HC Deb 27 June 1985 vol 81 cc1077-85 3.33 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

Will the Leader of the House state the business of the House 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 1 JULY — Until seven o'clock, private Members' motions. Consideration in Committee of the European Communities (Finance) Bill.

Proceedings on the Further Education Bill (Lords).

Motion on the African Development Fund (Fourth Replenishment) Order.

TUESDAY 2 JULY—Opposition Day (18th Allotted Day) (First Part). Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "Government cuts in the National Health Service".

Motion on the British Steel Corporation (Borrowing Powers) Order.

Motion on the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements) Amendment Regulations Order.

WEDNESDAY 3 JULY — Proceedings on the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Bill.

Motions on the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order and the Credit Unions (Northern Ireland) Order.

THURSDAY 4 JULY — Opposition Day (19th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on a motion on the restoration of stability in Northern Ireland. The subject has been chosen by the Ulster Unionist Party.

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

FRIDAY 5 JULY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 8 JULY—Remaining stages of the Oil and Pipelines Bill.

Mr. Hattersley

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. May I ask three questions? Does he recall that the Opposition expect an early debate on the Johnson Matthey collapse? Debating a Bill which provides extra controls for the future will not do—there must be a debate on the collapse and the Bank of England's part in that debacle.

On Wednesday 3 July we are to debate the limitation of alcohol sales at football grounds. The football season is now only eight weeks away. Is this Bill all that we shall get, after the sound and fury in Downing street a few weeks ago? Will spectators be left unprotected and will grounds be left unimproved because the Government will not assist in any way in regard to money, or will there be another debate and another statement on football and the dangers therein?

Can we be told how the Government propose to respond to their defeat in the Northern Ireland Committee on their proposal to end the production of town gas in Northern Ireland? Should not the matter be debated on the Floor of the House? Is that a possibility? We believe that it should be.

Mr. Biffen

On the right hon. Gentleman's third point, I gather that it is a technical vote which has no significance for the legislation under consideration but, if the right hon. Gentleman wants to mention the topic, I should have thought that the debate on Thursday 4 July would give him an opportunity.

As for the debate which is promised for Wednesday on the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Bill, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we appreciate the talks that have taken place with the Opposition and other parties. We hope that good progress can be made. The House will consider this Session the contribution that legislation will make to solving the problem.

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said about his desire for an early debate on the Johnson Matthey affair. Perhaps we could pursue this matter through the usual channels.

Sir Ian Percival (Southport)

May I remind my right hon. Friend of my early-day motion, which was tabled soon after the Grand Hotel bombing and which has attracted the signatures of some 181 of my right hon. and hon. Friends? Does he recall that that motion invites the House to reaffirm its total resolve that the freedoms of which it is the guardian must never be lost or lessened by violence or the fear of it"? It goes on to consider whether those who show such total lack of concern for the lives of others should not forfeit their own lives if caught and convicted. Will my right hon. Friend endeavour to allot time, before the House rises for the summer, for discussion of that or a similar measure so that the House may demonstrate to the country its absolute determination in these matters?

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for drawing attention to that motion again. I am sure that there is a deep detestation in all quarters of the techniques of violence and the terrorist violence which have appeared yet again recently, but there is no prospect of Government time being made available for such a motion in the very near future.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that he will provide an extra hour for the debate on the first of the two Northern Ireland orders set down on Wednesday? Will he also do his best to avoid statements on Thursday, which would curtail time for the subsequent debate on the motion?

Mr. Biffen

I understand the importance that the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends attach to the first point. Perhaps he could examine that through the usual channels. I hope that we shall be able to accommodate his anxiety. I also note his second request.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)

Further to the question asked by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival), will my right hon. Friend assure us that, although there cannot be such a debate before the recess, a debate will be considered urgently as soon as we come back?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly take note of that point.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House are worried because hospitals are above the law and are flouting food hygiene regulations, and health and safety laws? The reason for that is Crown immunity. Many hospitals are in a shocking condition, and some patients have died. Will the Leader of the House note early-day motion 808 and arrange time for a debate in the House?

[That this House notes that Crown immunity enables health authorities to flout the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Food Hygience Regulations; is deeply concerned at growing evidence that hospital patients are suffering unnecessarily; believes that it is wrong in principle and deplorable in practice for Crown authorities to be above the law relating to welfare provision; and calls upon the Government to remove Crown immunity from all premises covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Food Hygience Regulations.]

