HC Deb 23 October 1986 vol 102 cc1298-306 3.47 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

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

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 27 OCTOBER — Until seven o'clock Opposition Day (18th Allotted Day, 2nd part). There will be a debate on a motion on regional policy in the names of the leaders of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru.

Motions relating to the statements of changes in immigration rules (Cmnd. 9914 and House of Commons Paper No. 584).

TUESDAY 28 OCTOBER—Until seven o'clock, motion on the Deacons (Ordination of Women) Measure.

Motion on the British Railways Board (Increase of Compensation) Order.

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

WEDNESDAY 29 OCTOBER—There will be a debate on Westland plc on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Details of relevant documents will be given in the Official Report. Afterwards, there will be a debate on EC document 4554/79 relating to commercial agents. Details will be given in the Official Report.

THURSDAY 30 OCTOBER AND FRIDAY 31 OCTOBER—Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Financial Services Bill.

MONDAY 3 NOVEMBER—Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Housing and Planning Bill.

[Relevant documents debate on 29 October: Third report from the Defence Committee 1985–86 — "The Defence Implications of the Future of Westland plc"— House of Commons Paper No. 518, published on Thursday 24 July; fourth report from the Defence Committee 1985–86 —"Westland plc: The Government's Decision Making" — House of Commons paper No. 519, published on Thursday 24 July; Government response to the third and fourth reports from the Defence Committee Session 1985–86, HC 518 and 519, Cmnd. 9916, published on Monday 13 October.

Debate on Wednesday 29 October; European Document 4554/79, "Self employed commercial agents"; reports of European Legislation Committee HC 10-xx (1978–79) para. 10, HC 21-xxv (1985–86) para. 1.]

Mr. Kinnock

Next Monday the House will have the opportunity to debate the changes in immigration rules, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) rightly described as humiliating for visitors and shaming for this country's reputation. The wholly inadequate time that the Government have allocated to debate these serious matters has impelled us to allocate Opposition time as a matter of duty. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that in that debate it will be in order for hon. Members to raise the matter of representation to the Home Secretary on individual cases?

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a full statement is made to the House about the Government's assessment of the outcome of the superpowers meeting in Reykjavik and its subsequent ramifications for international arms reduction and control? A statement on the summit was made in the House of Lords on 15 October. However, we have still not heard anything directly or formally on the matter in the House of Commons. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would be willing to repair that deficiency.

The rise in interest rates, which has been followed by rises in mortgage rates, is obviously bad news for people and businesses in this country. Is there to be a statement to the House on the matter or is the Chancellor too afraid to face the House with the consequence of his own policies?

Mr. Biffen

The Chancellor will be making an autumn statement and the matters could arise on that.

Mr. Kinnock

It may be deep winter by then, John.

Mr. Biffen

I must not be tempted, especially this soon after our return, to make any incautious comment.

We might look at the Reykjavik meeting through the usual channels. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it was a meeting of the greatest significance and also one of some fading memory.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the co-operation that has been afforded over time for the debate next Monday on immigration rules. It is my judgment, clearly subject to that of the Chair, that it should be perfectly possibly to deal with the issue of Members' representations.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Is my right hon. Friend suggesting that he wants to fit a second order in on Tuesday afternoon before 7 o'clock after the Deacons (Ordination of Women) Measure? If so, I think that he should take some soundings, because he is likely to find that order more controversial than he might have thought.

Mr. Biffen

Yes, and I gather that the Church militant might become controversial. The normal interpretation of the opaque language used on these occasions is that the motion on the British Railways Board (Increase of Compensation) Order is likely to arise at 10 o'clock.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Following the publication of the Department of Trade and Industry's regional development programme, does the Leader of the House agree that it is time that there was a series of debates looking at the problems of those regions, especially the economic black spots? Given that there is high crime, high unemployment and bad housing in the county of Merseyside, does he not agree that an early debate on the problems there is required?

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate that there will be much interest in Merseyside over the next two or three weeks, even more than traditionally. The hon. Gentleman will understand that we will be discussing regional policy in the Scottish and Welsh context on Monday, which those concerned would say was a national situation, and I am sure that the House will want to turn to the wider issues. There really is no available Government time before the prorogation.

Sir Gerard Vaughan (Reading, East)

Will my right hon. Friend consider providing time for a short debate on the problem of AIDS?

