HC Deb 25 March 1982 vol 20 cc1089-94 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 next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 29 MARCH—There will be a debate on the United Kingdom Trident programme, Cmnd. 8517.

Motions on the Wool Textile Industry (Amendment) Orders.

TUESDAY 30 MARCH—Remaining stages of the Fire Service College Board (Abolition) Bill [Lords] and of the Stock Transfer Bill.

Motion on the Gas Levy Rate Order.

Motions relating to the National Health Service (Dental and Optical Charges) Amendment Regulations and on the Local Government (Direct Labour Organisations) (Competition) Amendment Regulations for England and Wales and also for Scotland.

WEDNESDAY 31 MARCH AND THURSDAY 1 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Bill.

FRIDAY 2 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 5 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill.

The House will wish to know that it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Easter Adjournment on Thursday 8 April until Monday 19 April.

Mr. Foot

May I put three matters to the right hon. Gentleman? First, as I asked him last week, has he now considered the proposition that there should be a separate debate on the public expenditure White Paper? We believe that there is a strong case for having that debate before we begin the work on the Finance Bill.

Secondly, has the right hon. Gentleman followed up the request that I made to him to ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he intends to publish the report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools? The longer there is no publication the greater grows the suspicion that the Government are seeking to suppress the matter. The report is long overdue and will be one of the first opportunities to assess the impact which Government cuts are having on schools. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can assure us that the Secretary of State will make a statement on the matter next week, or at any rate before the Easter recess.

Finally, we are to have a statement in a few minutes about what the Government have decided regarding the Vale of Belvoir. Since this is such an important matter, which involves the whole question of the "Plan for Coal", and whether the Government will stand by the agreements that were made under the "Plan for Coal", we will expect an early debate on that subject as well.

Mr. Pym

Yes, there will be a separate debate on the public expenditure White Paper. The Second Reading of the Finance Bill may—I put it no more strongly than that—come first. However, I do not envisage it being any later than that.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has made it clear on several occasions that he intends to publish the report on education as soon as it is ready. That remains the position. He last said that, I think, on 16 March. I understand that the report is not quite complete and has therefore not yet been submitted to him. His intention is to publish it, but I cannot say when today because that is not known.

Regarding the right hon. Gentleman's third point, I accept that the subject that will be raised in a statement this afternoon is of great importance and it is clearly an appropriate subject for a debate. On an earlier occasion, the Leader of the Opposition asked me for a debate on Trident before the statement had been made. I am glad to say that I was able to arrange a debate on that subject very quickly after the statement. I cannot give a date for a debate on the Vale of Belvoir, but I note his representations and can only agree that it is an important matter.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Has my right hon. Friend had time to see early-day motion No. 316 on school discipline?

[That this House expresses grave concern at the implications of the European Court's ruling on corporal punishment; notes that the decision would appear to question the British view that the teacher is in loco parentis; and requests Her Majesty's Government to take such steps as are necessary to ensure: (a) that the teacher's existing position is maintained and (b) that methods of enforcing discipline should be decided within a school itself.]

That has now attracted the support of 102 hon. Members. In view of the fundamental importance of sound school discipline to law and order in Britain, will he please do what he can to arrange an early debate on that motion?

Mr. Pym

I share the sentiments expressed in that motion, but I must say that I cannot find Government time for a debate on the subject in the near future.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Now that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration has said that there should be an independent investigation into the complaints of former prisoners of war who lost pay during their imprisonment, can we have a statement on that next week?

Mr. Pym

I do not think that will be possible next week. I will consider with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State whether it will be possible at a later stage.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that we will not be getting a statement about any increase in the weight of lorries on our roads next week, as I am becoming increasingly worried that the CBI might put some pressure on me regarding that matter?

