HC Deb 19 July 1979 vol 970 cc1992-2004
Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

May I ask the Leader of the House—[Interruption.] I am deeply grateful to the House for its reception. I am sure that right hon. and hon Members are very much more pleased to see me than, perhaps, is the Prime Minister. But I really rose to ask the Leader of the House whether he would kindly tell us 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 23 JuLY—Second Reading of the Competition Bill.

Motions on the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order and on the Firearms (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order.

TUESDAY 24 JULY—Debate on a Government motion on regional industrial policy.

Motion on the Regional Development Grants (Variation of Prescribed Percentages) Order.

Motions on the Employment Protection (Handling of Redundancies Variation) Order, and the Unfair Dismissal (Variation of Qualifying Period) Order.

WEDNESDAY 25 JULY—Debate on Southern Africa, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Amendment) Order. The motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Amendment) Order will also be taken.

Motions on the European Communities (Iron and Steel Employees Re-Adaptation Benefits Scheme) Regulations; the British Railways Board (Borrowing Powers) Order; the British Shipbuilders (Borrowing Powers) Order; and the draft undertaking on the Highlands and Islands Shipping Services.

THURSDAY 26 JULY—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

FRIDAY 27 JULY—It will be proposed that the House should rise for the Summer Adjournment until Monday 22 October.

Mr. Callaghan

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for arranging the debate on Southern Africa on Wednesday. In view of the dangers to Britain's position that may arise at Lusaka, we trust that the Prime Minister will herself give the House an account of the policy that she will be pursuing when she is in Lusaka.

As for the rest of the week, I am bound to tell the Leader of the House that we regard the business that he is proposing as an abuse of the procedure of the House and of the tolerance of hon. Members. Starting on Tuesday, it is quite clear that, in view of the fact that the motion on the regional development grants order will have to be taken after the regional industrial policy debate, we cannot proceed before midnight to the motions on employment protection and unfair dismissal, and that they at least must have an hour and a half each, so that it will be 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning before that important work is dealt with.

As for Monday, clearly we shall not proceed to the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order until after 10 o'clock. That is an order on which we discuss both employment and financial aid—the £35 million cut in public expenditure in Northern Ireland. In the circumstances, that is a very unfair way to treat the issues of Northern Ireland.

All this will be added to, and the business will be interrupted by the various statements that I have no doubt the Government will bring forward on the BNOC, shipbuilding and other matters next week. Really, the Leader of the House is causing this gross inconvenience because the Government want to do a bit of window dressing with the Second Reading of the Competition Bill. The right hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot proceed with it any further until we return after the recess. He will merely get that through, presumably, in order to go to the Conservative Party conference and say that the Government have got the Second Reading.

The right hon. Gentleman has no right to abuse the tolerance of the House in this way. In order to meet the convenience of hon. Members, he should either adjourn the House later and not on 27 July or, if he insists on doing that, should take out the Second Reading of the Competition Bill so that the Northern Ireland business and the handling of the redundancies and unfair dismissal orders may be taken at a decent time of the day.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I can confirm to the Leader of the Opposition that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be speaking in the debate on Southern Africa.

I agree that the programme for next week is a congested one. I do not attempt to deny that. I express my regret to Northern Ireland Members, especially for the fact that their business will come on late. But we have a great deal of business and, far from disregarding the convenience of hon. Members, I have been thinking of those hon. Members who have children and family responsibilities and are anxious to join their families when the holiday period for their children has begun. I believe that it is better to go late during next week than for the House to sit another week and inconvenience hon. Members.

Mr. Molyneaux

With regard to Monday's business and the very important point made by the Leader of the Opposition, does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the Northern Ireland debate on the Appropriation order is one of the most important in the Northern Ireland calendar? Will he accept that it is really not good enough to push it into a time slot so late in the day?

Secondly, how can the Leader of the House and the Government justify the provision of time for the Second Reading of the Competition Bill, which cannot possibly proceed any further before October?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I can only repeat my regret at what has happened with regard to Northern Ireland business, and I shall do my best to avoid that in future.

The Competition Bill is an important measure to which the Government are committed and which we wish to put into effect as soon as possible. I believe that it is important for many people to know the Government's intentions on it as early as possible. [HON. MEMBERS: " They know already."] That is not so. The country is informed about Government proposals by means of a full debate in this House.

