Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?
Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:MONDAY 5 APRIL—Remaining stages of the Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill and of the Reserve Forces Bill [Lords]. TUESDAY 6 APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill. WEDNESDAY 7 APRIL—Supply (17th Allotted Day). There will be a debate on the first to seventeenth reports from the Committee of Public Accounts in Session 1980–81 and the first to fifth reports in Session 1981l–82, and the relevant Government observations. At Seven o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named Opposed Private Business for consideration. THURSDAY 8 APRIL—It is proposed that the House will meet at 9.30 am, take Questions until 10.30 am, and adjourn at 3.30 pm until Monday 19 April.
Will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland be making a statement next week on the White Paper and will the Lord Privy Seal be prepared to make an oral statement next week on the observers' report on the E1 Salvador elections?Last week during business questions my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked about the public expenditure White Paper. We are grateful for the fact that the Government have separated the Second Reading of the Finance Bill from the debate on the public expenditure White Paper. However, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we would have preferred a debate on the White Paper before the Second Reading. May we have the debate before the Bill is discussed in Committee? The Leader of the House will be aware that yesterday a written answer was given by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist). The answer amounted to a major Government statement and was a departure from Government policy. In our view, it was a departure that put in jeopardy many of the services of British Rail. We must demand that an oral statement be made by the Secretary of State for Transport and that a debate should follow in due course.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland intends to make a statement next week, and in all probability it will be on Monday.I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal on the observers' report on the E1 Salvador elections. I do not think that we had it in mind to make an oral statement, but I am prepared to consider that possibility without giving an undertaking. It is my hope to arrange a debate on the public expenditure White Paper before the Finance Bill begins its Committee stage. At any rate, I shall seek to arrange it in that way. The written answer to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was very much in accordance with precedent and practice on such a matter. It is true that on occasion it has been done in another way, including in this Parliament in respect of one nationalised industry, but the procedure that was followed yesterday was in accordance with precedent. It seemed to us to be the appropriate way of proceeding. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman believes that it is an important matter. It is possible for the Opposition to arrange a debate upon it if they so wish. We acted in accordance with what is normally done on such occasions.
Nevertheless, will the right hon. Gentleman kindly consider the matter again? It is one of great importance to the Opposition and, we feel, to the nation. Perhaps he will have another look at it.
Of course I am prepared to do that. I do not wish to make any promise or to give an undertaking, but I am prepared to consider the matter again.
Has my right hon. Friend had time to observe the report of the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service which was published today? It is the fourth report from a Select Committee to recommend an extension of the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Exchequer and Audit Department. As we are approaching the third anniversary of the occasion when my right hon. Friend's predecessor stated that the issue would be dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a matter of urgency, can my right hon. Friend tell the House when he thinks that an announcement will be made?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I am conscious of the keen interest in the House on this subject, which has been debated before. I am conscious also of the Government's commitment fully to respond to the proposals that have been made and to which my right hon. Friend referred. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is fully seized of the position. He is actively pursuing the matter and I hope very much that progress will be made soon.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Early-Day Motion 382, which calls for support for the Northern region?[That this House welcomes the decision announced by the Secretary of State for Wales to increase the budget of the Welsh Development Corporation by 71 per cent. from April 1982; recognises that representatives of the Northern Region of England are currently negotiating with Secretary of State for Industry about the North of England Development Council budget for 1983–84;notes that the problems in the Northern Region are at least as severe as those faced by the people of Wales; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to give equal support to the people of the Northern Region.] Does the right hon. Gentleman realise the implications of the statement made by the Secretary of State for Wales that there should be a 71 per cent. increase in grant for the Welsh Development Corporation, which we in the Northern region welcome very much because of the needs of Wales? However, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Secretary of State for Industry makes a statement next week to draw attention to the needs of other regions and not least the Northern region, which still has the highest rate of unemployment and which would need an increase in grant of at least 71 per cent. to increase job opportunities?
There is no doubt that a number of regions have strong claims for the reason that the hon. Gentleman has explained. I shall convey his representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and consult him on the issue.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this week saw the publication of the first annual report of Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons? There are many Members on both sides of the House who would welcome an early debate on the role of the prison service. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that we shall have such a debate after the Easter recess?
