HC Deb 24 July 1980 vol 989 cc768-82
Mr. James Callaghan

May I ask the Leader of the House to 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 28 July—Motions on the social security orders on benefits up-rating, family income supplement, child benefit uprating, pensioners' lump sum payment, married women and widows' special provisions, and Supplementary Benefit (Resources) and (Requirement) Regulations.

Motions relating to the Supplementary Benefit (Single Payment) Regulations, the (Aggregation) Regulations, the (Deductions and Payments to Third Parties) Regulations and the (Transitional) Regulations.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Employment Bill.

Proceedings on the following four Lords consolidation measures:

Motions relating to the Notification of Accidents and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations and the Industrial Tribunals (Rules of Procedure) Regulations.

Wednesday 30 July—Supply [28th Allotted Day]: Until about 7 o'clock, debate on a Liberal motion on the indifference of Her Majesty's Government to the plight of small businesses. Afterwards, debate on an Opposition motion on the disastrous effects of Government policies on the textiles and clothing industries.

Motion on the Education (Assisted Places) Regulations.

Remaining stages of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the International Monetary Fund (Increase of Subscription) Order.

Thursday 31 July—Supply [29th Allotted Day]: The House will be asked to pass all the outstanding Votes.

Debate on developments in the European Communities January-December 1979 (Cmnd. 7780.)

Friday 1 August—Debate on the prison system, and on the report of the May committee (Cmnd. 7673.)

Monday 4 August—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

The House will wish to know that subject to progress of business it is hoped that the House will rise for the Summer Adjournment on Friday 8 August.

Mr. Callaghan

If there were room for another motion of no confidence next week it would be on the handling of Government business. On any count—and this ought to appeal to Conservative Back Benchers as much as to any other hon. Members—Monday is a disgraceful day. Trying to stuff everything into one day is treating Parliament with contempt. The Leader of the House should reconsider what he is doing, quite apart from the fact that the major item of business is to rob those on social security of part of the benefit that they need and are entitled to.

In view of the business proposed for Monday, and bearing in mind that there is also a motion of no confidence on Tuesday and a Supply day on Wednesday, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to see that no lengthy statements will be made on those days, so that the House may proceed with its business forthwith?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall endeavour to reduce the number of statements to a minimum, but the House has a right to hear statements on major matters of Government policy. I find the right hon. Gentleman's strictures on the arrangement of business for Monday quite extraordinary. He should know that these things are done by arrangement and agreement.

Mr. Callaghan

The Leader of the House should not attempt to deceive us. He knows that the Government put forward the business and the Opposition do not have control over it. If the right hon. Gentleman is good enough to tell us what he proposes to do and sometimes to make adjustments, that is within his power and we thank him for his courtesy when he does it. However, I still say that Monday is a grossly overloaded day and the right hon. Gentleman should not have arranged the business in that way.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what I take to be a withdrawal.

Mr. Callaghan

The Leader of the House should not say that sort of thing. Is he trying to get business through or not? He knows that far too much is being put into next week. I repeat my request. If it is wished to make statements before the House rises, the right hon. Gentleman should adjust the business accordingly. He should not expect us to have long statements, which take time, because hon. Members wish to question Ministers, and the sort of business that is proposed for Monday. The right hon. Gentleman should not allow that to happen on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Taking into account the desire of the House to hear statements, I shall do what I can to meet the right hon. Gentleman's wishes.

Mr. du Cann

Will my right hon. Friend confirm his undertaking that we are to have a debate on procedure, preferably before the Summer Recess? Will he be in a position to make a statement next week on the matters that we discussed on Monday?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am glad to be able to tell my right hon. Friend that we shall have a debate on procedure, as promised, before we rise. The matters concerning hon. Members that were discussed and voted on by the House this week are being considered by the Government. Complex issues are involved in relation to some of those matters, particularly pensions, and I shall be making a statement next week.

Mr. Beith

How will the first part of Monday's business be dealt with? Will it, as it could in theory, be on nine separate motions of one and a half hours each?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

No. That would be inconvenient for the House. The arrangements are that there will be a general debate on the motions and that the outstanding votes will be taken at 10 o'clock.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that there are statements to follow. I hope that questions will be as brief as possible.

Mr. Forman

Can my right hon. Friend assure us that once we have got all the necessary Government business on to the statute book we shall move towards the fulfilment of our election promise to go for minimum legislation?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is the aim of the Government in the next Session to have less legislation. It is no part of Conservative policy to introduce legislation for its own sake. By the time the current Session is over, three-quarters of the legislation promised in the Conservative manifesto will, subject to one or two amendments, have been fulfilled.

