UK, HC, “Business of the House”, vol 17 (1982), cols 1114-1124

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Date: 1982-02-11
By: UK (House of Commons)
Citation: UK, HC, “Business of the House“, vol 17 (1982), cols 1114-1124.
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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 15 FEBRUARY—Private Members’ Motions until 7 o’clock. Afterwards, remaining stages of the Hops Marketing Bill [Lords]. Debate on the first report from the Select Committee on Procedure (Supply), Session 1980–81, House of Commons paper No. 118.

TUESDAY 16 FEBRUARY—Motions on the Rate Support Grant (Increase) Order, the Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report (England) 1982, and the Report on Rate Support Grant (England) 1982–83, the Welsh Rate Support Grant Report 1982 and the Supplementary Report 1982.

WEDNESDAY 17 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Canada Bill.

THURSDAY 18 FEBRUARY—Motions relating to the National Health Service (Determination of Regions) Order, the National Health Service (Constitution of District Health Authorities) Order and the National Health Service (Determination of Districts) Order.

FRIDAY 19 FEBRUARY—Private Members’ Bills.

MONDAY 22 FEBRUARY—Supply (13th allotted day): the subject for debate to be announced.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o’clock.

Mr. Foot May I put four questions to the right hon. Gentleman? The right hon. Gentleman has announced that the Canada Bill will be debated next week. Is he aware that he has made a serious error of judgment in bringing the Bill forward before the completion of the legal action brought by the Indian Association? The Government once made it clear that they would wait until that action had been completed. Although it may have been technically completed, the Government know as well as we do that a petition will be sent to the other place and will be dealt with soon. Will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the position and wait until that process has been concluded before holding a Second Reading debate?
May we have a debate, in Government time, on the appalling housing figures for 1981? They show the lowest number of starts for 60 years. There are 1¼ million people on the waiting list and 400,000 building workers—one quarter—are out of work. Will not the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate on that important subject?

Before the Government make any further recommendations to the House, may we have an early debate on training? It is time that we had a debate on training facilities, particularly for the young. Two statements were made before Christmas and one of them led to a serious reduction in the number of training boards. In addition, apprenticeships are at the lowest level for many years. Will the right hon. Gentleman not arrange a debate?

What does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do about the Bill concerning London transport, which received such strong support, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay)? That Bill was supported by the whole Labour Party, a section—I believe—of the Liberal Party and even a splinter 1115 group from the SDP. Given that strong alliance, will not the right hon. Gentleman understand that there should be immediate provision for the introduction of legislation? As the right hon. Gentleman knows that he must introduce such legislation, cannot he get on with it? Does not the Bill provide him with that opportunity?

Mr. Pym I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government have given serious consideration to his specific point about the Canada Bill and, indeed, to all the relevant issues involved. We took all that into consideration before reaching the conclusion that it is right to proceed now.
I cannot provide a day for a debate on housing in Government time. Obviously, it is a suitable subject for a Supply day debate. I should not be reluctant to provide Government time for it, but I have been forthcoming about Government time to debate other subjects—notably unemployment—and I cannot foresee an early opportunity to debate housing. It is only right that I should say that.

The same is true of a debate on training facilities. We have launched a major new initiative on training, which is immensely important in preparing the next generation for our new industries. Our major scheme is now under way. However, I cannot give a day for such a debate. If the Opposition feel that strongly, they should provide one of their days.

