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Commons Chamber

Volume 32: debated on Thursday 25 November 1982

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House Of Commons

Thursday 25 November 1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

LONDON TRANSPORT (LIVERPOOL STREET) BILL

Read the Third time, and passed.

BRITISH RAILWAYS (LIVERPOOL STREET STATION) BILL (By Order)

Order for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time upon Wednesday 1 December at Seven o'clock.

Oral Answers To Questions

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Act 1982

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will introduce legislation to repeal the Northern Ireland Act 1982.

As we cannot force people to be free, when does the Secretary of State expect to bring together representative groups throughout Ireland with a view to discussing a united and independent Ireland at an early date?

The Government remain committed to the principle of self-determination, which was made statutory by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. The Assembly elections showed conclusively that the majority of voters favour the maintenance of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. That remains the main plank of the Government's platform.

If the Secretary of State does not intend to repeal the Act, will he amend the legislation that was passed by Parliament on the mistaken assumption that the minority, as defined by the Secretary of State, would participate in the Assembly?

No, Sir. Nor do I think that there was any such assumption by Parliament.

In view of the election of five members of Sinn Fein, which is dedicated to the use of the Armalite bullet as well as the ballot box, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he needs to redefine what he means by widespread community support?

No. There are several ways in which widespread community support can be defined. I suggest that the Social Democratic and Labour Party is an important part of that.

Youth Opportunities Programme

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many people are currently engaged in the youth opportunities programme in Northern Ireland.

The youth opportunities programme in Northern Ireland is being phased out and replaced by the youth training programme.

At the end of October 1982 there were 5,412 young people still engaged in the youth opportunities programme. The new comprehensive youth training programme, under which schemes generally began on 20 September, has got off to an excellent start, and by the end of October 6,417 young people were in training.

Is the Minister aware of reports of a lack of consultation with the trade unions and education boards about the employment of youths in those schemes?

There has been no intent not to consult. I agree that the trade union movement declined to take part in the Manpower Advisory Council, which is especially involved with the youth training programme. I am glad that, as a result of recent consultations, that will change. The full participation of the trade union movement in, and its support for, the programme is essential for the programme's success.

Does the Minister agree that the figures he has given are utterly derisory as there are 130,000 unemployed people in Northern Ireland? Does he agree also that it was the absence of any schemes to give employment to disaffected youth in Northern Ireland that led to the very problem that the Secretary of State has condemned—the complete alienation of young people in Northern Ireland, especially those in my constituency?

My figures about the youth training programme are extremely encouraging. Next year, everyone in the 16 and 17-year-old age group will either be in full-time education, or have a job or, if they wish, participate in the youth training programme. That is excellent news.

With regard to what the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fin) said, what is the Minister training those young people for?

It is an easy jibe to ask what is the good of putting those people in the programme if there is no job for them at the end of it. I recognise that even at the end of the programme there will be some who do not immediately get a job.

It is clear from the operation of, for example, the youth opportunities programme that such schemes, especially the new youth training programme, which is more comprehensive and thorough than previous ones, prepare young people better for their adult and working life. With regard to the prospects for Northern Ireland industry, we shall have a considerably better trained work force that should be more attractive to inward investors.

New Industry

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is at present taking to attract new industry to Northern Ireland.

The Industrial Development Board maintains a continuous drive in search of new investment in the United States of America, Japan, Scandinavia, Great Britain and elsewhere in Europe. The United States of America offers the best prospects at present and our representation there is being strengthened. The board's promotional efforts are supported by visits by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and myself, and we have both been in the United States of America within the past five weeks.

Does the Minister agree that the recent report of the Select Committee on Industry and Trade seems to show that the Republic of Ireland has been more successful in attracting industry than have the British Government and their agencies in respect of Northern Ireland? Why is that? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a reduction in unemployment would probably be the most beneficial thing to happen to that unhappy place?

For some years there has been more investment in the Republic from America and Great Britain than there has been in Northern Ireland. If one wants one reason for that, it is the image of Northern Ireland in the minds of would-be investors. However, that image is improving. The Industrial Development Board was established to provide the most efficient machinery with which to attract inward investment. We have a good package of incentives and I intend, as the relevant Minister, to see that those incentives are put to good use.

Does my hon. Friend agree that unless the two communities in Northern Ireland show a willingness to work together through the Assembly, private industry will have no incentive to invest in the Province?

There are plenty of encouragements for private industry to invest in the Province, such as the quality of the work force and the financial incentives. However, I agree that if those representing the two communities could work together, both within and without the new Assembly, it would be a great help.

Is it not political and economic nonsense that two boards—one north and one south of the Border—are trying to outbid each other for new investment? Will the Government make a new approach to the newly elected Government in Dublin with a suggestion for an all-Ireland economic development council?

Assembly

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the new Assembly; what initial programme of work he envisages being undertaken; and when it will first meet.

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the current position of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the working of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The first meeting of the newly elected Assembly took place on 11 November. The Assembly electe 1 the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) as its Presiding Officer and I congratulate him on his election to this important and responsible office. A Procedures Committee was then appointed by the Assembly under the chairmanship of the Presiding Officer. and I understand that it is due to report today. My ministerial colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office and I loos forward to establishing an effective working relationship with the Assembly, especially through its six statutory Committees. As the House knows, I shall be meeting the Assembly on Tuesday 30 November to discuss security.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that even those who, like me, view the Assembly with a degree of enthusiasm that is just about detectable under an electron microscope nevertheless welcome his decision to talk to the Assembly next week about security? Will my right hon. Friend be able to announce any tough new measures to the Assembly to deal with murder and terrorism, as some certainly seem to be needed?

I am grateful for the rather lukewarm support that my hon. Friend has given to the Assembly. I shall speak to the Assembly next Tuesday, with its permission, and I had better keep my remarks until then—.[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, all right, but I have nothing new to announce except the British Government's continal efforts to combat terrorism wherever we can.

