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Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 30th April 1987.

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:—

TUESDAY 5 MAY—Proceedings on the Chevening Estate Bill (Lords).

Remaining stages of the Landlord and Tenant (No. 2) Bill.

Motion on the Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report (England) (No. 1) 1987–88 (HC 330).

Followed by motion on the Welsh Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report 1987–88 (HC 325).

Motion relating to the Education (School Teachers' Pay and Conditions of Employment) Order.

WEDNESDAY 6 MAY—Debate on the security situation in Northern Ireland, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Police (Northern Ireland) Order.

Motion on the Industrial Relations (Northern Ireland) Order.

THURSDAY 7 MAY—Commons consideration of Lords amendments to the Banking Bill.

Remaining stages of the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Bill (Lords).

Motions on financial services orders. Details will be given in the Official Report.

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

FRIDAY 8 MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY II MAY—Private Members' motions.

Debate on nuclear power and the Government's decision on the CEGB's application to construct the Sizewell "B" power station, on a Government motion.

[Debate on Thursday 7 May

  1. 1. Financial Services Act 1986 ( Delegation) Order 1987.
  2. 2. Financial Services (Transfer of functions Relating to Friendly Societies) Order ( Northern Ireland) 1987.
  3. 3. Financial Services (Transfer of functions Relating to Friendly Societies) Order 1987.]

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney

The House will want to thank the right hon. Gentleman for honouring so promptly his promise to find time for a debate on security in Northern Ireland and the renewed Provisionals' campaign of murder and terror there. May I ask four questions? First, will the right hon. Gentleman consider again the timing of the debate on the Industrial Relations (Nothern Ireland) Order? It is an important and controversial measure which should not be smuggled away from the public gaze in a late night debate. Secondly, will he consider relocating on Tuesday the Education (School Teachers' Pay and Conditions of Employment) Order? This measure, too, should be debated in the light of day. We would like it to come on before the rate support grant motions. Thirdly, when will those rate support grant supplementary reports be tabled?

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman note our continued frustration at not having a debate on the run-down of the Merchant Navy? Early-day motion 515 is now supported by no fewer than 270 right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.

[That this House notes with anxiety the continuing rapid reduction in the size of the United-Kingdom-owned and registered merchant fleet; notes that this reduction is only partly offset by the increase in the number of United Kingdom-owned ships on overseas registers; expresses its concern at the adverse impact of these developments on the United Kingdom's and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's defence capability and the United Kingdom economy, including shipbuilding, employment and the balance of payments account of the United Kingdom, notes the dearth of new investment in British-owned ships, whether new or secondhand, which alone can remedy the situation; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to take urgent steps in the forthcoming Budget to encourage such investment and to initiate action in the European Community to adopt domestic policies which will restore the profitability of ship owning and international policies to scrap surplus ships and unfair practices in shipbuilding and trading.]

Can the right hon. Gentleman think of any reason why we should not have a clear promise of a debate in the week beginning 11 or 18 May?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

What a provocative way for the right hon. Gentleman to end his questions. As to the hon. Gentleman's final point concerning a debate on the Merchant Navy, this matter was put to me last week and I indicated my views then. I shall take into account what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but for the moment I shall have to rest my reply where it was a week ago.

The right hon. Gentleman asked when the rate support grant reports would be tabled. I am told that they have gone down already today.

I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman said about the placing of the education order in the business for Tuesday. I cannot hold out hope that that matter can easily be rearranged, but, none the less, it can be considered through the usual channels.

I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Northern Ireland industrial relations order, which is scheduled to come on late at night. That is something that we can consider again through the usual channels.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to consider early-day motion 602 relating to the difficulties of British pensioners living in Canada?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to provide retirement pensioners living in Canada with pension increases as and when they become due in Britain, with or without a social security agreement with Canada.]

As that early-day motion has been signed by more than 150 right hon. and hon. Members expressing their concern, is the House likely in the next few weeks to get some idea of the Government's attitude towards this matter?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I thank my hon. Friend for the constructive way in which he put his point about early-day motion 602 concerning British pensioners living in Canada. I would have thought it might first be ventilated to see whether it could be debated within the context of the Finance Bill, and I shall make inquiries to that end.

