HC Deb 26 July 1979 vol 971 cc881-90
Mr. James Callaghan

May I ask the Leader of the House—[Interruption.] I am grateful for the endearing bouquets which I receive every Thursday from Government supporters. I trust that they will continue. Meantime, may I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the first week after the Summer Adjournment?

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Well done!

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

The business for the first week after the Summer Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 22 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Companies Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER—Resumed debate on Second Reading of the Competition Bill.

Motion on EEC document 4627/79 on State aids to the steel industry and the explanatory memorandum of 20 July.

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

WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER—Supply [3rd Allotted Day]: Topic for debate to be announced.

Motion relating to the Paraffin (Maximum Retail Prices) (Revocation) Order.

THURSDAY 25 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Bees Bill.

Remaining stages of the Bail, etc. (Scotland) Bill.

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

FRIDAY 26 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Charging Orders Bill [Lords] and on the Limitation Amendment Bill [Lords].

Mr. Callaghan

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting down once again the Second Reading of the Competition Bill. We trust that the exercise that he has had this week will have convinced him of the necessity to listen now and again to the representations of the Opposition on these matters. As he said, the topic for debate on the Supply day will be announced later. However, as by then we expect some of the worst consequences of the Government's policies on inflation, unemployment and high interest rates to be forthcoming, it will almost certainly be an inquiry into them, and a detailed vote will be necessary on the way in which the Government have carried out their stewardship.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am extremely grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for the early warning, and I thank him for it. As for the Competition Bill, of course, I listened to the representations of the Leader of the Opposition, but there was some competition in that, also.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

My right hon. Friend will be aware that on several occasions recently during business questions he has promised that before the House rises for the recess he will make a statement on the appointment of Select Committees. He will be aware that on the Order Paper two days ago there appeared a report, the author of which was the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, stating, amongst other things, that the Opposition had to report with regret that their Members on the Committee were again unable to propose any Opposition names. Is not this a most lamentable and deplorable state of affairs? Does it not reflect gravely on the responsibility of the Opposition in setting up Select Committees, bearing in mind that the House has been operating for three months without such Committees and that there is no certainty that we shall be operating with such Committees even in October? Can my right hon. Friend make a statement about it?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Of course, I have seen the report of the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. The position is as my hon. Friend states it, and I regret it.

Mr. Orme


Mr. St. John-Stevas

I regret it very much, because I wish these Committees to be set up. I understand, however, that there are some difficulties. I shall do anything that I can to resolve them.

Mr. Foot

Would not the right hon. Gentleman prefer to tell the truth on this matter, as he had every opportunity to do, and to make it quite clear that the reason for the delay is that there have been considerable disputes between the two sides about numbers in the allocation of the Chairmen of the Committees, and that it is only that factor which has held up the appointment of the Select Committees?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is practising what the theologians call "economy of truth". He has not given us the whole story in the matter.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Gentleman now explain why he did not refer to this matter when he gave his previous answer?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Because the question that I was asked referred to the report of the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. If the right hon. Gentleman has complaints about the truth of that report, he should address his remarks to the Chairman and not to me.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

On that question, will my right hon. Friend see whether it is possible to arrange for the Chairman of the Committee of Selection to be available for questioning in this House in the same way as the Chairman of the Catering Sub-Committee is, for instance? If it appears that, the House having voted that the manning of Select Committees should fall upon the Committee of Selection, the Labour Whips are now trying to recover that power for themselves, contrary to the vote of the House, surely the House ought to hear directly from the Chairman of the Committee of Selection on the matter.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall give that important suggestion my consideration.

Mr. Dalyell

May I ask the Leader of the House a question of which I have given his office notice? While the Finance Bill is fresh in our minds, does the right hon. Gentleman recollect all the difficulties that have arisen about the definition of a charity? Is not it high time that the House debated the Goodman report on charities and the tenth report of the Estimates Committee before next year's Finance Bill, and preferably before Christmas? Could some time be given to this matter?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I share the hon. Gentleman's desire for a debate on that important report. I shall bear in mind what he said when arranging business for the next Session.

Mr. Anthony Grant

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is not only with regard to Select Committees that the Opposition are in an appalling muddle? They are also apparently completely unable to agree who should be their representatives at the Council of Europe and Western European Union. Through the usual channels, will my right hon. Friend do his best to cure this paralysis on their part?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that any difficulties that there were have been smoothed out. In these matters, we must be tolerant of one another's difficulties, otherwise we shall not make progress in the House.

