HC Deb 06 June 1985 vol 80 cc441-8 3.30 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

Will the Leader of the House 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 10 JUNE—Opposition Day (8th Allotted day, second part). A debate on the 15th anniversary of the Royal Assent to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Food and Environment Protection Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 11 JUNE—Opposition Day (14th Allotted Day). A debate titled "The need for urgent new measures to deal with famine and remedy the debt crisis in developing countries", followed by a debate titled "Government responsibility for the desperate plight of young people". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Remaining stages of the Enduring Powers of Attorney Bill [Lords].

Motion on Historic Churches (Northern Ireland) Order.

WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE AND THURSDAY 13 JUNE — Debate on a motion to approve the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985, Cmnd. 9430.

FRIDAY 14 JUNE—A debate on the Government's policy for science which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 17 JUNE—A debate on a Government motion to approve the White Paper on airports policy, Cmnd. 9542.

Mr. Kinnock

The right hon. Gentleman will have heard the dissatisfaction with the fact that the nurses' pay award was announced in a written answer. Will he ensure that we have a statement at the earliest opportunity so that the Secretary of State for Social Services can be properly questioned on a matter that is important to hon. Members on both sides of the House and to the general public?

Secondly, has a date been fixed for a two-day debate in Government time on the so-called Fowler review? The right hon. Gentleman will have seen the reports in The Times and elsewhere that Whitehall sources have made it clear that it is part of the Government's tactics to keep the Opposition, the public and, presumably, Conservative Back-Bench Members in the dark about the impact of the changes. May we have his co-operation in initiating a debate so that we can lighten the darkness?

Thirdly, when may we have a statement on last week's decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the Government have been unlawfully discriminating against husbands and male finances who wish to come to Britain? As he will recall, the Home Secretary dodged making a statement this week. Will he ensure that we get a statement next week so that the 3,350 men involved may have some idea of their future?

Fourthly, the Leader of the House will recall that we have been asking repeatedly for a debate in Government time on the proposed closure of 29 skillcentres. This week, we heard the announcement that all but two of those skillcentres will close — the two being in relatively marginal Conservative-held seats. Does the right hon.

Gentleman accept that the issue is now even more urgent and will he ensure that hon. Members on both sides of the House are given an early opportunity to debate the matter?

Fifthly, may I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the reports today of the Foreign Secretary's warning to the United States Government not to breach the 1979 strategic arms limitation treaty and so undermine the Geneva arms talks? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure an early statement to the House on this subject, and will he remember that the Opposition have asked several times for a debate on the straegic defence initiative which is clearly of interest to the House and to the country?

Finally, will he convey, through the usual channels, of course, my best wishes and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends to the Government Chief Whip and his finance for their future happiness?

Mr. Biffen

I wholeheartedly reverse the order of the right hon. Gentleman's questions—I shall of course pass on those good wishes to my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip. I know, as does the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) that, in doing that, I shall have the endorsement of the entire House.

As for the strategic arms limitation treaty, I shall of course draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to the right hon. Gentleman's points. It raises all of the issues that are central to a discussion of the defence Estimates.

I suggest that we might consider the request for a debate about skillcentres through the usual channels. I shall refer my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to the right hon. Gentleman's request for a statement on the recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights as it affects the access to Britain of certain classes of immigrant.

I note the right hon. Gentleman's request for a two-day debate on the social security review. Perhaps the timing and length of that debate can be considered further through the usual channels, I was a little distressed to find that the right hon. Gentleman had to pray in aid evidence from The Times to sustain his case, but as he then asked for enlightenment I understood why he needed such remedy. Questions about nurses' pay can be examined through the usual channels, but I must observe that what has been done today is precisely what happened under the preceding Labour Government.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

If the worse comes to the worst tomorrow and we find ourselves sitting through the weekend, how can I then return in happy plight that am debarred the benefit of rest? When life's—day's —oppression is not eased by night, and day by day— day by night—and night by day oppressed?

