HC Deb 07 March 1985 vol 74 cc1167-76 3.30 pm
Mr.NeilKinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will 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 II MARCH—Opposition Day (9th Allotted Day): Debate on an Opposition motion on record unemployment and the need for new industrial policies.

TUESDAY I2 MARCH — Second Reading of the Interception of Communications Bill. Motion on the Immobilisation of Vehicles Illegally Parked (London Boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea) (Continuation) Order.

WEDNESDAY I3 MARCH—Motion relating to the Local Government (Prescribed Expenditure) (Amendment) Order.

THURSDAY I4 MARCH—Estimates Day (2nd Allotted Day): Until about seven o'clock, consideration of the following estimate: Class IV, Vote 5 industrial support (Department of Energy) the appropriate report will be shown on the Order Paper as relevant.

Afterwards, a debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House on Cmnd. 9447, the Government's observations on the fifth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee Session 1983–84 on the Falkland Islands.

The questions will be put on all outstanding Supplementary Estimates and Votes.

Proceedings on the Cinemas Bill (Lords), which is a consolidation measure.

FRIDAY I5 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY I8 MARCH — Until about seven o'clock, debate on motions relating to the National Health Service (General Medical and Pharmaceutical Services) Amendment Regulations, and the equivalent regulations for Scotland.

Motion on European Community proposals for the 1985–86 CAP prices.

[Relevant Documents for Monday 18 March: 1. 4582/85, ADD 1, ADD 2 & COR 1(e), ADD 3: CAP Prices (1985/1986); 2. 4637/85: Situation in Agricultural Markets (1984); 3. Unnumbered: Aid to German farmers.

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee: 1. HC 5-xiv (1984–85); 2. HC 5-xiv (1984–85); 3. HC 78-xxxiii (1983–84) para. 11.]

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful. May I first tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Second Reading of the Interception of Communications Bill next Tuesday should be further postponed until proper answers have been given to the serious allegations made in the Channel 4 television programme and to the matters that I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) have raised both with the Prime Minister and with the Home Secretary? Tomorrow the programme is to be shown, and its showing will illustrate the point that the report by Lord Bridge is, because of the narrow remit given to him by the Government, merely a clumsy attempt by the Government to dodge the issues of real concern. Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that, as long as the Government take that attitude, more people will believe that they have something to hide? Does he accept that, whenever the Second Reading of the Interception of Communications Bill takes place, that consideration must largely dominate the proceedings in the House?

On the business for 15 March, the motion relating to the National Health Service (General Medical and Pharmaceutical Services) Amendment Regulations will need at least a full day. Will the right hon. Gentleman rearrange business on that day to provide the time? Finally, I have asked several times in recent weeks for debates in Government time on the proposed closure of one third of Britain's network of skillcentres, on a report by the Commission for Racial Equality and on the Prime Minister's proposals for British participation in star wars research. Will the Leader of the House now assure the House that we can have those debates before the Easter recess?

Mr. Biffen

I note that the right hon. Gentleman suggests that the Second Reading of the Interception of Communications Bill might be further postponed. I do not feel able to agree with him. The Bill was published on 14 February. It is a matter of genuine concern that Parliament should debate it and proceed with it. The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that some of the points he made about the Bridge report were referred to and dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister earlier this afternoon.

As to the question of there being a full day's debate upon the National Health Service (General Medical and Pharmaceutical Services) Amendment Regulations on Monday 18 March, I take note of the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. Perhaps that might be pursued through the usual channels.

In regard to skillcentres, I stand by what I said earlier about the importance of this topic for a Commons debate, but there will be an opportunity at least for its inclusion in the more general discussions on unemployment on Monday.

As for the questions about debates upon the CRE and upon star wars, I have nothing further to add to what I have already said. I note the interest that is shown in the points.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that shortly before Christmas the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology produced a report of immense significance on education and training for new technology. When will we have a chance of discussing that? In particular, when will we have an opportunity to discuss our reaction to our own recommendations in that context?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said. No allocation of time has been made for the week in prospect, but I shall bear in mind the point he makes.

