HC Deb 19 February 1981 vol 999 cc451-6
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)

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

MONDAY 23 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Energy Conservation Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 24 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Social Security Bill.

Motion on the European Communities (Medical, Dental and Nursing Professions) (Linguistic Knowledge) Order.

WEDNESDAY 25 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Gas Levy Bill.

At 7 o'clock the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

THURSDAY 26 FEBRUARY—Supply [10th Allotted Day]: Until about 7 o'clock, debate on an Opposition motion on the crisis in the textile, clothing and footwear industries.

Debate on the rapidly deteriorating economic and employment situation in the South and South-West.

FRIDAY 27 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 2 MARCH—Second Reading of the Contempt of Court Bill [Lords].

Mr. Foot

A few minutes ago the Prime Minister referred to the possibility of a statement on the steel industry next week. Is the right hon. Gentleman proposing to have a debate on that subject before we have that statement, or will the statement and the debate take place next week? As the right hon. Lady also referred to the Government's desire for swift and decisive action, may I ask whether we can have swift and decisive action on the crisis in the water industry? Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement on that crisis today, tomorrow or at the beginning of next week? There is a real need for swift and decisive action on that matter.

Mr. Pym

There will be a statement on steel next week. A Bill will also be published. There will not be an opportunity for a debate before that statement. The Bill may provide an appropriate opportunity for a debate, but the next state of the process is a statement.

Negotiations are still taking place between the employers and the workers in the water industry. I am aware of the reported decision by workers in three areas of the country to endorse the union's decision. However, as the matter is still under negotiation, it is better that it is left at the moment. I shall convey the right hon. Gentleman's representations to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

If my right hon. Friend is planning future business, will he bear in mind that there is little chance that the House of Commons will find time to deal with anything more ambitious about the Canadian constitution than a simple one-clause Bill to hand over the matter to the Canadians to settle? So that there is no misunderstanding on this matter, will he so advise those in Ottawa who are concerned with this question at this stage, rather than let the matter develop into a dreadful misunderstanding later?

Mr. Pym

The Canadian Parliament is engaged at the moment in a debate that may or may not lead to a request to Her Majesty's Government. We must wait until that process and procedure are complete before we can take the matter further. Until that Parliament comes to a decision in its own right the matter is speculative. The Government are considering the possibilities of what migh result from one decision or another being taken in Ottawa.

Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)

Bearing in mind the statement that has been made by the employers and the unions in the construction industry in Scotland, will the right hon. Gentleman try to arrange for a debate, this week or next week, not only on the United Kingdom but with particular emphasis on Scotland, where we have record unemployment? Does he agree that as the construction industry is a strong base for employment, even if we cannot obtain a release of public expenditure a debate would help to establish unanimity in the House?

Mr. Pym

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. The House had an opportunity of a debate on that industry on a United Kingdom basis. I doubt whether there will be time for a separate debate on that industry in Scotland. However, I take note of the request.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Do the Government intend to make a statement about the textile and clothing industry prior to the Opposition's Supply day debate next week, bearing in mind that the Prime Minister has received a telegram from the Textile Industry Support Campaign? It was hoped that the textile and clothing industry, which employs more people than the coal industry and many others put together, would receive the same sensitive approach from the Government as that which the coal industry is apparently about to receive.

Mr. Pym

The textile industry is extremely important, but it is not likely that a statement will be made before the debate next week.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is there not a need for an early debate, so that we can see whether industrial militancy is the only way to force the Government to see sense and to save Britain from industrial devastation? In such a debate, would it not be useful if the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman's immediate predecessor about unemployment and the Conservative Party were to be repeated on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Pym

Not next week, Sir.

Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

In view of the widespread interest in the Scott report on index-linked pensions, can my right hon. Friend tell me whether, at the very least, we shall be having a Government reaction to the conclusion in that report, or, at the very best, there will be a debate on the principle?

Mr. Pym

There will be a debate in due course. The Government believe that it would be helpful and sensible for there to be a general public discussion of this important, controversial and difficult issue. I have no doubt that in due course we shall have to find time for a debate on this subject.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Has the Leader of the House paid any attention to the need for a debate on a new coal industry borrowing Bill? Should not he plan that early, in view of all the dithering that has taken place in the last 10 days, arising out of the Coal Board's plan to shut the 23—and subsequently 63—pits? Now that the Government have made a U-turn, would it not be sensible to get on with the job and tell the miners and the executive of the NUM precisely what their intentions are, so that we know how much money will be put in, and whether the aid will be phased over one, two or three years? All those things must be done. The Government should stop dithering and get on with the job of ensuring that the coal industry is maintained.

Mr. Pym

No, Sir. The right course is for the discussions to continue. At their conclusion, further statements may be required, but that remains to be seen.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

As the Select Committee on Industry and Trade is discussing the BL corporate plan, should we not have a debate on a policy for the car industry in the United Kingdom, rather than always considering supplementing only BL?

Mr. Pym

The matter was covered in the debate on the Industry Bill. I should not excite hope in my hon. Friend that in the near future there will be time for another debate on the motor industry, although I shall keep his request in mind.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

Why do the Government continue to fail to find time to discuss the £15,000 million that they intend to spend on building 10 PWRs? Will the recent Select Committee report change their mind?

Mr. Pym

The Government will consider carefully the important report that has just been published and will in due course publish our considered reply. At that moment, we may be able to find an opportunity to debate the report.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend consider dropping the Wildlife and Countryside Bill [Lords], in view of the amount of work going through the House and because it may prove more trouble than it is worth?

