HC Deb 05 March 1987 vol 111 cc1029-41 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 9 MARCH—Opposition Day (10th Allotted Day). Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate on prospects for the removal of intermediate nuclear weapons from Europe in the light of Mr. Gorbachev's willingness to conclude a separate INF Agreement, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Afterwards there will be a debate entitled "The Disparity of Opportunities within the United Kingdom" which will arise on a motion in the names of the leaders of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties.

Motion on the Parliamentary Constituencies (England) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order.

TUESDAY 10 MARCH — Until about seven o'clock, Second Reading of the Debtors (Scotland) Bill [Lords], followed by remaining stages of the Parliamentary and Health Service Commissioners Bill.

Motion on the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order.

WEDNESDAY II MARCH—Until seven o'clock, Estimates Day (1st Allotted Day, 1st Part). There will be a debate on Estimates relating to assistance to the coal industry; details will be given in the Official Report.

Afterwards there will be a debate on a motion relating to the motor vehicle industry and on the Industry Act 1980 (Increase of Limit) Order.

Consideration of Lords amendments that may be received to the Local Government Finance Bill.

THURSDAY 12 MARCH—Until about seven o'clock there will be a debate on the arts on a Government motion.

Motion on EC documents relating to the agreement between the Community and the United States on the trade consequences of Community enlargement. Details of the documents concerned will be given in the Official Report.

Motion on the Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Board) Order.

FRIDAY 13 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 16 MARCH — Second Reading of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Bill.

[Wednesday 11 March

Supply Estimates 1986–87, Spring Supplementary Estimates, HC 160, Class 6, Vote 1.

Thursday 12 March

Relevant European Documents

  1. (a) Unnumbered Settlement of Trade Dispute with USA
  2. (b) Unnumbered Settlement of Trade Dispute with USA : Implementation

Relevant Reports of European Legislation Committee

  1. (a) HC 22-ix (1986–87), para. 2
  2. (b) HC 22-xi (1986–87), para. 2]

Mr. Kinnock

On the motion on the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order to be debated next Tuesday, is the Leader of the House satisfied that sufficient time has been allocated for the House fully to discuss this important item of business? Why will the Lords amendments to the Local Government Finance Bill be debated so late on Wednesday night? Can the Leader of the House even now provide time earlier in the day on Thursday, or even in the week after next, to increase the possibility that this important debate will be fully and publicly reported? Why the rush with this legislation?

Recalling the Secretary of State for the Environment's sneering advice yesterday that the young homeless should go to somewhere where there is a home, rather than to sleep rough in London"—[Official Report, 4 March 1987; Vol. 111, c. 866], will the Leader of the House arrange a debate in Government time on the subject of homelessness, so that the Secretary of State can give full vent to his views in this United Nations International Year of Shelter for the Homeless?

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have met workers from the Caterpillar plant in Uddingston who are lobbying hon. Members about the future of their tractor plant where the company proposes a closure and the loss of 1,200 jobs. The company has refused requests from the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland to reconsider the closure. Surely it would now be right for the Government to make a positive response to my previous request that Government time be given for a debate on this proposed closure which will clearly have devastating consequences for the work force and for thousands of other workers who are employed by component suppliers.

Last week I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on foreign affairs. May I once again press him on that, in the light of President Reagan's statement today about the provision of arms to Iran and to the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua, as well as the other matters of great significance which remain on the international agenda?

Later today the House will continue its debate on the Abolition of Domestic Rates etc. (Scotland) Bill, which introduces the community charge poll tax. I understand that the Tory Reform Group will issue a statement tomorrow which warns that the proposal is "misconceived" and that the new tax will undermine local self-government whilst not achieving the financial and political accountability that is now seen to be necessary for local government".

In view of that frank advice from a Conservative group. will the Leader of the House, even at this late stage, prevail on his Government colleagues at least to extend the period of consideration of the Bill so that the Tory Reform Group Members of Parliament can put their compelling case to this House?

