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Business Of The House

Volume 22: debated on Thursday 22 April 1982

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Will the Leader of the House announce 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 26 APRIL AND TUESDAY 27 APRIL—Further progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY 28 APRIL—Debate on a motion to take note of the White Paper on Northern Ireland, "A Framework for Devolution", Cmnd. 8451.

Motion on the Value Added Tax (Finance) Order. THURSDAY 29 APRIL—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

FRIDAY 30 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

I have three matters to put to the right hon. Gentleman. First, I thank and congratulate him for arranging that the debate on the White Paper on Northern Ireland should take place on a take-note motion. That is the best way for the whole House to examine the matter in a preliminary way.

Secondly, I assume that the right hon. Gentleman will give an assurance that there will be an early report to the House when the Foreign Secretary returns from his discussions in the United States.

Thirdly, can the right hon. Gentleman clear up the mystery of the disappearing White Paper on defence about which the Prime Minister did not give us any information? Are we likley to have a defence White Paper this year? Can he give us the foggiest idea of what is likely to be in it?

I am sure that the whole House will welcome the enthusiasm that the Leader of the Opposition now shows for defence White Papers. The preparation of the annual statement on the Defence Estimates is substantially complete. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is considering whether, in the light of present circumstances, we should produce an addendum. I am sure that the House will think that that is a measured and prudent reaction.

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I thank him for his comments. On his second point, throughout the past week and, indeed, before, we have sought to keep the House fully informed of the moving dramas of the Falkland crisis. I have no doubt that it will be the wish of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to present his comments to the House on his return from the United States.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an absolute assurance here and now that the addendum will be even longer than the White Paper—or is it all to be subsumed under the title "Errata"?

The Leader of the Opposition is more perceptive in his humour than in his final military judgment. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will earn the respect and endorsement of the House by taking account of recent events before preparing his defence White Paper.

Can we be assured that the addendum will be carefully prepared and might include a subtraction—the Trident missile programme?

The right hon. Gentleman's views on the significance of Trident to our national defence are well known. I assure him that all documents prepared by the Government are careful.

I cannot refrain from asking my right hon. Friend about his new duties. Now that he has taken those responsibilities, is he aware that the Scott report was published nearly 18 months ago? When will the House have an opportunity to discuss it?

I recognise the anxiety of hon. Members about the fact that consideration of that issue is taking some time. The House will understand that it is extremely complex. As the House has already been informed, there will be an opportunity to debate the matter, but I cannot yet announce the time for the debate.

I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that a take-note motion is the appropriate way to proceed with the debate on the White Paper on Northern Ireland. However, as that debate has now been switched from Tuesday to Wednesday, is it now proposed to proceed with the sitting of the Northern Ireland Committee on that day, since the guidelines for the Industrial Development Board that were promised for that day will not now be available for several weeks?

I entirely appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. I am sure that the matter can be re-examined through the usual channels.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on data protection, as it is clear that many people are disappointed with the recently published White Paper?

An interesting debate this week allowed hon. Members to touch on that subject. In those circumstances, I cannot say that there will be another opportunity next week.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange time for a statement next week if there is any question of calling up reservists if there is some conflict with the Argentine?

In the coming week, as in this, we shall be anxious to consult the House about every point in the Falklands issue whenever that is appropriate.

On the assumption that the Government want maximum publicity for their efforts in the Falklands crisis, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement or a debate next week on the blacking being carried out by the union ACTT? Is he aware that it arises from the unjust dismissal of 26 film makers from the Central Office of Information and that they are seeking to renegotiate? Is he further aware that I have a letter from the Director-General of the Central Office of Information stating that the two issues are not connected? Is he also aware that I have a copy of a telegram from the Ministry of Defence that strongly requests the union to relieve the Government of the handicap of having Government films blacked, and that filming of the task force operation should be allowed to continue? Is that not a matter of considerable urgency?

I do not in any way wish to disparage the importance of the topic that the hon. Gentleman raises. However, I cannot find time for a debate on it next week.

