HC Deb 31 July 1980 vol 989 cc1732-44
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 4 AUGUST—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill.

TUESDAY 5 AUGUST—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Housing Bill.

Motions on the Horticulture and Agriculture Grant Orders, and on the Capital Grant (Variation) Orders.

Motion on Commission documents on fisheries. The relevant document numbers will appear in the Official Report.

WEDNESDAY 6 AUGUST—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Tenants' Rights etc. (Scotland) Bill and to the Health Services Bill.

Motions on the British Aerospace (Borrowing Powers) (Increase of Limit) Order and on the Financial Limits (National Enterprise Board and the Secretary of State) Order.

Remaining stages of the Highways Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

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

THURSDAY 7 AUGUST—Debate on procedure.

Motion on financial assistance to Opposition parties.

FRIDAY 8 AUGUST—It will be proposed that the House should rise for the Summer Adjournment until Monday 27 October.

[Motions on Commission documents on fisheries (Tuesday 5 August 1980) Nos. R/2988/75, R/2519/77, R/2520/77, R/1514/78 and 8959/80 on structural policy; 8583/80 on catch reporting; 8957/80 on conservation; 8958/80 on 1980 quota allocations; and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's currently unnumbered explanatory memo-

randa of 21 and 22 July 1980 on access and quota allocation criteria respectively.

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

16th Report 1975-76 H/C 8-xvi para. 5

7th Report 1977-78 H/C 29-vii para. 4

34th Report 1977-78 H/C 29-xxxiv para. 2

39th Report 1979-80 paras. 3 to 6

40th Report 1979-80 paras. 3 and 4

Not yet published, but photographs of the relevant paragraphs are available in the Vote Office.]

Mr. Callaghan

With regard to next Tuesday's business relating to the Housing Bill, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that more than 230 amendments will be coming from the other place for consideration, including Government amendments, 11 new clauses and some new schedules? I understand that some of the amendments represent defeats for the Government. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that Bill is not yet in the Vote Office and that the other place finished consideration of it only last night? Is it reasonable that the House should be asked to discuss 250 or 260 new proposals on Tuesday when the documents are not in front of hon. Members at the moment?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The amendments will be printed and placed in the Vote Office tomorrow. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there are a large number of amendments, but there are really only four controversial ones. One hundred and sixty-two are drafting amendments, and 104 are substantive amendments that were not opposed by the Opposition.

Mr. Callaghan

That really will not do. If 104 substantive amendments have gone through the other place without Opposition dissent that does not necessarily mean that they will find favour in this place or, indeed, even with Conservative Members. Is it not totally unreasonable that the House should be placed in this position? Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Minister for Housing and Construction proposes to oppose the amendments that were carried in another place, which he said yesterday would be rejected?

If so, what happens if the House of Lords repeats its opposition? Would it not be better to postpone consideration of this Bill until the overspill period, and if necessary to come back earlier from the recess in order to give it proper consideration?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that that would find favour in all parts of the House. This Bill needs to reach the statute book before the recess—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—and I am afraid that the Government cannot agree to the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Sir David Price

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the appropriate Minister will make a statement on the Government's further consideration of the Finniston report on engineers before the House rises, as was promised?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As my hon. Friend knows, we have had a debate on that subject, but I shall draw his point to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Before the House rises for the recess, will the right hon. Gentleman table an amendment to Standing Orders to enable Select Committees to report during the recess, similar to the Standing Order that was presented on 31 July 1975 and that prevailed throughout the last Parliament?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a reasonable request, and I shall certainly look into it to see what can be done.

