HC Deb 12 June 1980 vol 986 cc804-17
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 16 JUNE—Debate on the report of the Brandt Commission on a motion for the Adjournment.

TUESDAY 17 JUNE—Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill.

Motions on the Redundant Mine-workers and Concessionary Coal (Payments Scheme) (Amendment No. 2) Order ; the International Development Association (Sixth Replenishment) Order ; and the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Second ACP-EEC Convention of Lome) Order.

WEDNESDAY 18 JUNE—Supply [19th Allotted Day]: Debate on the disposal of Ferranti, on an Opposition motion.

At Seven o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Industry Bill.

THURSDAY 19 JUNE—Supply [20th Allotted Day]: Debate on the Royal Navy, on a motion for the Adjournment.

Motion on the Pool Competitions Act 1971 (Continuance) Order.

FRIDAY 20 JUNE—Debate on the decline of industry in the West Midlands, on a motion for the Adjournment.

MONDAY 23 JUNE—Supply [21st Allotted Day]: Debate on the Royal Air Force, on a motion for the Adjournment.

Mr. Callaghan

There is very great interest in the Brandt Commission's report We regret that the Government were not ready to table a positive motion, which would have enabled us to express our view. We should have liked a positive expression from the Government, which would at least have enabled us to welcome the report and to endorse its central theme, which called for renewed efforts to halt the world-wide escalation of arms expenditure and called on the Government for an increase in the transfer of resources from the richer to the poorer nations.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider changing the decision to hold this debate on a motion for the Adjournment, so that we can test the opinion of the House on the motion to which I have just referred? I believe that such a motion would receive widespread support.

Secondly, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there have been calls for a two-day debate on the Brandt report. If that is not possible, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has been able to consider the representations for extending the time for that debate—say, for two hours—in order to enable more Members to speak?

Finally, there have been two disturbing reports that I have asked the right hon. Gentleman to bring to the attention of his colleagues with a view to statements next week. One is the report that the Government are considering halting all council house building. It would be a disgrace if that were so. This matter can be cleared up only if the Government give a clear view on it. Secondly, there are reports that London fares are to be increased by 40 per cent. in a period of 12 months. If so, that is totally unaccep able, and we must ask the Government to make a statement of policy on both those issues.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen the reports on those two matters, and I shall certainly bring them to the attention of the responsible Ministers.

I have already announced that the debate on the Brandt Commission's report will be on a motion for the Adjournment. I appreciate the point that the right hon. Gentleman made but I think that the sentiments that he has expressed—with which I have a great deal of sympathy—can be expressed adequately in the debate. I am happy to say that in response to representations that I have received from a number of hon. Members, apart from the official Opposition, we can extend this debate until midnight, thus giving an extra two hours on this vitally important subject for the future of the world.

Mr. Callaghan

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those answers, including his confirmation of the extension of time for the debate on the Brandt report. I am also glad to hear that he is broadly in sympathy with the sentiments that I expressed. In view of the international interest in the report, would it not be preferable if there were a positive expression of opinion by the House on an agreed motion? The motion to which I have referred is one that we intended to table. I am not trying to commit him, but the right hon. Gentleman said that he would not find himself opposed to it in substance. Let us please express our views as a House instead of as individual Members.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There is much that is attractive in what the right hon. Gentleman said, but there are policy questions within the Brandt report that are still being considered within the Government and that would make it difficult to follow that sort of action at this stage.

Mr. Emery

May I remind my right hon. Friend—although I am sure that he does not need reminding—that the Lord Privy Seal gave the House an assurance that a statement would be made before the Vienna conference, which has already started—[HON. MEMBERS : "Venice".]—the Venice conference—that a Government statement on the Brandt Commission's report would be made to the House. That has not been done. It is important that it should be done before Monday, because if it is made purely in the form of the Minister's opening speech the whole of the debate will be limited, as hon. Members will have no time to study the Government's position. As that assurance has been given, will my right hon. Friend take action to ensure that the Government's position is known before the opening speech on Monday? There is still time for that to be done.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that there is some confusion here, not only between the cities of Venice and Vienna but because two summits are involved. There is the European summit and the world summit. The Brandt Commission report is more relevant to the world summit—the second summit. I have undertaken that there will be a debate in the House on the commission's report before the world summit. The opening statement will be made by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, and that will contain a clear statement of the Government's attitude.

