HC Deb 15 May 1986 vol 97 cc857-73 3.47 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week—and the Hansard for 1939?

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 19 MAY—Progress on remaining stages of the Social Security Bill (1st Allotted Day).
  • TUESDAY 20 MAY—Completion of remaining stages of the Social Security Bill (2nd Allotted Day).
  • There will be a debate to approve the first report from the Privileges Committee 1985–86 (House of Commons Paper No. 376).
  • WEDNESDAY 21 MAY—Until about seven o'clock, Second Reading of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill [Lords] followed by a debate on a motion to take note of the situation in the shipbuilding industry.
  • Motion relatng to the Town and Country Planning (NIREX) Special Development Order.
  • THURSDAY 22 MAY—Second Reading of the Sex Discrimination Bill [Lords].
  • FRIDAY 23 MAY—Debates on the motion for the Adjournment.

Mr. Kinnock

First, may I welcome the fact that Ministers responded to demands made by right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and myself yesterday and conceded an emergency debate on the crisis in the merchant shipbuilding industry. Even at this late stage, however, I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman could arrange a different time for the debate next week so that it takes place earlier in the week and, indeed, earlier in the day. There is great interest in the country generally and great anxiety in the shipbuilding areas about this issue and, therefore, great urgency should be attached to the debate.

Today, another rise in unemployment has been recorded, yet the Government still refuse to come to the House to defend their policies, which have brought about this inexorable rise. I have been asking the right hon. Gentleman for some time to arrange such a debate. Semidetached though he may currently be, I am sure that he has enough of a relationship with the Government to assure us that, in the near future, there could be a debate on unemployment in Government time. I hope that that is the case.

Mr. Gorbachev's views expressed last night add further to the need for a wide-ranging foreign affairs debate, preferably a two-day debate. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for such a debate as soon as possible after the House reconvenes on 3 June?

We regret that only three hours is to be given to the Second Reading of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill. Could not the right hon. Gentleman postpone the Second Reading of the Sex Discrimination Bill on Thursday so that the Scottish legislation could receive longer consideration on that day in its place?

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the need for debates on the arts and conservation policy and urge him to ensure that time is quickly provided?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also ensure that we have a debate upon manning in the Metropolitan police, especially in the light of today's news that the increase in officers sought by Sir Kenneth Newman is not to be met, despite the Prime Minister's undertaking at the Conservative party conference last year that Should the police need more men, more equipment. they shall have them. Finally, in view of the disputes this week, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate in the near future on the resource allocation working party and its operation in the National Health Service? Such a debate is necessary so that Conservative Members who represent London, excluding the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), can give a proper airing to the view that they have expressed in a letter to the Prime Minister that the Government are selling London short in health terms.

Mr. Biffen

May I respond to the points made by the Leader of the Opposition in reverse order?

I am sure that a debate on the allocation of resources in the NHS would command general interest and would also give the Government the opportunity to deploy their formidable case in that area. But at the moment, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, the pressure on the time of the House intensifies as we approach the end of July. However, that is a matter that we can consider.

I shall, of course, refer the points about the Metropolitan police to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

I note the interest in debates on the arts and conservation, and doubtless that can feature in discussions through the usual channels.

I take account of the request that more time should be made available for the Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, but again that is something that can best be pursued through the usual channels.

I agree that there will be great merit in arranging a debate upon foreign affairs as soon as reasonably practical and convenient after—

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

The right hon. Gentleman says that every time.

Mr. Biffen

Of course I say it every time. It is the best thing that I have to say. The hon. Gentleman will not ultimately be disappointed in this matter.

I note the request for a debate on unemployment. It can be attended to through the usual channels.

I am happy that it was recognised that the Government fully identify the shipbuilding industry as being a matter of major industrial and current political concern. I am grateful that there is recognition of that in the debate that we have arranged. I note it is thought not to be of maximum convenience, but perhaps that is also something that we can look at through the usual channels.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

With reference to Tuesday's important debate on the Privileges Select Committee report, has my right hon. Friend seen the inaccurate and misleading letter written to hon. Members by members of the parliamentary Lobby journalists which referred throughout to the leaking of a Select Committee report when in fact it was the leak of a draft chairman's report? As the coverage of this matter in the press has perhaps been less than balanced, will my right hon. Friend urge right hon. and hon. Members to read the full report and the evidence before taking a view on the matter?

