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Volume 86: debated on Thursday 14 November 1985

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 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 this House I will be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall attend a dinner given by the Amir of Qatar.

I thank the Prime Minister for that reply. Will she take the opportunity to congratulate the Northern Ireland team on reaching the final of the World Cup, as it did last night? Will the right hon. Lady reassure alliance Members that this will in no way deflect her in her negotiations with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Mr. Garret FitzGerald? We hope that she can conclude those negotiations tomorrow. She certainly will have our support and, I believe, the support of the vast majority of the people of this country.

I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the Northern Ireland team. The win gave great pleasure to both sides of the House. I think the hon. Gentleman will understand that I can say nothing further today on the possible agreement.

Does the Prime Minister's Conservative and Unionist Administration believe what the 1969 Labour Administration believed—that Northern Ireland affairs are entirely a matter of domestic jurisdiction?

As I have made clear in the House, should any agreement be reached, it will be against the background that decisions north of the border are a matter for the United Kingdom, and decisions south of the border are a matter for the Republic of Ireland. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question.

Does the right hon. Lady understand—if she does not yet understand she soon will—that the penalty for treachery is to fall into public contempt?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that I find his remarks deeply offensive. Any agreement that may be reached will be within the bounds that I have indicated. No agreement that may be reached could be implemented before it came before the House for approval.

Does the Prime Minister recall telling the severely disabled bandsmen of the Royal Green Jackets who were injured in the outrage that killed eight of their comrades that they would never want for anything? Has the right hon. Lady now read of their poverty and sense of betrayal? Has she read that, according to the Daily Mail, the mother of ex-corporal David Timms wrote to her last June and was still awaiting a reply last Friday? How does the right hon. Lady react to that bitter criticism?

If that is so, I should have hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would contact my office. We shall certainly look into the matter most urgently. I understand that the MOD's obligations with regard to the financial support that it should give have been met. I understand that a number of the bandsmen have already received compensation under the criminal injuries legislation and that the MOD is doing all it can to help the others to secure compensation. I shall look further into the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Cyprus secrets trial 12 of the jury were removed by peremptory challenge following a meeting of all defence counsel, chaired by John Alliott, QC, on the morning of Sunday 14 April, when counsel discussed how best to use the right of peremptory challenge to obtain a jury most likely to acquit? Is it not quite intolerable that this should remain legal, and surely it is time that the law was changed as a matter of urgency?

The circumstances that my hon. Friend describes would in the particular instance possibly be a matter not for Her Majesty's Government but for the Bar Council. On the wider matter, Law Officers do not at present have sufficient information on which to make a reasoned judgment as to whether the use of peremptory challenge is being abused, but the Attorney-General is arranging for the new Crown prosecution service, when it is established and in place, to conduct a full survey of the use of that right by the defence.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 November.

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

Does the Prime Minister not recognise that in Leeds and, no doubt, in other cities, community associations, tenants' groups and other voluntary bodies are determined and able to tackle inner city problems, but that they are stifled by the virtual drying up of revenue funds under the inner city programme? Why on earth have the Government chosen this time to cut back on the funding available under this programme?

Since 1979 the Government have allocated £1,900 million of urban programme grants to inner cities, and that is meant to help with the problems. The hon. Gentleman will realise that not all of those problems can be solved simply by extra money. We are looking very much at the direction in which the money is spent.

During her busy day, will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether any member of the current American Administration, or any official of the American Government, is already aware of the terms of the Anglo-Irish treaty?

My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot comment further on whether or not any agreement will or will not be signed.

Twice in the past 20 minutes we have heard talk of treachery. Will the right hon. Lady accept from me and the Labour Benches that such talk is inflammatory, irresponsible and should have no place in this democratic assembly?

Does my right hon. Friend accept that a vast number of people in this country and in this House support the negotiations that have been taking place in the direction of this agreement, and wish the Government every possible success in the outcome?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I make it clear, as I have done before, that if any agreement is signed it could not be implemented before it had been debated and approved by this House.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 November.

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

Has the Prime Minister given any consideration to the harmful effects of unemployment on the health of our young people? Will she take time today to study the book containing the results of a four-year follow-up study by Edinburgh university of more than 1,000 school leavers, which show a clear link between drug use and unemployment? Instead of planning tax cuts, is it not high time that she and her Ministers used the money to create jobs for our unemployed young people, some of whom are living in areas where youth unemployment is more than 50 per cent.?

I shall certainly have a look at the book to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, although not today. He will be very much aware of the strenuous efforts that this Government are making to combat the evil of drugs, not only among young people, but among all people in our society. He will also be aware that the millionth young person enters the youth training scheme between now and Christmas, and that is a very creditable record.

Given the strong belief of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the family unit, as expressed in two recent speeches, will she pay more than lip-service to those ideals by amending the Sunday trading Bill even at this late hour to ensure reform of the present law so that the traditional British Sunday, which is for rest, recreation, religion and family life, can survive?

