Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 14th November 1985.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 18 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Local Government Bill.

TUESDAY 19 NOVEMBER—Remaining stages of the Okehampton Bypass (Confirmation of Orders) Bill.

There will be a debate on a motion on the European Council directive 85/397/EEC on health and animal health problems affecting intra-Community trade in heat-treated milk and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's explanatory memorandum of 26 June 1985.

WEDNESDAY 20 NOVEMBER—There will be a debate on a motion on the televising of the proceedings of the House of Commons.

Motion on the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements and Resources) Miscellaneous Provisions (No. 2) Regulations Order.

THURSDAY 21 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill followed by Second Reading of the Museum of London Bill.

FRIDAY 22 NOVEMBER—There will be a debate on UNESCO on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. The 5th Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 1984/85, "United Kingdom Membership of UNESCO", House of Commons Paper No. 461, will be relevant.

MONDAY 25 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill.

[Relevant European documents

Debate on Tuesday 19 November

(Unnumbered) Draft Directive on heat treated milk

Relevant Report on European Legislation Committee

HC 5-xxv (1984–85), para 1]

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

In view of the forthcoming Anglo-Irish summit, will the Leader of the House ensure that the results of the discussions are reported to the House for questioning as soon as possible, and will he also give an undertaking that he will ensure that time for a debate is provided in the near future?

The Government's decision to press ahead next Wednesday with powers to withdraw board and lodging allowances from those in need is an outrage. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that the original regulations were found to be illegal by the courts and the social security appeal tribunal and were unacceptable to the Statutory Instruments Committee. Now, without consultation with the Social Security Advisory Committee, the Government are putting forward new regulations which may be constitutionally correct but which are, nevertheless, still morally wrong. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the changes will mean vagrancy for many unemployed young people and misery for old and sick people who are dependent upon residential care? I appeal to him even now to prevail upon his right hon. Friends, in the name of plain decency, to examine the regulations again to see what impact they will have on people in need.

Has the Leader of the House seen the results of the Department of the Environment's inquiry into the condition of local authority housing stock in England which was recently published? The report states that nearly 4 million homes in Britain, 84 per cent. of which are public housing stock, are in need of substantial repair and renovation. Will he provide Government time in the near future for a debate on that report?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, as I am sure the House is, for so speedily arranging for a debate next week on televising the proceedings of the House. Will he confirm that if there is an affirmative vote, as I sincerely hope there will be, he will proceed to set up a Select Committee so that we can discuss the televising of our proceedings in a few months' time?

May I renew my request for early debates on the third report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the autumn statement, especially as we now discover that old age pensioners are to lose £120 million next year as a result of uprating changes made by the Government?

Following the Home Secretary's careful retreat from the wild allegations made by his Minister of State against hon. Members who legally help visitors who encounter difficulties at ports of entry, will the Leader of the House ensure that we have an early debate in Government time to discuss that and other related matters?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The Leader of the Opposition has given me a fair catalogue to which to respond—[Interruption.] It nearly matched Wilson's 14 points. I shall seek to reply to the points in the order in which they were presented.

If the discussions that are currently taking place between the British Government and that of the Irish Republic give rise to the necessity for a report and a debate, I gladly undertake that that will be arranged as early as possible.

As to the point about the board and lodging allowances debate promised for Wednesday evening, I recognise that that is a highly controversial issue. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman realises that there are two sides to the case. Doubtless they will be fiercely contested.

I take note of the request for a debate in Government time on the Department of the Environment inquiry into housing stock. I cannot indicate the likelihood of an early debate in Government time, but doubtless we can consider it through the usual channels.

As to the debate on Wednesday about the possible television broadcasting of the House of Commons, should the House on Wednesday approve the experiment, that would bring into play the Select Committee, which would have a central role in determining the circumstances and conditions in which the experiment might proceed.

We shall be happy to consider through the usual channels the request for a debate upon the third report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Last week I intimated that we should like to have an early debate upon the autumn statement in the terms requested by the right hon. Member for Birmingham Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), but it is also a matter that properly engages the interest of the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service.

I have noted the point made about the Home Secretary and the immigration rules. Again, that could be considered through the usual channels.