Mr. Grimond

When the Leader of the House, during his holiday, is ruminating on the events of the last week or so, will he try to do better about the organisation of the business of the House? It is a complete shambles that we should sit until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning discussing very important matters such as Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] I took the precaution of being here until 3.30 this morning to discuss vital matters. In all seriousness, it does us no good to go away for two and a half months' holiday. I know that there are difficulties about the party conferences, and so forth, but I hope that next year the right hon. Gentleman will do better.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

May I reciprocate and hope that the right hon. Gentleman does better in his next intervention? As I have explained to the House, I have had to consider the desires of many hon. Members with family responsibilities—especially those from Scotland—to share some of the holiday with their children. I have had to balance that against the need to have late-night sittings, which I think were not quite as late as the right hon. Gentleman indicated. I remind him that in the three months since Parliament has been meeting the Government have fulfilled more of their pledges, legislative and non-legislative, than any other Government this century.

Mr. Farr

Has my right hon. Friend yet had a chance to look into the suggestion that a second Standing Committee should be set up to consider Private Members' Bills, in view of the great congestion that is likely to build up behind the Abortion (Amendment) Bill?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that my hon. Friend is premature in making that judgment. I must see what progress the Bill makes.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Leader of the House provide time, at the earliest opportunity, for a debate on the proposed composition of the Select Committee on Members' Interests? He will no doubt have seen the amendment tabled in my name and the names of several hon. Members which suggests that it would not be prudent for the majority of the Committee—according to the latest published account of Members' interests—to have outside interests? Will the right hon. Gentleman bring the matter forward for debate?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am trying to make progress on the matter. One of the difficulties is the very strong views of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Cormack

Is it not a fact that by resolution of the House the Select Committees in question select their own Chairman? If that is the case, have the Opposition not been frustrating the will of the House by indulging in the tactics that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) has just mentioned?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am endeavouring, by consultation, to make progress in this difficult matter.

Mr. Maclennan

The Leader of the House spoke of the Government having fulfilled a record number of promises and mandates since the election. Does he recall the pledges that he made in respect of the arts? Is he prepared to make special arrangements, particularly in a week when the House has received a lobby from Equity, to consider the predicament of the live theatre, following the Government's increase in VAT?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot recall any pledge being made by myself on the question of VAT or by any member of the Shadow Cabinet on the question of zero rating of the arts for VAT. If the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench felt so strongly, why did they not zero rate the arts during their five years in office?

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

When the House returns, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early statement on Rhodesia to be made, if possible by the Prime Minister, and thereafter, as soon as convenient, a statement on public expenditure? Can he also help the House by saying whether he expects the official Opposition motion on the Supply day to be tabled by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) or by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that I can give my hon. Friend the undertaking about the statement that he mentioned. The question of who puts down what motion is not for me; it is a matter for the Opposition. I have enough troubles of my own without intervening in private griefs on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Leader of the House give a guarantee that when we resume in October there will be no motions in accordance with a policy to freeze wages or interfere with free collective bargaining? If that does, unfortunately, take place, I can give him the assurance that I and my right hon. Friend, to whom his colleague referred earlier, will be in the same Lobby.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's views to the Prime Minister and others of my colleagues. The coming reunion in the Lobby that the hon. Gentleman has adumbrated would be an ecumenical occasion that it would be almost worth tabling the motion to achieve.

Mr. Michael Brown

Does my right hon. Friend not consider that it might be a good idea for the House to reassemble in late September so that the Leader of the Opposition might at least have a place of refuge and would not have to be exposed to the Labour Party conference?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is always possible, if needs arise, for the House to be recalled.

Mr. English

Will the right hon. Gentleman spend the next three months trying to create machinery within the Government whereby one Department tells another what is happening on the Floor of the House of Commons? The other evening it was most upsetting to see a Secretary of State forced to fill in for a junior Minister because his Department had not been told that another Department was not moving its order. Will the right hon. Gentleman, who is responsible, try to arrange that his subordinates do a better job in future?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention. I would have thought that if he was expecting a junior Minister and was addressed by a Secretary of State, he has no cause for complaint but, rather, for gratitude.