Mr. Biffen

Clearly, my hon. Friend raises a matter of growing concern and I am sure that there will be anxiety that the matter should be debated. There is no possibility of it being debated before prorogation, but perhaps it is something we can come back to in the next Session.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

Will the Leader of the House allow us to have an early debate on the importance of the memorandum of understanding governing the transfer of the results of industrial research from Britain to the United States under the strategic defence initiative? Is he aware that I have in my possession a letter signed by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to a leading British company which, if it is true —I hope that the Leader of the House will say today whether it is true — suggests that the Government are soliciting British companies to transfer the results of their secret long-term research to the Americans? That amounts to industrial espionage, industrial sabotage, and, indeed, industrial treachery.

Mr. Biffen

Since this Administration have been accused of industrial sabotage, espionage and treachery, clearly it is a matter that deeply exercises the hon. Gentleman. The best way that I can help, in the first instance, is to have the matter referred to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

My right hon. friend will be aware that the consultation paper on family courts issued earlier this year has provoked debate among a wide variety of organisations and individuals. Before the Government consider their response to the consultation paper, would it not be appropriate for the House to have an opportunity to discuss it?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of the point, and my hon. Friend will recollect that it is not the first time that he has pressed this view on me. I am sympathetic to his argument, but there is no time before prorogation.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the important question of the involvement of the Government, and their interference, with the broadcasting authorities? Will he ensure that if we have such a debate he will mention the matter to the chairmen of the Tory party, both past and present, so that they can explain their role in the recent events surrounding the BBC in particular, and in other matters, including the "Panorama" case?

Perhaps the Leader of the House could also persuade the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) to come to the debate and explain what role he played in dealing with Abdul Shamji, when he said that he had not been to a meeting when it was apparent that he had? Perhaps he can explain to the House just how much he, as chairman of the Tory Small Business Bureau, played in providing Shamji with sufficient moneys, in the great fiddle at the expense of Johnson Matthey bank and subsequently the taxpayer. Perhaps the Prime Minister can explain her friendship with Abdul Shamji, and so can all the other Tories who assisted him to fiddle the taxpayer right after the Johnson Matthey bank fiasco. As a result of all that, perhaps the Tory party will pay that money back.

Mr. Biffen

I am so glad that the long recess has done nothing to alter the hon. Gentleman's character.

Mr. Skinner

Answer the question.

Mr. Biffen

It is a serious question and the answer is that there is no time for a debate next week. If there were, these wild allegations would he even less convincing the longer that they proceeded.

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Stroud area there has been for a long time the strange and distressing existence of—

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

A Member of Parliament.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

—meningitis. I am going on for a long time longer too. This disease causes a great deal of distress and anxiety, especially to mothers of small children, and we do not know much about it. Will my right hon. Friend ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services whether anything more than is being done can be done to counteract this great anxiety?

Mr. Biffen

I am aware of the points that have been raised by my hon. Friend; they have been given considerable national publicity. I can well understand the deep concern in his constituency about this matter. I shall take up the matter with my right hon. Friend, as has been requested.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Will it be possible, on Monday 3 November, in the debate on the Lords amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill, to debate the Government's slow but consistent erosion of positive planning? Will we be able to debate the Government's use of special development orders, for instance, to enable a scrap shredder to be sited in my constituency next to residential properties, thereby causing nuisance, dust and noise, without the consent of the local authority because planning approval was not needed? Will we be able to debate the Government's use of special development orders to enable sites to be investigated for the disposal of nuclear waste by the Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive, without the local authority or residents being consulted? Will we be able to debate why the Government, using special development orders, have picked four sites in safe Tory areas where Tory middle-class protesters are now campaigning, and why the Government have not sent in the riot squad as they would have done if these people had been printers or striking miners on a picket line?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will be the first to appreciate that what we debate on the Housing and Planning Bill is entirely within the judgment of the Chair, but I am sure that he will display a great ingenuity in the face of that challenge.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

In view of the importance of disarmament and defence, will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on the subject so that all parties can state their views in this House before we rise?

Mr. Biffen

Much as I underline the importance of the topic which my hon. Friend mentions, I must say that we have a full legislative programme before prorogation and there is little time left for anything else.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Does the Leader of the House accept that the proposal which has been made by a number of hon. Members that the House should be advised by an office of technology assessment is primarily a question for the House? It would be most unfortunate if the Prime Minister were to try to kill this proposal before the House had reached a view on the matter.

