HC Deb 26 June 1986 vol 100 cc467-81 3.39 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business of the House 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 30 JUNE AND TUESDAY I JULY—Debate on a motion to approve the statement on the Defence Estimates 1986 (Cmnd. 9763).

At the end on Tuesday, Third Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 2 JULY—Until seven o'clock, motions on Social Security Regulations. Details will be given in the Official Report. Consideration of Lords amendments to the Housing (Scotland) Bill, the Airports Bill and the Drug Trafficking Offences Bill.

THURSDAY 3 JULY—There will be a debate on a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied.

Remaining stages of the Outer Space Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 4 JULY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 7 JULY — Until seven o'clock, private Members' motions.

Debate on the tin industry on a Government motion.

[Wednesday 2 July:

Supplementary Benefit (Requirements and Resources) Miscellaneous Amendment Regulations 1986.

Supplementary Benefit (Requirements and Resources) Amendment Regulations 1986.

Social Security (Unemployment, Sickness and Invalidity Benefit) Amendment (No. 2) Regulations 1986

Supplementary Benefit (Conditions of Entitlement) Amendment Regulations 1986

Housing Benefit (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 1986.]

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and not only for that reply. I thank him for responding to my request made two weeks ago, for Government time to discuss the awful plight of the tin industry. The Government's concern should extend to action to help Cornwall, and not be limited to the gift of three hours debating time on Monday.

When the right hon. Gentleman assured me last week that the Third Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill would be taken separately from the debates planned for today and tomorrow, I did not expect that the Government would relegate it to after 10 o'clock next Tuesday. Nor, I suspect, did the right hon. Gentleman expect that he would be part of such a shabby manouevre. Will he recognise the seriousness of the Bill and its implications to the constitution, and give a day and time for Third Reading that will allow hon. Members on both sides of the House an opportunity to expose fully the real and potential dangers of the Bill's provisions?

Since Peel established the Church Commissioners in the 1840s, their annual report has never been debated. As their latest report was issued yesterday, and in view of the archbishop's statements on sanctions against South Africa, can the Government find time to make a historic breakthrough and ensure that the Church Commissioners' report is debated?

I ask once more when the Government will table a motion for the reinstatement of private Members' time following the dirty tricks that led to the loss of business on Friday 6 June. The right hon. Gentleman has now conceded twice on this matter, but we still await the motion, so I hope that he can make an announcement today.

Finally, I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that the Prime Minister makes an early statement on South Africa following her discussions with the EC Council of Ministers in The Hague.

Mr. Biffen

I shall take the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in their given sequence.

I recognise that many would wish for more time to be given to a debate on the tin industry, but we are now moving into July when time is at a premium. I hope that we can have a satisfactory debate covering all the issues that have been raised by the right hon. Gentleman.

I understand that there is a great affection for the Third Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill to be other than the time that I have given. I again say that we are under considerable time constraints, and I cannot reasonably hold open to the House the prospect that that time is likely to be changed.

As to the debate on the Church Commissioners, the right hon. Gentleman properly reminded us that not since the days of Robert Peel in 1840 has this device been made use of. He quite properly underlined the growing sense of historical nostalgia that affects the Labour party. Only last week, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) was extolling the virtues of the House of Lords in their activities. I shall look charitably on the suggestion, but I cannot be too forthcoming.

As to the question of private Members' time, I shall be tabling a motion today proposing that private Members' motions are taken until 7 o'clock on Monday 14 July. I fully understand and underline the importance of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister making a statement to the House next week, and that is arranged for Tuesday.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

I revert after a decent interval to the early-day motion about the miscarriage of justice in the Maguire case.