Mr. Biffen

I have seen the letter, and, indeed, I suspect, most Members of the House have had that advantage. My right hon. Friend makes a pertinent commentary upon it, and it will be to the great advantage of the House if it has a chance to take account of those views.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

In view of the decision of the Central Electricity Generating Board not to publish the board of inquiry report into Hinkley Point, and in view of the decision of the nuclear inspectorate not to publish the 20-year inquiry report into the Magnox reactors, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Energy to make a statement on both of those matters next week?

Mr. Biffen

I note the hon. Gentleman's request. Although we have recently had a wide-ranging debate on that topic, I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that information has recently come to light to suggest that the person who proposed the motion, subsequently taken up by the National Union of Journalists, to send condolences to President Gaddafi of Libya is a gentleman of Iraqi origin who is the head of the Libyan news agency, Jana, in London? He came to this country in 1978 as a political refugee, and was subsequently granted political asylum. Is not the fact that the NUJ paid attention to such an individual a shaming indictment of the activities of its leadership? Is it not about time that it apologised to the British public for its extraordinary antics?

Mr. Biffen

I suspect that very few hon. Members knew about that information, but it represents an interesting commentary on that resolution, and I am sure that there will be interest in the NUJ's reaction to it.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

May I reinforce the request of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that the Government might reconsider the time that they have kindly given for a debate on the shipbuilding industry? Will the Leader of the House bear in mind that the fortunes of the shipping industry and the Royal Navy are bound up in the shipbuilding industry? Will he therefore consider giving a full day's consideration to that most important subject?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says, and I have no doubt that that, too, will be assessed by the usual channels.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I shall not trouble him today about the early-day motion concerning 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 Giuseppe 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 this twitter 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 public process of review as he may deem appropriate to this disturbing case.]

Instead, may I ask my right hon. Friend to recall the regret that he shared with me at the displacement of the Whitsun holiday by the spring holiday? Should not the House set a better example and not sit on a Whit Monday, thereby downgrading the birthday of the Christian Church?

Mr. Biffen

I think that I can just about recognise the outlines of a banana skin in my hon. Friend's final observation. I should like to give further thought to his well-intentioned observation. While reminiscing, I should point out that I did not immediately answer the Leader of the Opposition's question. But, in my judgment, my hon. Friend is absolutely right about how Hansard treated the remarks of Leo Amery.

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

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he did not sound very convincing when he said that he would welcome a debate on the under-funding of the NHS, because he then pleaded shortage of time? Does he realise that a debate would not simply involve London versus the rest? From our experience in north Staffordshire, we know that it simply is not true that other areas prosper while London declines. In north Staffordshire we have had red alerts every week bar one throughout the winter. London has had just one week of red alerts.

Mr. Biffen

Of course I appreciate that any debate on the NHS would be truncated if it referred merely to the health services in the London area. But I would have to accommodate such a debate within the discipline of all the other demands that are made on parliamentary time as we approach a period of peak demand.

Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to come to the House at the earliest opportunity to explain something that he said yesterday, during questions on the statement on British Shipbuilders? He said: If an adequate number of orders can be found to keep those yards open, that will be highly desirable and something that I would welcome. "—[Official Report, 14 May, 1986; Vol. 97, c. 716.] Two hours before he said that, British Shipbuilders told the trade unions in Newcastle that, whatever orders were found, those yards would close and that the redundancies announced would go ahead. That has been checked and confirmed again this morning.

Does the Secretary of State know what is going on? Did he knowingly mislead the House? Who is in charge—the Secretary of State or British Shipbuilders, which seems hell-bent on running down the industry whether or not it obtains orders? Will the Secretary of State come to the House, because the matter cannot wait until the debate next week? People who are being made redundant and whose yards are threatened with closure want to know what is happening.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman made a number of generalised accusations, including one against the good name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I reject any accusation of ill faith against my right hon. Friend.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to refer his remarks to my right hon. Friend, and of course I shall do so.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Is it possible at some time to have a debate on constitutional matters during which we could perhaps discuss hung Parliaments and coalition Parliaments, among other things? In particular, the House could take note of the fact that people in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere who have experienced the horrors of a Lib-Lab coalition detested what they saw and decisively rejected it.

