HC Deb 22 July 1982 vol 28 cc534-9
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

May I ask the Leader of the House to 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 26 JULY—Until about 7 o'clock, motions on the Housing Benefits Regulations, the Housing Benefits (Permitted Totals for Local Schemes) Regulations and the Supplementary Benefit (Housing Benefits) Regulations.

Remaining stages of the Legal Aid Bill [Lords]

Motions on the Shipbuilding (Redundancy Payments) Schemes for Great Britain and for Northern Ireland Orders.

Motion on the Northern Ireland Assembly (Day of Election) Order.

TUESDAY 27 JULY—Supply [29th Alloted Day]: there will be a debate on an Opposition motion on mass unemployment.

The House will be asked to pass all outstanding Votes.

Motion on the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting (Electoral Scheme) Order.

WEDNESDAY 28 JULY—Remaining stages of the Civic Government (Scotland) Bill [Lords]

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Valuation (Postponement of Revaluation) (Scotland) Order.

Remaining stages of the Duchy of Cornwall Management Bill.

THURSDAY 29 JULY—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

FRIDAY 30 JUNE—It will be proposed that the House should rise for the summer adjournment until Monday 18th October.

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having rearranged some of the proposed business to take account of representations that we have made. We are grateful to him for that. However, as regards the debate on unemployment, the unemployment figures are the highest ever recorded in our history. A special report published today by the CBI reveals that all regions are affected by the industrial collapse. For the Government not to provide time for a discussion of this matter is a gross dereliction of their duty. They should have responded weeks ago to our demands and they should certainly provide time for a debate next week. We have provided the time because the Government refused to do so.

There is another matter on which I have urged the right hon. Gentleman to make representations but on which we have not had a satisfactory reply, and we are not prepared for the House to rise before the matter is dealt with. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Secretary of State for Energy makes a statement to the House on the sale of BNOC assets and how that will be managed without a repetition of the shameful fiasco of the Amersham International affair?

The Leader of the House told me last week that the Secretary of State will say something in reply to a question on Monday next week. That is not satisfactory, particularly when we are dealing with the Secretary of State for Energy, who is not trusted on these matters in the House generally. Before the House rises we ought to have a statement from the Secretary of State or an absolute guarantee that he will not take action on the matter while the House is in recess.

Mr. Biffen

As I said last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy plans to deal comprehensively with the sale of BNOC assets during his Question Time on Monday. I will certainly again draw to his attention the anxieties of the Leader of the Opposition and the terms in which he has expressed them.

I accept at once that unemployment is a matter of major social and economic import. It is not true to say that the House has been deprived of opportunities to debate the matter. During the past few weeks the subject was debated on the Liberal Supply day, and a Supply day was devoted to regional and industrial policy. In Government time, there were the days devoted to the Report stage of the Finance Bill, affecting the economy generally. I accept that the Opposition are performing a most constructive service in making a Supply day available for this debate next week.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

When will the motion be taken for the summer Adjournment?

Mr. Biffen

On Thursday 29 July.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

Does the Leader of the House recall that as long ago as 1 July the Leader of the Opposition asked for a debate on the order on mandatory student grants? Is he aware that he laid that order on 16 July, and that it was prayed against immediately by my hon. Friends? Does he not feel that he has failed in his duty as Leader of the House in not providing time for this important matter, either late at night on the Floor of the House or upstairs in Committee?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman raises a point of genuine difficulty. I recognise the validity of what he says. I shall certainly look into the possibility of taking the matter upstairs in the overspill.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)

As next week seems to be somewhat busy, and an extra debate would mean that we had to go into August—something that I would not wish to do—will my right hon. Friend nevertheless give an assurance that, when we come back on 18 October, we shall discuss the Scott report?

Mr. Biffen

I very much hope that that will be possible.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

What has become of the code of conduct arising from the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which was supposed to be debated before August, in connection with sites of special scientific interest? Secondly, should not the Government have been more candid, since it is clear from the Prime Minister's written answers that they knew that Lord Franks had the appalling burden of a cataract hanging over him? Should the House not have been told about that when we debated the Falkland Islands inquiry two Thursdays ago?

