HC Deb 05 February 1981 vol 998 cc405-12
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Will the Leader of the House state 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 9 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Employment and Training Bill.

Motion relating to the Control of Pollution (Special Waste) Regulations.

TUESDAY 10 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Atomic Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and of the Armed Forces Bill.

Motion on the British Railways Board (Increase of Compensation) Order.

WEDNESDAY 11 FEBRUARY—Supply [8th Allotted Day]: Debate on an Opposition motion on the Government's attack on housing and the building industry.

Motions on Northern Ireland consolidation orders on legal aid, advice and assistance, and weights and measures.

THURSDAY 12 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Education (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill.

FRIDAY 13 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 16 FEBRUARY—Until Seven o'clock, consideration of Private Members' motions.

Second Reading of the Gas Levy Bill.

Mr. Foot

May I put to the right hon. Gentleman three matters that I have mentioned to him before? I raised the first with the Prime Minister a few minutes ago. Will he undertake to ask the Minister responsible to come to the House and make a statement about the seamen's dispute? Is he aware that the right hon. Lady has now confirmed that it is causing serious damage throughout the country, and therefore we urge that a statement should be made to the House on the matter?

Secondly, has the right hon. Gentleman had a chance to look into the matter that I raised a week ago about the debate on heavier lorries? Is he aware that the more we look at the debate on the Armitage report and at what was said by the Government spokesman in that debate, the more I think that the right hon. Gentleman—who must have read it—will confirm that the Govenment are committed to bring the matter back to the House for a vote to see whether the House will confirm our previous vote against heavier lorries in this country? I urge the right hon. Gentleman to deal satisfactorily with that.

Thirdly, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there will be a debate on the Government's attitude to the corporate plan of the British Steel Corporation?

Mr. Pym

With regard to the seaman's strike, I have made clear on many occasions in the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade is keeping in close touch with the situation. As it is up to the unions and the employers to resolve their dispute, and as the Government do not intend to get involved, there is no obvious advantage at present in making a statement. I shall keep the matter in mind, and if the circumstances change we can consider it again.

With regard to the Armitage report and the debate on it, I have noted the right hon. Gentleman's comments. It is fair to say that the Government are still some way from a final decision and we are still receiving representations. We have had a full day's debate on the matter, but I note the right hon. Gentleman's request.

The matter of steel is still under consideration by the Government. I hope that there will be a statement shortly—possibly next week, but I cannot be sure. There will be opportunities for a debate later, but for the time being the position rests as I have described it.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I should inform the House that over 50 right hon. and hon. Members have already indicated to me that they are hoping to take part in the debate on the main business of the day. The longer we take on business questions, the fewer hon. Members I shall be able to call. Also, there are two applications under Standing Order No. 9 before we reach the main business.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that 55 questions were put down to the Prime Minister on Tuesday, 49 of which were couched in the same language? Is he further aware that today there are 47 questions, of which 43 are the same? Does he not agree that this is becoming quite a farce? Will he refer the matter to the Procedure Committee?

Mr. Pym

This matter comes up from time to time. Other hon. Members have expressed disquiet at the present arrangements. I shall take an opportunity to discuss it with my right hon. Friend and to consider whether at some time in the fairly near future it may be referred again to the Select Committee. I have no decision to announce today.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for the past nine out of 10 Thursdays there has been controversial business in the House with a three-line Whip on both sides at 10 o'clock? Is he further aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House represent constituencies with poor train services, which means that we have to drive north at 10 o'clock on a Thursday night in January and February in order to carry out our constituency work the day after? Would it not be possible next week, for instance, to swap the uncontroversial business on Tuesday for the controversial business on Thursday so that northern Members on both sides of the House can carry out their constituency business?

Mr. Pym

I shall keep that in mind. For various reasons, I do not think that I can make the change that the hon. Gentleman requested next week. On the whole, most hon. Members appreciate that under our present procedures their presence here until 10 o'clock, at least on a number of Thursdays, is part of our normal practice.

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

As the Government are considering major policy changes in the responsibility for polytechnics, and as there are motions on the Order Paper showing a great deal of concern about overseas student fees and student union finance, may we have a debate on higher education policy in the near future?

