HC Deb 05 March 1981 vol 1000 cc417-24
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Does the Leader of the House have a statement to make 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 9 MARCH—Consideration of timetable motion on the Transport Bill.

Motion on the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order.

TUESDAY 10 MARCH—My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget Statement. European Community documents 10444/80 and the unnumbered annual report on the economic situation in the Community (1980) and the economic policy guidelines for 1981, will be relevant.

Motion on the Local Government, Planning and Land (Northern Ireland) Order.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

WEDNESDAY 11 MARCH and THURSDAY 12 MARCH —Continuation of the Budget debate.

FRIDAY 13 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 16 MARCH—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Statement.

The following reports of the Select Committee on European Legislation &c, will be relevant to the debate on Tuesday 10 March:

1st Report 1980–81 H/C 32-i Para. 8 and the

11th Report 1980–81 HIC 32-xi Para. 3

Mr. Foot

It is quite intolerable that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government have proposed a timetable motion for the Transport Bill. I am sure that when the House considers the facts it will realise that there is no case for that. Thirty-two of the amendments were Government amendments. Moreover, there is a whole range of questions affecting the public generally—the breathalyser, driving licences and many other matters—which should be discussed properly in the House without a guillotine. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government will think afresh about that.

We believe that far more urgent business should be discussed on Monday. I hope that even at this late stage the Government will consider it. I refer to the Civil Service wage negotiations that have broken down and that could lead to a serious disruption for the community. For the first time in history the industrial action is backed by all Civil Service unions. We understand that it is the Government and not the Civil Service unions who are refusing to go to arbitration. Will the right hon. Gentleman, in the interests of the proper functioning of the Government, abandon the discussion proposed for Monday and substitute a debate on the most important question of how to deal with the Civil Service industrial position?

Mr. Pym

I am slightly surprised by the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. With his track record I thought that he might have supported me on a timetable motion for the Transport Bill. Unfortunately, progress on the Bill has been slow. I intend to set out the case for a timetable motion when we debate it on Monday.

On the important question of the Civil Service wage negotiations, it has been the experience of the House and of successive Governments of different parties that, on the whole, a debate on such matters does not further or help the resolution of the issue. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my hon. Friend the Minister will this day make a statement about the dispute.

Mr. Foot

I doubt whether a statement by the Minister will assist matters. That is one reason why the matter should be debated in the House. The right hon. Gentleman is putting forward a novel doctrine—if he is talking about novel doctrines—that there should not be a debate in the House on industrial questions. If he does not take our advice now, no doubt he will have to be persuaded to take it later. A few week ago we heard the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister say that they would not do anything about the coal dispute. They had to think again. They will have to think again on this issue. I ask the right hon. Gentleman seriously to consider whether it is not best that the House should debate the matter to determine whether we can resolve it, especially as the unions concerned have proposed that the matter should go to arbitration?

I recommend that the right hon. Gentleman should go away for the weekend and read all my speeches about timetable motions. He will come to the House on Monday a much wiser man.

Mr. Pym

I was not proposing a novel doctrine by declining the right hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on Monday. Not only have debates on such matters been found to be unwise; the House has thought it unwise to go too far even on the question of statements being made when negotiations are taking place. I am sorry, but it is not appropriate to debate that subject. It is a serious issue. A statement will be made later today. If, in due course, it is necessary to raise the matter in some other way, that can be done. It is not appropriate to raise the subject, or for the House to debate it, on Monday.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the next hon. Member, I point out that there will be a statement before we reach the Supply day business. I know that the Opposition are anxious about their motion on education. Time that is taken now will prevent hon. Members sharing in the main debate of the day.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Because of the importance of the Local Government, Planning and Land (Northern Ireland) Order, of which the right hon. Gentleman is aware, is he prepared to consider whether arrangements could be made to provide somewhat more than the minimum one and a half hours for the consideration of that item?

Mr. Pym

I note the right hon. Gentleman's point. It is quite possible that there will be more time to debate that order than appears on the face of it. I shall consider the right hon. Gentleman's request.

Sir Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

As deputy chairman of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, of which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is chairman and Mr. Speaker is president, may I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to early-day motion 212?

[That this House wishes to be associated with all other Commonwealth Parliaments in the observance of Commonwealth Day on 9th March, which provides the opportunity for Commonwealth citizens, and in particular young people, to be reminded of the constructive role this unique institution plays in a troubled world and the contribution made by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.]

