HC Deb 12 July 1979 vol 970 cc681-4
Mr. Barry Jones

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 imminent announcement by the British Steel Corporation today to begin to negotiate a speedy rundown of steel making at the BSC Shotton works. I seek a debate because the number of jobs proposed for obliteration totals 6,000. Some 3,000 jobs will be lost indirectly. The announcement does not tally with the previous statement by the chairman of the British Steel Corporation that steel making would be retained until 1982–83.

It is customary for the House to be informed of major industrial developments—that was certainly so under the previous Labour Government—and I believe it to be unfair to allow an hon. Member to learn of such a grave development in his constituency from sources which are only journalistic.

Only today I received from the Secretary of State for Industry a letter dated 10 July in which he told me: I am afraid that I hold to my belief that it would be wrong for me to intervene to prevent any decision by BSC affecting the future of this works. I believe that the British Steel Corporation and the Government are embarking upon a course of action which might well deeply injure the social fabric of my constituency. I call for a debate partly because I know—I draw here from some of my experience in the previous Government—that there are very few jobs currently in the pipeline to take the place of any lost in steel making. I estimate the number of jobs in the pipeline for the area covering my constituency as being only in hundreds, let alone 9,000.

I believe that in allowing the BSC to make the statement which it is to make today the Government are conniving in an action which is unjust, unwise and totally without humanity.

When will we have a statement, and when might there be a debate? For the record, the 1970–74 Conservative Administration said that they would close steel making at Shotton. The last Labour Government stopped that closure. I deduce that the Tory leopard has not changed its spots.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration. He learnt of the impending announcement at only 3 o'clock this afternoon. I listened with great care to the statement that the hon. Member made about his constituency and the steel industry.

As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the order but to give no reasons for my decision. The House knows that I do not decide whether the matter shall be debated. My powers are limited to deciding whether there should be an emergency debate tonight or tomorrow.

I have given careful consideration to the hon. Member's representations, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

Mr. Foot

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to comment on your statement. This matter is occurring this afternoon and events are still unclear. In view of that, and of the great importance of the subject, Mr. Speaker, can you indicate to my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) and the House whether he may have the opportunity of raising the matter again on Monday with the possibility of your giving fresh consideration to his application?

Mr. Speaker

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but I am afraid that I cannot commit myself on that matter.

Mr. Heffer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are concerned with a serious decision that will affect not only the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) but all of Merseyside, which has the highest level of unemployment in this country. We did not hear of the matter until after the Leader of the House had answered questions about next week's business and no hon. Member could ask him whether he could find time for such a debate.

In view of those facts, may we not again plead with you, Mr. Speaker, that the matter be considered early next week? It is of great importance to our area, and we need a quick and early debate.

Mr. Cryer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have acted unusually in allowing points of order on a ruling that I have given. It is not customary to take points of order on a ruling given by the Speaker. I shall listen to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and then comment on the points made.

Mr. Cryer

When the question of The Times was raised, Mr. Speaker, you indicated to the House that in the near future you would consider a debate on that newspaper's closure, which was deemed by yourself and the House to be an important matter. There is therefore a precedent. You said that a serious and important matter would be uppermost in your mind when assessing priorities. Further—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is beginning to dispute my ruling, and I cannot have questions about the ruling that I have made. There are precedents both ways. I have to take into account all the factors.

Mr. Leadbitter rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not taking any points of order about my ruling.

Mr. Leadbitter

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It concerns a matter previous to your ruling. During business questions I raised with the Leader of the House the importance of the subject of steel. With great respect to the House, I raised the matter last week, too. I emphasise that I was greatly appreciative of the appraisal by the Leader of the House of the urgency of the matter. Having regard to what he has since learnt—and perhaps he was aware of it before he spoke—will the Leader of the House use his good offices and indicate whether time will be given?

Mr. Speaker

Business questions have finished.

Mr. Harry Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not disputing your ruling, which I respect. My point concerns the principle of the way in which the announcement appears to have been made. During business questions I asked the Leader of the House about the possibility of a statement on another subject, namely, the dispersal of Civil Service jobs. He said that it was his belief that important statements of that nature should be made in the House. If public utilities such as British Shipbuilders, the British Steel Corporation and the Post Office deal with jobs in that manner outside the House, it denudes hon. Members of the right to put their constituents' case in the House. I am sure you will agree, Mr. Speaker, that the principle must be given early consideration.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. While I have great sympathy with what the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) has said, the responsibility for opening or closing individual plants is a matter for the British Steel Corporation and other corporations. It is not a direct ministerial responsibility.

Mr. James Callaghan

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Leader of the House has widened the point of order, may I put this to him? In view of the history of the Government's intervention in these matters, including the decisions that were taken involving the closure of a steel works in my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), when undertakings were given that Shotton would remain open, will he please examine the Government's responsibility and have a statement made by the appropriate Minister on Monday?