HC Deb 21 February 1980 vol 979 cc657-66
Mr. James Callaghan

Mr. Speaker—[Interruption] I was rising and I shall continue to rise in order to ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week. I had not expected such unstinted admiration from Conservative Members, although it has been widely expressed outside the House as a result of what I did on "Panorama" last Monday.

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 25 FEBRUARY—Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

Consideration of timetable motion on the Social Security Bill.

TUESDAY 26 FEBRUARY and WEDNESDAY 27 FEBRUARY—Progress on the remaining stages of the Companies Bill [Lords]

THURSDAY 28 FEBRUARY—Debate on an Opposition motion of no confidence in the economic and industrial policies of Her Majesty's Government.

FRIDAY 29 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 3 MARCH—Supply [12th Allotted Day]: Subject for debate to be announced.

Mr. Callaghan

The Government are now beginning to emerge in their true colours as an authoritarian regime. However, the right hon. Gentleman looks a pretty unlikely candidate for the role of ayatollah. The Social Security Bill is complicated and technical. It robs the pensioners. It separates their pension increases from earnings for the first time in a year in which—thanks to the policies of the Government—earnings will rise faster than the retail price index. The provisions of the Bill are extremely complicated. It is the second Bill that the Government have guillotined in three weeks. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the appropriate regulations will be published before the Bill is completed?

The immigration regulations were published yesterday. Will the right hon. Gentleman give a day for debating them? I shall return later to the question of the censure motion.

Mr. St. Jahn-Stevas

The immigration regulations will be subject to the negative procedure. It is open to the Opposition to pray against them, should they so wish. It does not lie in the mouth of the Leader of the Opposition to make remarks about an authoritarian Government. He was a member of a Government who established a world record by producing five guillotines in a day.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Leader of the House aware that we shall not be satisfied with an hour and a half on those very important immigration regulations? I think that he will find that several of his hon. Friends feel that that is too short a period to debate such an important matter. We shall ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider what he said.

As for the guillotine motion and the motion of no confidence, two points arise. First, eight Government Committees have been set up to consider Government legislation. The Committee Floor in the morning or afternoon looks something like a Chicago slaughter yard. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider, especially in relation to next Thursday's motion of censure, that Committees should not meet during that debate? Every right hon. and hon. Member should have a chance to be present in the Chamber. We shall then be able to debate the total lack of confidence in the Government's economic and social policies. They are dragging this country downhill fast.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

If there is a very intense legislative programme it is because the Government are fulfilling the mandate given by the general election. Select Committees decide when they meet. I cannot control them. Standing Committees also decide their sittings. However, I am sure that they will pay attention to the suggestion that has been made, as it is not unreasonable.

Sir Nigel Fisher

Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, I could reduce the temperature a little. When he considers future business, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it is many years since we had a debate on the Commonwealth? That might be an agreeable debate, and it would certainly go down well throughout the Commonwealth. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could arrange a short half-day debate on Commonwealth Day, 10 March, or during that week.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am most grateful for that constructive and helpful suggestion. I am afraid that I cannot promise an early debate on the subject. I thank the hon. Gentleman for lowering the temperature. My own temperature was low, anyway.

Mr. Canavan

May we have a statement from the Solicitor-General for Scotland about the treatment of pickets by Scottish courts as a result of Tuesday's statement by the Attorney-General? The Attorney-General has nothing to do with prosecutions under Scottish law. Is the Leader of the House aware of reports that yesterday six pickets in Scotland were fined a total of more than £500 for simple obstruction while at the same court another man—not a picket—was fined a mere £120 on five charges of police assault? Does that not prove that there is blatant discrimination against workers who are involved in a legitimate industrial dispute?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is not for me to criticise the courts in England or Scotland. Of course, I know that the law in Scotland is different from that in England. It is based on Roman law as opposed to common law. I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the relevant Law Officer.

Mr. David Steel

Although my hon. Friends and I have already tabled a prayer against the immigration regulations, will the Leader of the House take note that it is not enough simply to give the usual hour and a half for debating this matter? The Government should give time to such a major issue.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The right hon. Gentleman should remember that the matter has been fully debated. There was a full debate on the White Paper.

Mr. Beith

They are different.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

They are different in the sense that they have been altered to take account of the views expressed in the House. It is therefore unreasonable to ask for another full day's debate.

