HC Deb 05 May 1983 vol 42 cc401-6
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 9 MAY—Completion of remaining stages of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill.

Motion on European Community Document 4658/83 on the special programme to combat hunger in the world.

TUESDAY 10 MAY—Debate on a Government motion on defence and disarmament, which will be concluded on WEDNESDAY 11 MAY—the 12th allotted Opposition day.

At the end on Wednesday, motion relating to the Housing Benefits (Transitional) Amendment Regulations.

THURSDAY 12 MAY — Second Reading of the Importation of Milk Bill.

Remaining stages of the Dentists Bill [Lords].

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

FRIDAY 13 MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 16 MAY—Consideration of Private Members' Motions until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, progress on remaining stages of the Health and Social Services and Social Security Adjudication Bill [Lords].

[Debate on 9 May: Special programme to combat hunger Doc. No. 4658/83:

For relevant report of the European Legislation Committee see HC 34-xiii (1982.83) para. 1].

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for arranging the two-day debate on disarmament which, in the light of the Prime Minister's reply today, is all the more necessary. We regard her response to the international situation and to Mr. Andropov's latest proposals as hopelessly inadequate. It was made at a most critical time in the talks and could block the way to the success of the talks. We are glad that the House of Commons will have the chance to give its opinion on the matter, because we believe that we should back what has been said by the House of Representatives in the United States on the matter. We are glad that there will be a full debate on the subject.

May I now put a question about the Housing Benefits (Transitional) Amendment Regulations, which are to be considered on Wednesday? Has it been explained to the right hon. Gentleman by his colleagues that the regulations are being brought forward because of the Government's bungling? The Government were warned that they were forcing the scheme on local authorities without adequate consultation, but those warnings were ignored. As a result, one third of local authorities are not ready to bring in the scheme. For that reason, and because more than 2 million people will get less help with paying their rent than they do now, we shall naturally oppose the motion, and we shall ask the House to exercise its authority by coming to the rescue of the people who have been the victims of the Government's mismanagement.

May we have an assurance that there will be the long-awaited statements on two matters? In shipbuilding there is a major crisis, and if it continues there will be very little shipbuilding in this country. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can give us an absolute assurance that we shall have a statement on the subject next week. There is also the long-awaited statement about Ravencraig that we have not yet had from the Government. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance about that.

In the light of the interview that the Prime Minister gave this morning in The Times about the Williamsburg summit, when she almost suggested that nothing would happen there and that she did not expect anything to happen, may we have a statement next week about the policy that the Government. will adopt at Williamsburg, whether they have any policy at all, and whether what the Prime Minister said in the interview constitutes Government policy?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman will, of course, appreciate that on Monday evening the final item of business will touch on Third world problems. Although it will not cover Williamsburg in the full sense to which he referred, the House will be able to discuss the matter. I shall, of course, draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question about steel, concerning both the corporate plan and any other arrangements that may be made, particularly at Ravenscraig, the House will have noted that I have already given undertakings on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, particularly on the corporate plan. I am happy to repeat those undertakings, and I shall see that the right hon. Gentleman's views are referred anew to my right hon. Friend. I shall also convey to my right hon. Friend his anxiety that there should be a statement on shipbuilding.

I note that on Wednesday evening the Opposition will vote against the Housing Benefits (Transitional) Amendment Regulations.

I note the relish with which the right hon. Gentleman anticipates the two-day debate on defence and disarmament, and that today's exchanges with the Prime Minister were to some extent a trailer of that debate. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that his relish is fully matched by ours.

Mr. Foot

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is now willing to agree to the debate that we have been demanding for about three months. I thank him very much for the grace with which he has accepted it. His replies on the two other matters are not very satisfactory.

We were promised a statement on Ravenscraig before Easter, and we should now have that statement. How long can the steel industry go on without knowing what its future is to be? Shipbuilding is another urgent matter, and I hope that we shall have an absolute assurance of a statement on that subject next week. I do not know whether the Government want to have it chalked up among their many crimes that they presided over the destruction of the shipbuilding industry in this country, because that is what it looks like.

On the matter of the housing benefits regulations, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman understands that what we seek to do is to protect the people whom the Government have injured, and he should thank us for that, too.

Mr. Biffen

These exchanges provide an occasion for the right hon. Gentleman to make colourful and somewhat lengthy denunciations of the alleged shortcomings of the Government, which I do not accept, and it is my task to give somewhat grey, colourless and—I hope—shorter replies. I shall, of course, refer to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry the anxieties that have been expressed about both shipbuilding and steel.

Mr. Foot

So that the right hon. Gentleman may have another opportunity to give a little more information to the House, may I say that I omitted to mention the promise —or near promise—that was given by the Government when we asked for a White Paper on the subject of Williamsburg, or the approach to the summit. We should like to have a White Paper. In any case, whether or not we have a White Paper, we now want a statement from the Government, because the Prime Minister's declaration on the matter is quite unsatisfactory to the House—and, I am sure, equally unsatisfactory to the country. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that she will make a statement.

Mr. Biffen

I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the right hon. Gentleman's anxieties.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

On which day next week will the House be told whether or not the Government will cut and run?

