HC Deb 24 July 1986 vol 102 cc598-609 3.50 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May we have the business for the week beginning 21 August — [HON. MEMBERS: "October."]

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

I think that the right hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm exceeds his expectations. The business for the first week after the summer Adjournment will be as follows:

TUESDAY 21 OcronER—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Education Bill [Lords]

WEDNESDAY 22 OcToBER—Progress on remaining stages of the Sex Discrimination Bill [Lords]

THURSDAY 23 OCTOBER — Until seven o'clock completion of remaining stages of the Sex Discrimination Bill [Lords]

Remaining stages of the Salmon Bill [Lords]

FRIDAY 24 OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Public Trustee and Administration of Funds Bill [Lords]

Proceedings on the Family Law Bill [Lords] and the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill [Lords] which is a consolidation measure.

Motions on Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) Orders.

Motion on the Second International Fund for Agricultural Development (Second Replenishment) Order.

The House may also be asked to consider any other Lords amendments and messages which may be received. It may be for the convenience of the House if I indicate that Government business will also be taken in the two following weeks. It is expected that the new Session will be opened on Wednesday 12 November.

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether, in view of the impending recess, he is now able to make an immediate statement on the investigations into the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester, Mr. Stalker, as it would be in our universal interest to have a clear indication of the Government's view on this matter?

Today the Government are rushing through the statements on the royal ordnance factories and on Unipart and Leyland Bus. We have asked for statements on those subjects for the last month, but now there will be no time for a proper debate in Government time on these critical issues before Parliament rises. Is that satisfactory for the thousands of people who are anxious about the future of both the ROFs and the Leyland enterprise?

The report of the Select Committee on Defence on the Westland affair is obviously a matter of considerable importance. Last week the Leader of the House responded to my request for a debate on the report in this Session by saying that it was a "reasonable request". Is he now satisfied with the arrangements for the first week back, which plainly exclude any debate on that Select Committee report? Will he even now reflect on the matter and change the business for the first week back so that we may discuss the report.

I also note that in the first week back no time has been allocated for a debate on southern Africa. That is peculiar, especially when in the intervening period during .August and September there will have been at least one meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government and at least one meeting of the European Council specifically to discuss that matter and the initiatives arising from their previous deliberations. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that this is another matter which he will reconsider so that we may debate the issue of South and southern Africa in the early days when we return after the Adjournment of the House?

Mr. Biffen

I will take those points in the order in which they were presented by the right hon. Gentleman.

I quite understand why there is anxiety that the so-called Stalker report should be made available. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that it would be inappropriate for the Government to do that until inquiries are concluded. I am sure that he will join with many others in the House and with the early-day motion which wishes a speedy conclusion to the inquiries which will then permit the publication of the report. I will, of course, refer his specific request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

I think that the whole House will acknowledge that it is helpful for the employees concerned that statements should be made today in respect of the royal ordnance factories and British Leyland. I believe that that would have the general consent of the House.

With regard to a debate upon the Westland report, the right hon. Gentleman referred to our exchange on this topic last week. Of course, I take note of his request that the matter should be debated fairly early in the overspill, but I believe that the timing of such a debate would properly be a matter for the usual channels and perhaps it could be proceeded with in that manner.

Similarly, I take note of the right hon. Gentleman's concern about southern Africa, but I am sure that its topicality will not have diminished during our absence. Again, this is something which can be looked at through the usual channels.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed early-day motion 1067 relating to advice on technology to parliamentarians which has already been signed by 93 hon. Members?

[That this House, while recognising the support and assistance granted to the United States Congress and Senate during the past thirteen years by the Office of Technology Assessment, acknowledging that a similar approach is currently being considered for establishment in France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Australia to obtain well-informed and objective assessment, and in considering the rapid growth of technology in the past decade and its impact on economic development, health, environment and so forth, feels that where the need arises that there should be a body at Westminster to advise Parliamentarians of both Houses upon the implications and impact of scientific innovation, the identification of commercially exploitable areas of science, the correct evaluation of conflicting technical data, the collation of information secured from abroad, and the rational use of national resources; and urges the House of Commons Commission or relevant authority to establish a body within the precincts of Westminster to research, prepare reports and advise Parliamentarians on scientific matters independently of the executive, while at all times subscribing to three crucial elements, namely, that it will accord with British Parliamentary traditions, be funded in part by the House of Commons Commission, and evolve out of the existing structure of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee.]

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can provide an early date to discuss this matter, as it is vital to the House.