What will the Secretary of State's attitude be towards those Assembly Members who have decided to boycott it? Will he have any talks with those Members? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that one of our criticisms of the constitutional proposals that he put before us was that there was no all-Irish dimension? Will he promise the House that once the elections in Ireland are over there will be talks with the new Government to see what can be done about future and further progress in Northern Ireland?

I have already had talks with the SDLP and would welcome further talks with it as and when it is convenient and right. All Members of the Assembly will have the opportunity to raise constituents' problems with Ministers, as requested and required. The question of wider talks with the new Government in the South will have to be considered when that Government have been formed. However. I hope that we shall be able to have good relations with whatever Government are set up.

Have not successive Governments urged supporters of the IRA to proceed not through the bullet, but through the ballot box? However strongly one opposes the IRA's methods and policies—and I certainly feel strongly about them—is it not curious to suggest that the fact that some of its supporters have been elected is in itself a criticism of the Assembly?

That certainly cannot be held to be a criticism of holding free elections. The more that we can hold free elections in Northern Ireland, the better it will be for the people of Northern Ireland and the more likely we are to turn people away from the Armalite rifle and towards the ballot box and true democracy.

Is it not a fact that, no matter how well intentioned the Government are, the minority community will have no part in the Assembly? Is it not also true that some of us, including myself, warned the Minister when discussions took place at the very beginning, that those pople would not take part because they had told us so? As a result of this ploy, is not the situation worse than it was before? Did not killings start immediately after the elections took place, when a degree of legitimacy had been given to the IRA because of the mass vote of the minority community for Sinn Fein?

I entirely refute the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question. Those who have studied Northern Ireland over the years know that the killings did not start after the elections. Regrettably, they have been going on for a very long time. We have always known that the SDLP would find it difficult to join the Assembly. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will do their best to encourage the SDLP to play a full part.

If my right hon. Friend's intention in the Northern Ireland Act was to restore a measure of local government to Northern Ireland, how long can he allow one minority party to stand in the way of the democratically expressed wishes of the vast majority of those living in the Province? Will he therefore reconsider his earlier answer about not amending the Act, at least in the near future, if that boycott continues?

Unless there is widespread acceptance throughout the community in Northern Ireland for what we are seeking to do, and for devolved Government, there is no chance of creating the political stability that we all desire.

That is the basis upon which the Government set out the Northern Ireland Act, and that remains the position.

United States Of America (Visit)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his recent visit to the United States of America.

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his recent visit to the United States of America.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what contacts with United States authorities he had on his recent visit to that country bearing upon allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency has been involved with supplies for terrorists operating in the United Kingdom.

I visited the United States of America from 14 to 22 November. I addressed several influential audiences, gave a number of radio, television, and press interviews, called on the deputy Secretary of State, Mr. Kenneth Darn, and undertook some industrial development business.

I sought to inform those I met about the current political situation in Northern Ireland, to promote the advantages of Northern Ireland as a location for inward investment and to re-emphasise earlier appeals for Americans not to give political, financial or moral support to organisations associated with the use of violence in Northern Ireland.

During my discussions with Mr. Dam I received the strongest possible assurances that the United States authorities would continue to pursue and prosecute those engaged in sending arms illegally to Northern Ireland.

I thank my right hon. Friend on behalf, I am sure, of the vast majority of people in Great Britain and, I hope, in Northern Ireland, for the efforts that he and his predecessors on both sides of the House have put into their jobs. There has been constant carping in the House about the efforts of successive Governments who have tried to solve that difficult problem.

Is my right hon. Friend aware, and does he believe, that the American Government are aware of the widespread disgust felt in this country at the behaviour of both the jurors and some of the acquitted in a recent New York court case? Can he, through the Foreign Office, bring to the attention of the American Government the feeling of many of my constituents, and others, that unless the American Government are more supportive of the Government we shall continue to see a growth of anti-American feeling?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said. The American Government are aware of the strong feelings that have been expressed on this side of the Atlantic. They share our disappointment at the outcome of the court case. Just as in this country the Executive and the judiciary are separate, so the American Government can do no more than make certain that the evidence produced at the courts is the best available. The FBI does all it can to prevent the supply of arms.

Did my right hon. Friend see reports when he was in the United States about the president of Noraid, Mr. Flannery, who, when asked during the court case whether it was true that he had been running guns to terrorists in Northern Ireland for the past seven years, denied that and said that he had been doing so for over 20 years? Does my right hon. Friend think that more should be done to persuade ordinary, decent Americans, of whatever national extraction, not to give money to or support Noraid?

Everything must be done to persuade the American public not to support Noraid. That was one of the purposes of my visit. I am also certain that the United States Government intend to prevent by any means they can cash reaching Noraid. They have already taken court action to force Noraid to comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act and register as an agent of the Provisional IRA.

I acknowledge the steps that have been taken by the FBI to prevent arms smuggling. Will the Secretary of State admit that the recent acquittal in the New York court, which resulted from claims that the CIA was involved, confirms beliefs already held and gives moral backing to the IRA terrorists? I accept that a President can be unaware of CIA activities, but will the Secretary of State say what representations have been made to the United States authorities about such allegations?

That was obviously a matter that came up during my talks. I am satisfied that the CIA was not and is not involved in the smuggling of arms to Northern Ireland. The State Department described the allegation as ludicrous, and that remains the position.

I have seen how much good my right hon. Friend's visits to America have achieved. Will he encourage other people, not merely politicians but professional people—nurses, teachers and even police officers—to go to the United States and explain to the American public that all people of all religions wish the trade in arms to Northern Ireland to stop?

Yes, Sir. The more people who go, the better it will be, provided that when they go they do so in the right spirit and use the most suitable words to appeal to a sceptical American audience.

When the Secretary of State goes to America, or meets American industrialists will he make it clear that much more stringent criteria will be applied to ventures such as that of De Lorean, that where the taxpayer supports such a venture with a majority shareholding, the taxpayer will retain majority control, and that the Government have set their face firmly against ownership by American companies to which money can be apparently siphoned off in large quantities?