Mr. Heffer

As the Leader of the House has not said when the House is to come back after the recess, will he give an assurance that if the inevitable announcement of 2 million unemployed is made during the recess the House will be recalled in order to discuss that matter?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that that eventuality will not arise. Any recess is subject to the recall of Parliament and any hon. Member is at liberty to make representations, in given circumstances, that the House should be recalled.

Mr. John Wells

Is my hon. Friend aware that the House is becoming steadily more bored with the conduct of the Leader of the Opposition, who, during the course of the past week, misbehaved, notably during the concluding stages of Monday's debate by thumping the Dispatch Box and failing to pay attention to the Chair, who has consistently, throughout Question Time today, made an exhibition of himself, and who again, just now, showed his fundamental ignorance of the way in which the business— [Interruption].

Mr. Speaker

Order. What I could hear of the hon. Gentleman's remarks did not appear to have much to do with the business for next week.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Leader of the House encourage the responsible Minister to make a statement about the military takeover in Bolivia? [Hon. Members: "Where is your tie?"] Has the right hon. Gentleman seen— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am protecting the hon. Gentleman. The House seems to be in an excitable mood, but we should hear the question from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Mr. Skinner

Conservative Members are out of control. Will the Leader of the House encourage the responsible Minister to make a statement condemning the military takeover in Bolivia? Will he take heed of early-day motion 831 and others signed by many Opposition Members? [That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to condemn the military takeover in Bolivia; support the valiant actions of miners and other workers in their efforts to achieve democratic government; and strongly suggests that Her Majesty's Government act in concert with the United States and West German Govermnents in denouncing the coup, withdraw all financial aid, and do not recognise this new regime.] Will he ask Ministers to follow the example of the United States, West Germany and many other Governments who have refused to recognise the new regime? Will he ensure that any financial aid that was promised will be withdrawn?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

On behalf of the Government I can say straight away that we strongly deplore the military intervention in Bolivia, which followed peaceful and properly conducted elections. We hope that this completely unjustified interruption of the democratic process will be short-lived. Foreign Ministers of the Nine have condemned the coup. Heads of EEC missions, including our ambassador, have put on record with the military authorities their concern about the bloodshed that has already been caused. As for the aid project, the military intervention is a new factor that has to be taken into account. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with that forthright statement.

Mr. McQuarrie

Will my right hon. Friend make time available within the course of next week for a full-scale debate on the fishing industry, in view of the desperate position of that industry, both onshore and offshore, as brought to light in questions today and by the general situation throughout the country?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am well aware of the importance of that matter, but I am afraid that I cannot promise a full debate before the recess.

Mr. Fitt

Will the Leader of the House ensure the presence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at the censure motion debate next Tuesday to give him an opportunity to refute the sentiments expressed during the week by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)? Will he also suggest to the Secretary of State that he should make a statement at the earliest opportunity on the unlawful and unjustified killing of a young boy in the streets of Belfast last night by the RUC?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly draw those matters, particularly the second, to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Kershaw

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 807, dealing with the position of overseas students from Hong Kong?

[That having regard to the mutually beneficial relationship between Hong Kong and this country, this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to rectify the anomaly by which students from Hong Kong and other British dependent territories are obliged to pay full fees at British universities whilst students from the European Economic Community and French dependent territories are subsidised by the British taxpayer.] As nothing much seems to be happening on Monday, can the debate take place on that day?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen the motion— [Interruption.] I have seen it only recently, but I have certainly seen it. The relationship between this country and the Crown colony of Hong Kong is a special one. The Government are glad to welcome Hong Kong students to our academic institutions. I shall look again at the business for Monday to see whether my hon. Friend's motion can be added.

Mr. Winnick

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about Bolivia, when will the House have a debate on the lifting of the arms embargo to Chile? Is the right hon. Gentleman proud to be a member of a Government that permit arms to be sold to the gang of murderers and torturers who destroyed democracy in Chile in 1973?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have revised the policy of the previous Government on Chile. We have decided that the total embargo imposed by the previous Government on such sales should be lifted. That is the Government's position.

Mr. Pawsey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on the Government side of the House are awaiting anxiously the statement on civil defence? Is he able to advise the House when such a statement might be made?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly draw that request to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Greville Janner

In view of the recent collapse of the House of Lords, will there be a statement at some time on the action that the Government propose to take on the repair, maintenance and cleaning of the Palace of Westminster?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We are looking into the question of the safety of the House of Commons. I have noted what happened in the other place. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that I have made inquiries. I understand that no hon. Members are in danger and that we can go about our business safely, but not in the other place.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Following the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), may I congratulate my right hon. Friend upon the massive amount of business that has so far been transacted in this place without the roof falling in, despite what happened along the corridor?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that unsolicited and undoubtedly deserved tribute.

Mr. van Stranbenzee

In spite of next week being a busy one, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on early-day motion 830?

