HC Deb 30 April 1981 vol 3 cc909-15
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)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

  • TUESDAY 5 MAY—Further progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.
  • Motion relating to the Education (Allowances for Assisted Places in Secondary Schools) (Scotland) Regulations.
  • WEDNESDAY 6 MAY—Until about 7 o'clock, further progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.
  • Afterwards, Second Reading of the Supreme Court Bill [Lords].
  • Remaining stages of the Judicial Pensions Bill [Lords].
  • Proceedings on the Statute Law Repeals Bill [Lords].
  • THURSDAY 7 MAY—Debate on foreign affairs, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
  • FRIDAY 8 MAY—Private Members' Bills.
  • MONDAY II MAY—Further progress in Committee on the Finance Bill, which it is hoped to complete on Tuesday 12 May.

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the announcement of the debate on foreign affairs for which we have been asking. Will we have further time for that, because many hon. Members will wish to speak?

Will there be a statement by the Prime Minister on the British Nationality Bill and her statement in India that one of the reasons for the introduction of that Bill was the number of immigrants pouring into this country? We asked the Home Secretary that question in the debate yesterday and received no answer. I hope that the Leader of the House will consider the possibility of the Prime Minister making a statement to the House on that matter, particularly because she did not do so on her general visit to the Middle East. Will she say anything before the debate, or will she be participating in it to discuss what she said in some of the states, where she seemed to be more interested in selling arms than in contributing to securing a peace settlement in that area?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the foreign affairs debate. It would be for the convenience of the House if there were an extension until midnight, as many hon. Members wish to take part.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister does not intend to make a statement of the sort suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, who, had he wished, could have questioned her a few moments ago. It is not the intention of the Prime Minister to take part in the foreign affairs debate, but if the Leader of the Opposition wishes to return to that matter he will be able to do so.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend allow time next week for a debate on the work of the European Assembly, so that we can evaluate the Members' work there and assess the value of the role that they play?

Mr. Pym

Not next week, Sir. Other opportunities are available to hon. Members to raise that subject in the House, but I cannot provide the time.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the great concern in universities and polytechnics about Government policy on higher education, particularly in the light of expenditure cuts, the abandonment of the Robbins principle and the overseas students issue? Will he ensure that we have a debate on that subject in the near future?

Mr. Pym

I note what the hon. Gentleman said. That is an extremely important subject and I acknowledge the interest of hon. Members. I cannot see my way to finding Government time in the near future, but I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's request in mind.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend undertake to keep the House informed on the progress or otherwise of the dispute in the Civil Service, if only because Conservative Members will wish to ensure that any offer made, particularly regarding cash limits, is in accordance with the general economic policy of the Government?

Mr. Pym

My hon. Friend the Minister of State was questioned on that subject yesterday. He made a statement just before the House rose, for the recess. If it seems appropriate to make a further statement, I shall arrange that. I shall try my best to see that the House is kept informed on the development of that most unfortunate dispute.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the increasing concern about the effect that lead in petrol has on children? In view of the many rumours in the papers about an impending statement by the Government on their plans for lowering the lead content in petrol, will the Leader of the House tell us when that statement will be forthcoming?

Mr. Pym

The Government are still considering that matter. I do not expect that there will be a statement next week or necessarily the week after, but there will be one in the fairly near future.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

If my right hon. Friend is able to do so, will he consider making a statement next week on the recent meetings in certain Committee Rooms? Without wishing to deny the rights of any hon. Member to book a room for outside meetings, is my right hon. Friend aware that there is understandably deep concern—particularly on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter)—about recent events and the implications of certain meetings that have been held in the House?

Mr. Pym

The arrangements for such meetings and the use of rooms in the Palace of Westminster is essentially a matter for the House authorities and not primarily one for me.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

In view of their tardy handling of the matter, when can we expect a Government statement about the full introduction of the public lending right scheme?

Mr. Pym

I am not aware that an announcement will be made in the near future, but I shall make inquiries and let the hon. Gentleman know.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 336, in my name and those of certain of my right hon. and hon. Friends, about the threat to Britain's invisible exports constituted by the UNCTAD liner code?

