HC Deb 26 February 1987 vol 111 cc419-32 3.31 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 2 MARCH—There will be a debate on Welsh affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion relating to the Milk and Dairies and Milk (Special Designation) (Charges) Regulations.

TUESDAY 3 MARCH—Second Reading of the Local Government Bill.

Remaining stages of the Rate Support Grants Bill.

WEDNESDAY 4 MARCH—Progress on remaining stages of the Abolition of Domestic Rates etc. (Scotland) Bill (1st Allotted Day).

THURSDAY 5 MARCH—Completion of remaining stages of the Abolition of Domestic Rates etc. (Scotland) Bill (2nd Allotted Day).

FRIDAY 6 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 9 MARCH—Opposition Day (10th Allotted Day). The debate will arise on a motion in the names of the leaders of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties, subject for debate to be announced.

Mr. Kinnock

Does the Leader of the House recall that just five weeks ago the Prime Minister was describing Mr. Duncan Campbell as a ferret interested in revealing information of use to our enemies".—[Official Report, 22 January 1987: Vol. 108, c. 1021.] But the Government have now—as the Prime Minister just said—accepted the undertakings of that same Mr. Campbell and not sustained the injunction against him. Would the Leader of the House arrange next week for the Solicitor-General to come to the House to explain why, instead of engaging in eight months of inactivity and two weeks of bullying, the Government did not seek much earlier to take that course of action and obtain an undertaking which Mr. Campbell has made clear he was willingly ready to give?

Can the Leader of the House also arrange for the Solicitor-General or the Solicitor-General for Scotland to come to the House next week to give the Government's reaction to the legal opinion which the BBC has obtained from the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, to the effect that the special branch raid on the Glasgow office made at the instruction of the Government was almost certainly unlawful?

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is great and growing concern both in this House and outside about people alleged to be Nazi war criminals who are apparently still living in our country? Names have been sent to the Prime Minister by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and I understand that the Home Secretary will be meeting representatives of that organisation next Monday.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that, as soon as possible after that meeting, the Home Secretary will make a statement to the House about any further action which the Government propose to take in respect of any people about whom there may be reasonable suspicion of involvement in war crimes?

Does the Leader of the House recognise that there is urgent and growing need for a wide-ranging debate on foreign affairs? The escalation of the Iran-Iraq war, the renewed Syrian involvement in the Lebanon, the continued incarceration of Mr. Terry Waite and other hostages, developments in South Africa, the Government's use of their Security Council veto against comprehensive sanctions, the threat to the anti-ballistic missile treaty posed by the development of the Strategic Defence Initiative and the implications for Britain of the Tower commission's report to the United States' senate today, are all matters which the House should be able to examine as soon as possible. Can the right hon. Gentleman make appropriate arrangements for such a debate?

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman may recall that last week I asked for an early debate in Government time on the British motor car industry, especially in the light of the Government's readiness to write off debts of £750 million and to make a present of Leyland Trucks to DAF of Holland, which has seven out of nine members of the supervisory board. In view of that, and of the continuing pressures on other parts of the motor vehicle industry, including Bedford Commerical Vehicles Ltd., can the right hon. Gentleman tell me now when such a debate will take place?

Mr. Biffen

On the first point, the right hon. Gentleman will have heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explain the circumstances in which the action was taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General in respect of Mr. Campbell. But I take note that he would like consideration to be given to a statement also covering the legal opinion from the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates; perhaps that is something that we might consider.

The right hon. Gentleman's point about the allegations —I emphasise that we are talking about allegations—of wartime crimes is certainly very much with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I can confirm that it is planned that he will meet members of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre next week. I shall bear in mind the interest that the right hon. Gentleman expressed that the House should be kept informed of these matters.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the range of issues which compel consideration of a general foreign affairs debate, and perhaps that is something which we may consider through the usual channels. Finally, when the right hon. Gentleman talks about making a present of Leyland Trucks, he makes it clear that there could be a genuine educative role for any debate on the motor industry. Again, perhaps we could look at that through the usual channels.

Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham)

Is it not time that we had a debate on farming and land use?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Several Government publications will come out next month and in that context we could well arrange a debate.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I thank the Leader of the House for agreeing to debate the prayer in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends relating to the dairy industry and I am sure that it will attract interest on both sides of the House. It is now more than two weeks since the Secretary of State for Transport announced the increase in light dues and said that an order would be made in due course. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that has attracted considerable criticism and opposition from many sectors, especially those concerned about the future of the British merchant fleet? Can he tell us when the order will be laid and the House can have an opportunity to debate it?

Mr. Biffen

I note and acknowledge the compliment that the hon. Gentleman pays the Treasury Bench on the speed with which the debate on dairy charges has been arranged. I shall look into his second point and be in touch with him.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Could my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on rates before next Thursday so that the House may consider the planned rate rise in Ealing of 80 per cent. by the hard Left Labour council which has the support of the Leader of the Opposition for its high spending on obnoxious policies? Will he table any motion relating to such a debate so that we can consider the awful pressure and agony of that, not only on pensioners, poor people, ordinary working people and everyone else, but on industry which is required by law to be consulted by the local council but which has been refused that consultation so far by Ealing council?

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for once again reminding us of the difficulties that are created by the activities of Ealing council and, indeed, the wider problem that commands attention — the action of the far-Left in these matters. As to next week's business, there is a debate on Friday on the inner cities and my hon. Friend may wish to make his speech on that occasion.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will the Leader of the House explain today's major retreat by the Government, which will remove the dishonest cloak of a transitional period from the Government's proposal to impose a poll tax in Scotland? Is it not extremely sharp practice for the Government to table no fewer than 40 major and controversial amendments to a Bill which is subject to a guillotine, only 12 hours after the Business Committee had agreed to dispose of that part of the Bill within two hours? May we have additional time to debate those amendments?

Mr. Biffen

I shall look into the hon. Gentleman's point, but I suspect that there is a good precedent for it.

Sir Paul Bryan (Boothferry)

When can we expect a debate on the Green Paper on the future of radio?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot say this afternoon, Sir, but I shall look at the point that my hon. Friend makes.

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

Has the right hon. Gentleman had a chance to read early-day motion 649?

[That this House expresses concern at the irregularities and discrepancies in the management and funding of the Community Programme in the West of Scotland; deplores the fact that the Government has prevaricated and procrastinated in its answers to questions on this matter tabled by the honourable Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow and that it has refused to publish a report, compiled by officials of the Manpower Services Comission which has revealed mismanagement and misallocation of public funds in relation to certain projects funded under the Community Programme; and calls for an urgent public enquiry into these allegations so as to remove the uncertainty which is undermining confidence in the Community Programme in an area which desperately needs more jobs and investment.]

That elegantly worded motion, which has been signed by over 100 hon. Members, is concerned with irregularities and discrepancies in the funding of the Manpower Services Commission community schemes in the west of Scotland. This important matter is causing considerable concern because, inter alia, it reveals weaknesses in the scheme of funding. May we have an early debate on this important issue?

Mr. Biffen

I understand that the Manpower Services Commission has carried out an investigation. I take note of the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate. I can offer no early prospect of that in Government time, but perhaps he will seek the other opportunities that are available.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents will be delighted that the Government have decided to end the transitional period and move more swiftly towards the implementation of the community charge? Is he also aware that the Labour regional councils in Scotland have announced massive rate increases? Does he agree that next week's debate will be an opportunity for Opposition Members to join Conservative Members in condemning those acts of political spite?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that my hon. Friend speaks armed with the most compelling of arguments. However, I said that I would look at the matter in procedural terms, and I shall leave it there.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

If it is the Government's contention today that it was necessary to apply for the injunction against Mr. Duncan Campbell only to obtain an undertaking that he would not reveal technical information, will the Leader of the House explain why the Government sought to obtain an injunction against myself and 13 colleagues, since, patently, we have no technical information and would probably be incapable of understanding it if somebody sought to give it to us?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that that comes under next week's business and I cannot add to what I said to the Leader of the Opposition.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 450, which stands in my name and that of 74 other Members of all parties?

