HC Deb 17 March 1983 vol 39 cc349-53 3.32 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:

MONDAY 21 MARcH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget statement.

Motions on the Social Security (Contributions) Amendment (No. 3) Regulations, and on the report of the Court of Auditors of the European Communities for 1981.

TUESDAY 22 MARCH—Opposition day (9th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on railway workshops and afterwards a debate on Anderson Strathclyde. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Motions on the Redundant Mineworkers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Schemes) Order, and on the Mineworkers' Pensions Scheme (Limit on Contributions) Order.

WEDNESDAY 23 MARCH—Remaining stages of the Housing and Building Control Bill.

THURSDAY 24 MARCH—Motion on the Easter Adjournment.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

FRIDAY 25 MARcH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 28 MARcH—Progress on remaining stages of the Telecommunications Bill.

The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Easter Adjournment on Thursday 31 March until Monday 11 April.

[For debate on 21 March:

Annual Report of the Court of Auditors for 1981.

For relevant report of the European Legislation Committee see HC 34-xi (1982–83) paragraph 3.]

Mr. Foot

I renew the request I have made on several occasions for the right hon. Gentleman to give the House an assurance that there will be debates on disarmament and on the second Brandt report. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he has agreed that such debates should be held?

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House, in view of the extraordinary development yesterday, when the Government will make available the revision of the Supplementary Estimates dealing with the pension clawback so that the House may understand what the Government are saying in their documents on that subject? When will those documents, which the Government have admitted must be corrected, be presented to the House?

The Opposition have put down two subjects for debate next week about which it was hoped that the Government would assist in providing time. We had to press for a debate on Anderson Strathclyde and Charter Consolidated. The Opposition believe that the action of overruling the Monopolies and Mergers Commission was an extra ordinary act by the Government. It is deeply regretted that the Government did not provide time for such a debate, but the Opposition have done so.

The Opposition have asked for a debate on Shildon and railway workshops generally. These are not, as the Prime Minister suggested, minor closures. These are major permanent closures that the Government are proposing. The Opposition wish to debate them.

When is a statement to be made in the House on the future of Ravenscraig? The Secretary of State for Industry has shown that the responsibility for the future of Ravenscraig rests directly with the Government.

Mr. Biffen

As to the fifth point raised by the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry is considering the British Steel Corporation's corporate plan and he will make a statement in due course.

The Opposition attach significance to the two topics that will be debated next Tuesday. There will be serious debates on those issues.

I shall raise the matter of the Supplementary Estimates on pensions with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury who was in charge of the debate when that subject was raised in the House yesterday.

I acknowledge the general interest in the House for a debate on the Brandt report. A debate on that subject will take place, but it will have to be in the context of considerable pressure of Government business upon parliamentary time in the near future.

I am conscious of having been quite explicit about the desirability of a debate on disarmament. The debate will be either just before or after the Easter recess.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I pressed the Leader of the House last week for a debate on the growing practice by Labour-controlled authorities, especially in London, of using public funds for party political purposes. I have in my hand a letter from the leader of the Islington borough council to the one opposition councillor on that council refusing him his right of access to documents on the making of a grant from public funds to the London Labour leaders group. Does that bring home to the Leader of the House the urgency and seriousness of this issue and the necessity for a debate? [An hon. Member: "They do not want it known.") Of course they do not want it known.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman makes his point effectively, and hon. Members who know him will not be disappointed. There will be ample opportunity next Thursday for him to take this matter further.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that I supported the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) last week in his demand for a debate on this subject. The House has had many experiences of Labour-controlled councils misusing ratepayers' money for political purposes.

Mr. Biffen

I note what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Home Secretary, the Defence Secretary or the Prime Minister, as head of the security services, to comment on the unanswered allegation that an arms dealer in the south of England whose name is known to the Government contacted MI5 and MI6 with information about the activities of Mr. Klein of New York and Mr. Carl Villavicienza of Hamburg, who are arms dealers, who wish to buy Exocet missiles through a gentleman in the Sudan for final distribution to Argentina and thereby abuse the end users certificate system? May the House have an answer to that serious allegation?

Mr. Biffen

I can best help the hon. Gentleman by referring the point he has raised to my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Foreign and. Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

There is pressure from both sides of the House for the proposed disarmament debate. It must be explained to the country in clear terms why mutual and verifiable disarmament is the correct way forward.