I cannot provide any time for the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). Of course, there will be legislation on this subject, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced. The legislation that we propose and the time necessary to enact it is as far as I can go at present.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston) Before the House proceeds with the Second Reading of the Canada Bill would my right hon. Friend do his best to make arrangements for representatives of the Indian nations to meet the Minister in charge of the Bill so that they may express their genuine and substantiated fears about what the future holds for them when the Bill is enacted?
Mr. Pym They have already made clear representations. Indeed, there have been court proceedings in the matter. My hon. Friend will be able to raise these points on Second Reading. I do not think anyone can say that there have not been ample opportunities for those representations and views to be expressed. Further opportunities will arise during the passage of the Bill.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) Would the Leader of the House not accept that reports of Select Committees ought to be debated on amendable motions so that the House can express an opinion on the various items contained in them? Since the report to be debated on Monday on the Adjournment contains one proposition that the Supply time allocated to minority parties should be entirely at the discretion of the official Opposition, does he not recognise, particularly since this proposal would not require any change in Standing Orders to be given effect, that the House ought to be given the chance to vote on it and that the proposal to debate the matter on the Ajdournment is to deny us that right?
Mr. Pym I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands what I have in mind. The debate on Monday is to enable views to be expressed upon the report. No decision will be sought. I will put forward some of the 1116 changes recommended by the Select Committee which the House might with advantage accept. No doubt the hon. Gentleman and other lion: Members will do the same. Subsequently, in some months’ time, I will place motions on the Order Paper so that there will be an opportunity to debate the matters and come to a conclusion. But before framing those motions and asking the House to reach decisions it is right to hear the general views of all sides of the House. That is what we are going to do on Monday.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon) Will the Leader of the House arrange, in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for a statement to be made next week on the secret guidelines to be issued by the Home Department to chief constables concerning surveillance of individual citizens and the review that may take place on these guidelines?
Mr. Pym I do not think there will be time to debate that, but I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has a plan in mind to make available the nature of the guidelines to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant and Waterloo) Is the Leader of the House aware that there seems to be a somewhat prolonged and serious deterioration in the arrangements for the delivery of the Vote? He will be as aware as any of us that there is nothing more pointless than receiving the Vote a day and a half or two days late.
Mr. Pym I must agree with my hon. Friend. The cause of the delay has been unofficial union meetings each night in the warehouse department of St. Stephen’s Parliamentary Press. These meetings have been held in protest against a continuing management stand against demands for what management believes to be unnecessary overtime. I am having investigations made. Naturally I wish to do everything I can to end the dispute on a satisfactory basis so that the parliamentary papers which hon. Members must have arrive at a proper time.
Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South) Does the Leader of the House know that the Manpower Services Commission has recommended the abolition of the quota system for disabled employees? Since this would damage the already bleak prospects of disabled employees, and since hon. Members on both sides of the House and disabled organisations are against the abolition of the quota, can we be sure that there will be a debate before the Government make up their mind on this recommendation?
Mr. Pym I am not sure about a debate, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this Government, like their predecessors, take all the care they can to ensure that as many disabled as possible have jobs. Clearly, in present circumstances, it is even more difficult than usual, but there is an organisation throughout the nation to help the disabled find jobs, and in Government we give that all the support we can.
Several Hon. Members rose—
Mr. Speaker I hope hon. Members will be as brief as possible. I will allow business questions to run until 4 o’clock.
Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth) Will my right hon. Friend consider arranging a debate on immigration, which has not been discussed in the House for a long time? It is 1117 a subject that gives grave concern to vast numbers of people. I ask him most earnestly to give consideration to such a debate.
Mr. Pym It is with regret that I have to say to my hon. Friend that I cannot see Government time being available in the foreseeable future. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to find another opportunity to raise the subject.
Mr. John Roper (Farnworth) Will the Leader of the House reconsider his decision about the nature of the debate on Monday on the report of the Select Committee on Procedure? Will he give us an assurance that there will be an opportunity on a “take note” motion to discuss the allocation of Opposition time among the various parties on this side of the House—a matter which was before the Committee?
Mr. Pym I do not think it would be appropriate for me to ask the House to come to any decision on Monday following the debate on the Select Committee report. The purpose of the debate is to allow hon. Members to express their views. As a result of that, I will in due course table motions, on which I will ask the House to take decisions. That is the moment when the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends may wish to vote either on an amendment or on one of the substantive motions.
Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West) Could the Leader of the House confirm the Prime Minister’s welcome commitment given last week to introduce a Bill in the next Session on data protection?
Mr. Pym I do not think that it is an absolute commitment at this stage. I would not go further than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark) May I point out to my right hon. Friend that it would be convenient to hon. Members, their families and their constituents to have the earliest possible indication of our likely return after the Easter recess?
Mr. Pym The Easter Recess is almost invariably one week, so Monday week after Easter day would be the normal time for the House to return.
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South) The Leader of the House has not said why we are proceeding on Wednesday with the Canada Bill. Does the Canadian Prime Minister determine timetables, and not this Government? Why cannot the Government await the definitive ruling of the House of Lords which might be considering the case of the Indian Association of Alberta within a few weeks? Surely we must await that. Will he not agree that Canadians have been operating their constitution since 1967? Surely it would be worth while to delay the debate for a couple of weeks, if it affords justice to the Indians in Canada.
Mr. Pym As the hon. Gentleman knows, I did wait for the conclusion of the earlier court action before proceeding with the Bill. I have considered that point carefully. I understand that an appeal is likely, although one has not so far been made. Even if it is, I have taken that fully into account before announcing that we will debate the Second Reading next week.
Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield) As it is now 12 years since the House last had an opportunity 1118 for a major debate on the arts, will my right hon. Friend consider whether time could be found to discuss the Government’s excellent record on the arts and heritage?
Mr. Pym I would welcome that if time could be found. We shall have to see how we get on, but I wonder whether, under the Supply procedure to which the House may come in due course, a Select Committee investigation might be appropriate. I should like to have a debate in the House on the subject but I cannot find time at the moment. Perhaps my hon. Friend will find some other means of raising this important topic.
Several Hon. Members rose—
Mr. Speaker Order. I propose to confine the remaining time to those who have been standing up.
Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) In contrast to the puff from the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy), in view of the present and impending dangers to the life and work of a whole range of arts activities, when can the House have an opportunity to debate the whole question of arts funding and support, and when will it be possible to raise the advisability and propriety of introducing political considerations into Arts Council appointments, which seems to be a developing aspect of Government policy?