[That this House notes the written replies given recently by the Secretary of State for Social Services concerning the Infant Life (Preservation) Act; notes the reference in these replies to the fact that the Department of Health and Social Security has circulated to regional health authorities copies of a report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists entitled, Foetal Viability and Clinical Practice, the publication of which was encouraged by the Department; points out that this report highlights the fact that developments in medical science make it possible for babies of increasingly earlier gestation to be born alive; reminds the Secretary of State that it is an offence under the Infant Life (Preservation) Act to kill any child 'capable of being borne alive'; draws attention to the statement in the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists report that 'in 1984 72 per cent. of live-born infants of 22–27 weeks' gestation born at the Bristol Maternity Hospital survived'; reminds the Secretary of State that many of the late abortions currently performed are, therefore, contrary to existing law; and urges him to re-examine existing departmental procedures to ensure that prosecutions are brought against those who perform such illegal abortions and to ensure that all centres where abortions are currently performed are contacted in order make it clear to them that late abortions are illegal.]

The motion draws attention to a report from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which the Department of Health and Social Security has circulated to health authorities, which suggests that many late abortions are taking place illegally. As a recent decision in the courts may have thrown considerable further doubt and anxiety on the subject, is it not the Government's duty to make a clear statement to the House on the present legal position, and, if it is unclear, to take appropriate action?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my right hon. Friend says. I shall convey his request that the position be the subject of a Government statement to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Security. However, we are approaching a situation where little Government time is available certainly for any new primary legislation.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip, Northwood)

May I repeat to my right hon. Friend my previous request for an early statement on the British national space programme, as it is imperative that Her Majesty's Government make clear Britain's role in Europe's manned future in space and enhancement of Europe's launcher capability? This is the third and last time of asking.

Mr. Biffen

I am not sure whether to be encouraged by that, but my hon. Friend's request is in respect of a profoundly important aspect of our national economy and I shall certainly bear it in mind.

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

Will the Leader of the House at least undertake to try to coax the Solicitor-General into the House next week to make a statement on the injunction agreement that was made yesterday? If he is unable to make a statement at the beginning of next week, will the right hon. Gentleman persuade him to undertake to make a statement once the Committee of Privileges has completed its deliberations on these matters?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman says and I think that I would best help the House by leaving the matter where I did in my reply to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the latest spot of bother for the Channel tunnel project, the spillage of a large quantity of dangerous and poisonous industrial waste at the old workings — an environmental issue of considerable concern for those in the area, including my constituents? Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early statement to be made on the matter and could that statement please include an explanation of how this sensitive environmental issue, which has been known to the Department of Transport for some months, was suppressed throughout the hearings of the Select Committee and the proceedings of the Standing Committee on the Channel Tunnel Bill?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend should not gloat. I shall draw his point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and, in any case, he will be available for questions on Wednesday of next week.

Mr. Hugh Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that he will look into the problem with regard to the business on Wednesday and Thursday next week, but is he aware that, although the Business Committee met yesterday, it is only today that we have found out through some press statement that more than 60 amendments are now being submitted by the Government? Does that not confirm my previous view that the Government have acted with arrogance and in ignorance in treating the House in this fashion?

Mr. Biffen

I could not accept such a description of my hon. Friends and myself, but I have said that I shall look at the matter procedurally and that I shall do.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the report of the Environment Committee of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England points to a real concern in the nation about the physical condition of our churches, particularly our cathedrals and abbeys, which are, after all national assets? Does he also accept that many of us feel that it would be reprehensible to have to pay to pray, even on a direct donation basis, and that something must be done about the funding of these great buildings before it is too late? Is it not time that we had a debate on this subject?

Mr. Biffen

Any debate should properly follow the receipt of the Government's observations on the report; once that has been undertaken, I shall look at my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 365 on the subject of Play Board, in the name of myself and 89 other hon. Members from both sides of the House?

[That this House reiterates its support for the advancement of children's play, as expressed in Early Day Motion 363 which was tabled on 23rd March 1982; welcomes the establishment in 1983 and continued funding of Play Board as the national organisation dedicated to the development of children's play; applauds the achievements of Play Board during the past three years in co-ordinating effort, conducting research producing good-quality publications and especially in providing a much valued advisory and information service to local authorities and their Communities; and urges Her Majesty's Government during its review of support for children's play, to ensure that Play Board is appropriately positioned and adequately resourced to continue to provide these important functions in the interests of all children.]

