HC Deb 09 July 1981 vol 8 cc581-7
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 13 JuLY—Remaining stages of the Deep Sea Mining (Temporary Provisions) Bill [Lords].

Progress on remaining stages of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 14 JULY—Progress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Motions on the Films (Quotas) Order and on the Pool Competitions Act 1971 (Continuance) Order.

Proceedings on the Friendly Societies Bill.

WEDNESDAY 15 JULY—Further progress on remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Consideraton of Lords amendments to the Iron and Steel Bill and the Criminal Attempts Bill.

THURSDAY i6 JULY—A debate on recent outbreaks of civil disorder in Great Britain, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 17 JULY—Motions on the following Northern Ireland orders: Industrial Investment (Amendment), Diseases of Animals, which is a consolidation order, and Appropriation (No. 2).

MONDAY 20 JULY—Debate on the preliminary draft general Community budget for 1982, and on the draft rectifying budget No. 1 for 1981.

The relevant Community document numbers will appear in the Official Report.

Completion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Motions on European Community documents Nos. 7305/81, 7306/81 and 7825/81 on the steel industry.

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for agreeing to the debate proposed on Monday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) being held on Thursday next week. We certainly wish—I am sure that this will be fully within the ambit of the discussion—to discuss the general causes of deprivation which prevail in these areas and to debate those matters on that occasion. I am grateful, however, to the right hon. Gentleman for arranging the debate.

I emphasise to him, particularly as we are reaching what is possibly the end of this period of Parliament and time may be getting short, that we wish to have a further major debate on unemployment in view of the figures still to be announced before the House rises for the recess. We therefore believe that the Government should provide a further day to discuss that, particularly as the Opposition have had to provide many of our Supply days to discuss this major domestic question. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider that.

I wish to put three further matters to the right hon. Gentleman, some of which I have had to mention before. First, I hope that he will provide time to debate the cutting of the BBC external services. There is strong feeling in various parts of the House about this, and certainly it should be debated and decided by the House.

Secondly, there is the statement on the Vale of Belvoir for which I have asked on several previous occasions. The Secretary of State for the Environment should be coming to the House to make a statement on that. He has had the report for about six months. It is a matter of great importance and the House will clearly wish to know at the earliest possible date, certainly before we depart for the recess, what are the Government's proposals on this.

Finally, there is the matter that I have mentioned to the right hon. Gentleman on five or six previous occasions and on which we have not had a satisfactory answer. I refer to a debate on the Brandt report. The country has a right to know what proposals, if any, and what attitude, if any, the Government have on this matter. We therefore ask once again that the right hon. Gentleman should commit himself to a debate on that in Government time before we depart for the recess.

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said about the debate proposed for next Thursday. I am certain that the House will agree that it is right to hold that debate next week. I think that the exchange this afternoon make that all the more obvious.

Having provided that day, as I am certain is right, that clearly limits still further the scope for providing Government time for other debates. I have tried to help the right hon. Gentleman on unemployment. We have now provided two days in the past six months and he has provided a number of other days. I do not think that there will be another one in Government time before we rise for the recess.

I am well aware of the representations that the right hon. Gentleman has made to me about a further debate on the Brandt report. I can only say that if there is time to arrange one, I shall naturally wish to do so. At this stage, I cannot judge that, any more than I can in relation to the important matter of the BBC external services. I know that that, too, is important but I do not think that it is of the highest priority, at any rate in relation to or as compared with the debate next Thursday or perhaps the Brandt report, but I have certainly noted the point made on previous Thursdays and again today.

With regard to the Vale of Belvoir, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will make a statement to the House just as soon as he has reached his final conclusions. He will, of course, announce those conclusions to the House. I do not think that that will happen next week. I note that the right hon. Gentleman would like it to happen before we rise. I can only say that my right hon. Friend will make that statement as soon as he is in a position so to do.

Mr. Foot

I emphasise to the right hon. Gentleman that the Government are responsible for any congestion of business at this time of the year. They must take that responsibility. I repeat that in my opinion it would be unthinkable for the House of Commons to depart and the Government to go away never having given any statement or possibility of debate on any of the questions connected with the Brandt report. Two or three important conferences will take place before the House meets again after the summer. The Government would have to take the responsiblity of denying the House the opportunity for debate if that were the position.

I also emphasise that mass unemployment is of such a scale that, as I have said from the beginning of the Session, the Government should have made provision for unemployment on a scale greater than anything we have known since the end of the war to be discussed every month when the figures are published. The Government will have the responsibility for providing the time when these matters are discussed again. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Government that the events in some of our cities in recent weeks make that demand imperative.

