§ 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:
§ Motions relating to the Increase of Rent Restriction (Scotland) Orders.
§ WEDNESDAY 28 JANUARY—Supply [6th Allotted Day]:
§ Debate on Opposition motion on increasing povery resulting from Government policies.
§ Motions on the Judgments Enforcement (Northern Ireland) Orders.
§ THURSDAY 29 JANUARY—Supply [7th Allotted Day]:
§ Motion to take note of 8th and 9th reports and 11th to 35th reports from the Committee of Public Accounts in Session 1979–80, and related Treasury Minute.
§ FRIDAY 30 JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.
§ Mr. Foot
May I put four questions to the right hon. Gentleman, two arising from exchanges a few minutes ago, and two others? First, I shall refer to the two other questions. May I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman afresh that the British Nationality Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House? Is he aware that we cannot accept the doctrine that a Bill that can affect the nationality of people who may have a claim to British citizenship should not be regarded as a constitutional Bill? The Government will get into even greater difficulties if they try to deal with it elsewhere. We prefer—and it is by far the best way—that it should be dealt with on the Floor of the House. An alternative is that it could go to some other investigatory process, but the Floor of the House is the proper place. May I urge the right hon. Gentleman once again to take that into account?
I turn to the question of the seamen's strike. Will the Government make arrangements for a statement on that matter? Do they intend simply to allow it to drift on without any attempt to deal with it, especially as the National Union of Seamen is prepared to go to arbitration? I hope that the Government will begin to accept some responsibility and that whatever else the right hon. Gentleman says he will make an announcement about an early statement.
I turn to two matters that arose earlier in Prime Minister's Question Time. First, I wish to raise the question of the possible sale of The Times and The Sunday Times. That matter should be debated in the House. In the light of a possible announcement at 5 o'clock today, it has become a matter of extreme urgency. Because of the way in which the management has dealt with the matter, those important newspapers—important to the freedom of the press in Britain—could be closed in March. I should be surprised if any hon. Member in any quarter of the House did not regard it as a matter of some significance. Will the 424 right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he will rearrange the business so that we can debate the matter on Monday?
I turn now to the question of the unemployment figures. There is a great difference between 1.3 million unemployed and 2.3 million unemployed. That is a difference of 1 million, and it is the direct responsibility of the Government during the time that they have been in office. We renew our demand that the Government should recognise that the unemployment position throughout the country is unprecedented. Therefore, the Minister should be prepared to make a special statement.
We have no complaints about the way in which the right hon. Gentleman answers his questions. He does it with extreme courtesy. However, a matter of such great importance—we think that the country will take this view—warrants a full statement to the House and a full debate next week, in Government time. That is what we have demanded. We renew that demand to the Secretary of State and the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that the Leader of the House will be prepared to rearrange the business in the light of what I have said and will make a fresh business statement tomorrow.
§ Mr. Pym
I took very seriously the representations of the right hon. Gentleman and the Opposition on the handling of the British Nationality Bill. It is an important matter for the House. You yourself, Mr. Speaker, in a statement last week, said that there was no definition of such a Bill. The issue has been decided on grounds of custom and practice. The exceptions to our normal Standing Committee procedures are urgent Bills, simple Bills, or Bills of first-class constitutional importance. The Government's view is that the Bill does not fall into any of those categories, especially the last one.
§ Mr. Pym
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to listen for a little longer. I have taken into account the representations and the relevant precedents, including the two most obvious ones that might argue in the right hon. Gentleman's favour. The British Nationality Act 1948 was described by the then Government as a natural sequel to the Statute of Westminster. They also described it as a measure of the utmost constitutional importance. The British Nationality Bill is much more limited in scope. Secondly, there is the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. That was the first occasion upon which we legislated to introduce immigration controls. That measure was taken on the Floor of the House. However, all subsequent Immigration Acts, of which the Bill is certainly of the same type, have been taken in Standing Committee, including the 1971 Act, which created the status of "partial" and "non-patrial".
