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Business Of The House

Volume 13: debated on Thursday 19 November 1981

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May I ask the Leader of the House to 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 23 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Social Security and Housing Benefits Bill.
  • Motions on the draft Agriculture and Horticulture Development (Amendment) Regulations, draft Farm Structure (Payments to Outgoers) (Variation) Scheme, Agriculture and Horticulture Grant (Variation) Scheme, and draft Farm and Horticulture Development Regulations.
  • TUESDAY 24 NovEMBER—Second Reading of the Transport (Finance) Bill.
  • Motions on the London Docklands Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (Greater London Council No. 2) Order and London Docklands Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (Tower Hamlets London Borough Council) Order.
  • WEDNESDAY 25 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
  • THURSDAY 26 NOVEMBER—Supply (4th allotted day). Until about 7.30 pm there will be a debate on law and order, followed by a debate on the damaging effects of high interest rates.
  • Both will arise on Liberal Party motions.
  • FRIDAY 27 NOVEMBER—Private Members' Motions.
  • MONDAY 30 NOVEMBER—Debate On the First Special Report from the Committee of Public Accounts, Session 1980–81 on the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General, and on the Government's White Paper, Cmnd, 8323.

May I put four matters to the right hon. Gentleman? First, the new unemployment figures will be announced on Tuesday. I renew to the Leader of the House our constant demand that, while there are such appalling and unprecedented unemployment figures, the announcement should be made by the Minister in the House with an early opportunity for the House to debate the question.

In view of the further redundancies that will come in International Computers Limited, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will arrange for the Secretary of State for Industry to make a special statement in the House. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) is leading a deputation to see the Prime Minister on Monday on that subject, but in view of the huge amounts of public money involved, I hope that there will be a statement on that subject, too.

I congratulate the Government on the fact that apparently the Secretary of State for the Environment has dropped the offensive so-called referendum clause from the Local Government Finance Bill. However, although we would prefer it if the whole Bill were dropped, can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that, if the Secretary of State persists with it, there will be a two-day debate on Second Reading on the Floor of the House and that the Committee stage will be taken on the Floor of the House, as it remains a constitutional Bill of major importance?

I say to the right hon. Gentleman once again that as soon as the judgment comes from the other place on the Greater London Council case, concerning Lord Denning's judgment and that of the Court of Appeal, we will wish to discuss the matter in the House, especially if, by some mischance, Lord Denning's judgment is upheld and—[Hon. Members: "Order."]—particularly because of the revelations in the Daily Mirror yesterday, which were interesting.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Am I correct in saying that the Leader of the Opposition is out of order in making an advance assumption on a judgment to be made in another place?

The hon. Gentleman is right that the matter is sub judice. We all know that, including the Leader of the Opposition.

I was not passing judgment on the merits of the matter. I am saying to the house and to the Leader of the House, whatever may be the verdict in that case, that I believe that the matter deserves discussion in the House. The Opposition will demand it. We believe that major questions are involved. Before Conservative Members dismiss what I am saying, I ask them to study the record with great care—for example, the article on that subject in the Daily Mirror yesterday. It cited what has been said by some Conservative spokesmen, including the Prime Minister. It will be found that on the legal aspect of the matter, the views of the right hon. Lady seem to accord almost exactly with those of Mr. Ken Livingstone.

On the important matter of unemployment, it is not the Government's intention to change the long-standing practice for announcing the figures. They will come at their regular time. However, we completely agree with the Leader of the Oppostion that it is an important matter. Already, in the last three weeks, the House has debated it twice and, no doubt, the House will wish to return to it. I have nothing further to say. No changes in the method of announcement are proposed at the moment.

I shall, of course, convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry the request for a statement on ICL, but it is our view that that is a matter for the company. It is the considered judgment of the new management of the company, in which we have full confidence, that further redundancies are necessary to ensure the long-term future of the company. However, I shall convey the right hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. Friend.

There is no reference in my Business Statement to the Local Government Finance Bill. We had a debate on it last Thursday. There is no doubt that many hon. Members on both sides of the House find high spending unacceptable. The question is how that problem is to be tackled. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is receiving representations and considering that matter actively. It is inappropriate to go further as to how any future debate or the Bill might be handled.

Finally, on the matter that is still sub judice, I feel that from the Dispatch Box it is both premature and inappropriate for me to make any comments at this stage, but the right hon. Gentleman's remarks have been noted.