Mr. Stoddart

Has it occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that when we return after the Summer Recess Britain will have been a member of the EEC for about seven years? That is a time associated in Bible terms with plagues and famine. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider arranging a full day's debate so that we can discuss properly and with adequate time the benefits, or, more likely, the disbenefits, of our membership of the EEC? Perhaps we can also discuss the £1,000 million contribution that we make to the EEC, which is almost equal to the cuts in public expenditure that the Government intend to make in the autumn.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly consider what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Costain

Is the Leader of the House aware of the fact that the report by the Chairman of the Committee of Selection was unanimously agreed by the Committee? Is he further aware that Conservative Members on the Committee are ready to put forward their names? Will he give the House an assurance that if the Opposition come to their senses he will place the matter on the Order Paper as soon as we return after the recess?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My hon. Friend has made his point clearly. I have nothing to add.

Mr. Faulds

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, since my knees are tiring from having risen through every Prime Minister's question.

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I recommend the hon. Gentleman to take a long rest?

Mr. Faulds

At your request, Mr. Speaker, certainly until 22 October. I shall then be back on my feet. Having been pre-empted by one of my colleagues, may I slightly extend my question to the Leader of the House? When are we to have legislation on a national heritage fund, proposed by the previous Labour Government—or is that proposal to disappear under the public expenditure cuts affecting the arts and the heritage which at least he and his leading lady had the decency to oppose in Cabinet?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that we shall make progress on the question of a national heritage fund. I am sorry that better progress was not made in the philistine Government who preceded this one. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, it was a philistine Government.

Mr. Faulds

The fund was our creation.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it was not a philistine Government, why was he not in it?

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Reverting to the question of the Select Committee numbers, can my right hon. Friend tell the House what is his attitude to item number 5 on the Government Notices of Motions? An amendment has been tabled. Can my right hon. Friend give the House any guidance on what is happening on that matter today?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that we can make progress today on the question of numbers. We have been trying to do so for some time.

Mr. Gutmmer

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that early in the new Session we have a debate on agriculture, so that the House may know how much this Government have done to improve the standard of living of the farm worker and farmer compared with five years of static behaviour from the previous Government?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that, a reasonable time after we return from the recess, we shall have a debate on that subject.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. There are two statements to follow business questions, but since this is the last day I will call those hon. Members who have risen, if they will co-operate by asking brief questions.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the report of the serious allegation made by Eschel Rhoodie—who was involved in the Muldergate scandal—that Members of Parliament are financed by the Pretoria Government? May we have a statement as soon as we resume on an investigation during the recess into these serious allegations?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Of course I am always concerned with any matters that reflect on the good name of hon. Members, but I have learnt that one should not take as facts allegations that are unsupported by evidence.

Mr. Bidwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman avoid making his holiday arrangements too far in advance, since, because of the Government's extremist policies, there will be demands from the public and from hon. Members for the recall of Parliament long before 22 October?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to the hon. Member for that advice but, unlike him, I have so far made no arrangements for the holiday.

Mr. Flannery

From his undoubtedly profound inner knowledge, will the right hon. Gentleman enlighten us about the character of the package of goodies that his Government will unleash on an unsuspecting British public in the recess, while we are not looking?

Mr. St. John-Stevas I do not know quite to what the hon. Member is referring, but if he has in mind certain reports of cuts in Government spending I would only say that if the British public are unsuspecting they must be deaf, dumb and blind.

Mr. Dubs

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the difficulties that often face the House when we have long and complicated ministerial statements after Question Time, particularly when they deal with reports such as the recent one by the Royal Commission on the National Health Service? I know that some hon. Members can ask searching questions about reports that they have not read, but that is not a gift that all of us have. I wonder whether we could have a better arrangement, so that we have the reports some time before the ministerial announcements.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I appreciate the point, which in an ideal world we could no doubt realise, but even more important is that, when important decisions on policy have been made by the Government, the House should be informed as soon as possible.

Mr. Greville Janner

As so many of the feared reductions in the facilities for the elderly, the sick and the disabled will take place during the next three months, may we at least have the assurance that there will be an early debate on these sad matters as soon as possible after the House returns?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that the hon. Member's fears will not be realised, so the need for a debate will not arise.

Mr. Foulkes

Following the previous question, by the time that we return from the so-called "Summer" Recess it will be very cold, at least in my part of the country. Therefore, what arrangements will be made for the Secretary of State for Energy to make a statement about the extension of the fuel discount scheme and for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement about the insulation scheme before we return?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall convey those views to my right hon. Friends concerned.

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