HC Deb 19 March 1987 vol 112 cc1041-52 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 23 MARcH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Statement.

TUESDAY 24 MARCH—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 25 MARCH—Motions on the Rate Support Grant Report (England) 1987–88 (HC No. 253), the Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report (England) (No. 1) 1986–87 (HC No. 258), the Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report (England) (No. 3) 1985–86 (HC No. 259).

Afterwards motions on the Welsh Rate Support Grant Report 1987–88 (HC No. 221) and the Welsh Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report 1986–87 (HC No. 222).

THURSDAY 26 MARCH— Remaining stages of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Bill followed by remaining stages of the Broadcasting Bill [Lords.]

FRIDAY 27 MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 30 MARCH—Second Reading of the Pilotage Bill [Lords] followed by Second Reading of the Landlord and Tenant (No. 2) Bill.

The House will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Easter Adjournment on Friday 10 April until Wednesday 22 April.

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Does he recall that last week I asked for an urgent debate on the funding of scientific research and the accelerating brain drain? Has he now read this morning's report that inadequate funding by the Government has forced the Science and Engineering Research Council to cancel support for new scientific research in Britain's industries? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Government's policy shows a definite lack of prudence? Will he provide time for a full debate on this issue as a matter of urgency, so that hon. Members on both sides of the House can put the case for a speedy change of Government policy before Britain loses even more of its research scientists and engineers?

The loss of a further 1,400 jobs at British Rail Engineering Ltd. works in Derby, Crewe and York is a further example of the Government's complete disregard for the future of a vital research, manufacturing and engineering base. Can the Leader of the House ensure that we have a debate on that topic, which is vital to the areas hit by those job losses and to rail users who have to use obsolete rolling stock?

Has the Leader of the House seen reports that the Government are reluctant to buy new Lynx helicopters from Westland and thereby to assist in bridging the company's orders gap between now and the purchase of the EH 101 troop carrier in the early 1990s? Will he ensure that an early statement of the Government's intentions is made by the Secretary of State for Defence to clarify the position and, I hope, to relieve the great anxieties of 2,000 Westland workers who are otherwise threatened with lay-off?

May I repeat my previous request to the Leader of the House to provide Government time for a debate on the proposed closure of Caterpillar Tractors Ltd at Uddingston in Scotland? Does he appreciate that the Government's inactivity is causing widespread anxiety, especially since the company has benefited from the support of public funds and public orders and since the Secretary of State for Scotland has issued declarations of his anxiety? Could the Leader of the House at least give his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland an opportunity to put his view in this House?

Finally, judging from last night's events relating to the proposed sale of British Petroleum, there must be every chance that between now and the end of the Budget debate further measures will be slipped in to fatten the election bankroll. Will the Leader of the House assure us that the Finance Bill will be published early, so that we shall know exactly what we shall be asked to vote on?

Mr. Biffen

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, about funding research, he will have heard the powerful riposte given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the topic. Notwithstanding that, he still seeks a debate. I understand this anxiety on all these matters and perhaps this could be looked at through the usual channels. The entire House is joined in regret at the redundancies that are proceeding in BREL. The right hon. Gentleman pointed to the implications of that for the whole railway manufacturing industry. Doubtless he would also wish any such consideration to take place in the wider context of the present levels and trend in unemployment. Obviously, we can look at this through the usual channels.

Mr. Kinnock

Good news, but it does not put everything right, does it?

Mr. Biffen

I hear the right hon. Gentleman talking about good news and I know that it is difficult for him to find good news.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the possibility of a statement on purchasing policy in respect of Westland helicopters. Obviously, I shall discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence the point which he has made.

I note the repeated request for a debate on Caterpillar Tractors Ltd and I cannot add much to what I have said previously when we have exchanged comments on this matter, but I take account of what the right hon. Gentleman says.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the proposed sale of BP shares. He will be aware that that was foreshadowed in our debate on 14 March 1984, so it is hardly a recent addition to Government policy. I note his discomfiture and anxieties and I shall certainly see that we do all in our power to have an early publication of the Finance Bill.

Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham)

Is the debate on agriculture and land use that my right hon. Friend said he would consider coming soon?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, Sir.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Following that question, will the Leader of the House confirm that it is almost unprecedented for the annual price negotiations to occur in Brussels, as they will shortly, without a debate having been initiated first by the Government in this House? Will he say why the House has been denied the opportunity to discuss this important question and whether it will be left entirely to the alliance parties to provide time to debate important agricultural and countryside issues?

Mr. Biffen

I am glad that farming flourishes in the heartland of Liverpool. I will look at the very significant point that has been raised by the hon. Gentleman and see what arrangement might possibly be made.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

My right hon. Friend will have seen early-day motion 706 entitled Cruelty to Animals.

[That this House expresses its horror at the increasing cruelty shown to animals, exemplified by the record number of complaints, 83,300 recorded by the Royal Society of Prevention of Cruely to Animals in 1986; records its dissatisfaction with the inadequacy of existing legislation to deal with such cruelty; and calls upon the Government to toughen the provisions of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 as a matter of urgency, particularly by: (a) giving the police power of entry where a case of cruelty is suspected, (b) giving the courts the power to ban people convicted of cruelty from keeping any type of animal rather than simply dogs at present and (c) closing a loophole by changing the definition of captive to include wild animals that are unable to escape.]

The motion has been signed by nearly 70 Members of Parliament. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there will be a debate on the subject of cruelty to animals and in particular a toughening up of the Protection of Animals Act in the near future?

Mr. Biffen

The point raised by my hon. Friend is important and atrracts widespread interest in this House. I suggest that he might consider the opportunities that will be provided in the proceedings on Tuesday when we will be dealing with the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will the Leader of the House find the time to have an urgent debate on the situation in BREL and get one of his Ministers to explain how it is sensible economics to put 1,000 men on the dole at the same time as forcing BREL to put out its new build to tender, when many of the orders will be spread around every other country in the world?

Mr. Biffen

I do not accept the premise of the question and I have to refer the hon. Lady to the reply that I gave to her right hon. Friend the Leader of the Oppostion.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time urgently for another debate on the future of the Government's training and job schemes through the Department of Employment? I say that because the Opposition spokesman said yesterday that job-clubs and similar schemes were deplorable and that a Labour Government would not contemplate them. There ought to be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to explain what the Labour Government will do to these valuable schemes. I hope my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will help.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is quite right in inferring that unemployment and the measures that are designed to alleviate it are now causing some nervousness on the Opposition Benches. There is little prospect of Government time being available for the debate that my hon. Friend seeks, but he might consider the Consolidated Fund Bill on Tuesday.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Will the Leader of the House not agree that, with the prison population now touching 50,000, the debate which I have asked him for again and again is now even more urgently due, before the prisons explode and thus solve the whole problem for us?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot deny the compelling logic of what the hon. Gentleman says, particularly as it is constructed on a few remarks of my own, but I suggest that he uses the Tuesday proceedings of the Consolidated Fund Bill to make that argument in the most compelling way so as to require subsequent debate.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend translate the word "soon" which he used a moment ago regarding the essential debate on agriculture and the environment? Could that debate please, without fail, be the week beginning 30 March?

Mr. Biffen

"Soon", like "beauty", is imprecise in its concept and application and that is why it is such a wonderful word.

Mr. Eric S. Hafer (Liverpool, Walton)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion No. 738 regarding the disqualification of Liverpool Labour councillors?

[That this House deplores the introduction by the Government of legislation permitting use of undemocratic procedures which have resulted in the disqualification of the elected Liverpool Labour councillors, whose policies responded to the needs of the people who on three occasions supported those policies through the ballot box; and considers that the bringing of this action by the unelected Audit Commission undermines local government democracy in that it will change the political composition of an elected council without accountability and disregarding the democratic rights of the electorate.]

