HC Deb 28 February 1980 vol 979 cc1567-77
Mr. James Callaghan

Will the Leader of the House please 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 3 MARCH—Completion of remaining stages of the Companies Bill [Lords].

Motion relating to the Road Traffic Accidents (Payments for Treatment) (England and Wales) Order 1980.

TUESDAY 4 MARCH—Motions on Members' secretarial and research allowances.

Proceedings on the Highlands and Islands Air Services (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (Continuance) Order.

WEDNESDAY 5 MARCH—Supply [12th Allotted Day]: Debate on an Opposition motion on the damaging effect of Government cuts in employment and training opportunities when unemployment is rising steeply.

Proceedings on the Slaughter of Animals (Scotland) Bill [Lords], and remaining stages of the Reserve Forces Bill [Lords], which are both consolidation measures.

THURSDAY 6 MARcH—Second Reading of the New Hebrides Bill.

Proceedings on the Consular Fees Bill and on the Police Negotiating Board Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 7 MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 10 MARCH—Supply [13th Allotted Day]: Subject for debate to be announced.

Mr. Callaghan

First, has the Leader of the House given further consideration to the allocation of time for the debate on the immigration rules, which have undoubtedly attracted the attention of a great number of hon. Members?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman indicate that in due course the Government will be prepared to have a debate on the report of the Brandt Commission, not only because of its impact on Third world countries but because of the impact that it will have on our industrial future?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

With regard to a further opportunity for debate on the immigration rules, as I told the House when the matter was last raised, any alterations in the rules have arisen from representations that were made when the matter was fully debated in the House.

I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman about the Brandt Commission report. It is a most important report but it has not yet, as I understand, been published in Britain. The matter is being considered by my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Callaghan

I return to the question of the immigration rules because I did not gather what the Leader of the House said. Is he not aware that a large number of hon. Members have signed a motion asking for a debate on the matter, despite the fact that in his view a debate would merely be a repetition of an earlier one? As Leader of the House will he please give consideration to this request?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There is an opportunity to pray against these regulations, and there would also be an opportunity—if the right hon. Gentleman feels strongly about it—to raise the matter on a Supply day. The matter has been fully debated in the House.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the textile and textile machinery industries in Britain continue to face grotesque and unfair competition? Is he further aware that this year at least one mill has closed every week in the North-West? Will he arrange for an early debate on the problems facing the textile industry, so that those hon. Members who represent constituencies with a considerable number of employees in the industry can present to the House the sort of action that we believe this Government and previous Governments should have taken in order to protect the industry from unfair competition?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the future of the British textile industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade has recently made a statement, and there have been opportunities to debate the position of the textile industry. Therefore, I cannot promise a further early debate.

Mr. Christopher Price

In view of the fact that the Government issued a D notice last week to prevent further discussion by the press of the New Statesman series on telephone tapping, may we have a debate on the issue, in order to demonstrate the Government's commitment to open government and a free democratic society?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We cannot have a debate on telephone tapping next week, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has given the House an assurance that he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Farr

Will my right hon. Friend give the House some indication of what his attitude will be should the Education Bill, which is now in another place, be altered, especially in respect of clause 23, relating to school transport? Will he assure the House that should the Bill come back in an altered state, removing or substantially amending clause 23, the Government will not tamper with it further?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a hypothetical question. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, by tabling an amendment to clause 23, has met many, if not all, of the objections that were raised.

Mr. John Home Robertson

In view of the problem of Scottish school holiday dates, about which the Leader of the House knows, can he give an assurance that the House will not sit during the month of August? I have no direct interest in the matter, but I am speaking on behalf of my constituent, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who cannot speak for himself because he is a Whip.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have no direct interest in the matter, either. However, I have previously expressed my sympathy with Scottish Members with families who want to spend part of their vacation with their children. I shall do my best to ensure that the House does not sit into August, but if I am to achieve that end I need some help from hon. Members.

Mr. Montgomery

Following the request by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition for a debate on immigration rules, does my right hon. Friend recollect that when the Labour Party was in power, whenever Conservative Members asked for a debate on immigration the right hon Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) said that we could use a Supply day? Could not the Opposition use a Supply day to debate this important issue?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have made that suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. It is not a matter for me to decide; it is a matter for the Opposition.

Mr. Ennals

Has the attention of the House been drawn to motion 459 concerning the future of Westminster Hospital, the proposals in relation to which would virtually lead to the decimation of that great hospital?

