Skip to main content

Business Of The House

Volume 78: debated on Thursday 9 May 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.54 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement concerning next week's business. It will be as follows:

Monday 13 May—Until seven o'clock, private Members' motions. Remaining stages of the Surrogacy Arrangements Bill, and of the Prosecution of Offences Bill [Lords].

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

Tuesday 14 May—Second Reading of the Oil and Pipleines Bill. Remaining stages of the Ports (Finance) Bill.

Wednesday 15 May—Opposition Day (11th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion titled "The Government's Neglect of British Industry and the New Technologies."

Motion on the Unfair Dismissal (Variation of the Qualifying Period) Order.

Thursday 16 May— Motion on the Spring Adjournment.

Second Reading of the Administration of Justice Bill [Lords].

Friday 17 May—Private Members' Bills.

Monday 20 May—Debate on a Government motion on the report of the Auld committee of inquiry into proposals to amend the Shops Acts, Cmnd. 9376.

The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Spring Adjournment on Friday 24 May until Monday 3 June.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement.

In view of the hostility that the Unfair Dismissal (Variation of the Qualifying Period) Order will arouse among hourly paid workers, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that more time is given for that debate next Wednesday so that more right hon. and hon. Members can participate, as the subject will affect many workers in Britain?

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, for the sixth time, for a debate on the report of the Commission for Racial Equality and tell him that we want such a debate to be held on a day and at a time when it can be reported fully in the press?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is growing anxiety among management and workers at the prospect of the social security review and its findings undermining the state earnings-related pension scheme, which workers depend on to provide them with pensions that will free them of the need to claim social security in retirement? The Prime Minister said earlier that the discussion of these matters in Cabinet had been concluded. When will we have a statement? Will it attend to each of the subjects separately, or does the right hon. Gentleman hope that they will be lumped together, thereby somewhat restricting the discussion that should take place?

The right hon. Gentleman will have heard that it is proposed that the White Paper should be published shortly after we return from the Whitsun recess and be accompanied by a statement to the House. I note what he said about the desirability—

I am most grateful for that correction. It is a Green Paper. We are linked in a dream partnership that has saved me from those incautious words. I take the right hon. Gentleman's point about the ambit of the statement and will refer it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about a debate on the report of the Commission for Racial Equality. He will appreciate that this matter has been attended to through the usual channels. I shall ensure that the matter is further attended to.

I take account of the right hon. Gentleman's request for extended time on the debate on the unfair dismissal order on Wednesday. That matter can be helpfully attended to through the usual channels.

Did the Leader of the House notice that the House got on to the Adjournment last night at 8.17 pm? Is this not difficult to reconcile with any suggestion that the Government might find it difficult to provide a little time for the passage of measures desired by the House?

The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to travel hopefully. It is in the essence of Parliament that it should be unpredictable, above all, about the Committee stages of Finance Bills, which are greatly influenced by the wishes of the Opposition. I am not sure whether the Government can be blamed if business ends a little early.

Order. This is an appropriate moment to say that there is nothing unpredictable about the number of hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate on the multi-fibre arrangement. In view of that, I shall allow business questions to continue until 4.15 pm.

In view of the damage being done to schoolchildren and schools by the Militant Tendency and the Young Socialist organisation of the Labour party office, which are subverting schoolchildren dangerously, keeping them out of school and closing schools, may we have an early statement from the Secretary of State for Education and Science, on which hon. Members may question him and seek an assurance from him that schools will not be closed because those organisations are damaging children's chances of education?

I shall refer my hon. Friend's point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. He makes a legitimate point about a matter which has caused a great deal of anxiety. However, I must point out that he has a chance of raising the matter on the motion for the Spring Adjournment.

Will the Leader of the House bear in mind the report in the media that the Secretary of State for Scotland will today make a statement about rates in Scotland at the Tory party conference? Will he ensure that the Secretary of State for Scotland makes the self-same statement in the House, and apologises to the House for making the statement out with the elected Chamber?

If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is locked in conclave with the Conservative party conference, he deserves our good wishes, not our abuse. Any substantive statements that must be made about rates will undoubtedly be made to the House next week.

As many Conservative Members are anxious that the Government should get their conclusions right following the social security reviews, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there will be the fullest possible opportunity for debates on those matters soon after the Green Paper is published? Can he further confirm the point to which he alluded in answer to his dream partner, that it will be a genuine Green Paper?

I take account of what my hon. Friend says about the desire for a debate in the Chamber. It must be held in the wider context of a national debate, which will attend the topic. I confirm that it is a Green Paper.

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that I have frequently pressed him for a debate on the Export of Goods (Control) Order, which brings into operation the COCOM agreement. Indeed, he has gone further and given a generally sympathetic welcome to the value of such a debate. Has he had time to see the reply from the Minister for Trade, who said that the order would probably come into effect on 12 June? Will he show more clearly whether the Government are prepared to give time to discussing this matter which is vital to British high technology industry?

I shall certainly consider that point and be in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Regarding the Auld report on unrestricted Sunday trading, is my right hon. Friend aware that, although Conservative Members accept that the anomalies in the present law need to be rectified, we have grave doubts about the need to introduce unrestricted Sunday trading? Will he bear that in mind when he prepares for the debate?

