HC Deb 01 July 1982 vol 26 cc1050-5

4.4 pm

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

I wish to make a short business statement. The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 5 JULY—Private Members' motions until seven o'clock. Afterwards, Supply (22nd Allotted Day)—(First part). Debate on a Liberal motion on specific and practical measures to reduce unemployment.

Second Reading of the Duchy of Cornwall Management Bill.

TUESDAY 6 JULY—Conclusion of the debate of the statement on the Defence Estimates, 1982.

Motion relating to the National Health Service (Charges to Visitors) (No. 2) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 7 JULY—Conclusion of consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Motions on the international fund for agriculture development and the African development fund orders and on the Building Societies (Special Advances) Order.

THURSDAY 8 JULY—Supply (23rd Allotted Day). There will be a debate on the Army, on a motion for the adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 9 JULY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY I2 JULY—Progress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

I wish to put first to the right hon. Gentleman one or two matters arising from the Prime Minister's statement today.

The Prime Minister's answers on the Luxembourg compromise leave a most confused situation. I therefore believe that we must have a further statement from the Prime Minister at a very early stage to clear up the discrepancies.

The Prime Minister's remarks about the general economic situation only reinforce the case that we have urged for a general debate on unemployment at a very early stage. We certainly renew that application today.

I also reiterate the case that I put to the right hon. Gentleman last week for a further debate on disarmament—not a debate concerned solely with defence matters, but a general debate on disarmament. While the United Nation's session on the subject continues, the House should have that opportunity.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give any information on when the 1982–83 higher education mandatory awards regulations will be laid before the House? Does he appreciate that further delay will cause confusion among students and universities? Is he aware that if the regulations are not laid until late July the House will be denied an effective opportunity to influence the regulations which, due to cuts, are extremely contentious? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that that matter is speeded up.

Finally, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will assist us by ensuring that proper reports are given to the House about what the Government are trying to do to stop the railway strike. A few minutes ago, we urged the Prime Minister to support the current discussions at ACAS. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give an undertaking that there will be a report about that tomorrow and that we should continue to do our best to see whether the strike can be avoided.

Mr. Biffen

I shall try to answer the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman in reverse order.

With regard to the impending rail strike, over the past few days my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has been most anxious to present to the House his view of these matters through statements. I note that the right hon. Gentleman would like a statement tomorrow, as was the case last Friday. I shall pass that request to my right hon. Friend.

With regard to the 1982 higher education mandatory awards regulations, I cannot give an immediate answer to the right hon. Gentleman but I will certainly have the matter investigated and will be in touch with him.

As to a general debate on disarmament, I realise that in many parts of the House there is a deep and committed concern on this topic. I thought that the statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister after her return from New York gave some opportunity for ventilation of this topic. The debates on the Defence Estimates also give a chance to consider disarmament in the general context of defence. Nevertheless, I of course take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

On the right hon. Gentleman's request for a general economic debate, I am sure that he will realise that we are now approaching that time in a Parliament when in a sense the Opposition have proportionately more time at their disposal than is available to the Government. There will be the opportunities that are provided by Report and Third Reading of the Finance Bill[Interruption.] I shall not be thrown off my stride by those sedentary comments. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) knows that he is protected and his name can never appear in the columns of Hansard. We all know that there are a number of Supply days and that the Opposition are acutely embarrassed in trying to resolve the subjects that should be chosen. This subject is pre-eminent for the purpose.

I have noted what the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) says about a statement on the Luxembourg accord. I shall draw the Prime Minister's attention to his remarks.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. A very large number of right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House hope to speak in the debate on the Defence White Paper. I therefore propose that questions on the Business Statement should under no circumstances continue beyond 4.30 pm by the digital clock.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

Could my right hon. Friend arrange a debate at the earliest possible moment on motions implementing the proposals of the Select Committee on Procedure (Supply) of the last Session, as it is important that Select Committee Chairmen should know what the position is if they are to take advantage of that during the next Session?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend has raised this matter previously. I assure him that it is my hope that the matter can he debated reasonably early in July.

