HC Deb 18 February 1982 vol 18 cc403-20 3.31 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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 22 FEBRUARY—Supply (13th Allotted Day): There will be a debate on the arts, when the third report of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts in Session 1980–81 will be relevant.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at Seven o'clock.

TUESDAY 23 FEBRUARY—Committee stage of the Canada Bill.

WEDNESDAY 24 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Travel Concessions (London) Bill.

Motion on the Departments (Northern Ireland) Order.

THURSDAY 25 FEBRUARY—A debate on Welsh affairs.

FRIDAY 26 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

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.

Mr. Foot

May I put four questions to the right hon. Gentleman? Last week I mentioned our desire for debates on two issues of great social importance to Britain. The first was on housing, where the latest figures show that the number of starts is the lowest for 60 years. Secondly, we wish to have a debate on the Government's training proposals, if they may be dignified with that term. Apprenticeships are at their lowest level for many years. Those two subjects should command the attention of the House, and I hope that the Government will consider allowing time for debates on them.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made on The Times newspaper? I gather that the proposal for the transfer of titles—which my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) described as "a breathtaking subterfuge" when he first heard about it—will not now take place. I am glad about that. I hope that the Government are turning their mind to considering how The Times can be saved. Does the Leader of the House agree that a statement should be made next week, especially in the light of the developments on the transfer?

Finally, may we have a statement from the Government about their policy on the purchase of ships by British shipping companies? I understand that P and O has ordered an £80 million ship from Finland, which order could have gone to British Shipbuilders. Are the Government content that such a purchase should take place when there are appalling dangers of fresh redundancies in the shipbuilding industry? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there is an early statement to the House on that subject?

Mr. Pym

I took note of the right hon. Gentleman's representations last week for debates on housing and on the Government's training proposals. I said then that I did not believe I could find Government time in the near future. There were opportunities for hon. Members to raise the training proposals when we discussed the economy and unemployment. However, I cannot find time in the near future for the House to debate those subjects.

As for a statement on The Times, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade is answering several written questions on that subject today. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will wish to study those answers before pursuing the matter. However, I shall convey his representations to my right hon. Friend.

On the right hon. Gentleman' final point, I am not aware of the purchase to which he referred, but again I shall consult my right hon. Friend. If a statement is required I shall arrange for it. I shall go into the matter and consider what might be done.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. There are two statements to follow. I propose to allow 20 minutes for questions on next week's business before we move to the first statement.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

My right hon. Friend said previously that he would arrange a debate on Poland. In view of the continuing terrible repression there, can he tell us how soon a debate will be possible? Will he also make arrangements for a debate in the House on crime?

Mr. Pym

I cannot find time in the immediate future for a debate on Poland, although I accept what my hon. Friend says about its importance. I was glad to be able to arrange a debate immediately before Christmas. I know that events have moved on since then, but my hon. Friend knows the pressures on the timetable.

As for a debate on crime, my hon. Friend must find some other way because there is no opportunity, beyond that provided by the passage of legislation in the House, for further debate on that subject, which I agree is of interest to everyone.

Mr. Joseph Dean (Leeds, West)

Will the Leader of the House prevail on his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland either to find time for a debate next week or to make a statement on the potentially deteriorating industrial position in Northern Ireland? Will he bear in mind that a broad-based delegation of trade unionists from Northern Ireland met a cross-section of hon. Members last week to tell us about the alarming position that is developing in certain major industries and the appalling social consequences if those industries are allowed to go by the board?

Mr. Pym

On Monday week there will be a debate on the Northern Ireland Appropriation order, which is related to the economy. At least some of the matters that the hon. Gentleman mentioned will be appropriate for discussion on that occasion.

Mr. Stephen Hastings(Mid-Bedfordshire)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are deeply concerned about the current rate of loss of farmland and countryside to all forms of development? Will he try to arrange a debate on the matter as soon as possible and certainly before any final decision is taken on either Stanstead or the Vale of Belvoir, both of which proposals threaten many thousands of acres?

Mr. Pym

There has been much interested expressed, both inside and outside the House, on both issues. As with the many requests for bypasses around towns and across agricultural land, it is difficult for the Government to find time to debate those topics. This particular subject has been debated before. If my hon. Friend can find some means of raising the matter, I hope that the House will attend to it. I do not believe that a debate about Stanstead would be appropriate while the inquiry is going on, although at its conclusion the House may wish to debate it.

As to the future of the Vale of Belvoir, my right hon. Friend still has that most difficult and critical decision under consideration. He will make an announcement about it to the House in due course.

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington)

Can the Leader of the House tell us when we shall have a statement or a debate on the financing of the Health Service? I raised the matter on 21 January, when the right hon. Gentleman said that the Secretary of State was still studying the report of the Royal Commission on the National Health Service. However, that report as been on his desk since December. All that we have had are inspired press leaks. Are the Government determined to deal with the matter through the press rather than on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir. The Government will announce their conclusions when they are reached. On a matter of this importance it will obviously take a certain amount of time. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is still considering the issues that lie behind that report and he will make an announcement in due course.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members are concerned at the extravagant proposals for increases in gas and electricity prices? They will only add to inflation, which the Government are trying to keep down and that will make it more difficult to keep salaries and wages in check. Therefore, will he ask the Minister to make a statement or arrange a debate before a decision is given in this matter?