Mr. Biffen

I have taken note of the early-day motion to which my hon. Friend has referred. It might be a suitable matter to be raised through an Adjournment debate rather than in Government time.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

Does the right hon. Gentleman think it is proper that the House should depart for the summer recess without having the opportunity to debate the Westland report? Does he not think it is extremely serious that the House should not discuss such major charges against the head of the Civil Service? Does he not consider that, if he does not provide time for a debate, he will be a party to the collusion between the Prime Minister and the head of the Civil Service—and collusion means guilty association?

Mr. Biffen

No. The right hon. Gentleman has a long and distinguished career in the House and he should not mar it by becoming a rather low-grade McCarthyite by implying collusion in this matter. The report, which came out today, deserves proper and measured consideration. As I suggested to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, I believe that that can take place in the overspill. If the right hon. Gentleman takes a contrary view, he can, of course, vote against the recess motion.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Regarding the innocence of the late Giuseppe Conlon and the Maguires, will my right hon. Friend invite the Home Secretary to take counsel with his advisers during the recess and, instead of leaving it to Back Benchers, find a way whereby either there can be a new trial or a Queen's pardon can be recommended?

Mr. Biffen

I am not sure what status or authority would have in this matter, but I shall take account of what my hon. Friend says and refer his remarks to those of my right hon. Friends who are approached.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

Is the Leader of the House aware that another report which concerns many Members with constituency interests in Plessey is that of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, which is presently on the desk of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry? It happens to relate especially to the Plessey work force in my constituency. If a statement cannot be made in the House this week, may a statement be made in the other place next week?

Mr. Biffen

Clearly my responsibilities do not run up the road. No statement can be made until the report has been made available and is ready for publication. I shall consider the matter, especially in respect of the facilities that might be offered by the other place.

Sir Edward du Cann (Taunton)

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House tell my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the strong feelings held in all quarters that war service should count for the pension calculation of civil servants, as is evidenced by early-day motion 254, which has been signed, following the lead of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), by well over 250 Members?

[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.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a mere 4,600 people are affected? Every year there are fewer. This House surely should give them justice.

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend puts with great eloquence the point which hitherto has been argued forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

The Leader of the House will no doubt recall that two weeks ago, after the welcome vindication of Mrs. Wendy Savage, I asked the Prime Minister whether she would take on board the matter and discuss it with the Secretary of State for Social Services with a view to having an inquiry into the competence of those who were her major accusers, especially as one of those gentlemen does virtually no National Health Service work with NHS patients, although he is working in an NHS hospital. Most of his time is spent dealing with private patients at £400 a time. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is about time that we had an inquiry?

Mr. Biffen

The judgment whether we should have an inquiry more properly belongs to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mrs. Short

The Prime Minister said that she would speak to the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer the request to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend read early-day motion 1120, which is headed "Compensation for Whistleblowers". It has been signed by 250 Members on both sides of the House.

[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 former 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.] As the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee have been rejected in the Treasury minute, will my right hon. Friend ensure that a Minister explains the decision in the first week after the recess?

Mr. Biffen

The normal processes whereby PAC recommendations are considered by the Treasury mean that eventually the recommendations come before the House. I shall examine the matter that my hon. Friend has raised to ascertain the prospects for an early debate.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Arising from points of order yesterday, and having been encouraged by the response of the Leader of the House, I ask the right hon. Gentleman what arrangements he proposes to make to advise the House about the use of the Member's Dining Room when we return from the summer recess. What arrangement is it proposed to make for the House to debate the use of all these facilities, which is giving cause for widespread concern in all parts of the House?

Mr. Biffen

I have a statement that says that no action will be taken to bring into operation the proposed Dining Room experiment until there have been further discussions by the Catering Sub-Committee in the autumn. I know that one cannot win them all. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. As for these matters being debated, the activities of the Service Committee give rise to debates on the Floor of the House. I am sure that such opportunities will arise in future as they have in the past.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

May I remind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of the exchange that we had a fortnight ago on 10 July when I put it to him that the proposal to use Fulbeck airfield as a possible nuclear dump was a breach of the statement made by Sir Thomas Dugdale on 20 July 1954, which is reported in Hansard at column 1190? My right hon. Friend told me a fortnight ago that he would do his best to arrange for an early statement on whether this policy was a breach of existing policy. So far as I know, he has not done so. Will he tell me what he has done to obtain an early answer, or what he proposes to do?

Mr. Biffen

I shall inquire to see whether the July lethargy is on account of myself or the Department concerned. When that has been done, I shall be in touch with my hon. Friend.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1105 in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and 24 right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House?

