HC Deb 14 May 1981 vol 4 cc883-90
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 18 MAY—Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, remaining stages of the Iron and Steel Bill.

Motion on EEC documents on fisheries, relating to social aspects, quotas, total allowable catches, surveillance zones, Swedish and Faroese fishing in the waters of member States.

The relevant Community document numbers will be listed in the Official Report.

Motion on the General Practice Finance Corporation (Increase of Borrowing Powers) Order.

TUESDAY 19 MAY—Debate on the statement on the Defence Estimates, Cmnd. 8212.

Remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill.

Motion on the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order.

WEDNESDAY 20 MAY—Conclusion of the debate on the statement on the Defence Estimates.

Remaining stages of the Atomic Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

THURSDAY 21 May—Debate on the BBC licence and agreement, Cmnd. 8233 and on the Royal Charter.

Motion on EEC documents 8479/80 and 8480/80 on shipping standards and prevention of oil pollution.

FRIDAY 22 MAY—It will be proposed that the House should rise for the Spring Adjournment until Monday 1 June.

The relevant documents are as follows: 11626/80 and Corr. 1—Social aspects of the European Community sea fishing sector. 4884/81, 5361/81—Quotas. 5304/81,5360/81, 5362/81, 6021/81—Total allowable catches (TACs) and surveillance zones. MAFF Unnumbered Memorandum of 9 February 1981—Quotas. 28 April 1981—Swedish-registered vessels fishing in the waters of member States of the European Community. 11 May 1981—Faroese-registered vessels fishing in waters of the member States of the European Community. Reports of the European Legislation Committee: Fisheries: 7th Report, HC 32-vii (1980–81), para. 3; 10th Report, HC 32-x (1980–81) para.1; 17th Report, HC 32-xvii (1980–81), paras. 1 to 4; 21st Report, HC 32-xxi (1980–81), paras. 1 and 2; 22nd Report, HC 32-xxii (1980–81). [The 22nd Report is not yet published, but typescript copies of the relevant paragraphs are available in the Vote Office.] Shipping Standards and Oil Pollution: 11th Report, HC 31-xi (1980–81) paras. 1 and 2.

Mr. Foot

First, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that we will have a debate, in Government time, on unemployment when the House returns from the recess or immediately afterwards? The next unemployment figures will be announced when the House is in recess. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to consider my request last week for the Government to provide time for a debate on unemployment as soon as we come back.

Secondly, I asked the right hon. Gentleman last week about the Armitage report. Can he give me the assurance that I asked for then?

Thirdly, I see that a major debate on the defence estimates is scheduled for Wednesday next week. Does riot the right hon. Gentleman understand that Wales is playing England at Wembley that night? What kind of tomfoolery is this?

Mr. Pym

On that matter, the right hon. Gentleman must make his choice.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about a debate on unemployment. The Government are, of course, every bit as concerned as the Opposition about the serious unemployment figures. The House has had a number of opportunities to debate that important subject, and clearly will return to it again. I shall certainly keep the right hon. Gentleman's request in mind, but I cannot give a guarantee, or the specific undertaking that he requested. Of course I appreciate the importance of the subject.

As I said last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is still considering the representations he has received in connection with the Armitage report. He is not about to take a decision. Indeed, I do not think that a decision is imminent. Therefore, there will be time for the House to return to this matter in due course.

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

In view of the Prime Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton), that it is with the right hon. Gentleman himself that we should pursue the question of all-party talks on a Bill of Rights, and as the Bill of Rights Bill was talked out last Friday, does the right hon. Gentleman believe it best to provide Government time for the Bill, or would he prefer those talks that the Prime Minister promised to be initiated soon?