Mr. Biffen

I shall take the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman in the order presented. First, I believe that it will be possible so to arrange affairs on Tuesday as to enable consideration of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order to have an appropriate amount of time.

Secondly, on the question of the Lords amendments to the Local Government Finance Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, those are precisely the sort of issues that lie at the heart of usual channel consultations. I shall make sure that his anxieties on that point are further known.

On the request for a debate on homelessness, to which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would add the consideration of the more effective use of the national housing stock, I am certain that that is a debate which could take place in this Chamber as a preliminary to the wider debate that we all anticipate with such good nature and zeal later this year or early next—[Interruption.] I shall bear in mind the nervous laughter of Labour Members at that speculation, but of course we shall look at that through the usual channels.

I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is anxious that the Caterpillar plant should be considered and in terms which put it aside from the debate upon the motor industry. That is something that we might possibly consider in the context of the Budget debate.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned his concern that there should be a reasonably early debate on foreign affairs. I accept his concern on that matter. Again, I am sure that be will realise that the timing must be related to the immediate demands upon parliamentary time that will be taken up by consideration of the Budget.

The right hon. Gentleman gave a charming indication of the anxiety that has entered his soul about his recent loss of numbers. His concern to recruit to his aid the Tory Reform Group must surely be the gesture of a fairly desperate Leader of the Opposition. Although I have never been a member of the Tory Reform Group, I have always kept a close association with it, and I shall try to do what I can by way of good endeavours to put him in touch with a future political home.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that next Monday, 9 March, is Commonwealth day. May I draw his attention to early-day motion 670?

[That this House joins with all other parliaments throughout the Commonwealth in the observance of Commonwealth Day on Monday 9th March; and recognises the importance of the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association which brings together parliamentarians throughout the Commonwealth who share a community of interest, respect for the rule of law and a commitment to promote the positive ideals of parliamentary democracy.]

The motion is supported by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House and it draws attention to the importance of the Commonwealth and of the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. May I ask my right hon. Friend as Leader of the House, particularly at a time when we are entertaining many parliamentarians from other parts of the Commonwealth here in Westminster, to reiterate and confirm the Government's continuing support for the Commonwealth and the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association?

Mr. Biffen

The whole House will have noted my right hon. and learned Friend's comments. With the meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association taking place in this country, we recognise the important part that this institution has played in the association's evolution. I hope that in our discussions—private and public—we will establish for this country the right to have every bit as much of an independent policy as any other member of the Commonwealth.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Further to his reply to the leader of the Labour party, does the Leader of the House realise the urgency of the problem of homelessness, with 100,000 people presenting themselves as homeless this year, and with Shelter estimating that by the summer no temporary hostel accommodation will be available for the homeless? Therefore, will the right hon.

Gentleman reconsider the urgency of' that matter and try within the next couple of weeks to arrange a debate in the House on homelessness?

Mr. Biffen

The matter has been debated recently, but I agree that that does not detract from the importance of the topic. However, I cannot go beyond the fairly generous reply that I gave to the Leader of the Opposition.

Sir Peter Mills (Torridge and Devon, West)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early day motion 703 about the conduct of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron)?

[That this House calls upon the honourable Member for Bother Valley to withdraw his allegations in the House on 26th February that there was any impropriety in the decision relating to public access over Maltby Commons and accept that his allegations were wholly unfounded.]

May we have a debate on that motion? Will my right hon. Friend start to talk through the usual channels until that unsatisfactory position has been cleared up properly?

Mr. Biffen

I have read the exchanges. I regret very much that they took place. I am sure that it will be possible for the matter to be resolved without all the ponderous consequences of debate. I shall bear in mind exactly what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order is a major piece of substantive primary legislation, and that to describe it as "appropriate" to attempt to deal with it in two or three hours by a procedure which gives no opportunity for proper consideration is a prime example of the cynical injustice with which the Government deal with the affairs of the Province?

