HC Deb 13 March 1986 vol 93 cc1081-90 3.32 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House to 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 17 MARCH—Progress on remaining stages of the Gas Bill (1st Allotted day).

TUESDAY 18 MARCH—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget Statement.

European Community documents relevant to the Budget debate will be shown in the Official Report.

Motion on the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation (No. 2) Order.

Debate on a motion on the second report of the Privileges Committee in Session 1984–85 (House of Commons Paper No. 555).

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 19 MARCH AND THURSDAY 20 MARCH—Continuation of the Budget Debate.

FRIDAY 21 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 24 MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget statement.

[Tuesday 18 March (Debate on Budget Statement) Relevant European Documents

  1. (a) 9792/85 Annual Economic Report 1985–86.
  2. (b) Unnumbered Annual Economic Report 1985–86 (final version as adopted)

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 21–ii (1985–86) para 2.
  2. (b) HC 21 -xii (1985–86) para 3.]

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Since the Budget debates will take up much of the time before the Easter recess, for which day has the right hon. Gentleman arranged the debate on the sale of Land Rover, Freight Rover, Leyland Trucks and related businesses, which he promised would be held before Easter?

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment about the peculiar circumstances surrounding the proposal by the Conservative and Liberal coalition on Hammersmith and Fulham borough council to sell Stewart lodge old people's home? The sale will have to be approved in the normal way by the Secretary of State, and it has been reported that, oddly, the borough council has recommended the acceptance of an offer which is lower than seven other offers that were received.

There is a great deal of public and parliamentary interest today in the report of the Select Committee on the Environment on radioactive waste. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that time is allocated for a debate on that report as soon as possible after the Easter recess?

I asked the right hon. Gentleman last week whether he would ask the Foreign Secretary to make a statement about the Government's attitude towards President Reagan's readiness to contemplate the use of military force against the Republic of Nicaragua. No statement has been forthcoming. Can the right hon. Gentleman now tell us whether the Government will endorse the opposition of many Members to the provision of funds to the terrorist Contras operating in and around Nicaragua?

Mr. Biffen

I will draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to what the right hon. Gentleman says about Nicaragua. The Environment Committee has produced a most significant report on nuclear waste, which will require an initial Government response. I will be happy to be in touch with the right hon. Gentleman through the usual channels about its subsequent parliamentary handling.

I note the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes about the local authority in Hammersmith and Fulham and will refer it to my right hon. Friend.

As for a debate on Land Rover, doubtless we can look at that matter through the usual channels, bearing in mind the commitment that I gave on 20 February.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

If we are to have a statement on local government such as the Leader of the Opposition has requested, could we have one on the trend of rates where the Labour and Liberal parties have control of county councils? In Leicester they have gone up by a shocking amount.

Mr. Biffen

Shropshire, in a sense, could match that experience. I can only tell my hon. Friend that I have no immediate plans for parliamentary consideration of the point that he makes, although I recognise it as pertinent.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Will the Government's proposed changes to Sunday trading be debated before or after Easter? Has the Patronage Secretary decided whether there will be a free vote on this issue? What progress has been made on the Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier?

Mr. Biffen

On the last point, I have nothing to add to what I said last week. As to the point in respect of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, I have nothing to add to what I have already said on that topic. All I can say about the Second Reading of the Bill is that it has not been provided for in the statement that I have just made.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Before we reach the debate on the Shops Bill, can my right hon. Friend arrange a suitable leak from a Government source on what kind of compromise is being proposed, so that when we come to the Second Reading we will all know where we stand?

Mr. Biffen

So many in this Chamber are much more skilled at that task than I am that I would prefer not to undertake such a requirement.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

The right hon. Gentleman will have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) during Prime Minister's Questions of the deplorable and dangerous incident that occurred last night outside the premises of News International in Wapping in my constituency, when a heavy lorry leaving the plant ploughed its way through a dense crowd of peaceful demonstrators, inflicting injury on a number of those who could not escape its passage. This event was witnessed by me and by three of my hon. Friends. Will the Home Secretary make an early statement not only on this particular event but on the arrangements made between the police and News International for the movement of these lorries, with a view to avoiding any repetition of what could easily have been a disastrous and tragic event?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, of course, I will refer that request to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

My right hon. Friend will no doubt have read with great interest the debate in the American Congress on the conduct of domestic affairs in this country and the wish of the Americans to give us money with strings attached. When will we have the opportunity of debating whether or not we want the money and of telling the Americans to give it to someone else?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to those sentiments, so robustly expressed.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

The right hon. Gentleman was not entirely unsympathetic earlier in the Session when I asked that the House should have an opportunity to debate the important matter of the dispersal of objects and paintings from semi-public institutions, which are not, unfortunately, open to restraints on export because of their average values. When can the House have an opportunity to discuss that really very important and critical matter which may be peripheral to a lot of people but is central to the cultural life of Britain?

Mr. Biffen

I note the hon. Gentleman's points and I shall refer his remarks to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Has my right hon. Friend read this morning the alarming speech of the Budget Commissioner to the European Assembly saying that there is no chance of Britain getting its £380 million rebate for 1984 unless we agree to breach the spending guidelines for 1986? Will my right hon. Friend give a firm and clear commitment that, before the Government even consider breaking through the agreed guidelines, which were the basis for selling the argument for increased EEC resources to this House, they will seek the approval of the House of Commons, not do it in Brussels and then come back here and ask for approval?

Mr. Biffen

No, I have not read the speech, but I shall look into the matter and be in touch with my hon. Friend.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Will the Leader of the House seek an opportunity to speak to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to ensure that there is a debate in the House before he introduces byelaws which will severely restrict civil liberties surrounding certain MOD establishments in Wales and elsewhere?

Mr. Biffen

I shall most certainly comply with that request.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that to introduce during Lent any measure which would limit Sunday as a day of rest would be particularly insensitive and most unpopular in the House and the country.

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says. I am just wondering whether it implies that he may have a change of heart after Easter.

Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Govan)

Is the Leader of the House aware that, to put it mildly, there is now considerable confusion and anxiety about the level of the Government's contribution, if any, to the settlement of the Scottish teachers' salaries which has just been reached and that that confusion will have been added to by the answer given by the Prime Minister this afternoon, which suggested that there would be no contribution? Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland on this next week?

Mr. Biffen

I certainly cannot accept that comment about the Prime Minister and the extent to which her remarks clarified the situation, but I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to that request.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Will my right hon. Friend try to arrange an early debate on the reckless overspending that is now gathering momentum in the EEC and which has culminated in today's announcement that Britain is not likely to receive its £380 million promised rebate? Rather than give in to that kind of blackmail from Europe, will my right hon. Friend seriously consider whether we should withhold our payment of the next EEC money?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says, but I cannot really go any further than the answer that I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor).

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan)? A position was reached in Scotland which today has been blown out of the water by the Prime Minister. We now require the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement to the House. The Prime Minister said that the independent pay review is no longer an independent pay review; it will be determined by the discussions and the formula reached in England and Wales—in other words, the Goschen formula. That is completely opposed to the agreement that was made and we must ask the Leader of the House to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to come to the House to make a statement to clarify the matter as soon as possible.

Mr. Biffen

I told the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) that I would refer that matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the consternation and fury of Londoners at the pressure of the GLC on tax and ratepayers to spend some £25 million of their money before abolition on 31 March, given the legal opportunity to do so, including £2.5 million for the Trade Union Resource Trust which employs nobody? Will he ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to come to the House so that he can answer questions on the possibility of legislation to stop that Socialist body damaging London and London's ratepayers in this disgraceful and unacceptable way?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raised that important point with me this time last week. I will say again now what I said then—that I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to the issue.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Will the Leader of the House give an assurance, in view of the statement by the Chairman of Ways and Means during the passage of the Felixtowe Dock and Railway Bill, that the procedures on private Bills will be debated in the House as soon as possible?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I do not think that I can give any hope of an early debate on that.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

In order for us successfully to combat violent crime, will my right hon. Friend find time for the House to debate sentencing policy, so that many of us can express our desire for legislation which would enable the prosecution to appeal against over-lenient sentences?

Mr. Biffen

There is no prospect of a debate shortly in Government time. I regret that my hon. Friend was doubtless unlucky in seeking to have this matter ballotted for a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. However, I shall mention the matter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the public outrage and anger at the way in which unscrupulous foreigners such as Mr. Rupert Murdoch treat the workers at Wapping? That treatment is to the disadvantage of workers who have spent most, or the whole, of their working lives with that company and nearly led to the tragic accident which has been referred to. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that it is time that the House debated the whole sordid mess surrounding News International?

Mr. Biffen

No, but I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly about it he might use the opportunity of an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 538 which calls for an amendment of substance to the Shops Bill?

[That this House calls upon the Government to seek to amend the Shops Bill [Lords] so as to preserve the special character of Sunday and to have regard for the principles and conscience of those who would be affected by the total de-regulation of Sunday trading.]

Has my right hon. Friend noted that it has been signed by over 60 of his right hon. and hon. Friends? Does he consider that that is perhaps a significant number, in view of the size of the overall majority of the Government in the House? In view of the results of the recent Harris poll, does he not think that the best judge of public opinion on this subject in this country would be a free vote by all hon. Members?

