HC Deb 29 January 1981 vol 997 cc1075-80
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 2 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Education Bill and of the Insurance Companies Bill.

TUESDAY 3 FEBRUARY—Supply [7th Allotted Day]: Debate on the Opposition motion on poverty, which was postponed from Wednesday 28 January.

Motions on the Northern Ireland (Variation of Limits of Candidates' Election Expenses) Order 1981 and Fisheries (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1980.

Ways and Means and money resolutions relating to gas levy.

WEDNESDAY 4 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Industry Bill.

THURSDAY 5 FEBRUARY—Debate on the economic situation.

FRIDAY 6 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 9 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Employment and Training Bill.

Mr. Foot

First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having arranged that next Thursday we have the debate that we requested on the terrible unemployment figures. We have constantly pressed that there should be a debate on the figures once a month in Government time, following their announcement. We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having arranged the debate on Thursday, but will he tell us in what form the Government are proposing to have the debate? Will it take place on a motion supporting the Government's policy on unemployment?

Secondly, when is there likely to be a statement on the Government's response to the corporate plan of the British Steel Corporation? Will there be a debate before the Government make that announcement?

Thirdly, arising from the debate that took place this week on the Armitage report and the size of lorries, will the right hon. Gentleman give us an absolute undertaking that the House will have a chance of debating those issues and voting on them before the Government proceed to support an increase in the size of lorries, especially—as was emphasised in the debate—as on the last occasion when the House had a chance of voting on the matter it voted against larger and heavier lorries? Will he give us an absolute undertaking that before any step is taken to proceed in that direction the House will have the chance to reiterate its demand, if it wishes?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the arrangements that we have made for next Thursday. The Government regarded it as an appropriate moment to have a debate on the lines that he wanted. It is proposed that it should take place upon a motion. That will give the opportunity for amendment if the Opposition so require. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a debate once a month. Obviously I cannot possibly give a commitment of that sort. However, the right hon. Gentleman made the request last week and the week before, and we thought it appropriate to arrange the debate on Thursday.

I am not able to say when a statement will be made on the British Steel Corporation, nor can I promise a debate, but this is a matter that we can pursue through the usual channels.

The House had the opportunity of expressing its opinions and views on the Armitage report on Tuesday. I thank the Opposition for enabling us to take that subject at short notice, following our decision to postpone the Second Reading of the British Nationality Bill. I cannot give the firm undertaking for which the right hon. Gentleman asks, that we shall have another debate on that subject before we proceed to a decision. However, I have noted his request and I shall again consider it. I should not like him to be unduly hopeful, because we have made arrangements effectively to give the House of Commons a day for the subject. I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the promise that he seeks but I shall consider his request.

Mr. Foot

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he responded to what I said. We sought to help him and the House as a whole with the rearrangement of business and by our agreement at short notice to debate the Armitage report. If that resulted in the House not having a chance to vote on the issue, it would be a serious deprivation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will, on a matter of this importance, be prepared to say "Yes, of course, the House of Commons must decide this matter."

Mr. Pym

Effectively, a whole parliamentary day was given to the Armitage report last Tuesday. It was possible for the House to vote on that occasion. I merely say on this occasion that I have noted the right hon. Gentleman's representations and I shall consider them.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Will my right hon. Friend ascertain what can be done to review the procedure whereby the Leader of the Opposition can effectively monopolise Prime Minister's Question Time, now that he can be removed at the diktat of a handful of trade union leaders?

Mr. Pym

That is a matter for Mr. Speaker and the House, and certainly not for me.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke on Trent, South)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 34, which calls for a strict code of practice on the marketing of baby food products in developing countries? [That this House, concerned at the marketing practices of some companies selling baby milk products in developing countries, and at the death and disease which results from their indiscriminate use in unsuitable conditions, calls upon the Government to play a positive role at the World Health Assembly next May by supporting the initiatives of WHO and UNICEF in preparing a code of marketing; by encouraging its adoption as an international regulation; by seeking to ensure that the code is as specific as possible to exclude loopholes and by calling for a central office to be set up for monitoring compliance with the code.] Does he know that the World Health Organisation, Oxfam and War on Want are deeply concerned about millions of children being adversely affected and disabled by current practice? May we have a debate on this matter next week?

Mr. Pym

Obviously this is an important subject. I can give no undertaking of a debate next week. My right hon.

Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is well aware of the issue and is in the course of consultation with his ministerial colleagues in other Departments. He will ensure that the matter is raised by the United Kingdom delegation.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a tremendous number of orders on Northern Ireland seem to be being dealt with rather late at night? Is an extra amount of government going into Northern Ireland? Cannot Northern Ireland be governed by the same orders as those that apply to Great Britain?

Mr. Pym

I cannot give a detailed answer. The number of orders going through the House varies at different times of the year. There have been quite a number of orders, but on the whole they have been of an uncontroversial kind.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

Given the Government's reluctance to intervene in the National Union of Seamen's strike, could the right hon. Gentleman get one of his colleagues at the Foreign Office, or in the Overseas Development Administration, to make a statement to the House about the effect of the dispute on the ailing economies of some of the natural catastrophe-hit islands of the West Indies? Perhaps one of those bodies could use its good offices to bring about a reconciliation. The economies of the islands could then be saved and the position of the shipowners and the National Union of Seamen could be maintained.