Order. Before we start other questions, I remind the House that today is a Supply day on Scottish business. A large number of Scottish Members hope to participate. We must try to be fair to them, so I hope that questions will be succinct and to the point.

Regarding the Local Government Finance Bill, will my right hon. Friend accept that, although the exact form of that Bill may be a matter of discussion, most, if not all, Conservative Members expect action to be taken to keep down the rates?

I am aware of that view, which is held by many of my hon. Friends, and so is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Can the House have a debate on the state of outer cities? Is the Minister aware that in one estate in my constituency, which is not in the inner city, unemployment is estimated to be above 50 per cent? If the Government are expected to take action to reduce rates, as the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) stated, will the Government help local authorities to assist outer city areas that are in desperate need today?

I regret that I cannot hold out any hope in the immediate future for a debate on that subject in Government time. That does not mean to say that it is not important, but there are other, perhaps even more important, issues Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman can find other opportunities to raise the matter.

May I draw my right hon. Friend s attention to early-day Motion No. 1 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen), my name and the names of a number of other hon. Members?

[That this House believes that the pressing problems facing our cities can best be tackled by implementing some of the proposals contained in a recently published study `New Life For Old Cities' endorsed by 62 Conservative honourable Members and Members of the European Parliament representing urban constituencies which offers new hope for the regeneration of our cities, by turning to people rather than Government and relying more on private enterprise than public bureaucracy; and notes that included amongst the recommendations are: (a) the rapid release by auction, on the open market of hoarded public land surplus to requirement, (b) promoting city renewal through self-financing private enterprise agencies which would contract out to existing local businesses and professional firms the job of marketing the city's assets, (c) making urban renewal attractive to private investment by offering cheaper loans through issuing tax-exempt revenue bonds, (d) offering rate holidays not just in enterprise zones but to single-plant family firms elsewhere and inner city retailers who ultimately will pay full commercial rates but only if their businesses prosper, (e) encouraging private business to build new factories, offices and homes in the inner city thus reducing the 60,000 acres of agricultural land and green field sites lost each year to urban sprawl, (f) halting demolition and instead encouraging local authorities to sell off decaying property for £1·00 for those (homesteaders) willing to repair and live in them, and making similar arrangements for shopsteaders to enable run-down shops scheduled for demolition to be saved, (g) encouraging building societies to lend on older houses and discontinue 'red-lining' (that is refusing loans for house ownership in run-down areas), (h) enabling sitting tenants of flats and maisonettes inouter council housing estates to purchase their freeholds for a nominal sum in return for a share in the block's management and upkeep thus saving local authority expenditure and (i) contracting out to private enterprise those local authority services which can be done better and cheaper by private enterprise; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to assume a catalytic role so as to enable public and private enterprise in partnership to realise their full potential, to reduce those checks and controls which militate against new development and to involve more fully those people living and working in cities in the total revitalisation process.]

The motion proposes that the Government should deal with what has apparently become the intractable problem of inner cities by relying on private enterprise rather than public bureaucracy. Does my right hon. Friend recognise the importance of the proposals? Will he do his best to see that we have an early opportunity to debate them?

If an opportunity can be found, yes. This subject is high on the Government's list of priorities. No one has been more forthright on introducing private capital to bring assistance to the inner cities than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Indeed, it was his own idea. He is still actively considering various ways in which he can help the inner cities.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Manpower Services Commission has issued a report that recommends the abolition of the quota system, a system which defends the interests of the disabled in industry? Does he accept that most organisations concerned with disablement and most of the disabled want to preserve the quota system and strengthen it? Will we have a debate on this subject before Government action?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important matter. I am not sure whether we can find time in the near future to debate it. I shall convey the right hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. Friend.

In view of the importance to certain constituencies of Mr. Reagan's initiative on nuclear weapons where cruise missiles might in some circumstances be deployed, will my right hon. Friend ask a Foreign Office Minister to make it his business to keep the House informed of the Soviet response? At an appropriate stage will he enable a debate to take place on the initiative on the Floor of the House?