(That this House notes the widespread concern felt in Parliament by eminent scientists, by other responsible observers and by members of the public who have viewed programmes on the matter screened by Channel 4, that Anne Maguire, Patrick Maguire (senior), Vincent Maguire (then aged 17), Patrick Maguire (then aged 14), Sean Smyth, Patrick O'Neill and the late Guiseppe Conlon, sentenced in 1976 to long terms of imprisonment since served, now appear, despite confirmation of their convictions at the time by the Court of Appeal, to have been entirely innocent of the crime with which they were charged; further notes at the conclusion of a debate in the other place on 17th May 1975, the recognition by the Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Home Office of the strength of feeling on the matter in that House and his pledge to draw the attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to what had been said; and therefore earnestly urges the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the interests of the highest standards of British justice of which this country needs to feel rightly proud, to move without delay for a review of these convictions, either under the provisions of section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, or by such other process of review as he may deem appropriate to this disturbing case.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are grateful for the interest being taken in the matter by the Home Secretary? Will he keep open a suitable slot for discussion on the Floor of the House of this miscarriage of justice?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of my hon. Friend's point, which he has made with such engaging persistence over the months. He will agree that this is the time of the year when opportunities are available for those matters to be raised through the initiative of private Members. I hope that he will be successful in that context.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

In the light of the anxiety expressed on both sides of the House this afternoon, will the Leader of the House have words with the Attorney-General, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and arrange for a statement to be made next week on the police inquiries being conducted by Chief Constable Sampson? Is he aware that, even before those inquiries are completed and acted upon, there are matters upon which the House is entitled to have answers? The House wants to know who was involved in the decision to take Deputy Chief Constable Stalker off the RUC inquiry. Will his work and recommendations be included in Chief Constable Sampson's report? Mr. Stalker and Mr. Taylor have been under investigation for some weeks. They should be prosecuted or have their names cleared.

Mr. Biffen

As the right hon. Gentleman has fairly observed, an inquiry is proceeding. That inhibits what can be done by my right hon. Friends, but I shall make the representations that he has requested.

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the early-day motion in my name and that of many hon. Members on both sides of the House?

(That this House requests Her Majesty's Government to provide parliamentary time for consideration of the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Bill which has completed all its stages in the House of Lords.]

Will he make available time for discussion of this important matter, bearing in mind the fact that a similar Bill has already passed through all its stages in the House of Lords on three previous occasions? This is the fourth attempt in the other place to initiate proper discussion of the matter in this House.

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. and learned Friend makes the point all the more effectively because of the record of the other place in this matter. I cannot be too hopeful at this time in the parliamentary year, but I shall look into the matter.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Can the Leader of the House be a little more forthcoming than was the Home Secretary this afternoon about the timing of the publication of the Peacock report? With his responsibilities to the House as a whole, can he say exactly when that report will be in our hands?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to elaborate on what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said. I assure him that there will be no delay in securing the publication of the Peacock report.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye)

Will my right hon. Friend give more details about the debate on Monday week on the tin crisis? It would be helpful to know the nature of the Government motion. Will he ensure that that motion recognises the fact that the problem affects Cornwall, the City of London and the entire country? It would be sad if the three-hour debate were swamped by lengthy speeches from both Front Benches at the beginning and end of the debate.

Mr. Biffen

I accept my hon. Friend's point about speeches from the Front Benches. As Chairman of the departmental Select Committee, my hon. Friend properly reminds us of its important role in this matter. I shall consider his point about the Government motion. That can be discussed through the usual channels.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Committee on Safety of Medicines—our medical watchdog—has still to act on drugs which damage patients? It is slow to act in comparison with its American counterpart, the Food arid Drugs Administration. There is a suspicion that those delays are caused by secret pressures from the drug companies. Will he consider initiating a debate next week to lift the Official Secrets Act 1911 from the decisions of the Committee on Safety of Medicines, and hear i:1 mind the fact that full disclosure in the United States has worked there and should work here?

Mr. Biffen

I accept that there is a great deal of public interest in the point that the right hon. Gentleman has made. However, I have to be negative and say that I am sorry that there is simply no way in which Government time can be made available for a debate next week. Perhaps he will seek the other means that are available to Back-Bench Members to ventilate the matter.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that discussion of the Widdicombe report is now urgent in the light of the experience of the Conservative minority group on the Wolverhampton council which has been denied representation on committees equivalent to its representation on the council and yet the majority Labour group argues that that denial is lawful?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is a doughty advocate of the civic cause, and I shall look at the possibility of discussing the Widdicombe report, but I am sure that he, as a great realist in all these matters, knows perfectly well that July is not the best month in which to be finding time.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motions 992, 1018, 1019 and 1021?

