HC Deb 06 December 1979 vol 975 cc615-26
Mr. Speaker

Business Question.

Mr. James Callaghan

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 10 DECEMBER—Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

Second Reading of the Petroleum Revenue Tax Bill.

Motion on the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Multilateral Trade Negotiations) Order.

TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER—Motions on the following Northern Ireland orders—

Emergency Provisions (Continuance) (No. 2)

Appropriation (No. 3)

Mineral Exploration

Control of Food Premises


Representation of the People (Amendment)

WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER—Proceedings on the Zimbabwe Independence Bill.

Motion on the Southern Rhodesia Constitution (Interim Provisions) Order.

THURSDAY 13 DECEMBER—Supply [8th Allotted Day]. Debate on a topic to be announced. The House will be asked to agree the Civil and Defence Votes on Account and the winter Supplementary Estimates.

Motions on the Social Security (Contributions Re-Rating) Order and on the Representation of the People (Amendment) Orders.

FRIDAY 14 DECEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 17 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Employment Bill.

Mr. Callaghan

With regard to Wednesday's business and the proceedings on the Zimbabwe Independence Bill, we are very glad to see the progress that is being made in this connection. Tribute is due to the Foreign Secretary, and, of course, to all the other people who have taken part in the negotiations. In adding that, I do not wish to detract from anything I have said about the Foreign Secretary.

We have not yet seen the Bill and we shall want to look at it pretty closely, although there will be no attempt to obstruct it—unless we are really satisfied that there is something seriously wrong with it. I hope—indeed, I am sure—that there will not be. We have not pressed the Government for a statement on Zimbabwe because of the delicate nature of the negotiations, but I think that we are now getting to the stage at which we need to ask the Government to give us a statement, either on Monday or Tuesday next week, before the Bill is brought in so that we may have time to consider the Government's attitude to it as well as the details of the Bill.

Since I raised the matter of the Local Government Planning and Land Bill last week, we have seen the Bill. It is formidable, running to nearly 300 pages. It deals with matters which clearly ought first to be the property of this House. I ask the Leader of the House whether he has had time to reconsider the decision that lie announced last week.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Following the right hon. Gentleman's remarks at business question time last week and the formal representations made to me by the Shadow Leader of the House, the Government have decided not to proceed with the Local Government, Planning and Land Bill in another place. A similar Bill will be introduced into this House in due course. As Leader of the House, I am always concerned to accommodate the wishes of hon. Members, from whichever part of the House those wishes may be expressed.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his tribute to my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary. I thank him also for the co-operation that the Government have received in making arrangements for the debate next week on the Zimbabwe Independence Bill. I shall pass on the request for a statement to my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. The Bill will be published later today.

Mr. Callaghan

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for meeting the representations that we made. I am sure that it is for the convenience of relations between the two Houses that the Local Government Planning and Land Bill should start here and be considered here in the first place.

I say finally to the right hon. Gentleman—he will not get many more bouquets from me, I promise him—that there is still joy in Heaven when one sinner repenteth.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that this is a Supply day and that we are to have two truncated debates. It is hoped to take the vote on the first of them at 7 pm. There is also a statement to follow business questions. In view of this, I am proposing to spend less on business questions today, in the interests of the House as a whole.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will my right hon. Friend make clear to the House that, despite what he has announced today, it was perfectly proper to introduce the Local Government Planning and Land Bill into the Lords, pursuant to Standing Order No. 58A, which was accepted unanimously by the House on 8 August 1972, and on the recommendation, on behalf of the Labour Party, of Lord Houghton?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree with that declaration of principle, but in this House we have to go on practice and on the expression of feeling. If there is a very strong feeling that is reasonably based from a part of the House, I must take that into account. That is what I have done.

Mr. Coleman

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the serious situation in the steel industry in South Wales, where thousands of people will be losing their livelihood. He will be aware of the representations that have been made to have the subject debated in the Welsh Grand Committee next Wednesday. Will he say whether we can have an early debate on this subject on the Floor of the House?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It would be more appropriate to have a debate on the Floor of the House on this matter before it is discussed in the Welsh Grand Com- mittee. I shall consider the matter, but we are now very short of time.

Mr. Latham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the State of Israel has many friends on both sides of the House? In view of the disturbing reports in today's newspapers, will he get a Foreign Office Minister to confirm next week that there has been no change in Government policy towards the PLO?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There has certainly been no change in Government policy towards the PLO. The purpose of our policy in that part of the Middle East is to bring peace.

Mr. Grimond

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a general debate on fishing, particularly on the progress of negotiations on a common fisheries policy, as soon as possible, and at any rate early in the new year?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is an important point, but I cannot promise a debate. I think that a statement is the most appropriate way to deal with that sort of point.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early statement to be made either in this House or in another place on the death overnight of a constituent of mine, Mr. George Wilkinson, who was in prison in Walton, Liverpool?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's concern in regard to this case, and I shall pass his request on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

My right hon. Friend will be aware that my request for a debate on microelectronics has been strengthened by the motion that appeared on the Order Paper yesterday morning. He will also be aware, as are many other hon. Members, that recently there has been some difficulty over the delivery of the Vote.

