HC Deb 08 May 1986 vol 97 cc270-7 4.21 pm
The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

I should like, Mr. Speaker, to make a statement about the business for next week:

  • MONDAY 12 MAY—Until seven o'clock private Members' motions.
  • Motion for the Spring Adjournment.
  • TUESDAY 13 MAY—There will be a debate on civil nuclear matters. The debate will arise on a motion which will invite the House to approve the Government's first stage response to the first report of the Select Committee on the Environment 1985–86 on Radioactve Waste (HoC Paper No. 191).
  • Motion on the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order.
  • WEDNESDAY 14 MAY—Progress on remaining stages of the Wages Bill.
  • There will be a debate on EC documents relating to equal treatment for men and women. Details of the documents concerned will be given in the Official Report.
  • THURSDAY 15 MAY—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Wages Bill.
  • FRIDAY 16 MAY—Private Members' motions.
  • MONDAY 19 MAY—Progress on remaining stages of the Social Security Bill (1st Allotted Day).

The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Spring Adjournment on Friday 23 May until Tuesday 3 June.

[Debate on Wednesday 14 May Relevant European Documents

(a) 6871/83 Social security schemes: equal treatment for men and women
(b) 58251/84 Equal treatment for men and women in self-employed occupations
(c) 4118/86 Equal opportunities for women

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that statement. I also thank him for responding to my request last week for an early debate on civil nuclear matters. In view of the recently increased possibility of a decision by the United States Administration that would allow the deployment of United States' binary chemical weapons in Britain, will the Leader of the House allocate Government time soon so that the House can debate the matter fully before any final decision is taken?

In view of the fact that the major anxieties facing the arts following the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties have still not been resolved, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a full day's debate on the arts is provided as soon as possible?

Last week, the right hon. Gentleman recognised the need for a wide-ranging debate on foreign affairs. That need increases—indeed, intensifies—when we hear, as we did this afternoon, that the Prime Minister apparently believes that the Contra terrorists, with President Reagan's support, are killing innocent adults and children in central America in order to save Nicaragua for democracy. If it is not possible before the Whitsun recess to have a debate on foreign affairs, can the Leader of the House give a guarantee that such a debate will be held as soon as possible after the House resumes on 3 June? Will he also ensure that it will be a two-day debate, as a large number of issues need to be attended to?

I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will join me in expressing sorrow at the death of Manny Shinwell. It can truly be said that Manny used the House of Commons in the most robust fashion and that he enhanced its standing as the democratic forum of the nation. I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Manny and to his remarkable parliamentary career in both Houses of Parliament. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

Mr. Biffen

I thank the right hon. Gentleman particularly for his remarks about Emmanuel Shinwell. I counted it a very great privilege to have been in this House for a period during which I shared common membership with him. He was one of those compelling characters who combined a good appetite for both dissent and loyalty. That made him a person of great distinction within the Labour movement, and I am happy to pay my respects across the Floor of the House. In so doing, I believe that I communicate the respects of all quarters.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about the nuclear debate that we have arranged. I note what he said about prospective developments in American defence policy in relation to chemical weapons, and I shall bear that in mind. Obviously, we can consider this through the usual channels, but perhaps it might also be related to the debate that we shall have in due course on the defence White Paper, once we have had the opportunity of considering the observations of the Select Committee.

Again through the usual channels, perhaps we can consider the arts as a topic for a debate, but in the meantime I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there will be arts questions on Monday.

I accept, as I do every week, the great and compelling need for a debate on foreign affairs. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman is raising the ante somewhat by suggesting a two-day debate. Let us look at the matter through the usual channels to see whether it can be arranged at a time that is to the general convenience of the House.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

What will be the motion for the debate on civil nuclear matters? Will it enable hon. Members to raise the need for an international standard of safety in civil nuclear installations, bearing in mind the very serious disparity between safety standards in this country and those at Chernobyl? Is not it absurd that we can have such high safety standards in this country and that the population can still be threatened by the sort of tragedy that has happened at Chernobyl?