Mr. Pym The hon. Gentleman will have to persuade his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to find a Supply day for a debate on that subject or consideration of that aspect in the appropriate Select Committee might be another way of dealing with it.
Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North) Would the Leader of the House give further consideration to his announcement about the Canada Bill? He has received representations from both sides of the House and from the Opposition Front Bench, partly on legal grounds. In view of the considerable concern of Members on both sides of the House about the Indians, will he not permit a free vote when the Bill finally comes before us?
Mr. Pym As I have said before, I have taken all those considerations into account. The right hon. Gentleman might like to know that, as a matter of courtesy and, I hope, good sense, I have asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to be present during the debate so that if legal matters arise he will be able to intervene if the House so wishes. Having considered the whole matter, the Government have come to the conclusion that it is right and appropriate to proceed.
Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk) Does the Leader of the House not believe that it is quite wrong for the Government to take an individual through the courts in order to clarify the law, as this Government have done in the Harriet Harman case, which was decided today? Does he accept that it is necessary for the Home Secretary to make a statement to he House this week about rescinding the £25,000 costs that the Government have incurred in prosecuting an individual, when instead they should have legislated if they wished to have the law clarified?
Mr. Pym No, Sir.
Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) Does the Leader of the House realise that his refusal to allow a “take note” motion on the Select Committee on Procedure (Supply) is a serious matter? Can he guarantee that there 1119 will be a debate before 10 o’clock on recommendation 8 within the next few months and that it will be possible to have a specific vote? Is he aware that, without such a guarantee, the smaller parties in the House are placed in a difficult position?
Mr. Pym I cannot understand what has got into the SDP and the Liberal Party. We shall debate the matter generally and the right hon. Gentleman can express his views. In the light of what is said on Monday, motions will be tabled in due course on any changes that the Government decide to recommend. Those motions will be amendable and the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends can express their views. That is the right way to proceed. If the House thought that I would ask it to come to a decision on the report without a debate on Monday, I should be the subject of some criticism.
Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath) Can the Leader of the House tell us whether, in the light of the disgraceful talking out of the Death Grant (Increase) Bill last Friday, arrangements can be made for his right hon. Friend to make a statement about the increase in the grant?
Mr. Pym The Government will announce their conclusions fairly soon. The House and the hon. Gentleman will know that the problem derives from the fact that the grant has not been altered for a long time. It was altered in 1967 and previously it has not increased commensurate with prices. There is a real problem here, but I hope that we shall announce our conclusions soon.
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) In view of the continuation of the railway strike, and the distinct likelihood today of a major escalation of the strike, will the Leader of the House set aside time for a debate so that we can clarify the issue for the whole country?
Mr. Pym No, Sir. I do not believe that a debate would help. The only thing that would really help is for the strike to end and for the railways to start running again before British Rail’s finances are in such a serious state that we must return to the subject.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) Will the Leader of the House give further consideration to a debate on housing in Government time? Do not all the facts and figures show that many people have an appalling need for accommodation, especially those who must rent from local authorities? Would it not be wise, since last year’s figures show that council dwelling building was at its lowest since the 1920s, to have a debate as a matter of urgency?
Mr. Pym If such a debate is to take place in the immediate future it must be either in Opposition time or on some other basis.
Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens) Will the Leader of the House arrange for the appropriate Minister to make a statement in the House about Tootal Ltd., which has decided to close down its factory in St. Helens, and tell the House what he is prepared to do to try to save the jobs of its workers?
Mr. Pym I do not know whether a statement would be appropriate. I doubt it, but I shall convey the hon. Gentleman’s representations to my right hon. Friend.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley) Can the Leader of the House assure us that a statement will be made by the 1120 appropriate Minister on the multi-fibre arrangement negotiations at the earliest opportunity, because reports are appearing in the newspapers about the stage that negotiations have reached? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is of great concern to the textile industry in both Yorkshire and Lancashire as that industry directly employs, in addition to the clothing industry, over 600,000 people?
Mr. Pym I am acutely aware of the problems of the industry and I have tried throughout the negotiations to keep the House informed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade has done that. There were to be negotiations today, but they have been postponed for a fortnight. Perhaps after that a statement could be made to the House. We must consider that at the time, but the hon. Gentleman’s point is very much in my mind.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) Will the Leader of the House arrange for a short debate, perhaps late at night, on the appalling problems in the British footwear industry, especially in the light of the effect of the changes in operation of the short-time working compensation scheme, reports of heavy dumping from China and Poland during the past few weeks and the fact that many thousands of people will lose their jobs as a result of Government inaction?
Mr. Pym I agree that that too is an important issue, but I do not believe that I can find time for it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can find some other way.
Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon) Is the Leader of the House aware—to go back to the Canada Bill—that many hon. Members feel that the Canadian Indians have been oppressed for a long time and would appear to be oppressed again? Is it not essential that in this great constitutional issue we should safeguard the rights of the minority and see that they are heard? Is there any way in which Canadian Indian representatives can be brought to the Bar of the House to put their point of view to us?
Mr. Pym The answer to the latter part of the question is “No”. However, the hon. Gentleman can make his arguments during the debate. I have no doubt that his hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and other hon. Members will argue along the same lines. It is wrong to suggest that we should not proceed with the Bill.
Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South) In his short period of office, the Leader of the House has refused the House the use of the Public Bill procedure, has refused control of the Comptroller and Auditor General and has now set up a Procedure (Supply) Committee with wider terms of reference on a sessional basis so that it cannot possibly complete its terms of reference in time. Will he make a statement about how he proposes to remove those obstacles to the proper scrutiny exercised by the House?
Mr. Pym That is not an appropriate question from the Opposition. We have made more changes and advances in our procedures than the Labour Government. There will be an announcement of our conclusions about the Comptroller and Auditor General following the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s consideration of the debate that took place on the subject.
The Select Committee on Procedure (Supply) was unnecessarily delayed because there were problems in 1121 finding appropriate members to stand. That was not the Government’s fault. It is reasonable to have the Committee on a sessional basis. It could have started work three or four months ago if it had been set up at once, but that did not happen. Even so, there should be plenty of time for the committee’s work. However, if hon. Members have not finished their work and wish to continue next session, I would be prepared to consider setting it up again, but that is too far away to worry about at the moment.

