HC Deb 12 July 1979 vol 970 cc669-80
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 16 JULY—Remaining stages of the European Assembly (Salaries and Pensions) Bill.

Debate on the 1980 preliminary draft Community budget, when EEC documents 7633/79, 5528/79 and 6405/79 will be relevant.

TUESDAY 17 JULY—Supply [2nd Allotted Day]. Debate on an Opposition motion on reducing public services for those who need them most.

The House will be asked to agree all outstanding Estimates and Supplementary Estimates.

Motions on Northern Ireland orders on Pneumoconiosis, etc, (Workers' Compensation) on Inheritance (Provisions for Family Dependants); on Capital Transfer Tax (Consequential Amendment) and on Tattooing of Minors.

At seven o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

WEDNESDAY 18 JULY—Remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Motion relating to the Housing (Limitation and Rent Income Increases) (Scotland) Revocation Order.

THURSDAY 19 JULY—Debate on the motion in the name of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) on capital punishment.

Motions on the Social Security (Unemployment, Sickness and Invalidity Benefit) Amendment Regulations and on the Child Benefit and Social Security (Fixing and Adjustment of Rates) Amendment Regulations.

FRIDAY 20 JULY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 23 JULY—Motions on the following Northern Ireland Orders: Appropriation (No. 2); Emergency Provisions (Amendment); Firearms (Amendment).

Motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Amendment) Order.

[The following Select Committee reports will also be relevant to the debate on the 1980 Community budget on Monday 16 July:

20th Report, 1978–79 (HC 10-xx, 1978–79); Doc. 5528/79 (Already published).

1st Report, 1979–80 (HC 159–i, 1979–80); Docs. 7633/79 and 6405/79 (Available in typescript).]

Mr. James Callaghan

I should like to raise two questions on the business for Monday and Tuesday. Perhaps I can put them separately. We have asked—I repeat the request—that Monday's business should be reversed. The salaries of the European Members of the Assembly are far less important than the 1980 preliminary draft Community budget. I have here the documents for it. The amount of £10 billion, of which our contribution is about £2 billion, is to be discussed by the Finance Council next Friday, I understand. If the Government are to be taken seriously by other Governments on the matter of reduction of our contribution—as I trust they will be—we should discuss this as a House and begin the business of the day with this subject, so that it is not debated at 10 o'clock at night, when no one will believe that we are very serious about it. I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider this business and put on the salaries and pensions Bill after we have had a full debate on the draft Community budget.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly consider what the Leader of the Opposition said. As he will know, it is essential to have a debate on this matter before the Council of Ministers debates the budget on 23 July.

Mr. Callaghan

That is why I ask that we should have a debate that will be taken seriously in this House and overseas. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for saying that he will consider this matter. I press him hard to do so.

My second question is about Tuesday's business, on reducing services for those in need. This is the second Supply day that we shall have had since the House met, and both of them have been reduced to half a day because of the intervention of private business. That is not the responsibility of the Government, but it does cut into Opposition time. Therefore, I should like to put in a request now for a further full Supply day before the House rises, whenever that may be, in order that we can have a day that is not eroded by private business, to enable us to discuss the general deterioration in the prospects for employment, inflation and growth of the last few disastrous weeks.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall consider what the right hon. Gentleman said, but as I look at the state of the timetable I think that it will be difficult to comply with his request.

Mr. Callaghan

I promise that I shall not rise again, Mr. Speaker, but this really is an occasion when the Opposition have certain rights. If we have had two half days only, because they have been eroded by private business, the Leader of the House—I know that he tries to lead the whole House—has a responsibility for giving us the opportunity, on a Supply day, to discuss these general matters.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly consider what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Stokes

Has my right hon. Friend any further information about the stoppage of the daily Hansard, which has now become an intolerable inconvenience?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department is in close touch with developments. I deeply regret the inconvenience caused to right hon. and hon. Members. However, the correct course, if there is a dispute of this nature—particularly when the Government are involved—is to use the established arbitration procedures.

