HC Deb 01 February 1979 vol 961 cc1704-7
Mr. Cormack

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the effects of the current industrial unrest, in particular on hospital patients and on burial, cremation and other local authority facilities". Since yesterday, Mr. Speaker, when I made a similar application in respect of the crisis in the National Health Service, the situation has become even more acute. It is now even more essential that we should have a debate. I submit that its scope should be widened beyond what I suggested yesterday.

In spite of the statement made by the Secretary of State for the Environment, it appears that the appalling situation resulting from the action of certain gravediggers and crematoria workers has deteriorated. During the past few hours news has come through of an extension of the dispute in the public services in Scotland and increased industrial activity by school caretakers.

I am sure that most hon. Members will agree that the matter that deserves the greatest and most urgent attention is that arising from nationwide unrest in the National Health Service. In spite of attempts to agree a code of practice to alleviate the results of that unrest, there are more and more acute cases of real distress. Since I have been in the House this afternoon I have been handed a copy of the code of practice, which indicates clearly that services for children must be fully maintained at all times. At the same time I have been informed that NUPE has called a 24-hour all-out strike at Great Ormond Street children's hospital. That one example illustrates the need for the debate.

I submit that in the distress and discomfort of hospital patients and their relatives, in the anguish of the bereaved and in the anxiety of those who see more and more of the services upon which civilised living depends being threatened, we have a chorus of protest that we cannot and should not ignore.

I know the constraints under which you have to operate, Mr. Speaker, and I appreciate the significance of the business before the House. However, Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will feel that the matters to which I have referred—especially the example of the Great Ormond Street strike—justify an immediate debate before the weekend.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) has repeated the application that he submitted to the House yesterday. His application today is in wider terms, referring to the effects of the current industrial unrest, in particular on hospital patients and on burial, cremation and other local authority facilities". Yesterday I told the hon. Gentleman that I could not grant his application. I used the words "this day". I have spent a great deal of time today considering the matter anxiously. I believe that the best way in which I can serve the House, having listened to the exchanges and having listened with especial care to the hon. Gentleman's submissions about what is happening in the country, is to follow the course that I took a fortnight ago on the lorry drivers' strike and to say that if the hon. Gentleman will make his submission on Monday, and if I believe that the circumstances warrant an emergency debate, the debate will take place at seven o'clock on Monday night.

I inform the House that in addition to the application that has just been made I have received notices of application under Standing Order No. 9 from eight other hon. Members—namely, the hon. Members for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice), Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker), Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher), Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott), City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre), Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) and Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley).

All the applications relate to different aspects of the same general situation described by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West, with whose application I have just dealt. They may all be covered in debate if and when an emergency debate is granted.

I recognise the pressures that all hon. Members have to take into account during a period of widespread industrial unrest. I recognise the pressures from their constituencies. However, I hope very much that hon. Members will be prepared to exercise restraint in the interests of the House and will not follow up applications under Standing Order No. 9 when they know that they will receive only the same answer as I have already given.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With respect, I agree with you about applications under Standing Order No. 9. As you know, the Secretary of State for Scotland has wide-ranging responsibilities. It would be helpful if, instead of trying to get in on statements made on almost a daily basis by other departmental Ministers, you were to see your way to consider an application under Standing Order No. 9 on the serious situation facing local government and other services in Scotland.

Mr. Speaker

Certainly. I take into account what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am deeply grateful to him and his colleagues on both sides of the House, who, I believe, have acted in the best interests of the House.

Rev. Ian Paisley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry that you thought that the application that I was to make today had anything to do with the matter that will be debated on Monday. My application has nothing to do with that situation. It relates to a matter relevant to the Royal Victoria hospital, Belfast.

Mr. Speaker

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I should have said that the hon. Gentleman's application was an exception. The others all relate to the crisis in the country.


Mr. Radice

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I respect your ruling on Standing Order No. 9, but you will be aware that my own Standing Order No. 9 submission was in slightly wider terms than the one we have just heard. If you call an a emergency debate on Monday, will you allow hon. Members to range widely over the disputes in the public services as a whole?

Mr. Speaker

If there is an emergency debate, it will be on the Adjournment. An Adjournment debate is always very wide.