HC Deb 08 July 1982 vol 27 cc460-5 3.34 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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

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

Motion on the Coal Industry (Limits on Grants) Order.

TUESDAY I3 JULY—Completion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY I4 JuLY—Supply (24th Allotted Day). Debate on an Opposition motion on the failure of the Government's regional and industrial policies.

Motion on the Industrial Development (Northern Ireland) Order.

THURSDAY I5 JuLY—Supply (25th Allotted Day). A debate on common fisheries policy. The relevant European Community document numbers will be printed in the Official Report. Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order.

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

FRIDAY I6 JULY—Motions on Northern Ireland Orders on Appropriation (No. 2) and on agricultural marketing.

MONDAY I9 JULY—Supply (26th Allotted Day). A debate on the Royal Navy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motions on Supply procedure.

[Fisheries debate: Documents 7787/82; 7786/82; 7788/82; 7863/82; 7954/82.

Relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee.

24th report of Session 1981–82, paras. 2 to 6 (HC 21—xxiv).

26th report of Session 1981–82, para. 3 (HC 21—xxvi).]

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the rearrangements that have been made in the Government's proposed business following our request.

May I put to the right hon. Gentleman two matters arising from replies which were given earlier today? First, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Energy in the next few days, or at any rate before the House goes into recess, about the sale of the British National Oil Corporation in order to avoid the fiasco of Amersham International?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there will be further statements about the railways dispute? It is a question no longer of returning to 1919 or some such date, but of whether the British Railways Board is prepared to return to the arrangements that it was prepared to make on 25 June. There is now close agreement on the proposals for a settlement that were put forward by the British Railways Board on 25 June. Will the Government make an effort to achieve a settlement on that reasonable basis?

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in response to a request that I have made on previous occasions and which I repeat now, to give an undertaking that there will be a debate on unemployment in Government time before the House rises for the recess? I hope that he will be able to do that today.

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly bear in mind the right hon. Gentleman's request that there should be a debate on unemployment in Government time, although that is a much—spent asset at this time of the year. There could be no such consideration in respect of business for next week.

I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Energy and for Transport the right hon. Gentleman's requests about the railways dispute and the possible sale of BNOC's assets. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will admit at once that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has been anxious to keep the House informed on the railway dispute, and I have no doubt that he will wish to continue in that way.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

When does the Leader of the House intend to table the motions for the debate on Monday 19 July on Supply procedure? When he does so, will he bear in mind his responsibilities as Leader of the House to the House as a whole? In particular, will he safeguard the right of those 58 hon. Members who are members of the Opposition but not of the official Opposition?

Mr. Biffen

I hope to be able to table the motions by the end of this week.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, there has already been a debate in the House on the Select Committee's report. My predecessor gave his views on the topic to which the right hon. Gentleman refers and my views are close to those.

Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)

Has my right hon. Friend noted early—day motion 531 about overseas students' fees?

[That this House welcomes the report of the Overseas Student Trust as a basis for an enduring policy for overseas students' fees; recognises its recommendations as a responsible balance between British interests and obligations, and the needs of overseas students; urges Her Majesty's Government to accept in particular the recommendation that students from British dependent territories should pay the home level of fees thus removing the anomaly by which a student from, for example, Hong Kong or the Falkland Islands, can be asked to pay up to 12 times as much for a course as a student from the European Economic Community; and supports the proposal that concessionary levels of fees should be considered for Cyprus.]

It has been signed by no fewer than 150 hon. Members on both sides of the House. In view of the great interest in the subject, will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate before the recess?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I am sure that he appreciates that the Government, in the form of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, pays tribute to the quality of the report. I cannot guarantee Government time for such a debate. It is the kind of topic that is eminently suitable for discussion on the Consolidated Fund.

Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen 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.]

