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Business Of The House

Volume 35: debated on Thursday 27 January 1983

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3.36 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 31 JANUARY—There will be a debate on a motion on the fishing industry.

The relevant orders and documents will appear in the Official Report. Motion on EEC Document 5326/82 on insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles.

TUESDAY 1 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Transport Bill (Allotted Day).

WEDNESDAY 2 FEBRUARY—There will be a debate until about seven o'clock on the youth training scheme, and afterwards a debate on trade.

The House will be asked to agree the Civil and Defence Votes on Account and the Winter Supplementary Estimates.

Proceedings on the Representation of the People Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

THURSDAY 3 FEBRUARY—Opposition day (6th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion on the report of the Serpell committee on railway finances.

Motion relating to the Supply of Services (Exclusion of Implied Terms) Order.

FRIDAY 4 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 7 FEBRUARY—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

May I put a few matters to the right hon. Gentleman that arise out of the replies given to questions a few minutes ago? First, the Prime Minister said that there was British participation in loans to Argentina. That gives rise to anxiety on both sides of the House, as was shown by the questions that were asked a few minutes before the Prime Minister came into the Chamber today, especially in the light of undertakings that she gave before Christmas.

I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that the Prime Minister makes a further statement in the house next week about that matter. It obviously gives rise to considerable anxiety, especially when she is saying that no talks must take place until Argentina properly recognises the end to hostilities. There should be a statement on the subject.

The right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) mentioned the impasse with regard to the EC budget. I hope that the House will take note of what he said, because it is what the Opposition have been urging for a long time. If we are to be taken seriously on the subject, the Government should make a statemet about how they will deal with the problem. I hope that a statement will soon be made on that subject.

There has been a breakdown in the talks between Belize and Guatemala. At the same time, President Reagan is insisting that he will continue to send arms to Guatemala. There is considerable concern in the Government of Belize. We have British troops there, partly to guarantee the integrity of Belize. We all know that the situation has been delicate for many months, indeed several years. In the light of that breakdown, the Government should make an early statement.

As we have often suggested and urged before, there should be a full day's debate, or perhaps a longer debate, on disarmament. The discussions open in Geneva today. There is widespread interest and concern throughout the House and the country on the subject. I hope that the week after next there will be a major debate in the House on disarmament so that hon. Members can put their views.

I shall ensure that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks on loans to Argentina are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

As to how the House should be best informed of the continued discussions on the EC budget and the British contribution, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will of course be anxious to keep the House informed by statement for a host of reasons, some of which were touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann).

I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary the interest that the right hon. Gentleman has evinced in our relations with Belize and the relationship between Belize and Guatemala. I am certain that that interest is widely held in the House.

Future debates on disarmament take on topicality by virtue of the resumption of the Geneva talks. I cannot promise that there will be a debate next week. As to thereafter, that is a matter that we can discuss. However, as I have said hitherto, that subject need not be debated solely in Government time.

Has my right hon. Friend noted that on Thursday next I propose to devote the Adjournment debate to the important question of overseas student fees? As the Government are belatedly coming to important decisions on the subject, can my right hon. Friend arrange for Ministers from each of the Departments concerned—the Department of Trade, the Foreign Office and the Department of Education and Science—to be present so that they may have the benefit of my advice and that of other hon. Members who will take part in the debate?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his good fortune in having the Adjournment debate on Thursday. He is a most formidable advocate. I shall ensure that his message is passed on to the quarters that he mentioned.

Bearing in mind the despondency, irritation and demoralisation among the people of Lanarkshire and Scotland as a whole as a result of the statements that have been made by the Secretary of State for Industry and the chairman of the British Steel Corporation about Ravenscraig, will the corporate plan for the steel industry, which is vital to the people of Scotland, be presented next week, with a view to ensuring that the steel industry in our country continues?

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman speaks with great feeling in the light of the situation affecting his constituency, which also touches steel manufacturing areas throughout the United Kingdom. The British Steel Corporation's corporate plan for 1983–86 has still to be received by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. At the moment I cannot go further than that.

Can the Leader of the House tell us whether the Home Secretary will lay before the House next week the immigration rules in their revised form, and may we expect an early debate on the subject?

No, I cannot confirm that. However, I dare say that all will be revealed before too long.

In view of our exchanges just before Christmas, may we have a statement next week or a paper on the constitutional questions raised by the conduct of the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Committees?

I acknowledge at once the importance of the point that my hon. Friend has raised. I shall pass on his anxieties to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Will the Winter Supplementary Estimates fall to be considered under the new procedure recommended by the Select Committee on Procedure (Finance) and approved by the House last Session? If so, shall we receive any guidance from the Liaison Committee on how the matter should be handled?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It might be helpful if the House were aware that it was agreed that the Liaison Committee should decide, following consultation, whether it would be appropriate to have an Estimates day during which certain Estimates could be debated. I am informed that the Liaison Committee decided against recommending any of the Winter Supplementary Estimates for debate, but that gives no guide for the future.

