HC Deb 21 June 1979 vol 968 cc1500-7
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 25 JUNE—Debate on the motion on Select Committees related to Government Departments.

Motion on the Industrial Training Levy (Engineering) Order.

TUESDAY 26 JUNE—Motions on the Wales Act 1978 (Repeal) Order and on the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs.

Motion on the Iron Casting Industry (Scientific Research Levy) (Amendment) Order.

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

WEDNESDAY 27 JUNE—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Motions on the Pool Competitions Act 1971 (Continuance) Order and on the Social Security Revaluation of Earnings Factors Order.

THURSDAY 28 JUNE—Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order.

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

FRIDAY 29 JUNE—Proceedings on the Pensioners' Payments and Social Security Bill.

Debate on the multilateral trade negotiations, on a motion for the Adjournment.

MONDAY 2 JULY—Motions on the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order and on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) Order.

Mr. Callaghan

I note that Friday's business will be the proceedings on the Pensioners' Payments and Social Security Bill. We have not yet been able to see a copy of the Bill. May I have an assurance from the Leader of the House that it will be concerned only with the increase in pensions and not with the miserable proposal to take away the right to increase them by reference to earnings increases as opposed to price increases?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Although dissenting from the right hon. Gentleman's adjective, I give that assurance.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Do I understand that the debate on the pay of Members of Parliament will be taken in more than one week's time, so that the Government may have time in which to reconsider whatever decision will be announced here in a few minutes?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We shall take that into consideration.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Does the Leader of the House expect that we shall have the usual facility of the Official Report next week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There are some troubles in printing the reports of the proceedings of the House. We are doing what we can to see that those are resolved. In these delicate matters it is best to say as little as possible at a moment like this. However, I have expectations and hopes for next week.

Mr. Jay

When shall we have a report from the Minister of Agriculture on his activities in Brussels this week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My right hon. Friend will report to the House as soon as he returns.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

As the hay and pea harvests are now starting, and farmers are encountering shortages of diesel fuel, will my right hon. Friend make representations to the Secretary of State for Energy to the effect that another statement on the availability of diesel fuel for tractors would be welcome to many Members of Parliament representing agricultural constituencies?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly convey that important point to my right hon. Friend. He is keeping the situation under continuous review.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the debate on Monday will be open-ended?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is the intention that the debate on Monday will come to an end at 10 o'clock, whereupon all the votes on the amendments that have been selected by Mr. Speaker will be taken.

Mr. Renton

I am pleased to hear that there will be a debate on multilateral trade negotiations next Friday. Will the Leader of the House ensure that there is adequate time for that? It would be unsatisfactory if only half an hour were available for debating that important subject.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have considerable sympathy with the point made by my hon. Friend. I cannot give a categorical assurance in those terms. The length of the debate that occurs before the multilateral trade debate is not within my control. Unless there is time for a debate of approximately two hours, after the proceedings on the Pensioners' Payments and Social Security Bill, it is my intention that the House should proceed to the normal half-hour Adjournment debate.

Mr. Kaufman

As a result of the culpable negligence of the Secretary of State for Industry in failing to lay the necessary orders, the shipbuilding redundancy payments scheme will lapse on Saturday of next week. That will cause great uncertainty among shipbuilding workers. Will the right hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance that the orders will be laid as soon as possible and that when they are laid they will be made retrospective so that there will be no gap in benefit?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The right hon. Gentleman has been his usual agile self. He raised a point and then answered it. The effects of the orders will be retroactive, so that the business about which the right hon. Gentleman is concerned will not be in jeopardy.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

As the Leader of the House called the Select Committee reforms to be put to the House on Monday the greatest reforms for 100 years, and as there are five pages of amendments, surely he cannot stop the debate at 10 o'clock.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is the present intention. There are large numbers of votes, subject to Mr. Speaker, to be taken. I do not think it desirable that the House should take those votes and make those most important decisions at a late hour. However, if it is the general wish of hon. Members that we revise the arrangements and take the votes at a later hour, I shall listen to the representations.

Mr. Dalyell

At business questions a fortnight ago the Leader of the House promised to look at the system of ticket allocation. At 3 o'clock the Visitors' Gallery is usually almost half empty. Has the right hon. Gentleman been able to consider the situation?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Today must be unusual. Perhaps the Gallery filled up rapidly today.

I will consider the hon. Gentleman's point. However, now that the Services Committee has been appointed, this will be an early item on its agenda. That is the appropriate body to follow up the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

If further time is required in which to debate these important matters on Monday, would not it be better to follow the precedent of the previous procedure debate and extend it into a two-day debate?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The fact that there was that two-day debate should be taken into consideration when we debate the issue next. What is most important now is not steamrollering through measures and further debate but the opportunity to take decisons.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is the Leader of the House aware of all the humane work of Motability, which exists to provide cars for severely disabled people? Is he also aware that Motability, of which the Prime Minister is a patron, ceased to trade as a result of the increases in VAT and MLR? This is an important matter. Will the Leader of the House ensure that we shall have a statement next week either from the Chancellor of the Exchequer or from the Secretary of State for Social Services to inform us what the Government intend to do to help this enterprise?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot guarantee a statement. However, I shall certainly ask my right hon. Friend to consider this matter. I shall be in communication with the right hon. Gentleman, as I know that he is an expert on it.

