HC Deb 04 December 1975 vol 901 cc1943-51
Mrs. Thatcher

In the absence of the Lord President of the Council, may I have the unusual pleasure of asking the Government Chief Whip about the business for next week?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 8TH DECEMBER—Supply [2nd Allotted Day]: Debate on the effects of governmental policy on offshore oil, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 3) and (No. 4) Orders.

TUESDAY 9TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill, and related procedure motion.

WEDNESDAY 10TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill.

Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1975.

Remaining stages of the OECD Support Fund Bill and of the Money-lenders (Crown Agents) Bill.

Motion relating to the Temporary Speed Limit Order 1975.

THURSDAY 11TH DECEMBER—Consideration of Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, remaining stages of the Civil List Bill and Northern Ireland motions on Emergency Provisions and Various Emergency Provisions (Continuance) (No. 2).

FRIDAY 12TH DECEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 15TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Dock Work Regulation Bill.

The Government recognise the concern on all sides of the House about the current level of unemployment, and will provide a day before Christmas to debate this problem in the light of the Government's decision on the Chrysler issue and of the further measures they will announce shortly for saving jobs in the coming months.

Mrs. Thatcher

I thank the Patronage Secretary. May I put three questions to him? He knows our anxieties about defence policy, and defence is being debated on Wednesday. Will there be an opportunity for matters rather wider than the discipline of the Forces to be raised, because we are concerned to elucidate some of the rumours which have been reported in the Press recently?

With regard to Thursday's business, in view of the time available will the right hon. Gentleman use his best endeavours so to arrange the business that we have the maximum time for the debate on capital punishment before the vote at 7 o'clock? I know that many hon. Members will be hoping to catch Mr. Speaker's eye.

With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman said at the end of the statement of business for next week, if there are to be any Government announcements—it seems from what he said that there are to be—will he ensure that they take place well in advance of the debate so that we have proper time to consider them?

Mr. Mellish

On the right hon. Lady's first question, by means of discussions with your good self, Mr. Speaker, and those concerned with the debate, we shall do what we can to facilitate this being a debate which will meet the wishes of the House.

On the timing of Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock, I shall do what I can. But this also requires the co-operation of other hon. Members. They will not help matters, especially next Thursday, if they go on talking as some of them do, because they will delay other discussions.

As for the right hon. Lady's third question, I assure her that every effort will be made to comply with her request that any Government announcements are made in good time to enable them to be debated properly.

Mr. John Mendelson

Although I accept my right hon. Friend's announcement that the Government recognise the widespread feeling behind the demand for a proper debate on unemployment, and his further announcement that there will be a debate in the last week before Christmas, may I ask for an assurance that the debate will be soon after the last Monday before the Adjournment—in other words, early in the final week—and not towards the end of the week, when it would get mixed up with other matters in the last days when, as you know, Mr. Speaker, business begins to be hurried? Can my right hon. Friend assure us that it will be not later than the Tuesday or Wednesday of that week?

Mr. Mellish

The arrangements for the business in the week before the Christmas Adjournment have not yet been finalised. If my hon. Friend is worried about this particular debate becoming mixed up with the Adjournment debates, I assure him that that will not be so. I hope he understands quite clearly that there are many of us, on both sides of the House, who are very anxious and worried about the levels of unemployment. It is important that we have a debate which is positive and not negative in the sense that we express all our sympathies but nothing is said about what is to be done or attempted to be done. We hope to have a debate which will really serve the purpose which I, my hon. Friends and many other hon. Members have in mind.

Mr. Peter Walker

Concerning the debate on unemployment, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it would not be satisfactory to either side of the House to have one day to debate the whole of the Chrysler decisions and unemployment generally? Both sides want to debate the general issue of unemployment.

Having heard the answer which was given to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in reply to a question about defence, I am not clear whether next week's debate will be one in which we can raise the general principles of defence expenditure.

Mr. Mellish

To deal with the right hon. Gentleman's second point first, I am willing and prepared, following the representations made by the Leader of the Opposition, to discuss with you, Mr. Speaker, and with the authorities of the House how best it can be arranged so that the motion which is tabled will enable you to allow the debate to go wide. I have taken on board the principles involved, but how it is to be done I cannot yet say.

On the first matter raised by the right hon. Gentleman, we had better await any Government decisions regarding Chrysler and the rest before any other questions are asked about the way that the debate should take place. Unemployment must surely be subject to decisions taken by the Government on the great issues of the day, such as Chrysler, before the debate can take place.

Mr. Les Huckfield

I appreciate what my right hon. Friend has just said about the Chrysler situation, but will he accept that it was as long ago as 29th October that Mr. Riccardo first announced the possibility of Chrysler pulling out from this country? Will he impress upon his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry the urgent need to make a statement about Chrysler as soon as possible?

Mr. Mellish

Yes, of course; that is understood. However, my hon. Friend must clearly understand, as I know he does, the issues which are involved. Thousands of jobs are involved as well as the whole question of the future of this great firm and this great industry. Surely it is right that the Government of the day, who are having discussions, should completely finish those discussions before they make a final statement in the House about a matter so grave. I hope that no hon. Member will accuse the Government of delaying about this matter. We have been trying to discuss with the owners of this firm how best the matter can be dealt with.

Mr. Cyril Smith

May we assume that one of the other unemployment matters to which the Patronage Secretary has made reference will be a statement on import controls? Will he also confirm that it is the Government's intention to have Christmas Day on 25th December?

Mr. Mellish

It is not for me to say anything about import controls now. It will be for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, or the appropriate Minister, to make a statement in the House. That being so, I shall say nothing about that matter. I have clearly indicated that the Government are prepared to find time for a debate on unemployment when they have announced certain measures which I know they have in mind.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the Patronage Secretary be kind enough to ask the Leader of the House to find time to debate as soon as possible the Select Committee's report on violence in marriage?