[That this House notes that the honourable Member for Wokingham stated in the House on 20th December 1979 ' When I had dealings with Mr. Tony Smythe, when I was proud to serve at the Northern Ireland Office and he was in the National Council for Civil Liberties, I had no doubts whatever that all his interests lay on the side of the Irish Republican Army'; also notes that this grossly defamatory accusation has been allowed to remain on the record for seven months; and calls upon the honourable Member to withdraw these words unreservedly or repeat them outside the House.]

This would provide the House with a chance to judge the matters referred to in the motion, not by way of selective quotation but by considering the full sequence of events that culminated, my right hon. Friend may recall, in a public apology by Mr. Tony Smythe to my constituents for the ruthless way in which he defamed them at a time when they were unable to defend themselves.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen the motion on the Order Paper. I appreciate the strong feelings that the motion has aroused, but I am afraid that I cannot find time for a debate next week.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to allow business questions to run until four o'clock. There are two statements to follow. I hope that hon. Members realise that they will decide whether their colleagues are called.

Mr. Straw

Is the Leader of the House aware that owing to a mass defection of Conservative peers early this week the Government have been defeated five times on amendments to the Housing Bill? Do the Government intend to accept these amendments? When will the Bill come back to the House of Commons?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The Housing Bill will be coming back to the House with amendments before the recess. It will then be possible for the House to decide whether to accept or reject those amendments. It is true that the Government have been defeated five times in the House of Lords. That is no bad thing, necessarily. Is shows that we are a genuine bicameral legislature. The Government have been defeated five times in the House of Lords but only four times this week in this place.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

On Thursday's business, my right hon. Friend said that the House would be invited to approve the outstanding Votes, which involve additional public expenditure of about £230 million. Are we to have an opportunity to debate those Votes before being invited to vote upon them?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have great sympathy with the point made by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. It is clear that our machinery for examining Supply is totally unsatisfactroy. This matter should be discussed in detail and in depth by the Procedure Committee. I hope that it will be raised in the procedure debate and that, as a result, we can set in hand arrangements for a thorough overhaul of this highly unsatisfactory situation. That is the only way to deal with it. This is a problem of long standing. We need a carefully considered and radical solution, and I hope that will be the first step towards it.

Mr. Christopher Price

May we have a debate next week on the decision, just over half an hour ago, by the Dorset county council, by 55 votes to 22, with 10 Tory defections, to abolish the school meals service altogether? Is that not the result of the disastrous Education (No. 2) Bill, which was put through earlier this year? Is this not a far more important matter for an immediate Government statement than Wednesday evening's business on the assisted places scheme? Why is there such a rush about the assisted places scheme when it is not to come in until late next year anyway?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The school meals service in Dorset is a matter for the local education authority to decide.

Mr. Price

It is a national matter.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

No. Under our constitution it is a matter for the local education authority to decide. It has control over its own expenditure. Whether we applaud or condemn it, it is a matter for the local education authority.

It is extremely important that this House should have an opportunity to debate the assisted places regulations in good time, so that arrangements can be made for the autumn term.

Viscount Cranborne

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's reply and equally grateful for the interest taken by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) in matters appertaining to Dorset. Will my right hon. Friend find time before the recess for the House to debate the coming Russian offensive in Afghanistan and the daily atrocities being committed by the Soviet imperialists in that country?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I join my hon. Friend in utterly condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the atrocities that are being committed there. I cannot promise an early debate, but should the situation in that country deteriorate further there would be an opportunity to reconsider what I have said.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The Leader of the House may be aware that some time ago there was the unfortunate death of a schoolteacher from the East End of London. As we know that the police did not cause his death, that his friends did not cause his death, and that we can assume that he did not hit himself on the head, may we have a Select Committee to go into all aspects of the matter? We are interested in what is happpening in Afghanistan, but surely we must be even more interested in knowing how that man met his death.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That matter has been raised from time to time in the House, and the hon. Gentleman recently tabled a motion about it. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it plain that he is satisfied with the investigations that have been carried out and that there is no need for a further inquiry.

Mr. Budgen

In the debate on procedure will the Government bring forward immediate and specific proposals to change the ridiculous procedure by which the Supplementary Estimates go through the House on the nod?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

In response to an earlier question I indicated that in that debate proposals will be put forward for remedying this situation. It is for the House to decide, but we cannot remedy it immediately. We must consider the matter in great detail, and every hon. Member will have a contribution to make on it I assure my hon. Friend that it is my intention and determination to see that the wishes of the House in this matter are respected.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Leader of the House find time before the recess for a debate on the White Paper on telephone interception, which has not been debated in the House but is frequently used as a reference? If so, we could also debate the question of Menwith Hill, Harrogate, and the interception of international telephone signals, which is apparently being carried out with the illegal connivance of the Post Office. If that is the case, surely it merits debate in the House.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It may merit debate, but many subjects merit debate for which I do not have time. As the hon. Gentleman knows, because he has taken a keen interest in this subject, this matter comes directly under the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and it is not normal to answer questions on it in the House.