Yes, Sir. There is no doubt that whenever I can I make that point forcefully.

In spite of the difficulties about security in America—I know the difficulties of getting through to certain people, especially on the west coast of America—and the terrible economic position, can the Secretary of State say anything about any success that he had with inward investment? Are public investment and Government participation still his economic policy for Northern Ireland?

It is not the easiest time to attract American investment. There is a serious recession there at the moment and they are not thinking about a great deal of overseas investment. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said this afternoon, we believe that we have an excellent package that should attract investment. It has to be stringently controlled, as I said to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). We shall have to look at our package to see whether we can make it rather more suitable. We must continue, even during this period of recession, to keep the minds of American industrialists in touch with Northern Ireland so that when they pull out of the recession they will invest.

Republic Of Ireland (Contacts)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what contacts have taken place in the last month between officials of his Department and those of the Republic of Ireland.

There have been a number of routine contacts between my officials and their counterparts in the Republic of Ireland on a wide range of practical day-to-day issues of common concern.

Do any of the Secretary of State's officials have authority to discuss with the officials of the Republic the Anglo-Irish dimension and the establishment of an Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier?

When will the Secretary of State put pressure on the new Government in the Republic about the vexed position of extradition? The European Parliament has now decided that those participating should sign the convention on terrorism, and the Republic is the odd man out. Can the Secretary of State put pressure on the Government of the Republic to do something about that?

I have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks. We had better get the fresh Government first.

After yesterday's election in the Republic, will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to approach the new Government to discuss the possibility of an all-Irish dimension to the Assembly? Ultimately, that is the only way that we shall make it work.

In due course we shall have to discuss all matters with the House, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the new Government of the South.

Plastic Bullets

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many rounds of plastic bullets were fired in Northern Ireland in the last six months; how many injuries resulted; how serious the injuries were; and how many deaths resulted.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what complaints he has received about the use of plastic bullets in Northern Ireland.

Since 1 June 1982, 370 plastic baton rounds have been fired by the security forces in Northern Ireland and three people are believed to have been injured by them. There have been no deaths caused by baton rounds during that period.

Since the beginning of this year I or my Ministers have answered 19 questions in this House or in another place on the subject of baton rounds. In addition, I or members of my Department have replied to 35 letters; not all were complaints.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether any and, if so, how many members of the security forces have been prosecuted or disciplined for breaching the regulations on firing plastic bullets? The regulations say that plastic bullets should not be aimed above the waist. The 11 deaths from plastic bullets were all the result of injuries to the head and chest.

I cannot give the hon. Lady precise figures. In a recent case two soldiers were prosecuted, tried and acquitted. That case is now closed. I assure the hon. Lady that, for a whole range of reasons, the tightest control is now exercised over the use of plastic baton rounds.

As 14 people, half of them children, have been killed and hundreds more seriously injured by rubber or plastic bullets over the past decade, why has not one single soldier or policeman responsible been convicted of murder, manslaughter or even improper use of these lethal weapons? Instead of turning a blind eye to the murder of little children, is it not time that the Secretary of State imposed a complete ban on plastic bullets, along the lines of the recent Labour Party conference decision?

The hon. Gentleman should take on board the fact that if young children are used by others to form a riot or to give protection for others in a riot, they are bound at times to get hurt—

The right thing to do is to keep young children away from a riot. The security forces have an extremely difficult job. They do not enjoy the task that is set them. They are there to protect all the people of Northern Ireland.

They do their job to the best of their ability. They need to have additional protection at this time.

How many rounds of high velocity lead bullets have been fired at the security forces in the past six months? How many injuries have those bullets caused? How serious were those injuries, and how many resulted in death?

I cannot give the answer now. If the hon. Gentleman will put down a question on the matter he has raised, I shall try to answer it. I am not certain whether he is talking about high velocity lead bullets or 45-grain plastic baton rounds. I can perhaps reply to the hon. Gentleman in a separate answer.

Would it not be better if the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), whose voice has been heard so often since she entered the House, gave her support to the forces of law and order in Northern Ireland in the same way as we presume she supports them in her constituency.

Homeless Persons

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many homeless people were housed by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in Northern Ireland during 1981.

The precise figures sought by the hon. Gentleman are not available, but I understand from the chairman of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive that during 1981 the executive provided housing in 870 cases where the applicant was homeless, was under immediate threat of homelessness, or was placed in an extremely difficult or dangerous situation because of civil disturbance.

Does the Minister agree that there is strong feeling that these matters are being made more difficult because they are caught between two Departments? Will he consider placing statutory responsibilities on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to clarify matters?

A code of practice to clarify any areas of uncertainty is expected to be published by the end of March next year. It is a high priority of the Housing Executive to house the homeless.

I recognise the needs of Belfast in respect of the homeless, but will the Minister keep in mind the other urban areas outside Belfast, where there are also homeless people?

There are 10,000 re-lets a year available to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in the Province outside Belfast as well as within it. This should ensure adequate opportunity for rehousing people in rural areas where the need arises, provided they are prepared to go to an area where accommodation is available.

Will the Minister confirm that there are at least 1,000 empty houses in my constituency, many of them built within the past 10 years? Is he aware that the Housing Executive, with his approval, would be happy to give them away?

I cannot comment on the wishes of the Housing Executive about giving the houses away. I can confirm the figure that the hon. Gentleman has given of the number of empty houses in his constituency. We are seeking to dispose of them. As they are public property, they are not available to be given away.

Will the Minister accept that the re-development programme taking place in the city of 13elfast means that those on the homeless register who have never had a home occupy low priority? Is he aware that some of these people have had their names on the homeless register for years? Cannot he make a more equitable allocation of houses in redevelopment areas to help those who have never had a home?

Absolute priority is given to the homeless by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular case in mind and writes to me, I shall take up the matter with the executive.

Social Democratic And Labour Party

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he next hopes to meet the leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour Party.

I met them earlier this month and there are no immediate plans for another meeting, but I am always ready to talk to that party's elected representatives.

