HC Deb 26 February 1981 vol 999 cc973-9
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Does the Leader of the House have a statement to make 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:

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

TUESDAY 3 MARCH—Debate on a Government motion on the independent strategic deterrent.

Motions on the Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 4 MARCH—Remaining stages of the Fisheries Bill.

Motion on the International Development Association (Sixth Replenishment: Interim Payment) Order.

THURSDAY 5 MARCH—Supply [11th Allotted Day]: Debate on an Opposition motion on the disastrous effects of cuts on the education service.

The Question will be put on all outstanding Votes and Supplementary Estimates.

FRIDAY 6 MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 9 MARCH—Motions on the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order and on the Local Government, Planning and Land (Northern Ireland) Order.

Mr. Foot

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if we do not have a satisfactory report from the Prime Minister on El Salvador we may need to ask for a debate? Will he tell us next week when we shall have a debate on the nuclear power problems and the critical report on the subject? I do not press for answers now, as the House wishes to proceed swiftly and allow as much time as possible for the debate on unemployment.

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I note what he says about El Salvador. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the Prime Minister will report to the House on her return. The report from the Select Committee on Energy is important. The Government are considering it carefully and will in due course respond. Perhaps at a subsequent stage we should consider a debate.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the House will co-operate. Two important debates follow, in which over 50 right hon. and hon. Members hope to catch my eye because they have direct constituency interests. I hope that questions will be brief and to the point.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Will my right hon. Friend provide a full day soon to debate the urgent problems facing British agriculture?

Mr. Pym

I note my hon. Friend's request. There may be an opportunity in the not-too-distant future at least for a half-day debate on agriculture, if not a full-day debate.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

As a lover of our summer game, is the Leader of the House aware that the Lord Provost of Glasgow has offered the freedom of the city to Nelson Mandela? Will he comment on that splendid geature? May we have a debate on the matter next week?

Mr. Pym

It is not appropriate for me to comment; neither will it be possible to have a debate in Government time next week.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the splendid performance of our diplomatic and political representatives at the European security conference in Madrid? Will he note that the moment that the conference is over hon. Members would like a debate on the subject in order to assess the results?

Mr. Pym

I note my hon. Friend's request. Good work is being done in Madrid, and we hope that progress can be made.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

Are we likely to have a statement next week from the Secretary of State for Education and Science about the implications of the High Court ruling by Mr. Justice Forbes yesterday that local authorities may not charge parents for musical tuition, as it has grave implications for the future of musical tuition and the legality of local authorities having charged fees in the past?

Mr. Pym

I am not aware that my right hon. and learned Friend intends to make a statement next week. I imagine that the subject may be relevant to the debate next Thursday.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

As a debate on the planning fees regulations has been set down for Tuesday, can my right hon. Friend tell us when the equally important and linked measures dealing with amendments to the general development order are to come forward, one of which was announced in last year's Budget?

Mr. Pym

No, but I shall let my hon. Friend know.

Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)

What constitutional imperative requires the right hon. Gentleman to have a debate on Trident next week and so inflict discourtesy on the House, when the Select Committee on Defence has been studying the matter for many months, is proposing to take evidence from his successor as Secretary of State for Defence the day after the proposed debate, and expects to have its report ready in the next couple of months? Why do we have to have a debate now?

Mr. Pym

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, much discussion has taken place between the Government and the Select Committee about the timing of the debate and on the question why the Government consider it necessary to have it in the near future. It was never envisaged that an investigation by a Select Committee into any subject should inhibit the House from debating it.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

As the water workers, whose jobs are secure, who are able to work a full week, and who sometimes work overtime, have been offered a 12.3 percent, pay increase, which will have to be paid for by industrial workers, some of whom have insecure jobs, some of whom are on short time, and some of whom have had no pay increase, may we have a debate on the management and administration of the water services, which patently are not effectively serving the nation at present?

Mr. Pym

I cannot see an appropriate opportunity for such a debate in the near future, but there may be other ways in which my hon. Friend can raise the matter.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)

Does the Leader of the House recall that I put down a private notice question on the disappearance of radioactive material from the base at Rosyth? As the material has still not been located, will he impress on Defence Ministers the need to report progress to the House, especially as there is a strong view that the material is no longer on the base?