Mr. Biffen

The prospect of a convincing Conservative majority after the next election should lift from my hon. Friend all those agonies. Of course, I undertake to consider an interesting constitutional innovation, not least because it would be helpful if the Opposition parties, especially the Liberal and Social Democratic parties, were to be a little more forthcoming about how they would react to the situation outlined by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

Will the Leader of the House try to be a little more sympathetic to and forthcoming about the request of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for an early debate on unemployment? Would it not be appropriate, on the day on which record unemployment figures have been announced, for the right hon. Gentleman to say that there will be an early opportunity to discuss the increasing and horrendous levels of unemployment on Merseyside, and in particular the recent redundancies in Kirby in my constituency? Is it not time that my constituents were given some semblance of an idea of what prospects the Government hold out of them ever having permanent, full-time employment?

Mr. Biffen

I think that I responded in a prudent and realistic manner to the Leader of the Opposition, and I would hope that he would feel that it was a reasonable answer.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that next Wednesday's debate on the NIREX special development order is at least a three-hour debate? I recognise that he is under no great pressure in that the Labour party is committed to this policy and the Liberal party chief whip has endorsed burial of nuclear waste in surface facilities—but I am not and do not. My constituents and those in related constituencies insist on having our case fully put, and one and a half hours is an insufficient time in which to do so.

Mr. Biffen

I take note of my hon. Friend's remarks. I think that the question of timing might reasonably be considered through the usual channels.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

In view of the widespread interest in Scotland in the Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill, will the right hon. Gentleman sympathetically consider the request by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for further time to discuss that very important matter?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that I can go beyond the reply that I gave to the Leader of the Opposition, but I have of course, noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Will my right hon. Friend bring forward to the earliest possible date the debate on the defence Estimates, because defence spending in real terms is to go down by 6 per cent. and there is also an urgent need for an expanded naval shipbuilding programme for strategic as well as good industrial and social reasons?

Mr. Biffen

I understand my hon. Friend's point. I am sure that he will realise that there is much merit in having the report of the Select Committee available before the debate takes place.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

May I press the right hon. Gentleman once again on the need for an early debate on the funding of the NHS? Is he aware that the Prime Minister, on more than one occasion this week, has implied that the north of England is better off as a result of a reallocation of NHS resources?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, despite that, the Newcastle district health authority has reported that there is no possibility of meeting its budget in either the short or the long term without ward closures? That has resulted in a proposal to close the Fleming memorial hospital, which for almost 100 years has provided highly specialised services for children.

The Prime Minister said that the north is better off. Will she explain that to those who rightly ask how, given that disastrous set of circumstances, the north can possibly be better off? Can there be an early debate so that the matter may be clarified?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not think it an unfair comment if I said that he has just presented a miniature speech rather than a request. However, I notice that it did include a request.

The Government have such a formidable case on the provision of hospital building and health services that we would be happy to have a debate, but its timing must be considered through the usual channels.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

At the Venice meeting of the Western European Union the Council of Ministers was reluctant to envisage any progress in the reactivation of WEU. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that should be the subject of debate in the Chamber as the WEU is the second layer to NATO?

Mr. Biffen

I understand my hon. Friend's attachment to the WEU. Indeed, the House has a long and enduring relationship with that body. The best that I can do in the first instance is to refer my hon. Friend's comments to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Can the Leader of the House confirm that there will be only a single motion for the debate on the Privileges Committee report on Tuesday? As privilege is widely misunderstood—and not only outside the House—and as the recommendation links the alleged breach of privilege with a specific penalty, would it not be better for the House to take the alleged breach of privilege and the proposed penalty as separate questions?

Mr. Biffen

The motion has already been tabled and has appeared on the Order Paper for, I think, at least two days. Any other arrangements must be within the gift of the Chair.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

My question also relates to next Tuesday's debate on privilege. Given the importance of this matter both to journalists who work in this place and to hon. Members, can my right hon. Friend assure us that the debate will be taken at a reasonable time—perhaps 10 o'clock, and no later—and that there will be plenty of time to deal with matter?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I think that the business that I have announced gives a clear indication of when we expect the debate to get under way. I take this opportunity to say that I hope that the length of the dabate will be broadly similar to that when The Economist issue was debated.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to study early-day motion No. 851 concerning the nuclear threat to Salisbury Plain occasioned by cruise missiles touring around Salisbury Plain last weekend?