I note what my hon. Friend says. Clearly the matter evokes a wide range of opinions across the House. He will be interested to know that the Government motion will go down this afternoon and, therefore, will be available for consideration.

As we now know that the largest political donation in history is enmeshed in fiduciary impropriety, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate so that we can discuss proposals to prevent future double-dealing, double standards and double hypocrisies on the part of the double Davids?

I have always sought delicately to avoid the big Ds. The matter could conceivably arise on the motion for the Spring Adjournment. I should love the opportunity of answering such a debate.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that hon. Members have recently received from the Fees Office a letter about their mileage allowance? For cars between 1,300 cc and 2,300 cc hon. Members will receive 28p, and for cars over 2,300 cc they will receive an embarrassing 42p. Is that not an open invitation to hon. Members to buy foreign gas-guzzling cars? Is it not absurd at a time when the Government seek to contain public expenditure, and should we not debate the resolutions again?

It is an interesting development of the argument—I think that it has now been lifted from the columns of the Daily Express—to suggest that the only large capacity cars are foreign cars. If my hon. Friend wishes to become an expert on gas-guzzling cars, he will find plenty of home grown varieties. I shall be happy to see him if he wishes to raise any serious points on the matter.

Is the Leader of the House aware that both sides of the House wish to establish an Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier? When Ministers are asked about it they say that it has nothing to do with them and that it is up to Parliament. Can the right hon. Gentleman either find time for a debate on the matter, or suggest a way by which the House can express its views and achieve that end?

No time has been provided for such a debate next week. If the hon. Gentleman believes that there is such universal support for the proposition, he has other ways of testing it.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that in the past there has been criticism on the Floor of the House of the ability of the Church of England to represent great national occasions in our religious services. May we place on record that yesterday the service in Westminster Abbey and the remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury were highly acceptable and splendidly delivered?

I am not sure that next week's business is the obvious way to place on record praise for yesterday 's sermon. However, that shows that Parliament has its ways and means.

Will the Leader of the House make it clear whether, when we discuss the Auld report on 20 May, we shall have a firm declaration from the Government about the report's proposals on wages councils? As a Member sponsored by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, I must declare my interest. I listened yesterday to the remarks of my hoe. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) about the declaration of interests. The Leader of the House should examine closely the interests of hon. Members who may participate in that debate, especially private interests in garden centres, DIY stores, Sunday opening and amendments to the Shops Act. Will he assure the House that he will ensure that those hon. Members declare their interests, especially regarding a firm called GJD?

I will draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to the hon. Gentleman's point about a debate and a statement of Government policy about wages councils, as he will take part in the debate. I think that the House understands the expected conventions about the declaration of interests, and I am sure that it will abide by them.

Is my right hon. Friend prepared to consider sympathetically the request by the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) for more time for the debate on unfair dismissals, in view of the fact that many of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends are threatened with unfair dismissal by their general management committees and may wish to bring their problems to the House for discussion?

I thought that my warm reaction was so transparently sympathetic and devoid of any code that it must be for the reasons stated.

Does the Leader of the House accept that the Prime Minister and several of his ministerial colleagues have given specific, categoric and repeated assurances that the NACODS agreement would be scrupulously observed? Is he aware that the National Coal Board has shown a considerable disdain for. and appears to be rejecting, the agreement? If he will not provide time for the House to debate the agreement, may we at least have time to consider the meaning of words such as "sacrosanct", and to allow Labour Members to use such words as "inexactitude"?

I realise that this is a matter of general concern on both sides of the House. There is no provision for a debate next week, but I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to the point that has been made.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that yesterday, on a bogus point of order, the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) launched a scurrilous attack on the Liberal party, suggesting that the British School of Motoring had bought it with a bribe of £188,000. My right hon. Friend said that this would be a suitable matter for the Spring Adjournment debate, but we must all wish to be fair to the Liberal party. Would it not be more appropriate to have a three-hour debate so that we could find out precisely what happened?

It is an imperfect world, and next week only the Adjournment debate is available.

May I ask the Leader of the House a serious question for a change? Will he arrange the business of the House in such a way as to give us the opportunity to debate the peremptory closure of coal mines in the north-east of England, especially Blyth Bates colliery and a pit in Durham, where the National Coal Board has completely ignored the existing review procedure and peremptorily closed both pits without notice, without negotiation and in breach of promises made to the NUM in both areas? Will the right hon. Gentleman treat this matter as extremely urgent, since more than 3,000 jobs in the north-east are involved?

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman raises a matter of great constituency interest, to which he has already drawn the attention of the House through the Standing Order No. 10 procedure. I can offer no Government time for a debate next week, but I shall report the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

On Monday afternoon, the House will be given an opportunity to debate civil liberties. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is disgraceful that the National Council for Civil Liberties (sic) is trying to deny to some people the most fundamental civil liberty of all—the right to go to one's place of work free of intimidation and mobs? In the light of the disgraceful goings-on in the council, will my right hon. Friend try not to put in too many statements on Monday afternoon so that the true guardians of civil liberties on the Conservative Benches can speak in the debate?