Mr. Pym

I have no such intention, at any rate at present.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

Having regard to the emasculation of businesses and jobs all over the country, not least in my constituency, where yesterday Metal Box Limited announced substantial dismissals without prior consultation with the trade unions, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Employment to the effect that he, like the Secretary of State for Energy, will engage in substantial listening exercises, which seem to be so profitable in the coal industry?

Mr. Pym

I doubt whether such a statement would be appropriate, but I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

as there has recently been a lot of diplomatic activity in the Middle East by Ministers and other hon. Members, as we have had the Venice declaration and the European initiative, and as the Israelis are creating even greater problems by their accelerated settlements policy, will my right hon. Friend allow a debate on foreign affairs, and particularly on the Middle East, so that the Israeli Government are left in no doubt about how we feel?

Mr. Pym

I am aware of the wish of the House to have a debate on foreign affairs, but it cannot be in the near future. I should like to provide a day as soon as it can be arranged. At that stage we shall consider how to structure the debate. There is a variety of possible options. It is a question of meeting the wishes of the House.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

In the light of the reply of the Leader of the House on the Canadian situation, will he give an undertaking that there will be no departure from the precedents that a request from the Federal Parliament of Canada will be met in full by her Majesty's Government, with a favourable recommendation to the House?

Mr. Pym

It would not be appropriate for me to respond to that question, except to remind the right hon. Gentleman that on a number of a occasions the Prime Minister has answered points raised by the right hon. Gentleman on that issue. I have nothing further to add.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call three more hon. Members from either side, which should cater for all the hon. Members who are standing.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

As many of us are concerned about the loss of agricultural land, will my right hon. Friend consider, first, finding time for a debate on the subject and, secondly, the proposal that each Bill that comes before the House should show in its memorandum the amount of agricultural land that is likely to be lost as a result of the measure?

Mr. Pym

I shall bear the request in mind, but I cannot give my hon. Friend much hope that there will be time, at any rate in the near future.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will the House have the opportunity soon to debate the problems of short-time working? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the city of Leicester, where we have—for us—record unemployment of nearly 10 per cent., a further 15 per cent. of our workers are not working full time? Does he accept that if we take that 25 per cent. figure as being fairly common it demonstrates that the disaster is growing and that the House should consider short-time working in addition to unemployment?

Mr. Pym

The subject is appropriate to be dealt with in any economic debate. There have been opportunities, and doubtless there will continue to be opportunities. It is unlikely that we shall have time to debate the matter on its own.

Mr. John Biggs-Davidson (Epping Forest)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it does no service to the cause that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, (Mr. Callaghan) has in mind to suggest that the House has no option? Does he further agree that we have a duty to consider what may or may not be put before us?

Mr. Pym

I have nothing to add to what I said previously.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)

If there is to be no statement by the Government about the textile industry before the debate next Thursday, will the right hon. Gentleman at least ask the Minister to be prepared to answer the question that will be asked by hon. Members representing textile constituencies, which is why textile workers should patiently have to wait 20 years or more to have their case for import restrictions accepted, when the Prime Minister has made a U-turn that would do justice to the Polish Government in the face of trade union solidarity by the mineworkers, who have at a stroke prevented the import of cheap coal?

Mr. Pym

Before the debate I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the essence of what the hon. Gentleman says.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

Having heard the suggestion that came surprisingly from the former Prime Minister, is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be gravely misjudging the mood of the House to ask us to approve and rubber-stamp the request, which would be totally unprecendented, without the full consent of the federal and provincial Governments of Canada? Will he take note that there is a strong feeling that that would not be tolerated in this sovereign Parliament?

Mr. Pym

I take note of what my hon. Friend says. The whole House is seized of the fact that were a request to be made by the Parliament in Ottawa we should face a situation of the utmost importance and, possibly, difficulty. We shall have to act—as I am sure we shall—in a highly responsible manner. However, it is not a matter to be pursued at present. It is still an open issue before the Canadian Parliament.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) after I have called the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan).

Mr. James Callaghan

In view of what is being said, should not the Government make a considered statement? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that all I asked was —and he did not give a clear reply—that the Government should act in accordance with convention? The House must consider what is before it, and the House can make a fool of itself and turn it down. However, would it not be in accordance with convention, if the Government received such a request, for them to place the legislation in front of the House, together with the recommendation that it should be passed?

Mr. Pym

The essential convention to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is a request from the Parliament of Canada. As he knows, that request has not yet been received. It cannot be said with certainty that it will be. A statement thereon would not, therefore, be appropriate and neither would it be welcome in the eyes of the federal Government of Canada. We have to wait until their proceedings are concluded. When they are concluded, if they send us a request, as the Prime Minister says, we shall have to deal with the matter.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I welcome the development of right hon. and hon. Members being called several times during business Questions, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I undertake that when the hon. Gentleman has been Prime Minister I shall call him twice.

Mr. Cryer

I thought that we were all elected on the basis of equality. Will the Leader of the House say when we can expect a debate on defence? As he is acutely aware, there is a rising tide of opposition to the Government's policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] There may not be in this place, but there is outside. There is a rising tide of opposition to the Government's policy of implementing the installation of cruise missiles. That is why the Secretary of State, who is losing the argument, is about to mount a propaganda campaign. Will the Leader of the House bear in mind that the NUM is opposed to cruise missiles?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will have to wait long for a debate on the nuclear aspects of defence. It will not be many weeks before the White Paper is published and the normal annual debate takes place.

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