HC Deb 12 June 1986 vol 99 cc497-506 3.30 pm
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

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. Biffen)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY I6 JUNE—Opposition Day (15th Allotted Day) (1st Part). Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The crisis in big city hospitals".

Afterwards progress on remaining stages of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.

TUESDAY I7 JUNE — Opposition Day (16th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on South Africa on an Opposition motion.

Afterwards there will be a debate on EC Document 9360/84 as amended by EC Document 5752/86 relating to EC proposals on the marketing and testing of medicinal products.

WEDNESDAY I8 JUNE—There will be a debate on Foreign affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURDSAY I9 JUNE— Motions on Northern Ireland orders and consolidation measures. Details will be given in the Official Report.

FRIDAY 20 JUNE—There will be a debate on the arts on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 23 JUNE—Until seven o'clock, opposition Day (11th Allotted Day) (2nd Part). 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.

Second Reading of the Rate Support Grants Bill.

Debate on Tuesday 17 June:

Relevant documents

(a) 9630/84 Marketing and testing of medicinal products.
(b) 5752186 Marketing and testing of medicinal products.

Relevant reports of European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 5-viii (1984–85), para 1 and HC 21-xix ( 1985–86), para 1
  2. (b) HC 21-xix (1985–86), para 1

Northern Ireland orders to be debated on Thursday 19 June:

Northern Ireland Assembly (Dissolution) Order.

Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order.

Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) ( No. 2) Order.

Consolidation Measures:

The Company Securities (Insider Dealing) (Northern Ireland) Order.

The Companies (Northern Ireland) Order.

The Business Names ( Northern Ireland) Order.

The Companies Consolidation (Consequential Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order.

Mr. Shore

We are grateful for the full day's debate on foreign affairs on Wednesday, but the Opposition believe that it is essential that the House should have the earliest possible opportunity to debate separately the report of the Eminent Persons Group on the crisis in South Africa and that is why we have given Opposition time next Tuesday. Will the Lord Privy Seal arrange for an early statement on the Eminent Persons Group report so that the debate can be fully focused upon the Government's response and future policy?

Secondly, in view of the exceptional constitutional importance of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, with its further reductions of the powers of this Parliament and the removal of the unanimity rule as accepted in the Luxembourg compromise from a large part of the Treaty of Rome, will the right hon. Gentleman make it plain that there will be a further day's debate and that there will be no attempt to bulldoze through all its stages on Monday night?

Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman replied favourably last week to the pressure from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for a debate on the crisis in the tin mining industry and the effects of mine closures on communities in Cornwall. Can he now say whether time for that debate will be included in his next business statement?

Fourthly, the right hon. Gentleman will know of the widespread disappointment caused by the findings of the Lord Chancellor's consultation paper on family courts. The report's tone was certainly very negative. When will the House have an opportunity to debate that report?

Finally, on the important question of the restitution of private Members' time following the disgraceful manoeuvres that led to the loss of last Friday's business, can the Leader of the House now make that positive response that he referred to in my exchanges with him last Tuesday?

Mr. Biffen

I shall respond to those questions in reverse order. I am glad to say that, following discussions through the usual channels, I shall arrange for a motion to be tabled providing for private Members' notices of motion to take precedence over Government business until 7 pm one evening, and for a ballot to be held for those notices.

Perhaps the question of the Lord Chancellor's report can be examined through the usual channels.

I confirm that it is our intention that there should be a debate on the tin industry in the near future. However, I cannot give the guarantee sought by the right hon. Gentleman.

