HC Deb 01 November 1979 vol 972 cc1464-72
Mr. Speaker

Business Statement—Mr. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

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 5 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Education (No. 2) Bill.

TUESDAY 6 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Industry Bill.

WEDNESDAY 7 NOVEMBER—Supply [4th Allotted Day]. The title of the debate is "The disastrous consequences of the Government's financial policy in relation to the steel industry."

Motion on Members' interests.

THURSDAY 8 NOVEMBER—Proceedings on the Isle of Man Bill.

Remaining stages of the European Communities (Greek Accession) Bill.

FRIDAY 9 NOVEMBER—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 12 NovEMBER—Second Reading of the Protection of Trading Interests Bill.

Mr. James Callaghan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there will be strenuous opposition to the continued rake's progress of the Education (No. 2) Bill, the Industry Bill and the dismantling of the steel industry? We shall offer the strongest opposition on each of those three days.

As for the business for the following week, will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the Government's policy on the external broadcasting services of the BBC, in view of the contradictory statements that have been made, so that we can have a statement and know that this proposal—a proposal which, if carried through, will be totally against the national interest—will be dropped from the Government's policy?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful for the early warning of the attack that is to be launched next week, and I trust that it will materialise.

With the second point I have rather more sympathy. I understand that an Adjournment debate will take place in the House tomrrrow, which will give an opportunity for a Government Minister to reply. I also understand that there will be a statement later today from my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Stokes

Will my right hon. Friend allow time for a general debate on immigration before the Government's specific proposals are put forward?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The Government intend to put their proposals forward in the form of a White Paper, but after a reasonable time there will be opportunity for debate on that.

Mr. Palmer

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider devoting a day to a debate on the outstanding reports of the Select Committee on science and technology, which has been so brutally slaughtered by recent procedural reforms?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly consider that point. We have a reasonable record in this matter, as we disposed of 10 outstanding reports yesterday.

Mr. Latham

Will my right hon. Friend tell us when he will introduce his National Heritage Bill? Will it be before Christmas?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend an undertaking that the National Heritage Bill will be introduced in the House before Christmas.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does the Leader of the House realise that the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary have today misled the House and the country by clearly affirming that the Health Service will be exempted from all Government cuts, whereas in practice the Health Service has already experienced a cut of £40 million as a direct result of the Government's decision to increase VAT? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask those two Ministers to start telling the truth, for a change?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly pass on the substance of the hon. Gentleman's question, but perhaps it would be more tactful if I were to do it in my own language.

Mr. Henderson

In view of the fact that the steel industry in Scotland is suffering more from inter-union dispute than any action of Government, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a more sensible topic for discussion next Wednesday than that chosen by the Opposition?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that the subject of the Scottish steel industry will fit within the terms of the motion, so that there will be an opporunity in that debate to raise matters of interest to Scotland as well as to other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

In view of the deep anxiety felt in the Northern region about the impact of Government policies on regional policy, dispersal and other matters, will the Leader of the House consider giving some time for Members who represent northern constituencies to debate the bad effect of those policies on the region?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly bear that important fact in mind.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Prime Minister has one of the finest reputations in the history of this country for standing up for the best interests of the United Kingdom? Will he arrange, at an early opportunity, for a debate on the United Kingdom textile industry, which is at present in serious difficulties, particularly because of the duality of oil pricing by the United States? Does he agree that the Government should take action to defend this important and strategic industry?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly give consideration to that idea. I am well aware of the qualities of my right hon. Friend. I am slightly nearer to her than is my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton).

Mr. Heffer

In view of the great concern shown by the National Federation of Building Trades Employers earlier this year about the construction industry, and the fact that it has been announced today that another 300,000 workers will be unemployed next year, many of whom will be construction workers, will the right hon. Gentleman announce today an early debate on the future of the construction industry and the effects of Government cuts on it?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. However, I am afraid that it will not be possible for me to fit in such a debate next week.