[That this House condemns the arrest and detention of 3,000 youths and workers, including union general secretaries, regional organisers and shop stewards, as an attempt by the Botha Government to break the momentum of workers' struggles in South Africa, and to behead the independent, democratic trades unions of their leaders; and calls for the release of Z. Mtshelwane (South African Allied Workers' Union, Pretoria), and the following officials of the Congress of South African Trades unions, namely, B. Najedi, Vemabantu and Mzuzani of Bloemfontein, and H. Maqua of Cape Town and all other detainees.]

[That this House condemns the imposition by the South African Government of a State of Emergency and for the widespread arrests of 3,000 youths and workers, including key trade union leaders; and calls for the release of the following members of the Metal and Allied Workers' Union (MAWU): P. Tom, organiser, Sharpeville, A. Pilane, steward, Brits, F. Mtshali, organiser, J. Moropa, organiser, H. Ebothome, shop steward, ATC, M. Lekoba, Brits, D. Tladi, organiser, Sebokenng, J. Magarne, organiser, Brits, Moroke, organiser, Brits, S. Moyo, Brits, P. Mabutsela, steward, Brits and the following members of the National Automobile and Allied Workers' Union (NAAWU): J. Lebese organiser, Mamelod, M. Shongwe, organiser, Brits, D. Hoshe, steward, Willard Batteries, S. Wilson, steward, Willard Batteries, P. Pheku, Springs and K. Dunjwa, steward, General Motors, and all other detainees.]

[That this House congratulates the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions, the youth organisations, the United Democratic Front and those other organisations for the 16th June one-day strike to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Soweto massacre in 1976; condemns the widespread police arrest of 3,000 youth and workers, the police swoops on trade union officers and the detention of many union officials; and calls for the release of the following members of the Food and Allied Workers' Union: P. Makhuda, organiser, Hammanskraal; T. Mkhanazi, branch secretary, N. Natal; M. Nhlapo, branch secretary; the following members of the Paper, Wood and Allied Workers' Union: A. Willem, organiser, Port Elizabeth; B. Mnguni, organiser, Empangeni; J. Nthilinga, organiser, N. Natal; Z. Nthimkulu, organiser, Piet Retief; the following members of the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers' Union: K. Xulu, O. K. Bazaars, Rosebank; M. Hlongweni, O. K. Bazaars; Rosebank; A. Maletso, O. K. Bazaars, Rosebank; E. Lestwalo, Hyperama, Sandton: J. Nhlongo, organiser; O. Shebangu, Empangeni, and T. Mkaliphi, acting chairman, Chemical Workers' Industrial Union (C.W.I.U.), and L. Ntlokoa (C. W.I.U.), and all other detainees.]

[That this House condemns the state of emergency declared on Thursday 12th June in South Africa and the detention of 3,000 youths and workers in the following days congratulates COSATU, the UDF, youth and other community organisations for the solid act of defiance in the largest national strike in South Africa's history on 16th June, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Soweto massacre; and calls for the release of the following members of the National Union of Textile Workers; O. Ngwenya, organiser, Harrismith; M. Mkhize, organiser, Harrismith; M. Kheswa, shop steward, Durban; J. Ntuli, shop steward, Durban and L. Tsotetsi; the following members of the National Union of Mineworkers: V. Bambani, regional vice-chair, Kimberley; M. Dipico, organiser, Kimberley; V. Ngcold; M. Gladli; and D. Matuembula; the following members of the Transport and General Workers' Union: E. Ngubbane, Empangeni; J. Maxambela, Port Elizabeth; and T. Mponjana; D. Khumalo, Retail and Allied Workers' Union, Mamelodi; Mathatha, Chairman, Media Workers' Association of South Africa; and the following members of the Alexandra Action Committee: Mzwanele Mayekiso, A. Vilikazi, C. Hlatshwayo; O. Baphela of the Alexandra Youth Congress; and all other detainees.]

