HC Deb 24 May 1979 vol 967 cc1232-40
Mr. James Callaghan

Will the Leader of the House be gracious enough to inform us whether there is going to be a Budget when we return after the recess?

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

I am always gracious when treated graciously. The business for the first week after the spring bank holiday will be as follows:

MONDAY 11 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Kiribati Bill.

TUESDAY 12 JUNE—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget Statement.

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

WEDNESDAY 13 JUNE and THURSDAY 14 JUNE—Continuation of the debate on the Budget.

FRIDAY 15 JUNE—Debate on the CAP price proposals for 1979–80, namely document 4648/79, addenda 1, 2 and 3, and on EEC documents 4702/79, R/2369/78, 5568/79, 5335/79, R/2462/78 and R/2162/78, together with any relevant addenda, corrigenda and amendments.

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

Mr. Callaghan

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. In view of the conflicting signals that seem to be emerging from Ministers at the present time about the financial situation, do we attend in our wedding garb, or is it to be funeral meats on Budget day?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I would not presume to advise the Leader of the Opposition on what he should wear, but I would advise him to arrive with a change of clothes.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion No. 13, signed by 247 hon. Members of all parties, about procedural reform?

[That this House calls the attention of the Leader of the House to the report of the Procedure Committee (HC 267) proposing how the House should deal with the Committee's comprehensive proposals for reform of the House (HC 588); and urges the Leader of the House to ensure that the House has an early opportunity to take decisions on this matter.]

While not anxious to press the Leader of the House for an immediate decision in the first and second weeks we come back, may I ask him for an assurance that before we rise for the Summer Recess the House will have an opportunity to come to a decision on the findings of the Select Committe on Procedure, both as regards Select Committees and Standing Committees, so that when we come back in the autumn we shall be able to operate under the new arrangements?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have noted the motion on procedural reform and the growing number of hon. Members who have signed it. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that the House will have an early opportunity after the Whitsun Recess to debate this subject.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will the Leader of the House give an assurance, on that same subject, that the decision will be based upon, and the debate will take place upon, the motion as recommended in the last report from the Procedure Committee, which came out just before the end of the last Parliament?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a matter for the Cabinet to decide and to take into account the procedures recommended by the Procedure Committee, which the Cabinet will do.

Sir Paul Bryan

Will the Leader of the House say when we may expect the legislation on broadcasting, and whether it will be preceded by a White Paper?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am afraid that the parliamentary timetable is already very crowded. I cannot tell my hon. Friend that there will be an early opportunity for a debate. I shall certainly consider with the right hon. Gentleman responsible whether a White Paper should be published.

Mr. Alan Williams

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect giving a personal assurance this time last week that in determining the subject for last night's Welsh debate he would take into account the wishes of Welsh Members? Will he tell the House what steps he took to ascertain those wishes? Will he confirm that he rejected a motion put forward in the name of the majority of Welsh Back Benchers, including representatives of the Labour, Liberal and nationalist parties, which regretted the failure of the Government to indicate where their public expenditure cuts will fall in Wales? In view of this failure with his commitment, will he give an assurance that he will not use last night's woefully short three-hour debate on Wales as an excuse to avoid a full day's debate on the Floor of the House when the full savagery of the cuts is known?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the undertaking that I gave was to consider the views of Welsh Members. I did that. I considered the resolution that was 1945 they were that this debate should take place on the Adjournment submitted. I then consulted the precedents and found that since the end of the war in. I did not think that there was sufficient reason for overruling those precedents.

On the second point, I can certainly give the right hon. Gentleman an assurance that we will consider the fact that there was not as much time as we would have liked for the debate on Welsh affairs.

Mr. Emery

Does my right hon. Friend realise that we are grateful that he has now given a commitment on early-day motion No. 13 that there will be a debate soon after we return after Whitsun? When the Cabinet discusses this matter, will he ensure that the debate can take place on motions on which the House can come to decisions at the end of the debate? That seems important. It is essential that it should be carried through.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly give due weight to the important point raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Kaufman

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion No. 19 on shipbuilding redundancy payments?

