HC Deb 07 July 1983 vol 45 cc407-11 3.31 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen): Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:—

MONDAY 11 JULY—Proceedings on the International Monetary Arrangements Bill.

Proceedings on the Companies (Beneficial Interests) Bill.

Motions on the Coal Industry (Borrowing Powers) Order and on the International Monetary Fund (Increase in Subscription) Order.

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

TUESDAY 12 JULY—Progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

Motions on the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (1979 Additional Increase in Capital Stock) Order and on the International Development Association (Special Contribution) Order.

WEDNESDAY 13 JULY—There will be a debate on the motion in the name of hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) on the death penalty.

THURSDAY 14 JULY—Completion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Motions on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order and on the Criminal Attempts and Conspiracy (Northern Ireland) Order.

FRIDAY 15 JULY—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 18 JULY — Second Reading of the Telecommunications Bill.

Mr. Foot

As the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for debates in the days to come were drawn up before other recent developments, should there not be arrangements for a debate, not necessarily next week but the week after, on the consequences and implications of the statement to be made later today by the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Would it not be wrong for the House to depart for the recess without a major debate on the Chancellor's proposals?

Many new developments were referred to during Question Time today, including unemployment in the aerospace and shipbuilding industries and the projected redundancies in the coal industry and elsewhere. Should there not be a debate on the whole issue of rising redundancies before the House departs for the recess?

Following the Prime Minister's remarks about the United States' proposals for the steel industry, should there not be a statement on that matter at the beginning of next week so that we may be informed about progress in our representations to the United States?

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that there will be a debate on the pay and conditions of Members of Parliament, and a report on that matter, before the House departs for the recess?

Mr. Biffen

I shall deal with the right hon. Gentleman's points in reverse order. I assure him that it is my hope and intention to have a debate on Members' pay before the House rises.

I recognise the importance of recent developments in the steel industry in the United States and Western Europe. I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Trade and Industry on the appropriateness of a statement.

I note the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about unemployment. A number of opportunities are likely to come before the House to discuss that matter before the House rises. I shall arrange for the usual consultations to take place.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to a statement that will be made later today by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The House will find it to be both prudent and convincing, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's anxieties will be dispelled. If by some chance they are not, two days will be devoted to the Finance Bill next week and we can consider the matter through the usual channels.

Mr. Foot

I referred to matters that occurred before the Finance Bill was drafted. It is no good the Leader of the House saying that they can be dealt with in the Finance Bill discussions next week. Should there not be a special debate on the Government's proposals for expenditure cuts, especially as they appear to belie many of the statements made by Ministers during the general election campaign?

On unemployment, many industries are being heavily hit and hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to discuss what is happening in those industries. Such matters cannot be properly dealt with on the Finance Bill.

Mr. Biffen

I note the right hon. Gentleman's remarks on the second point.

On the first point, I was simply trying to be good natured in acknowledging the right hon. Gentleman's skill as an outstanding proceduralist. There are ample opportunities for him to take up these issues if he so wishes. However, I said that the matter was available for consideration by the usual channels. He knows perfectly well that the House will wish to consider the matter, and I take note of his remarks. However, I do not think that I should be required to make any statement before the House has had an opportunity to hear and assess the Chancellor's statement.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

In view of the enormous interest in our constituencies on the subject of capital punishment, which is to be debated next week, and as hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to express their opinions, why cannot the House have a two-day debate?

Mr. Biffen

One day is perfectly adequate. Although it is an important subject, let there be no misunderstanding that it is not a topic unknown to the House on which it is necessary to have additional time for a wider canvass of views that have not hitherto been expressed. Taking all matters into account, and remembering all the demands upon the time of the House, I am sure that the House will feel that one day is sufficient.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

Does the Leader of the House accept that it is not satisfactory for him not to make an absolute commitment to a public expenditure debate at the earliest possible opportunity? As the forthcoming statement is the unveiling of the real manifesto that was not put to the people during the election, the least the House can expect is a promise that there will be a specific debate on public expenditure.

Mr. Biffen

I thought that I had shown the correct blend of generosity and courtesy that was required when I answered that question earlier.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Should not the House debate at the earliest possible moment the implications for local authorities of the judgment of the Court of Session on the adding of fluoride to public water supplies?

Mr. Biffen

I shall draw the right hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of the Minister responsible for that matter.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that before we debate the controversial matter of Members' pay we should ascertain the pay and perks of certain Fleet street editors before making our decision? That would help us to make a decision on what we are worth.

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that I am required to answer that question. A calm and detached assessment of the known evidence should be sufficient.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to persuade the Secretary of State for Scotland to come to the House and make a statement on the serious allegation made against him by Mr. Ian MacGregor, the outgoing chairman of the British Steel Corporation? He said on television last Sunday that the Secretary of State did not once approach him about the future of Ravenscraig or any other steel plant in Scotland. Has not the Secretary of State neglected his duty? Will the right hon. Gentleman persuade him to make a statement to the House?