Those four further motions, bringing the list to over 130 key trade union leaders arrested in the past 10 days or so in South Africa.

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement next week not only from the Prime Minister on the deliberations in The Hague today, but also from the Department of Trade and Industry to discover whether they have received the report from the Ethical Investments and Research Information Services produced in the last few days which details 135 British companies, many of which have directors sitting on the Conservative Benches, including Lonrho and Pritchard Services, which are not just paying cheap wages in South Africa but less than half that set down in the weak EEC code of conduct for the minimum level of payment for black workers in South Africa?

May we have some more Government time on South Africa so that we on the Labour Benches can tell the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) that if he thinks that South Africa is such a wonderful place it is a wonder and a pity that he does not go to live there?

Mr. Biffen

If the hon. Gentleman is going to make such a free and easy accusation and add a certain amount of personal animus to it, he must not expect Government time to be provided: he must seek it on his own account.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Will the Leader of the House consider what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy said today about the need for a nuclear policy? Will he, please, provide time as soon as possible for the House to consider the extent of that need? He will remember that the debate on 13 May was limited to the environmental aspects of nuclear energy and we now want to consider the energy requirements.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes an extremely fair point, but, as a realist and sometime incumbent of the Whips Office, he will know that July is an extremely difficult month in which to find time for more general debates, but I shall bear in mind what he has said.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

Why does the Leader of the House treat the House with such contempt and arrogance with regard to the Third Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, which is one of the most important Bills this Session—some of us would say the most important? Surely it deserves a full day of Government time so that most hon. Members who have an interest in the matter can take part in a vote on it? Otherwise, it might well mean a vote coming in the small hours of the morning, which may suit some of us, but will not be to the convenience of hon. Members Generally.

Mr. Biffen

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and I am not insensitive to it, but I cannot go further than what I have said to the Leader of the Opposition.

Sir Ian Percival (Southport)

Has my right hon. Friend observed early-day motion 991 relating to the penalties available to those convicted of acts of terrorism which has in a short time attracted the support of no fewer than 116 of my right hon. and hon. Friends, representing a wide cross-section of our party, some of whom are well know to have been against the death penalty until now?

[That this House congratulates and thanks all those whose efforts played a part in securing the conviction of the Brighton bomber on charges of murdering five people and of those who so recently pleaded guilty in Belfast to murdering 17 people; extends its heartfelt sympathy to all who suffered loss or injury from their acts; asks itself whether there is available in such cases any penalty such as will in any sense meet the crime and whether in permitting the law as to penalties to remain as it is, it is doing sufficient to protect those who may he the next victims of such appalling evil; is of the opinion that it should give fresh consideration to extending the death penalty, now limited to treason and piracy, to criminal acts such as those done to terrorise; and asks the Leader of the House to arrange for it to have time to debate these matters.]

Does he appreciate that many of our constituents will find it difficult to understand our priorities if we cannot even find time to discuss whether the death penalty should be available in the context of the appalling developments in international terrorism? Will he find time for such discussion?

Mr. Biffen

Of course, I understand the problem, but my right hon. and learned Friend will also concede that the matter has already been debated in this Session of Parliament. However, there is simply no way in which I can hold out the prospect of easy Government time during July.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on the procedures for investigating alleged disciplinary offences against policemen so that we may have an opportunity to discuss the disgraceful public trial of the deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester and the way in which innuendo and rumour have been gaining currency when he has had no opportunity to defend himself or to state his case? Whatever he may or may not have done, he is entitled to an impartial, objective investigation, and, if necessary, a fair trial. Is it not now appropriate for the House to debate those matters?

