HC Deb 16 July 1981 vol 8 cc1387-93
Mr. John Silkin (Dulwich)

Will the Leader of the House make a statement 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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

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

Third Reading of the Finance Bill.

Motion on the European Community document 5704/81 on fresh poultry meat.

TUESDAY 21 JULY—Supply [28th Allotted Day]: There will be debates on the motions on the rate support grant reduction reports for the Lothian region and the Dundee and Stirling districts.

Motion on the undertaking by the Secretary of State for Scotland with Western Ferries (Argyll) Limited.

WEDNESDAY 22 JULY—Supply [29th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on the Navy, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The Questions will be put on all outstanding Votes. Consideration of Lords amendments to the Contempt of Court Bill.

Motion on the Co-operative Development Agency (Grants) Order.

Motions on the undertakings relating to the Highlands and Islands shipping services.

Motion on the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board Order.

THURSDAY 23 JULY—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

FRIDAY 24 JULY—A debate on the Brandt report, on a motion for the Adjournment.

MONDAY 27 JULY—Completion of remaining stages of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill [Lords].

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Armed Forces Bill.

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

The following documents are relevant to the debate on the preliminary draft budget for 1982 (7450/81) and the preliminary draft amending budget No. 1 for 1981:

Preliminary draft supplementary budget No. 2, 1980 (12085/80)

Draft supplementary budget No. 2, 1980 (unnumbered)

Modifications and amendments by the European Parliament to the draft supplementary budget No. 2, 1980 (12547/80 and 12489/80)

Decisions taken by the Council on the European Parliament's amendments and modifications to draft general budget, 1981 (unnumbered explanatory memorandum of 11 December 1980).

The following reports of the European Legislation Committee are relevant to the debates:

Budget: 10th Report, 1980–81, HC 32-x, para. 2; 28th Report, 1980–81, HC 32-xxviii, paras. 1 and 2.

Poultry Meat: 25th Report, 1980–81, HC 32-xxv, para. 4.

Mr. Silkin

I thank the Leader of the House. I thank him for arranging a debate on the Brandt report. It is a most important debate and the Opposition expect that it will be wide-ranging. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will be able to tell the House at the beginning of the debate how the Government intend to approach the summit. Perhaps Friday is not the best day for that; I understand the difficulties of the Leader of the House.

Can the Leader of the House confirm whether on Tuesday we may have a statement from the Secretary of State for Employment because, by all accounts, the unemployment figures on Tuesday will be the worst ever—probably over 3 million? I believe that the Secretary of State for Employment should make such a statement on Tuesday as it will probably be the last opportunity to challenge him before the recess.

Will the Leader of the House also give us an assurance that the Secretary of State for the Environment will make a statement before the House rises about the planning application by the National Coal Board to develop the Vale of Belvoir? My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has raised this subject twice before and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will now respond to it.

I know how difficult time is, but will there be time for a debate on the cuts being made in the BBC's external services? The amount of money is small, but it is a matter of great importance to both sides of the House.

Finally, will the Leader of the House confirm that the House will not be sitting on Wednesday 29 July? Can he yet give us a date when the House will rise?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman said about Friday's debate. I note his remarks about its wide-ranging nature. I will convey that to my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. I will also convey his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment about the figures that are likely to be announced next Tuesday. The right hon. Gentleman said that that was the last moment when matters under that heading could be raised. That would be an appropriate subject to be raised, if any hon. Member so wished, on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill on Thursday 23 July. I note the right hon. Gentleman's request.

I have nothing further to add to what I said to the Leader of the Opposition last week about the Vale of Belvoir. My right hon. Friend still has that important matter under consideration. He will announce his conclusion and his decision as soon as he has reached it. I cannot guarantee that that will happen before the House rises, although I appreciate that that is desirable.

I do not see a possibility of a debate on the BBC's external services before the House rises, but that, too, would be an appropriate subject to raise in next Thursday's debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

Mr. Joseph Dean (Leeds, West)


Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman may say "Disgraceful". I have said that I do not see such an opportunity. I have provided many days in recent weeks at the request of right hon. and hon. Members, and it would have been open to the Opposition to have chosen that subject for a Supply day debate, had they so wished. That is a matter for them.

I can confirm that, subject to the necessary motion being approved, the House will not sit on the day of the Royal wedding. It may be for the convenience of the House to know that, subject to the progress of business, I hope that the House will be able to rise for the summer on Friday 31 July, but, as the House and the right hon.

