HC Deb 14 June 1979 vol 968 cc619-28
Mr. James Callaghan

Will the Leader of the House 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)

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

MONDAY 18 JUNE—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Statement.

Debate on EEC document R/2147/78 on drinking water analysis.

TUESDAY 19 JUNE—Second Reading of the Education Bill.

Debate on EEC document R/1051/76 and the second supplementary memorandum on aircraft noise.

WEDNESDAY 20 JUNE—Motion on the Scotland Act 1978 (Repeal) Order.

THURSDAY 21 JUNE—Supply [1st Allotted Day]. Debate on the effects on unemployment of the proposed cuts in manpower services.

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

FRIDAY 22 JUNE—Second Reading of the European Assembly (Salaries and Pensions) Bill.

MONDAY 25 JUNE—Debate on the First Report from the Select Committee on Procedure in Session 1977–78—proposals for Select Committees.

Mr. Callaghan

I guess that the attitude of hon. Members to Friday's business will to some extent be influenced by what the Government will have to say about the salaries of hon. Members. I noted the answer given earlier on that matter, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government will be able to give us some information before long.

Wednesday's business is what we take objection to. I suggested in the debate on the Queen's Speech—it is not too much to ask—that there should be discussions between the parties before that Act was repealed by an order which will go through in one day. I repeat that request to the Leader of the House. It is reasonable that we should have discussions first. There have been no talks, although I understand that some approaches may have been made in order to start talks.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to postpone that business until we have had discussions between the parties. There may be other views after the talks have expired. If the right hon. Gentleman is unable to meet us on this—we are asking that it be put back until we have had discussions—we shall have to vote on Wednesday. Will he please reconsider this business for next week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that the Government are proceeding with all reasonable speed on the Boyle report, and it is right that the Prime Minister, before taking further steps, should consult the Leader of the Opposition.

On the second matter, the repeal of the Scotland Act, I appreciate the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making, but that issue is quite separate from the issue of all-party talks—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, because there is a legal obligation, by statute, to put down a motion to repeal that Act. I should have thought that one could equally argue that it would facilitate the all-party talks to have this matter out of the way.

Mr. Callaghan

Although I accept that there is an obligation, there is no time limit for the repeal of that Act. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take seriously something which has not been taken altogether seriously, certainly in the heat of the election, at times, namely, that this issue of devolution is important in Scotland. It may appear quiescent now, but I have no doubt that it will come to the forefront of politics again. I repeat my request; we should have the talks first.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we think that this is one of the most important issues facing the country.

Mr. Latham

Can my right hon. Friend yet make a statement on the Government's attitude towards the report of the Select Committee on the National Land Fund? If not, could we at any rate have an early debate on this matter?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We are considering the future of the National Land Fund, and I hope that we shall be able to give some notice of the progress before too long.

Mr. Faulds

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect to be able to make a statement about the abysmal, indeed shameful, breach of his personal promises and of the statement in the Conservative manifesto about the arts and the heritage?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am not aware that any promises in relation to the arts and the heritage have been breached. It is right that when Government policy is decided upon all those representing the Government should make their contribution.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I welcome the notice that the Leader of the House has given of the debate on the Procedure Committee's proposals, but will he come clean with the House about the reappointment of Select Committees, which many of us, on both sides, consider important? I raised with him before the recess the inquiry which was being conducted by the Social Services and Employment Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee on perinatal and neonatal mortality, which was two-thirds of the way through. Could our Committee, the Expenditure Committee, be re-established, albeit temporarily, so that this important inquiry can be completed? It will save lives and money.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That must be a matter for the House itself to decide when it holds the debate on Monday, but whatever the House decides I hope that it will be possible for the work which has been done by previous Committees to be used either by these Committees when they are reappointed or by new Committees.

Mr. Coleman

The right hon. Gentleman will recall the truncated debate on Welsh affairs before the recess. When are we likely to be able to discuss on the Floor of the House the effect on Wales of the Government's public expenditure cuts?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that there will be an opportunity for another debate on Welsh affairs, but I cannot give a date at the moment.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Has my right hon. Friend had time to reflect on the exchange yesterday between Mr. Speaker and the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) on the matter of foreign affairs and the adequacy of time for debates and questions? Is he aware that, as a result of the new arrangements, the number of occasions on which hon. Members, on both sides, can put questions on foreign affairs and overseas development subjects has been halved and the amount of total time for foreign affairs questions has been reduced by one-sixth? In view of this unsatisfactory position, what conversations does my right hon. Friend propose to have through the usual channels to make it more possible for hon. Members to question that Department more fully?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As I said yesterday, the arrangement of the roster of questions is for the convenience of hon. Members, and if it is unsatisfactory we must re-examine it. I am glad to be able to say that I have been diligent and that discussions through the usual channels have already begun.