Photo of Mr John Spence Mr John Spence , Ryedale

Can my right hon. Friend make arrangements soon for a debate on the fifth report of the Select Committee on Agriculture about the imminent accession of Spain and Portugal to the European Community, which will have considerable potential for the benefit of the British economy?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I appreciate very much the importance of that point. My hon. Friend will know that legislation on the accession will come before the House. It is possible that it could be debated then.

Photo of Mr Raymond Powell Mr Raymond Powell , Ogmore

Last week, in reply to a question from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about Sunday trading, the Leader of the House stated that if we felt anxiety he would investigate the matter and report to the House through the usual channels. I note that the Prime Minister has given a reply. I do not know whether she is now Leader of the House as well as Prime Minister, but she stated that the Bill will come before another place today.

As there is no mandate from the people for such legislation, does not the Leader of the House consider that he should have allowed this House to discuss the matter before it went to another place because it is important to some of us who represent shopworkers and 2,250,000 people involved in the industry? The House of Commons should have been allowed to debate the matter before it went to a non-elected Chamber. Will the Leader of the House let us know what discussions have taken place and why the legislation has gone to another place first?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I take entirely the hon. Gentleman's point. It is a repetition of the point he made last week. I considered the decision in the light of what he said, but I judged it appropriate that the Bill should be introduced in another place for at least two reasons. There is always a problem of balancing the flow of legislation between the two Houses of Parliament. In taking that into account, I felt it appropriate that the Bill should be introduced in another place. Also, the Department concerned has a heavy programme of legislation in the current Session. Again, that point weighed in my judgment. I have no doubt that this House will be able to make its own judgment without inhibition or any sense of feeling deprived when the legislation comes here.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

To give a little stability to the position relation to the agreement between Britain and Ireland, may I ask my right hon. Friend to say when the document will be published and when a statement will be made in the House? Will we have an early debate on the subject so that worms in the woodwork may be revealed to us?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

My hon. Friend asks a conditional question because no such agreement has been concluded. I assure him that, should such an agreement be concluded, it will be put before the House at the earliest practical opportunity and debated shortly thereafter.

Photo of Mr Harold McCusker Mr Harold McCusker , Upper Bann

No doubt there is an explanation for the right hon. Gentleman's coyness about the Anglo-Irish discussions. As a meeting will take place tomorrow, and as an agreement will be signed tomorrow, may we be told when a statement will be made in the House and who will make it?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I was forthcoming to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) and I cannot go beyond that.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson , Belfast East

Does the Leader of the House recall that in 1982, when it was decided by the then Government, of whom he was a member, that there should be a consultative body in Northern Ireland for elected representatives, it was found necessary for legislation to be passed in this House? May we be assured that a measure would have to go through this Chamber allowing the Republic of Ireland any consultative role in the affairs of Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

It is impossible to answer that question until the agreement, if there is to be one, is made available.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

If the House decides next Wednesday to establish a Select Committee to look into the televised broadcasting of Parliament, may we be assured that that Select Committee's findings will also be subject to a vote in the House?

Will a Minister soon make a statement in the House about the decision of Liverpool city council this morning that its 31,000 employees will not be paid from next week? What contingency plans do the Government intend to announce in those circumstances?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second is that I shall draw the point to the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames , Crawley

In view of the great importance to everyone in Britain of the arms control process, will my right hon. Friend please arrange for a debate in Government time ahead of the Geneva summit so that hon. Members in all parts of the House may express their views?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I take sympathetic note of my hon. Friend's suggestion, which addresses an important topic, but he will understand why I would not wish to go beyond that today.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Does the Leader of the House consider that a one-day debate on the subject of televising the proceedings of the House of Commons will be satisfactory, bearing in mind that many of us who supported televising our proceedings now have definite qualms about it? I should have thought that, as more than 600 hon. Members have views on the subject, an additional day's debate would be necessary.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should have an early debate on the situation in Liverpool, bearing in mind that the basic responsibility for what is happening there is that of the Government, who should be questioned on the matter in debate?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is that I hope we shall be able to deal with the matter in a day's debate, although that will probably require the discipline of short speeches. I say that because of the context in which I replied to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). If the House approves the principle of a television experiment, there will be a subsequent opportunity to debate the matter pending the report of the Select Committee.