[That this House notes that over the weekend period of 7th to 12th May a large convoy of military vehicles accompanied a cruise missile launcher around Salisbury Plain; regrets the danger to local people of this convoy; is appalled that roads around Tilshead were closed to prevent the public seeing the missiles; further regrets that a United States Army vehicle carrying messages to the convoy crashed in the churchyard fence at Tilshead Parish Church but congratulates those who were able to write peace signs on its side windows; and finally recognises that cruise missiles are not wanted in the United Kingdom.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that, in view of the denial of civil liberties to the people of that area through road closures, police presence and harassment and the sheer inefficiency of clogging roads with military vehicles for several days, the Secretary of State for Defence should come to the House and explain what the danger is to people in that area and the rest of the country rom those missiles touring around? Should not the Secretary of State also tell the House what he proposes to do to protect the people of that area from the massive police presence that seems to occasion American missiles every time they are let loose on our roads?

Mr. Biffen

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's strictures on either the armed forces or the police. I shall, of course, draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to the anxieties that the hon. Gentleman has expressed.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the Building Societies Bill completed its Committee stage at the end of February, yet we still await its Report stage? As this is an important and, indeed, growing part of the Government's housing policy, will my right hon. Friend please bring the Bill forward for Report as quickly as possible?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said. I know only too well the significance of the Bill for the building industry generally. As my hon. Friend can see, it does not feature in the business for next week, but I hope that it will not be too long delayed.

Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Stockton, South)

Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that the debate on shipbuilding next week will be wide-ranging? Is he aware that the closure of Smith's Dock on Teesside, adding to the already record levels of unemployment in Cleveland, has been a devastating blow to the entire community? Will he provide an opportunity for Ministers from the Department of the Environment, the Department of Employment and other Departments who should be involved in the solutions to these problems to respond to the issues raised in the debate?

Mr. Biffen

I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks are borne in mind by those who will draft the motion. The Ministers who will take part in the debate will be so drawn as to enable the debate to be dealt with in the broadest sense.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

May I support my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) in asking for increased time for the debate on nuclear waste that is to take place on Wednesday? Many Members have an interest in the matter and many will wish to contribute to the debate. After the Minister has spoken. there will not be much time left for Back Benchers. I believe that the debate should be given added mileage.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Well done.

Mr. Biffen

I understand the point that has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Sir K. Lewis), and elaborated on from a sedentary position by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). Were it not for these remarks, "Speak for England" would have to rely on the Press Gallery.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton. North)

The Leader of the House will know that some weeks ago the Government published a report on irradiated food and its suitability or otherwise for the populace. He should know that representations have to be submitted by the end of July, and he should know also that the Minister responsible for these matters has refused to give me information which I consider it essential to have in my possession for any representations that I may make in response to the report. Will he tell me how, through the procedures of the House, I can get information which I consider to be essential?

Mr. Biffen

In the first instance, the hon. Gentleman might like to ventilate the matter in an Adjournment debate. The Minister would then be able to deal fully with the issues concerned in public view, as it were.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House consider again the importance of having an economic debate, if not next week, then perhaps after the recess, not least because it would relate to some of the implications of his remarks which were made last Sunday on television, and because when we consider our position among OECD countries the alarming reality is hitting us more and more that we are the least investing country among the large and advanced economies, so called? Our rate of asset reinvestment is about one fifth of that which Japan is achieving, and its GNP is already much greater than ours. This is becoming a serious matter, not least for the unemployed.