Mr. Biffen

If my hon. Friend rerehearses a little more that speech which he intends to give tomorrow, he may find by then that it is so effective that he need have no fear.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Will the Leader of the House find time for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement on the encouragement which I hope he is giving the Office of Fair Trading to block the takeover of Eurolex, the computer database of English, Scottish and European law, by Butterworths, which has closed it down and dismissed all the staff to create a world monopoly for the United States-owned Lexis service for which Butterworths acts merely as the British agent? Is that not an outrageous demonstration of the Government's lack of any serious information technology policy?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot accept the strictures implicit in the hon. Gentleman's question, but I shall refer his request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the heavy demand of right hon. and hon. Members to speak in last January's debate on airports policy and therefore consider extending the debate on Monday week at least until midnight so that many more of us can congratulate the Government on yesterday's excellent statement?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend advances a persuasive argument for the innovation that he seeks. The timing will be considered.

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

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the change in immigration rules which requires visas from citizens of Sri Lanka who have come to Britain as refugees raises an important principle which is quite distinct from that raised by the other immigration matter that has been raised? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore find time for the prayer relating to the change that I have described which has been tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends?

Mr. Biffen

I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point. Perhaps the matter could be considered through the usual channels.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

For the third week running, may I ask my right hon. Friend to make my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health an offer that we hope he cannot refuse—to make a statement to the House on an appeal system regarding the limited list of drugs? The matter is now getting very urgent.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has made his point courteously and persistently, and I shall most certainly take it up again.

Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

Will the Leader of the House impress upon the Prime Minister the need for a statement next week, after her meeting with King Hussein of Jordan and the Foreign Secretary of Israel, on their views on peace in the middle east and the role that the PLO will play as the representative of the Palestinians?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly pass on that request to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), in case he has not noticed, that the idea behind moving the sludge works at Perry Oaks is not to plant daisies? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if the motion on Monday week is lost, progress at Stansted could not be made? Will my right hon. Friend make that clear?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend's point obviously has a great deal of force. I should have thought that it would be much better deployed in the context of the debate rather than in trying to persuade me to put a shadow over the debate by giving an answer.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

Given that those of us who have recently been in Sri Lanka have first hand and substantial evidence of brutality and the atrocities committed against the Tamil community and that many thousands of that minority community live in deep and serious fear of their physical safety and lives, may we have an early debate on the Government's inhumane and callous policy of refusing admission to refugees from that country, with all the horrendous consequences for their personal safety that flow from that policy?

Mr. Biffen

I realise that this subject gives rise to deep and sincere feelings. I shall report them to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, but I cannot be optimistic and suggest that there will be an early debate.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the lack of religious and moral teaching, discipline and, above all, parental responsibility are the main causes of so much of the violence in our society? Cannot we discuss these important and vital matters?

Mr. Biffen

I totally agree with my hon. Friend, but Government time will not be available for such a debate —certainly not in the near future. Hon. Members have other opportunities, and I suggest that they pursue them.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give sympathetic consideration to our request for a one-hour extension of the debate on Tuesday on the Northern Ireland order?

Mr. Biffen

Most certainly. Perhaps that matter could be considered through the usual channels.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

The House gave an overwhelming Second Reading to the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), but, despite that, many of us who voted in support of the Bill have distinct reservations about the tactics that will, apparently, be employed tomorrow. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his previous position on this matter and, even at this late hour, give an undertaking that Government time will be made available so that this important measure is given the proper consideration that it deserves?

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, which certainly was not planted. I want to make it quite clear— I want there to be no ambiguity about this — that there is no prospect of Government time being made available.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

. What contingency plans has the right hon. Gentleman made for the House sitting on Saturday and Sunday? If this happens, will the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements to ensure that those responsible will be surcharged?

Mr. Biffen

In order to give the most appropriate answer to that question, I would need more time for reflection than is available to me at the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

As my right hon. Friend is a master not only of repartee but of parliamentary procedure, will he make it plain that what is contemplated and proposed by some of our colleagues for tomorrow is entirely proper and is not an abuse of the procedures of the House?

Mr. Biffen

It is far better if these arguments are adduced within the more relaxed circumstances of the debate than in question and answer at this time. I can confirm that there seems to be clear evidence that the proposed action has been ruled to be in order.

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

In view of the announcement at about lunch time today by Imperial Tobacco plc that it intends to close its factory in east Newcastle with a loss of 600 jobs and that, in addition it intends to sack 1,100 people during the next two years, will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a discussion on the employment problems faced by constituencies that rely upon the tobacco industry for employment?