Can my right hon. Friend give some idea when the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will provide a money resolution for the Southern Water Authority Bill, which is a Private Bill? Is he aware that the delay in providing that money resolution is holding up the Committee proceedings and that that adversely affects the River Medway and many other matters that have nothing to do with the money resolution, which relates to land drainage?

I appreciate the difficulties that my hon. Friend has outlined. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has that in mind and believes that progress will be made shortly.

Does the Secretary of State for Transport intend to make a statement on increased lorry weights in the next few days?

That is not planned, but I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend's attention.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the defence White Paper has been withdrawn because of the many imponderables that have been created by, and will exist until there is an outcome to, our forces' expedition to the Argentine? Does he also accept that when the White Paper is produced the House will require more than one day in which to debate it? Does he agree that at least two full days should be allocated to the matter?

I note my hon. Friend's remarks about time for a debate. Happily, that does not fall immediately in the coming week. On his first point, it is not true that my right hon. Friend has withdrawn the defence White Paper, but he is certainly considering issuing an addendum which will take into account many of the developments of recent weeks which are clearly in the mind of the House.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the first annual report of the chief inspector of the prison service, which was published recently, described the appallingly overcrowded conditions in some of our prisons as degrading and dehumanising? When may we debate this extremely important subject?

I thoroughly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the subject, but I am afraid that I must offer the disappointing rejoinder that, whenever the debate takes place, it certainly cannot take place next week.

Will my right hon. Friend provide an early opportunity to debate the reporting by the media of the Falkland Islands crisis? Is he aware that twice in one week the BB2 "Newsnight" programme deliberately misrepresented the facts about the air situation in relation to the task force?

If the opportunity were provided, I am sure that many hon. Members would wish to pay full tribute to the way in which the media have covered the whole Falklands incident, but such a debate, which would allow my hon. Friend and others to put their points of view, cannot take place next week.

May we have a debate next week on the extent to which, in a period of free exchange control, the City of London is cooperating with sanctions against Arentina and the extent to which well-known firms in the City are attempting to avoid the sanctions overseas? Does he agree that it is unreasonable to expect our allies in Europe and the United States to help us with economic sanctions against Argentina unless it is absolutely clear that everyone in Britain is co-operating?

The hon. Gentleman makes a number of contentious comments—I make no reference to whether I believe them to be well advised—but apart from such ingenuity as he may use in relation to the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, I see no opportunity for such a debate next week.

As the House has been promised a debate on the Middle East and as it has recently enthusiastically embraced two principles—the right to self-determination, which of course includes the Palestinians, and the principle that no militarily strong and powerful nation should unleash military operations aganist its less powerful neighbours, namely Israel and Lebanon—will my right hon. Friend arrange for that debate as soon as possible?

I think that the House generally is anxious that there should be a debate on foreign affairs and particularly the Middle East, but again, although I hope that it will be in the not too distant future, I am afraid that it cannot be quite so soon as my hon. Friend would wish.

Order. If hon. Members will co-operate by asking brief questions, I shall try to call all those who have been rising.

As the Leader of the House has said that it will be impossible to have a debate on the COI redundancies, may we have a statement on the matter? Is he aware that the ACTT has generously offered to lift the blacking to allow the Government material to be presented even though, just a few weeks ago, the Government arbitrarily sacked 26 skilled, prize-winning film-makers who would be most willing to participate in the exercise if there were only some negotiation about their jobs? May we have a statement next week as a matter of urgency?

I shall certainly pass the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my ministerial colleague who has responsibility in this matter. Then we shall see what happens.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House next week on the unfortunate development of vigilante groups in many cities throughout the United Kingdom? Is he aware that the problem was highlighted in Doctor, a weekly magazine for family practitioners? Is he further aware that it is apparently supported by certain Left-wing members of the Socialist Party and was mentioned in London Labour Briefing, which is an official journal of the Labour Party?

I shall bring my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I certainly cannot promise that a statement is likely next week.

Will the right hon. Gentleman be a little more forthcoming on the reply that he gave to his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow)? Does he accept that the situation in the Middle East is far more dangerous than that in the Falkland Islands? Does he agree that the House should have the opportunity to express its view on this, not after the event, as in the case of the Falkland Islands, but before any further outbreak of violence in the area?

