HC Deb 17 July 1986 vol 101 cc1173-83 3.31 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 2I JULY—Opposition Day (15th Allotted Day, 2nd Part). Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on an opposition motion entitled "The Fight Against Crime—Putting People First". Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Gas Bill.

Remaining stages of the Rate Support Grants Bill.

Proceedings on the Insolvency Bill [Lords] and the Company Directors Disqualification Bill [Lords] which are both consolidation measures and were previously announced for Friday 18 July.

TUESDAY 22 JULY—Remaining stages of the Education Bill [Lords]. WEDNESDAY 23 JULY — Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Social Security Bill, the Wages Bill and the Agriculture Bill.

THURSDAY 24 JULY— Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Motion for the summer Adjournment.

Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Building Societies Bill.

FRIDAY 25 JULY — Debates on the motion for the Adjournment.

The House may also be asked to consider any other Lords amendments and messages which may be received.

The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that subject to the progress of business it will be proposed that the House should rise for the summer adjournment on Friday 25 July until Tuesday 21 October.

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

Why is the Gas Bill being taken on Monday when the Bill, as amended by the Lords, will not be available until tomorrow at the earliest? They are important amendments and an inadequate opportunity is being given to the House to attend to those amendments before the Bill is debated.

Why have the Government not yet published the supplementary benefit single payments orders? That new legislation, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, will deny funds to the very poorest families who need help with buying essential household items. Is the delay due to the fact that the Government's own Social Security Advisory Committee has strongly criticised the Bill, or are the Government simply embarrassed about the idea of introducing such legislation when it will serve only to add further misery to the very poor?

Last week, I said that a few hours' debate on the Social Security Bill on royal wedding day would not do justice to the millions of poor and elderly people whom the Bill affects. The Leader of the House gave me a homily about the royal wedding day being an ordinary working day. Although that is obviously true, is it not also true that on that day the press will be completely preoccupied with the nuptials, and that that is why the Government have chosen to introduce this miserable legislation then? It is a dirty trick that is quite unworthy of the Leader of the House. I must ask him, even now, to consider moving that debate to another day.

May I ask the Leader of the House again to guarantee that there will be a full statement on the future of the Leyland Bus and Truck Division before the House rises for the summer? The matter is under serious consideration, and it is obviously necessary for the workers and for their representatives of all parties in the House to have before the recess a clear idea of the Government's view.

The Defence Committee's report on the Westland affair is due to be published at 11 am next Thursday. Reports so far indicate that the Committee has come to conclusions that are highly critical of the duplicity and dubious conduct of the Government and of some of their servants. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an absolute assurance that we shall have a chance to debate that report in the current Session?

In relation to this week's business, do the Government intend to proceed with the debate tomorrow on the Dockyard Services Bill, or is it further evidence of the Government's shambles that they are going to drop the Bill?

Mr. Biffen

I shall respond to those six points in the order in which they were presented. I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the consideration of Lords amendments to the Gas Bill. I recognise that there is a constriction on time, but I am sure that he also realises that if the House is to rise by next Friday—I felt that there was general approval of that proposition—there are clearly difficulties in spacing the programme in an ideal way.

I have not announced a debate on the single payments orders next week. If it is decided to proceed, an announcement will be made in due course.

Of course, the date chosen for debating the Social Security Bill could give rise to difficulties for the right hon. Gentleman, and I quite understand that he would prefer it not to be discussed then. But I assure him that the last consideration was the impact that that might have on press coverage of it. However, if he would like to have the matter considered through the usual channels, he knows that I am always courteous, if not always accommodating.

The right hon. Gentleman asked for a statement on the Leyland Bus and Truck Division. I note his request, and I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that the publication of the Select Committee's report on Westland helicopters is the responsibility of that Committee. I note that he would like a debate on that report in the current Session. That is a reasonable request, but perhaps we can look at it through the usual channels.

Following discussions, it has been decided not to proceed with the Dockyard Services Bill tomorrow, contrary to the previous announcement, but to consider Lords amendments at another time, probably during the course of next week. That indicates not a shambles but reasonable flexibility.

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

The Peacock report poses important questions on public service broadcasting which need to be answered. Will there be a debate on that report in the spill-over period when we return after the recess rather than leaving it to the vagaries of the new Session?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a question which was put to me last week. This shows the continuing interest in having reasonably soon a debate on the Peacock report. I would not wish to commit myself irrevocably to saying that such a debate will be held in the spill-over period, but I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's preference.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Even allowing for the disarray in the Government's programme, surely the right hon. Gentleman's statement is without precedent. He has effectively changed the business of the House without making a business statement. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman, in answering the Leader of the Opposition, to say that the House is no longer proceeding tomorrow with the Dockyards Services Bill, but why did he not make that clear in his initial statement? I shall pursue this matter at a further date, Mr. Speaker, unless the Leader of the House will explain why he acted in this extraordinary manner.