Private Members' debates on Monday afternoons have been known occasionally to lapse into torpor. I am glad that my hon. Friend gives notice that that will not be the case next week.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 672?

[That this House believes that, in order to carry out their responsibilities to their constituents and to play a more effective role in the legislature, it has become urgently necessary for honourable Members to have, as a minimum requirement, the resources to employ a secretary and a research assistant paid direct by the Fees Office; and expects Parliament to provide these resources as a matter of urgency for every honourable Member who wishes to make use of such facilities.]

Has he noted the many hon. Members from both sides of the House who have signed the motion? Is he further aware that many hon. Members believe that our efficiency is greatly impaired by the lack of secretarial and research resources, and will he arrange for an early debate on this matter, which is taken seriously by all hon. Members?

I recognise that it is a matter of considerable seriousness to many hon. Members, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that no Government time is available for such a debate next week.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the event of hostilities, Britain would be largely denuded of its regular forces, leaving a key role to be played by reservists, the civil defence force and the police? Is he further aware that some Socialist-controlled police authorities are preventing officers from their forces from taking part in exercises, such as "Brave Defender" which will take place in the autumn of this year, and that that will have a detrimental effect on our national defence? Does not interference with national defence by local authorities deserve a debate?

I endorse wholeheartedly the importance of the topic, but there is no Government time for the debate that my hon. Friend wishes. I suggest that he pursues whatever opportunities free enterprise presents.

Does the Leader of the House recognise that his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will have angered many hon. Members on both sides of the House? It was not an acceptable answer. The names on the early-day motion represent only the tip of the iceberg. If the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to become like the captain of the Titanic, rearranging the deck-chairs as the ship goes down, he would do well to make Government time available for such a debate.

Order. Although I said that questions would stop at 4.15, I shall call those hon. Members who have been rising. Perhaps I could say to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that I shall trade a question from him for his point of order.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in 1984, 4,100 youngsters under the age of 18 went missing in the Metropolitan police area? Is that not a worrying figure? The child of one of my constituents was kidnapped and taken to Pakistan only two weeks ago, but the Foreign Office did not keep in touch with the Home Office, so that when the child returned to Britain there was no check at the airport. May we have a debate on missing children as a matter of urgency?

I cannot offer Government time for such a debate, important though it is, but I shall draw my hon. Friend's point to the attention of Ministers in those Departments.

Is the Leader of the House aware that, this week, the European Parliament debated a motion concerning the plight of Cypriot refugees, and that it will debate another such motion in the near future? Would it not be appropriate if the House— [Interruption.] If Conservative Members want the name of my tailor, I shall gladly give it to them. This is the latest in summer wear. It is British-made.

Would it not be appropriate to debate the position of Cypriot refugees who were not covered by the 1982 partial amnesty decision? Several families living in Britain are threatened with deportation to a part of Cyprus where their homes are occupied by someone else, and Caterina and Vassilis Nicola have taken refuge in a church in Camden Town to avoid such deportation. Should not the plight of those families and of Cypriot refugees in general be fully debated by the House, as it never has been since the war in 1974?

I must give a disappointing reply to the hon. Gentleman. No Government time has been provided for such a debate next week. If he wishes to pursue the subject, he should try the avenue of an Adjournment debate.

Has my right hon. Friend read early-day motion 634? [That this House notes with concern the British Broadcasting Corporation's intention to defray the damages and costs of the libel action incurred by the That's Life programme team out of money generated by licence fees, which have recently been substantially increased; does not believe that this is the purpose for which low wage earners and pensioners pay a television licence fee; and hopes that in future the British Broadcasting Corporation will take greater care.]

If so, is he aware that an increasing number of hon. Members and of British citizens are becoming worried that the BBC can, with impunity, libel innocent citizens, knowing that the damages that it may incur will be paid from licence fees? Does that not enable the BBC to blackmail people because they cannot afford to sue it for defamation?

My hon. Friend's important point arouses a strong response on both sides of the House. However, no Government time is available for such a debate. I hope that she will pursue the matter through other channels.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider what he said about a properly organised debate on the British School of Motoring's expenditure of £188,000 to purchase the Liberal party? Does he recall that a few weeks ago the Liberal party and the SDP lost about an hour from an important debate about ballots and trade union money? It would be a good idea if the Leader of the House were kind enough to give them back that hour so that they might defend their position. They appear to be whiter than white but are receiving money—£188,000—about which there was no ballot in BSM. One man, Anthony Jacobs, cast £188,000-worth of votes. We now hear, according to stories today, that further scandals are about to emerge arising out of people who are living in tax havens which are not unknown to the Liberal party. I am sure we should find time for a debate about that.

I am glad that, in the scale of values of the hon. Member, I rate a notch higher than a point of order. Although but a little more, how much it is. It shows what political choice reveals. His judgment of political cannibalism is to grill slowly over a persistent heat. I do not think that he wants the whole matter resolved in one grand debate, and therefore I shall be guided by him.