Mr. Buchan

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion No. 159 in the name of myself and of many of my hon. Friends, asking that he move a motion in the House that the Scottish sections of the Education Bill be sent to a Scottish Standing Committee?

[That this House, noting that there have been ample precedents for remitting sections of Bills relating solely to Scotland to the Scottish Standing Committee, for example the whole of Part 2 of the Local Government Bill of 1947 by a Labour Government, the whole of Part 2 of the Teachers Superannuation Bill of 1956 by a Conservative Government, sections of The Police Bill of 1964 by a Conservative Government; recognising that the crucial questions of school meals, milk and transport in Clauses 24 and 25, and aspects of Schedule 7 in the Education (2) Bill refer exclusively to Scotland, calls upon the Government to move that these sections he remitted to the Scottish Standing Committee for consideration in accordance with these precedents.]

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is not only ample precedent for this but that it is almost unprecedented that such a Scottish aspect should be taken in a United Kingdom Bill. Is the right hon. Gentleman merely trying to limit the response of Scottish Members by cutting down their membership on such a Committee, or will he agree to the proposal?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen the early-day motion on the Order Paper and have noted the precedents that the hon. Gentleman quoted. However, over a decade has elapsed since a precedent of that nature was set. It is not unusual for Bills with Scottish implications to go through the House and nevertheless be considered in one Standing Committee. I do not think that a case has been made in this instance from departing from what is normal practice.

Mr. Emery

If he has not already done so, will my right hon. Friend visit the Private Bill Office early next week to read the minutes of the Committee of Selection, with particular reference to the appointment of the special Select Committees that the House has been awaiting since the summer? If it appears impossible for the present Select Committee to come to a decision, or, as may be assumed, the Labour Party Members on that Committee are unable to submit names, will he take some positive action to ensure that either we have another Committee or that the present Committee comes to a decision?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have no power to order the Committee to come to a decision. I regret, as much as does my hon. Friend, the delay in setting up these very important Committees, which are vital for the functioning of the House. It is the will of the House that those Committees should be set up, and it is my devout hope and wish that this can be done next week, without further delay.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I hope that what the right hon. Gentleman said in reply to the question about the Education Bill and Scottish Members did not indicate that he had closed his mind on this matter. He seemed to be saying that a precedent became weaker over the years, to the point at which it did not have to he used again. However, I put it to him that there are to be discussions about Scotland and the way in which Scottish business is to be dealt with in the House and with the referendum behind us I ask him to leave this matter open. Surely there is a way, given its different nature, to deal with Scottish business through a Scottish Committee, where there is plenty of time, I understand.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My mind is never closed. It is sometimes blank, but it is always open to sensible suggestions, and I think that that was a particularly constructive suggestion from the right hon. Gentleman. That is precisely one of the things that could be discussed in the Scottish Committee.

Mr. Lawrence

Is my right hon. Friend aware that neither a statement later today in the other House nor a ministerial answer to an Adjournment debate tomorrow will wholly satisfy those of us who feel very strongly about the proposed reduction of the BBC Overseas Service? Will he find time to enable the House to consider the matter further?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sorry; I did not say that there would be a statement in the other House. I indicated that there would be a statement from the Foreign Office. I fully appreciate the anxiety of hon. Members. When the content of the statement is seen the anxieties of my hon. Friend may be ameliorated.

Mr. Christopher Price

Does the right hon. Gentleman's persistence in putting down the Education Bill for debate next Monday mean that he has now abandoned the principle that there should be two clear weekends between the publication of a Bill and its Second Reading? Does his subsequent announcement—which is curious, coming from someone so close to the traditions of this House—that precedents run out if they have not been used over a period of 10 years, mean that any precedent in "Erskine May" that has lain dormant for 10 years is no longer operative?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

No, I do not think that I would draw that conclusion on the precedent point. The point is that in that intervening 15 years—to be quite exact about it—a number of other precedents have been set of Bills with Scottish matters in them being discussed by a general Committee, so there is a conflict of precedents there.