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

Will the Leader of the House say, before the Wednesday debate on Irish affairs, whether there will be a statement on the creation of the promised Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier? Will he also say whether he expects the Government, before dissolution, to complete their existing business? Does he agree that the public would regard it as an incredible waste of parliamentary time and money if the Criminal Justice Bill, which has had 36 sittings, were to be lost? In those circumstances, will the Leader of the House say whether he has come round to the idea of fixed-term Parliaments?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I note the hon. Gentleman's second point. I am sure that the whole House noted the views that he expressed. I think that any comment upon them could be construed as revealing more than it was able to conceal, so I shall leave the matter there. As to the hon. Gentleman's first point, I can confidently say that there will not be a statement about the possibility of an Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier ahead of the debate that we plan for Wednesday.

Photo of Mr Edward Du Cann Mr Edward Du Cann , Taunton

Has my right hon. Friend observed that the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary-General of NATO have now added their powerful voices to the anxiety that has been expressed by an overwhelming number of Members in the motion on the Merchant Navy, to which the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) referred? In those circumstances, does my right hon. Friend agree that the suggestion made, not for the first time by the right hon. Gentleman, about the good sense of having a debate on the Merchant Navy should be accepted by the Government, in the general national, economic and defence interest?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I very much understand and sympathise with the points made by my right hon. Friend, but he also knows that I am, as it were, the guardian of the agenda at a time of the year when there is great pressure for committed Government business. That is a fact of which I have to take account, but I shall bear in mind what my right hon. Friend said.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley

Will the Leader of the House remind the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary that the American Department of Justice and the American State Department, jointly, have received information from a unit, which I think works for the Department of Justice, called the Anti-Nazi Tracking Unit, which has made allegations, as a result of which the President of Austria, Dr. Waldheim, will not be allowed to go to the United States unless he goes there as the President of Austria? This information is important. It is available in the United States. It is relevant to activities in this country. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask for that information to be provided to us so that we can make our judgment on it?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

When the right hon. Gentleman asked for the information to be made available so that we can make our judgment, he rightly underlined the fact that we are talking about allegations and not about proof. Of course, I shall relay the right hon. Gentleman's request to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Photo of Mr Robert Rhodes James Mr Robert Rhodes James , Cambridge

Following the question asked by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) concerning President Waldheim, is my right hon. Friend aware that I have seen the documents relating to this case and that there is a difference between allegations that have never been tried in court — there is an interesting story why they were never brought to court — and proof, but it is incontestible that President Waldheim has lied consistently about his war record and that he has proved himself by these lies to be totally unfit to hold public office? Although that is a matter for the people of Austria, surely the Government of this country can recognise the outrage that has been felt, and surely we should follow the lead given by others.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

My hon. Friend, who clearly speaks with known experience and authority on these matters, claims that there are certain self-evident situations. I say to him in all friendliness that these are matters for individual judgment. I am being asked to find out whether there can be a ministerial responsibility for making certain documents available, and I have said that I shall look into that.

Photo of Mr Lewis Carter-Jones Mr Lewis Carter-Jones , Eccles

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make a statement on the A330 and A340 Airbus project? Is he aware that more than 400 A320s have been sold, but we guess that 200 sales were lost because of delays? It looks as though we have lost some sales of A330 and A340 aircraft including sales to Alitalia. Will the right hon. Gentleman please urgently consider this matter?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I shall certainly pass those points on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

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

Has my right hon. Friend noted the progress made in another place with the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust Bill, which in its present form has been welcomed by the Royal British Legion? On its arrival in this place, will the Government seek to expedite a measure which should not take too much time but which would bring comfort to former members of Her Majesty's forces and their dependants living across the Irish sea?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I am sure that once the legislation has completed its stages in another place and comes to the House of Commons the usual channels will do their utmost to see that it is dispatched with appropriate regard for the susceptibilities of the House.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

Can the Leader of the House tell us whether, and when, he expects there to be a debate on the Control of Pollution (Landed Ships Waste) Regulations 1987, which came into force on 6 April, which were laid before Parliament on 16 March and which were prayed against by the Leader of the Opposition, when I gather that there were six days remaining? Will the regulations be debated? What will happen if Parliament is dissolved? Will the regulations be in force?