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

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that he may have underestimated the number of hon. Members who are concerned about the Government's limited list proposals and also about the problems of Scotland, on which a separate order is to be considered? Does he recognise that in the way he has proposed the business we will even be deprived of the one and a half hours between 10 o'clock and 11.30 which would have been available for that debate had it been for the whole day or for the latter part of the day?

Mr. Biffen

On the second point, I shall be happy to look into the matter that the hon. Gentleman identifies. On the first point, as I said to the Leader of the Opposition, it is a matter for further consideration through the usual channels.

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)

My right hon. Friend will have noticed the extraordinarily light sentence passed by the magistrates on the chief perpetrator of the violence at the Chelsea match this week. This has further angered and frustrated many of my hon. Friends. Is it possible to have a debate on the subject so that the views of the House can be made clear to the judiciary?

Mr. Biffen

Obviously I cannot offer a debate in Government time next week. I have a lively sympathy with my hon. Friend, but he might consider the opportunities that there are for him as a private Member.

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

May we have an early statement next week about contradictory statements on regional aid that have been made by the Minister of State, Department of Industry? He is always telling the House that the Government cannot help some areas because less than 35 per cent. of the working population live in designated areas. He told the House on 28 November that we had to negotiate that 35 per cent. with the EC, but on Tuesday in a parliamentary answer to me he said that there is no maximum of 35 per cent. at all for the whole of the EC. Can we have the truth? Is there a limit, as the Minister said in November, or is there no limit, as he said on Tuesday?

Mr. Biffen

I will draw the attention of my hon. Friend to the point that the right hon. Gentleman has made. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman may consider that, since Monday's debate is drawn also to include the need for new industrial policies, he can make the point on that occasion.

Sir Peter Mills (Torridge and Devon, West)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the importance of the coming Monday, which is Commonwealth Day? May I also draw his attention to early-day motion 450?

[That this House wishes to be associated with all other Commonwealth Parliaments in the observance of Commonwealth Day on 11th March, and with the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association which brings together leaders of 1,000 million Commonwealth people of diverse races, cultures and religions, who pursue the same ideals of Parliamentary democracy, individual freedom and peace in the world; and urges that especially in this Interrational Youth Year the best ideals of the young people of the Commonwealth should be encouraged.]

That motion stands in the names of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. On behalf of the Government, will he endorse our continuing support of the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, particularly at this time when we have here 25 commonwealth visitors?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend does the House a service by reminding us every year at this time of the significance of the Commonwealth, and particularly of the important role that the CPA has played in developing a mutual understanding by all of one another's institutions. I am very happly to meet his request.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week on the Government's policy on miners going back to work in the pits? Is he aware that hundreds of miners are still awaiting their court appearances and that many of them are charged with minor misdemeanours? Nevertheless, the NCB is refusing to allow them to start work. Is there not a principle in this country of assuming that people are innocent until they are found guilty? Why is such discrimination taking place? Hundreds of miners have been before the courts, have been found not guilty, and have had their cases dismissed, yet the NCB is acting in this vindictive way. Is it the Government's or the NCB's policy?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming the massive return to work in the mining industry. I shall draw the relevant Minister's attention to the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the debate on the order on Wednesday can run until 11.30 pm? Will he also confirm that, whatever orders may have been laid to date, by the time that Wednesday comes they will exclude from the limits imposed all expenditure consequent upon the buyback of defective housing, pursuant to the Housing Defects Act 1984?

Mr. Biffen

I can give my hon. Friend the first assurance that he seeks. I shall refer his second point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Given the earlier revelations of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) about insurance companies in London insuring people against being kidnapped, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the relevant Minister makes a statement on that issue, and allow a debate in the near future so that hon. Members can express their views? Alternatively, will the Government adopt an ambiguous approach such as that adopted by a previous Administration, who installed free of charge telex machines in Sinn Fein incident centres, for which I do not believe they are getting any rent?

