HC Deb 15 January 1981 vol 996 cc1143-8
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

May I ask the Leader of the House to 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 19 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Criminal Attempts Bill.

Motions on the Local Authority Grants (Termination) (Scotland) Order, and on the undertakings relating to Highlands and Islands Shipping Services.

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

TUESDAY 20 JANUARY—Remaining stages of the European Assembly Elections Bill.

Second Reading of the Water Bill.

WEDNESDAY 21 JANUARY—Supply [5th Allotted Day].

Debate on an Opposition motion on energy policy.

Motions on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order, and on the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Orders.

THURSDAY 22 JANUARY—Debate on Welsh Affairs.

Motions on Northern Ireland consolidation orders on firearms, clean air, and road traffic, and on orders on Road Traffic (Consequential Amendments), Leasehold (Enlargement and Extension), Housing and Building Societies.

FRIDAY 23 JANUARY—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 26 JANUARY—Second Reading of the Forestry Bill.

Mr. Foot

May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his elevation and wish him a short spell in office? I know that the House is eager to get on to the important debate ahead, but I should be grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's assistance on four points.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Criminal Attempts Bill, to be debated on Monday, is a proper Bill to be put to a Special Standing Committee for examination? Will he accept that suggestion? Will he indicate when the Chancellor will introduce such sections of his Budget as have not been previously leaked or announced?

There are two important matters that we pressed upon the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor and that I press upon him. The British Nationality Bill has been published this week. The more we look at it, the more we believe that the only proper way for the House of Commons to deal with a major constitutional measure of this nature is on the Floor of the House. We renew our appeal that the right hon. Gentleman should agree to our proposal.

Every day fresh appalling announcements of unemployment are made, like the announcement by Vauxhall today. Many more are coming. May we have an undertaking from the Leader of the House that when the next figures are announced, the week after next, time will be provided immediately for a debate? We will renew that demand every month while the figures are on their present scale.

Mr. Pym

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. I hope to be in this position for rather longer than he hopes, but I am grateful to him.

I can confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that we intend to refer the Criminal Attempts Bill for consideration under the new Special Standing Committee arrangements. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor intends to introduce his Budget on Tuesday 10 March.

I have made no announcement this week about the British Nationality Bill, but I have noted the exchanges that took place beween the right hon. Gentleman and my predecessor. I do not want to cause the right hon. Gentleman to entertain any false hopes on this matter. I simply say that I shall consider what he said.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about a debate on the unemployment figures. We are having a debate today on the economy generally, to which unemployment is relevant. Other opportunities for such a debate have been taken in the past and will no doubt occur in the future. I take note of his request, but can give no undertaking.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend allow time for a general debate on immigration before the British Nationality Bill is discussed in the House, bearing in mind that immigration is so rarely debated here?

Mr. Pym

I regret that I do not think that there will be time to include an extra debate on immigration. There will be an opportunity to debate it when the Bill comes before the House.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

Will the right hon. Gentleman say why my copy of the British Nationality Bill, which was not leaked to me but which I collected from the Vote Office on the way here, is marked "Restricted". What effect will that have on the debate?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that it will have any effect.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

Has my right hon. Friend noticed during his first few days of office the new printed form of Hansard? Has he read the speech of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) on 26 January 1978, when he announced the new printing arrangements for Hansard? The right hon. Gentleman said that it would not lead to the sort of inefficiencies, photocopying and duplicating that we have seen today, just 72 hours after those promises of two years ago came into effect. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that Hansard will be produced in the form indicated by the right hon. Gentleman when he informed the House what the new printing arrangements would be?

Mr. Pym

I regret that there was a little difficulty in respect of Tuesday's Hansard. An emergency arrangement was made to print it in another form, but since then the proper version has appeared. Naturally, like the whole House, I hope that no further interruptions will occur.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that hardly a day passes without the media shedding crocodile tears over poor Mr. Roy Jenkins and his future? As there is an excellent motion on the Order Paper in my name setting out some of the details and facts about this poor, hard-working and now part-time employed man, will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate.?

