HC Deb 09 April 1981 vol 2 cc1115-22
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

May I ask the Leader of the House to make a statement about the business for next week?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Paymaster General and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Francis Pym)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY I3 APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Proceedings on the following Consolidation Bills:

  • English Industrial Estates Corporation [Lords]
  • Film Levy Finance [Lords]
  • National Film Finance Corporation [Lords]
  • Public Passenger Vehicles [Lords] and
  • Second Reading of the Judicial Pensions Bill [Lords].
TUESDAY I4 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Transport Bill.

WEDNESDAY I5 APRIL—Supply [17th Allotted Day]: Debate on the economic and social problems of the Northern region, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

THURSDAY I6 APRIL—The House will meet at 9.30 am, take Questions until 10.30 am and adjourn at 3.30 pm until Monday 27 April.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements for a statement to be made to the House, before the recess, on the Civil Service dispute? Will he accept that the Opposition—and, I am sure, many people in the country—are entirely dissatisfied with a position in which the Government are saying "No offer, no negotiations, no arbitration, no steps taken to deal with the dispute"? May we have a statement from the Government on the action that they will take to bring the dispute to an end?

Mr. Pym

As the right hon. Gentleman says, there is wide interest in this important dispute. I shall discuss his request with my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord President of the Council and with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, and try to see whether I can arrange a statement before the House rises for the Easter Recess.

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

Has my right hon. Friend had a further opportunity to consider early-day motion 196, in my name and the names of over 160, hon. Members?

[That this House requests Her Majesty's Government to provide time at an early date for the Second Reading of the Bill of Rights Bill [Lords] which is intended to render the provisions of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights enforceable in the courts of the United Kingdom and which has been brought to this House after passing through all its stages in the House of Lords.]

Will my right hon. Friend at least confirm that the Government would wish to give time to this Bill, which has passed twice through all its stages in the House of Lords and has been warmly and publicly commended by the Lord Chancellor?

Mr. Pym

Although I entirely accept the importance of the subject dealt with in the Bill, it is, none the less, a private peer's Bill, and I do not think that I am able to find time for private Members' business except in private Members' time. I am sorry to have to give that disappointing reply to my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

Is the Leader of the House aware that in a few more days a whole year will have passed since 146 British air passengers, including some of my constituents, lost their lives in the Dan-Air Tenerife air disaster, and that we are still awaiting a report on the causes of that disaster?

Will the Leader of the House accept that during that whole year all that we have had from the Government so far is one ministerial statement and a multiplicity of different replies to parliamentary questions? Will he arrange for a ministerial statement to be made next week explaining the supine attitude of the Department of Trade and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the lethargy of the Spanish air authorities in this matter?

Mr. Pym

I shall take an early opportunity to inform myself of that matter and see what progress has been made.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

As the Director of Public Prosecutions has now quite openly abandoned the ancient precept of the common law relating to violence against the person and damage, and substituted his own judgment of what constitutes racial harmony in determining whether or not to prosecute, and as this is manifestly a political judgment, would it not be appropriate for the House of Commons to debate the status of this incumbent?

Mr. Pym

I certainly would not wish to say that it would be inappropriate to do that, but I do not think that I can find an opportunity for doing so. There may be other opportunities that my hon. Friend can take, but that is as far as I can go.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the growing problem of racialism in this country, particularly in view of the effect that unemployment is having on the ethnic minority group, as shown by recent reports?

Mr. Pym

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has this matter very much under review at the moment. It is, of course, a topic that could be debated in the House at any time. The hon. Gentleman may have to find another opportunity, rather than Government time, for that subject, but I am sure that the House will return to it at some point.

Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)

My right hon. Friend will know that the hops industry requires legislation in order that its arrangements may accord with those of the European Community. Will he give an assurance that this relatively small matter will be attended to before the House rises for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Pym

The Government wish to legislate on this subject. It is necessary. I do not think that it will be possible to do so before the Summer Recess. I can only say that we wish to legislate as soon as time permits.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

On the Transport Bill, the remaining stages of which are to be taken on Tuesday, will the Leader of the House say whether time will be given for a debate and a vote on the seat belt issue? As he knows, the wearing of seat belts is supported by many hon. Members on each side of the House. If he will not give that assurance, will he explain why the Government will not permit a vote on an issue on which hundreds of lives and many thousands of serious injuries depend?

Mr. Pym

As the House knows, the Transport Bill is a Government Bill and it is now subject to a timetable motion. Under that motion, the Business Committee was established to decide how the time would be split up. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the Committee has reached a conclusion.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Transport Bill did not include any proposal in relation to seat belts. When the House decided upon the timetable motion, I understand that the seat belts issue was not then before the Committee. In dealing with a Bill under a timetable motion, the right hon. Gentleman is, therefore, asking for time in which to deal with a matter that was not part of the original Bill, and was not part of it at the time that it was guillotined. The right course to adopt is to adhere to the arrangements made by the Business Committee.

There is, of course, interest in the seat belts issue. The right hon. Gentleman can find other ways in which that matter can be raised on the Floor of the House if it turns out that his proposed addition to the Bill is not debated.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

Will my right hon. Friend say whether the Bill of Rights, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) referred a few moments ago, could be a Bill that the Government themselves would introduce?

Mr. Pym

Not at this stage. It is a major matter, about which hon. Members in all parts of the House have views. It is something that we could consider, but certainly there is no prosepct of that in the near future.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

Will the Leader of the House consider providing time for a debate on the new practices of the DHSS? Is he aware of its advice to investigators, at paragraph 505 of the document concerned, namely, that they should ask when and where sexual intercourse first took place and how often thereafter and during what period". Although the House realises that the Conservative Party stands for the family, would it not be a good idea to stand a little further away?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman should put such a question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

Referring to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals), is my right hon. Friend aware that what he said is not satisfactory, because under the timetable arrangements the new clause that will be introduced by the Government on road humps will, I suspect, take up all the time allowed for new clauses under the guillotine? Is he aware that that provision was not in the original Bill either, which tends to negate my right hon. Friend's point? Will he accept, therefore, that whatever one's views on seat belts, many people feel that the House has a duty to make up its mind one way or the other? If the Government do not provide the time my right hon. Friend knows that that will not happen.

Mr. Pym

The position is that the Government proposed the Bill without any provisions on seat belts. The Government have decided, rightly or wrongly, that they will not legislate on seat belts. The House came to a conclusion on a timetable motion and established a procedure for dividing up the time. That process has proceeded, and the House can and should adhere to it.

I appreciate the interest of my hon. Friend and others, but to accuse the Government of not providing time under a timetable motion for a Bill not related to seat belts is not altogether fair. There are other ways in which the matter can be resolved, if the Government so decide, but not under the guillotime motion on which the House has already decided.

Mr. K. J. Woolmer (Batley and Morley)

When the Minister is considering the Civil Service dispute will he draw to his noble Friend's attention the fact that the way in which the dispute arose and the way in which it has subsequently been handled have deepened the strength of feeling of injustice among civil servants? Will he draw the attention of his colleagues to the fact that civil servants wish to avoid, as far as possible, damaging the public, for example, by withholding child benefit, pensions, and similar benefits? Will he draw the attention of his colleagues to the need for a full airing of the matter in the House? It should be a matter of concern, whatever our views about its merits.

Mr. Pym

As I said to the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition, I will consult my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider whether we can arrange a statement before we rise for the Easter Recess.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

Reverting to the Transport Bill, I believe that my right hon. Friend is being somewhat less than fair to the House, inasmuch as it seems likely that the Government will pre-empt much of the limited time available by introducing their own new clauses, which could have been introduced in other ways. Will he recognise that where a guillotine is secured on the basis of the loyalty of their colleagues the Government should be careful about how they allocate the time available? Will he take steps to ensure that the limited time available for new clauses is not pre-empted by new clauses on road humps, which surely must be less important than seat belts?

