HC Deb 25 July 1985 vol 83 cc1307-18 3.32 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the first week after the summer Adjournment?

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

The business for the first week after the summer Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 21 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on industrial innovation and design on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Second Reading of the Housing Bill [Lords], the Housing Associations Bill [Lords], the Housing (Consequential Provisions) Bill [Lords] and the Landlord and Tenant Bill [Lords] which are all consolidation measures.

Proceedings on the Weights and Measures Bill [Lords] which is also a consolidation measure.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

TUESDAY 22 OCTOBER — Remaining stages of the European Communities (Finance) Bill.

Motion on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) (No. 3) Order.

WEDNESDAY 23 OCTOBER — Opposition Day (20th Allotted Day). The subject of debate is to be announced.

Motion on the Nursing Homes and Nursing Agencies (Northern Ireland) Order.

Motion on the Parliamentary Constituencies (England) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order.

THURSDAY 24 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Committee on Public Accounts to which the Government have replied.

Motion on the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation) Order and the European Communities (Immunities and Privileges of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation) Order.

FRIDAY 25 OCTOBER — There will be a debate on alternative sources of energy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The House may also be asked to consider any other Lords amendments and messages which may be received.

It may be for the convenience of the House if I indicate that Government business will also be taken in the week beginning 28 October. It is expected that the new Session will be opened on Wednesday 6 November.

Mr. Hattersley

After yesterday's report by Mr. Justice Popplewell on the safety and security of football grounds, will the Government make a statement, later today or tomorrow, on what further action they propose to enhance safety and security? The football season is barely a month away and funds are not available to meet the suggestions in the Popplewell report.

Secondly, presumably between now and our return, the Foreign Office will be preparing its reply to the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs into the sinking of the General Belgrano. Is it the intention of the Foreign Secretary to prepare comments on the minority as well as the majority report?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Popplewell statement yesterday was very comprehensive and enabled the House to consider the topic. I will draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the right hon. Gentleman's point.

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to any observations that the right hon. Gentleman may make on the Select Committee's report.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are laws in this country on discrimination against blacks, women and the disabled? That is quite right. Does my right hon. Friend think that it is time that, given the problem of unemployment, there was a debate in the House on discrimination against those who are over 50, who are able but who do not get jobs because of the system?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a point that may well be considered in the new Session. No doubt he realises that, at the beginning of the new Session especially, there will be ample opportunity to make many speeches on these topics without there necessarily being a specific debate.

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

When we return, may we have a debate on pay comparability in the public sector, as by then the implications of the Government's decision on top salaries will have fed into all the negotiations taking place in the public sector, including the teachers' negotiations, and we shall need to discuss the subject?

Mr. Biffen

I have no doubt that the topic referred to by the hon. Gentleman will very much feature in the political debate come October, but no doubt he realises that no specific provision has been made for it during the first week of the new Session.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is it the Government's intention to continue sittings of the House throughout the week of 28 October until such time as the Water (Fluoridation) Bill is secure, or do they intend to drop the beastly and unpopular measure?

Mr. Biffen

I think that it was Asquith who said, "Wait and see", but, even if it was not, it is a very good answer.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

In her speech to the American Bar Association, the Prime Minister said that this country must provide no haven or escape for terrorists. Is the Leader of the House aware that five Italian Right-wing terrorists who were convicted in Italian courts are living in this country, and that there appears to be no desire by the Government to deport them or remove them? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that, in a letter to me, the Home Secretary gave as one of the reasons for inaction the fact that EC law makes their removal difficult? If that is so, may we have an early report on the implications of this matter, because I find it astonishing, as do many hon. Members, that EC law should make it impossible for us to remove convicted Fascist terrorists from this country?

Mr. Biffen

I am aware of the facts that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, not least because of press coverage. I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to the point that the hon. Gentleman raises.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

As we have begun this afternoon to look once again down the long vista of a new Session, in which, if nothing is done, we shall no doubt again suspend our Ten o'clock rule on three nights out of four, and as the Procedure Committee has suggested some very important measures which would enable the House to conduct its business in a somewhat more civilised and no less effective manner, may we have an early opportunity of discussing that debate and of the House expressing its views on the recommendations?

Mr. Biffen

I take account of the point that my hon. Friend has made, but no provision has been made for it in the business announced today.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

As the Government are in a state of complete disarray, instead of working out the programme for after the recess, surely they ought to call it a day before the whole nation finishes up in the knacker's yard.

Mr. Biffen

Life must look very jaundiced from where the hon. Gentleman sits; when I look across the House, I understand why.

Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

Is it the Government"s intention, either in the tail end of this Session or early in the next, to give the House an opportunity to discuss the possibility of televising its proceedings?

Mr. Biffen

I have already given what I considered to be a clear indication of what I hope the progress will be in this matter. I do not think that I can helpfully add to it.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Has the right hon. Gentleman had time to read early day motion 915 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell)?

[That this House calls upon the Government to honour their legal obligation as signatories of the 1960 Treaty of Establishment which guaranteed the Sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus, recognising that on 20 July 11 years will have lapsed since the invasion of Cyprus by Turkish military forces that still occupy 40 per cent. of the island despite repeated resolutions from the United Nations with the unanimous support of the Security Council demanding their withdrawal; further expresses grave concern regarding the 200,000 Greek Cypriots who are deprived of their homes, land and property and made refugees in their own country; regards this unique situation in the 20th century as most intolerable; urges positive action to find an equitable solution to the problem for the people of Cyprus; and demands further stronger international pressure so that justice and freedom can prevail.)

Will the Government find time to debate the situation in Cyprus? It is now more than 11 years since Turkish troops invaded the island. Is it not time that the House debated the situation there?

Mr. Biffen

The situation in Cyprus and all that derives from the invasion is certainly a matter which constantly demands the attention of the House. However, no Government time is available for a debate in the week when we come back.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

My right hon. Friend is aware of the growing concern in British manufacturing industry about the increasing difficulties of winning competitive contracts owing to the concessionary credit being accorded by foreign Governments. Will there be an early statement on the Government's intentions about taking better initiatives on aid packages?

Mr. Biffen

I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to the point made by my hon. Friend about the widespread use of soft credit by our competitors. My hon. Friend will also have noted that the Department of Trade and Industry is top for questions on Wednesday 23 October.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the prison population is now at its highest and that the cost of keeping people in prison is well over £200 a week? Against that background, when will the House have an opportunity to discuss conditions within our prisons? It is a long time since we had such a debate.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point of general public concern. He will be aware that the Home Office is top for questions in the week that we return after the recess. In the meantime, I shall refer his point to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)

Two weeks ago, I invited my right hon. Friend to ask the Home Secretary whether he would make a statement to the House on possible legislation in the next Session of Parliament to withdraw from drug traffickers their ill-gotten gains? As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has not felt able to make such a statement, does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House know whether any legislation on this subject will be introduced in the next Session of Parliament?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a very important point which will command assent in all parts of the House. He will appreciate that I cannot anticipate what will be contained in the Queen's Speech. I hope that my hon. Friend will not be too pessimistic.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Has the Leader of the House considered whether he can find time to debate the collapse of Kestrel Communications Ltd. and its implications, as recently reported on the BBC's "Watchdog" programme? Does he agree that it is extraordinary that pensions broker can, by devising a scheme to employ people for one day, unlock people's frozen pensions at the same time as conning major pensions funds, the Inland Revenue, the Occupational Pensions Board and the Manpower Services Commission into approving the scheme to the extent that 270 people lost most of their life savings? Should there not be a more effective watchdog with effective teeth in some of the bodies available to protect people against such abuses?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not comment upon the details of that instance. No Government time has been made available for such a debate in the first week when we return after the recess. I wish the hon. Gentleman every success in whatever initiatives he may try to undertake on his own account.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

In view of the fact that the cost of running the House has escalated from £56.2 million in 1981–82 to £77.5 million in 1984–85, what proposals will my right hon. Friend introduce in the next Session to trim the appalling costs, bearing in mind that it is suggested that our debates will be broadcast into our own offices and that Parliament will be televised? That will cost a lot of additional money for something which most people do not want. Can my right hon. Friend give us some ideas?

Mr. Biffen

I must say that over the last 48 hours I have had some dark thoughts about weed killer, but I require notice of such a question so that I can give a proper and measured reply.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to read Amnesty International's latest report on Turkey? The report states that torture of political detainees in Turkey remains widespread and systematical. Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in condemning torture in Turkey? Will he oppose any integration of Turkey into the EEC and other European Community institutions? Will he arrange for an early statement to be made on the Government's policy and attitude towards Turkey?

Mr. Biffen

I take account of what the hon. Gentleman says. I will draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)

Between now and when we return in October, it is likely that a decision will be taken on the European fighter aircraft. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that we shall have the opportunity to debate that matter as soon as we return? In the meantime, can he assure all hon. Members that he will represent to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence the grave anxiety felt by hon. Members that a compromise might be reached that will produce an aeroplane that does not meet the requirements of the Royal Air Force?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot anticipate when a decision will be reached on the project, but I recognise that it is of great interest to hon. Members and, indeed, to the country generally. I shall be in close touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about how the matter should be handled.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In view of the report published today about the formidable housing crisis in the country, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the need for an early debate on housing? With regard to the remarks made by the Prime Minister, is the Leader of the House aware that since 1979 there has been a cut in real terms of 68 per cent. in public expenditure on housing? Does not that explain the sort of conditions in which so many people are forced to live because they have no means of obtaining adequate rented accommodation?