Mr. Biffen

I answered the hon. Gentleman's second point when he raised it in the same manner last week. I have nothing further to add. Certainly I have no knowledge which suggests that Lord Franks will not be able to carry out his duties as chairman of the committee.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's first point, I am not in a position to give him an immediate answer, but I shall have the matter investigated and have a word with him.

Mr. Dalyell

Thank you.

Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the much-resented and anomalous right of the citizens of the Irish Republic to vote in elections here?

Mr. Biffen

The topicality of that issue makes it likely to appear in the debates on the Consolidated Fund.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Now that there is renewed concern among workers in the asbestos industry about the risks to their health and possibly to their lives, and more evidence has been produced by Yorkshire Television, could we have a debate on the risks in that industry as soon as possible?

Mr. Biffen

I acknowledge at once the great importance of the diseases associated with asbestos working. I can only say that I cannot hold out any hope of having a debate next week, but I have no doubt that the television programme will have heightened public interest in the matter.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

Will the Leader of the House inquire whether a debate would be justified before the House goes into recess into allegations that a Minister at the Foreign Office has exercised improper pressure on the British Atlantic Committee, which has led to the resignation of the director of that body?

Mr. Biffen

I do not have any information on the matter, but I shall make inquiries.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

Will my right hon. Friend first accept congratulations on his proposal to get the House up before August? On a rather more serious note, will there be a Government statement before the recess asking the Trades Union Congress if it could make available, before the House resumes, its ideas about what the special cases in pay might be during the coming 12 months, and thus avoid the unsightly spectacle of the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers saying that he supports the National Health Service workers' demand for 12 per cent. in the same week that he asks for 31 per cent. for the miners?

Mr. Biffen

I had no intention of including a Government statement on this matter next week, but I am sure that my hon. Friend's argument, which he put in the guise of a question, will have been noted in the quarters to which I think it is directed.

Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that yesterday the House gave its unanimous consent to the motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) for leave to introduce a Bill to set up a Scottish Parliament? As that Bill relates exclusively to Scotland, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Second Reading debate on the Bill on 20 October to be held in the Scottish Grand Committee, under Standing Order No. 67?

Mr. Biffen

In my view, the last Bill for a Scottish Parliament did irreparable harm to the then Leader of the House and, in view of that, I must say "No".

Sir Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

Will there be a statement on rating before the end of this parliamentary session?

Mr. Biffen

I think that that is most unlikely.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

When may we expect a statement on the proposed privatisation of the National Maritime Institute in my constituency?

Mr. Biffen

I believe that that is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Industry, and I will pass the hon. Gentleman's comments to him.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Has my right hon. Friend observed the ever-increasing support for early-day motion 580 on Stansted airport?

[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.]

Will the Government respond to parliamentary and public opinion, and make sure that a statement is made to the House before we rise?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a matter which is of intense interest in the South-East, but I cannot do other than repeat the answer that I gave to that question a few weeks ago—that, as long as the committee is still considering the evidence, it would be unwise for a Minister to make a statement which might prejudge the findings.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

The Leader of the House will be aware that he and I have had correspondence about the retired Members' pension fund. In the light of the letter that he sent me today, to which he will receive a reply today, will he say whether his reply will be to hand in time for me to raise the matter on the Adjournment on Thursday, particularly if his reply is as unsatisfactory as his previous replies were.

Mr. Biffen

For the peace of all, my answer must be "Yes"—at least I will try.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising in their place.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), if there is to be a debate on airport policy around London and in the South-East, will my right hon. Friend make sure that the terms of reference of any such debate, whether next week, in the autumn, next year, or at any other time, will include ample reference to the heavy pressure on areas around Heathrow because of the vast number of flights there, the congestion and the noise? Will he make sure that those people receive the same consideration as people in Essex?