Dr. McDonald

Before the Government take any measures to curtail employees' job protection rights, details of which are at present circulating among trade unions, will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee a full debate on the matter?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly look into the suggestion made by the hon. Lady, but the time for debate on a whole variety of subjects is becoming increasingly limited.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Leader of the House aware of the serious and ominous warning by the chairman of the Supplementary Benefits Commission that the standard of living of the poorest will fall unless £200 million is urgently found, and that the Chancellor this afternoon gave a pedantic, point-scoring, party political answer to a question on this matter? Can we discuss this matter next week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I gather from what the right hon. Gentleman said that my right hon. and learned Friend gave him an effective reply. I shall certainly look into the question, but I cannot guarantee a debate next week.

Mr. Speaker

I propose to call those hon. Members who have been standing, if they will be brief. If not, we shall have to move on.

Mr. Canavan

Will the Government provide time for a debate on early-day motion No. 57 to allow the House to come to a decision on the outrageous proposals of the Secretary of State for Scotland to allow the SNP-controlled district council of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth to go ahead with a savage rent increase of 40 per cent.?

[That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Housing (Limitation of Rent Income Increases) (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth District) (Scotland) Revocation Order 1979 (S.I., 1979, No. 669), dated 13th June 1979, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th June, be annulled.]

This would be an unwarranted attack on the living standards of thousands of my constituents.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern for his constituents. I suggest that we should have discussions through the usual channels about the possibility of finding time for a debate on the subject.

Mr. Field

Given that this week we expect a report on pay for Members of Parliament, would the right hon. Gentleman also find time, before Parliament goes into recess, for a debate on the Supplementary Benefits Commission review of Government proposals to reform the benefit system for the 5 million poor of this country? Would he go further and express the wish that as many Members attend that debate as attend the debate on the pay of Members of Parliament?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must not argue a case now. He must ask a question.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. The report on salaries for Members of Parliament and Ministers has already been published. I fully agree that we must consider this report not in isolation but in relation to social needs of others in the community. I shall consider the suggestion that the hon. Member made.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Leader of the House consider giving time to debating two reports that have been placed in the Vote Office and have been published? They are Department of Trade reports, one on Keyser Ullmann Limited and the extraordinary dealings of that company. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will give serious consideration to allowing the House to debate this important report, stemming as it does from the property speculation period which looks as though it will raise its head again? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he is not involved in any kind of cover-up?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I certainly give the assurance that I am not involved in any sort of cover-up. I have nothing to cover up and I would not be very good at that sort of operation if I tried it. The report on Keyser Ullmann is a matter that is being considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Mr. Rooker

With regard to the second motion on Monday, if the Leader of the House intends to shut down business at 10 o'clock, will that be only on the motion to set up Select Committees? What about the second motion on the Committee of Selection? Will we have proper time to debate that?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if the substance of all these matters is debated together. The votes will then be taken individually on the amendments and the motions which Mr. Speaker selects. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]

Mr. Thomas Cox

Is the Leader of the House aware that the uncertainty about the date when the Summer Recess commences presents real problems to many hon. Members, especially those with young families? When does he think that he may be able to give this year's date?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am aware of the importance of that point, particularly for Members who have young children and who need to make plans. I cannot give any undertaking, but I hope that we shall rise at about the usual time.

Mr. Stoddart

May I press the right hon. Gentleman further regarding Monday's debate and put it to him that it really is not good enough to have a one-day debate on this important subject, bearing in mind that the debate that we had previously was in the old Parliament, and was a debate on principle? In this Parliament there are many new Members, who may wish to express their view. Also, we have many amendments that are worthy of proper debate and consideration.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am aware of the importance of the point that the hon. Gentleman raised, and that this is indeed a new Parliament. However, it is essential to arrive at an early decision on these matters so that the House can proceed with the appointment of Committees. I shall certainly consider the point that the hon. Gentleman raised.

Mr. James Callaghan

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for saying that he will consider this matter. It must be quite clear to him that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with his present proposal. Therefore, perhaps the usual channels could be used to discuss whether we should debate these issues for two days and take a decision at the end of the second day. I fully accept that we could not have a ragged debate on every amendment, but the right hon. Gentleman might get himself into a bit of trouble, because people will be entitled to speak on amendments if they are moved, and it is important that we should come to an agreement to deal with this matter in an orderly way and reach decisions at the end of the second day.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I respond to that suggestion by the Leader of the Opposition in the spirit in which it was offered. We shall discuss the matter through the usual channels.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Can the Leader of the House say when legislation will be brought before the House to fulfil the commitment made in the Queen's Speech to repeal section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, and whether that will be coupled with legislation on an official freedom of information Act?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We shall certainly have an opportunity, at an early date—though I cannot guarantee that it will be before the Summer Recess—to debate the important matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred.