HC Deb 21 January 1982 vol 16 cc415-22
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)

The Business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 25 JANUARY—Supply (9th allotted day): until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on the need for Government action on higher fuel bills following the extreme weather conditions, and afterwards, a debate on the steel industry. Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Motion relating to the Child Benefit (Claims and Payments) Amendment Regulations.

TUESDAY 26 JANUARY—Second Reading of the New Towns Bill. Remaining stages of the Transport (Finance) Bill.

Motion on the Rates Amendment (Northern Ireland) Order.

WEDNESDAY 27 JANUARY—There Will be a debate on the employment situation on a Government motion.

THURSDAY 28 JANUARY—Supply (10th allotted day): a debate on an Opposition motion on the continued failure of Government economic policy.

FRIDAY 29 JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY I FEBRUARY—A debate on the first report from the Select Committee on Energy, Session 1980–81, on the new nuclear power programme, House of Commons Paper No. 114, and the relevant Government observations, Cmnd. 8317.

The House will wish to know that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to introduce his Budget on Tuesday, 9th March.

Mr. Foot

I should like to put three matters to the Leader of the House. First, I thank him for persuading his colleagues to accept the plea which we have made frequently from these Benches for major debates on unemployment figures when they reach such a scale as they have now reached. I therefore thank the right hon. Gentleman for providing time on Wednesday. Naturally, we are eager to provide a Supply day, as we have done next Thursday. Of course, it would be quite impossible to have a debate on this matter without the Chancellor of the Exchequer having the opportunity to present his views on the subject. We are grateful to the Government for having agreed to such an arrangement. We are still of the opinion that the Secretary of State for Employment should make the statement on Tuesday, and we hope that the Government will still consider that.

The second matter that I wish to raise concerns the conduct of the Solicitor-General for Scotland. I gather that he is to make a statement later today, but he has already made statements on the same subject to the press. I gather that the Prime Minister has already issued a reprimand to him today, but in my view the hon. and learned Gentleman should come to the House himself and apologise at once for what has occurred.

Thirdly, has the Leader of the House had a chance to study properly early-day motion 167? We should be happy if the Government were to provide time for a debate in the House on the matter. The motion is now attracting support from many sections of the House. The motion concerns the right hon. Roy Jenkins. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will wish to read the motion, and give their approval to its proposition.

[That this House, noting the published discussion in The Sunday Times between the right honourable Roy Jenkins and the Glasgow chairman of the Social Democratic Party when the right honourable Roy Jenkins represented himself as an Englishman and only under pressure and with a plea to the Diety overcame his amnesia about his birth in Wales, urges Welsh Social Democratic Party honourable Members to issue a statement declaring that any man so masking his national identity is unfit to be a Parliamentary candidate in Wales or in Scotland.]

Mr. Pym

I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his remarks about the debate that I have arranged on Wednesday. It seemed appropriate that Government time should be provided at this stage of the year, and I was glad to do so. I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier this week about the announcement of the figures next week and in subsequent months.

My answer to the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the Solicitor-General for Scotland is that I am mindful of my responsibilities as Leader of the House towards every Member of the House and of the need for the House to be informed at the first opportunity on matters of public importance. That did not happen on this occasion. I regret it very much, and, as Leader of the House, I should like to apologise to the House for that. I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the House to await the statement that my hon. and learned Friend will make later.

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's third question, I must tell him that I have seen the early-day motion. I am somewhat entertained by the background to it. I do not know why Roy Jenkins should be so reluctant to admit that he was born in Wales. After all, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is an Englishman who represents a Welsh seat, and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) is an Englishman who enjoys an Irish name and represents a Welsh seat. I do not know what I am. I was born in Monmouthshire, which seems to be neither one thing nor the other. All I know is that at the end of the day there is a pretty good mix in the House of Commons and the United Kingdom.

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

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to notice some of the lamentable and narrow-minded decisions of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, culminating in its recent decision on the Royal Bank of Scotland and treating Scotland as if it were a village shop? Does he accept that the time has come, bearing in mind the recent statement by our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade that competition policy in this country is decided not by him but by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, for the House to consider the commission, its powers and remit, and the damage that it can do to competition in this country?

