§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)
Another Labour question. 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 23 JuNE—Opposition Day (11th Allotted Day) (2nd part). Until seven o'clock there will be a debate entitled "The privatisation of the water authorities". The debate will arise on a motion in the names of the leaders of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties.
Motions on the Representation of the People Regulations, the Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations and the Representation of the People (Northern Ireland) Regulations.
- Second Reading of the Rate Support Grants Bill.
- Motion on the Lord Chancellor's Salary Order
TUESDAY 24 JUNE—Estimates Day (2nd Allotted Day). There will be a debate on Estimates relating to special employment measures and the long-term unemployed and the Manpower Services Commission corporate plan 1986–1990. Afterwards there will be a debate on estimates relating to the Department of the Environment and the Property Services Agency. Details of the Estimates concerned will be given in the Official Report.
WEDNESDAY 25 JUNE—Opposition Day (17th Allotted Day), until about seven o'clock there will be a debate entitled "The withdrawal of mortgage interest payment protection for the unemployed". Afterwards there will be a debate entitled "Higher and continuing education". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.
Motion relating to the Firearms (Variation of Fees) Order.
THURSDAY 26 JUNE AND FRIDAY 27 JUNE—Completion of the Committee stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.
MONDAY 3o JUNE—Debate on a motion to approve the statement on the Defence Estimates 1986 (Cmnd. 9673) (1st Day).
§ [Estimates to be debated on Tuesday 24 June 1986:
§ 1. Class VII, vote 3 ( Department of Employment Administration) so far as it concerns special employment measures and the long-term unemployed, and the Manpower Services Commission's corporate plan, 1986–90; and
§ 2. Class IX ( Department of the Environment Housing); class X ( Department of the Environment: Other Environmental Services); class XX, vote 18 ("Civil Accommodation, the Property Services Agency of the Department of the Environment"); and that debate on the Estimates. class VII be concluded not later than three hours after its commencement.]
§ Mr. Kinnock
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. May I first tell him that it is completely unsatisfactory that the Government put the Second Reading of the Rate Support Grants Bill on after 7 pm on Monday? That Bill is yet another attempt by the Government to interfere with the judicial process. Will the Leader of the House at least see that it is taken as first business on another day of the week?
1200 This week's attempt by the Secretary of State for Defence to slip through the announcement about the delay in privatising the royal ordnance factories was, to say the least, clumsy. Since the Secretary of State yesterday gave a thoroughly unsatisfactory answer to the private notice question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), will the Leader of the House now ensure that we have a full-scale debate in Government time so that the House can fully probe the policy, or lack of policy, which is doing so much damage to confidence and to the future of the ROFs?
I see that the Government are now in such a complete muddle with their business that progress on the remaining stages of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill is to be taken on Friday as well as on Thursday. That is really not satisfactory for legislation that has such serious constitutional implications for this country's relations with the Community; will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that Third Reading will be taken separately, so that hon. Members on both sides of the House can fully contest the dangerous provisions of the Bill, which will result in a loss of powers by this Parliament if that legislation is ever enacted?
My colleagues and I decided on a debate on higher education in Opposition time before we knew of the Government's latest foolish decision again to consider introducing student loans. In view of the interest in, and anxiety about, this matter among today's parents and pupils, will the Government give us some of their time so that we can have a more extended debate on that issue?
Finally, last week the Leader of the House conceded a restitution of private Members' time after the truth had come out about the shoddy manoeuvres which led to the loss of business on 6 June. When will that time be reinstated?
§ Mr. Biffen
I shall respond to the right hon. Gentleman's questions in order. I understand the importance that he and, I believe, the House attach to the Second Reading of the Rate Support Grants Bill. However, provided that the Ten o'clock rule is suspended, we may be able to make progress in that context instead of making it the first order of business elsewhere.
I was in my place yesterday and heard the reply that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence gave to the private notice question on the royal ordnance factories. I must say that I thought that it was a very persuasive and convincing reply. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman seems interested in the possibility of a further debate on that matter. I can say only that perhaps that is the sort of issue that could profitably be considered through the usual channels.
I again acknowledge the constitutional importance of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. I am happy to confirm that Third Reading will be taken separately from the debates planned for Thursday and Friday of next week.