Gentleman will understand, I am not able to guarantee that date. I believe that it is the wish of the House to rise on that date if it can possibly be arranged.

Mr. Silkin

Will the right hon. Gentleman please convey to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the concern of the Opposition that it is now six months since the inspector's report on the Vale of Belvoir? We are due to go into recess, as the right hon. Gentleman said, on 31 July. We should know the answer before the House goes down.

Mr. Pym

I shall convey those strong representations to my right hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot guarantee an answer, but I will convey those representations.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

Will my right hon. Friend take note that the last 20 minutes appear to suggest that the right hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) could become a source of added pressure on the parliamentary timetable unless we are careful?

Will my right hon. Friend give further consideration to an earlier announcement of when Parliament will rise for the Summer Recess? I say that not because I am anxious to go on holiday—of course I am not—but because I ask my right hon. Friend to give it careful thought. A House of Commons which is incapable of deciding either when it is to go on holiday or when it is to go to bed will have little influence on national affairs.

Mr. Pym

My right hon. Friend may have a point about the right hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), but it is also fair to say that normally the right hon. Gentleman does not detain the House often or at great length by his interventions.

On the question of the recess, I think that the immediate circumstances of the House and country are somewhat unusual. For that reason I have thought it right not to give an absolute commitment on the date. However, I believe that the House would wish to rise, if possible, on 31 July. I hope that that will prove to be possible.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must inform the House that over 60 right hon. and hon. Members are hoping to participate in the major debate of the day. They will be exceedingly lucky if they are all able to participate. I hope that questions will be brief and to the point. If we have not finished the questions by 3.55, I propose to move on.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that five social security uprating orders are to be debated before the Summer Recess? Will he ensure that there is a proper and adequate debate on them, because many people are concerned that the pension will go up by 2 per cent. less than the inflation rate this autumn?

Mr. Pym

I am seeking to find a proper opportunity to discuss the orders in the way that the hon. Gentleman wishes.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Will my right hon. Friend please consider finding time to debate the absurd waste of money by the Equal Opportunities Commission, which has spent a considerable sum on suing a wine bar in Fleet Street which provides special facilities for lady customers? If the commission does not concentrate on its essential duty of dealing with employment opportunities for women, should not its grant be cut drastically?

Mr. Pym

My hon. Friend must find his own opportunity to raise that matter.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed over the last few months a growing demand for arts questions? The list is increasing weekly and monthly. Does he not agree that it is an important matter because Britain is not renowned for its cultural concern? Should we not increase the time available for arts questions, which at the moment stands at the ridiculous figure of 10 minutes every month?

Mr. Pym

That is a matter that I am prepared to pursue through the usual channels.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

Will the Leader of the House note, if there is to be any announcement in the coming days about increased aid for inner cities as a consequence of recent riots, that many of the problems apply to towns which do not qualify for inner city aid at present? If any announcement is made about extra aid to inner cities, will he ensure that the House has an opportunity to make its views known to the Government if that aid is not wide enough geographically?

Mr. Pym

I think that I shall just take note of the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many local authorities in Scotland which have been prudent in their expenditure are concerned that the over-spending authorities do not steal from the resources that should be available to others? Can he clarify the business on Tuesday? Did he announce the subject for the Supply day, or are the rate support grant orders for Lothian and Dundee to be part of the Supply day debate?

Mr. Pym

The motions that I announced for Tuesday are to be taken in Supply time.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

When will the Transport Bill come back from the other place? When will the House have the opportunity of deciding on the important amendment on seat belts?

Mr. Pym

I hope that I shall be able to make an announcement on that subject next Thursday.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Does the Leader of the House recall that in last week's defence debate there was widespread dissatisfaction on both sides of the House with the pathetic Government wind-up when the focus of concern was the Navy? In view of next Wednesday's business and as we no longer have a Navy Minister, will the right hon. Gentleman see to it that the Minister who introduces the debate knows what a modern naval vessel looks like and, preferably, has met lower deck personnel and knows what is worrying them? Will he also see to it that the Secretary of State for Defence winds up, because there are still too many questions arising out of the review which remain unanswered and which relate not only to Trident, although that is the number one question?

Mr. Pym

I cannot accept the allegations and criticisms made by the hon. Gentleman. The team in the Ministry under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is very competent. I am sure that it will perform competently on Wednesday.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Does the Minister not know that the decision whether to open up the Belvoir coalfield involves many thousands of jobs in devastated Leicestershire and that it would be scandalous if that decision were announced when the House was not sitting so that we had no chance whatever of querying it? Does not exactly the same apply to the BBC? To debate such issues on the Consolidated Fund means that there can be no vote on subjects of great importance.