Mr. Biffen

I shall, of course, draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, but the hon. Gentleman may recall that employment questions will be dealt with next Tuesday.

Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

Reverting to the debate on airports policy on Monday week, may we know the basis upon which it is to take place? If it is simply to take note of the White Paper and the House refuses so to do, will that mean that the Secretary of State for Transport will have to re-think the policy that he announced in the House yesterday?

Mr. Biffen

I have already indicated that the motion on Monday 17 June will be a Government motion to approve the White Paper.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

Has the Leader of the House noticed that on several occasions recently the Secretary of State for the appropriate Department has not appeared at the Dispatch Box at Question Time? The latest example was on Tuesday of this week, when the Secretary of State for Defence was unable to be present because apparently he was on an official visit to Denmark.

Bearing in mind that Secretaries of State are required to be here for questions on only one day in a month, is it not possible for them to arrange their official visits so that they are not prevented from being here to answer questions?

Mr. Biffen

Obviously I would be the first to acquiesce in the proposition that it is important that Secretaries of State should, whenever possible, be here at the Dispatch Box to take their questions. I believe that that view is shared throughout the Administration. But there are occasions when it is not possible, and I think we have to understand that.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Does my right hon. Friend intend to speak tomorrow in the capacity that he recently described as "the boss's nark", or does he agree that Back Benchers are just as much entitled to use rules of order and procedure, without accusations of abuse, as are the Government who they are supposed to control?

Mr. Biffen

I shall speak as Leader of the House, and I shall try to tread as delicately as I can.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

If tomorrow's business ran through not only Saturday and Sunday but into Monday, will the Leader of the House confirm that, under the Standing Orders of the House, business could be adjourned after Monday till the following Monday? In those circumstances, does he intend to table a motion to avoid that eventuality?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that we have quite got to the point where I have to take that decision.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Will my right hon. Friend take pity on Mr. Speaker and help him in relation to the debate on airports policy? There has not been adequate time, at any Question Time when the matter could be raised, for all of us to be heard. In particular, those who represent the area most affected by the decision, east Hertfordshire and Essex, have not had adequate time because, quite rightly, Mr. Speaker, has had to give time to hon. Members from other parts of the country with an interest in the matter.

My constituents are feeling very aggrieved that we have not had adequate time to point out to the House and to the country the very serious difficulties in which the decision places us. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend at least consider extending the debate by two hours?

Mr. Biffen

The request for an extension has already been made to me, and it will be sympathetically considered.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In answering my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), the Leader of the House was his usual model of courtesy, but has he really understood the enormity of what has happened in relation to Butterworths and Eurolex? The computer data are going to the United States. Should not he, directly or through the Department of Trade, contact the Office of Fair Trading? Although only 53 jobs are involved at present, there is a huge potential job loss. Incidentally, Parliament is a major customer, and it looks as though Parliament's expenses in regard to Eurolex will be greatly increased by what has happened.

May I offer the Leader of the House a constructive suggestion? May I suggest that he should get the Minister for Trade to make a statement at 11 am tomorrow on the vital matter that my hon. Friend has raised?

Mr. Biffen

There is just a suspicion that having such a statement at 11 am tomorrow would be seen as trivialising the matter. There would be a possibility of its being misinterpreted. I shall, of course, convey to my right hon. Friend the anxieties of the hon. Members for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) and Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

Has my right hon. Friend taken note of early-day motion 714 concerning a Yorkshire Post investigation into drug abuse?

[That this House is concerned at the new evidence in Yorkshire of illegal drug trafficking and the involvement of young people in hard drug abuse; congratulates the Yorkshire Post on its detailed investigation into this urgent and serious problem; notes that the Select Committees on Home Affairs and on Social Services are undertaking enquiries into drug abuse; and calls for an early Parliamentary debate on their proposals further to inhibit supply and to rehabilitate addicts.]

In view of the serious facts revealed by that investigation and the fact that this is one of the most significant issues of our time, will he arrange an early and full-length debate on the interim report of the Home Office Select Committee on the subject?

