HC Deb 26 March 1981 vol 1 cc1086-90
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 30 MARCH—Supply [14th Allotted Day]: Debate on unemployment in the Midlands, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Parliamentary Commissioner (Consular Complaints) Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 3I MARCH—Remaining stages of the Forestry Bill and the Criminal Attempts Bill.

Motions relating to the National Health Service (Dental and Optical Charges and Remission of Charges) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY I APRIL—Remaining stages of the British Telecommunications Bill.

THURSDAY 2 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Energy Conservation Bill [Lords].

Motion on EEC Document 4460/80 on research and development in biomolecular engineering, and on the Department of Industry's Supplementary Memorandum of 8 December 1980.

Motion on Queen's University of Belfast (Northern Ireland) Order.

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

FRIDAY 3 APRIL—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 6 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Insurance Companies Bill.

The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Easter Adjournment on Thursday 16 April until Monday 27 April.

[Debate on the European Community document relating to biomolecular engineering. The relevant reports of the European Legislation &c. Committee are: 21st Report 1979–80, H/C 159-xxii para. 5; 38th Report 1979–80, H/C 159-xxxviii para. 2; and the 9th Report 1980–81 H/C 32-ix para. 1]

Mr. Foot

The terrifying unemployment figure is the main domestic question facing the nation. The time for Monday's debate is provided by the Opposition. I urge the Leader of the House to take into account my request for Government time for continuous debates on that subject, which the House must have to deal with the matter properly. I hope that the Government will provide the time to debate next month's unemployment figures.

I wish to raise three other matters. When will we have the debate on public expenditure that the right hon. Gentleman promised last week? When will we have a debate on the Government's energy policy, for which we have asked on a number of occasions? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Petroleum and Continental Shelf Bill, about which the Government have become properly bashful, has been abandoned for this Session? We hope that it will be abandoned altogether. Will he assure the House that he will not introduce it this Session?

Mr. Pym

I note the right hon. Gentleman's first point. Since the new year the Government have provided a day to debate unemployment. It is a serious matter and we thought it appropriate to provide time. I cannot give him a commitment, but I note his request for yet another day. It is our intention to debate the public expenditure White Paper before Easter and before the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. The right hon. Gentleman made that request on an earlier occasion. We shall debate energy tomorrow. It may not be what he wants, but tomorrow's debate could last for up to five hours.

There are pressures on the legislative timetable which make it unlikely that further progress will be made this Session on the Petroleum and Continental Shelf Bill. On the other hand, the Government remain committed to the Bill. It is set out as we believe to be appropriate. We intend to reintroduce it in its present form during the next Session and to give it appropriate priority.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a statement, if not for a debate, about the Civil Service dispute? I understand that the Government wish to avoid exacerbating or provoking matters, but it is important that the public should understand what is happening and what is in the Government's mind.

Mr. Pym

I note my right hon. Friend's request. I agree that the matter is important. Negotiations are taking place between the Government and the unions. It has been, and is, our view that it is not appropriate, and would not further the resolution of the dispute, to hold a debate. I shall keep my right hon. Friend's request in mind.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the recently published White Paper on the elderly entitled "Growing Older", which covers all aspects of the care of the elderly? Will he arrange for a debate on that topic so that we can give detailed consideration to all aspects of that important matter?

Mr. Pym

Much as I should like to do that, I cannot envisage an opportunity to do so in the near future.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

When will the Government's response to the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs entitled "British North America Acts: The Role of Parliament" be available? Will my right hon. Friend provide time to debate the report before the House considers any request from the Canadian Government in connection with the Canadian constitution?

Mr. Pym

The Government have made progress in preparing their response to the report. It will probably be published at about the time that we expect the proceedings in Ottawa to reach a conclusion. A debate on the subject is very much in my mind, but I cannot say when it will take place.

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

Will the Leader of the House consider changing Trade, Industry and Energy questions from Monday to later in the week to enable Members from far-off regions of the United Kingdom to participate fully in questions on those matters, especially as they relate to unemployment?

Mr. Pym

We must adhere to the view that 2.30 pm on a Monday is a reasonable time for Members to be here. However, it is a fair request that can be considered through the usual channels.

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be some disappointment about his announcement of a delay in the Petroleum and Continental Shelf Bill? Is he further aware that the BNOC is about to place a $130 million order for a semi-submersible rig with a Norwegian company building in France? Will he make a statement about that, in view of the desirability of attracting employment to Britain rather than to other countries?

Mr. Pym

I am sorry that more Government time is not available to deal with important matters. I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy about the important matter raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Will the Leader of the House provide time next week for a debate on the Prime Minister's statement? Is he aware that it is not satisfactory to leave the investigation of those matters in the hands of judges? Does he subscribe to the proposition that only judges, and never Members of the House, should be in charge of the scrutiny of our security services?

Mr. Pym

It would not be appropriate to debate the statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I have nothing to add to what she said in answer to a question a few minutes ago.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I refer to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) about the British North America Acts. Will my right hon. Friend explain more clearly what he said in his reply? My hon. Friend asked for a debate on the Select Committee report. Are the Government proposing to handle that matter simultaneously with the proposal to the House of any legislation that might arise from a Canadian Government request? I hope that the House will be able to debate the Select Committee report by itself without its being muddled with any questions arising from Canada.