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman refers to a point which he has argued hitherto in the House. While I will refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, I can guarantee no debate in Government time at this time of the year. The right hon. Gentleman might like to consider whether the matter could come within the terms of the debate that we are promised on Tuesday.

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House consider arranging to lift the 10 o'clock rule on Thursday 4 July so that the important private business being discussed may be completed before the summer recess?

Mr. Biffen

May I on behalf of the House congratulate my hon. Friend on her new title? The Chairman of Ways and Means has asked that the 10 o'clock rule be suspended on that day, and I am certain that it would be for the convenience of the House for that to be done.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Does the Leader of the House recall that, earlier this week, the Minister for Social Security had to come grovelling to the House and admit that after only a few days he had the regulations wrong on the board and lodging measures that he introduced? We do not want to hide the real magnitude of the problem by talking only of the suicides and pregnancies, because hundreds of thousands of our youngsters are suffering. Is it not shameful that, despite seven requests from me, the right hon. Gentleman will not allow a full debate on the matter so that Opposition Members can help the Minister to get the regulations right?

Mr. Biffen

To describe the performance of my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security earlier this week on those regulations as grovelling is a most extraordinary representation of a masterly parliamentary performance. If the hon. Gentleman is a glutton for punishment, he can seek to participate in the debate on the motion on Tuesday.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House take time in the present climate to arrange a debate on the steps that civilised countries can take to combat international terrorism in all its forms? In his answer, will he pay tribute to the Scottish police for apparently saving the English from the Irish?

Mr. Biffen

I should like to pay tribute, but in more generous terms than those suggested by my hon. and learned Friend. On his first point, I recognise that there is widespread interest in the matter in the House, but, to put it bluntly, we are now approaching the time of year when all the time available to the Government must be used to ensure that we are not sitting in the middle of August.

Mr. Alex Carlisle (Montgomery)

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the serious plight of tenant farmers in the light of the Government's agricultural policy, especially bearing in mind today's decision in the Court of Appeal in the case of Williams v. the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which will enable the Government to carry out their decision to dump the 4,000 members of the Land Settlement Association?

Mr. Biffen

It would not be appropriate for me to comment on that case. However, I know that the re-rating of agricultural land will affect tenant and non-tenant farmers. I will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the request for such a debate and the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman made, and we shall see what time may be made available.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in a recent speech, which was also masterly, he agreed with me that in politics as in music if one has a good song one should sing it? Is he aware that next week and the week after we should have some statements by Ministers about some of the achievements of the Government—for example, today's announcement of the first-class return on our balance of trade for May? Last week I received a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport telling me that the Government are spending £312 million more on a new roads programme, about which hardly anybody knows. Will he have a word with the Prime Minister and ask her to increase the housing programme as well as the roads programme, so that we will really have something to shout about?

Mr. Biffen

I can think of no more charming prospect than my hon. Friend and myself as a sort of parliamentary duo, and that thought will sustain me in the fragile days and weeks ahead. As to the searching point that he made, I shall certainly ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

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

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the serious issue of alcohol abuse and its treatment? I hasten to add that I am convinced that such addiction is thoroughly absent from this place.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman raises a profoundly serious point that merits consideration by the House. He will appreciate that, in a relatively narrow sense, it can be debated on Wednesday. I can offer no Government time for the wider debate that he seeks, but I shall bear his point in mind.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the report in The Daily Telegraph today that Derbyshire county council has banned 600 schoolchildren from singing "Rule Britannia"? Should not that disgraceful state of affairs be debated in the House?

Mr. Biffen

It is absolutely scandalous, and I am sure that the censure which my hon. Friend has just delivered will be appreciated in Derbyshire.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that it will not be satisfactory for the House to consider the British Steel Corporation (Borrowing Powers) Order next Tuesday without Ministers having received the BSC corporate plan and considered it, or made a statement to the House that the security of the big five BSC steelworks is guaranteed?