The motion, signed by 120 hon. Members on both sides of the House, seeks to promote the interests of regional airports in preference to the establishment of a third London airport at Stansted. Bearing in mind the volume of support in the House for an early end to the inquiry into the Stansted airport proposals, will the right hon. Gentleman give undertaking that an early debate will take place on the issue?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman is one of a posse of distinguished advocates of the virtues of Manchester airport. I think that he will appreciate that there are difficulties about having the kind of debate that he proposes when there is still a detailed inquiry taking place into the Stansted proposals.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)

Now that the Megaw report has been published, and in view of the wide public interest in the subject of civil servants' index—linked pensions, will there be a debate before the recess on the Scott report, which is now 18 months old?

Mr. Biffen

I would be happier saying that I hope that it will take place this Session rather than before the recess.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

I refer to the business next Monday week. Will the Leader of the House accept that hon. Members understand why the days for debating defence this year are so close together? Will he try to ensure in future that they are more fairly spread throughout the year?

Mr. Biffen

I accept at once the inconvenience that has been caused. On the other hand, it was not just a matter of procedure. There was the whole question of the difficulty of having debates taking into account the Falklands problem.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

Does the Leader of the House recall that several weeks ago I raised with him early—day motion 342?

[That this House expresses its concern at the slaughter of 200,000 baby seals in Northern Canada and, bearing in mind that the United Kingdom is one of the largest importers of seal pelts, welcomes the resolutions passed overwhelmingly by the European Parliament (160 votes to 10) on 11th March calling for a ban on the importation into the European Economic Community of all skins and products derived from young harp and hooded seals and on products coming from seals whose stocks are depleted, threatened or endangered; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government not only to accept this proposal at the Council of Ministers but also, following the example of the United States of America, France, Holland, Italy and Sweden, to take action itself to introduce such an import ban as soon as possible.]

The motion has now attracted over 300 signatures of Members on both sides of the House. It concerns the importation of certain types of seal skins. The right hon.

Gentleman showed an interest when I raised the matter. Can he assure me that a positive statement will be made before the House rises for the recess?

Mr. Biffen

Since then, we have had a debate. Admittedly, it arose on the Adjournment, but it was nevertheless a debate. The Minister had to answer many of the questions implicit in the motion.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant and Waterloo)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have published an exceptionally interesting, important and controversial White Paper in response to the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. This raises matters that many of us regard as being among the most fundamental and important that we discuss in the House. How soon may we have an opportunity to discuss the report and the Government's response?

Mr. Biffen

I should like to consider as sympathetically as I can the issue that my hon. Friend raises. With all the sympathy that I can muster, I cannot say that there will be a debate next week.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

Has the Leader of the House seen early—day motion 602?

[That this House fully supports the joint shop stewards committee of British Steel Stocksbridge and Tinsley Park in their endeavours to make sure that the replacement for the 'Atlantic Conveyor' is built in a British shipyard and made from British steel, and requests the Government to pay compensation to the owners of 'Atlantic Conveyor' on these conditions.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement by the Government requiring that the replacement for the "Atlantic Conveyor" should be made of British steel and that it should be built in a British shipyard? Does he agree that the statements by the chairman of the Cunard company seemed to indicate failure by the Daily Express to promote the spirit of patriotism to which it seems to have devoted itself?

Mr. Biffen

I shall resist the temptation to answer the second part of the question. The issue that the hon. Gentleman raises is one of great validity. I should have thought that it was particularly suitable for consideration in the debate on Wednesday.

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

Does my right hon. Friend remember my early—day motion 232?

[That this House believes that those who have been convicted of an indictable offence, other than a traffic offence, for which a term of imprisonment is an option open to the sentencing judge, should be ineligible for jury service for a period of 10 years.]