Mr. Pym

My right hon. Friend has the matter very much in mind. When a further statement to the House is appropriate, he will make one. I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's important comments to him.

Mr. John Bruce-Gardyne (Knutsford)

My right hon. Friend said that the outstanding Supplementary Estimates would be taken later on Thursday. Will he confirm that they amount to £700 million of additional public expenditure, a significant part of which, alas, is outside existing cash limits? Before we are expected to vote, may we have an explanation not least of the £½ million which the Social Science Research Council seems to have managed to overspend?

Mr. Pym

We must deal with the matter in accordance with existing procedures. As my hon. Friend knows, the matter is under review by the Select Committee on Procedure. We cannot make a change in the arrangements for next week.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 218 standing in my name and those of 120 other hon. Members about the right of 50 workers at the Roach Bridge paper mill to join a trade union without being sacked?

[That this House notes, that following the recruitment into membership of the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT) in early December 1980 of process workers at the Roach Bridge Paper Mill, Salmesbury, near Preston, the Father of the Chapel, Mr. Frank Brown, elected on 13th December, was dismissed by the company six days later for alleged poor timekeeping in breach of normally accepted procedures; that 50 process workers then struck in support of Mr. Brown, and that all 50 were then dismissed by the company on 5th January 1981, and have so remained; that the company have refused even to meet representatives of SOGAT to negotiate a resolution of this dispute; condemns the hostile nineteenth-century approach of the management of Roach Bridge towards union recognition, its dismissal of these workers effectively for joining a union, and its continued refusal even to meet union representatives; believes that Her Majesty's Government should show the same concern about the rights of individuals freely to join trade unions in the United Kingdom as they profess to those in Poland; calls upon the Secretary of State for Employment to intervene in the dispute to secure the reinstatement of the 50 employees and the recognition of the trade union; and calls upon the Press to give the same coverage to this clear denial of trade union rights as they have to the case of Miss Joanna Harris of Sandwell.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for Employment to intervene and for the House to have a debate?

Mr. Pym

I shall convey those views to my right hon. Friend. I cannot see an opportunity for a debate at present, but I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's request in mind.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

In view of recent developments, can my hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on trade union power in the public sector?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir. I am afraid that there is no scope for such a debate next week.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the freedom and diversity of the press? Is he aware that since the Secretary of State's decision over Times Newspapers Limited the word is going round Fleet Street that any industrial group can pick up a great national newspaper as easily as buying a bag of crisps?

Mr. Pym

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I think that that would be a matter suitable for an hon. Member to raise on a private Members' day or in some other way, because I think that it is not likely that Government time will be forthcoming in the near future. But I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the subject.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the repeated requests that have been made for a debate on the problems of the Palestinian people in finding a homeland? In view of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is almost certainly discussing peace in the Middle East, probably today, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is appropriate that we should have an early debate on this issue?

Mr. Pym

Yes, Sir. I am looking for an opportunity for a debate on foreign affairs when that subject would clearly be appropriate. It will not be in the next week or two, but I hope that at some time around Easter we shall be able to find a day for it.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

With regard to Thursday's debate on education, does the Leader of the House appreciate the importance of making available to hon. Members Her Majesty's inspectors' report on the effects of the cuts on schools? Is he aware that I applied for a copy more than a week ago and was promised one by the Department, but that I am still waiting? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that abundant copies will be available in the Vote Office tomorrow, or at the earliest opportunity before Thursday?

Mr. Pym

I promise to make immediate inquiries about that.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

May I endorse my hon. Friend's request for a debate on foreign affairs, for many reasons, not least so that the House may consider the case of Mr. Andrew Pyke, who is destined to languish in Tehran, in order to face a trial of which this House cannot approve, after the hoped-for and expected release of the other three missionary detainees tomorrow?

Mr. Pym

I note what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

May I press the Leader of the House for a statement about Mr. Justice Forbes' judgment from the Secretary of State for Education and Science before the debate next Thursday? Is he aware that it is a very important judgment, which goes far beyond the mere question of music tuition, which calls into question the legality of many of the charges at present being made by local authorities to parents, and suggests that the law is being breached in almost every local education authority in Britain? May we have a statement from the Secretary of State on Monday?