[That this House expresses its concern about the threat to Great Britain's invisible earnings constituted by the United Nations Commission for Trade and Development Liner Code and believes that the international trading operations in commodities conducted in the City of London amounting to about £200,000,000 a year is being seriously affected by countries invoking the code even before it is officially approved, and by the operation of cargo allocation centres; considers that the Liner Code may be the forerunner of a bulk code which could seriously inhibit the shipment of commodities from the developing countries traded in the flexible commodity and hipbroking markets in London; and therefore calls on the Government not to ratify the Liner Code until its long-term implications have been fully understood and debated in this House.]

Will he arrange for the matter to be debated in the House before that code is approved?

Mr. Pym

If the code were approved it would require primary legislation. I shall consider the point raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Notwithstanding that there will be a foreign affairs debate next Thursday will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Lord Privy Seal to make an urgent statement about the reports that military equipment manufactured by Plessey was loaded on to South African aircraft yesterday? Is he aware that the equipment is clearly identified by Plessey as being sold purely as military equipment and that that is in direct contradiction to the United Nations arms embargo on South Africa and also to a letter sent by the Prime Minister to me over a year ago, saying that no such military equipment was being supplied? Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman give us an urgent statement from the Lord Privy Seal on Tuesday?

Mr. Pym

I am not aware of the facts surrounding that matter. I doubt whether it will be possible or appropriate to make a statement before the debate, but I shall convey that request to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

If not next week, then some time between now and the Summer Recess, can my right hon. Friend hold out the prospect of a full debate on the important question of trade union immunities, in the light of the Government's recent Green Paper?

Mr. Pym

I should not like to make such a promise. However, I acknowledge the great importance of the issue and the great interest of all hon. Members in it. I shall bear the request in mind. If my hon. Friend has another opportunity to raise the matter he will no doubt take it.

Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the prayer in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, asking that the Firearms (Variation of Fees) Order (Northern Ireland) 1981 be annulled?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Firearms (Variation of Fees) Order (Northern Ireland) 1981 (S.R. & O. (N.I.), 1981, No. 80) dated 16th March 1981, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd March, be annulled.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that fees for firearms certificates in Great Britain have been frozen pending the outcome of a review? Will the Government now withdraw the Northern Ireland order?

Mr. Pym

I regret that I cannot respond positively to the hon. Gentleman's request, but I shall try to find time for a discussion of the matter, probably upstairs. I shall not be able to do so next week, but I shall examine the possibilities and let the hon. Gentleman know.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall try to call all hon. Members who wish to ask a question, but that will be possible only if questions are brief.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth)

Is the Leader of the House aware of early-day motion 351, criticising the Secretary of State for Scotland for his handling of the colleges of education question and the way in which he has planted questions with one of his hon. Friends who has no interest in colleges of education?

[That this House notes with regret that yet again the Secretary of State for Scotland has made a major announcement on the future of Scotland's colleges of education by means of Written Answer to an obviously planted Parliamentary Question; believes this to be both impolite and an outrageously disrespectful way of handling such an important issue and that continually to place honourable Members of this House in an inferior position to the Press in relation to crucial information on their constituencies is utterly unacceptable; and calls upon the Government to gather its courage and make available time for debate on their now discredited decision to close two Scottish colleges of education.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware of a planted question on the Order Paper today dealing with the important subject of student intake numbers for the next session? Will the right hon. Gentleman please instruct the Secretary of State for Scotland to treat the House with some respect?

Mr. Pym

One has to make a judgment about oral statements and written answers. We have to get it right. If we have too many statements hon. Members complain that time is taken from debates. I have seen the early-day motion and will discuss it with the Secretary of State. Although I am not the best judge of the matter, it appeared to me that a written answer was the appropriate way to handle it.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

Has the right hon. Gentleman forgotten that next Thursday is municipal election day? That is the day that he has chosen for a foreign affairs debate, which we have not had for a mighty long time. Is he aware that, similarly, on the eve of the poll many of us—certainly on the Labour Benches—are engaged to speak at meetings, and yet he has fixed business that will preclude our attendance? Is not that a shocking misdirection of business?

Mr. Pym

I do not believe so. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has a really good meeting on Wednesday evening and that he can catch a train that will arrive punctually on Thursday morning to enable him to be here for the foreign affairs debate.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

In view of the catastrophic state of the textile industry, may I draw the right hon. Getleman's attention to early-day motion 319 signed by 84 hon. Members, on Royal Wedding souvenir T-shirts?