Mr. Pym

I do not deny that that would be an appropriate subject for a debate, but, as my hon. Friend will know, each reference to the commission raises individual issues with different circumstances, each requiring treatment on its merits. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade has a heavy responsibility in reaching conclusions on these matters. As I said, it is an appropriate subject for a debate, but I cannot undertake to provide time in the foreseeable future for it. There are other ways in which the matter can be raised in the House, but I cannot provide time for it.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

Will the Leader of the House look at the technical arrangements that are being made for the Scottish Grand Committee to meet in Edinburgh? As a supporter of his initiative in this matter, I should like to know whether he is aware that it is essential that the calling notices to individual Members go out weeks in advance, and not just a day or two in advance, as appears to be happening?

Mr. Pym

This experiment is being tried as the result of a vote in the House. A majority of the House thought that it was right to try it. A number of questions have been asked in the House about the date and the subject matter. I hope that everyone is aware of what is to happen. However, I shall take on board what the right hon. Gentleman said and see whether there is anything wrong with the administrative arrangements. If there is, I shall try to put it right.

Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the Government will make a formal reply to early-day motion 132 following his helpful observations and those of the Prime Minister on the matter? It has now been signed by the remarkable number of 287 right hon. and hon. Members:

[That this House approves the Report of the Committee of Public Accounts on the Role of the Comptroller and Auditor General (1980–81, H.C. 115); and, in view of the all-party criticism of the Treasury response in the Debate on 30th November 1981, urges the Government to reconsider the views expressed in its White Paper (Cmnd. 8323) and to introduce legislation to allow proper accountability to the House of Commons.]

Mr. Pym

I cannot give a precise date, but I hope to do so within two or three weeks.

Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

Has the Leader of the House seen the report in The Guardian today of the decision of the Secretary of State for the Environment to appoint Mr. Montague Alfred chief executive of the Property Services Agency? As Mr. Montague Alfred is the former chairman of the BPC publishing group, and as it appears from the report that he accepts that there may be a conflict of interests in this appointment, will the Leader of the House assure us that next week there will a parliamentary statement on the appointment?

Mr. Pym

I cannot give that undertaking, but I shall convey the right hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the report published today by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders on the plight of the young single homeless? Will he take time to read the report and consider whether it would be appropriate to make time available for a debate in the House?

Mr. Pym

I am sure that it is a subject worthy of debate, but my hon. Friend will probably have to find another way of raising such a debate, outside Government time, if he wishes to discuss the issue soon.

Mr. loan Evans (Aberdare)

As the Budget is to be introduced earlier than usual this year and the Cabinet is to discuss its possible contents on Thursday, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer—in next Thursday's debate—confirm that the Budget will reduce unemployment and not increase it, as every Tory Budget so far has done in this Parliament?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman will have to await my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget Statement.

Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable anxiety this week about the future ownership of the new Central television company in the Midlands? Will he ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Trade to make a statement in the House next week if the matter continues to be unsatisfactory, or if the Independent Broadcasting Authority appears not to be doing its duty?

Mr. Pym

I am prepared to pass on those views, but at this stage I should not like to say whether a statement would be appropriate.

Mr. K. J. Woolmer (Batley and Morley)

I thank the Leader of the House for the statement that was made on 22 December, on the multi-fibre arrangement. He will appreciate that the statement was made within hours of the agreement in Geneva and before hon. Members had had a chance to study the protocol. As the Council of Ministers is considering whether to sign the protocol on Monday, will the right hon. Gentleman consider whether the Government should agree to sign it before the Select Committee on European Legislation &c. has had a chance to consider it and before hon. Members have had a chance to debate its contents? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear that point in mind and arrange for a statement to be made next week?