Having gone into the issue extremely carefully, I think it reasonable to say—this is the Government's view—that the Bill is not of the same category of importance and that it would be appropriate to take it in the normal way. I thought that I owed it to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman to say that I had gone into the issue carefully.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the seamen's strike. Naturally we still hope that there will be a settlement between the employers and the unions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade is in 425 touch with what is taking place. I shall discuss the possibility of a statement with my right hon. Friend. If it is appropriate, we can make the necessary arrangements.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me to rearrange the business on account of two further matters. I agree that they are both extremely important. We have not yet had the announcement on The Times. We do not know what it will be. The right hon. Gentleman may know. It is an important issue, but it could not possibly be right to rearrange the business on Monday for what he asks. Let us not be under any misunderstanding about the importance of the matter.
That applies equally to unemployment, which obviously is extremely important. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said a short while ago. There was a debate in October and a further debate in November. The week before last there was a debate under a general economic heading in which employment was very relevant. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment replied to that debate. It is our view that we should adhere to the procedure that has been followed for a long time. The figures will be announced in the usual way. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is answering questions for the first three-quarters of an hour on that day.
§ Mr. Foot
I must press the right hon. Gentleman on the first matter, although we do not regard his other answers as satisfactory. We shall have to see how we deal with those matters next week. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has given the handling of the British Nationality Bill great and careful study. That is shown by his replies. However, it is a controversial measure,. The first Act to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was not controversial, in the same sense, in the House. The Bill is a controversial measure, in that it will have an effect on the nationality of British citizens, or those who may claim to be British citizens. We do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman described it as a Bill that is not of first-rate constitutional importance. That is a matter not for Mr. Speaker but for the judgment of the House.
The Bill affects the rights of individual citizens and therefore should be fully debated. Every hon. Member should have the right to be able to raise matters concerning his own constituency. If the Bill is sent to a Standing Committee hon. Members will be deprived of the opportunity to participate in the debate on a Bill of major constitutional importance.
§ Mr. Pym
I have taken careful note of what the right hon. Gentleman said. The fact is that before 1948 there was no such thing as British citizenship. The 1948 Act created citizenship of the United Kingdom and colonies. The Bill will divide citizenship into three categories. It is, in a sense, an amending measure of the previous Act. That is the position on constitutional importance. The 1948 Act was far-reaching in its constitutional implications, but in our judgment the Bill is not. I have described the precedents and the comparisons.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider the matter, even though he has already considered it carefully. He has drawn a comparison with the 1962 Act. The Bill is of more far-reaching importance, I suggest, than that Act, which was taken on the Floor of the House. If the right hon. 426 Gentleman is going to remain immovable he should at least undertake that the Committee considering the Bill will be larger than normal, as was the arrangement for the 1971 legislation.
§ Mr. Pym
I shall be quite happy to consider the right hon. Gentleman's last point. I am sensitive to what he says. In the past week I have spent some time going into the matter carefully. It is the Government's judgment that the Bill should go to a Standing Committee. That would be in accordance with what has happened to Bills of a similar sort. I am sorry that I cannot be more forthcoming to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Following the murder of an ex-Speaker and Lord Lieutenant, and the murder of his son—people who were the friends of many of us—may we have a statement early next week on what is being done to improve, in concert with the Irish Republic, security measures on the common frontier, and what steps are being taken to deny that frontier to terrorist criminal gangs?
§ Mr. Pym
I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that we were absolutely horrified by the murder that was perpetrated only recently. It is a sad event, which cannot possibly be condoned. I say to my right hon. Friend that in recent months there has been closer co-operation with the Government of the Republic of Ireland. There has been closer control of the frontiers between the two countries. That has brought a beneficial result to the work of the security forces against terrorism. I, agree with my hon. Friend that this was one of the most horrific murders. I am sure that the whole House feels extremely sorry for the family, that anything so awful should have happened.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
I am sure that the leader of the House will appreciate that a Bill that will in some circumstances prevent a child born in our country from having British nationality is one of major original constitutional significance. I beg him to reconsider his position. It is a matter of great importance for those who are concerned immediately, and for our constitutional future.
§ Mr. Pym
It is fair to say that, in the same sense, the 1971 Act created original arrangements. I am not saying that the Bill is without constitutional significance. However, we are considering whether the Bill is of far-reaching constitutional importance. I know that some Opposition Members take the view that it is. We have considered the precedents and the evidence given by a number of my illustrious predecessors. I have even read the evidence given by the late Mr. Herbert Morrison and considered his view on the type of Bill that should be debated on the Floor of the House. It may be said that that view was expressed too long ago and that it is now irrelevant. I am merely saying that I have gone into the issue at great depth. It is the Government's view that the issue should be handled in Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)
How long has elapsed between the publication of the British Nationality Bill and the date that my right hon. Friend proposes for the Second Reading?