The answer to the second part is that there will be a debate on the Liverpool situation on Monday. I shall draw the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment to the desire for the much wider debate that I think the hon. Gentleman would prefer.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest

Although the power to make international treaties and agreements is for the Crown and not for this House, do not my right hon. Friend and Her Majesty's advisers think it right that we should debate the terms upon which there should be an agreement with the Irish Republic before the conclusion of any agreement or treaty?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point, but he knows that I cannot helpfully speculate upon what agreement may or may not be signed. However, should there be an agreement, the House will have an opportunity to debate it before it is put into effect.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke , Monklands West

Does the Leader of the House accept that the time is now overdue for this country to review its mental health legislation, especially in respect of the profoundly handicapped? Does he agree that it is time for us to turn our backs on Victorian values, and will he support such measures if they are put before the House?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The hon. Gentleman has made a pertinent observation about the very important role that legislation can play in dealing with mental health matters. He does so from the vantage point of one who has just come top of the ballot. All hon. Members will follow his efforts and wish him good luck.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Rutland and Melton

I presume that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House intends to speak in our forthcoming debate on televising the proceedings of the House. Does he envisage elegantly pushing the ball down the middle of the pitch or will he give a clear lead to the House on this matter?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I think that the House is looking not for a lead but for a chance to assert its own views.

Photo of Mr Thomas Torney Mr Thomas Torney , Bradford South

Is the Leader of the House aware that the fifth report of the Select Committee on Agriculture, referred to by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Spence) had the unanimous support of the Committee? Is he also aware that considerable damage will be done to this country's horticulture industry and also to our very depleted fishing industry when Spain enters the European Community? Is he further aware that Spain's fishing fleet is greater than that of the whole of the European Community put together? We should therefore have an early debate on this matter.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The hon. Gentleman will find that the accession legislation has a favoured position in the queue of Government legislation. However, I understand why he feels that the findings of the Select Committee are particularly important to the consideration of that question.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Stamford and Spalding

Is the Leader of the House aware that some hon. Members believe that there are too many votes in this House when we are asked to express our views upon "take note" motions relating to the European Community, upon which our views can have no effect? I suggest, therefore, that the vote should take place before the debate. By having the debate we should be taking note, and those hon. Members who wanted to stay and take note could do so. If the vote took place at 4 o'clock instead of 10 o'clock at night, it would save the time of many hon. Members.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

That is an entertaining diversion for this time of the week, but my hon. Friend ought not to disparage too readily the importance of relatively formal motions. The Chamberlain Government fell on the Adjournment. The procedures that we use for dealing with European Community documents have merit, but this matter could doubtless be considered by the Select Committee on Procedure.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth , Belfast South

In view of the reticence of the Leader of the House concerning the so-called Anglo-Irish summit, may I ask him whether he is prepared to ask one of his right hon. Friends, in the event of a statement being issued about agreement having been reached, to come to the House and tell right hon. and hon. Members about the grounds upon which they base their confidence that the Government of the Irish Republic will honour that agreement, in view of its history as a free state and as the Irish Republic in failing to honour similar agreements? Can the right hon. Gentleman say wherein the difference will now lie in that we are told Northern Ireland is to be recognised as part of the United Kingdom de facto? We understand that for years Northern Ireland has been recognised de facto as part of the United Kingdom but that the Government of the Republic of Ireland have resolutely refused to recognise Northern Ireland de jure and under their constitution they cannot.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

If an agreement should be concluded, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be reported to the House by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the earliest practical opportunity and that a general debate will follow shortly thereafter.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

Does my right hon. Friend share my surprise and concern that the Government have not yet come to the House to make a statement on the very serious crisis in the tin industry—not only as it affects the City of London and the London metal exchange but as it affects the producers of tin in Cornwall? Would he be so kind as to have a word with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about making a statement on this important matter early next week?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

Yes, I shall most certainly have a word with my right hon. Friend about that matter, which, as my hon. Friend rightly observed, is important for both Cornwall and the wider world. Meanwhile, he might think of trying his chance in an Adjournment debate.

Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt Mr Laurie Pavitt , Brent South

Was it not unusual that, for the debate on the Gracious Speech, the usual channels made no arrangement to debate the National Health Service, especially as we have a new Minister for Health and as there have been a number of other developments? Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a full day's debate in Government time as soon as possible so that some of the recent changes and other important aspects of the NHS may be discussed?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

It is not for me to question the wisdom of the usual channels. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has been in this place long enough to realise that the choice of topics does not always lie with this side of the House. However, I take note of his request. I cannot hold out any immediate hope, but I realise that it is a most important topic.