Mr. Biffen

I very much hope that the motion can be tabled shortly, and the intention is that it should be drawn most widely indeed in view of recent circumstances. It would not be appropriate for me to anticipate what would or would not be in order, but I do not think that my hon. Friend will be disappointed when he sees the terms of the motion.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

On Tuesday, will arrangements be made to ensure that there is adequate time to debate the Hong Kong order?

Mr. Biffen

At present, the motion would mean a one-and-a-half hour debate, but if there is concern to have the matter reconsidered through the usual channels, we would be prepared to accept that.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Croydon, North-West)

With regard to the report of the Privileges Committee on the complaint by the Select Committee on the Environment, can my right hon. Friend indicate when this matter might be debated in the House?

Mr. Biffen

I underline what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said—that in every sense this is a straightforward House of Commons occasion. None the less, I think that the House would like to have this matter resolved fairly speedily, and I hope that a debate can be arranged before we go into the Whitsun recess.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

Will the Leader of the House consider regional policy for the north-east, bearing in mind the Government's appalling record of neglect in that region and the need to protect workers in factories where the management obtain some regional aid and then disappear, leaving many workers unpaid and without apparent legal remedies through the absence of a receivership?

Is he aware, for example, that a firm called Para-pace Ltd., of Cramlington in my constituency, has had 40 workers left high and dry by a management which has done a moonlight flit, and there is no remedy that the Department of Trade and Industry can offer to these workers because there has been no receivership? They are all owed money and can do nothing about it. Will the right hon. Gentleman seriously look at the question of regional aid in the north-east?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is a debate on one aspect of regional policy next week, although I do not think that it will help the particular point that he has in mind. What I would like to suggest, therefore, is that he use his chance in the motion that we will be debating on Monday for the Spring Adjournment.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

My right hon. Friend will have heard the discussions on tourism during Prime Minister's questions and will be aware of the importance that the Prime Minister attaches to the job creation prospects for that industry. He will also be aware of the very grave concern recently expressed over the loss of tourists this year, due largely to misapprehensions. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the tourism industry has been the subject of only one debate in the entire life of this Parliament.

In view of recent developments, will my right hon. Friend seek time for a Government debate on this subject as soon as possible?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes a very precise point, but I am, by the nature of my task, an unyielding creature. I have, therefore, to say to him that, in the circumstances, he too might like to come along on Monday night when we have the recess Adjournment.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

When the House comes to debate the report of the Privileges Committee, in which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, I was the one dissenting voice, will he please assure us that there will be an absolutely free vote and that no Government Back Benchers will be under any pressure whatever to suspend membership or lobby rights from the journalist concerned, when the offence for which he was charged was that he made available information about nuclear safety at a time when the Government and others are boasting about the high levels of openness that we now enjoy? Although I have no time for News International or its proprietor, the issue in this case is one that the House must be able to discuss absolutely free of any Government Whips.

Mr. Biffen

I agree that it would be trivialising this particular topic if it were related to News International or its proprietor, and I am grateful that the right hon. Gentleman has made that point. The Prime Minister has said that this is, in every sense, a House of Commons occasion, and I think the right hon. Gentleman should make a generous interpretation of that.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

My right hon. Friend will be familiar with the reply of 6 May, as reported in column 95 of Hansard, to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) on the European Community budget and contributions thereto. Does my right hon. Friend conclude from this reply that we are to have a European Community supplementary budget every year? Can he assure the House that if and when we are asked to approve supplementary budgets in the European Community the House will be allowed to separate out those elements in the budget which refer to the United Kingdom's rebate, on the one hand, and those elements that may consist simply of increased European Community expenditure, on the other? Can he indicate that we will be able to make a selective choice of what we approve of in the Community and will not be expected to link one unnecessarily with the other?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises again the matter touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) last week. It is of some complexity. I would very much like to be able to write to my hon. Friend on this point and set out the record as I feel it should be.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

While we welcome the fact that statements have been made this week by Ministers on developments following the Chernobyl disaster, and in spite of the fact that we are to have a general debate on civil nuclear power next week, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that in case of any new developments arising out of that disaster in particular Ministers will be equally willing to come to the House and make further statements?

