HC Deb 03 December 1981 vol 14 cc391-8 3.30 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Francis Pym)

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 7 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations.

TUESDAY 8 DECEMBER—There will be a debate on public expenditure proposals for 1982–83.

Motion on EEC Documents 9675/81 and 4632/79 on carriage of goods by road.

WEDNESDAY 9 DECEMBER—Supply (6th Allotted Day): Until about 7 o'clock a debate on the common fisheries policy and the need to safeguard the interests of the British fishing industry, and afterwards a debate on people, heavy lorries and the environment.

Both will arise on Opposition motions.

THURSDAY I0 DECEMBER—A debate on the report of the Scarman inquiry on the Brixton disorders 10–12 April 1981, Cmnd. 8427.

FRIDAY II DECEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 14 DECEMBER—Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that subject to progress of business, it is intended to propose that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment on Wednesday 23 December until Monday 18 January 1982.

[For the debate on the carriage of goods by road: EEC Documents 9675/81 and 4632/79.

Relevant Reports of the European Legislation Committee:

Second Report, Session 1978–79, HC 159-ii, paragraph 4.

Second Report, Session 1981–82, HC 21-ii, paragraph 1.]

Mr. Foot

I thank the Leader of the House for responding to two of our requests and for providing time for debates on the economic statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Scarman report. We are grateful for the fact that he has responded to our two proposals, but I should like to raise three other questions.

First, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to provide time for a debate following any judgment by the House of Lords on local government and public transport? Secondly, in view of the leakages or revelations—or whatever they may be—about the Government's possible proposals for the National Health Service, will he give us an undertaking that there will be an early debate on that subject? Finally, has the right hon. Gentleman any news for us, apart from the leakages, about the present state of the Local Government Finance Bill that seems to be being mangled in some other meetings elsewhere? We hope that the mangling process will go on and that the right hon. Gentleman will perhaps offer the nation the Christmas present of abandoning the Bill altogether.

Mr. Pym

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the debates that have been arranged for next Tuesday and Thursday. I made it plain that we thought that a debate on the Scarman report would be necessary, and in response to the right hon. Gentleman's request we have brought it forward to the earliest possible date. We have taken a similar decision in relation to the public expenditure announcement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday.

I have nothing to add to what I said last week and previously about the House of Lords judgment, which has not yet been given, as far as I know. We must consider that matter when the judgment is given. I also have nothing further to say about the Local Government Finance Bill. Consultations on that Bill continue.

What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last Tuesday on the National Health Service is in no sense new. It was announced ages ago that the review was in hand. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there was a debate on the National Health Service about two weeks ago.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

Will it be possible next week or the week after to have a debate on parliamentary elections to bring in the question of redistribution of seats and also to make it possible for the Opposition to explain how a selected candidate is not an endorsed candidate and whether the Leader of the Opposition was talking about the person selected in Bermondsey or about Tariq Ali, who has applied to join the Labour Party?

Mr. Pym

I am sure that that would be an interesting subject for debate, which many hon. Members would enjoy. However, I must disappoint my hon. Friend. I regret that I shall not be able to find Government time for that debate.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that during the Second Reading debate on the Nuclear Industry (Finance) Bill the Minister dealing with the Bill said that in his view the proper time to discuss the Government's programme for building nuclear power stations was not in discussion on that Bill but in the debate on the Select Committee's report on that subject? When will that debate take place?

Mr. Pym

I am sorry, but I cannot make an announcement at present. However, I appreciate that at some point we shall have to have that debate.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Does the Leader of the House recollect that the useful experiment with Special Standing Committees that we had last year, which was enormously successful with the Criminal Attempts Bill and with two other Bills, has not been perpetuated this Session? In view of support for it by hon. Members on both sides of the House, will the right hon. Gentleman bring forward the necessary motion quickly?

Mr. Pym

My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), introduced the experiment in the House. As his successor I should like to say that I watched carefully the experience of the House during the experiment. I have a good deal of sympathy with the idea behind it, but it is not my present intention to reintroduce the Standing Order relating to Special Standing Commmittees at the moment. However, I should be prepared to do so if the Government identified a suitable Bill for the use of the procedure either in this Session or in a future Session.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

May I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider his decision in view of the undoubted success of the new procedure, which must not be allowed to fall into desuetude? Is not this a matter for the House to decide? Should it not have the opportunity to consider whether it wishes to make the procedure permanent? May I ask my right hon. Friend to put down a motion so that the House can come to a decision on the matter?