Photo of Mr Barry Porter Mr Barry Porter , Wirral South

As everyone in this House—apart, apparently, from those on the Treasury Bench—understands that, short of Armageddon, an arrangement will be signed tomorrow between Dublin and London, will my right hon. Friend ensure that a statement is made in this House on Monday or Tuesday?

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many English Unionists think that a debate on Wednesday on this important matter is of infinitely more importance than a debate on whether we should televise the House?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

Once again, I cannot anticipate whether there will be an agreement. However, I assure my hon. Friend that a question of such importance to the House, and a debate thereafter, will be considered with the utmost expedition.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that an amendment would be in order next Wednesday, when we debate the damaging and ridiculous proposition that cameras should be brought into the House, to the effect that cameras should be allowed into Standing and Select Committees, which would provide the public in Britain with a much better view and opinion of the proceedings of Parliament?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

Such a decision lies with the Chair, not with me.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

Since the European Court of Human Rights has an effective veto over the statutes and Acts passed by these Houses of Parliament, why cannot we have a debate on whether we should extend the right of individual petition before that decision is finally made and the signatures ratified?

Will my right hon. Friend exercise some of those qualities of leadership with which he is most abundantly endowed by telling the House how he will vote on Wednesday?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I do not think that how the House votes on Wednesday will bear any relationship to my personal gesture. All that I can say is that I feel less enthusiastic about the topic, one way or the other, than a great many of my hon. Friends.

On my hon. Friend's first point, I take account of the importance of the topic. We have had exchanges on this matter in the past, and I cannot go beyond what I have hitherto said.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire

On 5 December, the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced from the Dispatch Box his intention to publish a Green Paper on student support systems. On Tuesday, in answer to a planted written question, he said:

no useful purpose would be served by the publication of such a paper."—[Official Report, 12 November 1985; Vol. 86, c. 113.] Will the Leader of the House ensure that, in future, if a statement is made from the Dispatch Box, any statement rescinding that statement should also be made from the Dispatch Box so that Back Benchers may have an opportunity to question the wisdom of such a decision? If that is not done, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will come to the Dispatch Box and announce a cut in taxes, and then rescind it in answer to a planted written question—which I am sure is the very last thing that we want.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I am sure that that is the last thing that the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) believes would happen. Nevertheless, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point and will be in touch with him after I have considered it.

Photo of Mr John Stokes Mr John Stokes , Halesowen and Stourbridge

With reference to the important debate on Wednesday about televising the proceedings of the House, and bearing in mind the reply of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), will he assure me that there will be an absolutely free vote with no hidden strings attached?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I understand these arcane issues are for the Patronage Secretary, who will have heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) has requested.

Photo of Mr John Ryman Mr John Ryman , Blyth Valley

The Leader of the House will be aware of the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Energy of a new independent colliery review procedure under which all proposed closures of coal mines will be examined impartially by a judicially appointed organisation consisting of a number of eminent silks and judges. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that nobody knows how this procedure will work, least of all the Secretary of State for Energy, the National Coal Board or the National Union of Mineworkers?

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early debate on this important subject? Three pits are due to be closed before the end of 1985 and until the procedure has been completed no final decision can be made. This is infinitely more important than a parochial and ridiculous debate about televising Parliament.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but I must tell him that I can hold out no hope of a debate in Government time on that matter. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to his remarks.

Photo of Mr Peter Bruinvels Mr Peter Bruinvels , Leicester East

Is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House aware that the Leicestershire National Union of Teachers has today launched a day of inaction in my constituency on the ground that, as the secretary of the Back-Bench education committee, I should be punished along with my constituents, especially parents and children? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a callous way to act? Should not the teachers be back at work? After all, that is what they are paid for. Why should they be paid for being on strike today?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I believe that the tactic of industrial action is especially reprehensible. No doubt my hon. Friend will wish to take advantage of education questions on Tuesday to reinforce his argument.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

I declare my full support for the teachers' action. They are merely seeking to secure decent pay and conditions for themselves.

Is the Leader of the House aware of the circumstances surrounding a constituent of mine called Kevin Capenhurst, aged 17 years, who was detained in a borstal while terminally ill with cancer? He was released only after a vigorous campaign but has now died.