Mr. du Cann

In the procedure debate, which we are grateful to my right hon. Friend for arranging, will it be possible to speak to, and vote upon, specific resolutions? Secondly, did he hear the admirable answer given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins)? As many of us are profoundly disconcerted that the House is continually asked to vote large sums of money without discussion, will he please come forward promptly with proposals for remedying that situation?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks. The Government will be tabling motions this afternoon in relation to the Procedure Committee. One of them will be to set up a new Procedure Committee precisely to examine how this House grants Supply and how that procedure can be improved. Historically, it is the principal function of the House to grant Supply. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already said, we are not satisfied with the present arrangements, and the motion will present an opportunity for the situation to be remedied.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time next week to discuss Northern Ireland legislation relating to car-sharing facilities which corresponds to the Transport Act 1980? If not, will he give an assurance that the effective date for the change in the law will be the same in Northern Ireland as it is in Great Britain?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Traditionally, there has been separate legislation on Northern Ireland transport matters, and the Government are following that practice. My right hon. Friend intends to introduce legislation with provisions corresponding, where appropriate, to those in the recent Transport Act. I am afraid that I cannot give the assurance for which the hon. Gentleman asked—that the effective date of Northern Ireland transport legislation will be the same as that relating to Great Britain legislation—but we shall avoid any unnecessary delay.

Mr. Foot

If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to secure the passage of motions on procedural matters with general support and agreement, does he understand that we shall wish to have a chance of looking at the proposals before that occurs? Certainly, we have not agreed to the motions that he intends to table today. We think that it would be very much better if there were a general debate on procedure, so that when we return after the recess the motions can be discussed, if necessary in the light of that debate. We believe that that is much the best way to proceed; indeed, we thought that the Government themselves had agreed to that procedure.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Over the past 18 months or so we have had five days of debate on the procedure report, and I think that the House is ready to come to a decision on these matters.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply concerning the procedure debate, and for bringing forward these proposals and giving us an opportunity to debate them. The House should clearly debate them and come to a decision, because the proposals have been before the House for over two years. No one can possibly say that they are fresh.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is important that the House should have an opportunity to decide on its own procedures.

Mr. Donald Stewart

In view of the Prime Minister's reference to Government consideration for assistance to the fishing industry, will the Leader of the House intercede with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a statement before the House rises?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall pass on that request to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Nelson

I appreciate that it was necessary for the Education (Assisted Places) Regulations 1980 to be withdrawn from yesterday's business, but will my right hon. Friend at least recognise that many hon. Members regard those regulations as an essential implementation of an important part of our election manifesto and the Education Act 1980. Will be assure the House that if those regulations cannot be discussed next week they will be discussed at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question. For technical reasons, I decided, after representations from the Opposition, that it would be right to accede to their request. Those regulations will be tabled again in the overspill period when Parliament returns, and they will be debated then.

Mr. Spearing

In view of the serious situation in the fishing industry, is it not unsatisfactory that the House, the public and the fishing industry are as yet unaware of the matters to be discussed in the late-night debate on the industry on Tuesday? If the documents are of such length that the Leader of the House cannot read them out, will he ensure that they are made available both to hon. Members and the press today, so that we have good notice of the nature of the documents in question?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall ensure that they are made available to hon. Members today.

Mr. Stokes

Turning again to the question of education, will my right hon. Friend allow time for a general debate on education, in view of the Labour Party's proposals to abolish private schooling, so that the House may show its displeasure at this monstrous proposal.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I agree with my hon. Friend about those proposals, which are contrary to the best traditions of the Labour Party. I cannot promise an early debate on the matter. Surely, in education we should seek to improve all schools rather than try to deprive parents of their fundamental rights.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

In view of the fact that the Government are to announce on Monday the deplorable decision that the pay claim settled within the cash limits on behalf of university teachers will not be honoured, can an undertaking be given that that decision will be made known to the House in a statement by the Secretary of State for Education?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I know only what I have read in the newspapers about the matter. If there is a decision of policy of that nature, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make it known to the House.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the fate of perhaps the most important Housing Bill since that dealing with leasehold enfranchisement—a Bill dealing with the sale of council homes to tenants—is in doubt? Does he not accept that that is the one Bill that it is worth keeping the House here for, for an extra week? If there is any difficulty, I hope that my right hon. Friend will ask hon. Members to be present not only next week but the week after, to ensure that the Bill is passed.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Those words are more easily uttered than followed. I hope that it will be possible, through conversations between Government and Opposition spokesmen, to see whether arrangements can be made to ensure that the Bill is adequately discussed at this stage.

