HC Deb 21 March 1985 vol 75 cc985-91 3.33 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 25 March—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Statement. Motions relating to the National Health Service Charges Amendment Regulations. Motion on the Mineworkers' Pension Scheme (Limit on Contributions) Order.

Tuesday 26 March — Motion for the Easter Adjournment. Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 3) Bill.

Wednesday 27 March—Progress on remaining stages of the Local Government Bill (1st Allotted Day). Motion on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) (No. 2) Order.

Thursday 28 March—Completion of remaining stages of the Local Government Bill (2nd Allotted Day). Motion on the Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) (Amendment) Order.

Friday 29 March—Private Members' motions.

Monday 1 April—Consideration in Committee on the Interception of Communications Bill. It is expected that the Chairman of Ways and Means will name opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

Mr. Kinnock

Why have not the Government been able to ensure that the debate on the increase in prescription charges is held in prime time? Is it because the Government are so ashamed of the measure that they want to minimise press reporting? What other conceivable reason could there be for having such an important and controversial debate after 11 o'clock on Monday evening?

In the light of the revelations in The Guardian today that the Home Office is pursuing a policy of deliberate delay by establishing long queues of people claiming a legal right to enter Britain from the Indian sub-continent, may I once again press the right hon. Gentleman to provide time for a debate on the report of the Commission for Racial Equality? I have raised this matter with him on several occasions.

On the motion on the Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) (Amendment) Order next Thursday, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that extra time is allocated because it is clear that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members will want to take part?

On a number of occasions I have asked the right hon. Gentleman to announce a debate on the star wars initiative. In the light of the controversy surrounding the Foreign Secretary's statement last Friday, and the subsequent statements by Herr Kohl and Herr Genscher this week, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is now high time that we had such a debate in the national interest?

Mr. Biffen

I realise that the motion on Monday evening on prescription charges is of real public interest. However, it is customary to have such a debate at that time of the evening. Certainly, the House has never resiled from recognising the importance of a topic, whatever the time of the day. However, I take note of the right hon. Gentleman's comments.

I accept at once that the right hon. Gentleman has already asked for a debate on the report of the Commission for Racial Equality, and we could pursue that through the usual channels.

The right hon. Gentleman requested that the debate on the Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) (Amendment) Order scheduled for Thursday evening should go beyond what is now prescribed. Again, that is something that we could consider through the usual channels. I recognise that it is a matter of great interest to both sides of the House.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, no time has been allocated for a specific debate on the star wars issue, but again we could consider that further.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

Does my right hon. Friend remember that last Monday we had a debate on the European Community proposals for the 1985–86 CAP prices? Prior to that debate Mr. Speaker permitted a private notice question which restricted the time for the main debate. In addition, the last time that we debated the CAP was late at night. Does my right hon. Friend propose to give the House the opportunity of a full debate in prime time on the 1985–86 CAP price proposals?

Mr. Biffen

I have to give a direct and disappointing answer to my hon. Friend — no. He may wish to consider the scope offered to him by the debate on Tuesday on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

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

Does the Leader of the House recognise what wide and progressive policies have been endorsed in another place on such issues as reform of the Official Secrets Act and reform of the electoral system in local government? Will he bring those issues before this House with the guarantee that the Government will be as accommodating to progressive opinion here as they were in another place?

Mr. Biffen

I suppose that the other place has now become the refuge for liberalism, but it is a sad cry from the days of Lloyd George.

More specifically, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that no provision has been made next week for debates upon the topics he mentioned. Nor are such debates immediately foreseen in Government time. However, other occasions may be available to the House.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

The House well knows that I always try to give Back-Bench Members an opportunity to ask business questions, but today we have two statements and an important debate in which many right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part. I shall, therefore, allow business questions to continue until five minutes to 4 o'clock.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the considerable speculation about the future level of the British Broadcasting Corporation licence fee and, indeed, about the future of television and sound broadcasting. May we expect a statement from the Government soon and also a debate on these issues?

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary my hon. Friend's anxiety that a statement should be made about the television licence in the near future. I take note and take account of the interests of the House in how we next proceed to consider the matter of the televising of this place.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

To revert to the question of immigration control raised by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Opposition, does the Leader of the House accept that the allegations made today that entry clearance procedures are being deliberately rigged, effectively setting up quotas for those entitled to come to this country, are extremely serious? Will he therefore ensure that the usual channels work extremely quickly to enable Home Office Ministers to come to the House to defend their actions of the past 18 months?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to the hon. Gentleman's point about the report in The Guardian today.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill passed its Committee stage in the early hours of this morning after more than 30 hours of consideration in Committee, and now awaits further examination by the House on Report? Can my right hon. Friend assure me and the House that no exceptional measures will be taken to assist the progress of the Bill in view of the Government's declared neutrality on the issue?

Mr. Biffen

I am not sure that officially I yet know of these transactions. However, I should like to emphasise that on Second Reading the Government's position was one of neutrality, and there it stands.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does not the Leader of the House think that there should be an urgent debate about the position facing rate-capped authorities, and that the Secretary of State for the Environment, as he is apparently not prepared to talk to the representatives of rate-capped authorities, should explain to the House why the Government have selected the poorest inner city areas for vindictive action to destroy their services and damage the democracy that brought those services to them?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman would be well advised to seek to make the speech that he has in mind during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on Tuesday.

Mr. Tim Yeo (Southwark, South)

In view of the fact that the interests of thousands of children are now being severely damaged by the teachers' strike and that in consequence the esteem in which the teaching profession is held is declining, will my right hon. Friend consider giving an opportunity for debating the problem on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point in the general public debate. I must say to him, as I said to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), that the Consolidated Fund Bill provides precisely the circumstances for the contribution that he might seek to make.

Mr. Willie. W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) raised a point which I support. Is the Leader of the House aware that in the Second Reading debate on the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill the Government made it clear that they wished to introduce their own comprehensive Bill to deal with the Warnock committee's recommendations? In the light of that, will he give an assurance that on no account will the Government provide time to facilitate the passage of a private Member's Bill which would run counter to their own policies?

Mr. Biffen

I gave a clear answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). I cannot go beyond that.

Mr. Geoff Lawler (Bradford, North)

My right hon. Friend will remember writing to me kindly offering time for a debate on youth affairs. This being International Youth Year, can he offer a date for that debate?

Mr. Biffen

I regret to say that I cannot, but I shall continue to bear in mind the point that my hon. Friend has raised.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the serious nature of the allegations made in the document leaked from the Home Office to The Guardian that the Minister of State, Home Office has been lying to the House and the country about the nature of Government immigration—

Mr. Speaker

Order. No Minister lies to the House.

Ms. Short

I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether you have seen the document—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady must rephrase her question and withdraw that language.

Ms. Short

Deliberately misleading the House and the country—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is just as bad. The hon. Lady has been here long enough to know that we do not use such words as "lying" and "deliberately misleading". I ask her to withdraw them and use a different phrase.

Ms. Short

The Minister is deliberately saying to the House and the country that the Government's immigration policy is other than it is. Secondly, the Government, according to the Home Office advice, have been deliberately breaching the European convention on human rights and operating illegally. In those circumstances, will the Leader of the House require the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House immediately on this serious matter?

Mr. Yeo

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did not hear the hon. Lady withdraw her allegation that the Minister was telling a lie.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the hon. Lady, by putting her question differently, was withdrawing that. I think that she did.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not believe that the hon. Lady needs the help of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). He is being chivalrous, but will he please allow her to answer?

Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am on my feet.

Mr. Skinner

I will put it later.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I believe that the hon. Lady withdrew her comment.

Ms. Short

In accordance with the rules of the House, Mr. Speaker, I rephrased my comment.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I asked the hon. Lady to withdraw those words. It is simple for her to do that and put the question in another way. She put it in another way. I only wish her now to say that she withdrew those words. She can indicate by nodding.

Ms. Short

It is obvious that I withdrew the words, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Biffen

If I may round off this cheerful exchange, I am sure that the hon. Lady asked her question in good faith that extended to all on the Treasury Bench. I shall of course add her name to those of Members who have requested that that point be taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Skinner

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that yesterday, for about 20 minutes, we were subjected to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury refusing to withdraw a statement which was particular to the Opposition when it became—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am anxious not to take time out of business questions because I have already limited them. I shall take the point of order afterwards. Unfortunately, it will then take time out of the debate.

Mr. Skinner

You have made a rod for your own back, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must not threaten the Chair.

Mr. Skinner

I am not threatening, Mr. Speaker. I am just making a statement.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

May I reinforce the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) that we should have a speedy decision about what is happening concerning the BBC licence, bearing in mind that many of my hon. Friends do not wish to see it increased by much, if at all?

Secondly, will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on yet further union disputes in the newspaper industry, this time at The Sun?

Mr. Biffen

I take account of what my hon. Friend says about the television licence fee, but I can say no more than I have already said on that topic.