Mr. Biffen

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the matter has already been raised this afternoon by the Leader of the Liberal party, and I would prefer to rest my reply on the answer that I gave him.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

As the shop steward of the House, can my right hon. Friend do something about the vile smell, the disgusting rubbish and the danger to the public presented at one of the accesses to the precincts of the House underneath Bridge street? It has been there for some time and the authorities have not done anything about it over many years. There is an enormous amount of support for the view that something should be done. Can my right hon. Friend offer any help?

Mr. Biffen

I have been asked a question on which I can offer some help. I shall consider the point and see if something can be done.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I should like to reinforce the request by the Leader of the Liberal party for time to debate what is now known as the Stalker affair. On three occasions in the past three weeks I have tried to raise this matter. May I reinforce those requests by pointing out that there is grave anxiety in Northern Ireland about this man's dismissal from the inquiry that he was professionally carrying out? I respectfully suggest that if an inquiry was taking place into policing in Greater London or Greater Manchester a ministerial statement would have been made long ago.

Mr. Biffen

It would be improper for me to comment upon the circumstances of the inquiry, and for that reason I shall not respond to that part of the question of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon). I shall add his voice to the other representations made on this matter and report his view to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Southampton, Itchen)

Will my right hon. Friend make time before the summer recess for a debate on the Peacock report and upon bias in the BBC? Does he accept the urgent need for such a debate, bearing in mind the latest example, the spurious report by the Low Pay Unit which qualifies for only one column inch on an inside page of The Guardian today but which was featured as, I think, the third item on the BBC television news last night?

Mr. Biffen

I take account of what my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) says. He knows that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) has already shown an interest in this matter. I shall see that the views are conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

The Leader of the House will recall early-day motion 770 in the last Session about the import of South African coal through the port of Liverpool. It was supported by 97 hon. Members.

[That this House condemns the Banbury Coal Company of Northwick for importing domestic coal for the Lancashire area from South Africa through Liverpool Docks; regrets that the company is prepared to put at risk Lancashire mines and Lancashire jobs in favour of supporting economically the evil apartheid regime in South Africa; further regrets the special arrangements made with the company by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company for handling this cargo which could lead to unrest amongst Liverpool dockers; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Energy to show his much vaunted support for the United Kingdom mining industry by seeking to prevent such unnecessary imports.]

He will have seen on today's Order Paper early-day motion 1007 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) which is supported by 40 hon. Members.

[That this House deplores the continuing importation into the United Kingdom of 30,000 tons of cheap South African coal each month; regards this as deplorable when the National Coal Board has plans to axe a further 24,000 jobs in the coal mining industry; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ban these imports.]

May we have a ban on the unnecessary import of coal from South Africa which further threatens miners' jobs?

Mr. Biffen

A statement on the general question of United Kingdom policy in the context of South Africa will almost certainly be made on Tuesday. I suggest that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) tries his luck then.

Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness)

I fully understand the difficulty facing my right hon. Friend about arranging a debate while the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester is being pursued. However, I should like to add my voice to those of hon. Members who have requested that when the inquiry has been concluded and hopefully that will be soon—he will consider the possibility of an early debate thereafter about all the circumstances of this most bizarre situation.

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate the considerable interest that my hon. Friend has taken in this affair. I shall report his views to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is yet another aspect to the Stalker inquiry, which is that of allegations of shoot to kill by British forces in Northern Ireland and covert cross-border incursions into the Irish Republic by British forces in Northern Ireland? These are matters of grave concern in Dublin—we understand that they will be the subject of exchanges between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach tomorrow—and in the House. Is it not time that the Leader of the House provided an opportunity for hon. Members to discuss how the Government allowed the inquiry to become enveloped in fumblings and misinformation and, apparently in murkiness?

Mr. Biffen

I take account of what the hon. Gentleman says. As he knows, I cannot respond by commenting upon the matter as it is now the subject of an inquiry. In all these matters I can best carry out the undertaking that I gave to the Leader of the Liberal party.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Can my right hon. Friend shed any light on the extrordinary inability of the Selection Committee to find any member of the so-called alliance who is willing to serve on the Select Committee that is to consider the Channel Tunnel Bill?

