HC Deb 17 January 1980 vol 976 cc1878-84
Mr. James Callaghan

Will the Leader of the House 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)

Yes, Sir. The Business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 21 JANUARY—Supply [9th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on the problems of the Northern Region, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Bees Bill.

Motion on the Value Added Tax (Fuel and Power) (Metrication) Order.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

TUESDAY 22 JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Competition Bill.

Motion on European Community documents R/2075/78 and 4679/79 on the European Court of Justice.

WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY—Debate the report of the Merrison committee on the National Health Service, Cmnd. 7615.

Motion on the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Multilateral Trade Negotiations) Order.

THURSDAY 24 JANUARY—Debate Oil the role of nuclear weapons in Britain's defence policy, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 25 JANUARY—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 28 JANUARY—Debate On East-West relations and the crisis in South-West Asia, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Mr. Callaghan

We hope that the foreign affairs debate will be more directly related to East-West relations and the consequences of recent events, leaving for separate discussion at a later date the future of Zimbabwe and events in that area, along with other related matters. We think that the Middle East will also come into the debate to take place on Monday week. In preparation for that debate, I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether we may have a statement on Lord Carrington's visit as soon as he returns, so that the House may consider it before the debate arises.

Secondly, I gather that the right hon. Gentleman is anxious to confide to us the date of the Budget.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful for the declaration of intent on the part of the Leader of the Opposition about the scope of the debate, which fits in well with the title that the Government have suggested, namely, a debate on foreign affairs. My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will be making a statement on his return from his important round of visits.

Mr. Callaghan

And here?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

And here. Of course, that goes without saying, I hope. Whenever there is a major statement on foreign affairs in another place an identical statement is made in this place.

With regard to the date of the Budget, I am pleased to share my knowledge with the right hon. Gentleman and the House. The date proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend to open his Budget is Tuesday 25 March.

Mr. Callaghan

We shall certainly look forward to that date with considerable apprehension. Tuesday's debate on the Competition Bill may, in some ways, be a foretaste of what is to come. Subject to the rules of order, Mr. Speaker, I take it that it will be possible for us to mention some of the alarming price increases resulting from direct Government intervention, such as gas, electricity, postal charges, rail fares and all the others that will come. Some of the price increases are the result of direct Government intervention, and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will be able to question Ministers on what the Competition Bill will do to assist the poor, miserable consumer to improve his standard of life under this Government.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I imagine that what is in order is a matter for Mr. Speaker. My opinion, for what it is worth, is that references to price rises would be in order, as would references to the legacy from the previous Government, from which many of those increases arise.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call any hon. Member to ask a question, I inform the House that more hon. Members have indicated a wish to speak in the major debate than can possibly be called. The more time that is taken now, the fewer hon. Members will be called in the debate on the steel industry that is to follow. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members will understand that I propose to spend less time than usual on business questions.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Does my right hon. Friend recall that before the Christmas Recess my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry undertook to have words with him about an early debate on the award of many hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to British Leyland? I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can assure us that we shall have an early opportunity to discuss and put questions on this matter, as he and I, and you, too, Mr. Speaker, are answerable to our constituents for the disbursement of their tax revenue. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that Wednesday's business does not appear to be of such overriding urgency that it could not be displaced for a discussion of this kind.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The relative importance of items of business depends on the interests of hon. Members, or at least their subjective judgment. I have had words with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and we have discussed the whole question of the corporate plan for British Leyland and whether there should be a debate. I assure my hon. Friend that it is the Government's intention to have a debate on the annual corporate plan in due course, but I cannot give him the particular undertaking for which he asks.

Mr. Beith

May we have an assurance that next week's business will be reported in Hansard in the usual way, with proceedings up to 10 o'clock being recorded in the following morning's edition? Why has that not been done this week? Has the Leader of the House had any hand in arranging for the Budget to coincide with the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As the hon. Member will know, there are continual employment and technical difficulties over the printing of Hansard, and I am doing all that I can to see that they are overcome. As for the coincidence of the date of the Budget and the date of the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I am caused considerable distress by the dilemma over which of the functions I should fulfil. I would indeed be delighted to be present at the enthronement of the archbishop, but it is not yet possible to be in two places at the same time. Bilocation is a sign of sanctity. If I could do that, I should be able to serve God and Mammon at the same time.