Mr. Pym

I will consider that, of course, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also pointed out some of the basic difficulties in legislating in such a matter. I am afraid that I would not be prepared to provide Government time for further consideration of the Bill of Rights Bill. I made that point clear before the debate on the Bill was arranged. I am, of course, glad that there was time last Friday to debate it, because I think that a general presentation of the arguments and counter-arguments will have been helpful to the House.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

The debate next week on the defence White Paper 'will be on a general motion. Will my right hon. Friend consider tabling, either next week or after the recess, a specific Government motion—I hope that it would get all-party support—congratulating the security forces on their work in Northern Ireland, so that the House can express its support for them?

Mr. Pym

I am sure that that will be considered, but my hon. Friend and others might like to table an early-day motion to that effect in any case.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

In view of the devastating effect of Government policies on employment in Lancashire, as evidenced yesterday by the remarks of a life-long Conservative—county councillor Mrs. Kathleen Sumner-Clough—who complained in public print that people on the doorstep see the Prime Minister as nothing less than a Fascist and went on to describe the Prime Minister as a disaster and as someone who is trying to take over from the Queen, and in view also of the clear disarray amongst Lancashire Conservatives about Government policies, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on their effects on Lancashire and the North-West?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that I can arrange that in Government time, but of course the Opposition are quite entitled to choose such a subject on a Supply day at the next opportunity.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Whilst appreciating and welcoming the opportunity that my right hon. Friend has made available for a full debate on defence before any decisions are taken in the Cabinet about the defence review, may I ask my right hon. Friend to give an undertaking that that will not pre-empt the opportunity for a full debate on any decisions that the Government may announce later in the Session, and certainly before the Summer Recess?

Mr. Pym

I think that it would be premature to give an undertaking on that score, because the decisions that may have to be taken—and they are taken every year in any case—are not known at this stage. As my hon. Friend is aware, there are in any case other debates on defence after the two-day debate on the White Paper that I have announced for next week.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion No. 389, which I tabled and which is supported by many of my hon. Friends from the regions?

[That this House notes with deep concern press speculation that the Chancellor may further increase tobacco duty to recoup the concessions he made on Derv duty following massive increases made in the Budget; reminds the Chancellor of the law of diminishing returns; feels any further increase will put the price of a cigarette of a pipe of tobacco out of the reach of the working man, increase job losses and unemployment particularly in areas of high unemployment; and calls upon the Chancellor not to take this step.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman bring this motion to the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because if there is any further heavy increase in tobacco duty there could be large job losses in the regions, and further unemployment? I have two tobacco factories in my constituency, and we cannot afford any more job losses or factory closures on Merseyside.

Mr. Pym

I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has seen and has in mind that motion, and will take it into account in any decision that he announces.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that from now on he is planning our timetable so that we shall be able to debate some of our reports from Select Committees?

Mr. Pym

I hope that there will be time in due course, but there will not be in the immediate future.

Mr. Eric Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Is there to be a statement by the Government about British Leyland and its future, and particularly on the situation that could develop at Speke, with further redundancies on Merseyside? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the situation would be much more devastating on Wednesday if Liverpool were playing rather than England and Wales?

Mr. Pym

We must all get our priorities right.

We have no plans at the moment to make a statement on British Leyland, but I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

I think that it is time for the House to discuss the gathering crisis of British Leyland, which is now forecasting losing £340 million this year—the same amount as last year. I know that it is sacrilege to say so, but some of us think that the time has come when we should discuss this matter as a House——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman be interrogatory rather than declamatory?

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time has come to discuss the situation at British Leyland, where decisions are being made that will be disastrous to the West Midlands yet again?

Mr. Pym

That is an important subject, but again it is a matter of time and priority. There is no opportunity in the near future, but I hope that the House will be able to consider the subject at some point.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

On what day does the right hon. Gentleman intend to move the recess motion?

Mr. Pym

On Thursday.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

Will the Leader of the House urgently arrange a meeting of the Northern Ireland Committee to debate the excessive rent increases that have been harshly imposed on Housing Executive tenants in Northern Ireland without proper consultation?

Mr. Pym

I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)

Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that he will bring forward the motions on the Order Paper about the government of Scotland, because if those proposals are not debated soon, certain advantages will be lost to Scottish Members for this Session?

