HC Deb 23 December 1981 vol 15 cc991-4 10.30 am
Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for the first week of our return from the recess?

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

The business for the first week of our return will be as follows:

MONDAY 18 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill.

TUESDAY 19 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 20 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill. Motion relating to the Transfer of Functions (Minister for the Civil Service and Treasury) Order.

THURSDAY 21 JANUARY—Supply (8th Allotted Day); subject for debate to be announced.

FRIDAY 22 JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

Will the Leader of the House clarify an issue that has arisen on Civil Service questions? On the Wednesday after we return from the Christmas Recess an order will come before the House on the transfer of functions. It is rather confusing because I understand that at present we are not able to table questions to the Civil Service Minister that cover the full range of Civil Service responsibilities as certain questions have to be tabled on days when Treasury Questions are being answered. We now have 10 minutes of Question Time every four weeks which cannot be used as well as they might be. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider these matters and give some guidance to the House on the nature of the questions that we can ask and when we can ask them?

Mr. Pym

The amount of time that is available to any one Department or Ministry is the subject of an arrangement that is reached by agreement through the usual channels. That is the normal form. It is a matter for the Chair and not for me to decide which questions are in order and which questions may be asked. However, in so far as I have any responsibility in this matter, I shall make inquiries into the issue.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

When are we likely to have a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Procedure and Supply of the previous Session?

Mr. Pym

I am anxious to arrange a debate on the report. It will not take place in the first few weeks after our return, but it might take place before the end of February.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the transfer of functions order will be taken on Wednesday 20 January? If so, may I tell him that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has yet to complete its examination of the order? There are some detailed matters to investigate. If, for example, the Committee wanted to call witnesses, it would happen on the following Tuesday. That would clearly prejudice a complete examination of the order if it is to be taken on the Wednesday. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider that arrangement.

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on the textile industry and the multi-fibre arrangement proposals? He will be aware that the industry is deeply concerned about the adverse effects of the Government's proposals following the statement made yesterday by the Secretary of State for Trade.

Mr. Pym

There has been plenty of time for the Joint Committee to consider the transfer of functions order, but I am prepared to consider the hon. Gentleman's point. However, we want to make progress with the order. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced the Government's decision to the House a long time ago.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade made a statement yesterday on the MFA. It was made very soon after the negotiations had reached a certain stage and in response to the request of the House. I will bear the hon. Gentleman's request in mind and I shall consider whether time can be made available, but I am not very hopeful that Government time will be found in the near future.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. I remind the House that business questions ale taking time out of the Adjournment debate. I ask for brief questions and answers.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the long-awaited debate on the Middle East did not take place yesterday? In noting the strong feelings on both sides of the House over recent decisions in the Knesset, can he assure us that there will be a debate on the Middle East without delay?

Mr. Pym

No, I cannot give that undertaking. I received no requests yesterday for an extension of time, which would have been one possible way of enabling a debate to take place. I fully agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of such a debate, but I cannot see an opportunity offering itself in the near future.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that there will be an early and urgent debate on our universities? The announcement of the Secretary of State for Education and Science about a £50 million redundancy fund raises more questions than it answers. A Consolidated Fund Bill debate is no substitute for a proper debate after the new year.

Mr. Pym

I regard the universities as a suitable subject for debate on a Supply day.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that considerable criticism was expressed in the House last night because of the short debate that took place on Poland, which must be considered one of the most important of current issues? Will he try to find time for a further debate so that the House may truly express its opinion on the situation in Poland now and as it will be when we reassemble?

I emphasise what the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) said. The textile industry, which employs over 630,000 people, is desperately concerned about the MFA. It is vital that we should have a debate in Government time on that subject after we reassemble.

Mr. Pym

My hon. Friend must not ask for too much. The Government volunteered a debate on foreign affairs, including Poland. I was glad that we were able to hold that debate. For various reasons, it was shorter by an hour or more than had been expected. As I have said, I did not receive a request from any quarter for an extension. However, I will keep my hon. Friend's request in mind.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the fibre and textile industries. As my hon. Friend knows, I previously made a day available, and parliamentary days are few and far between. I shall keep his request in mind, but I cannot go further than that now.