May I also press the right hon. Gentleman — [Interruption.] This is an important matter in my pocket of the country. May I press the right hon. Gentleman on the issue of the parliamentary tier of the Anglo-Irish Agreement? My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) was dead right about that. It is an initiative that Parliament should take on board.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I shall look into the hon. Gentleman's first request. I am afraid that I cannot give him an authoritative answer, but I shall see that he is given an answer.

As to the hon. Gentleman's second point, I do not think that I can reasonably add to what I have already said. I know that no statement will be made, but that does not mean that, subject to the views of the Chair, reference may not at least be made to it in the debates that will follow.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

Has the Leader of the House, as a member of the Government, read the astonishing written answer issued late last night, but not yet published in Hansard, by the Minister of Transport rescinding the letter of instruction to British Rail that it should not make advance payments to the Channel tunnel project? In view of the implications of this for that project and its viability, and also in view of the implications for the general public travelling on British Rail having to pay a virtual levy to give advance payments for the construction of a tunnel, may we at least have a statement, if not a debate, on the implications of this astonishing change of policy, which appears to throw aside the assurances given in the past about public or quasi-public funding of the tunnel?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I take note of the point that my hon. Friend has raised. Clearly it is one that commands much interest in the House. I shall see that the point is put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

Reverting to the matter of President Waldheim, it is certainly the responsibility of the Home Secretary whether this very evil man is allowed into the United Kingdom——

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

Order. I must remind the hon. and learned Gentleman and the whole House that we should not cast reflections upon the presidents of countries with which we have friendly relations.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

It is the responsibility of the Home Secretary to decide whether President Waldheim or any other such person should be allowed into the United Kingdom. May we have a statement on that?

Will there be time, before the House rises, for a debate on the shortage of resources for hospitals in Leicestershire? This is a matter upon which hon. Members on both sides of the House were agreed, and I discovered that at the Groby road heart hospital people are waiting six months for open-heart surgery because of the lack of one doctor, one anaesthetist and two beds. [Interruption.] Conservative Members find this a laughing matter, but it is a matter of life or death for my constituents.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

With regard to the first point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, I have already said that I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. In so doing, I shall refer him to the points that the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised.

As to the second point, the hon. and learned Gentleman will know that the matter was debated in the recent Adjournment debate. My hon. Friends then put the case for health care in Leicestershire all the more effectively because it was put that much more moderately.

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

My hon. Friend is aware that the House has spent quite a lot of time and travail putting through the Criminal Justice Bill, which is at present proceeding in another place. Can he assure me that the Government will do everything that they can to get the Bill—I am prepared to give up some of my extended summer holiday, which I may not get for another 30 years — through in this Parliament? It is important that some deals be done in the House of Lords so that, even if it means that the election is delayed for a week, we get that Bill through and thus save a lot of bother in the next Parliament.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I note the fullhearted concern of my hon. Friend that the Criminal Justice Bill should receive Royal Assent, and I know that because of all the hard work that has gone into the drafting and debating of the Bill it is a view that must be echoed throughout this Chamber.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Is it not extraordinary—I am sensitive to the legal position, Mr. Speaker—that, while the Attorney-General was willing to bring actions against the London Daily News, The London Evening Standard and The Independent newspapers, he failed to bring an action against ITN news, which repeated all the allegations in The Independent during the course of three bulletins on Monday, at 1 o'clock, 6 o'clock and 10 o'clock? Will the Leader of the House deny that Ministers met and, with the Attorney-General, took a decision that they would bring no action against ITN news because they were worried that they would have to stand the criticism of the British people that this was an attempt to censor ITN news?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General the clear dissatisfaction that the hon. Gentleman entertains about his conduct.