Mr. Maclennan

Reverting to Wednesday's business and the constitutional question involved, in view of the absence of a time limit, why are the Government anxious to move rapidly on the repeal of the Scotland Act?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that the Government are anxious to move rapidly and fulfil all their pledges.

Sir Paul Bryan

When can the House expect to see the legislation on the future of broadcasting? Will the Bill be preceded by a White Paper?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I know of my hon. Friend's interest in this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Apparently I said more than I intended. The Queen's Speech indicated that proposals would be made for the future of broadcasting and that legislation would be introduced to extend the life of the IBA, which will be given responsibility for the fourth television channel. Work on those proposals is under way, but I cannot give a date for the announcement now. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, he will not publish a White Paper in advance of the legislation.

Mr. Donald Stewart

I refer to Wednesday's business on the Scotland Act. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if one of the main items on the agenda in any all-party talks is removed in this way, before they take place, there is no prospect of anyone believing in the Government's good faith?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that is an exaggeration. This is a legal obligation. Both in opposition and in government we have made it clear that all-party talks are conditional upon the order being placed before the House.

Mr. Beith

When does the Leader of the House expect to table a motion appointing the House of Commons Commission? Does he realise that shortly somebody will have to answer questions on its behalf?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We are proceeding as quickly as we can.

Mr. Alan Clark

When are we to be allowed to debate the reintroduction of the death penalty?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We shall provide an opportunity for such a debate before the House rises for the Summer Recess.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Leader of the House consider providing time for a debate on the role and activities of the special patrol group? In the meantime, will he urge his colleagues to ensure that that group is disbanded pending the public inquiry into the events leading to the death of Blair Peach?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

An inquiry has already taken place. I cannot promise a debate on the matter next week.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie

I return to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about Wednesday's business. Does the Leader of the House agree that the House is in a dilemma? The majority of people in Scotland who cast a vote did so in favour of an Assembly. We should consider that before proceeding with the business on Wednesday. It would detract from the value of the House if we did not have the talks before the order was repealed.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I appreciate the force of the right hon. Gentleman's argument, but it has nothing to do with the legal obligation of the Scotland Act, which states that unless 40 per cent. of the electorate vote in the affirmative the Government's legal duty is to table an order to repeal the Act.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I accept that devolution will not go away, as the Leader of the Opposition said, but will my right hon. Friend, at all costs, avoid becoming bogged down in talks with the Opposition until the statute book has been wiped clean of the Scotland Act? Will not that be the right time to enter into new discussions? The statutory requirement must be fulfilled first.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those helpful observations.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that he will not decide finally on what motion or motions the procedure debate on Monday week will take place before there has been consultation not only through the usual channels but with others in the House?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is the Government's duty to lay the motions which they think are appropriate. It is then the duty of the House to decide whether it wishes to accept, reject or amend those motions. I shall consult as soon as the motions are tabled. That is appropriate. We intend to table the motions in good time so that there will be ample opportunity for hon. Members to see what the Government propose. That is the correct constitutional way in which to proceed.

Mr. W. Benyon

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 38?

[That this House believes there should be an early debate on the need for a third London airport.]

Will he arrange for such a debate? It seems crazy to embark upon a project involving such enormous capital expenditure without questioning the criteria.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have noticed the early-day motion. The Advisory Committee on Airports Policy will be reporting to Ministers in the autumn on future airports requirements in the light of what I understand are new air traffic forecasts which are being prepared. The Government will consider the matter when all the necessary information is available. I assure my hon. Friend that the view of the House will be taken into account.

Mr. Kaufman

If the right hon. Gentle-man does not announce before next week a debate on the orders to renew the shipbuilding industry redundancy payment scheme, may we have an assurance that those orders will be debated the following week, otherwise they will expire? As there are several orders, may we have a full day's debate on the shipbuilding industry so that we may learn the Government's policy?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot be as specific as the right hon. Gentleman would like me to be, but I assure him that this matter is being treated with great urgency and will be brought before the House as soon as possible.

Mr. Forman

Will my right hon. Friend undertake to look into the possibility of holding a half-day debate on the important Lindop report on data protection before the House rises for the Summer Recess?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall consider that suggestion, but I warn my hon. Friend that we are facing considerable congestion of business in the time before the Summer Recess.

