HC Deb 03 April 1980 vol 982 cc649-58
Mr. Foot

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the week after the Easter Recess?

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

The business for the first week after the Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 14 APRIL—Second Reading of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

Motions on the following Northern Ireland orders:

Domestic proceedings.

Maintenance orders (consequential amendments).

Bankruptcy, and bankruptcy (consequential amendments).

TUESDAY 15 APRIL—Second Reading of the Social Security (No. 2) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Insurance Companies Bill [Lords]. Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Companies Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 16 APRIL—Consideration of a timetable motion on the Housing Bill.

Second Reading of the Port of London (Financial Assistance) Bill.

Motions on the Shipbuilding (Redundancy Payments Scheme) (Amendment) Orders for Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

THURSDAY 17 APRIL—Progress on remaining stages of the Employment Bill.

FRIDAY 18 APRIL—Private Members' motions.

Mr. Foot

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, apart from the offensive nature of the legislation, the proposal for the business is quite unsatisfactory to us and we do not believe that it is satis factory to the House?

Why is the Leader of the House proposing a guillotine motion on the Housing Bill, when, as I understand, the Standing Committee has reached clause 93 out of about 120 clauses? I should have thought that that was considerable progress. What excuse has the right hon. Gentleman for bringing forward a guillotine motion?

When are we to have a day for a debate on the public expenditure White Paper, which was promised? Why has the right hon. Gentleman not given the Opposition a Supply day? We afforded facilities to the Government some weeks ago and the failure to provide a Supply day this week means that we have gone almost a month without one. That is totally unsatisfactory.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that we will have a full debate fairly soon on the Brandt Commission report? We are concerned about his statement in yesterday's debate on the subject when he made it clear that he did not at the moment contemplate giving Government time for a debate. We had always assumed that there was to be an agreement that Government time would be given with, perhaps, the Opposition contributing. We regard the report as being of major importance.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account that we strongly support the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that we should also have a debate on the important matter of safety in the North Sea?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful for those five questions.

I would much prefer to have reached an agreement with the Opposition on the timetable for the Housing Bill. Unfortunately, there was no agreed outcome following conversations through the usual channels. That is the reason for the guillotine motion.

I am afraid that I cannot promise a Supply day during the week following our return, but I will certainly look at the business after that with a view to providing a Supply day at an early date.

I have said to the Leader of the Opposition that we should have a debate on the public expenditure White Paper. However, I have to take into account the fact that the Select Committee on the Treasury and the Civil Service is considering the White Paper and is taking evidence at this moment. The precedent has been, in relation to the Expenditure Committee, that the debate on the public expenditure White Paper has never been held, I understand, without a report having been made to the House.

I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) initiated a valuable and important debate on the Brandt Commission, during which a ministerial statement was made from the Government Front Bench. I do not rule out a further debate, but I think that it is unreasonable that I should be asked for another debate on the Brandt Commission report so soon after the debate that has already taken place.

The Burgoyne report on safety in the North Sea is most important. It is precisely because it is important that its recommendations must be fully considered before a debate is held.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Gentleman will know that there was considerable controversy because the public expenditure White Paper was published only at the time of the Budget itself and we were thereby denied a debate on it before dealing with the Budget. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an absolute guarantee that we shall have that promised debate before the Second Reading of the Finance Bill?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also undertake to look afresh at the business that he has announced? It is not satisfactory to us. Will he make an announcement after the recess about the possibility of having our Supply day properly allocated for the week when we come back? That could easily be arranged. The Employment Bill on Thursday could be put off until the following week. We would then have our rights for a Supply day properly fulfilled.

We would regard it as real backsliding by the Government if they tried to wriggle out of the obligation to have a full debate in Government time on the Brandt Commission report. I am sure that the Opposition would be prepared to contribute so that the House might give proper recognition to the importance of the subject.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I suppose that we could go on debating this matter for some time, but there are other hon. Members who wish to ask questions.

I must take into account, in relation to the public expenditure White Paper, the consideration now being given by the Select Committee and I am grateful to have the support of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway on this. I have to balance conflicting demands.

I have said on previous occasions that it is the duty of the Government to allot Supply days. I have indicated that although I cannot acceed to the right hon. Gentleman's request for a Supply day in the first week after the recess I will consider what he has said in relation to the business which has not yet been announced.