Mr. Maxton

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is considerable anger among Scottish Members about the debate that took place last night on the Scottish rate support grant? Is he aware that in that debate of one and a half hours the Front Bench speakers took one hour and 10 minutes? We are criticising not the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen or the Government Front Bench spokesmen, but the time given for such an important issue. Can he assure us that in future we shall have a full half-day debate on the subject?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I appreciate the desire of Scottish Members to make their views fully known and I shall look into the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Cormack

In view of the happy coincidence referred to by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), will my right hon. Friend ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that churches are exempted from VAT?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that that would be an amende honorable.

Mr. Whitehead

Will the Chancellor of the Duchy tell us why the House has not yet debated the broadcasting Bill, which we were led to believe would come before the House before the end of January? Is it because, as reported in the Press, the Cabinet is split on the matter? Does the Chancellor of the Duchy realise the inconvenience that has been caused? The plans of Independent Television have been held up because of the nonappearance of the Bill.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is not because the Cabinet is split on the issue but because the final consideration of the Bill has not yet taken place.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

My right hon. Friend announced that there would be a debate on Monday on East-West relations and other foreign affairs matters. Will he consider making it at least a two-day debate, bearing in mind that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan is probably the gravest threat to the peace of the world since the outbreak of the last war? Many hon. Members who do not normally participate in foreign affairs debates would like to make a contribution on this vital issue. I speak as one who visited the Soviet embassy this morning and saw the Soviet ambassador.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I believe that there is agreement throughout the House that we face an extremely grave international crisis. However, we shall have a debate on defence policy on Thursday, as well as the foreign affairs debate on Monday, and I think that that is a reasonable allocation of time, though there will, of course, also be time next week to discuss any statement that may be made on foreign affairs.

Mr. Stuart Holland

Will the Leader of the House give time next week for the House to debate the proposal by European Ferries Limited to construct, within sight of the Terrace of the House, an office block which would be nearly as high as the National Westminster Bank tower but much wider, and which would dominate the view on that part of the Thames? Will he also invite the Secretary of State for the Environment to give instructions that the public inquiry into the proposal should be adjourned until the House has had time to consider the matter and form a view?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have considerable sympathy with the point made by the hon. Gentleman. I am concerned about any effect that the proposed plans may have on the amenities of the House, amongst other places. An inquiry is being conducted at present and it is at that inquiry that evidence should be given. It is open to the hon. Gentleman to raise the matter on the Adjournment, and to give evidence to the inquiry. From what I have gathered from the response of the House, anything that the hon. Gentleman said would receive support.

Mr. Foot

Scrap it altogether.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The right hon. Gentleman says "Scrap it altogether". I am sure that that will be noted by the inquiry.

Several Hon Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call two more hon. Members from each side.

Mr. Kershaw

Has the Chancellor of the Duchy been able to make any progress about financing the new Select Committees?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The job of fianancing Select Committees is a matter for the House of Commons Commission.

Mr. Rooker

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement next week explaining why the Government are short-changing the pensioners and also admitting that it is no excuse to say that because the Government made good the shortfall in the 1978 uprating they should not make good the shortfall in the 1979 uprating?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly pass on that observation to my right hon. Friend, but, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear earlier, when the Government took office we brought about a record rise in pensions.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Since the Front Bench spokesmen will need time in the foreign affairs debate to set out fully the complex matters involved, will my right hon. Friend discuss with the usual channels the possibility of not having a vote at the end of the debate, but allowing it to continue until 11 pm so that more hon. Members may take part?

Why have the Government chosen to have the defence debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House? Is it not possible for the Government to table a motion in favour of the deployment of cruise missiles in this country, so that those of us who favour that deployment can say so plainly in a vote?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is not unusual to have a debate on such a matter on a motion for the Adjournment. It will be open to my hon. Friend to table a motion, which may be selected for debate. A vote on the Adjournment is well understood to be a vote for or against the principal issues in the debate. My hon. Friend has made a reasonable suggestion about the extension of the foreign affairs debate, and I believe that it should be discussed.

Mr. McElhone

Will the Leader of the House consider extending the debate on foreign affairs so that we may discuss resolution No. 455 of the United Nations Security Council, which calls upon this country, as the responsible colonial Power, to make reparation to Zambia for the blowing up of 10 bridges? Although the Government have rejected legal responsibility, we have a moral responsibility for the serious food shortage in Zambia, which has been caused by the sabotage of those bridges by Rhodesian forces.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly see that that important point is passed on to the Governor in Rhodesia.