HC Deb 15 April 1986 vol 95 cc740-2 4.14 pm
The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement.

The business for the rest of the week will now be as follows:

WEDNESDAY 16 APRIL—There will be a debate on Libya on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion relating to the Education (Schools and Further Education) (Amendment) Regulations.

Motion on the Commission on Disposals of Land (Northern Ireland) Order.

THURSDAY 17 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Agriculture Bill.

FRIDAY 18 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

The business originally announced for Thursday 17 April will be further discussed through the usual channels.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

First of all, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for acceding to the request by my right hon. and hon. Friends that there should be a full debate on the Libyan question. What will happen to the education debate, which is scheduled for Thursday? Can the right hon. Gentleman give me some idea when that will be held?

Mr. Biffen

It will be subject to negotiation with the usual channels. I quite understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety that the debate should be as soon as possible.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider taking the Report stage of the Agriculture Bill on Thursday, because the amendments of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food appeared for the first time only last Friday? There has been quite inadequate time to give detailed consideration to the seven pages of new clauses on the crucially important matter of compensation for milk quota for tenants who are ending their tenancies.

Since we understand that the Minister of Agriculture has influenza and since the legislative programme is much less constrained than it was, can we not put this off for a week for the benefit of everyone including the Government?

Mr. Biffen

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said. From his point of view I feel that there is at least a modest advantage in that there will now be a further day before the remaining stages of the Agriculture Bill are considered.

I understand the importance my hon. Friend attaches to the question of milk quotas. In my constituency capacity I can underline that. There are still problems with the legislative programme. We hope, of course, to be sending this legislation to another place, where it will not have the other considerations of the Shops Bill.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

The Leader of the House has rearranged tomorrow's business so that there may be a full debate on Libya. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that, before the debate begins, the Foreign Secretary makes a statement which explains whether there were consultations with the French President about the so-called terrorists hiding in the French embassy in Tripoli which led the Prime Minister to give authority for bombers from British bases to bomb the French embassy. What narrow definition of state-sponsored terrorism does the Foreign Secretary have that excludes South Africa, which is operating in southern Africa, and the American backing of the Contras in Nicaragua?

Mr. Biffen

I will, of course, draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to the points that the hon. Gentleman has made so that he may take account of them when he takes part in tomorrow's debate. I think it may be for the benefit of a better structured debate if such a statement could be contained within the debate rather than have a statement preceding the debate.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Since the opportunity for an urgent debate on the Prime Minister's support for the interventionism and military adventurism of the American President has displaced the debate on regional policy, which was an essential subject for Opposition Members can the Leader of the House give us an assurance that, since the Prime Minister has said that it would be inconceivable to refuse a United States request of this kind, our debate will not be further disrupted by more American military action supported by the Prime Minister and her right hon. and learned Friend?

Mr. Biffen

That is an extremely ingenious question and I shall restrict myself to the same generalised reply that I gave the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton).

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

As the Prime Minister allegedly opposes terrorism, will she be given an opportunity tomorrow, when making a statement, to explain why Abdul Haq was brought to Britain and wined, dined and feted in Downing street when he planted the bomb at Kabul airport which exploded in 1984 and killed 28 people? If that terrorist was brought here, why do the Government condemn others who do something similar? Is it not—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going very wide of the business for the rest of the week.

Mr. Biffen

Perhaps I can help by saying that I shall ensure that those observations are conveyed to 10 Downing street.

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

Will the evidence to which the Prime Minister referred and which she offered to publish in part be available in the Library before tomorrow's debate? If the Leader of the House does not know the answer, will he, through the usual channels, communicate a reply before the close of business today so that further discussions can take place? It is clear that that evidence is available in written form and could be made public.

Mr. Biffen

Yes, if the more conventional manifestations of the usual channels would like to take that up.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Is tomorrow's debate only on Libya, or will it be possible for the Government to give more general guidance on the Anglo-American alliance, bearing in mind the British lives that were saved by American help when we had problems in the Falkland Islands?

Mr. Biffen

I am sure that, if my hon. Friend is fortunate enough to be called tomorrow, he will want to make his arguments, although the extent to which they will be in order is not a matter for me.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

It would be a good idea to have the evidence to which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) referred available to the House before tomorrow's debate. In view of the Prime Minister's reluctance to answer questions today about the nature of the supposed conversation between the US President and herself, would it not make sense to have more details of what happened during that conversation? There is a strong suspicion that no conversation in the accepted sense of the word took place but that the Prime Minister was told by President Reagan that the Americans would use British bases, and that there were no other consultations. She failed to answer those significant questions today and it would be helpful if we could have an answer before tomorrow's debate.

Mr. Biffen

Of course I shall refer to 10 Downing street the suggestion that such information might be made available before tomorrow's debate.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will we know in advance of tomorrow's debate the status of the several hundred Libyan pilots and engineers who are training in Britain? Will it be changed by the American action?

Mr. Biffen

That is a very material point. I shall draw my hon. Friend's observations to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary so that he may bear them in mind when he speaks tomorrow.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

I hoped that I would not have had to put this question. Will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear, if not before tomorrow's debate, at least during it, that Britain's support of the Americans in their action against Libya is in no way an attack on any other Arab nation, and that it would be quite wrong for the rest of the Arab world to interpret our support as an attack?

Mr. Biffen

I take my hon. Friend's point, especially in the light of earlier exchanges. I shall ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is made aware of what my hon. Friend said.

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