HC Deb 22 November 1979 vol 974 cc563-73
Mr. James Callaghan

May I ask the Leader of the House to 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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 26 NOVEMBER—Supply [6th Allotted Day]: Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on mortgages, and afterwards on the National Enterprise Board. Both will arise on Opposition motions.

TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Transport Bill.

WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER—Debate on the economy.

Proceedings on the Justices of the Peace Bill [Lords,] and on the Sale of Goods Bill [Lords,] which are consolidation measures.

Remaining stages of the Papua New Guinea, Western Samoa and Nauru (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

THURSDAY 29 NOVEMBER—Debate on a motion to take note of the White Paper on the government of Northern Ireland, Cmnd. 7763.

FRIDAY 30 NOVEMBER—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 3 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the National Heritage Bill.

Mr. Callaghan

The House will wish to know that on Monday we want to debate the punitive increase in mortgage interest rates that is about to take place and that Government policy has failed to prevent. As for Monday 3 December, and the Second Reading of the National Heritage Bill, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that the House of Commons will also have the Second Reading of the proposed housing Bill and that this measure, in view of its financial implications will not start in the House of Lords?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree that the Opposition motions will be on punitive mortgage interest rates and the future of the NEB. With regard to the National Heritage Bill, it has always been our intention to have that debate. With regard to the housing Bill, I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that the Second Reading will take place in this House.

Mr. Emery

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that pages 1290, 1291 and 1292 of today's Order Paper refer, below the line, to the appointment of the new Select Committees? My right hon. Friend urged the House to approve the names of the Members of these Select Committees earlier this week. The House has not had that opportunity. Will he ensure that hon. Members have that opportunity next week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. No one is more anxious than I to make progress in these matters. I will be happy to put down the motions again tonight in the hope that the difficulties that we have encountered can be removed and the appointments can be made tomorrow.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Leader of the House allow a debate next week on the announcement of the rate support grant settlement by the Secretary of State for the Environment? I am sure that he realises that this is urgent. The Government have misled the public into believing that the settlement is the same as last year. There has, in fact, been a massive cut in the amount of money to be made available to local government. Account has not been taken of the rate of inflation, and reckonable expenditure that local authorities are allowed to incur has been recalculated downwards.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot promise a debate next week, but there will be a debate on this important subject. I understand that the settlement has been generally welcomed.

Mr. Stanbrook

When may we expect the debate on the draft immigration rules?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that a debate will be possible not next week but the week after on that matter.

Mr. Stephen Ross

In view of the considerable unrest building up among prison officers and assistant governors over the May report, can the Leader of the House say definitely that the House will debate that report before Christmas? Will there also be a debate on defence?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot give the categoric assurance for which the hon. Gentleman asks, but I am anxious to have a debate on the May report and the Merrison report, and a reply to the report of the Charity Commissioners.

Mr. Cryer

When can the Leader of the House fit in a debate on early-day motion 202:

[That this House opposes any further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom or elsewhere; and recognises that only by the ending of nuclear arms production, retention and deployment can mankind survive accidental or intentional use of these horrific weapons.]

Does he not agree that this is an urgent and important matter, bearing in mind that the Government are currently negotiating for more of these horrible, destructive missiles to be stationed in East Anglia? We want an early opportunity to register our total opposition.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I have indicated that we would welcome a debate on nuclear defence issues. It is a question of finding time in what is a very full parliamentary timetable. I hope that we will have an opportunity to debate these matters in due course.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the issues at the general election was that the Conservative Party would bring forward a good deal less legislation? Is he not getting slightly worried that Ministers are pressing upon him and upon the House of Commons too many Bills and that before the end of the Session they will be causing us indigestion?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is true that we have a very heavy legislative programme. That is because we are fulfilling our election promises at an unprecedented rate. I hope that in future Sessions, when these important Bills have been disposed of, there will be a lighter load. I have every confidence in my hon. Friend's digestion.

Mr. Ennals

Will the Leader of the House say when there will be a debate on Kampuchea, which was to have taken place today? There are strong feelings on both sides of the House that Her Majesty's Government continue to recognise a Government who have committed virtual genocide against their own people and the fact that Her Majesty's Government have not yet announced their contribution towards the United Nations relief programme for Kampuchea.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have made clear from this Dispatch Box the importance that I attach to the subject and the situation in Kampuchea. I am glad to say that Her Majesty's Government have made a considerable contribution to the relief of suffering there. I have said that in due course there will be a statement on the Government's attitude on this matter, but there is always the opportunity to raise the matter on a Supply day.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

