HC Deb 13 May 1982 vol 23 cc947-51 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)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

Mr. Foot

First, may I thank the Leader of the House for having arranged the debate on the Falkland Islands in the House today in response to our request? Whatever may be the developments, it seems probable that a statement or a further debate will be necessary at the beginning of next week. I am sure that the Government will be willing to respond to our requests as they have done in this instance. It is right that the House should constantly discuss the matter that is uppermost in people's minds.

May I put to the right hon. Gentleman two other matters that I have already put to him on previous occasions? For the past two weeks I have urged him to arrange a statement and a debate in Government time on the British Rail announcement of cuts affecting railway workshops and apprentice schools at Shildon, Horwich and Swindon. Those proposals will have a devastating affect on employment in those places. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to respond to that request.

In the same way, I have asked the right hon. Gentleman for a general debate on the continuing appalling unemployment figures, which were mentioned by several of my hon. Friends today. I hope that he will look afresh at the possibilities of such a debate.

Mr. Biffen

I note what the Leader of the Opposition says in respect of the Falkland Islands.

As to a debate on British Rail proposals concerning its workshops, the right hon. Gentleman will know that that was the subject of an Adjournment debate as well as of lively exchanges yesterday at Question Time when the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, showed such strong opposition that I should have thought that a Supply day was a necessary accompanying symbol.

Finally, there will be the opportunity to debate unemployment on the Private Member's motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson). I am certain that those with even a spark of ingenuity will find an opportunity to discuss the topic during the debate on the Employment Bill on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)

As Civil Service pay is now out of the way, will my right hon. Friend again consider the Scott report? Is it not high time that that report was debated? It is now about 15 months old and it gives one section of the community advantages not enjoyed in the private sector. Will my right hon. Friend say when a debate might come about?

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate my hon. Friend's interest in this matter. I assure him that there will be a debate, but I regret that I cannot guarantee that it will take place next week.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The House is aware that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members want to speak in the main debate. Therefore, I propose to allow business questions to continue today until 3.45 pm and then to move on. I believe that that is in the interests of the House.

Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

Can the Leader of the House justify the announcement in regard to Members' pay and the increases in the secretarial allowance without saying when time is to be found for a debate on the Select Committee's report on Members' pay?

Mr. Biffen

Certainly a debate must take place, but I cannot yet say exactly when. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the matter is very much in my mind.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

In view of the serious implications, particularly to the Secretary of State for Defence, of the decision by one of the Civil Service unions to affiliate itself to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, will my right hon. Friend look into the legality of that matter and cause a statement on those implications to be made in the House?

Mr. Biffen

I will certainly draw the appropriate Minister's attention to that point.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his answer about a debate on the rundown of Swindon and the closure of Horwich and Shildon railway workshops? Is he not aware that this is not an Opposition responsibility and time should not be found out of their Supply? Will he reconsider and grant a full day's debate in Government time on this important matter?

Mr. Biffen

This is essentally a matter for British Railways. I am certainly not in a position to guarantee that Government time will be granted for the debate which the hon. Gentleman seeks. It would mislead him to suggest otherwise.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

Following the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) on the Scott report on index-linked pensions, will my right hon. Friend arrange that when Members' pay and conditions are debated we have the opportunity to destroy our own inflation-linked pensions at least a year before we tackle other people's?

Mr. Biffen

I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's intriguing suggestion when I consider how the motions will be put.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

Will the Leader of the House provide an early opportunity for the Prime Minister to correct or confirm words that I thought she used this afternoon in the heat of Question Time? After her robust defence of the situation, did the Prime Minister say that sovereignty is negotiable? Will she take the opportunity to correct it now?

The Prime Minister

I heard a murmur and I thought that perhaps one or two people had misunderstood—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]. With permission, Mr. Speaker, may I make it clear? The hon. Gentleman will know that the Argentines have been saying that sovereignty must be transferred to them as a precondition of negotiations or at the end of negotiations. We cannot accept that in any way.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Can we all get in on this?

Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)

Bearing in mind the findings of the European Commission on Human Rights that the immigration bar on foreign husbands joining certain categories of wives in Britain may be a breach of human rights, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an urgent debate on this matter with a view to ending this sexist and racist piece of legislation?

Mr. Biffen

I certainly cannot guarantee to arrange an early debate. The hon. Lady's point is important and I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Can my right hon. Friend give the House the likely dates of the spring bank holiday recess? Will we have two weeks in which there will be no debates on the Falkland Islands?

Mr. Biffen

I regret that I cannot help my hon. Friend this afternoon.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

What mechanism would the Government use for informing the House if we were legally in a state of war with Argentina?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot say off the cuff, but I shall look into that fundamental question and I shall see that the hon. Gentleman has a reply.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on ASLEF's rejection of the McCarthy report on flexible rostering?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot find any time for such a debate next week.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Given the Government's highly controversial statement accepting the recommendations of the top salaries investigation, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that there will be a debate on the issue? It is indefensible and incomprehensible that the Government should give increases of 18 per cent. to 20 per cent. to those on £40,000 per year or more, while saying that it is entirely unrealistic for nurses to ask for a living wage.

Mr. Biffen

I certainly cannot undertake to provide time for that debate. If that debate were available the arguments of envy that the hon. Gentleman so constantly uses on the Floor of the House would do his case more damage than good.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Scottish Members are concerned that matters relating to the Scottish legal system are being included in Bills that are basically designed to cover England and Wales? That does not give Scottish Members a proper opportunity to debate such matters. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that matters relating to the Scottish legal system are included in Bills that relate only to Scotland?

Mr. Biffen

I have a feeling that such anxieties have been voiced ever since 1707, but I shall certainly draw my colleagues' attention to that point.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one does not have to be envious or lacking in admiration for the judiciary to question the wisdom of yesterday's announcement?

Mr. Biffen

I quite agree.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

When will the Leader of the House lay an order to extend the life of the Procedure (Finance) Committee, as that Committee manifestly cannot complete its complicated tasks this Session?

Mr. Biffen

The matter is now before me and I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Given the Government's splendid championing of international law, particularly over the Falkland Islands, will my right hon. Friend urge his colleagues—especially the Secretary of State for Trade—to make an early statement clarifying the exact position on the report in The Daily Telegraph yesterday that the Government have started to issue certificates in relation to the Arab boycott saying that exports do not have an Israeli content? That is an illegal restraint of trade.

Mr. Biffen

I have no wish to comment on a newspaper report, but I shall draw that point to the attention of the Secretary of State for Trade.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Did the Leader of the House notice the exchange with the Prime Minister a few minutes ago about the applicability of the laws of war to the Falklands issue? Will he arrange for the Attorney-General to make a statement on the matter next week? Many important points are involved in addition to the one that I referred to and which the Prime Minister picked up.

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly draw the Attorney-General's attention to that point. However, I do not wish to comment on it.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Flow about that promised debate on the Middle East?

Mr. Biffen

Wisely, the House has taken the view that there should be a series of debates on the Falklands crisis. In those circumstances, damage is inevitably done to other aspirations in the parliamentary programme and the debate on the Middle East has taken on something of the aspect of a mirage.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on the role of free and independent media in a democratic society? Given the week's events, is it not important that we should once again consider the independence of our media, their relationship to the Government in office—whatever the crisis—and the value, at all times, of those independent media?

Mr. Biffen

At Question Time, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asserted most robustly her commitment and that of the Government to the concept of free media. There is no need for a debate in the House to confirm something that is felt in all quarters.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

As the judges are to get salary increases of more than 18 per cent. and as top civil servants are to get increases of more than 14 per cent., and as it is accepted that many of them have benefitted from the tax changes in the past three years under this Government while the nurses have been adversely affected by those taxes and have been awarded only 6.4 per cent., will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement next week, giving the nurses an increase that is at least in line with the rate of inflation, as measured by the Government's taxes and prices index? Will he accept that our request is not born of bitterness or envy, but of a sense of fairness?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has made such a lengthy speech that I hope he will accept, out of a sense of fairness, that there will not be a statement.