Does not that reply and the Secretary of State's attitude show that he has accepted completely the Unionist veto and mean that there will never be any power sharing involving the minority? Does it mean that the Government are not prepared to make any gesture to the minority to try to get them to participate in the Assembly?

These are very difficult matters. It was laid down carefully in the Northern Ireland Act that there would have to be widespread acceptance throughout the community if there was to be any transfer of powers. That remains the position of the Government and of this House. I should have thought that it would be to the great benefit of all the parties in Northern Ireland for them to play a part in the Assembly and to seek gradually to move on toward some form of devolved administration.

When the Secretary of State meets the leaders of the SDLP, will he draw to their attention the fact that if proportional representation had not been used in the recent elections Sinn Fein would not have been elected and the SDLP would have been in a stronger electoral position?

If, within the next six months, a majority of the Members of the Assembly ask for powers over security, what will be the Secretary of State's answer?

Is the Secretary of State aware that it is the wish of many hon. Members, certainly those on the Liberal Bench, that the SDLP should play its proper part in the Assembly? We hope that he will convey that message to its leaders. Will the right hon. Gentleman also correct the impression put about by the BBC, among others, that there is no Catholic representation in the Assembly? Six of the 10 Alliance Members are Catholics.

Six Members of the Alliance Party who are Members of the Assembly are Catholics. They are playing an important part in the Assembly. I still hope that at some future date other people will join.

Capital Underspending

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his latest estimate of the capital underspending in 1982–83 on housing and other environmental projects; and if he will seek to reduce it.

I do not at present expect that there will be any capital underspending on the housing programmes in 1982–83. Capital underspending on other environmental projects is expected to be relatively small.

Does the Minister agree that the high level of unemployment and the poor housing conditions throughout Northern Ireland point to the need to increase capital expenditure? Will he take steps to tackle the problems there by doing so?

The Housing Executive capital programme will amount this year to £169 million, in addition to which £34 million will be available in grants to the private sector. Housing associations are spending £29·5 million. These are high figures. The building programme in Belfast is the largest since 1875. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and Opposition Members will feel that this is some progress in the direction that the House would expect.

Does the Minister accept, unlike his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, that capital investment involves revenue expenditure'? Will he bear that fact in mind in planning expansion, especially in housing, where 37 per cent. of building firms are working at under half capacity.

The number of people unemployed in the construction industry in Northern Ireland has fallen by about 2,000 during the past 12 months. That shows that our capital expenditure programme is creating jobs on the ground.

Will the Minister tell the House what is happening in the negotiations about the £18 million that was to come from the European Community for housing in the Belfast area?

That is a different question. If the hon. Gentleman will table it, I shall endeavour to answer it.

Political Initiatives

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he proposes to take any further political initiatives in Northern Ireland.

The Government will continue to seek to give the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland a greater say in their own affairs in a way which is acceptable to both sides of the community.

As my right hon. Friend's latest initiative has proved abortive, will he now abandon it, and also all thoughts of a parliamentary tier—which can only encourage those who want a united Ireland—and instead provide Northern Ireland with the long period of stable government that it badly needs?

I hope that my hon. Friend will give me some support in helping to provide the long period of stable government that Northern Ireland needs. I do not believe that the way he suggests would bring that about.

I regret that the SDLP is not playing its full part in the Assembly. Am I right to assume—as I hope I am—that the cross-community support part of the Act remains valid, and does that mean that the SDLP plays its part in that cross-community support whether it is in or out of the Assembly?

That part must be valid, because it is part of an Act of Parliament. In answer to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the SDLP being outside the Assembly. only if the SDLP came into the Assembly and played its full part there would it be possible to find out whether there was the amount of cross-community support that was necessary for devolved government.

I am one of those who ensured that the Secretary of State would have the pleasure of an early opportunity to speak to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Bearing in mind what he said about security a few minutes ago, and that he said that he had nothing new to say to the Assembly, what does he hope to achieve on Tuesday afternoon?

That remains to be seen. As the hon. Gentleman was one of those who asked me to attend, perhaps he, too, should wait.

On the subject of initiatives, will my right hon. Friend answer directly the question that was posed to him a little earlier by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)? Has my right hon. Friend given permission for any of his officials to indulge in discussions about the Anglo-Irish dimension? Will he give the House a direct answer to that question?

Assembly Elections

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the outcome of the recent elections to the Assembly in the Province.

The people of Northern Ireland have elected those whom they wish to represent them and the Assembly has now met. For the first time for eight years Northern Ireland has a locally elected Assembly which can get to grips with the Province's problems, not least in the economic sphere.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the non-participation by the SDLP and other minority parties means that the Northern Ireland Assembly is now a dead duck? Will he say what new positive initiatives he has in mind?

Hon. Members do neither their own cause not the cause of Northern Ireland any good by seeking to undermine and forecast events in Northern Ireland long before they are proved. I suggest that what is needed is a bit of patience, understanding and help.

In an endeavour to help the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, may I ask him to tell the House what initiatives he now has in mind for power-sharing, a parliamentary dimension, and an Anglo-Irish and a North-South dimension to encourage the SDLP to come to the Assembly?

It would be far better to allow things to settle down. I shall report later to the House.

Unemployment Statistics

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many people are currently unemployed in Northern Ireland; and what percentage of those have been without work for more than one year.

At 11 October 1982, it was estimated that there were 113,700 unemployed claimants in Northern Ireland, of whom 43 per cent. had been continuously claiming unemployment benefit for more than one year.

Will the Minister's Department use the same fiddling techniques that have been adopted by the Secretary of State for unemployment for the figures for Great Britain as a whole and try to get the figures down by meddling with the books? Will the Minister bear in mind that if it is right and proper for this Government to allocate large sums of money to the Falkland Islands, a colony, it might be right and proper to allocate the same sort of money on a pro rata basis to another colony, Northern Ireland?