Mr. Biffen

I will certainly bear the hon. Gentleman's points in mind.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

As my right hon. Friend will know that it is the practice for the Leader of the Opposition to say which of the prayers in his name he wishes the Government to find time for among the available days for that purpose, can he tell us whether the Leader of the Opposition has asked for either of the prayers in his name referring to the cereals levy to be debated before they run out of praying time, the deadline for which is Tuesday next week? If the Leader of the Opposition has not done that, will my right hon. Friend give time for praying against the order on the rates of levy and the parent order before time runs out next Tuesday? If not, will my right hon. Friend allow a debate to annul outside the praying time later in the coming week?

Mr. Biffen

As a fellow agricultural Member, I take note of the important point which my hon. Friend has raised. However, I think that the answer is no but I will have to check that. I will be in touch with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Can the Leader of the House confirm that the debate on visas on Monday will take place between 7 pm and 11.30 pm? Can he confirm that a Foreign Office Minister will participate in that debate? Finally, can he tell us the nature of the motion upon which the debate will take place?

Mr. Biffen

The motion will appear and the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity of seeing it in good time. It is my understanding that the debate will run from 7 pm to 11.30 pm

Mr. Madden

Will there be a Foreign Office Minister?

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Several weeks ago Mr. Roy Gibson, the director of the newly created National Space Centre, presented the Government with the centre's view on a space plan for the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House ensure that his hon. Friend the Minister for Information Technology comes to the House with a statement about the Government's decision? Even better, will my right hon. Friend allow a debate on such crucial issues as the future of the horizontal take-off and landing system, the future of a European manned space programme and European participation in the American space station programme?

Mr. Biffen

I take account of my hon. Friend's point and I will communicate his views about the desirability of a statement to my hon. Friend the Minister for Information Technology.

Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)

On the points raised earlier about the prayer against the co-responsibility levy for cereals, is the Leader of the House aware that that matter seriously affects the poultry industry and can cause considerable unemployment? From the Opposition Benches, I appeal to the Leader of the House to find time to debate the issue before prorogation.

Mr. Biffen

I believe that there is more chicken in north Shropshire than in Bradford, so I immediately accept the seriousness with which the point is addressed. I have said that I will look into the matter, but I am not able to go beyond that.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend be able to find time before the Session ends for a debate on Select Committees whose claims have increased, are increasing and, in my view, ought to be diminished?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says. He will appreciate that if he is successful in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will be able to make many of his points on Wednesday.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Has the Leader of the House noticed early-day motion No. 1174?

[That this House congratulates England's hockey team for their excellent performances in the World Cup and also Australia, who won it and regrets that in the otherwise excellent television coverage at no time was the fact mentioned that the revenue and other services were provided by the London Borough of Brent which deserves more credit for the good things it achieves.]

Early-day motion No. 1174 covers a narrow point and I obviously cannot ask the Leader of the House for time to debate the matter because of prorogation. However, may I seek the right hon. Gentleman's advice?

I am trying to give credit to the London borough of Brent for the good things that it does because I have to sit on the Opposition Benches—as the Leader of the House knows — and listen to the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues attacking my borough over many issues time and time again. There is never any question of my being able to bring to the House's attention the good things which Brent does—for example, the world hockey cup final, which, thanks to the London borough of Brent, was very successful. Can the Leader of the House advise me how I can redress the uneven balance of Back-Bench questioning about important matters which affect my borough if I cannot have a debate before prorogation?

Mr. Biffen

There is something rather touching about the hon. Gentleman, with all his years of experience in the House, asking me for advice. I must be modest in respect of that invitation. He represents the virtues of the Labour Brent past. We are now seeing the horrors of the Labour Brent future.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the nuclear industry? Is he aware of the grave concern in Cumbria that 50,000 jobs could be lost because the main Opposition parties are pledged to destroy our nuclear industry in Sellafield and Barrow in Furness?

Mr. Biffen

I think that there would be much advantage in the House having an early opportunity to debate these matters and for the anti-nuclear policies of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties and of the Labour party to be fully assessed. However, that cannot happen this side of prorogation.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

In view of the inadequate and misleading answer given by the Prime Minister to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) on the question of the British merchant fleet, will the Leader of the House arrange a debate as soon as possible based upon the report of the European Economic Community which takes account of the great dangers which face the British maritime industry on such questions as flags of convenience?