Mr. Stokes

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the violent picketing that has taken place this week? The House could then show its unstinted support for police officers in their enforcement of the criminal law of Britain.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that a debate is necessary to show the views of the House. I believe that every hon. Member supports the police in the exercise of their lawful duties.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

On the question of the immigration rules, is the Leader of the House aware that the Select Committee on home affairs will produce a report on the European Convention on Human Rights with respect to these rules, which will be published shortly? That report deserves a debate in this House. The immigration rules deserve a day's debate on their own, but would it not be an advantage to discuss the two matters together? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the immigration rules are not just simple rules? They concern hon. Members in all quarters of the House.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree that this is a matter of great importance, but the immigration rules have been debated in principle in this House, and any question of their relationship to the Convention on Human Rights is at present hypothetical.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread disquiet about the bizarre and disgusting decision to sell subsidised butter to the Soviet Union once again? Can we have a debate on this matter shortly?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that I can promise an early debate. However, I shall convey my hon. Friend's feelings to the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Foulkes

Has the Leader of the House had time to consider the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) last week about the problems of Scottish school holidays and sittings of this House during the summer? Will he guarantee that the House will not sit in August? If he will not do that, will he tell me what I am supposed to tell my children about their summer holidays?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Although I have some say in the matter, the progress of business in the House is not entirely within my control. It is certainly my hope that the House will not have to sit into August, but that is a matter that lies more in the hands of right hon. and hon. Members opposite than with me.

Mr. Latham

Has my right hon. Friend noticed early-day motion 428 in the name of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) and other Labour Members, which, implicitly, strongly criticises the deplorable Labour Party broadcast attacking the police?

[That this House abhors political propaganda from any source designed to weaken and discredit the police; and confirms that the Police Force has the full confidence and support of Parliament and the nation in the lawful and impartial exercise of its duty and responsibility for the maintenance of law and order.]

Should not that motion be debated as soon as possible, so that the House can renew its support for the forces of law and order?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am afraid that I did not see the broadcast in question. Television is more a medium for appear- ing on than for viewing. However, I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has noted with satisfaction the endorsement of law and order in the hon. Member's motion.

Mr. Douglas

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there should be a debate soon on the Finniston report on engineering, before we lose all our engineering industry?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a most important report and I hope that its conclusions will be discussed in a number of other debates to which it is relevant.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Before encouraging Committees of the House to rearrange their sittings for the debate on the motion of no confidence, will my right hon. Friend try to get a statement from the Leader of the Opposition making plain his views about the strike and the pickets at Sheerness, and whether he believes pay settlement should be above the current rate of inflation?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have heard that request. I made a request to him at the weekend that he should break his Trappist silence, and I hope that by our joint efforts we will manage to get him to burst into song.

Mr. James Callaghan

I rise only to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I am very flattered by the requests from the Conservative Benches that I should express my views on a number of matters that are in the Government's interests and that arise from Government policy. I am grateful to acknowledge the tribute that Conservative Members pay me for the great influence that I obviously have on their Benches and throughout the country.

Mr. Faulds

When will the House have a chance to debate, and when do the Government intend to pursue, the Strutt recommendations on country matters, the more particularly because before the last general election there was biparty agreement on the need for such countryside legislation?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is quite clear that the agricultural and countryside interests are well represented on the Government Benches. This is a matter that merits debate, but I cannot promise one next week.

Mr. Pollock

In view of the publication, this week, of the Bowman report on forestry and its serious implications for future Government policy, will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on this important but too often neglected topic?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have a number of very important topics to try to fit in, and I cannot promise an early debate.

Mr. Palmer

May I press upon the Leader of the House the importance of the question already raised about the Finniston report? Is he aware that the other place is about to debate it? Why, under this Government, are we always so much behind the times in industrial affairs?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The fact that this matter is being debated in the other place is a justification for a bicameral legislature. It is one of the great advantages in having two Houses that when the timetable of one does not allow for a debate it can take place in the other. It is generally recognised that debates of this nature in the other place are of very high quality.