Hon. Members could have raised this important topic in the House on a number of occasions. It is true that there is a great deal of interest in it. It is true also that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has taken positive action and made a number of substantial decisions to improve the conditions in our prisons and to build new prisons. I cannot find Government time in the near future to debate the matter. I hope that there will be other opportunities for my hon. Friend to raise the subject for debate.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the first report of Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons is extremely important? Is he aware that it speaks in fairly straightforward terms of the appallingly overcrowded conditions in our prisons and refers to the effect of imprisonment as being brutalising and dehumanising? Surely it is important that the House should have an early opportunity to debate the report?
Of course it is an important topic. Perhaps the decisions taken by my right hon. Friend are even more important. He has taken action to try to deal with some of the issues that have been raised I shall keep the hon. Gentleman's request in mind.
Apart from the merits of the Northern Ireland initiative, which to a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself are imperceptible, should not the statement thereon be made not next week but today or tomorrow, seeing that the whole arrangements have been published in the press? Should not we learn from Ministers of the Crown and not from newspapers and broadcasts what her Majesty's Government policy is?
I ask my hon. Friend to be patient until, I hope, Monday of next week. There were good reasons why it was not possible for the statement to be made today and why it was not practicable to make it tomorrow. It will be made at the first possible moment and thereafter we shall see what procedures may be necessary. I assure my hon. Friend that the statement will be made as soon as is practicable.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the rising volume of protest in Wales about the level of water charges? Will he arrange for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement next week on this difficult and vexing problem in Wales?
The Government have been reasonably generous in allocating time for debates on Welsh affairs, but I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.
As the debate on the Middle East was cancelled owing to the Polish situation, as my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary has been to Israel only this week and as there has been an escalation of the problems on the West Bank, may we have an early debate on this subject and not just a statement by a Foreign Office Minister?
The House would appreciate an opportunity for a debate on foreign affairs. I cannot arrange a debate before Easter, but I would hope to arrange one between Easter and Whitsun.
Is the Leader of the House aware of the widespread concern in Scotland about the presence in the Firth of Clyde of a Soviet nuclear submarine? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the dangers consequent on such a presence will increase if the Government deploy Trident II at Coulport? Will he arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to make an early statement on this matter?
That matter does not arise in the business for next week. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall convey the request for a statement, if that seems appropriate, to my right hon. Friend. Surveillance operations for the Soviet submarine and the large Soviet intelligence-gathering surface vessel in the area were mounted, using Royal Navy frigates, Sea-King helicopters and Royal Air Force Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that at no time did the submarine or the other vessel enter territorial waters. Naturally, the matter is being kept under close review.
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that we shall have a full day's debate on the proposals for Northern Ireland before any legislation is published? In the meantime, will he be good enough to inquire why some members of the press are better informed on this subject than we are?
I cannot comment on my hon. Friend's latter point, although I shall try to inquire. Such inquiries do not normally yield much fruit. I must ask my hon. Friend to await the statement and we shall then see what the postition is.
Given the deep desire of the Leader of the House and the Government to cut wasteful Government expenditure and quangos—a desire that I support—will the right hon. Gentleman arrange next week for the Secretary for State of the Environment to confirm or deny the statement in the press today that Jennifer Jenkins is to be appointed to a £25,000 a year job? The taxpayer does not like to hear of such things, and I am sure that hon. Members would like to know what is happening.
I dare say that the hon. Gentleman has made that inquiry direct to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I have no knowledge of the matter, but I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend.
Will my right hon. Friend allow time next week for a debate on yesterday's VAT order on gold coins? While I have no objection whatever to foreign coins being taxed, is it not quite without precedent, and extraordinary, that the British gold sovereign should be subject to VAT?
I am not sure whether that matter falls within the scope of the Second Reading of the Finance Bill. That may provide an opportunity for debate, but I cannot find a special occasion to enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reassure my hon. Friend.
I should like to return to the emollient answer that the right hon. Gentleman gave to the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). He used such words as "actively pursuing", "conscious of the keen interest" and "the Chancellor of the Exchequer is fully seized". What exactly do they mean in terms of the debate on the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, which advocated access to information on Public money by the public Accounts Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General? This is a matter of great concern in my constituency, where the tractor line at Leyland has so far not been cannibalised. Indeed, the Comptroller and Auditor General has been refused access to the books. Do the Government understand that this is more than an academic question—
Order. Hon. Members must be fair to one another because there is a great deal of guillotined business to come later.
