HC Deb 16 December 1982 vol 34 cc481-7 3.30 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

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

MONDAY 20 DECEMBER—Motion on the Christmas Adjournment.

Remaining stages of the Agricultural Marketing Bill.

Motions on the Asian and African Development Banks Orders, on the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development Order, on the Legal Aid (Scotland) (Exclusion of Proceedings) Regulations and on the Pneumoconiosis Etc. (Workers' Compensation) (Payments of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations.

TUESDAY 21 DECEMBER—Debate on the White Paper on "The Falklands Campaign: The Lessons", Cmnd. 8758, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

WEDNESDAY 22 DECEMBER—Debate On the report by Lord Shackleton on the economic potential of the Falkland Islands, Cmnd. 8653, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY 23 DECEMBER—It will be proposed that the House should meet at 9.30 am, take questions until 10.30 am, and adjourn at 3.30 pm until 17 January 1983.

Mr. Foot

First, may I put to the right hon. Gentleman two major matters that have arisen in the past few days? Following yesterday's emergency debate and the Foreign Secretary's extraordinary statement that he was either unable or unwilling to describe precisely who would have control over the firing of cruise and Pershing missiles if they were ever stationed in this country, we believe that the House should be given an early opportunity to discuss that matter. It is plainly of absolutely supreme importance for the people of this country. Will he assure us that as soon as we return from the recess we shall have in Government time a major debate on disarmament? We forced the debate yesterday, and we feel that there should be a full debate on the subject as soon as possible.

Secondly, as a result of the decision that was taken yesterday in the European Assembly about Great Britain's contribution to the budget, all the negotiations on Great Britain's contribution seem to be in jeopardy. It is a matter of prime importance to the House. I presume that an early statement will be made to the House. The best time for that would be on Monday. The Government should make a major statement on how they are to defend British interests in the matter.

There are three other matters that I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman. When will we have a statement on steel, and will a debate he held? The Leader of the House has so far refused to provide time for a debate on fisheries, but I still ask for a debate on that subject. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give me a favourable answer on the question of teacher-training colleges which I raised with him last week.

Mr. Biffen

May I respond in reverse order to the five points that the right hon. Gentleman has made? The issue of colleges of education was raised last week. I understand that preliminary discussions have taken place through the usual channels. Clearly there will be no time for a debate next week. I shall of course bear in mind the possibility of such a debate.

It is well within the recollection of the House that I have said several times that the Government would wish to arrange a debate on the whole fisheries issue. There will be a Council of Ministers meeting early next week. That may well be decisive in resolving the present deadlock between Denmark and other members of the Community. I hope that the debate can take place in the new year.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said a few moments ago that the statement on steel would be made on Monday next week. I cannot offer a debate in the few days remaining before we adjourn for Christmas, but clearly it is a matter that the House will wish to discuss when we return after the recess.

The Economic and Finance Council will consider tomorrow in the light of today's decision the serious position that has arisen in respect of the United Kingdom's contribution to the European Community budget and the refund. I ask the House therefore to wait until the outcome of that meeting is known. That will lead one to decide the appropriate day for a statement. I am sure that we can resolve through the usual channels when that should be.

I note what the Leader of the Opposition has said about yesterday's debate when I believe that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave an authoritative discourse on Government policy on those matters.

I note that the right hon. Gentleman would like a further debate on cruise missiles. Doubtless we can consider that through the usual channels.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

My right hon. Friend will recall that two weeks ago I asked him to arrange a debate on the Serpell report and he was kind enough to reply. Has the Secretary of State for Transport yet had the report? Is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will find it unacceptable if the Government do not publish the report, and even less acceptable if there is not an early debate when the House returns upon the report which is the most important independent look at British Rail for a long time?

Mr. Biffen

I can make no commitment about a debate. I shall certainly be in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport again on the points raised by my hon. Friend and I shall be in touch with him.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

I understand that there is to be an EC Fisheries Council meeting on Tuesday of next week when crucial decisions may be taken. May we be assured that a statement will be made in the House on the result of that meeting not later than the day after, and should we not have an opportunity to debate that and the EC budget crisis before 31 December when the common fisheries policy will come into effect?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to say that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been most punctilious in reporting to the House after ministerial meetings. I have no reason to believe that his future behaviour will belie his past performance. I can hold out little hope for a debate in the time that remains before the Christmas Recess.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

When in the new year may we expect the regular debate upon public expenditure, as there are many Conservative Members who would like to point out that the falling rate of inflation enables the country to get much better value from existing levels of public expenditure?

Mr. Biffen

It is a central point to be made, and it is made all the more effective by the brevity with which my hon. Friend has addressed me. There will be a debate on public expenditure, as is traditional. I cannot give the precise date.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

In anticipation of the Leader of the House replying that he could not find time for a debate next week, may I ask him to look at early-day motion 169?