I appreciate the deep anxiety of many hon. Members about the present difficulties and dangers in the Middle East, and I hope that it will secure a reasonably early debate on foreign affairs, but there is no prospect of such a debate next week.

In view of the impending changes in naval and nuclear policies, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is essential that the House should have the opportunity to debate the accountability of both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence, so that we may pass judgment on their performance in those offices and require their resignation?

The absence of debate has never inhibited the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) from passing judgment. I think that we are sufficiently close to the season for defence debates for it to be reasonable to wait until then.

What progress has been made on the promised inquiry into the events leading to the invasion of the Falkland Islands? May we have an early statement about that inquiry?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. I shall bear in mind the timing of such a statement.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that he has read the Public Accounts Committee report on the Chevaline missile? Will he prevail on the Secretary of State for Defence and on the Treasury to accelerate their response to the report so that the House will be aware of its nature before publication of the defence White Paper?

The Public Accounts Committee report was received yesterday and is now being studied. The Government will reply to the Committee in due course.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the promised inquiry into the events leading up to the invasion of the Falkland Islands is crucial, in view of the current situation? Can he promise that the inquiry is likely to take place in the very near future?

I do not think that I can go beyond my answer to the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans). My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made the position quite clear. I think that for the moment the matter must rest there.

Order. I shall call the hon. Member who has only just begun to rise after I have called the two hon. Members who have been doing so continually.

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to early-day motions Nos. 342 and 344 on the importation of seal products, following the motion overwhelmingly carried by the European Assembly?

[That this House expresses its concern at the slaughter of 200,000 baby seals in Northern Canada and, bearing in mind that the United Kingdom is one of the largest importers of seal pelts, welcomes the resolutions passed overwhelmingly by the European Parliament (160 votes to 10) on 11th March calling for a ban on the importation into the European Economic Community of all skins and products derived from young harp and hooded seals and on products coming from seals whose stocks are depleted, threatened or endangered; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government not only to accept this proposal at the Council of Ministers but also, following the example of the United States of America, France, Holland, Italy and Sweden, to take action itself to introduce such an import ban as soon as possible.]

[That this House, noting the decision of the European Parliament of 11th March 1982, requests Her majesty's Government to impose a ban on the import of products derived from baby harp and hooded seals.]

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot arrange a debate on the matter, will he ask the appropriate Minister to make an early statement on it?

As a former Minister at the Department of Trade, I am more than aware of the issue to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. I shall certainly pass his comments to my successor, who I know will be anxious to help in any way that he can.

Is it not time that the Leader of the House ensured that a statement was made or a debate arranged on the vexed question of nurses' pay? Is it not a scandal that the Government, who were elected in 1979 on the promise of free collective bargaining, are now trying to ensure that the nurses receive a pay increase of only 6·4 per cent. when the rate of inflation is nearly—

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that negotiations are still proceeding in the Whitley Council. I think that we had better wait and see what comes out of those negotiations.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Employment to make a statement next week on the dispute between dock workers and the National Dock Labour Board over the consultative document? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if the document is not withdrawn there will be an official national dock strike?

I understand that the dockers' union is threatening a national strike unless the National Dock Labour Board withdraws its consultative document containing cost-cutting proposals. This is a matter for the National Dock Labour Board, which is responsible for meeting its own administrative costs, and which is composed of an equal number of employer and trade union representatives. In those circumstances, it would not be wise for the Government to make any further move at this time.

I should like, Mr. Speaker, to preface my question with an explanation to you that I have been present throughout the exchanges but that I had expected this question to be raised by another hon. Member. In his absence, I would seek to put it to my right hon. Friend. Has my right hon. Friend heard of the report that the receiver has today called a meeting of shop stewards in the De Lorean motor plant in Belfast to announce the mothballing of that plant? If that report is correct, will my right hon. Friend at least arrange for a statement at the earliest opportunity, even if he cannot find time for a debate, and so provide hon. Members with the chance to question the Minister responsible?

I have not heard of the last-minute report to which my hon. Friend refers. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to my hon. Friend's remarks, because I am certain that it is a matter of real concern to the Province.