HC Deb 18 June 1981 vol 6 cc1179-83
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 22 JuNE—Second Reading of the Representation of the People Bill.
  • TUESDAY 23 JUNE—Supply [22nd Allotted Day]:Debate on the Royal Air Force, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
  • WEDNESDAY 24 JUNE—Debate on unemployment. Motion on the Road Traffic (Car-Sharing Arrangements) (Northern Ireland) Order.
  • THURSDAY 25 JUNE—Consideration of Lords amend-ments to the Fisheries Bill.
  • Remaining stages of the Representation of the People Bill.
  • FRIDAY 26 JUNE—Debate on the report of the committee on obscentity and film censorship, Cmnd. 7772, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
  • MONDAY 29 JUNE—Supply [23rd Allotted Day]: Debate on the car industry.

Mr. Foot

May I put four points to the right hon. Gentleman?

First, we are still expecting and hoping that the right hon. Gentleman will persuade the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement in the House about his breach of faith in the compulsory transference of housing from the GLC to the London boroughs. I give notice again that if we do not get a proper statement from the Secretary of State it is our full intention to table a motion of censure on him.

The second matter is also one on which previous representations have been made to the Leader of the House. I renew the request by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends for a statement by the Secretary of State for Trade on the Government's policy on phasing out flags of convenience, particularly in view of the report by the secretariat of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. This is a most important matter, and I understand that if steps are not taken to bring it under control half the merchant ships of the world will be flying flags of convenience, with little concern for safety, pollution or the welfare of seamen. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ensure that a clear statement is made by the Government on this subject next week.

Thirdly, again I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give a firm undertaking that there will be a full day's debate on the Brandt report, in good time for the Government and the House to consider their policy before the Mexico conference. We do not want it left to the last few days so that we have the debate in a manner not befitting the importance of the subject. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will discover that much the wisest course for him is to give an undertaking now that we shall have the full debate that I have suggested.

Finally, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for agreeing, as we have asked him to do on so many occasions, to debating in Government time the increasingly grave unemployment crisis throughout the country. We shall have that debate next Wednesday. I think that the Government should have agreed to it long before now, but I am grateful that they have done so.

Mr. Pym

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his last remarks. I am glad to have the opportunity to provide time for that debate, as I was to find time for today's debate on the multi-fibre arrangement. I do my best in responding to requests for debates. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as or better than I do the limitations on time. I do the best that I can.

I cannot promise a day for debating the Brandt report before the Mexico summit meeting, or before the rising of the House, but if an opportunity offers itself and that is a priority, I will take it. It is fair to remind the House that we have already had debates on the subject, but preparations for the summit are in a preliminary stage. I cannot give a promise, but of course I will keep in mind the right hon. Gentleman's representations.

Thirdly, I have nothing further to say about the possibility of a statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I have had consultations with him, as I have told the right hon. Gentleman, and have nothing to say beyond what I said last week.

Finally, I will of course discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade the question of flags of convenience. I do not think that a statement is likely next week, but I shall discuss the matter with him.

Mr. Foot

May I return to the question of a statement to the House by the Secretary of State for the Environment? I was sorry to hear what the Leader of the House said. I still hope that the Secretary of State will make such a statement to the House, but if he will not we shall have to take the course that I have indicated.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman's reply about a debate on the Brandt report will not, I believe, be at all satisfactory, either to the House or to the great number of people throughout the country who are very much concerned about the subject, if the matter is left as he suggests. There really must be a full day's debate before the Summer Recess. The previous debates were not, in our opinion—and, I believe, in the opinion of the overwhelming majority of hon. Members interested in the subject—satisfactory. They did not cover many of the aspects of the matter, and we are getting nearer to the time when we hope to discover at last what may be the Government's view. The House of Commons is entitled to know that before the Summer Recess.

Mr. Pym

I appreciate the strength of the feelings expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. The provision of a Supply day may be a way of achieving his objective. I am not refusing a day in Government time, but if he feels that strongly about the matter and I have not a Government day available, he may be able to find a Supply day.

Mr. Edward Heath (Sidcup)

I hope that my right hon. Friend, in co-operation with the Leader of the Opposition, will be able to find a day for a debate on the Brandt commission's report. Will he bear in mind that the meeting in Mexico on 2 August is at Foreign Secretary level and that the meeting in Cancun towards the end of October is at Heads of Government level? The reason for this is that the commission is concerned not just with aid but with major questions of economic and financial policy for the world as a whole. If we do have a debate, therefore, will my right hon. Friend see that it is handled at the necessary level of Minister—by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Lord Privy Seal, or the Prime Minister herself?