No, Sir. The House knows very well that Northern Ireland is not a colony. Equally, those who take any interest in Northern Ireland affairs know that it is an area of the United Kingdom that receives the highest per capita subvention from the Exchequer.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 November.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the mean and niggardly intention of her Government to claw back £90 million from pensioners in 1983 is meeting with widespread criticism and resentment among the British people, including the working population, to whom she referred in a reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition last week? Is she further aware that it has been made clear that people will accept the additional financial burden? In view of that, does not the right hon. Lady think that she would be wise and prudent to abandon the whole despicable measure?

There is little that I can add to what I said before. The 11 per cent. in pension and benefits increase that takes place this year adds £375 million in respect of pensions over and above what would have been necesary to keep them in line with inflation. If one takes the figure of 11 per cent. for all the benefits this year, it has added about £700 million to the bill. This is an addition, not a clawback. For next year, decisions will be taken at the time of the Budget. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in a full year there is a contingency amount of about £180 millon. How that amount is disbursed will not be decided until the Budget next year.

Does the Prime Minister recall the manifesto commitment

"We shall cut income tax at all levels"!
Is she aware from the figures that were announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday that that pledge has been redeemed only for households where the weekly income exceeds £587? When will the right hon. Lady extend that to all other levels, at which most people exist, particularly the poorer people?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. and learned Friend substantially reduced the standard rate of income tax. I look forward to hearing from the right hon. Gentleman precisely what cuts he proposes to enable us to cut income tax further.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this year we shall export 31 per cent. of our products and that half of that will be to the European Community? Would it not be absolute folly to withdraw from the European Community, thus making it even more difficult to increase pensions as we have done this year?

I confirm that we export about 31 per cent. of our GDP. We are an exporting nation. About 43 per cent. of our exports go to the European Community. Because of our membership we attract a large amount of inward investment and a large number of jobs. Any suggestion that we withdraw from the European Community would dislocate our trade and cause dismay and concern to industry and to those whose job it is to create wealth and jobs.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to ask the South Atlantic fund when it will make direct payments to Service men who were disabled, in many cases severely, in the South Atlantic conflict? Moreover, is it not despicable that the Ministry of Defence should have been clawing back the London weighting allowance from severely disabled ex-Service men during periods of hospitalisation?

I have already been in touch with the South Atlantic fund to ask what is happening about those who are disabled. As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, the fund has made about £1·9 million immediately available to those who are disabled. It has paid out temporary sums varying from £2,000 to £20,000 to some of the disabled until the final assessment can be made. I am already in touch with the fund about whether further capital sums should be paid out. It assures me, as I believe it has assured everyone, that every need of those disabled in the Falkland campaign will be fully met.

Will my right hon. Friend have time today to look at public expenditure? Does she agree that if public expenditure were increased this year by £5,000 million, rising in year five to £18,000 million, that would lead not only to massive inflation, but to massive rates of interest, the collapse of sterling and a return to being under the control of the IMF?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It would do just that, but that is what one would expect from the Labour Party.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 November.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the Prime Minister aware that British Leyland has a purchasing policy of going abroad as much as possible—although it was saved by the intervention of her Government and the previous Labour Government—and is now putting in grave, if not mortal, danger the motor components and machine tool industries that supply British Leyland? In the light of the miraculous effect that we saw after the group of eight descended on No. 10, will she call on the 10 major suppliers of machine tools and components to British Leyland and agree a programme with them whereby British Leyland will buy British, and if Government support is necessary, will she commit herself to that?

British Leyland will also have to consider the price at which it can sell its products. I hope that people will buy British, but I do not say that to protect any kind of inefficiency. If we are to buy British, we have a right to expect that British components will be fully up to the price competitiveness and design of those from overseas.

Despite the problems that are facing various of the international financial centres, will my right hon. Friend please assure the House that under no circumstances whatever will Her Majesty's Government tolerate an extra-territoral freeze on financial assets in the British branches of foreign banks, as took place in the Iranian asset freeze?

My hon. Friend is talking about attempts to exercise extra-territorial jurisdiction on this country by overseas Governments. We shall continue to resist attempts by overseas Governments to apply their jurisdiction to the United Kingdom.

Has the Prime Minister read the text of the answers given to me by Treasury Ministers in the past three days about tax burdens? Does she agree that, as a matter of fact, a reduction in the basic rate of tax of 9½p in the pound would be required to get us back down to the tax burdens that she started with in 1979?

If that is the reply given by the Treasury, it is obviously correct. I should also like to know from the hon. Gentleman, bearing in mind that expenditure has to be covered by tax or by borrowings at a reasonable interest rate, precisely what measures to cut public expenditure he will support to get income tax down to the level that he desires.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour-controlled GLC has spent over £500,000 on its political magazine The Londoner, over £300,000 on political campaigns and £220,000 on minority groups such as the English Collective of Prostitutes, Lesbian Line, and the Teenage Gay Rights Group? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a waste of money, particularly when it is combined with roaring rates that are driving industry, jobs and people out of London?

My hon. Friend is correct. It is a disgraceful waste of money and a disgraceful imposition of increases on the tax burden, especially for small businesses.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 November.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

During the course of the day, will the right hon. Lady take the advice of a former Conservative Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Macmillan, who said in the debate on the fair wages resolution in the House of Commons that the resolution was: The great protector of the standard of life of the mass of the working classes. Will the right hon. Lady tell the House why she is seeking to abolish this piece of legislation and why she thinks she knows better than Mr. Harold Macmillan?

There is something even more fundamental than that. The protector of the standard of life is the capacity to produce goods at a competitive price and of a design that will sell. There is no other protector for our country as a whole.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to turn her attention to the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe? Is she aware that public support for the large-scale financial support that we give Zimbabwe could rapidly disappear if that country were to go along the road to a one-party dictatorship and cease to respect basic human rights?

We are especially concerned about some of the reports of the absence of human rights for some of those in the air force who have been detained, and we are concerned about reports of torture of those people. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made strenuous representations to Mr. Mugabe when he was in Zimbabwe. We are always concerned about failure to observe or uphold human rights, especially as we made provision for this in the constitution that we gave to Zimbabwe.