This is not the place to debate the merits of the issue. I was trying to assure the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) and now the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is, indeed, seized of the urgency and importance of the matter. Discussions are going on. I hope that we shall make progress with a matter that is very important and extremely difficult both for those hon. Members who are interested in it and for the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the decision made by the Cabinet this morning on Northern Ireland must have been communicated to the press immediately, because it was on the tapes, with all the details? There was even an item about it in the BBC "World at One" programme. Is it not wrong that a Cabinet decision on such an important matter should be issued first to the press and not announced to the House?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.
Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that the Secretary of State for Scotland will make a statement to the House next week about the rising crime figures in the Strathclyde region which were announced last week by the chief constable? As the Home Secretary has announced increased powers of search for the police as a cure for rising crime in London, and as we already have such powers in Scotland, we need to know what action the Secretary of State intends to take to cure rising crime in Scotland.
I shall convey those representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I think it most unlikely that a statement would prove appropriate.
Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a motion on the Order Paper concerning the ramp or luggage workers at Heathrow airport, who include a number of my constituents? We are very worried. Will the right hon. Gentleman pass on that worry to the Secretary of State for Employment and ask him to use his influence to get talks going between the trade union officials and the management of British Airways, which seems to have acted in a high-handed manner on rosters? The dispute has been going on for weeks and threatens to spread because The Transport and General Workers Union is calling out other workers with a view to trying to close down the airport?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and others are doing everything they can and are using their best endeavours to bring the dispute to an end.
Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for the House to discuss the first report of the Social Security Advisory Committee 1981 which appears to show savings from the sick, injured and unemployed of £1·8 billion. The committee now states that we should return to the position of the 1979 valuation, which will cost £686 million. As the Secretary of State for Social Services said that he could not find any money to pay the 5 per cent. that has been taken from the unemployed, the House would like to know where the £1·8 billion is going.
I take note of those representations, and I shall convey them to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.
I should like to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Early-Day Motion 387 dealing with the question of support for the Northern region.[That this House welcomes the decision announced by the Secretary of State for Wales to increase the budget of the Welsh Development Corporation by 71 per cent. from April 1982; recognises that representatives of the Northern Region of England are currently negotiating with the Secretary of State for Industry about the North of England Development Council budget for 1983–84; notes that the problems in the Northern Region are at least as severe as those faced by the people of Wales; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to give equal support to the people of the Northern Region.] Notwithstanding what the Leader of the House said to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand), and bearing in mind that unemployment in the Northern region is the highest for any region in Great Britain, does not the Leader of the House in all equity believe that Northern Members of Parliament are entitled to a statement next week from the Secretary of State for Industry?
The Government are still considering the level of financial support for the Northern region and three other regions. An announcement will be made as soon as a decision has been taken.
Will the Leader of the House find time for an early debate on changes in the distribution of income and wealth under this Government? Will he use such a debate to brief his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the official figures from the Central Statistical Office show that the living standards index is now 111·4, although for the second quarter of 1979 it was 112·7?
That subject might be in order for debate during proceedings on the Finance Bill, but I doubt whether I can provide a special opportunity for a debate. The hon. Gentleman may be able to find other opportunities to raise the matter.
Given the article in the New Statesman which explains that MI5 is building and installing a massive computer with links to other Government Departments, will the Leader of the House, arrange for a statement to be made? The links between computer terminals have been confirmed in parliamentary answers to me. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Parliament, as a democratically elected assembly, should have some say about the safeguards for citizens which such computer storage and links threaten?
A White Paper on data protection will be published fairly soon, which will be relevant to that subject. In the fullness of time, that may provide an opportunity for the subject to be raised. However, I cannot provide time for a special debate on it in the immediate future.
Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Social Services on the scandalous treatment that the Government handed out this week to the nurses? The Government have refused to increase the offer to more than 6·3 per cent. and no hon. Member has had a chance to cross-examine the Secretary of State on having agreed to that scandalous offer. If the Common Market people have their way, there will be a farm price review increase of possibly 14 per cent. Why can some people get away with 14 per cent. while the Government keep nurses' pay down to 6·3 per cent?
An offer of 6·4 per cent. was made to the nurses and that is still under negotiation. It is a great mistake and extraordinarily unhelpful for any hon. Member to comment on a matter that is now under negotiation. That is how the position lies, and we must hope that a conclusion that is satisfactory to all sides will be achieved.