Mr. Biffen

Today's unemployment figures clearly add to the general interest in economic affairs. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that the House has fairly frequent opportunities of debating economic matters, but I shall bear his request in mind. He will have heard that there are many other requests for debates against which his request will have to be taken.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his reply to me last week and his refusal to arrange for a debate, statement or inquiry into the murders and disappearance of British servicemen after their interrogation by German Army Group E—Kurt Waldheim being in charge of the interrogation—especially in the light of documentary evidence that is now available of British soldiers being sent for special treatment according to the Fuhrer's order—in other words, for their elimination? Surely this is a matter which the Government cannot turn aside by saying that it has nothing to do with them.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. and learned Gentleman has written to me on these matters and I have replied to him today.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House aware of an apparent flaw in the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 whereby ladies entering into surrogacy arrangement contracts are being paid to keep a diary, such arrangements being contrary to the spirit of the Act? May we have an opportunity to debate that and the lack of provision currently for religious education in our schools? Many schools are offering peace studies rather than true religious education.

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the issue raised by my hon. Friend would make the subject of a lively and constructive debate. I must ask him, however, to observe the demands for debates on a wide range of topics which have been made this afternoon. It would be misleading if I said that one could be arranged at an early date.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Is the Leader of the House aware that two and three quarter hours to discuss the special development order for the NIREX disposal site is entirely inadequate? Conservative Members who support the nuclear industry but do not want it in their back yard will wish to speak. Secondly, it will take two and three quarter hours for the alliance to explain how it agrees with the Labour party when it is in favour of an independent nuclear deterrent, which means that it is necessary to produce plutonium, which in turn makes it necessary to have reprocessing. The alliance is in favour of getting rid of Sellafield, but it would have to keep it to produce plutonium for the independent nuclear deterrent. Why was the alliance established, and why did members of the SDP leave the Labour party? Are they all unilateralists now?

Mr. Biffen

If all those matters really are the consequence of a special development order of the Department of the Environment, I understand why there is a request for more time. As I have said, the matter can be considered through the usual channels.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that wage negotiations in the electricity supply industry have broken down, with a threatened overtime ban on 25 May? As it is essential for the well-being of the nation that there is industrial peace in the electricity supply industry, will the Government arrange for a statement to be made next week to explain how they hope to help the management and unions out of their present difficulties?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that anyone in the House will underestimate the serious implications of industrial action in the electricity supply industry. I am sure that everyone will wish the House to act in the most constructive way possible to secure an early resolution of the dispute. I shall refer my hon. Friend's remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on when it might be appropriate to make a statement.

Mr. Leo Abse (Torfaen)

May I again draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the early-day motion standing in my name, which has been signed by 101 Members, relating to family courts?

[That this House welcomes the establishment of the Family Courts Campaign to promote the early implementation of family courts, following the support for family courts recently expressed by the Law Society, the Association of County Councils, the Association of Directors of Social Services and many other bodies; welcomes the recommendations of the report of the Matrimonial Causes Procedure Committee, particularly those relating to the establishment of conciliation in matrimonial proceedings; notes with concern that the report of the Law Commission on Family Law, Illegitimacy, has yet to be implemented: further notes that the joint study set up in July 1984 by the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for the Home Department to reexamine the idea of a unified family court, and study the resources implications in terms of finance, manpower and accommodation is due to be published shortly; regrets that this study has been so long delayed; and urges the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for the Home Department to come forward with proposals for legislation at the earliest opportunity, following the publication of their report and their subsequent consultation on the most appropriate model for implementation.]

Bearing in mind the legitimate anxiety expressed yesterday by HRH Princess Margaret and the widespread belief—I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman is smiling—that there is a need for a genuine family court if we are to deal with the problems of child abuse and child neglect, will he provide an opportunity for a debate during which we shall be able to discuss the arid and legalistic report that was issued this week—as arid and legalistic as is The Times editorial this morning—and reflect public opinion, thereby showing the wide gap on this issue between the legalistic bureaucrats in the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Treasury and the House?

Mr. Biffen

The smile that crossed my face was one of appreciation and admiration of the skill with which the hon. Gentleman develops his argument and his case, which from now onwards will have "By Royal Appointment" stamped well and truly upon it. I shall consider his request for a debate, but he will know the difficulties that face me. I appreciate that the issue which he has raised has a real House of Commons interest.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend make arrangements for an early debate on the most important Audit Commission report on education, which calls for the closure of 1,000 comprehensive schools over the next few years and the consequent redundancy of 5,000 teachers per year in addition to natural wastage, as well as making the valuable suggestion that there should he better payment of extra good teachers? This is a crucial report for the country generally and for the education service especially. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would arrange an early and wide-ranging debate upon it.