[That this House notes that Mr. Roy Jenkins, the man who did so much to get Great Britain into the Common Market, with so much financial and other benefits to himself, has returned to Great Britain and notes that, according to Nigel Dempster's column, Daily Mail, 29th December 1980, his efforts have been rewarded to the extent described as follows, "A Roy Worth Robbing" headed 'A tax-free capital sum of more than £150,000, I estimate, has been amassed by former Home Secretary Roy Jenkins during his four years as President of the EEC Commission, from which he retires on New Year's Eve. Jenkins, 60, was appointed at a virtual tax-free salary of £43,500 a year, plus a further £14,319 in living allowances, and the salary has since gone up to £60,000 p.a. with a commensurate increase in perks. For the next three years he will receive £30,000 a year, free of British lax and paid in Belgian francs, as a 'transitional allowance'; and at 65 he will be eligible for a weekly pension of £200, also paid in Belgium. It has been a heady financial transition for Jenkins, a Labour MP for 28 years, who was earning £7,500 a year after tax before he took the post. He quit politics after being beaten by Jim Callaghan for the Premiership, following Harold Wilson's resignation; observes that this is not too bad for a person who loudly proclaims himself in favour of an income policy for others but not for himself; acknowledges that these amounts were paid for in part by the hard-pressed British taxpayer, employed and unemployed; and would welcome a public declaration from Mr. Jenkins that he intends contributing at least 50 per cent. of these amounts to the General Fund of the Labour Party, which did so much to enable him to be in such fortunate circumstances in 1981.]

Everyone is interested to know in which direction dear Roy is going.

Mr. Pym

Not next week, Mr. Speaker.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that on Welsh day on Thursday it will be in order to debate the report of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs?

Mr. Pym

That report will be relevant to the debate. I have it in mind to state that fact on the Order Paper on the relevant day.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

In view of the gravity of the dispute in the shipping industry, do the Government intend to make another statement on the subject at an early opportunity? Will the Government consider persuading the employers to go to arbitration?

Mr. Pym

Obviously, the whole House hopes that the dispute will end. It is essentially a matter between the employers and the union concerned. The Government are of course in touch with the situation. I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. If a statement is appropriate, it can be arranged.

Mr. Nicholas Scott (Chelsea)

Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that the Government intend to have a debate on the Armitage report before 10 February?

Mr. Pym

I am aware that there is a great deal of interest in the report. A great many hon. Members want a debate, and I want to seek as early an opportunity as I can to make arrangements to enable that to happen. I have no date in mind at the moment, but I appreciate that a debate will be highly desirable.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those right hon. and hon. Members who have been rising in their places and then to move on to the main business of the day.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

As there is to be a Budget on 10 March, may we assume that there will be a statement every week in the press on the Government's Budget intentions, similar to that which occurred last Tuesday?

Mr. Pym

I sincerely hope not, but it would not be a bad idea if we had some more speeches such as that just made by my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate the Race Relations Board, bearing in mind the nonsense that it keeps issuing? Does he appreciate that British Leyland was prosecuted for racial bias in Leeds when the only crime that it had committed was to insist that application forms should be filled in in English? It will surely be agreed that if we continue to allow the Race Relations Board to look upon the use of English as an offence, there will soon be a need for notice boards in Urdu and Chinese. Is it not time that we discussed how the Race Relations Board should keep its feet on the ground and prevent the board damaging the race relations in which we all believe?

Mr. Pym

I fully appreciate my hon. Friend's interest in the Race Relations Board and the matters with which it deals. There is widespread interest in the House. I do not, however, see an opportunity for a debate in the foreseeable future, but I shall keep my hon. Friend's request in mind.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

Will the Leader of the House say when hon. Members will have an opportunity to consider the recommendations from the all-party talks on the consideration of Scottish business by the House? These talks were concluded some time ago. It would seem appropriate to deal with the matter expeditiously and so enable the Scottish Grand Committee, for example, to meet in Scotland—if that is one of the recommendations, as I hope it is, to emerge from the talks.

Mr. Pym

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand if I say that I should like further notice of the question and that I shall consider the point that he has made.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the important jobs facing the country is to bring down the level of pay settlements to between 0 per cent. and 5 per cent. rather than 5 per cent. and 15 per cent.? Does he agree that the House cannot pass legislation on this matter but can provide a lead and consider it properly, although not by the sort of motion that is before the House today, which allows party feelings to play a bigger part than is necessary?

Will my right hon. Friend try to initiate, through the usual channels, the possibility of a discussion on how to bring down the general level of pay settlements by acceptable means so that hon. Members on both sides can contribute in a bipartisan way? This will be necessary if the matter is to be handled effectively.