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Leicester South

Can my right hon. Friend tell us when we might have a debate on the workings of the Child Care Act 1980? Is he aware of the Alice in Wonderland situation that obtains in Leicestershire over the workings of the Act, where, in 1983, as a result of the Lib-Lab pact, a secure house for unruly children was closed? Since then the local authority has laid down its own criteria, which, incredibly, means that the suspicion that somebody is likely to abscond is insufficient evidence for that person to be incarcerated? This has given rise to great concern by the courts and the police and has lead to unruly behaviour in other children's homes. May we have an early debate on this intolerable state of affairs?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I understand the point that my hon. and learned Friend raises and the considerable local significance and topicality that it possesses. In the nearest future there is no prospect of such a debate in Government time, but I wish him every success in whatever other route he chooses to try to have the matter raised.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

Since it has now become clear that the Prime Minister allowed the use of the Lakenheath base for the F111s to bomb Libya with the excuse that precision bombing was needed, was she aware that it was President Reagan's intention to kill Colonel Gaddafi? Since it has also now become clear from the evidence of the West German police that the bombing of the Berlin disco was not done by Libyan agents, when can we debate the Prime Minister's massive misjudgments before she leaves office?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I say at once that I do not accept as a premise practically anything that the hon. Gentleman has said. As he requires a debate before the Prime Minister leaves office, that gives us plenty of time to consider his request.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

Will my right hon. Friend please advise me what would be the best course of action if I explain to him that recently in my constituency a leaflet circulated by the alliance stated that the alliance team was pressing the Minister of Transport for urgent correspondence on the Ashbourne bypass? I asked a question of the Secretay of State for Transport some few weeks ago, in reply to which he said that six weeks after the alliance has put out this leaflet no representations had been made. It is more serious than that, because I challenged——

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

Order. This is not the object of business questions. The hon. Member must ask for a statement, if not a debate.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

Mr. Speaker, I am coming to the important part. I got in touch with the Department of Transport about this very serious item and was told that no correspondence had been received. However, Mr. Speaker, after I wrote——

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

Order. That has nothing to do with me. The hon. Gentleman must address his question to the Leader of the House and make it relevant to next week's business.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

I should like the Leader of the House to investigate my claim that I asked the Minister about this and that he responded that no correspondence had been received. After I had raised the item locally, a letter arrived at the Department of Transport dated 13 April, but postmarked 28 April. Will the Leader of the House investigate how this letter got lost in the Department for two weeks?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

My hon. Friend has asked me a question that implies a responsibility that I am sure I do not possess. There is only a modest ministerial responsibility on any point in this matter. My hon. Friend has to remember that when confronted by this unseemly and unwholesome performance of his political opponents in West Derbyshire he played the dirtiest trick of all time when he won the by-election, when they were so confident that they would win it.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

In view of the no less unwholesome performance of the Prime Minister over the question of the Law Officers' letter on Westland, and in the light of the fact that question 2 to the Prime Minister has been on the Order Paper for over three weeks and that I had the courtesy on 12 April to set out a whole range of questions that might be asked, if the Prime Minister will not answer, will the Leader of the House ask the Attorney-General to come and tell us whether it is true that he confronted the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robert Armstrong, saying that he would bring the police from New Scotland Yard to No. 10 if the Prime Minister did not agree to an inquiry? It is a question of fact, nothing else. It is simply a factual question that has been on the Order Paper for more than three weeks. In view of the seriousness of the television programme, does that not deserve an answer?

Will the Leader of the House go and commune, or whatever he does, with the Lord Privy Seal, and ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to answer the question that I put on Monday, which the Lord Privy Seal said he would refer to the Scottish Office, about his knowledge of the raid on the BBC in Glasgow?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

On the first point, the hon. Gentleman argues that he has tabled a question and is not entirely happy with the answer. That is hardly surprising, as he puts down a great many questions. Even those of us who are far less devoted to Question Time frequently have the experience of not being entirely satisfied with an answer. As a consequence of that, the hon. Gentleman asks whether I will see that a question is put to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. The hon. Gentleman has made the request, and I shall see what can be done. However, it is perfectly within the hon. Gentleman's competence—he is not exactly a novice in these matters — to table a question to the Attorney-General.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point concerning the Scottish Office and the answer that I gave on Monday, I shall look into the matter.

