HC Deb 24 April 1986 vol 96 cc425-33
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

3.32 pm
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 28 APRIL—Until Seven o'clock, Second Reading of the British Shipbuilders (Borrowing Powers) Bill.

Motion on the Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Board) Order.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed Private Business at Seven o'clock.

TUESDAY 29 APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Motion on the statement on the New Workers Scheme.

WEDNESDAY 30 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Public Order Bill.

THURSDAY 1 MAY—Opposition Day (13th Allotted Day) there will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "Family and Community Care—Putting People First".

Motion on the Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation Grants (Extension of Period) Order.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed Private Business at Seven o'clock.

FRIDAY 2 MAY—Private Members Bills.

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful to the Leader of the House. Next Monday the House will debate the Second Reading of the British Shipbuilders (Borrowing Powers) Bill. Because of the widespread interest and concern about the future of the shipbuilding industry, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Bill is committed to a Committee of the whole House?

Next Thursday, my party will use an Opposition Day to debate the problems of people involved in family and community care. Unfortunately, that debate must, by definition, be a short one. In the light of today's ruling by the European Court of Justice that the Government's refusal to pay invalid care allowance is a breach of EEC law and an example of sex discrimination, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate in Government time on this matter, which affects 5 million people caring for sick or disabled relatives at home?

Differences have become evident between the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence about the information given to the Government at the time of the bombing raid on Libya. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to make a full statement to the House next week about what he knew, when he was told, and whether he understood what he was told?

Finally, in view of the decision by American businesses and individuals to cancel visits to Britain and other European countries in the latter part of this year as a result of the bombing of Libya, would the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement in the House next week publicising the fact that, even with the terrorist menace, European cities and countries are safer than American cities? Could he not, for instance, draw attention to the fact that the murder rate in San Francisco is five times higher than it is in London, in New York 10 times, in Dallas and Washington 14 times and in Detroit, 22 times higher? London and the rest of Europe are much safer places than the Americans appear to believe.

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful for the points made by the Leader of the Opposition. [Interruption.]

Such language. I feel that we are moving back to a more conventional state of incivilities.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for his most eloquent, pertinent and convincing point about the greater safety of the cities of western Europe when compared with those of the United States, which should give every encouragement to the traditional pattern of tourist and commercial trade to flow from north America to western Europe.

I will draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence the fact that his appearance in The Guardian today has excited widespread interest throughout the House. However, I would have thought that the comments that have been made, not least by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, have put the matter in context.

The right hon. Gentleman quite properly points out that Thursday's debate is one of great significance. I will of course consider through the usual channels his suggestion of a more general debate at some subsequent date. However, I am entitled to remind the right hon. Gentleman that no judgment has been made by the Court. The Advocate General has given an opinion, but we will have to wait some months for the court's opinion.

I can conclude on a cheerful note. I am delighted to accede to the right hon. Gentleman's request that the Committee stage of the British Shipbuilders (Borrowing Powers) Bill should take place on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

It is now nearly six months since the Anglo-Irish agreement was signed. Does my right hon. Friend feel that the House should now have the chance to debate its usefulness and the progress that has been made, in view of the unhappy state of the Province?

Mr. Biffen

I will convey that expression of view to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

In view of the statements made yesterday during Environment Question Time, will the Leader of the House today reiterate his commitment that no decisions will be taken over the NIREX orders until there has been a full debate on the report of the Environment Select Committee on the disposal of nuclear waste? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when that debate will take place?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also tell us when there will be a debate on the Channel Tunnel Bill?

Mr. Biffen

The Channel Tunnel Bill should be before the House reasonably soon. The special development order will be laid as soon as the matters raised during the consultation period have been considered. I will be giving thought as to how best we might meet the wishes of the House in debating the order, as well as taking into consideration the relevant aspects of the Select Committee's report.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The House knows that there are three statements to be made after Business Questions. I must have regard for the other business on the Order Paper, so I will allow business questions to continue only for a further 15 minutes. I hope to be able to call every hon. Member if questions are brief.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Has my right hon. Friend seen the article in the Daily Mail for Monday 21 April, entitled, "Scandal of the Dole Queue Door Knockers"? It reveals that more than 600 people in the east midlands and other parts of the country are signing on for the dole and then moonlighting for the rest of the day, earning at least £40 a day. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate so that we can learn about those abuses and check on the arrangements for signing on, so that people cannot do that? Such a debate might reveal that the unemployment figures are not as serious as they appear to be.