Will the Leader of the House allow a debate on the scandal of the detention unnecessarily and without campassion of those who are terminally ill in prisons and the equivalent of borstals, and about the proper notification of such cases to the Government, which does not now take place?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I shall refer the remarks of the hon. and learned Member to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It occurs to me that this is precisely the sort of topic that might feature in an Adjournment debate.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

Bearing in mind the disaster at Manchester airport and the incident involving the British Airways aircraft at Copenhagen on Tuesday, will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Transport to make an early statement on aircraft safety, with particular reference to maintenance procedures? If the aircraft on Tuesday had taken off and the undercarriage had not collapsed during taxi-ing on the runway—which was a sheer fluke and very fortunate for those involved—there would probably have been another disaster at Manchester, its point of destination.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I note what my hon. Friend says. As I come from the north-west, I realise that these accidents leave harrowing memories. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to this matter.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

Will the Leader of the House give further thought to Wednesday's debate on board-and-lodging payments which are extremely contentious? It is not satisfactory to have only a one-and-a-half-hour debate on this subject after 10.15 pm, or possibly later. Many hon. Members are anxious about the nature of the order and the complicated procedures attached to it.

Would it not be better for the Leader of the House to ensure that we have longer for that debate? If he cannot guarantee more time on Wednesday, will he consider an early opportunity for the House to discuss the complicated procedures that are involved in this type of order, especially as they seem to affect policy issues rather than administration?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's second point, which he makes with his authority as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. He is right to say that it is a contentious order, but its merits are familiar to the House. I hope that the matter will be resolved on Wednesday.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I refer my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to early-day motion 76: [That this House notes that the Miss World contestants were invited to use the dining room and terrace of the House; regrets that the facilities of the House were used to promote a particular company, namely Mecca; and particularly regrets that the House should have been used to promote the Miss World contest which reinforces the idea that what matters most about a woman is what she looks like and whether she is sexually attractive to men.] Will he arrange a debate on it? Would it be possible for, you, Mr. Speaker to allow the six lady sponsors to be apparelled as they think fit, when perhaps the House could choose a "Ms. House of Commons" from among them?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

As I do not have the faintest idea what early-day motion 76 refers to, I shall give it my active consideration.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I should like to reinforce the plea of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for a debate on the report published on Tuesday afternoon by the Department of the Environment on the quality of the housing stock. There was no debate in Government time on housing matters in general in the previous Session and in March the former Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who is now the Minister of State, Treasury, said it would be unbelievable if it were found that the cost of repairs and renovations required to the housing stock would be £19 billion. The report puts the figure at £18·8 billion, and, as the report was published by the Government, that reinforces the case for an early debate in Government time.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but he must appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to argue its merits. Clearly I cannot go beyond what I said to the Leader of the Opposition, but I recognise that this is a matter of great general interest.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Perth and Kinross

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the economic and political consequences of the new telephones installed in the Palace of Westminster and its environs? There is an economic consequence, because at vast public expense to the taxpayer, when we are supposed to be holding down public spending, we have replaced telephones which the less intelligent of us like myself could understand with machines which we cannot.

For those in favour of the political consequences, against leaks and in favour of open government, I would warn them that if one puts one hand over the mouthpiece in order to tell one's secretary that there is an idiot git on the other end, the idiot git can hear one saying it.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

That might be one of the less damaging things one would say to one's secretary. I shall bear in mind my hon. and learned Friend's request, but in the domestic arrangements of the Palace of Westminster, I fear that research assistants still have a head lead over any other topic.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

This is an appropriate moment to say first that I shall call those hon. Members who have been rising in their places, but I ask them to be brief.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

Will the Leader of the House do his best to ensure that discussions through the usual channels on the request made for a debate on the serious allegations made by the Minister of State, Home Office are conducted urgently?

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Minister of State has apparently written to more than 20 Members of all parties asking for correspondence to be published and that it would be much better to have a debate to allow the Minister of State to substantiate or withdraw his serious allegations? Members could then justify the important right that they have to intervene in immigration matters.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I cannot go beyond what I said to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.

Photo of Dr Alan Glyn Dr Alan Glyn , Windsor and Maidenhead

Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House consider extending the time for the debate on televising the House if he will not provide time for a two-day debate?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I shall consider the matter, but I hope that the House will reflect on the virtues of short speeches and tolerably early nights.

