HC Deb 06 February 1986 vol 91 cc437-46 3.43 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

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

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

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY I0 FEBRUARY—Until Seven o'clock private Members' motions followed by a debate on a Government motion to approve the White Paper on the channel fixed link.

Remaining stages of the Australia Bill (Lords).

Motion on the Precept Limitation (Prescribed Maximum) (Inner London Education Authority) Order.

TUESDAY II FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Wages Bill.

Remaining stages of the Atomic Energy Authority Bill (Lords).

Motion on the Local Government Act 1985 (Police and Fire and Civil Defence Authorities) Precepts Limitation Order.

Motion on the Precept Limitation (Passenger Transport Authorities) (Prescribed Maximum) Order.

WEDNESDAY 12 FEBRUARY — Opposition Day (7th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "Government Economic Policy and the Level of Unemployment".

Motions on the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order and the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order.

Motion relating to the Housing Revenue Account Rate Fund Contributions Limits (Scotland) Order.

It is expected that the Chairman of Ways and Means will name opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

THURSDAY 13 FEBRUARY—Until about Seven o'clock, a debate on the multi-fibre arrangement, followed by a debate on the report of the fraud trials committee chaired by Lord Roskill. Both debates will arise on motions for the adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 14 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 17 FEBRUARY — Second Reading of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Bill (Lords)

Afterwards, there will be a debate on a motion to take note of EC Document No. 7163/85 relating to new community energy objectives.

[Debate on Monday 17 February

Relevant Document

7163/85 Community energy objectives Relevant Report of European Legislation Committee HC 5-xxvii (1984–85) para 2.]

Mr. Kinnock

In recent weeks the Opposition have had to provide time for debates on Westland and British Leyland. Next week we must provide time for the scandal of the 3.4 million people who have been made unemployed as a consequence of the Government's policies. As there is no rush, would not the country be better served if the Government gave time next Tuesday to debating the plight of the jobless instead of using their time to present legislation that will cut the wages of those who are, already poor? When will there be a debate on this week's report by the Select Committee on Employment to discuss the various ways of assisting the long-term unemployed?

Why will the House have only three hours to debate the White Paper on the Channel fixed link? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that is an appropriate period for a debate on such a crucial issue?

Why will the right hon. Gentleman not find proper time for the debate on the order to limit precepts for the police and fire services, when rising crime rates are a matter of major public concern? Why can we not debate these proposals to reduce resources for the inner-city police and fire services earlier next week?

An examination of next week's business reveals that the Government are squeezing a debate on the Channel fixed link White Paper into three hours, despite the great importance of that issue. The Government are pushing through secondary legislation to cut funds for education, for public transport, for housing in Scotland and for the police and fire services. All those matters will be dealt with late at night in very little time. Next week's business is the agenda of a Government who hope that they can avoid having their policies properly debated and who hope, even more, that their policies are not recorded.

Mr. Biffen

I am not sure that I can entirely satisfy the Leader of the Opposition. I think that next week's business is a sensible balance between private Members' business, legislation and general debates. I do not suppose for one moment that come this time next week we will feel that we have misused our time.

The Wages Bill is an important piece of legislation, and I cannot relate it to the parody that was represented by the Leader of the Opposition. The House will benefit by giving that legislation a Second Reading.

The Select Committee on Employment's report on long-term unemployment has only just been released. It is customary for the Government's observations to be available before any subsequent stages. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will consider that through the usual channels.

The Government may consider extending the debate on the Channel fixed link and would be happy to have discussions on those lines with the right hon. Gentleman. Finally, I note the strictures upon the police and fire services order. I believe that that is being arranged at a time which is not without precedent in the arrangement of business, but if the right hon. Gentleman would like to have the matter re-examined, we shall be happy to oblige.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

May we have an early debate based on early-day motion 280 signed by 80 right hon. and hon. Members of all parties and headed "Miscarriage of Justice"?

[That this House notes the widespread concern felt in Parliament by eminent scientists, by other responsible observers and by members of the public who have viewed programmes on the matter screened by Channel 4, that Anne Maguire, Patrick Maguire (senior), Vincent Maguire (then aged 17), Patrick Maguire (then aged 14), Sean Smyth, Patrick O'Neill and the late Giuseppe Conlon, sentenced in 1976 to long terms of imprisonment since served, now appear, despite confirmation of their convictions at the time by the Court of Appeal, to have been entirely innocent of the crime with which they were charged; further notes at the conclusion of the debate in the other place on 17th May 1985, the recognition by the Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Home Office of the strength of feeling on this matter in that House and his pledge to draw the attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to what had been said; and therefore earnestly urges the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the interests of the highest standards of British justice of which this country needs to feel rightly proud, to move without delay for a review of these convictions, either under the provisions of section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, or by such other public process of review as he may deem appropriate to this disturbing case.]