Mr. Pym

I shall of course find an opportunity in due course to debate those motions. It is not our intention that whatever the House decides should apply to this Session—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] I am telling the hon. Gentleman the truth. It is a matter that the House can decide, and clearly it would be appropriate to implement any decision that was taken during the next Session. I cannot bring it forward next week, but I shall do so after the recess, and the House will then have the opportunity that the hon. Gentleman wants.

Mr. Bruce Milian (Glasgow, Craigton)

On that subject, the Leader of the House has no right to say that the Government will not introduce the measures in this Session. It is a matter for the House, and an amendment appears on the Order Paper to enable the House to decide. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, due to Government inefficiency, the Scottish Estimates debate that was arranged for next week cannot now take place? Can he assure us that we shall return to the matter immediately after the recess?

Mr. Pym

On the first point, I agree that it is a matter for the House to decide. However, this stage in the Session seems an unusual moment to change our procedure in that way. I want to give the House an opportunity to reach a conclusion and then implement whatever is decided in a sensible way.

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question about the Scottish Grand Committee, I understand that there were practical difficulties, but the Government will try to accommodate the Opposition on the matter at the earliest opportunity. We shall try to accommodate the right hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

Does the Leader of the House agree that the House should have a full-day debate after the Whitsun Recess on our attitude to what has been happening in Northern Ireland during the past few weeks?

Mr. Pym

There is much interest in that subject. Again, it is a question of finding the appropriate opportunity.

Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)

Will the Leader of the House take it from me that there were no practical difficulties at all for the Scottish Grand Committee? It was because of the Government's ineptitude and inefficiency in not putting the matter on the Order Paper that there is no sitting next week of the Scottish Grand Committee to discuss Estimates.

Mr. Pym

I do not presume to suggest that I am blameless in a matter of that kind, but I understand that there were difficulties. We shall try to accomodate the Opposition's request.

Mr. Tom Ellis (Wrexham)

In view of the Prime Minister's admission a few minutes ago about the impossibility of securing the entrenchment of British law, does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is now time to begin a study of at least the bones of a written constitution?

Mr. Pym

I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking about the Bill of Rights Bill that was debated last Friday. I have nothing to add to the reply that I gave to the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Liberal Party.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the right hon. Gentleman or any Minister be making a statement in the near future about the people's march for jobs in Liverpool, Huddersfield and Wales—Mr. Speaker's own territory—during next week on their way to London? Is he aware that hundreds of marchers are touring the unemployment trail and doing exactly what the Prime Minister said when she talked about being more mobile in the search for work? Is he further aware that the marchers have passed through hundreds of towns and cities but have not found work in any of them? Is it not time that the Government realised that their policy is in ruins, and that they should get out and give other people a chance to run the country?

Mr. Pym

Our policy is not in ruins. I have expressed the Government's dismay about the unemployment figures. We have no plans to make a statement on the subject next week.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those Members who have been rising.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth)

On the matter of the government of Scotland proposals, why have the Government changed their mind? Is the Leader of the House aware that there has always been an undrstanding that those proposals would be introduced and implemented during this Session? To keep faith, will the Leader of the House ensure that the matter is debated in our first week back after the recess? There are still sufficient Tuesdays and Thursdays left for the Government to honour their word. I offer the Leader of the House this second chance to honour the commitment that was given by the Government.

Mr. Pym

That was not my understanding of the position. I did not understand that there was such a commitment, but I may be wrong. My predecessor may have given such a commitment, but I am not aware of it. I have told the House frankly how I see the matter, and I think that we ought to proceed. I shall provide the time so that the House can come to a conclusion.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is it not important that we should debate Northern Ireland at the very first opportunity, and the agony of the events that are taking place there? As there is so much debate taking place outside the House of Commons, both here and abroad, why should not the House of Commons debate this subject? Can the Leader of the House ensure that the subject will be given priority for debate as soon as we return after the recess?

