HC Deb 24 June 1982 vol 26 cc440-6 3.55 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

I wish to make a business statement.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 28 JUNE—Supply (21st Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion on the repressive operation of the Immigration Regulations.

Motion relating to the Town and Country Planning (Vauxhall Cross) Special Development Order.

Proceedings on the Iron and Steel Bill [Lords] which is a consolidation measure.

TUESDAY 29 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Northern Ireland Bill.

WEDNESDAY 30 JUNE—Until about seven o'clock, consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Afterwards, Motions on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) Order, and on the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order.

THURSDAY I JULY—Debate on a motion to approve the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1982, Command No. 8529.—(first day).

FRIDAY 2 JULY—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

MONDAY 5 JULY—Private Members' motions until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, Supply (22nd Allotted Day)—(first part). Debate on a subject to be chosen by the Liberal Party.

Mr. Foot

I should like first to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having rearranged some business proposed for next week to assist us following representations that we made to him. I should like, however, to raise three matters.

On the issue of disarmament about which the Prime Minister was speaking a few minutes ago, we asked that there should be a debate in the House on the subject and the proposals to be put to the special session in New York before the right hon. Lady spoke there. We believe that the speech that she delivered makes it all the more necessary that there should be a debate in this House on the whole question. We regard her speech as quite unsatisfactory in representing the full British case on disarmament. We wish therefore to have a debate in the House while the special session is in progress to enable the House of Commons to give its view. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make that arrangement.

In view of the appalling increase of 40,000 in the seasonally adjusted unemployment figure announced this week and the strong likelihood that unemployment on this scale, especially long-term unemployment, will continue for a long time, I must require that the right hon. Gentleman should arrange for a debate on the figures in the next week or two.

On the subject of the British Rail dispute, we have asked time and again that the Government should intervene. We believe that we are heading for a very serious dispute that could have grievous effects on the nation's industry. I urge the right hon. Gentleman, the Prime Minister and the Government to make sure that the Secretary of State for Employment does his job and mediates in this dispute and that he comes to the House to tell us what he is doing.

Mr. Biffen

On the issue of the rail dispute, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there will be no dereliction of duty on the part of my right hon. Friends. But they will not be preachers of appeasement in this matter. I recognise that the House will wish to be kept informed on the rail dispute if unfortunately it occurs. I hope, however, that the right hon. Gentleman will join with me in appealing to the unions to call off their proposed industrial action.

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the House debated unemployment on Monday of this week, and there will of course be an opportunity to consider the wider aspects of the economy when the Finance Bill returns to the House.

Finally, I note the right hon. Gentleman's specific request on disarmament, but I can say no more than that I note what he says. The question of the level and balance of arms is central to any debate on the defence Estimates, which is to take place next week. So the House will have opportunities to discuss these matters. However, I take note of the terms in which the right hon. Gentleman made his request.

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the disarmament proposals, but a debate on the defence White Paper is not a satisfactory way to deal with the matter. We want to discuss what proposals can still be placed before the special session by the British Government. That is not the same as the matters that will be considered in the debate on the defence White Paper, particularly as that White Paper raises many other questions involving the conduct of the Secretary of State for Defence that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides will wish to debate.

We hold the Government guilty of a dereliction of duty on the British Rail dispute. In our view, the Secretary of State for Employment has not exerted himself in the way that he should have done to try to prevent this crash.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend allow time next week for a debate on the attitude of the press and the media to the fighting in the South Atlantic, bearing in mind the fact that, although our correspondents with Her Majesty's Forces were absolutely magnificent, the attitude of some of the journalists and others who took part in the debates in this country was far less satisfactory?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that there is a range of views in the House about the way in which the media handled the performance of our forces in the, South Atlantic. However, the situation will not be much improved by having a debate next week, and in any case there is simply no time for one.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

As the Middle East debate the other night was somewhat unbalanced, in that a disproportionate number of pro-Zionists were called, when will the House have another opportunity to debate the appalling—(Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that, if he wishes to cast reflection on the conduct of the debate, he should table a motion, which he is welcome to do. Meanwhile, he is not free to pass a comment of that sort, which in fact is not true.

Mr. Faulds

I shall not argue that matter on the Floor of the House with you, Mr. Speaker. I shall simply examine the names of the right hon. and hon. Members who were called that evening and, if necessary, table a motion. Perhaps I might now complete my question.

Can we have another early opportunity to debate the appalling circumstances of what is happening in the Middle East, particularly the fact that Palestinian prisoners are denied the protection of the Geneva convention by the appalling decision of the Israeli Government that they are not to be included as organised bands of guerrillas? When will the House also have an opportunity—No, perhaps I shall leave it at that, because that is the most important issue.