Mr. Biffen

I can safely say that that is quite without my responsibility.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

Does the Leader of the House recall earlier efforts to persuade him that the House should debate the serious matter of extraterritoriality? Does he realise that Anglo-American relations are being soured still further by the efforts of the United States Administration to impinge upon our sovereignty? Does he recognise that it is time that we had a debate on this extremely serious subject?

Mr. Biffen

I understand the hon. Gentleman's arguments, and I shall refer them to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

As the Defence Estimates are to be discussed next week, can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence be asked to refer to the defence implications of the present situation in South Africa, in view of the danger that there will not always be a Government of that country favourable to the West and of the vital importance of the sea routes round the Cape and the valuable minerals in that part of the world and of the fear that after these troubles there might be a Communist Government in that country?

Mr. Biffen

I shall most certainly ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is made aware of my hon. Friend's anxieties.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Has the Leader of the House heard from the Patronage Secretary, to whom has been reported the great concern of the grain trade about the administrative chaos that will follow the introduction of the co-responsibility levy on cereals? Will he seek to enable the House to debate this appalling proposal before it becomes effective on 3July?

Mr. Biffen

I am well aware, from a constituency interest, of the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I shall certainly look into the matter further.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

May we have a debate on the curious anomaly that in every case where an ex-service man has been appointed to the public service after the war he receives the extra war service credit on his pension, except where his public service was overseas? Would it not be useful if we had a debate upon this anomaly so that the Government might remedy this injustice?

Mr. Biffen

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to that anomaly, of which I was not entirely aware. I suggest that he might use all the scope that is offered in private Members' time to raise the matter. I must be candid and say that I do not think that there is very much opportunity for Government time to be made available to debate the issue.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I ask the Leader of the House to call to mind his response to me last week at about this time when I referred to the attempt by his hon. Friend the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Local Government, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), to criticise the BBC "Panorama" programme and the possible response to the rebuttal which I had published. The right hon. Gentleman responded by saying in effect, wait and see. Since then I have not even received an acknowledgement. As the summer recess is so imminent, is it the Government's intention to allow their response to go into the shadows of the recess in the same way that their publication of the new ionising regulations was kept quiet last year by publishing them on 4 September?

Mr. Biffen

In a mood of optimism, I hoped last week that this was a self-solving difficulty, but apparently it is not. I shall look into the matter.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

May I associate myself with the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), and urge my right hon. Friend to seek to find time in the near future for a wide-ranging debate on the future of nuclear energy? It is important that all points of view be expressed.

Mr. Biffen

Yes, of course. I have to say to my hon. Friend that July is a bad time for the finding of Government time, but I think that he is right in saying that nuclear energy is a matter of great political importance.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity today to read an article in the Financial Times by Richard Evans that states that water authority debts may be written off? If that happens before privatisation, £5 billion will be handed to the Government's friends in the City rather than being used to build houses, hospitals and schools and to create jobs in areas of high unemployment. It seems that a £27 billion industry is to be sold off for £5 billion to £7 billion. Is there no financial limit to the price that the Government will pay to achieve their political objectives? Quite rightly, and for good reason, Mr. Speaker turned down a PNQ application from me today, but as a consequence of that I ask the Leader of the House, to assure us that a statement will be made very shortly on this important matter.

Mr. Biffen

I think that there may be a case for saying that a statement is needed to correct that string of misconceptions. On the other hand, I do not travel too hopefully along that course. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to the fears and anxieties that have been expressed.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that in next Thursday's debate we shall be able to discuss the conclusion of the Public Accounts Committee in its eleventh report that the Committee was gravely disquieted by the decision to set up a joint services defence school of music, and to ask the House to endorse the view of 164 of my right hon. and hon. Friends expressed in early-day motion No. 397 that the training of British Army bands, with their high standard of excellence, should long continue to remain at Kneller hall Twickenham?

