HC Deb 23 January 1986 vol 90 cc462-6 4.22 pm
The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a business statement. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 27 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Airports Bill.

TUESDAY 28 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Social Security Bill.

Motion on the London Regional Transport (Levy) Order.

WEDNESDAY 29 JANUARY — Opposition Day (5th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the leader of the Liberal party. The subject for debate to be announced.

There will be a debate on a motion to approve the recommendations of the House of Commons (Services) Committee Report 1984–85 relating to research assistants.

THURSDAY 30 JANUARY—There will be a debate on the Army on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 31 JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 3 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Housing and Planning Bill.

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. When are we likely to have a debate on the public expenditure White Paper? Will he reassure us that there will be a debate on the White Paper on the Channel fixed link well before the signing of the treaty between France and Britain in about three weeks' time? Does he agree that it would be intolerable if Britain were tied in to a binding treaty before Parliament had had a chance to give its view on the issue and vote on it?

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there is an early statement on Denmark's position in the EEC now that the Danish Parliament has rejected the reform package? Finally, when will the House get an opportunity to debate the Green Paper on rate reform?

Mr. Biffen

Perhaps I might answer the right hon. Gentleman's questions in reverse order. A statement will be made on the rate reform proposals. Perhaps through the usual channels we could then consider the appropriate time for a debate. I shall of course draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to what the right hon. Gentleman said about Denmark and the EC in the context of the reform package. I recognise the continuing interest for another debate on the Channel tunnel in the context of the White Paper. I do not think that there is any likelihood of the treaty becoming effective before the House has considered the matter. Finally, I hope that we might be able to consider further through the usual channels a debate on public expenditure.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

My right hon. Friend is aware that the textile and clothing industries employ one in 10 of those employed in manufacturing in Britain. I am sure that he is also aware that the multi-fibre arrangement is at a critical stage. If the Danish Parliament is able to stand up for the best interests of the Danish people, will he ensure that this Parliament has an opportunity to express its views on how the MFA is going and the European approach before any agreement is signed?

Mr. Biffen

I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety about some of the European Commission's proposals. The best thing that I can do is refer his remarks to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Would it be convenient for the Leader of the House to know that, in view of the number of questions that the Prime Minister has just failed to answer, I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) intend to provide the House with an opportunity to debate the matter further next Wednesday?

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for filling the tantalising gap that had been left in my reference to Wednesday's business.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

Does my right hon. Friend remember that on 16 December we had a debate on science which was rather heavily interrupted by two very long statements? Is he aware that, since then, three important scientific publications have been put before the House? May we have another debate in Government time to discuss these matters fully and effectively?

Mr. Biffen

Of course I should like to consider the request of my hon. Friend, embellished as he now is with a knighthood. However, I do not want to give rise to too high expectations for too soon.

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

Does the Leader of the House remember being in the Chamber on Tuesday when the Secretary of State for Social Services made a very bad and unsatisfactory statement about Crown immunity? Is he aware that it was reported yesterday that 64 people had been made ill by salmonella poisoning? Does he agree that the case for abolishing Crown immunity is stronger than ever? Is it not time that we had a debate on the subject?

Mr. Biffen

I know that all of these things are in the eye of the beholder, but I thought that my right hon. Friend made a measured and thoughtful statement and that the right hon. Member made an intemperate riposte. However, I know that he has a long-standing and sincere interest in this issue and I shall draw his remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As, somewhat unsurprisingly, consistently and totally regrettably, the European Community seems to be operating with an illegal budget, may we have a debate so that we do not have to condone that illegality by forking out for what it is asking for?

Mr. Biffen

I would not like Liverpool and the EC to find an unintended similarity. My hon. Friend raises a significant point and I shall refer it to my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that, when the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was Home Secretary, he made a clear commitment to end by the end of 1983 the routine use of police and court cells to hold unconvicted and unsentenced remand prisoners? As police and court cells have continued to be used routinely virtually every night since to hold such people in appalling conditions and at great expense, may we now have a debate on the matter?

Mr. Biffen

I do not have before me the exact terms of the commitment to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but he will know that our exchange takes place in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and I am sure that he will have taken note of the hon. Gentleman's question.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

The contract for pharmacists cannot be implemented without primary legislation, which was not forthcoming in 1985. When will such legislation be introduced?

Mr. Biffen

I shall look into that point.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the widespread anxiety in the textile and clothing industries about the implications of the renewal of the MFA? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a statement is made after next week's meeting of the Council of Ministers, which will discuss further the mandate for renewing the MFA? Will he also note the requests made in an early-day motion signed by me and others?