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

In the light of the dramatic intervention this afternoon by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), is it not proper that the issue of the terms of the inquiry—in view of the considerable divisions that exist on the Government Benches as to how that inquiry should be managed—should come before the House for an open debate to satisfy millions of people who believe that the Prime Minister is covering up what happened in the six weeks before the invasion by Argentina?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think the intervention was half as dramatic as the riposte was effective. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said that she will make a statement next week.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 580?

[That this House, deeply concerned to achieve balanced economic growth throughout Great Britain, and believing that the proposed massive expansion of Stansted airport would produce unjustifiable urban growth and congestion in North West Essex and East Hertfordshire, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to opt now for a policy which, while providing for a modest increase in activity at Stansted, subject to a fixed ceiling, would place the greater emphasis on taking all possible steps to expand the use of provincial airports to meet demand in the region of its origin, the case for which has been well documented and shown to be financially viable by various groups, notably the North of England Regional Consortium.]

It relates to the British Authority Airports policy with particular reference to Stansted airport. It was signed by 105 right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House. Will my right hon. Friend give that matter priority in his consideration of debates before the House rises for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that the British Airports Authority has elaborated plans which are now subject to a wide-ranging inquiry. It would be helpful to have the outcome of that inquiry before the House sought to make a judgment. I cannot hold out hope of a debate on the motion before the Summer Recess.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to a number of prayers on the Order Paper in the name of myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends dealing with industrial training? Will there be an opportunity to debate them in the near future?

Mr Biffen

I shall take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. I believe that we shall have a debate on industrial training, but I shall be in touch with him on that matter.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Could the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the statement by the Secretary of State for Industry last Monday on the cutback of assisted areas? Is he aware that in my constituency, since May 1979, there has been a 180 per cent. increase in unemployment and a 200 per cent. increase in payments to people who are unemployed and in receipt of supplementary benefit and that at the same time intermediate area status is being abolished? That applies not only to Keighley but to many other areas. We should have a debate on that issue. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that when there are three million people on the dole assisted area status is an important symbol of possible assistance?

Mr. Biffen

I accept the direction of the hon. Gentleman's argument. After my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry made his statement, he was subjected to an extended period of questioning, although I agree that that still left many hon. Members hoping to be called. In those circumstances, I cannot hold out hope of a debate next week or before the end of July.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

As there are firm indications in Southend and Shoeburyness that many train drivers will be driving trains on Monday and signs of a lack of support throughout the country, may we have a debate tomorrow on a simple motion urging ASLEF to hold a ballot before it brings about another strike which will cause immense damage to British Rail and dreadful inconvenience to the travelling public?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot give such an undertaking in respect of tomorrow's business. Were my hon. Friend successful in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, I suspect that he could make the speech in the private Members' debate on Monday.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke on Trent, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that a report that is of great importance to disabled people by the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People has been published? It contains 42 recommendations, including one for antidiscrimination legislation. May we have a debate on the report as soon as possible?

Mr. Biffen

I have a lively sympathy for the subject that the right hon. Gentleman raises. I must be candid and say that there is no likelihood of a debate in Government time before Parliament goes into recess. There is plenty of scope for hon. Members to use their ingenuity to see that the matter reaches the Floor of the House.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

In view of the inadequacy of the European Community's response to the barbaric Israeli invasion of Lebanon, will it be possible to have an early debate to discuss the requirement that the Palestinians should leave Beirut, as that is one of the Israeli war objectives? We have just fought a war in the South Atlantic to stop an aggressor getting away with his spoils. The requirement will give the Israelis a further excuse to stay in the Lebanon until the Palestinians withdraw. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a debate would enable the House to put forward proposals so that we could help to bring about the end of that violent war, whereas the Community has done absolutely nothing?