Should not the High Court of Parliament take up the Maguire case in defending the rule of law against terrorism? Should we not ensure that the sword of justice is kept shining bright?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend puts his case very eloquently. I think he will understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has already written to him on that matter, and I am not sure that I can add much to that. I will say that I shall draw his remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

In the light of the statement about Sellafield, will the Leader of the House arrange for a full day's debate in Government time on safety installations at Sellafield and other nuclear plants?

Bearing in mind the number of early-day motions on the Order Paper about the problems of funding theatres and concert halls, especially in the provinces, post-reorganisation of local government, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made on that subject next week?

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question to my right hon. Friend with ministerial responsibilities for the arts. I realise that there is great and natural concern about the Sellafield incident. I am sure that we would all wish to have the report available before making subsequent comment. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not want to raise too much easy optimism about the possibility of a debate in Government time.

Mr. William Benyon (Milton Keynes)

My right hon. Friend will have seen early-day motion 208 on the formation of an Anglo-Irish parliamentary body.

[That a Select Committee be appointed to give further consideration to the establishment of an Anglo-Irish Parliamentary body. Article 12 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement; That the Committee shall consist of 16 members; that no motion shall be made for the nomination of members of the Committee or their discharge unless: (a) notice of the motion has been given at least two sitting days previously and (b) the motion is made on behalf of the Committee of Selection by the Chairman or another member of the Committee; that five be the quorum of the Committee; that the Committee have power: (a) to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House; to adjourn from place to place; and to report from time to time; and (b) to appoint specialist advisers to supply informaton which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the Committee's order of reference; and that this be a Standing Order of the House.] Will my right hon. Friend tell me what progress has been made?

Mr. Biffen

A number of tentative inquiries have been made through the usual channels about this matter.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House accept that it is extremely rare that we are given the opportunity to thank him for providing time for debates in which we have an interest? On this occasion I must thank him for providing time for a debate on the multi-fibre arrangement on. Thursday. Will the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry be participating in the debate? It is important that he should do so, as he has been closely involved with the negotiations for a long time, as opposed to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), who has been appointed Minister for Trade only very recently. Secondly, if next Thursday is like today, and several statements are made, the time for debate will be extremely short. Will he ensure that the full three hours is given to the debate?

Mr. Biffen

I fully recognise the argument that the hon. Gentleman advances about next Thursday's business and how it can be affected by statements, and I shall bear that in mind. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not take it amiss if I say that thanks from him are rather like a Grecian gift. I shall consider his thanks most carefully. I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry his interest that he might take part in the debate.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is probably already aware that there is a delegation of Polish so-called parliamentarians in Britain. It was only this morning that I learned that their visit here included governmental hospitality. If we cannot have a statement on the subject, will he at least draw it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary that this is an especially unfortunate moment to choose for upholding such an invitation? The House will be aware that Lech Walesa, the trade union leader, is about to go on trial. Will my right hon. Friend also draw it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend, before he meets these so-called parliamentarians, that there is a Polish Government in exile in this country? Will he ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend makes that fact clear to our visitors?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend requests me to make known his views to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, and I shall do so. However, I should tell my right hon. Friend that I met the Polish delegation and that I was pleased so to do.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Will the Leader of the House consider early-day motion 385 on the privatisation of Welsh water?

[That this House views with total opposition the Government's proposal to privatise water and sewerage services in Wales; and believes that it endangers a century of public control and improvement of these services and flood protection schemes, provides no safeguard against the future level of water charges and commands no support amongst the Welsh people.]

Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that we had only 28 minutes yesterday to ask questions on the statement of the Secretary of State for Wales? There are 38 Welsh Members and we had only 28 minutes to debate such a major matter with the Secretary of State. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the House to have a debate on the matter next week, or as early as possible, so that we can allay any fears that we have not been given all the facts by the Secretary of State for Wales?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales gave a measured and balanced statement on Welsh water. I shall draw to his attention the hon. Gentleman's comments. I must say in all candour that there is little likelihood of an early debate on the topic in Government time.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. There will be two statements following business questions, and they will be followed by an important debate in which there will be great pressure on time. I shall allow business questions to continue for a further 10 minutes. If questions are brief, I hope that I shall be able to call all those who have been rising in their places.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

I appreciate that there is to be debate today on the Royal Navy but will my right hon. Friend say when there will be an opportunity to have a general defence debate? Some of us, particularly those who are near the Molesworth cruise missiles site — which has been the subject of a demonstration today—would like the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party to have the opportunity to explain the apparent differences in their policy.

