HC Deb 20 March 1986 vol 94 cc415-23 3.33 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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

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

Consideration of the Lords amendment to the Museum of London Bill.

Motions on the Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) Order and the Coal Industry (Limit on Payments in respect of Redundant Mineworkers) Order.

TUESDAY 25 MARCH—Third Reading of the Gas Bill—(2nd Allotted Day).

Motion for the Easter Adjournment

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government Bill.

WEDNESDAY 26 MARCH—There will be a debate on Members' Representations on immigration cases on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 27 MARCH—The House will meet at 9.30 am, take questions until 10.30 am and adjourn at 3.30 pm until Tuesday 8 April.

The House may also be asked to consider other business as necessary.

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Does he recall that he has given repeated undertakings that when a conclusion to the negotiations about British Leyland is reached

it will be for the House to debate and decide upon the result of those negotiations." — [Official Report, 20 February 1986; Vol. 92, c. 480.]? No such debate is listed for debate next week. In view of the strong reports of the exchanges between the parties involved in the BL business, there is now widespread concern about the possibility that the House will be denied the opportunity which the right hon. Gentleman has been promising. Can he allay that justifiable anxiety by giving an undertaking now that there will be no conclusive settlement of purchase by anyone or by any organisation unless and until the House has debated and decided upon the course of events?

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the Government will accept the Lords amendments to the Local Government Bill, and will he give us an undertaking that no subsequent legislation will be introduced to frustrate the effect of those amendments?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a foreign affairs debate to be held as soon as possible after the House returns following the Easter recess? I have asked for a statement on the Government's attitude to President Reagan's readiness to contemplate the use of military force against Nicaragua and to finance the terrorist Contra rebels. The House should have an opportunity to debate that issue as well as the many other matters of pressing interest.

Mr. Biffen

In respect of British Leyland, the undertakings that I gave on 20 February still stand, but I understand why the right hon. Gentleman raises that point, since no debate on British Leyland has been announced for next week. Clearly, if it were necessary to change the business to provide for such a debate, it would be a matter for discussion through the usual channels. In any event, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will make a statement to the House before the House rises for the Easter recess.

On the question of the treatment of Lords amendments to the Local Government Bill, it would be apropriate for the Minister in charge of the Bill to make known Government policy in due course.

On the question of a foreign affairs debate, I take account of what the right hon. Gentleman says. Perhaps we can consider that through the usual channels.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to early-day motion 595 in the names of responsible Opposition Members and some Conservative Members congratulating Spain on its wise decision to remain within the NATO Alliance?

[That this House congratulates the Spanish people on their massive re-affirmation of membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.] Has he further noticed an amendment entirely to the contrary tabled by the loony Left? In those circumstances, would it not be useful to have a debate so that we may clarify precisely where the Opposition stand on the important matter of the NATO Alliance?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a pertinent point. When we have the foreign affairs debate, which I hope cannot be too long delayed, it will be an opportunity for hon. Members in all parts of the House to assert their commitment to NATO and to a NATO which depends on nuclear weapons.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Having heard the request of the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) that the debate on the special development orders on the NIREX sites should be deferred until the Environment Select Committee report has been discussed, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that that will be done?

Will there be a debate on the Sunday trading Bill in the first week after we return, and will the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. and hon. Friends be given a free vote?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has asked me about a free vote so often that, if I were less generous, I would judge that he was a slow learner. That is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. I take note of his concern that the Second Reading debate is held reasonably soon after our return. We shall have to see what progress we make.

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) are of great seriousness, and I shall take account of them when judging the timing of the debates on that topic.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

As it now seems that we shall have a foreign affairs debate, of which we have comparatively few, will my right hon. Friend ensure that it is broadly drawn because we do not want it to develop merely into a discussion of matters regarding one small country in Central America, or, with due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant), even the Spanish adhesion to NATO? We should also like to discuss the question of continuing Soviet aggression and massacre in Afghanistan, and continuing Soviet-guided oppression in Poland.

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that my right hon. Friend echoes what has long been the tradition in foreign affairs debates—they are drawn and tabled in such a way as to enable the widest possible discussion.

Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)

Is the Leader of the House aware that yesterday the Government announced some £45 million of expenditure at Waterloo station to accommodate the terminus for the Channel fixed link? Is he further aware that, of 30 questions that I put to the Secretary of State for Transport on the matter, more than 20 were simply referred back to British Rail and a consultation document that does not answer them? Will he encourage his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make a statement to the House on how the money will be used so that both local communities and commuters in the southern region can see what congestion is likely to result at Waterloo from its being the exclusive terminus for the link?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the whole House will sympathise with the hon. Gentleman over his misfortune about trying to table questions effectively. He raises a point of substance and I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the last 12 months there have been several indications of the impending publication of the Government's proposals about family courts? Those indications have not been fulfilled. In view of suggestions that we are to see something before Easter, may we look forward to a statement next week about the publication of these proposals?

Mr. Biffen

I am unable to answer my hon. Friend, but I will take up his point with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. James Hamilton (Motherwell, North)

Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement about the British Steel Corporation's tubes division strike in my constituency and also in the constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith)? Will he make representations to the chairman and the chairman-elect of the British Steel Corporation to get both sides to the negotiating table as quickly as possible in an effort to resolve this disastrous dispute? It is disastrous not only for the men but for the country.

Mr. Biffen

I can probably best help the hon. Gentleman by getting in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

My right hon. Friend said that there would be a statement on British Leyland before the Easter recess. That statement will have ramifications in different parts of the country, and, in view of that, may I ask that the debate on the statement should not take place until after Easter? That will give us time to consult locally with the management and the workforce. We do not want a rush job on this because it has many important investment and employment ramifications.

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says and I understand the judgment which prompts him to make that request. I have said that the matter will be discussed through the usual channels, and I must stand by that.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is great interest among all hon. Members about the impending voluntary agreement with the tobacco industry about advertising and sports sponsorship? Has he noticed that the last written question today, question 172, calls for an answer on this subject? That is a wholly unsatisfactory way of informing the House about a matter of major interest. Will he make sure that next week the Minister makes a statement to the House that can be questioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House?

Mr. Biffen

I will draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend. He could chance his arm with an Adjournment debate on this topic.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Rather than worrying about three line Whips—because a 30 line Whip would not induce me to vote for the Shops Bill—will my right hon. Friend spend his time at Easter considering whether we need to proceed with this regrettable measure?

Mr. Biffen

I am looking forward to eight days during which the topic will be erased from my memory. I know that it will still be here when I return.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to early-day motions 630 and 631, which were tabled late last evening and which are headed by all the names of the Opposition Members of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill?

[That the Order [16th December] relating to the nomination of the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill be discharged.]

[That it be an instruction to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill that it do not report the Bill to the House until: (a) it has received written and oral evidence on the conclusions of Mr. David Calcutt Q.C. on matters referred to him by the Secretary of State for Defence, as announced on 29th October 1985 and (b) it has received any oral evidence which the honourable Member for Newry and Armagh may wish to give and received oral evidence from the Ministry of Defence on the contents of their memoranda submitted to it on the rôle of the Ulster Defence Regiment insofar as it relates to the provisions of the Armed Forces Bill.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that almost without precedent a gag has been put upon members of the Select Committee about receiving and hearing oral evidence from the Ministry of Defence, from hon. Members and from members of the public? Is he further aware that a guillotine motion on the Select Committee's proceedings was moved by the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces who was serving on that Bill, and that there has been a clear abuse and a tyrannical use of Government power by the man who tried to gag Clive Ponting? He is trying to do it to Members of Parliament on that same Select Committee. Will the Leader of the House instruct his friends on that Committee not to proceed with the business of the Committee until we have discussed both these early-day motions?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there are conventions which inhibit my role concerning what happens in Select Committees. In any case, the House will be able to debate the issues raised in the Select Committee when the Armed Forces Bill is reported to the House.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Although my right hon. Friend has no direct responsibility for the French National Assembly's problems of cohabitation with President Mitterrand, can he confirm that certain difficulties arise from the current situation in France that have created a virtual hiccup in progress on the Bill on the Channel tunnel? In view of the constitutional problems in France, will my right hon. Friend give the House his assurance that no attempt will be made to introduce or vote on the Bill in this House until the French have sorted out their domestic problems?

Mr. Biffen

I hate to tangle with my hon. Friend, particularly on this topic, but his enthusiasm over the French having got themselves into a fearful mess because of their change of Government might be a little premature. However, I take note of his remarks, and realise that the House will wish to return to the issue after the Easter recess.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

As the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill would not permit me to give oral evidence in relation to behaviour and discipline in the UDR, will the leader of the House arrange for a debate on that issue if only to circumvent such censorship and to protect the right of free speech of hon. Members elected to the House?

