HC Deb 28 November 1985 vol 87 cc1015-23 3.30 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House if he will state the business for next week?

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 2 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Dockyard Services Bill.

There will be a debate on a motion on the EEC sugar regime and on starch production refunds. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

TUESDAY 3 DECEMBER—Opposition Day (1st Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate on the problems of the Northern region. Afterwards there will be a debate on the Silentnight dispute. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Motions on the National Film Finance Corporation (Dissolution) Order and the National Film Finance Corporation (Transfer of Assets and Liabilities) Order.

WEDNESDAY 4 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the European Communities (Spanish and Portuguese Accession) Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Loans) Bill.

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

THURSDAY 5 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Education (Amendment) Bill.

Motion on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (No. 1) Order.

FRIDAY 6 DECEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 9 DECEMBER—There will be a debate on the fixed channel link on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

[Relevant European Documents

Debate on Monday 2 December

(a) 8687/85 Sugar Regime: quotas and levies
(b) 8781/85 Intervention price for raw sugar 1985–86
(c) 9178/85 Production refunds on sugar used in the chemical industry
(d) 11172/84 Starch production refunds
(e) 8688/85 Starch production refunds

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 5-xxx (1984–85), para 3.
  2. (b) HC 5-xxx (1984–85), para 4.
  3. (c) HC 5-xxx (1984–85), para 15.
  4. (d) HC 5-xii (1984–85), para 1 and HC 5-xxx (1984–85), para 13.
  5. (e) HC 5-xxx (1984–85), para 13.]

Mr. Kinnock

I see from next week's business that there is still no time allowed for a debate on the autumn statement. That means that the debate will be at least a week later than it was last year. The autumn statement is looking more like a Christmas statement but, unfortunately, without the eventide benevolence. Will the Leader of the House tell us exactly when we shall have that debate, and accept that further delays will begin to look rather suspicious?

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when the Government will produce the White Paper on the so-called social security review? It has now been expected for several weeks. Why has it been postponed? Is it because the Government are embarrassed by its contents, or because they are hoping to slip it in shortly before the Christmas recess?

Why are the Government limiting discussions on the motion on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) Order to three hours next Thursday? The House should have a proper opportunity to consider the codes, especially as the Government are apparently so reluctant to give us a full-day debate on law and order, which we have sought on previous occasions.

Finally, will the Leader of the House ensure that the Prime Minister makes a statement to the House on her return from the Luxembourg summit next week, and that she does not make do with a press conference, as she did when she returned from Brussels last week?

Mr. Biffen

I assure the Leader of the Opposition, that there is nothing suspicious about the timing of the debate upon the autumn statement, but I join him in recognising the importance of that topic. I assure him that I shall make provision for that debate in my statement next week. The social services White Paper will be published shortly and will provide further evidence of the Government's style and determination to win through to a third period of office.

I hope that the debate on Thursday on the motion on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (No. 1) Order has been set in the context of business generally on Thursday and will enable a reasonable debate to take place. We may reconsider the matter if the right hon. Gentleman thinks otherwise.

I am happy to confirm that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will report to the House on the European Community summit meeting which will take place in Luxembourg.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Will my right hon. Friend find some way of marking the fact that it is now 50 years since the number of days lost in strikes and industrial activity in this country has been so low?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what my hon. and learned Friend has said. It is a most welcome fact to which he draws the attention of the House. I have my difficulties in finding time, but he may be able to organise a stunning early-day motion on the topic.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Will the Leader of the House say when time may be found to discuss the establishment of the Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier envisaged in the Hillsborough agreement?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. It is an important point, but I can offer no prospect of time in the immediate future.

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the answer that he has just given to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence)? Should not our remarkable strike-free record be debated so that the House may make up its mind about whether further measures are desirable?

Mr. Biffen

I have to make a balanced judgment in all these matters. I still believe that a compelling early-day motion may be the precursor for further pressure.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that a gross injustice is being done to a small group of vaccine-damaged children, and that nearly 200 hon. Members on both sides of the House have signed early-day motion No. 74?

[That this House believes that the proposed £20,000 payment to vaccine damaged children is grossly inadequate for a lifetime of severe disability; expresses its strong support for the immunisation scheme; but calls upon the Government to provide the few tragic and unwitting casualties of this state-sponsored scheme with compensation comparable to that given to industrially injured people, or that awarded by the courts to those similarly disabled.]

The motion calls for a state-sponsored compensation scheme. May we debate that matter next week?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and the considerable number of names attached to the early-day motion. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to the point.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

Will my right hon. Friend delay the publication of the social security White Paper until the Government's personal taxation proposals are known, so as not to rule out the integration of the system, because separate dates for the two papers will effectively rule out that highly desirable option?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to the point made by my hon. Friend, but I believe that the House would like to have the social services White Paper in its possession as soon as practicably possible.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Will the Leader of the House bring early-day motion No. 56 to the attention of the Minister for Overseas Development? It relates to a new deal for the Third world and has been supported by 105 hon. Members.

