HC Deb 23 January 1987 vol 108 cc1148-50
The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short statement about changes in the business announced for next week.

In the light of your ruling yesterday, Mr. Speaker, and following discussions through the usual channels, the business for Tuesday and Wednesday will now be as follows:

TUESDAY 27 JANUARY—Until about seven o'clock, there will be a debate on a Government motion arising out of Mr. Speaker's decision on 22 January.

Afterwards, Second Reading of the Ministry of Defence Police Bill (Lords)

Motions relating to the Dockyard Services (Devonport) (Designation and Appointed Day) Order and the Dockyard Services (Rosyth) (Designation and Appointed Day) Order.

WEDNESDAY 28 JANUARY—Oppostion day (6th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion entitled "The failure of the City to serve the nation".

Motion on the London Regional Transport (Levy) Order.

Second Reading of the Parliamentary and Health Service Commissioners Bill will be taken at a later date.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

After the exchanges yesterday on Mr. Duncan Campbell's film and his article in the New Statesman, the House is not surprised that the Leader of the House has made a further business statement today. But why have the Government not tabled a motion on the Order Paper? Is it because it is the Government's intention to seek a limited debate on Mr. Speaker's action yesterday, or are they contemplating a motion that has wider scope and may be much more controversial? When shall we be told the Government's intentions?

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. The choice of motion is a matter of sensitivity and judgment. The Government are considering the terms of the motion, and will draft and table the motion as soon as practicable.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

When my right hon. Friend considers the terms of the motion, will he ensure that there is nothing in it that might impair the rights of the Select Committees of the House? At the same time, will he ensure that its terms are sufficiently widely drawn to enable those of us who want to do so to debate the extraordinary willingness of some hon. Members to use the procedures of the House to breach the defences of national security?

Mr. Biffen

I can give the undertaking sought by my hon. Friend in respect of Select Committees. I take note of his concern about the terms of the motion in respect of the second point that he makes.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

Will the Leader of the House consider using time after the debate on Tuesday for a continuation of the proceedings on the Local Government Finance Bill not for the Ministry of Defence Police Bill [Lords]? Is the Leader of the House aware that the House will be in extraordinary difficulty if the remaining stages of the local government Bill including Report, are taken on Monday? The Government have amended the Bill 38 times. There has to be a Report stage, but under Standing Orders that is not possible until the Committee has reported to the House, which means that the House will not have any copies available of printed amendments.

Mr. Biffen

As the hon. Gentleman will have noted, Monday's business stands unaltered. Perhaps the points that he makes may be considered through the usual channels, but I do not hold out any substantial hope of alteration.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House will welcome the opportunity to discuss and support the decision that you, Mr. Speaker took in difficult circumstances? When the Government frame the motion will they take into account the fact that any attempt to lay down regulations that may in any way restrict the activities of private Members should not be undertaken lightly or in haste? The decision deserves most careful consideration and should not be taken on Tuesday in the heat of the moment.

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend makes, and makes more effectively by the moderation with which he puts it.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

This is a delicate balance, but will the Leader of the House lean towards a narrow motion? Will he reflect—if he is thinking of a broader motion—on the debate that took place in the House and the view that was expressed on both sides that a mechanism of scrutiny of the intelligence services, and all the areas that relate to confidentiality, must now be achieved by the House? Some form of procedure involving Members from both sides of the House capable of being given sensitive information in rather carefully guarded circumstances is a necessary part of safeguarding democracy.

Mr. Biffen

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for acknowledging that there is a question of balance when considering how best to proceed with the debate on Tuesday. I note his substantive point. He will recognise that this is somewhat controversial, and no doubt will be raised again and again.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

I am sorry that time which had been set aside for deliberation of the Health Service Commissioners Bill should be lost while we spend time debating procedures of the House that have been misused by some people to try and pry into matters that they should be content to leave alone.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend's question contains a degree of controversy, which is a prelude to the lively debate that may take place on Tuesday, but the House would have thought it very remiss if arrangements had not been made for the topic to be taken as speedily as practicable.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

The House will be grateful to the Leader of the House for reacting so positively in respect of your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and Mr. Duncan Campbell's film. But is the Leader of the House satisfied that a proper debate can take place when some Members of the House have seen the film officially, some unofficially, some have seen excerpts of it on ITV and others have read accounts of the film in the New Statesman? Is it not time that the House was encouraged to see what it will debate before the debate?

Mr. Biffen

I shall have to distance myself from that observation, because the debate will essentially deal with the problems of an injunction. If we begin to pick and choose whether we think that the injunction should or should not have been granted, we shall be in some difficulty in these matters.