[That this House condemns the oppressive enforced corralling into artificial villages of country people in Ethiopia by the Government of Ethiopia, thus driving them from their land at a great cost in human lives and provoking among the survivors a new wave of emigration of refugees into neighbouring countries like Somalia which have economic problems enough already; and therefore calls upon the Government of Ethiopia to terminate this inhuman practice forthwith, since failure to do so should be construed by Her Majesty's Government as an unto-operative action bordering on genocide which merits the curtailment of British development and food aid to Ethiopia.]

The motion remonstrates against the enforced corralling into artificial villages by the Marxist Government of Ethiopia of the hapless people of their country. This has precipitated a mass exodus of refugees into neighbouring countries, which are poor enough already. If there is no time available for a statement on this matter to the effect that representations will be made by Her Majesty's Government against this inhumane treatment, will he ensure that the matter will be accorded the priority that we attach to inhumane behaviour in southern Africa?

Mr. Biffen

There is no time for a statement. The Government have made their concern clear to the Ethiopian authorities. That was reported to the House on 23 May.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

As the Prime Minister is responsible primarily for the sad state of affairs of the Commonwealth games that are to start in Edinburgh tonight, will the Leader of the House advise the Prime Minister not to go to Edinburgh because she would not be welcomed by more than a dozen Scotsmen?

Mr. Biffen

Despite all his many years in the House, the hon. Gentleman has not grasped the constitutional relationship between the Prime Minister and myself. I cannot undertake the task that he requests. The views of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister much more robustly coincide with the views of the British public than do those of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on recent developments in local government so that we can take account of the fact that the Ealing Labour-controlled council has recently sacked the town clerk because he insisted—

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman will next be sacked.

Mr. Greenway

—on being politically impartial? The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) will be sacked before anyone else. The same council is intimidating all its employees politically. The people of Ealing are worried that the Labour council now seeks to install a stooge town clerk to do its political bidding. Something must be done.

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making a pertinent point which should have very much wider circulation. I hope, therefore, that he will treat his question as a trailer to the contribution that he will make in the debate on whether we should adjourn for the summer recess.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware that many of us believe that before the House goes into recess we should have a statement on the Foreign Secretary's trip to South Africa, which has turned out to be as worthless as we predicted it would be?

As for the report of the Select Committee on Defence on Westland, how does the Leader of the House take it that, while the debate takes place in the country, in the media and elsewhere, the House will be denied the opportunity of being able to contribute to the debate? No provision has been made for us to debate the issue during the week after our return from the summer recess. Is this not a disgraceful abuse and typical of the way in which this Administration run matters?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman could well reconcile himself to the fact that life goes on whether the House is in session or not. Many active political debates take place irrespective of whether the House is in session. I am not sure that necessarily the nation is that much the poorer. I take account of what the hon. Gentleman says about the importance of the debate. I have already shown a willingness to consider the matter further in my response to the Leader of the Opposition. There is no intransigence on my part.

Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness)

I regret having to pursue the Stalker affair with my right hon. Friend once again. I am sure that by the time the House resumes in the autumn the matter will have been resolved and, therefore, will no longer be sub judice. I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 1153, which is indicative of the concern that is felt on both sides of the House about the Stalker affair.

[That this House is concerned about the damage being caused by the continuing uncertainty arising from the investigation of a complaint made against the Deputy Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police; notes that this matter has been under investigation since 28th May 1986, if not earlier; notes further that the House will rise on Friday 25th July 1986 and not return until the Autumn; and urges the Police Complaints Authority to bring the case to an early conclusion and to report before the House rises so as to enable hon. Members to have the opportunity of raising the wider issues involved.]

If the matter is dealt with by the appropriate authorities before the House returns in the autumn, will sympathetic consideration be given at some time during the early weeks of the new Session to the matter being discussed by the House?

Mr. Biffen

I understand entirely the point made by my hon. Friend. He may have noted that in my reply to the Leader of the Opposition I referred to the early-day motion. I think that we should see how the matter stands when we return towards the end of October. I shall be prepared to consider any requests from my hon. Friend at that time.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary to have words, during the summer recess, with the Chinese and Hong Kong Governments on the proposed construction of a nuclear power plant near Hong Kong? Early-day motion 1157 expresses widespread concern and fear.

[That this House, noting the grave concern of the general public of Hong Kong at the building of the proposed nuclear power plant at Daya Bay in the Guangdong Province of China, notes the opposition by a coalition of more than 100 trade unions, professional groups, community and local organisations and the petition signed by 700,000 citizens in two weeks which supports the anti-nuclear opposition backed by civic and church leaders, academics and scientists; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to make urgent representations to the Chinese Government for the re-siting of this plant from close proximity to the Crown Colony, the most densely populated region on earth.]