Mr. Biffen

Within the recent past the House has had the chance to discuss the tangled issues of the Middle East and show the wide range of views that there are within the House. I cannot offer the likelihood of a second debate so soon after the first. We might have a prudent regard for realism. Motions and decisions of the House are not likely to be that much more effective than those of the European Community when it comes to influencing fighting on the ground in the Middle East.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

On a matter upon which the House has some influence, will the right hon. Gentleman consult the Home Secretary about making a statement on his proposals for increasing the deposit at parliamentary elections? The level was fixed in 1918 and the present increasingly farcical element caused by the deposit becomes obvious with each by-election.

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the point made, not for the first time, by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

To enable wives and husbands of hon. Members to attend and listen to the business of next and every week, will my right hon. Friend consider setting aside a portion of the Strangers' Gallery specifically for them?

Mr. Biffen

That is something that might reasonably be considered by the Services Committee.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

May I remind the Leader of the House of the Falkland Islands (British Citizenship) Bill 1982 that was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and given an unopposed First Reading on 22 June? It seeks to give Falkland Islanders the British citizenship that was denied them under the British Nationality Act 1981. Will he give Government time to ensure the passage of the Bill? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that if he does not do that it will be considered an affront to the brave British troops who released the Falkland Islanders from the yoke of a Fascist dictatorship and will be an insult to those who fell in the battles for the Falkland Islands?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot give that undertaking, but the important thing is that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already made it clear that no Falkland Islander, whether or not he has the right of abode, will have difficulty over admission to this country.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

As civil defence is an element of defence, and that is a matter for the Home Secretary and outside today's debate, will my right hon. Friend find time for a separate debate in the near future on the important subject?

Mr. Biffen

I recognise the importance of the subject. But I have to give the same surly negative reply that I cannot guarantee to find time. I should like to take my hon. Friend to one side to suggest how with a little ingenuity he can get the topic into the appropriate defence debate.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is the Leader of the House aware that some of us are getting tired of the inspired leaks in the press about who is to be the next Speaker when the present occupant of the Chair retires? If there is to be discussion, should it not be open and not this hole—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I can save the time of the House. There is no need to discuss the matter just yet.

Mr. Winnick

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did say "when the present occupant of the Chair retires".

Mr. Speaker

There is no danger of that just now.

Mr. Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)

May I say how relieved I am to hear your remarks Mr. Speaker?

Would my right hon. Friend consider finding time next week to discuss the effects of Russian policy on South Asia? Is this not a particularly appropriate time to discuss it when one inoffensive and scholarly British subject has been sentenced on trumped-up charges for no reason whatever for 10 years by the Kamal regime in Afghanistan?

Mr. Biffen

I realise that the case causes great distress in the United Kingdom. But the opportunity to debate such matters, important though they are, must be considered, in the context of the Government's legislative programme and the general desire that we should rise for the Summer Recess at a civilised traditional time.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)

When will the Leader of the House make a statement on the Summer Recess so that hon. Members—particularly my Scottish colleagues with children at school—may make holiday arrangements?

Mr. Biffen

When the accommodating behaviour of the Opposition enables me to make a statement with confidence.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the answer that he gave the Leader of the Opposition about the possibility of a debate on disarmament? Is it not slightly incongruous to suggest that speeches on disarmament should be made in debates on the Defence Estimates? As we had the United Nations special session on disarmament only last month and at present two major rounds of talks are going on in Western Europe on the limitation of nuclear weapons, should not the House make its view known on this crucial subject?

Mr. Biffen

As disarmament is normally discussed not in absolute terms but in terms of the level of arms and the balance between conventional and nuclear weapons, there is nothing extraordinary about discussing such matters in the defence debates.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

In view of what the Prime Minister said earlier about a national thanksgiving at St. Paul's for our victory in the Falklands campaign, will my right hon. Friend be making a statement next week? Is the report in The Times correct that the service will take into account the views of those who opposed the expedition? Is that not absurd? Can those people have their cake and eat it? Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the thanksgiving will not be watered down in any way at all?

Mr. Biffen

I do not believe that I can helpfully add anything to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said during her Question Time. As soon as it is possible, a statement will be made, but I can give no undertaking that that will be next week.

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