Mr. Pym

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and the Government have been as forthcoming as possible to the House throughout the negotiations and have made several statements. An international agreement is being negotiated and, as the hon. Gentleman said, the negotiations will continue next week. A further statement may well be necessary after that. However, the process by which the various countries reach agreement cannot be delayed or altered now. My right hon. Friend is trying to achieve the best possible arrangement for Britain.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

May I press my right hon. Friend about the unsatisfactory situation in the very loyal dependency of Gibraltar and about the great concern that has been expressed about the dockyard? If my right hon. Friend cannot make a statement next week, will he at least ensure that the Lord Privy Seal makes a statement on what took place between the Prime Minister and the Spanish Prime Minister at the recent meeting and on when the frontier will be open?

Mr. Pym

I shall pass on those views and consult my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Is the Leader of the House aware that but for a story in The Guardian we should be unaware that the Government had embarked on a £1 billion programme of re-motoring Polaris missiles without any authority being given and without any debate in the House before the decision was taken? Therefore, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that a debate will be held at the earliest opportunity on that and on the madcap expenditure proposed on Trident C4 or D5 missiles, with which the Government are apparently grappling?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir. The hon. Gentleman's question shows that his knowledge of the subject is not as deep as he perhaps would like the House to think. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, there is nothing new, unusual or surprising about the matter.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement early next week about the salaries of senior local government officials, given that today's edition of The Times reports that such officials seem to have secured salary increases averaging 100 per cent. in the past two years? If the report is true, does it not represent one more argument for reforming the system of local government finance, as the Government propose to do?

Mr. Pym

I shall convey those views to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

Will the Leader of the House instruct someone from the Ministry of Defence to explain why no one has gone to Gibraltar and why—following the question asked by the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham)—no one on the Government Front Bench can explain to the House the views of the people of Gibraltar on the closure of Gibraltar's docks? Perhaps we could have a statement next week.

Mr. Pym

I shall add those representations to those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) when I raise the issue with the Lord Privy Seal. I am sure that my right hon. Friend, the Foreign Office and the Government are aware of the views of Gibraltarians.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Given the serious financial situation facing the De Lorean Car Company in Belfast, the fact that £80 million of public money has been invested in the project, that 2, 000 jobs are at stake and that a decision is expected within the next seven days, will my right hon. Friend confirm that a statement will be made on the Floor of the House about the outcome of the present negotiations?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir. It may be appropriate for a statement to be made in due course. As my hon. Friend knows, it is public knowledge that discussions are going on and, of course, the outcome is as yet unknown.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call those hon. Members who have been standing in their places if their questions are brief. If they are not, we shall have to move on.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we have a debate soon on the plight of local authorities, such as that of the city of Leicester, which is valiantly trying to provide housing, services and maintenance for those who need them most, despite the slashing cuts in revenue? In Leicester they amount to some £11 million. May we have a statement—if not from the right hon. Gentleman, from another Minister—accepting that that is the direct result of the Government's refusal to provide the necessary funds?

Mr. Pym

I should have thought that the debate on the rate support grant could provide that opportunity.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

If the dispute involving the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen looks like continuing for more than another week, will the Secretary of State for Transport make a statement on the effects of the dispute on the financing of British Rail? If possible, may we have a debate so that those who speak for ASLEF can explain why its members are making those who work 10 or 12-hour days spend longer travelling so that they can still get to work, in order to protect their 8-hour day?

Mr. Pym

I doubt whether that would be helpful. Governments of both parties usually find that when there are difficult industrial disputes that affect the country's economy it is, on the whole, helpful to be rather reticent about having debates and making public statements. However, I shall keep in mind my hon. Friend's request.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington)

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion 106 on the financing of the Health Service, which has been signed by 130 hon. Members?

[That this House draws attention to the thorough investigation carried out by the Royal Commission on the National Health Service and its resulting opinion that to alter the basis of the funding of the National Health Service to insurance or fees for service would be inequitable and uneconomical and is of the opinion that in order to get best value for money the National Health Service must continue to be funded out of general taxation; and therefore deplores as a waste of public resources the re-investigation of this subject by the Government and demands that they stop this unnecessary inquiry immediately.]