Mr. Biffen

It was precisely because I hoped that affairs could be arranged that day so that more time would be allocated than stated by the right hon. Gentleman that I felt entitled to use the word "appropriate".

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

Does my right hon. Friend recall that last Tuesday the House gave leave for the introduction of a Bill, of which I am a sponsor, by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) to amend the powers of the General Medical Council? I appreciate that the Government do not give special time for private Members' Bills, but is my right hon. Friend aware that there is grave disquiet and anxiety about the number of tragic cases between patient and doctor, including cases in my constituency? Would it be possible to have a debate on that subject in the not too distant future?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says. He is right to observe that no Government time would be made available for the passage of that private Member's Bill, but I suggest that, meanwhile, he takes advantage of the fact that the Department of Health and Social Security will be top of the list for Question Time next Tuesday.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that conditions in our prisons are becoming explosively bad, and that Her Majesty's inspector of prisons has expressed his concern? Is he further aware that the Prison Officers Association has said that there are rats as big as cats in our prisons, which are infected with vermin? The reason for that is Crown immunity. Therefore, may we have a debate next week on the abolition of Crown immunity in our prisons?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman is a persistent and effective campaigner on the issue of Crown immunity, but I am not entirely convinced that the circumstances of the prison that he has described can be related solely to that factor. However, I will, of course, draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the points that he has made.

Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

Following the welcome rejection by the Secretary of State for the Environment of the application to develop a new town within the metropolitan green belt and the subsequent indication by the housing spokesman for the Opposition that under a Labour Government some element of development within the green belt might be contemplated, does not the Leader of the House believe that the time has arrived for the whole subject of the future of the metropolitan green belt to be discussed in a full debate?

Mr. Biffen

Clearly, if such a debate could give full and appropriate ventilation and publicity to those remarks that have been uttered on behalf of the Labour party, I would agree with my hon. Friend. The only thing that I cannot do is hold out the prospect of an early allocation of Government time. But there are many other ways in which my hon. Friend can secure greater publicity for this matter, and I wish him well.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Is it not totally inadmissible for blindness to be ridiculed in a publication for which a Minister in the Government has ultimate responsibility? Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in a statement next week, to dissociate himself from the insulting treatment of that severe handicap in the current issue of Conservative News Line?

Mr. Biffen

I imagine that the right hon. Gentleman may not already have contacted my right hon. Friend to secure his observations upon the matter, but he will, I am sure, be satisfied when he knows the official remarks that have been made.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

As we are not overburdened with legislation, and as we are now in the season of Lent, does my right hon. Friend think that we could have a debate on the future of the Church of England so that that body can be made aware of the strong feelings on a number of matters held in the House before the Synod makes its final decision?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that I can agree, alas, with my hon. Friend that the parliamentary timetable is relatively free of pressure for the next few weeks, particularly when we come to the Budget. I am sure that on reflection he will realise that I am right to hold that view. I will of course bear in mind the point that he makes, which is one of great substance for many people.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Will the Government allocate time pretty soon to discuss the Anglo-Irish agreement? In view of the fact that there is a new Prime Minister—Taoiseach—in Dublin, and as it is a London-Dublin agreement and he has strong views about it, surely we ought to discuss it here and make our views clear.

Mr. Biffen

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point and I will see that it is conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, the right hon. Gentleman might take advantage of the fact that Northern Ireland questions will be first on Thursday of next week.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

I think from several rather oblique hints that he has given that my right hon. Friend is favourably disposed towards a debate on agriculture and the environment. Is he getting any nearer to actually fixing one? If he is thinking of leaving it until after the White Paper appears later this month, will he please not leave it too long? We do not want a long period of consultation; we want a debate.

Mr. Biffen

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. I assure him that the prospect of a debate is at least one week nearer than it was this time last week. It is not entirely over the brow of the future. There are real reasons why I believe that the Government would wish to present their policy to the House and the House to endorse it.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Fulham)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 675 on the important and serious matter of insider dealing?