Mr. Pym

The pressures on time are self-evident. Of course, there is no reason why the House should not debate this important subject, and no doubt it will, but there is not an appropriate opportunity next week, and I cannot see one in the immediate future. The Government and I are acutely aware of the problems in Northern Ireland. In due course, no doubt, there will be an opportunity to raise the matter.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

In view of the Prime Minister's reiteration of her support for the Government's monetarist policies, will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on early-day motion 309?

[That this House welcomes the statement by 364 university economists condemning the mad monetarist policies of the Government and demanding an urgent consideration of alternatives; notes their conviction that there is no basis in economic theory or supporting evidence for the Government's belief that by deflating demand they will bring inflation permanently under control and thereby induce an automatic recovery in output and employment; and further recognises that the time has come to consider alternative policies that offer a far better hope of sustained economic recovery.]

Mr. Pym

Perhaps we should have a day for each of the 364 economists and see where that gets us. No, Sir.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week about the Cabinet's attitude to the so-called national scheme of community service? Is he aware that the stated objective of the Secretary of State for Employment, that he wishes to develop a vocational training scheme for all 16 and 17-year-olds, has widespread support among Opposition Members and, indeed, in the country? Is he further aware that the Prime Minister's flirtation with this so-called national community service scheme will frustrate that objective?

Mr. Pym

The Government are not at the moment considering the specific scheme referred to in the early-day motion, but we are considering thoroughly and carefully what further steps may be taken to aid youth unemployed. As the House knows, we have programmes to ease the problems of young people who cannot find work, and we are exploring every avenue in that respect. However, at the moment we are not considering the specific proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser), although the general subject of youth unemployment is very much in our minds at present.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Can we have a statement next week from the Home Secretary about his future attitude to the holding of inquests in England and Wales? Is the Leader of the House aware that the recent inquest that took place was grossly unsatisfactory from the point of view of everyone concerned—in particular, an inquest of this nature, in which the conduct of the police is in question? The police broadly briefed the coroner, and that, surely, is not a satisfactory way of affording reassurance, particularly to the relatives of the people who died. May we have a statement from the Home Secretary, perhaps suggesting that in future a person more senior than a coroner—perhaps a High Court judge—could preside over an inquiry?

Mr. Pym

I shall certainly consult my right hon. Friend, but the general issue raised by the hon. Gentleman would require very careful consideration. It is not appropriate for me to make any comment on the verdict of that inquiry. I am sure that the whole House feels great sympathy for the families of those who died. I shall consult my right hon. Friend, but I think that a statement next week is most unlikely.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

May we have a statement next week on the Civil Service dispute, which is growing daily? I ask because many of us on the Labour Benches strongly agree with the 11 per cent. increase for Service men. Whatever we may think about the fantastic level of arms expenditure, we think that Service men are entitled to a living wage. If that applies to them, why should it not apply to civil servants?

Mr. Pym

That point was dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a few moments ago. I do not know whether it would be appropriate to have a statement next week. I am doubtful. I hope, however, that in due course—and the sooner the better—there will be informal talks, leading, perhaps, to formal talks. I think that the House would like to see the dispute ended at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

The Leader of the House will be aware that the current edition of the register of members' interests has been published this week. May we have a debate as soon as possible about it? In that way we can discuss its inadequacies and the fact that the levels of income are nowhere noted in the register. We can debate also those who have failed to register their interests and are subject to a resolution of the House, and, at a time when we have 2.5 million unemployed, condemn those hon. Members who receive full salaries but are moonlighting, with company directorships, parliamentary adviserships and in other capacities? May we have an urgent debate on what is essentially an important parliamentary and public matter?

Mr. Pym

Most of the representations that I receive are in the contrary sense—that the register is not an important document and that it is not something that the House should spend its time debating.

Mr. Cryer

Of course, that is what some would say.

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view. I did not say that the representations made to me were unanimous; only that most of them took a contrary view to that of the hon. Gentleman. I therefore do not at present see an opportunity of acceding to the hon. Gentleman's request.

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