Mr. Pym

I will, of course, convey those views to my hon. Friend. I cannot give an undertaking or promise about a statement, but I will convey those views to him.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Has my right hon. Friend seen the recently tabled Government amendment to the British Nationality Bill concerning the transmission of nationality? Is he aware that it places indigenous Britons born abroad at a disadvantage compared with immigrant Britons? As this smacks of racial discrimination, which we all deplore, will he secure its withdrawal and reconsideration?

Mr. Pym

That matter is appropriate for the Standing Committee considering the Bill to deal with. I note my hon. Friend's request, but I think that it would be for the Committee to deal with that matter.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to early-day motion 143 on the audibility of the BBC World Service for United Kingdom listeners, which has been signed by about 80 Members from all parties?

[That this House, recognising the excellence of the BBC's World Service and viewing with concern the proposals to build a new transmitter, which will effectively cut off the majority of United Kingdom listeners from the World Service, calls upon Her Majesty' Government to reconsider its plans, so as to ensure that this service remains available to listeners throughout the United Kingdom.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the widespread concern in this country at the possible loss of this marvellous service? May we be assured that there will be a debate in the House before any adverse decision is taken.

Mr. Pym

I note what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I appreciate that a great many people enjoy that service. It is, of course, intended essentially for overseas listeners. The fact that parts of the United Kingdom have been able to receive it is, in a sense, a fortuitous byproduct of the transmissions. Nevertheless, I recognise that this is an important matter, and if there is an opportunity at some stage in a debate on broadcasting, perhaps the House can attend to it then. I do not think that I can undertake to find time for a specific debate on the matter at present.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on the serious industrial crisis that we are facing in the North of England, bearing in mind that it is due mainly to the policies of the Government? Is he aware that we have the highest percentage unemployment in the country, that there are 50 unemployed for every vacancy, and that in my constituency, with only 117 vacancies, there are 5,200 people out of work, more than 50 per cent. of them having been unemployed for six months or more? Will he therefore find time to discuss the serious industrial crisis in the North of England?

Mr. Pym

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the seriousness of the situation in the North. We had a debate recently on the employment situation and the economic situation on a national basis. Today we are spending part of the time debating unemployment in the South and the South-West. It may be that there will be a similar opportunity to deal with the situation in the North at a later stage.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

Will the Leader of the House take careful note of what my hon. Friend has just said about the problems of the North? Does he agree that there are inadequate opportunities in the House to draw attention to the problems of the Northern region? Is he aware that the unemployment rate there is 13.6 per cent.—higher than in any other English region, higher than in Scotland, and higher than in Wales? Is he aware that, as a result of this avalanche of job destruction, the people of the North feel completely abandoned by the Government? Will he give an assurance that there will be an early debate?

Mr. Pym

I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that I am indeed acutely aware of the serious position faced by many people in the North. We have attended to this in the past to the extent that we have arranged time to debate these matters. Clearly, as opportunity offers, we would wish to do so again. I wish to leave the hon. Gentleman in no doubt as to my awareness of the gravity of the situation in that region, which of course concerns every hon. Member.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that despite the statement made by the Secretary of State for Industry the other day that documents relating to the corporate plan of the British Steel Corporation would be made available in the Vote Office, the corporate plan is not in the Vote Office and is not freely available to hon. Members? Does he agree that if we are being invited to pass as much money as we are being requested to pass over the next few weeks, at the very least hon. Members should have access to the corporate plan of the British Steel Corporation, when information has now surfaced that the corporate plan may be in the possession of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry?

Mr. Pym

If I recall correctly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry said that he had placed copies in the Library. I will investigate what the hon. Gentleman said and see whether they can also be made available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Has the Leader of the House any plans to bring forward a new coal borrowing powers Bill, in view of the meeting that took place yesterday, in the wake of the £6,000 million for the British Steel Corporation and the £1,000 million for British Leyland and various other items in what is apparently a belated attempt by the Tory Government to reflate the economy? Taking into account the fact that the Government have been accused of dithering on all these matters, would it not be sensible now to ensure that the massive investment programme that some of us envisaged for the railways in order to save them should be brought forward in a further attempt to reflate the economy?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir. The meeting that took place yesterday in relation to the coal industry will be followed by another meeting in about a fortnight's time and there may be further meetings after that. While these very important matters are being thought about and discussed, that procedure must obviously be gone through before any decision is taken.