Mr. Biffen

I cannot in all conscience promise that there is the prospect of an early and wide-ranging debate on the report. I shall draw the remarks of my hon. Friend to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I know that there will be genuine public interest in any proposal which involves such massive school closures.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

May I reinforce the argument of my hon. and, in view of his recent activity perhaps I should say learned, Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse) about the need to debate a family court structure? I remind the Leader of the House that the Select Committee, in its report on the care of children, made a strong recommendation in recommendation 36 that this issue could he examined. In view of the time that has been taken by the Lord Chancellor, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is high time to debate the issue in the House so that hon. Members can give guidance to the Government on what they feel should be introduced?

Mr. Biffen

I understand the point that the hon. Lady has made. She brought to the argument the authority of the Chairman of the appropriate departmental Select Committee. I do not think that I can go beyond what I said earlier.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

I reinforce the request that has been made by other hon. Members. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House who said that he will consider the matter through the usual channels. If he uses the usual channels for that purpose—bearing in mind that, during the recent debate on nuclear policy the Labour party and the Liberal party clearly acknowledged that they would go along with the special development order—he might receive the wrong answer. How will he use the usual channels for the request? Hon. Members are involved at a constituency level.

Mr. Biffen

I note charitably what my hon. Friend has said. but I think that he should be a little cautious before trying to elevate himself into a usual channel—it is not that great a life.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

Is the Leader of the House aware that yesterday the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry informed Cornish Members that a final decision on at least one tin mine would be made in the first week of June? Does that mean that we cannot have a debate in the House before the final decision is made? Although we understand why we are having a debate next week about shipbuilding, will the Leader of the House explain to those who live in Cornwall why not one moment has been found in the past six months to discuss the tin industry?

Mr. Biffen

The matter has been considered by a departmental Select Committee. Its report and the Government's reactions to it ought to be a precondition for a debate. I take account of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I realise only too well that the matter is of immense significance in the Duchy.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

My right hon. Friend may recall a debate some weeks ago initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) on the Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive order. Because of a brilliant but somewhat lengthy speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braille), I was unable to speak. As I and some of my hon. Friends intend to vote against the order, it is vital that we are given an opportunity to speak. Therefore, I earnestly request the Leader of the House to allow a three or four-hour debate.

Mr. Biffen

I will convey to my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary the fact that my hon. Friend intends to vote against the Government. I will also take account of the fact that he seeks an extended time for the debate.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Does the Leader of the House consider that, in view of the obvious unease and disquiet about the problems that have occurred in the nuclear industry, it is time that we had a debate on the coal mining industry before we run into the 1960s danger of wasting millions of pounds investment? As the Government wish to turn the coal mining industry into a market situation, and as we are waving goodbye to the old chairman and welcoming the new chairman, does the Leader of the House agree that this is an appropriate time to state the House's position on an overall energy policy based on what we know is a safe fuel—coal?

Mr. Biffen

I said earlier that the hon. Gentleman made a persuasive case for the coal industry even though his remarks were, by necessity, somewhat brief. I cannot promise the prospect of an early debate on the coal industry, for reasons that have been apparent this afternoon. Many demands are being made on Government time. That does not in any sense diminish the importance of the point that the hon. Gentleman has made. I will see that it is conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

I refer to the request for a debate on NIREX and the special development order. The issue involved has caused great concern to the three or four parties that are affected. More than 120.000 people have signed a petition in Humberside, principally in south Humberside. I understand that the petition will be presented to the House of Commons on Wednesday. County councils, borough councils and district councils have had numerous public meetings which were attended by all my local hon. Friends who have spoken this afternoon. I strenuously urge my right hon. Friend to allow the debate to take place over three or four hours. The arguments against the NIREX proposals will be advanced only by Conservative Members. My right hon. Friend knows that they will not be advanced by the Opposition, because the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has already given his view that a shallow—based disposal facility is satisfactory. Unless a three-hour debate is granted, the issues will not be satisfactorily canvassed by those hon. Members who are affected.

