HC Deb 10 June 1982 vol 25 cc393-8


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 14 JUNE—Motion relating to the Industrial Training Board Orders.

Motion relating to the Control of Atmospheric Pollution (Exempted Premises) (Scotland) Regulations.

TUESDAY 15 JUNE AND WEDNESDAY 16 JUNE—Further progress on the Northern Ireland Bill.

THURSDAY 17 JUNE—Motion On the European Community document on the German-Italian proposals on European Union.

Motions on the Clergy Pensions (Amendment) Measure and on the Pastoral (Amendment) Measure.

The Chairman on Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

FRIDAY 18 JUNE—Debate on the fourth report from the Select Committee on Social Services, Session 1980–81, on Medical Education, House of Commons Paper No. 31 and the relevant Government observations.

MONDAY 2I JUNE—Supply [20th Allotted Day]: Subject for debate to be announced.

[Debate on Italo-German proposals on European Union (Draft European Act).

Relevant report of the European Legislation Committee: Ninth report, Session 1981–82. HC 21-ix (1981–82) para. 4 114-ii].

Mr. Foot

I wish to put four matters to the right hon. Gentleman. First, there may be a need for further statements or possibly a further debate in the House on the Falkland Islands. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will take that into account. I repudiate entirely the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), because there has never been any suggestion from the Opposition that the Galtieri occupation of the islands should be accepted. The right hon. Gentleman would not be able to find a single statement by me from this Dispatch Box that would justify such a suggestion. I ask the Leader of the House to give us the undertaking that he has always given on this subject.

Secondly, I understand that the Prime Minister is going to New York next week to engage in the disarmament discussions at the United Nations. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Prime Minister to make a statement to the House on Monday on that subject? The House has the right to cross-examine her on what she will be saying in New York.

Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman will obviously make provision for reports to the House on the position in the Middle East which seems to be getting more dangerous hour by hour.

Finally, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman about British Rail. We have warned the Government on a number of occasions that a serious crisis was coming upon us. We have made suggestions to the Government about how that crisis could be avoided. We have suggested to the Government how they should come forward with fresh proposals to enable British Rail to do its job for the country as a whole. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there is an early discussion on the subject? We should like a statement to be made to House and a debate. We wish to do our best to ensure that a railway strike is avoided.

Mr. Biffen

First, I happily give the undertaking that facilities will be provided for the House to be informed as appropriate on developments in the South Atlantic.

Secondly, with regard to the disarmament discussions which will be attended by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I shall certainly draw to her attention the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. I am certain that she will wish to take account of them.

Thirdly, I acknowledge the importance of the unhappy dispute in the Middle East and the anxiety of the House to monitor those events, although I have to say at once that no provision has been made in next week's business for a debate on that topic.

Finally, with regard to the problems of British Rail, I note the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety that there should be no strike. I hope and believe, therefore, that he will join all of us in exhorting that recourse should be had to discussion, negotiation and conciliation. Whether that would be facilitated by a parliamentary debate is a matter of concern, but no Government time is available for such a discussion next week. There is a Supply day, and the right hon. Gentleman may like to take that into account when deciding his future action.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. May I remind the House that we are about to have a half-day Supply debate on the National Health Service. There is considerable interest in it. There is a major statement to follow from the Secretary of State for Defence and a Standing Order No. 9 application. Therefore, I hope that the House will agree with me that, out of fairness to the debate, business questions ought not to go beyond 3.50 pm by the digital clock.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

Is it my right hon. Friend's intention to introduce legislation this Session to deal with the important matter of data protection?

Mr. Biffen

Not this Session.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

Why not?

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Since the days of devolution legislation in the previous Parliament, has the Leader of the House and his right hon. Friends reconsidered their view on the suitability of timetable motions for major constitutional Bills which run into time-wasting tactics?

Mr. Biffen

The Procedure Committee has commented on this topic. We have no reason at this stage to dissent from its comments.

Mr. John Major (Huntingdonshire)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us who have strong sympathies with the State of Israel none the less believe that its present actions in the Lebanon are a great danger to all of us? Will he reconsider his remarks of a few moments ago and promise us a debate in the near future on this important subject?

Mr. Biffen

I recognise that there is a strong sense of concern in the House that we have not had a foreign affairs debate for a long time. It weighs on my conscience, but I must confess that it does not weigh too much on my arithmetic when I look at the crowded state of business for the next few days.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, East)

I wish to express my concern about the failure to grant a debate on the Middle East. Many of the problems there are exactly the issues for which we claim to be fighting in the Falklands. Many hon. Members are concerned that the right hon. Gentleman has not said when such a debate will take place. I press him urgently to state when time for a debate will be made available.

Secondly, when will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate on the proposed redundancies in British Rail workshops?

Mr. Biffen

The situation in British Rail workshops has changed quite considerably since we last discussed the issue in the House. I cannot offer any Government time for a debate on the topic.

I recognise the deep concern that has been expressed by my right hon. and hon. Friends, and by the hon. Gentleman, about the Middle East. However, I cannot offer time for a debate next week. I shall bear in mind the anxiety that there should be a debate.

Mr. Richard Needham (Chippenham)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present position in the Middle East will lead to a legacy of hate that will take generations to overcome and will threaten the peace of the world? In these circumstances, does he agree that a debate must be forthcoming the week after next if not next week?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot commit myself to a specified time. My hon. Friend has expressed succinctly a number of sentiments that will be argued when a debate is held.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there have been repeated representations for a debate on disarmament before the Prime Minister visits New York for the United Nations special session on disarmament? We shall welcome a statement from the right hon. Lady, but we believe that it is necessary to have a debate.