Mr. Mellish

Yes, I undertake to pass that matter on to my right hon. Friend for consideration.

Mr. Gow

Will it be possible to find time next week, or before the Christmas Recess, for a debate on the deteriorating security situation in Ulster in general and on the release of detainees from the Maze Prison in particular?

Mr. Mellish

I cannot promise time for that. There have been a number of occasions when matters concerning Northern Ireland have been discussed. It would be wrong for me to commit the Government to allow time for a debate exclusively on the matters which the hon. Gentleman has raised. However, I know that the ingenuity of some hon. Members in raising certain matters is quite extraordinary.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although we welcome the opportunity to debate the general proposition of unemployment and the Government's measures to deal with it, many of us would regret it if the general unemployment question were overshadowed by discussions on one large industry, such as Chrysler? Moreover, we would regret it if we were unable to talk about unemployment in our own constituencies, in some of which the male unemployment rate is growing to as much as 10 per cent. That has nothing whatever to do with the motor car industry, but it concerns other aspects of Government policy which we wish to explore.

Mr. Mellish

Of course, I understand that. At the same time, if we have a debate purely on unemployment and talk about how sad it is for all our constituents, at the end of the day the Government should have the right to say what they intend to do to overcome the difficulties. Therefore, it is right that the further measures which the Government have in mind should be announced. The Opposition can then consider them. Thus, when we have a debate on unemployment it will be more realistic.

Mr. Peyton

I should like to refer first to Chrysler. We are still awaiting, and have been awaiting for a long time, the Government's answer to the Expenditure Committee's report on British Leyland. The Lord President of the Council suggested that the two matters should be debated together. It now appears that the subject may widen into a general debate on unemployment. I do not think that is desirable, because the Expenditure Committee's report on British Leyland is very important and the Government's answer should be a weighty one. Indeed, we hope to see that answer very soon and we hope that there will be a discussion on it next week.

Second, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will remember the undertaking given by his right hon. Friend the Lord President last week when he said that he would look into the question of answers concerning the National Enterprise Board. The right hon. Gentleman said: I shall look into it and either see that a statement is made to the House or make a statement myself."—[Official Report, 27th November 1975; Vol. 901, c. 1055.] So far that promise has not been fulfilled.

Mr. Mellish

On the first point concerning Chrysler and the Expenditure Committee's report on the motor car industry, I point out that one follows the other in the sense that the Government must come to a decision shortly about what they intend to do about Chrysler before they go on to comment about the Expenditure Committee's report on the car industry as a whole. I should have thought that that point would have occurred to the right hon. Gentleman. That being so, it follows that, as no decision has yet been reached on Chrysler, the other matter cannot be dealt with either. I take on board what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

On the question of whether there can be a separate debate on Chrysler, a debate apart from unemployment, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will certainly have to consider this matter when he returns. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there is the question of the time factor between now and the Christmas Recess. However, what the right hon. Gentleman has said will be noted.

Regarding answers about the National Enterprise Board, the right hon. Gentleman referred to what my right hon. Friend the Lord President had said. He will not be surprised to hear me say that my right hon. Friend the Lord President had better answer that question too.

Mr. Madden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the crisis in the textile industry is still growing? Does he appreciate that the three statements we have received over recent months about this industry have been strong on sympathy but weak on positive proposals? When will the statement promised by the Prime Minister to the textile unions—which we hope will be made within days rather than weeks—be made? Can my right hon. Friend assure us that it will be clear and positive and will set out import controls to safeguard employment in the textile industry?

Mr. Mellish

I know only too well that my hon. Friend and many other hon. Members associated with the textile industry have been making strong representations. Their genuine and deep concern is respected not only by myself but by my colleagues in the Government and certainly those who have to deal with this industry. I have already said that any matter concerning import controls is for the Minister concerned. I know that the Ministers regard this as vitally urgent and that statements will be made as quickly as is practicable. I do not want to commit them to saying that a statement will definitely be made next week. However, I assure my hon. Friend that Ministers are alerted to the urgency of the situation and that a statement will be made as soon as possible.

Mr. Hastings

Does the Patronage Secretary recognise that what is of interest to us is not only the general scope of the debate on defence matters but a clear statement of the Government's intentions in view of recent rumours about yet more defence cuts? Will he recognise also that these rumours have caused deep apprehension abroad as well as in this country? Can we count on a statement being made?

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Gentleman must be careful how he balances that argument. On the one hand there is a demand from the Opposition for cuts in public expenditure, and on the other hand a warning to the Government not to cut defence expenditure. I have told the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition that I shall do what I can and discuss with the House authorities how we can best formulate a debate of the kind the hon. Gentleman wants. That is all I can do.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

Will the Patronage Secretary say when the House will be able to debate the White Paper on devolution, how much time will be given for the debate and what form it will take?

Mr. Mellish

The debate will certainly come soon after the Christmas Recess. The amount of time to be allowed has still to be discussed through the usual channels. It is on record that one Scottish National Party Member said that the party wanted only half a day. I do not know whether that view is shared by the hon. Gentleman.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Mr. Gow—an application under Standing Order No. 9.

Mr. Madel

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you allow us a few more minutes on business questions? Some hon. Members have Chrysler plants in their constituencies and would like the opportunity to make helpful suggestions and not to score party points. You allowed a longer session on Prime Minister's Questions, and I appeal for another 10 minutes on business questions.

Mr. Speaker

I have to exercise my discretion as best I can. We have quite a lot to do today. If the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) has helpful suggestions to make about Chrysler, I suggest that he sends them to the Minister. In business question time we deal with the next week's business.