Although it seems evident that the right hon. Lady is determined not to answer any questions, particularly if they touch upon her election promises, may I ask her whether she has now had time to consider the deplorable answer that she gave me on Tuesday about the deployment of the MX missiles by President Reagan and the Government of the United States? It is being said on the other side of the Atlantic that Congress should ask again and again whether the United States needs a weapon that buys so little time and ignites so many risks. That is the view expressed by the New York Times. Is she prepared to let this new impetus be given to the arms race without the British Government having anything to say on the matter?

The MX missile was sanctioned by the Carter Administration. The proposed deployment of 100 MX missiles is only half of what the Carter Administration envisaged. With regard to the relative numbers of inter-continental ballistic missiles, the United States has 1,052 and the Soviet Union 1,398. If we take total strategic systems, including submarine-launched ballistic missiles, the United States has 1,958 and the Soviet Union, 2,704. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman was as concerned for our defence as —[Interruption.]

I am extremely concerned, as I imagine every sane man and woman in this country is to stop the nuclear arms race, which is the biggest threat to the world. So far the right hon. Lady has shown not the slightest interest in such matters. When the United States Government take a step that could give a great impetus to that race the right hon. Lady comes to the House and says nothing about it. Is it not a fact that President Carter's proposals about these missiles were very different from those that President Reagan has now authorised? Is it not the fact also that many spokesmen for President Carter and his party in the United States have condemned President Reagan's proposal? Is it not the case that, as I have said, the New York Times agrees—[Interruption.] I know that the Conservative Party has never shown much interest in this matter, but the Labour Party will try to stop the arms race. Has the right hon. Lady had any discussions with the United States Government on this most important new weapon that is being introduced into the arms race?

We have not had discussions recently. We stand by multilateral disarmament as the way to reduce nuclear weapons, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who has been naive enough to support unilateral disarmament. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is President Reagan who has put forward proposals for multilateral disarmament, both for nuclear and conventional weapons. We are awaiting a response from the Soviet Union. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will turn his criticisms to the Soviet Union instead of the United States.

I am quite prepared to direct criticisms on these matters at either the United States Government or the Soviet Government. We want to discover whether the British Government have any policy on these matters. The right hon. Lady's answers show that she is prepared to let this new breed of weapon be established without any voice from Britain whatever. When will she do her duty on these issues?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that we fully support multilateral disarmament. We totally criticise the Soviet Union's deployment of SS20s on a colossal scale. I have never heard the right hon. Gentleman criticise that. [Interruption.] We totally criticise the Soviet Union's possession of a stockpile—[Interruption.]

Order. The Prime Minister must be allowed to continue. I have said before that disagreement is no reason for shouting down, especially in this place.

We totally criticise the Soviet Union's possession of a stockpile of chemical weapons to which Britain has no reply. Our policy is to have a balanced reduction of armaments on a multilateral basis, which must be verifiable. That is the only sure way to peace and security. The right hon. Gentleman's policy would put peace at risk.

I must correct the right hon. Lady because she obviously has not studied the matter. I and my hon. Friends have frequently criticised the establishment of the SS20s by the Soviet Government. She should withdraw her remark. However, I am more concerned to pursue the other matter. When will the right hon. Lady say anything on these matters that happens to be slightly different from saying "Ditto" to President Reagan?

I am delighted to hear that the right hon. Gentleman criticises the SS20s. Therefore, I hope that he will criticise the Soviet Union for putting them in place and direct his attention to that. I have now heard him criticise them for the first time.

I hope, too, that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we should have every bit as much strategic nuclear weaponry at our disposal as the Soviet Union, every bit as much intermediate nuclear weaponry at our disposal as the Soviet Union, and that we must negotiate to try to reduce conventional weapons. Our policy is clear and sound—multilateral disarmament on a balanced and verifiable basis. I hope that he will accept and agree with that. It would be a great advance.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the heated exchanges and scenes of the past five minutes, would you consider leading a sizeable deputation of right hon. and hon. Members from this House to visit the Northern Ireland Assembly to demonstrate how reasonable that Assembly can be?

Order. I do not require help on that one. I know the Speaker of that honourable House and I therefore understand why its Members are in such good order.

ara: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you also recall that because of policies adopted by the Government the loyal Opposition in that honourable House do not feel that they can take their place.

Business Of The House

3.35 pm

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 29 NovEMBER—Second Reading of the Telecommunications Bill.

TUESDAY 30 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill.

Second Reading of the National Insurance Surcharge Bill.

WEDNESDAY I DECEMBER—There will be a debate on steel, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

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

THURSDAY 2 DECEMBER—A debate On the expansion of cable systems.

The report of the inquiry into cable expansion and broadcasting policy, Cmnd. 8679, will be relevant.

FRIDAY 3 DECEMBER—Privates Members' motions.

MONDAY 6 DECEMBER—Opposition day (2nd Allotted Day). Subject for debate to be announced.

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the two responses that he has made to my requests over recent weeks—first, for the provision of a day to discuss cable systems. I am glad about that. The Government are wise to let us have a full debate on that before they make any decisions about how they will proceed. Secondly, I am glad to have the offer of Government time for a debate on steel. However, can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that the Minister will make a full policy statement at that time? We would obviously wish to have that. Further, may we have the debate on fisheries that we have asked for on several occasions?

There are two other matters that I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman. There has been a written answer about the proposed privatisation of Companies House. It seemed a strange way to make a statement. That the Government should consider privatising Companies House seems to me to be an extraordinary decision. For them to half-announce it in a written answer is equally extraordinary. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say something on that.

Will the Prime Minister make a statement about the rearrangements of her staff at No. 10 Downing Street? I know that the right hon. Gentleman may not have heard the latest announcement on what appointments are being made there, but it seems to us that there should be a statement from the right hon. Lady to the House about that. I presume that she will be making a statement when she has completed those changes.

