HC Deb 04 December 1980 vol 995 cc427-33
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 8 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Social Security (Contributions) Bill.

Motion on European Community document 6873/80 on imports of whale products, the Department of the Environment's explanatory memorandum of 4 June and supplementary memorandum of 2 December.

Motion on the Employment Protection (Variation of Limits) Order.

TUESDAY 9 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Education (Northern Ireland) Order.

WEDNESDAY 10 DECEMBER—Motions on Northern Ireland orders on Appropriation (No. 3), financial provisions and on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) Order.

THURSDAY 11 DECEMBER—Remaining stages of the Social Security (Contributions) Bill.

FRIDAY 12 DECEMBER Private Member's motions.

MONDAY 15 DECEMBER—Until seven o'clock, Private Member's motions. Afterwards, proceedings on the Anguilla Bill [Lords]. Motion on Member's pay and pensions.

The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that, subject to progress of business, it is intended to propose that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment on Friday 19 December and return on Monday 12 January 1981.

[Debate on European Community document on whale products: the relevant report of the European Legislation Committee is: 37th Report Session 1979–80, H/C 159-xxxvii para. 2.]

Mr. Foot

The Opposition certainly do not think that it is convenient for the House to have the debate on the highly controversial and offensive Social Security (Contributions) Bill, so-called, crowded into one week. We should much prefer it to be spaced out in a more reasonable manner.

Can the right hon. Gentleman arrange that next week, and certainly before Parliament rises for the Christmas Recess, as he has indicated, we should have preferably a debate but certainly statements on the mounting crises in British industry in various sections of the British economy — for example, the massive rate increases which are now forecast in many parts of the country under the Local Government Act and also the growing crisis in British Railways? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that we shall have statements on both those matters, preferably next week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot give an assurance in those terms, but those matters will doubtless be relevant to some of the debates that we are to have.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Social Security (Contributions) Bill. I do not care for a situation where we have to put legislation into one week in this manner, unless it is essential. Unfortunately, in this case it is, because we must have the documents distributed by early February, and they cannot go out unless there is authority.

There is a precedent for this way of proceeding which was set by the right hon. Gentleman himself. I turn his mind back to 6 December 1976, when he was Leader of the House. On that day the National Insurance Surcharge Bill had its Second Reading. Two days later, on Wednesday 8 December, the right hon. Gentleman put the Bill through all its remaining stages. I have given 33⅓ per cent. more time between those two stages than the right hon. Gentleman did. I am sure that he is the last person to suggest that there should be one rule for the Labour Party and another rule for everyone else.

Mr. Foot

I am very happy to see that the right hon. Gentleman is sticking to any rules. On his previous performance, it is quite an improvement. I am glad that he has looked up these matters so carefully. Even so—and I accept his acknowledgment at the beginning of his remarks—it is inconvenient for the House to have to deal with legislation in this way.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that I asked him about two other matters, the first being the massive rate increases which are to be imposed throughout the country. I think that the Government are compelled to bring the facts before the House. I suppose that it is the only circumstance that could make them do it. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman could indicate when that will happen.

As for the crisis on British Railways, which could be a major crisis for the nation, I do not think that there is any provision under which that could be debated next week. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take account of what I said and will arrange for a statement on this critical state of affairs next week and time for a debate before Christmas. We do not want to have the crisis upon us without the House having had an opportunity to give its views.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall reflect on what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I should advise the House that I have a very long list of right hon. and hon. Members with engineering industries in their constituencies who hope to participate in today's major debate. That being so, I propose to allow a quarter of an hour for questions on next week's business in order to be fair to those right hon. and hon. Members, some of whom, I am afraid, will not be called in any event—but one at least will be cut out if we go on too long with business questions.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

Will the Leader of the House say when we can expect the nationality Bill? In view of the fact that the Bill is a major constitutional innovation affecting every person living in the country, will he confirm that the Committee stage will be taken on the Floor of the House?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The Bill will be brought forward for debate in the House, but not until after the Christmas Recess. As for the hon. Gentleman's description of the Bill, I think that he exaggerates its innovative and constitutional character. It has neither characteristic. I do not think that it is a debate which should be taken on the Floor of the House, apart from the Second Reading and Report stages.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

What conclusion has my right lion. Friend reached about the suggestion that the Northern Ireland Committee should be empowered to sit in Northern Ireland?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a matter that I shall consider further, and I should be interested to have the views on this of the right hon. and hon. Members most concerned.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife Central)

Will the Leader of the House provide time as soon as possible for debates on the Rossminster case and the latest report of the Public Accounts Committee on the deep-sea diving school in Scotland, since both these matters involve the private money-making activities of Conservative Members, and the sooner these matters are cleared up the better?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am afraid that I cannot promise a debate on those matters before Christmas, However, I deplore the habit of making innuendoes about other hon. Members, Every Member of this House is an hon. Member, and we do no good to the House by trying to suggest otherwise.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

Will the right hon. Gentleman try to provide time for a debate on the Totalisator? Does he realise what a great disservice it is to the Totalisator as well as to all the people who use it to have continued silence on the part of the Home Office? In view of the recent disasters that have befallen the Tote, a debate on the subject is very much in the interest both of the organisation and of the country.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have noted that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter on a number of occasions in the House. I shall examine what he suggests to see where a debate—perhaps in wider terms on racing—could be fitted in. I have no interest in the subject; I have given up my racehorse.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a reliable estimate that 10 million babies in developing countries may die as a result of the use of artificial baby foods in unsuitable conditions? The British Government can play a big role in preparing a code of practice at the World Health Assembly next May. Therefore, may we have a debate on this very important subject?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is an extremely important subject. It is also extremely complicated. At least three of my right hon. Friends have an interest in the subject. Perhaps I could best advance the interests that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind by raising this important question with all three of them.

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

The Labour Government gave an undertaking that time would be provided for a debate on the report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee's finding on the disabled married women's household duties test. That was supported by the present Secretary of State for Social Services. The report has now been out for a long time. When will the right hon. Gentleman give time for a debate?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I know of the hon. Lady's interest in the subject and of the motion which she has put on the Order Paper. The Department of Health and Social Security is still considering the matters in question and what the Government's attitude should be. Therefore, a debate now would be premature.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

In view of the worsening economic crisis in Wales and the uproar that has greeted the Government's statement on the report of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs on unemployment in Wales, will the right hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance that in the next two weeks we shall have a debate on the report?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that we shall be able to have a debate on the matter at an early date.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

The right hon. Gentleman will recall his pre-election promissory notes about arts expenditure. In view of the £10 million cut in the arts budget which was recently announced, and which proportionately is one of the largest departmental cuts of all — at about 5 per cent.—when will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate on the damaging effects of his overlordship of the arts under the present Government's policy?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

If that is all that the hon. Gentleman can contribute, I wonder whether it was worth his changing his place to sit on the Opposition Front Bench. Last year I managed to get a grant for the Arts Council of a record sum of £70 million, the highest achieved by any Government to date. Whilst I cannot reveal what is to come, I have done my best this year.

Mr. Faulds

A cut of £10 million.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

You must wait and see. [HON. MEMBERS: "You?"] The right hon. Gentleman must wait and see. I mean "the hon. Gentleman", although he should be a right hon. Gentleman, as he would have been if his artistic merits had been recognised by his colleagues. He must wait and see, and he may get a pleasant surprise.

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

When will the Government announce the rate support grant order? In view of the likely disastrous effect of that order, particularly on the cities, will the right hon. Gentleman allow two days for debate when the time comes?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said about a debate.

Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)

May I return the right hon. Gentleman to the report of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, a Committee on which the majority of the members were Conservatives? Is he aware of the anger that has been expressed in Wales over the arrogant dismissal of that report by the Secretary of State for Wales? Will he reflect on what he told the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), that he cannot see us having a debate yet? Will he reflect on that so that we do not have the same kind of mess as we had over broadcasting in Wales?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have given an indication that there will be a debate on the subject. I am well aware of the strong feelings in Wales over the economic situation there. The hon. Gentleman has been less than fair to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, who has given a considered reply to what I think is an extremely important report.

Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)

As the nationality Bill is the first Bill to give something called British citizenship, how can the Leader of the House claim that it is not a Bill of major constitutional importance and one which should have its Committee stage debated by the whole House?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The contents of the Bill have been widely discussed over a long time. In many ways it is a consolidating Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] It contains certain innovations, but I do not believe it to be accurate to describe it as a major constitutional Bill.

Mr. Foot

May I press the right hon. Gentleman on this question? We hope that he will give careful consideration to the proposal that the Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House. We do not think that the description that the right hon. Gentleman has given in the past few minutes is adequate. Therefore, I hope that he will seriously consider whether we should take the whole Bill on the Floor of the House.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The Bill has not yet been before the right hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is present and has heard what has been said. We have considered the matter, but it is our judgment that the Bill should proceed in the normal way.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, unless Opposition Members follow the good example of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) in deploring talk of civil unrest in Wales, a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs will not contribute towards orderly progress and economic recovery in Wales?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I said at the time how much hon. Members throughout the House appreciated what the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said. A debate, which we shall have, on the report and the reply to it should be an important contribution to the peaceful solution of Welsh problems.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

May we have time soon to debate the growth of neo-Fascism in this country and the organisation of young people such as skinheads with swastikas on their arms and so on parading at London football matches? That naturally casts fear over communities such as the one that I represent, because the stock-in-trade of the people concerned is anti-Semitism and anti-colour.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There is no doubt that the views of which the hon. Gentleman complains are held by a small minority of people. I do not think that we should do a great service by concentrating too much attention on the activities of a tiny minority. Their views and activities are condemned by the overwhelming majority of people.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Has my right hon. Friend had time to read early-day motion 33, relating to the British paper and board industry?

[That this House is increasingly concerned over the rapid deterioration of manufacturing capacity within the British paper and board industry; and urges Her Majesty's Government to provide time for a debate on the national and international difficulties facing this vital sector of British industry.]

Will my right hon. Friend undertake to provide time at the earliest opportunity to debate the problems affecting the industry?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We have already discussed the matter. It was debated on 28 October and when we last considered the Consolidated Fund. The Government are very concerned about the matter, but I do not think that there is a case for another debate at an early date.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

As one who has been active in the Save the Whale Campaign, may I ask whether the Leader of the House recognises that there is considerable public interest in Monday night's business on the import of whale products? Having looked at the documents that have been placed in the Vote Office, I hope that he will ask that those somewhat scant documents be augmented by the background papers of the Department of the Environment, for the proposals are highly controversial. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Minister of State whether before Monday he will put the background scientific information in the Vote Office so that those of us who want to consult outside experts on this very complex matter can do so before the debate?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

This is an important matter. The interest in it is widespread not only in the country but in the House, as in shown by the signatures which the early-day motion attracted. The EEC document goes a long way to meeting the anxieties of the signatories of the motion. I shall discuss the matter with the Secretary of State to see whether further information can be provided for the convenience of hon. Members. I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said, and I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend with the recommendation that he should assist.

Mr. Ken Weetch (Ipswich)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 51, signed by myself and other hon. Members?

[That this House deplores the manner in which Lady Diana Spencer is being treated by the media: and calls upon those responsible to have more concern for individual privacy.]

It concerns the appalling harassment of a member of the public by the press. Is it not time that the House had a debate on the powers of the Press Council to ensure that such behaviour is prevented?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen the motion. I entirely agree with it. It is an excellent motion, and I congratulate the hon. Member on having tabled it. The harassment of the lady concerned has been conducted by only some members of the British press and some members of the foreign press. I deplore it. I wish in particular that the editor of the Sunday Mirror would aplolgise for the baseless story about the Royal train which he published.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

Will the Leader of the House confirm that we shall have a statement from the Home Secretary before the recess if the prison officers' dispute has not been settled? When shall we have the opportunity to debate the White Paper on young offenders so that we can demonstrate the futility and danger of some of its proposals before the Government proceed to legislation?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall draw those matters to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I am afraid that we cannot have a debate before Christmas on this matter. If there are major developments in the prison officers' dispute, I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will make an announcement to the House.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am afraid that we must move on.