[That this House, recognising the deep recession and consequent unemloyment in the textile industry and the inevitability of foreign imports replacing royal wedding souvenir garments not manufactured in the United Kingdom calls for the reconsideration and revocation of the proposed ban on tee shirts bearing photographs of the royal bride and groom.]

Is the right hon. Getleman aware that I received a letter from the Lord Chamberlain's office saying that the longstanding convention must be upheld but that devices such as entwined Cs and Ds, bells, hearts, St. Paul's Cathedral, the rose of England, the daffodil of Wales and Union flags may be used? Will the right hon. Gentleman consult his colleagues to see who will make a statement on how the unhappy matter can be sorted out in a sensible way?

Mr. Pym

The hon. and learned Gentleman has made his point. I doubt whether a statement would be appropripate, but the matter could be considered.

Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh)

Will the Leader of the House accept that it is imperative for us to have an early debate on the unemployment problems of the North-West, which has 357,000 people unemployed—12.5 per cent. of the total population in the region—a fact that is creating misery and distress? May I exhort the right hon. Gentleman to recognise that we need to debate thoroughly and quickly the causes of the anxiety of hundreds of thousands of people?

Mr. Pym

I hope that there will be an opportunity to debate unemployment in the North-West. We had a debate on London earlier in the week, when the subject of unemployment was raised. Just before the Easter Recess we had a debate on unemployment in the Northern region. I hope that other opportunites will emerge, but I cannot say how and when that will happen.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)

Tomorrow the "People's Right to Work" march will begin in Liverpool, and will take a month to reach London, so will the Leader of the House speak urgently to the Secretary of State for Employment, who met a deputation of hon. Members this morning? Is he aware that without action we shall see more than 4 million unemployed, as forecast by Mr. Clive Jenkins of the ASTMS?

Mr. Pym

Unemployment is of the greatest importance and has been the subject most frequently debated this Session. There will be further opportunities for debate. I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

How are discussions progressing through the normal channels on rearranging industry, trade and energy questions later in the week?

Mr. Pym

I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question without notice, but I shall pursue the matter.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Bearing in mind how infrequently we debate foreign affairs, will the right hon. Gentleman further consider having the debate on another day, as he knows full well that a number of right hon. and hon. Members who would like to participate will not be able to be here?

Mr. Pym

That will always be true to some extent, on whatever day the debate is held. The views that I have heard seem to show that Thursday is a day that will attract support from both sides of the House.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the debate on the pavement outside the Department of Employment this morning, with the Secretary of State, about unemployment, which occurred because the Government have persistently refused to arrange such a debate in their own time? Is he further aware that all the debates that he has mentioned have been in Opposition time? Is it not time that the Government gave the House an opportunity to debate their rotten unemployment policies, or are they too ashamed of them?

Mr. Pym

In January or February I arranged a day's debate in Government time on the important subject of unemployment, and we may be able to do so again, although I have no plans to do so at the moment. The House has given the subject a great deal of attention, which is appropriate.

Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)

Will the Leader of the House accept that many of us are not in the least impressed with the motions on the Order Paper concerning the future handling of Scottish business? In view of the assurances that the right hon. Gentleman gave to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) two weeks ago about a debate on the future government of Scotland at an early date, may we now know when it is to be held?

Mr. Pym

The undertaking that I gave was to table the motions, which should provide an opportunity to debate the proposal contained in the all-party talks.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

What statements can the House expect to hear early next week in connection with the local elections?

Mr. Pym

Will the hon. Gentleman repeat his question? I did not hear it.

Mr. Barnett

What statements can the House expect to hear early next week in connection with the local elections?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is it not time that we had a statement on the Government's policy on firms closing? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last week it emerged that Stone Platt, a fairly large firm, had been given £10 million in order to survive, yet 7,000 other firms went to the wall in 1980 and many more will do so in 1981? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that many workers are asking Labour Members how it is decided which firms to rescue with the connivance of the Government and the Bank of England and which small firms will go to the wall? It is high time that the Government came clean. They were elected on a policy—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is supposed to be asking a business question.

Mr. Skinner

It is a business question.

Mr. Cryer


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