Mr. Pym

Not next week.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

Why is the statement on the report and the recommendations made by Lord Diplock of the security commission being so long delayed when the report has been in the Prime Minister's hands for many months? It was said that a statement would be made six weeks or more ago. Since the refusal so far to make a statement arouses suspicions that another truncated report will eventually be published, can we have a statement from the Prime Minister next week?

Mr. Pym

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's suspicions are not well founded, but I will make further inquiries.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)

In view of the Government's recent statement on the future role of cable in broadcasting, and the decision to allow the BBC to broadcast by satellite, will my right hon. Friend agree to arrange a debate at some time between the Easter and Whitsum recesses?

Mr. Pym

That is a subject which I think the House will wish to debate urgently. I would not like to promise exactly when, but I hope it will be fairly soon.

Miss Joan Maynard (Sheffield, Brightside)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 328 which has the support of more than 100 Members?

[That this House condemns Bernard Matthews, the poultry tycoon, and his 18th century attitude to his workers, many of whom are on family income supplement, rent rebates and rate rebates; and fully supports his workers who are on official strike in Suffolk and Norfolk, and also their union, the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers in the struggle they are conducting for decent living wages, particularly as these workers doubled production in the last 12 months.]

That motion supports members of my union who are taking industrial action against Bernard Matthews in order to win a decent wage, having doubled production in the last 12 months.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman and the House that these rural workers have been out on strike for six weeks? That shows their desperation. They have been trying to live on starvation wages of just over £50 a week. Yesterday, Bernard Matthews—the Freddie Laker of the poultry industry—was wining and dining at the Savoy hotel. He can afford a lunch there, but he cannot afford to pay our members a decent wage. Is it not high time that the House debated that important matter, or, at least, we had a statement from the Minister of Agriculture?

Mr. Pym

The House recognises what a difficult dispute this is. It is important, but I do not think that a debate on the subject would help a settlement of the dispute, which everybody wants. It certainly cannot be arranged in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time next week or shortly thereafter for a debate on the operation of the British banking system which is making a considerable profit as a result of high interest rates? In particular, I refer to the Midland Bank which foreclosed on Stone-Platt Industries in the North-West and elsewhere in Britain. It employs more than 7,000 people whose jobs are now in jeopardy. That includes more than 400 at Ernest Scragg and Sons Ltd. in my constituency. The receiver decided to make more than half the work force at Ernest Scragg redundant while meaningful discussions are taking place with a potential purchaser. Is that not a subject which the House should debate?

Mr. Pym

I regret to say that I cannot provide a separate day to debate that subject. My hon. Friend may find an opportunity to raise it. There are other opportunities, such as during the debate on certain parts of the Finance Bill, when speeches on that general subject would be in order. I am sorry that I cannot go further than that.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement next week on the ruthless dismissal of 26 loyal film workers from the Central Office of Information, whose films have won prizes at festivals all over the world? They have promoted British industry abroad and their films have received praise from small, medium-sized and large firms. Will he also arrange for a statement to be made explaining why the Minister for the Civil Service failed to allow Members of Parliament to visit the unit or to provide the film-makers with the requisite information or the reasons for their dismissal. That is scant thanks for loyal years of service for the Government to put them on the dole on 31 March. The Association of Cinematograph and Television Technicians is now blacking all Government work and will continue to do so until something is done.

Mr. Pym

I note the hon. Gentleman's request, but that would not be a suitable subject for a statement next week.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that of the 52 questions on the Order Paper today addressed to the Prime Minister, 49 have been couched in identical terms? Will my right hon. Friend take steps to refer the whole issue of Prime Minister's questions to the Procedure Committee?

Mr. Pym

There is some demand in the House for that, but at present it is by no means widespread. The Procedure Committee, or a Select Committee on Procedure, has considered the subject several times and will no doubt do so again. It has been found that it is difficult to establish a method that is not open to various abuses or misuses. Therefore, it is not an easy problem to resolve. I accept that it is curious to see so many similar questions on the Order Paper. In recent years, the House has found that that is one way in which hon. Members can raise almost any question with the Prime Minister. However, it is a matter of opinion whether that is the best or most appropriate use of Prime Minister's Question Time. I shall listen to any views put to me on that subject.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we, at least, are pleased that the Government have climbed down about the use of Westminster Hall for President Reagan's address? In future, will the Government not take the consent of the House for granted?