We shall of course look at the possibility of extending the scope and time of the debate on education, but that will have to he considered through the usual channels. However, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that he has shown great prescience in choosing that topic, which has been given added authority by the announcement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I thus hope that the right hon. 1201 Gentleman does not feel too discomfited by it. I am sure that, as the debate proceeds, we will welcome that as a prelude to a general election.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman made a point about the restoration of private Members' time. That is something that we will reasonably consider through the usual channels.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the grave concern from both sides of the House about certain aspects of the defence procurement programme? While I acknowledge that there will be an important debate on the Defence Estimates, will he try to arrange a special day for the House to debate some of the unearthed scandals that lie in that Department?
§ Mr. Biffen
I heard my hon. Friend's most formidable contribution during Treasury questions earlier this afternoon. That leads me to believe that he is capable of delivering a well-guided missile in the debate on the Defence Estimates. I advise him to take his chance in that debate and I am sure that his contribution will be regarded with much interest.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
Why has there not been a statement this afternoon on the publication of the recommendations of the Widdicombe inquiry? In view of the anxiety on both sides of the House, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the future of the telecommunications industry, taking into account the merger bid by GEC and Plessey?
§ Mr. Biffen
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. The Liberal party and its associates have a debate next week and could have chosen a number of topics. However, I will not take the small-minded point of political argument and suggest that they have been unwise in their choice. We all understand their difficulties and we try to be charitable on a Thursday afternoon.
With regard to the hon. Gentleman's point about the Widdicombe report, he would he the first to understand that a constant balancing act is involved to decide what matters shall be the subject of oral statements in the House, as that has a detrimental consequence for other subjects in which hon. Members wish to participate in the prime time of the week. I note his interest in the matter but I cannot offer any prospect of an oral statement on that subject.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)
Many of my Conservative colleagues noticed with much interest the announcement made an hour or two ago by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that she is setting up another eminent persons group from within the Cabinet to ensure that the next Government are a Conservative Government and to look ahead to the general election. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House use his influence to arrange for that small group to send for papers and people —and for those of us who will not be in the House after the next election but whose experience in the past might help to get common sense into these discussions in the search for votes.
§ Mr. Biffen
As my hon. Friend has said, a most formidable election-winning combination was announced earlier this afternoon. I understand that he would wish the team to have its skills and experience augmented by departing friends. I will certainly look into that matter.
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
Has the Leader of the House seen the 12 early-day motions that I tabled this week? They are early-day motions 956 to 960 and 966 to 972.
§ [That this House condemns the arrests of 3,000 youths and workers, including key trade union leaders, in South Africa under the State of Emergency declared on 12th June; believes that this attack, the worst on the unions in 20 years, constitutes an attempt by the Botha Government to set the clock back by halting the development, in particular of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) which led a strike of 1½ million workers on May Day and played a key role in organising an even bigger stoppage on 16th June in support of the demands of black youth for nonracial education, and to end the ban on the Congress of South African Students, for democratic rights, and to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Soweto massacre in 1976; recognises that the state of emergency, and the failure of Her Majesty's Goverment to take any concrete action to oppose the Botha Government's repression, shows that British, South African and international big business are at one in their desire to crush the movement of workers and youth in South Africa, so as to protect capitalism and the profits derived from the apartheid cheap-labour system; and supports the working class movement imposing its own sanctions, through industrial action, to suspend trade with South Africa until the state of emergency is lifted and all detainees are released.]
§ [That this House condemns the state crackdown of the South African state of emergency of 12th June, including the biggest assault on the democratic trade unions in that country for 20 years, as the bankrupt response of the apartheid regime to the call by the COSATU, the youth organisations, and the United Democratic Front, for a one-day national general strike to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Soweto massacre; and calls for the release of: J. Vilane, Vice-President, Metal and Allied Workers' Union (MAWU), W. Mchunu, Northern Natal Branch Secretary, (MAWU), J. Ntnombela, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Regional Chairman, Natal and the President of the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU), Tom Mkhwanazi, Organiser, Sweet, Food and Allied Workers' Union SFAWU), Natal, V. Mehona, Shop Steward, SFAWU, M. Olifant, COSATU Regional Secretary, Natal, A. Bird, Education Secretary, MAWN, V. Mavu, Industrial Organiser, Chemical Workers' Industrial Union (CW11.1), C. Bonner, Transvaal Secretary, CWIU, Sipho Khubeka, Transvaal Secretary, Paper, Wood and Allied Workers' Unions, and all other detainees.]
