HC Deb 13 November 1986 vol 105 cc105-12
Mr. Speaker

Business questions. I call the Leader of the Opposition.

2.35 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

Can I first thank the Leader of the House for responding to the call that I made two weeks ago for a debate on acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and also express the hope — I apologise. I should have asked for the business for next week.

Perhaps I can now say on a point of order that I am always anxious to improve the productivity of the House, and perhaps at some later stage we can have a discussion about clipping at least two minutes off our business in other weeks.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

I thought that that somewhat frenzied opening was instinctive of the feeling that we would be on the hustings next week.

As the House is aware, the debate on the Address and reply to the Gracious Speech will be brought to a conclusion on Wednesday 19 November. The business for the remainder of the week will be as follows: THURSDAY 20 NOVEMBER — There will be a debate on the report of the committee on financing the BBC, chaired by Professor Alan Peacock (Cmnd. 9824). The debate will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 21 NOVEMBER — There will be a debate on acquired immune deficiency syndrome, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 24 NOVEMBER — Until about Seven o'clock, Second Reading to the Petroleum Bill.

Afterwards, there will be a debate on a Government motion to take note of European documents in relation to the draft budgets of the European Communities for 1986 and 1987. Details will be given on the Official Report.

Debate on Monday 24 November. Relevant European Documents: (a) 5484/86 Key figures for the 1987 Budget; (b) 7113/86 Preliminary Draft Supplementary and Amending Budget No. 1 1986; (c) 7068/86 Revised key figures for the 1987 Budget; (d) 7927/86 Preliminary Draft General Budget 1987; (e) 9192/86 Draft General Budget of European Communities for 1987; (f) 8877/86 Letter of Amendment to Preliminary Draft Budget of European Communities 1987; (g) COM(86)360 Letter of Amendment to the 1986 Budget; (h) 8876/86 Preliminary Draft Amending Budget No. 1 1986; (i) 8883/86 & ADD 1 Commission Communication on recent developments affecting 1986 Budget and 1987 Preliminary Draft Budget.

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee:

(a) HC 21-xvi (1985–86) para 2; (b) HC 2I-xxiii (1985–86) para 2; (c) HC 21-xxiv (1985–86) para 3; (d) HC 21-xxvi (1985–86) para 1 & HC 272-ii (1985–86); (e) HC 21-xxvii (1985–86) para 7; (f) HC 21-xxvii (1985–86) para 7; (g) HC 21-xxvi (1985–86) para 4; (h) HC 21-xxvii (1985–86) para 6; (i) HC 21-xxvii (1985–86) para 6.

Mr. Kinnock

May I first repeat my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for providing time for the debate on AIDS that I asked for a couple of weeks ago? I hope that the Government will be able to announce that they will help to deal with the problem with the speed and funding that is necessary, as it would be immensely unfortunate if what has been described as "the Prime Minister's war on AIDS" were to be cash-limited.

I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for arranging a debate next Thursday on the Peacock report and the financing of the BBC for which I have asked since before the summer recess. So that we can hear the full spectrum of Cabinet opinion on the BBC, can the Leader of the House also tell us whether both the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be speaking in that debate?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer presented the autumn statement last week. Will the Leader of the House now tell us when we are likely to be able to debate that important statement? I hope that there will not be an overlong delay.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, there are acute problems with staffing and provision at social security offices throughout the country as a result of the Government's policies, which increase the number of people in need without increasing the number of officers needed to attend to them. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that Government time is given in the near future to debate this significant and growing problem?

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Prime Minister makes a statement early next week on her visit to the USA this coming weekend?

Mr. Biffen

Perhaps I can take the right hon. Gentleman's points in reverse order. As for the visit proposed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, of course I take note of the right hon. Gentleman's request, but he will be aware that there is no fixed rule that an oral statement is made after every bilateral meeting. My right hon. Friend will, of course, be answering questions in the usual way next week. I shall, however, refer his request to my right hon. Friend.

The question of the adequacy of social service facilities and the number of officers could fall within the ambit of today's debate, but I take account of what the right hon. Gentleman says. His request for an early debate on the autumn statement will be echoed throughout the House, but it would be courteous to await the deliberations of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee and I hope that its observations will soon be available.

Obviously, I am delighted at the enthusiasm which the right hon. Gentleman shows for the prospective debate on the Peacock report. I am sure that that enthusiasm is fully matched on this side of the House. He knows perfectly well that I do not have the task of arranging the list of speakers, but I have no doubt whatever that the speakers will be more than a match for the rather griping reactions exhibited from the Opposition Benches.

Finally, I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman says about AIDS. It will be extremely important for the House to have the chance of a full day's debate on this subject, which is of great and impending significance. I hope that it will help to create a constructive climate of public opinion.

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

May the House have an early opportunity to discuss air traffic and passenger fares in Europe? As my right hon. Friend will be aware, the Council of Ministers has recently had a meeting and appears to be completely divided on what would surely be a desirable idea — the early breaking up of the monopolistic cartel system of air passenger fares in Europe soon. Could we have a debate or discussion on that soon?

Mr. Biffen

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter, which is of such public interest. It seems that this is properly an aspect of our European Community policy within the wider ambit of foreign affairs and so could be covered by the debate tomorrow.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

If the Leader of the House is not yet certain whether the Prime Minister will make a statement when she returns from the United States, could she not make a statement before she goes? Is it not the case that there has been a remarkable change of policy by the United States Government in their decision to go so far as to sell arms to states which have been engaged in acts of terrorism over long periods? Can we be told whether the Prime Minister was informed of these matters and what she will say about them when she goes to Washington? Considering how much she has said on terrorism in recent years, it is extraordinary that she did not make any reference to that important matter yesterday.

Mr. Biffen

That is precisely the sort of question that I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would wish to put to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when she is available from next week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

He must not neglect that great tradition. I would have thought that that traditional opportunity to question my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would have commended itself to him. But, obviously, I shall draw her attention to his remarks.

Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)

May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the part of Her Majesty's Speech in which she said: A Bill will be introduced to facilitate the conservation and management of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads."? While that may not be of worldwide interest—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—to other constituencies, may I urge my right hon. Friend to facilitate the introduction of that Bill at the earliest possible opportunity because of its significance to Norfolk and my constituency?

Mr. Biffen

I am glad that we have stumbled across such an eminently popular Bill. I take account of what my hon. Friend says and am encouraged by it.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Has the Leader of the House noticed that, now that the cameras have gone, SDP Members, who put in a Prayer Card yesterday to occupy this Front Bench, have not even turned up for work today? Does he agree that it would be a good idea to start allocating payment on the basis of attendance in this place? Perhaps he could also look into the allocation of what is known as Short money. That comes within his province and is allocated on the basis of the number of Members of Parliament and the numbers of votes cast at the general election for Opposition parties. Does he not think that another criterion should be added — namely, attendance in this place?

Mr. Biffen

If we were to have this basis of payments by attendance, and rewarding the great labours that that implies, the hon. Gentleman and myself would be stakhanovites by almost any standard. I regret the absence of the stalwarts who were here yesterday, but both he and I know that the real business of parliamentary democracy is carried on by the likes of him and me.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Does my right hon. Friend anticipate a further debate on housing and the problems experienced in Leicester, and everywhere else, by the privately owned sector and the landlords who are losing all their rights? In Leicester, many people are reluctant to take any tenants into their houses because they can never get rid of them. I welcome the Gracious Speech, but I hope that there will be time to look at their rights and the rights of the proprietors of Ginns and Gutteridge, who have just won in a local government ombudsman case, having spent great sums of money trying to fight Leicester city council's planning authority. Could we not have another debate on Ginns and Gutteridge and the rights for a private crematorium?

Mr. Biffen

As ever, my hon. Friend forcefully makes the case for his locality, but on Monday we shall have a debate that will cover local government. I hope that the fact that this is on a national scale will not inhibit him from making his speech then.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that, despite the additional £1,000 million, direct from the Consolidated Fund, and the 40 per cent. increase in expenditure, the EEC is out of money for 1986? In the motions on Monday week, will the Government be showing their view on how this deficit should be balanced out, and saying whether, in 1987, the 1.4 per cent. VAT levy will be breached?