Mr. Biffen

I willingly give that undertaking. The House has a responsible role in damping down any kind of popular scaremongering in these matters.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend heard the one o'clock news and the "World at One" programme. If so, he would have heard the chairman of the Channel Tunnel group, Lord Pennock, talking of Parliament "mucking about" the Channel Tunnel Bill. I am a supporter of the Bill but I am also a great supporter of the parliamentary system. I rather resent the attitude of someone who is not a Member and who speaks of Parliament mucking about as it proceeds to examine a Bill of this nature. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the procedures of the House with regard to this hybrid Bill will not be telescoped to suit the Government's purpose and thereby put in jeopardy the right of the people of Kent to have their voice heard and their views taken into account in the consideration of this Bill?

Mr. Biffen

If Lord Pennock has referred to Parliament as "mucking about"—I did not have the advantage of hearing the broadcast—the fact is that Lord Pennock is a member of another place and should show the due hypocritical regard that we all expect of one another as politicians. On the wider issue, I understand the concern that there should be a full and fair discussion of the subject.

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

Without condoning the activities of News International, can I put it to the Leader of the House that the public will condemn the House if it takes the irresponsible action of expelling The Times journalist, Mr. Richard Evans, particularly when all he did was report on a conversation that he had had with a Member who himself had breached privilege? Would not Fleet street be wise, in the event that such an expulsion were to take place, to withdraw its lobby correspondents in protest?

Mr. Biffen

That was a very interesting contribution. It helps to indicate that we shall have quite a lively debate when the report of the Privileges Committee is placed before the House. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having given a trailer of his intended contribution.

Mr. Andrew MacKay Berkshire, East)

Would my right hon. Friend agree that it might be helpful to have a debate on the events outside the News International plant at Wapping, particularly bearing in mind that it would give the Leader of the Opposition the opportunity completely to condemn and refute the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who said that the police represent all that is rotten in our society?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has indicated to the House that he would seek to use today's debate to discuss this matter and, as I think that he is the star of the drama, my hon. Friend will have to take advantage of today's debate because I can see no other opportunity in the near future.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Energy to make a statement to the House as soon as possible about the system by which firms which award major onshore contracts for offshore oil-related facilities, such as fabricated jackets, can subcontract a great percentage of that work abroad? I ask this for constituency reasons. In the Highlands we have two yards competing for the Shell Eider contract. One will be successful and the other will lose. Whichever is successful, we shall see up to 50 per cent. of the work subcontracted abroad. This will be very damaging. Could the Leader of the House take steps for the House to have a statement on this so that Members may express their views?

May I add my voice to those who call for an early debate on the report of the Committee of Privileges? In a week in which we have rightly criticised the Soviet Union for secrecy, it would be a travesty if the mother of Parliaments, in its attitude to Mr. Richard Evans doing his job as a lobby correspondent, were to take an equally ham-fisted approach.

Mr. Biffen

On the second point. I have indicated that it is my expectation that the debate can take place before we go into recess for the Whitsun break. It could hardly be much earlier than that. As to the first point, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy is top for questions on Monday, but that may not be the ideal forum for him to make his point. I will, therefore, refer to my right hon. Friend his request for a statement.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Without wishing to intrude into, or remind my right hon. Friend of, recent Government grief, especially as the Home Secretary is on the Front Bench, may I draw to the attention of the Leader of the House the fact that on Tuesday of next week my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) will move a ten-minute Bill whose purpose is to amend the Shops Act 1950? Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will allow a free vote and encourage those on the Front Bench to vote for the Bill? Will he also arrange that it should have a fair wind? Will he promise to give it Government Committee time?