[That this House, noting the movements in the share price of Marler Estates over the past seven months during the period in which Marler Estates was acquiring or seeking to acquire an interest first in Fulham Football Club and subsequently in Queen's Park Rangers Football Club, and noting the involvement of Mr. Terry Ramsden, Chairman of Glen International, Mr. Robert Noonan, Chief Executive of Marler Estates and Director of SB Property Company and Mr. David Bulstrode, Chairman of Marler Estates and Fulham Football Club, in the purchase and sale of Marler Estates shares during this period, calls on the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to appoint an Investigator under the powers contained in section 177 of the Financial Services Act 1986 to establish whether a contravention of section 1 and/or 4 of the Company Securities (Insider Dealing) Act 1985 may have taken place.]

In the light of the clear prima facie evidence, much of which has been reported in the press, that there may have been insider dealing in the shares of Marler Estates, a company which has been involved in a notorious asset-stripping attack on Fulham football club, will the right hon. Gentleman urge the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement on this matter as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, and I have noted the considerable popular interest that has attended the future of the football club. He might reflect upon the desirability of making available the information that he has to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

It will not have escaped my right hon. Friend's attention that the report on civil research and development produced in another place has initiated a major and most significant debate throughout the press in this country. Is it not anomalous that this is the only place in which no debate on this subject has yet taken place? Should we not have an opportunity to express our views on this most important topic?

Mr. Biffen

I will certainly bear in mind that request, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will bear in mind the difficulties under which I labour. I do not mean to be in any sense dismissive when I say that the Budget debate will give opportunities for making many of the points that he would wish to make on this occasion.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

In view of the conclusion of discussions in Brussels in the early hours of yesterday morning on the future of the CAP, which is of critical importance to dairy and livestock farmers, and in view of the fact that no statement has been made in the House today on the discussions, will the Leader of the House assure hon. Members that there will be a statement next week and that some assurance will be given to dairy and livestock farmers in Wales who, because of recent developments, are fearful of the future?

Mr. Biffen

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food believes that a satisfactory deal has been made in the negotiations. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's disappointment that there has been no statement to the House, but the truth is that one must have regard to the other pressures upon time. I shall certainly pass on his comments to my right hon. Friend the Minister.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

In view of my right hon. Friend's earlier statement—perhaps inadvertent—that the remaining length of the Parliament may not be indefinite, to put it gently, will he seriously consider the proposal already put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) about the need for a serious and lengthy debate in the House on the state of civil research and development, especially that which is conducted by the private sector, which is inadequate and needs to be increased?

Mr. Biffen

I am absolutely confident that any examination of Hansard tomorrow — I realise that Hansard will be thoroughly examined tomorrow—will demonstrate that I said that the election will come either later this year or some time next year. That covers all disagreeable possibilities. Of course, I take note of what my hon. Friend said about the desirability of having a debate on research and development in the public and private sectors. I cannot go beyond the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd), but that in no sense means that I am not fully conscious of the desire for a debate.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

In view of the continuing high level of unemployment in Liverpool and on Merseyside, despite the fact that Liverpool city council has built 4,300 houses in the past three years and has taken on 11,000 construction workers, will the Leader of the House give us an opportunity to discuss at the earliest possible moment unemployment on Merseyside? Will he consider also the letter that I have sent him about the new proposals regarding taxis for hon. Members?

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's observations on the first point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. Secondly, I have only just received the hon. Gentleman's letter, but I have a feeling that I could reasonably anticipate its contents. The decision taken by the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee to examine the matter was not taken on its initiative. It was as a result of many representations to it about the unsatisfactory way in which the arrangements were working.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

Will my right hon. Friend undertake to provide time for a debate on British space policy? Will he take this opportunity of saying that such a debate might usefully be founded on decisions taken in the long overdue response by Her Majesty's Government to proposals from the British National Space Centre, which I trust he can confirm were made this morning?