Mr. Pym

I doubt whether it is practical to think of a way of achieving on the Floor of the House what my hon. Friend proposes. I note that hon. Members on both sides do not hesitate to take the opportunity to express their views on these matters. The economic debates that take place are reasonably frequent, taking Supply time into account, and are probably the best way of pursuing the important points that my hon. Friend raises.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to early-day motion 104, signed by many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House?

[That bearing in mind the overwhelming evidence that the wearing of seat belts saves loss of life and serious injury in road accidents and the fact that on three occasions in the last five years the House has overwhemingly voted in favour of the compulsory wearing of seat belts, this House urges the Secretary of State for Transport to accept in the Transport Bill now before the House an amendment making provision for the wearing of seat belts to be made obligatory.]

Is it not illogical that a Bill that deals with road safety does not cover one of the most important aspects of road safety? Will the right hon. Gentleman have words with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport about this situation?

Mr. Pym

We had a debate on the Transport Bill earlier this week, when a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House referred to the question of seat belts. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport explained his position. I do not think that I have anything further to add.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

Has my right hon. Friend received, or looked at, the letter I sent him asking for an early debate on the recommendations of the IBA, particularly the introduction to this country of the American habit of breakfast television? Does he agree that social implications are involved which have nothing to do with the granting of contracts? Absenteeism from work and truancy from school, for example, may result from the proposal. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the House should at least be allowed to express an opinion on a change that could have more far-reaching effects than he may so far have considered?

Mr. Pym

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. The fact is that Parliament devolved to the IBA the responsibilities that the authority has just carried out. There is no reason why the House should not debate the matter. I would have thought that it was a subject more suitable for a Private Members' day than a Government day.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart);

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there will be considerable anger among Scottish Members on the Opposition Benches and among local councillors in Scotland about the timing and the length of the debates on the rate support grant for Scotland and the housing support grant for Scotland? Is he aware that this could mean that 40 Opposition Members who represent local authorities hard hit by the Government's proposals will have 15 to 20 minutes between them on the rate support grant? Does he agree that if the Tories had carried out their promises in the 1974 manifesto and had supported the idea of a Scottish Assembly, this sort of situation would never have arisen?

Mr. Pym

I was aware of a view—it had been represented to me privately—that matters might have been better arranged in a different manner. I considered this view but I came to the conclusion that what I have announced is, in all the circumstances, reasonable.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there was apparently not only trouble on Tuesday over the printing of Hansard but that this morning the first part of Hansard, up to 7 pm, was printed normally, but the second part, which was the best part—because it contained my speech—was only a roneoed version? This trouble has occurred many times in the last year or so. As my right hon. Friend will recall, we were told that the new format would make easier the regular printing of Hansard. Can action be taken over this matter?

Mr. Pym

I hope very much that there will not be further difficulties with Hansard. I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that a very big change has been made. New technology has been introduced on quite a large scale to make the change possible, and problems have arisen as a result. Discussions between the management and the unions have been going on. I can only say that I hope that they are successful so that there are no further interruptions.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a better reason than the one he gave the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) for the House not discussing the Race Relations Board, namely, that the board ceased to exist several years ago and was replaced by the Commission for Racial Equality?

If the Leader of the House will not allow hon. Members to discuss the Committee stage of the British Nationality Bill on the Floor of the House, will he say whether he intends to allow the Committee to have the benefit of the suggested new procedure, whereby a number of sittings of the Committee will be devoted to hearing evidence before hon. Members deal with the substantive part of the Bill?

Mr. Pym

I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the British Nationality Bill. Without raising any hopes, I will consider that aspect. It is not only fair but true to say that this Government introduced a new procedure. We said that we would put two or three Bills to it for an experimental Session. That is now happening. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman says. We can discuss it when I mention it in a business statement in the next week or so.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Would it not be more conducive to the well-being of hon. Members and the possible efficiency of their work if we were to abandon the new technologies and returned to the old ones, specifically the old format of Hansard and the old ticker tape annunciator of what was going on in the House, instead of the unreliable television screens, which frequently fail to function?

Mr. Pym

I note that the hon. Gentleman would prefer to go backwards rather than forwards. I doubt whether there would be a majority for that view.