Mr. Pym

I do not accept that the Government are responsible for pressure of business at this time. I have given a number of Government days in response to the right hon. Gentleman's requests, and gladly and rightly so. On each occasion, that consumes a single day. No Leader of the House can go on for ever producing more and more days. The right hon. Gentleman could not do so when he was in this position and I cannot do so now. I have tried, and I think that I have been forthcoming and indeed generous in the days that I have provided. I make no complaint, but I think it a little unreasonable for the right hon. Gentleman to think that in some extraordinary way the supply of days is endless. There is a further Supply day left to him. It is entirely up to the right hon. Gentleman and the Opposition to choose what is debated on that day. I have been as forthcoming as I can, but I am afraid that I cannot produce days which simply do not exist.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of early-day motion 382 on the subject of smaller businesses?

[That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to provide time to debate the Smaller Businesses (Ministerial and Other Functions) Bill introduced by the honourable Member for Harrow West, providing for more effective coordination of the Government's services for smaller firms.]

Is he aware that it is signed by 109 hon. Members and calls for a debate on the need to co-ordinate services to smaller firms? The Bill to which it relates would allow the House to debate the fact that this country, uniquely, has no centralised co-ordination of Government resources to help small firms.

Mr. Pym

I do not think that I can provide any time especially for that purpose, but it would be for my hon. Friend to ascertain whether it might be an appropriate subject for discussion on the Appropriation Bill.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been seeking to ask a question. There is a statement to come before we reach the main business.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)

Has the Leader of the House noticed early-day motion 520 on Turkey?

[That this House, recognising that in the two years before the military takeover in Turkey last year over 5,000 people were murdered by terrorists and that the whole fabric of the country was close to disintegration, warmly welcomes the invitation given to President Evren to attend the Royal Wedding; and wishes both the President and his Government well in their efforts to give the Turkish people a truly democratic constitution and government.]

Is he aware that it stands in the names of more than 60 of his right hon. and hon. Friends and expresses the amazing view that the military dictatorship in Turkey is to be welcomed because for two years before it occurred there was total disintegration of the fabric of that country? If that is those hon. Members' view of democracy, do we assume that they see this as the way out as the disintegration of this country's social fabric continues under the Conservative Government?

Mr. Pym

My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has expressed sympathy with the motion to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I am afraid that there will not be time next week for a debate on that matter.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

As next Thursday's debate on law and order will concern the whole House and as it will be only one day and the many hon. Members whose constituencies have been directly affected will take up a good deal of the debate, will it be possible to have an experiment on that day with one or two hours of five-minute or 10-minute speeches between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock?

Mr. Pym

I shall be quite content with that proposal if the House wishes it, but that is for discussion through the usual channels.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

May we have a debate soon on early-day motion 521, deploring the Prime Minister's shabby treatment of the ambulancemen?

[That this House deplores the shabby treatment meted out to ambulancemen by the Prime Minister who, on 22 August 1978, instructed the hon. Member for West Derbyshire to write the following letter on her behalf to two ambulancemen, Messrs. Wilton and Rowe:

'Dear Gentlemen,

I am sorry for the delay in replying on Mrs. Thatcher's behalf to your letter of 28 July.

In all the comments she made during the Firemen's strike, Mrs. Thatcher linked her remarks not just to the firemen, but to what she, and you, call 'Emergency Services'. All three deserve to have their pay negotiation put outside the arena of industrial dispute by being given firm and automatic linkage to national price or wage rises.

Mrs. Thatcher agrees with you about this.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew Parris

Private Office of the Leader of the Opposition';

and notes that, because of the present Tory Government's wages policy, ambulancemen are now being offered a miserable six per cent., which is a wage-cut in real terms, with inflation still running at 11.7 per cent. because of the failure of the Tory Government's economic policy; deplores the fact that a qualified ambulanceman, after 24 years' service, can take home as little as £59 per week; and calls on the Prime Minister to intervene personally to stop this exploitation of an important group of workers employed in emergency service, and to stand by her 1978 declaration.]

In view of the Prime Minister's 1978 declaration that the ambulancemen should be treated as an emergency service and should have their wages linked to national wage levels or to price increases, why are the Government now imposing a 6 per cent. wages policy while inflation is still running at nearly twice that figure? Does that not expose the Government as a crowd of deceitful twisters?

Mr. Pym

Of course, the Government have implemented the Clegg proposals. However there will not be time next week for a debate on this matter.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

on a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Loose allegations about "deceitful twisters" come as a matter of routine from the Opposition. Do you consider that this is a point for you, Mr. Speaker, or is it simply that Opposition Members never stop looking in the mirror?

Mr. Speaker

I was not quite sure of the remark. However, all hon. Members know that it is out of order to reflect on any Member's sense of honour in this House. We function on the basis that we are all honourable or right honourable Members. If we fail to observe parliamentary standards, we do not deserve to be in this place.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

May I return to next week's business? As many hon. Members will want to make constituency points in the debate on civil disorder next Thursday, and because of the importance of the debate, will the Leader of the House consider extending it for an extra hour?