Mr. Biffen

I have been so busy following my hon. Friend's fortunes in The Sun that I am afraid that I have neglected to read the Daily Mail. However, he has raised an important point that is widely seen as such. My hon. Friend may wish to consider raising it on Second Reading of the Finance Bill, as that would seem to be the best immediate prospect.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Leaving on one side the abuses in The Sun and elsewhere, is not the greatest abuse to which the Leader of the House should turn his attention the enormous and persistent unemployment and the Government's fiddling of the figures for the east midlands and elsewhere? When will we next have a debate on unemployment in the east midlands?

Mr. Biffen

I think that I can safely say that the hon. and learned Gentleman will never make The Sun. I take note of the proposition that we have unreliable unemployment figures. There are lively schools of argument about the level of unemployment and the argument is made both ways. But just as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), the hon. and learned Gentleman may find that Second Reading of the Finance Bill is his best and earliest opportunity to raise that point.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

As my right hon. Friend said last week that there was little hope of reviving the Shops Bill, will he consider introducing legislation to bring Scotland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom? That would give Scottish Labour Members the opportunity to explain why their shopkeepers have a freedom that they deny to shopkeepers in my constituency?

Mr. Biffen

Bowing to your exhortation for brevity, Mr. Speaker, the answer must be no.

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

I did not follow the response of the Leader of the House to the request of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the European judgment on disabled people and married women receiving an attendance allowance. May we have a statement on that as soon as possible?

Mr. Biffen

When the right hon. Gentleman looks at tomorrow's Hansard, he will see that before I came to the Dispatch Box the point had already been made. At present, we still have the Advocate General's opinion, and we do not have the court ruling. The latter is not expected for some months.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed early-day motion 748 on the subject of family courts, which has attracted 78 signatures within a few days?

[That this House welcomes the establishment of the Family Courts Campaign to promote the early implementation of family courts, following the support for family courts recently expressed by the Law Society, the Association of County Councils, the Association of Directors of Social Services and many other bodies; welcomes the recommendations of the report of the Matrimonial Causes Procedure Committee, particularly those relating to the establishment of conciliation in matrimonial proceedings; notes with concern that the report by the Law Commission on Family Law, Illegitimacy, has yet to be implemented; further notes that the joint study set up in July 1984 by the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for the Home Department to re-examine the idea of a unified family court, and study the resources implications in terms of finance, manpower and accommodation is due to be published shortly; regrets that this study has been so long delayed; and urges the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for the Home Department to come forward with proposals for legislation at the earliest opportunity, following the publication of their report and their subsequent consultation on the most appropriate model for implementation.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the mounting impatience among hon. Members and many organisations at the very protracted delay in the publication of the Government's study on family courts? May we expect a statement next week?

Mr. Biffen

I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General will be anxious to consider responses to that idea before coming forward with any proposals. I shall most certainly draw my right hon. Friends' attention to the point made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the report by the Select Committee on Transport on toll crossings, which was published some two months ago? Would that not give right hon. and hon. Members the opportunity to remind the Secretary of State for Transport that Britain now has some 4 million people unemployed and that many of the worst affected areas have toll crossings which are a restraint on trade?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is usual for a Government response to have been made to a report of a Select Committee before there is consideration of a debate. However, I shall certainly look into the matter.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

Can we have an early debate on the extra cost of the Labour party's election bribes so that we can find out whether it will cost the taxpayer another £24 billion, £39 billion or £46 billion? [Interruption.]

Mr. Biffen

Opposition Members must not get so excited. I was overwhelmed by the modesty of my hon. Friend's observations. I feel that they can all be put to a helpful test on Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Many members of the Tory party are anxious to see that compensation is paid to victims of the bombing outrage during their conference—rightly so in my view. Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is a debate which looks at the position of compensation for the innocent victims of the recent bombing outrage by President Reagan? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that that is considered, because it is an important international issue?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that I can helpfully add to what was said in the recent Adjournment debate on the Brighton bombing. As to the wider issues mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, the answer must be no.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Now that the Leader of the Opposition has announced that the Labour party is half in mourning, by adopting grey in place of red as the party colour, will my right hon. Friend confirm that we are still true blue and very much alive?

