HC Deb 22 May 1980 vol 985 cc716-22
Mr. Foot

Will the Leader of the House state the business for the week after we return from the recess?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

The business for the first week after recess will be as follows:

MONDAY 2 JUNE, TUESDAY 3 JUNE and WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE—Finance (No. 2) Bill, consideration in Committee.

THURSDAY 5 June—Supply [17th Alloted Day]: Until about 7 o'clock there will be a debate on the unfair and arbitrary decision to charge "full cost" fees to overseas students, and afterwards on the offence of loitering with intent under the Vagrancy Act 1824. Both will arise on Opposition motions.

FRIDAY 6 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Films Bill and of the New Towns Bill.

MONDAY 9 JUNE—Completion of remaining stages of the Health Services Bill.

Mr. Foot

In view of the assistance which the Opposition have given to the Government in the choice of two urgent subjects in Supply time, will the right hon. Gentleman note that the time left for debate on the Brandt Commission, which he has promised, is becoming short? Will he say when we shall have that debate? I trust that he will make an announcement in his next Business Statement.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I also attach great importance to the report of the Brandt Commission. I can give an undertaking that we shall have a debate on the subject before the Venice summit.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that questions on the Business Statement will take time from the debates on the Housing Bill which, under the timetable motion, must be concluded at 7 o'clock. Therefore, I propose to take considerably fewer questions today in order to be fair to the House.

Mr. Forman

Will my right hon. Friend find time soon after the House returns from the recess for a debate on the Government's policy on public sector pay? Will the Government take the opportunity of such an occasion to set out how they propose to deal with that serious problem, which is such an engine to inflation?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, public sector pay policy, indeed all pay policies, must rest on a connection between pay and efficiency, pay and productivity. I shall certainly bear in mind the request for a debate in due course.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Leader of the House aware that during questions to Treasury Ministers a request was made for information about the consortium that was set up under the guidance and approval of Treasury Ministers to bail out Stone-Piatt Industries? Because the House has been refused further information on a matter which is a direct contravention of Government policy on intervention, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to Treasury Ministers that a statement must be made on the full details of what took place a few weeks ago?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall pass that message to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If the matter was raised during questions to the Treasury, I should imagine that there is nothing to add.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Are the Government discussing the question of the amount of legislation with which the House will have to deal when it returns after the Summer Recess? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the promise that in the next Session there will be much less legislation than there has been in this Session?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot anticipate the Gracious Speech that will open the next Session. I can assure my hon. Friend that I share his sentiments to the full. I trust that, having implemented much of our manifesto commitment in record time, we shall have a lighter legislative Session next year.

Mr. Ennals

Will the Leader of the House give further consideration to the possibility of a debate on the Flowers report on the future of medical education, and, in particular, the future of Westminster hospital, which causes great consternation throughout the House? Is he aware that in a previous reply he said that it would be best if the House debated the matter after the University of London had taken its decision? Does he realise that the House is becoming more and more reluctant to debate issues after decisions have been taken?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I share the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety about the future of Westminster hospital and related matters. However, the responsibility is for the University of London and the London area health authority. We must wait until they have given an indication of their views.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to take three more questions from each side. That will take us to about 3.45 and will leave only 3¼ hours for consideration of the Bill under the timetable motion.

Mr. Farr

Can my right hon. Friend comment on the unhappy situation in relation to the Social Security (No. 2) Bill? Is he aware that under present plans we shall not have a chance to debate clause 2, which refers to pensioners' rights and the earnings rule? In view of our commitment during the general election campaign to abolish the earnings rule, is there a chance of the House debating that matter?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am afraid that the Bill is subject to the guillotine motion, which was introduced as a last resort. I would have much preferred a voluntary timetable, but, unfortunately, it could not be agreed.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

Is the Leader of the House aware that it is now almost four weeks since 146 British holiday-makers lost their lives in the tragic air disaster in Tenerife? Does he recall that the Secretary of State for Trade was commendably quick in making a statement to the House about it? We have now waited four weeks for a statement about why it happened. Will he bear in mind that thousands of British holidaymakers have booked charter flights that will land at Los Rodeos airport? Will he give an undertaking that the Secretary of State for Trade will make an early and urgent statement about that tragic event?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that it was a most tragic event. It has caused great anxiety among thousands of holiday-makers and potential holidaymakers. I shall urgently convey the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. du Cann