Mr. Biffen

The business about voting is a somewhat arcane subject, which is entirely within the keep of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. I should be raising substantially false hopes if at this stage of the Session I were to suggest that there would be a great deal of Government time available to facilitate private Members' legislation.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the Leader of the House aware that within a few weeks more than 1,000 tin miners in the south-west will be thrown out of their jobs? Reference has been made to their plight by some of his hon. Friends and by a couple of Liberal Members. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should have a debate about the matter and that the tin miners might be treated in the same way that the Tory Government have treated Johnson Matthey, by the use of taxpayers' money, in the same way that they bailed out the Common Market, with £250 million of taxpayers' money, and in the same way as they bailed out the Export Credits Guarantee Department last year with another £350 million? Many businesses will go under because of the closure of the tin mines. Does he agree that that will cause havoc in the south-west and will affect the lives of the families in that area? Will he arrange a debate before those 1,000-odd tin miners finally have to join the dole queue, although some have probably taken redundancy already? Does he also recall that a few weeks ago——

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Skinner

This is only a small point. Does the Leader of the House recall that a few weeks ago I mentioned to him that the branch secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union in this building has to come to work two or three hours before the beginning of the afternoon shift so that he can carry out his trade union duties? Why should he have to do that when the other trade union branch secretaries representing the clerical staffs can do their job in a different way? Will the Leader of the House make arrangements for that man, who works on the lifts, to be given the same opportunity to do his trade union job while at work as applies to the others?

Mr. Biffen

On the second point, it probably belongs to the House of Commons Commission, but I shall have the matter considered.

On the first point, I share the hon. Member's concern about the tragedies that are implicit in the misfortunes of the tin industry in the south-west. That is natural since I was raised in the south-west. However, the question of a debate should turn upon the fact that the Select Committee on Trade and Industry has produced a report on the tin crisis which the Government are considering. I think that a debate should properly proceed when the Government's response has been published.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

I revert to the Channel Tunnel Bill. Now that my right hon. Friend has heard the stern warning issued by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) about the dangers of trying to telescope the timetable for the Bill, now that Lord Pennock has made such an interesting contribution on the subject of how to win friends and influence people by telling the House to stop mucking about with the Bill, and now that the House has had to pass a special resolution setting up an unprecedented series of hearings by the Select Committee on Standing Orders in order to decide whether the Government should be granted the dispensation which they have requested, does not my right hon. Friend think that he may have been a little dismissive in his reply at this time last week when I issued a warning on the subject? Does he not understand now that the people of Kent want fair play and a fair hearing on the Bill? As there are a hundred legislative obstacles in their way, the Government will trip on every one until they start to see sense on the matter.

Mr. Biffen

I thank my hon. Friend for his good-natured comments. Being dismissive is not a characteristic that I usually permit myself; inwardly I might, but at this Box I try to accommodate the public stance. Certainly I was not dismissive but perhaps optimistic. I take account of what my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) have said, but I am sure that they are well aware that this is a major matter that engages the attention of the Government and that it will be dealt with properly and without any attempt to deny legitimate debate.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

It is now nearly two months since the Budget and the publication of the Government's Green Paper on personal tax reform. Since that subject is likely to play an important part in the Conservative party's position at the next election, could my right hon. Friend use his great influence with the Treasury and other relevant Departments to ensure that we have a full debate on this important subject in the near future so that on this occasion all parliamentarians may make their views known before final decisions are taken?

Mr. Biffen

Of course, I shall take account of what my hon. Friend has said. Being a fair-minded person, he will also recognise that this is the time of the year when we have a great deal of legislative business—Report stages and the like. That makes it very difficult to give a clear commitment such as he wants on the topic.

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    2. EDUCATION (No. 2) 123 words