Mr. Biffen

I can probably best help the hon. Gentleman in the first instance by referring the matter to the relevant Minister.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Is it not a little surprising and, indeed, disappointing that the House of Lords should have been able to discuss the report of the Public Accounts Committee with regard to the De Lorean scandal, together with the Government's response to it, before any debate has been fixed for this House? Can we please have an early date for a debate?

Mr. Biffen

I have already implied that there could be a reasonably early debate on the report of the Public Accounts Committee in respect of the De Lorean affair. I hope that I shall be able to satisfy my hon. Friend more specifically fairly soon.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for the House to debate the report of the Transport Committee on the White Paper "Buses"? That might give the Secretary of State an opportunity to come out of hiding. No one has seen him since the publication of that report. He certainly has not attended the Standing Committee dealing with the Transport Bill.

Mr. Biffen

If, through the haze of the past 48 hours, I recollect aright, I think that the hon. Gentleman was in danger of losing his birthday. However, I am glad to see him in his place and thus recovered. The Government will, of course, wish to consider the Select Committee's report at the first appropriate moment.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

In view of the unhealthy interest in some sections of the press, particularly in The Guardian and The Observer, about security matters, and in view of the fact that almost no one else is interested in the subject, can my right hon. Friend arrange that the House goes into secret session next week when we debate the Interception of Communications Bill?

Mr. Biffen

I think that my hon. Friend makes an interesting point but one sufficiently sweeping to put me in danger of seeming like a moderate.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware that at this very moment many pensioners are queueing outside to get into the House so that they can tell hon. Members about the long-term decline that has taken place in their living standards since the Conservative party came into office? On this day, should not the Secretary of State for Social Services make a statement on that issue? Will the Leader of the House make arrangements so that when lobbies take place in future, elderly people and others are not kept queueing outside the House in the cold, and perhaps rain, but can queue in Westminster Hall? They could at least then have some modicum of comfort in a building that they have paid for in taxes throughout their working lives.

Mr. Biffen

The House will be anxious that appropriate arrangements are made for those wishing to undertake lobbying. That is a matter for the Services Committee, to the attention of which I will draw the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. He will appreciate that the Secretary of State for Social Services is first for questions next Tuesday and he may wish to make his points then.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

The country was not impressed by yesterday's performance. What steps does my right hon. Friend intend to take when the Water (Fluoridation) Bill returns from another place to ensure that that process is not repeated?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend may care to use his undoubted persuasive powers among a few of those who sit close by him.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the fresh warnings of the gathering crisis in research and development in this country? Yesterday, the motor industry warned that the total United Kingdom spend on research in that industry is only 1 per cent. of United States Government support for research in their industry. Today, the Science and Engineering Research Council warned of the woefully inadequate research in engineering as a whole. Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on the whole question as a matter of urgency, before science and technology in this country disappear altogether?

Mr. Biffen

The debate on Monday will deal with the desirability of new industrial policies, and I should have thought that that would give the hon. Gentleman exactly the opportunity he is seeking.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members hope that he will provide a full day for the debate on the limited list?

Mr. Biffen

I note the point.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware, in view of Lord Bridge's farcical report, that before the Second Reading of the telephone tapping Bill we need a proper report dealing with the harassment suffered by trade unionists and peace campaigners at the hands of the security service and the special branch? As the Home Secretary has stated that campaigning for unilateral nuclear disarmament is perfectly legitimate, will the Leader of the House make sure that before the Second Reading of that Bill the Home Secretary explains why an ex-editor of the CND journal was questioned closely by the police about leading personalities in CND—about their private lives and the leadership style of the general secretary—practices which have more in common with Russia and Czechoslavakia than with a democracy?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot, in answering the hon. Gentleman's first point, go beyond the answer that I gave to the Leader of the Opposition. I shall draw his other remarks to the attention of the Home Secretary.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

I support the request for a full day's debate on the National Health Service which, with the considerable increases in resources under the present Government and much improved management, is now the jewel in the crown of the Government. As for Tuesday's business, will my right hon. Friend agree that Opposition Members should not believe everything they see on television?