Since there will not be an opportunity to ask my right hon. Friend a question about the conditions of service for Members of Parliament until a bare week before adjustments in remuneration are due on 13 June, will he make an announcement about giving effect to resolutions that the House has already passed in respect of secretarial and research allowances, secretarial pensions, travel for Members of Parliament, and the updating that Lord Boyle has undertaken on remuneration for Members of Parliament? I dare say that I express the view of the House in saying that I hope that that information will be available well before 13 June.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

With regard to the various resolutions passed by the House on secretarial pay and research allowances, my right hon. Friend knows that I have made arrangements for such allowances to be paid to hon. Members. In respect of the arrangements for extended travel, secretarial pensions and other matters, I have been in continual conversation with hon. Members and with officials. I hope to be in a position to put forward any decision on those matters shortly after we return from the Whitsun Recess.

With regard to the report of Lord Boyle on the second instalment of Members' pay, I entirely share my right hon. Friend's wish that we obtain that report in good time for 13 June. I have not yet received it, and I am investigating the question when we are likely to receive it. Of course, the report will be made not to myself but to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Ashley

Does the Leader of the House know that Ministers at the Department of Health and Social Security insult and abuse hon. Members who seek improvements in the scheme for the safety of medical drugs, although they admit that those improvements are desirable? May we have an opportunity for a full discussion on that subject so that we may expose the insolence, arrogance and hypocrisy of the Ministers concerned?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am surprised to hear such strong language coming from the right hon. Gentleman. That has certainly not been my experience when dealing with the Secretary of State or other Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Security. They have always treated myself and, as far as I know, other hon. Members with the utmost consideration and courtesy. I know of the right hon. Gentleman's concern about the drugs to which he referred. I shall approach my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and ask him to look into the matter.

Mr. Stokes

Will my right hon. Friend allow time in the near future for hon. Members who are members of the European Parliament to give an account of what they have been doing over the past year, and to say what they believe their role to be?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sure that there will be an opportunity for what, I imagine, would be a fairly short debate.

Mr. Palmer

When the House resumes after the recess, will the Leader of the House arrange, as a matter of urgency, a debate on the location of the first Inmos production unit in Britain? Ministers could then give an explanation about the present prolonged and dangerous delay.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a most important subject. I shall convey the concern of the hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

Mr. Crouch

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am concerned that you should seek to terminate early one of the most important events that takes place in the parliamentary week, namely, the determination by the House of what can be discussed in the coming week. One of the disadvantages of the House is that we work from week to week and not from month to month, or longer. I know that you, Mr. Speaker, are rightly concerned with the progress of business in the House, if not with the business itself—that is the business of the Government Front Bench. I am concerned that you should terminate the rights of Back Benchers to raise matters with the Government—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows of the discretion that has been given to me by the House. I shall not sit here and listen to criticism of the way in which I exercise that discretion. If the hon. Gentleman disagrees with what I have done, he knows what to do.

Mr. Foot

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is some inconvenience caused to the House if, on a Thursday when the business statement is made, the time for asking questions is abbreviated. We are not criticising your judgment, Mr. Speaker, but there is, by implication, a severe criticism of the Government for putting down on a Thursday Bills subject to guillotine motions which may eat into the time allowed for business questions. May we hope that, in the light of the matter having been raised, the Government will not on any future occasion put down such business on a Thursday, which curtails the rights of hon. Members? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let us reduce the temperature. The right hon. Gentleman's point was directed elsewhere than at me. I am much obliged to him for not directing it at this quarter.

Mr. Cryer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am in no way making a criticism of you because I accept your rulings. At the same time, I feel that there is some element of dialogue between hon. Members and Mr. Speaker. I emphasise that, for many Back Benchers, it is important to have the opportunity to raise business questions. I realise that you are in a difficult position because you have to make a judgment between competing priorities.

I am concerned that when the Government put down business of today's nature it pressurises and manoeuvres you, Mr. Speaker, into defending the Government's position. It is for the Government to ensure that you are not placed in such an invidious position. They must allow Back Benchers sufficient time to raise issues so that you do not have to call on Back Benchers to sacrifice an important and hard-won right.

Mr. Speaker

The points of order have cost another five minutes, during which we could have had two or three more questions. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but I hope that the House has now registered its feeling—it has registered with me, at least. I was trying to be fair to those who feel deeply about the business that we are to discuss later and which is timetabled. If hon. Members share my feeling of concern for their colleagues, no doubt they will co-operate with me.