Mr. Biffen

There is nothing unusual, extraordinary or offensive about making the point in the way I did. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman has a constituency interest in this matter. I should be happy to keep him fully involved on the timing of the consideration of the Lords amendments.

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

Did I hear my right hon. Friend aright. I believe that he said that on Thursday we shall first debate the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill and then debate the motion for the summer Adjournment. When shall we start debating the motion for the Adjournment for the summer recess?

Mr. Biffen

The proceedings on the Consolidated Fund are purely formal. The motion for the summer Adjournment will then be debated. The timing will depend on what time is given to statements, private notice questions, or whatever. On any reasonable basis, my hon. Friend may expect the debate on the Adjournment for the summer recess to start no later than 5 pm. At the conclusion of the three-hour debate on the summer Adjournment motion, the House will consider Lords amendments to the Building Societies Bill.

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

Has the Leader of the House seen my early-day motion on compensation for Mr. Jim Smith of Aish and Company, the whistle blower?

[That this House positively supports paragraphs 36, 37, 38, 39 and 40 of the Twenty-third Report of the Public Accounts Committee entitled Production Costs of Defence Equipment, on the subject of Post Costing of Contracts with Aish and Company; supports in particular paragraphs (x) and (xi) in the Report's recommendations which state:

(x) We note that MoD officials responsible for contracts with Aish and Company did not begin to appreciate the possible extent of excess profits until the meeting with the company in March 1982. We conclude that the information provided to MoD by the two firmer employees probably did have a material effect on the MoD's post costing activities at this firm (paragraph 39).

(xi) We note that Treasury and MoD do not rule out the possibility of compensation to individuals who have helped MoD to identify possible excess profits but that the value and propriety of any compensation proposals would need to be considered very carefully (paragraph 40 )';

and believes that compensation should be paid for loss of income and professional opportunity arising from whistleblowing in the case of Aish and Company.'.]

The motion was signed by 231 hon. Members within two days and I confidently expect 300 signatories by next week. Will the right hon. Gentleman raise the issue with his colleagues in Cabinet and impress upon them the fact that the House of Commons has spoken on this matter?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman is a greatly experienced parliamentarian and constitutionalist. He knows perfectly well that it would be improper for me to reveal what I may or may not say in Cabinet. I assure him that I have taken account of his early-day motion. This is within the purview of the Public Accounts Committee. The Treasury's comments on that will be made in due course. I hope that the matter can be further considered within that framework.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Following my right hon. Friend's generally sympathetic response to me last week, has he come any nearer to persuading my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement to the House next week on what he will do to keep out Greek cement imports, which are a threat to our cement industry?

Mr. Biffen

At this time of the year, sympathy is about the only commodity I have left. I understand and admire the way in which my hon. Friend pursues this problem which affects his constituency. I shall be in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, but I would not wish to hold out an easy promise of a statement next week.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

Last night, after a debate and two votes, a clear decision was made by the House on the motions dealing with Members' secretarial allowance. Despite the rather odd remarks by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and the Prime Minister, will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to confirm the Government's acceptance of the will and decision of the House? Will he confirm that Government authority has been given, or will soon be given, to the Accountant to make the necessary payments?

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising this matter. I am sure that he will confirm that it is totally without collusion. Last night I said that I thought it unwise of the House to act in the way that it did —on reflection, I think that that was a masterpiece of understatement. However, the decision of the House, having been clearly indicated, will be put into effect.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

My right hon. Friend may have read the debate on the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill which lasted almost two days. Many anomalies were quoted by hon. Members from both sides of the House. The main problem was that there was an understanding that the Government do not have a ports policy. That lie should be put to rest by the Government using half a day to discuss a ports policy for the United Kingdom and stopping the investment of capital in various ports, where there is no hope of getting any further trade.

Mr. Biffen

I take the point made by my hon. Friend. With his constituency interest, he addresses himself to it with authority. I will pass fits comment on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that we cannot seriously consider the prospect of a debate before the spill-over at the earliest.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

As the right hon. Gentleman is apparently showing considerable skill in shedding various embarrassing pieces of Government legislation next week, and getting the House away at a reasonably early date, may we have an absolute guarantee that, if at the Commonwealth conference there is the danger of a crisis in which any member of the Commonwealth wishes to leave the Commonwealth, the House of Commons will be recalled at once?

