HC Deb 17 June 1982 vol 25 cc1087-93 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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 21 JUNE—Supply (20th Allotted Day). Until about 7 o'clock a debate on the crisis in British Rail, followed by a debate on the unemployment crisis among young people. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Motions on the Departments (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order and on the Films (Distribution of Levy) Regulations.

TUESDAY 22 JUNE—Consideration of a timetable motion on the Northern Ireland Bill. Afterwards, a debate on the Middle East, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

WEDNESDAY 23 JUNE—Committee stage of the Northern Ireland Bill.

THURSDAY 24 JUNE—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill.

Motion relating to the building (Prescribed Fees) Regulations.

FRIDAY 25 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Derelict Land Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Social Security and Housing Benefits Bill.

MONDAY 28 JUNE—Supply (21st Allotted Day). Subject for debate to be announced.

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for arranging the debate on the Middle East, which is obviously urgent and necessary and for which we have asked. I urge him also to invite the Prime Minister to make a statement on disarmament to the House, now that she has delayed her mission to the United States in this connection. Could she make a statement to the House on the subject, or could a debate be arranged, before she goes?

We have had to provide the time for the debate on British Rail on Monday. We thought that the Government should have provided the time, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that the Minister will make a statement, preferably before the debate but at any rate during the debate, to help to alleviate the prospect of a bitter dispute in the railway industry.

On the subject of the guillotine on the Northern Ireland Bill, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us the metal of which the guillotine is likely to be made, and whether it will be applied to the neck of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), and, indeed, to his followers? Is it not sad that so early in his career as Leader of the House the right hon. Gentleman should sacrifice his virginity in this manner? Is it not deplorable that the right hon. Gentleman should have to apply a guillotine so indiscriminately to his own followers?

Mr. Biffen

I suspect that I am as fallen as any creature who has ever occupied this position. If we are to examine one another's records and performances, I have no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition's record and performance will be under scrutiny next Tuesday, too.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the debate on the Middle East.

We mentioned earlier the possibility of a statement being made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on disarmament, and I shall draw her attention again to what the right hon. Gentleman said, although it is more likely that such a statement will be made on her return from New York than before her departure.

On the question of the debate that has beem arranged for Monday on the railway industry, I am certain that my right hon. Friend will take part in that debate and will make a compelling and constructive contribution to it.

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to early-day motion: 517 relating to the role of the Merchant Navy in the South Atlantic and reaffirming the importance to our nation of a strong and prosperous Merchant Navy?

[That this House salutes the men and women of the Merchant Navy serving with the Task Force in the South Atlantic; mourns the loss of life among British seafarers in upholding the democratic rights of the Falkland Islanders and of the international rule of law; and reaffirms the importance to the defence of the nation of a strong and prosperous Mercantile Marine.]

Does he agree that, in the wake of the success in the South Atlantic, it is important soon to discuss that matter?

Mr. Biffen

My attention has been drawn to the motion, and I agree with the interpretation that my hon. Friend places on it.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

On the subject of the only sensible item of Northern Ireland business next week, will the Leader of the House respond to our request for an extension of time for the debate on the Northern Ireland Departments order?

On the question of the timetable motion on Tuesday on the Northern Ireland Bill, without in any way impugning the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman or that of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is it not monstrous that the Government should decide to force on a small and embattled part of the nation a measure which undoubtedly will weaken the United Kingdom and damage our place in it? Might I add, in connection with the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition, that we shall watch with close interest how he and those of his troops who have not already surrendered will behave in that debate and at the end of the debate?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

We shall be supporting the Government.

Mr. Biffen

The intervention of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) reminds me that Tuesday may well be a unique arid colourful parliamentary occasion. I recognise the deep feelings that are released by both the Bill and the timetable proposal. They will be canvassed in the debate that is to take place on Tuesday, and it would not be appropriate for me to anticipate that debate now.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the motion on the Departments (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order, I shall of course take note of what he has said, but I must tell him that on the previous occasion when such an order concerning the Departments was debated is did not last as long as the time that is now being allotted.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price), will my right hon. Friend consider before long allocating a day for a debate on defence, with particular reference to the Falkland Islands? Without doubt, there are right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House who have views about matters such as ship construction, the provision of early-warning radar, and a host of other important matters which they wish to have taken into consideration in the careful review that the Department of Defence undoubtedly is currently conducting with a view, of course, to influencing and changing policy.