I do not think that anyone is under any illusion—I am sure that my hon. Friend is not—that the negotiations will be long and hard. The reduction in the level of armaments must be won. Until now there has been not the slightest indication that the Soviet Union is willing to respond, but we must hope that it will now. I am sure that it will be a long-running story. The British Government, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, will put all their efforts behind supporting the President of the United States in his efforts. I am sure that the House will be kept informed from time to time. Indeed, the progress that is made in these vital talks will be public knowledge.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement on the multi-fibre arrangement renegotiations? As the right hon. Gentleman is well aware, several representations have been made for a Minister dealing with the renegotiations and not a Minister from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to give the House details of the renegotiations. I am sure that he understands very well that for textile constituencies in Lancashire and Yorkshire the renegotiations mean the retention or destruction of thousands of jobs.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the renegotiations. Progress was made in discussions in Brussels this week. I think that I can say that the Minister involved in the discussions will be making a statement to the House next week.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that arrangements and facilities in the House for dealing with mass lobbies are satisfactory neither to many hon. Members nor to our constituents? In the light of that and of the security dangers, will he review the arrangements?

Mass lobbies are difficult to handle. I think that the arrangements that were made for yesterday's lobby were basically satisfactory. I have heard no general complaint save for the scale of the lobby and the limited opportunities for many of those who participated in the lobby to enter the House to meet Members. Praise has been expressed to me for the way in which the police and other Officials of the House dealt with the lobby. I think that all hon. Members appreciate that. If there were a general desire for me to raise the matter with the Services Committee, or if there were a feeling that the time was appropriate to do so, I should be happy so to refer it.

The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion No. 16, which is supported by 180 hon. Members, on the closure of the Liverpool-Belfast ferry.

[That this House fully supports the fight to retain the Liverpool to Belfast Ferry; and calls upon the Prime Minister to convoke a meeting with the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, the Environment and all interested parties to guarantee the retention of this service, to prevent the further isolation of Northern Ireland and, in view of the high level of unemployment on Merseyside and in Northern Ireland, to prevent any increase in that unemployment, particularly among seamen and port workers.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time to arrange an early debate on this issue, which is extremely important to Liverpool and Northern Ireland? Surely the Government are not prepared to sit back and face a possible national strike of seamen.

I have nothing to add at this stage to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said in the course of the exchanges in the House last week. We are fully seized of the importance of the issue. I cannot go further than that today.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that nine months have elapsed since the publication by the Select Committee on Energy of its report on the Government's nuclear power programme? When does he expect the House to have an opportunity to debate the report?

I hope to find an opportunity to debate the report in due course. I cannot be precise on time.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion No. 68, an all-party motion that refers to the disgraceful decision of the Government to deport Filipino workers who have been domiciled and who have worked in this country for up to nine years?

[That this House notes that the General Secretary of the General and Municipal Workers Union has requested an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister to ask her to reconsider the decision of Her Majesty's Government to deport a number of Filipino immigrants who are employed in the hotel and catering industries; and calls upon the Prime Minister to intervene immediately to prevent any deportations pending a discussion with Mr. Basnett and his deputation about these people.]

Has the Home Secretary ordered an immediate stop on these deportations? Will the Prime Minister be prepared to meet an all-party deputation accompanied by Mr. David Basnett?

That will be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's views to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I am not able to say anything further than that today.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the letter that appears in today's edition of The Times from the governor of Wormwood Scrubs, in which he states that he cannot tolerate for much longer the inhumanity of the "penal dustbin" in which he works? As the Home Secretary accepts that there is unacceptable overcrowding in British prisons but seems to have disregarded the most important option of reducing numbers, may we have an early statement on the steps that the Government propose to take to reduce numbers in prisons to create a decent, civilised and humane prison system for both prisoners and staff?

I hope that there will be some opportunity to discuss these matters before very long. I cannot see an opportunity of doing so next week.

May I return to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) on President Reagan's statement? Does the Leader of the House consider it sufficient for us to have exchanges on this issue? Surely it would be better in due time for the Government to give a considered view in the light of the Soviet response. It is an issue that has an effect on the whole of our defence strategy, both nuclear and conventional. Its effect is not limited to the areas where cruise missiles might or might not be sited.

There will be an effect on our nuclear and defence strategy generally if the negotiations are brought, as we all very much hope, to a satisfactory conclusion. In the meantime we must give every support that we can to the United States Government in their negotiations with the Soviet Union and watch their progress. There is no call for any change meanwhile. I remind the hon. Gentleman that all British Governments have been in full support of every endeavour to limit and reduce armaments on both sides of the Iron Curtain. That is our whole purpose. A new initiative has been taken on a major scale to achieve that and we want to give every help that we can.