Mr. Kinnock rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call the Front Bench spokesman at the end. I want to devote the remaining few minutes to Back Benchers.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the amendment to early-day motion 796 in favour of Trident, which nearly 200 of his right hon. and hon. Friends have signed as opposed to a mere 153 Opposition Members?

[That this House supports Her Majesty's Government's decision to replace Polaris with the Trident weapon system, believing that Great Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent has contributed substantially to peace in Europe for the last 35 years.]

Does he agree that there is a need for an urgent debate on the decision to purchase the Trident weapon system?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree with the amendment to the motion, which I have seen, and the views expressed by my hon. Friend. The first duty of any Government is the defence of the country against external attack. The Trident system will be a major contribution to that end. It would not be unfitting in due course to have a debate on that subject, but perhaps we could have it when the House returns rather than before the recess.

Mr. Spearing

Is the Leader of the House aware that his right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has declined to make any statement about forthcoming business at the EEC Council of Ministers' meeting in September and October on the ground that the agenda is too tentative? Will he look into this matter and ensure that we have proper parliamentary accountability from the Government in that rather ramshackle outfit?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly draw that matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, but he has to judge whether, in the light of all the circumstances, a statement is necessary. He has decided in this instance that it is not. However, I shall certainly draw the matter to his attention again.

Mr. Adley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the remarks about Dorset schools made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) are not shared by my constituents, half of whom live in the county of Dorset? One of the few who have been in touch with me about the decisions of the county council described the situation succinctly by saying "I can feed my children, but I cannot teach them." Will my right hon. Friend ensure that this matter is left in the hands of the county council and confirm that there is no intention of the House debating and censuring individual county councils on their decisions?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That puts the case admirably. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that this matter falls within the scope of local authority discretion. The local authority decides this matter. It has been given the freedom that has long been demanded under the Education Act.

Mr. English

Perhaps unintentionally, the Leader of the House did not say when he wished the House of Commons to return after the recess. Does he agree that if the Procedure Committee is not set up in the next couple of weeks over two months will have been lost, during which that Committee could have been taking written evidence? Will the Leader of the House table the motions for the procedure debate next week so that we all have an adequate opportunity to consider them?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's important representation. It has yet to be decided what motions, if any, are to be put down at the end of the debate. I did not say when the House would return because a final date has not yet been decided. However, I hope that it will be as late in October as possible.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. There are only two Back-Bench Members still seeking to catch my eye and if they are quick I shall call them.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Given the fact that there will be a motion of no confidence next Tuesday, will the Government put forward positive proposals for dealing with the problem of unemployment? Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Prime Minister, telling her that deep offence has been caused in Wales by her remark that people should go elsewhere to find jobs?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I well understand the feelings of the hon. Gentleman about unemployment in Wales, but I think that the remarks of the Prime Minister have been misinterpreted by the hon. Members. The Prime Minister was making a particular point about the mobility that is necessary. I clearly understand the sensitivity of Welsh Members on this matter. There will be an opportunity to raise the issue in the debate on Tuesday.

Mr. Dubs

Will the Leader of the House find time before the recess for a debate on housing in London? Is he aware that every London Member can confirm that there is a worsening housing crisis in London, that homelessness is increasing, that waiting lists are increasing and that there is a decline in building? We need a debate on these issues.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There are housing problems in all parts of the country, and there have been for many years. I do not think that we can have a special debate on London on this matter but there will, no doubt, be opportunities to raise the issues when the Housing Bill returns from the other place.

Mr. Kinnock

Recalling the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), ignoring the sycophancy evident on the Government Back Benches, and acknowledging that Dorset county council is guilty of a disastrous desertion of its responsibility to children, if that question is one for local determination will the right hon. Gentleman tell me why his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science sent two civil servants to Dorset to try to pull Dorset county council into line?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that that is the purpose of whatever emissaries have gone from Elizabeth House. It is quite clear that the constitutional position is that local authorities have a responsibility for providing school meals. They have wanted that freedom for a long time. They have now obtained it, and it is up to them and not this House to determine how they use their powers.

Mr. Jim Spicer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Without wishing to be impertinent, I have sensed during business questions your impatience at the abuse of those questions by many hon. Members. That abuse has been demonstrated this afternoon in classic fashion by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) in seeking to interfere in matters that are of no concern to the House. I speak for myself—though I believe that I have the support of many of my hon.

Friends—when I say that you would have full support if you called a halt to such interference in future.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is a Member for Dorset and the House always understands that if there is a reference to an hon. Member's constituency he is bound to take a very special interest in that reference.