Several Hon. Members rose—
Mr. Speaker Order. I propose to call the four hon. Members who have risen and also a representative of the Opposition Front Bench.
Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange) Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the Northern Ireland economy, especially the critical unemployment position? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the serious problems facing De Lorean, Harland and Wolff and other companies? Will the Government give time for such a debate as a matter of urgency?
Mr. Pym Few hon. Members are more sharply aware than I of all the problems in Northern Ireland. I welcome debates on Northern Ireland from time to time, on the economy no less than on security and other matters. There have been opportunities in recent months to debate various policies in Northern Ireland, but I am sure that there will be further opportunities in the future. I do not have a time in mind, but I am just as keen as the hon. Gentleman to have debates about the problems that face the Province.
Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth) Did the Leader of the House hear an interview on the BBC’s “World at One” programme today with distressed mothers whose family holidays have been wrecked by the collapse of Laker Airways and the consequent loss of a large sum of money? In view of the trail of family havoc that has been caused by the collapse of Laker, and of the announcement of the frightening possibility of Tiny Rowlands and Laker coming together again to form a new airline, is that not a strong case for a debate on the matter in Government time?
Mr. Pym I would not want to go further than my hon. Friend who made a statement from this Box last Friday; nor do I think that it is right for me to comment on the remarks of the hon. Gentleman. Obviously what has happened to this company is important, but I do not think that there is any cause for a further statement or any other action that I should take as Leader of the House in the immediate future. But the events are very much in our minds.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) Is the Leader of the House aware that some of us on this side of the House are against the idea of giving Supply time to the Social Democratic Party since all of them, bar one, were elected on a Labour ticket or a Conservative ticket. If Social Democratic Party members want parliamentary time, it is pretty clear to us that they ought to ask their colleagues in the Liberal Party to surrender part of their Supply time. They voted to join them and they must obtain their time from them.
1122 Will the right hon. Gentleman also take account of the fact that if he grants Supply time, the next thing is that the Social Democratic Party will want some of the parliamentary funds based on votes that they did not get at the general election for the party to which they now belong?