Mr. Pym

When I answered the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) I did not venture into the area touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I said that the preparation of the reply was well advanced and that it would probably be presented to the House at about the same time as the proceedings in Ottawa were concluded, and that we would then consider providing time for a debate. During such a debate we should consider not only the Select Committee report but the Government's reply to it.

I made no statement about connecting the report with any other legislation or business. As I said earlier, any matter relating to procedings that may come before the House about a request from Canada can be attended to only when that request has been received. As the House knows, it has not yet been received.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

I welcome Monday's debate on the unparalleled scourge of unemployment in the Midlands. Will the Leader of the House consult with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to consider whether figures can be made available on the hidden unemployment of short-time working? Is he aware that in Leicester, which has an unemployment level of about 10 per cent., the level of short-time working is more than 15 per cent.? It is almost impossible to obtain accurate figures. Will the right hon. Gentleman seek to have those figures made available so that the debate can have real meaning in relation to both visible and hidden unemployment alike?

Mr. Pym

I shall convey the hon. and learned Gentleman's request to my right hon. Friend to see whether it is possible to include any remarks in relation to the figures. It has been suggested that the Front Bench speeches on this occasion might be briefer than tends to be normal in order to allow plenty of time for Back Bench speeches.

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

On raising the matter of the Petroleum and Continental Shelf Bill last week, I was given a rather abrupt reply. Is my right hon. Friend aware that I was surprised to learn all about the matter in the Financial Times this morning? How has a leak occurred? This matter has been considered for two years. Will the Government make up their mind about whether the Bill is to come before the House in three years or four years? We want it early.

Mr. Pym

In the legislative programme there are many candidates for early action. I am sorry that the Bill in which my hon. Friend has taken a particular interest and to which he rightly attaches great importance has got into difficulties in this Session because of pressure on the timetable. I can only repeat that the Government wish to bring in the Bill in its present form with a high degree of priority in the next Session.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

The Leader of the House will be aware of the widespread support for the recent action of the Home Secretary in banning marches by the National Front and other racist organisations. However, is he aware that there is a great deal of concern that one consequence of the ban is that many other legitimate marches cannot take place? The longer-term implications are that this is a threat to the democratic right to march and demonstrate. If the right hon. Gentleman agrees, will he arrange for an early debate to enable hon. Members to discuss the implications of a matter of increasing concern and importance?

Mr. Pym

I shall, of course, consult my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on this important matter. One has to strike a difficult balance in this area. One can have too much of a good thing. There are occasions, however regretfully, when the Home Secretary judges it best to have a period when marches are banned.

Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)

May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 283, on continuation of the Sea Eagle project?

[That this house welcomes the decision of Her Majesty's Government to continue development on the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile as outlined in the Defence Estimates 1980–81 statement on 20th January, recognises that further consideration of the programme is to take place in the light of the coming Defence Review, and urges that full cognisance be given to the following key facts pertaining to the project: that the missile is of immense value in itself, being the most advanced of its kind and of considerable significance in strengthening the United Kingdom's defensive position in the world; that the technical expertise surrounding its development could ill afford to be lost and that further missile projects would lean heavily on the knowledge being gained; that export opportunities of benefit to the United Kingdom are closely associated with the missile and any cessation of work would necessitate purchasing from the United States with clear balance of trade implications; and that jobs at the Dynamics Division of British Aerospace at Hatfield could be put at risk, as might those in associated companies, should the missile be cancelled.]

As my constituents give full backing to the Government's defence policy, and as my constituents in British Aerospace give full backing to the continuation of this missile project, will my right hon. Friend give full backing to the motion by arranging for a debate in the very near future and certainly before the defence review on this important topic?

Mr. Pym

I can assure my hon. Friend that very careful consideration is being given to this project, which is obviously of great importance for it to have reached this stage. However, it has to be considered along with all the other priorities that the Government have to take into account. I cannot give my hon. Friend any hope about time for a debate. I can assure him that a great deal of care and thought is being given to the future of this project.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will the Leader of the House assure us that he will give serious consideration to debating the findings of the Security Commission? He will recall that the Prime Minister said that she indended to make the findings available to the House. One of the advantages that we claim is that we have a democratic system. Surely it is necessary to demonstrate that the security services have the same degree of accountability to the House through the means of a debate.

Mr. Pym

That is a matter that we should attend to when the time comes.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

I recall an assurance some time ago that there would shortly be a debate on foreign affairs. As the world seems to be fairly troubled and Britain is not yet a local country, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be a debate before Easter?

Mr. Pym

Unfortunately, I cannot inform my right hon. Friend that there will be a debate before Easter. I hope to provide time very soon after Easter.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his decision not to have a debate in relation to the statement on the security services? Some of us would like a debate to ensure that reference was made to infiltration by the CIA into the security services as well as other organisations. Hon. Members would perhaps also be able to place on record the fact that during this whole series of investigations of certain persons throughout the many decades to which the Prime Minister referred she never mentioned a miner, a dustbin man, a railwayman or a Left-wing shop steward. None of these has betrayed the country.

Mr. Pym

I do not think that the debate for which the hon. Gentleman asks would be appropriate. I adhere to the view that I expressed earlier.

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