[That this House would welcome Her Majesty's Government having a detailed investigation into, and publishing a detailed report on, how and why almost daily reports are published giving court records of where: (a) a man convicted of twice raping a girl of six years only serves a six-week term of imprisonment, (b) a man pleads guilty to manslaughter after having slit a widow's throat with a machete and is immediately set free with a 2-year suspended sentence, (c) on an admission of deliberately scarring a man's face for life, a fine of £200 is imposed but has still not been paid, (d) stabbing a six-year-old girl with a screwdriver, denying murder, but found guilty of manslaughter, results in being put on probation, (e) a drunken driver pleading guilty to careless driving and manslaughter killing a teenage girl gets four months imprisonment and (f) of three men found guilty of theft and killing a man at a concert, two are given six weeks' imprisonment and the third is fined £250 which has still not been paid; and recommend what action should be taken to prevent the now admitted growth in all forms of crime, particularly those involving violence, and to see to what extent the leniency of sentencing is now acting as an encouragement to these thugs, wicked and cruel beasts, who are referred to wrongly of course as human beings.] To save the time of the House and that of the right hon. Gentleman, will he ask the Home Secretary to look at and implement the suggestion made in the motion?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to the pertinent point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

Will my right hon. Friend take an opportunity next week to make a statement on whether we can hope for an ending to the torrent of legislation that we have endured since the Queen's Speech? Perhaps he will say whether there are any more substantial measures to be found hidden between the lines of the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Biffen

That is a good-natured question in the best spirit of Christmas. The legislation that has been introduced is proceeding at a pace which may redound to our personal convenience rather later in the year, when we may have other distractions.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

Further to the vote in the European Assembly yesterday on Britain's budget rebate—I trust that a statement on it will be made next week—I hope that the Government will explain why the European Assembly was offered a monitoring and supervisory role over the spending of any such money. May we be assured by the right hon. Gentleman, who has a good record on Common Market matters, that it is this House alone which supervises Government expenditure, from wherever it derives?

Mr. Biffen

The light that this topic throws upon the relationships between the Assembly and the Council of Ministers is one dimension of any debate that will arise on these matters. I am sure that there will be a chance to address ourselves to such issues during our deliberations when we return after Christmas.

Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Will we have the data protection Bill's Second Reading on our return, or is it my right hon. Friend's intention to start its parliamentary progress in another place?

Mr. Biffen

I am not yet in a position to answer that question.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

In view of the failure of the Secretaries of State for the Environment and Wales to make statements to the House on the Welsh water rates controversy and, disgracefully, to announce a decision through a press release on Monday rather than to the House, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on this issue, perhaps coupled with a debate on the Welsh rate support grant order? If it is not possible to couple the two issues, will he say when a debate on the rate support grant order will be held?

Mr. Biffen

I am not able to answer either of those questions in specific terms. There will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to make known his irritation in some form.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Before Tuesday's debate on defence, may we have an explanation of how a simple juxtaposition of answers from the Prime Minister and from her Defence Ministers reveal, by putting map coordinates together, that on Sunday 2 May the British fleet was firmly placed on dry land in Argentina? This was confirmed by a report of these questions in The Times.

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, if he asks his business question for next week it will help those who are hoping to be called.

Mr. Dalyell

Some explanation should be given of the sinking of the "Belgrano" before the debate on Tuesday.

Mr. Biffen

I think that it will be appropriate for the hon. Gentleman to make his points during that debate.

Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 168, which has been tabled by myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells)?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to make an early decision on its defence suppression requirements in favour of the British Aerospace/Marconi/ALARM project which would both ensure an increase in employment opportunities while providing a cheaper and more flexible option than any available alternative; and firmly believes that essential defence technology should be developed and maintained within the United Kingdom whenever possible.]

When is a statement likely to be made on the ALARM project and defence suppression?

Mr. Biffen

I understand that the weapon to which the early-day motion refers is currently under evaluation. I do not think that I can go further than that.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that two weeks ago today I drew his attention to early-day motion 44 on the importation of baby seal skins, which now has the support of 320 hon. Members from both sides of the House?

[That this House, bearing in mind the motion passed by the European Assembly on 11th March 1982 calling for the banning of the importation of the skins and the products derived from young hooded and harp seals slaughtered in Canada, the subsequent reports of the Nature Conservancy Council, the recommendation of the European Commission and the support for Early Day Motions Nos. 342 and 344 in the last Session of Parliament by over 300 honourable Members, calls on the Government now to take positive action to stop the importation of these products.]