Will the Leader of the House also bear in mind that newspaper reports a few days ago suggested that 400-odd members of a National Front splinter group have joined the SDP? When all that is taken into account, we cannot allow them to get a foot in here.

Mr. Pym I am sure that we all enjoyed that. I shall get into trouble if I start to express any views on how an Opposition might use or divide Opposition time. It is up to them to say whether they wish to divide it or not, and it is not the business of the Leader of the House to tell them how to use it.
Mr. Les Huckfield (Nuneaton) On the railway industry, and not on the present dispute, is the Leader of the House aware of the growing rumours—and the concern that they are causing—that the Government have plans to take over the railway system and then to close parts of it down, in British Steel style? Can the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to come to this House and either confirm or deny those rumours?
Mr. Pym We have no such plans. We only hope that there will be a good railway left at the end of this. If the dispute does not end pretty soon, I do not know what state the railways will be in.
Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk, and Peebles) rose—
Mr. Speaker Order. The right hon. Gentleman has not been here, has he? The right hon. Gentleman did not hear me say 10 minutes ago that I would confine any further questions to those four hon. Gentlemen who were already standing. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that the same rules must apply to him as to other hon. Members.
Mr. Steel On a point of order—
Mr. Speaker What is the right hon. Gentleman’s point of order?
Mr. Steel On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did indeed hear what you said earlier. I was attempting to react to something that the Leader of the House had said. With respect—
Mr. Speaker Order. I think I had called everyone who had been standing, with the exception of the Opposition Front Bench. However, experience in this House has taught me that the best thing to do is to be as reasonable as possible. If the right hon. Gentleman has an urgent point that he seeks to make, out of a sense of fair play the House may like to hear him.
Mr. Steel What the Leader of the House said a few moments ago was very provocative. The right hon. Gentleman must accept his responsibility as Leader of the House and realise that the position has now changed, in that 20 per cent. of the Members on the Opposition Benches do not belong to the Labour Party. The right hon. Gentleman has a duty to the whole House to make sure that matters are openly debated.
Mr. Pym All relevant issues can be debated on Monday.
Mr. John Silkin (Deptford) Further to the question raised by the leader of the Liberal Party, will the Leader of the House, in his role as the protector of minorities, seek to accommodate the Social Democratic Party next week by arranging for a third voting lobby to be raised, because of the controversial nature of the business, so that they may be easy in both their votes and their minds?
Mr. Pym I admire the right hon. Gentleman’s imagination.

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