Mr. Crouch

Many references have been made to important reports. Will my right hon. Friend make arrangements for us to obtain copies of the Brandt commission report "North-South"? Does he realise that it is quite difficult to obtain it publicly? Today I went to a famous booksellers and asked for it and the attendant asked me whether it was fiction or non-fiction.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is not a parliamentary paper. I entirely agree that the Brandt report deals with a question of paramount importance for the future of the world—

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I agree.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The fact that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me does not give me any reason to change my opinion. I have no powers in this respect, but I shall do what I can through other channels to facilitate my hon. Friend's request.

Mr. Dubs

Has the Leader of the House noticed early-day motion 415, which criticises the Attorney-General for putting a block on a whole set of parliamentary questions?

[That this House deplores the fact that Mr. Attorney-General has, by sheltering behind proceedings currently before the courts, imposed a block on all questions about jury vetting.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to protect the interests of Back Benchers and ensure that Ministers cannot hide behind blocking of questions in order to avoid giving difficult answers?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that the Attorney-General is seeking to block questions. He has reached the opinion that it is essential that the judgment of the divisional court be confirmed or reviewed at the highest level before he can give an authoritative statement on this matter. That is perfectly reasonable.

Sir Bernard Braine

In view of the continuing anxiety in this and other countries about the state of the world economy, the suggestions that are being made in influential quarters about a revival of protectionist measures, and the relevance of this to the Brandt report, to which my right hon. Friend paid a warm tribute, will he arrange for the House to discuss the matter at an early date?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

This is a subject that, in connection with aid policy in general, should be discussed at an early date by the House. I cannot promise an actual date, but I shall bear in mind the important representations that have been made to me.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must remind the House that once again today there are far more right hon. and hon. Members hoping to participate in the debate than I can possibly call. Therefore, I must bear this in mind and also the fact that there is another statement. I shall call three more hon. Members before we move on.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his judgment about the Select Committee's report on the European Convention? This is the first report from any of the new Select Committees. It was prepared in order to assist the House in its discussion of the immigration rules, and if it is to be properly debated there must be a full day's debate. Surely, to give less is to indicate contempt for the new Select Committee—contempt that the right hon. Gentleman, of all people, should not feel.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Not only should I not feel it; I do not feel it. I regard the work of those Committees as being of major importance to the effective functioning of the House. I shall look into the question that the hon. Gentleman raised, but I cannot promise an early and separate debate.

Mr. Spriggs

In view of the Prime Minister's unqualified support for Jimmy Carter, the President of the United States of America, over Afghanistan and the Olympic Games, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an international affairs debate as soon as possible? Will he deal with the matter urgently?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We had a debate comparatively recently on foreign affairs. As to the support of my right hon. Friend for the foreign policy of the United States in those two matters I think that it has the unqualified support, certainly of the Government side of the House, and of many other hon. Members.

Mr. Winnick

Bearing in mind the sort of speeches that the right hon. Gentleman used to make on immigration and race, should he not be the first to recognise the need for a full day's debate on the immigration rules?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The point that I have been seeking to make is that we have already had that debate. The regulations have come forward and have been modified to take into account the views of hon. Members expressed in the debate in this House.

Mr. Speaker

Statement, Mr. Secretary Heseltine.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It would be helpful if, on future occasions when business questions are taken, instead of curtailing discussion by taking three further questions you could announce earlier, when there is clearly an imbalance between the two sides of the House, that you intend to call all those who have been standing. If many hon. Members on one side wish to put questions it means that hon. Members are rising to catch your eye for a considerable time while hon. Members on the other side can intervene as and when they chose, thereby lengthening the time and depriving those who have been trying to put a question from the beginning of the opportunity to do so. I suggest it would be fairer, Mr. Speaker, if you adopted the course of saying that you would take all those hon. Members who had been rising as you have done before.

Mr. Speaker

I have from time to time—indeed, often—said that I will call those hon. Members who have been rising. However, I have to balance a number of interests. Today, to be fair to hon. Members who have a strong constituency interest and who may well not be called because of the time available, I thought that I would move on.

Mr. Hooley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not be more for the convenience of the House to set a time limit on business questions, so that hon. Members could be more clearly aware of how matters progress?

Mr. Speaker

The House might as well be aware that I receive a number of suggestions from hon. Members. I consider them all seriously. All have advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage is that the rest of the House, most of the time, would not agree with the proposals put forward.