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Business Of The House

Volume 22: debated on Thursday 29 April 1982

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3.31 pm

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:

TUESDAY 4 MAY—Remaining stages of the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 5 MAY—Consideration in Committee on the Finance Bill.

Motion relating to the Supplementary Benefits (Claims and Payments) Amendment Regulations.

THURSDAY 6 MAY—Supply [18th Allotted Day].: There will be a debate on economic and employment prospects in Wales, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment.

FRIDAY 7 MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY Io MAY—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Bill.

May I put four questions to the right hon. Gentleman? First, will he give an assurance—I am sure that he will—that the whole of the proceedings on the Northern Ireland Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House?

Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be an early statement next week on the announcements being made by British Rail about the very serious cuts affecting railway workshops and apprentice schools at Shildon, Norwich and Swindon which could have very big effects upon railway employment? I hope that he will give an assurance that there will be an early statement on the subject.

Thirdly, it is now a week since the Government received the arbitration proposals on Civil Service pay. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an urgent statement to be made on the Government's acceptance of the award? Can he also ensure that the statement is not made—by accident, of course—on Friday?

Fourthly, the unemployment figures announced this week are extremely serious. We expect the Government to arrange an early debate on the subject in which their attitude should be explained.

The Falklands Islands crisis, of course, dominates our thoughts and it may be that the House will have to be recalled before next Tuesday. If a recall is necessary, I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will be ready to agree to it.

First, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether the whole of the proceedings on the Northern Ireland Bill would be taken on the Floor of the House. The answer is "Yes".

Secondly, I appreciate the importance that the right hon. Gentleman attaches to the proposed developments in the railway industry, and I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Thirdly, I hope that a statement on Civil Service pay can be made next week.

Fourthly, the right hon. Gentleman asked for a debate on unemployment. These matters were debated during the recent proceedings on the Budget and the Finance Bill and I cannot hold out any hope of a debate next week. But doubtless the right hon. Gentleman, as guardian of a number of Supply days, would like to consider one of them for the purpose.

Finally, should the Falkland Islands situation require a recall before next Tuesday, that is something that we can negotiate through the usual channels.

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to look again at the representations made about the nature of Northern Ireland business by the official Opposition and ourselves?

I do not wish in any sense to be negative and say that I would not look again at the matter; of course I would. But I should convey to the House my feeling that the Second Reading of the Bill should be as proposed after its introduction on 20 April, and I do not think that it is unusual that a Second Reading should take place on a Monday. But I appreciate the point made by the hon. Gentleman.

Order. It has been intimated to me that a very large number of right hon. and hon. Members are hoping to take part in the main debate today. A considerable proportion of them have indicated to me the fact, which I already knew, that they have sat through the previous debates without being called. It would be helpful if we could spend less time on business questions today.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 416 entitled "A Scottish Convention"? In view of the Government's intention to press on with devolution for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister's statement at the time of the Scottish referendum, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate on that subject?

[That this House notes the strenuous efforts being made by Her Majesty's Government to re-introduce legislative and executive self-government to Northern Ireland; contrasts these efforts with the action of Her Majesty's Government in using a majority of honourable Members from English constituencies to defeat a Scottish majority on 20th June 1979 when the Scotland Act 1978 was repealed; observes that, despite promises by the Lord Home of the Hirsel on behalf of the Conservative Party and by Her Majesty's Government when in opposition, no improved version of the Scotland Act 1978 has been placed before the House; observes that a majority of Scottish voters in a referendum in March 1979 did vote for legislative and executive powers for a Scottish Assembly and that support for the concepts of both independence and devolution for Scotland has grown since then; and in view of the willingness of Her Majesty's Government to concede to Northern Ireland the right to determine the degree of self-determination acceptable to Northern Ireland and to support the same issue with regard to the Falkland Islands, calls upon the Government to initiate urgent action to establish a Scottish Convention, elected by the people of Scotland under a system of proportional representation, which will be empowered to produce a system of self-government acceptable to the people of Scotland.]

The right hon. Gentleman is no friend of Northern Irish legislation if he thinks it to be the precursor of Scottish devolution. I cannot promise him that which he requested, particularly next week.

As a decision on Civil Service pay will be made shortly, does my right hon. Friend agree that this adds weight to the urgency of debating the Scott report, which ties up with the whole of the Civil Service pay structure?