Mr. Pym

I am prepared to consider that, through the usual channels.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Does not the Leader of the House, who is a thoughtful man at all times, think that for once he is underestimating the feelings of the nation about the findings of the Brandt commission? Is he aware that not only political parties but schools, churches and chapels are discussing the matter? Will he think again and try to find some time for a debate?

Mr. Pym

No. I do not think that I have misjudged the interest in the subject and the British people's attitude towards it. It is a matter of time. We have had some debates on the report already, and the question is whether there will be another opportunity before we rise. I have the matter very much in mind. If there is time and if we can arrange a debate, we shall do so, but I cannot promise it.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth)

Is the Leader of the House aware that I have asked him in the past about the way in which Scottish Office Ministers treat Members of Parliament? May I ask him for a guarantee that he will speak to the Secretary of State for Scotland and impress on him the need to put down the orders relating to the proposed closure of Callendar Park college in my constituency, so that the matter can be debated before the house rises, and so that the Secretary of State will not adopt the practice that he has adopted in the past of taking such action when the House is in recess?

Mr. Pym

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I shall, of course, convey those remarks to him.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Even the right hon. Gentleman must be vaguely aware of the mounting disapproval of the Government's intentions of cutting the BBC's external services and of terminating its transcription service which has been a valuable vehicle for disseminating British culture throughout the world for many years. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his position and give the House a chance to change the Government's mind on this ludicrous decision?

Mr. Pym

On the merits, the capital cost involved in the two years 1983–85 is about £13 million. The Government are prepared to consider making available sums of that kind, provided that some economies are made by the BBC. That is a reasonable position. On the question of making time available for a debate, I have nothing to add to what I told the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will not the Leader of the House at least add that no irrevocable decisions will be taken on the BBC's external services before the House has had an opportunity to discuss the matter, which concerns us all?

Secondly, regarding the effect of the Vale of Belvoir decision in Leicestershire, will the right hon. Gentleman draw to the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment, before he makes his statement, the fact that in once-prosperous Leicestershire there are now about 34 per cent. unemployed in one area, 2,000 school leavers chasing 70 jobs and a vast mumber of coal miners on the verge of being made unemployed? Is he not aware that the Belvoir coalfield could do a great deal to safeguard employment in, and the state of, the entire county of Leicestershire?

Mr. Pym

The future of the Vale of Belvoir is obviously an extremely important and difficult matter. A major inquiry has been held. It is a big decision. The coal has been there since the beginning of time and the question now is whether we should dig it out. It is right, and surely the House will think it right, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment should take his time and consider with the utmost care all the issues surrounding the decision that faces him.

Mr. Janner

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order in these circumstances for a Minister to make his decision before he comes to the House? Surely it is in accordance with the rules of the House—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is up to the Minister.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk )

Given that the Home Secretary has today announced a record number of people in prison and that a year ago—before we even reached the present level—the prison and borstal governors warned that the prison system was in a state of collapse, will the Leader of the House now give an assurance that we shall have an opportunity to debate the crisis in the prison system, or at least have a major statement, before the recess?

Mr. Pym

Not next week, Sir. There may be an occasion later in the autumn, but not in the immediate future. In answer to the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), I think that I am right in saying that, under the Act, Parliament places upon the Secretary of State for the Environment the responsibility for taking a decision.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that when we have a major debate, as we had on defence this week and as we shall have on civil disorder next Thursday, there is a case, and it is common practice, for having an extra hour and a half at the end of the debate, so that we finish at 11.30 rather than at 10 o'clock?

Mr. Pym

On appropriate occasions, when agreed within the House through the usual channels, that is something that I am prepared to arrange.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans), I should like to say that I am conscious that it is about the sixth time that he has been called last. I trespass on his good nature because he is Welsh.

Mr. Evans

I am glad that you noticed it, Mr. Speaker.

When considering the request of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for a major debate on Brandt before the recess, will the Leader of the House also consider asking the Lord Privy Seal to make a statement to the House about the Government's intentions regarding the Brandt report before the debate and before the three major party conferences?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman look again at the statement that was made yesterday by the Minister for Consumer Affairs about the disposal of the gas showrooms? Will he make an early statement on whether we are to have legislation on that?

Mr. Pym

On that point, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend said yesterday. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's earlier point, I do not think that there will be a statement before the debate, and I am not even able to give an undertaking that there will be such a debate. However, if there is an opportunity before we rise, so be it. I think that I have made that clear to the House.

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you care to have a transfusion in Edinburgh so that you might the more frequently regard me?

Mr. Speaker

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman; I thought that I had to look to Ireland.