Mr. Biffen

Of course I shall refer my hon. Friend's observations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I shall take into account my hon. Friend's anxiety that we should have a debate upon the topic. For the moment, there certainly is no prospect of a debate in Government time.

Mr. James Hamilton (Motherwell, North)

I underline the request made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for a debate on the drastic closure of the Caterpillar tractor factory in my constituency. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, it has been widely reported that the Prime Minister sent two letters to the company in America. Can the right hon. Gentleman or the Prime Minister divulge the company's reply so that hon. Members may know whether there is any hope of the company resuming full employment?

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the points that the hon. Gentleman has made that relate specifically to her. I quite understand why he makes known his concern about Caterpillar. I cannot say any more to him than I have already said to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Now that the playing of games and sport in our state schools seems to be coming almost to an end, will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on this important subject? Surely sport and games are most important for character building and for creating proper team spirit.

Mr. Biffen

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I see from the good-natured beneficent smile of the Leader of the Opposition, a great champion of schoolboy Rugby Union football in the valleys, that he is at one with me. I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be a useful topic to debate, but such a debate should be generated by a private Member using the advantages that are available to private Members. Currently, there is a shortage of Government time for such a debate.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

When the Broadcasting Bill [Lords] returns to this Chamber, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that his Government will not try to overturn the one amendment that was carried with support from the members of all three major parties?

Mr. Biffen

I have no wish to begrudge the hon. Member his legislative triumph. He knows that I am not in a position to make any such commitment. I shall ensure, however, that his anxiety is conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

Did I hear my right hon. Friend aright when he said that the motion in the name of the alliance on defence and arms control will arise on the Adjournment? How shall I know which way to vote at the end of the debate? Am I to vote for or against? Is it the position that the alliance does not know and that it cannot make up its mind on a Supply day what substantive motion to place on the Order Paper?

Mr. Biffen

If one has disagreeable problems, the classic formula is to try to opt for nice people. That is the touchstone of so many alliance Members. We shall be presented with a supreme example on Monday. We shall be confronted with some of the most disagreeable choices in defence policy, and the option is to adjourn. It hopes one day to be joined by a reformed Leader of the Opposition, but that is another story. As for how my hon. Friend should vote, keep close by me.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the appropriate Law Officer to make a statement next week on the number of times that cases have been dropped because of lack of money or inability to pursue the alleged culprits? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a startling example was provided by an announcement made by the Lord Chancellor in another place this week? It appears that the case involving Unimar and others connected with it — a gigantic fraud at Lloyd's — that led to more than 1,000 people being cheated out of money has been dropped deliberately by this Tory Government because they say that it is too expensive to pursue? Why was not that the position when they were pursuing the miners' money in five or six different countries? Was not that an expensive operation? Is not the truth of the matter that this Tory Government have one law for their friends in the City and another for those like miners and pensioners, who might be hauled before the courts for having a tin of salmon from Sainsbury?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that is the motivation of the Treasury Bench. None the less, if this will help the hon. Gentleman, I shall refer his request to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General so that he may consider the issue that he has raised.

Mr. John Whitfield (Dewsbury)

Does my right hon. Friend share my increasing concern at the tendency of Left-wing local authorities to rename famous landmarks and streets in English towns and cities that are under their control after African terrorists? The latest example of this civic-sponsored graffiti is to be found at the town hall in Dewsbury, which the Kirklees metropolitan district council decided last week to surround with a road that is to be named Mandela way. I ask my right hon. Friend to make time available soon for a debate on a motion urging the Government to bring forward as fast as possible their reform of rates so that Left-wing authorities such as Kirklees council become more accountable to their ratepayers and less accountable to African terrorists.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a narrow but none the less very powerful instance of action on the part of local authorities that reveals so much of their underlying commitment. Alas, I cannot offer him any Government time for the matter to be debated, but I hope that he will take advantage of all the other available opportunities in the House to ensure that it is given further consideration.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 654?

