HC Deb 04 June 1981 vol 5 cc1071-8
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

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)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 8 JUNE—Report stage of the Education (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Health and Safety (Fees for Medical Examinations) Regulations.

TUESDAY 9 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Employment and Training Bill.

Third Reading of the Education (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Sheep Variable Premium (Protection of Payments) (Amendment) Order.

WEDNESDAY IO JUNE—Remaining stages of the Education Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.

THURSDAY II JUNE—Supply [19th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on an Opposition motion on the damaging effects of Government policy on the rights, status and opportunities of women.

FRIDAY I2 JUNE—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY I5 JUNE—Supply [20th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on the problems of the North-West.

Mr. Foot

When does the Leader of the House intend that we shall debate motions on the Order Paper about extra debates in the Scottish Grand Committee which was suggested in the inter-party report? I understand that agreement was reached in August 1980 and yet, because of the Government's neglect, a whole year of extra debates has been lost. Scottish Members, particularly Opposition Members, have strong feelings on the matter. Will the Leader of the House make a statement now, or at the earliest opportunity? Will the Government take steps to remedy the situation which they created?

We have had discussions about arranging debates on unemployment. The latest horrifying unemployment figures were published in the recess. Almost no time has been provided by the Government in this Parliament to discuss the matter. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider rearranging next week's business to provide in Government time a full day's debate on the unemployment figures? If he will not provide time next week—I hope that he will—will he guarantee that the House will have an opportunity for a full debate on unemployment, public investment and many of the matters which were raised in questions earlier today? May we have a debate on the subject in the House before the Government hold their meeting on 17 June when at last they will discuss these matters?

Mr. Pym

I regret that it has not been possible to provide time to debate the Scottish affairs motions to which a number of amendments have been tabled. I hope to be able to announce a time for debate soon—if not next week, the week after.

The Government and my right hon. and hon. Friends share the right hon. Gentleman's concern for the unemployed. It has not been possible for some time to provide a day for a debate in Government time. I cannot today undertake to provide time in the near future. However, I certainly do not exclude the possibility of granting the right hon. Gentleman's request. I do not think that I can do it by 17 June, but I am mindful of the right hon. Gentleman's representations. I should like to arrange a day when we can find the time. I shall keep in mind the right hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Foot

On both counts the right hon. Gentleman's replies are unsatisfactory. We have lost time to debate Scottish affairs because of the Government's delay. Will the right hon. Gentleman make up lost time? The time lost because of the Government's delay should be made good.

The right hon. Gentleman's answer about a debate on unemployment is the same as that which he has given on numerous previous occasions. We are dealing with record unemployment figures month after month. Month after month the Government say that they will not arrange a debate in the House in Government time. That is unsatisfactory. The people have been demonstrating in the last few weeks how strongly the fury is rising in the country. The right hon. Gentleman should come up with something better. Since the Government themselves at last have decided that they must review their economic policy—and goodness knows that they should—the House should have the chance to speak before that discussion.

Mr. Pym

The right hon. Gentleman exaggerates. The debate for which he asks is not relevant to a routine discussion of economic matters in the Cabinet. If the right hon. Gentleman felt so passionately about the subject he could have selected a Supply day. He is asking for Government time. My response to his request was sympathetic although it was not in the time scale that he required. In view of the time of the year and the legislation on hand, my response was reasonable. I am mindful of his representations.

I said specifically only a fortnight or three weeks ago that our decision in relation to the motion on Scottish affairs would apply from the next Session. Some hon. Members thought that that was not so, but that has always been in my mind. At the earliest possible moment—the week after next, I hope, or very soon afterwards—I want to provide time so that we can reach a conclusion. It is time that that was done, and I regret the delay.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. So that we can make reasonable progress, I hope that questions will be brief. We must remember the nature of the business later. There is also a statement to be made.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Does my right hon. Friend realise that there is immense public interest outside the House about Northern Ireland? Will he consider the suggestion that I put to him three weeks ago on an equivalent occasion that there should be a Government motion on the situation, referring in particular to the excellent work of the security forces?