Mr. Biffen

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman has chosen a statistic that is only one component of the housing situation.

Mr. Winnick

A true one.

Mr. Biffen

That may be so, but it may not truly reflect the full range of housing expenditure. We should be delighted to debate the housing record of the Government. There will soon be a Gracious Speech and the debates that follow will provide an early opportunity to discuss housing.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

If a week is a long time in politics, surely three months is an age in the affairs of the European Community. Will my right hon. Friend explain to those of us who are less knowledgeable about procedures in the House precisely how long we shall have after the House resumes to table amendments to the European Communities (Finance) Bill?

Mr. Biffen

I shall be happy to contact my hon. Friend to give him the most accurate answer that I can, based on the most qualified advice. I am sure that my hon. Friend will spend most of the holiday, after its initial joy has worn off, by returning to his first love of Brussels bashing. I cannot believe that he will come back without a fistful of amendments.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Does the Leader of the House recollect that one of the most considerable of his predecessors, the late Mr. lain Macleod, used the phrase "parliamentary sleight of hand"? Did not the Prime Minister's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) come into that category? Although there was a debate on 18 February, many of us were asked, rightly, not to vote until our parliamentary colleagues had reached an informed decision. That has now happened, so is it not important that the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), for example, should give his view of events?

When was the last time that four Members of the House of Commons, using their own resources and without the help of Clerks of the House, produced a massive and serious report? This is a House of Commons rather than a party political matter. It is important that a minority report that has been produced in such a way for the first time should be seriously debated. It is not sufficient to say, in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), "I will consult the Foreign Secretary. "Ought not there to be a debate on the matter?

Mr. Biffen

I say at once that the hon. Gentleman has a well-documented commitment and enthusiasm for the subject, but he must not suppose that it is rare to have a minority report on a Select Committee recommendation, because it has happened frequently in the past. However, I agree that it is a matter of continuing parliamentary interest, and I shall take account of the hon. Gentleman's remarks when considering how the matter should be handled in the future.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 796 which is in my name and that of 151 right hon. and hon. Members.

[That this House calls upon the Government to reaffirm its commitment to conservation of the environment and open space and to the sanctity of national parks as enshrined in Department of the Environment Circular 4 of 1976 that no new route for long distance traffic should be constructed through a national park, or existing road upgraded, unless it has been demonstrated there is a compelling need which could not be met by any reasonable alternative means; and applauds the decision of the Joint Select Committee of Peers and honourable Members which refused to permit the violation of the Dartmoor National Park by the building of a dual-carriageway through the open spaces of Bluebell Woods and East Hill, and which affirmed that a northern route outside the Dartmoor National Park offered a reasonable alternative means of bypassing Okehampton.]

Will my hon. Friend explain to the House why at 11 o'clock this morning there appeared on the television screens notification to the effect that a statement would be made this afternoon, presumably by the Secretary of State for the Environment, about whether the Okehampton bypass should go south or north and then at 1 o'clock that notification disappeared from the screen? Will my right hon. Friend explain why that happened and when a statement will be made, bearing in mind that the southern route can be built by 1998 and the northern route by 1990 if he got on with it?

Mr. Biffen

It is the first I have heard about a statement on the screen at 11 o'clock this morning. I will look into the matter.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

When the House returns towards the end of October, could the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on law and order? We could then compare the 10,000 arrests and 600 sackings of miners during 1984–85 with the 9,000 employers in 1984 who were guilty of illegally underpaying workers—particularly young workers—of whom two were prosecuted and average fines imposed were £107. Would not that debate reveal the hyprocrisy of his so-called party of law and order?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot undertake that there will be such a debate in the first week after the recess. However, I am certain that that topic will feature in the political controversies that will follow the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on arranging a debate on clean, renewable alternative energy sources—the first for many a long day in this House—and say how much some of us appreciate the interest shown in the less popular sources of entertainment in this place?

Mr. Biffen

Thank you very much.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I wonder whether the Leader of the House can tell us today whether he expects to have the same job when we come back on 21 October? Can he give us——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman asking for a debate on that? We are concerned here with the business of the House.

Mr. Skinner

I wonder whether the Leader of the House can make a short statement to give us an idea of whether he will be coming back to the House in the same job, or whether the changes will apply only to some of his mates?

Mr. Biffen

I have given no thought to that, but now that the matter has been raised I shall consult the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo).

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that set down on the Order Paper for Friday 25 October is the Second Reading of the Prevention of Political Corruption Bill which I was given leave to introduce on Tuesday? Does my right hon. Friend think that that is surprising, and does he think that the House will have time to debate the fact that no fewer than 129 hon. Members of the parliamentary Labour party and two hon. Members of the parliamentary Liberal party voted against this worthy and sensible measure and therefore, presumably, showed themselves to be in favour of such politically corrupt acts as the GLC giving £1.5 million for anti-police work? If my right hon. Friend cannot ensure a Second Reading on 25 October, will he ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to put such a measure in the Queen's Speech?

Mr. Biffen

I certainly cannot give the guarantee and undertaking that is sought and I think that it would be presumptuous of me to turn to my right hon. Friend and ask him. However, my hon. Friend is doing a signal public duty in giving the maximum publicity that he has to that issue.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

The House recently had the opportunity to discuss the nurses' pay award, but is the Leader of the House aware that in the last 10 days a new injustice has emerged which has been met with a wave of indignation throughout the profession? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement after the recess on the pension problem of a ward sister who was awarded 14 per cent. by the review body and for 1985–86 will receive only 5.6 per cent.? In consequence, when she retires in the next 18 months she will lose £6,000 of pension.

Mr. Biffen

It is the first time that I have heard of this case, and I will certainly draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services so that he may consider the appropriate action to take.

Mr. John Heddle (Mid-Staffordshire)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has gained enormous media coverage through the publication of the Common Ownership of Land Bill? Is he aware that the Public Bill Office has no knowledge of that publication? So that we may know his proposals which cause concern and consternation to my constituents and to many others throughout the country, no doubt, and so that NA e may know the Opposition's position, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the matter?

Mr. Biffen

No. We must keep all these matters in very strict perspective. What has happened just shows that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is adept at dropping bricks without straw.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

Would the Leader of the House consider making a statement in the week after the summer recess about the issue of reports and written answers, whether or not they are embargoed, to members of the press and the rest of the media before they are made available to Members of the House? The Leader of the House surely recognises that it is wrong for hon. Members to be asked for views on a report which they are unable to secure? Surely the convenience of Members of the House is more important than the convenience of the media?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman touches on a point which has exercised the House for decades. If he has evidence to put to me, I shall see what can be done.

Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to see the all-party early-day motion 816 standing in my name and that of 50 other hon. Members calling for an early debate on the strategic defence initiative?

[That this House notes the visit of Vice President Bush to Europe to urge European participation in the Strategic Defence Initiative programme; expresses deep concern that there has not been a full debate on the subject in the House; notes that the Strategic Defence lnititative calls into question the current philosophy of deterrence on which North Atlantic Treaty Organisation policy is based; and calls for such a debate in the House as a matter of urgency, since a debate has been held in all other European Parliaments.]

Bearing in mind that similar debates have taken place in other European Parliaments, and bearing in mind the implications for the whole concept of NATO's deterrent policy as well as the importance to British industry, will he ensure that we have a debate at the earliest possible opportunity?

Mr. Biffen

That the topic is important is self-evident, but in the first week after the recess no Government time will be available for such a debate. However, the hon. Gentleman might like to make some of his points at Question Time on Tuesday of the first week when defence is top of the list.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does not the Leader of the House believe that a debate is urgently needed on the behaviour of British companies and British investors in South Africa, particularly in view of the behaviour of SARMCOL, a subsidiary of the British Tyre and Rubber Company, which for 13 years has refused to recognise the Metal and Allied Workers Union in South Africa?

It is reported that the company pays poverty wages and that there has been a strike there for over three months by 1,000 workers demanding trade union recognition. Does he not agree that the company's behaviour is unfortunately typical of the behaviour of many foreign companies which invest in South Africa, and is yet another reason for having a policy of disinvestment in South Africa?

Mr. Biffen

No provision has been made for a debate on South Africa in the first week after the recess, but there are foreboding signs that that country's problems will intensify rather than ease, and I have an uneasy feeling that it will feature very much in our political discussions as the autumn progresses.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire, South-East)

Before the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) rose in his place to accuse my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of a parliamentary sleight of hand in her reply to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), I had sought your permission, Mr. Speaker, to raise a point of order in relation to the question put by the hon. Member for Newham, South.