[That this House pays tribute to the high standards of excellence of the bands of the Army trained at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, the Royal Marines trained at Deal, and the Royal Air Force trained at Uxbridge, all of which add splendour to Royal and state occasions, promote recruiting and morale, lift the spirits of the nation, and as part of the traditional British scene, help to attract to British shores visitors whose spending generates income, employment and a tax yield to Her Majesty's Government; takes note of the Eleventh Report of the Public Accounts Committee which expresses grave disquiet that the Ministry of Defence should have decided on a joint Defence School of Music which would disrupt the training of service musicians and entail expenditure of £10 million before carrying out a full investment appraisal, and recommends that the Ministry of Defence should review the need for a Defence School of Music, as well is its possible location; thanks the Right honourable Lady the Prime Minister for her reply on 6th February to the honourable Member for Twickenham that the new Secretary of State will look at the matter afresh in the light of the latest facts; and hopes that hand training will long continue to flourish at Kneller Hall, Twickenham, at Deal and at Uxbridge, respectively.]

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has been a successful campaigner in this matter and we all envy him his success. I am sure that the debate next week will give him a chance to advance further the arguments that he has in mind in what is, in its own way, a real and political issue.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, East)

Can the House expect a statement before 8 July, when Kurt Waldheim is expected to he inaugurated as president of Austria, concerning his involvement in the interrogation and subsequent fate of British prisoners of war? As it is difficult to come to any proper conclusion without the evidence which the Germans have so far refused to reveal concerning his activities, will Her Majesty's Government take the opportunity of the most welcome visit of President von Weizsäcker, the President of Germany, to ask him whether as a gesture of good will he will show them? Will the Government at the same time ask the United Nations to reveal its files, which show why the United Kingdom voted against and vetoed the appointment of Waldheim as Secretary-General the first time round?

Mr. Biffen

I shall see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is made aware of the hon. and learned Gentleman's views.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

As there is grave concern in the motor trade about the Government's original proposals to alter the month when the new registration suffix is introduced from August to October, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has been good enough to say that he will reconsider this decision, will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House ask our right hon. Friend to make a statement before the summer recess? There is considerable uncertainty which is doing great damage in the motor trade.

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate my hon. Friend's anxieties, which I think are widely held. I shall most certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to this difficulty.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

In view of the string of defeats which the Government have suffered in another place, will the Leader of the House appreciate that we can well understand why the Government seem to be planning to send the House of Lords into outer space? As Mr. Bernard Ingham seems to have told the Lobby this week that the Government are planning to respond to the latest defeats that they have suffered during the passage of the Social Security Bill through another place, when is the Leader of the House planning to tell this place of the Government's intentions in respect of those defeats?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), as an experienced parliamentarian, will be aware that there is a strong convention that legislation which is before the other place is not the subject of statements here. All will be revealed in due course.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

May we have an early debate on the need to protect the interests of children against Labour authorities such as Ealing which is putting children for adoption with gays and lesbians — [Interruption.] Labour Members may think that this is funny, but I have a large mailbag of objections to it and every day, I am receiving deputations about it from parents and citizens. It is a serious matter.

The authority is inviting teachers to apply for posts in schools regardless of their "sexual orientation". Advertisements have been put in the Church Times and The Universe without the permission of the governors who have the responsibility for making the appointments. In view of the extreme damage that Labour authority appointments—as in Ealing—of sexual deviants or even paedophiles as guardians, foster parents and teachers could cause, is it not important that there should be an early debate on this important matter?

Mr. Biffen

I quite understand that my hon. Friend feels that this is a matter which should receive much wider public recognition. Therefore, I suggest that, at least in the first instance, he should see whether he could do well with an Adjournment debate on it.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In the event of the motion, which was on the Order Paper for 6 June, not being chosen by the winner of the ballot for 14 July, what opportunity will the House have to consider the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs of 1–2 May 1982, which was published last July and on which the Leader of the House gave an undertaking to the Leader of the Opposition?

If the motion of 6 June is not chosen, will there be an opportunity for a statement to be made on question 9? That concerns the relationship between the Prime Minister and her Law Officers. They were set up to write a letter, then, finding that she blamed the civil servants and her Trade Secretary when things went wrong, there was an inquiry into something which she herself had instigated.