Mr. Pym

I shall keep that request in mind.

Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

In view of the unanimity expressed in the Standing Committee yesterday by both the Government and the Opposition in rejecting a European proposal on hormones in animals, will my right hon. Friend take due note of what happened and of the disturbing facts that arose? In due course—perhaps not next week—will he consider providing time for a debate in which we can examine the whole question of European regulations that are put before the House?

Mr. Pym

The House has spent some time on the matter in the Procedure Committee and in other ways. I shall keep the point in mind.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

In the knowledge that the Government are very interested in cutting all public expenditure, including that which they claim to be wasteful, and in view of the fact that, according to several newspapers, European Members of Parliament are swarming around the world at a cost of millions of pounds, is it not time that the Government found a way of controlling that wasteful expenditure of British taxpayers' money? When the right hon. Gentleman responds to the advertisement in The Guardian today, he might suggest that Mr. Roy Jenkins could subsidise them rather than asking the British taxpayers to pay.

Mr. Pym

The Government deplore extravagant travel by Members of the European Parliament or by Members of any Parliament, particularly at present. I do not think that that is a matter for debate, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

Will the Leader of the House take note of early-day motion 150 on access for disabled persons, which stands in my name and the names of 67 other hon. Members?

[That this House, mindful of the recommendations of the Silver Jubilee Committee which called for legislative action by the Government to help safeguard the provision of suitable means of access for disabled persons to buildings used by the public, and in view of the fact that 1981 is the International Year for Disabled People, calls on the Government to facilitate legislative steps that will accomplish this objective.]

In view of the strength of feeling that was expressed at Question Time yesterday from both sides of the Chamber on the need for legislative provision to improve access for disabled people, can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that the Government will not block a Bill that will provide such legislative framework for access for disabled persons, that will be brought before the House on Friday, and that is supported by the all-party disablement group?

Mr. Pym

Obviously all Governments are concerned about ensuring that the best possible access will be made available for disabled persons. With regard to the Bill, that is a matter for the House to decide.

Mr. John Bruce-Gardyne (Knutsford)

In the light of this morning's report in the Financial Times that the De Lorean motor company is asking for another £8 million from the long-suffering British taxpayer as of right and in total conflict with the assurance given by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to the House in August that our obligations to this company were completed with the payment of £67 million, may we have an urgent and early statement from the Northern Ireland Office?

Mr. Pym

That matter is still under consideration by the Government, as it ought to be. I cannot promise an early statement, but I shall convey my hon. Friend's request to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

May I emphasise to the Leader of the House the importance of a statement on this confused position, in which threats appear to have been made by the De Lorean company against the hand that has fed it so very well? May I also request a debate on Monday 16 February, or earlier if possible, on the textile and clothing industry, which is still losing thousands of jobs a year, because if such a debate is held on 16 February, it will be on the same day as a large lobby of trade unionists are coming down to London to express opposition to the Government's policies and so protect their jobs in the textile and clothing industry?

Mr. Pym

I know that there have been a number of debates on this very important industry and the difficulties through which it is going. I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's point in mind, but I am doubtful whether it will be possible to arrange things on that day—unless the hon. Gentleman himself is fortunate in the ballot for Private Members' motions.

Mr. John Ward (Poole)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is still a great sense of injustice felt by those who pay both domestic and commercial rates? Will he find time for a debate on this matter to see whether we can devise a system which is much fairer than the present one?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that I can find time in the business of the House for such a debate, which is, of course, a matter of public discussion at present.

Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)

The Leader of the House will have noticed early-day motion 128 on the proposed closure of Tate and Lyle's Liverpool refinery.