§ Mr. John Silkin
The Leader of the House has missed the point. The question that I put to him makes the British Nationality Bill something without any constitutional precedent in the history of this country. That was not necessarily true of any of the other Bills about which he has spoken.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
In view of the radical importance of the British Nationality Bill and its great complexity, and taking account of the strong position that has been taken up by spokesmen for Her Majesty's Opposition, will the right hon. Gentleman at least consult the Opposition to ensure that we can have two days for the Second Reading of this Bill, which is the absolute minimum within which it could be reasonably debated, even on Second Reading?
§ Mr. Pym
It appears that fewer and fewer Bills get more than one day. Perhaps that is a matter for regret. However, this Session started very late. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Of course there are constraints on time. What I certainly am prepared to do is to extend the normal time for one or two hours, or whatever is thought appropriate, and I shall institute discussions with that in mind.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
While I do not doubt for a moment the importance of the British Nationality Bill, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will spare a thought for events in Poland, the changed situation in the Gulf since the release of the hostages, and the emergence of a new Administration in the United States, which are also matters of some concern to the House? Will my right hon. Friend be able to arrange a foreign affairs debate in the reasonably near future and, if possible, before the Prime Minister goes to Washington, so that she may know the views of this House before she has talks with President Reagan?
§ Mr. Pym
I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. I should certainly like to find time for that. I doubt whether I can do so in the time scale that my hon. Friend has suggested. For all the reasons that he suggests, I appreciate that the House would like the earliest possible and practical opportunity of a debate on foreign affairs.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the widespread concern that ownership of Times Newspapers Limited will fall into the hands of a person who has already very substantial press holdings in Britain, even leaving aside his controversial political role in another country? Is it not important that once the announcement is made—there are strong rumours that it is to be made very shortly—there should be an immediate statement in the House?
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
In view of the distressing but not unexpected announcement today of a major closure by the Tate and Lyle company, which refines 90 per cent. of all imports of cane sugar into 428 Europe, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement early next week on the question whether it will still be possible to fulfil the solemn agreement with the underdeveloped countries on the import of 1.3 million tonnes of cane sugar?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I should tell the House that I have received a Standing Order No. 9 application on that question.
Mr. Eric S. Hefter (Liverpool, Walton)
In view of the fact that Merseyside has the highest concentration of unemployment in the United Kingdom, and particularly as Tate and Lyle has now indicated that it intends to close its Love Lane factory, which has been there for a very long time, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that we can have a debate not on unemployment in general but on the problems of Merseyside, the continual closures there, and the terrible high level of unemployment, the deprivation, the poverty and the misery that exist in my area?
§ Mr. Pym
I share the hon. Gentleman's opinion about the sadness of the closure of Tate and Lyle's Love Lane factory. It is a very serious matter for Merseyside, which is already having a difficult time with its economy. I cannot hold out hope for a debate in the near future. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can raise the matter in other ways. I am sensitive to the point that he makes, but there is not the time in the near future. It would be misleading for me to pretend to the House that it would be likely to happen.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
May I raise a rather smaller subject than has been mentioned up to now about a rather large item? I am referring to the new-size Hansard that we have today. Is my right hon. Friend aware that it was widely reported that I used to read Hansard in bed? This now has become quite impossible. It is like reading the London telephone directory. It is exactly the same size. This is a small matter, and it is early days in which my right hon. Friend is leading the House. However, is he also aware that the present Leader of the Opposition misled the House, in my view, after three debates on the subject? Will my right hon. Friend consider, if not next week, before very long, providing time for a short debate on this question to see how the new Hansard is being received in this House and by those outside who have to receive it?
§ Mr. Pym
I am sorry that my hon. Friend has difficulty in reading Hansard in bed. I am told that there are some Ministers who have been known to do their boxes in bed. I have never quite understood how that would be possible. Anyway, the fact is that the decision to produce this size of Hansard was taken after proper consultation and after a proper motion in this House, tabled, I think, by the right hon. Gentleman the present Leader of the Opposition. It was decided upon, and I do not think that it would be sensible to reopen the matter at this stage.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)
Is the Leader of the House now able to answer the question that I asked last week, when he understandably asked for further 429 notice? When are we likely to receive the recommendations of the all-party committee on the conduct of Scottish business in the House, and when may we have an opportunity to debate that subject?