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says, but I must emphasise that there is no possibility of a statement next week.

Mr. K. J. Woolmer (Batley and Morley)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the multi-fibre arrangement negotiations, whereby the Common Market Commission is presently instructed to report to the Council of Ministers by 30 September on the bilateral negotiations? As that will be in the recess, as Hong Kong is apparently already rejecting the earlier agreements, and as other major negotiations have already been concluded, is there not a need for the appropriate Minister to make a statement to the House so that we can discuss the matter thouroughly before the House goes into recess?

Mr. Biffen

That would be an ideal topic for the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill debate.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

In view of the disturbing reports of the conditions in which some of our forces appear to be living in the Falkland Islands, will the Leader of the House try to arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement to the House before the recess in order that hon. Members can question him on that matter?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Since the European Assembly has announced that it is setting up a slush fund for the 1984 European elections of about £45,000 for each European constituency, of which only £13,000 can be spent within our laws, may we have a debate to consider what should be done with the remaining £30,000 which is otherwise liable to find itself in the back pockets of the political parties? May we have a debate on whether that money should be accepted, and, if so, to consider under what conditions and how it should be controlled? As my right hon. Friend and all hon. Members know, money buys influence and influence in this area would be very dangerous indeed.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is a resourceful Member of Parliament and I should have thought that next week provides every opportunity for the free enterprise at which he is so adept.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)

The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion 652 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. Hoyle) concerning the disastrous soccer tour of South Africa.

[That this House calls upon the British Broadcasting Corporation, now that the disastrous football tour of South Africa has been called off, to dismiss Jimmy Hill for playing a leading role in a move designed to break the Gleneagles Agreement by restoring sporting links with apartheid-ridden South Africa, which must bring into question his impartiality as a sports commentator.]

Will the Home Secretary now ask the Chairman of the BBC to sack Mr. Jimmy Hill for his leading role in that ill-advised tour and his total disregard of the Gleneagles agreement?

Mr. Biffen

Again, that is the kind of controversial issue that could be well served by being discussed in the debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

Has the Leader of the House had time to consider early-day motion 518, which has been signed by over 160 hon. Members, concerning human rights abuses in Iran?

[That this House expresses its deep concern at the continuing executions in Iran, the increasing number of people being tortured, and the lack of legal safeguards in trial procedures, and requests Her Majesty's Government to make known its condemnation to the Iranian authorities of these heinous human rights violations at every opportunity and to support the work of Amnesty International in combating them.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to speak to his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary so that the Government's condemnation of mass executions in Iran may be known at every opportunity?

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Huddersfield, West)

My right hon. Friend will recognise that the Supply day debate on Tuesday is of great importance to the House. I am certain that many Labour Back Benchers will wish to contribute, and many hon. Members such as myself wish to tell the Opposition a few home truths about British industry. Will my right hon. Friend please arrange for statements not to be made on that day so that we have the maximum time for debate?

Mr. Biffen

I can give no guarantee of that, but I shall certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

As there is great concern in the arts world and among all hon. Members about the threat to the theatre museum project, as is evidenced by early-day motion 649, and since the Minister will make a decision on that matter in early August, would it not be advisable for the House to have a chance to express its views on that important museums project before the recess?

[That this House strongly supports the project of a Theatre Museum which has been in being now for over 50 years; welcomes the action of successive governments in supporting it; believes that the Museum would constitute a major cultural and literary centre as well as providing an important tourist attraction; and calls on the Government to proceed with the project as a matter of urgency.]

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman may like to know that there will he an Adjournment debate on that subject on Thursday.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

In view of the way that mobility allowances for the seriously mentally disabled are being piled up unused by hospital administrations, will the Leader of the House arrange with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services for a statement to be made as quickly as possible on how the Government propose to ensure that those disabled persons do have the benefit of that mobility allowance instead of the people who inherit after the death of those patients?

Mr. Biffen

I acknowledge at once the seriousness of the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. I shall certainly draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend.