HC Deb 17 July 1980 vol 988 cc1756-68
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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 21 JULY—Supply [27th ALLOTTED DAY]: Debate on an Opposition motion on the Government's damaging policies towards publicly owned and supported industries.

Motions on Members' salaries, pensions and allowances.

TUESDAY 22 JULY—Progress on remaining stages of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 (Continuance) Order.

WEDNESDAY 23 JULY—Third Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill.

Completion of remaining stages of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

Motions on Northern Ireland orders on social security, treatment of offenders, and on criminal justice and Armed Forces consequential provisions.

THURSDAY 24 JULY—Remaining stages of the Coal Industry Bill.

Motion on the Coal Industry (Borrowing Powers) Order.

Proceedings on the Magistrates Courts Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

FRIDAY 25 JULY—Motions on Commission documents 8832/79 and 8476/80 on New Zealand butter, and No. 11571/ 79 and addendum 1 on protection of workers from harmful exposure to metallic lead compounds.

MONDAY 28 JULY—Supply [28th ALLOTTED DAY]: The subject for debate to be announced.

The relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee are as follows:

New Zealand Butter: 8th Report. 1979–80; HC 159-viii, paragraph 3. 38th Report, 1979–80; HC 159-xxxviii, paragraph 4 (Not yet published, but photocopies available in Vote Office).

Metallic Lead: 27th Report, 1979–80; HC 159-xxvii, paragraph 1.

Mr. Callaghan

A question was asked earlier about procedure. I understand that there have been discussions through the usual channels, but is it possible to arrange a debate on procedure before the Summer Recess, instead of in the overspill time in October? Secondly, the Opposition's motion on the Government's damaging policies towards publicly owned and supported industries is the third in the series of debates in which we are censuring the Government on their economic policy. In order that we may adequately prepare ourselves, will the right hon. Gentleman advise us who is likely to be expounding the Government's case on Monday? Is it likely that the Paymaster General will be winding up. Thirdly, may we have a statement on what is happening over rate support in the local authority Bill, following the confusion that has arisen today, only two days after Third Reading? It is claimed that the Government are unable to work out the formula that they have foisted on the House. A statement would enable us to see that the confusion is being cleared up.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I presume that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill. It is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and I shall draw his attention to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. The Government spokesmen for the debate on Monday will depend on the exact wording of the Opposition motion. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it had been my intention, in furtherance of an undertaking that I had given the House, to have a debate on procedure before the Summer Recess. I have received representations from the official Opposition that it would be more convenient for them if that debate took place in the spill-over in October. I therefore agreed to that request.

Mr. Callaghan

I did not indicate the nature of the exchanges that took place through the usual channels but the right hon. Gentleman is clearly doing so. I merely said that there had been exchanges. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore also make clear that he intended to hold that important debate on Friday. It was that which we said was unsatisfactory.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not believe that we should discuss representations in detail. I merely said that it was a request from the official Opposition. It was not through the usual channels. The request to change the timing of the debate was made direct to me, as Leader of the House. I was not requested to remove the debate from the Friday. Had that request been made, I should have considered it. I received a request to have the debate in the spill-over.

Mr. David Steel

When shall we have a debate on the Trident missile project? Secondly, as the right hon. Gentleman has failed to announce the date for the Summer Recess, is he prepared to receive a deputation of irate children of Scottish Members—children who have been on holiday since the beginning of July and who go back to school soon after mid-August? They would like to see their parents occasionally.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sympathetic to the position of Scottish Members in particular, because of the dates of the Scottish school holidays. However, I am constantly receiving requests for more debates, including that which has just come from the right hon. Gentleman for a debate on the Trident missile. The request for that debate should be raised through the usual channels.

Mr. du Cann

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement about postponing the debate on procedure will have been heard with disappointment by many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House? It is possible to take two views about procedural changes, but there is now on the Order Paper early-day motion 784, signed by 134 hon. Members.

[That this House welcomes the recommendations of the Procedure Committee in the last Parliament relating to the Public Bill procedure, whereby Standing Committees on certain Bills will be able to take evidence for up to three sessions before proceeding to the usual examination of the Bill; and would like to see this procedure implemented for an experimental period.]

That matter, together with the substantial catalogue of the Procedure Committee's recommendations, deserves to be seriously considered by the House at an early date. Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to reconsider the matter?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen that important motion. I am willing to reconsider the matter, if I have misunderstood the Opposition's request, and they objected to the Friday and not to having the debate before the Summer Recess. Perhaps the best course would be to have further discussions with representatives of the Opposition.

Mr. James Callaghan

I am sure that that is right, in case there is any misunderstanding. I regret that the Leader of the House has disclosed some of what has passed through the usual channels. Hon. Members will understand the need for such discussions on the arrangement of business. My understanding was that the debate was proposed for next Friday, which was not satisfactory. I suggest that there should be further discussion.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I gave a pledge to the House that we should have the debate on procedure before the Summer Recess. When I received a direct request from the Opposition spokesman on procedure to postpone the debate to the spill-over period, I agreed, because I had to consider the Opposition view as well as the Government view. However, if the objection is only to the Friday, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, I shall reconsider the position. In fairness to the House and to myself, it was necessary for me to reveal the reason for the changed arrangements.

Mr. Callaghan

I do not know why the Leader of the House is making such a meal of this matter. I was merely seeking to release him from the undertaking that he had given that there would be a debate before the end of July. We thought that that was a sensible thing to do, because we thought that it was not sensible to have the debate on a Friday.

The right hon. Gentleman immediately got into a huff about that and started to disclose what passed in communications between him and someone else. There will be objections, I dare say, from some, but if it is convenient to put off the debate until the October overspill, the Opposition are ready that the right hon. Gentleman should do so. In any case, we should not have it on a Friday. That is all.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am my usual calm and equable self; I am not in a huff over the matter. I am merely trying to meet the legitimate wishes of the Opposition and the House. It seems that there is a strong expression of opinion in the House for the debate. I therefore propose to reopen the discussion with the Opposition spokesman on procedure to see whether an amicable arrangement can be arrived at.

Mr. Higgins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be inconsistent for the Government to ask hon. Members to set an example on pay by restricting their increase to 9.6 per cent. while asking them to approve Estimates that give increases of more than 20 per cent. to civil servants? Will he consider whether, on Monday, we should have an opportunity of discussing Estimates as well as hon. Members' pay?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall not go into the substance of that argument, but one of the most urgent matters before the House is the need to devise a better means of controlling Estimates and granting Supply. That question will be relevant when the debate on procedure is held.

Mr. Ashley

Has the Leader of the House had a chance to read the report of the social services Select Committee on perinatal mortality, which shows that the Government could prevent the deaths of 5,000 children and the disablement of a further 5,000 each year for the investment of a mere £25 million? I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that it is an important matter. Does he also agree that it is an urgent matter, which requires a debate?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have glanced at the report, which has just been published, but I have not had time to study it fully. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is an important report and a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the subject. It is important that before we have a debate we should have a considered response from the Minister concerned.

Mr. Cormack

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be appropriate for the House to mark the distinguished service to the nation of Her Majesty the Queen Mother? Has he any proposals to that end?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be fitting for the House to mark the occasion in some way, and conversations on that matter are proceeding through the usual channels.

Mr. Haynes

I know that the Leader of the House is aware of what happened in my constituency at the jazz band festival in Kirkby in Ashfield on Sunday. Will he arrange for a statement to be made to the House so that we can do away with the speculation that is going on and cool the thing down?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. The point has also been raised by another hon. Member who has a constituency interest. When the hon. Gentleman brought the matter to my attention I immediately raised with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services the question of the illness, or whatever it was that overtook the children. We discussed whether a statement was necessary and I was advised that it was not. However, my right hon. Friend promised that the Minister for Health would get in touch with the hon. Gentleman and explain the situation.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Further to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and the Leader of the House's reply, will my right hon. Friend look hard at the proposition that, whatever the timing of the debate on procedure, the House ought to be given an opportunity to debate the Summer Supplementary Estimates before we are asked to vote on them?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot give an undertaking on that because it would presume conclusions that the House may reach in the procedure debate. However, when we discuss the remaining proposals in the procedure report, it is vital that we should add a consideration of the important question of the way in which the House controls Supply.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

As we understand that the Government are reducing the Boyle committee recommendations for psychological reasons—there cannot be any other reasons—and as the Prime Minister refuses to take action to reduce the £68,000 a year tax-free salary, plus expenses, of Mr. Roy Jenkins, will the Leader of the House take action before Monday to stop Mr. Jenkins getting a £90,000 tax-free termination grant at the end of his three-year stint? Such action would be psychologically popular with every hard-working man and woman in this country. Will the Leader of the House bear in mind that Mr. Jenkins is the man who invented a prices and incomes policy for everyone but himself?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Gentleman has made his point, but I have enough trouble with the salaries of hon. Members without taking on the question of the salaries of members of the Commission.

