HC Deb 08 November 1984 vol 67 cc215-20 2.34 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business for next week?

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

Yes, Sir. As the House is aware, the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech will be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 13 November. At the end on Tuesday, motion on the Local Government (Supplementary Grants for Transport Purposes Specified Descriptions) Order.

WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER—Opposition Day (1st Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion on schools and further education.

THURSDAY 15 NOVEMBER—SeCOnd Reading of the Elections (Northern Ireland) Bill.

FRIDAY 16 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the New Towns and Urban Development Bill and of the Mineral Workings Bill.

MONDAY 19 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Films Bill.

Mr. Kinnock

We shall today be tabling amendments to the Queen's Speech for debate on Monday and Tuesday. We shall be hotly contesting the motion on the transport order on Tuesday night because it will deprive substantial sections of the public of essential support for the bus services on which they depend.

May we have a firm assurance that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will come to the House on Monday to inform us of the contents of the Government's autumn statement? Will the Leader of the House further assure us that the debate on the Opposition's amendment to the Queen's Speech on Tuesday will not supersede the usual full day's debate on the statement and that the debate on the statement will take place before the end of the month?

Mr. Biffen

I have noted that there are to be amendments to the Queen's Speech on Monday and Tuesday and that the order that is postulated for Tuesday will be contested. Thus we shall start in that atmosphere of good-natured controversy which I imagine will characterise the weeks and months ahead.

I can confirm that the Chancellor's autumn statement will be made on Monday and that the debate on Tuesday will not supersede the debate that is customarily held on the statement. Perhaps the timing of that can be a matter for consideration through the usual channels.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

I agree with the Leader of the Opposition and with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that it would not be appropriate to treat the debate on the Queen's Speech as a substitute for a debate on the Chancellor's autumn statement, which certainly deserves a full day. May I bring to my right: hon. Friend's attention the unsatisfactory arrangement in previous years, when there has not been adequate time for the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee to take evidence on the subject from Treasury Ministers and others? Will he ensure that the timing allows for that so that the House may be fully informed before it debates the matter?

Mr. Biffen

I am a little distressed at the ready denigration of the significance of Tuesday's debate, because I shall be winding it up. I am aware that the House requires the normal conventions to be observed in those matters. I can make no promises to my right hon. Friend on the other point that he raises, but I shall take it: into account.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Having announced that the first Opposition day is to be taken by the Labour party, has the Leader of the House yet formed a view as to which party will take the second Opposition day? Is he under a great deal of pressure from his hon. Friends to ensure that that day is available to the Labour party rather than risking placing it in the hands of the alliance?

Mr. Biffen

The answer to both parts of the question is no, Sir.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Mellon)

Following my similar question two weeks ago, has my right hon. Friend yet allocated a day for the House to debate the report of the Committee of Public Accounts on the scandal of the De Lorean company and the Government's response to it?

Mr. Biffen

No. I have nothing further to add to the answer that I then gave to my hon. Friend, but I shall certainly look at the matter again.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Does the Leader of the House recall that, just before the general election, we had to debate and pass the Boundary Commission's reports? Much concern was then expressed not about the independence of the Boundary Commission but about some of the rather foolish things that it had done. There was criticism of the rules and of the rather silly names that have been given to many constituencies. The Minister of State, Home Office, now the Solicitor-General, gave a handsome reply saying that he thought that there ought to be an inquiry. I have inquired once or twice since at business questions and have been told that something is happening. Will something happen before the next Boundary Commission starts its work?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give me notice of his question. I agree at once that the so-called reforms of constituency names are a downright offence to many hon. Members. I shall, of course, take up the point that the right hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

When will the House have an opportunity to debate the agreement between this country and the People's Republic of China in respect of Hong Kong? I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that many hon. Members have a close interest in that matter, and it would be helpful to have preliminary advice.

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that that topic falls well within the order for tomorrow's debate, which relates substantially to foreign affairs. However, I realise that my hon. Friend has an interest in the matter and that it should be debated in its own right.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Although I appreciate that tomorrow's debate will concentrate mainly on foreign affairs, will the right hon. Gentleman give a firm commitment that, if the United States intervenes in Nicaragua next week in pursuance of hostile action against a Government who have recently been re-elected, the Foreign Secretary will make a statement to the House?

Mr. Biffen

I shall of course draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to the anxiety that the hon. Gentleman has expressed.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the distress felt in all parts of the House over the 50 per cent. reduction in the amount of time allocated for Church questions this Session? Does he agree that, given the recent utterances by one or two bishops, the guidance of our own personal bishop in this House will be very much missed?

Mr. Biffen

The purpose of my hon. Friend's questions goes wider than the persecution of bishops. However, I realise that the change has caused some anxiety, and I shall certainly take account of what has been said.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Will the right hon. Gentleman urgently draw to the attention of the Secretary of State for Social Services the importance of early-day motion 40 and at the same time ask him to give the House an early and helpful response?