Mr. Biffen

I join my hon. Friend in acknowledging the importance of the topic. He will note, however, that no Government time has been made available for a debate on the issue in the business that has been announced, and I do not see there being time available in the near future now that we are in that part of the parliamentary year just ahead of the summer recess. However, my hon. Friend will be aware that he can pursue these matters through private Members' time.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

In view of the decision by the House of Representatives in the United States in relation to South Africa and the exchanges today during Prime Minister's Question Time, does the Leader of the House agree that we should have an early opportunity to debate this issue?

Mr. Biffen

I have no doubt that it would be a good debate, but there is no Government time available in the near future.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 708, which stands in my name and the names of 20 other hon. Members, giving all-party support for the establishment of a missing child unit within the Home Office?

[That this House welcomes the designation of Saturday 25th May as International Day of the Missing Child; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to establish a missing child unit within the Home Office with a central computer detailing all missing children throughout the United Kingdom, and not just within the Metropolitan Police area.]

Is he aware that great concern is felt about the fact that last year more than 20,000 children went missing, yet inadequate, if any, statistics are kept about these cases? On the subject of children, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not take it personally when tomorrow more than 100 hon. Members in all parts of the House express their concern for the unborn child and do not support his objection to our motion. May I respectfully remind him that most hon. Members feel that tomorrow is a private Members' day and regret that any form of Government interference, even if indirectly, should occur?

Mr. Biffen

I note my hon. Friend's remarks in relation to tomorrow's debate. I also appreciate the significance of the first part of his question and hope that he will use his well known skill and initiative as a private Member in getting the issue debated. There simply is not Government time to cover all these issues.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South)

Has the Leader of the House seen the statistics released by the Department of Employment to me this week showing that for this year's 517,000 school leavers there exist only 12,355 vacancies at careers offices? Is he aware that 56 per cent. of careers offices in Britain have 10 or fewer vacancies; that in Scotland the figure is 94 per cent.; that in Wales, only two careers offices have more than 10 vacancies; and that 95 per cent. of careers offices have fewer than 10 vacancies? When in Government time will there be a debate on the bleak and dismal future that the Tory Government are offering this year's school leavers?

Mr. Biffen

I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not regard Opposition time as second best, because on Tuesday there will be a debate on the subject of young people and I hope that he will be able to make a speech on that occasion.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Has the right hon. Gentleman been made aware during his especially busy day today that the Arts Council held an emergency press conference this morning at which it announced that there would be a £30 million shortfall in the moneys needed to support the arts following the Government's messing about with the GLC and metropolitan counties? What do the Government intend to do to provide that necessary funding of £30 million?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that there will be a statement on that subject next week, but I shall draw to the attention of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who answers for the arts in the House, the situation described by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

You, Mr. Speaker, and the Leader of the House will be aware of the great interest that I have expressed over the years, both in the House and in Committee upstairs, in the National Health Service. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the need for a statement to be made next week on the question of nurses' pay? We shall not have time to table questions before the Minister for Health next answers questions in the House on Tuesday. After that, there will be only one further occasion when health questions will be answered before the summer recess.

The issue affects half a million nurses and midwives and yet the announcement is to be made in a written answer which I shall not be able to see until tomorrow morning. Will the right hon. Gentleman please do something for Back-Bench Members on this important matter?

Mr. Biffen

The Leader of the Opposition made a request about the way in which the matter should be handled and I said that it could be considered through the usual channels. I cannot go beyond that. However, the procedure this year is precisely the same as it has been for many years.

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

Why do the Government persist in refusing to make a statement at the Dispatch Box on the loss of the Lear Fan company in Ulster? Why do they persist in replying only in written answers? What are they trying to hide? As a vast amount of public money is involved, should not the Minister be made accountable to the House by making a statement on which we can question him?

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer those remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Questions about Northern Ireland are first on the Order Paper next Thursday.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

In view of the persistent and regrettable failure of courts, and especially of tribunals, to take properly into account the statutory codes set by the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission, and of the exclusion from the protection of the law of single people, including widows and widowers, when can we have a debate in Government time on equal opportunities? Is the Leader of the House aware that inequality in many respects is growing in Britain?

Mr. Biffen

I see little prospect in the near future of such a debate in Government time because Government time is a rare and valued commodity at this time of year. The hon. and learned Gentleman has other opportunities to raise such matters in the House.