We shall have to see what progress we make with the European Communities (Amendment) Bill next week. But I quite understand the importance of the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Finally, I appreciate the co-operation that has been given to ensure that a full day's debate on South Africa can take place early next week. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to the question about the possibility of a statement.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House would very much welcome a debate on defence in the not too distant future? Presumably that opportunity will be afforded by the Liberal party on Monday, but should it absent-mindedly forget to provide it, will it be possible to have another debate, or to raise such issues in the foreign affairs debate on Thursday? Does my right hon. Friend realise that there is so much confusion in Cambridgeshire between the Liberals, the SDP and the Labour party that we do not know whether we are a nuclear-free zone. It is very worrying.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct to say that during the next few weeks there will be several occasions when defence can be debated in the House, and not least during the debate on the defence White Paper. I believe that on that occasion, nemesis will be awaiting the respective parties of the alliance.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the very large number of university teachers who have come to the House today because they are concerned about the future of higher education? Will he find an opportunity in Government time to enable the Secretary of State for Education and Science to make a statement on his policies towards that sector of education and give him the chance to offer some new hope to an area that is of great concern to the future of our country?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made the most excellent start in disseminating hope and confidence. I shall draw his attention to the fact that the Liberal party believes that a statement from him on the subject of higher education might add to that. We shall have to see how we go.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that the much exercised usual channels will do their best to bring together the Liberal and Social Democratic parties so that they use their day, on Monday 23 June, to debate defence policies? We could then examine in detail the so-called Commission defence report which was published yesterday, and question those hon. Members involved, if they manage to turn up, on paragraph 55, which urges Parliament to look 10 years ahead to new technology in preparing for defence, while paragraph 67 conveniently ducks the issue of an independent nuclear deterrent for Britain until after the next general election.

Mr. Biffen

The usual channels have proven and enviable powers, but it may be stretching them somewhat to suppose that they can secure what my hon. Friend wants from the two component parties of the alliance. But it would be more revealing if the Liberal party did not choose to debate defence on Monday 23 June than if it did.

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

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that from today advertisements are being placed in newspapers up and down the country by disabled ex-service men who believe that they were disabled as a result of negligence while performing noncombatant duties? Those advertisements warn potential recruits to the armed force that they lose the right to sue for damages when they join the forces. They disclose facts and tell the truth, and I take it that the Leader of the House is in favour of disclosing the facts and telling the truth. As this dispute is escalating and we want service men to have those rights, may we have a debate next week?

Mr. Biffen

'The right hon. Gentleman's dedication in this matter is well known and acknowledged. I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to the point that he makes, but I am afraid that I must disappoint him by saying that I cannot alter the order of business already established for next week.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time as soon as possible for a debate on the reform of the rating system based on the Green Paper "Planning for Local Government"?

Mr. Biffen

It is a matter of great significance which I am sure will detain the House at some point, and maybe in the not too far distant future, hut, having a great sense of realism at this point of the parliamentary calendar, I must say to my hon. Friend t hat no provision is made for it next week and I doubt that it will be the week after.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Has the Leader of the House read the display advertisement concerning the European Single Act on page 3 of The Guardian today? Is he aware that it is subscribed to by many of his hon. Friends, and by Lord Stoddard and Mr. Douglas Jay? In view of the fact that the Foreign Secretary has described some similar statements as constitutional fantasy, will he assure the House that there will be ample time for the House to decide whether the facts in the advertisement measure up to the description of the Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that for me there are other newspapers whose page 3 takes priority over that of The Guardian. I of course recognise the importance of the point that he makes, and obviously it will be germane to the debates that we shall be having next week.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Now that the court has reached its conclusion about the Brighton bomber and those others who sought to destroy innocent people across our country, will my right hon. Friend invite the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House about the police operation that led to the successful conviction of these persons, first, so that the House can express its congratulations to the police service on having achieved this victory against terrorism, and, secondly, so that we may consider maturely what further measures and resources may be required to ensure the proper protection of our citizens against terrorism?

May I also ask my right hon. Friend to negotiate with those on the Liberal Benches in respect of next Monday's business so that before 7 o'clock the Liberal sector of the alliance can offer us its policy and after 7 o'clock we may hear the different story from the other part of the alliance?