Will he assure the House that no decision will be taken to change the independence or the status of Play Board before the matter has been discussed and hon. Members have had an opportunity to express their views?

Mr. Biffen

I shall look at the motion to which the hon. Gentleman refers and I shall refer it to the relevant Minister.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Referring to the Leader of the Opposition's question about war criminals, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is something distasteful and abhorrent about the activities of so-called "Nazi hunters"? We must look seriously at any genuine evidence that is produced, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is no intention to bend or change our law in order to accommodate their clamour?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that those considerations will be uppermost not only in the minds of Ministers but in the minds of all hon. Members who wish to live by the rule of law.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Does the Leader of the House agree that it is both distasteful and abhorrent to hon. Members on both sides of the House that people guilty of war crimes should be living in freedom in Britain and not be brought to justice?

Mr. Stanbrook

Alleged to be guilty.

Mr. Janner

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an undertaking that he will ask the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House on how those people entered Britain, how they obtained British citizenship and what the Government propose to do about them now?

Mr. Biffen

I hope that we will not find that assertions of guilt by hon. Members or others are taken as tantamount to guilt. I said that I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in answer to the Leader of the Opposition, and I believe that that also covers what the hon. and learned Member has in mind.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to make a statement next week on the policies of the London borough of Haringey in relation to the promotion of homosexual and lesbian positive images, which allow it to employ four workers at £1 7,000 a year to promote openly gay or lesbian tendencies and which is likely to lead to the death by fasting of the Rev. David Rushworth-Smith?

Mr. Biffen

Of course I shall refer to my right hon. Friend the point that my hon. Friend has now raised. I am sure that it is one which will excite a great deal of anxiety in the House and outside.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the extreme concern felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House at recent developments in football in London? The Fulham football ground is being forced to merge with Queen's Park Rangers and the asset-strippers that have got hold of Craven Cottage will develop it for luxury flats. Is the Leader of the House aware that, despite the great interest and anxiety in the House, London and among football supporters throughout the country, it has proved impossible for us to raise this matter on the Floor of the House? I know that the right hon. Gentleman is not very keen on the arts. He claims to be a great philistine. I hope that he is not also against the more muscular sport of soccer. Will he therefore arrange for us to have a debate at the earliest possible opportunity?

Mr. Biffen

It is rugby from the Welsh valleys which is the true art form in these matters. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's request, but I think that he is right that there is no obvious and immediate ministerial responsibility. If the situation in prospect could lead to development plans which would be the subject of appeal to the Secretary of State, that would be even more inhibiting.

Mr. Michael Forsyth (Stirling)

When he considers the Opposition's complaint about business for Wednesday and Thursday, and especially the amendment which removes the phasing out of the community charge, will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that, in Committee, the Opposition argued for precisely that measure?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that all considerations will be borne in mind.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Fulham)

Further to the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), will he please give his attention to early-day motion 653 which has been signed by 78 hon. Members and expresses grave concern about the implications for football?

[That this House notes with concern and alarm the reports suggesting that the Chairman of Fulham Football Club is proposing to merge Fulham with Queen's Park Rangers Football Club, and that this would mean the end of Fulham Football Club's existence as a separate club playing football at Craven Cottage; notes that any such proposal would involve a flagrant breach of the undertakings given by the Chairman of Fulham Football Club late in 1986, that under his Chairmanship the Club would enjoy a period of at least two years stability playing at Craven Cottage; notes also with concern the interests of the Chairman of Fulham Football Club in Stamford Bridge Football ground where Chelsea Football Club's continued occupation is also under threat; considers that his intentions through Marler Estates and SB Properties to redevelop both grounds for luxury housing is incompatible with the interests of the football clubs; and calls for an urgeni statement from the Minister of Sport on the steps which the Government propose to take to protect the interests of the three football clubs immediately affected, Fulham, Chelsea and Queen's Park Rangers, and other football clubs whose future may be threatened in a similar way in the future.]

Does he accept that the Minister with responsibility for sport should take account of the wider implications for the survival of our national game, which is under threat from the activities of unscrupulous asset-strippers?