Has the Leader of the House also seen early-day motion No. 770 about the Secretary of State for the Environment?

[That this House endorses the joint statement of Liverpool' church leaders Bishop David Sheppard, Archbishop Derek Worlock and Free Church Moderator John Williamson that the cash penalties imposed by the Law Lords on 47 elected Liverpool city councillors are 'without parallel' and should be reviewed immediately; contrasts the injustice meted out to these elected public representatives with the ease with which the Right honourable Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury has been able to avoid any personal consequences of his own contravention of the law on a number of occasions; believes it is a negation of democracy to allow any but the electors to dismiss from office those whom they have previously elected to represent them; and calls for an immediate repeal of the legislation which has given rise to this inequitable and iniquitous state of affairs.]

Will the Leader of the House find time to have a debate in this House on those matters, and in the course of that debate will he give hon. Members the opportunity of saying to the Liberals in Liverpool that to cut £100,000 from the unemployed resource centre is an absolute disgrace that can only harm unemployed people in Liverpool? There is 26 per cent. male unemployment in Liverpool and more than 21 per cent. for the whole of Merseyside.

Mr. Biffen

I cannot offer the prospect of Government time for the debate that the hon. Gentleman seeks, but he knows all the opportunities on Tuesday as well as any hon. Member. I hope he is lucky and deploys those arguments, because they will demonstrate the bankruptcy of the Labour party in its present policies and past record in Liverpool and thus help us understand why that party is in decline more generally.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us on the Conservative Benches agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) about the urgent need for a full-ranging debate on training and employment measures because, as my hon. Friend said, the burden of the argument used by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) yesterday was that the most deplorable of all schemes and inventions were the jobclubs. Is that not a disgraceful view of measures which are designed to help the long-term unemployed?

Mr. Biffen

It is a disgraceful view, but, even more important, coming from such a formidable source it implied a nervousness about the position. None the less, I cannot go any further than the reply I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker).

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that a week ago a number of hon. Members requested a special debate on foreign affairs so that the sale of arms to the Contras in Nicaragua could be discussed in the House and an investigation could be called for into the firm K MS that appears to be supplying mercenaries to fight the democratically elected Government of Nicaragua? Can the Leader of the House now say when there is likely to be time for a debate on foreign affairs so that those matters can be discussed?

Mr. Biffen

I am afraid that I cannot say when such a debate is likely to take place, but I stand by what I said last week and recognise the importance of the topic.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the wave of teachers' strikes this week and the fact that many more are planned. He is aware that we are approaching the season of examinations. Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of state for Education and Science to come to the House fairly soon and say what advice the Government will be giving the examination boards if the strikes run right through the summer term? The candidates' performance in the summer examinations affects their opportunities for further education or a job.

Mr. Biffen

I will most certainly convey that request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

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

In so far as a link has been established between Sir Robert Armstrong and the security services in 1975, when he was in the Home Office, will the Leader of the House ask him what he knows about the Cunard affair that is alleged to have taken place in 1975? When the Leader of the House has found out the answer, will he arrange for a statement to be made to Parliament?

Mr. Biffen

It is not my task to cross-examine Sir Robert Armstrong. It would be just as well if we stuck to our lasts and did not have these absurd ambitions.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Will my right hon. Friend give time for a debate on the constitutional implications of a hung Parliament, especially in the light of the comments made yesterday by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), when he said: the Labour party will automatically reverse the tax cuts as well as vote against them. We"— that is, his party— do not say that, for very good reasons"—[Official Report, 18 March 1987; Vol. 112, c. 967.] In other words, there appears to be a basic difficulty within the SDP in arriving at any sort of governmental arrangements as a result of a hung Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend think that the leaders of the alliance parties are keeping abreast of developments?

