Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd July 1981.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 27 JULY—Debate on the Opposition motion of no confidence in Her Majesty's Government's economic and social policies.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Armed Forces Bill.

Motion relating to the British Gas Corporation (Disposal of Wytch Farm Oilfield Interests) Direction.

Motions on the coal industry orders.

TUESDAY 28 JULY—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Transport Bill.

Motion on the European Community documents 7305/81, 7306/81, 7825/81 and 7847/81 on the steel industry.

THURSDAY 30 JULY—Completion of remaining stages of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill [Lords].

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Employment and Training Bill.

Motions on the London Docklands Development Corporation orders relating to Newham and Southwark.

FRIDAY 31 JULY—Motions on the uprating regulations on social security benefits, supplementary benefit, and on child benefit, on the family income supplement regulations, and on the Pensioners' Lump Sum Payments Order.

Motion on the Supplementary Benefit (Requirements and Conditions of Entitlement) Amendment Regulations.

Subject to the approval of the motion on the Order Paper, Mr. Speaker, the House will not meet on Wednesday 29 July, and will rise on Friday 31 July for the Summer Adjournment, until Monday 19 October.

[The following reports of the European Legislation Committee are relevant to the debate on the steel industry on Tuesday 28 July:

26th report, 1980–81, HC 32-xxvi, para. 2; 27th report, 1980–81, HC 32-xxvii, para. 2; 29th report, 1980–81, HC 32-xxix, para. 1; 31st report, 1980–81, HC 32-xxxi.

The 31st report is not yet published, but typescript copies are available in the Vote Office].

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

May I put three matters to the right hon. Gentleman? First, can he ensure that the Home Secretary makes a statement to us next week about the serious incidents in Brixton just over a week ago? Second, will he assure us that a report will be made to the House on that matter before we depart at the end of next week?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman give us the absolute assurance that the Secretary of State for the Environment will make a statement about the Vale of Belvoir? Considering how serious that could be for the energy prospects of the country, as well as for the well-being of the coal industry, can he also assure us that if, by any mischance, the Secretary of State's decision is to be against that which has been recommended, the House of Commons will have a chance to debate and vote on the matter before such an adverse decision is taken?

Thirdly, we have asked for a debate on the BBC external services on a number of occasions, and I understand why it has been difficult for the Government to fix a time for it. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us now that we shall have a debate on the matter in the overspill period after the recess so that the House can give its view? I underline the fact that we think that that is especially necessary because, when there was a debate on a kindred subject not so long ago, the House gave its decision and the Government's present proposals in some respects flout the previous decision of the House of Commons. If the House has changed its mind on the subject, let the Government come forward and see whether that is the case, but we think that it is disgraceful for the Government to go ahead on those proposals. We ask the right hon. Gentleman here and now for an assurance that there will be no decision to go ahead until we have had a chance to hold that debate.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I shall, of course, convey to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the right hon. Gentleman's request that he should make a statement, although I do not know whether the inquiry that he has instigated will have been completed by next week.

On the important matter of a possible statement on the Vale of Belvoir, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has not yet come to a conclusion or made a decision. Until he does so, it is, of course, not possible for him to inform the House. I fully acknowledge—it is clear to everybody—that this is an important decision with important consequences. It is partly for that reason that my right hon. Friend has taken a considerable time to reach a conclusion. If there has been no decision, there can be no statement; but I share with the right hon. Gentleman and with the whole House an understanding of the importance of the decision.

The right hon. Gentleman's third point was about the BBC's external services. I note his request, but I cannot fit that debate in next week. I can only say that there is to be a debate on the matter this evening—although in circumstances in which no vote will be possible—and that the Government will take into account everything that is said in that debate. There cannot be a separate decision on the matter this evening, but there is to be a debate. A number of hon. Members have put down their names for that, and we shall take what is said fully into account.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Particularly in the light of the previous vote, we take the view that the matter of the external services could be properly settled only with another vote. A discussion is an excellent thing, and the Government can take account of what is said, but will the right hon. Gentleman assure us now that the Government will not proceed with the proposals until there has been another vote?

On the question of a statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Gentleman tells us that the Secretary of State has not yet made up his mind. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an absolute undertaking that if his right hon. Friend does not make up his mind before the end of next week, and so cannot make a statement here, no statement will be smuggled out by the Secretary of State for the Environment during the recess? We have seen his methods before.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I give the right hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that no statement will be smuggled out. I do not think that it would be right to give him an absolute guarantee that no decision will be reached during the recess, but there will be no smuggling out. If the Secretary of State reaches a decision during the next two and a half months, he might very well think it right and appropriate—and the right hon. Gentleman might agree—to announce that decision. That, however, is speculation. I do not know when my right hon. Friend will reach his decision.