Mr. Biffen

The right hon. Gentleman asked that question not expecting an answer, and I shall not disappoint him.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to undertake to consult opinion widely in the House before the Government themselves discuss the Plowden report, and particularly before they come to a conclusion on the matter?

Mr. Biffen

I recognise the considerable interest that there is in that topic, and I shall bear in mind my right hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Dunbartonshire, East)

Will the Leader of the House take time today to see the Secretary of State for Scotland and find out his reasons for cancelling the meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee which was to have taken place in Edinburgh on Monday 16 May? I can tell the Leader of the House the answer. The reason is that the Government will not discuss Scottish unemployment. Is the Secretary of State for Scotland's cut-and-run approach consistent with the resolute approach?

Mr. Biffen

My understanding is that the situation is not quite as the hon. Gentleman suggests. Possibly it is an ideal topic for further consideration through the usual channels.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 90, signed by nearly 200 hon. Members in all parts of the House, on the American corporate tax practice? Is he aware of the damage that is being done to British investments in the United States? Will he arrange for a debate as soon as possible and say what representations the Government are making to the United States Administration?

[That this House believes that the growing practice in individual states of the United States of America of employing the worldwide reporting system in assessing the tax of corporations doing business in both the United States of America and the United Kingdom is against the spirit of the 1980 Double Taxation Treaty; is of the view that the practice does not reflect the intention of the original Article 9(4) of the Treaty, which would have prohibited the use of the world wide combined reporting system of assessment; and urges Her Majesty's Government to take immediate and urgent steps to press vigorously for an end to this practice by individual states of the United States of America, which can only lead to the establishment of harmful international precedents and to severe damage to British investments in the United States of America.]

Mr. Biffen

I shall refer to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the point made by my hon. Friend so that he may be acquainted with what representations are being made to the United States authorities. As for an expression of opinion in this House, I should have thought that, as we proceeded with the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, that might well provide an appropriate occasion.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence and well-known powers of persuasion to secure from the Secretary of State for Transport or the Secretary of State for Defence a statement at the earliest possible moment about the accident to freight trains carrying explosives or other material in my constituency in the small hours of this morning? It is a matter of grave concern and nobody knows what the result will be. My constituents are entitled to an answer to that question at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate the significance, particularly to the hon. Gentleman, of the point he has just raised and I shall certainly make his anxieties knows to the Secretary of State for Transport; and I will add to them, if I can, my own powers of persuasion.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings)

Will my right hon. Friend consider the situation which has arisen since the new telephone service answering system has been introduced in the House? Not only do constituents now need to make two telephone calls, but, with respect to the honourable officials of the House who are trying to man the telephone answering system, people have to wait an incredible time to receive an answer, and frequently do not get any answer. May I commend to him the suggestion that the system be abolished and that we revert to the old system, which gave a most efficient service?

Mr. Biffen

I shall look into the matter and be in touch with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

May we have a ministerial statement next week about the critical shortage of 100 nursing staff at Lennox Castle hospital, and in particular about the case of an American nurse, Paula Maximo, who has been threatened with deportation or imprisonment by the Home Office as the Department of Employment will not give her a work permit because the Scottish office will not give the health board enough money to employ more nurses? Meanwhile, may I have an assurance that my constituent will not be threatened with deportation or imprisonment while her case is being investigated, at my request, by the Prime Minister?

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman was courteous enough to inform me this morning that he would raise that point. I will look into the matter and contact the various Government Departments involved to see what can be done.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

As we in this Chamber have opportunities to discuss Government policy and to hear what the Opposition has to say, may I ask my right hon. Friend to arrange for a statement or debate as soon as possible on the rating system and the levels of rates? May I tell him that of the three highest spending authorities hitting constituents, Greenwich council is putting its rates up by 59 per cent.? If there is one issue about which people are concerned more than any other it is the level of rates, and they expect this House to provide opportunities for their interests to be represented.

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that my hon. Friend, who is very fair-minded in these matters, will agree that only recently we had a debate on local government. However, I shall certainly bear in mind his anxiety that these topics should be debated perhaps time and again.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Did my right hon. Friend hear the Leader of the Opposition speak about the importance of the steel and shipbuilding industries? Will he give us an opportunity to speak out on the importance of Sothebys in art transactions in this country, where we lead the world? May we have an opportunity next week of congratulating the Secretary of State for Trade on the brave action he has taken in securing that trade and that company for this country, and this country alone?

Mr. Biffen

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. Clearly this commanding height of the economy is a matter of keen interest in the House. I suggest that my hon. Friend might even try his hand at an early-day motion on the subject.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

In the context of the forthcoming debate on arms control and disarmament, is it not clear that Ministers are wise to be sceptical about the Russian proposal that the British and French strategic deterrents should be included in the intermediate talks, as when the SALT talks were going on the Russians sought to include them in those?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend makes important paints with admirable brevity. I hope that he will have a chance to amplify them in the debate.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

In regard to the recent code of practice put forward by the Commission for Racial Equality, as that organisation is not a democratic or representative organisation, and as the code of practice could have far-reaching effects on the industrial law of this country, is it not absolutely essential that the matter should be debated before it is foisted on the citizen?

Mr. Biffen

I fear that I have nothing further to acid to what I know my hon. Friend considers was a wholly unsatisfactory reply a couple of weeks ago.