Mr. Biffen

I certainly do not accept the hon. Gentleman's description of the behaviour of my colleagues in Committee upstairs. However, if he wishes to pursue the matter, he should consider raising it during the debate on the Easter Adjournment motion or on one of the Adjournment debates immediately before the recess.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Has my right hon. Friend seen the directive agreed yesterday by the Commission in Brussels which is designed to restrict the percentage of non-Common Market programmes shown on British television? In view of the importance of that in undermining the independence and authority of the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a Minister makes a statement next week saying whether the Government support that plan? Also, could the Single European Act be forced on Britain by a majority decision of the member states?

Mr. Biffen

I am beginning to realise how lack-lustre my life is, as I do not have the opportunity to pay such close attention as my hon. Friend obviously does to the European Commission's affairs. However, I shall study his point, and be in touch.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Given the rise in the number of reported cases of rape, will the Leader of the House find time next week to debate the need for the proper funding of rape crisis centres, the fact that the Home Office should run a campaign to educate women to be able to protect themselves better, the proper retraining of police forces and the creation of special units to train those dealing with sex crimes?

Mr. Biffen

I accept at once the importance of that point, but I think that the hon. Lady will agree that there are several Adjournment debates next week when it would be most appropriate to raise it.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Following the tragic and untimely death of my constituent, the boxer, Steve Watt, will my right hon. Friend encourage the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey), to hold discussions with the medical profession on improving protection against serious injury to boxers?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has raised a point of real and tragic seriousness, and I shall certainly draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to it.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

Given the Government's welcome decision to drop their vindictive campaign against trade unionists at GCHQ, will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the individual's right to belong to a trade union in a free society?

Mr. Biffen

I am always anxious to try to provide occasions for the hon. Gentleman to say thank you, but this time it might not be possible quite yet because of all the other demands on Government time.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

May we have a clear statement soon on the Government's attitude towards flexible licensing hours, lest inaction causes unnecessary disappointment to brewery workers, workers in the tourist industry and Conservative supporters who believe that their party is against unnecessary nannying?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is wrestling with one major aspect of liberalisation and perhaps we should let him get that out of the way before considering other matters.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Does the Leader of the House accept that next Wednesday's debate on the motion for the Adjournment of the House cannot possibly deal with the basic iniquity of separating families and will, in any event, come too late for some families? I think, for example, of the Vengadasamys in my constituency, where the father has been forced to return to Malaysia, leaving his wife and five children behind, and of Mr. Lakhatrariya, who is being forced out even though his wife is extremely unwell and they have a doctor's report. Is there to be no consideration of basic legislation to prevent the separation of families, which would never be countenanced in other countries that we criticise?

Mr. Biffen

I am not clear from what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said whether the cases he has quoted were in respect of illegal immigrants. The hon. and learned Gentleman ought to take advantage of next Wednesday's debate—for all its limitations—to make his point, which, I believe, is in favour of more liberal immigration laws.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that it is the fairly clear view of the House that we should not be asked to debate special development orders on nuclear waste until we have been given the opportunity to debate the Select Committee's report? That being so, it may be some time before we debate the special development orders. In such circumstances, will my right hon. Friend make early arrangements for a debate on the subject of compensation, as my constituents are suffering financial loss as a result of the announcement made by NIREX that Fulbeck is a possible site for the disposal of nuclear waste?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) put his point more shrewdly and skilfully than my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend is asking me to be more specific than I can reasonably undertake to be at the Dispatch Box. I must disappoint him, and that saddens me no end.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House draw the attention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department to early-day motion 619?

[That this House is alarmed at the recent revelation of activity by the Contras against the democratically elected government of Nicaragua; is appalled that on 25th January 1985 in Waslala, Zelaya, a group of civilian travellers and children were ambushed on their way to meet President Ortega; is horrified that on 29th June 1984, Paco Sivilla, a teacher from Brownback, was hunted by a group of Contras and his ears, tongue and private parts cut off before he was brutally murdered; is shocked that in July 1984 Adám Flores, a 70-year-old man, was murdered by a force of 70 Contras; further believes that these are a few examples of the most appalling murders by Contra forces gainst the people of Nicaragua; believes that President Reagan's attempts to send a further $100 million in aid to the Contras can only continue the war and result in further murders of the Nicaraguan people; and accordingly demands that Her Majesty's Government put all possible pressure on President Reagan to cease all support for the Contras and respect the territorial integrity and peaceful wishes of the people of Nicaragua.] It concerns the Contras' violence against the people of Nicaragua.