Mr. Biffen

It is an interesting pre-election position, and my hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the careful way in which he is monitoring it. All those nuances of difference suggest that, should we ever miserably be in a no-majority Parliament, the odds and ends of the Opposition parties, once they got together, would present a most almighty shambles.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

The Leader of the House referred earlier to the helicopter review and he will be aware of the profound implications of that review on Westland. May I remind him that that review was promised at the end of last year; it was then promised in the early part of this year, again at the end of January, again in early March, or at the latest by mid-March? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Government's continuing delay and indecision in this matter are encouraging damaging speculation? They are preventing Westland from organising its future and are thus threatening jobs. Will the Leader of the House now tell us when the result of the review will be announced? If not, will he speak to his right hon. Friends, and tell them that, having damaged Westland last year by their bungling, they are now threatening jobs and threatening to inflict the same damage again by this criminal procrastination?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has made a number of allegations and he is well aware that they cannot be contested in the context of next week's business. I come from Somerset and had connections with Yeovil long before, as a Johnny-come-lately, he turned up, and I am well aware of the importance of this topic both to Westland and Yeovil. I assure the hon. Gentleman that his request will be as courteously considered as the Leader of the Opposition's request for a statement on this subject.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

May I endorse the point made by the Leader of the Opposition about the early publication of the Finance Bill? Will my right hon. Friend ask the Treasury to announce as early as possible the date of the Bill's publication? That is helpful to all those outside the House who have to look at the details of the Bill in a short space of time.

Mr. Biffen

Several factors govern the publication of the Finance Bill. I am sure that the whole House will want it to be published in as good a condition as possible. None the less, I take account of the various representations that have been made about the advantage of speed in that matter.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 690, which has attracted the support of 47 hon. Members?

[That this House views with concern the proposal of the Minister of Sport to merge the function and role of Playboard with that of the Sports Council; and, in view of the negative responses to this proposal from many interested organisations, urges him to postpone a final decision on this matter in order to allow a full debate to take place on the alternatives.]

Once again, may I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 365, which has now attracted the support of 97 hon. Members?

[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.]

Both early-day motions are about Play Board. Is the Leader of the House aware that Play Board has now agreed to go into voluntary liquidation rather than he compulsorily amalgamated with the Sports Council? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Minister, who has not once visited the office of Play Board during his period of office, to come to the Dispatch Box and explain what the future is to be of children's play?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. I shall certainly convey to my hon. Friend the Minister his anxieties about the matter. We shall see how we go.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

May we have a debate on the unfortunate skilled children who have been neglected and deserted by both striking teachers and the Opposition? Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are some professional teachers—the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association and the Professional Association of Teachers—who have set a fine example, and that the other teachers are thoroughly greedy and irresponsible?

Does my right hon. Friend further agree that, if the Labour party really cared, it would have been the first to encourage the teachers to go back to work because they have a good job, instead of encouraging some schoolkids to be on the march outside the House of Commons today, saying, "Help our Teachers."? Surely greed and the height of irresponsibility are being shown by teachers and the Opposition.

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that I can help, particularly as I do not think that my hon. Friend requested me to do anything about it.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give us an explanation of the peculiarities of national housekeeping, which extols using North sea oil revenues to build up foreign assets, on which, presumably, we shall get dividends and interest payments, whereas simultaneously the assets that we have built up in British Petroleum over 70 years are being flogged off? Despite the trailer on the issue from 1984, can we have an assurance from the Secretary of State for Scotland that no measures will be taken to privatise the electricity industry in Scotland, as is currently being trailered in the press?

Mr. Biffen

Clearly, the points raised by the hon. Gentleman are of great significance, but we shall have a further debate on the Budget this afternoon. The debate on the Budget will be completed on Monday, when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will speak. I shall draw his attention to the remarks that have been made. No doubt he will take account of them.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

May I help my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr, Bruinvels) by asking my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to find time for a debate on the teachers' dispute, so that many hon. Members can voice the views of parents, who see no justification whatsoever for the industrial action after a very generous pay offer, and who, after listening to Mr. Fred Jarvis's obdurate remarks on the "Today" programme this morning, will be immensely thankful that that awful man does not teach their children?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says, and I agree very much with him. It would be tragic if the whole situation were politicised. As to the prospect of a debate, there is no early availability of Government time, but on Tuesday we shall have the Consolidated Fund Bill. If that topic were chosen, it would strike a chord outside.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

In view of the fact that it is now public knowledge that telephone equipment has been installed in Whitehall which provides the capability of intercepting Members' phone calls, and since this is a matter that touches upon privilege, should not the House of Commons or the Services Committee certainly have the chance to discuss the debate whether the intention as well as the capability is there?