By way of bringing those two subjects together, may I point out that my right hon. Friend and others may be interested to learn that the Order Paper for Tuesday is illustrated on Tele text in the microelectronics exhibition upstairs? I hope that that will help him to make up his mind.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I should very much like to accommodate my hon. Friend if I possibly could. However, if he continues to raise this question during business questions, we shall perhaps have had the equivalent of a debate by the time of the recess. As to the printing of parliamentary papers, I have looked into that matter. There is an acute staff shortage, and that is the root of the difficulty.

Dr. David Clark

Has the Leader of the House seen the proposals of British Shipbuilders in relation to shiprepairing activities by which it plans to axe 500 jobs on the Tyne, the majority of which will fall on my constituency, where already one man in six is without work? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Minister responsible declines to come to the House to make a statement? Will he prevail upon the Minister, because we are a little tired of his Pontius Pilate attitude on this issue?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly put the hon. Gentleman's point to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Alexander

Has my right hon. Friend had drawn to his attention early-day motion 241, dealing with the proposed sale of the Laxton estate?

[That this House requests Her Majesty's Government not to sell Laxton Estate because it is the only remaining example of the mediaeval three-field system left in the United Kingdom; and requests Her Majesty's Governtnent not to end this unique example of the way of life of mediaeval England for purely commercial reasons.]

Bearing in mind that the motion is signed by hon. Members from both the Labour and Liberal Parties, will he find time for a debate on the subject?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has said in a recent written reply, the sale of this estate is included in the programme of land sales which form part of the Government's recently announced expenditure plans for 1980–81. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food regards this sale as a special case. Any purchaser will be required to give the necessary assurances about the continuation of the ancient open field system and the welfare of the tenants.

Mr. Roy Hughes

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's inconclusive reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) about the need for a steel industry debate, will he bear in mind that many thousands of redundancies will now be created in the steel industry and that they will affect steel communities very badly indeed? Bearing in mind that most of those redundancies are a direct result of Government policy, does he not think that the Government are now duty bound to grant an early debate on the subject?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The decision about closures is not a matter for the Government. It is a matter for the British Steel Corporation. I shall certainly discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales the important matter which the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Henderson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that tens of thousands of public sector tenants in Scotland are eagerly awaiting the passage of the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill which was published yesterday? Will he arrange for the Second Reading of that Bill at the earliest possible date?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that we will make good progress with that important Bill.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will the right hon. Gentleman investigate the way in which proceedings in the Committee on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill are being conducted? Is he aware that yesterday there was all-party resentment at the continued absence of the Minister for Health. The result was that yesterday the Bill's sponsor had to adjourn the sitting until next Wednesday, when the Minister will be able to attend. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that that is intolerable, and will he consult the Prime Minister to ensure that the prime importance attached to the House of Commons overrides every other engagement outside?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall, of course, look into the matter, but not too closely because I understand that the reason for my hon. Friend's absence is that he has mumps.

Mr. Hamilton rose

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sorry, I misled the hon. Gentleman. It is the sponsor of the Bill who has mumps.

Mr. Hamilton

That is not true either.

Mr. Stoddart

In view of the Prime Minister's traumatic experience at Dublin last weekend, and in the light of the undoubted seven-year itch of the British electorate with regard to separation from the EEC, will the right hon. Gentleman persuade his colleagues to publish a White Paper showing a cost-benefit analysis of Britain's membership of the Community, even if that shows all cost and no benefit?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that it is necessary to publish such a White Paper. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister managed to combine commitment to the Community with championing of the British interest, which was admirable.

Mr. Temple-Morris

With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham), there is a lot more to our foreign policy than whether or not we speak to the PLO. Once we have got over Rhodesia, and bearing in mind that that will go on for some time yet, will my right hon. Friend at least bear in mind that there is a vital foreign affairs debate to be had upon the Middle East and our oil supplies?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I certainly agree that there are a number of foreign affairs topics that need discussion. However, we now have very little time before the recess.

I should tell the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) that I shall look into the matter he has raised and find out exactly what has gone wrong on the Committee.

Mr. English

Three weeks ago the right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped that next week—that is, two weeks ago—we would have a liaison committee of the representatives of all the Select Committees of the House. These Committees are now in existence and must now appoint their staffs and organise themselves, yet the body that is supposed to assist them has not yet been created. When will that be done?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am well aware of my obligation both to the House and to the hon. Gentleman, who tabled an amendment on the subject. I hope that I shall be able to satisfy him by tabling a motion later today.

Mr. Leadbitter

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes)? Does he not recognise that it is Government policy, and their cash limits and their determination that British Steel should break even in 1980 that are causing great concern to a large number of communities? The House would welcome an opportunity to debate the serious social consequences of the closures. Will he not reconsider his answer?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot reconsider the factual part of my answer, because it is the British Steel Corporation that has the responsibility. However, I shall bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the real anxieties that have been expressed by Welsh Members and others.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Will my right hon. Friend investigate the reports abounding in the press today regarding a certain amount of swapping of punches in the Lobbies last night, and will he consider referring this matter in order to pour oil upon troubled waters?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have enough troubles of my own without interfering in those of other people.