Mr. Biffen

Those points are of considerable significance and interest to the House. I am unable to answer them, but I shall make sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary knows of them.

Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness)

I remind my right hon. Friend that, during the summer term of the last Session, the matter of the deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester police was raised in the House by many hon. Members, including myself. During the summer recess, the Sampson report on the deputy chief constable was published. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary issued a statement shortly afterwards saying that he was asking for various reports as to the lessons to be learnt from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Will my right hon. Friend consult my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and perhaps find time for an early debate on the wider issues involved in this extraordinary case?

Mr. Biffen

I am aware of the facts that have been elaborated by my hon. Friend and particularly of the interest that he has shown in this case from the outset. I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and bring this point to his attention.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House join in congratulations on the engagement of

Mr. Mark

Thatcher to Miss Diane Burgdorf? Will he join me in hoping that, if they marry, and if Miss Burgdorf wishes to settle in this country with Mr. Thatcher, she will not have to wait too long for an entry clearance certificate, that the application will not fail the primary purpose test and that her documents will be considered genuine by the entry clearance officer? If that happens, it will be contrary to the experience of many black and Asian men and women of modest means who find all these things extremely difficult when they marry British citizens.

Mr. Biffen

The whole House will have noted the felicitous good wishes of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Following the question by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), when we debate the proposals in the European draft budget, will the House be given the opportunity to separate the proposal for the normal budgetary requirements of the Community from that which will be contained within it for a £1.5 billion additional payment, which represents the failure of the Community to discipline its costs? Can my right hon. Friend give the House the assurance that we shall be allowed to consider these matters separately and, more importantly, vote on them separately?

Mr. Biffen

In as much as the points raised by my hon. Friend touch upon procedural questions, I shall certainly look at them and be in touch with him.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Bearing in mind that there have been two serious incidents in Scottish prisons, that we have currently over 47,000 people in prison and that the promise to remove remand prisoners from police cells has been breached to the extent of 100 people remanded by police per day, will the Leader of the House find time to debate the whole subject of imprisonment and what we are to do about the disgraceful conditions in British prisons?

Mr. Biffen

The point raised is certainly important and highly topical. The subjects chosen for the debate on the Loyal Address do not cover that point, but I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early statement on the court judgment that the Ealing, Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham councils were acting illegally in banning The Times, the Sun and other News International newspapers from public libraries? Could he arrange for suitable Ministers to come before the House to answer questions about the court costs and the way these are met by the councillors concerned? My constituents are not prepared to meet the cost of the Ealing council's political action; they think that the money should come not from taxpayers and ratepayers but out of Labour party funds.

Mr. Biffen

I am not quite clear where ministerial responsibility lies in the tangled affairs that my hon. Friend has spoken about, but I shall certainly look at it.

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

Why do the Government insist on making absolute asses of themselves in the court in New South Wales by pursuing Mr. Peter Wright over the Wright memoirs? Does the Leader of the House not recall that two weeks ago I asked him whether he would arrange for the Attorney-General to come to the Dispatch Box so that we could at least question him about his approach during those proceedings? The Attorney-General has not done that. Are we to presume that he is running scared of Parliament and is frightened to come before us to set out what he believes to be his case, knowing that if he did come to the House he would be vigorously questioned and the stupidity of the whole approach would be exposed?

Mr. Biffen

Whatever case the hon. Gentleman might have had has not been enhanced by his approach. Of course the Attorney-General comes to the House for questions, as do all other Ministers, through a roster that is agreed through the usual channels. The hon. Gentleman must take his luck with all the rest of us in exploiting that situation.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on defence, because since the summer recess it is clear that only the Conservative party now intends to maintain Britain's defence strong against foreign aggression? Should that not be brought home in a debate?

Mr. Biffen

I think that there is just a little time left before a general election and that the House will have a chance to consider these matters when considering the Defence Estimates. As a dry run, I am sure that my hon. Friend and all of us on the Government side will carry this debate to the country at large, so that, when the time for choice comes, the people will see that one party offers the security to which my hon. Friend refers and that the other parties offer monumental uncertainty.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Given that the existing EEC directive on financial assistance to the shipbuilding industry expires on 31 December, will the House be given an opportunity to debate this important subject before the end of the year?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says about the importance of the topic and also the time factors involved. In the meantime, he might like to consider making his points during the debate on industry on Tuesday.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

Did my right hon. Friend notice the interim results published yesterday by the British Steel Corporation? They show a profit for the half year of £68 million; that follows 10 years of losses, the greatest loss being in 1981 and of about £700 million. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate on the future of the British Steel Corporation, especially as the regime in Europe about state aids, quota restrictions and price restrictions is coming to an end and particularly in view of the chairman's statement yesterday that the future of the British Steel Corporation depends upon a full return to the commerical sector?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes some very pertinent points. I should also like to point out that next Tuesday there is to be a debate on industry, when it will be perfectly appropriate to refer to the successes of the steel industry and the prospects that it has of joining the private sector of our mixed economy.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Without inviting the Leader of the House to trespass upon next week's debate on AIDS, may I at least ask him to confirm that the Government intend to make sure that, in advertising to the public the dangers of AIDS, all the effort that has been put into making sure that Sid is aware of the British Gas flotation will be equally put into making the British public aware of the dangers of AIDS?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman very fairly and kindly observed that normally I should not be asked to anticipate the contents of debates that will be held next week. Therefore, I must ask him to await the observations of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. in the meantime, I shall make sure that my right hon. Friend is made aware of that point.

Mr. John Whitfield (Dewsbury)

I refer to the matter that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks). Does my right hon. Friend agree that the inquiry that was instigated, or at least conducted, by the chief constable of west Yorkshire, Mr. Colin Sampson, into the activities of the deputy chief constable of Manchester raised very serious criticisms of the latter gentleman? Before the House embarks upon a debate on the subject, it ought to balance those criticisms very carefully against the wider public issues that are involved in the matter.

Mr. Biffen

When my hon. Friend refreshes his memory by reading tomorrow's Hansard, he will see that I have undertaken to raise this matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, which I am sure it is most important for me to do.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

When will the House have an opportunity either to debate or to have a statement on the evidence that was disregarded during Hindawi's trial, namely, that there were no fingerprints of the gentleman supposedly responsible for planting the bomb on the case which was supposed to contain the bomb and that the judge, when asked by the jury for advice, said that the Hebrew — the lettering on the covering of the bomb was a matter of no significance, on the advice of the police? When could we further have a chance to debate the disappearance of Mr. Vanunu, about whom I have had information from Israel today that that unfortunate gentleman is suffering torture during his incarceration in that country?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the case of Mr. Vanunu will be raised in an Adjournment debate on 18 November. On the wider issues, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman might like to make a characteristically colourful speech in the course of tomorrow's debate on foreign affairs.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call the three hon. Members who have been rising; then we must move on.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Will my right hon. Friend seriously and sympathetically consider, if not next week then the week after, arranging for a debate on the flotation of British Gas? Will he bear in mind that it is not just that many of us want to tell Sid something but that at least one of his Back Benchers wants to hear Sid say something?

Mr. Biffen

I shall look carefully at my hon. Friend's suggestion. However, if the purpose of his suggestion is that this House might enable the British public to be more widely informed of the prospective flotation, I think that we should be very amateurish, compared with what is now being done.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early opportunity for the House to debate the very encouraging employment figures that were published at 11.30 this morning? Is it not right that the House and the country should know more about the successful Conservative policies that have resulted in low inflation, sustained growth and now a decline in unemployment?

Mr. Biffen

In a mood of total charity, I have to say to my hon. Friend that the Opposition have very kindly nominated employment as one of the topics for debate next Tuesday.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Marlow? [Interruption.]

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I am deeply indebted to you, Mr. Speaker. There is a great deal of concern among our friends in the middle east that, although we seem to treat the Syrians in one way, the disappearance of Mr. Vanunu has not been properly explained. An early statement by the Government would very much reassure our friends in the middle east.

Mr. Biffen

I accept my hon. Friend's point, but I must repeat to him that there will be a debate on the Vanunu affair on 18 November.

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