[That this House calls upon the Secretary of State for Industry as a matter of urgency to lay the necessary order extending the ship-building redundancy payments scheme to end June 1981, and also to increase the maximum earnings limit under the scheme from £100 to £110 per week, in line with the new limit under the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978.]

When the House returns, there will be only three weeks left in which the necessary orders are to be laid, unless that scheme is to expire. Will the Leader of the House give a categorical assurance that the necessary orders, both for Great Britain and Northern Ireland, will be laid by 30 June?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot give a categorical assurance but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am aware of the urgency of the matter and I hope to be able to make an announcement in due course.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will the Leader of the House say when the Select Committees are to be reappointed? The Expenditure Committee—and particularly the Social Services and Employment Sub-Committee of that Committee—was in the middle of an important inquiry into perinatal and neonatal mortality at the Dissolution of the last Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a great pity if all the good work that has been done and all the evidence given by people who have come to the House were to be wasted? Will he tell the House that the Select Committees will be reappointed, even if it is only for 12 months, as in the last Parliament?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am aware of the valuable work done by the Committee to which my hon. Friend refers. Discussions are going on at this moment through the usual channels about the appointment of House Committees such as the Services and Privileges Committees.

Mr. Palmer

As one who had the privilege of being Chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology in the last Parliament, may I ask the Leader of the House when he hopes to reappoint that important Committee in this Parliament?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a matter for the House and for discussion through the usual channels.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Will the Leader of the House advise Members whether the fortnight's break that we are to have is the usual spring bank holiday break, or is it to fight the Euro-elections?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that talented Members will be able to combine duty with pleasure.

Mr. Rooker

Is the Leader of the House aware that yesterday evening the BBC "PM" programme rebroadcast a commitment of his, made in another programme—I think that it was "Any Questions"—when, on behalf of the Conservative Party, he gave a categorical assurance that it was committed to abolishing the rating system? How soon can we expect the Bill to be brought forward?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for following my obiter dicta so closely. I do not have the advantage of the hon. Gentleman of having heard that programme so recently. What I said was that the commitment to abolish the rating system remained, but that it could not be guaranteed to be carried out within the lifetime of this Parliament.

Mr. Crouch

Is the Leader of the House aware of the widespread feeling in the House that we ought to hear soon from the new Arts Minister? Will he let us know whether we shall have a debate on that subject soon?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I should have thought that members of the public might think that they had heard quite enough from the new arts Minister. As I am in charge of the business of the House, if representations are made to me by the arts Minister for an arts debate, I shall give it favourable consideration.

Mr. Bradford

Will the Leader of the House indicate when the House will have an opportunity of both debating and voting upon the restoration of capital punishment?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that the House will have an early opportunity before rising for the Summer Recess.

Mr. Latham

Will my right hon. Friend, in his rather one-sided discussions with the arts Minister, pay particular attention to the report of the National Land Fund, a matter that I know is close to his heart? As the last Government's White Paper on the subject was not regarded as wholly satisfactory, may we have an early debate on his proposals?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am well aware of the importance of that subject. I am studying the whole matter, in its complexities, at this moment.

Mr. Winnick

May we have an early debate on the Government's mean but typical decision not to phase out the television licence fee for the elderly? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the intense disappointment that exists among retired people at the Government's decision?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I realise that there are arguments in favour of the course suggested by the hon. Gentleman. However, the Government's view is that old-age pensioners are best helped by keeping the old-age pension at a reasonable level.

Mr. Renton

In view of the unfortunate likelihood that the oil supply situation will get worse, and the many points made about this matter in yesterday's Adjournment debate, will the Leader of the House find time, soon after we reassemble, for a debate on the whole question of oil and alternative sources of energy supply?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and he has undertaken to keep me informed of developments during the coming recess and subsequently. When Parliament reassembles, periodic reports to the House will no doubt result from replies to oral, written and private notice questions, which, as long as the present concern over supplies lasts, are likely to be plentiful. I shall certainly bear in mind the request for a debate.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call those hon. Members who have been rising.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

There is a current decision by the House to appoint a Select Committee to consider the roles of Ministers and civil servants in the Bingham affair. When will the Leader of the House appoint that Select Committee?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

This question has arisen before and I have referred the matter to my right hon. Friends who have a direct interest in it. They are now considering the matter. When they have reached a decision whether to take action, if any, they will report to the House.

Mr. Lawrence

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he was less than his usual forthcoming self in answering my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) about Select Committees? Will he, at the earliest possible opportunity, tell the House whether he intends to reappoint the Select Committees, so that those which are three-quarters of the way through their work can appropriately finish it?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As I pointed out to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), discussions on these matters are going on through the usual channels. My intention first is to appoint the House Committees and to get them out of the way.

Mr. John Garrett

In the last Parliament both the Expenditure Committee and the Procedure Committee forcefully argued for a thoroughgoing review of the financial control procedures of the House, the Supply procedure and the regular accounts that are presented to the House by Departments. Will the Leader of the House set up a special Procedure Committee again to consider this crucially important subject?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that yet another Committee is needed, but I am considering seriously the criticisms and the proposals that have been made.

Mr. Moate

Can my right hon. Friend offer any guidance to the House on the question of security arrangements, particularly as they affect parties of visitors being escorted around the House by Members? We appreciate the need for tight security, but we wonder how long the present arrangements will persist.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend has made, but I think that the security of Members and visitors to the House must take priority.

Mr. Spearing

The Leader of the House read out a long list of EEC documents for debate on Friday 15 June. Will he confirm that they all relate to the price issue that is to be debated in the Council of Ministers on the following 18 and 19 June? In any case, will he now graciously agree to follow the practice of his predecessor and ensure that the subject of each document, where it differs from previous documents, is announced? Will he also consider the need for placing these documents in sections, with a possible business motion, to take a separate Question at the end of business?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The central document—4648/79—contains the CAP price proposals. The other documents are related to that central document in various ways. That is why they have been grouped together. I shall certainly consider the other suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hooley

As there will be important decisions on the steel industry in Brussels on 12 June, will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to make a statement on 11 June, particularly in the light of the explicit decision by the House on 25 January, which rejected the EEC proposals?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly pass that suggestion on to my right hon. Friend. The Government intend to ensure that a statement is made on forthcoming business in the European Community, for example, which may be of interest to the House. It is also our intention to continue the practice of Ministers reporting to the House when important decisions have been taken in Brussels.

Mr. Douglas

While not wanting to be advised on sartorial elegance, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will take note that Members, particularly new Members, are extremely dissatisfied with the procedures of the House relating to accommodation? Would it not be a good idea, before we start advising industry and commerce how to run their affairs, to bring someone in here—I suggest the gentleman who has come from Marks and Sparks to advise the Government on efficiency—to look at the way in which we house 635 Members, their secretaries, research assistants, and so on? The way in which we are treated in this so-called modern Assembly is absolutely farcical.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have great sympathy with the point made by the hon. Gentleman. In fact, earlier today, at their request, I received a delegation from new Members about the difficulties of accommodation. I appreciate that those difficulties are considerable. I am doing what I can to help. But I reflect that perhaps it is better to be here with the difficulties than to be outside the House without them.

Mr. English

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his helpful replies on the question of Select Committees. During the recess, will he ask the Cabinet to make the necessary decision on the first special report of the Procedure Committee about the permanent Committee structure of the House? Everything relating to Committees is being affected by the delay. For example, Clerks of the House literally do not know what their jobs will be, and there are various other difficulties of which the right hon. Gentleman is aware. An answer on that matter during the recess will help the Cabinet with the House more than almost anything else that it could do.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I can assure the hon. Member that I am pressing ahead with all my usual energy in the pursuit of this objective.