[That this House, conscious of the great service provided by the Westminster Hospital to the citizens of Westminster, its great medical achievements with a worldwide reputation in teaching and research and the quality of service provided for many years to Members of both Houses of Parliament, expresses its deep concern at the proposals published by the London Health Planning Consortium which propose the closure of 410 of the 510 beds at the Westminster Hospital, thus reducing it to a small support hospital without facilities for teaching or research; and calls upon the Secretary of State for Social Services to give an early assurance that Westminster Hospital will continue.]

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate, not simply on the motion but on the Flowers report and the report of the London health planning consortium?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The last document to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is a discussion document. With regard to the Flowers report, as I understand it, that is an internal matter for the University of London. It has not come before Ministers. However, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is watching closely those recommendations. It would be premature to suggest a debate at this stage.

Mr. Alan Clark

In view of the continuing intransigence of the European Community concerning our contribution to the budget, particularly the report today that we are to be obliged to increase public spending to match the various grants and projects that are alleged to offset the liability, might it not be an idea to have a debate on the subject so that the views of the House of Commons can be learned?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal is making continual statements on this matter. There are plenty of opportunities for hon. Members who are interested in the subject to raise the matter. Some press reports of European affairs should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

In view of that reply, is it not time for a balance sheet to be drawn up of the advantages and disadvantages of our membership of the Community? Is it not time that the general issue was debated?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That balance sheet was audited by the electorate and the decision was final.

Mr. Pavitt

I should like to press the Leader of the House once again on the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals). Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the morale in hospitals will be greatly undermined unless there is a speedy announcement by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services? The early-day motion has received the support of all sections of the House.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am well aware of the anxiety that is felt. I have tried to allay it by pointing out that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is concerning himself with the matter. Until discussions have taken place on both documents referred to, a debate in the House would be premature.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Will my right hon. Friend find time in the next month or two for the House to debate the Finniston report on engineering? It is a most important document for the future of British manufacturing.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree about the importance of the Finniston report. I read with interest the debate that took place in another place yesterday and the important contribution that was made by Lord Scanlon on the subject. The report is relevant to a number of matters concerning industrial affairs but I cannot promise an early debate on the report alone.

Mr. Heffer

In view of the high level of unemployment on Merseyside and the growing problems there, which have become far worse over the last nine months, will the right hon. Gentleman indicate when there will be a debate on Merseyside? If it is not held on the Floor of the House, could we not resuscitate the regional committees to debate these serious problems?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly look at the question of the regional committees. Perhaps there will be an opportunity to raise some of the matters concerning Merseyside when the debate on unemployment takes place on Wednesday.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Will my right hon. Friend say when he expects to find time for a debate on the Williams report on obscenity?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Not immediately, I think.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Leader of the House aware that most of our great medical institutions have a high proportion of overseas students but that they spend most of their time doing research and not teaching? Is he further aware that as a result of the Government's policy to cut funds proportionate to the numbers of overseas students our medical institutions will be damaged or destroyed. When will we have a debate on that subject?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot promise a debate on the subject but I hope that with the changes announced in the fees for overseas students there will be a better balance between the needs of home and overseas students.

Mr. Thompson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that for the last three Fridays—and this will apply to tomorrow—the House has discussed matters that have raised the expectations of people outside, if not misled them, while many hon. Members knew that nothing would come of the debates? Is there anything that he can do to change that situation?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is wide-spread opinion in the House that it would be a good thing if the matter could be disposed of tomorrow. It is a matter for the House to decide.

Mr. Soley

In view of the growing crisis in our prisons and the risks to the lives of prisoners and prison officers and their general welfare, will the Leader of the House guarantee a debate on the May committee report before the end of April, at the latest?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The date of the debate on the May report will depend on the termination of the discussion that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is having with various interested parties at this moment about the conclusions of that extremely important report.

Mr. Lawrence

As my right hon. Friend attaches so much importance to Foreign Affairs Question Time as a medium for expressing the views of all hon. Members on the subject will he tell the House how soon he proposes to implement the new extended foreign affairs timetable?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The reforms will increase the amount of time devoted to foreign affairs by a considerable percentage. I am glad to say that they will be implemented within the next few weeks.

Mr. Harry Ewing

In view of the widespread concern in Scotland and other assisted areas throughout the United Kingdom about the location of the Inmos production unit, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that if the Secretary of State for Industry makes a decision to allow the NEB to break its commitment to site the production unit in an assisted area, not only will the Secretary of State make a statement to the House but the Government will make time available for a debate on on this important matter?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We have not reached that point yet, but I shall raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

Mr. Marlow

As we have just heard that the European budget is costing the country £100 million a month —and rising—would not a cut in that figure be the most effective and welcome cut in Government expenditure to the people of this country? Will my right hon. Friend take account of the hon. Members on both sides of the House who would like to have a debate on the issue to express our support to the Prime Minister in her determined and valiant effort to secure justice for the British people?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My hon. Friend has made his point clear. With that expression of whole hearted support we hardly need a further debate.