Mr. Biffen

I associate myself most warmly with the tribute that my hon. Friend has paid to the police concerning their role in the detection of the bombers. I note the point that he makes about the need for an adequate level of resources for this work. I think that I had better leave it there and say to him that I will, of course, refer his request for a statement to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I must admit that, as we move into the witching season of June and July, it is fascinating to dwell upon the irrelevances that are presented by the Liberal and Social Democratic alliance, particularly as their differences become the more acute and the more inflamed. I am sure that we will all have an entertaining time thinking about what they might have done and then thinking how poor and lacklustre is the performance against what could have been.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

May I remind the Leader of the House again of the Association of University Teachers lobby of the House today? Will he arrange for a debate on the funding of the University of Wales? If that is not possible on the Floor of the House, could it be held in the Welsh Grand Committee?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. I realise only too well that it is a topic of great concern in the Principality, and I will refer his suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry on the collapse of the tin industry, the Government's response to it and the Committee's observations on the Government's response are debated before the decision concerning the application by South Crofty, Pendarves and Wheal Jane is taken and announced rather than after the event? That is very important if Parliament is to perform its proper role.

Mr. Biffen

As my hon. Friend knows, I have indicated that I hope and expect there to be a debate on the tin industry in the fairly near future. I hope that he will excuse me from making a commitment as precise as he would wish.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion No. 919 concerning the Iran-Iraq war?

[That this House welcomes the observation of 10th June as the International Day of Action to stop the Iran-Iraq war; supports the resolutions carried at the recent Non-Governmental Organisation International Conference at Geneva to end the war; notes that the war has continued longer than World War II with the loss of more than a half a million people killed, the violation of international laws and the use of chemical weapons; commends the efforts of the United Nations, the non-aligned movement and the Islamic Conference to resolve the conflict; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to use its influence at the United Nations and within the Council of Ministers to call for an immediate cease fire, the release of all prisoners of war and to emphasise on the occasion of the International Day of the Child the need for the protection of children of both countries, and to make particular use of the World Congress devoted to the International Year of Peace to he held in Copenhagen in October to promote the above-mentioned aims.]

May the House have an early debate on how we can initiate a ceasefire, hearing in mind the appalling loss of life on both sides, especially among children, in that war?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman could take advantage of Wednesday's debate on foreign affairs, which will provide him with a better opportunity than any other to deploy his arguments.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

If, following the request by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), there should be a debate on the conditions of service for armed forces personnel, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the right hon. Gentleman has been less than fair to the current excellent conditions of service for those in the armed forces, especially as they can be compensated for injury whether or not they have been negligent in any act that caused the damage?

Mr. Ashley

That is not true—it is quite wrong.

Mr. Biffen

I note and appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend. Doubtless it could be considered if we were to have such a debate.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Is there any prospect of an early debate on electoral law, during which we could consider early-day motion No. 943 headed "Bradford North and Conservative financial support for non-Conservative candidates."?

[That this House notes the touching concern of the Chairman of the Conservative Party for the selection of candidates by members of the Labour Party to fight the next General Election; wonders if such concern will again be translated into financial support for non-Conservative candidates, as with the late Lord St. Oswald, former Vice-Chairman of Mid-Yorkshire Conservative Association, and the Conservative candidate for Yorkshire West, in the first election to the European Parliament, who paid £2,500 of the election expenses of Ben Ford to stand as an independent in the 1983 General Election in Bradford North; and considers that the almost unprecedented unity of hysteria between the Chairman of the Conservative Party and the leader writers of the 11th June editions of The Guardian, Daily Mail, Sun, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and Today, in opposing Labour's democratic choice of Mr. Pat Wall to. fight Bradford North at the next General Election, shows that if that decision worries the establishment that much, it must he good for working people and their families]

Might we not then have an explanation, from someone sufficiently high in the Tory party, about why the late Lord St. Oswald paid £2,500 of the electoral expenses of an independent to stand against the official Tory candidate?

Mr. Biffen

I feel unbriefed fully to deal with that point. May I suggest that, at least as an initiation into the subject, the hon. Gentleman raises the matter with the Home Office during Question Time?

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

When will the House have a debate on the negative approach of Labour local authorities to unemployment, especially that of Leicester, which seems to take great delight in showing how many people are unemployed while carefully forgetting the number of people who have found work? Should not the House have an opportunity to correct the balance and show that under this Conservative Government many people have found work, and that the position is not quite the lies and untruths that the Labour party would have us believe?