Mr. Pym

I shall certainly keep that proposition in mind, but I cannot name a time at the moment.

Mr. Ben Ford (Bradford, North)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he will soon receive a letter from the Chairman of the all-party Committee requesting a debate in the House on the multi-fibre arrangement before 23 June when the Council of Ministers meets? Is he further aware that about 140 hon. Members have constituency interests in the issue? Will he therefore undertake to consider sympathetically the request contained in the letter?

Mr. Pym

Of course I shall consider the letter when I receive it. It is not likely that I can provide a Government day, but I shall be sympathetic to the representations that I expect to receive.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will my right hon. Friend institute a debate on the growing level of racial violence in the country since that which is described in the press is only the tip of the iceberg—or does he think that it is better if we do not debate it?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that, but I hope that there will be some other opportunity when the subject can be raised.

Mr. K. J. Woolmer (Batley and Morley)

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) about the multi-fibre arrangement, does the Leader of the House recognise that 160,000 textile and clothing workers have lost their jobs in the last two years? Is he aware that 600,000 workers are still employed in the industries and that the negotiations are of the utmost importance to hundreds of communities throughout the country? Does he agree that it would be a tragedy if hon. Members were not able to express an opinion on the negotiations before the Council of Ministers considers them on behalf of Europe as a whole?

Mr. Pym

I shall consider the important points raised by the hon. Gentleman and take them fully into account.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I welcome the decision to debate the problems of the North-West. However, is my right hon. Friend aware that some Conservative Members warmly support the request of the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) for a full debate about the renegotiation of the multi-fibre arrangement? Is he aware that 120,000 workers in the clothing and textile industry lost their jobs in 1980? As the hon. Member for Bradford, North pointed out, 140 hon. Members have an interest in that industry. Does my right hon. Friend agree that they should be able to register the views of their constituents and regions before the Council of Ministers meet? Is it not apparent that the Government and the European Commission are weakening in their resolve to have a strengthened MFA?

Mr. Pym

I shall take my hon. Friend's strong representations fully into account.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I endorse the appeal for a debate on the textile industry. Is the Leader of the House aware that I am alarmed at his statement that the Government are not likely to provide time for such a debate? Does he not realise from the strength of feeling expressed by textile representatives that the industry is alarmed at its decline? Is he aware that the textile and clothing industry is the largest single employer in the private enterprise sector? Does it not behove the Government to provide a day because the MFA is the most important governing arrangement for the textile and clothing industry? Should not the House debate that matter before a mandate is fully decided and before a decision is reached in Brussels?

Mr. Pym

The House is well aware of the limitation on the days available to the Government. The textile industry is important. It is the sort of subject that is suitable for a Supply day. The Leader of the Opposition has made repeated requests for a Government day to debate another subject, which is equally suitable for a Supply day. He has made a strong request which I have taken on board. Unless the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) can find another method of raising the matter, it might have to be considered by his party for a Supply day debate.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us regret the fact that we do not often hear the Minister with responsibility for sport at the Dispatch Box? Will he arrange a debate so that we can listen to that excellent Minister and find out his views on the violence that accompanies many of our football supporters when they go overseas? Is he aware that that behaviour is seriously damaging Britain's image overseas? Is it not time that the House debated the matter?