Mr. Pym

I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. I am doubtful whether a statement would assist. However, we all hope that the dispute will come to an end.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

May I remind my right hon. Friend that one of his duties is to undertake the scrutiny procedures for EEC legislation? Given that the new Standing Committee on European Community Documents has commenced its work, will my right hon. Friend consider allowing time for a debate on the question whether access to the House should be given to European Members of Parliament in a proper and institutionalised way?

Mr. Pym

I am not sure whether that would be an appropriate step to take. However, I have it in mind to consider whether there are any ways in which we can improve liaison.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth)

Is the Leader of the House aware that Scottish Members from all parties face great difficulties because of the proposed closures of colleges of education? Is he further aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland is no longer answering letters sent to him by my colleagues and me, although he has invited the board of governors of the colleges to discuss the mechanics of the proposed closure. As the Government suffered a humiliating defeat in the Scottish Grand Committee of 9 December, does not the Leader of the House agree that they are under an obligation to hold a debate on the Floor of the House, in the Government's time, on the future of those colleges?

Mr. Pym

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has made the position clear and has made a statement about it. I do not have anything to add to what he said. I regret that it would not be right for me to give an undertaking about providing time for a debate on the Floor of the House. That is not a possibility that I can envisage, at least in the foreseeable future.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising in their places.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Does my right hon. Friend envisage an early debate on the Middle East, in view of its immense importance to British interests and to the new American Administration?

Mr. Pym

As I said last week, I should like to be able to arrange a debate on foreign affairs in the reasonably near future. I cannot foresee a date in the next few weeks, but I am looking for an opportunity, as I am sure that the House would welcome such a debate.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

Is the Leader of the House aware that last week he intimated to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that he would tell the Secretary of Stale for Trade that a statement was called for on the seamen's dispute? He mentioned that again today. Given the damage done to the economy, does not the right hon. Gentleman feel it necessary to put some pressure on the Secretary of State? The dispute should be resolved through the agency of arbitration. Will not the right hon. Gentleman do more than just mention this matter to his right hon. Friend? Will he put pressure on his right hon. Friend so that the House can be made aware of the Government's position?

Mr. Pym

The real question is what will prove most helpful in bringing the dispute to an end. It is not always the case that a statement made in the House contributes to that end. I agree that it sometimes does. As I said, I have discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend. If a statement seemed appropriate and would prove helpful, it could be arranged.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Would my right hon. Friend consider introducing, in this Parliament, a Green Paper on the reform of the other place? Given the marked move that the Labour Party has made towards the authoritarian Left, will he ensure that the Green Paper follows the line of a Private Members' Bill that was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. lays Williams)?

Mr. Pym

I have no plans to take that step at present.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that either he or the Secretary of State for Transport makes a statement on the part-time adviser to the Secretary of State for Transport, as reported in the Financial Times and the New Scientist? The adviser applied for another part-time job with an Oxford group and told the group that if he did not get the job the group would not get any Government contracts. Is this not a bit like the other scandal, in which the Tory Government were handing out grants to various firms and saying "Come on, give us some of the money back"?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman likes the possibility of a scandal. I doubt whether a statement would be appropriate, but it can be considered.

Mr. Gary Waller (Brighouse and Spenborough)

Will my right hon. Friend give the House an opportunity to decide whether it wishes to make the experimental rule that applied during the last Session a permanent feature of our procedure? During the last Session all speeches during the two hours before the winding-up speeches were limited to 10 minutes. Has my right hon. Friend noticed that on the Second Reading of the Transport Bill, in a space of two hours, three speeches lasted for nearly 20 minutes, and one speech lasted for about 25 minutes? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that such a reform would be a useful addition to our procedure?

Mr. Pym

I have that possibility under consideration. On the whole, the experiment commended itself. [Interruption.] It did not commend itself to everyone. That would be an impossibility. However, I am considering the matter.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that although he said that he would consult his colleagues about the dispute involving the National Union of Seamen—a union of which I am a member—it has not led to any statement? Is he aware that the dispute is becoming increasingly bitter? He may not care whether the dispute affects the British economy but I must tell him that it certainly affects the West Indian economy. The shipowners are not prepared to go to arbitration, unlike the National Union of Seamen.

Mr. Pym

That highlights the fact that such exchanges in the House do not necessarily help towards finding a solution to the dispute. However, I note what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the Macfarlane report, so that the House can consider the urgent question of education for the 16 to 19-year-old age group?

Mr. Pym

This is an important matter. I should like to find an opportunity for a debate, but I do not think that I shall be able to in the near future. I hope that the House will be able to hold the debate at some time.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Is there not an urgent need to hold a debate on foreign affairs, as a result of the resumption of the security conference in Madrid? Should not the House debate the Soviet Union's failure to respond to pleas from many nations, including the United Kingdom, to account for the disappearance of the heroic Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, as well as the disgraceful reduction in the number of Soviet Jews being allowed to emigrate, and their harassment?

Mr. Pym

It would be helpful to have such a debate, but time is the problem. Many pressing demands have been made. We shall look for a later opportunity.

Mr. Joan Evans (Aberdare)

As the Secretary of State for Industry's statement on investment in British Leyland now has to have the sanction of EEC Commissioners, and as that has a bearing on the debate on the Industry Bill, which debate is to take place on Wednesday, will the Government make it clear before the debate that they intend to go ahead with the investment? Failing that, will they make a statement on their attitude to the Commissioners?

Mr. Pym

I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said a few moments ago from the Dispatch Box. We are following the procedure that successive Governments have had to follow since joining the EEC.