Mr. Biffen

The topic is being invested with somewhat lurid rhetoric. I tried to give a reasonably helpful, albeit modest, answer to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), and I think that I have to leave it there.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Nottingham, North)

May I refer my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 63, which calls on the Government to introduce a legally enforceable right to interest to combat the growing problem of the late payment of debts?

[That this House, whilst noting that the Government recognises the increasing difficulties caused by the late payment of debts and congratulating it on its voluntary code contained in the booklet Payment on Time, believes that legislation giving a legal enforceable right to interest on the late payment of debts should be introduced to give teeth to the voluntary code; and notes that in a survey carried out by the Forum of Private Business 84 per cent. of its members supported the introduction of such legislation and that in a survey carried out by the Confederation of British Industry 83 per cent. of its members thought that the existence of a statutory right to interest would result in the faster payment of bills.]

It has the support of 168 hon. Members on both sides of the House. In view of the Government's perceived change of attitude to this issue, is it not time that we had a debate on it?

Mr. Biffen

I shall bear that request in mind. Once we get the Finance Bill, the scope for discussing practically every aspect of the national economy is limitless, and I hope that my hon. Friend can contain his impatience until then, when perhaps we can both be satisfied.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I wonder whether the Leader of the House has seen the City page of last week's London Evening Standard, which refers to the setting up, with the blessing of the Bank of England, of a lifeboat for Morgan Grenfell. As he knows, the Government are reluctant to make statements about lifeboats, as was evidenced by their refusal to make a statement about Johnson Matthey banks for about six months. Can we have an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman will press the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a statement so that we do not have the laggardly behaviour that we had with JMB and so that we know precisely what role the Bank of England played in the establishment of the lifeboat, especially in view of Morgan Grenfell's close connections with the Guinness fiasco? While he is about it, perhaps we can know exactly when those people at the head of the Guinness affairs, those crooks, will be dealt with—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Skinner

—in the same fashion as those 9,000 miners in 1984–85?

Mr. Biffen

First, I was not aware of the cutting to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Clearly my reading is much more limited and doubtless that much more deprived on that account, but on the issue of substance—

Mr. Skinner

It is your paper; it is a Tory paper.

Mr. Biffen

I think it depends on what sort of Tory one is. I shall refer the points of substance that were made by the hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

On the Zircon matter, will my right hon. Friend note, in considering whether to ask the Attorney-General to come to the House, that a lot of bogus indignation is being expressed? The terms of the undertaking are extremely wide. They may even be wider than the original injunction, but they relate to technical information and data and to the—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is business questions. Hon. Members must ask about debates or statements.

Mr. Hickmet

I will try to put my question in order, Mr. Speaker. When considering whether to ask the Attorney-General whether to come here, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that, if Mr. Campbell should breach that undertaking, the effect would be the same as if he had breached the injunction?

Mr. Biffen

I take the point that my hon. Friend makes. It is a perfectly valid one.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Since there is continuing public disquiet about the circumstances surrounding the Zircon affair and it is believed that the injunction against Mr. Campbell and others was an attempt to intimidate and stifle public discussion on the main allegation, that Parliament was deceived, and that the military spent a considerable amount of public money on this project—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must not go into the arguments on this matter. The same principle applies to the hon. Lady as to the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet). She must ask about time for a debate or a statement.

Mrs. Clwyd

Certainly, Mr. Speaker. Given those circumstances, and since many questions should be answered, to which the public and Members of Parliament want answers, will the Leader of the House consider having a debate on the issues raised by the Zircon affair?

Mr. Biffen

I wholly reject the hon. Lady's opening words, which were not designed to contribute to a calm judgment of this matter, but merely to exacerbate passion. I have given a response to the Leader of the Opposition and I cannot add to it.