Mr. Biffen

Yes. I think that there will be much entertainment during the next few weeks and months as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition leads his party towards the ground he wishes to share with social democracy. [Laughter.]

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Does the Leader of the House realise that his reply to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), could be understood as meaning that the debate on the Select Committee report on radioactive waste could coincide with the laying before the House of the special development orders? Does he realise that there is such widespread nationwide anxiety about this issue that if he wants to mobilise opposition further that is the best way to do it? Will he give the House an assurance this afternoon that that is not the intention of the Government? It is not good enough.

Mr. Biffen

I gave a carefully considered answer. If I were to go beyond it, I would create ambiguity.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)

A number of hon. Members from the Conservative party also applaud the Select Committee on Transport's proposals to abolish tolls on estuarial crossings. It would be helpful to have a debate on that subject before the Government reply to the Select Committee report, so that the argument may be advanced that the main costs on providing those estuarial crossings was to continue the exceptional benefits to shipping on the estuaries rather than to provide exceptional benefit to local car users?

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point and emphasising that this is in no sense a party political issue. I hope that he will reflect that there are advantages in a Government reply being available on a Select Committee report before it is discussed.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Has the Leader of the House seen my early-day motion 773 about the very unfair procedures which are being adopted against the objectors who want to see Marylebone station remain open? It is on a line which affects more Conservative Members than Opposition Members.

[That this House, noting that objectors to the closure of Marylebone station and the withdrawal of services thereto and therefrom have been unable to obtain information necessary to the full production of their cases against the closure, urges British Rail to make available to objectors details of the financial case for closure.]

If we cannot have a statement about that, will he draw it to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport and persuade him that to receive a deputation from the mostly Conservative-controlled councils in order to discuss the rules and regulations governing the procedures for objectors who wish to keep the line open—as against British Rail, which wants to close it?

Mr. Biffen

As I understand it, that decision is essentially a matter for the board of British Rail, and it is still taking evidence and making judgments on that. However, the hon. Gentleman raises a point which I know he would wish me to convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport; I will certainly do that.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)

Would my right hon. Friend arrange for an early Government statement on the alleged disappearance of the red flag? Has that item officially been reported as missing?

Mr. Biffen

There is a limit to the breathless ditching of symbols that can be undertaken even by a party that is thirsty and in a hurry for office. However, as far as the conventions of the House are concerned, my hon. Friend had better consider that the ambit of the Second Reading of the Finance Bill is, as always, mercifully wide, and he can slip his point into that debate.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

In view of the Government's continued support for American state terrorism, not only in the central Mediterranean but in Nicaragua and Angola, is it not time that we had a general debate on foreign affairs so that we can specifically examine the so-called special relationship between the Prime Minister and President Reagan?

Mr. Biffen

I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman's contributions because they remind us that he at least is on the slow passage back to social democracy. I will certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House make time available to discuss the persistent and regular undermining of Her Majesty's Government position in terms of fighting for democracy and freedom against terrorism, which has continued since the Falklands crisis and which continues today? We should have the opportunity to expose those Labour Members who have so consistently tried to undermine the strict and decent stands that Her Majesty's Government are taking.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has made his point with such effectiveness that no added debate is necessary.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

In view of the very significant numbers quoted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in terms of homicides in American cities, could the Leader of the House find some way of publicising those figures, as all hon. Members want the health of the British tourist industry strongly maintained? In terms of American visitors, there is a strong incidental advantage in that, away from the malign influences of the American media, some American visitors begin to learn some of the political facts of life in the world today by visiting this country?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot comment on the hon. Gentleman's second point. In connection with his first point, I hope that he will join me in a sense of charity towards his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and a belief that when his right hon. Friend makes a good point that has sufficient validity to make its own publicity.

Mr. Michael Forsyth (Stirling)

In view of the concern about security, would my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate, so that we can discuss the special relationships that seem to exist between some trade union leaders and Opposition Members, such as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown), and the Libyan Government?