The Government reached their decision about the BBC's external services in an entirely proper manner and promulgated that decision. There is no opportunity for the debate for which the right hon. Gentleman asks, nor can I give him the absolute undertaking that he seeks. The right thing for us to do is to hear what is said in tonight's debate and to take it fully into account. That will be the next stage in the story.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

I am sorry to press the right hon. Gentleman once more about the Vale of Belvoir. I understand what he has now said. It seems unlikely that a statement such as we have been pressing for will be made before the end of next week. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an absolute guarantee that there will be no decision to go ahead, on any recommendation by the Secretary of State for the Environment, before this House has had the chance to debate that recommendation?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

It is difficult to visualise that there will not be an opportunity of some kind for the House to debate that, but I think that we ought to await the decision—I do not know, any more than the right hon. Gentleman knows, what it will be—and then take the matter from there.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

I thank my right hon. Friend for the adjournment on 28 July—even if it is to last for only one day. For how long are we likely to sit on 31 July? It is not clear from the Order Paper whether we are to have a normal day's sitting or whether we may sit for longer than is normal on a Friday.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

The intention is that we shall have the business I have announced for a normal Friday, ending at 2.30 pm, and then sit for five hours so that the normal Adjournment debates can take place in the same amount of time as would have been available if they had been the sole business on Friday.

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South and Finsbury

Can the Leader of the House assure us that, in the spill-over period, there will be a Government motion to continue the experiment of using Special Standing Committees for selected public Bills? Unless there is, that experiment will finish at the end of this Session. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House who have participated in the three Special Standing Committees have concluded that they are a valuable addition to the facilities available to hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I am at present considering our experience of that new procedure, and I shall come to a conclusion, either in the overspill period or at the beginning of the new Session, about whether we should continue it. Although I have not yet reached a conclusion, I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for such Committees.

Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , Thanet East

Reverting to the subject of the external services of the BBC, will my right hon. Friend note that there is support in all parts of the House for a vote on the issue during the spill-over period? Will he also note that those of us who spoke and voted on the issue before hoped that the Government would listen rather more than they have to the views expressed in that previous debate?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I am quite prepared to say "Yes, Sir" to both questions.

Photo of Mr Bob Mitchell Mr Bob Mitchell , Southampton, Itchen

Can we expect a statement next week from the Secretary of State for Defence on the placing of the order for the new heavyweight torpedo?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I do not think that that is likely, but I shall consult my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr Ivor Stanbrook Mr Ivor Stanbrook , Bromley Orpington

Has my right hon. Friend read of the lamentable and extraordinary appearance in the dock at the Old Bailey yesterday of a child of under 12? Will he consult his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General with a view to making proposals to ensure that that cannot occur again?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I am not sure whether that is relevant to next week's business, but I shall convey that view to my light hon. and learned Friend.

Photo of Mr Edward Leadbitter Mr Edward Leadbitter , Hartlepool

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the Select Committee on Energy, after an inquiry of more than a year, submitted its report on the programme for the nuclear industry and that after five months we have received the Government's response? Will he accept that the importance of that subject to the House is of considerable concern in the country? If he cannot give the promise of a debate next week because of the shortage of time, will he bring to the attention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy the need for a statement or a debate at the beginning of the new Session?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I shall certainly convey that view to my right hon. Friend. There have been a number of debates on that subject in this Session, and I have no doubt that we shall have others in the next Session. I agree that it is an extremely important subject.

Photo of Mr Timothy Eggar Mr Timothy Eggar , Enfield North

When my right hon. Friend is considering future business, will he give high priority to the introduction of legislation that will remove the British Gas Corporation's monopoly right of purchase of North Sea gas?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I shall certainly give that consideration, bearing in mind the fairly widespread desire in the House that there should be less legislation.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. If hon. Members will co-operate with me, I shall call all those who have been seeking to catch my eye.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam , Blaydon

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether we can expect a statement on the Beesley report on the privatisation of the telecommunications network before the recess? Will he give an undertaking that no findings by the Secretary of State for Industry will be put into effect until the House has had an opportunity to debate them?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, it is possible that there will be a statement next week on the telecommunications industry, but I cannot give an undertaking about a debate.

Photo of Mr Robert Brown Mr Robert Brown , Newcastle upon Tyne West

The Leader of the House will have seen early-day motion No. 522 on British Gas showrooms, which refers to Government policy being based on dogma and being unconcerned with consumer service, safety considerations or employment.

[That this House deplores the statement of Her Majesty's Government on the proposal to enforce the disposal of British Gas showrooms and end retail sales operations, believing that Government policy is based on dogma and is not concerned with consumer service, safety considerations or employment.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I addressed a meeting in Croydon last night—I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Patronage Secretary for ringing alarm bells in their ears now—at which public concern was expressed about safety considerations in the gas industry? Will he assure me that next Monday evening, when we debate the disgraceful proposal to dispose of the British Gas Corporation's Wytch Farm oil concession, he will ask the Secretary of State to take into consideration safety in the gas industry as a whole?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

What would be in order in the debate on that motion is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, not for me. The hon. Gentleman cannot lightly dismiss the Monopolies and Mergers Commission finding, but I certainly agree—as I think the House would—that safety is extremely important.