Mr. Biffen

I gladly accept my hon. Friend's point. A debate on this subject is central to the wider national debate which has taken place on this issue.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the widespread support that my Buyers' Premium (Abolition) Bill received in the House the other day and of the massive support that I received from the Conservative Benches in pursuit of my object—the removal of the impropriety of this impost of the buyers' premium at auction. Given that widespread support in the House, would it not be advisable for the right hon. Gentleman to provide Government time to complete the legislative procedures on that necessary change in the law?

Mr. Biffen

I had the privilege and pleasure of being in my place to hear the hon. Gentleman present the Bill for which he feels such affection. However, if I were to single out that Bill for my personal favour, it would, far from enhancing its prospects, perhaps even diminish them.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Before the Leader of the House finds time for the Second Reading of the social security Bill that is being introduced as a result of the Budget to change the basis of uprating pensions, will he find time to debate in the House early-day motion 151 which is supported by many Conservative Members?

[That this House urges Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer not to take any steps to implement clawback arrangements on pensions and other benefits announced in his autumn financial statement; and hopes that the Budget in April 1983 will give greater help, not less.]

In that way, we can give hon. Members an opportunity to make clear how real that commitment in the early-day motion was.

Mr. Biffen

That is a well-angled question. However, as the guardian of time, I should observe that the speeches that might be made on a debate on that motion could be made just as well on the Second Reading of the proposed legislation.

Mr. Allen McKay (Penistone)

Will the Leader of the House find time to discuss the oppointment of Ian MacGregor to the chairmanship of the National Coal Board? Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that that proposal is ill timed, ill judged and insensitive to the needs of the industry? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there is great anxiety in all the trade unions in the industry, and in the House, as evidenced by the early-day motion? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that there are people of sufficient calibre in the industry's management structure for a chairman to be found within it? The industry exports its products and management expertise abroad and this appointment will be seen as a slap in the eye of British management, because the Prime Minister has imported management from America.

Mr. Biffen

Obviously the hon. Gentleman will not expect me to endorse his arguments. Perhaps he will allow me to confine myself strictly to the question whether the Government can provide time next week for a debate on that topic. I am afraid that the answer must be "No".

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the reports about the slush fund that is apparently being used by the Social Democratic party to provide cheques of £2,000 to secret donors? As that might interfere with our proper electoral processes, will he urge the Home Secretary to make a statement about the allocation of such funds and the openness of it? Will he also urge the Secretary of State for Trade to make a statement in the House on the leak that appeared in today's edition of The Guardian on the national security directive No. 75, in which the American Government urge fresh economic and trade sanctions against the Soviet Union? Given the great controversy that arose when the Americans tried to force John Brown to sack people because of their foreign policy and defence whims, and the Government's subservience to American foreign and defence policy in the siting of cruise missiles, will the Secretary of State make a statement?

Mr. Biffen

As to political contributions, there seems to be rather a lack of mutual harmony below the Opposition Gangway these days. I cannot hold out great hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will feel that he can say much to restore peace where now there is discord. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's important and serious points to the attention of the Secretary of State for Trade so that he can take account of them.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week on the Government's policy on leaking information? As The Sunday Times and The Observer went into the Budget in great detail, and as there was a statement yesterday to the effect that Mr. MacGregor would be appointed next week, might it not be better to revert to the practice of telling the House such news first instead of letting the press know and leaving hon. Members to learn from what they read in the newspapers?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman has raised what could be a very serious point for the House. Much more information is now made available as a consequence of the Industry Act requirements to enable political and economic commentators to make their own judgments, but it would do a disservice to ourselves if it were ever to be thought or put about that any Government—past, present or future—engaged in a strategem of leaks and fed out their Budget judgments to Fleet Street, because that is simply not so. Those who countenance that proposition do politics a great disservice.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of all the details in the press about the impending appointment of Mr. Ian MacGregor which are causing widespread concern in the coalfields. When will a statement be made so that hon. Members can tell whether those stories are true and can cross-examine the Minister responsible about the fabulous figures for a transfer fee that are being bandied about and about Mr. MacGregor's remit? Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that the House has a right to be given a statement on that issue and to be able to cross-examine the Minister on it?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that it would be appropriate and, indeed, the customary practice for the House to be informed once a decision has been taken. I shall ensure that that practice is followed in this case.