Dr. McDonald

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when he will find time for us to debate the orders concerned with terms and conditions of employment which alter the unfair dismissal conditions and rights of consultation for trade unionists, in the case of redundancies, to the detriment of workers?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot give the hon. Lady a date for that, but I shall consider what she said.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

The House has proceeded now for nearly three months with- out the benefit of either the old or new Select Committee systems. Is this a desirable state of affairs? Can the Leader of the House tell us how soon the new structure will be established? We really do not want to waste any more time.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I appreciate the anxiety expressed by my hon. Friend. I am glad to say that we are making good progress on these matters but there are complicated issues, which have to be resolved. However, I hope that the Committees will be set up before the Summer Recess.

Mr. Beith

Will the Leader of the House consider making it his practice in future to inform the House, in the course of his Business Statement, what private business the Chairman of Ways and Means has nominated for the following week? Also, is it possible for the Leader of the House to give some indication of the provisional dates for the beginning and ending of the Summer Recess? The right hon. Gentleman could make them conditional on the dispatch of Government business, which might concentrate the minds of hon. Members.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I could, of course, add particulars of private business to the Business Statement but, as I look at it, it would add to the length of the statement. The first of the opposed private business measures to be considered will be the Road Transport Bill.

I think that it would be a dangerous practice to announce provisionally the dates of the recess. It might either raise expectations unduly or depress them unduly. I appreciate the needs for hon. Members—particularly those with family responsibilities—to know these dates at the earliest possible moment. It is my hope that we shall be able to rise before the end of the month.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

When does my right hon. Friend expect to be in a position to make a further statement on the continuing discussions about improving the opportunities for raising questions on foreign affairs?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

This, again, is another complicated issue, but I am making progress on it. I hope that I shall have something to say by this time next week.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Leader of the House prepared to urge upon his colleagues who are responsible the need for a statement as soon as possible on what is taking place at the children's bone marrow transplant unit at Westminster? Is he aware that the BBC reported this morning that young children suffering from leukaemia would die as a result of the closure of this unit? Does that situation not bear a small comparison with the clamourings that went on when the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were in opposition, when a few hospital workers were out on strike for a few days? Why do not the right hon. Gentleman and the rest of his colleagues in the Cabinet, led by this heartless woman, stop this human butchery? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are accustomed to hard hitting in this House, but it is a matter of taste as to what is said. I can say no more, except that it is a matter of taste—[HON. MEMBERS: " Ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw."]—Order. The hon Gentleman is responsible for what he said. It was very personal and, I believe, unworthy of this House.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that the cause, which must be a matter of concern to all hon. Members, is advanced by being placed in that context. However, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's anxiety to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

With regard to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), is my right hon. Friend aware that the non-appearance of Hansard is restricting Members of Parliament in their democratic right to communicate with their constituents, and also to express various views on causes that are of concern to their constituents? I appreciate the problems that are faced by the Minister responsible for the Civil Service, but will my right hon. Friend take on board the urgency of resuming the publication of Hansard so that both the public and Members of Parliament are not so inconvenienced as they are at the present time?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am fully aware of the inconvenience that is caused to every hon. Member, including myself, by not having the printed Official Report. If it would help, I would try to print it myself, but that might cause more trouble.

Mr. Ennals

Has the right hon. Gentleman had his attention drawn to early-day motion No. 65, which is signed by a large number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House and which urges the Government to admit more Vietnamese refugees?

[That this House, deeply concerned by the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Indo-China, condemns the circumstances which led to these people fleeing from their homes, and recognising that the problem can only be solved by international action, supports Her Majesty's Government in calling for an early international conference to make plans for relief and resettlement; and furthermore being aware that many refugees have not only been refused asylum by neighbouring countries but are being towed out to sea to face an uncertain fate on the South China Sea recognises Great Britain's special responsibility for the situation in Hong Kong and urges Her Majesty's Government to plan to admit an increased number of refugees as part of an international effort.]

