HC Deb 22 January 1980 vol 977 cc212-4
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform the House that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposes to open his Budget on Wednesday 26 March 1980 and not on Tuesday 25 March, as previously announced. I am sure that this change will be welcomed by all hon. Members.

Mr. Foot

We welcome this minor U-turn and look forward much more eagerly to some major U-turns.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I accept that remark in the spirit in which I imagine it was offered. I am pleased to have been able to make this ecumenical announcement. It gives me particular pleasure to reconcile Canterbury and Westminster.

Mr. Michael Morris

Will my right hon. Friend explain why the statement was made on the national news with reactions from the archbishop? Will he confirm that in future the parties concerned will be able to confer about the details before dates are fixed for major national events?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have no responsibility for speculation by the national media, only for statements made in the House. With regard to dates, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was well aware of the clash of dates but he had to reconcile them as best he could. My right hon. and learned Friend makes no claim to infallibility in these matters. It is a sign of strength rather than of weakness for a Minister to respond constructively to reasonable objections.

Mr. David Steel

Surely the Leader of the House and not the Chancellor of the Exchequer is responsible for the business of the House. However, may I thank the right hon. Gentleman for responding far more graciously and sensibly today than he did to my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who raised the matter last Thursday? May I also tell the right hon. Gentleman that some of us had already made our dispositions elsewhere for that day?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

By tradition, the responsibility for deciding the date for the Budget rests with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not with myself. I am grateful for the tribute to my graciousness but was not aware that I was ungracious to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). I pay tribute to his perspicacity. He was the only hon. Member, apart from the Chancellor and myself, who seemed to be aware of the clash.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If questions are brief, I shall call those hon. Members who wish to speak.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Will my right hon. Friend pass on the thanks of the House and the country to his right hon. and learned Friend for agreeing to change the date of the Budget? Further, will he recognise that the restrained suggestions from those involved in the Church and politics, or both, have led to a change that a more ribald response earlier might not have achieved?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am delighted that my hon. Friend seems to be satisfied. I shall pass on his tribute to the other Chancellor.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Will the Leader of the House pass on to his right hon. and learned Friend the jingle that pertained to 26 March when, prior to 1582, it was the New Year's day—"Saints and sinners go their way, even dogs they have their day"?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful for that help. I shall not respond on behalf of the sinners or the dogs, but the saints all rejoice.

Mr. English

Since the right hon. Gentleman belongs to a Government who call themselves Conservative, will he suggest to the Treasury that it reverts to the traditional Tuesday, which would not have caused the trouble?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It was decided for a Tuesday debate, which is the traditional day, but it has been moved to a Wednesday for the convenience of hon. Members and in response to the declarations of the leaders of our national Church—our national Church south of the border. I do not want to get out of one frying pan into another fire.

It is a happy outcome, and I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his happy and constructive response.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Yes, but not across the border.

Mr. Hooley

Now that the Chancellor has made a nod from Mammon to God, will he pay a bit more attention to God's children, particularly the old, the poor and the sick, who have so far had a pretty raw deal from his Administration?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That matter does not appear to arise out of the statement. I cannot anticipate my right hon. and teamed Friend's Budget.