Mr. Biffen

Although it is clear from my statement that such a debate cannot take place next week, I hope that it will be possible to meet the points of my right hon. Friend in the near future.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

Will the Leader of the House consider bringing forward to next week the resolutions implementing the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure (Supply) that alter the Supply procedures of the House? Following the assurances that were given by his predecessor, will he ensure that when we debate the matter there will be an opportunity to consider the allocation of Supply days between the various Opposition parties?

Mr. Biffen

I have already said that I hope that there will be an early opportunity for the House to debate the matter. I note the hon. Gentleman's second point, but I cannot guarantee that I shall be able to meet this request.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Does the Leader of the House anticipate any ministerial statements being made next week in a written answer? Is he aware that that is an abhorrent practice? Is he also aware that an important statement was made by that means on Wednesday about smoking, health hazards and sport sponsorship? Does he agree that that form of answer deprived the House of an opportunity to question the agreement which is now being made and which will last for three years?

Mr. Biffen

I shall, of course, draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the hon. Gentleman's irritation. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the practice is by no means novel.

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

At what time does my right hon. Friend expect Tuesday's debate on the Middle East to start and finish?

Mr. Biffen

I hope that the debate on the Middle East will follow the timetable motion debate that will last for three hours. I propose that the business of the House should be exempted for two hours so that a reasonable time can be given to so important a subject as the Middle East.

Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 541?

[That this House is gravely concerned at the news that, after the strong, warm and deserved congratulations expressed to the Forces, and the many shipbuilding and dockyard workers for their unselfish efforts during the Falklands crisis together with the deep sorrow at the loss of many men and ships, including the 'Atlantic Conveyor', the Cunard Line are considering placing an order for the replacement of the 'Atlantic Conveyor' with a Japanese shipyard; believes that this is a strange and unpatriotic way of rewarding the workers of this country for their recent efforts and further notes with alarm the Minister's recent reply indicating that Her Majesty's Government who undoubtedly will be paying compensation for the loss of the 'Atlantic Conveyor', are not prepared to take any action to ensure that this order is placed in British shipyards but prefer instead to reward foreign shipyards with work when British workers' great efforts in getting HMS 'Illustrious' to sea in record time are to be rewarded by further redundancies.]

Does he agree that to allow the replacement for the "Atlantic Conveyor" to be built in a Japanese yard would be a gross betrayal of the brave merchantmen who lost their lives or were wounded when that ship was sunk? Does he further agree that it would also be a betrayal of Tyneside workers who have worked themselves out of a job to get HMS "Illustrious" ready for the Falklands, if need be?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the motion to which the hon. Gentleman referred commands widespread support in Britain and elsewhere. He will also appreciate that Cunard must make a decision that takes account of many factors, including economic ones.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's forthcoming response to the question about tabling motions to implement the Select Committee's proposals on the procedure of Supply. May I urge him to do so next week or the week after so that other Select Committees may have an opportunity to understand the position and can prepare for implementation of the proposals in the next Session?

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate my right hon. Friend's point. Although I cannot give a commitment here and now, I shall examine the matter.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Since, predictably, hostilities are not at an end, what proposals do the Government have for a report on the new phase of the South Atlantic war? Is it wise—perhaps the Government will make a statement on the matter—to use the prisoners as a bargaining counter for policy ends, which could lead to all kinds of difficulties? Although one is certain that our Armed Forces will be as careful as possible, what will happen if any prisoners die in our hands? How will that be used against us and how shall we achieve a lasting solution? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there should be a report on the matter?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that the Government have not been negligent in making time available for the House to discuss matters pertaining to the South Atlantic. I agree that there will be continuing problems that will merit the attention of the House. However, I have no proposals for amending the programme of business for next week.

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

Now that the Falklands campaign has been brought to such a satisfactory conclusion, can my right hon. Friend say what Defence and Service Estimates debates will be held before the Summer Recess?

On next week's business, can my right hon. Friend say whether there are any precedents for a Government introducing a guillotine motion on a constitutional Bill that flouts the terms of their own general election manifesto?

Mr. Biffen

There are precedents for the introduction of guillotines on constitutional Bills. I am sure that there will be more than one interpretation of the Conservative Party election manifesto commitments.

On my hon. Friend's first point, I hope that I shall be able to make further announcements about a defence debate shortly.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

Will the Leader of the House examine Early-Day Motion 424?