Photo of Mr Allen McKay Mr Allen McKay , Penistone

I am sorry to press the right hon. Gentleman regarding the Vale of Belvoir, but it is extremely important for the men in the Leicestershire coalfield who will be completely out of work, because the lead-in for the Vale of Belvoir is 13 years and the lifetime of Leicester is 79 years. Without pre-empting what the Secretary of State will say, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, if the decision is adverse to what the inspectorate put forward, no decision will be made until a debate has taken place in the Chamber? It would involve a change in Government direction as regards the tripartite agreement on the "Plan for Coal", and that would lead to a serious situation.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I fully acknowledge the importance and interest in this subject, but I cannot give a commitment about a debate before a decision is announced. That is not how the House and Parliament works. Parliament is here to call the Government and the Treasury Bench to account. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will reach a conclusion on this most difficult matter and a statement will then be made. If the House is not in recess, he will, of course, make it to the House, but, whenever it is made, it will certainly be made publicly. It is no more possible for me than it is for him to speculate on what the decision will be.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

There will be an opportunity tonight, as the right hon. Gentleman has rightly said, to discuss the intended cuts in the BBC's external services. The House will be delighted to know that it will have the benefit of my views on this matter from the Front Bench. However, is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that there will be no vote on the matter tonight? Has he not yet got the message from his own side, particularly from the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken), that the House must have an opportunity to pass judgment on the matter? Will he arrange—and can he give us a definite answer on this—that there will be an opportunity to debate and vote on the matter in the hang-over period in October?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I think I made it clear that I well understood the circumstances surrounding the debate on this subject tonight. I have received many messages on it. Perhaps I may remind the House that the Government have decided to authorise a capital programme of over £100 million for the BBC, and the BBC is being asked to contribute and find £23 million towards it. So we are engaged in a substantial expansion of BBC services. I know that that does not satisfy some of the arguments produced by hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). I think that it would be right to listen to what he says in the debate later this evening, and then we shall take the matter from there.

Photo of Mr Thomas Urwin Mr Thomas Urwin , Houghton-le-Spring

I wish to return to the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the mission currently being undertaken in Liverpool by the Secretary of State for the Environment. May we have an absolute assurance from the Leader of the House that no decisions will be implemented immediately following the completion of the Secretary of State's report based on his explorations in Merseyside? May I impress on the Leader of the Opposition the importance of ensuring that a debate takes place when the House returns after the Summer Recess, because there are areas, including the Northern region, where rioting has been of minuscule proportions but which have similar, if not equal, claim to the additional resources that may well be deservedly allocated to areas such as Liverpool? We in the Northern region wish to stake our claim to benefit from that resource distribution.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I fully understand what the right hon. Gentleman said at the end of his question. I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is not considering only Liverpool problems while he is in Liverpool. He is looking at the problems from the point of view of both Liverpool and other cities where there are equally large and difficult problems to be dealt with. I think that the kind of high-pressure investigation that my right hon. Friend is undertaking for two weeks will throw a new light on different and, it is hoped, more effective ways in which we can tackle these very difficult problems.

My right hon. Friend is there for a fortnight—that is, until the end of next week. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was suggesting that after that no decisions and no action should be taken. I do not think that that response is necessarily right. It depends on what my right hon. Friend discovers there and what conclusions he reaches. It will be for the Government to consider those conclusions, and if action and decisions are appropriate I assure the right hon. Gentleman that they will be taken. No doubt subsequently, in the overspill or in the next Session, there may be an appropriate occasion to debate these matters, which I am sure will be of great interest to both sides of the House.

Photo of Mr James Lamond Mr James Lamond , Oldham East

In view of the importance that the Lord Privy Seal placed on a positive and satisfactory outcome of the Madrid conference, may we take it that if that conference concludes, after many months of dragging on, before the end of this Session, we shall have a statement in the House from the Lord Privy Seal about the outcome?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I shall discuss that possibility with my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon

Reverting to the question of Wytch Farm and the order directing the British Gas Corporation to sell its interests, am I to understand that we shall have only a one-and-a-half-hour debate on this most important matter, which takes away from the corporation a profitable undertaking? Is it right that we should have only an hour and a half of debate on it?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

That is the normal time for a prayer. It is an Opposition prayer, and the normal time will be allowed for it.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

In view of Monday's business and its importance, could there not be a change in the traditional pattern, since the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has clearly put forward views that are an alternative to the majority of opinion within the Cabinet? Will it be possible for the Minister to have the opportunity to say in the House more or less what he said on television last Friday?

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

The Leader of the House will recollect that he promised in March that there might be a debate on the Government's less than satisfactory White Paper on biotechnology. Is there any chance of this happening before November?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I should like to check up on that. I thought that we might: have had a debate in Committee, but if I am wrong about that I should like to investigate. I certainly have considered the matter and thought that it had been disposed of in that way. I shall check on that and let the hon. Gentleman know.