Mr. Pym

The hon. Gentleman has misrepresented the position. I am glad that it has been arranged for the President to make a speech in the Royal Gallery. That arrangement suits both Houses of Parliament and is wholly appropriate. There was an informal suggestion at one stage that other possibilities could be considered, but the matter is now settled.

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the unsatisfactory buck-passing between the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office about the Falkland Islands, the Antarctic and HMS "Endurance". May we have a debate on that subject before HMS "Endurance" is finally paid off and we relinquish control over that most important part of the South Atlantic?

Mr. Pym

There will be the usual debates on defence, the White Paper and the Services a considerable time before there is any question of a different future for HMS "Endurance". I can give that assurance.

Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that statements were made this morning to the media to the effect that there will be a reduction of 3,000 British Rail jobs for white collar workers? Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an opportunity to discuss the consequences of, and the reasons for, that decision?

Mr. Pym

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern, but I cannot find a special occasion in Government time to debate that issue.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for the Attorney-General to make a statement on what legal restraints apply to the publication of pamphlets, information or accusations in the press that are deliberately designed to undermine public officials in the course of their duties? In that connection, will he look at the appalling article published by Ken Livingstone in today's issue of Labour Herald? It makes the most crazy and unrestrained accusations about what will happen in London when the new chief constable takes office, before he has even taken the job?

Mr. Pym

I shall make those representations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. Indeed, perhaps my hon. Friend has already done so. However, I must confess that I am not a regular reader of Labour Herald.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 366 dealing with unemployment in the construction industry? [That this House, appalled at the latest published unemployment figures in the construction industry in the United Kingdom, England and Wales, 25.1 per cent., Scotland 25.4 per cent. and Northern Ireland 47.5 per cent., calls upon Her Majesty's Government to embark on a massive programme of public works, a crash house building drive and the reconstruction of the inner city areas, as outlined by the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress.]

It has now been supported by 135 Opposition Members.

Given the critical state of the industry and the many important points that are made in the motion, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on that subject? Failing that, will he ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to get on his bike and cycle to Liverpool to see the situation at first hand?

Mr. Pym

All quarters of the House recognise the importance of the construction industry. In his Budget speech, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made announcements helpful to the industry. However, the subject was germane to the Budget debate and was raised then. Therefore, I cannot provide another occasion to debate it all over again.

Mr. Gerry Neale (Cornwall, North)

Would it not greatly assist all right hon. and hon. Members in their parliamentary duties if, as part of the Information Technology Year, a radio paging device linked to the Division bell system was made available to them? Will he join his hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology in investigating the British-made products on the market, which could be made available to individual hon. Members?

Mr. Pym

I am not sure that every hon. Member would like to have one of those devices. However, I should be glad to pursue that idea with my hon. Friend the Minister. If there seems to be merit in it, I could pursue it further with the authorities in the House. However, I am not sure that such a device would be well received in all quarters.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

When will the Leader of the House lay before the House proposals to implement the recommendations of the Procedure Committee relating to Supply?

Mr. Pym

I have no date in mind for the near future, but I have taken note of what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the situation of HMS "Endurance" and treat it more seriously? There is a real possibility that several Conservative Members will not be able to support the Government in the debate on defence if there is no satisfactory solution.

Mr. Pym

I did take seriously the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed). I gave a factual answer to his question whether a debate could be held before the future of HMS "Endurance" came into question. A debate will be possible on the basis I described. I fully appreciate the concern in the House about events in the South Atlantic and I assure my hon. Friend that the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence have that very much in mind. Obviously, it is a very important issue.