Mr. Biffen

As my hon. Friend knows, voting is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to deploy his arguments on the wider issues on the Second Reading of the Shops Bill.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

The Leader of the House will know that, since the debate on the multi-fibre arrangement, events have moved on considerably and a unanimous mandate has now been agreed among the EEC members who are interested in the MFA? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Minister for Trade to come to the House next week to make a statement which could keep us up to date with what is happening? It is of supreme importance to many of the people involved in textiles in the north-west of England, and that amounts to many hundreds of thousands of people.

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware that that was the subject of a written answer. However, I shall mention to my right hon. Friend the point that the hon. Gentleman now makes.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern at the shocking percentage increase in crimes of rape—50 per cent. in London and 33 per cent. in Leicestershire? Will my right hon. Friend look at early-day motion 451?

[That this House would welcome the abolition of the anonymity of rape defendents prior to the institution of proceedings both to assist the police and to protect the public and rape victims by announcing the names of those charged with such detestable crimes; and calls for legislation to this effect as a matter of urgency.] It calls for an opportunity to amend the law so that the names of those charged with rape can be published.

Will my right hon. Friend also consider the difficult problem of the rape victim in Ealing, who was virtually identified by some of the media? Can the law be changed so that rape victims are given the sympathy and the rape attackers are given the force of the law, with long terms of imprisonment?

Mr. Biffen

I shall most certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the issue that my hon. Friend has raised.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Has the right hon. Gentleman looked at early-day motion 592 about cancer screening for women working at the Palace of Westminster?

[That this House regrets that proposals made by the Transport and General Workers Union and the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staffs representatives, that necessary facilities for cancer screening for women working at the Palace of Westminster be made available to enable a mobile caravan unit operated by the Women's National Cancer Control Campaign, were turned down by the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services); and requests them to reconsider their decision.] Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that regular, systematic cancer screening can avoid many unnecessary deaths? Will he ask the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) to reconsider its most unfortunate decision?

Mr. Biffen

As the hon. Lady fairly admits, the matter has recently been considered by the Services Committee. The Committee's view differed from the hon. Lady's, but I shall certainly draw the Committee's attention to her point.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

Has my right hon. Friend read early-day motion 372, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale)? Signed by 168 right hon. and hon. Members, it asks for the introduction of a law to permit longer and more flexible licensing hours.

[That this House calls upon the Government to introduce legislation to amend the Licensing Acts for England and Wales to permit longer and flexible opening hours.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many thousands of people who, like me, own, manage or work in hotels, restaurants or public houses, which make such a contribution to the Treasury and tourism, will be dismayed by reports that the Government have decided not to bring forward modest reforms in 1986–87? Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to that fact? Will he ask him to consider reforming the law, so as to bring England and Wales into line with Scotland where, as a recent report by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys has suggested, the licensing hours are very popular?

Mr. Biffen

I shall comply with that request.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 547, tabled by me?

[That this House regards with grave concern the decision of Mr. Justice Glidewell, Mr. Justice Caulfield and Mr. Justice Russell to disqualify democratically elected councillors from Liverpool and Lambeth; notes that judges are themselves appointed and not elected; and calls for the immediate dismissal of these judges.] Has he also seen early-day motions 556 and 557, which have been tabled by my colleagues?

[That this House condemns the decision of the High Court in imposing a surcharge and potential disqualification on 80 democratically elected Labour councillors in Lambeth and Liverpool; recognises that the action of the district auditors in bringing the case to courts against these councillors is part of a concerted attack on local democracy, jobs and services; notes that this draconian penalty is not applicable to any other class of elected public representative; demands that no further action be taken against all those other councillors and councils who similarly have sought to defend their communities; and calls for the immediate removal from the statute book of these powers of surcharge and disqualification.]

[That this House, following the decision of the High Court to surcharge 80 Labour councillors from Liverpool and Lambeth and to impose fines on them of between £2,000 and £4,000 each, draws attention to the fact that the District Auditor, who initiated the court action, is unelected and unaccountable to this House whereas the Labour councillors were democratically elected; believes that only the voters should have the right to remove them; recognises that the court decision could result in the surcharge of several other Labour councils who set a late rate; salutes the courageous stand of the Liverpool and Lambeth councillors to protect jobs, homes and services; supports the taking of industrial action by local authority trade unions to prevent the Labour councillors being removed from office; and looks forward to the election of a future Labour Government who will restore to these brave socialists their democratic right to stand for public office and re-imburse any fines imposed by the courts.] Those early-day motions deal with High Court action last week against Liverpool and Lambeth councillors. That High Court judgment could lead to the disqualification and bankruptcy of democratically elected councillors. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Lord Chancellor to consider dismissing those politically biased judges?

Mr. Biffen

I receive many requests, but I think that this is the first time I have been asked to be an intermediary in the dismissal of judges. I shall, of course, refer the hon. Gentleman's point to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor.