Mr. Hill

Will my right hon. Friend, with his usual sensitive approach to the House, realise that many hon. Members who represent seaports are waiting—some with anxiety and some in hope—on the future of the British Transport Docks Board? Can he give the House an idea when that matter will be debated?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is an important matter, but I am being asked, on the one hand, to see that the House rises early for the recess and, on the other, to arrange for more debates. I have to try to reconcile those irreconcilable objectives, and I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate.

Mr. Pavitt

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the dismay of hon. Members in all quarters of the House who feel compassion and concern for the Third world at Foreign Office pronouncements this week on the Brandt commission report "North-South"? Will he arrange for the Government to make a statement on whether those pronouncements represent Government policy?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot promise a statement, but it is the considered view of the Government that the relationship between the developed world and the under-developed world is one of the most important and vital problems facing us all.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

When may we expect a debate on the child benefit up-rating order? Will my right hon. Friend find out through the usual channels whether a Supply day could be used for a discussion on the general position of child benefits, which seem to be slipping in value, so that hon. Members on both sides can discuss ways of sacrificing other things to make sure that child benefit at least keeps in line with inflation and preferably goes above it for several years?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that the order will be debated before the Summer Recess. The use of Supply days is a matter for the Opposition.

Mr. Faulds

When does the right hon. Gentleman intend to unveil his Department's scheme for a public lending right which we, on the Labour side, introduced, which is long overdue and which, in his March statement, was promised for this summer?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is accurate. The proposals for the public lending right are on schedule. The consultative document was published at the time it was said that it would be published. The replies have now been received. In the autumn I shall be able to come forward, on schedule yet again, with the Government's proposals. Although I am grateful for the fact that the Opposition have supported this measure, it is important to know that it is one that commands all-party support as well as all-party opposition.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is concern on both sides of the House about the way in which Attorneys-General of this and previous Administrations have exercised their right not to prosecute in cases where there is ample evidence to do so? Will he provide time for a debate on this general subject?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am afraid that I cannot do so before the Summer Recess.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to allow the questions to run until 4 o'clock. It therefore depends on the length of hon. Members' questions how many hon. Members will be called. I do not propose to call anyone except those who have already been rising in their places.

Mr. Greville Janner

At a time when unemployment among young people is growing, may we have a debate on the careers service and, in particular, on what I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would regard as the very great evil of cutting that service, especially for young handicapped people, as is happening in the Tory-controlled county of Leicestershire?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have already replied several times to the hon and learned Gentleman on this point. I have looked into the situation with regard to the Leicestershire county council. I have nothing to add to what I have said on previous occasions.

Mr. Christopher Price

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Early Day Motion No. 803?

[That this House congratulates the 'New Statesman' on publishing further evidence of the development of electronic eavesdropping in the United Kingdom; notes with alarm that the United States National Security Agency operates, without clear legal authority, a surveillance system in the United Kingdom on international telephones and telegrams which is centred at Menwith Hill, near Harrogate; and calls for a comprehensive statement by the Home Secretary on the activities of his and related centres and the collaboration of the Post Office in this anti-democratic venture.]

This calls attention to the serious allegations made today, from which it is clear that illegal telephone tapping is taking place, by United States authorities, of individuals and foreigners in this country? May we have a debate next week so that these matters can be canvassed? Will the Leader of the House do another act of supererogation and read the New Statesman again this week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Since I was directed to the New Statesman by the hon. Gentleman I have found it addictive and I have been reading it every week regularly since. On the question of the interception of communications and connected matters, a statement was made and a White Paper was laid by the Home Secretary on 1 April. In accordance with long-standing practice, I am afraid that no Minister is prepared to answer questions on those matters.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Leader of the House say why it is taking such an extraordinarily long time to report the outcome of the all-party talks on the government of Scotland? When can we now expect such a report? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be a debate similar to that on devolution for Northern Ireland?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree that it is taking rather a long time. Discussions are proceeding. The report is agreed. I hope that we shall shortly be able to publish it.

Mr. Meacher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the long list of excellent recommendations by the Home Affairs Select Committee in its recent report on deaths in police custody, which shows how many and serious are the deficiencies of the present system? Since this indicates the need for urgent reform, will the right hon. Gentleman, in conjunction with the Home Secretary, arrange for an early debate on the subject?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We must await the considered response of the Home Office to that important report. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a most valuable report. In particular, it has laid to rest some of the fears that a certain number of people entertained about this subject.