Mr. Pym

I do not have anything to add to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today. Certainly I cannot find time, beyond the legislation that is now before the House, for an extra debate on that specific subject. Perhaps my hon. Friend can find another opportunity of raising it. I agree about the importance of the matter, but he will have heard the Prime Minister say that at present gas is sold at below cost to domestic users.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Will the Leader of the House confirm the claim in The Times this morning that the Government are deliberately suppressing a report that the cost of keeping people on the dole is £96 per person per week? That is a 50 per cent. increase on the figure a year ago and it is likely to increase as the year goes on. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is proper for the Government to suppress such a vital report?

Mr. Pym

I am not aware of the Government suppressing anything, but after the hon. Gentleman's question and the question to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister I am prepared to look into the matter further.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Will my right hon. Friend consider his answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings)? If we were to have a debate on housing, for example, the issue of agricultural land must be considered. Will he also confirm that we will have a separate statement on De Lorean and that it will not be wrapped up in the Northern Ireland business on Monday?

Mr. Pym

On the second point, if a statement is appropriate it will be separate. I note what my hon. Friend says. It is fair to say that in all the housing debates that I have read about or heard in the House very little attention has been given to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings). Most of the points tend to be addressed to housing. That is clearly what the Leader of the Opposition would wish if time was found for it. Some other means must be found if a debate is to be mounted in the fairly near future, because there is no Government time available to be put at his disposal, however much I would like to do so.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the reply that he gave to the hon. Member for Rutland (Mr. Lewis)? Has he seen early-day motion 239, concerning gas prices, standing in my name and the names of 156 other hon. Members?

[That this House is appalled at the announcement that gas prices are to increase by 22 per cent. in 1982; and demands that Her Majesty's Government withdraws the instruction to British Gas to increase gas prices by 10 per cent. more than the rate of inflation.]

Since this is an important issue, does he not think that the Prime Minister's reply was callous and uncaring? Given that the Government are holding wages down, does not the right hon. Gentleman realise the importance of this issue? Will he arrange a debate at an early date?

Mr. Pym

I have arranged for debates on energy in the course of the past 18 months, although I admit that they were not directly related to the aspect that the hon. Gentleman has raised. The time that I have at my disposal is limited. I entirely agree about the importance of the subject. If the Opposition so wished, there could be a debate in their time. I have to tell the House the truth, and that is that I do not see an opportunity of finding time for it in the near future. It is right in all frankness to tell the hon. Gentleman that.

Mr. Keith Wickenden (Dorking)

If my right hon. Friend succumbs to the blandishments of the Leader of the Opposition concerning the P and 0 overseas shipbuilding order, will he extend the terms of that debate to enable the House to inquire why British shipyards are unable to deliver as fast as overseas shipyards?

Mr. Pym

I shall certainly take that into account.

Mr. loan Evans (Aberdare)

Will there be a statement next week on the latest position regarding Sir Freddie Laker and De Lorean? If so. will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that such statements are made not on Friday but on a day when most hon. Members are present?

Mr. Pym

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is having more than one meeting today with De Lorean. We do not know whether they will necessitate a statement. Should a statement be necessary, it will be made at the earliest appropriate moment.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Has the Leader of the House seen the recent written answer that shows that in the year following the invasion of Afghanistan exports of cheap and subsidised food to Russia broke all records? Does my right hon. Friend agree that Ministers should make a clear statement indicating the amount of cheap coal, steel, food, wine and credit that the EEC and Britain provide to the Soviet Union?

Mr. Pym

Parts of that question are more appropriate for other Ministers. As my hon. Friend knows, there are several opportunities for debating EEC matters in the House, and I should have thought that such important matters could be debated then.

Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)

Following the historic meeting of Scottish Members in Edinburgh last Monday—for the first time since 1707—will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when the Scottish Grand Committee will next meet in Edinburgh? Will he arrange for longer sittings to be held, because morning sittings are rather unsatisfactory? Will he also consider holding Scottish Office Question Time regularly in Edinburgh?

Mr. Pym

The first part of the experiment that took place on Monday was carried out by arrangement with the Opposition, through the usual channels. Arrangements for subsequent debates during the Session will no doubt be arranged in the same way. That is the right approach. There does not seem to be any general demand to extend the experiment. We should let the experiment take place this Session and then assess it. The hon. Gentleman may be in favour, but different views are held. The House concluded that this type of experiment is appropriate for this Session. We should go through with it and then assess whether it was successful and how we should handle such matters in future.

Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that hon. Members are quite mystified as to exactly what the clock on the Annunciator says at any given time? Is he further aware that I have yet to meet an hon. Member who understands exactly what the clock is saying? Will he look at the clock closely to see whether he can decipher what it says? If he cannot, will he revert to the previous time-keeping system, which we could all read?

Mr. Pym

I shall have inquiries made.

Serveral Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. May I remind hon. Members that whether they will be called depends on how long the questions are?

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that two days ago, at the Lawrence Scott factory in Manchester—which employs many of my constituents—a posse of police drove a picket away from the factory gates to give access to the employer in an industrial dispute? Is that not a gross violation of the principle of police impartiality in industrial disputes? May we have an early statement on the regulation of such collusion in industrial disputes between the police and employers?

Mr. Pym

I am not in a position to comment on any of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. It would be appropriate to raise the matter with the Home Secretary.

Mr. Les Huckfield (Nuneaton)

Since the settlement of the railway dispute completely vindicates the position that ASLEF has maintained throughout the dispute and, since, as a result of the settlement, the British Railways Board has gained nothing that it could not have had last July, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Secretary of State for Transport to make an early statement to the House on his future policy for the railway industry and particularly for the chairman of the British Railways Board?

Mr. Pym

It is a great mistake to talk about complete vindication or anything of that sort. It is important that we should have a viable railway that serves the nation. Of course, I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I doubt whether a statement or debate now would be helpful.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

As the answer given by the Secretary of State for Trade to my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) about Mr. Rupert Murdoch's U-turn over the transfer of the titles from Times Newspapers Limited has only confounded the confusion, will he reconsider his decision about a statement? We need a statement on Monday to make the position clear.

Mr. Pym

I implied that there would be at least one written answer today. When the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have had time to consider them we shall see whether further steps are necessary. However, I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will the right hon. Gentleman cast his mind back to 16 January 1980? The then Secretary of State for Energy made a statement on the Government's pricing policies and imposed swingeing increases on the gas and electricity boards. The most recent of those increases has been the 22 per cent. increases in gas prices. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it behoves the Government to bring the appropriate Secretary of State back to the House so that the consequences of these taxes, which bear most heavily upon the poor, may be discussed in the House? Does he not agree that the pensioners who are here today to protest in outrage against the Government's policies should know that Members of Parliament will have an opportunity to debate the issue?

Mr. Pym

Since the hon. Gentleman puts it like that, I should have thought that that was an appropriate subject for a Supply day debate. I would be prepared to arrange a day to debate the subject if there were time at my disposal to do that, but, as I have already indicated, I do not have that time.

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

The Leader of the House turned down the request for a debate on Stansted because an inquiry was taking place. Does that mean that the Committee stage of the Canada Bill will be postponed because of the litigation pending in the House of Lords?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir. The arguments relevant to that were made clear by the Government yesterday. They were taken fully into account. There are a number of factors relevant to the Canada Bill which I have taken into account. Of course I am aware that the hon. Gentleman and others would have liked consideration of the Bill to be postponed. Having taken full account of all the factors, I have come to the conclusion that it is appropriate to proceed with the Committee stage next week.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

In relation to the Bill dealing with concessionary fares for London to be considered next week and the following week has the Leader of the House had any representations from Conservative Members to try to get concessionary fares for people in areas where there is no local authority bus undertaking? If the Bill were widened to include those areas, they could be treated in the same way as many other rural areas that Opposition Members represent. Taking into account that this is one of the declarations of intent of the delegates representing several million pensioners who are discussing the matter in Westminster Hall, now that the Government have decided to handle the money for concessionary fares for pensioners, surely the Bill ought to be extended to cover all pensioners throughout Great Britain.

Mr. Pym

That is a point which the hon. Gentleman can make when we debate the Second Reading of the Bill. Clearly we shall proceed with the Bill in the form in which it is to be published today, I think we must leave the matter there.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

On the Canada Bill, will the Leader of the House recognise that serious concerns were expressed yesterday by many hon. Members, including many who voted for the Second Reading? Does he not feel that there is unseemly and unnecessary haste about taking on Tuesday the Committee stage of a Bill that received a Second Reading only yesterday? Will he think again about the timing of the Committee stage of the Bill?

Mr. Pym

I have thought about it carefully. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is haste, either unseemly or unnecessary. As I indicated just now, I have had to take many factors into account. Before deciding to proceed with the Committee stage next week, I thought not only about those but about the powerful points made by the right hon. Gentleman and others in the course of the debate yesterday. Having taken full account of all the considerations, the Government have decided, and I have announced, that we will proceed with the Committee stage next week. We believe that to be in the general interests of the countries concerned.

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

On Monday's business, will the Leader of the House ensure that the debate on opposed private business at 7 o'clock is open-ended so that the House may be able to see the conclusion of the matter?

Mr. Pym

I have received a formal request from the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means to suspend the rule. In accordance with what I understand to be the practice in those circumstances, it is my intention to do so.

  1. Kincora Children's Home 1,867 words
  2. cc414-20
  3. European Community (Agriculture Ministers' Meeting) 3,160 words