Mr. Biffen

I have said that the matter can be consiered further through the usual channels. I assure my hon. Friend that I shall make certain that his views are considered.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I ask the Leader of the House a question of which I gave him notice for a considered reply. In view of Roger Todd's well-researched article on the sinking of the Sheffield in the Daily Mirror, has the time come for discussion of the major minority report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on the events of 1 and 2 May 1982?

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman who, with characteristic courtesy, informed me that he would raise the question. I will consider further the possibility of a debate on the Select Committee's report. It can be discussed through the usual channels.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, on remarriage, a war widow loses for ever her entitlement to a war widow's pension, and that on the death of any subsequent husband she cannot claim it with effect from that day? Is it not time that we had a debate on the subject of war widow's pensions so that we can discuss not only the level but the mechanics of entitlement that make the payment fairer, because at the moment widows are discouraged from remarrying?

Mr. Biffen

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend has said. He has been a most effective campaigner for war widows. He is more likely to bring the matter to the Floor of the House through the technique of an Adjournment debate than a general debate because, quite frankly, I do not think that there is time available.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that on 27 March I drew his attention to early-day motions 204 and 217?

[That this House notes with concern that speech therapists, members of a highly-skilled caring profession, discharging a wide range of responsibilities, are underpaid in comparison with other National Health Service professionals doing work of equal value; notes also that speech therapy is traditionally a female profession; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to provide sufficient funds to enable speech therapists' salary levels to be increased so that speech therapists receive equal pay for work of equal value.]

[That this House expresses its appreciation of the valuable work performed by speech therapists; and, in expressing its concern that decreasing comparative salary levels will dissuade the ablest of individuals from entering this profession, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that speech therapists are remunerated at a level equal to that of other graduate specialists within the National Health Service.]

The motions were signed by 119 and 87 hon. Members, respectively, on both sides of the House. At that time I told the right hon. Gentleman that there was a demand for a statement to be made by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. The Leader of the House, in his usual courteous and balanced way, said that he would draw the attention of his right hon. Friend to the demand. What has been the result of his representations?

Mr. Biffen

I think that I must have notice of that question.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

I reinforce the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) in his request for a debate on education. Yesterday, Smith's Dock in Langbaurgh was closed and, for the second time in three years, an axe is hanging over schools in my constituency. It was reported today that a further 1,000 schools are liable to close in future. That cannot help young people in my constituency who saw their jobs disappearing yesterday and are seeing their schools disappearing today.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend rightly alerts the House to what will be a general anxiety about a report which contains massive school closure proposals. However, they are just proposals from an advisory body. More generally, I refer him to the answer I gave earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway).

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

Last week I asked the Leader of the House a question about regional aid and the Government's policy, especially on the north-east region. The Leader of the House gave a reply which, unwittingly, was slightly helpful. Given the niggardly amount that the Government gave the north-east by way of regional aid, will he take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the distribution of regional aid is efficient and quick?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a company in my constituency, Laceintel Ltd, has applied for regional aid which is desperately required to pay for industrial machinery and has to be paid by the end of next week? Unless the application is considered and granted by the end of next week, 55 jobs will be in jeopardy. Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about the matter and see whether he can expedite the consideration of the application?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly refer the problems outlined by the hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of early-day motion 845 in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends?

[That this House regards with astonishment the refusal of the Secretary of State for Wales to meet Ogwr Borough Council about the critical job losses it has suffered, and about the need to restore development area status, the case for which was fuelled by the crisis created by the Ford announcement; regards this grave discourtesy to a major Welsh council as breaking the traditional availability of the Welsh Office Ministers to Members of Parliament and to the councils; and warns the Secretary of State that though he has slammed the Welsh Office doors in the face of the people of Wales he cannot hide indefinitely behind those doors from the wrath of the very people whose interests he should represent and champion.]

It concerns the refusal of the Secretary of State for Wales to meet Ogwr borough council to discuss the downgrading of development area status. If the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to allow a debate next week on this vital issue, will he raise the matter in Cabinet to highlight the arrogance that is rubbing off the Prime Minister on to the Secretary of State for Wales? The Secretary of State will not meet the borough council. On Tuesday afternoon, 50 Ogwr borough councillors attended the House of Commons for the purpose of meeting the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, or any other Tory Member of Parliament, yet not one of those invited turned up.