Mr. Biffen

If the hon. Gentleman believes that there is a question of privilege in that matter, he knows perfectly well what procedures are to be followed. If, on the other hand, he believes that that is a matter for the Services Committee, I dare say that he will find some way of raising the matter there.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

My right hon. Friend has described the word "soon" as wonderfully imprecise. As my right hon. Friend is a wonderfully adept Leader of the House—

Mr. Biffen

indicated assent.

Mr. Winterton

—will he perhaps outline a little more precisely what he thinks "soon" means in this context? The future of agriculture and land use is of immense importance to many people in the House and perhaps more important to the farming industry which has contributed to so much of the economy and progress of this country in recent years?

Mr. Biffen

In the interpretation of "soon", my hon. Friend's views will be taken fully into account.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall. North)

Can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week by the Prime Minister explaining why in 1979 she made a lengthy statement—and rightly so—about Blunt, which obviously dealt with matters that occurred before she came to office, yet she now refuses to answer questions about the way in which apparently MI5 officers were involved in destabilising the Labour Government? Clearly there is a strong impression of a cover-up here. Therefore, is there not a need for a statement as quickly as possible?

Secondly, on a completely separate matter arising from what took place yesterday in another place, will the Government give further consideration to a statue to Lord Dowding, the late Air Chief Marshal, who, far from trying in any way to destabilise our democracy, played a very distinguished role in 1939 and 1940 in ensuring that this country was safe from Nazi tyranny?

Mr. Biffen

On the first point, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this afternoon. With regard to the second point, I must confess, not being one to follow the fortunes of the aristocracy quite as closely as the hon. Gentleman, that I am not altogether clear what the hon. Gentleman was getting at, but it sounded very honourable and full of esteem.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

Has my right hon. Friend noted the decision of Bristol city council to refuse normal courtesies to a French warship visiting the port of Avonmouth in my constituency, purely on the grounds that the city council disagrees with French national policy in the Pacific? Would my right hon. Friend ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to make a statement to the House as to how he intends to re-establish British control over the foreign policy of the Socialist republic of Bristol?

Mr. Biffen

Of course I will make references to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary so that he can decide what can be done in the direction that my hon. Friend is seeking. I would have thought that, in an across the-House spirit of consensus, we might suggest that we should dispatch the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) to infect the Labour-controlled Bristol council with a bit of common sense.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most disturbing aspects in the recent increase in crime has been the growth of crimes against people in their own homes involving theft and violence very often committed by people who have obtained entry to those homes by deceit? Can we have a debate on that matter and in particular about any practical suggestions to deal with that problem—including the suggestion that people who have the right and duty to enter homes in the course of their duties—gas, electricity and other people—should carry standard indentity cards with photographs? Further, can we consider the Government's refusal to provide adequate police for the city of Leicester and the lack of hope of extra police emerging from the recent Budget?

Mr. Biffen

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for reminding us of the extremely complex social factors behind the current thoroughly unacceptable levels of crime. I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate in Government time, but I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to what has been said.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange an early statement or debate on extradition procedures so that the position of Mr. John Fleming can be investigated and we may discover how he is able constantly to avoid British justice when he is said to have been responsible for robberies involving about £26 million?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that I can say anything helpful about that case, given all the legal factors involved, but I will refer my hon. Friend's remarks to the appropriate member of the Treasury Bench for consideration.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Will the Leader of the House join me in deploring the rampant press speculation about the date of the general election and find time for a debate on my Bill to provide for fixed-term Parliaments? Does he agree that in a democracy it is inappropriate for one person to have power to decide such an important matter?

Mr. Winnick

It depends who the person is.

Mr. Banks

No, I shall say the same to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he is Prime Minister. While we are at it, will the Leader of the House say what date he favours for the General Election?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman, who is a very perceptive observer of the scene, has seen that the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"]—are stuffed full of academics with great affection for constitutional innovation, and he has lighted upon one of the very items that will be among the bargaining points between himself, with like-minded Labour Members, and Members from the alliance parties.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is widespread anger that this week's Budget has done nothing to stop British pensioners from being the pauper pensioners of western Europe? If the Government will not provide a substantial increase in pensions, will they at least provide some extra money to ensure that pensioners who can afford to go out are properly protected and that those too terrified to do so have proper protection against the murders and muggings now taking place in all parts of the country?

Mr. Biffen

Bearing in mind the increase in public spending authorised in the autumn and the reductions in Government borrowing and in taxation, I believe that the public judge the Budget to be thoroughly responsible and balanced.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Skinner.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Did you call me, Mr. Speaker? We were just discussing other matters down here.

Mr. Speaker

In that case, I will call the hon. Gentleman later.

Mr. Skinner

No, it is all right, Mr. Speaker. You are on good ground—it is a good seam of coal.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an inquiry into the letting of cleaning contracts in the Palace of Westminster? Is he aware that, since the cleaning services went out to contract in 1982, Members of Parliament have been unable to find out how much the contracts are worth? Worse than that, is he aware that there is a peculiar stink in the nostrils regarding BET, which has three subsidiaries which were involved in tendering for the latest contract in 1985, giving £25,000 to Tory party funds? It is coming to something when the Government are lining their pockets out of cleaning contracts in the Palace of Westminster itself while Members of Parliament cannot even discover how much the contracts are worth. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is the masonic lodge again."] There is certainly a smell of corruption about it.

Mr. Biffen

It is my recollection that the hon. Gentleman sought to ask me questions about this previously and that it was found to be a matter for the Department of the Environment. I will therefore pass on the hon. Gentleman's comments so that they may be appropriately evaluated.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Does the Leader of the House agree that there is an urgent need for a debate on the appalling conditions in Scottish psychiatric hospitals, especially following yesterday's report by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? Is he aware that, last weekend, 400 psychiatric, geriatric and psychogeriatric patients at Woodilee in my constituency were decanted to hospitals many miles away, leaving great problems for the health service in Lanarkshire, and that some found themselves in a ward in Mearnskirk where the ceiling was falling in and asbestos was identified? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those problems are urgent and require debate at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Biffen

No one would deny the importance of the topic identified by the hon. Gentleman, but I suggest that Tuesday's Consolidated Fund Bill debate will almost certainly provide the best chance for the matter to be debated at an early stage.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the debate on research and development to take place at a time when the Prime Minister can be present, so that she can be educated in the facts? Is he aware that academic, university and research council funded research in this country accounts for only 0.25 per cent. of GDP compared with 0.45 per cent. in France and West Germany, so that an 80 per cent. increase in funding is required to match that of our industrial competitors? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the latest advice from the Advisory Board for the Research Councils to the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who will be seeing the chairmen of the research councils tomorrow, is that it cannot be right to cut our research capability as an advanced industrial nation?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has a degree in chemistry. If I invited her to attend a debate because the hon. Gentleman thought that she needed education she would no doubt box first my ears and then. His—and well merited it would be.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the United Kingdom fishing industry? There was a debate on quotas at the turn of the year, but there has been no recent full debate on all aspects of the industry. As a considerable restructuring of the fleet is taking place and there have been a number of developments since the common fisheries policy came into operation in January 1983, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a review of the direction and performance of the British fishing industry would be a salutary and worthwhile exercise?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point in an engaging way. I will certainly pass on his observations to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.