It is welcome news that perhaps we shall have a statement from the Minister who is responsible for the multi-fibre arrangement negotiations. Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Cabinet is made aware of the importance of this issue? If there is no satisfactory renewal that provides better terms, the United States, perhaps, will make its marker difficult to enter with the result that more and more imports will flood into Britain. If that happens, a quarter of a million jobs in textiles will be at stake. That is no exaggeration in areas in which unemployment is already unacceptably high.

I think that we should await the statement that I expect to be made next week, which will take us a stage further in what I agree is an important area of our industry.

Has the Leader of the House given serious consideration to early-day motions Nos. 415 and 39 on nurses' pay that appear in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and myself?

[That this House, recalling the occasion when the British Medical Association in pursuance of a pay claim collected resignation forms from general practitioners, requests the Minister of Health to make contingency planning in the event of the Royal College of Nursing, COHSE and NUPE now deciding upon a similar strategy and further to arrange with the Treasury for the extra funds to be made available if large numbers of nurses had to be re-employed on an agency scale.]

[That this House notes the stark contrast between the claim made by the Department of Health and Social Security in a letter to the honourable Member for Central Fife, dated 29th October 1981, that 'a great deal of progress towards solving the problems of nurses' pay has been made…in the last year' with the more accurate assertion in the Nursing Mirror of 23rd September 1981 that 'nurses are in a desperate situation once again', and, pointing out that a fully qualified staff nurse now has a starting salary of £4,450 compared with £4,956 paid to a raw, untrained police recruit and £5,170 for an 18-year-old in the fire service, urges Her Majesty's Government to implement the proposal made some time ago by the present Minister of Health, the Right honourable Member for Reading South, that nurses' pay should be tied to that of the police, the firemen and the armed services.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is some urgency? Negotiations are now under way. The Chancellor's announcement today about inflation rates means that the management side will have to give the nurses an 8 per cent. cut in their pay packets. Will he arrange for a statement to be made next week, either by the Secretary of State for Social Services or by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the management side will have money sufficient to meet a justifiable claim?

I shall convey those views to my right hon. Friend. As the hon. Gentleman says, negotiations are under way. It is right that they should continue. It is very unusual for a statement to be given—or to be thought to be helpful—if negotiations are under way.

In view of the decision to allow Scottish Members to debate Scottish affairs in Edinburgh and their anxiety to make the Secretary of State for Scotland face the disastrous effects of the Government's policies in Scotland without the backing of his English majority, will the Leader of the House make arrangements for a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh before Christmas?

We have made arrangements convenient to the House for the experimental period during which meetings will take place in Edinburgh. The meetings will not begin before Christmas. They will begin early in the new year.

Order. I shall call the four hon. Members who have risen, one of whom will have the compliment of being last.

May I welcome the fact that we shall have a statement from the Minister for Trade about the multi-fibre arrangement? May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to the serious delay in decisions on applications for British citizenship because of the large numbers who applied a few months ago when fears were raised by the British Nationality Act? Is he aware that there are also delays because of cutbacks in staff dealing with the applications? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is a serious matter that applications for British citizenship—which is a right—are so badly delayed? Is he aware that a statement would be welcome so that people can understand a matter that is causing concern to those who wish—and have the right—to become British citizens?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his first point. His second point is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary rather than for me, but I shall convey those views to him.

Is the Leader of the House aware that millions of people in Britain are watching the progress of the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour)? As his position is supported by a clear majority of hon. Members and the Government's position is supported by only a minority, should we not have a statement from the Dispatch Box about the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, so that we can have a responsible debate about the only way in which many of us believe the immediate problem in Britain can be solved?

Has the Leader of the House seen the newspaper reports that suggest that the transfer of two Ministers from the Department of Health and Social Security to other responsibilities is a victory for the tobacco lobby? As the allegations cast doubts on the Government's intentions when the voluntary agreement with the tobacco companies expires in the middle of next year, should we not have an early statement about what the Government plan to do after the middle of next year?

No, Sir. The idea that this Prime Minister, or any Prime Minister, would contemplate asking a Minister to move from one Department to another on the basis of a supposed tobacco lobby or any other lobby, is so palpably absurd as not to be worth commenting on.

Can the Leader of the House assure us that early next week there will be an oral statement about the agenda of the EEC Heads of Government meeting on 26 and 27 November? Can he also assure the House that, as the Rome-Bonn proposals are likely to be discussed, a document relating to them will be available to the House and to the public by Wednesday at the latest?

I am doubtful about that, but I shall consider it with my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary.