HC Deb 25 February 1982 vol 18 cc985-92 3.30 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr.Francis Pym)

Yes, Sir. The business for the next week will be as follows:

MONDAY I MARCH—Remaining stages of the Travel Concessions (London) Bill.

Motions on the Northern Ireland Orders on Appropriation and Limitation Amendment.

Proceedings on the Agricultural Training Board Bill (Lords) and on the Industrial Training Bill (Lords), which are Consolidation Measures.

TUESDAY 2 MARCH—Supply (14th Allotted Day): Until about 7 o'clock there will be a debate on the adverse effect on the consumer of the deliberate Government policy to increase gas prices by 23 per cent. and afterwards a debate on the situation in Central America. Both debates will arise on Opposition Motions.

The Question will be put on all outstanding Votes and Supplementary Estimates.

WEDNESDAY 3 MARCH—Further progress in Committee on the Canada Bill.

THURSDAY 4 MARCH—Remaining stages of the Coal Industry Bill.

Motions on the Mineworkers' Pensions Scheme and on the Redundant Mineworkers Concessionary Coal Orders.

Motion on the Report of the Court of Auditors of the European Community for 1980, Documents 11456/81 and C344.

FRIDAY 5 MARCH—Private Members' Motions MONDAY 8 MARCH—Remaining stages of the Canada Bill.

For the debate on Court of Auditors' report: EEC document 11456/81.

Relevant report of the European Legislation Committee: Ninth report, Session 1981–82, HC 21–ix, 1981–82, para. 3.

Mr. Foot

I wish to put three matters to the right hon. Gentleman. He will have heard the exchanges a few moments ago on the sale of Amersham International shares. It would have been of advantage to the country if we had had the debate that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) requested earlier this week. In the light of what has occurred and what the Opposition regard as a gross injury to the national credit and to the way in which we try to preserve taxpayers' money, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate on these matters so that we may ensure that the same thing does not happen again, especially in relation to such a great national asset as the British National Oil Corporation?

Secondly, as I have asked before, will the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider offering Government time to discuss Government training schemes which we regard as gravely deficient in many respects? Clearly, this is a matter of major significance for the future of the country. Will he therefore provide time for such debates?

Thirdly, there is the more immediate question of nurses' pay. In the current negotiations in the Whitley council, the nurses have so far received nothing that could be described as an offer, although other sections of the community have received offers. Promises were given that the nurses would be treated no less favourably than some other groups in the community. The matter should therefore be debated in the House. The right hon. Gentleman may prefer to keep the matter entirely within the Whitley council, but in the light of public discussion on nurses' pay, will he arrange a debate on the matter?

Mr. Pym

On the sale of Amersham International shares, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman may wish to debate the matter. He has opportunities to cause such a debate to be held if he so wishes, but I have no Government time available for a debate in the immediate future.

I acknowledge the representations that the right hon. Gentleman has made about training schemes, but I should point out that in the week after next my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor will introduce his Budget, after which there will be a substantial debate. I should have thought that training schemes would be relevant to my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget, and some right hon. and hon. Members may wish to take advantage of that opportunity.

I do not think that it is advantageous or wise for the House to debate nurses' pay while negotiations are in progress. I realise that there is great interest in the negotiations, but I do not think that it would be appropriate for the Government to find time for a debate. I am afraid that the matter must remain there for the time being.

Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

Turning from the sale of Amersham International to that of HMS "Invincible", has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 253 in my name calling for reconsideration of the sale?

[That this House, gravely concerned at the rapidly escalating surface, submarine and air threat to NATO maritime forces in the North Atlantic and Indian Oceans, views with alarm Her Majesty's Government's proposed sale of Her Majesty's Ship `Invincible', the newest and most potent of the Royal Navy's surface ships; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to provide such additional resources to the Defence Vote as may be required to make the sale unnecessary.]

Will my right hon. Friend provide Government time to debate that motion?

Mr. Pym

I agree that it is an important decision. It was implied by the decision taken by my right hon. Friend and announced in the House many months ago. As my hon. Friend will know, although the sale has been negotiated, HMS Invincible remains in the service of the Royal Navy for the time being. The time of year when defence debates take place, both on the White Paper and subsequently on the Services, is approaching. I doubt whether there will be an opportunity to debate the matter before then. My hon. Friend may find other ways in which it can be raised, but I do not think that I could find an additional day to debate defence, at any rate for the present. However, it will not be long before the House has the opportunity to debate these very important matters.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

Will the Leader of the House undertake that at the start of the debate on El Salvador there will be a ministerial statement making it clear how Britain, unlike any other member of the European Community, came to suggest sending observers to these phoney elections and then changed its mind?

Secondly, will he undertake that, when the Cabinet have finished their discussions on Trident, a full statement will be made on the effect of the decision on the rest of the public expenditure budget, including the budget for conventional defence?

Mr. Pym

On the first point, the Opposition will start the debate on El Salvador next Tuesday, but there will be a ministerial intervention. I have no doubt that in the course of that intervention comments will be made on the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises.

On the second point—yes, there will be a statement in due course when a further decision about Trident is taken. In the ensuing discussion, if not in the statement itself, I am sure that there will be questions and answers about the cost and what its implications might be.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend find time next week to make a statement about what representations the Government have made to the Republic of Ireland about the case of John Healey, a convicted criminal who was released by the magistrates concerned on the basis that he and his family came to the United Kingdom? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an insult to the British people and an abuse of the Welfare State? What representations have been made to the Government of the Republic?

Mr. Pym

I would not wish to comment on my hon. Friend's remarks about the decision, but I have already discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and no doubt my hon. Friend will raise it with him, too. At any rate, I shall convey his representations to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? To make a mistake once, in relation to Cable and Wireless, is one thing. To make a mistake twice, in the case of British Aerospace, is another. But to make a mistake three times, in the case of Amersham International, is absolutely disastrous. We have a Government of business men flogging the nation's assets on an underpriced basis, on some occasions underwritten by their merchant bank advisers. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that nothing like this occurs in the sale of BNOC to private enterprise, which in any case should not happen at all?

Mr. Pym

I have no Government time to make available for that debate next week, but the Opposition could have chosen that subject had they wished to do so.

Mr.Neil Thorne (ford, South)

Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 232 relating to public concern about the present jury service system?

[That this House believes that those who have been convicted of an indictable offence, other than a traffic offence, for which a term of imprisonment is an option open to the sentencing judge, should be ineligible for jury service for a period of 10 years.]

Has my right hon. Friend any plans for a debate on this matter in the immediate future or has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary other plans for dealing with the matter?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir. I have no plans for a debate, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering whether any alteration should be made.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the answer that was given to me earlier this week by the Secretary of State for Employment to the effect that the failure rate in unfair dismissal cases has now reached 74 per cent? Given the weakening of protection for individual workers—as a result of that trend and the doubling of the qualifying period for unfair dismissal—and the fact that that is happening at a time when the individual worker most needs help, may we have a debate?

Mr. Pym

Not in the near future.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although certain leaks have been repaired, there is dampness in some parts of the Chamber? Would not a debate on plumbing be helpful?

Mr. Pym

I am sure that my hon. Friend's speech on that subject would be particularly revealing.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

Will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence through the usual channels so that next week's debate on Central American affairs can include out relations with southern American Governments? When the British Government are entering into negotiations with the Argentine Government—with no conditions on our side—and when some members of their Government and the military are apparently preparing for a millitary invasion of the British Falkland Islands, is it not ludicrous that we should concentrate our attention on Central American affairs, where we have some influence but only a little, while neglecting our interests in the southern Atlantic as a whole?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman is asking for a debate on a separate subject in which several hon. Members are interested. Another occasion will have to be found for that.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, whoever provides the time, it would be useful to have a debate on the selling of Amersham International's shares? It would make a change for the House—it would certainly be beneficial to Conservative Members—to discuss the sale of shares in a public concern that people want to buy, rather than—as rSo often happens—discussing nationalised industries that make total losses and whose shares we cannot sell?

Mr. Pym

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend, but I can make no time available to the House at the moment for that purpose.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Will the Leader of the House provide Government time for a debate on the housing crisis facing the nation? Most of the Government's public expenditure cuts have been in housing, where they have created a crisis of 1945 proportions. We have growing waiting lists and the lowest number of council housing starts since 1945. If the Government do not want to provide time for their policies to be criticised, surely they might provide time for us to point out that the policies pursued by Liberal and SDP claims are no different from the housing policies pursued by Conservative councils.

Mr. Pym

I do my best to make time available for debates in which the House is particularly interested, but I do not have a day available on which I can arrange that debate in the foreseeable future. It is a subject which the Opposition could use to make whatever criticism they wish of the Government's policy. Our housing policy is nothing like as bad as the hon. Gentleman claims. However, if the Opposition wish to take one of their days for a debate on that subject, they are welcome to do so.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Given that the House is somtimes alleged to represent a cross-section of the public, would it not be reasonable for the Leader of the House to take into account—if and when a debate on Amersham International is granted—the fact that some hon. Members may have participated in that sale and could be held to have had a pecuniary interest? Perhaps that could be borne in mind through you, Mr. Speaker, before the debate starts.

