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Business Of The House

Volume 78: debated on Thursday 2 May 1985

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3.32 pm

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

The business of the House for next week will be as follows:

TUESDAY 7 MAY and WEDNESDAY 8 MAY—Consideration in Committee on the Finance Bill.

THURSDAY 9 MAY—There will be a debate on the multifibre arrangement, which will arise on a motion for the adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 10 MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 13 MAY—Until Seven o'clock, private Members' motions. Remaining stages of the Surrogacy Arrangements Bill, of the Ports (Finance) Bill, and of the Prosecution of Offences Bill (Lords).

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

We welcome the debate on the important multi-fibre arrangement, particularly as discussions are still in a formative stage and the House has an opportunity to impose its views. We hope that the Government will listen to them carefully.

May I press the right hon. Gentleman for the earliest possible statement of the Government's decision on the reviews on the future of the welfare state? I press him all the more because of the undoubted anxiety throughout the country about their outcome.

When does the right hon. Gentleman intend to fulfil his promise, made many months ago, of a debate on the Green Paper on the long-term prospects for public expenditure? The relevance of that debate to the future of the welfare state is apparent, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman must accept that such a debate has an early claim on time.

I hope that it is still in the right hon. Gentleman's mind to have a debate on the report of the Commission for Racial Equality on immigration and control procedures.

In view of today's disastrous unemployment figures—the highest ever April figures—does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he should ask the Secretary of State for Employment to make an early statement in the House?

I shall answer the questions asked by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) in the reverse order in which he asked them. I shall, of course, draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Employment to the right hon. Gentleman's request for a statement.

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question about the report of the Commission for Racial Equality is that I have indicated my interest in seeing whether we could make arrangements for such a debate, and I am happy to continue discussions through the usual channels.

The right hon. Gentleman may recall that when I was last questioned about the Green Paper on long-term public expenditure I explained that I was keen that there should be a debate but that I thought it appropriate that it should be related to the work being done on the subject by the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee.

I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman said about the House being informed of decisions on the studies that have been undertaken of the welfare services, and I underline the importance of the point that he made.

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the debate that we are planning for Thursday on the multi-fibre arrangement, because it is important that the House should have a chance to make known its views when matters are still formative, rather than fixed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of proposals in certain European circles for fundamental changes to EEC institutions' financial arrangements and other matters? Will he give the House an early opportunity to debate these issues before Her Majesty's Government may be invited to commit themselves on them, possibly returning to the House with some sort of fait accompli?

I accept at once the importance of the point that my hon. Friend makes. I am sure he will agree that we have the Scrutiny Committee as a means of helping to guide our judgment in these matters, and I shall, naturally, look to that Committee, but if the matter goes perhaps wider than that I shall, if my hon. Friend contacts me, see what can be done.

The Leader of the House will be aware that there is widespread and continuing anxiety among commercial ratepayers north of the border about the imposts that have been put on them in the course of the rating revaluation that has just taken place. Has he noted that the ten-minute Bill which I introduced yesterday was unopposed? Will he have words with the Secretary of State for Scotland to see what chance there may be, if not for taking the measure in Government time, at least for considering the matter further, with the possibility of a debate in the future?

There is a charming innocence about that request. The Secretary of State for Scotland is mindful of the problems which the hon. Gentleman identifies and will take action in his own way and in his own time.

Can my right hon. Friend arrange time, if possible next week, to debate the question of the proceedings of the House being televised, so that those of us who think that it would be an utter catastrophe may mobilise our forces? Will he take the opportunity to make it clear to everybody, inside and outside the House, that it is a matter which concerns the House as a whole and not the Government?

I have no doubt that a decision on the matter will be undertaken by the House and in the spirit of a House of Commons decision. I am afraid that I must disappoint my hon. Friend, in that I cannot provide time for a debate that speedily. Probably the House would like to have some chance for a more measured assessment of the experiment in another place before coming to its own judgment.

Will the Prime Minister make a statement next week on her recommendations to the Government arising from the report of the review body on the pay of nurses and midwives, as she has had the information on her desk for quite a time?

That is clearly an important matter, and I am sure that the Prime Minister will wish to follow precedent.

May I ask my right hon. Friend, in response to his kind invitation—readdressing and rephrasing my question—whether it is the intention of the Government to interfere with the time-honoured constitutional right of Select Committees to send for papers from public bodies? Does the pledge that I gave when I was Leader of the House—that every Minister, from the highest to the lowest, would co-operate with Select committees—still stand?

I have been consulting the Chairman of the Liaison Committee on the powers of Select Committees to send for personal papers and records under Standing Order No 99. Those powers are governed by long-standing conventions with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St John-Stevas) will be familiar. The Government consider that certain changes to those conventions might be helpful. I understand that the Liaison Committee considered these changes at a meeting earlier this week. I shall be discussing its views with the Chairman of the Committee in the next few days. It is very much a relaxed and low-key exchange, and does not quite bear some of the drama with which it seems to be now invested.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to make a statement on her current visit to the summit at Bonn? Will the right hon. Gentleman also ask the Prime Minister to explain why, since June 1983, she has spent more than 77 days, or part days, visiting abroad, and only 18 days, or part days, visiting different parts of the United Kingdom? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Prime Minister to explain the reason for that to the House and the nation?