Mr. Biffen

I have such faith and confidence in the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party that I am certain they will not need Government time in a full-scale defence debate to inform us of their differences.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Many of us appreciate that Ministers do not bump into one another frequently, according to the recent revelations on another matter, so will the Leader of the House make a special effort today to see the Secretary of State for Energy or one of the junior Ministers? I see that the Secretary of State is at the end of the Front Bench. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to make it clear that on the matter of Sellafield some of us are disturbed about the fact that we cannot put any trust in British Nuclear Fuels plc, because it told a pack of lies three years ago about the waste. Only a few weeks ago it said that there were only a few kilograms of uranium nitrate deposited and it turned out that there were 440 kilograms in total and it admitted yesterday, belatedly, that some of the nuclear fuel had escaped. In view of that and the Labour party policy, which is a little different from that explained today, will the right hon. Gentleman take all those matters into account and call for an independent public inquiry so that the British people can know the true facts about Sellafield?

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is trying to tag on behind the question put by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) calling for a debate about Sellafield. I can be no more forthcoming in my answer than I could to the Liberal party spokesman.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

Considerable concern has been expressed in north-east Kent about the implications of the Channel tunnel White Paper. Will my right hon. Friend consider protecting the interests of Back Benchers by ensuring that those of us who seek to represent those interests have sufficient time to debate the issue properly?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes a point which was originally put by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition about the desirability of extending the debate. I am perfectly happy to consider that.

Mr. Hugh Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

May I add to the worries of the right hon. Gentleman for next week and ask him as a matter of urgency to investigate the enormous pressures which Hansard reporters are working under in trying to get the Committee proceedings made available to Members? Is he aware that in the Scottish Standing Committee, although we finished at a civilised time, the report of the proceedings of Tuesday afternoon, was not available until 10.30 this morning?

Mr. Biffen

If the hon. Gentleman will get in touch with me formally about the difficulties of Hansard reporting, I shall see what can be done.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend, with his usual diligence, will have read my Adjournment debate, which took place just before Christman at 7.30 in the morning, word for word. I am sure that he will have particularly read the reply from the Minister who agreed that it was time for Parliament to review the working of industrial tribunals and the way in which they have become over-legalistic after 10 years in operation. It is time that the House reviewed that, so may we have a statement?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw that to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Further to the answer to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the Select Committee on Employment's report on long-term unemployment, if the Leader of the House cannot find time for a debate next week will he assure the House that we shall have a debate on this important matter and important report in Government time in the near future? On the matter of the Government studying the report before they make observations, will the right hon. Gentleman speak to his right hon. and learned Friend the Paymaster General and tell him not to rubbish reports before they are even published.

Mr. Biffen

I heard my right hon. and learned Friend the Paymaster General make some pertinent comments on that programme. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so sensitive about having to contend with that sort of criticism. However, I think that there is a good tradition in the House that when the reports of Select Committees are presented we have the Government's observations on them before any subsequent development. I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, earlier this afternoon at Question Time, anxieties were expressed in several quarters about taking agricultural land for industrial development? In view of the Government's commitment to the preservation of the environment, does my right hon. Friend think that it would be a good idea to have a short debate in the near future on this subject?

Mr. Biffen

If my hon. Friend has a particular example that will illustrate the more general problem, he may do us all a good service by having a debate on the Adjournment.

Mr. Toby Lloyd (Stretford)

I note the right hon. Gentleman's comments to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about a debate on fire services in metropolitan areas. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the great anxiety about reduced resources for the fire services? There will be a serious danger to life, because the standard of fire cover will be reduced. Will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that there will be an adequate debate on the issue so that it can be properly discussed?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I do not concur with the premise to his question, but I shall certainly consider his point.

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

Will there be an opportunity at an early date for the House to discuss the value of the Select Committee system as it is at present set up? It is of particular interest to my right hon. Friend and the House that some Select Committees, such as the Select Committee on Defence, seem all the time to deal with matters that are now past history, such as Westland, when the vast majority of the people want the Government to get on with the job of running the country.

Mr. Biffen

The departmental Select Committee system is of fairly recent origin. I should have thought that, on the whole, we are acquiring experience of its utility to the House and that there are many advantages in the way it works. I note that that view would not necessarily be universally endorsed.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

Further to the earlier question on the establishment of an Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether anything will happen in that respect?