Has he seen recent reports in the Daily Mail referring to Mr. John Luck, a frequently convicted criminal who alleges that he served on the jury at Snaresbrook Crown court? In view of the scandalous behaviour of Opposition Members serving on the Administration of Justice Bill Committee in blocking the action necessary to revise the conditions of jury service, will my right hon. Friend provide an early opportunity for a debate on the matter?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises an important point about qualification for jury service. Many hon. Members will regret that it has not been possible to incorporate the provisions to which he refers in legislation which is before the House. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has this matter very much at heart and that he will be considering what may be done in the next Session of Parliament.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate next week on the major topic of the day, the rail strike, especially as the Government are backing the British Railway s Board which appears to be acting as poodle on behalf of the Government to the tune of being provided with £9 million a day to save an alleged £1.5 million in a full year of operation of new rostors? Should not these arguments be deployed by the Government? Is it not pressure from the Government that has brought about the strike? Should they not be accountable to Parliament through a debate?

Mr. Biffen

I have already said to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that I will refer to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport the interest that has been shown about a statement being made.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

In view of the exchange that took place yesterday during foreign affairs questions, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate before the recess on the work of Members of the European Assembly so that we in this House may evaluate the work of those Members and of the Assembly?

Mr. Biffen

That is a most intriguing subject for debate. I must confess that there is no time available for it next week. It is possible that we shall again debate European affairs before the recess when my hon. Friend could perhaps make his speech.

Mr. Joan Evans (Aberdare)

Has the Leader of the House given further consideration to the request made to him by hon. Members on both sides for a debate on disarmament to coincide with the United Nations special session on that subject? Although the right hon. Gentleman has suggested that it can be discussed during defence debates, this is not entirely satisfactory, although he is presumably recommending that the matter could be raised on the Army, Navy and Air Force Estimates.

Mr. Biffen

I think that is true. In the defence debates so far, a number of contributions have been made precisely on the question of where controlled disarmament should take place. Given the grave shortage of Government time, I cannot hold out much hope for a separate debate.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

When my right hon. Friend arranged next week's business, was he aware that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would be revealing this morning that exports of cheap subsidised food to Russia in 1981 exceeded 3 million tonnes, an all—time high? The figure compares with 2 million tonnes in the previous year and less than 1 million tonnes in the year before that. The announcement coincided with information released this afternoon that there has been an alarming reduction in the average consumption per household of meat, butter and milk. Does my right hon. Friend not think it would be right to have an early debate on the cost of food?

Mr. Biffen

No, I was not aware of that. Next week's programme is saturated with very important business. My hon. Friend can pursue the topic that he raises in a free enterprise fashion on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. Les Huckfield (Nuneaton)

As the British Railways Board has lost in each of the past three days the same amount of money as it might gain by the introduction of fully flexible rosters over the next three years, and as the Secretary of State for Transport has already made an announcement outside the House which will affect fundamentally the future of British Rail's finances, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is about time that the Secretary of State for Transport told the House about it?

Mr. Biffen

I do not accept the implication that my right hon. Friend has been negligent in his duties to the House in respect of the dispute. However, as I said to the Leader of the Opposition, I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the anxiety that a further statement should be made.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a Minister from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to make a statement in the House next week about Professor Pinder Wilson, the eminent archaeologist, who was detained and subsequently imprisoned by the Afghan regime? He should inform the House of the action that the Government are taking to obtain the early release of this distinguished archaeologist, who has made a great contribution to his profession.

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary the matter that has been raised by my hon. Friend. I know that anxiety about it is not confined to him.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's encouraging reply to the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), may I take it that, because the Select Committee on European Legislation &c. has made a positive recommendation and the matter is urgent, we shall be debating the proposals for unitary elections to the European Parliament?

Mr. Biffen

I was not aware that so innocent a reply as mine could open up such chasms.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

In view of the discussions between the Secretary of State for Defence and Mr. Ian Sinclair of Australia about the future of HMS "Invincible", will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Defence makes a statement to the House on that matter before the Royal Navy debate next week?

Mr. Biffen

I am not sure that my right hon. Friend will have anything to report as soon as that, but I shall draw his attention to the matter.