Mr. Onslow

Notwithstanding the continuing bickering in the various soviets to which appointments of Opposition Members appear nowadays to have to be made, will my right hon. Friend undertake to see that the necessary motion to fill vacancies on our delegation to the Council of Europe is tabled before the House goes into recess?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We are hoping to make rapid progress in that matter.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Referring to Monday's business, will the Leader of the House ensure, if he persists with the proposed business for that day, that there is a business motion which allows at least four hours—which, since 1972, is the minimum time—for the debate on the Appropriation order? In doing that, which he can hardly refuse, will he bear in mind the inconvenience to the House generally in the event that it is necessary to divide the House on the firearms order?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Certainly I shall bear in mind what the right hon. Gentleman said. I shall make arrangements to see that there is adequate time, the minimum of which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Mr. Farr

May I ask my right hon. Friend to make a statement on the situation in regard to Private Members' Bills? He will be aware that the Abortion (Amendment) Bill has gone to Standing Committee C, which starts its consideration of the Bill on Wednesday. The Bill is not likely to proceed through the Committee with great pace. Will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of designating another Standing Committee to receive the Bills of the other 23 hon. Members who were successful in the ballot?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am not aware whether the Abortion (Amendment) Bill will make rapid progress, but I shall certainly look into the question raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Greville Janner

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the proposed orders on redundancy and unfair dismissal will adversely affect the protection of millions of working people? In those circumstances, does he not feel that it is wrong that they should be debated in the middle of the night and without hon. Members on both sides of the House having had adequate opportunity to consider what the Government are proposing?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that it is desirable to have the House sitting late into the night or into the early hours of the morning, but I regard it, in existing circumstances, as the lesser of two evils.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his attitude to the Second Reading of the Competition Bill? He is asking the House to sit into the middle of the night on four successive nights, and possibly all night next Thursday. Apart from the inconvenience caused to hon. Members, we have to consider the staff of the House. Surely the Government's intentions in the Competition Bill will be made clear by the publication of the Bill.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I must point out that it is not only the Government's intentions that are relevant, but the view of the House. It is important that hon. Members with different views on the Bill should have an opportunity to express them.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Reverting to the initial question of the Leader of the Oppositon, may I ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that some of the propositions that are apparently to be put before the House at late hours next week involve massive allocations of public expenditure to public corporations that have not always shown the best possible appreciation of how those moneys should be used? Although hon. Members, particularly those with family responsibilities, deeply appreciate my right hon. Friend's desire to enable the House to rise early, should we not also bear in mind our responsibilities to our constituents to consider public expenditure and its implications very carefully and at times when the House can consider the matter properly?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks It is a matter of striking a balance between conflicting demands. It is not a question of the House rising early. This is the time that the House normally rises. It is a question of avoiding the House remaining here later.

Mr. John Smith

Is it not clear from the representations from many quarters that it is the House's desire that matters other than the Competition Bill should be debated on Monday? Is it not the case that the Government are coming forward with the Competition Bill at this stage because they would feel less happy about justifying the abolition of the Price Commission in November, when prices will be going through the roof?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The right hon. Gentleman's point is not valid because the introduction of the Competition Bill is unlikely to affect the date of the abolition of the Price Commission by more than a few days.

Mr. Foot

Then why bring forward the Bill now?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have explained that. It is so that the House has an opportunity to express its view on an important matter.

Mr. du Cann

Does my right hon. Friend expect that the new investigative Select Committees from which so much is expected will be established before the recess so that there will be an opportunity for them at least to begin to plan their work?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I understand that at a meeting yesterday the Committee of Selection adjourned until 6.30 p.m. on Monday next, when it hopes to be able to reach conclusions on the matter.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie

Are we to have a statement next week on the dispersal of Civil Service jobs to Scotland, Wales and the English regions? If not, may we have a positive assurance that no statement will be made without the knowledge of the House and that the matter will be fully debated before the Government reach final conclusions?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is my hope that we shall have a statement on that important matter next week.

Mr. Kilfedder

With regard to the arrangement of Northern Ireland business next week, does the Leader of the House not realise that his dictatorial attitude will be regarded with anger in Northern Ireland and that he ought to reconsider the matter and make sure that Northern Ireland is given a whole day for its business on the Appropriation order, otherwise hon. Members from Northern Ireland—and certainly myself—may have to reconsider our position?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sorry to have angered the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that I am being dictatorial. I am doing my best to accommodate conflicting interests.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise the great disquiet in the Northern region about the problems of unemployment which will stem from the statement yesterday of the Secretary of State for Industry and allocate a full day next week to debate regional policy?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have announced a debate on regional policy on Tuesday. That should enable hon. Members from the North, as well as other hon. Members, to make their contributions.