Mr. Patrick Ground (Feltham and Heston)

In considering whether there should be a statement on the Zircon matter, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that the Government accepted an undertaking from the New Statesman about a month ago that was worded in very similar terms to those that had been given by Mr. Campbell recently? Will my right hon. Friend say or ask whether the Government would have accepted an undertaking from Mr. Campbell after the New Statesman undertaking was given in the same terms?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. and learned Friend says. That is a helpful comment, but in a sense I am not here to judge on merits, but only to take note of the request that there may be a statement.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

I want to reinforce the points, made by Labour Members who represent Scottish constituencies, about next Wednesday's business on the guillotined Abolition of Domestic Rates, etc. (Scotland) Bill. It is extraordinary to have 40 amendments tabled to the earlier clauses of this timetabled Bill and to have only two hours in which to debate the matter—including a major change in the timetabling of the Bill itself. I press the Leader of the House to be much more forthcoming than he has already been and to see to it that the Business Committee either withdraws most of those amendments or agrees to a change in the timetable.

Mr. Biffen

I note what the right hon. Gentleman says. I responded in good faith when the question was originally put, and I have to leave it at that.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

My right hon. Friend will recall the sense of outrage in the country recently over sentencing policy. In the light of that, does my right hon. Friend not believe that we should have an early debate to see whether the view expressed by the official spokesman for the Labour party in the other place—that sentencing in this country is too severe and too long—is the official policy of the Labour party? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that prisoners ought to be given more pocket money?

Mr. Biffen

If I disappoint my hon. Friend by not being able to provide Government time for such a debate, none the less, the issue that he has mentioned is of such topicality that I am certain that he can find one way or another of giving it greater expression.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Mine is meant purely as an innocent question. In view of the rosy optimism of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding the economy, will the Leader of the House arrange next week for an early statement to be made to try to explain to the House and to the country why the Tory vote in Greenwich has apparently collapsed?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I think that comment in all quarters of the House might be more entertaining tomorrow than today.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Darlington)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are considerable implications because of the Leyland-DAF deal for employment and competition in the motor components industry? Will he undertake that the terms of that deal will be debated in this House before the final joint venture agreement is signed?

Mr. Biffen

I shall look at the point that my hon. Friend has in mind in the more general context of a debate on the motor industry that has been requested by the Leader of the Opposition.

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

If I can use my words with great care. Mr. Speaker, may we have a statement on the allegations of Captain Holroyd and Mr. Colin Wallace? Is the Leader of the House aware that, in August of last year, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) corresponded with and telephoned Mr. James Morgan-Harris of Thomas Eggar and Son, solicitors in Chichester—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is asking for a debate. He must not go into the detail of what he might say if there were a debate.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Yes, Mr. Speaker. This concerns allegations unfairly being made against the right hon. Gentleman by security officers in the mid-1970s. Do not these matters require a statement from the Dispatch box and the fullest possible examination, leading to a full judicial inquiry?

Mr. Biffen

It was a request for a statement. I cannot respond immediately without having more information than the hon. Gentleman has given. Perhaps in due course he will give it. and then I shall be able to let him know.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that three semi-dangerous patients have escaped from the Towers hospital's regional secure units at Arnold Lodge? As a matter of urgency, will my right hon. Friend arrange either for a statement to be made to the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services or at least for a debate during the early part of next week? I consider this matter to be so serious that I have had to forgo voting in the Synod.

Mr. Biffen

God moves in a mysterious way. I shall of course draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to the point that my hon. Friend makes, and I shall be in touch with him.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Leader of the House, as the sort of Tory who believes in honour and true law and order, have an urgent word with the Home Secretary to ensure that the Home Office co-operates fully with solicitors wishing to represent those Tamils who are seeking political asylum here? Will he also ensure that Home Office officials do not make public pronouncements on this case? Members of Parliament are prevented from commenting on this case because of the sub judice rule. Why on earth are Home Office officials allowed to make most disparaging comments?

Mr. Biffen

First of all, I do not, as a Tory, aspire to any of the virtues with which the hon. Gentleman is most anxious to invest me. It is merely that, as a Shropshire Tory, I do not read a London evening newspaper. As to the hon. Gentleman's points about the Tamils, I shall draw all of them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend consider again the answer that he gave to our right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine)? Is he aware that, in addition to early-day motion 450, there are two other early-day motions on the Order Paper calling attention to the illegality of late abortions? Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that it is not a question of primary legislation being introduced but that it is perfectly clear, even according to official figures, that hundreds of babies are being aborted each year who are well able to be saved, in accordance with medical developments today? We need an urgent debate to fincl out why the present legislation is not being implemented.

