HC Deb 14 January 1980 vol 976 cc1205-7
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the rearrangement of business for this week.

The motion on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order, announced for today, will instead be taken on Wednesday. On Thursday there will now be a debate on steel, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, and motions on the Southern Rhodesia orders.

The business on Monday 21 January will be Supply [9th Allotted Day]. The subject for debate will be announced later. The remaining stages of the Bees Bill will also be taken.

Mr. Foot

While we greatly welcome the right hon. Gentleman's announcement of a debate this week on the situation in the steel industry we still regard it as a grave dereliction of duty on his part and on the part of the Prime Minister, presumably, that they did not respond to the demand from the Opposition that we should have are call of Parliament so that we could have the debate before the strike was embarked upon. Can he tell us why we did not have a proper response to that request?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

A perfectly proper response was sent by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the Leader of the Opposition indicating that in the judgment of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet the recall of Parliament was not necessary. We would find the protests of the Leader of the Opposition more convincing if he had been able to be present today.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

As the House has now approved the change in sitting times on Fridays so that we should sit at 9.30 in the morning and rise at 2.30, instead of one and a half hours later in each case, as previously, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the change will be implemented this Friday, particularly in view of the extremely dangerous driving conditions after nightfall?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The subject to which my hon. Friend referred has been a matter of further consultations. There is a Government motion on the Order Paper. I do not think that it would be right to take a decision and to implement the proposal this week. I believe that we should take an early decision with a view to implementing the change on Friday week.

Mr. Robert Hughes

In view of the decision by Lord Soames to allow South African troops to remain in Rhodesia, contrary to both the Lancaster House agreement and specific assurances given at the Government Dispatch Box, and in view of the way in which Rhodesian security forces have attacked guerrillas reporting to the assembly points, which raises grave doubts about the extent to which they are under the Governor's control, may we have a debate, or at least a statement, early this week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There is at present no intention to make a statement on the situation in Rhodesia. Of course, the Government are keeping the matter under constant review and if it is judged that a statement is necessary one will be made. As for the position of my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Soames, I would have thought that most hon. Members would be sympathetic to him in the extremely difficult position that he is resolving with skill and courage.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call those hon. Members who have been seeking to catch my eye since the Leader of the House made his statement. I shall then move on to the other statements.

Mr. Cormack

Will my right hon. Friend give a categorical assurance that there will be an early debate on the grave implications of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Yes, I can give that assurance to my hon. Friend. I hope to be able to announce later this week that we shall be holding a debate on Afghanistan next week.

Mr. Ioan Evans

During the recess there was severe flooding in the valleys of South Wales and Cardiff. Are we to have a statement from the Government tomorrow—I appreciate that there are three statements today—or time for a debate, because there are serious implications concerning the lack of action by the Government?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am aware of the serious floods and damage that occurred in Wales I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

In view of the serious implications of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the use of Soviet troops outside the Warsaw Pact for the first time since the end of the last war, will my right hon. Friend invite the Opposition to make available their supply day so that we can have a two-day debate on foreign policy, centering on Afghanistan?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sure that the acting Leader of the Opposition will have heard my hon. Friend's suggestion and will treat it with the importance that it deserves.

Mr. English

In the right hon. Gentleman's consideration of the position of European Assembly Members who seek to eat crumbs from our table, will he bear in mind the question of reciprocity? Will they build a palace in London that we can visit it? May we visit Strasbourg on the same terms?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also bear in mind that there are many eminent persons at the far end of this palace, starting with Prince Philip and Prince Charles, who are prohibited entry here and who may conceivably have a better right to it than have some European Assembly Members?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I should like to inform the hon. Gentleman that reciprocity is available at the European Parliament. I understand that it is open to any hon. Member to visit that Parliament without let or hindrance. The question of visits to Strasbourg is a matter for hon. Members to decide for themselves. I should certainly be delighted if the hon. Gentleman paid a prolonged visit there.