Mr. Pym

Various views are held about the procedure. There is no question of allowing it to fall into desuetude, as my right hon. Friend suggested. I indicated carefully in my reply that I had an open mind about the matter. At the moment, there is not a suitable Bill, but if it seemed appropriate to use procedure, for any Bill in this Session or in the future I shall be prepared to put down the appropriate motion.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, East)

Will the Leader of the House find time in the near future for a debate on hon. Members' secretarial and research allowances because many hon. Members are finding increasing difficulty, with the Government's present economic policies, which are putting many people in the dole queues and causing different sorts of deprivation, in dealing with all the mail? The amount of secretarial help that we receive is not enough to cope with our enormous mailbag and the tragic personal cases—we must deal with more of them day by day. Will the right hon. Gentleman give urgent consideration to that matter?

Mr. Pym

Where it is appropriate, recent practice has been to have a debate once a year, usually in the summer. We had such a debate last summer. I doubt whether there will be an opportunity in the immediate future, but this matter may well arise again during the summer.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

As rumour has it that the House will not return from the Christmas Recess until 18 January, will my right hon. Friend explain why he said that we would be sitting until 23 December? Many hon. Members like to fulfil constituency duties before Christmas; and one or two also have families.

Mr. Pym

All I announced was that, subject to the progress of business, the Christmas Adjournment would be proposed on a certain date and that it would end on a certain date. I thought that a bit of advance warning about what was in mind would be helpful to the House. I am sorry that my hon. Friend does not approve of the dates that I have chosen.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Does next week's timetable mean that the Government have now abandoned their crazy Bill on local government finance?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

Is it not unfortunate that the House has never had an opportunity to discuss the workings of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act since its enactment? In view of continuing anxiety about the handling, transportation and processing of hazardous materials, has his attention been drawn to early-day motion 100, in the name of myself and the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry)?

[That this House, concerned that there is still no effective legislation to govern the storage, transport and use of hazardous substances seven years after the Flixborough explosion, recognises the urgent need for regulations to safeguard the interests of the general public, provide adequate protection for those working with such substances and to amend the inadequacies in the planning law as it now stands, which often enables firms to commence the processing of these lethal substances without needing to apply for new planning permission; and therefore, as a first step, calls for the immediate presentation to Parliament of draft Regulations on Hazardous Installations as drawn up by the Health and Safety Commmission in 1978.]

Will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on this important subject?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and my hon. Friend have raised that important matter from time to time. Regulations for the conveyance of dangerous substances come into force in January, and draft regulations on the notification of hazardous installations should be submitted to Ministers early next year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is studying proposals from the Health and Safety Commission for changes to the planning laws. This is very much a live subject in the minds of Ministers. The regulations may provide an opportunity for debate, but I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's representations.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

With my natural modesty, I hope that I do not have to travel to the Front Bench to ask my question. In view of the impending danger to a number of British cultural institutions—we have had warnings from the director of the British Museum, and from the director of the British Film Archive about the survival of the nitrate film stock—when can we have an urgent debate on the funding of the arts in Britain, which is a critical matter?

Mr. Pym

I am afraid that Government time will not be available in the near future, but I observe that next Friday, on Monday week and on other days there will be Private Members' motions for which hon. Members can ballot. One of those occasions might be appropriate. It is not that I do not agree that this is an important subject, but the pressure of time is such that, frankly, I doubt whether Government time can be found in the near future.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

If my right hon. Friend caught the mood of the House on Tuesday when the Secretary of State for Transport presented his paper quaintly but misleadingly called "Lorries, People and the Environment", and as we are to debate this next Wednesday, does he not agree that the sooner that the paper changes colour from white to green the better?

Mr. Pym

When answering questions on Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport said that draft regulations would shortly be circulated for consultation, which will require a minimum of two months. He indicated that after that the House would need to reach conclusions. That seems to put the position in a fairly clear perspective.

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

Why does not the right hon. Gentleman table a motion to reconvene the Select Committee on Procedure so that we can deal with the point that was raised the other night when business collapsed following an early Adjournment?