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Following up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), may I ask whether my right hon. Friend agrees that the more legislation that comes before the House the less competently the House can deal with the government of this country? Should we not be debating broad issues? Will he, therefore, find time for a debate on trade and unemployment in the general sense? The unfair competition faced by so many British industries is leading directly to the increased levels of unemployment. This is a vital issue to the North-West, and to Merseyside in particular. Will my right hon. Friend therefore provide more time for general debate and less time for useless, irrelevant legislation?
§ Mr. Pym
I think that I have on occasions heard even my hon. Friend ask for the odd Bill or two, but I may be doing him an injustice in saying that. The Government announced their legislative programme at the beginning of the Session. It is now in hand. We shall proceed with it. In so far as time is available for general debates, I am very much in favour of them.
The subject that my hon. Friend raises has already been debated in the House about three times this Session, but I take his point. Such days as are available we can use in that way.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
Does the Leader of the House realise that the sympathy that he has expressed today for the problems of Liverpool following the closure of the Tate and Lyle factory is not enough? What Liverpool needs is more Government action and a little less sympathy. To say today that there will not be a debate on the chronic unemployment problems of Liverrpool will not be good enough for people living in an area that is fast becoming a desert. Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise the implications of creating a siege economy in Livepool, where people will be rotting in the unemployment queues as a result of the present Government's policies?
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
In view of the relentless, sectarian and murderous campaign being waged by the Provisional IRA against Protestants living in isolated and Republican areas along the border, may we have an urgent debate to discuss security perhaps even rearranging tonight's business to provide for that debate?
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)
Knowing that every hon. Member is always concerned when people 430 are incarcerated in prison without trial, whether it be in Iran, Afghanistan, America or this country, and given that there are hundreds of people in prison, on remand, who have committed no crime at all, if convicted criminals are allowed to go into an open prison as soon as they have started their so-called sentence, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that that is a disgrace? I refer to Lord Kagan. Will the Leader of the House do something about this disgrace? If he cannot allow time for a debate on my motion on the subject, will he discuss with the various Ministers concerned the fact that people who have committed no crime are put into closed prisons while convicted criminals go into open prisons?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If hon. Members are brief with their questions I shall do my best to call those who wish to speak. But I must be fair to Welsh Members, who have an important debate today, and I have to live with them.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
In view of the statement of the Leader of the House that he will consult his right hon. Friend about a statement concerning the seamen's dispute, will he also consider discussing the matter with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, in view of the decision yesterday by the shipping industry, which acts as an agent for the Department, to refuse to give unemployment pay to seamen who are not involved in the dispute, therefore identifying the Department with the employers?
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
Do the Government propose to introduce a Bill on the health services during this Session? If not, does the Leader of the House recall the statement by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services on his dissatisfaction with the agreement with the tobacco industry? Does he further recall that the Secretary of State said that he felt that the House had the right to reach a decision, provided it was not before 31 July 1982? In those circumstances, will the Leader of the House give me time to get my Bill on to the statute book this Session?
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)
Does not the Leader of the House acknowledge that we are all intrigued by the leaks in anticipation of the Budget, particularly by his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, on the fact that there will be no increase in direct taxation? Will he give an indication of the type of reply that has been given to the various charities, including The Spastics Society, with regard to the imposition of indirect taxation, particularly VAT, in relation to their funds and endeavours?
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Can a debate be arranged, or, with the influence of the Leader of the House, will the Secretary of State for Transport make a statement about the intended transfer of Roadline from Kirkdale to Merseyside and Manchester, and about the closure of two other depots on Merseyside, leaving it devoid of any National Carriers? In those circumstances, does not the Leader of the House agree that the matter is of sufficient importance to qualify for a statement? Is he aware that it imposes a heavy burden of further unemployment, added to those that have already been drawn to his attention today?
§ Mr. Pym
I shall certainly draw that request to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of state for Transport. It can be difficult to judge when the House wants a statement. We want statements on important issues—this is one of them—but we do not wish so to overload the programme that it becomes difficult at 3.30 pm.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
Will the Leader of the House bear in mind the fact that reports are circulating to the effect that the Government intend to bypass the environmental considerations that are contained in the Armitage report? Will he try to arrange an early debate on this vital report so that the matter can be cleared up?