Is the Leader of the House aware of the growing concern about the problem? Can we expect a statement on Government policy in advance of the conference which starts next Friday?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman a date, but I can assure him that the Government are considering this matter and are fully aware of the need to play their part in what is not a political but a humanitarian problem.

Mr. Latham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the point made by the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) has wide support in many parts of the House? Many of us hope for a full statement on this deplorable matter of the Vietnamese boat people as soon as possible.

As for the publication of Hansard, does my right hon. Friend not think that the time has come for the Minister of State, Civil Service Department to break his Trappist silence on this matter and to make a statement to the House?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

On the question of the dispute involving the Parliamentary Press, I do not think that it necessarily helps matters to have continual statements from Ministers on the details of industrial disputes. [HON. MEMBERS: " Oh."] Well, hon. Members must not be annoyed if I agree with them.

As to the Vietnamese refugees, I stress again that this is a matter that has touched the conscience of the entire nation, and the Government are determined to do what they can to assist.

Mr. Shore

May I press the Leader of the House further in regard to his reply to the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals)? It is not good enough if we are not to have a statement before the conference begins. I believe that the atmosphere at the whole of the conference, which, after all, has been called as a result of the initiative of the Prime Minister, will be prejudiced if this country does not make its real concern very clear and backs up that verbal concern with firm offers of what we are prepared to do.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am, of course, most willing to respond to what the right hon. Gentleman said. I have tried to assist the House by giving an indication of the Government's concern, and I am happy to add to that by saying that we shall have a statement before the conference.

Mr. Marlow

Since many hon. Members are not yet aware whether the Government believe that the six principles have been met in Rhodesia, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a speedy debate, so that we can discuss this matter and achieve some clarity on the situation?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There will be a debate on Southern Africa before the House rises.

Mr. Harry Ewing

In view of the importance of the dispersal of Civil Service jobs, particularly to Glasgow, will the Leader of the House make sure that before the House rises for the Summer Recess either the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Minister of State, Civil Service Department makes a statement about the Government's decision? Can he give an assurance that a decision on this important matter will be announced before the House has risen?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is an important matter. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that important matters of policy should be announced in this House.

Mr. William Clark

Does my right Friend realise that during Question Time today, in response to a question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), the Prime Minister said that the Attorney-General was urgently looking into the question whether the law should be invoked or changed in view of the interview relating to our late colleague, Airey Neave? Can we have a statement next week, or certainly before we rise for the Summer Recess?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I heard what the Prime Minister said, because I was sitting here at the time. I shall certainly keep in close touch with my colleague the Attorney-General to see whether a statement is necessary.

Mr. Denis Howell

Is the Leader of the House aware of the growing concern about the failure to reintroduce the Countryside Bill, which had a large measure of agreement when it completed its Committee stage at the end of the last Parliament? In view of the concern to stop people ploughing up national parks, particularly Exmoor—which will probably happen in the autumn—will he kindly tell us when the Government intend to reintroduce this measure?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is not possible to do so before the Summer Recess, but I am aware of the progress that was made on that Bill, which has become comparatively uncontroversial. I shall try to see that it is not forgotten.

Mr. John Townend

Despite the sympathies of many hon. Members, will my right hon. Friend take into consideration the fact that a large proportion of the population is very perturbed at the thought of a substantial number of immigrants being allowed in from Vietnam?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

In such matters, one has to balance the conflicting interests that are involved, but this country has a long and honourable tradition of helping those who are in need. These are people who are caught in a desperate situation, and I hope that we can play our part in an international action to help them.

Mr. Jay

If the House is really to strengthen its control over public expenditure, is it not intolerable that we should discuss an EEC budget of £10 billion for a few hours at a late hour of the night?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree that this is an important matter. In response to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, I have said that I will look at it again. It is better to have a debate of some kind rather than no debate at all, but I shall do my best, within the parameters in which I am confined, to see whether the objections can be met.