As to the right hon. Gentleman's last point, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will have heard what the Leader of the Opposition has said. She has said that she will inform the House in the usual manner, which in this instance will be in answer to a parliamentary question.

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the matter of Companies House will be before the House on the Adjournment on Thursday 2 December. However, I take note of what he has said and will inform the relevant Minister.

I stand by the commitment that has been given on a debate on fisheries, although the question of timing is one that we shall further consider.

As the right hon. Gentleman has said, the debate on steel will take place very much as a result of the many requests for it that have been made in the House, especially from the Opposition Front Bench. The timing of the debate will not fall in such a way that will enable my right hon. friend to make a definitive policy statement, because discussions are continuing. In particular, the Government are still considering options with the chairman of the British Steel Corporation. No decisions have been taken. When they have been taken, there will be a Government statement and an opportunity for a debate. Meanwhile, the House will have an opportunity next Wednesday to express its views on this important subject before decisions are taken.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the cable debate.

May I raise one or two additional matters in the light of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks? I appreciate that the steel debate will take place in Government time. If the right hon. Gentleman gives a guarantee that we shall have a further debate on the issue at a later stage, I think that we shall be able to accept his response on that basis.

It is absurd to imagine that an Adjournment debate can deal with the privatisation of Companies House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will examine that proposal afresh.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to meet our proposals by announcing debates on two issues. I hope that he will be able to meet the request that we have made on a number of occasions for a debate on security at a fairly early stage. I think that he suggested last week that he fully agreed that that should happen.

The request for a security debate should be pursued through the usual channels. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find helpful the comments that I have made about that. I note what he has said about Companies House. I have been reasonably forthcoming on the issue, but I shall discuss it with the relevant Minister.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that before Britain signs the draft convention on the law of the sea there will be a debate in the Chamber? Is he aware that considerable anxiety is being expressed at the suggestion that recommendations will be put before the Cabinet and that the matter will be decided without a debate?

I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs the anxieties of my hon. Friend. I know that it will be his concern that the House should be informed. I cannot at this stage guarantee a debate.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a guarantee that he will find a brief moment to allow us to debate the rehabilitation of Service men who have been severely handicapped both in Northern Ireland and on the Falkland Islands?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter. It is one that can be pursued by hon. Members. I cannot guarantee any time for a debate, and certainly not next week.

As there is some sign that the Government are reaching their conclusions on the future of the fast reactor programme, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether a statement will be made in the House, following which questions can be put to the responsible Minister, if a conclusion is reached?

That will be a most important decision that will merit a statement in the House.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that he is in danger of creating a Guinness Book record for the number of Second Readings that are being introduced at this time of the year? Will he tell me the reason for the rush?

It is just possible that later in the year my hon. Friend will look back with great gratitude to the way in which Government business is being handled.

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made next week by the Solicitor-General for Scotland on police intervention in industrial disputes? Is he aware that there will be a real row in Fife early next week as a direct result of this stupid policy?

I understand that the matter is shortly to come before the Sheriff court and is now sub judice.

May I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) has said about the importance of having a debate on the law of the sea before the Government take a final decision? It would be intolerable for a great maritime nation like the United Kingdom to put its signature to such an important document without having had the opportunity of hearing the views of both sides of the House.

I appreciate that. I do not want to diminish the profound significance of the subject. However. it k the sort of issue which is normally discussed through the usual channels. I hope that my right hon. Friend will allow me to rest on that score.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider having a statement made on the arrangements which have been made and which are being discussed between the Bank of England and the clearing banks with Argentina for rescheduling debts and for establishing a sort of cooling-off period for the repayment of certain instalments? This is especially important because the Bank of England appears to be prepared to use the lifeboat scheme at a time when the French are selling Exocet missiles. It is possible that the arrangements that are being made to bail out the Argentine economy by the Bank of England and the clearers will result in the Argentine using the money to buy missiles from the French.

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to what the hon. Gentleman has said.

May we be assured that there will be a statement next week by the Minister for Trade on the GATT discussions at Geneva or, better still, a debate before Christmas on free trade versus import controls, which is an issue that appears to divide the House?

I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Trade will be anxious to make a statement to the House the moment that it becomes appropriate to do so in the light of the progress of the GATT talks. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have noticed that there is the prospect of a debate on trade protection when private Member's motions are taken on Friday next.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that last week I asked him to arrange for a statement to be made on Companies House? Is he aware that the statement was not made and that yesterday, in a written reply, the Government announced their intention possibly to proceed with the privatisation of Companies House? Will he arrange for a Minister to make a statement next week prior to my Adjournment debate on Thursday of next week?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I think that he will appreciate that there were exchanges between the Leader of the Opposition and myself on the very topic that he has raised. I cannot go beyond that.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the House of Commons is a debating chamber and not only a legislative chamber? I do not wish to take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis), but will my right hon. Friend be more forthcoming in responding to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) about a general debate on trade? It is an issue of extreme importance to industry and employment. To say that it can be discussed when the House considers a private Member's motion on a Friday or Monday is not good enough. Will he give an undertaking that a general debate on trade, which affects the life of every man, woman and child in Britain, will take place in Government time in a mid-week debate?

I cannot give an undertaking that there will be a debate in Government time on trade next week. However, I am fully aware of the importance of the topic. My hon. Friend is long enough in the tooth to know perfectly well that a good debating speech can be made as effectively in private Members' time as in Government time.

It has been announced that the Prime Minister is to have senior advisers on foreign affairs and defence as well as an adviser on economic matters. There are implications in the enlarging of the Prime Minister's office. Are we to have a statement about these developments?

No. I think that they are healthy developments, and I am sure that the House and the nation will come to appreciate them.

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to read the recent report of the Select Committee on Social Services on the age of retirement? Can parliamentary time be made available for a full debate on the topic before too long?

I think that the House and the public would like some time to digest the very important recommendations that are made in the report, which touch on the conduct of economic policy. It is important for Select Committee reports to be interwoven into our debates as a matter of course.

Further to the question of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the privatisation of Companies House, Cardiff, will the Leader of the House confirm that such legislation will await the result of the next general election? If he will say that, it will greatly assist my candidature.

I realise that the right hon. Gentleman's candidature is in need of assistance. I will generously consider anything that I might do to that end.

To help the Leader of the Opposition, will my right hon. Friend consider publishing the figures regarding the staff of the Prime Minister's office, the Central Policy Review Staff and the Cabinet Office because I believe he will find that they have fallen considerably since the Government came to office?

There is clearly a great spirit of charity and help in the Chamber at this moment. I would not wish to disturb it and so I will consider the matter.

Since in the lifetime of this Parliament the only debate on the plight of the disabled in Britain has taken place in Opposition time, when may we have a full day's debate in Government time to discuss the plight of these unfortunate people?

As the hon. Gentleman said, the House has had a valuable debate in Opposition time. I cannot offer time for such a debate either next week or immediately thereafter.

Has my right hon. Friend had time to reflect upon and perhaps reconsider the rather unhelpful answer he gave me last week when I called attention to the inability of the European Parliament, of this Parliament and even of the Government to veto edicts by the Commission which were delegated European legislation and the effect that that would have on established procedures and traditions in this country? Is not this matter rather more important than one insignificant Back Bencher's campaign and should it not attract the attention of the whole House of Commons?

I would never dream of designating my hon. and learned Friend as an insignificant Back Bencher. If I heard his words correctly, what he is proposing would amount to a fundamental amendment to the European Communities Act 1971—

I notice that my hon. and learned Friend agrees with me. It is not a matter that I can resolve by question and answer on a Thursday afternoon.

As the House has consistently shown its repugnance of judicial murder, will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to make strong and powerful representations to the South African Government to commute the death sentences recently passed on three individuals?

I will, of course, refer the hon. Gentleman's request to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I know from the voices echoed in the Chamber that he carries many hon. Members with him.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is rumoured that heads of nationalised industries are soon to receive a 15 or 20 per cent. pay increase in contrast to the 3 to 5 per cent. increases that we are rightly inviting other people to accept? May we have a statement soon so that the important matter of the advisability of having one law for one group of people and one law for another can be debated in the House?

If we had a debate every time we heard a rumour, we would be absolutely gorged with words. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to my hon. Friend's anxieties.

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been standing. If hon. Members are brief, I shall be able to call them all.

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made on the Government's biotechnology programme? It is an extremely important subject and at stake is a £40 billion world-wide market. The House should have an opportunity to discuss the Government's totally inadequate response to this glorious opportunity.

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's allegations about the Government's inadequacy, but I realise that he has raised a matter about which concern is felt throughout the Chamber. I will certainly draw the attention of the relevant Ministers to his point.

May we expect a debate before Christmas on the economic future of the Falkland Islands? If not, when may we expect such a debate? will the right hon. Gentleman give a categoric assurance on behalf of the Government that no economic commitments will be entered into by Her Majesty's Government on the Falklands' economic future until such a debate has taken place?

I recognise that there is great interest in having such a debate, but as to the timing of it I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a specific date.

In view of the increasing anxiety in the British aerospace industry, will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate so that some of the issues can be clarified?

It will not be possible in Government time. At the moment, we are fairly heavily committed with Government business, but I do not deny the importance of the topic. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find ways of making his voice heard on it.

I wish to hark back to the crucial question asked by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the advisers in Downing Street. Is the Leader of the House aware that at 9.55 pm last night I received from the Prime Minister an answer to a written question announcing that Sir Anthony Parsons had been appointed as from 1 April 1983? It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) that this is a healthy development, but does he realise that this will set up in Britain a third Foreign Office? First, there is the official Foreign Office, secondly we have Robin O'Neill—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not make his argument now. He is asking a business question about next week. He cannot argue the case now.

My business question is that the second Foreign Office of Robin O'Neill and Brigadier Gurdon—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question about business next week, or I shall have to move on.

Will there be a statement on the implications of having not only advisers but staff at sub-ambassadorial level set up at Downing Street? That is something new for the British constitution.

I cannot help the hon. Gentleman in the sense that I can go no further than the answer I gave to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.

In view of the exchanges earlier this afternoon, may we have an early debate on nuclear disarmament, particularly in view of the resolution passed recently by the United Nations on a nuclear freeze? We could then have an opportunity to deploy the arguments which demonstrate clearly that the Americans have a two to one advantage over the Soviet Union in strategic warheads and theatre and tactical nuclear weapons, and we would not have to rely on outbursts of fake indignation and fake statistics from the Prime Minister.

The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that the issue of nuclear policy will be of lively concern in the Chamber and to the nation at large as we approach a general election. In that sense, I hope he does not believe that I alone can supply time to debate these matters.

Has the Leader of the House seen press reports this morning which refer to a veto on seal skin imports into Britain which would appear to show that the Government are more interested in Canadian public opinion than in British public opinion? May we expect a statement next week from the Minister for Trade about a ban on the import of skins from seals which have been brutally murdered in Canada by hunters?

I will certainly represent that interest to my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Trade.

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) about the proceedings in Kirkcaldy sheriff court on Tuesday of next week, is the Leader of the House aware that he is technically correct in that the matter is sub judice until Tuesday, but could he give an assurance that the Solicitor-General for Scotland will make a statement about the circumstances in which the 12 laboratory technicians working at the Victoria hospital in Kirkcaldy were arrested? Is he aware that this was purely an industrial dispute and that the circumstances in which the 12 laboratory technicians were arrested were very mysterious? Going beyond the court hearing on Tuesday, which I accept is sub judice, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Solicitor-General for Scotland will make a statement to the House?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has confirmed that the matter is sub judice. I am sure that he will appreciate that I as an Englishman and a layman would be diffident about going beyond that. I will refer the hon. Gentleman's points to the Solicitor-General for Scotland.

Arms Depots

3.59 pm

Mr. Frank Haynes
(Ashfield)