[That this House supports the call by the Transport and General Workers Union for a new deal for the Third World and for Her Majesty's Government to expand overseas aid to one per cent. of the gross national product, which should be directed into basic rural development for the benefit of the poorest people in the Third World, particularly the continent of Africa; further supports the basis of the World Conservation policy for combined conservation and development to provide for the needs of the people for food, fuel, timber and conserve wildlife, plants, forests and estuaries; calls for preferential trade arrangements for the Third World with an emphasis on agricultural development; and supports substantial increases in aid as called for by the United Nations to help the poorest of the poor.]

The motion suggests a constructive way of giving positive aid to the poorest people in the world.

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly accede to the request that I draw the contents of the early-day motion to the attention of my right hon. Friend. The hon. Gentleman will agree that the subject was extensively debated but a while ago in the debate on the Queen's speech.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

How will the House decide on which side of the fixed Channel link we should drive? Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister toss a coin with President Mitterrand?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend can make precisely that pertinent and headline-catching point in the debate.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

The Leader of the House has announced the Second Reading debate on the Dockyard Services Bill. Will he ensure that all hon. Members, especially Conservatives, are given some intimation of the views of the Select Committee on Defence, particularly its second report, which again rejects the Government's preferred option? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the information in the Touche Ross report which is available to private contractors on a restricted basis is made available to all hon. Members? It is wrong that this report is circulating in board rooms where directors are bidding for vital public assets but is not available to hon. Members.

Mr. Biffen

I agree that the Select Committee's report is one of a body of evidence that the House would like to consider during the Second Reading debate. I shall look into the hon. Gentleman's second point.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to notices of motion Nos 35, 36, 37, 38 and 40 which relate to changes in Select Committees which have been effectively blocked by the efforts of the Liberal party, for example in notice of motion No. 39. As this is having a damaging effect on the Select Committee on Agriculture, which will be affected by notice of motion No. 37, will my right hon. Friend take steps to ensure that the blocking activities of the Liberal party are effectively stopped so that other Select Committees are not damaged by the efforts of that minority party?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is right in implying that when the Standing Orders concerning membership of the Select Committees were drawn up it was never intended that they should be subject to the kind of tactics that have characterised the Liberal party's behaviour in recent weeks. If the Liberal party wishes to be identified with a constructive role in the work of the Select Committees, no doubt it will have second thoughts.

Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)

Will the Leader of the house consider delaying publication of the building societies Bill until publication of the consultative document on how building societies can turn themselves into companies in order to provide adequate time for public discussion? Has not the Government's recent experience of legislating for an organisation like the Trustee Savings Bank—to turn from one type of organisation to another—suggested that extreme caution in such legislation is necessary?

Mr. Biffen

I am advised that the Bill as introduced will make only general provisions for building societies to convert themselves into companies if their members approve. More detailed proposals will be brought forward at a later stage in the light of views expressed on the consultative paper. There should, therefore, be sufficient time for comments to be taken into account. I hope that this meets the hon. Lady's anxieties. If she is still not happy, perhaps we could consider the matter.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the large number of letters received by hon. Members from constituents who are opposed to the proposed legislation on shop hours, especially as it affects Sunday trading? Will he ensure that the two great Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter are exempted from that legislation?

Mr. Biffen

The legislation is now before another place and it will arrive here in due course. In the light of its condition when it reaches us, we can take our debates further and my hon. Friend's points can be argued.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

What is the Government's attitude to a debate on the new independent colliery review procedure? Last Thursday the Leader of the House undertook to write to me about it; he did not do so. Two weeks ago he undertook to speak to the Secretary of State for Energy about it; he did not do so. The right hon. Gentleman is in danger of misleading me and the House on an important topic which now requires urgent attention because three pits are due to make application by way of appeal through the independent colliery review procedure. When will the Government make a statement?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman makes it sound as though he were taking on the entire Government machine. He has such heroic qualities that I know he can do that easily enough. I have written to him today.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many Members of the United Kingdom Parliament who want to see the Anglo-Irish agreement succeed and who would like to see the early establishment of an Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier? Will my right hon. Friend be slightly more optimistic in promising time for the House to debate the issue, to enable us to resolve to establish an Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier as soon as possible, and to give every support to the initiative taken by the Governments and Parliaments of the United Kingdom and of Ireland?

Mr. Biffen

I hope that my hon. Friend will realise that I cannot go beyond the answer that I have already given, but I am fully conscious of the anxiety that the matter be expedited.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

I am sure that the Leader of the House has read early-day motion 138.