Mr. Biffen

Every Thursday I begin to feel that Leicester is carved on my heart. I cannot offer an early prospect of Government time for such a debate, but my hon. Friend may wish to take the opportunity provided by Adjournment debates. However, I know that by raising the matter with me he ensures that the folk in Leicester truly appreciate that the position is as he so graphically describes it.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

In spite of the unhappy juxtaposition of this question with that which has just been asked, I shall ignore the idiotic approach to the problems of the people of Leicester, where in parts of my constituency they face 60 per cent. unemployment.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, as he no doubt expected me to do, what has been the result of the investigation into the Nazi criminal activities of Dr. Kurt Waldheim and whether we are to have a statement about that before the debate on Wednesday? If the Foreign Office is considering United Kingdom representation at Dr. Waldheim's inauguration, on the same ground as the Prime Minister has sent a disgraceful message of congratulation—that it is normal so to do—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the very great regret felt on both sides of the House at the presence of United Kingdom representation at the inauguration of Chancellor Hitler in Germany in 1934?

Mr. Biffen

When I behold the sartorial elegance of the hon. and learned Gentleman, I realise that he represents gentrified Leicester and that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) represents working Leicester. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman might best hold his attention for the Adjournment debate on Friday in the name of the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), which I think will touch on the subjects that he has raised.

Mr. Derek Spencer (Leicester, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the misgiving that there is in many quarters, and not only in Leicester, about the political bias that is shown by various officers in local government? The Lewisham council has said only recently that it will employ senior officers only if they are wedded to the Labour party. Is my right hon. Friend aware also that the treasurer of Leicester city council, only a short time before the local authority elections, printed a letter in the Leicester Mercury seeking to explain and justify an 80 per cent. rate increase, and that he has added insult to injury by seeking to justify his original letter? Can my right hon. Friend tell us when we can expect some early legislation to prevent various areas of local government destroying themselves?

Mr. Biffen

I do not know what three Leicesters in a row means in the parliamentary jackpot. I have taken careful note of what my hon. and learned Friend has said. I put it in the context of a request for legislation, and I shall see that it is conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Will my right hon. Friend make time available for the House to debate the excellent report from the Public Accounts Committee on the torpedo programme and the other procurement scandal, apart from Nimrod, that lurks within the Ministry of Defence? At the end of the day it is likely that the Tigerfish torpedo will cost even more money than the Nimrod programme. May we have an early debate on this vital waste of taxpayers' money.

Mr. Biffen

Perfectly properly, my hon. Friend raises a matter of major public concern. He will know that there is a recognised convention for responding to and debating PAC reports. I shall make investigations to ascertain when such a debate can be made available.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

When Hansard appears tomorrow, will my right hon. Friend read the exchanges that took place during Question Time today on agriculture? Great concern was expressed by Conservative Members about the prospects of agriculture and the need for drastic policy changes in the year ahead. Is it not time that the House debated this issue properly?

Mr. Biffen

I had the privilege of being in my place and hearing my hon. Friend's most formidable question. I recognise that there is much interest in the present state of British agriculture and an interest in what the future may hold. I shall refer my hon. Friend's remarks to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, with the prospects of possibly having a debate.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)

In the context of a call for a defence debate, may we have a debate on the ridiculous concept of the nuclear-free zone, especially as the Labour-controlled council of Bury has now declared my constituency to be a nuclear-free zone? Does my right hon. Friend accept that such a debate would give us an opportunity to condemn this wasteful and misleading statement in so far as it relates to my constituency?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be reassured to know that reasonably soon we shall be having a debate on the defence White Paper. I hope that he will then have the opportunity to make the pertinent point that he has put before us.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I think that everyone agrees that the present arrangements for considering Northern Ireland business in the House are inadequate. As the Government have now decided to abolish the only public forum for the expression of opinion in Northern Ireland, is there not an obligation on the Government to produce proposals for the more adequate consideration of Northern Ireland business in this place? Surely the Government should not rest upon the rather spurious and misleading invitation to Northern Ireland's political leaders to make approaches themselves. Is it not the Government's responsibility, having put Northern Ireland in this position, to bring forward proposals?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot anticipate the statement that my right hon. Friend will make shortly. However, I remind him that the Assembly had no legislative role and, therefore, the lawmaking factors remain unaffected by any changes that might take place in the Assembly.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

I reinforce the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). Is it not time that the House had an opportunity to debate the internal affairs of our country, as the American Congress has? Perhaps we would then have an opportunity to say to the Americans, "It is not your cheap conscience money we want; it is an extradition treaty."

Mr. Biffen

Discussion of the extradition treaty could be reasonably pursued in the foreign affairs debate on Wednesday. I assure my hon. Friend that the existing structures provide plenty of opportunities for making points about the Province as well as the foreign affairs aspects.

Mr. Michael Forsyth (Stirling)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for the House to debate, as a matter of urgency, the activities of the Animal Liberation Front and other so-called animal rights groups which, according to articles in the Daily Express, are involved in creating cells in constituencies to carry out attacks on property and individuals, representing a serious threat to public order?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has raised a legitimate point. I suggest that, in the first instance, it might be an appropriate subject for an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

In view of the serious statement made by the Leader of the Opposition when he was in India about removing our immigration controls — the two Acts which we have introduced—and, ever-mindful that the Labour party granted two amnesties for illegal immigrants, much to the distaste of those who had entered the United Kingdom legally, will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on that subject so that we can ask some awkward questions?

Mr. Biffen

I underline the importance of what my hon. Friend has said. It relates to a topic which is of major concern to the British public. There is no provision for a debate next week. I am sure that my hon. Friend realises the difficulties of providing time at this stage of the year, but I shall bear in mind what he has said.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

I underline the pleas made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) on the tin crisis and the urgent need for a debate. I know that the Leader of the House does not want to be tied down to a precise date, but, when he considers the need for an urgent debate, will he bear in mind the fact that the Government have published their response to the Select Committee's report? More importantly, a shadow hangs over the far west of Cornwall, especially in the area I represent, as a result of the dire news about Geevor.

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend has made. I appreciate it all the more because, although his constituency is acutely affected by what is happening, he put it temperately. I cannot go beyond what I have already said. I shall look at the matter as sympathetically as I can.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I am glad that, however reluctantly and truculently, the Government have decided to restore last week's hijacked private Members' day. Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that last Friday was not only a Labour Back-Bench day but specifically the day of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)? [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] It was indeed. He won the ballot to bring a matter before the House last Friday. If there is to be a new ballot, will the Leader of the House recognise that there is, at best, only a one in two chance that it will be a Labour Back Bencher who wins it and a less than one in 500 chance that it will be my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that a motion reinstating the lost private Members' business can reinstate the ballot that has already taken place? If that is so — believe that it is —will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the motion will be so worded? If he will not, may we have an assurance from the Government Chief Whip, who so destructively and maladroitly organised last week's filibuster, that on this occasion he will exercise his Machiavellian powers to ensure that he keeps Conservative Members out of the ballot?

Mr. Biffen

I am disappointed at that somewhat less than generous riposte. Careful thought went into the wording of my response to the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). I do not think that there will be any advantage in my going beyond what I have already said.

Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It may have escaped the attention of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), although I am sure that it did not escape yours, that three motions were tabled for debate last Friday. Apparently, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) gave his speech, albeit to members of the press in a Committee Room upstairs. May I suggest that the motion standing in the name of the hon. Member who held second place should be reinstated? Perhaps I should declare a personal interest, as that motion stood in my name.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me. I assure the whole House that the ballot will be conducted fairly.

Mr. Williams

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am afraid that the Leader of the House, rather coyly and calculatedly, failed to answer the procedural point that was raised. I suggest, therefore, that it is a point for the Chair to consider. Will you confirm, Sir, that the motion, which is unusual, to restore the lost private Members' day could procedurally and legitimately reinstate the last ballot?

Mr. Speaker

Any motion that is tabled will say what it intends. I am not omniscient. I do not know what the motion will say.

Mr. Williams

But can it?

Mr. Speaker

It could. if it is tabled in that form.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not unfair that the Leader of the House should be required to comment on an incorrect hypothesis? Is it not a fact that the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) made a totally incorrect assessment of what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in India?

Mr. Speaker

I do not know.