Mr. Biffen

I will not speculate as to the spirit in which the House would return given the circumstances outlined by the right hon. Gentleman. He knows perfectly well that Standing Order No. 143 prescribes the circumstances for the recall of Parliament, and that is what would be observed.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Has the attention of my right hon. Friend been drawn to early-day motion 254 which relates to a group of public service pensioners who are not allowed to count their war service to the credit of their pension because the public service was carried out abroad?

[That this House believes that overseas Civil Service pensioners should be allowed to count war service towards their pension entitlement in the same way as every other branch of the public service; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to do justice towards a small number of mostly elderly people whose working lives were spent abroad in the service of the Crown.]

Will he arrange for a Minister to make a statement on that matter next week and thus remedy an injustice done to a small group of mostly elderly persons whose working lives were spent abroad, often in adverse conditions, in the service of this nation?

Mr. Biffen

I am aware of the point that my hon. Friend makes because I suspect that I heard it from his own lips a few weeks ago. I shall look into the matter and will be in touch.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Reverting to the subject raised by the Leader of the Opposition relating to social security regulations dealing with single payments, will the Leader of the House confirm that last week the Prime Minister guaranteed a debate on that subject before the summer recess? Will he confirm that, since these regulations are subject to negative procedure, it would be unacceptable to have them laid on that table and then implemented during the summer recess and not to have the debate on the attendant Social Security Advisory Committee report until the autumn? Does he not think that that would be totally unreasonable?

Mr. Biffen

I have before me the exchanges between the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I took account of them in the remarks I made to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

May I prefix my question to the Leader of the House by congratulating you, Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) on the outstanding success of your regatta? It was quite magnificent. Although the team for which I rowed was robbed because of a decision of the Leader of the House, although I got my own back later yesterday evening, may I say that it was magnificent occasion which I hope will be repeated?

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the multi-fibre arrangement? The European mandate on the multi-fibre arrangement, which could effect the jobs of 500,000 people in this country and many major industries in important regions of this country, is to be decided by the end of this month. Will he try to find time next week, which will be very busy, so that the people who represent textile and clothing areas can ensure that the Government are aware of the views of those who elected them and of the industries which are important to their constituencies?

Mr. Biffen

On this occasion, my hon. Friend has once again established himself as an aquatic optimist. If my facilities as a starter are somewhat suspect, I understand that they were surpassed in that respect by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Looking at the programme for next week and the Government business that it contains, I cannot easily promise my hon. Friend that which he seeks, but I suggest that he tries his luck in the debate on Friday 25 July.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Further to yesterday's private notice question, will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland give an assurance to the House that during the long summer recess Catholic areas will be protected by the security forces from those bigoted, cowardly Orange thugs?

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's interest in the affairs of the Province. He will understand that yesterday's private notice question enabled the House to consider the more immediate difficulties. I shall pass on his comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Will my right hon. Friend please say when he can find time for us to debate the excellent early-day motion 1134, in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), four other hon. Members and myself?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to divert aid presently intended for Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda to the provision of education and other assistance for the black population of South Africa.]

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the aid programme is under continuous review by the Foreign Office. I suggest that my hon. Friend might also like to try to secure a debate on 25 July when he can make his points further; otherwise he might consider the motion for the summer Adjournment itself.

Mr. John Home Robertson: (East Lothian)

I understand that there may be some congestion on the streets of Westminster on Wednesday. May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that the House resolved on 6 November That the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis do take care that during the Session of Parliament the passages through the streets leading to the House be kept free and open and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House". — [Official Report, 6 November 1985; Vol. 86, c. 2.] Will the Leader of the House remind the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis of that fact in view of the important business that the right hon. Gentleman says we have to transact on that day?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman views the monarchy with all the enthusiasm of John Knox. I shall consider the point he has made.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)

May I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement about tomorrow's business, because we can all get back to our constituencies much earlier? However, can he guide me as to what we shall be debating in the light of the fact that the Dockyard Services Bill has gone, and the two consolidation measures have gone? What will be discussed? Is he open to any suggestions?

Mr. Biffen

As it is a festive time of the year, it is a surprise day.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Home Secretary to conduct an urgent inquiry into the conditions at Heathrow to which many visitors to this country are subjected? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that scores of visitors every week, who are required to have interviews with immigration officers, are compelled to stay, often for more than 24 hours, in cramped facilities without the opportunity of sleeping or eating, and that recently the number included a 14-yearold boy? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that immigration officers, who are grotesquely understaffed, are extremely concerned at the indignities and discomfort to which many visitors are put by those outrageous arrangements? Will he ask the Home Secretary to conduct an urgent inquiry to ensure that those indignities and inconveniencies are removed as quickly as possible?