[That this House is deeply concerned that, notwithstanding strict economy measures, the South Manchester Health Authority has insufficient money to maintain its hospital services and is proposing to close up to eight wards at Withington and Wythenshawe Hospitals; notes that the proposals affect wards for children, maternity, geriatric patients, chest medicine and general surgery; congratulates the South Manchester Community Health Council on its campaign to prevent the closures; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government urgently to ensure that adequate funds are now made available for the protection of patient care in South Manchester.]

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State sits at my left elbow and will have heard the right hon. Gentleman's question.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the other place has already discussed the highly controversial Warnock report, with all its medical, social and legal difficulties. Does he not agree that a matter of such supreme importance to the people of this country should be discussed by the elected Members of Parliament? Can he give us some intimation—if not next week, then fairly soon—that such an opportunity will be given?

Mr. Biffen

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that a debate can be arranged shortly.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the widespread public concern about the crisis of management within the NCB and the Government's unwillingness to seek an honourable and acceptable settlement of the miners' dispute? When will the Prime Minister come to the House to tell hon. Members and the country what the Government are doing to secure a settlement of the dispute?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has raised general points that could be included in Tuesday's debate, which will range widely across the economic issues that are at the centre of our present political disputes. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have a chance then to make his points.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week to discuss a matter relating to the tabling of early-day motions? On Tuesday I queued for about an hour and a half waiting for the Table Office to open. I was fourth in the queue. I was therefore surprised to see in yesterday's Order Paper that my motion appeared as No. 36 and that there were no fewer than 14 motions standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), six in the name of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel), one in the name of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) and others, none of whom do I recollect seeing in the queue. I appreciate that they may well have asked one of their colleagues to table a motion for them, but to do it on that scale and to table so many motions reflecting their respective party policies may be considered by hon. Members to be a breach of the system. Perhaps hon. Members could have time to debate this subject.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has had an experience which is characteristic of the lack of natural justice in politics. I cannot say why that seeming preference should have been given to the Leader of the Opposition. I think that the matter comes within the ambit of the Table Office, which is within your responsibility, Mr. Speaker, not within mine. I can offer no prospect of an early debate, but I imagine that a letter to the Procedure Committee would not come amiss.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Yet again this Session Welsh questions will come up every three weeks while Scottish questions will come up every four weeks. I appreciate that Welsh Question Time does not last for the full hour, but over a period Welsh Members representing only 36 constituencies will have a greater opportunity to question Welsh Office Ministers than Scottish Members representing 72 constituencies will have to question Scottish Office Ministers. Does the Leader of the House propose to do anything to correct the anomaly?

Mr. Biffen

These matters were discussed through the usual channels, although I know that that will not be entirely reassuring to the hon. Gentleman. On the whole, the Scots do not have an inequitable deal in the amount of time that they have in the House. If the number of occasions that Minister answer questions is adjusted to the amount of time allotted, the situation is not that intolerable.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that the House will have time to consider, and to make known to the Government its views on, the report issued recently by the Select Committee on the Environment on what is colloquially known as acid rain? Will that debate be sooner rather than later in view of the serious findings of that Committee?

Mr. Biffen

It would be to the advantage of the House if the Department of the Environment's comments on the report were available before the debate so that we might have time to consider it. With that proviso, I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

In view of the disturbing allegation by the Home Office pathologist, Dr. Donald Wayte, that the majority of babies who suffer cot deaths are probably smothered by their parents, may we have an early statement to allay understandable public concern?

Mr. Biffen

That is a serious matter which I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

Does my right hon. Friend think it likely, now that the business for next week has been announced and does not seem to be too onerous, that the Leader of the Opposition will be able to attend Mr. Scargill's rallies?

Mr. Biffen

I have been educated in a very hard school over a period of years, if not months, to ignore totally that kind of negative question.

Mr. Kinnock

May I suggest that, if the diary of the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) is clear, perhaps he would like to go to one or two of the rallies?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we agree with the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) that the timing of the debate on the autumn statement should be such as to allow the House to be fully informed? Does he agree that there should not be undue delay in that consideration? We value the procedure of consideration by the Select Committee because it enhances our debates, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we should be hostile to the idea that such procedure should impede consideration of the statement by the House at a time when it is fresh in everyone's memory and fresh in the public's mind?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman mentions a range of considerations which make the usual channels so invaluable. On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I might be available to make my diary clear if I could have his express authority to go to one of the meetings and explain exactly what he meant by his references to Gallipoli.

    1. c220
    3. c220
    4. FRIENDLY SOCIETIES 103 words
    5. c220
    6. FILMS 69 words
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