Mr. Peter Fraser

Will my right hon. Friend be affording the House the opportunity to consider the progress made on the all-party talks on the government of Scotland and the agenda for discussion at those talks?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There have been preliminary talks with those parties represented in Scotland. As a result, it has been decided that in the autumn the Government will make proposals for their consideration covering the terms of reference and items for an agenda which could provide the basis for substantive inter-party discussions. It is clear that whatever the outcome of any inter-party talks, and without prejudice to them, there is much support for the early establishment of a Select Committee for Scotland. Accordingly, when we return from the Summer Recess, I propose to bring forward a motion to set up a Select Committee.

Dr. Bray

Is the Leader of the House aware that there are minor problems with his official channels in the clearing of agreements for the appointment of the departmental Select Committees? Will he use his good offices to see that they are able to proceed on Monday?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My good offices are constantly employed in good causes.

Mr. Burden

May I remind my right hon. Friend that our manifesto contains references to animal welfare and promises to improve certain aspects of that welfare? In view of the recent BBC2 programme on the treatment of animals in factory farms, which has caused concern among many people, will he give an undertaking that the pledges in the manifesto will be looked into soon after the Summer Recess?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly do that. The matter is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and he has heard the representations of my hon. Friend, to whose work for animals I pay tribute.

Mr. Jay

Is it not clear that the attempt to crowd all these important issues into a few days is intolerable? As the right hon. Gentleman has responsibilities to the House, as well as to the Government, will he seriously reconsider his attitude?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am thinking of the convenience of all hon. Members in this matter. I am not primarily concerned with Government business.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in a recent Northern Ireland debate I was rash enough to congratulate him on arranging for important Northern Ireland business to be taken at a civilised hour? Will he therefore consider what has been said from both sides of the House in these exchanges and see whether the important Appropriation order could be taken before the other business on Monday?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have considered how one might rearrange this business to suit better the convenience of right hon. and hon. Members, but I should be misleading the House if I said that I thought that there was a way of rearrangement which would take my hon. Friend's point into account. I am grateful to have had my hon. Friend's approbation at some point. Even if I have lost it at the moment, I hope to regain it later.

Mr. James Callaghan

Surely the Leader of the House has taken on board the easy way of rearranging business. As it stands at the moment, the House will be sitting all night or most of the night on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week. It is really not fair of the Leader of the House to im- pose that on hon. Members. May I say that the right hon. Gentleman is totally unconvincing in his disingenuous explanation of why it is necessary to take the Second Reading of the Competition Bill on Monday. There is no real reason for it. He knows perfectly well that he will not proceed any further with it until November, and it cannot come into force for some months yet. Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, if he would take that Bill out for the moment, we could then discuss the Northern Ireland business at a reasonable hour and, after several hours had been spent on that, the orders on the handling of redundancies and unfair dismissal could come up at a more respectable hour than is now proposed? I ask the Leader of the House, on behalf, I believe, of hon. Members in all parts of the House, to reconsider what he has said and to make a fresh statement tomorrow.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I always take seriously any representations made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition but, as I have endeavoured to indicate, there are good reasons for the debate on the Competition Bill, and I am afraid that it is impossible to meet his request.

Mr. Stokes

Will my right hon. Friend say when it is proposed to take the Adjournment motion for the Summer Recess?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is proposed to debate the Adjournment motion on Thursday, and the Summer Adjournment debates will be on Friday.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The Leader of the House has announced that the House will adjourn on Friday and return in October. Does he understand the increasingly difficult position of many of the poorest of our old-age pensioners, the sick and the disabled, who are already unable to afford the cost of coal, gas or electricity for heating purposes and who have to turn to using paraffin? In fact, they cannot now afford paraffin heaters. As we shall not be here during the summer, will the right hon. Gentleman please do something next week to see that these people who have to have paraffin heaters and have no other source of heating get some help towards the cost of purchasing paraffin heaters?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am aware of the importance of paraffin to old-age pensioners. We have taken measures to ensure that there is a supply of paraffin to old-age pensioners.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

They cannot afford these things.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I recall also that in the recent Budget and the ancillary statement it was made clear that the present Government are introducing measures for old-age pensioners which will be of far more benefit to them financially than were any measures of the previous Government.

Mr. Rees-Davies

In trying to settle the differences of opinion which have arisen about business, will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of the Summer Adjournment being moved from Friday to the following Monday, thereby releasing one day to enable the other business to be accommodated, in whichever way the Whips agree? In that event, only those concerned predominantly with the Summer Adjournment debates will need to be here. I believe that there is a general feeling towards that view in the House.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have considered that suggestion, but I am afraid that I cannot agree to it.