Mr. John Smith

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Trade to make a statement to the House at an early date about his failure to publish information about British companies paying salaries below the poverty datum line to their employees in South Africa? If that is too difficult, will he remind the Secretary of State for Trade that he could answer specific questions on the subject at Question Time next Monday?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have read the exchange between my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman that was extensively reported in today's issue of The Guardian. I hardly think it will be necessary to draw this to the attention of my right hon. Friend, but in response to the hon. Gentleman's request I shall do so.

Mr. Neil Thome

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 691, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) about the effect upon Russian dissidents of the boycott of the Olympic Games?

[That this House congratulates British industrialists and others who have withdrawn financial support for the British Olympic Team to go to Moscow, and does not doubt that this action will he equally welcome to dissident families in Russia such as the Rosensteins, who are either being forced by the Soviet Authorities to leave Moscow or are going voluntarily, because they are nervous of reprisals by the Soviets.]

In view of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, will my right hon. Friend consider holding an early debate on the matter?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that an early debate is necessary, because the Government's views on the matter are already well known in the House. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a statement on the matter recently. We support the sentiments expressed in that motion. We welcome the British industrialists' action, as no doubt do those people in the Soviet Union who believe, as the Government believe, that the Games should be boycotted. The Government's policy on the Games was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal in the debate on 17 March, and also by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in two Adjournment debates, on 27 March and 21 April. I do not consider that another debate on the subject is necessary. We want a positive response from the British Olympic Committee.

Mr. Ifor Davies

Will the Leader of the House find time next week, or very soon, to discuss the industrial situation in South Wales with regard to the critical situation confronting the steel, tinplate and coal industries?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I know about the grave unemployment situation in Wales. The Government have never disguised the fact that they believed that in the short term unemployment would rise. They have shown their concern for the Principality by making additional money available for the provision of factories and industrial sites in the areas affected by steel closures. In addition, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the Shotton area was upgraded and given special development area status last December. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will announce the outcome of the review of assisted area status in South Wales very soon. I hope that that will be of some assistance to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Has the Leader of the House received any representations about the debate on the Royal Navy? Is there any possibility of the date being put back a week or two, in view of the fact that some hon. Members will be attending a maritime conference in the United States on that subject?

Mr. Skinner

Why not go on a Sunday?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that the answer to that is "Never on Sunday". These matters were discussed through the usual channels, and no objections were raised. I am sorry if there is a clash, but I am afraid that this situation arises from time to time because Members of Parliament are very busy people.

Mr. Alexander

Has my right hon. Friend had time to consider the proposals of the National Union of Licensed Victuallers on licensing law reform? In view of the wide social interest in this subject, would it be possible to have a debate on the matter, bearing in mind that the Errol report disappeared into limbo about 10 years ago? I declare an interest in this subject, not only as an avid consumer but because I have an interest in two licensed houses in the Midlands.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I wish that I could say the same. I cannot promise an early debate, but I shall certainly draw the concern of my hon. Friend to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Molyneaux

In view of the plight of the textile industry, would it be possible to have an early debate on those EEC regulations that are mainly responsible for it?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Within the last few days my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister received a delegation from the textile industry. The problems of the industry were fully discussed and an undertaking was given that we would seek adequate safeguards for the textile industry on the expiration of the multi-fibre arrangement in 1981. Therefore, I do not think that an early debate is necessary.

Mr. Coleman

Returning to the point made by myright hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the cessation of council house building, will the right hon. Gentleman indicate whether it would be possible for the Secretary of State for Wales to make a statement to the House on the position in Wales?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is the same question as was put by the Leader of the Opposition, but within the different context of Wales. I shall pass to the Secretary of State for Wales the representations that I shall make to the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Budgen

In view of the Government's continuing difficulties in controlling public expenditure, will my right hon. Friend arrange an early debate on the procedure used in considering Supplementary Estimates, so that the House, if it so wishes, may reassert its historic role of controlling Supply?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The Government have had considerable success in reducing and controlling public expenditure. That is a separate point from the question of the control by this House of Supply. On that point, I am more sympathetic to what my hon. Friend said. We need to examine this matter when we have disposed of the recommendations of the existing report on procedure. The next item on the agenda seeks a report on the way in which the House can more effectively discharge its historic role of controlling Supply.

Mr. Armstrong

Bearing in mind the complete collapse of morale and confidence in the Northern region about the future of manufacturing industry, confirmed by the Secretary of State for Industry in his statement on Monday on regional policy, and the announcement today that the steelworks in Consett will close in September, destroying a community, will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the matter before manufacturing industry in the Northern region reaches a point of no return?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There may be an opportunity for a regional debate. I cannot promise such a debate next week. I read the account of the closure of Shot-ton, and I appreciate—[HON. MEMBERS : "Consett."]—Consett. I am aware of the difference between Consett and Shot-ton. A slip of the tongue is not necessarily a slip of the mind. However, this is a matter for the British Steel Corporation to decide, and not for the Government.