Mr. Hooley

Is the Leader of the House aware that if we do not have a debate on procedure before the recess this will be the second time in successive weeks that he has broken a firm commitment to the House—the first on Boyle and now on procedure? Is he aware that procedure is a matter for the whole House and not simply for the arcane shenanigans that go on in the usual channels?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall clearly have to reconsider the whole matter in response to the representations that have been made from all sides of the House. I must take into account the wishes of the Opposition. I will discuss the matter with the Opposition spokesman. We will take into account the views of the Oppo- sition and the views expressed by Back Benchers on this occasion.

Mr. Ioan Evans

In view of the House's overwhelming support for the Brandt Commission's report, and the report that the Prime Minister was leading the opposition in the meeting of Western leaders, as seems to be confirmed by the evidence sent to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early statement on the Government's position?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am afraid that I cannot promise a further statement on that matter. We have had at least two debates on the Brandt report.

Mr. Newens

Earlier this week the Secretary of State for Defence indicated that he would welcome a debate on the Trident decision. Does the Leader of the House's reply to the leader of the Liberal Party today indicate that the Government do not intend to provide a debate in their own time or of their own volition? Surely, a decision that involves the expenditure of £5,000 million deserves the time of the House, not necessarily before the recess but certainly in the foreseeable future, before we go ahead on the matter.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I concede that that is not an unreasonable point. It is a matter that will have to be discussed through the usual channels.

Mr. Canavan

May we have a statement next week from the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office—the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker)—about why he has had a threatening lawyer's letter sent to the editor of a magazine because of a report of the Minister's failure to answer my parliamentary questions about the death of Inspector John MacLennan, of the Hong Kong police force? Does the belated decision to hold a commission of inquiry into this case not indicate that many questions have still to be answered?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not know anything about the details of the correspondence, but I will draw the matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Skinner

May we have a statement shortly on the question of BBC finances? Is it not a scandal that in the seventh week of the musicians' strike the BBC is still threatening to throw 172 musicians out of work? How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile that situation with the BBC's display of double standards in supposing to save money on cutting back the number of hours for screening the Olympic Games but, at the same time, sending 69 people to the Games—two more than the total British athletics team?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a matter for the BBC; it is not a matter for me as Leader of the House. One thing I hope about this dispute is that it will be settled to the extent that the Proms will be able to take place as scheduled.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will the Leader of the House accept that a subject as important as procedure, and awaiting debate, is that of the prison system? He has consistently promised that there would be a debate before the Summer Recess. Will he confirm that we shall be debating that subject even if, reluctantly, the Government have to show the low priority that they continue to give to it, by holding the debate on a Friday?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am most anxious to have a debate on that subject, but I am afraid that it may have to be on a Friday. I hope that there are not many Fridays left, but I will try to get it in, if I possibly can, to oblige the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. English

The setting up of a Procedure Committee is a different thing from the procedure debate. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it will help the Officers of the House and the House as a whole if it can be set up in time to have a deliberative session before the recess?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I note what the hon. Gentleman said. This will be one of the matters that I can add to the discussions that will be taking place on the subject. It is clear from what has been said that there is a strong desire in the House to have a debate.

Mr. Winnick

Will there be a statement next week about efforts by the Department of Employment to see that The Observer newspaper does not close in 90 days' time? Is it not totally un- acceptable for the owners to express any intention to close down the newspaper? Is it not necessary for action to be taken by the Government to see that it does not close?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a matter for the newspaper proprietors and the unions. It would be a tragedy if The Observer ceased publication, because it is one of our great national newspapers.

Mr. Cryer

I return to early-day motion 803 and the activities of the United States National Security Agency revealed in the pages of the New Statesman. Surely in a democracy we have a right to expect a Minister to answer the detailed charge and allegation that a foreign Power is exercising telephonic eavesdropping in Britain through a network of illegal operating stations. If a Minister does not make a statement to the House may we not assume that the article is right and that the Conservative Government are condoning illegal activity?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There is a longstanding tradition in the House that Ministers do not answer questions on the interception of communications—save the Home Secretary in a most general manner. Replying to all the accusations made against the Government in the New Statesman would be a full-time job.

Mr. Speaker

I thank hon. Members for co-operating. It shows what can be done. It is an interesting lesson for me.

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. What come-back does a Member have within the Chamber if a Minister, unwittingly and unknowingly of course, makes an incorrect statement? If the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster checks with his Department he will find that a statement issued in March promised the public lending right scheme this summer. I am prepared to accept a letter of apology privately from the right hon. Gentleman, but would it not be more courteous if he admitted to the House that the time scale has slipped and that he was incorrect in his reply to me?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order on which I can rule. I have no doubt that what the hon. Gentleman said has been heard.