On the point about the two weekends, my position is exactly as I stated it last week to the Leader of the Opposition, namely, that it is the custom of this House to allow two weekends to elapse between publication and Second Reading. As the Solicitor-General in the previous Government said in November 1975, it is not always practical to follow that course. In this case, in fact, it was followed—

Mr. Price

indicated dissent.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Yes it was but owing to a hold-up in the printing, which was nothing to do with the Government, the Bill arrived here a few hours late. I then took immediate action, doing everything that I could to see that hon. Members got the Bill. I consider that we have behaved perfectly reasonably in this matter.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call six hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House.

Mr. Torney

Is the Leader of the House aware of the very dire state of the British textile industry and the fact that thousands of workers in my constituency and others are facing mass unemployment, due to unfair foreign competition? Will he take immediate action to ensure that the House debates this terribly serious situation?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Because the business has already been announced for next week, I am afraid that I cannot accede to the hon. Member's request. However, I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to the hon. Member's remarks about the textile industry and his particular constituency situation.

Mr. Stoddart

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is growing concern in this country about the effects of fluoridating water? What is more, there is considerable concern about the Government's intention to bring forward legislation to make the fluoridation of water supplies compulsory. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a full-scale debate in the House about this matter? Such a debate is long overdue.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The matter is one of concern. I know of no plans to bring forward legislation in this Session along the lines that the hon. Member suggested. If such plans exist, they have escaped me, as Leader of the House. I believe that this is the sort of subject that is best debated in private Members' time.

Mr. Maclennan

Further to the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) about the Scottish aspects of the Education (No. 2) Bill, may I ask him to look at this matter with the greatest urgency and to send it not, as he said, to a Select Committee but to a Standing Committee? Will he undertake to do this prior to the setting up of a Standing Committee following the Second Reading of the Bill next week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that I have made plain my position on that matter.

Mr. George

Will the right hon. Gentleman announce very soon a date when the House will be allowed to debate defence? Not only is it important that we debate the very precarious nature of the SALT II negotiations; it is even more important that we discuss and allow the House some input into the apparent decision—according to reports, already taken—to replace Polaris, at a cost of between £3 billion and £4 billion? Whether the decision is right or wrong, surely the House has the right to have some input into this decision, which is so vital and which will affect Britain over the next 50 years.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I certainly believe that defence is a subject that should be debated in the House, and I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's question in mind.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion No. 122, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Gourlay) and the names of myself and others, relating to Members' accommodation?

[That this House considers the policy of the previous Services Committee in allocating rooms presently occupied by Members, in areas of reasonable access to the Chamber for the use of Library staff, is contrary to the best interests of Members of this House, and requests that further attempts should be made to find alternative accommodation for the staff concerned.]

Will he undertake to meet hon. Members who are concerned about this matter and, perhaps, to raise this matter with the Services Committee? In the interim, will he undertake to ensure that no room in the precincts of this building that is currently used by a Member of Parliament is handed over to a member of the staff?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen the early-day motion. I have considerable sympathy with it, but of course, I am not an entirely free agent in this matter. There is the Services Committee, whose responsibility it is. Admittedly, I preside over it, but I am only the Chairman. Secondly, one inherits a situation in which rooms are occupied by people who perhaps one would not have put in them in the first place, but possession is nine points of the law. However, my policy on accommodation in the House is certainly that Members of Parliament must come first.

Mr. Woolmer

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the concern about the state of the wool textile industry is shared by both sides of the House, by the employers and the trade unions, by the local authorities, and by many others, who are extremely concerned to see in a state of deep despair an industry based in West Yorkshire, in the old wool and textile towns? Is there any possibility, in the very near future, of time being given on the Floor of the House to enable all sides of the industry to see that the House is willing to find some way of stopping the final demise of one of the historic industries of this nation?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am certainly sympathetic to what the hon. Member has said and I shall bear it in mind, as I said to another hon. Member earlier. However, I do not know that a debate alone is sufficient to bring that industry to a state of prosperity. In the main one must rely on the economic policies being pursued by the Government.