The Leader of the House will have heard the debate yesterday and will have been aware of the exchanges between my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) and me, on the one hand, and the Prime Minister, on the other, on the supply of arms by this country at this very moment to Argentina, although Argentina has not ceased hostilities. Can he arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement tomorrow on that aspect? It is a worrying matter not only for us but for the country.

I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the right hon. Gentleman's point. Perhaps the matter could proceed through the usual channels.

Order. Before I call anyone else, I should like to say to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) that on Monday I hope to make a statement about the way in which we shall conduct our debates on the Consolidated Fund under the new system.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to notice that on Monday 7 February seven questions are tabled to the Secretary of State for Wales, to which nearly 40 minutes have been allocated for answer, one to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee), who represents the Church Commissioners, for which five minutes is allowed, and 11 to the Minister for the Arts, for which there is a maximum of 10 minutes? Bearing in mind that Wales is represented at most by 36 Members, who seem to have little interest in Question Time, with due deference to you, Mr. Speaker, and all Welsh Members, and that London has 92 Members, will my right hon. Friend invite the Welsh Members to allocate from time to time a period of theirs to London Members for a London Question Time?

Not without much clearer evidence of an overwhelming desire for such a dangerous innovation.

Order. I propose to call the hon. Members who have been rising in their places. I hope that they will be brief and to the point.

Although the debate on youth training is welcome and long overdue, it is only part of a wide range of matters covered by the Government's White Paper on the new training initiative. When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pressed for a debate a few weeks ago, he specifically asked for a debate on the new training initiative. Will it be permissible on Wednesday to have a wider debate than a debate within the narrow confines of the youth training scheme, important as it is, so that we can raise some of the other important matters?

I can best help the right hon. Gentleman by saying that the debate arises on the motion for the Adjournment. The interpretation thereafter must be for the Chair.

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to early-day motion 234?

[That this House, bearing in mind the Order relating to the provision of financial assistance to people who have purchased Airey-type industrialised houses, and who are now faced with considerable expense due to premature deterioration, which received the approval of this House on Monday 24th January, calls upon Her Majesty's Government, as a matter of urgency and impartiality, to extend the provisions of this Order to cover people who have bought housing accommodation from their local authority built by other industrialised systems, and to local authorities dealing with this problem in the properties that remain in their control.]

The motion refers to industrialised housing. It was tabled by my hon Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) and other of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he can persuade the Secretary of State for the Environment to bring in a new order covering all those who have purchased industrialised housing he will have the support of many Opposition Members?

As the hon. Gentleman appreciates, this matter was debated on Monday and an Adjournment debate will take place early next week. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to see early-day motion 244 which calls for an inquiry to be set up into the allegation made in the report "Poor Law" about "Operation Major" in Oxford on 2 September?

[That this House, gravely concerned at the allegations made in the report "Poor Law" into "Operation Major" inOxford on 2nd September 1982, calls upon Her Majesty's Government as a matter of urgency to carry out an enquiry into these allegations.]

Would the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a Minister to make a statement to the House or for the motion to be debated at an early opportunity since there are serious allegations about the way in which the police and the social security authorities behaved on that occasion?

I am unable to promise any Government time for an early debate on this topic. It is suitable for the private enterprise initiative of an Adjournment debate.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early day motion 240, signed by 102 Members?

[That this House expresses serious concern over recently-announced closures in the United Kingdom paper industry, particularly the closure of mills in the Trinity, Wiggins Teape and Thames Board Mills Groups; understands that the underlying reasons behind these closures of high energy costs and heavy duty oil tax, in comparison to foreign competitors, cheap imports being the dumped surplus capacity of the industry's competitors, are well known to Government and have been emphasised by many honourable and Right honourable Members in debate and at Question Time; and therefore urges the Prime Minister to give Cabinet consideration to a programme of constructive intervention to give support and protection to the British papermaking industry before its total eclipe by unfair competition.]

It draws attention to the dire state of the paper industry. There have been 1,000 redundancies in my constituency and 200 in Bury. The blame is put on the economic and energy policies of the Government. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early debate on this subject so that policies can be formulated to save this vital industry before it is too late?

I cannot speedily offer the hon. Gentleman the kind of debate he requests in Government time. The question of trade is intimately affected.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman confirms that. In that case, he might be able to make his speech on Wednesday.

Is the Leader of the House aware that it is essential that a statement should be made on the involvement of British banks in loans to the junta in Argentina, bearing in mind the unsatisfactory reply which was given a few moments ago by the Prime Minister? Is he also aware that many people in this country are undoubtedly coming to the view that to give loans to banks in Argentina that could well be used to enable Argentina to buy weapons is, in many respects, betraying the dead who fought against the aggression committed by the junta in the first place?

I do not propose to take this opportunity to debate the matter with the hon. Gentleman. Last week we had an economic debate, a great deal of which was devoted to requesting the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be part of a collective Western initiative to secure appropriate credit terms to enable Third world economies to survive.

As to the hon. Gentleman's first request, I can say no more than I have already said to the Leader of the Opposition.