Mr. Trippier

May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to early-day motion 603, asking that the time limit on speeches, restricted to 10 minutes in Second Reading debates, should be extended to other principal debates in the House, other than Report stages of Bills?

[That this House believes that the present rule in operation that backbench speeches between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Second Reading Debates are limited to not more than 10 minutes should be extended to all other principal debates of the House, other than Report stages of Bills.]

Will my right hon. Friend consider extending that experiment?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That suggestion has occurred from time to time, but the whole purpose of introducing it in a limited way was to assess the feelings of the House on how it would work. As far as I can hear from the response to that suggestion, there does not seem to be overwhelming support for it.

Mr. Parry

The Leader of the House may have seen early-day motion 674, standing in my name, which has been signed by 158 hon. Members.

[That this House deplores the proposal of the Liverpool Area Health Authority (Teaching) to close the heart unit at the Royal Liverpool Children's Hospital in spite of massive public opinion against the closure : and calls upon the Secretary of State to reject the Health Authority's proposal.]

As a matter of urgency, will the right hon. Gentleman provide time for a debate on proposed hospital closures in Liverpool? Such closures are affecting the aged, children, the partially blind, the blind, and women's care. These closures have met with massive objections from the general public. The area health authority is slashing health services in the city centre of Liverpool.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The closure of the pediatric cardiology unit at the Liverpool hospital is a complicated matter, but the closure of the hospital as such will be subject to consultation with all interests, in accordance with the agreed procedures, at the appropriate time. Those procedures provide for ministerial involvement where there is local objection to a proposed closure that cannot be resolved locally.

Mr. Cormack

As the Soviet Union's actions constitute a far greater violation of human rights, humanity and international law than even the despicable acts of the Iranians in detaining the American hostages, will my right hon. Friend find time to debate the Soviet Union (Temporary Powers) Bill, which I introduced yesterday? Will he also bear in mind that it is perfectly drafted, as it is based entirely on the Act in relation to Iran that was recently passed?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I congratulate my hon. Friend. He is obviously a man of faith. I cannot guarantee or offer an early debate on this subject. However, I think that by the private enterprise that my hon. Friend has demonstrated he has shown his concern and the concern—I am sure—of many others in the House about the violation of human rights in the Soviet Union.

Mr. Spriggs

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a full day's debate on unemployment as it effects the whole of the United Kingdom, so as to give every right hon. and hon. Member an opportunity of bringing forward schemes whereby some of us may do something about reducing the high numbers of unemployed?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot promise an early debate. The Government are continually aware of unemployment problems. It is no part of our policy to have permanent high unemployment. At the same time, we have always made clear that in the process of rationalising British industry and making it competitive, a period of short-term unemployment is unavoidable.

Mr. Adley

May we have an assurance that the Prime Minister will make a statement on her return from Venice—after which, Mr. Speaker, some of us will hope to catch your eye? In view of the quite proper priority that that conference is attaching to the attempt to find a way forward and a solution to the Palestinian issue, may I repeat my request to my right hon. Friend, particularly in the light of the tremendous change of attitude by the House over the last 10 years, that we should give the Government an opportunity to listen to the views of hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly Back Benchers? The issue remains one of the most sensitive and dangerous in the world.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The Prime Minister will make a statement to the House on her return from the Venice summit. The Palestinian point, among others, will no doubt be relevant to the questions that you allow, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. George Cunningham

In view of the manifestly unsatisfactory state of the law left by the House of Lords' ruling today, whereby criminals may be legally entitled to retain the fruits of their crimes, will the Leader of the House indicate whether the Home Secretary or the Attorney-General will make a statement about the Government's intentions to correct the law?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have received no request for a statement from either of my right hon. Friends but I shall certainly raise the matter with them to see whether they would like to apply to make a statement in the House.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Is there any chance of extending the debate on the Royal Navy for perhaps an hour, in view of the great interest in the maritime strategic position in the Indian Ocean?

Has my right hon. Friend noted that there is now a clear majority of Members who have signed the early-day motion on whales?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to ban the import of all whale products and to work to secure a world wide ban on the slaughter of whales.]

Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to respond, as he ought as Leader of the House, to the manifest wish of a majority of hon. Members?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen the early-day motion and I have noticed the large number of signatures to it. What is perhaps even more important than my responding is that the Government have responded very positively and are seeking to implement the aims of the motion.

As for the debate on the Royal Navy, I have heard my hon. Friend's suggestion, and I suggest that it be pursued through the usual channels.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising in their places.

Mr. James A. Dunn

Will the right hon. Gentleman discuss through the usual channels, with his ministerial colleagues, the appropriate Officers of the House and the trade union representatives of those who are employed on the staff of the House, ways and means of providing a fully subsidised canteen service for the low-income earners whom we employ, in parallel with that which is enjoyed by departments of the Civil Service and comparable with that which is available in commercial undertakings? There is an urgency about this matter.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is more a matter for the House of Commons Commission than for me. What we have endeavoured to do is to put the catering of the House on a commercially viable basis. If there are problems such as that which the hon. Gentleman has raised they should be considered by the Commission. I shall see that that is done.

Mr. Skinner

On the question of world summitry at Venice, will the Leader of the House ensure that a statement is made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the cost to the British taxpayer of sending so many people to that summit? We all appreciate that, according to The Sunday Times, the Prime Minister is a guest of the Italian Government, but the rest of the entourage is likely to be charged about £100 a night. When she was Leader of the Opposition the Prime Minister used to say quite often that summitry was a waste of time and money. Perhaps we may have a full explanation, so that we can understand more clearly the Government's position on public expenditure, especially bearing in mind that for the pensioners the same Prime Minister has invented a new calendar year of 54 weeks, thereby depriving them of £13.70 per head. Will it be the old-age pensioners who will foot the bill for this summit in Venice?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The issues to be discussed at the summit are of such paramount importance for the future of this country, Europe, and the world that it is obvious that those who are there should have adequate back-up services. I suppose that the value that one gets from a summit meeting depends on who actually represents Great Britain at the summit.

Mr. Straw

When will the promised debate on the United Kingdom's contribution to the EEC budget take place? With reference to the right hon. Gentleman's undertakings to the House yesterday on the responsibility of the Lord Privy Seal to answer questions on EEC matters, when will there be a statement on that matter?

Mr. St. John-Slevas

I think that the most convenient moment may be when the full documentation is available. This matter is being pursued through the usual channels.

Mr. Stan Thorne

Will the Leader of the House use his influence to ensure that the next time the Home Secretary deputises for the Prime Minister at Question Time he does not reduce the 15 minutes to a farce, as he did today?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sorry that I did not answer the second point raised by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). I shall bring that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. [Interruption.] I must be left to answer questions in my own way.

With regard to the answering of questions by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in place of the Prime Minister, I thought that it was a virtuoso performance, in which he commended a recent speech of mine. I think that it added to the lightheartedness of the occasion in a characteristic way.

Mr. Spearing

The Leader of the House has referred to the importance of the Venice summit. Why, then, did he restrict to one and a half hours last Tuesday's important debate on EEC institutions, following the report by the Committee of Three, leaving no fewer than nine hon. Members wishing to speak and an unresolved Question at the end? Will he now consider resuming that adjourned debate? In relation to the budget contribution and the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that it is the Government's intention to have a debate on that issue, and not just to call it to the attention of the Lord Privy Seal?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Those matters must be discussed through the usual channels. I cannot give off-the-cuff undertakings when the wishes of the Opposition as well as those of the Government are involved. I am sorry that some hon. Members were unable to speak in the debate. Unfortunately, it occasionally happens that not all hon. Members can be called. However, that is no justification for having a repeat performance of every debate in which that occurs.

Mr. English

Will the right hon. Gentleman see whether the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is being emasculated by his civil servants? In a rush of open government, the Minister promised to send me a letter explaining how his Department calculated the cost of the CAP to the United Kingdom. There have been various interesting reviews in bank journals, by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, and in The Sunday Times. However, I have not received the letter. It has not been placed in the Library. The assurance has not been carried out.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly draw that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Knowing him, I should have thought that he would carry out such an operation the other way around.

Mr. Ioan Evans

As the Prime Minister makes reckless speeches every week saying that there will be no U-turns, and as she has not made a speech about the situation now facing industry, may we have a two-day debate on the decline of British industry? We have received strong representations from industrialists and trade unionists.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have already announced that there will be a debate on British industry next week. I cannot promise a two-day debate on anything at the moment.

Mr. Harry Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that there are two short debates today. Many hon. Members wish to speak in those debates. I hope that points of order will be reasonably brief.