Photo of Mr Roger Sims Mr Roger Sims , Chislehurst

Was my right hon. Friend present earlier when the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) did not make the slightest effort to refute, either in whole or in part, the figure of £36 billion as the cost of implementing Labour party pledges? Does he not think that the time is fast becoming ripe for a debate on the implications to the individual ordinary taxpayer of that figure? Would not such a debate also provide an opportunity for the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party to tell us what their policies are and what the cost of them would be?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

My hon. Friend makes a valid political point. My only regret is-that I have to be rather sparing in my response because of the problem of Government time. However, there are some hours ahead of us today devoted to the Finance Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to make some of those points at greater length during that time.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Shadow Minister (Education)

I am sure that everybody in the House is concerned about the terrible pictures coming out of Mozambique showing men, women and children dying in their thousands. There ought to be a statement on the situation in Mozambique, including what further assistance can he given by the Government, particularly towards implementing sanctions against South Africa to stop it attacking its neighbours in that terrible way.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The hon. Lady has made a request that there should be a statement on what is undoubtedly a great human tragedy in Mozambique, and I shall convey that request to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Photo of Mr Michael McNair-Wilson Mr Michael McNair-Wilson , Newbury

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he has received any request from the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) to make a statement about his answer in 1977 relating to the allegations in the Peter Wright book?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I have had no communication with the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Does the Leader of the House not recognise that there is a great deal of pressure and a wish, certainly from Opposition Members, that a statement should be made on the allegation that up to 30 MI5 officers were involved in subversion and treachery? If a Government profess themselves to be in favour of the rule of law and parliamentary democracy, how can they take such a dismissive attitude about such allegations? Will there be a statement next week?

On the matter regarding Waldheim, has the Leader of the House seen my early-day motion 921—

[That this House welcomes the decision by the United States and Canadian authorities that Kurt Waldheim will not be permitted to visit privately their countries; trusts that the same decision will be reached by the United Kingdom Government; believes that all those held responsible for participating in Nazi crimes against humanity should continue to be brought to justice; and expresses its sorrow that someone with Waldheim's war-time record should actually he President of Austria.]

—regarding this scoundrel?

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

Order. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw that word. It is not in accordance with our conventions. He took the right course yesterday in putting down a motion. That is the right way of dealing with such matters.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

I always obey your wishes, Mr. Speaker. I believe that the man is a scoundrel. If I am not allowed to say so in the House because of the rules, obviously I shall withdraw the word, but only in so far as the Chamber is concerned.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

As to the first point that the hon. Gentleman raised, the Government's position has been made clear, not least by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I have nothing further to say. As to the second point, I cannot helpfully add to what I have said to other hon. Members on the matter of Mr. Waldheim and the newspaper reports. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

Despite the entreaties of my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Sir K. Lewis) that the House should be kept sitting well into the summer to deal with the Criminal Justice Bill, does my right hon. Friend agree with me and many others that this Parliament has virtually reached the end of its natural life? In view of the abysmal attendance last night and, no doubt, tonight on the Finance Bill, and the early rising of the House, will he convey to our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the feeling of hon. Members on both sides that the time has come to go to the country and secure a third term for the Government?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

That question does not helpfully require a reply. I have heard what my hon. Friend has said.

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

I am not so sure that the Leader of the House is anxious to have an early election, in view of what was stated in one of the newspapers recently, that if the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) got back into power one of the first people to get the chop will be the Leader of the House, apparently because some time ago he made a statement about a balanced programme.

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

Order. Again I say that this is not the purpose of business questions. The purpose is to deal with business for next week.

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

It was just a preamble to what I am about to say, Mr. Speaker.

Picking up the debate as it went along, will the Leader of the House consider the possibility of having a debate, at this fairly late stage, on the MI5 destabilisation allegations of the Wilson and Callaghan Governments? Perhaps it will provide a wonderful opportunity for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the time, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) to come to the Chamber and take part in the debate and tell us who was protected and why.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

First, in respect of the preamble to the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I am grateful for the character reference. As to the second and more substantial point that he made, I cannot do more than refer the hon. Gentleman to what I said to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick).