Mr. Biffen

I totally reject the strictures of the hon. Gentleman upon my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. However, I agree that the British merchant fleet is a very important topic. There is no prospect of a debate on that topic this side of prorogation, but I am certain that it will feature in our discussions in the new Session.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. As some hon. Members are now rising who have not previously risen, I shall try to call them. However, I ask for brief questions, as we have a very heavy day before us.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that during the recess there have been two serious squats in my constituency, one on a school playing field and the other on land in a residential area? The squats have caused grave nuisance, inconvenience and harm to my innocent constituents who have been unable to find easy and quick legal redress. In the circumstances, can my right hon. Friend give us any hope that the Home Secretary will come to the House and make a statement about further legislation in this area to protect my innocent constituents?

Mr. Biffen

I will certainly pass the point raised by my hon. Friend to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I realise that it is of considerable moment to my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

The Leader of the House referred to the fact that there is more chicken in Shropshire than in Bradford. I must tell him that there is more duck in Shropshire and I hope that he will not duck this question. If it can be shown to the Leader of the House that senior members of the Government have attempted to influence witnesses in any court case, would he consider that that was a most serious matter demanding the resignation of those hon. Members and an early statement from the Attorney-General?

Mr. Biffen

I would regard that as a most serious matter. I think that the integrity of the charge would be enhanced if it were repeated outside the Chamber.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that one of the nation's greatest assets is our inventiveness and innovation. He will thus understand the considerable dismay in certain sections of British industry and commerce at the suggestion in yesterday's Daily Telegraph that the Government might be considering dropping the Copyright Bill from the Queen's Speech. Would my right hon. Friend impress upon others that the Copyright Bill is an essential and much-needed piece of legislation which should certainly be included in the Queen's Speech and that time should be found for it in next Session's business?

Mr. Biffen

I am aware of what my hon. Friend says, but I am sure he will realise—particularly at this time—that convention requires a delicacy on my part in respect of these matters and that therefore I can say nothing.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the enormous amount of administrative confusion and inefficiency in London local government that has arisen since the abolition of the GLC? Is he also aware that it is almost impossible for hon. Members to get any information from the London Residuary Body which is charged with many of the previous functions of the GLC? When can the House expect to receive the annual report of the London Residuary Body, and can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that we will be able to debate that report on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Biffen

I shall look into the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised about the report and I shall be in touch with him.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Department of Transport's proposal to complete the Winchester section of the M3 will cause a massive environmental blight to that listed city by entering an area of outstanding natural beauty, severing sites of special scientific interest and destroying two scheduled ancient monuments? Is he also aware that the two national custodians of the sites — the Countryside Commission and the Inspectorate of Scheduled Ancient Monuments —did not even participate in the recent public inquiry? Does he agree that of course there is a need for an urgent completion of the M3 motorway but not at any cost, particularly to the very special environment of the ancient and listed city of Winchester? This has reached almost scandalous proportions. Can we have a full debate rather than just an Adjournment debate on this subject?

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Very good. Very good.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has obviously attracted support.

Mr. Faulds

I am glad some of you care.

Mr. Biffen

I understand the point that my hon. Friend argues, which must be of the greatest importance in his constituency. Clearly, there is no prospect of it featuring in a debate between now and prorogation, but I very much hope that he will have his opportunities in the new Session of Parliament.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Does my right hon. Friend anticipate an early opportunity next week to discuss the unwelcome presence in this country of 10 Sinn Fein councillors, two of whom have been to Leicester? Does he accept that this has caused great concern to many people? As we are debating visas next week, does not he agree that Sinn Fein councillors should never be allowed into this country, that they are advocating violence against this country and that the Labour party through its Labour Committee on Ireland and its "Troops Out of Ireland" campaign is doing nothing to give confidence to the Chief Constable and all those in Northern Ireland who care about the security and future of this country?

Mr. Biffen

I am sad that Leicester should be a magnet of all these difficulties, but my hon. Friend raises something that gives rise to real public concern. That is the relationship that exists between some of our conventional politicians and Sinn Fein whose operation in the Republic, Northern Ireland and mainland Britain gives rise to deep concern. I do not believe that there are any explicit circumstances under which my hon. Friend can raise this matter next week, but none the less I have great faith that he will find a way of making sure that it receives public attention.

Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have noted with distress the ignorant way in which the management of Sealink Ltd sacked several hundred of my constituents at 24 hours notice in spite of consistent assurances over the preceeding months and years that it would do nothing of the kind. As the Government actually sold Sealink to someone who is clearly not qualified to operate a venture of this kind, will my right hon. Friend try to provide some Government time so that we may have a debate on the matter?

Mr. Biffen

I much regret that there is simply no Government time available before prorogation. I suggest that my hon. Friend might like to try his own initiative to obtain an Adjournment debate.