[That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to stamp out as a matter of urgency the great and growing market in pirate video cassettes; draws attention to the fact that some 65 per cent. of video cassettes sold in the United Kingdom are now seen by this means, and that this is now a serious area of illegal activity which is having a gravely damaging effect on both the production and exhibition sides of the British film industry.]

Is he aware that the Department of Trade has published the fact that 70 per cent. of all video cassettes that are sold have been pirated? Does he agree that it would be right for the Government to make an amendment to section 21 of the Copyright Act 1956, which would be unopposed, to bring the penalty in line with other countries, rather than pursuing the laborious process of having it introduced in another place by private Members' legislation?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will discover that the House has recently debated that subject, thanks to the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan), I shall draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen an Stourbridge)

Now that the fighting in the Falkland Islands is over, will my right hon. Friend consider next week the best way in which the House can express its thanks for the achievement of our forces in the South Atlantic? As most people will be attending church services of thanksgiving on Sunday, will the House have an opportunity of going to a similar service at St. Margaret's?

Mr. Biffen

On my hon. Friend's second point, I do not know, but I shall make immediate inquiries and let him know. On his first point, yes, the Government are now considering the matter.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

The Leader of the House said that the Prime Minister will make a statement on her return from the United Nations. When is a debate likely as there are two important items—the world disarmament campaign and the world disarmament conference—that have been adopted by the second special session on disarmament? Does he agree that they need to be debated by the House?

Secondly, on the Supply day debate, when stating their case on the vexed question of unemployment will Government spokesmen take any account of the massive number of redundancies that are being announced by GEC in Bradford and others so that the Government can bring some pressure to bear on a massive combine to reverse that decision?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot hold out any promise for a debate on disarmament next week. More generally, in view of the pressure on parliamentary time, a debate is unlikely. On the unemployment debate, I am sure that the hon.

Gentleman will make the points that he believes will sustain his arguments and the Government will counter them.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that there is considerable interest in the debate on European union that is to be interrupted at 7 o'clock by private business. I therefore propose to call three more hon. Members from each side.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that time will be provided for a debate on the nature, scope and membership of the inquiry into the Falkland Islands invasion?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Question Time.

Mr. Tom Arnold (Hazel Grove)

In view of the observations of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), will my right hon. Friend confirm that he is aware that many of his hon. Friends wish to see the Northern Ireland. Bill on the statute book?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Social Services on the fact that, because of the vicious and heartless policy of the Tory Government, the Royal Marsden hospital faces the prospect of closing 33 cancer beds to avert a £750,000 deficit? If money can be taken from the Contingency Fund to resolve matters in the South Atlantic, why cannot the Tories take £750,000 from the same fund to save the cancer beds at the Royal Marsden?

Mr. Biffen

My understanding of the problem does not precisely coincide with that of the hon. Gentleman, but I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to the point that he has made.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings)

Will my right hon. Friend provide time in the near future for a discussion on industrial relations in which we may explore the motives of the Labour Party in publishing today proposals to introduce trade union rights for Service men and Service women?

Mr. Biffen

Regretfully, I cannot do that.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

Will the Leader of the House have discussions through the usual channels with regard to early-day motion 533 concerning my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman)?

[That this Rouse welcomes with great pleasure the announcement by the City of Birmingham District Council to honour the honourable Member for Birmingham, Erdington, with the freedom of the City; and well recognises, with Birmingham, the dedicated service and devotion to Birmingham citizens shown by the honourable Member over a long and distinguished career as a Member both of the City Council and of this honourable House.]

If it cannot be debated, could it be formally accepted by the House? Is the Leader of the House aware that this is a unique situation, in that my hon. Friend the Member for Erdington has given almost 40 years' loyal service to the House and to the people of Birmingham? I am sure that hon. Members on both sides would agree unanimously to pay that tribute to him.

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that there is widespread support for that motion, but in the circumstances I am not convinced that there is a need to go through any more formalities.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

My right hon. Friend has arranged for the debate on the guillotine motion for the Northern Ireland Bill to take place next Tuesday and the continuation of the Committee proceedings the following day. Has he made any arrangements for the possibility that the House will not approve the guillotine motion? If that happens, what alternative business will be dealt with on Wednesday?

Mr. Biffen

I think that we shall just have to see how we go.