HC Deb 07 November 1985 vol 86 cc112-8 2.43 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement on the business for next week?

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

As the House is aware, the debate on the address in reply to the Gracious Speech will be brought to a conclusion on Wednesday 13 November.

The Business for the remainder of the week will be as follows:

THURSDAY 14 NOVEMBER—There will be a debate on a Government motion to take note of European Community documents in relation to the draft budgets of the European Communities for 1985 and 1986. Details of the documents concerned will be given in the Official Report.

FRIDAY 15 NOVEMBER—There will be a debate on road safety on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, the First Report from the Transport Committee 1984–85 (House of Commons paper 103–1 to 3) and the Government's observations (House of Commons paper 553) will be relevant.

MONDAY 18 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Local Government Bill.

The following European Community documents will be relevant to the debate on Thursday 14 November:

(a) 5874/85 Letter of amendment No. 3 to the preliminary draft budget for 1985
(b)6378/85 6379/85 Draft general budget for 1985
(c) 6882/85 European Parliament's amendments and modifications to the draft budget for 1985
(d) 6907/85 to 6914/85 Council's decisions on the European Parliament's amendments and proposed modifications
(e) 7882/85 and COM(85)325 Key figures for the 1986 budget
(f) COM(85)175 Preliminary draft budget for 1986
(g) COM(85)550 Letter of amendment to the preliminary draft budget for 1986
(h) 9336/85 The draft budget for 1986
(i) 8479/85 Charging food aid expenditure under the budget

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 5-xvii (1984–85), paragraph 3
  2. (b) HC 5-xxi (1984–85), paragraph 7
  3. (c) HC 5-xxiii (1984–85), paragraph 2
  4. (d) HC 5-xxvii (1984–85), paragraph 3
  5. (e) HC 5-xxv (1984–85), paragraph 2
  6. (f) HC 5-xxx (1984–85), paragraph 16
  7. (g) HC 5-xxx 1984–85), paragraph 16
  8. (h) HC 5-xxxi (1984–85), paragraph 7
  9. (i) HC 5-xxxi (1984–85), paragraph 5

Mr. Kinnock

Press speculation is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will come to the House next Tuesday to inform us of the contents of the Government's autumn statement. If that is correct, will the Leader of the House ensure that we have a full day's debate on the statement rather earlier than was the case last year, when we had to wait until 6 December?

Earlier this year I asked a number of times when the House would be able to debate the televising of our proceedings. Can the right hon. Gentleman give a firm date for that debate because there is widespread interest in the House?

There are disturbing reports that the Sunday trading legislation will be introduced in the House of Lords. If that is so, the Opposition will strenuously oppose such a move.

The Prime Minister yesterday acknowledged that the matter would cause some difficulty—her words—to her hon. Friends. Is the decision to start the legislation in another place an attempt to give the Chief Whip of the Conservative party more time to soften opposition from his own Benches?

On 25 July, in a reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), the Leader of the House said that he would ask the Foreign Secretary to comment on the Third Report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. When will there be a debate on that report, which was published on 22 July? Important minority and majority elements are involved.

I note that there will be a debate on the Local Government Bill on Monday week. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why no mention of that Bill was made in the Gracious Speech? Was it because he feared that it might have consitiuted political advertising?

Mr. Biffen

On the right hon. Gentleman's last point, I confess that I cannot immediately think of a compelling reply, but doubtless one will be forthcoming from the relevant Minister when the Bill is debated.

Taking the right hon. Gentleman's points in reverse order, I shall consider a debate on the report of the Select committee on Foreign Affairs. Doubtless the matter can be considered through the usual channels.

As to the shops Bill, I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman yesterday demonstrated a rather charming poetic side to his nature, and he has allowed that romanticism to run a little further this afternoon. There is no question of the government having difficulty with the Bill. The recommendations of the Auld report were confirmed by 304 to 184 votes in the last Session. I know that poetry often finds it difficult to accommodate pure arithmetic, but that is how the matter stands

As to my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary wanting time to secure his ends, I can only say that he is possessed of that most enviable of qualities, instant charm, so we foresee no difficulties. However, having said all that, this matter can be discussed through the usual channels if it causes deep anxiety to the right hon. Gentleman.

I hope to refer to the question of televising the House when[...]I reply to the debate on the Loyal Address. However, I wish to say here and now that I hope that a debate will take place this month.

I am happy to confirm that the autumn statement will be presented on Tuesday, conforming with last year's practice. I recognise the very real interest of the right hon. Gentleman in having a debate as early as is reasonably practicable, having regard to all the interests in the House, which include the Select Committee. I hope that we can consider the matter amicably through the usual channels.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

On the autumn statement, will my right hon. Friend take fully into account the fact that the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service will no doubt wish to take evidence from officials and the Chancellor and then report as soon as possible? Obviously, it greatly benefits the House to have the Select Committee's report before the autumn statement is debated.