Will the right hon. Gentleman further arrange for his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to make a statement to the House about what efforts the Government have made to stop the sending of further aid to the Contras which can only lead to more murders and violations of human rights by the Contras forces backed by the United States? Does he accept that that is an urgent and important matter in the quest for world peace?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's description of the conflict which now unhappily divides Nicaragua. I will try to arrange as soon as I reasonably can a debate on foreign affairs in which the hon. Gentleman's point can be made.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Does my right hon. Friend recall the assurances given by Her Majesty's Government about budget discipline in the EC following the Fontainebleau meeting? Is he aware that we are almost bound to get a large supplementary budget out of the EC this year demanding more money? Will he assure the House that, if that happens, we will be given the fullest possible opportunity to debate the matter and that we have a range of options to consider and not just a "take it or leave it" from the Government?

Mr. Biffen

I will certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's point should that situation arise when I make my propositions about how the matter should be handled.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

Would it be possible to have a sensible answer today from the Leader of the House about the colliery review procedure? Is he aware that this procedure has now fallen wholly into disrepute as many of the coal mining unions are contemplating refusal to participate in it? Is he also aware that the National Coal Board made its decision in respect of the Bates colliery closure in the face of the evidence of the recommendation made by the independent colliery review body? Is he further aware that, had NACODS had the courage and guts to help the coal miners at Bates colliery, the coal mining industry would have suffered enormously by a slowing down of production.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that nobody believes a word that the Secretary of State for Energy says about pit closures and therefore it is no use the Leader of the House giving me his customory, supercilious answer that he will refer the matter to the Secretary of State for Energy as no one believes a word the Secretary of State says?

Mr. Biffen

I seem to have spent most of today either listening to the hon. Gentleman or reading about him. I am afraid that I cannot add anything to what I said at this time last week, and I am sorry that such a sentiment is so unsatisfactory to him.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

Will right hon. Friend turn his attention to some of the takeover battles that are going on in the City? Is he aware that a new and sinister trend has started which involves squalid and vicious attempts to discredit chairmen and directors? Does he agree that such tactics are completely unethical and bring shame on a great institution? May we discuss that here?

Mr. Biffen

I understand very well why my hon. Friend feels compelled to raise that point and it is appropriate that I should draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to his comments.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on sentencing policy so that the House can take account of the strong feelings throughout Britain, particularly in London, on rape and the calls of many members of the public for life sentences for convicted rapists, the naming of convicted rapists, and for life to mean life in particularly nasty cases?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend's point will cause concern within the Chamber and deep public anxiety. I shall refer his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, although I must say that, given the pressure on Government time from now on as we have to deal with the Finance Bill and Report stages of other legislation, I cannot promise that there will be an opportunity for an early debate in Government time.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

May I remind my right hon. Friend that the proposals of NIREX in selecting four sites for the disposal of low and intermediate level nuclear waste have caused great concern in the constituencies involved, one of which is in South Humberside, adjacent to my constituency? May I also remind my right hon. Friend that the Select Committee's report on the disposal of nuclear waste undermines many of the proposals of NIREX and that it would be unsatisfactory if we were to debate the special development order giving powers to survey in the various areas concerned before the Select Committee's report has been debated because if the recommendations were accepted the NIREX proposals would be left high and dry?

Mr. Biffen

I gave a fairly generous reply to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and I cannot go further than that. I know only too well how important this is to a number of my hon. Friends and they argue their constituency cases properly, legitimately and vigorously.

Mr. John Mark Taylor (Solihull)

With regard to Leyland, and in my case particularly Land Rover, will my right hon. Friend accept from me that some of us have found it the tiniest bit hard this afternoon to reconcile his remarks about next week's business with what we have been told in the past about a decision before Easter and a debate before a decision? That having been said, will he accept from me that we would sincerely rather have the right decision after Easter than a wrong or hurried one before Easter?

Mr. Biffen

This is a topic on which I am best advised to say that I note what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the registration and licensing of nursing homes and residential care homes? Is he aware that, under the Registered Homes Act 1984, 4,509 homes were registered in 1983 but that in 1985 the number had shot up by 45 per cent. to 6,443? I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that that growth industry is a matter for concern, and more adequate and professional staff should be appointed. Can something be done to arrange a debate to protect the elderly, who are being put into those homes at the expense of the Department of Health and Social Security?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that aspect of the development in our welfare services which is proceeding at such speed. As he will appreciate, the Department of Health and Social Security is top for questions next Tuesday, and I suspect that he will also take an interest in the matter when it comes to the Adjournment debates.