Mr. Biffen

I could not accept the hon. Gentleman's remarks as a premise to any action that I would undertake. However, I appreciate that the matter is causing great concern, and I shall refer it to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern at the high divorce rate, the falling standards in family life and the lack of morals? Does he not agree that religious education is failing in many of our schools and that the allegations and leaks coming out of one of our committees on education that morning assembly may he done away with would be the thin end of the wedge? Will my right hon. Friend find time either next week or when we return after the recess to debate the important need for all children in Leicester and elsewhere to benefit from the collective act of worship and to learn the good and human decency of a Christian denomination?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend outlines a view which will be widely shared in the House and in Leicester. I understand that his specific point relates to the findings of a departmental Select Committee. Perhaps we should wait for its report to be published.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House make a few inquiries about the attitude of some Departments and Ministers who are not replying to Labour Members' letters? Does he know, for instance, that I wrote on 21 May to the Home Secretary about the plight of Terry French, a miner put in gaol for five years for doing little or nothing during the strike? He is likely to remain there until 1987 unless parole is allowed. The Home Secretary has not even had the decency to reply to my request of 21 May for parole for Terry French to be reviewed. I wrote to the Home Secretary again on 12 June, but I did not get very far. I have written again.

It is time that the Government had the decency to deal with these matters. I know that the Home Secretary is supposed to be a novelist, but I do not expect a novel in reply. I expect a simple answer. Will the Leader of the House do something about it?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman never writes to me.

Mr. Skinner

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. I wrote 25 days ago.

Mr. Biffen

I must be a good correspondent. I will look into the matter and bring the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

Bearing in mind the result of the vote taken last night about support for Members of Parliament and the brevity of that debate, will my right hon. Friend consider allowing an early debate, possibly in October, on the role of the Member of Parliament, the role of Parliament and the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive? That is the issue to which we should have addressed ourselves in yesterday's debate.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has made an extremely valid point about the need for a wide-ranging assessment of the effectiveness and the role of the hon. Member and this House, and the extent to which public funds are used to support that function. Initially, that issue might be appropriate for a private Member's day.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am always reluctant to curtail business questions. I will call those hon. Members who have been standing. However, I ask for brief questions as we have a heavy day's business today.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Is the Leader of the House aware that many of us have spent many hours on the Salmon Bill and that many constructive suggestions were put forward, not least by the hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) and others? In the meantime, during the summer, will he prevail upon his ministerial colleagues to take account of the real changes that we have urged? There is no chance of the Bill being dropped, is there?

Mr. Biffen

I will bear the hon. Gentleman's point in mind and will bring it to the notice of my ministerial colleagues.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Does the Leader of the House agree that the time has come for the House to debate the present circumstances and the future of the British fishing industry in the light of the proposed structural changes in Europe?

Mr. Biffen

That is certainly one of the many potential subjects for debate which compete for a rapidly diminishing amount of parliamentary time. However, I will bear it in mind.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Has the Leader of the House considered that next Wednesday's business is an exercise in hypocrisy and clearly shows the divided nature of Britain under the Tory Government? Viscount Althorp, the brother of Princess Di, will receive a reported £10,000 for a few hours of television commentary, while the Government will say that more than 500,000 young workers, all within a year or two of his age, earning £40 to £50 are pricing themselves out of work, and that the single needs payments for the 4 million elderly and unemployed people on supplementary benefit are to be removed. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Wednesday will be the most shameful day in my three years as a Member of this House under his tutelage as Leader of the House?

Mr. Biffen

I am flattered that all that happened under my tutelage. I thought that I had a rather more passive role —at least, that is what I thought last night. I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says, but his anger should be directed more to television companies than to hon. Members.

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

May I echo the appeal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) about the choice of Wednesday for the consideration of the Social Security Bill? Given the congestion in central London that day, what facilities will be provided to the many disabled people who will wish to use the dial-a-ride service to get to the House to lobby their Member of Parliament? Is it not wholly immoral and obscene to consider a Bill intended to hammer the poor on the day of the much publicised wedding of a rich man?

Mr. Biffen

No; I do not accept that analysis. The Bill stands to be considered and it is a major Bill in its own right. These remarks about the royal wedding are extraneous and invidious.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity today to read the article in the Financial Times by Richard Evans entitled Higher charges buoy up water profits"? He shows the massive profits made by water companies. The Northumbrian water authority increased its profits seven times and Thames water authority, on an increased turnover of £46 million, has made profits of £45 million. That has caused the chairman of Thames Water, Mr. Roy Watts, to say: the Treasury takes too much. Does that not demonstrate that the water authorities are being used as covert tax collectors for the Treasury, which forces them to make unacceptable, unwanted and unnecessary price increases?

