HC Deb 28 January 1985 vol 72 cc31-3

4.3 pm

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the Government's involvement in the mining industry dispute. The Government's actions during the past week have left the country in no doubt that they are trying to impede the resumption of negotiations. It is in terms of that specific matter that the House should be able to debate the mining dispute once again.

There cannot be a single Member in any part of the House who does not regard the matter as important. Each week that the Government prolong the dispute they are spending an estimated £80 million in their attempt to break the strike and the National Union of Mineworkers. Today there has been another increase in interest rates, which is not unconnected with the dispute. Meanwhile, miners and their families are suffering increasing hardship in their struggle to maintain their jobs and ensure a future for their communities. The matter is increasingly urgent as a result of the Government's intervention this week. Recently both the chairman of the National Coal Board and Mr. Michael Eaton stated that they believed that the only way to resolve this dispute was through a negotiated settlement. Even more recently, the leadership of the NUM has called for a resumption of negotiations without preconditions.

Despite the statements of both sides in the dispute, the Government have blatantly interfered to prevent negotiations. Last week the press briefing from the Prime Minister's Office was fully reported in the national press, and had the effect of scotching any immediate resumption of negotiations. On Saturday, Mr. David Hart, a close adviser of the Prime Minister's wrote in The Times: Any true negotiation now would represent defeat for the coal board … the time for negotiated settlement is past … they must be defeated". The House must hear from the Secretary of State on this matter. The Secretary of State should make it plain to the House what the attitude of the Government is and not leave hon. Members and the country to guess from conflicting press reports. The House should have the opportunity to discuss this long and serious dispute and the implications of the Government's actions.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the Government's involvement in the mining industry dispute. I have listened with great care to what has been said by the right hon. Member. As he knows, we had a long discussion on this matter at Question Time today. I have to take account of the fact that it is hoped that negotiations are to begin tomorrow.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my sole responsibility in exercising my discretion in considering applications under Standing Order No. 10 is to decide whether they should have priority over the business already set down for this evening or tomorrow. I regret that I cannot find that the matter that he has raised meets those criteria, and I cannot therefore submit his application to the House.

Mr. Orme

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand the views that you have expressed, and I am not challenging them. However, I speak as someone who has made exhaustive efforts to promote negotiations throughout the dispute. As such, I say that it is not negotiations that are to start tomorrow, but talks about talks. The situation is one of great significance both to the Labour Opposition and to myself. If the talks were to fail, or if the negotiations did not start, I must advise you on behalf of the Opposition, that I will immediately raise the matter in the House again.

Mr. Speaker

I fully understand, and fully accept, the right hon. Gentleman's point.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In referring to the same matter on 24 January, you pointed out: I am bound to have regard to other opportunities in the House to raise these matters." — [Official Report, 24 January 1985; Vol. 71, c. 1145] I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will bear in mind the great difference between discussing a matter for three hours, as under Standing Order No. 10, and having a full day in which to discuss it, which gives wider opportunities, especially to Back Benchers, to take part. If the matter were the subject for an Opposition day, it would be open to us to discuss it for a full day.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The choice of subject for Opposition days is not a matter for me.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is with some trepidation and apprehension that I raise this matter with you. I am aware of the difficulties that you must have in trying to arrive at a conclusion, but many of us who are actively involved in the dispute are aware that we have not had an opportunity to discuss it on the Floor of the House, no matter how responsibility for that is apportioned. My fear and, I believe, that of many other Opposition Members is that if there are pressures on the negotiations, the Government have opportunities, through their offices and links with the NCB, to influence, for good or ill, the course of the deliberations. The House, however, has no opportunity to ventilate the feelings of the whole nation about the dispute. I trust that you will keep that in mind in any further representations that are made to you.

Mr. Speaker

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I keep that matter very much in mind. I think that the House should have an opportunity, at the appropriate moment, to discuss this issue.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)


Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

It is nice of the hon. Gentleman to look in—he has missed his question.

Mr. Nellist

I spend more time here than you do, sunshine.

Mr. Speaker

Order. My name is not sunshine.

Mr. Nellist

It seems to be one of those days.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In your ruling a few minutes ago, Mr. Speaker, you explained that the only criterion by which you are allowed to judge an application under Standing Order No. 10 is whether it should take precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. Would you expand on that explanation slightly, because the business that is set down for today —the Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill — has already been delayed from last week. On the day on which the Bill was supposed to be debated last week, you turned down an application under Standing Order No. 10 for a debate on the miners' strike. If the Bill was not sufficiently important to be discussed last week, could it not be postponed again so that a crucially important debate on the miners' strike could take place today?

Mr. Speaker

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to Standing Order No. 10, which sets out my discretion fully.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a different point of order, of which I gave you notice—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall take that point of order later. It is a different issue. Let us deal with all this first.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Is this another attempt to be helpful?

Mr. Skinner

I try to do that all the time, Mr. Speaker. In regard to the criteria by which you make a decision, you referred to the fact that there might be negotiations and gave the impression that if the House debated the matter, that could necessarily hamper the negotiations. There is a bit of a problem there in that, although the House might keep its collective mouth shut, the Government continue to open theirs. The Government feed the media in all sorts of ways and the idea of having a debate is to provide some balance. That is important and I hope that, when an application under Standing Order No. 10 is made again, you will bear that in mind.

Mr. Speaker

I most certainly will.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Although I do not wish to challenge your ruling on the application under Standing Order No. 10, are you aware that the mining dispute has now gone on for more than half of the life of this Parliament, that, so far, only one application under Standing Order No. 10 relating to it has been granted, that more than 23 have been made, that many people outside the House find it unbelievable that the mining dispute should be discussed everywhere else and affect everyone's life in some way and cause great hardship to some, although less to others, yet the House still does not give time to debate the matter? I trust that you will look favourably on a further application under Standing Order No. 10.

Mr. Speaker

I repeat what I said last Thursday. I am not responsible for the organisation of business in the House. That is done through the usual channels and with all the parties concerned. The Opposition have at their disposal an Opposition day, broadly once a week. It so happens that this week there is not an Opposition day, and I shall certainly have to take that into account if applications are made in future.