Mr. Biffen

With all affection for the hon. Gentleman, I must say that I think that we have debated this several times over. I do not think my answer would add materially to his sum total of knowledge. I understand his point about the Select Committee report. That is something I will consider.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Does my right hon. Friend share my continuing concern about the high rate of acquittals in jury trials, especially in Snaresbrook, with a 58 per cent. acquittal rate? Does he agree that we ought to have an opportunity to debate the rules and role of people who come forward to be jurymen? They need to take morality and loyalty tests and they must believe in punishment which is fitting to the crime. They should also be loyal to the Crown. Surely jurors should be totally representative of the whole of society rather than sometimes—because of defence counsel—only part of it.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes a perfectly fair point; it must concern all law-abiding citizens. I hope that my hon. Friend will carry on campaigning in the way that he does, even though he occasionally runs the risk of misunderstanding.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there were quite a number of Home Office questions today on the matter of the Birmingham pub bombings of 1974? Is he aware of the growing concern about whether the six people in gaol took part in this crime? Shortly, a book is to be published which suggests that that is not the case. Is he aware that recently on Granada television the forensic evidence of the Home Office scientist, Dr. Frank Skuse, totally collapsed? Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the Home Secretary with a view to his making a statement in the House? This concerns not just Labour Members; at least one Tory Member has shown anxiety about it.

When the Leader of the House gets hold of the Home Secretary, will he also tell him that several weeks ago I sent him a letter about the imprisoned Kent miner, Terry French, but I have not had a reply. We want this lad's parole to be reviewed as urgently as possible.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman said that, to some extent, his points were all raised at Question time this afternoon—

Mr. Skinner

No, they were not.

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry; it happens to us all from time to time. I will certainly draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. In a sense I will be a substitute for the question he was unable to ask.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the orders, conventions and procedures of this House, and, in particular, will he embrace within that debate the need for right hon. Gentlemen, representing minority parties, to accept and understand the meaning of open questions? Back Benchers who regularly come to the House are often disadvantaged by the actions of right hon. Gentlemen who fail to recognise the way in which this House proceeds.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend must remember that the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party are going through a certain passing difficulty. This is a great place for charity, and this is a time when one should show rather more charity than my hon. Friend has exhibited.

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

The Leader of the House has followed the affair of Jim Smith and Aish and company. Is he aware that a new whistle blower concerning excess profits from defence contracts has surfaced? His name is Mr. Don Pitman, a former employee of Thorn EMI, Portsmouth. He maintains that his company was also fiddling the books. Within the next couple of weeks may we have a full statement from the Dispatch Box on this matter? Can the Leader to the House assure me that the fullest possible inquiries will take place within the Ministry of Defence as to why Department officials were able so effectively to cover up what this man reported?

Mr. Biffen

I think that the hon. Gentleman's most immediate and rather engaging prospect would be to make his speech in the two days that will be devoted to defence Estimates. I can think of no better time.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that millions of disabled people who have found their standard of living eroded by the Government now see a glimmer of hope in the two decisions made in the other place against the Government's Social Security Bill? They understand from the rumours from Bernard Ingham's office that the Government are not willing to abide by that decision. Is it not therefore an opportune moment for a statement to be made to the House by the Secretary of State for Social Services as a prelude to a full scale debate—we have not had one for a year—on the plight of the disabled under the Government?

Mr. Biffen

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but he is aware that the matter has recently been raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). I do not think I can fairly go beyond what I have already said.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), I wish him a happy birthday.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Perhaps I should say that it is also South Africa freedom day and it would be proper to debate South Africa.

In view of the ugly scenes which took place after Question Time, to some extent arising from the remarks made by the Leader of the House, will the Government give careful consideration to appointing an eminent persons' group to look into the dfferences between the Liberals and the SDP in order to try to resolve those differences?

Mr. Biffen

It is quite simple. They are putting themselves into a state of disarray which will make them the natural partners of the Labour party.

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