[That this House congratulates the trade unionists at the Forgemasters Atlas site, Sheffield, in their stand for continued full trade union recognition; rejects the 1920 style management that has been brought in to manage the company; notes that this follows promises by the Government, when setting up Phoenix 3, that the management would work through the trade union organisation at the Atlas Works; and regrets that the actions of management in sacking the convenor of shop stewards, who had 45 years service with the company including 30 years as chairman/convenor of the Shop Stewards Committee, and the break up of the Shop Stewards Committee have succeeded in bringing about the longest dispute for over 50 years at the company which was supported by over 66 per cent. of the workers in a secret ballot.]

A series of problems has been caused by the strike. The steel unions have always in the past had good relations with the management. In view of the Government's rationalisation of their programme on steel, and the effect that it has had on morale, with the breaking down of all trade union negotiating machinery, contrary to the agreements made by the Government on Phoenix 3, is the Leader of the House prepared to consider initiating a debate on the subject next week?

Mr. Biffen

I shall most certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I realise that it is an industrial dispute which has very serious implications for the steel industry in Sheffield.

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

Why has not my right hon. Friend reintroduced the rule giving Mr. Speaker power to discipline the length of Back-Bench Members' speeches during times of great stress in the House? Is he aware that yesterday not one Back-Bench speech was less than 10 minutes, and that that was also the case on the previous day? If hon. Members are not prepared to discipline themselves, should not we pass the matter back to Mr. Speaker so that those who take an interest and want to make a contribution are able to do so?

Mr. Biffen

I take my hon. Friend's point. There are several procedural recommendations which I hope to be able to bring before the House in the very near future.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Supreme Court of Military Appeal in Turkey is about to make a decision which will affect the fate of the Turkish peace prisoners? In view of the fact that the Turkish authorities listen carefully to the views of this country, will he join me in appealing for clemency for those men and women who have suffered far too long simply for desiring peace in the world?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman makes his very moving appeal in the presence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

When those hon. Members who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland leave us for a temporary period—obviously we shall miss them—what does my right hon. Friend propose to do about legislation concerning Northern Ireland? Shall we have a rest from it until they come back? I have especially in mind orders that are taken late at night. Would it not be sensible to hold up such matters until those Members return to the House?

Mr. Biffen

The Government of the United Kingdom, including all its component parts, will proceed whether or not there are by-elections pending.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Will the Leader of the House consider letting the House know as soon as possible the dates of the Christmas recess? It is important, before the recess, to have a statement concerning mineworkers and the non-payment of national insurance contributions, as their benefits run out on 6 January, the day on which we might be coming back.

Mr. Biffen

May I say at once how much I admire the skill with which the hon. Gentleman is trying to finesse out of me a date that I do not yet know. I am most concerned, for the convenience of the House, that it should know, at the earliest opportunity, the dates of the recess, and I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Roy Galley (Halifax)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Tuesday's debate on the Northern region will be broadly defined and will include the affairs of Yorkshire and Humberside? If that is not the intention, will he pursue that possibility through the usual channels?

Mr. Biffen

The motion will be in the name of the Opposition and they will draw it. However, I have a suspicion that if one is standing in Tyne Bridge, Yorkshire is almost in the Garden of England.

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

When will the House have an opportunity to debate the Select Committee of Privileges report on the confidentiality of the proceedings of Select Committees and when will it also have an opportunity to debate the report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests on the declaration and registration of interests by parliamentary lobbyists? Could those debates be held in the near future—perhaps on a full day that is split in two?

Mr. Biffen

On the hon. Gentleman's second question about the Select Committee's report on the declaration and registration of interests by parliamentary lobbyists, I have already said that I hope that a debate will be held in the near future. As for his first question, I have nothing to add to what I said last week.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

Will the announcement of the rate support grant for England be made before Christmas? When it is made will my right hon. Friend ensure that the maximum amount of time is made available between the announcement and the voting of the necessary moneys through Parliament?

Mr. Biffen

I am not in a position to answer my hon. Friend's question but I shall certainly draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I realise that it is a very important topic.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware that since October, when the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington) made his extraordinary allegations against individual hon. Members over their handling of immigration cases the House has been unable to debate the matter? As there have been many requests for a debate on the operation of the immigration laws and the fear and insecurity that faces many immigrant families, can the Leader of the House hold out any hope of an early debate?

Mr. Biffen

I understand that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State has received a number of requests and that he is considering them. The discussions that were proposed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be initiated in due course and I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's comments are brought to their attention. In the meantime, he might like to reflect upon the fact that Home Office questions will arise on Thursday of next week.

Mr. Roger Freeman (Kettering)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to look at early-day motion 71 in my name and those of many of my hon. Friends:

[That this House condemns any policy of Government direction of the investment of the funds of occupational pension schemes into a national investment bank; and confirms support for the freedom of trustees of such funds to invest their assets in accordance with their interpretation of the best interests of their members.]

Will he call together the trustees of the House of Commons pension fund and ask them whether they agree with the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) of interference with the assets of private sector pension funds?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw that point to the attention of the chairman of the House of Commons pension fund.

Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)

As the Prime Minister has now accepted the extent to which teachers' salaries in Scotland have fallen behind since the Houghton report, when may we expect a Government statement about how they will resolve the two-year crisis that faces Scottish education?

Mr. Biffen

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to dilute the question by incorporating the rest of the United Kingdom, he may find that he has a chance to put forward his arguments during the Second Reading of the Education (Amendment) Bill on Thursday next.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate upon the constitution of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? There seems to be confusion in the House about its extent, in particular over jury vetting, Sunday shopping and other matters. There is to be an Opposition debate next week on the northern regions of this country, but it will stop at the Scottish border. When we hold that debate can we be assured that the Scots will not be held responsible for the Anglo-Irish agreement?

Mr. Biffen

As ever, I shall give compassionate and considerate attention to what has been requested, but we have had a fairly emotionally exhausting two day's debate about the problems of Northern Ireland, and that should be enough on constitutional matters for the time being.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

As it has been many years since the Law Commission recommended reform of the law on insurance, and in particular the removal of the scandalous rules on material non-disclosure and exclusion clauses in insurance contracts, are the Government proposing legislation on the subject? If the Government still refuse to legislate, can we at least have a debate?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot go beyond what was revealed in the Queen's Speech, but perhaps my most helpful course would be to draw the point made by the hon. and learned Member to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Will my right hon. Friend consider introducing a debate on the workings of the Church of England and in particular the recommendations of the review body of the Crown Appointments Commission concerning appointment of bishops, and on the Church Commissioners and their current roles? That body has £240 million invested in shops and major stores that will be operating on Sundays, which is something to which the General Synod of the Church of England is completely opposed.

Mr. Biffen

The Government's ambitions are fairly fully extended with the policy proposals and legislation that we now have. Although the suggested topic is a highly entertaining and important one I hope that it will arise from a private Member's Bill rather than from one from the Treasury Bench.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

When will the Leader of the House agree to the request that we have now been making for several weeks for a debate about the fraudulent activities within the City of London so that we can debate the whole question of the Johnson Matthey Bank and the way it was abandoned by the parent company, Johnson Matthey plc? Could we not also discuss the question of how Mr. Peter Cameron-Webb and Mr. Peter Dix took away £38 million from Lloyds and how the Government managed to find £250 million to bail out the Export Credit Guarantee Department when it went bankrupt? Do we not need this debate quickly, because all this fraud and embezzlement and bribery has now spread to the National Coal Board?

Mr. Biffen

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in deploring fraudulent activity wherever it occurs in the City, and will join me in saying that that undermines what is otherwise a widespread respect and enthusiasm for the free enterprise system. Having taken him with me thus far, I hope that he will now reflect with me on why, if there is an enormous and overwhelming national scandal, it is not featured on the first Opposition day?

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on Tuesday evening, some of us attempted to have a debate on a progressive EEC directive on parental leave, a debate that was destroyed by the loutish behaviour of Conservative Members? Those scenes have been described as some of the worst that hon. Members who have been here for 30 years can remember. Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Conservative Members to persuade them to control their behaviour? Does he agree that it is not enough to be enthusiastic about the free market principles of the Treaty of Rome, but it is also essential to be enthusiastic about those principles that improve the rights of workers?

Mr. Biffen

It sounds to have been good parliamentary spectator sport and I much regret that I was not here on Tuesday evening, particularly as it was on one of those happy occasions when the House was rejecting the imperial authority of Strasbourg and Brussels. However, if any word uttered, or any behaviour, wounded the more tender susceptibilities of the hon. Lady, I regret it.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the question that I asked the Prime Minister was referred to as his responsibility? As he is the protector of the interests of Back Benchers and particularly of Scottish Conservative Back Benchers, who are an endangered species, will he look into the fashion in which the Scottish Back Bench Conservative spokesman is elected?

Mr. Biffen

I now understand more clearly the anxiety of the hon. Gentleman, which concerns the conduct of the Scottish Conservative Back-Bench committee. I have a vested interest in the committee. I know, from my years in opposition, that if an Englishman turned up on a Wednesday night he would get notice of the following week's business much earlier. As a result, pairing arrangements were much more satisfactory. I have no responsibility here, but I have total faith in the way in which the arrangements were conducted. I have no doubt that it has been much to the discomfiture of the hon. Gentleman, who was hoping for a much greater row.