Mr. Biffen

I realise that the conflict in the Middle East unleashes the most intense passions in this Chamber, but I believe that the House will concur that our debate a few days ago was a most helpful one from the Government's point of view. Certainly I could not find time for another debate on that topic next week.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Lord Shackleton is currently undertaking an update of his 1976 report? Will my right hon. Friend therefore find time for an early debate on the future of the Falkland Islands, bearing in mind the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister described the Falkland Islands as an area which commands the sea routes of the South Atlantic, and that they are the gateway to the Antarctic?Could we, therefore, have a debate so that hon. Members could suggest that the Falkland Islands might become an independent country within the Commonwealth, guaranteeing its security within the Commonwealth, with the support of other countries which have territorial claims in the Antarctic region?

Mr. Biffen

I do not for one moment disparage the importance of the topic that my hon. Friend raises, but I regret that there is no time for a debate on it next week.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that it would be a disgrace if, on the Report stage of the Administration of Justice Bill, which is not even receiving a Second Reading in this House, he were to introduce amendments which would completely change the nature of the jury system in this country? If the right hon. Gentleman wants changes to be made in the jury system whereby a large number of citizens will be ineligible, he should introduce a Bill on juries, and not try to slip in amendments to a Lords Bill in the final stages of its passage through this House.

Mr. Biffen

I shall look at that point.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Will my right hon. Friend say how soon he expects the Prime Minister to make an announcement in the House about the form and terms of reference of the Falkland Islands inquiry? Has he noticed that already a debate is starting across the Floor of the House on this matter, and does he accept that surely that debate would be much better conducted after the inquiry had reached a conclusion?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend is in the process of consulting the leaders of the other parties. As my hon. Friend will appreciate, it is her intention that the matter be expedited as speedily as possible.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

Does the Leader of the House believe that, in the light of the publication of the Madge Nichols letter, the House should have an opportunity to debate whether it is appropriate for the Prime Minister, who herself will be a subject of that inquiry, to set up the inquiry? As the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Defence Select Committee have already started the inquiry, would it not be appropriate for the House to discuss this matter before it becomes as big a mess as the situation which led to the invasion itself?

Mr. Biffen

The letter to which the hon. Gentleman refers could well form part of the material that will be subjected to investigation.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House will welcome the fact that there is to be a day's debate on the defence White Paper next week? Will he confirm that, at a later stage, in accordance with custom, a second day will be made available to debate this document?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

The Leader of the House was in his place on Monday to hear the Minister of Trade and on Tuesday to hear the Foreign Secretary give a sympathetic reply about the difficult issue of end user certificates. Does he understand that, as long as end user certificates continue to be abused, the chance of serious hostilities breaking out again is less than remote? Will he make a statement on this matter, to which his colleagues gave sympathetic replies, and say what the British Government can do?

Mr. Biffen

I can hold out no hope of a statement next week, but there are other parliamentary opportunities—and no one is more adept than the hon. Gentleman at exploiting them—by which the matter can be pursued.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Does my right hon. Friend agree, on reflection, that it might have been better to have a two-day debate on defence a week or two from now, because clearly, although there are different views on the matter, the Falkland Islands situation must have had some effect on defence, and we need a little time to digest it before we debate it?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is conscious of the irritations that arise from having a debate fairly soon after the successful conclusion of the Falklands exercise. I can well imagine the irritations that would arise if the debate had been postponed and had been followed almost immediately by individual debates on the Armed Services.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

In view of the critical meeting of the Community Fisheries Council next week, will the Leader of the House find time for the House to express its views before the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food goes to that meeting? Will he find time next week for a debate on the prayer which my right hon. and hon. Friends have tabled on the National Health Service (Charges to Overseas Visitors) Regulations?

Mr. Biffen

I should like to consider the hon. Gentleman's specific point. I am aware that the Scrutiny Committee has already made some observations on documents relating to the fisheries issue. I cannot answer more specifically than that.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Does the Leader of the House recognise that the nature of the inquiry on events leading up to the invasion of the Falklands is a matter of deep concern to the House? The Prime Minister's letter of 3 February showed the extent of her blunders and misjudgments in this regard. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the determination of the House that there should be no whitewash or cover-up in that inquiry?

The Prime Minister

Of any Government. I agree.

Mr. Biffen

There will be no whitewash or cover-up. Although heroic attempts are being made to convert the Madge Nicholas letter into a suburban Zinoviev, I do not think that they will be successful.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Further to the Leader of the Opposition's request for a debate on disarmament, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that that would be welcome to all hon. Members?