Mr. Ennals

Will the Leader of the House give further consideration—perhaps he has just hinted that he will—to the answer that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the timing of the Housing Bill? Surely he is aware that there is a great deal of anger at the suggestion that what was done in another place properly and rightly, in relation to houses built specifically for old people, may be turned down in this House. Does he not agree that this is an issue of such controversy that it should not be dealt with at the tail end of our Session?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It has already been dealt with once in both Houses. It is up to the House to decide what decisions it will take on the Lords amendments.

Mr. Lawrence

Can my right hon. Friend say when the promised and urgent statement on civil defence will be made?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I hope that my right hon. Friend will make a statement on this important subject next week.

Mr. Varley

Can the Leader of the House say whether the Secretary of State for Employment will make a statement next week, in view of the devastating facts that were revealed earlier this week that if the Manpower Services Commission does not receive additional resources from the Government it will not be able to fulfil the pledges of Ministers? If resources were made available it could improve the special temporary employment scheme threefold or fourfold. In the light of that, would it not be a good idea for the Secretary of State for Employment to make a statement saying that those funds will be made available, and at least lift a little of the misery from the unemployed?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly draw that suggestion to the attention of my right hon. Friend. However, 324,000 people are being helped by special employment measures today, as opposed to 293,000 12 months ago.

Mr. Lang

Will my right hon. Friend find time before the House rises to debate early-day motion 760 on compensation for nationalisation, which has now been signed by over 100 right hon. and hon. Members?

[That this House notes with concern the continuing delay in the payment of compensation to shareholders in several of the companies nationalised under the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to encourage an early and fair conclusion of this matter.]

I accept that the formula for compensation that is enshrined in the 1977 Act is totally unfair and demonstrably unworkable, but does my right hon. Friend not agree that this underlines the need for a Government initiative, so that the outstanding negotiations may be rapidly concluded and we may be rid of the entire shabby business?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Complex questions are raised in the early-day motion and I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend, who will give it serious consideration.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement next week not on the general question of cuts but on the difficulties that confront councils such as Newham, which, through no fault of its own but because of sudden emergencies—it has still not solved the Ronan Point disaster—will have to pull down two tower blocks for safety reasons, and will not receive any financial assistance? Is it right that the Government cannot help a council that is already suffering cuts and has to pull down buildings for safety reasons? Surely there should be some method whereby the Government can help in emergencies such as this? Our local council cannot look after the interests of the people and their safety unless it is given some financial assistance—about £1 million.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I appreciate the importance of that point and I shall take it up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment as a matter of urgency.

Viscount Cranborne

In view of the amount of help that the other place has given to Labour Members of late, will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on the future of the other place in order that they may retract their intention to abolish it and express their gratitude to their Lordships?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is an interesting suggestion, and in view of recent events in the other place, were such a debate to take place there might be some interesting cross-voting.

Mr. Coleman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the report of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs dealing with unemployment in Wales has been published today? In that report there is a reference to the restoration of the special development area status that the Government are taking away from my constituency tomorrow. Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange with that record-breaker on unemployment in Wales, the Secretary of State for Wales, to make a statement to the House next week on the excellent report of the Select Committee?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have only just received the report, so I have not yet had time to study it. This morning my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales told me that he had received a copy and was studying it. I shall communicate with him on the matter.

Mr. Marlow

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the main reason for not dealing with the anomaly of the Irish vote in the forthcoming nationality Act is that it is inappropriate and should be done through a Representation of the People Act, will my right hon. Friend bring forward a Representation of the People Bill to deal with this matter? Alternatively, will he ask his right hon. Friend to stop using this as his main reason for not proceeding with it?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Government policy on this matter is quite clear. We do not intend to introduce legislation on that matter. If it is to be discussed, it will probably be more appropriate in the context of electoral rather than nationality law.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising in their places, until 4 o'clock. I hope that they will help their colleagues by putting short questions.