Mr. Biffen

I was not entirely clear who was protecting whom by the time the hon. Gentleman concluded his question. I shall certainly draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the argument that has been put forward.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

Has my right hon. Friend studied the report of the Select Committee on Procedure (Finance) which recommends an early debate on several important financial reforms? If so, will he arrange an early debate, if not next week, then before the summer recess?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend has raised an important point which I touched upon in winding up the debate on the Loyal Address. I cannot go any further than what I then said.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is widely reported that, on the instructions of the Prime Minister, undue pressures are being brought to bear on the Government Whips to get the innocents on the Conservative Back Benches—this new sorry-looking intake — not to press for their full entitlement under Plowden? Will he make whatever efforts he can to ensure that those poor fellows are allowed to make up their minds on a matter which gravely affects them and their future interests?

Mr. Biffen

The Whips Office and the new Conservative intake make the hon. Gentleman look positively lily livered.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

On what day next week would it be convenient for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or for my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the discussions last week with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar about the financial future of that colony?

Mr. Biffen

I do not think that I can answer that question, but I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 65?

[That this House notes that the Tory Party was rejected at the recent General Election by over 70 per cent. of Scottish voters and that the Labour Party won an over-all majority of Scottish seats; concludes that the Tory Government receive no mandate from the people of Scotland for a continuation of ruthless policies which have caused such widespread misery and havoc, including the destruction of industry, a massive increase in employment and savage attacks on Scottish social fabric; notes that the majority of Scottish voters voted for candidates who stood on a manifesto containing a commitment to set up a Scottish Assembly; and therefore demands that the Government now take action to set up a Scottish Assembly with legislative and economic powers to deal with Scottish affairs in accordance with the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Scotland.]

The Tory party was rejected by more than 70 per cent. of Scottish voters at the general election and thus received no mandate from the people of Scotland, the majority of whom voted for candidates committed to setting up a Scottish assembly. If the Leader of the House cannot arrange a debate on the matter next week, will he or the Prime Minister receive a delegation from the signatories to the motion who are demanding the necessary constitutional changes to deliver to the people of Scotland what they voted for?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot offer any prospect of a debate next week or reception of a delegation, but if strong sentiment demands a directly elected assembly in Scotland it will no doubt characterise the debates in this Parliament as in previous Parliaments.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

I again refer my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 7 about voting arrangements for holidaymakers.

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government immediately to take steps to enable people on holiday to be eligible for postal votes at a General Election.]

More than 200 hon. Members on both sides of the House have signed the motion and the amendment. Has my right hon. Friend been advised by the Home Secretary that a statement of intention is to be made by the Government next week? If not, will he do his best to satisfy the demand throughout the House for an early statement of the Government's intention to take action on this?

Mr. Biffen

I have no information from the Home Office that such a statement will be made next week, but I appreciate the great interest in this and I hope that a statement will be made at a future date.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Cynon Valley)

As the right hon. Gentleman has announced a debate on the death penalty next Wednesday, how does he explain the fact that on page 520 of today's Order Paper there is a motion in the name of one Conservative Back Bencher, with amendments in the names of six others, all supporting the death penalty, when hon. Members on both sides of the House who oppose the death penalty did not know that the motion was to be tabled?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that there is a succinct and convincing explanation. I do not have it at my fingertips, but I shall be in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

The Prime Minister has today given a most welcome assurance that if the House votes for capital punishment on Wednesday Government time will be provided for a Bill. Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that the time will be offered in this Session of Parliament?

Mr. Biffen

I cannot go beyond what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

The Prime Minister has also said that the Government will help with the drafting of a Bill if the House votes in favour of the restoration of capital punishment. What are the precedents for such a commitment? May we take it that every time the House endorses a ten-minute Bill the Government will help with the drafting?

Mr. Biffen

There are many precedents for Government Departments assisting in the passage of private Members' legislation.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Last Thursday, as reported at c. 709 of Hansard, the right hon. Gentleman very courteously said that he would consider the matters raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) and myself and refer them to the relevant Minister. Who was the relevant Minister, and what did he say.

Mr. Biffen

I am not yet in a position to give the hon. Gentleman the response, but as soon as I have it I will pass it to him.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 49, signed by 93 Opposition Members.

[That this House recognises the disgraceful profit made by the Government from fees for British Citizenship; and calls for their immediate reduction in line with the Third Report of the Home Affairs Committee of Session 1982–83.]

It draws attention to the insupportable profit made by the Government from fees for British citizenship which have been denounced by the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Do the Government intend to act on the recommendation to reduce the fees? If not, may we have a debate or, at the very least, a statement from the Home Secretary?

Mr. Biffen

I shall ask whether the Home Office will comment on that recommendation from the Select Committee and I will see that the hon. and learned Gentleman is informed.