My hon. Friend is indefatigable in his pursuit of this topic, but I cannot add to the answer I gave him last week.

Can the right hon. Gentleman provide for a statement to be made next week on the dismissal of 26 Central Office of Information film makers and the generous offer by the ACTT to lift the blacking of Government information films? Will he ensure that negotiations are entered into sincerely by the Government? These people were dismissed without recourse to arbitration or reasonable negotiation.

I understand that the hon. Gentleman saw the Minister of State, Treasury, on this matter at the end of last month. I do not think that there is anything I can reasonably add to the exchanges that then took place, but I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced parliamentarian, that there are many ways whereby he could raise this matter on the Floor of the House without asking the Government for time.

Order. I shall call those hon. Members who have been rising in their places and will then move on.

Will my right hon. Friend think carefully before allowing a fifth debate next week on the Falkland Islands crisis? I know that he told me on Tuesday that our debates helped our diplomacy, but diplomacy should be in secret and not conducted in the House of Commons. What can we say here which will help the soldiers, sailors and marines in the task force? Will not a further debate give another opportunity for endless verbiage from the Leader of the Opposition?

I believe that the conduct of this enterprise can be best secured with a broad consensus of national support. If that cannot be expressed through the House of Commons, I know of no other institution through which it can be.

When will the right hon. Gentleman put down a motion to implement the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure relating to Supply days which were conveyed to him a little while ago?

I do not think that I can make a promise for next week, but I am seized of the subject.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 428, which has now been signed by more than 80 right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, concerning the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn)? Does my right hon. Friend feel that perhaps there should be an early debate on Marxism and its apparent dichotomies and where they stand against the actions of Fascist dictatorships?

[That this House wholeheartedly supports the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Bristol South East in the Marx Memorial Lecture delivered in London on 16 March 1982 and reprinted in the May issue of Marxism Today that "There is clearly an inherent right to take up arms against tyranny or dictatorship, to establish or uphold democracy, on exactly the same basis, and for the same reasons, that the nation will respond to a call to arms to defeat a foreign invasion, or repel those who have successfully occupied a part of our territory."]

I am sure that we are indebted to the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) for drawing attention to the robust views of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), who has an inherent right to have them expressed. It might be objected that he has now expressed a somewhat contradictory view. But I fear that, if we were to have a debate on every issue on which the right hon. Gentleman has changed his mind, we would have to change the procedure of the House to accommodate them.

In view of the rapidly deteriorating situation in National Health Service hospitals that has been caused by the callous and insensitive response of the Government to the reasonable wage demands of nurses and ancillary workers, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that the Secretary of State for Social Services will make a full statement on the matter to the House next week?

The hon. Gentleman gives a crude and completely unfair caricature of my right hon. Friend's attitude. Negotiations are now in progress. Doubtless my right hon. Friend will take account of what the hon. Gentleman has said and whether the negotiations will be assisted by a statement to the House next week?

Does my right hon. Friend believe that it is appropriate to use parliamentary time for another debate on unemployment—other than a Supply day of course—as most Opposition Members seem to take the day off'? Does he agree that there are rarely more than four or five Opposition Members in the Chamber during such debates?

May we have a debate on the information services? Why has the Spanish service been increased by only one hour in the light of current events? Why was an untruthful advertisement published in The Times on Saturday? Why was there no contra-indication from the Government about its untruthfulness? Why is it stated in a British evening newspaper that the excellent work of Sir Nicholas Henderson in the United States has not been backed up by Ministers and civil servants?

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting and controversial point. I can only tell him that there will be no scope for a debate on that subject next week.

With regard to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about railway finance, does the right hon. Gentleman agree—I speak as one of the four assessors who accompanied Lord McCarthy and his tribunal—that the statements that have been made prior to the outcome of Lord McCarthy's tribunal being announced could greatly influence the attitude of trade unions in the railway industry about the decision that might be made. Will the right hon. Gentleman agree to the request of my right hon. Friend for a debate to resolve the possibilities of a major industrial problem?

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked for a statement. I fear that, as is often the case, his request has escalated into a call for a debate. I cannot helpfully add to what I thought was a fairly friendly reply to the Leader of the Opposition.