HC Deb 12 March 1981 vol 1000 cc1005-10
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 16 MARCH—Conclusion of debate on the Budget Statement.

Motions relating to Town and Country Planning (National Parks) and General Development (Amendment) Orders.

TUESDAY 17 MARCH—Proceedings on Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 18 MARCH—Supply [12th Allotted Day]: Until about 7 o'clock, debate on the economic problems of Northern Ireland.

Afterwards, motions on Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (Continuance) Order; Redundant Mineworkers' and Concessionary Coal (Payments Scheme) Order; and Mineworkers' Pension Scheme (Limit on Contributions) (Amendment) Order.

THURSDAY 19 MARCH—Second Reading of Iron and Steel Bill.

Motion on Merseyside Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order.

FRIDAY 20 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 23 MARCH—Remaining stages of Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.

Motion relating to National Health Service (Functions of Health Boards) (Scotland) Order.

Mr. Foot

I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman about three matters. In view of the widespread disquiet among ethnic minorities in many parts of the country, the House should have a debate on race relations. Will the Government provide a day at any time for a general debate on that matter, as it could assist the general situation? I have already asked the Government for a debate on the nuclear power industry, and I now ask again. Finally, will the Government now take note of our request that, as the Budget introduced this week involves a breach of almost every pledge that the members of the Government gave at the election, they should have the debates on this year's Finance Bill on the Floor of the House, so that all hon. Members would be able to deal with the separate parts of the Bill?

Mr. Pym

I note the right hon. Gentleman's request for a day on race relations. That is a matter of the utmost importance and of the greatest interest, not only to the House but to individuals in certain parts of the country. I do not think that I can say that the Government will give it a day in the near future, but I shall bear in mind the right hon. Gentleman's request. He will bear that matter in mind when he considers how to use the days available to the Opposition, but I note his request.

With regard to nuclear power, the next stage must be for the Government to respond to the Select Committee report. Thereafter there might be an opportunity for a debate. However, I again acknowledge the importance of the subject and the request of the right hon. Gentleman.

As for the Budget and the Finance Bill, it is our present intention, and it probably would be right, to proceed with the Finance Bill in due course in the manner of previous years, Parliaments and Sessions. That system is not more than 10 or 1.5 years old, but it has endured through Budget Statements and Finance Bills of every degree of controversiality. It would probably not be appropriate for the House to depart from that system, but it would be right for me, as Leader of the House, to note what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he put his answer. I hope that he will take note that on this Budget Statement there has been greater contention in all sections of the House than on other Budget Statements. Therefore, surely he will consider giving all sections of the House the chance to debate and vote on those matters throughout the coming weeks and months.

Mr. Pym

It is fair to say that the practice that has been followed in recent years provides the Opposition and the whole House with plenty of opportunities to express views and to record votes on the issues that arise in the Finance Bill.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on the prayer that has been tabled by his right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), supported by myself and Members on both sides of the House, against the order on the labelling of goods with their countries of origin? Is he aware that that is not to oppose the order, but to secure a debate on a matter of great importance to the clothing and textile industry?

Mr. Pym

I have some difficulties in finding time on the Floor of the House for that matter, but I am trying to facilitate a debate at least in Committee. That is perhaps of some assistance.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 169, which has been signed by over 130 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.]

I suggest to my right hon. Friend that now that the Budget has removed the objection to retrospective taxation or compensation he might consider allowing the House a debate on shipbuilders' compensation.

Mr. Pym

I note the request of my right hon. Friend. I must repeat what I said last week—that the Government consider that the basis of compensation for the nationalisation in 1977 should remain undisturbed. That would in no way preclude the House from debating the subject in one way or another, but I do not think that I can find Government time for that matter, at any rate in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Joel Barnett (Heywood and Royton)

Will the Leader of the House have the opportunity to consider more closely the report of the Public Accounts Committee on the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General? Will he give us a clear assurance that we shall have an early opportunity to debate it?

Mr. Pym

I shall give the right hon. Gentleman a clear assurance that in the normal course of events the Government will respond to that report and will then consider whether they can find an opportunity to debate that very important matter.

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)

Has my right hon. Friend had his attention drawn to the early-day motion in my name and in the names of over 130 right hon. and hon. Members about the Bill of Rights?

[That this House requests Her Majesty's Government to provide time at an early date for the Second Reading of the Bill of Rights Bill [Lords] which is intended to render the provisions of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights enforceable in the courts of the United Kingdom and which has been brought to this House after passing through all its stages in the House of Lords.]

The Bill of Rights has passed through all its stages in the House of Lords. We believe that it should have a Second Reading in the House at an early stage. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the House of Lords never refuses to give a hearing to a Bill that we send to it? Would it not be a supreme example of what the Lord Chancellor, who supports the Bill, has called elective dictatorship if we were not to give a Second Reading to the Bill at an early date?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that. I am not sure whether this is the moment to make a supreme example of anything. It has been the practice of successive Governments of both parties not to provide Government time for Private Members' Bills or peers' Bills, although I know that there have been exceptions. I do not think that it will be possible to find Government time, but in no way does that preclude a day's debate on the subject. There are ways in which the House can raise the matter. There are ways in which right hon. and hon. Members can put a motion before the House. I suggest that my right hon. and learned Friend uses that sort of opportunity to allow the House to debate the matter properly. I agree that the matter is of fundamental significance.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

If hon. Members will co-operate with me, I shall call those who have been rising.