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Following the defence statement earlier this week, will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on defence so that we can debate and reflect the rising tide of opposition and anger at the use and deployment of nuclear weapons, and particularly the decision by regional branches of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians to black all work on cruise missile sites—a decision that Labour Members wish to endorse heartily?
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
With regard to the British Nationality Bill, may I reinforce the plea of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—which is a little history-making from my point of view, and his? If our plea fails, will the Leader of the House also bear in mind the possibility of implementing the new procedure that was agreed by the House in October? That new procedure will enable us to take evidence in advance of the Committee stage of the Bill. The British Nationality Bill seems to be a good candidate for that proposal.
§ Mr. Pym
I do not have anything to add to what I have already said in relation to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. On the second part, it is true that my predecessor made clear that the experiment of the 432 Special Standing Committees was to be undertaken with Bills that were not controversial, in party political terms. This Bill clearly is controversial in party political terms. My predecessor also said that he thought that three Bills would be about the right number for the experiment, and we have now selected three Bills for this process.
§ Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)
In view of the gross mishandling by the Minister of Agriculture of the sugar industry in this country, and in view of the closure of the Tate and Lyle factory, may we look forward to the right hon. Gentleman offering his resignation next week?
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)
On the subject of the British Nationality Bill, is it not a fact that one of the three Bills for which the new special Standing Committee procedure has been instituted is the Criminal Attempts Bill, about which there is already a comprehensive report from the Select Committee? Is the Leader of the House aware that the new procedure is not as important for that Bill as it would be for the British Nationality Bill, which is complex and surely requires as informed a Standing Committee as possible? Is it not a fact that the Government's reluctance to institute the new procedure for this Bill is based upon their well-founded fear that they will find no witnesses to support it?
§ Mr. Pym
The reason for excluding the British Nationality Bill was made clear by my predecessor. Three Bills have been chosen for an experiment. They seem to us to be appropriate for it, and we had better see how we get on.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Is the Leader of the House aware that at 5 o'clock this afternoon it will be announced that Mr. Rupert Murdoch's bid for The Times has been accepted? Will the Secretary of State for Trade be asked to make an announcement to the House next week on the question whether he will refer the bid to the Monopolies Commission? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I ask that question because Mr. Rupert Murdoch already owns the Sunday newspaper with the biggest circulation and the daily newspaper with the biggest circulation, and he has extremely reactionary views? Should a man such as that be placed in charge of The Times?
§ Mr. Pym
The point has been well made by the Leader of the Opposition and others, but I shall also draw the remarks of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) to the attention of my right hon. Friend. Like you, Mr. Speaker, it may be wise for the Leader of the House to say occasionally that he will not make a pronouncement on a hypothesis, even if the hon. Gentleman's knowledge is totally accurate. That would be unwise.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
Is the Leader of the House aware that he said a few moments ago that three Bills had been selected for the new Standing Committee procedure? We know about the Criminal Attempts Bill, but the House has not been informed about the other two Bills. Will the right hon. Gentleman inform us about those now?
§ Mr. Pym
The Education Bill is one, and it will be taken the week after next. I am sorry that I cannot recall the name of the third Bill, but I shall let the right hon. Gentleman know afterwards.
§ Mr. James Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the usual custom and courtesy, through the usual channels, that before announcements of this magnitude are made they are discussed, in order to obtain general consent? Without that consent the House cannot operate. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is departing from previous practice in terms of the regard that he has shown to the House.
§ Mr. Pym
I do not think that that is quite right. The Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Bill is the other one that is to be taken.
§ Mr. Silkin
I should have thought that if the Leader of the House takes as his point of departure the argument that the Bills in question must be non-contentous from a party political point of view it would be as well if the usual channels were to decide whether the Bills were non-contentious from a party political point of view.
§ Mr. Pym
I take that point. I have taken over from my predecessor at a particular point in relation to the new procedure. He explained himself fairly clearly, and what discussions he had I do not know, but these are the three Bills that we shall use for the experiment. We had better see how that experiment works. Whether the House will like it or not I have no idea. That remains to be seen. Let us try it and see how we get on, and either continue it or not continue it next Session, according to how the House feels about it then.
§ Mr. Speaker
There are two applications under Standing Order No. 9 and I shall take them in the order in which they were received.