§ [That this House condemns the state crackdown of the South African state of emergency on 12th June, including the biggest assault on the democratic trade unions in that country for 20 years, as the bankrupt response of the apartheid regime to the call by the COSAN, the youth organisations, and the United Democratic Front, for a one-day national general strike to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Soweto massacre; and calls for the release of Valley, education officer, Commercial Catering and Allied Workers' Union (CCAWUSA), C. Khumalo, COSATU regional secretary, Pretoria, S. Ramakobye, organiser, National Automobile and Allied Workers' Union (NAAWU), V. Mohakwe, organiser, WU Pretoria, L. Mamabola, shop stewards, at Robert Bosh, MAMU, Jo Mogakwe, member MAWU, Pretoria, P. Jaantjigs, Cape 1203 Secretary, MAWU, R. Peterson, organiser, SFAWU, Bloemfontein, Q. Maroeletsi, organiser, CCAWUSA, Bloemfontein, and all other detainees.]
§ [That this House condemns the state crackdown of the South African state of emergency of 12th June including the biggest assault on the democratic trade unions in the country for 20 years, as the bankrupt response of the apartheid regime to the call by Confederation of South African Trade Unions, the youth organisations, and the United Democratic Front, for a one-day national general strike to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Soweto massacre; and calls for the release of S. Mknwanazi, shop steward, National Union of Textile Workers ( NUTW), Harrismith, P. Mapnalala, shop steward, NUTW, Harrismith, A. Nyati, shop steward, NUTW, Harrismith, R. Mnculwane, organiser, CCAWUSA, Harrismith, F. Mazibuko, shop steward, CCAWUSA, Harrismith, M. Cindi, shop steward CCAWUSA, Harrismith, N. Williams, COSATU, regional vice-chairman, Western Cape, N. Marawu, organiser, General Workers Union, Western Cape, R. Lazarus, organiser, TGWU, Western Cape, A. Mentoor, organiser, Food and Canning Workers Union (FCWU), Western Cape and all other detainees.]
§ [That this House condemns the state crackdown of the South African state of emergency of June 12th including the biggest assault on the democratic trade unions in that country for 20 years, as the bankrupt response of the apartheid regime to the call by COSAN, the youth organisations, and the United Democratic Front, for a one-day national general strike to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Soweto massacre; and calls for the release: N. MacDonald, organiser, FCWU, Western Cape, W. Zweni, shop steward, FCWU, Western Cape, D. Neer, organiser, Motor Assembly and Component Workers' Union, (MACWUSA), Port Elizabeth, Duce, Organiser MACWUSA, Port Elizabeth, Lentor, shop steward, FCWU, For Beaufort, P. Pheko, organiser, MAWU, Benoni, J. Pathe, co-ordinator, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and all other detainees.]
§ [That this House congratulates the millions of black workers who on 16th June participated in the biggest national strike in South Africa's history; condemns the state crackdown on 12th June as the most serious assault on the democratic trade unions for 20 years; and calls for the immediate release of key members of the Council of Unions of South Africa, (membership 150,000) including: Prioshaw Camay, general secretary, James Mdaweni, president, Mahlomola Skosana, assistant general secretary, Dale Tiffin, head of women's unit, Joyce Sebe, regional organiser, and all other detainees.]
§ [That this House condemns the state of emergency declared on 12th June in South Africa and the arrest of 3,000 youths and workers including key trade union leaders: and calls for the release of D. Hartford, COSATU editor, J. Mthimba, MAWU member, B. Modisapodi, MAWU member, V. Ramakobe, NAAWU shop steward, Firestone, V. Mohakwe, NAAWU organiser, Pretoria, V. Mavusi, CWIU member, Maruma, NUTW member, Z. Galela, NUTW member, A. Nyati, FCWU shop steward, Harrismith, Duze, MACWU organiser, Port Elizabeth, and all other detainees.]