[That this House deplores the sacking of 270 bus drivers and other workers by the Crosville bus company in Liverpool; notes the sacking followed a strike by drivers of long experience for refusing to drive old second-hand non-power steering buses; also notes that more than 150 drivers had between 10 to 25 years service including one driver who had more than 30 years service and was only two years off retiring age; further notes that none of the sacked workers received any redundancy payments; supports the Transport and General Workers Union for its efforts to have the men re-instated; calls upon Her Majesty's Government for a full investigation into the dispute; and considers similar disputes could have serious consequences for bus drivers, passengers, pedestrians and other road users, justifying the Labour party's opposition to the de-regulation of buses.]

It relates to the sacking of 270 transport workers in Liverpool. Will the Leader of the House refer this matter either to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport — bus deregulation was the cause of the dispute — or to the Paymaster General, because the moves of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service were torpedoed by the intransigence of the Crosville bus company? The matter is urgent and is of paramount importance because it may affect bus drivers, bus companies and road safety throughout the country.

Mr. Biffen

I believe that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter with me in the past. I shall reconsider the points that he has just made to see how my right hon. Friends might help.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

When may we have a debate on the use and abuse of diplomatic immunity? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the Jordanian Government have been most honourable in establishing the precedent of removing the diplomatic shield from someone, a chef, who should not have had diplomatic immunity in the first place, there is a growth industry in the number of people claiming diplomatic immunity and escaping justice and the rule of law? A debate on that matter is essential.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will respond in as quick a way as he did to my question last week concerning the Towers hospital in Leicester and its secure unit. I am grateful to him for bringing to the attention of the Minister for Health the four people who escaped from that unit.

Mr. Biffen

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks relating to his second point. On his first point, I will certainly see that his observations are drawn to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The Leader of the House will be aware that, two days ago, there was a statement on prescription charges. However, he may not be aware that the Secretary of State did not inform the House that one in three prescriptions paid for cost less than the prescription charge of £2.40. Given that that is new information, will the Leader of the House pass it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and explain to him that with so much money to give away in the Budget it might be a good way of cutting taxes to cut this nasty tax on the sick?

Mr. Biffen

I believe that the information to which the hon. Gentleman refers was widely known. Perhaps he would like to reflect upon the fact that prescription charges are the subject of an instrument that may be prayed against and will almost certainly come before the House.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)

The reason for the motion on defence policy tabled by the SDP for Monday to adjourn the House is that it cannot agree with its Liberal friends on that subject. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend undertake to ensure that the excellent service of video recordings available to hon. Members is restored so that, before the debate, we may watch a video of the Liberal conference that went unilateral and a video of the interview with the leader of the SDP on "This Week Next Week" when he thought that perhaps three rather than four submarines for Trident may be an alternative policy? As the SDP and the Liberals are in total disarray about this matter, the House should see the recordings before Monday's debate.

Mr. Biffen

After my hon. Friend's powerful advocacy, I believe that no organisation on my part is needed.

Mr. Tani Dalyell (Linlithgow)

May I return to the answers given to the Leader of the Opposition and the important question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Mr. Hamilton) regarding Caterpillar? What has been said? Will the Treasury make a statement?—That is the impression that the Leader of the House gave. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer is involved, so much the better because, frankly, he is involved with Caterpillar and the issue of Golden Wonder in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and exactly how the City is operating regarding profitable firms in Scotland. Will the Treasury take charge of this policy, because that is what the Leader of the House suggested?

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter as it will enable me to clear up an unintended misconception. It is my judgment that the topic can be debated, subject to the Chair, during the Budget debate. It was certainly not my intention to give the impression that a statement would be made by any Minister during such a debate. I was particularly anxious to point out the virtues of the Budget debate, rather than a debate on the motor industry, as being the debate during which to refer to the matter.