Mr. Biffen

I am intrigued that articles in the Financial Times have now become source material for the Labour party. I cannot comment on their accuracy or otherwise, but the Secretary of State for the Environment will be top for questions on 23 July and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman takes up the matter with him then.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Did the Leader of the House take the opportunity today to read the joint report issued by the Office of Health Economics and MENCAP which shows a clear correlation between poverty and instances of mental handicap? Will he use his influence to ensure that legislation passed by the House in this Session is implemented with the greatest possible speed?

Mr. Biffen

I have not seen the report, but I shall make it my business to be acquainted with it. The hon. Gentleman will know the circumstances in which legislation receives the Royal Assent. So far as its being brought into effect is concerned, I can add nothing to that.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Is there any prospect of a debate on the grave and growing shortage of hospital beds which has led to complaints from my constituents both about the danger of dying because they are in need of heart surgery which they cannot get, and about remaining in constant pain because they cannot get surgery for hip replacements and other painful illness? The relatives of two people died because they were not admitted to hospital in time. Is there any hope of a debate about the need for more resources for the National Health Service? Can it please not be delayed until we return in the autumn, because too many people will be dead by then as a result of these shortages?

Mr. Biffen

As the hon. and learned Gentleman says that there is an imperative about the timing of such a debate, the best I can do is to draw his attention to the opportunities available to him on both 24 and 25 July.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

Is the Leader of the House aware that, despite the recent optimistic noises about a comprehensive test ban treaty, the United States Government intend tomorrow morning, at 4 o'clock our time, to carry out a nuclear test in the Nevada desert? In those circumstances, should there not be a debate about a possible comprehensive test ban treaty before we rise for the summer recess?

Mr. Biffen

I doubt whether a debate would do much about the putting into effect of the intended American test, so I suggest that we might consider the debate at a more leisurely time.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that it is more than seven months since Rupert Murdoch engineered a strike at News International, and that that dispute has cost London ratepayers about £1.5 million for the extra policing? Is he aware of the serious disruption it has caused to people living in the east end? Is he further aware that Rupert Murdoch is entirely responsible for that dispute, and that it is about time we had a proper opportunity in the House to discuss the dispute—or does he not care about it?

Mr. Biffen

I am aware that seven months of aggressive intimidation have failed, and I am aware of the despair that that causes to the far Left.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the abuse which the Scottish Office perpetrated on the Scottish Grand Committee by using the occasion of a debate on Scottish industry to make a statement which should have been delivered from the Dispatch Box this afternoon, given that the implications of the issue extend north and south of the border? There were strong feelings in the Committee that it was a disgraceful performance by the Government—[Laughter.] The Secretary of State for Scotland need not laugh, because he was not even present. Will the Leader of the House investigate the matter and find out whether an apology would be in order?

Mr. Biffen

I have always comforted myself by believing that the proceedings of the Scottish Grand Committee were no responsibility of mine. But, in the spirit of good natured concern for the kingdom of the north, I shall look into that matter.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Obviously, I am being victimised for not wearing a tie.

Does not the Leader of the House agree that it is in particularly bad taste to debate the clobbering of the poor on Wednesday at the very time when there is to be the most vulgar display of wealth and extravagance, largely at public expense, within a mile of this building? Does that not show that the Government's policies are completely successful in dividing the nation?

Mr. Biffen

Vulgarity exists in the eye of the beholder.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

When the Leader of the House speaks to the Home Secretary about the plight of Terry French who is unjustly being held in Maidstone prison as a result of the miners' strike, will he remind the Home Secretary that many hon. Members and I have already written to him about that case and are still waiting for a response?

Will the Leader of the House find time before Thursday 24 July to allow the House to debate the future of the school meals service in Buckinghamshire where the Conservative-controlled county council is proposing to abolish that service, thus preventing children from getting a decent lunch, forcing their parents to spend more money on feeding them and forcing school meal workers on the dole, the day after the most disgusting display of conspicuous wealth that the country has seen in a decade?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman used the word "unjustly", and in so doing he prejudges one's view of the processes of law. I cannot accept that, and I do not think that he enhances his case by making those observations. If the hon. Gentleman genuinely wishes to raise on the Floor of the House the matter of the affairs in Buckinghamshire, he will have the opportunity to do so on 24 and 25 July.