The hon. Gentleman will find that there is on record in the press a comprehensive analysis which shows that the journeys of my right hon. Friend have been as active within the United Kingdom as without. I shall, of course, bear in mind his anxiety that my right hon. Friend should make a statement on the Bonn visit. Whether the hon. Gentleman approves or disapproves, there is no doubt that the House will feel that it is only appropriate that my right hon. Friend should report.

Will my right hon. Friend, when casting around for matters to debate, consider the great interest in conservation matters shown not only by colleagues in the House but by many of our constituents? Will my right hon. Friend therefore find some time for a debate on this very important subject, which is close to the hearts of many of our constituents?

I am afraid that there is no prospect of Government time being available for such a debate in the next few weeks. However, I thoroughly underline the importance of the topic that my hon. Friend raises. I believe that it will be of growing political significance.

Bearing in mind that VE day falls next week, can the Leader of the House find time to initiate a debate on the disgraceful level of pensions paid to those who were widowed during the second world war? I understand that they are paid £47 a week. Perhaps the House would like to contrast that with the £97 paid to those widowed during the Falklands war and as a consequence of events in Northern Ireland. When we are marching up and down next week celebrating the defeat of Fascism and Nazism, perhaps the House would like the chance to show how grateful we are to the people who gave their lives to make VE day possible.

No Government time is set aside over the next week or thereabouts for the debate requested by the hon. Gentleman. However, I believe that it would be admirably suited to an Adjournment occasion.

I hope that my right hon. Friend has had time recently to read early-day motion 515, in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and more than 70 hon. Members from both sides of the House, calling for an early debate on the recent report of the Select Committee on Social Services.

[That this House, noting the widespread interest in the issue of care for the mentally ill and mentally handicapped in the community following the publication of the report of the Social Services Committee on this matter, calls for an early debate on the recommendations and implications of this report.]

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be an early debate on care in the community, particularly of the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped, because this issue is causing deep and increasing concern in all the constituencies in the land?

The Government are considering their response to this most important report. When that response has been made known, we can see whether it would be most helpful to proceed by way of debate.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 645,

[That this House profoundly regrets the proposed visit of President Reagan to the German Military Cemetery at Bitburg, containing the remains of Nazi SS stormtroopers; regards the visit as an offence to the memories of Jews and so many others persecuted and murdered by the Nazis, and as insensitive and ill-advised; and calls on the President, in the name of good relations between our countries and between all the allies in the war against Nazism, to cancel that visit.]

which has been signed by a large number of Members, and early-day motion 658,

[That this House believes that there can never be any reconciliation with fascism; therefore condemns the British Broadcasting Corporation Newsnight programme of 30th April for its lengthy and uncritical coverage of the collection of Nazi memorabilia by wealthy people; in the United States of America and Britain; believes that such programmes can only serve to make Nazism respectable; and further believes that the memory of the Jewish people, gypsies, Communists, trade unionists and gay people who were murdered by the Nazis and the millions of Soviet, British, American and other peoples on every continent who died to defeat fascism should not be defiled by any attempted rehabilitation into respectability of fascism.]

both of which concern the memory of the people who died fighting Fascism and the disgraceful intention of President Reagan to visit Bitburg cemetery? Will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to give the Government's view of the President's intention to visit that cemetery of SS memory?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also arrange for a special debate next week to consider the rise of Fascism and racism now occurring in many European countries and the need to condemn utterly all that went on in Nazi Germany and ensure that such tyrany can never arise again, and the need to ensure that proper memory is accorded to all who died fighting Nazism, whether they were Russian, British, French or from any other country in the world?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already commented on President Reagan's proposed visit to Bitburg cemetery, and I have nothing to add on that. On the wider issue, no provisions have been made for the debate requested by the hon. Gentleman, but those who view totalitarianism with such great hostility would be more convincing if their attitude stretched across the whole spectrum.

We seem to be getting a blow by blow account of Cabinet discussions about the earnings-related pension scheme. Can my right hon. Friend say when we are likely to revert to the tradition whereby Cabinet discussions are secret?

Secrecy is something to which we all aspire, with more success on some occasions than on others. I should have thought, however, that things had gone rather well in the past few weeks. If my hon. Friend can contain his patience, I assure him that he will be more than rewarded.

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise the crucial role that he can play, both as Leader of the House and as a member of the Cabinet, in the discussions on the future of the state earnings-related pension scheme by maintaining the strong underpinning all-party support and consensus on which the scheme was originally based? Will the right hon. Gentleman use both those aspects of his responsibility to take the scheme out of the present welfare state review debate, not allow the Cabinet to make a decision on the matter and involve the Opposition, both Labour and Alliance, in discussing the future of the scheme sensibly, as was the case when it was set up? Does he agree that that is a far better way to make progress?

