HC Deb 21 July 1986 vol 102 cc30-3 4.10 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 short statement about the business for Wednesday 23 July. The business for that day will now be as follows:

Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Social Security Bill.

Motion relating to the Supplementary Benefit (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations.

Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Wages Bill and the Agriculture Bill and Lords amendments to the Dockyard Services Bill.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

I note the change of business that has just been announced, and I have three questions to ask the Leader of the House. First, is not his statement further evidence of the truly chaotic state of affairs in the planning of Government business? Although we welcome the Government's capitulation on the amendments proposed in the other place to the Dockyard Services Bill, does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that four Bills and an order on one day is an abuse of the legislative process?

Secondly, on the supplementary benefits order that we have just been discussing, which sharply limits single payments to the very poorest, does not the right hon. Gentleman understand how offensive it is that this squalid measure and the Social Services Bill that precedes it should be timed to coincide with a glittering state occasion, when the focus of the press will inevitably be not on the House of Commons but on Westminster abbey?

Thirdly, since the right hon. Gentleman obviously believes that all relevant business must be completed before the recess, will he reconsider the date of the summer recess so that the House can debate the major report from the Select Committee on Defence on the Westland affair, which is due to be published at 11 o'clock on Thursday?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman questions the nature of the business. I do not accept his strictures and I answer him in the same terms as I did the Leader of the Opposition.

As to the second point on the supplementary benefits order, given the nature of business for this week, Wednesday was the most convenient day to debate it. It is perverse constantly to draw attention to the royal wedding in relation to business which we should conduct anyway as a working Parliament.

Finally, I note the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety that Parliament should sit beyond this week and into the future. The motion for the recess will soon be tabled. It will be debatable, and the right hon. Gentleman can put his points then.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Am I right in thinking that the royal wedding is in the morning?

Mr. Biffen


Sir John Biggs-Davison

If so, what is the difficulty for right hon. and hon. Members to attend and debate the business in this place?

Mr. Biffen

I have shrunk from making that monumentally simple observation because I hoped that hon. Members would conclude that this line of argument was farcical.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Given the continuing havoc in the Commonwealth following our failure to impose sanctions, does the Leader of the House agree that before the House rises on Friday there should be an urgent statement on the matter in the House? Would that not give Her Majesty's Government the opportunity to answer the serious allegations made yesterday in The Sunday Times?

Mr. Biffen

I take account of the hon. Gentleman's request and will pass it to the appropriate quarter.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

When my right hon. Friend considers the changes that may or may not be made in this week's business, will he remember that we would rather work late this week, finish on Friday and have our holidays with our children, who in Scotland have been on holiday for some weeks?

Mr. Biffen

That is a very good home-spun observation which will undoubtedly be put to the test when we debate the recess motion.

Mr. Robert Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Has the right hon. Gentleman had a chance to see the Channel 4 television broadcast which went out on Thursday night entitled, "All the Prime Minister's Men"—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are dealing with the business for this week.

Mr. Wareing

I am coming to that, Mr. Speaker. In view of the allegations made in that programme that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) issued a document to the Cabinet entitled, "It took a riot", following the Toxteth riot in Liverpool—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This widens the debate very much beyond the change of business for Wednesday.

Mr. Wareing

I shall come directly to the point. Is it not time that we had an urgent debate on the murder of Merseyside, which was opted for by the Government as a result of the response to that report in the Cabinet by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs?

Mr. Biffen

I did not see that television programme. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government have enough business on for the remainder of this week. I cannot accommodate the debate that he suggests, but he will have the chance, as a private Member, to raise the matter on Thursday or Friday.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. May I again remind the House that this is an Opposition day and that such exchanges take time out of that period? I shall call those hon. Members who have been rising, provided that they keep their questions brief and to the point.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On the Dockyard Services Bill, will the Leader of the House do the penance of reading the speech of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) on Friday? Is it not a classic case of filibustering? Before he talks about my torpedoing myself, will he admit, uncynically, that the Government had continued—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is just what I was hoping would not happen. The hon. Gentleman's question has nothing to do with the business statement.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he has responsibilities to the House as a whole, not simply to the Government of which he is a member? If there is a strong demand, certainly from the Opposition, for the report of the Select Committee on Defence on Westland to be debated, will he recognise the need for this to be seriously considered? Is it not scandalous that the House will go into recess for 10 or 11 weeks while a report will be published and widely debated in the media, yet hon. Members will have no opportunity to debate it in the House?

Mr. Biffen

It is because I have a responsibility to the House as a whole that I believe we should go into recess on Friday. If the hon. Gentleman genuinely disagrees with the proposition, doubtless he will vote against it, as will others.

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I pre-empt further questions on that report, which is not due to be published until Thursday and so will not be affected by this statement.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Home Secretary to make an early statement on the appalling conditions which many visitors at Heathrow are facing? Many men, women and children are being kept for up to 24 hours without food or drink. Others have been taken to police cells and to prisons. I remind the hon. Gentleman that they have committed no crimes. The position at Heathrow is a disgrace. It does great damage to our efforts to promote Britain as a tourist centre and it is an example of grotesque maladministration by the Home Office.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman raised the matter with me on Thursday, when I said that I would have the matter investigated. I stand by those words and I also stand by the comments I made then—that I disagreed with the premise on which the hon. Gentleman based his remarks.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the many attempts to secure a statement on the Stalker affair by the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Will he prevail upon either of those gentlemen to make such a statement so that the matter will not rest in abeyance until 21 October?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the inquiry is continuing and that, under United Kingdom practice, it would be improper for a statement to be made now.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Since on Wednesday the House will be debating the Social Security Bill, which prevents claimants from having access to tribunals and making appeals, which will cause those who have lost limbs in industrial accidents to lose anything up to 14 per cent. in compensation, and which is an all-out onslaught on working people and supplementary benefits, would it not be a good idea if, before the debate started, the Leader of the House encouraged the Minister responsible to tell the House what supplementary benefits and grants will be included in the Civil List for the royal family in the following year and give an estimate of the cost of the royal wedding on that day?

Mr. Biffen

That is a proposition which I note and which enables us all to understand that much further the political philosophy of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dafyld Wigley (Caernarfon)

May we have a statement on Wednesday on the grave situation that has developed in north Wales in relation to the radioactive lamb bah which, during the last few days, has shown that sheep will be stuck on the mountains in north Wales into the winter with no grazing and it is unlikely that they will be able to be moved? We have not yet had a statement from the Secretary of State for Wales on that matter and it will be appalling if the House goes into the summer recess without having had an opportunity to discuss that.

Mr. Biffen

I have a constituency interest in the sheep trade in north Wales and therefore I pay proper regard to what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am sorry that the matter could not be ventilated at Welsh questions today but I shall certainly take up the point with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that an incident occurred last Friday which causes concern, and which certainly causes me concern, which affected a Member of Parliament, and which needs brief investigation and a report to the House? My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was followed outside the precincts of the House and his movements tracked by a non-Member. It seems that reports of his movements were made. That is the sort of thing that happens in Eastern Europe. Why was this? Why did it take place? To whom was the report made and why?

Mr. Biffen

I am not clear what responsibility I may have in this matter, but it would be appropriate if the right hon. Gentleman set all the details out in a letter and we could then decide who is the responsible recipient.

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