Given that the departmental inquiry is complete, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early statement, followed by a debate? The proposal could lead to a two-tier system—one for the privileged and the other for the majority, who cannot afford to pay?

Mr. Pym

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is still considering the report. In due course an announcement, and possibly a statement, will be made.

Mr. Barry Porter (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)

Has my right hon. Friend had time this week to note the speech made by the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the Earl of Gowrie, on the problems in Northern Ireland? There was some suggestion—explicit or implied—that a possible solution was dual nationality for citizens of the Republic and those of the Province? Will a statement be made at the earliest opportunity so that the Government can make it clear that that is not part of their policy?

Mr. Pym

A statement would not be appropriate. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his Ministers, including my noble Friend, are searching diligently for ways of solving the problems of the Province. They hope eventually to make some progress. A statement along the lines requested by my hon. Friend would not be helpful at present.

Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)

When do the Government intend to bring forward the rate support grant order for Scotland for approval by the House? Is it not hard on local authorities to delay bringing forward the order for so long? May we have an assurance that we shall have more than the usual 90-minute debate on this important issue?

Mr. Pym

There will be a debate on this in the fairly near future. I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, although I think that it is also true to say that the facts, figures and proposals are well known by local authorities in Scotland as well as by those in England and Wales. Nevertheless, I hope that a debate can be arranged fairly soon.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

Is the Leader of the House familiar with the terms of early-day motion 35:

[That this House notes that 27th June 1981 was the third anniversary of the confinement of seven Siberian Christians in the basement of the United States Embassy in Moscow following restrictions and oppression by the Soviet authorities; therefore urges Her Majesty's Government to continue to press for an end to violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights (1973) and the Helsinki Final Act (1975) by the Soviet authorities; reiterates its belief that all men and women should be free to worship without restriction; and therefore supports the group of Christians who are registering their protest at the Russian Embassy on the occasion of this anniversary.]

It concerns the plight of the seven Siberian Christians, two of whom are at present on hunger strike and whose condition is becoming critical. Will the Leader of the House raise the matter with his right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary and undertake that a statement will be made in this House on what action the British Government, perhaps like the Swedish Government, can take?

Mr. Pym

Again I doubt whether a statement is appropriate, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has the matter very much in mind.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

Will the Leader of the House find time next week to congratulate his hon. Friends who so rightly voted in support of the election of a good Socialist, Piet Dankert, as President of the European Assembly—perhaps the only vote for which we can congratulate them on their efforts?

Mr. Pym

I am so glad that the hon. Gentleman is so pleased.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Does the Leader of the House agree that it is important for a statement to be made on the consortium that was created to bail out Mr. Freddie Laker, who, although he was previously fully in line with Government policy on free enterprise and market forces, ended up by going to the Bank of England, complete with a pair of knee pads, asking Mother State to bail out his company? Does the Leader of the House agree that that is Government intervention on a grand scale and deserves a statement to the House?

Mr. Pym

Not next week, Sir.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

When may we expect a debate on the proposed new youth training scheme? Is the Leader of the House aware that many elements of that scheme, in particular the element of compulsion and the abysmally low allowance, are causing widespread anxiety, especially among young people and trade unions in the North of England?

Mr. Pym

It is a very far-reaching scheme, which I believe has a great deal to contribute in our present circumstances. I should like it to be debated, but I do not think that I shall be able to find a day in the reasonably near future. However, it would be a suitable subject for the Opposition to raise on a Supply day if they so decided.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

In view of the high cost of finding missing rally drivers and playboys, should not there be a full debate on the matter?

Mr. Skinner

What was the mechanic's name?

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)

Is the Leader of the House aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) raised a very important question relating to the appointment of Mr. Montague Alfred as chief executive of the Property Services Agency at a salary far higher than the Civil Service rate and in an unorthodox manner? Will he now respond to that question and arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement to the House about the possible conflict of interests involved in that appointment?

Mr. Pym

I said that I would discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend, and I shall do so.