When I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether there could be a statement about the outcome of the meeting of the Environmental Ministers on Friday, he said that he would draw the matter to the attention of his right hon. Friend. However, no statement was made on the following Monday. Will he now give me an assurance that the Minister will take rather more notice of what he has to say following the meeting that is to take place tomorrow? May we have a statement on Monday?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot give a guarantee that there will be a statement. However, I am sure that the whole House will be interested in the outcome of Friday's meeting in the hope that it will help to resolve this contentious issue. I shall refer my right hon. Friend to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Now that the industrial action in the National Health Service has come to an end, will my right hon. Friend invite the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a written report to the House setting out, first, the exact cost in terms of deferred operations and longer waiting lists and, secondly, his ideas for the future for some arrangement with the Health Service unions which will prevent industrial action being used against the sick?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to prevail upon the Home Secretary to bring the new immigration rules before the House as quickly as possible? As a result of the vote that took place in the early hours of the morning, an important and progressive part of the package—to accord to women not born in this country but who have acquired citizens' rights the freedom to have a foreign husband if they so desire—has not been put in the rules. This is an urgent matter to be rectified consistent with the new British Nationality Act. Therefore, it is urgent that the new rules should be put before the House.

Mr. Biffen

After the vote this morning, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear his position under the legislation and that of the Government. I do not think that I can add to that.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that quite a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have been seeking copies of the Sobell report on British Rail finance and have been unable to obtain them? Will he ensure that the Sobell report is printed and made available to right hon. and hon. Members?

Mr. Biffen

I shall look into the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call first those hon. Members who have been rising in their places since business questions began in an attempt to catch my eye. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) has risen for the first time following the business statement. I shall call him at the end of questions before we move on to the next item.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that an unprecedented number of people in Leicester and elsewhere are facing the Christmas season while haunted by the impossibility of getting work? Does he consider that at least one of the days next week should be devoted to this problem rather than spending two days on the Falklands?

Mr. Biffen

Parliamentary business is always a matter of legitimate claims competing for very scarce resources. I cannot hold out any hope of readjusting next week's business at the expense of the Falkland debates.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

In view of the continuing tragedy in Northern Ireland, will we have a statement before the Christmas Recess on whether the Prime Minister intends to meet the new head of the Irish Government? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that it would be most unfortunate if we did not have a statement on Northern Ireland before the House rose, notwithstanding the debate which took place last Friday?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has fairly observed that we had ample opportunity to debate Northern Irish affairs on both Thursday and Friday of last week. However, I shall draw his anxiety to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the resolution that was passed to provide moneys for Opposition parties in Parliament—I stress "Parliament"—as there may have been some encroachments recently? Is he satisfied with the workings of the operation and the provision of the moneys? Are all the moneys being used in the way intended? Are the parameters being observed? Will he ensure that all the members of a party are accountable and as much involved in the distribution of moneys as certain individuals may be currently, especially on the Opposition Front Bench?

Mr. Biffen

That is a fairly formidable request, but I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman says. It will provide some Christmas diversion.

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

Although I recognise the international nature of the recession, may we have a statement from the Prime Minister and a full debate on the measures that she is promoting and the other measures that should be promoted to end the recession and to put millions of people in the Western world back to work?

Mr. Biffen

The comprehensive policies of Western Governments will conduce to the end that the hon.

Gentleman points out. I am not sure whether a statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or by anyone else would add significantly to that.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are concerned mainly with the unilateral and multilateral disarmament debate? Would it not be appropriate to debate the national civil defence programme when we resume after 17 January?

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point that civil defence is an intricate part of our total defences. Any defence debate, by implication, covers that issue.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is a debate in Government time early in the new year on the multi-fibre arrangement? The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is a highly complicated and technical matter, but it is of great concern to the textile industry and should be debated urgently.

I endorse the request of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for a debate on cruise missiles. There has been no satisfactory supervision of the installation of American nuclear bases in Britain since the agreement between Truman and Attlee in 1951, which has not been endorsed or even debated by the House of Commons.

Mr. Biffen

I cannot helpfully add to my answer to the Leader of the Opposition about nuclear defence. Without wishing to commit myself, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I remain sympathetic to the general prospect of a debate on trade, including the multi-fibre arrangement.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

Given the appallingly high unemployment on Merseyside and the fact that, even if there is an upturn in the economy, its problems will not be resolved—there are 5,000 19-year-olds unemployed today who left school in the year that the Government came to office and who have never had a job, and that figure is more than three times the population of the Falkland Islands—may we have half of one of the two days allocated next week to discussing the economic prospects of the Falkland Islands to discuss instead the Government's proposals for the industrial regeneration of Merseyside?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot accommodate the hon. Gentleman's request.