Mr. Pym

I intend to re-establish the Select Committee on Procedure dealing with Supply as soon as possible. Discussions about that are taking place through the usual channels. It is not my intention at present to set up a separate Select Committee on Procedure to deal with other matters, although that is always a possibility for the future, if for any reason the House so decides.

Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)

Will my right hon. Friend match his commendable efforts to limit the amount of business in the Chamber by containing the amount of parliamentary business outside it? Is he aware that the Secretary of State for Education and Science was unable to meet a group of Members this week because no room was available and that next Monday I am invited to an important meeting that is to be held in an alcove? Can he not do anything to check the incontinent tendency of parliamentarians to keep meeting like this?

Mr. Pym

I think that that is beyond my power, which is perhaps just as well. Equally, from the other point of view, I should be reluctant to see any further extension of this Palace in order to provide even more facilities for hon. Members to have meetings of that kind. There is no doubt that an increasing number of groups are coming to the House and in various ways they find advantage in doing so. It my be that we are reaching the stage when the House will want to consider what action, if any, ought to be taken about it, but in the meantime I believe that things should be left as they are.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

The right hon. Gentleman will know that on Monday we had an important debate on the rights of the House to examine and scrutinise public expenditure. As every speech in that debate, other than the one from the Treasury Bench, supported the recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee that our powers of scrutiny should be strengthened, when may we expect legislation on that issue? Secondly, why did not the right hon. Gentleman intervene in that debate? This was clearly a House of Commons matter, in that it sought to strengthen the powers of the House. Surely it is part of the right hon. Gentleman's job to strengthen and develop our powers of scrutiny rather than to leave the matter to the Treasury.

Mr. Pym

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that was an important debate. I think that I followed precedent by my non-intervention. The normal practice is for Treasury Ministers to speak to the subject, and sometimes Ministers from other Departments. I think that that happened on this occasion with the Department of the Environment. The Government's mind is certainly not closed on these matters. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have taken careful note of what was said on that occasion. In a debate of that kind, it is not unusual for the view expressed by the Committee to receive more prominence than any contrary view.

The Government and the Public Accounts Committee have a common interest in better control of public spending and better value for money. I realise that at present they do not see fully eye to eye, but I believe that the differences are as much about means as they are about ends. It is right that my right hon. and learned Friend and I should consider the important matters raised on that occasion.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

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

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

As I understand that the work of the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland has been completed and the recommendations submitted, when may we expect the appropriate order to be laid before the House?

Mr. Pym

I require notice of that question.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

I think that the whole House will welcome the right hon. Gentleman's ready acceptance of ministerial responsibility for Tariq Ali. Will he complete the experiment on Bills by referring, say, three to Select Committees, either existing ones or ad hoc ones, under the existing permanent Standing Order? When we have had the debate on expenditure on the "instant reaction" principle next Tuesday, can we have another debate—there is precedent for this—after the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Calm), has had the opportunity to consider its economic implications?

Mr. Pym

I do not know whether there will be time for a debate on the hon. Gentleman's last point. As to the possibility of referring Bills to Select Committees, it is not my intention to do so, at any rate in this Session.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

As one who has had direct experience of the new Public Bill procedure with the colloquially named "nodules Bill", will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many hon. Members view this procedure sympathetically and think that it has a useful part to play in our procedures? Will he therefore bear it in mind for a forthcoming Bill on data protection, which is urgently needed?

Mr. Pym

As I said, I am not unsympathetic. The success of the procedure depends very much on the choice of the Bill. I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said. I have told the House in all frankness how I am looking at the matter during this Session. I do not have a completely closed mind.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement to the House on whether the Government are to go ahead with the purchase of the D5 or the C4 Trident missile? Is the Leader of the House aware that if the larger missile is purchased about £94 million worth of development work will have to be abandoned? Does he not accept that it would be welcome if the Secretary of State for Defence were to come to the House and announce the abandonment of the whole lunatic project? Does he not further accept that at least we would then be sure that Westminster hospital would receive the necessary finance for children needing transplants?

Mr. Pym

I know that the hon. Gentleman cannot resist his weekly crack of that sort. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, that the Government are considering, with the United States, the possibility of the D5. No conclusion has yet been reached, nor is it imminent. It is very much in Ministers' minds and, in the fullness of time, when conclusions have been reached, naturally the House will be informed.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

Does not my right hon. Friend accept that we have already had years of consultation about heavier lorries? Is he not aware that there is a great deal to be said for the House of Commons reaching a decision on the matter at the earliest possible opportunity? Does he not also accept that it is a question that cannot be, nor should be, settled on party lines? Therefore, will he do what he can to encourage a free vote on the matter when it is debated next week?

