authorities passing ratepayers' money to their political supporters and advertising pet political causes? If I am fortunate enough to be given leave to introduce my Bill, will my right hon. Friend give it Government time?

Mr. Biffen

It would be the denial of any prudent sense of optimism if I were to encourage my hon. Friend to think that he could do other than get a propaganda coup on Tuesday.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Will there be a debate or a statement on the policy to withdraw the Hercules from Ethiopia?

Is the Leader of the House happy that there will apparently be no further statement on the Government's role in regard to Johnson Matthey Bankers? Does he think it satisfactory that Sir Patrick Sargeant and others can, on the radio, publicly cast the most serious aspersions by implication on the professional competence of the officials of the Bank of England? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that some of us do not believe that Mr. Kit McMahon and others in the Bank of England did not at least consult officials before acting in regard to Johnson Matthey Bankers? May we be told when the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary were warned from circles relative to the bullion market and the gold market that there was possible fraud in relation to Johnson Matthey Bankers?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman raises issues that go very wide. In respect of Johnson Matthey Bankers, the matter might be ventilated on the Consolidated Fund debates and the Adjournment debates on Friday. As for the use of the Hercules for famine relief in Abyssinia, I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's points to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Wales to make a statement next week about rising unemployment in Wales, especially as the National Coal Board has today announced the closure of yet another pit in my constituency? My constituency already has the highest male unemployment in Wales—28 per cent.—and it will now rise to 33 per cent. As Wales is continually being denied investment by the NCB, will the right hon, Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Wales to say how he intends to increase employment prospects in Wales, especially in my constituency?

Mr. Biffen

Although I do not accept the implications of what the hon. Lady is arguing, I realise that the matter has a real constituency consequence and I shall most certainly pass on her request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware that, on 29 May, the Home Secretary imposed a visa restriction on all people wishing to leave the Commonwealth country of Sri Lanka to travel to Britain? Is he further aware that it is unprecedented for such an imposition to be made on a Commonwealth country? In answer to successive questions, the Leader of the House has given an undertaking that the matter will be debated before the summer recess and that it will be debated and voted upon at the same time as the immigration rules next Tuesday. May we have an assurance that this issue will come up next Tuesday and that there will be a separate discussion and vote on this aspect of Government attacks on people seeking refuge and asylum in Britain?

Mr. Biffen

The second item of business that I announced for Tuesday was the motion relating to the statement of changes in immigration rules, Cmnd. 9539. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to make his speech then.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to visit Liverpool during the long recess to meet councillors, trade union leaders, the unemployed, the sick and pensioners to see what damage the Government's policies have done to the city? Will she do that before she agrees to a commissioner being sent in to Liverpool and the possible gaoling of elected councillors?

Mr. Biffen

As the request has been put to me, I shall of course pass it to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

In view of the attacks made in the House on the devoted people who work in the understaffed offices of the DHSS in Leicester and elsewhere and who are sick to death of being blamed for their inability to serve the public, which is caused entirely by the Government's reduction in resources, when may we have a debate which will let it be known how deeply we deplore those attacks on such excellent public servants?

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman, whom I have known all these years, should be so nettled by the advocacy of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels). I suggest that the hon. and learned Gentleman, no less than my hon. Friend, should look to the occasion of the Consolidated Fund.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House use his best endeavours to ensure that a statement is made next week on safety at sports grounds? Will he confirm or deny the fact that Mr. Justice Popplewell's interim report into the Bradford fire disaster is with the Home Secretary or will be within a few days? As that report may contain important lessons for football clubs throughout the country, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be intolerable if we were to go into the recess without having an opportunity to put questions to the Government on that important matter?

Mr. Biffen

I recognise that there is a widespread desire that, if Mr. Justice Popplewell's interim report is available, the House should have a chance to hear a statement on it.

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

In view of the United States' continuing threat of aggression against Nicaragua and the participation by Right-wing extremists from this country, including the vice-chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students, who have gone on patrol with the Contra terrorists in that country, is it not about time that we had a full debate on the problems in Central America?

Mr. Biffen

I suspect that the Federation of Conservative Students frightens me much more than it frightens the Sandinistras. The hon. Gentleman's other request will of course be considered.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Does the Leader of the House agree that Scottish Question Time should appear more frequently in the parliamentary timetable?

Mr. Biffen

However I answer that question I shall be crucified. It is a very ungenerous question to put in the closing days of the Session.