Mr. Pym

I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that he will find an opportunity, either through an Adjournment debate or in some other way, to raise the topic in the House. I appreciate that, although my hon. Friend attends Question Time about once a month, it is not an adequate way to deal with the topic. I hope that he will find some method of raising it.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the growing public concern about the thousands of mentally handicapped adults and children living in unsuitable and degrading conditions? Is it not time that that scandal was ended and the expressions of concern about their plight expressed on the Floor of the House? Instead of sympathy and bromides, may we have an assurance that time will be provided for a debate?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that I can give such an assurance for next week. Obviously the subject is important, and I have no doubt that the right lion. Gentleman has already raised it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I undertake to raise it with him also.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the desperate position in Southampton and the need for a debate on the restructuring of our ports industry? Is he also aware that the port of Southampton is at a standstill and that eight major shipping lines intend to leave the port, due, in the main, to irresponsible members of the TGWU bringing the port to a standstill? Is it not time for a full debate on the national docks labour scheme and on the future of the ports in Britain? Without healthy ports we cannot have a healthy country.

Mr. Pym

That is another appropriate topic for debate, but I am afraid that I cannot find Government time for it.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

In view of the increasing problems of the arts, in all its aspects and in all areas of Britain, when will the House have the opportunity to debate the need for increased public expenditure on the arts in the current economic circumstances?

Mr. Pym

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's representations.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I wish to press my right hon. Friend about the renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement. Is he aware that I signed the letter mentioned by the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford)? Does he not realise how urgent and essential it is that the House should debate that matter so that the Minister can go to Brussels armed with the view of the House before the negotiations begin on 23 June? Will he exercise himself a little more and give a more positive reply because it is an important matter?

Mr. Pym

I have had a number of requests pressed upon me for debates in Government time, including one on the textile industry generally and the multi-fibre arrangement. I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade to see whether we can provide an opportunity for the House to debate the issue. However, I cannot make any promises. I appreciate the importance of the subject.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Does the Leader of the House agree that the best way to arrange a debate on the consequences of the Government's economic and industrial policies would be to debate the problems of Merseyside, where unemployment in some areas—including my constituency—has reached 25 per cent? Is not that proof that the recession is not bottoming out? Is he aware that closures are still taking place, and that Dunlop has recently announced that it is to close? Is he further aware that the consequences of the Government's economic and industrial policies are writ large in Merseyside, and the devastation that has hit Merseyside will hit the remainder of Britain—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is clear that if further questions are as long as that question I shall not be able to call all those Members who have been standing. We must bear in mind the other business yet to come.

Mr. Pym

The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) raised an appropriate and legitimate candidate for debate, but I do not think that Government time can be found for it.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

When my right hon. Friend has completed his arrangements for the Scottish Grand Committee, will he turn his attention to the Northern Ireland Committee, and especially the ability of that Committee to sit in Northern Ireland where representative institutions are labouring under a handicap?

Mr. Pym

I am prepared to consider that possibility.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is it not becoming almost scandalous that the Government are refusing to allow a debate on Northern Ireland in Government time? Is it not of some interest that Mr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, who for some years has been telling us that we should not touch the position in Northern Ireland but should leave matters as they are, has now clearly changed his mind?

Mr. Pym

I have not refused to have a debate on Northern Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening to the exchanges during the past quarter of an hour, he would appreciate that it would be impossible to meet all the requests that have been made. We want to use the time available to the best advantage and for the most pressing problems. There are many candidates for debate.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there have been two recent important reports on the affairs of the Central Electricity Generating Board—one from the Select Committee on Energy and another from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission? Should we not have a debate soon on these matters?

Mr. Pym

A reply to the Select Committee report is still expected. When it is received, the subject and the report could be considered for debate in the House. I have not yet reached a conclusion on that point.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Because of the medieval, archaic and often unjust system of coroners' courts, thrown into tragic relief by the Deptford fire inquiry, will the Leader of the House undertake to provide time for a debate on how the system can be replaced? If not, will he at the very least undertake to discuss the matter with the Home Secretary, whose anxieties have been greatly increased by the monstrous effects of a system that should have been abolished hundreds of years ago?

Mr. Pym

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary already has that matter under consideration.

Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)

I appreciate that any spare time should be given to a debate on the problems of the West Yorkshire textile industry, but has the Minister seen early-day motion No. 431 on the Order Paper which calls upon the Home Secretary to conduct an independent inquiry into the investigations of the Ripper murders?