Mr. Pym

The last point is, of course, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. The proposal of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport—that there should be two or three months for the White Paper to be considered—is reasonable. At the end of that time we shall come to a conclusion. I do not believe that that is a very long time for my hon. Friend to have to wait.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Will the Leader of the House have less than a closed mind on the subject of Special Standing Committees? Is he aware, for instance, that last year the procedure radically changed the nature of the "sus" Bill after pressure from both sides of the Committee? It made it a very much better Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider whether the forthcoming Criminal Law Bill is suitable for consideration in a Special Standing Committee? What are his criteria for the suitability of Bills?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman is fair about that, and the Bill to which he referred was a successful part of the experiment. However, as I said earlier, I do not envisage any particularly suitable Bill at present. I have an open mind, and there is no point in putting down the motion that I have been requested to put down unless there is a good prospect of using the procedure. If minds change and an opportunity of which we wish to take advantage arises, I shall be prepared to reconsider the matter.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the utter dismay felt by Her Majesty's loyal subjects in Gibraltar at the Government's decision—in answer to a highly unplanted question by me—to close the dockyard and to restrict the use of air space? I understood from Gibraltar this morning that the Chief Minister is coming here next week to see Ministers about it. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the House is properly advised on the matter and kept informed about what alternative provisions will be made for the people of Gibraltar?

Mr. Pym

I shall convey my hon. Friend's representation to both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Will the Leader of the House seriously consider asking the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement to the House about the hours that junior doctors are working, bearing in mind that there is an urgent need for a statement because patients are being put at risk?

Mr. Pym

I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's representations to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

May I direct the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1 in my name and the names of my hon. Friends?

[That this House believes that the pressing problems facing our cities can best be tackled by implementing some of the proposals contained in a recently published study `New Life For Old Cities' endorsed by 62 Conservative honourable Members and Members of the European Parliament representing urban constituencies which offers new hope for the regeneration of our cities, by turning to people rather than Government and relying more on private enterprise than public bureaucracy; and notes that included amongst the recommendations are: (a) the rapid release by auction on the open market of hoarded public land surplus to requirement, (b) promoting city renewal through self-financing private enterprise agencies which would contract out to existing local businesses and professional firms the job of marketing the city's assets, (c) making urban renewal attractive to private investment by offering cheaper loans through issuing tax-exempt revenue bonds, (d) offering rate holidays not just in enterprise zones but to single-plant family firms elsewhere and inner city retailers who ultimately will pay full commercial rates but only if their businesses prosper, (e) encouraging private business to build new factories, offices and homes in the inner city thus reducing the 60,000 acres of agricultural land and green field sites lost each year to urban sprawl, (f) halting demolition and instead encouraging local authorities to sell off decaying property for £1.00 for those (homesteaders) willing to repair and live in them, and making similar arrangements for shopsteaders to enable run-down shops scheduled for demolition to be saved, (g) encouraging building societies to lend on older houses and discontinue 'red-lining' (that is refusing loans for house ownership in run-down areas), (h) enabling sitting tenants of flats and maisonettes in outer council housing estates to purchase their freeholds for a nominal sum in return for a share in the block's management and upkeep thus saving local authority expenditure and (i) contracting out to private enterprise those local authority services which can be done better and cheaper by private enterprise; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to assume a catalytic role so as to enable public and private enterprise in partnership to realise their full potential, to reduce those checks and controls which militate against new development and to involve more fully those people living and working in cities in the total revitalisation process.]

It offers new life for old cities, not only the inner cities but the middle and outer cities, too, where the majority of the population now live. Will my right hon. Friend consider arranging a debate on paragraph(f) of the motion which suggests a policy of homesteading, shopsteading and flatsteading to replace compulsory purchase and demolition by local authorities?

Mr. Pym

That is obviously an important subject, but I cannot provide Government time to hold such a debate in the House. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has spent a great deal of time in the inner cities. The matter is high in his priorities and it is being fully and carefully considered. If my hon. Friend wishes to mount such a debate, he must enter the ballot—I know that he does anyway—and hope that he is lucky in the draw.