Mr. Biffen

I note the point that my hon. Friend makes and that she is one of those who joins the Leader of the Opposition in asking that Monday's business be reconsidered. I have undertaken to do that.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that next week the Prime Minister makes a statement about what has happened this week in relation to sackings by the National Coal Board? Is he aware that many hon. Members would like to know why working miners at Kiveton Park, many of whom she praised for trying to break the strike, were sacked when the majority of men returned to work on Tuesday? We should also like to know why others have been suspended prior to going for trial. The Prime Minister said on Tuesday that serious crime would be a sackable offence. Is the Leader of the House aware that we should like to ask her why some who took coal from pit waste tips to try to keep their families warm during the winter months are being considered to have committed a serious crime? Some of my constituents have been sacked this week for having taken coal off tips.

Mr. Biffen

I should not like to prejudge where ministerial responsibility for these matters lies, but since the hon. Gentleman asks me to draw the Prime Minister's attention to the subject, I shall undertake to do so.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Will the Government provide the opportunity for a debate on the operation of the wages councils? Is my right hon. Friend aware that on Tuesday there was widespread disappointment on the Government Benches after it was suggested in the Financial Times that the Government were on the verge of making a decision to retain the wages councils, albeit in a modified form? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that there will be anger outside when it is realised that these councils price people of all ages out of work?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend will appreciate that Monday's debate will cover employment and pricing people out of work, or into work. Once the Budget has been announced, there will be a number of opportunities for considering general economic issues, of which the wages councils are a part. I say that because I have no specific plans for a debate on the wages councils.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

If the Leader of the House cannot help my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) with a statement, can he provide a debate in Government time on the miners sacked during the dispute? Is he aware that Mr. John Northard, the NCB's western area director, has said that no miners whom he has sacked will get their jobs back? Is he aware that that includes four Stoke-on-Trent miners who were sacked before their case went before the court? When their case came before the court neither the coal board nor the police offered any evidence against them and their case was dismissed. Is he aware that those four men remain sacked? Will the Leader of the House provide a debate so that we can ensure that the treatment of miners at different coalfields is equal, fair and just?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman identifies a constituency problem. I suggest that he tries his chance at an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Back Benchers feel strongly about Monday week's debate on the limited list? Does he accept that two and a half hours for Back Benchers is not enough? My right hon. Friend has said that he would like the debate to end at 7 o'clock. Will it be a time-limited debate, and if it is not how does he propose to bring it to an end at 7 o'clock?

Mr. Biffen

Since my hon. Friend has worked in the Whips Office, he knows precisely what the answer is. I take note of his voice among others which seek a reconsideration of Monday week's business.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

Can I press the Leader of the House for a proper early debate — not an Adjournment debate—on an amnesty for sacked miners who have been denied their jobs by the National Coal Board, often for petty reasons? Is there not a need for a proper debate on the general issues, because the NCB's policy is nothing short of victimisation? A debate is especially important as allegations have been made that the NCB has broken the same law — the Miners and Quarries Act — under which they are denying miners their jobs? A general debate is very important.

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate some hon. Members' strong feelings about the topic. On Monday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will be answering questions. Initially, the hon. Gentleman might see how far he can take the argument then.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that none of next week's debates are to do with extending yet more borrowing to that bottomless financial sink in Brussels? Will my right hon. Friend also put the record straight about yesterday's business? Obviously, our hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) got what happened wrong from the newspapers. The reason why we lost yesterday's business was not to do with those who are concerned about fluoridation. They asked for further consideration to be adjourned at 1.25 am yesterday The Government whipped Members into the Lobby to keep the debate going, thereby losing yesterday's business. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House why they did that?