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

In view of events yesterday in Walworth road and the almost certainty that, after any election, some hon. Members will seek to represent sections of the community rather than the community and constituents as a whole, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate next week to discuss the procedures of the House in the future, and particularly how individual Opposition Members can be protected against their own leader, in case what happened at Walworth road yesterday is repeated?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

The relationship between Walworth road and the procedures of the House is absolutely fascinating. I do not wish to make any comment that would add to the difficulties. Therefore, my hon. Friend should release us all from the difficulties by rendering his advice direct to the Procedure Committee.

Several Hon. Members:

rose——

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

Order. It might be good for the House if we get on to the Finance Bill quite soon. I shall call hon. Members who have been rising. Questions should relate to the business for next week.

Photo of Mr Andrew Stewart Mr Andrew Stewart , Sherwood

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate in view of the distorted statements made last Saturday at the Nottinghamshire Federation of British Coal Tenants conference by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) against Conservative Members, British Coal and the Government?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

It is an extremely good subject. With all my heart I wish that I could offer Government time next week, but I fear that pressures are such that I cannot do so, I shall certainly bear it in mind for the future.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

As part of the Labour party's smear-a-day campaign, apparently the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is putting it about that Airey Neave plotted with MI5 to bump him off. The right hon. Gentleman is useful to us. Is the right hon. Gentleman not of more use to us alive than dead?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I was not aware of such exotic developments in the national debate. Therefore, I do not think that I can make an adequate reply, except that I suppose that if I hang around I shall hear much more of the same.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh , Gainsborough and Horncastle

May we have a debate on the Abortion Act 1967, which celebrates its 19th birthday this week, under which 2.5 million innocents have lost their lives? In particular, may we have a debate on clause 1 of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, which makes it an offence to kill any child who is capable of being born alive? In the light of recent research, which shows that about 70 per cent. of foetuses of 22 weeks gestational age are survivors, the whole country would welcome such a debate.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I note what my hon. Friend said. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), said that he has a Bill that will aid in this matter. The topic is possibly more appropriate for private Members' initiatives than those of the Government. In any case, Government time in the near future is simply not available. I shall, as ever, look with benevolence upon what my hon. Friend requires.

Photo of Mr Peter Bruinvels Mr Peter Bruinvels , Leicester East

Will my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on the report by Sir Gordon Downey, the Auditor-General, on the £87 million overpayment of benefit? Does he agree that it is totally unacceptable at this time for so much money to be paid out? Perhaps it might be understandable when many civil servants are putting their own financial interests ahead of national interests by going on strike and taking industrial action, particularly members of the Civil and Public Services Association and the Society of Civil and Public Servants? Is he aware that my constituents in Leicester, East will suffer on 11 May unless the strike is ended quickly? People in need of important benefit will certainly not get it because, unfortunately, civil servants care more about their own money than about my constituents.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I note what my hon. Friend has said. I was not absolutely clear, but I got the impression that he referred to evidence contained in the Public Accounts Committee report. I assure him that plans are afoot to have the Public Accounts Committee's report debated in the reasonably near future.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the United States Patent Office has recently authorised the patenting of animal genetic engineering? Is he further aware that an official within that department acknowledged that it would he likely to, or could, lead to human genetic engineering? It represents a severe danger to the future of mankind of a nature equivalent to the nuclear debate that has been going on for the past 30 years. Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to ask the appropriate Minister to authorise a debate on the matter to ensure that we do not go down this line, particularly as during the last week the European Patent Office has received two animal genetic engineering patent applications, which is an inevitable first step towards moving the goalposts down such an extremely dangerous and slippery path?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

My hon. Friend, in a compelling way, requests a debate that would widen a little further the request that I have already had for debates on the topic of abortion and like matters. I have explained why I do not think that such matters are particularly suitable for Government initiatives. I shall bear in mind what he had to say. I recognise that there is a real desire in the House that such matters should be debated, particularly ahead of any legislation that might eventually be brought before it.

Later——

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A short time ago the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) made a comment to the Leader of the House. His comment would not stand up in a court of law. The hon. Member was not even there. I was there and I am defending my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton). The hon. Member for Sherwood made comments, but he was not even there. It was pure supposition on his part. [Interruption.]

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

Order. I think that both hon. Members have now had fair shares. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) did not raise that point with the Leader of the House. I am afraid that I was not there either.