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to reports appearing not only today but in days past about the agreement that appears to have been reached between Her Majesty's Government, Belize and Guatemala in respect of the future of that colony? Belize is a British possession and is the only democracy in a part of the world that is singularly lacking in countries of that political persuasion. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we still have a responsibility towards that country and that we should play a part in its future? Will he ensure that a full statement on the matter is made next week?

Mr. Pym

It is probable that there will be a statement on the matter next week. Negotiations are proceeding. I know that the House wishes to be informed. I am seeking to make arrangements to do just that.

Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)

Will my right hon. Friend take note of the Prime Minister's reply today about the Scott report, which affects constituents of all Members? Is he aware that the Scott report has been issued and that it is a matter of great importance? Will he assure us that there will be a debate on that important subject?

Mr. Pym

I appreciate that the House wants to debate that matter. It might be sensible if there were a further period of public discussion on such an important matter before the House debated it.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Will the Leader of the House be a little more specific about a debate on race relations? Is he aware that, following the New Cross fire, the position in South-East London is especially tense? Is he further aware that there has been a spate of Fascist publications circulating in constituencies in South-East London, which are making the position even worse? Does he realise that in the wake of the Budget the pressure on social cohesion is even greater? If the House debated the matter and produced some forthright statements against the Fascist publications, it would help.

Mr. Pym

I note the hon. Gentleman's remarks about an incident that has caused a great deal of anxiety and tension. Both he and the House know that the police have currently in hand a deep investigation into the matter. It would be right and wise, at the very least, to await the results of that inquiry before further steps are taken. I do not wish to give a firm commitment at this time. That would not be right. The next stage is to await the outcome of the inquiry.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)

When does my right hon. Friend propose to give a Second Reading to the Petroleum and Continental Shelf Bill? Does he recollect that the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Act 1975 was passed through the House during the course of one Parliament, having been commenced in April 1975? He has ample time left in which to introduce the Bill and facilitate its passage through the House.

Mr. Pym

I have no date in mind at present. The matter does not arise in next week's business.pe

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

Will the House have an opportunity in the near future to debate foreign affairs, and especially the important proposals about arms control and disarmament that are currently being made by our allies in Western Europe?

Mr. Pym

I told the House last week that I both hoped and expected that there would be an opportunity to debate foreign affairs some time around Easter. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's disappointment. There have been requests for an earlier debate, but I have to fit the days into the programme as best I can. It is only fair and right to say that I do not think that there will be an opportunity before that which I have suggested. However, I appreciate the interest in the matter, and the importance of it.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when the debate on foreign affairs takes place it will be on a sufficiently general motion—for example, the Adjournment—to allow those who feel strongly about the role of Israel to speak on that subject?

Mr. Pym

I shall consider my hon. Friend's request. There is always some conflict between hon. Members who want that sort of background to the debate and those who want a more specialised and sharply focused debate. I shall consider the matter nearer the time.

Mr. Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley)

Further to the reply of the Leader of the House to his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr Rippon), will he reflect on the fact that the Bill of Rights relates to a subject of central constitutional importance? Is he aware that that matter has not occupied much time in the House since 1688? Is he further aware that since the last election the Bill has emerged from a Select Committee in another place and has twice passed all its stages? In those remarkable circumstances, is it quite fair that it should be relegated to taking its chances for private Members' time?

Mr. Pym

If the matter has not been debated since 1688, I think that it might wait at least until 1988.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the immense feeling of frustration of the eminent and distinguished men who constitute the Law Commission? Is he aware that for a number of years they have produced reforms of the law that would be acceptable to everybody, but that no parliamentary time has been found for them? Will he urgently consider adopting a procedure that ensures that the necessary improvements to the law are introduced so that the time of those distinguished men is not wasted?

Mr. Pym

I am a layman in these matters and I feel somewhat out of my depth. I am prepared to consider my hon. Friend's request.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

If the House cannot have an early debate on foreign affairs, can it at least have a considered statement about the Government's intentions towards the summit conference, in view of the world's massive expenditure on arms? If the Government have extended an invitation to President Reagan to visit London, cannot they also ask President Brezhnev to come at the same time and get on with the summit conference?

Mr. Pym

My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Lord Privy Seal and others have expressed the Government's profound interest in, and concern to further, all talks about arms control that will lead to the security of the world at a lower level of armament. That is the whole objective of our policy. I do not think that I can find time for a separate debate on the matter. The subject recurs during Question Time and in other ways almost every week.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Huddersfield, West)

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that time is found next week to make it clear to the nation and some of the doubters on the Government Benches that our Budget proposals are designed not to win friends or votes but to control inflation and to get the nation back to work by helping industry and small businesses?

Mr. Pym

I hope that my hon. Friend catches your eye today, Mr. Speaker.