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Leader of the House reread his eloquent speech on the Loyal Address, especially the section on overseas aid? In the light of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's announcements this week, will the Leader of the House find time next week to table his own resignation?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am prepared to read that excellent speech yet again. After previous readings I saw no reason to conclude that I should resign. Rather, it confirmed me in the view that I should hold on to my present office.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call those hon. Members who have been seeking to catch my eye, if they will assist me. There is a statement to follow which is of considerable interest to the House.

Mr. McElhone

Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on the dispersal of Civil Service jobs to the regions? May we have an assurance that the promise to disperse 6,000 Civil Service jobs to Glasgow will be kept?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

This matter is being considered urgently by the Government. We are not yet in a position to make a statement.

Mr. English

Is the Leader of the House aware that we welcome his announcement about procedure? Will he be a little more specific than he was to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham)? Is he aware that his predecessors have interpreted the tabling of motions in good time as being anything from five minutes to two weeks? May we have an assurance that these motions will be on the Table a week before the debate?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am aware of the hon. Member's interest in procedure, and in the hope of a speedy debate I shall do all that I can to assist him. I shall lay the motions before the House on Monday. That will provide seven days' notice.

Mr. Spearing

Has the Leader of the House observed that we have not in this Parliament had a notice of business at the EEC Council of Ministers? As a certain assembly across the water wishes to influence proceedings at that Council, is it not important that we should have not only a notice of business but proper oral reports of the meetings held by that body?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree with the hon. Member. I shall look into the question of a notice of business.

Mr. Cryer

The Leader of the House said that business was becoming congested. Will he therefore consider substituting for such EEC business as that relating to drinking water, which seems to be of comparatively minor importance, other EEC business such as that which affects the West Riding textile industry? May we discuss such issues as the observing of quotas under the multi-fibre arrangement and the outward processing system? Thousands of jobs could be lost. May we have a debate on the relationship of the EEC with the textile industry?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is a question of making judgments and allotting priorities. I agree with the hon. Member about the drinking water analysis document, which has become less controversial owing to various amendments and agreements which have been made. However, the Scrutiny Committee recommended that there should be a debate on the subject, and I am sure that he hon. Member would have thought up a very good objection if I had gone against that recommendation.

Mr. Cormack

May we expect the legislation on the National Land Fund before the Summer Recess, or after?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that it is much more likely to be the latter than the former.

Mr. Canavan

Why are the Government in such a desperate rush to repeal the Scotland Act, given the wishes of the majority who voted in the referendum? If they argue that the support of 33 per cent. of the Scottish electorate is not enough for a Scottish Assembly, is it not sheer duplicity for the Tories to take the majority of Scottish seats on the Common Market gravy train on the basis of last week's elections, when they received the support of only 11 per cent. of the Scottish electorate?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not entirely follow the hon. Member's mathematics, but I do not see any duplicity in fulfilling our legal obligations as laid down by statute.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on Merseyside and the North-West so that a Minister can attempt to explain and justify the disgraceful decision to put more of my constituents on the dole and ask them to pay higher prices, simply to finance tax handouts of the order of £400 a week to the likes of the chairman of ICI?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Subject to what you rule, Mr. Speaker, there will no doubt be an opportunity to debate these matters on an Opposition Supply day.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is the Leader of the House aware that it is a tradition in this House that when the Committee of Privileges makes an important recommendation for legislation time is given for the House to debate and decide upon that recommendation? As the right hon. Gentleman added his wisdom to the last report of the Committee of Privileges will he, without committing himself to a date, give an assurance that we shall be able to take a decision on the Committee's recommendation that the proceedings of the House shall be subject to privilege not only in Hansard but in wider reports?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I know of the hon. Gentleman's concern and interest in this matter, and I shall certainly look into the point to see whether we can have a debate in the not-too-far-distant future.

Mr. Bidwell

May I press the Leader of the House on the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bols-over (Mr. Skinner) about the role of the special patrol group of the Metropolitan Police? Will he look at the substance of the support that exists for early-day notion 6 calling for a public judicial inquiry into the events in question?

[That this House is of the opinion there should be a public judicial inquiry into the events in Southall on Monday 23 April.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, under present procedures the police inquiry will take a good deal of time? Will he keep very firmly in mind that far more is required to allay public anxiety about the events of that day than simply a police inquiry?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's concern over the events on that day, but I suggest that we proceed one step at a time. It is reasonable to await the first report before considering further action.