Mr. Faulds

When may we have a debate on the whole range of arts and heritage matters, in view of the shoddy performance of the spate of Conservative election promises on these issues?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that it will be possible to have a debate on the arts before we rise for the Summer Recess. As for the Government's expenditure cuts, the arts have borne a reasonable but not excessive share. I take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Opposition spokesman for the arts. I trust that it will last longer than his previous appointment in that position and that the quality of his contributions also will improve.

Mr. Porter

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a very short debate on the standards of the dress being adopted in the Chamber? Does he agree that certain hon. Members dress in a fashion that would be more appropriate to the beaches to be found in Stirlingshire and Derbyshire?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I take a wide interpretation of my duties, but I think that that is really a matter for Mr. Speaker rather than for me. I feel that in these matters example is more effective than precept.

Dr. M. S. Miller

The right hon. Gentleman is usually forthcoming in his statements to the House. Therefore, notwithstanding the reply that he gave to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), will he tell us a little more about the opposed private business on Tuesday?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I should be happy to communicate further details to the hon. Gentleman.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call four more hon. Members who have been rising to ask questions.

Mr. Kaufman

Is the Leader of the House aware that more than 100 right hon. and hon. Members have today signed an early-day motion congratulating the workers in Govan shipyard who have given up their holiday in order to make sure that the Polish order is completed on time even though they have no more orders on their book, and asking the Government to match the commitment of those workers to the industry by taking urgent action to provide further work both for Govan and for other shipyards? Will the Leader of the House ensure an early debate on the matter?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot promise an early debate, but I shall pass that information on to my right hon. Friend. I certainly join in the congratulations expressed by other hon. Members.

Mr. Leadbitter

Last week, when I raised the matter with him, the right hon. Gentleman indicated that he was well appraised of the urgent need to debate the steel industry. Is he aware that since that time the subject has become much more critical? Townships and their future are at stake, a great deal of unemployment faces the industry and, more latterly, another factor has arisen, in that steel is coming into this country from East Germany, through the port of Hartlepool, with a Common Market licence. These and other factors reinforce the need for the Leader of the House, if he accepts the urgency of the subject, as he said he did last week, to arrange for a debate on the matter before the recess. Will that be possible?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am afraid that it does not look very hopeful, but there will be an opportunity to debate at least an aspect of the steel industry when the Order in Council dealing with the United Kingdom supplementary contribution to the ECSC budget for 1979 is debated in Standing Committee on 18 July. I hope that that will be of some help.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I add a piece of information for which not he but his hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) asked, with regard to opposed private business. The London Transport Bill will be followed by the East Kilbride District Council Bill, Second Reading, and the University College London Bill [Lords], Second Reading.

Mr. Dewar

Reverting to the question of shipbuilding, I am sure that the Leader of the House will be aware of the great anxiety, especially on Clydeside where yards such as Govan are almost entirely out of work and where their admirable efficiency is, in a sense, bringing them into further trouble at a rather earlier date. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us early clarification on this matter? At the moment we are bombarded by rumours in the press and apparent leaks of Conservative policy, and this is breeding depression and despair on Clydeside—a situation which, in everyone's interests, should be ended at a very early date.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I apprecate the force of what the hon. Gentleman says. I shall look into the matter.

Mr. Rooker

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate next week on what is fast becoming a public scandal, namely, the fact that five weeks after the closing date for declaration of Members' interests there are still 30 hon. Members who have not so far declared their interests, and the rest cannot be published because the Government have not yet established the machinery to set up the necessary Select Committee.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The matter cannot be disposed of until the Select Committee is set up and has had time to consider the returns of hon. Members to the invitations to them to declare their interests. I note with interest the figure that the hon. Member has given. I presume that it is up to date, but other hon. Members may have declared their interests by now.

Mr. Crouch

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your help. You have spoken today about the difficulties sometimes experienced in catching your eye. I wonder whether there are any precedents on manner of dress which guide you in enabling you to see an hon. Member when he tries to catch your eye. If an hon. Member is dressed in a way that you do not like, according to the precedents which guide you does that make it difficult for him to catch your eye?

Mr. Speaker

All I say is that all of us must be mindful that we are in the Mother of Parliaments and behave accordingly.