Mr. Biffen

I note the hon. Gentleman's point, and I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Derek Spencer (Leicester, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the latest and most sinister attack on parliamentary democracy by Leicester city council, which proposes to set up a research and development unit at a potential cost to the ratepayer of £135,000 to peddle Labour party propaganda, and to set up a contracts monitoring unit at a potential cost of £45,000? When can we expect to hear the results of the work of the Widdicombe committee, which should put a stop to this once and for all?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. and learned Friend might take comfort from the fact that an unsaleable product needs marketing on that scale. I shall take his other points into account.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Would the Leader of the House direct his attention once again to the plight of the young homeless? Does he accept that his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) was inadequate? Although the list of exemptions was extended as a result of the statement earlier this week, the refusal to grant exemptions in Middlesbrough alone has caused 80 people to lodge appeals against those refusals. The appeals will take as long as four months to hear, and for those four months, those people will be without financial support. Therefore, they have already been judged, sentenced and executed. Does he accept that it is not good enough to push any reference to this matter to the fag-end of a debate on Tuesday evening or early Wednesday morning, and will the Government provide time to discuss the matter within the next nine days?

Mr. Biffen

The motion has been put down for debate on Tuesday evening. The matter requires the urgent consideration of the House, and I have no doubt that we shall have a good and hard-fought debate.

Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)

Will my right hon. Friend make time available for a debate on the report by the Select Committee on Agriculture on the Government's handling of the Aujeszky's disease eradication programme now that great hostility is being expressed by pig farmers.

Mr. Biffen

My constituency interest makes me aware of the point that my hon. Friend has made. It would be appropriate that the observations of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were made on the report before it was further considered by the House.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Will the Leader of the House consider granting time for a debate on arms sales to Third-world and other countries with military regimes which do everything that they can to deny human rights—especially as we learn today that despite the Government's protests that they urge the Government of Chile to uphold human rights, the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend, Lord Trefgarne, is entertaining 12 senior Chilean military people in Britain this week? They are to be received at four national institutes — the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Institute for Defence Studies, the Civil Service College and the Institute of Latin American Studies, effectively as guests of the Government. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that we can debate whether the Government's policy is to encourage dealings with and arms sales to Chile?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that both sides of the House would welcome a debate upon that topic, because if the hon. Gentleman's speech were to be be delivered in those terms, many hon. Members would have great delight in rebutting it. There is no immediate time available for such a debate in Government time but the hon. Gentleman might like to try good luck with an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Does my right hon. Friend share my anxiety for the Labour party, which appears to be running out of stamina? Does he agree that its performance last Monday—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Member asking for a debate?

Hon. Members


Mr. Soames

I was trying to ask whether my right hon. Friend agreed that the Opposition are having too many days, and that they cannot cope with them. Could we have fewer so that they would be a more worthy foe?

Mr. Biffen

I may be ultra-cautious, but I think it imprudent for any Leader of the House to taunt the Opposition with running out of stamina just as we move into the month of July. We will have just about enough stamina to see us through to the appropriate rising time.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Leader of the House aware that if, on Wednesday, when we discuss the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Bill which stops the sale of alcohol in certain places in England and Wales, he decided to stop the selling of alcohol in the Houses of Parliament and closed all the bars, he would not then be accused by people outside of saying what is all right for some people does not apply to those in the legislature? Does he believe that it would be a good idea if at 10 o'clock or whenever we have the vote, none of those people who have been in the bars from 10 o'clock in the morning could be accused of being a little weary and overtired?

Mr. Biffen

That is an interesting proposition. It could lie at the core of a fascinating speech to be delivered in the debate on Wednesday, when another Minister will have to answer.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

As I have the great honour, privilege and pleasure of speaking in my right hon. Friend's constituency tomorrow evening, may I ask a small favour of him? Like many right hon. and hon. Members, I have asked for a debate on care in the community. I refer my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 515.

[That this House, noting the widespread interest in the issue of care for the mentally ill and mentally handicapped in the community following the publication of the report of the Social Services Committee on this matter, calls for an early debate on the recommendations and implications of this report.]

It is a matter of considerable anxiety and relates to a deserving group of people. Will he arrange a debate before damaging decisions are taken by regional health authorities which will prejudice the future care of such people?

Mr. Biffen

That is all very well, but my hon. Friend outlines a fairly fragile political situation. He is speaking in my constituency, and I am not prepared to give an answer until I see how he behaves in north Shropshire.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

In view of the recent tragic air disaster and the fact that yesterday armed forces were stationed at Heathrow, will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate or statement on security at British airports?