Furthermore, will my right hon. Friend ensure that when this important matter is debated in the House there will be a free vote on the issue, according to the wishes of the majority of Back Benchers?

I think I am right in saying that the Bill to which my hon. Friend refers may be introduced into another place today. It will, therefore, come to the House after deliberations in another place. I am sure that the deliberations of this House will be followed with the greatest possible interest. I believe that it is right to give people the choice on this Bill. Decisions on voting are never taken until the measure comes before the House.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 November.

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

Why does the right hon. Lady continue to suggest that her Government have provided more financial help to the hard-pressed inner cities when, in fact, the figures show that inner London is typical in having lost four times as much by way of cuts in rate support grant than it has gained through the urban programme?

If all programme and partnership authorities had budgeted to spend within Government targets, as, for example, Birmingham did under Conservative control until this year, they would have received since 1981 nearly £1 billion more in grants. They lost it because they overspent.

Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to read the Northern Echo this week? If the right hon. Lady did read it, she would be much better informed on northern matters than she is now. Has she read that the chairman of the Conservative party admitted to the Northern Echo's reporter that it is highly likely that there will be a lost generation in the north? By that he meant that there will be a generation of young people who will never have a job. Does she agree with that?

If the hon. Gentleman reads the autumn statement carefully, he will realise the full measure of what the Government are doing to try to create genuine jobs. He will know that the autumn statement continues the approach that has brought five years of steady growth, low inflation and 670,000 new jobs in the past two years. He will know that the rate of job creation is the fastest since 1973 and that it is forecast by the OECD to be the fastest in Europe in 1986. I hope very much that the north will benefit from that job creation.

As Sunday trading can hardly be described as a party political issue, and as my right hon. Friend quite rightly believes in freedom of choice, why can we not have freedom of choice on this matter?

As my hon. Friend knows, decisions on whipping, if one may refer to it in this Chamber, are only made just before the week in which the business arises.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 14 November.

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

In view of the welcome decision of the Government to renew the right of individual petition to the European Court of Human Rights, and the recommendation of the Ulster Unionists contained in their document, "The Way Forward", that there should be a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland, will the Prime Minister now initiate the inter-party talks on the incorporation of the European convention, which she suggested at an earlier date to my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) should precede that step?

No. We have not had cross-party consultations on this matter. We have considered it a number of times. I do not think it right to incorporate that convention into our law.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 November.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind during her busy day the problems of less successful areas such as the west country, where decisions about road planning have been too long delayed, and where implementation of plans have been delayed even further?

Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend has been to see me about this matter. He has complained bitterly about the length of time taken to reach decisions. I share his opinion that planning decisions take far too long, and I shall do what I can to speed up the decision in which he has a particular interest.

Why have the Government withdrawn tax relief from tenant management housing co-operatives and so attacked people trying to manage their own housing environment?

Taxes are determined either directly by the law or by concession. The concessions are subject, not to ministerial decision, but to that of the Inland Revenue board itself.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In practically every answer about the Anglo-Irish agreement the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister advised us to wait to see the contents of that agreement and to study the statement. Is it not intolerable that the House of Commons should be the last to hear the contents of that agreement, which were widely published 48 hours ago?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you noticed that 175 questions to the Prime Minister were tabled for today, of which six of the first eight and seven of the first 12 were by the alliance? Are you prepared to examine the procedures for balloting?

I have no influence whatsoever in the ballot, which is purely the luck of the draw.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When dealing with procedures the Prime Minister referred to the Sunday Trading Bill being introduced in another place. Only last week at business questions the Leader of the House promised that this matter would be considered and that he would report this week. I am asking—

That is not a matter for me. Business questions follow in a minute, and I shall seek to call the hon. Member to put his question then.

May I tell the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that a blinding light has just struck me. This is a public ballot.

I am not prepared to take it. This is not a question for me. Business questions will follow. The hon. Gentleman prefaced his remark by saying that the Leader of the House had made an announcement. I cannot answer for the Leader of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I accept your valid point in response to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that we are talking about a public ballot. However, could you use your good offices to ensure that the original questions are shuffled better before they come out of the box?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Question Time I was appealed to on numerous occasions to use whatever influence I had to dampen down the rising tensions in Northern Ireland. You, Mr. Speaker, know better than most how hard I have tried in the last 48 hours to confirm the details of the widely leaked agreement. If I cannot appeal to you to protect me and my constituents in this matter, to whom can I appeal?

I cannot help the hon. Gentleman, because neither I nor any hon. Member has seen the agreement.

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), Mr. Speaker. You said that you had no dealings in the shuffling of the papers, but I am sure you realise that you picked the 20 private Members' motions today, not one of which was tabled by the alliance.

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member. It was not I. It was the Chairman of Ways and Means.