HC Deb 21 May 1981 vol 5 cc419-25
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the week after the recess?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Paymaster General and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Francis Pym)

The business for the first week after the Spring Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY I JUNE—Second Reading of the Companies (No. 2) Bill [Lords]

Motion relating to the Education (Schools Information) Regulations.

TUESDAY 2 JUNE AND WEDNESDAY 3 JUNE AND THURSDAY 4 JUNE—Remaining stages of the British Nationality Bill.

At the end of Tuesday, proceedings on the Animal Health Bill [Lords], which is a Consolidation measure.

At the end of Wednesday, motion on EEC documents 8144/79 and 4124/81 on insurance contracts, and the Supplementary Memorandum of 30 October 1980.

FRIDAY 5 JUNE—Motions on Members' salaries and allowances.

On Wednesday 3 June, the relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee are:

  • Insurance Contracts 16th Report, 1980–81 HC 32-xvi, para. 2.
  • 22nd Report, 1980–81 HC 32-xxii, para. 8.

Mr. Foot

I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman about two matters which I consider to be extremely serious. The first concerns the request that I have made to him on numerous occasions, that he and the Government should provide time for a debate on the unemployment figures. Fresh unemployment figures will be published during the recess. The right hon. Lady the Prime Minister has just said that she believes that the figures over the coming period will show a prodigious increase in the numbers of unemployed young people. Part of her case was the great, growing number of young people who will be on the register. The Secretary of State for Employment had made a fresh statement on the subject. Therefore, some days ago, we put forward the request that the Government should provide time when we return from the recess for a special debate on that subject. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will still be willing to reconsider the timetable for that week in order to provide time for such a debate. The right hon. Lady should still meet the people's march for jobs. At any rate, let us have the debate in the House as soon as possible after we return.

The Opposition take extremely seriously the second matter which I wish to raise with the right hon. Gentleman. Representations have already been made to Ministers on this subject. In our opinion, it involves the honour of the Secretary of State for the Environment, who gave an assurance to the House on 31 March that the Greater London Council (Transfer of Land and Housing Accommodation) (No. 2) Order 1981 would be withdrawn if requested by the Greater London Council. Such a request has now been made and is supported by the eight boroughs involved. Unless the Secretary of State keeps his word, as we believe the House as a whole would require that he should, we shall be forced to bring back the matter to the House on a specific motion.

We cannot deal with the matter merely by tabling a prayer against a resolution. If the right hon. Gentleman has not had a chance to look at the details of the matter, I hope that he will consider the undertakings given by the right hon. Gentleman and the requests that we have made. We have considered them seriously and we believe that the honour of the right hon. Gentleman is involved, and, therefore, the honour of the whole Government is involved.

Mr. Pym

On the first point, as the House knows and as I have said on previous occasions, the Government share the concern of the whole House over the high level of unemployment. One of our top priorities is to get the economy right. We have had a number of debates on unemployment. I have already provided one day in Government time this year for such a debate. I am sure that there will be further opportunities for a debate, but I cannot promise one in the near future because, as the right hon. Gentleman will understand, it is important and almost inevitable at this stage in the Session that progress should be made on major Bills. That does not mean that I reject outright the right hon. Gentleman's request, but I cannot undertake to provide time in the near future.

On the second matter I have had time only to glance at the report of the exchanges. I understand that there has been a meeting between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) and one of his hon. Friends. I understand that a satisfactory resolution of the differences between them was not possible at that meeting. Any future proceedings or motions that the right hon. Gentleman may wish to contemplate must be discussed through the usual channels.

Mr. Foot

As regards the GLC transfer order, a meeting was held which ended in a completely unsatisfactory state of affairs. Therefore, we believe that we cannot deal with the matter under the normal procedure of a negative resolution. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will consider the whole issue and the representations that we have made. I hope that he will ensure that the Secretary of State for the Environment will at our first meeting after the recess make a statement to the effect that he will carry out his promise. If he will not do so, we shall have to take steps to deal with the issue.

The right hon. Gentleman's reply to my request for a debate on unemployment was entirely unsatisfactory. Is he not aware that we have been demanding such a debate for weeks? He tells us that he has given us a day. Britain has a record post-war unemployment rate, yet the right hon. Gentleman says that he has provided one day. The Opposition have given a series of days to enable us to debate such topics. We shall have to continue to try to find time for the House of Commons to debate the matter. When we return from the recess, the Opposition's attitude to Government business is bound to be influenced by whether the Government are prepared to give proper time to discussion of the scandalous unemployment.

Mr. Pym

As regards the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I shall take careful note of the representations that have been made and I shall, of course, discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. We shall have to see how we should return to this subject after the Spring Adjournment.

The day that we provided was a special day for unemployment. However, other entirely appropriate opportunities have been given in Government time. There are natural occasions for such matters to be raised, such as the debate on the Budget and the debate on public expenditure, as well as other occasions such as discussion of Bills that deal with public sector industries. On several occasions the very important subject of unemployment has been highly relevant to our debates.