Mr. Robert Hughes

As the debate on Tuesday will obviously be the last chance to debate the fishing industry before the House rises, will it not make more sense and allow us to have a more coherent debate if we have a statement from the Government on Monday or Tuesday on whether aid is to be given to the industry? The debate on Tuesday is on EEC documents, but we cannot discuss the fishing industry within or without the EEC without knowing what aid the Government will or will not give.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

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

Mr. English

Will the procedure motions include those that the Procedure Committee in its first special report believes to be non-controversial? Will the Leader of the House accept the offer by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) and me that instead of having five and a quarter hours of Divisions on the Estimates at 10 o'clock tonight we should have only one Division, if we may have a five-hour debate?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is difficult at this time of the year to respond positively to a request for an extra five hours of debate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises that this is a long-term problem for the House of Commons and that the Government have shown that they will give the House the opportunity to deal with it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will respond accordingly in his more constructive rather than his obstructive way.

The motions being tabled by the Government will cover European legislation, the experiment in the Public Bill procedure, and also the setting up of a new Procedure Committee to examine Supply.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

In the light of the special problems facing the British paper board manufacturing industry, stemming from escalating energy costs, further aggravated this morning, will the Leader of the House give time, either before the end of this Session or early in the next Session, for a full debate on energy costs confronting British manufacturing industry?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Energy costs are of paramount importance and are relevant to many of our debates. I cannot promise a debate before the end of this Session. I shall consider a debate for the next Session.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement on the way in which the cuts are affecting Bolsover Castle? Is he aware that a report has recently been issued stating that it is so dangerous that people are being told to keep away from the work that has been taking place through the efforts of successive Governments during the past 20 years? Will he also invite his right hon. Friend to encourage the dilatory Tory-controlled Derbyshire county council to spend some money on the ancient site of Creswell Craggs, which also need repairs, because my constituents are being prevented from passing that point?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am not familiar with the details of Bolsover Castle and Creswell Craggs. I presume that they are not the hon. Gentleman's ancestral homes. I shall certainly ask my right hon. Friend to look into the matter and ensure that they do not collapse.

Mr. Dubs

The Leader of the House will recall that the House recently passed a number of resolutions on the pay of Members' secretaries, pensions, and other matters. Notwithstanding the fact that he caused four defeats for the Government that night, will he introduce measures to give effect to those decisions before we rise for the Summer Recess?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

On the secretarial resolution it is not necessary to introduce any further motion. The Government accept that.

The linkage and pension points raise complex problems, which have been discussed twice by the Cabinet. We shall be making a factual document available on the complexities involved so that the House may have an opportunity to study them.

Mr. Ioan Evans

In the overspill period will the Leader of the House consider a debate on the unanimous report issued today by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, which rejects the Prime Minister's suggestion that people should leave Wales and recommends that the Government should take greater action to attract employment to the Principality? As a long recess has been announced, if unemployment exceeds 2 million, will the right hon. Gentleman consider a demand for the recall of Parliament?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My right hon. Friend did not suggest that people should leave Wales. She was making a general point about the mobility of labour. I shall study that report with the greatest care, as will other members of the Government. Like all Select Committee reports, it must be taken seriously as a contribution to the argument.

I hope that it will not be necessary to recall Parliament. However, the Government are always prepared to receive representations from hon. Members for the recall of the House if an emergency arises.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Services to make a statement on the voluntary liquidation of Staflex International and its failure to pay national insurance contributions during its existence, which has resulted in some people facing a reduction in benefits? Will he make a statement to obviate any suspicion of a cover-up, as criminal offences took place and as the time for prosecution of the directors concerned has now lapsed? Several questions were tabled regarding the liquidation of the company as far back as June 1979. As a junior Minister, Lord Bellwin, was chairman of the company, may we have a statement to clarify the position and make clear that there has been no Government cover-up?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That sounded like a speech for the prosecution. I shall certainly get my right hon. Friend to look into the matter.

Mr. Parry

Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to make a statement next week on the serious problems facing Bowaters? If it does not get any Government help we shall see further serious unemployment on Merseyside.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am aware of the grave unemployment on Merseyside. I shall raise that point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

Mr. Millan

Is the Leader of the House aware that it will be unacceptable if the House rises next week without an oral statement on the closure of colleges of education in Scotland? May we have an assurance about that matter?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.