Will my right hon. Friend associate the Government and the whole House with that expression of Commonwealth good will in connection with Commonwealth Day, on Monday next?

Mr. Pym

Most certainly the Government associate themselves with the motion, the sentiments behind it, and the observance of Commonwealth Day on 9 March.

Mr. Joel Barnett (Heywood and Royton)

Has the Leader of the House seen a copy of the report by the Public Accounts Committee on the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General? I appreciate that he will not want a debate to take place too soon, but will he give the House an assurance that there will be one shortly?

Mr. Pym

The Treasury and the Government will consider that report. I have taken note of the right hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of early-day motion 169, signed by 132 hon. Members?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to facilitate the passage of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries (Amendment) Bill which is designed to remedy the injustice done to the former owners of the assets nationalised by the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977 by the payment of grossly inadequate compensation and to propose more equitable arrangements.]

It relates to the inadequate compensation paid to the aircraft and shipbuilding industries when they were nationalised Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate that matter, as there is strong feeling in the House about it?

Mr. Pym

I recognise the objectives of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members in bringing forward their views. The Government consider that the basis of compensation for the nationlisation of companies in those industries in 1977 should remain undisturbed. I have to disappoint my hon. Friend and say that that is the Government's view.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

In view of the Murdoch and Lonrho takeovers of the The Times and The Observer, does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is an urgent need for a major early debate on the whole question of the diversity and coverage of the press, so that alternatives to State control and to letting the communications media in a democracy be used as a plaything for tycoons' ambitions can be discussed?

Mr. Pym

I accept that those matters are appropriate for debate in the House, but I cannot find time for them in the near future.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that even though there are those of us who instinctively dislike timetable motions, will he support the decision to introduce such a motion on the Transport Bill? Will he remind the House that on a 76-page Bill, after 65 hours of debate, we are still on page 6 and that if there is any danger of not having adequate time to debate the road safety measures, it is due to filibustering tactics by the Opposition? In that business motion, will my right hon. Friend endeavour to make sure that generous time is given to those important road safety aspects of that important Bill?

Mr. Pym

I thank my hon. Friend for the support which he has given to me. He has alluded to some matters which are relevant to the debate on Monday. I take his point that the road safety measures in particular are those in which most hon. Members are most interested, but there is a case for the timetable motion, and I shall do my best to move the motion on Monday.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Minister confirm that the dirty dozen, otherwise known as members of the Council for Senile Decay, or whatever it is, will not receive any of the money allocated under the financial aid to Opposition parties as that money is given on the basis of votes and seats gained at a general election? If those people are not likely to gain any seats, are they not swindling the electorate by continuing to hold on to seats gained with Labour votes? Would not the honourable thing be to resign and to fight their seats? Is it not a strange irony that many of those people who are refusing to take part in what was known as reselection under Labour—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is arguing a case. He is not asking about business next week.

Mr. Pym

In some senses, the 12 to whom the hon. Gentleman referred cannot yet be said to have formed themselves into a party. Therefore, the consequential issues raised by the hon. Gentleman do not arise. It is clear that he belongs to some other group in the House of Commons and not to the 12.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Since the Israeli terror attacks have continued on Southern Lebanon, and since the Israeli expropriation of land and settlement policies are gathering pace on the West Bank and the Americans appear to be doing nothing about it, can we have an urgent debate about the problems in the Middle East, in order to give hope where otherwise there might be despair.

Mr. Pym

As soon as it is practical for me to arrange for a debate on foreign affairs I shall do so.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

Referring to the Social-whatever-they-call-themselves, is it not a farce that we now have the ritual of the Leader of the House reading out the business for the next week, which has already been supplied to certain selected groups? Why cannot the business be issued in the Vote Office on a Wednesday night, so that we can all have a copy, and not just the Liberals, and so on? Let us all have a copy, so that we can come prepared, knowing what questions to ask. Why should certain people get privileges, such as those on the Government Front Bench or the odds and ends on the Opposition side of the House, or on the Government side?