Mr. Roy Hughes

I should like to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 417 which points to the deteriorating position of pensioners in our society and suggests remedies.

[That this House, mindful of the present state of inflation and its impact on retired persons, therefore calls upon the Government immediately to increase the State retirement pension by £3 per week for a married couple with a proportionate increase for single persons; and shall in future review the level of pension on a six monthly basis.]

Bearing in mind that the high level of inflation, increased fuel costs, and so on, does the right hon. Gentleman believe that it is necessary to have an early debate on the matter?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is extremely important that the interests of retirement pensioners and other pensioners should be safeguarded. Under the provision of the Social Security Act 1975 my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has a duty to review the rates of retirement pensions and other benefits before the end of the present tax year. He will announce the proposed new rates shortly after that review.

Mr. Bill Walker

I should like to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 460, which deals with violence against children.

[That this House calls upon the Government to act to dispel the growing concern which is being expressed by the public in the matter of the number of cases where children are being subjected to violence and death in the home environment, and to look into the recruitment. training and management of social workers.]

In view of the growing concern on the matter inside and outside the House, when will there be an opportunity for an early debate?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

This matter was examined by a Select Committee in the 1976–77 Session. The Government are gravely concerned at the numbers of cases of child abuse that have occurred recently and they are urgently considering what more can be done, particularly with training, to tackle the disturbing problem. When conclusions have been reached the decisions will be made known.

Mr. Cryer

Does the Leader of the House recollect that three weeks ago I raised the possibility of a debate on the first report of the Select Committee on Members' interests? I pointed out then that it was unfair that five hon. Members were refusing to declare their interests when every other hon. Member had done so. That position cannot be altered, because the Select Committee is leaving the matter to the House. Until a debate is initiated no action will be taken. Will the Leader of the House do something to initiate an urgent debate on the report?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have raised the question with the Chairman of that Select Committee. I am waiting to see what suggestions are forthcoming. It is right that the recommendations of that Committee and its decisions on the register should be implemented.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the four hon. Members who rose just now will cooperate, I shall call all of them—if they will be brief.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

May I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and give the House an assurance that there will be an early debate on the serious unemployment and economic prob lems of Merseyside so that we may have an explanation from the Government about the thousands of redundancies there, all of which are directly attributable to the Goverment's economic policy?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am afraid that I can only repeat what I have said. There will be an opportunity, subject to Mr. Speaker's rulings, to raise a number of these matters in an early debate, namely, next Wednesday.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

The Leader of the House promised last week that he would consider my argument that with the Select Committee report coming out there should be time for discussion of that report. Could we not combine the two and have a full day's debate on the immigration rules and the report of the Select Committee?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

In response to the prompting of the hon. Member, I investigated the situation about the report of the Select Committee. The position is that no date has been given for its publication. Until the report is published we cannot possibly debate it.

Mrs. Renée Short

The right hon. Gentleman appears to be going back on firm commitments that he has already given to this House about future debates. Is he aware that a fortnight ago he gave a firm commitment to me that the Finniston report would be debated? Is he further aware that the Prime Minister gave a firm commitment on Tuesday that the Flowers report would be debated? This is not an internal private matter for the right hon. Gentleman's Department. It is a matter of great concern both to the public and to the medical profession.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that the commitment that I made to the hon. Lady was not that there would be an early debate but that it was relevant to a number of subjects. I agree with her that the Finniston report is extremely important. It would be quite premature to have a debate on the Flowers report when the university itself has not considered the matter.

Mr. Ioan Evans

In view of the fact that the Prime Minister, on the television programme "Weekend World", stated that she anticipated that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would cut public expenditure by £2 billion, that £1 billion of that would come from our reduced EEC contribution, and that there has already been a £1 billion cut in housing expenditure, are we to have a statement before the Budget on the success of the Government in reducing the Prime Minister's target of a £1 billion cut in our EEC contribution?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The Government have been extraordinarily successful in reducing the weight of public expenditure and I have every faith in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that she will have equal success in reducing the unfair burden that the EEC budget places upon this country.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

In the light of the strong feeling among local authorities throughout the country and in the national parks at their being required to sell council properties, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that we can have a debate on this matter, inasmuch as there is unanimity among all hon. Members that this problem must be resolved to protect the housing stock of local authorities within the national parks?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that I can promise an early debate, but I will pursue the point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

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