Mr. Pym

I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend said, and will of course keep his important suggestion in mind.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that a very large number of right hon. and hon. Members are interested in the debate on the textile industry and the multi-fibre agreement. I therefore propose to allow questions on business to run no further than 10 minutes to 4 o'clock in order that we can give greater justice to the debate to follow.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Now that the House has debated the Armitage report on heavy lorries, is it not high time that we debated the earlier Armitage report, of January 1978, on the political rights of civil servants? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the case of Councillor Trevor Brown, who has been victimised by the Ministry of Defence for speaking what was acknowledged to be the truth on behalf of those he represented?

Mr. Pym

There are a number of reports that are certainly worthy of debate, including that one, but I am afraid that I cannot foresee providing Government time for it.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement next week on the Government's attitude towards fairer and balanced international trade between great trading nations, in view of the visit to this country by the Japanese Prime Minister?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that a statement on that subject is envisaged, but I shall discuss it with my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Has the right hon. Gentleman had an opportunity for further consideration of the need for the House to debate the whole range of the problems of the funding of the arts in these present very difficult economic circumstances?

Mr. Pym

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's interest in this subject, but I am bound to say that I am not aware of any widespread general wish that the House should debate it. I shall certainly bear in mind his interest in the subject and his desire for a debate.

Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

Are there any plans for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a progress statement to the House on how far we have got on the sale of council houses in those boroughs controlled by the Labour Party that have so far shown a singular reluctance to conform to the Housing Act 1980?

Mr. Pym

I am not aware that my right hon. Friend intends to make a statement, at any rate in the immediate future, but I shall bring my hon. Friend's remarks to his attention.

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

Does the Leader of the House recall promising, a few weeks ago, to make representations to the Secretary of State for Social Services about the plight of mentally handicapped adults and children living in bad conditions? Did he do that and, if so, what was the outcome? Has he seen early-day motion 466 on the subject?

[That this House regrets the shocking conditions under which many mentally handicapped people live in our institutions; and calls for strong and urgent action by the Government to change the system by developing community services from earmarked funding and to set up an independent advocacy service to protect the welfare and rights of mentally handicapped people.]

May we please have a debate next week?

Mr. Pym

Yes, I have had consultations. They did not result in a conclusion that would lead to a statement, and further consideration is being given to this important matter. I know that there is concern about it in the House, and I note what the right hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

What conclusions has my right hon. Friend come to with regard to the desirability of allowing the Northern Ireland Committee to sit in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Pym

I think that there would be very severe practical difficulties and that I should do the House a disservice if I did not indicate that. It might, of course, be possible for the matter to be considered, but I think that it would lead to a great many problems.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Is the right hon. Gentleman proposing to have a debate on the Government's policy concerning the purchase of defence materials from British firms where there are alternatives available from abroad? He may be aware that this matter has become extremely important in the light of the statement made yesterday by the chairman of Marconi Radar Systems Limited. Is he aware that between 1,400 and 1,600 people are likely to be made redundant by that company, many of them in my constituency, and that another 300 or 400 will be made redundant unless the Sea Wolf project is replaced by a British one rather than by a Dutch equivalent?

Mr. Pym

Not next week.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

Why did the Leader of the House say that it was not very likely that there would be a statement by the Government on the results of the UNCTAD conference on shipping? Do not the Government think that it is very important to our shipping industry? Is it not appalling that where we have an industry that is still significant in terms of our industrial strength the Government should refrain from making their position clear to the House?

Mr. Pym

There are many ways in which that subject and other subjects can be raised. If statements were made about all the subjects that each hon. Member thought important there would not be much time for anything else.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

Can the Leader of the House say when the Transport Bill will come back from another place for consideration in this House? In view of the amendment that was passed on seat belts, can he give an assurance not only that there will be a free vote—as he has done—but that there will be a debate at a time of day that will enable it to be proper and effective, on an issue that affects the lives of hundreds of people every year?

Mr. Pym

The probability is that the Bill will come back from another place some time next month, and when it does I shall do my best to make appropriate arrangements for its debate.