§ [That this House condemns the widespread arrests of 3,000 youths and workers, including key trade union leaders; and calls for the release of the following members 1204 of the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union; O. Malgas, organiser, K. Thibedi, organiser, R. Ncumali, organiser, E. Mongale, O. Marentsi, B. Boikanyo, S. Patsa, P. Bekkers, Matsoso, the following members of the Motor Assembly and Components Workers' Union Dennis I, Megiana, the following members of the South African Allied Workers' Union K. Dau, P. Mokpo, J. Masemula, C. Seleke and all other detainees.]
§ [That this House condemns the attempted beheading of the leadership of the South African democratic trades unions by the detention of 3,000 youths and workers, including key trade union leaders; and calls for the immediate release of L. Ditshigo, General Workers Union, L. Erasmus, Clothing Workers' Union, M. Tsedu, Chairman, Media Workers' Association of South Africa, Pietersburg, D. Dickson, National Education Union, J. Mthombeza, Chairman, COSATU, Empangeni, MAWU, B. Peterson, MAWU, Johannesburg, P. Dantjie, MAWU, Pretoria, Makhathini, Sarmcol Striker, MAWU, Ho wick, Mbeje, Sarmcol striker, MAWU, Ho wick, and all other detainees.]
§ [That this House condemns the arrest of 3,000 youths and workers, under the 12th June state of emergency, where the entire national and regional leadership of the Congress of South African Trade Unions is either in the hands of the notorious security police or in hiding from them; and calls for the immediate release of H. Marawu (TGW organiser, Cape Town); Paul Nkuna ( Regional Chairman, National Union of Mineworkers, Transvaal); J. Phatae ( NUM organiser, Orange Free State); V. Motsamai (shop steward, South African Chemical Workers' Union), K. Dau (National Union of Textile Workers), A. Naythi (shop steward, National Union of Textile Workers, Harrismith), Elisabeth Erasmus ( textile worker) and all other detainees.]
§ [That this House condemns the arrests, on Sunday 15th June in South Africa, of: Soloman Mauna ( MAWU shop steward, Bosch, Pretoria), Abnas Tilane ( MAWU shop steward, Bosch, Pretoria), Mike Mabuyakhulu ( MAWU, Northern Natal), Blakey Mtshali ( MAWU organiser) and Joseph Miya (MAWU shop steward) as part of the attempts of the Botha Government to behead the leadership of the democratic South Africa trades union; and calls for their immediate release, together with all other 3,000 detainees arrested under the state of emergency.]
§ [That this House condemns the raids by the South African Security police, operating under the 12th June state of emergency, on the morning of 17th June on the headquarters of the Congress of South African Trades Unions in Johannesburg, and its offices in Port Elizabeth, Jermiston, Durban and Pinetown and on the headquarters of the National Union of Mineworkers in Johannesburgh; and calls for the immediate release of all those detained.]
§ These early-day motions detail the 88 key trade union leaders — so far confirmed from sources within and without South Africa—to be arrested over the weekend through raids on the headquarters of the trade union federations and the NUM on Tuesday morning. What further statements will come from the Government in response to these attacks? Will those statements contain an explanation of why the Prime Minister is prepared to become an international pariah in her support for apartheid and explain that that has nothing to do with the so-called threat to the 120,000 jobs in Britain when she has sacked 2 million in the past two years, but everything to do with the £12,000 million worth of investments from 1205 British companies—many of the directors of which sit on the Conservative Benches — which get their profits from the cheap-labour apartheid system?
§ Mr. Biffen
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be too dismissive of the consequences for employment in this country of future actions in the South African context. In answer to his specific question, he will appreciate that there was a debate on South Africa this week. In those circumstances the best thing that I can do is to refer his points to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)
Would not another way of dealing with the real concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) about defence spending be not only in the debate next Monday, but if we debated the reports of the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury minutes in response to them? May I say that those debates are long overdue?
§ Mr. Biffen
I take the point that my hon. Friend makes. I hope to announce arrangements in the reasonably near future for a debate of the Public Accounts Committee reports.
§ Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)
Will the Leader of the House explain on what authority the Prime Minister, when addressing the House, speaks on behalf of the enslaved people of South Africa? Having been told, as we were by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that the Government were in close contact with the African National Congress, would it not be better if the Prime Minister endeavoured to speak on its behalf rather than on behalf of its enemies?