Mr. Skinner

Is it not a scandal that the hard-won rights of workers, those who clock on and clock off every day, are to be filched from them in the middle of the night mainly by Tory Members of Parliament—part-time Tory Members of Parliament—who are only too anxious to get away for a three months' holiday? I warn the Leader of the House and the rest of his right hon. Friends that if we cannot stop this business inside the House then people outside will stop him in his tracks.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that it is a question of distinguishing between Members on one side of the House or the other. We all face the same basic problem. The length of the recess is only a few days longer than the one last year. Summer Recesses have been considerably longer.

Mr. Kershaw

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that if the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) wants to clock off early a lot of us will not mind, and will he not take too seriously the protestations from Opposition Members? If people come into the House imagining that they will not have to spend a few nights in the Chamber, they had better go elsewhere.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I should be personally sorry if the hon. Member for Bolsover clocked off early as I should lose my foil.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call three more hon. Members who have been rising to ask questions. There is a statement to follow.

Mr. Heffer

What is magic about the date 22 October? Why is it not possible for the House to come back on 15 or 16 October? The Competition Bill could then be discussed on either of those days, and during next week we could properly debate the items to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has rightly drawn attention.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have had various suggestions put to me for the date of return. In fact, I have brought back the date of return considerably earlier than was at one time suggested.

Mr. Les Huckfield

Has the Leader of the House seen the early-day motion standing in my name and those of my hon. Friends regarding the confusion which arose in the Division on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill last Friday?

[That this House, noting the Point of Order raised by the honourable Member for Nuneaton on Wednesday 18 July, concerning confusion in the Division Lobbies and the votes of honourable Members not having been recorded during the Division on the Second Reading of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill on Friday 13 July, instructs the Committee of Selection to meet again to reconsider the composition of the Standing Committee on this Bill.]

If the right hon. Gentleman has not yet seen the motion, will he please look at it? I know that he is a sympathetic man, and I know that he, too, feels strongly on these matters. Will he ensure that it receives the consideration which many of us feel it deserves?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.

It is, of course, primarily a matter for Mr. Speaker rather than for me, but I shall certainly discuss it with him.

Mr. Ennals

May I return again to the business of the House for the coming week and the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and by hon. Members on both sides? Why is the right hon. Gentleman being so stubborn when he normally fulfils his proper function of representing the views of the whole House? Does he not realise that he has not given a reasonable explanation of why there has to be the Second Reading of the Competition Bill on Monday? After all the representations that he has had, does he not recognise that the House gains for itself no better reputation by doing vital work during the hours of the night?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

If I could meet the right hon. Gentleman's point I certainly would, but I have made quite clear that I believe it to be of importance to the country that the House as a whole should have an opportunity to express its mind on this extremely important Bill.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Today there have been many hon. Members, especially on this side of the House, standing and seeking to catch your eye on the Business Statement. As you have heard, it has been a cause of great concern that the House is expected to sit well into the night on orders which vitally affect many working men and women and will take away their rights. What puts some query in my mind is this. Hon. Members on the Government Benches, naturally enough, wish to support the Leader of the House as a Conservative Leader of the House and not, as many claim, as one representing the whole of the House, and they therefore tend not to—[HoN. MEMBERS: " Where is the point of order? ]—they therefore tend—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Experience has taught me that if we wait long enough, but not too long, we come to the point. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will put his point of order.

Mr. Cryer

They therefore tend to support the Government's statements. This means that there is often an imbalance between the Labour and Conservative Benches in the number of hon. Members standing up. May I urge you, Mr. Speaker, in the name of democracy and scrutiny of this Right-wing Government who are seeking to trample on our democratic rights, to consider calling more hon. Members on the Labour Benches and not simply keeping a balance?

Mr. Speaker

It so happens that I have called 15 hon. Members from the Opposition Benches and 11 from the Government Benches.

Mr. Cook

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not pursuing that point of order. I will take only an entirely new one.

Mr. Cook

It is evident from the business announced for next week that the House will sit every day until 4 a.m. and may go through the night on two occasions. Hon. Members may come and go as they please provided that they are present for Divisions and provided there are sufficient hon. Members to keep the debate going. The Chair, however, has at its command only four Members, including yourself, Mr. Speaker. Are you confident, Sir, that you will be able to maintain the Chair for that period?

Mr. Speaker

I regret that point of order because it will make it necessary for me to volunteer, with the Deputy Speaker, to do some night work.