Mr. Biffen

No one has been more eloquent in pressing the need for a debate than the hon. Gentleman. I am sorry that it was not possible to provide time for one before my right hon. Friend's visit to New York. I do not hold out any early prospect of a debate upon the topic, but I have taken account of the representations made earlier by the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the Cork report on insolvency? Will there be a statement on Government policy? Will he give an assurance that this far-reaching and significant report, which goes to the heart of consumer protection, will not be pigeon-holed by the Government?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade will wish fully to evaluate this highly important report. I have no doubt that the Department's reaction will be forthcoming in due course.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend give further consideration to the business for next week? Does he agree that this is a debating chamber as well as a legislative chamber? Does he recognise that many of us are sick and tired of stupid legislation being debated in the early hours of the morning? Does he agree that the British people would think more of this place if we debated some of the major issues of the day—for example, the problems of the Middle East, the Falkland Islands yet again and defence and disarmament—rather than the mish-mash of a constitutional monstrosity for Northern Ireland?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot accept the caricature of the past weeks's business that has been presented by my hon. Friend. However, I shall note his preferred priorities and bear them in mind. I cannot say that I am immediately persuaded by them.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Given the appallingly high level of unemployment on Merseyside and the increasing number who have been unemployed for over one year, and the fact that in some districts in the area male unemployment has reached 40 per cent., will the right hon. Gentleman provide an early opportunity to debate these matters so that we can hear what policie3 the Government have for reinvigorating industry on Merseyside?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will concede immediately that unemployment is indivisible and that unemployment on Merseyside is part of a wider economic problem that covers the nation. The House will have a full opportunity to advance general economic arguments when we consider the Finance Bill on Report. I can hold out the firm promise that that opportunity will not be long delayed.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

If my right hon. Friend is not yet convinced of the wisdom of the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) concerning the Northern Ireland Bill, will he at any rate ensure that adequate time at a reasonable hour is giver to discuss that important constitutional measure so that there is the minimum number of closures and no guillotines?

Mr. Biffen

The orderly progress of the Bill requires at least two to tango.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

When may we expect a debate on the Northern region, bearing in mind that the number of long-term unemployed in the region has risen to over 1 million? As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, the North has more than its fair share of long-term unemployment. Does he agree that the special programmes for the long-term unemployed are derisory? Is he aware that at least 150,000, if not 250,000, of the unemployed are unable to read and write? Is he prepared to say what can be done about that?

Mr. Biffen

No, not in answer to business questions. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to dissent from his premise but to accept that there is a need for an economic debate that will embrace unemployment and related issues. As I said to the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), these issues could well arise when the Finance Bill is considered on Report.

Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)

We have already had five or six debates on the Falklands and no one makes any complaint about that, but surely it is realistic, bearing in mind that all these debates have had to take place at the expense of consideration of legislation which would otherwise have gone forward, for us all in ever) quarter of the House to urge that equal attention be paid to at least one debate on the Middle East. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the casualties in the Middle East are already considerably more than those incurred in the Falklands dispute, and throughout the House pressure is being placed on the Government to enable the House to express a point of view. In 10 days it may be too late for us to express a view on events which by then might have reached a tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions.

Mr. Biffen

I understand my hon. Friend's point. Successive generations of hon. Members have interested themselves intimately in the affairs of the Middle East. There can be no debate next week, but I shall bear in mind the fact that there is widespread anxiety for a debate as early as is practicable.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer that we cannot have a debate on disarmament next week in view of the special session of the General Assembly and growing concern in Britain? Over 1 million people have signed a petition in support of disarmament and over 250,000 gathered in Hyde Park on Sunday to express the same view. Against that background, this is surely a matter of great urgency.

Mr. Biffen

No time is available for such a debate next week. I would mislead the right hon. Gentleman if I said that there was an early prospect of a debate. As I have said in response to the Leader of the Opposition, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will wish to consider his request that she make a statement on Monday about her attendance at the disarmament conference.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Why is it necessary, when parliamentary time is so limited, for the Government to stir up trouble on its Back Benches—[Interruption.]—by forcing through the ill-fated Northern Ireland Bill?

Mr. Biffen

The chorus that accompanied my hon. Friend's question leads me to think that there are at least two views on the matter.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that many months ago the Prime Minister said from the Dispatch Box that her Department and the other Departments concerned with unemployment, including the Department of Industry, would keep their doors open to those concerned with the problem of unemployment? Is he aware that the Department of Industry is refusing to meet the representatives of Derbyshire county council, Chesterfield district council, Bolsover district council, the North-East Derbyshire district council and Amber Valley district council to discuss the removal of intermediate status from the area? Will he pass on that message and ensure that the representatives of the councils to which I have referred can have an opportunity to make their representations to the Department of Industry?

Mr. Biffen

I shall pass on that message.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

I thank my right hon. Friend for not recalling the House during the Whitsun Recess for yet another statement on the Falkland Islands. However, may I ask him to think again about the question of the Middle East? I know that we have no force or power there, and that probably it is only force or power that will stop Israel, but surely this House, with its historic connections with Israel, Palestine and Jordan, should have a say next week on this vastly important question rather than on the comparatively trivial matter of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Biffen

I should never describe Northern Ireland as a trivial matter. I take my hon. Friend's point, and perhaps he will allow my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) to stand as an answer to his question.