HC Deb 13 March 1980 vol 980 cc1664-7 8.52 pm
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short Business Statement.

Following discussions through the usual channels, the business for Monday 17 March will now be a debate on the Olympic Games, which will arise on a Government motion. The fourteenth Supply day will be postponed.

I think that this is a very satisfacory outcome and I hope that it will be acceptable to the House.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

May I first express our appeciation to the Leader of the House for meeting the wishes of the Opposition and, indeed, of the whole House that that debate should be held at a more sensible hour? It is satisfactory to the House and, I believe, to the sporting organisations outside that the considerations of which the House may wish to take account will now be debated at a more sensible and civilised hour. I wish to express our appreciation to the Leader of the House for responding to our representations in this way.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generous words. I am also grateful to the Opposition for offering to move the Supply day.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

May I express appreciation, which will be felt on both sides of the House, of the decision made by the Leader of the House, which indicates the importance that the House as a whole attaches to this matter? The Leader of the House promised earlier that the motion would be tabled today. It had not been tabled a few moments ago. Will he confirm that it will be tabled without further delay?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I understand that it has been tabled. It reads as follows: That this House condemns the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and believes that Britain should not take part in the Olympic Games in Moscow.

Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)

I welcome the content of the Business Statement. Does the Leader of the House agree that he has improperly tacked on to the debate for Thursday of next week about agricultural price proposals the basic document 2845/80 on Community financing and budgetary matters?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. I hardly think that that arises from this Business Statement.

Mr. Hughes

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but there is a great difference. A business statement is on the business of the House, and I submit to you with great deference that the Leader of the House is answerable on a matter of the business of the House. If he changes Monday's business, we may reasonably request information about Tuesday's, Wednesday's or Thursday's business, because that is a perfectly proper—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The business on all those days remains unchanged. The hon. Gentleman had his opportunity earlier in the day to raise the matter with the Leader of the House.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

I am not quite clear from what my right hon. Friend said whether a motion has been tabled or is about to be tabled. In any case, I put it to him that it would be a great help if he would couple with the discussion on the Olympic Games in connection with the affairs in Afghanistan what a number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have been pressing for a long time, and that is the condemnation of the Soviet Union's attitude towards Soviet Jews. Many of us have expressed the view that the Olympic Games should be not held in Moscow for that reason as well.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My hon. Friend has raised a most important point. The question of human rights is indivisible. The action in Afghanistan is an extension of the denial of human rights to the Jewish community. I cannot promise an amendment to the motion, although it is perfectly proper for my hon. Friend to raise that point.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

I add my congratulations to the Leader of the House on his sensible decision. Will the Government conform to the will of the House when it is expressed on Monday? If the motion is defeated, will the Government drop their advocacy of the boycott? If the motion is carried, will the Government take all such steps as may be open to them to order those concerned not to go to the Games and to withdraw from their organisations any subsidies from the taxpayers if they disobey? Will the will of the House be enforced by the Government, or shall we just engage in pure chat?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a hypothetical series of questions. A declaration of the will of the House is a major event and I would certainly recommend to the Cabinet that it would have to be taken extremely seriously. Naturally, what action would follow on that would have to be decided by the Cabinet. A declaration of the will of the House is of major importance in our political life.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

In view of the terms of the motion, which is extremely clear, and the fact that it is a Government motion, will the right hon. Gentleman reiterate that there will be a free vote on the Government side of the House? I understand that there will be a free vote on the Opposition side.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am happy to give that assurance to the hon. Gentleman. I now understand that there will be a free vote for all hon. Members, and that is how it should be.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will the Leader of the House accept that a number of people have strong reservations about the way in which the Government are using the Business Statement to bring about a debate that is designed to intimidate athletes? The Government did not provide the same facilities in the case of cruise missiles—which was a disgrace. Will the Government now follow this precedent and give an assurance to the House that in future defence Divisions—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's remarks may be relevant on Monday, but they are not relevant now.

Mr. Cryer

Is this a precedent that will be followed in defence and EEC Divisions?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I fully respect the strength of conviction that the hon. Gentleman holds on this matter, but I do not think that this is the appropriate moment to debate it. The hon. Gentleman is always present, and that is one of the troubles. He is too conscientious. No doubt he will be here on Monday.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

May I press the Leader of the House a little further about what the Government's reaction will be if they are defeated on Monday? He has gone a long way in his answer, but will he give an undertaking that if the Government are defeated they will immediately withdraw the ban on civil servants and soldiers?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that there has been a ban on civil servants. The Government will not give special facilities to civil servants. That is a different matter. However, all those matters will have to be reconsidered.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

As the Conservatives, when in Opposition, refused to allow a simple majority for the Scottish people on devolution, will the Leader of the House acknowledge that a small majority on Monday night will not indicate a strong opposition to Olympic athletes going to Moscow in the absence of taking action such as the withdrawal of the British ambassador until after the Olympics?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is erecting a hypothesis on a hypothesis. I cannot tell what people will think about a result that has not yet been decided. To do that, I would have to have a prophetic function, which I do not possess.