[That this House, recognising the vital importance of the textile and clothing industry for the United Kingdom's balance of trade and as the employer of one in 10 of all those working in manufacturing industry, emphasises the damage that would be done to the industry by any failure to secure an effective renewal of the Multi Fibre Arrangement; views with alarm the terms of the European Economic Community's draft negotiating mandate which would inevitably permit an increase in imports, including a diversion of imports from better-protected markets to the United Kingdom; urges Her Majesty's Government to insist on a European Economic Community mandate which fully protects the interests of the British industry; and demands that no final decision is reached in Brussels until the matter has been further debated in the House.]

It demands that the House debates the issue before the mandate is finalised so that the views of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House can be expressed before a decision is made.

Mr. Biffen

I have, of course, familiarised myself with the terms of the early-day motion to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and with the considerable number of signatories that it possesses. The best thing that I can do, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), is to have the matter referred to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, so that he may take account of the points raised.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry on tourism in the United Kingdom. Will he give the House an early opportunity to debate that important report and to discuss its findings?

Mr. Biffen

That is certainly one of the many claims upon the time of the Floor of the House that are made by the reports of Select Committees. I shall take account of what my hon. Friend says, but he will understand that I have real difficulties, because there are so many reports. As far as possible we must include them in our more general considerations.

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that this is an Opposition Day. I shall call the hon. Members who have been standing, but I hope that they will ask brief questions.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

In view of events in the early hours of Tuesday morning, which led to the temporary exile of my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), has the Leader of the House looked at the early-day motion in my name calling for more time to be given to debate the Welsh rate support grant.

[That this House regrets the failure of Her Majesty's Government to make sufficient time available for debating in the House the rate support grant order for Wales representing as it does the major allocation of resources to local Government, with far reaching consequences for ratepayers and the level of services; and calls for a minimum allocation of half a day's debate for this order in future, so as to ensure the opportunity for the expression of the points of view of all political parties representing Wales in this House.]

Mr. Biffen

Exile is the inevitable lot of political revolutionaries. I am sure that, although the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) merited all that happened to him that morning, the House appreciates the difficulties that arise in the consideration of the Welsh rate support grant. There are many established political interests, which seek to be called during debates on the matter. I shall certainly do what I can in the future.

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is appalling that we do not yet know the subject for debate on the Liberal Supply day motion? Does my right hon. Friend consider that the confusion that arises in the alliance is evidenced by the fact that the alliance voted for the local Government Bill on Second Reading and against it on Third Reading?

Mr. Biffen

In spirit, my hon. Friend is compelling on both points, but he is on stronger ground on the second.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

In view of the debate on Wednesday about the position of research assistants in the House, does the Leader of the House recall the assurances that he gave me and my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) that when the debate was held it would cover the position of lobbyists who may hold passes as research assistants. Will the Leader of the House give an opportunity to discuss the matter on Wednesday?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly look into the matter and I shall be in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Does my right hon. Friend believe that generally we should get back to reality? Will he find time to debate a motion that the House recognises and takes note of the recent report of the chief economic advisers to the National Westminster bank, which concluded that only four other nations in the world can now match Britain for economic growth, price stability and a strong balance of payments, and recognises that encouraging enterprise and individual initiative, and ensuring that the state is the servant, not the master, is the best way to economic prosperity?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes an excellent summary of the formidable case for the Government's economic policy. He has only to await the Budget and the debates following it for an opportunity to deploy it more fully.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the continuing scandal of the National Coal Board refusing to accept the decision of the independent colliery review procedure tribunal, which is this week conducting a hearing into the proposed closure of Bates pit in Blyth? I received a letter from Mr. McGregor about the matter only today. Is the right hon. Gentleman now in a position to make a statement on behalf of the Government about the matter?

Mr. Biffen

We always have these good-natured exchanges week after week after week. I wonder what happens? Do they appear in a provincial newspaper, or is the National Coal Board paralysed at the prospect that they will be terminated? However, I shall certainly look into the matter.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

In the hope of saving the Leader of the Opposition from moving his motion under Standing Order No. 10, may we have a debate next week on leaks, and leaks that are not leaks? We could then go into the history of leaks that have occurred under Governments of both sides, certainly since I have been in the House.

Mr. Biffen

I am essentially a traditionalist as well as a creature of the usual channels. If the Leader of the Opposition says that he will do something, I believe that I should wait and see what he does.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to see columns 41 to 43 of Monday's Hansard? In the answer to the question that I asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment it was revealed that 50 constituencies had a reduction in unemployment of more than 5 per cent. As that is such important news and as so many jobs are now being created, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on that important subject, especially as Leicester, East has had an 8.37 per cent. reduction during the past 15 months? That is good news to tell.

Mr. Biffen

Leicester, East is, fortunately, served by an excellent Government and a sound Member of Parliament. However, given the restraints that we have on these matters, my hon. Friend will have to make those arguments in the Budget debate.

Forward to