Mr. Pym

The earlier new clauses to which my hon. Friend referred could go through quickly. Of course, a debate on seat belts would be welcome and acceptable. The arrangements made for the handling of the Bill have been decided by the House, and it is not within my power to alter that.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement this week on the reprehensible practice of farming out to Conservative Members planted questions for putting to the Prime Minister on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Question Time is farcical enough, without adding to that farce.

Mr. Pym

That is a fairly long-established practice, although I was not aware that it was going on at the moment.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnett)

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House, as it would be helpful to both sides, what business he intends to take on the day that we come back after the short Easter recess—Monday 27 April? More specifically, when does he intend to take the Second Reading of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill?

Mr. Pym

I am afraid that I cannot announce business for that week yet. I will do so next week.

Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to make a statement on unemployment consequential on her meeting, in Neston tomorrow, the Conservative leader of the Merseyside county council? Will he also ask her, when she makes that statement, to explain why she held that meeting and refused to meet the leaders of the religious organisations and all the political parties from Merseyside?

Mr. Pym

I shall convey that point to my right hon. Friend, but the hon. Gentleman will be able to question the Prime Minister next week.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what messages he has received from Canada about the possible timing of the arrival of the federal Government's request for constitutional legislation in the House? Is he aware of the strong feelings in the House that whatever may or may not be promised in Canada the House should not tackle the legislation until the Supreme Court of Canada has given a definitive ruling upon it?

Mr. Pym

This subject is still before the federal Parliament in Ottawa. Clearly it will be there for some time yet. Until those proceedings are over, it would not be appropriate or correct for me to make a statement about it.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

Does the Leader of the House recall that some weeks ago he promised that we would have a debate on the report of the all-party talks dealing with Scottish business in the House? Is it not stretching the English language and our patience to realise that it is almost Easter and we have still had no such debate, especially as the Government promised the people of Scotland that the issue would be dealt with urgently?

Mr. Pym

I intend to table the relevant motion or motions shortly. I am sorry that I have not done it before, but there have been consultations between the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian) and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)

I return briefly to the Transport Bill. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the vast majority of people wish to have no part in the do-gooding nonsense of the compulsory wearing of seat belts?

Mr. Pym

I note what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)

Does the Leader of the House remember an earlier incarnation, during which he considered the Government of Scotland and devolution? Does he remember saying that the status quo was not an option? In view of that, will he say when the Scottish Grand Committee, at least, will be allowed to meet in Edinburgh?

Mr. Pym

That will be for the House to decide. Soon I hope to table motions that will lead to the debate on which that decision can be concluded. I hope that there will be a chance to deal with that fairly soon after Easter.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

I appreciate that the Government may not be in a position to proceed with the House of Lords' Bill of Rights, but on this vital constitutional matter is there not much to be said for having a debate in the House at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Pym

I should be prepared to have such a debate, but I do not think that it has sufficient priority to warrant the allocation of Government time at present. If, in the event, there is time, we could arrange such a debate, but otherwise my hon. Friend will have to find another way to bring up that subject, if he is successful in the ballot or in some other way.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Is there anything that the Leader of the House can do about the dilatoriness of Government Departments in replying to Select Committee reports, as he promised he might in a debate in January? Is he aware that although the Procedure Committee recommended a period of two months, nearly six months have now passed, during which the Department of Education has failed to reply to two reports from the Select Committee on Education? As there is now a crisis in universities and higher education, and if the Select Committee system is to work properly, is he aware that there needs to be a continuing dialogue and that it should not be in the hands of Ministers to bring such a dialogue to a halt by sitting on reports and refusing to reply to them? Can he do anything about it?

Mr. Pym

I am not aware of that, but I shall inquire.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his words on seat belts will be welcomed, in so far as he said that he would like to be able to give the House the opportunity to decide the question? Is he aware that we are asking not for the guillotine motion to be rejigged but for the Business Committee to consider the way in which the new clauses will emerge. Perhaps in that way or some other way it will be possible for the House to make a decision, as the Committee managed to decide on another aspect of seat belts that also arose after the guillotine motion had been passed.