I have said several times in the House how important the Brandt Commission report is. However, since we have recently had a full debate on the subject, I do not think that it is reasonable for the Opposition to ask for an early debate on the same subject. But I have not ruled out a further debate in due course.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call another hon. Member, I remind the House that we must try to be fair to those hon. Members who were lucky in the ballot for Adjournment debates. I hope, therefore, that questions will be reasonably brief.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Since it has been the invariable practice of Governments to accept and implement the will of the House, will the Leader of the House tell us what he is doing about early-day motion No. 17, which now has the signatures of 312 hon. Members from all parties?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to ban the import of all whale products and to work to secure a world wide ban on the slaughter of whales.]

The motion is also supported by many members of the Government, who are not able to sign it. When does my right hon. Friend intend to debate the motion, and when are Ministers expected to implement the House's will on this matter?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

In case all hon. Members do not know what the motion is about, it concerns a ban on the import of whale products. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), I am a strong supporter of conservation, including conservation of animals. We should work for an agreement through the International Whaling Commission. We are currently considering our policy on this mattes, but I do not think that it is possible to have a debate on the subject at present.

Mr. English

Has not the Leader of the House a rather potty order of priorities? Since when has bankruptcy in Northern Ireland been more important than the BBC cuts, the decision on which will be made on 17 April? Will the right hon. Member expedite the Government's reply to the first special report of the Treasury Committee? It is ridiculous that public expenditure should be at the centre of political discussion yet should not be discussed in the House.

Mr. St. John-Steyas

I shall draw the second matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the question of the comparative importance of business, it depends on the involvement of hon. Members. I am sure that hon. Members from Northern Ireland consider that the proceedings on bankruptcy in Northern Ireland are extremely important to them.

Mr. David Steel

Without prejudice to the ruling which you, Mr. Speaker, undertook to give to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the question of our representation in the Council of Europe does not have to be determined until the week after the recess? Will he accept that if there is to be any change in the long-established rights of the Liberal Party in this representation it cannot be done unilaterally by the Government by means of a written answer? It must be debated in the House.

Mr. St. John-Steyas

On the question of assignation of representation at the Council of Europe, the Government are responsible for their own representation. Traditionally the representation of the Opposition parties has been a matter for the official Opposition in discussion with the minority parties. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman pursues the matter vigorously with the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Latham

On the important proposal for enterprise zones, referred to earlier today by the Prime Minister, will my right hon Friend tell the House the method of legislative enactment for these proposals? How soon will it be done, and when will the proposals be produced?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

This matter is under consideration by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. and learned Friend has every intention of proceeding with speed because of the importance that he and all other members of the Government attach to this new experiment.

Mr. Stott

Is the Leader of the House aware of the concern felt on both sides of the House about the siting of the Inmos production units? Will he ensure that the decision is not taken during the Easter Recess and that when it is finally taken the Secretary of State for Industry will make a statement in the House?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Consideration of this matter is proceeding. I shall certainly convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry the fact that the hon. Member does not wish a decision to be taken next week.

Dr. Mawhinney

When may we expect the debate which has been promised on the Williams report? Is my right hon. Friend aware that that report is important to hon. Members of all parties and that it has an effect on my Private Member's Bill? It seems reasonable for the Leader of the House or the appropriate Minister to say that the Government do not support my Bill, but it seems unreasonable for them to say that they cannot form a view because there has not been a debate when it is in their power to call a debate whenever they wish.

Mr. St. John-Steyas

This is a controversial report and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is still considering the matter. As he is in the Chamber at present, no doubt he will have heard the anxieties that have been expressed.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Leader of the House make arrangements for an early debate on the textile industry? Is he aware that there has been a serious loss of jobs in this industry and that the antidumping measures of the EEC are pathetically inadequate? Cheap imports are flooding in without—we suspect—adequate quota control. The very serious position of the textile industry is set out in early-day motion No. 546, and clearly there is increasing pressure from all hon. Members who represent textile constituencies for an early debate, because the textile industry is the third largest employer in the country.

[That this House notes that the United Kingdom had a trade deficit in textile goods of £658 million in 1979 and £131 million in January and February 1980 notes that the textile and clothing industry is the third largest employer in the United Kingdom; that it contains many modernised and efficient sections and good industrial relations; and that the industry is nevertheless facing an increasingly serious erosion of jobs and job opportunities due to the Government policy of a high exchange rate and indifference towards strict enforcement of quota controls and lethargy in seeking new quotas and antidumping measures; and this House therefore calls upon the Government to take measures to secure the short- and longterm future of the textile and clothing industry in at least its present size.]