Mr. Pym

If I circulated the business it would obviate the necessity for business questions. Next week's business does not contain any surprises, because of the Budget Statement. However, I note what the hon. Member said.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

Will it be possible during the Budget debate to raise the issue of the consequences for public expenditure of different possible settlements of the Civil Service dispute? In his Budget Statement, will my right hon. Friend ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to spell out what sums are available for the increase under the Government offer and what will not be possible in terms of other spending, if the offer is increased by any percentage?

Mr. Pym

What is relevant to the Budget debate is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker. It is not a matter for me. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will have written to my right hon. and learned Friend for that advice. As my right hon. and learned Friend will have received so much advice, I do not know whether he will have come across that particular piece of paper. I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to the notice of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Is it the Government's intention to issue a statement about the reported proposal to install electronic surveillance outside or inside the Dining Rooms in the House to prevent guests from making off with parliamentary silver and cutlery? Is it correct that we lose about £100,000 worth of silver a year? Would it not be better to provide for guests the sort of pamphlet souvenir that is provided for guests in the Gallery? Can we have a statement before that is done?

Mr. Pym

Not next week, Sir.

Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that all members of the Standing Committee on Transport are anxious to proceed to road safety matters? Will he make sure that the timetable motion on Monday will allow for full debate on those clauses? Thirty amendments on the first six clauses seem to be disproportionate. I am particularly concerned that the new clauses on road humps—clauses that are in my name and those of other hon. Members, are given a full and free debate in Committee.

Mr. Pym

I note what my hon. Friend said. We shall debate the motion that we propose on Monday.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

As the MLR has been 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. higher than it was under the Labour Government for the whole period of this Government, why must we have the announcement that there is to be a 4 per cent. reduction in the Budget, when there have been so many leaks since January?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Member had better contain himself until next Tuesday.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

At the risk of being considered one of the odds and ends on the Government Benches, and while appreciating that the Budget debate will allow much discussion on the industrial and economic problems of this country, may I ask my right hon. Friend to tell the House whether, in the near future, the Government intend to provide time for a debate, bearing in mind the energy report by NEDO and the CBI, which has recently been published, and which British industry considers to be of paramount importance if there is to be a stable and substantial industrial base for the upturn of the economy, which will undoubtedly come under the policies of this Government?

Mr. Pym

Some of the aspects of policy that my hon. Friend has mentioned would be relevant to the Budget debate, but until we hear my right hon. Friend's statement we cannot know whether they will all be discussed. We shall review that matter when that debate is over.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 208, which, in this International Year of Disabled People, seeks to do something for those who are disabled by deafness?

[That this House welcomes the installation of an inductive loop system in the Museum of London; notes with pleasure that all benches in the Chamber of the House of Commons now have this facility and in this International Year of Disabled People urges the Government to promote this access to the spoken word for all those disabled by hearing loss in churches, cinemas, theatres and public meeting halls in accordance with the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970.]

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that every Bench in this Chamber is wired—even the Treasury Bench, where our voices sometimes seem to fall on deaf ears? In view of the changes that are taking place in the Home Office, will he arrange for a statement by the Home Secretary next week on the licensing of inductive loops for the deaf?

Mr. Pym

I am not sure that a statement can be made, but the Government support the installation of such a system in public buildings and we are trying to help as we can.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that hon. Members will be brief. If they are, I shall try to call them all, but there will be fewer questions on the statement.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

May I remind the Leader of the House that we are still awaiting Government statements and debates on data protection and privacy, on the report of Royal Commission on criminal procedure and on the White Paper on young offenders? When will those take place?

Mr. Pym

I have no plans in the near future to provide time for such matters, because I do not have the time. However, I take note of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

Is the Leader of the House aware that early-day motion 150, on access for disabled people to buildings, now has the support of 324 hon. Members, which is a majority of hon. Members?

[That this House, mindful of the recommendations of the Silver Jubilee Committee which called for legislative action by the Government to help safeguard the provision of suitable means of access for disabled persons to buildings used by the public, and in view of the fact that 1981 is the International Year for Disabled People, calls on the Government to facilitate legislative steps that will accomplish this objective.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an indication of the intention of the Government to bring forward legislation to meet the needs of disabled people with regard to access, and their attitude towards the Private Member's Bill—an all-party Bill—that is now awaiting Second Reading.

Mr. Pym

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that matter because it gives me the opportunity to inform him that following his discussions with my hon. Friend the Minister who has responsibilty for the disabled, the Government are prepared to give every assistance with the presentation of a new Bill that reflects the terms of early-day motion 150. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that that is a considerable advance.

