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Business Of The House

Volume 24: debated on Thursday 20 May 1982

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3.30 pm

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. John Biffen)

The business for next week will be as follows:

  • MONDAY 24 MAY—Progress on the Report stage of the Transport Bill.
  • TUESDAY 25 MAY—Completion of remaining stages of the Transport Bill.
  • WEDNESDAY 26 MAY—A debate on the European Community.
  • Remaining stages of the Harbours (Scotland) Bill [Lords].
  • Motion on the undertaking relating to Highlands and Islands shipping services.
  • THURSDAY 27 MAY—Committee stage of the Northern Ireland Bill.
  • FRIDAY 28 MAY—It will be proposed that the House should rise for the Spring Adjournment until Tuesday 8 June.

First, I thank the Leader of the House for arranging today's debate on the Falklands crisis. We may need another debate on the subject in the next few days or at the beginning of next week. I am sure that he will make that arrangement if it becomes necessary. I thank him also for providing us with the document for which we asked as part of the background to the debate that we shall have today.

Secondly, what does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do to provide a similar facility in preparation for the debate next Wednesday on the crisis in the Common Market which the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister has described as extremely serious and without precedent? Will there be a statement on the Government's reaction to that development before the debate? In view of the seriousness of the position that the right hon. Lady has described, I should have thought that that was the best way for the House to approach the matter.

Thirdly, there is an extremely important and urgent matter which, were it not for the other crises facing us, would dominate our thoughts. It is the major crisis that is developing in British Rail that has been sparked off by the board's decision on railway workshop closures which come on top of the financial restrictions that have been placed on the board by the Government. As the House will adjourn at the end of next week if the proposals of the Leader of the House are accepted, there could be movement towards industrial action before the House returns. Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman make absolutely sure that a statement of Government policy on the matter is made at the beginning of next week? It appears that that is the only way in which a grievous industrial problem can be avoided.

I have, of course, noted what the Leader of the Opposition said about the Falklands issue. The debate on the European Community on Wednesday will arise on a Government motion. I am sure that the Government's position will be made clear then. I trust that it will be endorsed by the Opposition.

With regard to British Rail, I am sorry that I cannot add to the answer that I gave last week. I realise that the requirement to arrange debates in Government time has had an effect on Supply time, and I hope that that pressure will ease off. As I have said before, I thought that a Supply day would be a suitable occasion for such a debate.

Order. I am sure that it would be the will of the House that today we should have less time than usual on business questions. I propose not to allow them to run beyond a quarter to four.

On next Wednesday's business, and in the light of what the Prime Minister has said, will my right hon. Friend confirm that Ministers will state their considered view on the Common Market diktat—that is what it was. Does he agree that one of the options open to us, if the Common Market will not keep to the rules, is that we should not pay the subscription?

I am sure that Wednesday's debate will secure the appropriate response from my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. I shall draw to their attention what my hon. Friend has said.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that before the Prime Minister leaves for New York for the second special session on disarmament we shall have an opportunity for a full day's debate on the matters to be covered there?

In view of the importance of next Wednesday's debate on the EEC, can the Leader of the House say when he expects to table the Government motion? Does he agree that it could be tabled late on Tuesday? I am sure that he would not regard that as useful.

We shall try to table the motion in such a way and at such a time as to enable the House to take full account of it.

What sort of timetable does my right hon. Friend have in mind for the Northern Ireland Bill, which goes into Committee on Thursday? Are we likely to consider it the following week? When does he expect that the Committee stage will finish?

I cannot go further than to say that it is planned that the first day in Committee should be spent on Thursday of next week.

In view of the crisis in National Health Service hospitals arising from the injustice to nurses, whose pay is now 18 per cent in real terms behind what it was in 1974, and ancillary workers. will the Leader of the House find time for a statement next week? Does he agree that there could be a crisis of tremendous proportions before we return from the recess?

I am sure that the most helpful and happy event would be the early resumption of discussions within the Whitley council. Nevertheless, I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services what the hon. Gentleman has said.

May I have the attention of the Leader of the House? Is he aware that the Secretary of State for Education and Science yesterday refused to give certain information to a Select Committee of the House? Is he further aware that his predecessor, the present Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, gave a pledge to the House from the Dispatch Box that if there was substantial anxiety in the House that information had not been given by Ministers, he would arrange a debate on the Floor of the House to discuss it? Does that pledge still stand? If we show substantial anxiety, will the Leader of the House arrange such a debate?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that my regard for him is zealous and almost always undivided. I wish to give further measured consideration to the matter that he has raised. When I have done that, I shall be in touch with him.

In view of the fundamental nature of the crisis in the EEC whereby they vote and we pay, and as many right hon. and hon. Members may wish to speak in Wednesday's debate, will my right hon. Friend consider extending the debate to two days, or, if many hon. Members are disappointed about not being called in the one-day debate, will he consider having a subsequent one?

My hon. Friend is a shade ambitious. I suspect that a one-day debate will prove useful.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement on the Government's position with regard to the pay of nurses and other Health Service workers? Does he agree that it is scandalous that throughout the dispute the Tory Government have not allowed their Minister to speak on the matter from the Dispatch Box, either by way of a statement or in a debate? Does he agree that the Minister has communicated with the media many times and in various ways? Does he agree that the Minister should be responsible to the House and give a categorical assurance that nurses and other Health Service workers should receive a pay increase that is at least in line with the Government's tax and prices index?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt).

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on Wednesday there were a number of meetings and stoppages among Health Service workers, including one in my constituency at the Airedale general hospital, at which they pressed for a response from the Government to their reasonable desire to have a better award than 4 per cent.? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that they feel outraged that the Government have given 18 per cent. to senior civil servants and judges and yet are crushing—

I was saying, Mr. Speaker, that I want a statement to be made. There should be an urgent statement or a debate.

My answer to the question of the hon. Member for Brent, South covers the question of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer).

In view of the recent 21 per cent. increase that has been awarded to senior civil servants and judges and the miserable award that has been offered to the nurses and other public employees, we should have a debate and not merely a statement. Do the Government realise that, in the absence of a satisfactory response from them, hospital workers will involve themselves in further industrial disputes in an effort to earn a decent wage?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the most helpful thing would be for negotiations to recommence within the Whitley council. I have nothing to add to the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Brent, South.