§ Mr. Biffen
The language chosen by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the policy implications are wholly laudable and understandable. In this difficult position, it is perfectly honourable for hon. Members, in the prosecution of British national policy, to explain that it is also in the interests of those whom they seek to aid in South Africa.
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
Will my right hon. Friend initiate, through the usual channels, an urgent discussion on hon. Members' interests and how they affect the Select Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill? I am sure that he will agree that it is vital that that Select Committee should consist of hon. Members who are above all suspicion or criticism of bias.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that an unhappy situation may be about to arise as a result of the proposed inclusion in the membership of the Committee of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape)? I gave the hon. Gentleman notice that I was going to raise this question. I should like to say at the outset that no criticism of the hon. Gentleman arises. A point of principle is at stake. The Leader of the House may not be aware that the hon. Gentleman has properly declared his interests, which are that he is a member of the National Union of Railwaymen, and is sponsored by that union. It has great interests of its own, which are affected by the Bill. Secondly, he is the joint chairman of the all-party Channel tunnel group, which has been funded and provided with travel services by the Eurotunnel consortium. Those facts have been properly registered.
My question is this. Will my right hon. Friend have discussions to see. on a point of principle, whether any 1206 hon. Member so closely linked with the Eurotunnel consortium should sit on a Select Committee that will hear petitions or points on amendments sought to the Bill, which are likely to be the opposite of the interests of the Eurotunnel consortium?
§ Mr. Biffen
I have no wish to play down the scope and omniscience of wisdom of the usual channels, hut, frankly, I do not believe that the question that has been raised is appropriate for them. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will act in this matter as he has acted in all parliamentary matters, with total propriety. If there are any questions about the membership of those Committees, they should he directed to the Chair.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
On the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. I note what the Leader of the House said in response to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that there would be further time for the Third Reading of the Bill, but in view of the constitutional importance of the measure, which undoubtedly will lead to the further dimunition of the powers of this Parliament and to the enhancement of the powers of the European institutions, does he really think that it is right for that Bill to be pushed through to completion of all its stages other than Third Reading in a single day plus a Friday at the end of next week?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in the one-day debate earlier this week, only one group of amendments was taken, on a matter which, although of some importance, was by no means the heart of the matter raised by the Bill? Is he further aware that the other amendments, of which there are at least another seven groups, raised matters of the utmost importance to the economic, social and constitutional position of this country and, indeed, of successive Governments in it? Will the Leader of the House think again about the time available for the Committee stage of' that most important Bill?
§ Mr. Biffen
Of course I do not deny, in any sense, the significance of the Bill. Although the size of the Bill is modest, its implications are wide-ranging. It will be a doubtful day when the House accepts that, somehow or other, Friday is a second-class day in our affairs.
§ Mr. Biffen
It is a day which is recognised as being available for Government business, and I suggest we see what progress we make.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
May I say, in reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), of which he was kind enough to notify me before this exchange, that I am co-chairman of the organisation to which he referred. I have no personal knowledge of any funds being paid by any member of the Eurotunnel consortium to the all-party Channel tunnel group. I have never made a secret of the fact that I am a member of the NUR. I have made a number of statements., inside and outside the House, in favour of the Eurotunnel scheme.
I have taken advice from the Private Bill Office on the matter. Surely it is the responsibility of the Committee to study the Bill and to take note of the representations made by petitioners but not to debate the principles of the scheme? The hon. Member for Thanet, South has acted 1207 properly in this matter, but I find it unpleasant that the campaign which is being waged by the ferry companies should be waged in this personalised way to imply that, because of my oft-expressed views, I am in some way prejudiced against their somewhat partial views.
§ Mr. Biffen
I have already said that I do not think that this is a matter appropriate for the usual channels, but I have taken note of what the hon. Gentleman has said.
§ Mr. Michael Hirst (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)
Has my right hon. Friend noted that, at the meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh on 30 June, the Opposition have chosen to debate devolution? Does he find it strange that the Opposition have not found a day out of their time on the Floor of the House to debate the subject? Does my right hon. Friend think that if the Opposition did use a day at Westminster to debate devolution, it would show that the party was split from top to bottom.
§ Mr. Biffen
It is not for me to offer any fraternal guidance to the Opposition Front Bench about what it chooses to debate and where. I think I speak for everyone on this side of the House when I say that we should love the Labour party to come to the Chamber and announce a reinforced commitment to devolution both for Scotland and Wales.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Is the Leader of the House aware that, on Tuesday, the Minister of State, Department of Transport, announced a most important decision: that the Dornoch firth rail bridge would not be constructed? At the time, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), said that he had nothing to add. Since then, he and his colleagues at the Scottish Office, in a frantic effort at press briefing, have issued contradictory statements on whether or not the Government have sought, or are willing to seek, aid for this project from the European Community.
As the statements are contradictory and have been published in a leading Scottish newspaper, will the Leader of the House invite the Secretary of State for Scotland to come to the House to make plain the Government's view of the project's eligibility for aid from the European Community and state whether or not they are prepared to take a longer-term strategic view of the importance of this project for Scotland?
§ Mr. Biffen
We all understand that this has been a rather fragile week for social democracy. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair —more than a little; being downright unfair—to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Scottish Office. As I understand it, British Rail has to take an initiatory position on this deal before it can go to the financing authorities to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I will, of course, refer his points to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)
When may we have a debate on the duties and responsibilities of civil servants and the need for them to be politically impartial? Is my right hon. Friend aware that a leading civil servant in the Department of Health and Social Security office in Leicester, Tony Church, is a public member of Militant. 1208 He is campaigning strongly to get Militant members elected to the Civil and Public Services Association who oppose the views of Alistair Graham. Does my right Friend agree that that is a strange situation? Surely civil servants owe a loyalty to the Crown? How can political office bearers, who do not believe in the Crown or in democracy, be allowed to stand?
§ Mr. Biffen
My hon. Friend has pursued this point with great skill, not only this afternoon but on previous occasions. I like to think that there can be few civil servants in Leicester who do not realise the full significance of the election before them.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
Does the Leader of the House recall that, some weeks ago, the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Local Government, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), accused the producers of the BBC "Panorama" programme on ionising regulations called "How Safe is Safe?" of being wrong in every critical respect, and in so doing implicated me in those accusations? Some weeks later the Minister published what he called a briefing to every hon. Member. Since then I have published a point-by-point rebuttal of his briefing which is supported by three globally eminent experts in these affairs, and have sent a copy to the Minister, asking him if he will agree to give it a similar circulation to that of his briefing. Obviously, I would understand if he were unwilling to contribute to his own embarrassment by such action.
Will the Leader of the House undertake to prevail on the Minister to come to the House and make a statement, so that we may question him on these matters and ask him whether he now understands them more readily? Or is the Leader of the House prepared to perpetuate the ministerial obfuscation of these matters?
§ Mr. Biffen
I am sure that that charge could never be brought against my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave). The most profitable way to proceed is probably to see what happens from the mutual correspondence that is taking place, and in the light of that, perhaps, to consider any other action.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)
Although none of the four Opposition Leeds Members have been present this afternoon, does my right hon. Friend accept that there is grave concern in Leeds about the potential decisions on the royal ordnance factory, and that there is a case for having a debate, so that the appropriate Ministers can come to the House to answer the charge that the bureaucracies of both the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry have, in a sense, conspired to change the decision of the House about how the ROFs could be privatised? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a sad day in a city such as Leeds if another tank company could buy a loss-making operation cheaply only to close it? That does no good for jobs in the city or for competitive bidding in the defence industries.
§ Mr. Biffen
My hon. Friend is a fair parliamentarian, and I know that he would be anxious that I should point out that yesterday, when the private notice question was considered in the House—
§ Mr. Biffen
A number of Leeds Members were present. The points of far greater substance raised by my hon. Friend could be appropriate to the debate on the motion to approve the statement on the Defence Estimates — obviously, subject to the judgment of the Chair. I hope that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to make his points then.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Will the Leader of the House consider the claim of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) about adherence to the Crown? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the grave constitutional issues mentioned in relation to the European business for Thursday and Friday raise that point? Is it not the case that the solemn statement on European union at Stuttgart in 1983 is contained in the articles of the Single European Act? Since the European Communities (Amendment) Bill seeks to endorse that treaty, is it not a fact that, if it becomes an Act of Parliament, the British Parliament and the Crown will he subservient to the terms of the said solemn treaty? Will the Leader of the House reflect on that and give greater time for this important Bill?