Mr. Biffen

The great occasion on Thursday afternoon is to look to the future rather than to hold inquests on the past. Regarding my hon. Friend's first points, I have not been briefed on the matter, but I am sure that we both hope that the answer is no.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

does my right hon. Friend recall that during the past few months I have several times requested that the House debates the divide between the north and the south of England? Since I last rose, only three weeks ago, I have received many letters and comments of support from all sides of the political spectrum that it is time that the House discussed fully, not just in an Adjournment debate, the economic, social and cultural divide between the north and the south, which is growing apace. Until we debate that matter, the divide will continue.

Mr. Biffen

I wish that debates could cure that. Shortly, we shall have the Budget, and thereafter there will be ample opportunities for economic arguments of the sort that I know my hon. Friend would employ on this important issue.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the miners in my constituency marched back to work this morning? Is he further aware that they are most unlikely to be willing to produce much coal until their comrades who were unreasonably sacked during the strike have been reinstated? Is he aware of the deplorable situation in Scotland and will he provide an urgent debate on the subject?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, and I am sure that his identification with the returning miners was a most patrician occasion. However, I do not think that I can take matters any further by finding time for such a debate next week.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

As, unfortunately, any increase in the BBC licence fee can and probably will be implemented before the House votes on it, will my right hon. Friend at least undertake to have a debate on this subject before the Home Secretary comes to a decision so that the many hon. Members who are wholly opposed to the figure that the BBC is seeking can register opposition?

Mr. Biffen

As I understand it, any increase in the licence fee would be subject to a negative resolution of the House and there could, therefore, be a debate on it.

Mr. Harris

That would be afterwards.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Bearing in mind that the negotiations about the enlargement of the European Community to include Spain and Portugal are now reaching a crucial stage, will my right hon. Friend undertake to use his best endeavours to allow the House to debate the effects that that would have on the United Kingdom and the EC before the United Kingdom takes its final decision in the negotiations? Will he ensure that we are not faced with a fait accompli by the Government after they have acceded to the negotiations?

Mr. Biffen

I understand my hon. Friend's truly important point, and I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the vast current account deficit in the United States is leading to powerful pressure within the United States for protectionist trade measures which, if enacted, would have a disastrous effect on world trade and on our exports? Is it not time that we had a major debate about instituting new talks about GATT?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises an important point, but no Government time has been made available for such a discussion next week. However, I shall certainly bear his point in mind.

Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that a number of City institutions have recently sponsored public share issues in property companies in a way which enables investors to take advantage of the substantial tax concessions available under the business expansion scheme? Since this is clearly an abuse of the spirit of the scheme, which was designed to promote job-creating investment, will he find time for a debate on this subject?

Mr. Biffen

I can think of no better example of a topic that properly belongs to the Budget debate, the Finance Bill and all that follows from it.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend allow an early debate on early-day motion 463?

[That, in the opinion of this House, the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants should grant an amnesty to those of its members who refused to pay £1 a week levy to the miners' strike, who were subsequently tried by a kangaroo court and fined £50, and whose appeal against the court's sentence is shortly to be heard; and that all other unions which have treated their members similarly should refrain from any further action against them.]

The motion draws attention to the plight of trade unionists in my constituency and elsewhere who are victimised because they refused to contribute to a union levy for striking miners, imposed without a democratic vote? They have since had to appear before a kangaroo court and have been fined £50. They are appealing against that and are worried about their jobs because they are in a closed shop. Could we debate the possibility of an amnesty for those wholly innocent people?

Mr. Biffen

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, and I believe I am right in saying that he has drawn the attention of the House to this matter previously. I can offer no Government time for such a debate next week, but I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Mr. Derek Spencer (Leicester, South)


Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer) has not been rising before, but I will call him as it is just before 4 o'clock.

Mr. Spencer

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. If the rate-capped councils such as Leicester which are holding their rate meetings today fail to fix rates, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early statement so that the uncertainty facing ratepayers can be removed?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly draw my hon. and learned Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, because I fully understand the point that has been made.