Mr. John Mark Taylor (Solihull)

Can my right hon. Friend explain why the SDP and the Liberals have chosen for next week's debate the title: "The disparity of opportunities within the United Kingdom"? Has that something to do with the fact that Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams and Mike Thomas have deserted the northern seats for southern ones? Can it be that they do not fancy their chances in the north of England?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has pointed to yet another fascinating dimension to the north-south problem.

In truth, I cannot make any satisfactory comment upon why the topic chosen has been drafted in such terms. I am sure that we will have an enjoyable debate.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Does the Leader of the House agree that as, yet again, the draftmanship of legislation has been called into question by the courts because its meaning is not clear and the Government keep losing court cases, now would be an opportunity to find time for a debate on the whole question of parliamentary draftmanship. In that way, even if Ministers cannot understand legislation, we, the ordinary Members, may do so in due course.

Mr. Biffen

I shall say that the hon. Gentleman is optimistic rather than arrogant. It is a most extraordinary assumption that any of us, in any corner of the House, can understand so much of that which is now produced as legislation. I shall certainly consider what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I am sure that he will appreciate that there is little time available for general debate within the Government's keep.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

In view of the difficulties that have recently arisen about showing video films in the precincts of the House, may I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that I am proposing to show next week a revealing film produced by the Soviet authorities of the recent visit paid to the Soviet Union by the Inter-Parliamentary Union? That group was led by my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw and the deputy leader was the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). I know that it will be revealing, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will take note of the fact that it will also be interesting.

Mr. Biffen

And free. My hon. Friend is too modest to remind the House that he was also a member of that delegation. Doubtless the House will have noted what he has said.

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

Is the reason why the Government have refused to take legal action against Mr. Wallace and Captain Holyroyd that they are concerned that if the case were brought to court matters might be raised in the witness box which would be embarrassing to the Government in relation to the activities of the security services?

In the light of Captain Holyroyd's statement made at midday on Ulster radio and his further allegations, we do not know whether they are to be believed. However, in so far as they are embarrassing to the Government and talk of attempts to destabilise the Government of the Irish Republic during the 1970s, the parliamentary answer given the other day is insufficient. Surely we should have a full statement from the Dispatch Box so that every Member of the House can question Ministers. We need to know the truth. Are the allegations true or false?

Mr. Biffen

I believe that the written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) was perfectly adequate to answer the questions raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Reg Freeson (Brent, East)

Taking another aspect of the north-south issue to which the Leader of the House referred a moment ago, despite the much vaunted prosperity of the south-east is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are nearly 400,000 people out of work in London? That is the second highest regional figure in the country. There are many other problems associated with that by way of social and economic decline. Will the Leader of the House arrange, exceptionally, for a debate on the situation in London, which would provide a rare opportunity for the House?

Mr. Biffen

I shall bear in mind the right hon. Gentleman's request, but I cannot be optimistic in my response, because, although the capital and the south-east are of great national significance, there is not the prospect of that amount of Government time to make such a debate an early prospect.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Will the Leader of the House consider his motion on short speeches and bring it to the notice of the House so that we can have a debate? My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) raised this matter some weeks ago. We have waited patiently for the motion, and the amendments on it, to be debated. Most hon. Members feel that when we put our names down to speak and we are not called it is because many Members take such a long time to speak. Is it not time that we had a debate on this issue? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should pay attention to the fact that, when the Prime Minister is answering supplementary questions at Prime Minister's Question Time, rules on short speeches should be applied to her as well.

Mr. Biffen

I hope that this topic can return to the Floor of the House soon. It has been no wish of mine that it should not be considered. There has been much discussion to see whether there could be a more broad and common front about its implementation. Nevertheless, it will come back to the House for consideration.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the Governor of the Bank of England is doing his best to bring interest rates down? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend encourage my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to follow that example and bring interest rates down now rather than waiting for the Budget, as that will please every person who pays a mortgage, industry and the farmers?

Mr. Biffen

I thank my hon. Friend for what I am certain is well-intentioned advice, which I believe is also sound advice.