Mr. Biffen

I must confess that I do not have the ability to give a debate in Government time, but my right hon. Friends are keeping the matter under constant review and a statement will be made if appropriate.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

Now that Congress House has opened its doors to private enterprise by converting rooms to a restaurant, a theatre and a bar, would it not be appropriate to allow the Opposition an extra Supply Day so that they can further extol the virtues of the Government's privatisation policy?

Mr. Biffen

It is a fascinating thought, but at this stage of the year time is a precious commodity and some might think me flippant if I responded positively to my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

Weeks ago, when redundancies were announced at British Rail Engineering Limited in my constituency, the Secretary of State for Scotland promised that a consultative report would be produced. When that report becomes available, will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to arrange for a debate on the immense problems of Springburn? We have serious unemployment, drug addiction is the worst in the west of Scotland, many elderly people live in severely damp housing and very few new companies have opened up in the area. Yet at one time we had four railway workshops employing 10,000 people. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there is a debate on the Floor of the House when the report becomes available?

Mr. Biffen

I very much appreciate the hon. Gentleman's constituency interest in this, and I will convey his request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I wish to draw attention to early-day motion No. 789 about Arthur Bell and Sons, the excellent and profitable Scotch whisky company in my constituency.

[That this House recognises that Arthur Bell and Sons is a well managed Scottish company which, during a period of great difficulty, has continued to expand the sale of premium brand Scotch whisky; congratulates the management and the workers on the splendid results achieved; and believes that control of this fine Scottish company should not pass into non-United Kingdom hands.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is great concern in Scotland that the bankers dealing with the Guinness takeover bid are also acting for Arthur Bell and Sons and that there is a feeling in my constituency that there has been skulduggery in smoke-filled rooms, which cannot be good for the city, for Scotland or for Arthur Bell and Sons? May we have an early debate on the subject?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that my hon. Friend does not expect me to follow his remarks in any sense other than to say that the matter is being considered by the Office of Fair Trading. There is a legal framework which must be observed.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

In view of the interest in the Government's proposals to improve safety at football grounds and the need to know whether they intend to make any financial contribution, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made before the Bill relating to this matter is introduced next week? Alternatively, will he give an assurance that the Ministers presenting that Bill will give some information about the progress of the working group set up some time ago under the Minister with responsibility for sport?

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate the significance of my hon. Friend's point. I will bring it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South)

As Government inaction is as appropriate a subject for debate as Government action, is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread dismay among many homeless people and unemployed people seeking to move house to find work at the Government's decision not to legislate in this Parliament to decontrol new lettings in the private rented sector? Does he envisage time being available for a debate on that important subject?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot say anything about the possible contents of the Queen's Speech in the autumn, but I will bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

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

What has happened to the statement on Lear Fan, for which I have repeatedly called in the past five weeks?

Mr. Biffen

We all have to learn to be disappointed. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman feels that the Government have been remiss in not providing that statement. I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to the point.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Once again.

Mr. Biffen

Yes, once again.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern at the spiralling cost of running the House of Commons, which was £51 million in 1983–84 and £57 million in 1984–85? Is it really necessary to have a new telephone system costing £2,035,000? Will he also seriously consider timetabling the business of the House next week so that we finish by midnight each night from Monday to Thursday and thereby reduce expenditure which is getting out of hand?

Mr. Biffen

There is an old adage that the guillotine is a sharp cure for dandruff. I was reasonably tolerant about my hon. Friend's point until he suggested that there ought to be an automatic timetable for every evening next week. However, I am grateful to him for making the point that the costs of the House of Commons are rising sharply.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the army training establishments of the Ministry of Defence, in the light of the announcement yesterday by the Secretary of State for Defence of a reprieve for Crickhowell and the somewhat misleading statement of the Prime Minister this afternoon? She implied that the Gordon barracks in my constituency have been reprieved. The barracks have been reprieved only as a TA base, not as a training centre.

Will not the Leader of the House acknowledge that we need a debate because of theo Ministry of Defence's argument that the reason for the closure of both barracks is that there are insufficient recruits in Scotland and Wales to sustain them? Scotland has twice as many recruits as Wales, yet the Government have not reprieved the Bridge of Don barracks in my constituency. Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that the only way that I can save it is to run under a bus, if there are any left after the Transport Bill becomes an Act?

Mr. Biffen

I will not respond to the invitation to comment upon the hon. Gentleman running under a bus, but his point is a particularly suitable one for him to try his luck in the Ballot for the Adjournment.