[That this House deplores the proposed closure of the Tate and Lyle cane sugar refinery at Love Lane, Liverpool, and the effect this will inevitably have on present and future employment over the whole of Merseyside; recognises that many employees have given lifetimes of active productive service to the company, that industrial relations and co-operation between workers and management have been excellent at all times and joint efforts have constantly improved productivity; appreciates the difficulties imposed on company cane refinery activities by the inequities of the Common Agricultural Policy and the expansionist production and marketing policies of the British Sugar Corporation; but remembers with pride that past Labour governments have been able to resist those policies and provide sufficient support to enable cane sugar refining to be carried on in Liverpool, whereas this present Government have significantly failed to provide any measure of similar support; notes the cynicism with which the London Stock Exchange has reacted to the news of the loss of 2,000 jobs on Merseyside, by increasing the value of the company shares by 12p, and will not lightly forget such reaction; and calls upon Government Ministers, honourable Members, local organisations and individuals, to join with the local workers in urging the company to look again at their proposals which are bad for the cane sugar producers, bad for consumers, bad for workers and managers alike and bad for many industrial endeavours in the area which are dependent on the ready availability of refined cane sugar and its products.]

Bearing in mind the devastating effect that this will have on the employment of British refinery workers and the catastrophic effect that it could have on the ACP sugar producers, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made by the Minister of Agriculture and for a debate on this subject?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that there will be time for a debate, but I believe that I am right in saying that a deputation is going to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to make representations direct to him. I do not think that it will be possible to fit in a debate next week.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)

Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on the role of Parliament in reforming the Canadian constitution? Is he aware that, with so much growing interest in this subject on both sides of the House, a debate on the issue and the problems related to it might well save many days of debate later this Session if a request is received from Canada?

Mr. Pym

That report was published only last Friday. I am doubtful whether it would be appropriate to debate that subject while proceedings are in process in the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, but that is a possibility which I can keep in mind.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to watch the actions of his colleagues over the closure of colleges of education in Scotland, inasmuch as the Minister with responsibility for education in Scotland announced in the streets of Glasgow, to students of the colleges, that the colleges were to be shut in June of this year—an announcement made for the first time—yet within days his own Department was advertising three-year and four-year courses in the very same colleges? Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise the deep feeling that exists on both sides of the House about the closure of these colleges and give Government time for an urgent debate on this matter?

Mr. Pym

Those representations have been made to me previously. I ought to say that the advertisments to which the hon. Gentleman refers are not and were not the responsibility of my right hon. Friend or the Government. They were the responsibility of the Joint Committee of Colleges of Education in Scotland. I believe that there was a part of the advertisement which was omitted by oversight, but it was not the Government's responsibility.

Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have noticed the reports in the newspapers of late about the negotiations that have been taking place between Her Majesty's Government and the Russian Government about the resumption of relations after the break which occurred as a result of the invasion of Afghanistan. Would it be possible for my right hon. Friend to make time for a debate on foreign affairs, particularly in view of the apparent way in which the Russian action in Afghanistan has been forgotten and in which the West seems to be rapidly coming to accept the status quo there?

Mr. Pym

I should like to arrange a debate on foreign affairs but, unfortunately, that cannot be done in the near future. However, I am looking forward for an opportunity in due course, when I hope that we can debate such matters.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull)

In view of the obvious failure to convince either the Prime Minister or other Ministers of the need to intervene in the seafarers' dispute in the belief that a settlement can be freely arrived at through negotiations, will the right hon. Gentleman consult the hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden), who, as a large shipowner, has conceded the reasonable demands of the seafarers? Other shipowners are quite prepared to concede them but fear the intimidating factor of the closed shop of shipowners on shipowners who would agree. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Department of Employment to look at that aspect of the closed shop?

Mr. Pym

The present Government believe that it is not usually helpful for a Government to intervene. The issue is essentially one between the employers and the unions. We hope that they will reach an early settlement.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

Has the Leader of the House considered the advisability of a debate on the report of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure? Ought not the House be allowed to express its views before the general process of consultation is concluded?

Mr. Pym

I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and take into account the representations made by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Will the right hon. Gentleman look at early-day motion 146 on the rocketing rise in unemployment in South Yorkshire?