[That this House welcomes the acceptance by the Home Secretary of the need for an inquiry into the circumstances of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation but regrets that the inquiry will be conducted by a former police officer aided by other senior police officers; and calls on the Home Secretary to institute a fully-independent inquiry under section 32 of the Police Act 1964 which provides for power to summon and examine witnesses and a requirement to publish the findings and conclusions where publication is consistent with the public interest.]

In view of the great and real public concern about the methods adopted by the police in West Yorkshire in those investigations, will he find time for a debate on whether we may have a proper independent and preferably public inquiry into this very serious matter?

Mr. Pym

I think that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made public his view about that and that we had better await the outcome of that inquiry before considering whether it would be appropriate to take the matter any further in the House.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

How are the negotiations between the usual channels developing on the arrangements of subjects for Monday's questions?

Mr. Pym

I cannot answer that without notice, but I believe that talks with the usual channels are continuing.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell: (Ealing, Southall)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that youth unemployment is now sweeping the country, including my constituency of Southall, and is affecting many second generation young Asian people? Will he arrange a debate on unemployment in Government time, particularly if there is any prospect of the Government introducing unorthodox methods to occupy young people as is currently being presaged?

Mr. Pym

As the House knows, the Government have given much time and consideration to the question of youth unemployment. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the matter is still active in ministerial circles. Further consideration is being given to what other devices and arrangements can be thought of to help the youth unemployed because we believe, as the hon. Gentleman does, that this is perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of unemployment.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to statutory instruments Nos. 665 and 666 and the prayers against them which have been tabled for some time? As he has allowed London boroughs to wriggle out of their duties towards gipsies, if he cannot find time for a debate on the Floor of the House, will he at least find time for those prayers to be referred to a Committee upstairs?

Mr. Pym

I think that that is a matter which should be negotiated through the usual channels.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note that I am probably the fourth hon. Member to raise the subject of Northern Ireland in business questions? Is he aware that the tempo of events in Northern Ireland, together with the increasingly large number of people in this country who now have a grip of the situation and want to know more about it, is such that we can no longer convey the message that if we shut up somehow or other this grave problem will go away, because it will not go away and we want to give more knowledge to our people? May we therefore have a full debate as soon as possible on the whole question of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Pym

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern and interest about events in Northern Ireland, but it does not seem to me likely that there will be an opportunity to hold such a debate in the near future. Nevertheless, I assure the hon. Gentleman that events in Northern Ireland are constantly in my mind, as they are in the minds of many hon. Members.

Mr. Neil Carmichael (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the real concern in university constituencies such as mine, about the future financing of universities and the problems that have been caused because nobody seems to know exactly how the UGC grant will work? Will he provide time for a full-scale debate in the House, as this seems to be the only way in which the subject can be properly aired?

Mr. Pym

Important though I agree that the subject is, I cannot do so next week.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on two previous occasions recently I have raised with him the question of reallocating finances to the coal industry arising out of the Government's U-turn when the miners took strike action in relation to the threatened pit closures? When will the Government make a statement to the House about the way in which they intend to finance the coal industry in order to ensure that the stocks which are now approaching 40 million tons will be run down, to stop the massive imports of coal that are still taking place and to stave off the threatened pit closures that the Prime Minister and the entire Tory Government at that time said that they would stave off? Is it not high time that the Leader of the House made it clear when there will be a statement? Is he aware that on the last two occasions he promised to pass a message on to the Minister and that I am now beginning to wonder whether he is doing so?

Mr. Pym

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy is in discussion with the National Coal. Board and the National Union of Mineworkers about the 'hoard's finances and they are reviewing the future position now. Until that review is concluded, there cannot possibly be a statement in the House. I do not know the time scale. I do not think that a time scale is fixed, but the issue which concerns the hon. Gentleman is under active consideration by the three parties involved in the industry at this very moment.