Mr. Biffen

I totally reject the hon. Gentleman's personal imputations against the character and behaviour of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Wales. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has acted in this matter with any discourtesy. I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's strictures.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware, even if he does not share the concern of many people, of the failure of the Department of the Environment and the Scottish Office to publish adequate information on radiation levels during the Chernobyl incident. Is he aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) asked in a written question about maximum radiation levels which was answered in yesterday's Hansard? In that written answer, the Department of the Environment failed to do more than give details of average levels of radiation. Of course, those details are totally useless. Do the Government intend withholding information, or will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that Members of Parliament have access to such information?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Scotland have acted with great sensitivity and responsibility in this matter. I do not accept that there has been any sort of radiation information cover up. Of course, I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's anxieties to them.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 844, which is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the Charity Shield 1986?

[That this House, appreciating the excellent crowd behaviour, the true sportsmanship and the high standard of entertainment by the Everton and Liverpool football teams at the 1986 Cup Final, calls upon the Minister for Sport to ask the Football Association to allow Everton to participate in the 1986 Charity Shield; notes that Everton were runners-up in the First Division championship and the Challenge Cup and were participants in the 1984 and 1985 Charity Shield with similar excellent crowd behaviour, and rejects the suggestion that a foreign team should replace Everton in this traditional English charity event.]

We are delighted that Everton football club, and not a foreign team, will participate in the matches. Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 840, which was tabled by, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), which concerns the excellent behaviour of the Liverpool and Everton football clubs at the 1986 Football Association cup final?

[That this House congratulates Liverpool Football Club's team under Kenny Dalglish's managership, in winning the 1986 Football Association Cup Final; further congratulates Everton Football Club's team, under Howard Kendall's managership, for their great football and fine team spirit; believes that both teams and their supporters are a real credit to football in the United Kingdom and to the people of the City of Liverpool and Merseyside in particular; notes that the behaviour of the Liverpool and Everton football supporters at Wembley deserve praise from the police, proving that football crowds can be good-humoured and well-behaved and that they need not involve themselves in any form of violence; and concludes that the way in which almost half a million of the people of Liverpool turned out, Liverpool, Everton and non-club supporters alike, to greet the two dubs on their return to Liverpool, is proof beyond doubt that, despite all the problems of the Merseyside area, the spirit of the people remains good and that they deserve the support of the whole country.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Minister with responsibility for sport to make representations to the FA to support the re-entry of English teams in European competitions in the 1987–88 season?

Mr. Biffen

Because we all like to get on this bandwagon, I should like to say that I congratulate Merseyside on a good year for football, whatever else has happened.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

What about Shrewsbury?

Mr. Biffen

I have not congratulated Shrewsbury. I am showing a shrewd sense of realism. If one lives in Oswestry, one is as likely to look north-west as south-east. I shall, of course. take up the hon. Gentleman's other point with my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport.

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

Is it not true that someone on the Select Committee on the Environment has lied and, and in doing so, has dropped a journalist in the cart?

Mr. Biffen

I think that that is a point to be made in Tuesday evening's debate.

Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that, two weeks ago, I asked him to put in the Library a copy of the contract for the Trident submarine or to hold a debate on the issue? I in no way doubt the strenuousness of the right hon. Gentleman's efforts to fulfil either or both of those requests, but does not his inability to achieve this show the type of difficulties that the Daily Mirror has had to face in obtaining information about the sinking of the Sheffield? Should not a Defence Minister make a public statement in the House about the serious allegations in today's Daily Mirror about the deaths of 20 service men. if only to comfort the parents and families of those poor men?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has taken up the point raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), although the hon. Gentleman seeks a statement. I shall, of course, refer his request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

In a comment which appears now to have been a long time ago, the Leader of the House upheld yesterday's remarks to me by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—notably that, if orders from China and Cuba were consummated. Smith's Dock on Teesside and other shipyards would remain open. That is very good news for my constituents who live in Middlesbrough. The information that we are negotiating with Cuba for an order for four vessels is most welcome. Will the right hon. Gentleman draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to those facts? Will they be included in the debate next week?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's points. I shall certainly convey his remarks to my right hon. Friend.