Mr. Pym

It is not within my power to adjust the decisions reached by the business committee. When the issue comes before the House it will have to decide on what the Committee recommends. It will be possible to deal with the early new clauses quickly, because they are not particularly controversial. That would allow time to deal with seat belts. That seems to be a satisfactory arrangement.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on electricity generation? Is he aware that I tabled a question in January and that the CEGB recently supplied an answer to that question? Is he aware that that reply shows that the costs of nuclear powered generation are extremely high, and are likely to be an increasing burden and an increasing potential danger? Does he agree that the subject has not been properly ventilated in the House, particularly since the Government apparently are lumbering towards building 10 pressurised water reactor stations, at enormous cost? Does the Leader of the House agree that that is a suitable subject for debate?

Mr. Pym

Yes, I do. That is why one of my hon. Friends chose the subject on a private Member's day, when we spent five hours debating energy policy. The Atomic Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill also provided an opportunity for the House to debate the subject of energy. There have been several opportunities to debate it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call hon. Members who have been standing in their places.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a full-scale inquiry into the disposal of toxic waste? Is he aware, for example, that the deadly poison dioxin, which was developed and manufactured from Coalite, resulted in an explosion in 1968? Is he aware that some of the debris of the dioxin was dumped in the constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Ellis)? Does he know that recent reports reveal that three more sites were used to get rid of that deadly poison, including one in my constituency?

Is the Leader of the House further aware of the great public concern, not only about the disposal of dioxin but about the disposal of many other toxic substances? Is he aware that such toxic substances are being imported and dumped in Britain? It is not time that the right hon. Gentleman consulted his colleagues to ensure that there is a full inquiry?

Mr. Pym

My responsibilities may be vast and comprehensive, but I do not think that they include that subject. However, I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

On what constitutional principle did the Government feel obliged to support the General Synod of the Church of England in the Private Member's Bill yesterday? Does it mean that in future the Government will support every decision by the Synod, however daft and damaging it is?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir. The Government view is that since, in 1974, Parliament devolved responsibility for these matters to the General Synod and rearranged the institutional processes by which such decisions are taken, it is not right that Parliament should suddenly, on one aspect, seek to take over responsibility again. Of course, it would be possible for the institutional arrangements to be altered if that were requested and the House so decided. That was the reason for what happened yesterday. It had no connection with the Prayer Book, in which many of us who voted in what I believe to be a constitutional sense believe very deeply indeed.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

A few weeks ago my right hon. Friend said that he would endeavour to find time before Easter for a debate on foreign affairs. I appreciate the pressures upon him, but will he try to find time as soon as possible after Easter for that important debate, in view of the important events that are occurring throughout the world?

Mr. Pym

I wish to find time for that debate after Easter.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Since the confused state in the Lebanon might tempt an imperialistic Israeli Government, faced with an election, to invade that country, linking up with the Phalangist Gemayels in the North—which would put back the cause of Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation by a generation—will my right hon. Friend, as he has done in the past, undertake to arrange a debate on foreign policy in the week after Easter?

Mr. Pym

I cannot guarantee a debate in that week, but I wish to find time for such a debate soon after Easter.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread feeling about the divorce laws and their unfair financial provisions? Will he find time for discussion in the House on the Law Commiss ton's recommendations on this important social question?

Mr. Pym

I am aware of the concern. It is an important matter. However, there is the question of time. I hope that there will be an opportunity to debate that important matter.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

In view of the many grave social, economic and other problems affecting Northern Ireland, will the Leader of the House set up a Select Committee for the Province, or arrange for the Northern Ireland Committee to meet in Northern Ireland regularly?

Mr. Pym

I have no doubt that that could be considered. However, a variety of views are held about that proposition among hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies and others. More consultation and consideration must take place before any such move is made. However, I note the interest in the topic.