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that the Prime Minister was one of only 13 Prime Ministers and Heads of State, or their equivalent, who bothered to turn up, or intend to turn up, at the United Nations to speak on that crucial subject? While my constituents do not doubt the Government's commitment to putting multilateral disarmament at the head of the agenda, they would be reassured if Parliament had the opportunity to debate such an important issue.

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says. I accept at once the importance of the issue.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

In a previous answer, the Leader of the House seemed to suggest that the debate on the defence Estimates would be an adequate opportunity to debate the United Nations second special session on disarmament. In spite of the clapometer register, it seemed to my hon. Friends that the Prime Minister made a warmongering speech. We want an opportunity to debate the positive results, programmes and policies that will emerge from the debate and discussions at the United Nations so that the Government's programme of escalating the nuclear programme through Trident and the installation of cruise missiles—which are not easily verifiable—can be brought to the fore and an impetus given to the march for peace.

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. For a significant section of the Labour Party, disarmament is a defence policy. Therefore, it would seem that the two could reasonably be debated at one and the same time.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Only if questions are brief shall I be able to call all those hon. Members who wish to speak.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Bristol, North-West)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 363 which refers to children's play?

[That this House acknowledges that the welfare of Britain's children is the nation's future, and that provision for their leisure time play is crucial to their healthy development; and accordingly calls upon Her Majesty's Government to recognise the importance of children's play, particularly in inner city areas, and to accept overall responsibility for a service to promote it under the co-ordination of one designated Minister.] This motion has support throughout the House and the political spectrum. It now carries 207 signatures. No doubt it is the matter to which the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is attempting to attract your attention, Mr. Speaker. He has sponsored another motion which is sympathetic to that subject.

The motion calls on the Government to designate one Minister with responsibility for children's play. The nation is concerned with other important matters at present. Nevertheless, it is time—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is not the opportunity to make speeches. The hon. Gentleman should ask a question on next week's business.

Mr. Colvin

I was simply drawing attention to the importance to future generations of deliberations in the Chamber. Will my right hon. Friend allow parliamentary time for a debate on this important issue?

Mr. Biffen

As my hon. Friend says, this is an important topic. I wish him every success in his free enterprise operation to find time. I am afraid that no time can be provided by the Government next week.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

In the light of the recent report by the Select Committee, will the Leader of the House give hon. Members an opportunity to debate the question of police complaints before the Home Office has finally made up its mind as to the nature of the legislation to be brought forward next Session?

Mr. Biffen

I believe that that matter was touched on in Question Time today. I certainly could not hold out any hope of time being made available next week.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

As the Prime Minister constantly reiterates, quite rightly, that British forces were fighting in the South Atlantic to liberate British citizens and protect the British way of life, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that he will provide Government time to the Bill that was given an unopposed First Reading on Tuesday to give to those 400 Falkland Islanders that British citizenship which was denied to them by the British Nationality Act?

Mr. Biffen

No, Sir.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

No? What were we fighting for then?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

When I raised the matter of the closure of 33 cancer beds at the Royal Marsden hospital in London last week because of a cash deficit reputed to be about £750,000, does the Leader of the House recall that he said that the matter would be looked at and that a statement might be made?

Now that that matter has been aired again in the columns of The Guardian and other newspapers in exactly the same way as I described it last week, is it not about time that this heartless Government brought somebody to the Dispatch Box to say that that £750,000 will be found so that those cancer beds can remain in the Royal Marsden hospital? That should be done next week.

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate the public interest that there is in this topic. However, the hon. Gentleman misunderstands me in thinking that I promised a statement this week. I shall certainly draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)

As the Leader of the House is a sensible and reasonable man, how can he expect us to accept that, if two days are needed to debate the defence White Paper year in year out, on this occasion, after a four-week special session of the United Nations, disarmament must also be debated in those two days? It is only the second such session in the history of disarmament. It was important enough for the Prime Minister to make a special visit to New York. It was addressed by the President of the United States, there was a special message from President Brezhnev and it has been addressed by dozens of other Foreign Secretaries and world leaders.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman eloquently makes the same point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman). Parliamentary time is very restricted, particularly at this time of year.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

The Leader of the House said twice in answer to questions that the debate next Thursday and the following week will be on the defence Estimates. Can he confirm that they will be on the statement to the defence Estimates and that there will be a separate later debate on the Estimates themselves?

Mr. Biffen

That is right. It was a shorthand which was unintentionally misleading. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point.

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