Photo of Mr Doug Hoyle Mr Doug Hoyle , Warrington North

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early debate on information technology—a sunrise industry in which we led the world in 1979, but now have a huge deficit in balance of payments—so that we can find out the reason for the decline and discover what steps are needed to remedy it?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's request, but we have just concluded the debate on the Queen's Speech, one day of which was devoted to trade, industry and employment, so I cannot in all fairness suggest that a debate in Government time soon is likely.

Photo of Viscount  Cranborne Viscount Cranborne , South Dorset

I apologise to my right hon. Friend for returning to a subject to which he has already been asked to address himself several times. Are we to infer from his replies to questions about tomorrow's Anglo-Irish agreement that he can find some circumstances that would make that agreement seem so unimportant that it would not be worth rearranging next week's business? If he can, why has there been so much fuss about this already?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I cannot helpfully answer my hon. Friend's last point, but should an agreement be concluded the arrangements for its being reported to the House and debated subsequently would be conducted with expedition.

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury

I again press the Leader of the House to recognise the deep strength of feeling about the need for an early debate on the Department of the Environment's report on the appalling state of the British housing stock, particularly in the light of the fact that, even after the Chancellor of the Exchequer's autumn statement, we shall be spending less this year on house building and improvement then we did last year, and next year we shall be spending even less. Is there not a desperate need for a debate on this matter, and will the Leader of the House please take that message back to his colleagues?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise that the fact that I do not seek to combat his exposition of the situation does not mean that I am indifferent to the importance of the topic, but I canot go beyond the answer that I have given to the Leader of the Opposition.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Will the Leader of the House consider a debate about the Silentnight dispute that has been going on for nearly six months in both Lancashire and Yorkshire? Several hundred workers have been out on strike principally because they joined a trade union in accordance with their rights but were unable to act like a trade union because of the Tory employer who was more concerned with filling his pockets and those of his family with £700,000 in shares than with paying one third of that the amount asked for in the wage claim. Is it not time that we had a debate on this matter? My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) initiated an Adjournment debate on the subject the other night in which about 20 hon. Members wished to take part. They wanted to discuss the aspects talked about on the Tory Benches so often but never practised—the freedoms of a living wage, to be able to negotiate when in a trade union and to conciliate with a Tory employer who refuses to act decently and give the workers the chance to negotiate.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman has made a characteristic and controversial premise, but I leave that to one side. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

I support the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) about the need for a debate on the disgraceful letter sent by the Minister of State, Home Office to a number of hon. Members. That letter has caused a great deal of concern among the families of people who are suffering because of the immigration laws. Does not the Leader of the House realise that it would be far more important and beneficial if the Minister devoted his energy to investigating the many humiliations that people face when they arrive at our airports, the excessive delays of immigration officials in dealing with immigration matters and the fear and concern that many people legally in this country suffer because of the way in which the immigration laws operate?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I cannot accept the highly prejudicial opinion of the letter that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office sent. However, I note the hon. Gentleman's desire for a debate.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd , Stretford

The Leader of the House may not be aware that the results of an independent inquiry under the chairmanship of John Platts-Mills, QC into the visit of the former Home Secretary to Manchester university in March has recently been published. Given that that inquiry concluded that the police in Manchester were guilty of unacceptable use of force and subsequently were guilty of assault and burglary, are not these conclusions of such tremendous importance to the people of Manchester that the least that we could expect is a full debate in Parliament or that the matter should be passed over to those responsible so that a proper and adequate independent inquiry may be conducted by a committee at national level?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I am not clear about the status of the Platts-Mills inquiry, but I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the hon. Gentleman's point.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Next Thursday we shall have Second Reading debates on the Armed Forces Bill and the Museum of London Bill, two important Bills. As it appears that the Museum of London Bill is hybrid and as there is great concern and interest in the Bill at County hall, will the 10 o'clock rule be suspended?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

We shall see how business goes, but I understand the hon. Gentleman's point.

Photo of Mr Robert Banks Mr Robert Banks , Harrogate

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It may have escaped your notice that the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) referred to a "planted question". Is it in order for a question to be referred to in this way, and may we know how to recognise one when we see one?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I heard the hon. Member use that phrase. It is frequently mentioned in the Chamber; but I do not understand what it means either.