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what my hon. Friend says. However, opportunities exist for the House other than the provision of Government time for a debate. I realise that this topic causes a great deal of concern across the House and in several directions.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

No hon. Member is more alert to occurrences throughout the Kingdom than the Leader of the House, so there is no need for me to ask him to call to mind the incident concerning Mr. Bob Brookes, who admitted the falsification of quality assurance records on welds at Hinkley Point 16 years ago. He will also be aware of early-day motion 656. It was tabled yesterday and already has 25 all-party names attached to it.

[That this House affirms that the integrity of all industrial plant is of prime importance in ensuring that risk to surrounding environs and adjacent communities is minimised; is gravely disturbed therefore to learn of reports that Mr. Bob Brookes has admitted openly that he colluded at the falsification of quality assurance records of are-welds in pressure pipework at Hinkley Point Power Station some sixteen years ago; pays tribute to the said gentleman for having after all this time the courage to confess the fault by approaching the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to urge the re-inspection of the welds in question so as to ascertain their present state; urges the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to arrange such reappraisal immediately; and instructs Her Majesty's Government to grant Mr. Bob Brookes immunity from all prosecution and protection from any victimisation that may result from his public spirited declaration and to offer an unconditional amnesty to any other worker who in the past has felt compelled to bend to similar pressures and now comes forward with the information to redress the wrong]

The Leader of the House will also know that there was a ministerial statement that welcomed this admission and the making of a clean breast, and it expressed concern about it. However, he should also know that today the CEGB has issued a circular about the incidents that is very prejudicial and highly misleading. It is virtually obstructing an independent inquiry. Will the Leader of the House please ensure that we have some kind of statement next week so that we can question the Minister with responsibility for these affairs and explore the matter further?

Mr. Biffen

I take at once the importance of the topic that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and I note what he says about the activities of the Central Electricity Generating Board. I understand that it is carrying out an inquiry at Hinkley Point, but I shall refer to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy the hon. Gentleman's anxiety that there should be a statement.

Mr. John Watts (Slough)

Has my right hon. Friend received a request from the Official Opposition for time to be made available for a debate on the popular propositions in their new transport document "Fresh Directions", including the renationalisation of British Airways? If he has not had such a request—the Opposition seem to be reluctant to debate these policies — will he consider providing time for a debate on transport policy generally so that these matters can be considered by the House, as many of my constituents who work for British Airways and who have bought shares recently would like this matter to be clarified in the House?

Mr. Biffen

I must ask my hon. Friend to be patient. I am sure that the Opposition will be so pleased with their policy child that they will be using an Opposition day to have it debated quite soon; but if my optimism proves to be false, perhaps we shall look at it again.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that I rise late in these questions because I seek a statement from the Government next week on a matter that concerns me personally and my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) who served with me in Northern Ireland 10 or 11 years ago? Allegations are going around; there are tapes; there are papers. I shall not go into them, out of deference to what has been said. However, they are extremely worrying to me and to my right hon. Friend. Everybody seems to have a copy of them. I understand that there are to be radio programmes about them. I am not seeking the protection of the Official Secrets Act 1911 to prevent them from being reported, but I am seeking a Government statement about them.

I understand that all the documents in the Holroyd-Wallace case have been sent to the Prime Minister. I listened to the House when the Attorney-General said that they were being investigated. What did that mean? The Attorney-General is a Law Officer of the Crown. I read in the paper this morning at breakfast time that the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee is being asked to receive evidence on the matter next week. I want something to be said publicly about it, because it is extremely disturbing. It is not a fiddling matter. It is as worrying to me personally as the Wright case is in Australia. The Government or the Prime Minister have got to say something about it, otherwise we shall sit and watch it all being said on the "telly", because nobody is concerned.

Mr. Biffen

Of course I take account of what the right hon. Gentleman said and I shall immediately refer those points to my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Rob Hayward (Kingswood)

Further to the answers that my right hon. Friend gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and my hon. Friend the member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), does he recognise the concern that there should be time for a debate on the whole question of abortion, especially as the recent court case raised questions about the time scale of abortions, the rights of fathers and the award of costs when complex legal matters are discussed?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, I take all those points to heart.

    1. c432
    3. c432