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

In the light of the right hon. Gentleman's statement on the Procedure Committee, will he say how it is now possible for us to resolve the problem of collapsing Adjournments when hon. Members say that they wish other debates to take place in time which otherwise would be at the disposal of the House?

Mr. Pym

From time to time the House sets up Select Committees on procedure with a general remit. There is not one at present. The work of the Procedure Committee in the previous Session—I hope that it will continue shortly in this Session—relates to Supply and the control of expenditure. We are right to concentrate on that at present. No doubt at some time in the not too distant future—perhaps in the next Session, but I cannot say for certain—a Committee can be re-established with a general remit to cover the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. At the same time other issues could be considered.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Having regard to the serious report in last night's edition of The New Standard on abuses at Acton London Transport depot, will my right hon. Friend consider arranging a debate on London Transport to establish whether there are similar abuses at other stations or whether Acton has been singled out unfairly? At the same time we could debate the pressures from such a situation in pushing up the fares of Londoners.

Mr. Pym

As we have recently had two debates on that subject, it is rather unlikely that I shall find it possible to make room for a third.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

When the House resumes, will the right hon. Gentleman be making a statement arising out of Mr. Speaker's statement yesterday? We seem to have been left in limbo. I have in my hand a list of 22 people who were killed in the First World War when Members of the House and 23 who were killed in the Second World War. A Prime Minister has been shot in the Lobby. Lobby correspondents, Officers and servants of the House have died while serving their country in various ways. There is not a room in the House for commemorating such occasions.

Mr. Pym

I shall keep the hon. Gentleman's request in mind. I am aware of the losses that the House has suffered in both world wars. The hon. Gentleman has made a fair point. However, I have no intention in the week that we return of saying anything further about the statement that was made yesterday by Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

May I reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend)? The Government obviously thought that it was sufficiently important to have a debate on the Middle East and they provided time yesterday for it. Hon. Members probably did not realise that the Governmemt would have allowed an extension of time. Had I known that, I would have pushed for an extension. This is a vital matter. The current activities and the bunker mentality of the Prime Minister of Israel could lead to severe threats to world trade and world peace. I plead for an early debate on the Middle East.

Mr. Pym

My hon. Friend has heard already the requests that I have received. They are multifarious. But time is limited. I shall keep his request in mind. The matter is very important, but I cannot make time available in the week that we return.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Having regard to the continued disruption to people's lives in Britain by the unremitting Arctic conditions, which will no doubt be followed by floods, are the Government proposing to make a statement during the week of our return or to allow time for a debate, or otherwise to indicate what, if anything, they propose to do to enable local and statutory authorities to deal with what is an emergency in most of the country?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Has the Leader of the House any plans for a debate on the vexed question of nurses' pay, particularly bearing in mind the present niggardly 4 per cent. offer and remembering the honeyed words of sympathy which the Prime Minister uttered in those halcyon days when she was Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Pym

I made some comments about the negotiations on nurses' pay in the debate on Monday afternoon. The subject also arose for debate under the Consolidated Fund Bill. I have nothing to add to what was said on that occasion.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

As this is the season of peace and good will, may we have a statement from the Home Secretary as to why he tried to bully the Minister responsible for sport into lifting a proposed temporary ban on certain blood sports just so that the Home Secretary and his bloodthirsty friends could go out shooting birds during the Christmas holidays? Does the Leader of the House approve of such extra-parliamentary activities?

Mr. Pym

I hope that it will occur to the hon. Gentleman, before too long that it is also for him the season of good will. I did not think that his opening comments were reflected in the question that he subsequently put to me.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Will the Leader of the House clarify his present position about Special Standing Committees? Is he really saying that he has no intention of using the very useful procedure, which was used last year, for any Bill during this Session? Surely there must be one Bill that is appropriate to that procedure.

Mr. Pym

I have said that I thought that it was unlikely that we would use the procedure this Session, but I did not close the door on the possibility of using it. I thought that I had made that clear.