With regard to Thursday's business on the Opposition day, the Leader of the House will recall that the Secretary of State for Transport was asked for a further statement on the Serpell report following its introduction. I expect the Secretary of State to have a full answer to early-day motion 227.

[That this House condemns the decision to spend more than £500,000 on consultants to the Serpell Committee; and is especially concerned that the members of the committee had a financial interest in the consultants, contrary to rules governing the tendering for, and acceptance of, such contracts.]

The motion draws attention to the breach of the accountants' rules. Many people feel a sense of outrage about the allocation of the subcontract work for the Serpell report. Two members of the Serpell committee have been lining their pockets with massive fees, amounting to more than £½ million for consultancies in which they had a direct financial interest. The House expects a full and comprehensive explanation.

I have every confidence that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will deal comprehensively with the hon. Gentleman's point. Alas, I do not have the same confidence as to his satisfaction.

The Leader of the House said that he would have a word with the Prime Minister about her activities in lending money to the Argentine after the 1,000 deaths in the Falklands war.

In her closing remarks last night the right hon. Lady suggested that those who were calling for talks with the Argentine were confined to Opposition Members. However, her very good friend, Ronnie Reagan, has suggested on several occasions that she should open talks with Argentine. Would the Leader of the House find out whether the Prime Minister telephoned President Reagan to ask about that?

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has not had the advantage of hearing the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I will make sure that they are passed to her.

Does the Leader of the House recall that on a number of occasions the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) has urged that there should be a debate on the Civil Service? In view of the decline in morale in the service, will he arrange for a debate on this important subject?

I am afraid that I cannot now be more forthcoming in response to the charming blandishments of the hon. Gentleman than I have been on previous occasions. It is an important topic, but there is no early prospect of Government time to debate it.

I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition and hon. Members on both sides of the House have joined in the call for a statement to be made on the question of loans to Argentina, especially as the Prime Minister, in an answer on 20 December, gave a guarantee on behalf of the Government that the Bank of England would underpin any defaults. That was one of the conditions required by the people who were engaged in those activities.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also bear in mind that an answer is required on the question of the Inland Revenue changes in arrangements for offsetting tax for those banks and financial institutions that are engaged in activities with countries, including Argentina, that are rescheduling their debts? If it is right for British banks to get tax offsets as a result of those loans, it is equally right for many people in this country to get tax relief, including widows who under this Government are paying tax on less than £37 a week.

I note with interest that the hon. Gentleman feels that he has been the pioneer of the development of opposition on this topic, and that rather late in the day he has been joined by the Leader of the Opposition. I am unable to help him further than to refer him to the remarks I made to his right hon. Friend some moments ago. I shall refer the remarks and requests of the Leader of the Opposition to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Should the Prime Minister be less than anxious to rush into the House to make a statement justifying loans to the Argentine junta which allow it to buy arms from the West, what other opportunities can the right hon. Gentleman suggest are open to us to raise this matter in the near future?

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, who has been a Member of the House for a long time, that his tongue was truly in his cheek when he made that comment. There were opportunities last week when my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer took part in the debate on economic affairs. It was represented in the most direct fashion that this country had an obligation, collectively with its Western partners, to ensure that credit was arranged for Third world countries that prevented the impending collapse of the trading economies of those countries, thus endangering employment in the Western world.

There are endless opportunities for the right hon. Gentleman to raise this matter and doubtless different nuances of the argument will be deployed on different occasions. No doubt that will also characterise the exchanges that involve my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

[The following statutory instruments and European Community documents are relevant to the debate on the fishing industry on Monday 27 January:

Specified Sea Fish (Prohibition of Fishing and Fishing Methods) (Variation) (No. 5) Order 1982 (SI 1982 No. 1845),

Sea Fish (Specified Waters of Member States) (Prohibition of Fishing) Order 1982 (SI 1982 No. 1848),

Sea Fish (Specified United Kingdom Waters) (Prohibition of Fishing) Order 1982 (SI 1982 No. 1849),

Demersal Fish (Specified Northern Waters) Licensing Order 1982 (SI 1982 No. 1850),

Specified Sea Fish (United Kingdom Fishing Boats) (Prohibition of Fishing) Order 1983 (SI 1983 No. 14), Specified Sea Fish (United Kingdom Waters) (Prohibition of Fishing) Order 1983 (SI 1983 No. 15).


Commission's compromise proposals tabled on 26 October 1982.

Doc. No. 10372182

Fisheries Conservation: beam trawling

Doc. No. 10391/82

Community Tariff quotas for 1983

see 1st Report of European Legislation Committee, Session 1982–83, HC 34-i, paras. 2, 3 and 4 respectively


Amendments to Commission proposals on Common Fisheries Policy


Commission Declaration of 21 December 1982

see 6th Report of European Legislation Committee, Session 1982–83, HC 34-vi, paras. 1 and 2 respectively.]

[Debate on 31 January on Motor Insurance (Docs. Nos. 9747/80 and 5326/82)

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee

23rd Report Session 1980–81—HC 32-xxiii para. 1

18th Report Session 1981–82—HC 21-xviii para. 2

7th Report Session 1982–83—HC 34-vii para. 1]