Mr. Biffen

Under the terms of the Anglo-Irish agreement, elaboration is necessary, involving the Parliaments of the United Kingdom and of the Irish Republic. I have no reason to doubt that, in due time, details will emerge.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the House has spent more than an abnormal amount of time discussing the employment of 3,000-plus people at Westland and that many people will welcome his announcement today about a debate on the multi-fibre arrangement, which involves the employment of more than 500,000 people? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the House will have an opportunity to discuss the proposals contained in any ultimate arrangement between the European Community and the United Kingdom before that arrangement is agreed within the EEC?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says about Westland, but I suspect that, when we are a little more distant from and have possibly a little more balance on these matters, we shall recognise that Parliament was wise to spend the amount of time it has on this issue. I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments on the multi-fibre arrangement to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and industry. I think that my hon. Friend will understand that, for the moment. we should make the best use we can of the time available next week.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

The Leader of the House will have seen with pleasure, and relief, that the independent colliery review procedure has decided to keep open Bates pit in Blyth in my constituency, despite vehement and vicious opposition from the NCB. In the light of that decision, which is welcomed by the coal mining community in Northumberland, will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the chairman of the NCB so that he immediately says, perhaps with the agreement of the Secretary of State for Energy, that this decision is accepted by the NCB? That will allay the anxiety that still persists in the north-east coalfield.

Mr. Biffen

I note the decision of the colliery review board. I was wondering whether the hon. Gentleman and I might meet up to have a drink to celebrate such an occasion, unless that were to prove too embarrassing to him, either socially or politically. As to the wider issue involving the NCB chairman, I shall refer that matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Government were criticised by many of their friends for the apparently undue haste with which they assessed the complicated bids for the Channel tunnel project? Is my right hon. Friend aware that it will seem somewhat insensitive, less than three working days after the White Paper has been received by the Kent local authorities, to compound those sins by rushing ahead yet again to have a debate so soon on the White Paper? Is there not a feeling that this reckless speed means that the Government have something to hide?

Mr. Biffen

I understand my hon. Friend's point. I assure him that there is no question of anything being hidden. It is a matter of whether it would be appropriate for the House to have the chance to have a debate before the treaty is signed. I take note of my hon. Friend's comments, but I must tell him that I see little likelihood of that item of business being dropped from next week's programme.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Now that the European Commission has formally adopted proposals for next year's farm price review, which would have disastrous effects on the beef and cereal support systems, especially north of the border, will the right hon. Gentleman consult the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about an early statement and debate before the Council of Ministers meets to make a decision?

Mr. Biffen

I note and endorse the hon. Gentleman' s comments on the European Commission's proposals. I shall of course refer those comments to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

As it now seems clear that the Opposition have no desire to initiate a debate in Opposition time on the events at News International and as members of the electricians union are bullied and intimidated when they try to go to work, may we have an early debate in Government time on this subject?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has identified a matter of signal importance to the development of the United Kingdom's economy in what is happening at Wapping. I cannot guarantee a debate in the near future in Government time, but, clearly, I shall keep this matter under consideration.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that last night the new General Synod met and voted on a free vote by 427 to 6 against Sunday trading and asked the Government not to push a three-line Whip on the debate on Sunday trading? Will my right hon. Friend take account of that when he announces the business some time in the future? Will he provide time for a debate on the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977? A constituent in Leicester has suddenly brought seven members of the ethnic community to the city, resulting in ratepayers having to pay the cost of putting those people up in a three-star hotel at £186 a night. Should not this matter be corrected and the House have an opportunity to debate it?

Mr. Biffen

Procedural arrangements in the debate on Sunday trading are entirely a matter for my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. As he is not here, I shall ensure that he knows the views not only of my hon. Friend but of the Church of England Synod.

My hon. Friend in his second point has raised a matter that is within the experience of many hon. Members from all parts of the United Kingdom where people are homeless as he described. I cannot offer a formal debate in Government time, but I wish my hon. Friend well in any efforts he may make to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Mr. Speaker

Statement—Mr. Kenneth Clarke.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Does it arise immediately out of the business statement?

Mr. Dubs

It arises out of questions, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

It is a little late, but I shall take it.

Mr. Dubs

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. You told my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that he could not make a statement.

Mr. Speaker

I did. Just to clear this point for every hon. Member, I take points of order arising out of questions immediately after Question Time and other points of order in their usual place, at the end of statements. As the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) has a question arising out of questions, I think that he should have raised it at the end of Question Time. However, I shall take his point of order now, as I said I would.

Mr. Dubs

I must have misunderstood you, Mr. Speaker. I thought that you asked my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover not to ask a question after Question Time.

Mr. Speaker

I did, because it did not arise out of questions.

Mr. Dubs

My point of order is this: in answer to a question about Crown immunity, the Prime Minister said that the Minister for Health would make a statement later today. Do you know of any such statement, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

No; I regret to say that I do not.

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