I think that the accusation of parliamentary sleight of hand might more appropriately be put to the hon. Member for. Newham, South. He and many of his hon. Friends are trying to perpetrate the myth that there was something ungenuine about my visit to Washington and New York on 1 and 2 May 1982. I have given the full story to the Select Committee, which knows all the details. I have described exactly what happened during my visit. What does not seem to be understood, and has not been fully brought out in the Select Committee's conclusions, I think, is that the Peruvian plans which were in a very early, tentative stage on 2 May were developed in the succeeding four or five days after the Belgrano was sunk. I made a statement about those proposals in the House on Friday—I speak from memory—7 May 1982.

When those proposals were turned down by Argentina, it was not the end of our search for a peaceful solution. It was my responsibility at that time, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, to leave no stone unturned to find a peaceful way in which to resolve the dispute. I remind the House that after the second set of proposals was turned down we drafted a peace initiative to which we would have been prepared to agree. We put that before the United Nations on 17 May. This country and the world were surprised to discover the lengths to which we were prepared to go to reach a peaceful settlement. Many Opposition Members try to allege that our search for a peaceful settlement was not genuine. That is an absolute lie, and it ought to be laid.

Mr. Dalyell

I am not arguing the case but the right hon. Gentleman's remarks proves the need for a debate. The former Foreign Secretary has referred to proposals. Yet the Prime Minister said that no news of the proposals had reached London until three hours after the Belgrano had been sunk. In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), the right hon. Lady said that the first indications of the Peruvian peace proposals had reached London at 11.15 pm on Sunday 2 May. Right or wrong, that is not the former Foreign Secretary's story.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is going beyond business questions. If this is a matter which may be debated at another time, that is the time at which the hon. Gentleman should make his remarks.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is just over a year since legislation was passed creating the six free trading zones, sometimes called free ports, but that little or no progress has been made? Does he agree, therefore, that it would be appropriate to have a debate on the progress of the legislation as soon as we return after the recess?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend made a contribution of considerable force and persuasiveness in the recess Adjournment debate last night. Will not that coast him through until the Queen's Speech?

Mr. Steen

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am told that at about 11 o'clock this morning members of the Press Gallery were told that the Secretary of State for the Environment would make a statement on the Okehampton bypass this afternoon. At 12.45 Downing street indicated that no statement would be made. Can you, Mr. Speaker, tell us whether there will be a statement, or how that arrangement came about?

Mr. Speaker

I have no idea. All I know is that there is to be no statement today.

Mr. Eric S. Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During business questions the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) raised a matter concerning my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I have been in the House for a long time. When I first came here it was a matter of courtesy for hon. Members, irrespective of their party, who wished to raise a matter affecting another hon. Member to notify him. I regarded that as civilised behaviour.

Am I to understand that with the arrival of new Members, especially over the past few years, that civilised behaviour has come to an end? I know that the matter does not fall within your prerogative, Mr. Speaker, but perhaps you could ask Members to behave in a civilised way and to adopt the procedure that was used when I first came to the House.

Mr. Speaker

I am glad of the opportunity to confirm that that has been our civilised convention over the years, and I hope that it will continue.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I understand——

Mr. Heddle


Mr. Skinner

He wants to apologise.

Mr. Dobson

They never apologise.

Mr. Heddle

I fully intended to notify the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) but on this occasion I did not. I apologise wholeheartedly to the House for not doing so. I want to make two points——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That might spoil it.

Mr. Dobson

I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker. Is it possible under the rules of the House for a Minister to make a statement tomorrow in the midst of the Adjournment debates? I understand that the Secretary of State for the Environment intends to make a statement now about the level of the rate support grant and rate capping of local authorities but that no statement is to be made about the rate capping and expenditure of the Inner London education authority. As it affects tens of thousands of children, and as it is the largest and biggest spending authority, it seems appropriate that a Minister should come to the House to justify the levels being set.

Mr. Nellist

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that the Royal Assent has been given to the Local Government Bill which sets up new means of controlling services in the GLC and the metropolitan areas. Will a further statement be made today or tomorrow on the setting of budgets and expenditure levels for services such as transport and waste disposal, or will that be done during the recess when Labour Members cannot question it?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member knows perfectly well that I have no foreknowledge of such matters, any more than any other hon. Member. Statements are announced at noon. That was when I first heard about it.

Mr. Dobson


Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not a matter for me; it is a matter for the Government. If it is a matter for me, I will hear it, but only if it is a matter for me.

Mr. Dobson

I think that it is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker.

I was asking whether it was possible under the rules of order for a statement to be made tomorrow in the midst of the Adjournment debates. I do not know the answer to that question, but I do not think that it is a matter for Ministers.

Mr. Speaker

It might have been more appropriate if the hon. Gentleman had put that question to the Leader of the House during business questions.