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Of course I am aware, as are all hon. Members, of the problems of the textile industry. As I said yesterday, there are strict controls on imports from low-cost sources and the Government will continue to enforce vigorously the provisions of the multifibre arrangement. We are ready to take up any case of unfair trading practices when there is evidence that they are taking place. We are committed to ensuring that effective restraints are placed on the imports of clothing and textiles when the present arrangement expires at the end of 1982.

Mr. Kilfedder

Will the Leader of the House consider the urgent need for a debate on the BBC cuts, particularly the scandalous axeing of the BBC Northern Ireland orchestra, which will adversely affect musical teaching and appreciation in the Province?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The matter of arranging the budget of the BBC is for the governors of the corporation. I have told the governors previously that it would be quite wrong to discriminate against any particular sphere in the cuts, which must be made fairly. I would deplore any discrimination against the arts, particularly music.

Mr. Faulds

When may we expect the announcement of the names of the board of trustees and the chairman of the National Memorial Heritage Fund? Is the right hon. Gentleman—or his lady— aware that this fund has been losing £6,000 a day since its inception on 1 April because no announcement has yet been made?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

With regard to the hon. Member's mathematics, I do not know that that is necessarily likely to continue. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is looking into that matter.

On the question of the appointment of the trustees, as the hon. Member knows, that is no longer a matter for me. As the Bill was amended, it is now a matter for the Prime Minister and she is considering it at present.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call the two hon. Members on the Government Benches and the three hon. Members on the Opposition Benches who have been rising in their places since the beginning of business questions.

Mr. Bidwell

While the Leader of the House eats his hot-cross buns and sips his tea, will he consider the severe impact of the new prescription charges on sick people? Will he consider the possibility of having a debate so that we may propose some modifications in the application of the new charges without necessarily destroying the intentions of the Budget?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As the Prime Minister has said, the prescription charges are only one-third of the actual average cost that will be enforced by the end of the year, and more than 60 per cent. of those charges are remitted. I shall reflect on what the hon. Member has said, but I must point out that I do not eat hot-cross buns on Maundy Thursday.

Mr. Marlow

If and when the other countries of the Common Market see where their own interests lie and accept the validity of the United Kingdom's case over our budget contribution and the matter is resolved, will there be a debate in the House on the issue?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly consider that suggestion. Meanwhile, it is clear that the initiative taken by my hon. Friend the Prime Minister is progressing well. We have reasonable hopes of a successful outcome in due course.

Mr. Spearing

Since Britain is the leading maritime nation and London is still Britain's leading port, does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the debate on Wednesday 16 April on the Port of London and its present problems will be of great importance? In view of the fact that there may be statements and that a three-hour timetable motion can be discussed beforehand, will the right hon. Gentleman consider tabling a business motion to enable the debate on the Second Reading of the Port of London (Financial Assistance) Bill to go on for at least four hours?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly consider that suggestion. It is precisely because of the importance of the Port of London that I am bringing forward the Bill as early as possible after the recess.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

Does my right hon. Friend consider that Prime Minister's Question Time is a valuable use of the Prime Minister's time? Does he share my sympathy with Opposition Members whose hopeless bowling is hit out of the ground twice a week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I can assure my hon. Friend that the. Prime Minister makes excellent use of Question Time. Whether similar good use is made by Members of the Opposition is not for me to say. We must judge by the results.

Mr. McElhone

May I press the right hon. Gentleman for a debate on the Brandt report? He must be aware that last Friday's debate took place in private Member's time and was replied to by the Minister for Trade and not by a responsible Foreign Office Minister. It is essential that we should have a full day's debate or, preferably, a two-day debate to obtain from the Government an explanation of why they say, on the one hand, that the report is very important but, on the other hand, cut the overseas aid programme by 14 per cent.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Gentleman knows the importance that the Government attach to aid. The reason why there has to be a reduction is that we do not have, unfortunately, a flourishing and thriving economy as yet. When that is attained, we shall no doubt be able to have a better aid programme. The hon. Gentleman knows my personal interest in the matter. I have done what I can to assist the hon. Gentleman in the matter of aid questions. I do not rule out a future debate. But we have had a recent debate, and it is unreasonable to ask for one at such an early stage.