Mr. Pym

I have said that the matter is important. My right hon. Friend will announce his decision when he has made it.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

May I express a contrary view and remind my right hon. Friend that many people hope that the Secretary of State for the Environment will not allow the Belvoir application to go forward? Is he aware that we believe that it would be totally wrong so to do and that we do not bow to the views of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner)?

Mr. Pym

It is not for me to enter into arguments about the merits. It is a matter of when my right hon. Friend is going to reach his decision.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)

Further to the point about the Vale of Belvoir, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that three other major reports on energy are in Ministers' hands? Is not it about time that the House had the opportunity to discuss energy generally?

Mr. Pym

We have spent an unusual amount of time on energy this Session. There may be other opportunities in the next Session. There will be no further opportunities that I can see before the Summer Recess.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

Particularly because of the link between family breakdown and social disorder, might I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion No. 479, signed by 170 Members of all parties, which relates to conciliation, custody and financial provision in divorce?

[That this House, concerned about the rising divorce rate and the consequent increase in the number of children affected by divorce proceedings and about increasing public disquiet concerning the law relating to financial provision in matrimonial proceedings, calls upon the Government, as a matter of urgency, to establish a committee of inquiry: (a) to review existing practice and procedures relating to the custody of the children of the parties, with a view to ensuring that greater emphasis is in future placed upon their interests and welfare, (b) to examine present locally-orientated and funded conciliation schemes within the procedures of the courts which exist to assist parties to divorce proceedings to resolve differences arising in relation to the consequences of such proceedings, and in particular in a manner which minimises the impact on their children, and to make recommendations as to the best manner of securing, on a permanent basis, the general availability of suitable schemes, and (c) to make specific recommendations as to the fundamental principles upon which reform of the law governing the financial consequences to the parties of divorce should be based, in the light of the discussion paper published by the Law Commission entitled The financial consequences of divorce: the basic policy' (Cmnd. 8041) and, in particular, the possible models for reform set out in Part IV of that paper.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman draw the motion to the Lord Chancellor's attention? In view of the increasing support in the House for the inquiry suggested in the motion, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Attorney-General to make a statement?

Mr. Pym

I shall certainly convey the hon. Gentleman's request to the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General. I do not think that a statement will be possible—nor, unfortunately, will there be time for a debate in the near future.

Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham)

Roughly how long does the Leader of the House expect that the Government will make available for the debate on the EEC steel industry documents on Monday week? At approximately what time does he think the debate will start, bearing in mind the Scrutiny Committee's view that the documents are sufficiently important to warrant not the usual 90 minutes in the middle of the night but a half day's debate? Would it not be contemptuous of that Committee if the debate did not start until late at night?

Mr. Pym

I am afraid that the debate will start reasonably late in the evening. I am seeking to arrange through the usual channels what I hope both sides will agree is adequate time to debate this important subject.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

May I stress the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther)? Is the Leader of the House aware that the amount of work facing the House on the Report stage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill was assumed to be about three days? Does he accept that the Opposition have been extremely co-operative in this matter, but that we now find that we have only two days, during which there is a great deal of work to be done, and now there is a suggestion of less time on the Monday evening? Does he agree that it looks as if the steel debate will take place at about dawn on Tuesday morning and that some of us might wish to take longer, perhaps because of exhaustion, as a consequence? Does the right hon. Gentleman not perceive any threat to Tuesday's business?

Mr. Pym

We must see how we get on. I think that the Wildlife and Countryside Bill has shown itself to be capable of taking an almost unlimited amount of time, occupying practically every day in both Houses, so far as I can see. After all that has been said and after all the time that has been taken in both Houses, it seems that reasonably rapid progress would now be appropriate. At any rate, I hope that the House will take that view. The Government have done their best to be as generous as they can with time.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his statement about the Vale of Belvoir? Is he aware that the Vale of Belvoir, apart from being partly owned by the Duke of Rutland, is very good hunting country? Is he aware that it has been reported in the press that the Secretary of State for the Environment's wife is a member of one of the local packs? [Interruption.] I am sure that the Secretary of State for the Environment will want to dismiss all the speculation that the reason that, seemingly, he is going to turn down the applications for mining in the Vale of Belvoir is that his wife frequents that area on the various hunts.

Mr. Pym

I think that the House enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's question about the Vale of Belvoir as much as he did, but I have nothing to add to what I have said.