Mr. Derek Spencer (Leicester, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of concern at the publicising on television and in newspapers of specific methods of committing criminal offences? When may we expect a statement on this subject and the introduction of a statutory code banning such publicity?

Mr. Biffen

I shall look into that point and get in touch with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Was the Leader of the House paying his normal rapt attention to the proceedings in the House during Trade and Industry questions yesterday, when I asked a legitimate question of Trade Ministers? It was answered by reference to answers given by the Secretary of State for Defence which in no way covered the question asked. Mr. Speaker understandably said that the way in which Ministers answered questions was not a matter for him. However, it is a matter for the Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House.

Next week, will the Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House rebuke any of their ministerial colleagues who slide out of answering legitimate questions by reference to answers to questions that were not asked?

Mr. Biffen

If I chastised every Minister who provided a reply which the hon. Gentlman thought was unsatisfactory, I would have no other occupation.

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)

When will the House have an opportunity to express its satisfaction at the vote by the people of Spain that their country should remain a member of NATO? As Monsignor Bruce Kent has tramped over to that country to tell the Spanish Government not to be part of NATO, would it not be nice for the House to have a chance to express its satisfaction that at least one European Socialist leader can resist the blandishments of CND and Monsignor Kent?

Mr. Biffen

That is an entertaining proposition. It opens up flourishing prospects for Monsignor Bruce Kent in activities nearer home. My hon. Friend has requested a debate. I think that that might be considered in the context of a general foreign affairs debate at some future date.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

May I also add my weight to the arguments for a debate or statement on Wapping, in view of the accident—the deliberate assault—last night on the picket line? In view of the Prime Minister's performance today on security and dangers on the streets and in the homes, may we start having debates about broken promises? Did the Prime Minister not go to the country in 1979 claiming to set the people free? After today's performance, she is calling upon the people to lock themselves in.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman calls for a number of debates. If I had endless time, I should be delighted to oblige the hon. Gentleman because in every instance the Government would emerge triumphant and so sustain our political fortunes more generally.

Mr. Kinnock

The right hon. Gentleman is an idealist.

Mr. Biffen

It needs an idealist to match an idealist. I shall be very interested to find out what the Labour Party does about the present dispute concerning News International.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 582 concerning free speech on the campus?

[That this House notes the improved statement of intent from the vice-chancellors and principals of universities to uphold the right of free speech and acknowledges the efforts of some university authorities to protect that right; regrets that this determination is not uniform among all institutions of higher education; deplores the continuation of a 'no platform' policy among students in many universities; believes that the majority of students have no wish for such a policy designed to gag political opponents; and urges Her Majesty's Government to support legislation to safeguard this fundamental feature of the purpose of universities.] Bearing in mind the increasing examples of intolerance in universities, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that those of us who are concerned about the future of higher education feel that the matter should be debated in the House and that we hope that legislation will be introduced? I hope that my right hon. Friend can reassure me on that point.

Mr. Biffen

I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate on that topic, but that does not in any sense lead me to deny the importance of that subject. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making his point.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

Will the Leader of the House give a sensible and not a flippant answer to the following question? What is the Government's position about the situation that has arisen in the coal mining industry as a result of the failure of the National Coal Board and the Secretary of State for Energy to intervene in the decision to close Bates' colliery despite the recommendation of the independent colliery review tribunal? Does the Leader of the House realise that NACODS is proposing to hold a ballot on an overtime ban and that if that is carried it would bring the coalfields to a standstill? Does he also realise that there is no confidence whatsoever in the future of the colliery review procedure and that many of the coal mining unions are contemplating boycotting it? Is he concerned about the position that has arisen? It is no use the Leader of the House saying, by way of answer, that he will speak to the Secretary of State for Energy, because the Secretary of State for Energy is invisible and flatly refuses to come to the House to answer questions on that subject.

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should have spoilt his question with his sneering final sentences. That is precisely the course of action that it is prudent and sensible for me to take—to refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

I was not going to ask the Leader of the House any questions this afternoon, but as the Prime Minister was in one of her moods and was not prepared to give a reasonable reply to my question, I must ask him about it and also ask him to correct the suggestion by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) that early-day motion 538 was signed by 60 hon. Members. It was actually signed by 70 right hon. and hon. Members opposite.

Since the Government have not received a mandate from any source for the introduction of the Shops Bill, will the Leader of the House consider the tremendous opposition expressed in letters sent to hon. Members and to Ministers at the Home Office? Only 400 letters were in favour and 40,000 were against the Bill. With such tremendous opposition, will the Government now consider withdrawing the Bill or at least go to the country to decide whether it should be introduced?

Mr. Biffen

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making his preferences clear on that matter. Next week's business contains no provision for the Second Reading of the Bill but the hon. Gentleman will know that it has passed through another place; I expect to be announcing the date of Second Reading before too long.