Mr. Pym

In accordance with our convention, the hon. Members concerned—if there were any—would declare their interest at the time.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

May we have at least a statement before Easter on how the Government now intend to discharge their international responsibilities, given that the European Court in Strasbourg has made the very wise and intelligent decision to ban corporal punishment on children when it is against the wishes of their parents?

Mr. Pym

I shall consider that point.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on the multiple deprivation in inner Liverpool? The recent problems at St. Saviour's school in Liverpool are only the tip of an iceberg. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the recent report by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, which shows that four of the inner city wards in Liverpool are among the most deprived in Western Europe? Do there have to be more riots before the Government will act?

Mr. Pym

All hon. Members are extremely concerned by the recent events at a school in Toxteth. Hon. Members have had several opportunities to debate kindred matters, such as law and order and the Scarman report. I was not thinking of providing another debate on that subject in the near future, but I agree that the subject is very important and understand that hon. Members naturally have a great interest in it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. If questions are brief, I shall call the five hon. Members who have been standing in their places. We shall then move to the debate on Welsh affairs.

Mr. Thomas Cox (Tooting)

Given the Home Office report on incidents at Wormwood Scrubs prison, do the Government intend to hold a debate as soon as possible.

Mr. Pym

We do not intend to do so in the near future. However, that certainly has to be considered.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Has the Leader of the House seen the report in yesterday's edition of The Guardian, that secret guidelines allow police bugging almost with impunity and certainly without a Home Office warrant? Will the Home Secretary make a statement on that and may we also have, if possible, time for a debate? I am sure that the Leader of the House would condemn out of hand an eastern European dictatorship whose police secretly bugged private citizens without any democratic accountability. Nevertheless, that appears to happen under a Tory Government. May we please have a statement?

Mr. Pym

I do not know that a statement would be appropriate, but I shall certainly convey those representations to the Home Secretary. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that, after the Scarman report, my right hon. Friend was very forthcoming about the handling of complaints against the police.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government's refusal to allow time for a debate on housing leads me to the inevitable conclusion that they believe that their housing record is indefensible? Is it not important to discuss the housing plight of many of our fellow citizens who cannot find accommodation because council house building is at the lowest point since the 1920s? Is not the matter urgent, even to the Government?

Mr. Pym

When we debate housing in due course—probably in Opposition time—the hon. Gentleman will find that he has been led to the wrong conclusion.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

May we have a statement next week on early-day motions Nos. 276 and 277?

[That this House deplores the revised provisional proposals of the Boundary Commission for Scotland affecting Central Region and notes that the amendments to the original reasonable proposals emerged from a public inquiry conducted by Sheriff Principal R. R. Taylor who stood three times as a Tory Parliamentary candidate and is former Chairman of the Central and Southern Region of the Scottish Conservative Association; notes that, despite Rule 4 of Schedule 2 of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act 1949, as amended, which states that the Boundary Commission so far as is practicable shall have regard to the boundaries of local authority areas, Sheriff Principal Taylor accepted the Tory Party proposal to create the only new Scottish constituency to consist of one entire local authority district plus parts of two other local authority districts and that the same constituency will be the only mainland constituency in Scotland which will be split into two separate parts divided by a major stretch of water, the River Forth, in such a way that constituents will be unable to travel by land from one part of the constituency to another without having to travel through another constituency; condemns these proposals as being unnecessarily divisive and destructive of long-standing community links and is forced to conclude that they are a blatant act of gerrymandering on the part of the Tory Establishment in an attempt to create a winnable Tory seat; and demands that Sheriff Principal Taylor be dismissed and that the Boundary Commission reject his proposals forthwith or order a new public inquiry to be held with an indepedent reporter.

That this House deplores the fact that Sheriff Principal R. R. Taylor, who stood three times as a Tory Parliamentary candidate and is former chairman of the Central and Southern Region of the Scottish Conservative Association, was appointed reporter to a public inquiry into parliamentary constituencies in the Central Region of Scotland by the Tory Secretary of State for Scotland who himself lives in the area concerned.]

They describe the deplorable fact that a man who unsuccessfully tried three times to get elected as a Tory Member of Parliament is now trying to gerrymander parliamentary constituency boundaries in an effort to create a winnable Tory seat? Is it not absolutely outrageous that the Secretary of State for Scotland, who lives in the area, should appoint one of his Tory pals to do such a job? Will the Government take immediate steps to dismiss Sheriff Taylor, who seems to have been involved in some Tory old-boy network conspiracy?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman should not exaggerate. The person referred to in the early-day motions was a candidate in the 1950s and 1960s and accordingly considered that he could not properly act as an assistant commissioner in relation to the Tayside region. The objections were not considered to apply to any inquiry relating to Central and Fife regions and the Secretary of State agreed to his appointment for those regions. The hon. Gentleman will agree that the candidature was some time ago. It is a mistake to exaggerate.

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