Do any contingency plans exist for evacuation in the event of a serious accident at the proposed plant?

Mr. Biffen

Probably the best thing that I can do to assist the hon. Gentleman is to refer the early-day motion to the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, and ask my right hon. and learned Friend to get in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

My right hon. Friend knows that those enthusiasts on the Select Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill are doing their best to get things moving by holding hearings during the summer recess. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Committee has gone a step further in its efforts to help Eurotunnel by refusing to hear evidence from the ferry companies and others on the financial viability of the tunnel and the safety considerations of the tunnel? In view of the unprecedented and bizarre—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Member disclosing what is going on in the Select Committee?

Mr. Aitken

No; I am disclosing what has not gone on in the Select Committee. I am about to ask for a debate. In view of the bizarre and unprecedented suppression of evidence, which, incidentally—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Member should ask for a debate and then sit down.

Mr. Aitken

I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that as soon as the House resumes we shall have an early debate so that the House and the country may hear the evidence that has been censored.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has such an enviable innocence in the way he presents his propositions. I should like to examine carefully what he has said before deciding whether we should have a debate.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

I fear that the Leader of the House is becoming rather bored with our regular exchanges about the treatment of visitors at Heathrow. What are the Government doing to stop Heathrow being thrown into chaos as from the middle of next month by action taken by immigration officers concerned about the treatment of visitors and angry about their conditions? I see that the Minister of State is giving some information to his bag carrier. I think that the Secretary of State for Transport should be concerned. What are the Government doing to stop the chaos arising at Heathrow?

Mr. Biffen

I think that, with a perceptive judgment, the hon. Gentleman has referred to me as a bag carrier of the Treasury Bench.

Mr. Madden

I did not mean the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Biffen

I see. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this is a tentative, sort of headline answer to the points that he raised. To assist in solving the difficult position that he has described, there has been a redeployment of staff and the provision of extra accommodation. There have been discussions with the Nigerian Government and Nigeria Airways, as the position largely derives from the influx of Nigerians. I shall ask the Home Secretary to get in touch with the hon. Gentleman further.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the insidious document published recently by the Civil Aviation Authority, calling for more night flights at Heathrow and Gatwick airports? Is he further aware of the grave disquiet in my constituency about that possibility among people whose lives have been thrown into turmoil by aircraft noise? Will my right hon. Friend make arrangements for the House to debate this important matter that touches on people's lives in a most profound way?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend perfectly describes a phenomenon that is immensely irritating in environmental terms in selected areas of the United Kingdom. I suggest that, in the first instance, my hon. Friend raises the matter in an Adjournment debate.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall endeavour to call those hon. Members who have been rising. That may give more scope to others seeking to speak in the debates or the Adjournment motion.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Fees Office has confirmed that a letter is to be sent out this weekend regarding the vote on Members' allowances? As the House is not sitting for the next three months, and as it is rumoured that the letter contains a shock or a surprise, can he tell us what it is?

Mr. Biffen

There is no shock or a surprise. It is merely a commonsense observation that the vote that took place was on the proposals for the current year. They were not intended to be retrospective.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

I refer to the Education Bill and the Division on the caning amendment that was lost on Tuesday. Can my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made when the House resumes—prior to the further debate on the Education Bill—so that inquiries can be carried out? A number of Conservative Members, both for and against caning, were prevented from getting to the Division Lobby in time because of celebrations prior to the royal wedding. Although I am not asking for a rerun, it would be helpful if the Sessional Order could be brought to the attention of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police and all police surrounding Parliament square to ensure that hon. Members can get here to vote.

Mr. Biffen

I am satisfied that the police authorities did their best to ensure passage. There were quite unprecedented crowds. If they had been moved on to enable a gaggle of parliamentarians to cast a vote, it would have soured the atmosphere of the evening's celebrations.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

On a much lighter and harmonious note, in view of the end of term, I ask the Leader of the House whether he has studied my early-day motion 1146.

[That this House recognises the superb artistry of the Bolshoi Ballet; is grateful for the happiness and pleasure given to our citizens throughout the medium of television and by the performance at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and elsewhere; and urges Presidents, Prime Ministers and government, both East and West, to pursue actions which maximise those things which make for common accord and minimise those matters which are divisive.]

I know that the right hon. Gentleman will be busy in the next three months trying to maintain his majority in his constituency. He will not have the responsibility of thinking up answers to business questions at 2 o'clock in the morning, so he will be ready for Thursdays. As we shall not have time for a debate, and in spite of the fact that he once told me that he was the greatest philistine in the House, will he find time to go to see the Bolshoi Ballet and give it some encouragement?