My hon. Friend might like to raise the question about industrial disputes in the newspaper industry during the debate on the recess motion.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the enormous anger and distress being caused in Scotland by the present rating revaluation? Is he aware that the anger is such that the rating of his party has now sunk to 19 per cent. in the latest opinion polls in Scotland? In view of that, is it not disgraceful that the only occasion when this House will be able to debate revaluation will be at midnight on Wednesday evening rather than in prime time? Ought not Scottish Members to be allowed to express the views of their constituents at a proper time?

Mr. Biffen

I have a genuine sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's point. All hon. Members would like subjects which have a direct constituency bearing to be dealt with in prime time rather than late in the evening. However, that is not the only occasion next week when the hon. Gentleman can make the speech which he may be harbouring on this topic. He could make it on the Easter Adjournment debate or on the Consolidated Fund Bill next Tuesday. He could also make it on the motion of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) on Friday week.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that between the publication of the consultative document on the wages councils and any decision that is taken on them there will be a full debate in Government time and also that between the ending of consultations on the extension of the youth training scheme and the implementation of the two year youth training scheme there will be a full debate on the extension of YTS, again in Government time?

Mr. Biffen

I shall give the most serious consideration in due course to both proposals. Meanwhile, I should have thought that they could easily feature in any speech that is to be made this afternoon.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Since the Secretary of State for Defence is to attend the NATO nuclear planning meeting to be held next week in Luxembourg, could the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether it would be possible for him to make a statement on that meeting as soon as he returns to this country?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend is literally at my left elbow and will have heard that question.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

Is the Leader of the House aware that his continued refusal or inability to find time for a debate on the Commission for Racial Equality's recent report on immigration procedures is seen by the country as political cowardice on the part of a Government who have so much to hide that they are unwilling to allow a free and open debate to take place on the subject?

Mr. Biffen

I am not sure whether the views of the country at large mirror the liberal conscience of the hon. Gentleman. As I said earlier, this matter could be considered through the usual channels.

Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)

Is my right hon. Friend yet able to say when the promised debate on the Auld report will take place? He gave an undertaking that it would take place at an early date. Perhaps he could now fulfil that promise.

Mr. Biffen

I cannot be specific about that matter, but I assure my hon. Friend that the intention is to hold such a debate.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

Because so many hon. Members have supported the request of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for an early debate on the report of the Commission for Racial Equality, a debate upon it being long overdue, may I reinforce what my hon. Friends have said. Furthermore, a liberal conscience does not exist only among Opposition Members. The Race Relations Act 1976, which set up the commission, was supported by a considerable number of right hon. and hon. Members of the Conservative Party. Therefore, there is a nationwide basis for such a conscience and it proves that a debate is needed at the earliest possible opportunity.

Mr. Biffen

I note all that the hon. Gentleman says. He speaks with the authority of somebody who has been engaged in these debates over the decades. However, I had better leave the matter where is rested after I responded to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

It is not good enough for the Leader of the House to dismiss Scottish revaluation as a constituency matter. Is he not aware that the revaluation is causing acute alarm and distress to every householder and shopkeeper in each of the 72 Scottish constituencies? Will he accept that midnight on Wednesday is not an appropriate time for the Government to try to smuggle this business through the House?

Mr. Biffen

I would never be dismissive about anything Scottish. The hon. Gentleman made a trite observation. If an hon. Member has a Scottish constituency and Scottish rating is under consideration, it will have a very strong bearing upon constituency interests. I cannot add to the reply that I gave previously.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

As there is a good deal of support in the House for the decision taken yesterday in the other place regarding section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the possibility of holding an early debate on that subject? Is it not true that when the Conservative party was in opposition the present Home Secretary, Attorney-General and many of the right hon. Gentleman's other Cabinet colleagues were very much in favour of repealing section 2?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that section 2 exactly inspires a great clan of friendship in the House. The trouble was that when attempts were made to set it aside it was found that there were formidable difficulties. I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says, but as far as next week is concerned, he had better try to make his speech during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

What are the Government's intentions about the timetable for the Prosecution of Offences Bill, which sets up an independent prosecution service? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the management consultants report came out only very recently so that there has not been time to study it? Is he further aware that there is grave anxiety among many members of the staff of prosecuting solicitors up and down the country and in the Metropolitan police area that the report's implementation and the Bill's enactment may have far-reaching effects on their individual careers?

Mr. Biffen

I believe that the measure is currently before the other place, but I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to the hon. Gentleman's points.