I cannot promise a debate in Government time on that subject in the near future. However, I am mindful of the right hon. Gentleman's request and of the problem. Whether in our time or in Opposition time, I wish to find appropriate opportunities for proper debate of this very important issue. I have no doubt that between our return from the Whitsun Recess and the Adjournment for the Summer Recess we shall have several debates on this extremely important and serious matter.

Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House is interested to know whether time will be found this side of the Summer Recess for Canadian business? Will my right hon. Friend break his normal rule and speculate on that?

Mr. Pym

I think not. As my hon. Friend knows, this matter is now before the Supreme Court of Canada. When that court has announced its verdict, the matter will return to the Federal Government of Canada in Ottawa. At the conclusion of those proceedings—whenever that may be—we shall have to consider the position. I am sorry that I cannot speculate about the possible outcome.

Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

Is the Leader of the House aware that it is 12 months since we had a statement on the air tragedy that Britain appears to have forgotten, namely, the Tenerife air disaster, in which 146 package holidaymakers—including some of my constituents—lost their lives? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that in the week of our return a statement will be made on that tragedy? I recognise that the report is being prepared by the Spanish authorities. If that report is not available, may we have a statement on why the British air attaché at the British embassy in Madrid sent a telex message to London in March saying that the report would be forwarded next week?

Mr. Pym

I shall take up that important matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. The right hon. Gentleman has raised the subject before. He knows the background and that inquiries are still going on. The evidence has not been collated in a form that would make that statement possible. However, I shall consult my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Archie Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell)

Although I do not wish to minimise the importance and significance to this House of discussing the European documents, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on choosing Wednesday for the debate, which is, of course, Derby day?

Mr. Pym

The debate will be late in the evening. I think that the race will have finished by then.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

Is the Leader of the House aware that representatives of the Merseyside victims of violent crime group are lobbying Parliament today? Will time be made available, perhaps before the Summer Recess, to discuss the increasing problem of the mugging of elderly people as well as the plight of victims of violent crime?

Mr. Pym

Although I cannot undertake to find Government time for such a debate, I hope that there will be some other way in which the hon. Gentleman can find time.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that at Question Time the Prime Minister referred to the crucially important policy decision that is about to be taken about the education and work training of 16 to 19-year-olds? That is linked to the discussion that has been going on about national community service and service in the Armed Forces. May we have a debate about the whole issue before the Cabinet makes a final decision about the form that the policy should take?

Mr. Pym

I am sure that that would be a suitable subject for debate, but I cannot find Government time, at least in the first few weeks after the recess.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have asked for comments by the end of July on the Home Office study on direct broadcasting by satellite. Will he undertake to provide time for a debate so that hon. Members may comment on this important subject before the Summer Recess?

Mr. Pym

I shall have to see whether I can find time. I am not sure whether that subject is relevant to today's debate. I think not. However, I hope that there is some way in which time can be found.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

Following the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the transfer order, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those in the eight boroughs concerned face great anxiety because of the uncertainty involved? Now that the Secretary of State for the Environment is in the Chamber, is it not possible for him to seize the opportunity to be a little more forthcoming and to announce that an opportunity will be given in Government time to debate the subject so that the situation can be resolved?

Mr. Pym

As I told the Leader of the Opposition, I have undertaken to consult my right hon. Friend. I think that I am right in saying that my right hon. Friend said on 31 March that it was open to Sir Horace, then leader of the GLC, to request a withdrawal. Perhaps these matters will be returned to when I have consulted.

Mr. John Bruce-Gardyne (Knutsford)

As regards the business on 5 June, will my right hon. Friend tell us when he expects the Government's motion to be tabled so that hon. Members will know how to table amendments in due time, thus enabling debate?

Mr. Pym

I expect to do so at the beginning of the week in which we return.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising in their places.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Has the Leader of the House read of the strictures of Mr. Glyn England, the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, concerning the statement made by the Minister for Consumer Affairs? It indicated that the Minister's statement was highly misleading and that her strictures on the board showed that she had either not read the report or was guilty of wishful thinking. In the light of this clash between two public servants, will he arrange for the Minister to make a statement to the House and for a debate on it?

Mr. Pym

I am not sure whether a statement is appropriate, but I shall certainly consult my right hon. Friend. I am not aware of the details of this dispute.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is great annoyance because he has not allowed time for the House to discuss the motions and amendments that have been tabled on the conduct of Scottish business, despite repeated requests, Thursday after Thursday, from hon. Members including my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan)? In all courtesy to the House, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when those motions and amendments will be discussed?

Mr. Pym

After the Whitsun Adjournment, I shall find an opportunity as soon as possible. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall not be able to do so in the first two weeks. I am sorry, but that is the way the programme is.

Mr. Tom McNally (Stockport, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that this afternoon the Department of Trade published a report in response to the report of the Select Committee on Industry and Trade on British trade? Is he further aware that much of industry will find that response complacent and inadequate? Would it not be appropriate to use those two documents as a basis for a comprehensive debate on British trade policy?

Mr. Pym

Yes, it would, when we can find the time to do so.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Leader of the House encourage the appropriate Minister to make a statement of coal industry finance, especially in view of the promises and pledges made by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Energy several months ago? Is he aware that the miners' conference will take place at the end of June and that it is high time that a statement was made about the financial arrangements with regard to imported coal, financing industries which will use coal and all the other necessary arrangements?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also prevail upon his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to reach a conclusion on the question of the Vale of Belvoir? Is he aware that it has taken this busy, efficient Secretary of State for the Environment, who seems to muddle everything, more time to reach a decision about the Vale of Belvoir than it took for the entire planning inquiry to be completed?

Mr. Pym

It is not long since the House considered a coal industry Bill. I know that things move on and that a further opportunity to debate the matter would be appreciated. I cannot find that time in the near future, but I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the subject.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would remind me what his second point was.

Mr. Skinner

It is quite simple. The Vale of Belvoir inquiry was to deal with the question of providing new coal reserves. The planning inquiry took several months. The Secretary of State for the Environment has had the report since 14 November and has not yet reached a conclusion. What sort of game is he playing?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the Minister has seized the point now.

Mr. Pym

I simply wished to be reminded of the second point without going into the whole history of the matter. However that may be, my right hon. Friend will announce his decision as soon as possible. I cannot say precisely when that will be. The hon. Gentleman is right that the matter has been considered for some time. My right hon. Friend will announce his conclusion as soon as possible.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

Does the Leader of the House agree that on 5 May the House received one of the most impressive lobbies ever, namely, the lobby against world poverty? Does he also agree that before the House rises for the Summer Recess there should be a debate on the Mexico summit, first, because his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Melbourne, and, secondly, because she will presumably also attend the summit? Is he aware that that lobby represents enormous concern in this country as to what line the Government are taking? May we therefore have a debate on the Mexico summit and world poverty before the Summer Recess?

Mr. Pym

I understand that the House would appreciate that, but it will be a question of time. We shall have to see how the programme looks and what time is available when we reach that point.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

May we have a debate on the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the Central Electricity Generating Board, as it has been the subject of controversy and misleading statements by the Minister? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the matter is urgent because the CEGB proposes to close several conventional coal-fired power stations this year? Does he realise that, as those stations are located near urban centres, this will end the possibility of district heating schemes using those power stations? May we also discuss the astronomical cost of nuclear power stations in terms of fuel, maintenance and construction? Does he agree that the House should have an urgent opportunity to discuss this matter in relation to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report? May we therefore have a promise of time to debate that report very soon?

Mr. Pym

I am afraid that I cannot give that undertaking. During this Session, the House has had a number of opportunities to debate energy matters. The hon. Gentleman's last point would have been relevant to those debates and no doubt was raised on those occasions. I am sorry that I cannot give the undertaking that the hon. Gentleman seeks.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

As the practice of Ministers making a full statement to the House after ministerial meetings in the EEC seems to be falling into disuse, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that we shall be accurately informed and kept up to date on the extremely important discussions in Brussels?

Mr. Pym

I am most anxious that the House should be kept fully informed on all these meetings. I think that my right hon. Friends usually, if not invariably, make a statement after a ministerial meeting. Some meetings are of such a character that a statement would not be particularly appropriate or necessary. In those cases, I think that it is in the interests of the House to avoid a statement. Wherever and whenever significant decisions are taken or there is an important meeting, however, my right hon. Friends endeavour to make a statement to the House.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

On 5 March, the Leader of the House undertook to consider whether the White Paper on biotechnology could be debated. In view of the controversial reception of the White Paper and the important decisions which have to be taken, and in view of the possible economic benefits to this country of developments in biotechnology, has the Leader of the House decided whether the matter can be debated before the Summer Recess?

Mr. Pym

When the hon. Gentleman raised this matter with me before, he requested that our White Paper and the European document on biotechnology should not be debated together. As he knows, the European document has been debated separately. I have no date in mind for a debate on the White Paper, but I shall look for an opportunity.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I raise this with you, Mr. Speaker, as a guide for Parliament. You may recall that yesterday the Lord Privy Seal claimed that there was some indication from the House to the effect that statements about EEC meetings should be made less often. The Leader of the House has just confirmed, however, that statements will continue to be made at regular intervals for important meetings. I am pleased that the Leader of the House is present and has assured the House that such statements will be made. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to use your influence to ensure that this takes place, because I believe that you, as the guardian of the House, have a duty to ensure that the opportunities for scrutiny of these important matters are not allowed to decline through Ministers assuming, on no evidence whatever, that the House does not wish to exercise its democratic endeavours.

Mr. Speaker

Although the House is aware that the order of business is not decided by me, it is also aware that since I have been Speaker I have never hidden the fact that I am very jealous of the rights of this House to question what goes on in Europe. I believe that it is part of the upholding of the authority and dignity of the House.

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