[That this House deplores the further increase in the level of unemployment in South Yorkshire in January, the biggest rise since July 1980; notes that unemployment in Mexborough is 5,155, 17.6 per cent. of the potential workforce, up 0.7 per cent. on December 1980, in Rotherham 8,156, 12.6 per cent., up 0.8 per cent., in Barnsley, 9,745, 11.8 per cent., up 0.8 per cent., in Doncaster 14,595, 13 per cent., up 0.8 per cent., all of which are development areas of varying status, whilst in Sheffield, which is due to lose its assisted area status in 1982, 27,405 people are out of work, or 9.3 per cent., up 0.7 per cent. on December 1980; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to recognise that rocketing unemployment justifies a far higher level of aid to South Yorkshire; and urges it to match the vigorous employment, promotion and development programmes of the South Yorkshire County Council and the district councils.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the sea change that is taking place in employment prospects in areas of traditional and long-standing industrial employment now requires the House to examine this problem not merely on a regional basis but, increasingly now, on a sub-regional basis, and preferably in the northern half of the country? Will he make provision?

Mr. Pym

The Government are as concerned as anyone about the rise in unemployment. It has been considered on a number of occasions in the House.

Mr. Duffy

Not in that context.

Mr. Pym

Not in that particular context—but the House can address itself to this problem in that context. Indeed, it would be open to an hon. Member to do so this very day.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the record of his discussions with Prime Minister Trudeau has been published in Canada? Can it be published here, and can the other records of discussions be published, since Prime Minister Trudeau is reporting words of the Prime Minister and we have no means of proving whether his report is true?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that that arises on the business for next week.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth)

May I press the Leader of the House about the colleges of education? In his anwer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), did the right hon. Gentleman forget to say that he would be giving Government time for a debate on these colleges? As the committee which published these advertisements has on it a representative of the Secretary of State, the Leader of the House cannot escape that responsibiity by saying that it was the governors of the colleges who published that advertisement when the Secretary of State's representative was on that body.

I am sure that the Leader of the House must be aware that the Government's policy has been rejected by 40 votes to nil in the Scottish Grand Committee, with not one Minister voting in favour of his own policy. Does not that convince the Leader of the House that we ought to have a debate on the Floor of the House in Government time?

Mr. Pym

I have nothing to add to the answer that I gave just now to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) concerning the advertisement. I stand by what I said then. I do not think that there will be time to debate this matter on the Floor of the House. The Secretary of State for Scotland has made his position clear.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the answer that he has given to my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) on the possibility of there being an early debate on the report of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure will be welcomed? Will he also announce that there will be an early opportunity to debate the White Paper on young offenders?

Mr. Pym

I shall consider that proposition.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call the five hon. Members who have been rising in their places.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House introduce some new procedures to enable Members who are mentioned in statements such as that made by the hon. Member for—what is it?—Stretford (Mr. Churchill)—

Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston North)

Manchester United.

Mr. Skinner

Yes, Manchester United, or whatever —to enable other Members such as myself to comment on the "Council for Social Diseases", or whatever else it is called—"Common Market Solidarity"—and to say that the people involved are living an immoral life inside the Labour Party while touting for custom outside it?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman takes considerable advantage of the procedures that we already have.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

Instead of having next week the Second Reading of the Education (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill, most of which is either irrelevant or damaging to Scottish education, can we not use next Thursday for a debate on the need to fight the Government's disastrous proposals to close Scottish colleges of education? In view of the promise that the Leader of the House gave to me last week that he would see the Secretary of State for Scotland about that matter, when can we expect a statement from the Secretary of State that he will abandon those disastrous proposals?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that my right hon. Friend has it in mind to make a further statement. However, I dare say that the issue that has been raised on three occasions this afternoon might be relevant to the debate on the Bill.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

As the Leader of the House negotiated with the Canadian Government on 19 December, will he now consider having questions on defence to include the subject of the patriation of the Canadian constitution? In what capacity was the Leader of the House negotiating with Mr. MacGuigan on 19 December?

Mr. Pym

There was no question of my negotiating with Mr. MacGuigan or the Canadian Government when I was there.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there are developments in many parts of the world that merit a debate on foreign affairs at this juncture? For example, does he recognise that many of us feel strongly about the appalling situation in El Salvador, where many people have been murdered over recent months, and about the policy of the new American Administration towards El Salvador? Will he tell us when it will be possible to bring such matters to the Floor of the House?

Mr. Pym

I have already said that that cannot be done in the near future. I shall look for an opportunity to have a debate on foreign affairs as soon as possible.