Mr. Rooker

Has the Leader of the House had time to look at early-day motion 261 on the subject of privilege and the conduct of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon)?

[That this House believes that the conduct of the honourable Member for Abingdon in respect of inquiries he made of the Chairman of the Secretaries Council as to whether she had information about the honourable Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr, should be referred to the Committee of Privileges, on the grounds that such inquiries amount to an attempt to intimidate an honourable Member in his pursuit of a legitimate Parliamentary inquiry which, if established, would amount to a gross contempt of this House.]

Will he give an undertaking this afternoon that he will study this matter and give the House an early opportunity to decide whether it should go before the Committee of Privileges?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen the motion, but, as the hon. Gentleman will know, questions of privilege, or breach of privilege and so on, are not for me. Under the rules of the House such matters are for Mr. Speaker, and I understand that he has considered the matter.

Mr. Dewar

Has the Leader of the House seen the item in The Scotsman today reporting an allegation that the Solicitor-General for Scotland misled the Scottish Grand Committee about the terms of reference to the Cowie committee on divorce in Scotland, and in particular about whether that committee was considering the abolition of corroboration and legal aid in undefended divorce cases? As this is a matter of public anxiety in Scotland because of the great expense of divorce actions, will the right hon. Gentleman prevail upon the Solicitor-General for Scotland to make a clarifying statement in the House next week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen the report and studied it. Having studied it, I found that it was by no means clear to me what had happened. I will take up the matter with my colleague to see whether any further action needs to be taken.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I will call the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and the four other hon. Members who have been standing.

Mr. Cryer

Does not the Leader of the House think it scandalous that on 12 December important decisions relating to nuclear weapons in this country are to be taken without any debate whatever in the House? Alone among European countries this House has been denied an opportunity for debate. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that a debate should have been brought into the House in view of early-day motion 202–

[That this House opposes any further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom or elsewhere; and recognises that only by the ending of nuclear arms production, retention and deployment can mankind survive accidental or intentional use of these horrific weapons.]—

and a further early-day motion, No. 252, that quotes the remarks of the late Lord Mountbatten: Wars cannot be fought with nuclear weapons. Their existence only adds to our perils because of the illusions which they have generated"? Will our representative take that message to the meeting on 12 December?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen the early-day motion, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the importance of policy on nuclear arms of all kinds. I have not been able to find time before Christmas for a debate, but perhaps this is a subject that might be raised on a Supply day.

Mr. Cryer

It is a Government representative that is going to the meeting.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is it fair to the Ulster people that a number of Northern Ireland orders should have been lumped together on one day? Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the matter so that proper time is given to debating two of the orders that are vital?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have done my best to be fair to Northern Ireland Members by giving a full day, during what I may call prime time, to the discussion of Northern Ireland affairs. I understand that the debate on the first two topics will go on until 11.30 pm. After that there will be four motions, one of which concerns the consolidating measure and there will be opportunity for full discussion. So I have done all that I can to help hon. Members from the Province of Ulster.

Mr. John Evans

In view of the remarkable leak in The Guardian today that indicates that the Cabinet is determined to go ahead with an American pressurised water reactor and the grave danger of serious public reaction to that policy, will the Leader of the House make arrangements for an early debate on our nuclear ordering policy?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We cannot run our affairs in the House on the basis of leaks that appear on various topics in The Guardian. I do not know whether a debate is possible, but I shall put it to my right hon. Friend that perhaps a suitable means of clearing up any doubt would be by means of a statement on policy.

Mr. Anderson

Will the Leader of the House confirm that there is no technical reason why the meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee on Wednesday next should not discuss the crisis in the steel industry, and that the reason that there will not be a change of subject is that the Government are unwilling to have a debate at that time?

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not out of order for comment to be made in this House on the proceedings of a Committee that has not reported?

Hon. Members

The Committee has not yet met.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I was just about to say the same thing myself. This House decides the topic for the Committee by resolution, which we have done. Therefore, it was not out of order for the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) to raise the question.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As I said, I will raise this matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.

Mr. Edward Lyons

In view of the imminent closure of most of the departments of Associated Weavers Carpets factory at Bradford—the largest, by volume of production, of any in the United Kingdom—by the United States company Champion of Connecticut simply on the basis that that company can sell off the factory premises as warehouses for millions of pounds when the factory itself is perfectly viable, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Industry to make a statement about the principle underlying that closure and what he proposes to do to save the 850 jobs and the factory?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall look into the matter for the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to write to him about it.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Tom Ellis

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Prime Minister is present, I wonder whether I can raise a point of order with you about something that the right hon. Lady said earlier in one of her answers? The right hon. Lady did—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I reminded the House again this afternoon that I usually take points of order after statements because it is fairer to the House and to those hon. Members who want to hear the statement and perhaps ask questions. I will gladly take the points of order immediately we have finished with the statement.

Mr. Robert Hughes rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I will take the points of order after the statement.