Mr. Biffen

I understand that the House would be interested in a general debate about security. However, in all charity to my hon. Friend, the debate should be brought into a more significant context than the activities of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown).

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House consider allowing a debate, as I have suggested on several occasions during the past few weeks, on the position at Wapping? The Tory Members who support Murdoch and his newspapers would have the chance to explain why they support a man who has sacked 5,000 people and rid himself of the task of paying their redundancy pay. If the right hon. Gentleman will not allow such a narrow debate on Wapping, will he allow a more general debate on industrial relations, so that we can show the difference between the support for Murdoch and the treatment of the representative of the Transport and General Workers Union in this House who is not allowed two hours off during his working day to look after his trade union business?

Mr. Biffen

A number of people would enjoy a debate on Wapping, not least those who think that the behaviour on the trade union picket line is a clear sign that the unacceptable face of trade unionism has not yet been erased, and, what is more, who would like to reflect upon the motley crew who assemble as auxiliaries and subsidiaries, particularly at the weekend. They are a sign that rent-a-mob has not disappeared from ultra-Left politics. That is my contribution to the debate. All I can say is that its more expanded version, alas, cannot take place in the next week or two.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

I apologise to my right hon. Friend for having had to leave the Chamber to take an urgent message immediately after his initial statement, but is he aware that the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service will be producing a report on the Budget and the Finance Bill in time for the debate which is due to take place next week? However, it is inconvenient if it is announced that the Second Reading of the Finance Bill will take place on Monday, only to have that changed very much at the last moment. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not let that happen again.

Mr. Biffen

I express my gratitude for the first point that my right hon. Friend makes. It will be for the general enhancement of the debate that we have the observations of his Select Committee. As to his second point, I am sorry, but if that business has to move by a day, to have an extra day is less inconvenient than to be short of a day.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

Has the Leader of the House seen the answer in today's Hansard which shows that the Government intend to abandon their moral responsibility towards the 11,500 ethnic minority in Hong Kong in terms of nationality, leaving them in a position where they will be citizens of one country with right of abode in another? When do the Government intend to bring the order providing for that disgraceful position before the House for debate?

Mr. Biffen

I have not seen that answer, but I shall consider the appropriate timing for such a debate through the usual channels; perhaps we shall then learn exactly how liberal is the immigration policy of the hon. Gentleman's party.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call the four hon. Members who have been rising, provided that they make their questions brief.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Bearing in mind the fact that President Reagan yesterday made some important foreign policy statements as a prelude to the Tokyo summit, will my right hon. Friend try to find time for a foreign affairs debate before the summit, with special emphasis on the need to strengthen the Atlantic Alliance?

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. I am conscious that we have not had a wide-ranging foreign affairs debate outside the confines of the middle east, and I shall bear in mind through the usual channels the timing of such a debate.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

Further to my right hon. Friend's answers to the hon. Members for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) on NIREX, will he be a little more specific? Is he saying that the special development order relating to NIREX could be put before the House of Commons but not debated and that during the period before a debate on the special development order there might be a debate on the Select Committee's report? Is that the right interpretation of his answer to the hon. Member for Mossley Hill?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot add to what I said in response to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), but I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have an early debate on law and order and freedom of speech in Britain to examine the latest position of the Labour party's leadership, that Britain now has good law and order under the Government, and so that we can question its suggestion that we need to ask people to spend £25 billion on the Labour party's proposed programme? At the same time, could we look at the—

Mr. Speaker

Order. One question.

Mr. Greenway

—ILEA's efforts to force headmasters of London schools to have some papers but not others?

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate that in many parts of the House there is an interest in a fairly early debate on law and order. I cannot be that forthcoming, in view of the considerable pressure of Government business at this stage in the Session, but I take note of what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the battle against terrorism raises matters of fundamental ethical importance which should be debated, such as the use of special forces in counter-terror operations? Will he also accept that it is time that the Government grasped the nettle on the subject of the death penalty rather than leaving it to a free vote?

Mr. Biffen

I imagine that my hon. Friend would wish those considerations to be dealt with in the ambit of a law and order debate if one could be arranged.