The hon. Gentleman has sought with great skill to finesse an answer out of me with a bridge strategem worthy of the late Iain Macleod. He knows that I cannot answer that question, because I remain very much of the opinion that I expressed at the outset of this exchange about the review being undertaken in the Cabinet.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the deep revulsion of the millions of people in this country who contributed to food aid and other aid for Ethiopia at the action of the Marxist regime in driving 60,000 people, who were receiving treatment and being brought back to life with proper food, out of their beds and into the countryside to grow food? We accept that it is necessary to grow food in Ethiopia, but will my right hon. Friend arrange for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development to make a statement to the House on this important matter?

I am sure that my hon. Friend, like me, heard on the radio this morning the graphic and moving description by Father Finucane of the fate of people at the Ibnat camp. I understand that our ambassador is in close touch with the United Nations co-ordinator about ways in which we can help, but I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development to the point made by my hon. Friend.

Despite the allegations of the Minister of State, Home Office, at Question Time today about the circumstancces in which it was decided that the debate on immigration policy expected next week would not take place, will the Leader of the House confirm that the Government arrange the business, and will he give the heaviest of hints that that debate will take place the week after next?

I effectively answered that point in replying to a question from the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). I do not think that it would help matters very much if I strayed beyond that original reply.

I support the request by the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mr. Adams) for a debate on the financial position of those who lost their husbands during the second world war.

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on arranging a debate next week on the multi-fibre arrangement, which is of interest to the textile and clothing industry, which is the fourth largest employer in this country. Will my right hon. Friend consider extending that critical debate beyond 10 o'clock to enable every hon. Member with an interest in textiles snd clothing to participate? My right hon. Friend extended the foreign affairs debate. Will he now do the same with respect to a debate on industries which affect many parts of the United Kingdom?

As my hon. Friend will appreciate, such matters are arranged through the usual channels. I cannot answer my hon. Friend now on that point, but I have heard what he said.

Will the Leader of the House suggest to the Ministry of Defence that a statement should be made next week on the local overseas allowance for British forces? I ask this question because of the letters that I have received from members of the armed forces. I do not know whether other hon. Members have received such letters. These letters are unprecedented, because they seem to reflect a well-organised campaign which has the sanction of many high people within the armed forces. The Ministry of Defence should make a statement on the changes in local overseas allowance.

The right hon. Gentleman's point is highly topical. There is certainly a great deal of interest in it. I shall refer his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 663?

[That this House notes the statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 29 April, listing the identification documents which will be required to enable electors to vote in the forthcoming local elections in Northern Ireland; notes that UB40 cards are not included on the list; condemns this omission as totally undemocratic in that it will effectively defranchise thousands of young people, for whom the UB40 cards are their sole means of identification; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to redress this omissionimmediately, or, if time does not permit, to postpone the elections until a fully-democratic means of enfranchising all bona fide voters has been worked out.]

That motion was tabled yesterday by me in response to a statement on Monday in the Chamber by the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office. My early-day motion deals with a list of identification documents which will be required at the local elections in Northern Ireland, which are to be held shortly. The list does not include UB40 cards. Given the unemployment levels in the north, which have been exacerbated in the past four weeks, as we have seen in the figures published today, does the Leader of the House, not think that another statement should be made to the House to explain how the Government will prevent thousands of young people from being disfranchised because the UB card is their only identification document? If that is not possible, should not the elections be postponed until an equitable method has been devised so that everyone is entitled to vote in the Northern Ireland elections?

I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise at once that I am in no sense competent to comment on the significance of UB40 cards. I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The Leader of the House is surely by now aware of the great disappointment felt by both sides of the House at the fact that he has not arranged for a more appropriate debate to be held on 8 May—VE day. War widows would have been a most appropriate subject for the House to consider, notwithstanding the important matters in the Finance Bill.

As the Prime Minister is in Bonn, will the Leader of the House take the opportunity to ask the right hon. Lady to protest to the West German Government about the reunion which the Death's Head Tank Division of the Waffen SS will hold on VE day? That reunion will give rise to a good deal of deep feeling among many people in this country.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is right. Such occasions give rise to unease and antagonism, but I hope that we sometimes reflect on the fact that many activities which we undertake in this country have such consequences among our neighbours. It might be in the spirit of 40 years on and reconciliation if we began to be a little easier in our judgment of each other.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will note the point made by my right hon. Friend the member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) about the opportunities given to the House to keep a check on the Executive by questioning through Select Committees and by the reporting of Select Committees. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not allow this check on the Executive to be weakened in any way.

My hon. Friend makes a point which I understand. The last thing that I would want is for this matter to become a point of conflict. I should prefer there to be a discussion to see whether we might find ways of interpreting the Standing Order to minimise friction, rather than focus upon it.