Mr. Biffen

I think that the lobbyists for the Bolshoi Ballet should provide me with a free ticket.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Is my right hon. Friend aware, if the Labour party is not, that if there were an early debate on the Westland inquiry, the House's attention would have to be drawn to paragraph 183 of the Committee's report where part of the Committee unanimously absolved the Prime Minister from any blame or responsibility in the matter? Is it not nonsense on the part of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) to talk about collusion when he has not read the report?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says. When we have a debate that can take account of the Government's response and the reflective consideration of the report, I hope that my hon. Friend will be lucky enough to catch your eye. Mr. Speaker, and take part in the debate.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 842.

[That this House expresses regret at Her Majesty's Government's refusal to recognise the plight of sufferers from abnormality of the feet; noting that this condition is mainly a result of spina bifida, polio, osteomyelitis and hydrocephalus, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is urged to understand and appreciate the seriousness of the problem and to reconsider the appeals emanating from the Stockport Odd Feet Association for special concessions regarding the relief from value-added tax on the purchase of the second pair of shoes required for this particular disability.]

The motion expresses regret at the Government's refusal to recognise the plight of sufferers from abnormality of the feet. mainly from polio and spina bifida. We ask for concessions on a second pair of shoes that disabled people must purchase.

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to the early-day motion. At this stage of the Session, the most helpful thing that I could do would be to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to its content.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

I ask my right hon. Friend whether, at an early stage when we return in October, we can have a debate on the future of the British Steel Corporation, especially in the light of its profits announced for the last financial year and its productivity compared with some years ago. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be opportune to review the success of the corporation and where it goes here?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend will appreciate that there are a great many demands on time, even in the overspill, but I shall certainly take account of his request, not least because the steel industry remains not only an important industry but an increasingly successful one.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)


Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Tony Banks.

Mr. Tony Banks

That cost me 50p, Mr. Speaker. Will the Leader of the House explain to me, as a relatively new and inexperienced Member—

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Hear, hear.

Mr. Banks

Coming from the hon. Gentleman, that is rather rich. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why we need so long a period for the summer recess? A. considerable amount of business on which hon. Members are pressing for a debate has yet to be considered. The other place will be sitting a week longer and returning two weeks earlier than the House of Commons. I realise that all right hon. and hon. Members have lots to do, but we shall be deprived of a valuable platform which we can use as Members of Parliament.

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain these points? What are the procedures? How is the length of the recess decided? I am sure that I am not the only person who is interested in knowing the answers; the rest of the country must be interested as well.

Mr. Biffen

The recess is just a touch longer than the average recess at this time of the year, but there is not much in it. I think that most hon. Members find it valuable to have a reasonably lengthy break. I know that the hon. Gentleman would be deeply saddened if he could not attend the Labour party conference. Such considerations stretch the days. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I did not expect to hear such hostility on the Labour Benches at the prospect of a Labour party conference. Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition needs even more time off to train Labour Members.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

On the question of the recess, does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the time in which we have both been Members, July has always been a month with a mixture of high drama and boredom and that some of the high drama is real and some is simulated? Does he know that at the beginning of 1988 — my right hon. Friend has to look ahead—there will be a change in school terms? Because of the examination changes, all the schools will break up for the holidays at the beginning of July. This will create problems for hon. Members who have children. This will apply to Government maintained and independent schools through the new examination changes. What will my right hon. Friend do? Will we have an extra month's holiday, or should I say working recess? My right hon. Friend will have to plan next year for the Commons' programme the year after.

Mr. Biffen

I wish devoutly that July had more boredom and less high drama. Voices around me have told me that my hon. Friend was totally misconceived in suggesting that revolutionary changes in school holidays were ahead. I suspect that, if revolutionary changes in school holidays occur, this place in due course will change, and then there will be a chorus of complaints that we no longer have the 90-day recesses which we used to have which gave us a chance to travel overseas, to go round our constituencies, to be with our families and to put matters in better perspective. One cannot win.

Mr. Tom Clarke


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Tom Clarke. I am sorry about the bet.

Mr. Clarke

I am sure that you will accept, Mr. Speaker, that no Scotsman ever regretted going home with an extra 50p in his pocket. This is no exception. In view of the astonishing reply by the Leader of the House to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), has the right hon. Gentleman borne in mind that my right hon. Friend was merely reflecting the tone of the report? Does he accept that the last sentence in the report gives witnesses who feel that they have been unfairly treated the chance to put matters right? What practical steps will the Government take within the next few days to make that possible?

Mr. Biffen

If the hon. Gentleman's point is valid—I do not have the advantage of having read the report—it is a great argument for having the debate later rather than earlier.