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 242 in the name of the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop)?

[That this House, noting that the necessary conditions for recognising even a de facto government must include effective authority over its armed forces and police, and that the Salvadorean Junta lacks that authority, and disclaims responsibility for atrocities constantly committed by Salvadorean armed forces and police, and that the Prime Minister in her statement to the House on 2nd March condemned violence from whatever quarter it came and called for the people of El Salvador to be enabled to determine their own future peacefully and democratically, acknowledges that the Salvadorean Junta fails to meet the necessary conditions for even de facto recognition by the Government of the United Kingdom, and should therefore be neither recognised nor assisted by Her Majesty's Government.]

Accepting the hon. Gentleman's well-known knowledge of constitutional matters, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Government next week in order to make their position clear?

Mr. Pym

It will not be possible or appropriate to arrange for a statement. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the matter earlier this week. However, I note the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Has the Leader of the House seen reports abou the meeting of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs yesterday concerning the closure of two colleges of education? Has he also seen press reports to the effect that despite the fact that the investigation is continuing and that the Secretary of State did not provide full information to the Select Committee, he still intends to move orders in the House to close the colleges? May we therefore have Government time provided as soon as possible to debate the issue in the House?

Mr. Pym

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's strength of feeling, but I have to disappoint him. I have considered the matter, and have replied to questions before. Unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman, the situation remains as I stated it previously.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Does the Leader of the House accept that many people outside the House feel that hon. Members who are elected on one basis and who subsequently resign are parliamentary cheats? Can he introduce a resolution to allow by-elections in such cases? Secondly, in view of the questions put to the Home Office today, will he provide time for a general debate on telephone interception, because the debate on the British Telecommunications Bill is only on a narrow point?

Mr. Pym

The first point is not for me. I cannot provide Government time for the second matter. Hon. Members have other opportunities to raise the matter on a private Members' occasion, an Adjournment debate, and so on.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. If ever the Government tried to take to themselves the power to declare writs when hon. Members are still in this House and do not wish to leave it, there would be trouble for them.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that for several weeks past he has received requests from both sides of the House for a debate on foreign affairs, particularly on the policy of the new American Administration and the serious situations that exist in many parts of the world, especially in El Salvador? Does he recognise that there is a pressing need for an early debate on all the issues?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman is right. Requests have been made in successive weeks, but I have had to make it clear each week that it is not possible to have such a debate in the near future. I believe that I said last week that at some time near Easter I hoped to find time for the debate. I am sorry, but at the moment I cannot see an earlier opportunity.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I understand that two Front Bench Members wish to speak. I hope that they will be brief.

Mr. Tam Dallyell (West Lothian)

May I ask the Leader of the House a question of which I have given his office notice? Is it intended to take together yesterday's White Paper on biotechnology and the directive on biotechnology that has been recommended for debate by the European Legislation Committee? Does he accept that that would be unsatisfactory, as they raise very different issues?

Mr. Pym

I am sorry to say that I did not receive notice of the question. It was probably not the fault of my office, as I was out before Business Questions began. I shall immediately make inquiries and reply to the hon. Gentleman. I apologise to him for not being able to reply straight away.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

If the Leader of the House is worried about the progress of the Transport Bill, will he take on board the fact that 30 amendments came from the Government and their supporters? Does he accept that one way to speed up progress would be for him to withdraw his motion on Monday and to see that his right hon. and hon. Friends are not quite as loquacious—[Interruption.] I am hoping to put a little peace and comfort into everybody's thoughts—and that there are fewer amendments from the Government?

Mr. Pym

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's desire to try to negotiate an arrangement, but I have looked at the matter as carefully as I can. A number of hon. Members support the view that in the light of what has happened a timetable motion is not only justified but necessary. I am sorry to have to disappoint him.


Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier on business questions you put an interpretation on my question which I would like to correct. I was not asking in any way for a writ or writs; I was asking for a general resolution making it clear that those people who switch parties have an obligation to consider resigning and seek a further mandate.

Mr. Speaker

As I understood the hon. Gentleman—of course, we do not wish to argue here—I thought I heard him ask distinctly that the Government should issue four writs. [HON. MEMBERS:"NO."] If he did not do so, his point of order is valid and I accept it at once.