§ Mr. Biffen
Nobody doubts the significance of the debates that will take place on Thursday and Friday, and I must point out that those two days provide a reasonable amount of time for the consideration of the issues involved.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
Will the Government find time to debate the report published yesterday by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Lawrence Byford, in which he blames much of the violence in today's society on a lack of discipline in the home and at school, together with video porn, violence and sadism and television advertising?
§ Mr. Biffen
I shall most certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to that point.
§ Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the report of the Select Committee on Employment, published this week, which makes far-reaching recommendations for the alleviation of long-term unemployment? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this all-party Committee, which has a Conservative majority, made these recommendations after careful consideration and that it is absolutely disgraceful that the Government should turn them down without proper consideration? Is it not time that we had a debate on long-term unemployment, not least because it is growing? In parts of my constituency, unemployment is as high as nearly 40 per cent.
§ Mr. Biffen
On reflection, the hon. and learned Gentleman may well judge that the Government's reaction was prudent, measured and wholly justified.
§ Mr. Biffen
I did not expect the hon. and learned Gentleman completely to agree first time round, but I draw his attention to the opportunity that he will have to make a speech about unemployment during the Estimates Day debate on 24 June. If he comes to the House and listens to the Government spokesman, I hope that at the end of his speech he will be convinced.
§ Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)
Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister with responsibility 1210 for sport to send a message to the English football supporters in Mexico asking them to show good behaviour and sportsmanship in the game against Argentina next Sunday? Will he also ask him to send a message of good luck to the English team in its bid to win the World Cup?
§ Mr. Biffen
I am sure that there will be unanimity on this high point of political, social, economic and cultural judgment that the House is expressing this afternoon, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising it.
§ Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)
As the Government are still committed to the reduction of public expenditure, especially to the reduction of benefits for students, pensioners and the working class in general. will the Leader of the House ensure that the appropriate Minister is brought to the House to explain why Andrew and Sarah cannot pay for their royal wedding, because this issue is being discussed up and down the country?
§ Mr. Biffen
As I understand it, public expenditure is rising. Since, therefore, the hon. Gentleman is so misconceived about the premise, I think that I am disembarrassed from making any comments upon his conclusion.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
First, may I correct the incorrect allegation that was made by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) a few moments ago, when he said that no other Member of Parliament for Leeds had been in the House this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds. West (Mr. Meadowcroft) was not only here but asked Question 13. We have to assume that the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West was not here then as, indeed, it has to be noted, he is not here now.
I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that 150 hon. Members have signed early-day motion 837, which stands in my name.
§ [That this House notes the justifiable sense of frustration and anger expressed at the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters' Conference in Bournemouth at the Post Office's use of coercion to force through an inequitable pay award for 1985 for sub-postmasters; calls on the Post Office to recognise that sub-postmasters are the only sector of the Post Office who invest their own money, frequently their life's savings, in order to ensure that the Post Office serves its customers effectively; believes that the Post Office's policy has weakened the tenuous economic viability of many sub-post offices and endangered the network; recognises that sub-postmasters have given loyal and exceptional service to the Post Office and the public, which should be recognised and not taken advantage of; and calls on the Post Office to understand the damage it is doing, to mend its ways and to deal with sub-postmasters more on the basis of cooperation and the force of argument, rather than confrontation and the arguments of force in relation to this crucial component of community life.]
§ Also, hon. Members from all parties have signed early-day motion, 926, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam).
§ [That this House, recognising the valuable role played in the community by sub-postmasters, calls on the Post Office to revise its policy towards sub-postmasters and through cooperation and support so improve their pay and conditions that the economic viability of the sub-post office network will be assured for the fitturel 1211 They express concern about the attitude of the Post Office to the sub-post office network and about the damage that is being done to that essential network. Will the Leader of the House take account of this considerable number of hon. Members from all parties who have expressed their concern and, if at all possible, provide time for a debate on the matter before the summer recess?
§ Mr. Biffen
The hon. Gentleman touches upon a point that arouses very deep feelings, particularly in the rural constituencies. I cannot give the undertaking that he seeks, but I shall certainly consider the matter further.