The Leader of the House will doubtless have noted that, on the commendable initiative of the Department of Industry, a comprehensive exhibition of microelectronics has been organised, for the benefit of hon. Members on both sides of the House, in the Upper Committee Corridor next week. Before the vivid impression that this exhibition will doubtless make on hon. Members' minds fades, will there be an opportunity to debate the implications of what we have seen?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I will bear that in mind. I have already indicated that we have a very full programme. The number of weeks before the House rises is very few.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is widespread concern among hon. Members representing constituents who can be damaged by pneumoconiosis? Because the scheme is not working properly and justly, many hon. Members have supported an early-day motion on the subject. Will there be a debate next week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I know that the House is anxious to have motions tabled on this matter. We have run into some technical difficulties. As soon as these are resolved, the motions will be tabled.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

As the Government have shown that they are prepared to stand up for British interests, not least in relation to our outrageous contribution to the EEC budget, will my right hon. Friend have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade to ensure that he comes before the House next week to make a statement on the outcome of the meeting of the EEC Council of Ministers at which the terrible situation facing the British textile industry is being discussed and a decision taken on the unfair competition provided to this country by the United States?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The Government have made plain that there will be regular reports to this House by Ministers on matters of EEC concern.

Mr. George Cunningham

Now that the Protection of Official Information Bill has, if not died, fainted, for the time being, in the other place, what plans has the Leader of the House for discussing the future of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have no plans in this regard. I have no responsibility, either. I recommend to the hon. Gentleman that sleeping dogs might be left to lie.

Mr. Robert Taylor

What action is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that subsequent Private Member's Bills are not held up by filibustering on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that there will be no filibustering on any Bill introduced in this House. I have followed closely the debates on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. There have been very full discussions. I do not think that it would be fair to described those proceedings as a filibuster.

Mr. William Hamilton

I happen to be a member of that Committee. The Leader of the House is right in saying that there has been no suggestion of a filibuster. We are conducting an orderly debate. Will the Leader of the House consider carefully the accommodation facilities for that Committee? The danger is that we shall run out of accommodation in this place if we are not careful.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is a constant matter of concern to me that there is a shortage of accommodation. I shall certainly look into the point that the hon. Gentleman raised. The principle that I have adopted in determining these matters and that has guided the Services Committee is that the needs of Members of this House must come first.

Mr. Henderson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that from the earliest times one of the most potent sources of the development of human civilisation has been the storing and dissemination of knowledge and the development of communication systems? Does he accept that many hon. Members would support my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) in calling for a debate on information processing?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Yes. I have noted the powerful support that my hon. Friend has given to the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd).

Mr. Greville Janner

In view of the extremely perilous situation in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and the obvious dangers to world peace, is the House to have the opportunity to debate foreign affairs before long?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There has been an opportunity to put questions on foreign affairs. I agree that the international situation is grim and I will pass on the hon. and learned Member's reflections to the Lord Privy Seal.

Mr. McQuarrie

In view of the massive amount of legislation with which the House has to deal before the recess, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the suggestion that the House should sit in the mornings as well as in the afternoons, so as to get rid of business much more quickly?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We have been around that course before, and it was not remarkably successful. Once bitten, twice shy.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that it is now over a month since he promised to provide time for a Government statement on the iniquitous practice of jury vetting? When will the Government announce the results of their review of that practice? Secondly, will they be giving their support to the Bill introduced this week by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price)?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that it is up to the Government to give, or for that matter to withhold, support for Private Members' Bills. That must be determined by hon. Members acting on their own principles and conscience. The jury vetting report is continuing in the appropriate Department, but there is a court case pending on this issue, as the hon. Gentleman will know. The Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General want to wait to see the determination of that case before they reach final conclusions.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the right hon. Gentleman provide time next week for a debate on the motion that has been tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends who sit for Manchester constituencies, deploring and opposing the proposal by the Conservative-controlled Greater Manchester council to place a computer contract with the American IBM company rather than with ICL, which is based in Manchester, and with which the contract would provide jobs for workers in Manchester and other parts of the country?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen that motion but I am afraid that I cannot fit in a debate next week.

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call the five hon. Members who have been rising.

Mr. James Lamond

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that there is much more to the Kampuchean question than the amount of aid that this country is giving, that there is an early-day motion on the Order Paper, signed by over 130 hon. Members, including many of his hon. Friends, and that we must also discuss the continued recognition by this Government of the Pol Pot regime?

[That this House, deeply concerned at the effects of famine in Cambodia, welcomes the aid programme of Her Majesty's Government; calls for it to be continued throughout the present crisis; and urges the reconsideration of the recognition of the Pol Pot regime.]