Mr. Biffen

I recognise my right hon. Friend's point at once and acknowledge the most constructive role that he has played in these matters. I know that he will understand that there is a general interest in the House in debating the autumn statement reasonably soon because of its high political interest.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

In view of the Government's statement over the weekend that they were concerned about the failure of the South African Government to allow journalists to report upon the troubles in the black townships, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a statement is made on that important matter next week?

Mr. Biffen

I think that tomorrow's debate is related to foreign affairs, and the hon. Gentleman's point could well be made then.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that for once—and I hope for the last time—I am in agreement with the Leader of the Opposition that it would be wrong if the Government originated the legislation on the shops Bill in the House of Lords? I hope that my right hon. Friend is aware that Conservative Members feel as strongly as Opposition Members about that measure. Can we have some reassurance from him today?

Mr. Biffen

I recognise the point that my hon. Friend makes, and that is why I said that it was a matter for the usual channels. After all, there is the consideration that a good sound majority in this House could disarm the bishops.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In response to the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman gave an emollient answer about the debate on the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Might it be helpful if, before that debate, the Leader of the House arranged for the Government to put in the Library a copy of Sir John Nott's first draft on the events of 4 May 1982, which was withheld from the Select Committee?

Mr. Biffen

I shall look into that matter.

Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey)

In the light of continuing rumours that increasingly serious consideration is being given in Government circles to the possibility of Britain joining the European monetary system, may we have a debate, if only a three-hour one, on that subject before any final decisions are taken so that those of us who would have grave misgivings about the wisdom of such a course might deploy our arguments?

Mr. Biffen

I shall not comment on the merit of what my hon. Friend is arguing, but he will have plenty of opportunity to make his propositions to the Chancellor next Wednesday.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House make the necessary arrangements for a debate on the financing of political parties? Is he interested to learn that during the recess—I like to keep the right hon. Gentleman up to date—I happened to spot that the alliance received £2,500 from General Accident, a company that is trading in South Africa, is paying poverty-stricken wages, is refusing to abide by a reasonable code of conduct and is not answering letters on this subject? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be a good debate if we could persuade to take part in it the leaders of the Liberal party and the SDP, to both of whom I have written asking them to send this dirty money back to the dark alleyways of South Africa from whence it came?

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Skinner

I gather from Mr. Speaker's remark that the Chair would like me to conclude my remarks on this issue, probably because both leaders are missing from the Chamber; I am told that a bit of a quarrel is going on. In such a debate it would be interesting to hear the views of the leader of the SDP, because in response to my letter he said—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Leader of the House can answer only for himself. He cannot answer for other people.

Mr. Skinner

The Leader of the House is showing great interest in the matter that I am raising, Mr. Speaker, and I am anxious to get the facts right. The leader of the Social Democrats said, in effect, "I am not sure that what you have said is true". But the Leader of the Liberal party in effect answered, "Yes, it's true, but it was only a teeny little bit of money."

Mr. Biffen

I am absolutely fascinated by that contribution and I should like to be as forthcoming as possible in response to it, but the hon. Gentleman will realise that the Government have only a limited amount of time at their disposal. He will be aware that last Session the House, in its wisdom, made time available to those sitting below the Gangway, and I am sure that there will be widespread interest in how that time is utilised by them, whether they choose to use it to vindicate the action that the hon. Gentleman has described or whether they find some other way to explain that extraordinary behaviour.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

When the promised debate on televising the Chamber takes place, can it take place in circumstances that will prevent the House from being hoodwinked? In other words, can it be with the full panoply of lights, so that hon. Members can see how intrusive the lights are and how substantially they raise both sorts of temperature in the Chamber—and pander to certain hon. Members who like self-seeking publicity?

Mr. Biffen

It has been my experience that on this topic the imagination of hon. Members is brilliance enough.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

The Leader of the House will be aware of the considerable anger that is felt among teachers about the treatment that the Government have meted out to them in the last nine months. Will he arrange for the Secretary of State, either in his speech on the Address on Monday or in a statement next week, to come forward with some positive proposals to settle the teachers' dispute?

Mr. Biffen

I could not for a moment accept the description of the teachers' dispute as portrayed by the hon. Gentleman, but I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the point he makes, particularly as he will be taking part in the debate on Monday.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

The word "unique" is over used and abused, but does my right hon. Friend accept that the manner, extent and size of the decision about the Channel tunnel that the Government must take is an especially unusual one? Can he say how the Government propose to handle the matter in the House? Is there to be a debate before the decision is taken? In the light of the timetable that has been announced there is not much parliamentary time left before that major decision is reached.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. It echoes a question that was put to me a short while ago. I am in contact with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and I hope to be able to make a further announcement fairly soon about the timing.

Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)

May I refer the Leader of the House to our previous exchange over ex-far eastern prisoners of war and the forgotten army, and pay tribute to him and say how much I appreciate his letter, in which he outlined the extent of the problem, which involves 58,000 people? I have now written to the Prime Minister to ask whether she will kindly receive a deputation, but, failing progress on that, may I ask whether there is any possibility of the Leader of the House providing time on the Floor of the House for a debate on the subject of the treatment of ex-prisoners of war?

Mr. Biffen

I am afraid that I cannot offer the prospect of Government time devoted specifically to that debate, but I suggest that it would make an admirable subject for an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Does my right hon. Friend believe that there should be a debate as to whether this democratically elected Parliament should continue to submit itself to the will and whims of an appointed bench of judges the other side of the Channel, and, if so, when should that be?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot offer an early prospect, at least, for such a debate in Government time.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for himself, acting in his capacity as Chairman of the Committee on Privileges, to make a statement next week, if not now, on the departure from the normal arrangements for the way that Select Committees are being organised, because the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), a member of the Select Committee on the Environment, has published his minority report and draft amendment to the majority report of the Select Committee on the Environment's inquiry into the disposal of nuclear waste, without the majority report having been finished, let alone circulated? That draft minority report and amendment to a non-existent majority report has been distributed to people outside the House but not to members of the Select Committee.

Mr. Biffen

All I can say is that what goes on in Select Committees is even worse than what goes on in the usual channels. The hon. Gentleman mentioned privilege. He will appreciate that there is a means whereby a claim that a privilege is breached can be referred. It does not involve me.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) has raised an important and grave matter? The recommendations of that Select Committee, which met to deal with those matters, included changes and those changes must be approved by Parliament. When does the Leader of the House intend to secure time for a debate on that report so that we shall be able to examine in detail what happened when the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) leaked a report which is doing substantial damage to industry within the county of Cumbria? It can only be perceived, in all reality, as a hysterical over-response and misunderstanding of the essential issues in the nuclear debate.

Mr. Biffen

I have a vested interested in conciliation. I believe that the matter should be kept in a reasonable perspective and, I suggest, in the first instance, that the matter should be referred to the Chairman of the Liaison Committee.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Is it because "winter is a'comin in" that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has gone into early hibernation and fallen silent on the subject of aid to farmers devastated by the summer weather?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the request for more grants to the farming community.

Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)

Will the Leader of the House take urgent steps to remedy the present unsatisfactory position whereby the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs has now only eight full members. I should be grateful if he would take those steps.

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says but I should not like to say anything that gave him encouragement.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Will my right hon. Friend please accept that there is widespread concern over any possibility of Sunday trading, and that in the General Synod of the Church of England only one member voted for Sunday trading? Therefore, will he please ensure—and I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) said—that there will be a debate in this House rather than in the House up the Corridor? Will my right hon. Friend also ensure that there will be a free vote, because it is a matter of conscience, and that cannot be overlooked.

Mr. Biffen

I note the Soviet-like majorities being secured in the General Synod on a topic which, on many other tests of opinion, seems remarkably popular. However, I note what my hon. Friend said, and I shall be discussing it through the usual channels. The matter of voting is for the Patronage Secretary.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

In view of the very serious decisions that have already been taken and are being implemented concerning the steel industry, will the Leader of the House tell us when we can look forward to a debate, especially on the proposed closure of Gartcosh? Will he accept that such a debate would give my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) an opportunity to explain how prosperous the steel industry was when he was a member of the Government, compared with the way things are today?

Mr. Biffen

It would have to be a very extended debate to secure that ambition. On Tuesday, the debate on the Queen's Speech will cover industrial and employment matters, and that would be a very suitable occasion on which to raise the question.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Will the Leader of the House prevail upon the Secretary of State for the Environment to come to the House, if not this week, next week, to make a statement on Liverpool city council?

Mr. Biffen

I shall pass on that request. Meanwhile, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have noted, as I have, that the hon. Gentleman has an Adjournment debate on the topic on Monday 18 November.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is widespread concern in the north-west about the proposals put forward by the metropolitan borough councils in the Greater Manchester area for the future running of the Manchester international airport? Will he pass on the fears of many Conservative Members to his right hon. Friend and ask for an early statement?

Mr. Biffen

I will most certainly comply with that request.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you confirm to the House that you have received a formal letter from me with a privileges complaint against the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), and that my complaint is based on the fact that he has indicated the deliberative position of the Select Committee on the Environment on a particular issue?

Mr. Speaker

I confirm to the hon. Member that I have received his letter and that I shall be considering it.