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that a simple statement will not give the proper opportunity for fully ventilating these matters and that the Government have a responsibility to provide a debate in their own time so that we can look at this matter closely?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I said on 8 November that recognition of the Pol Pot regime is being considered by the Government and that a statement will be made in the near future. That is still the position. I assure the hon. Member that the Government are taking full account of the widespread concern on this matter. It is, of course, primarily not a question of Government or Opposition time but of finding time for a debate on a question of such widespread human concern.

Mr. Skinner

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to the Prime Minister, notwithstanding the Establishment-type debate that took place yesterday on the Blunt-Philby-Burgess-Maclean affair, that there is an urgent need for a prompt reply on the question of the public inquiry that millions of people—not many in this House, it is true, but millions outside—are concerned about, especially since many of us were deprived last night of a Division, despite our having made all the proper and sensible attempts to have one?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have had notice of a point of order dealing with that matter. In any case, the hon. Gentleman must not make charges in the House in that regard.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for dealing with the final point raised by the hon. Member. I followed yesterday's debate closely, especially the principal speeches, and I have read them again this morning. It did not seem to me that there was any general demand for an inquiry into this matter. I think that the Prime Minister and, if I may say so, the Leader of the Opposition, made it clear by their speeches—

Mr. Skinner

They would, wouldn't they?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

—that there is no need for a further inquiry into this matter.

Mr. Spearing

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that despite the importance of the EEC Council meetings there have not been many statements by Ministers in the House? In that regard, will the Prime Minister's statement following the Dublin Heads of Government meeting take place on Monday week or Tuesday week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that I can say, because it depends on how those talks go. However, I can certainly give the House an undertaking that the Prime Minister will make a statement on the summit conference. I think that there has been a good number of statements on EEC matters in the House. I hope that there will be a further statement very shortly.

Mr. James Callaghan

My words last night are on record. I do not believe that there is any case for reviewing Blunt, because the House will get no further, but I made it clear—I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will not misrepresent me—that I think that for the satisfaction of the House and the public there is a case for reviewing the nature of the relationship between the security authorities and Ministers and the co-ordination between the Prime Minister and Ministers. I believe that an inquiry of that nature could be of value.

However, the point that I really wanted to make, if you will allow me, Mr. Speaker, is that there is deep and growing concern about the situation in the Middle East, especially focused on Iran. Because of the difficulties of a debate, which I fully understand—we know that the situation is worsening, that our American friends and allies are suffering severely at the moment, and that American warships are steaming towards Iran—will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Lord Privy Seal to consider making a statement about the Government's attitude and about what help can be given to solve this problem—or, if not to solve it, at least to help our American friends in their great difficulties?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that constructive statement. It is, of course, the policy of Her Majesty's Government to support our allies when they are in difficulties, but we must move prudently in this explosive sphere. I shall certainly pass on the right hon. Gentleman's request to my right hon. Friend. As for the inquiry, I noted what the right hon. Gentleman said about a review of the relationships between the security services and Ministers, but I was referring to what he said in the context of a general inquiry into the Blunt affair.

Mr. English

Although we welcome the right hon. Gentleman's answer to the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), does he recollect that the last time he did the same thing—that is, tabled the motions about Select Committees on a Thursday as unopposed business for the Friday—they were, as is recorded in Hansard, opposed by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and perhaps by one or two others? The will of the House is being totally frustrated because the Leader of the House is not tabling the motions for discussion as opposed business. Two or three hon. Members can block those motions. Perhaps it is convenient for both Front Benches that no Home, Foreign Affairs, Defence or Treasury Committee should exist to discuss those issues, which are of concern to us all.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

No. That simply is not true. I cannot speak for the Opposition Front Bench, but the Government are anxious to make progress. Discussions have been held, through the usual channels, and I have no reason to believe that the attitude of the Opposition Front Bench is different. I hope that progress will be made tomorrow. However, my hopes are perhaps greater than my expectations.

Mr. Foot

In view of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), I ask the Leader of the House to note that the Opposition Front Bench are certainly not holding up anything. All that the Leader of the House has to do is convert a few of his Back Benchers.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I always welcome a conversion, particularly from a repentant sinner.

Mr. Canavan

In order to avoid further accusations of an establishment cover-up, will the Prime Minister make a statement next week giving a straight answer to a straight question that I put to the Prime Minister last Tuesday, but that she did not answer then or in yesterday's debate? Was the information about Blunt's confession given personally to the Queen in 1964?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is quite ridiculous to suggest that the Prime Minister is party to a cover-up, in view of her forthright and clear statement yesterday. That statement was fully appreciated both inside and outside the House. The situation is the reverse of what the hon. Gentleman states. The Prime Minister has spoken fully and frankly, and the House should be grateful to her.