HC Deb 27 November 1980 vol 994 cc571-7
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for next week?

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY I DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Industry Bill.

TUESDAY 2 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the British Telecommunications Bill.

Motion relating to the National Health Service (Charges for Drugs and Appliances) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 3 DECEMBER—SeCOnd Reading of the European Assembly Elections Bill.

Motions on the European Community documents 9866/80 and 9198/80 on aids to shipbuilding, and on document 7854/79 on excise duties on beer, wine and alcohol.

THURSDAY 4 DECEMBER—Supply [1st Allotted Day]: debate on the decline of the British engineering industry, on an Opposition motion.

FRIDAY 5 DECEMBER—Debate on the second report form the Select Committee on social services, Session 1979–80 on perinatal and neonatal mortality, House of Commons Paper No. 663, and the relevant Government observations.

MONDAY 8 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Social Security (Contributions) Bill.

[The following reports of the European Legislation Committee are relevant to debates on European Community Documents:—

Shipbuilding: 45th Report, 1979–80, HC 159-xlv, para. 2; 46th Report, 1979–80, HC 159-Xlvi, para. 2 [The latter report is not yet published, but photocopied proofs are available in the Vote Office];

Taxation of beer, wine and alcohol: 16th Report, 1979–80, HC 159-xvi, para. 7; 33rd Report, 1979–80, HC 159-xxxiii, para. 2; First Report, 1980–81, HC 32-i [The last of these reports has not yet been published, but typescript copies are available in the Vote Office].]

Mr. Foot

Will the Leader of the House give us an assurance for next week—and possibly extend it until the Christmas Recess—that he and his colleagues in the Government will not introduce any major policy statements in reply to written questions, particularly those that the Chief Secretary has said would be more prudent to be made by way of public statements?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We shall follow the established custom of the House. Both written and oral statements will be made, and it will be a matter of judgment which should be resorted to. I shall ensure that the traditions of the House are maintained.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Gentleman take into account that on at least two or three occasions in recent weeks we believe that the Government have made a gross misjudgment of the requirements of the House in the way in which they have presented statements?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I note that political judgment, which the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to make. I can only say that I do not agree with him.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House will have noticed that I am having a little trouble with my throat today. I hope that the House will help, because I want to stay in the Chair for the debate today.

Secondly, more than 40 right hon. and hon. Members want to speak in the major debate. Therefore, I propose to allow only 20 minutes for business questions and then to move on.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I express the hope, Mr. Speaker, that your voice will be in better shape this evening.

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the early-day motion, which I put down today, drawing attention to the health and safety investigation which has revealed that one in three ships entering our ports carrying hazardous cargoes has safety faults?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at 2 o'clock this morning a tanker caught fire whilst unloading diesel oil at Canvey Island, in close proximity to the homes of 34,000 people, and that there was one fatality? Will my right hon. Friend assure me that a statement on these important matters touching on the safety of a large population and of shipping will be made by the Secretary of State for Trade early next week?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have seen my hon. Friend's early-day motion, which he tabled with his usual speed in the interests of his constituents. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade to the dangers to the people of Canvey Island. I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend will communicate speedily with him.

Mr. Neil Carmichael (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

Will the Leader of the House have talks with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the possibility of having a pre-legislation Committee — perhaps the Select Committee on home affairs—to discuss any nationality Bill that may be brought before the House? This is obviously a complicated and largely non-party matter, and I think that it would do a great deal of good if we had a pre-legislation Committee to look at it.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am interested in the suggestion that the nationality Bill should be put through this new procedure. There are some difficulties, precisely because it is a long and complicated Bill. However, I shall certainly raise the matter with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Will my right hon. Friend allow time for a debate on the alternative services book, recently introduced into the Church of England, which many people fear may lead to the disappearance of the Book of Common Prayer, which was authorised by the House in 1662?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly consider that matter. I understand that under the rules of the Synod of the Church of England the 1662 Prayer Book remains the official book of the Church of England and is available to parishioners.

Mr. Peter Shore (Stepney and Poplar)

In view of the conflicting and unsettling reports about statements made by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in the Falkland Islands this week, will the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement to be made to the House? If the Minister of State is on a protracted mission to South America and the Falkland Islands and cannot be here to make it, will the right hon. Gentleman raise the matter with one of his senior colleagues to ensure that we have an opportunity to comment on what the Government are proposing?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

As the right hon. Gentleman recognised, the Falkland Islands could not be described as exactly central. I cannot raise the matter with the Minister of State, but I will—[Interruption.] I can answer questions without prompting—raise it with my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary and consult him on the important point made by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant and Waterloo)

Will it be within the discretion of any Standing Committee to adopt what might be called the new hybrid procedure? As the British Telecommunications Bill will be a most appropriate subject for that procedure, will my right hon. Friend be encouraging the Standing Committee to do that?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

All suggestions are gratefully received. I wish that all members of the Government were as enthusiastic for their Bills to go through this new procedure as Members of the House evidently are.

Mr. Reg Race (Wood Green)

Has the Leader of the House noticed early-day motion No. 18, standing in the names of more than 100 hon. Members, on the destruction of the school meals service, in particular the disgraceful action being taken by county councils such as Lincolnshire and Dorset and the London borough of Bromley?

[That this House, having noted the assurance given by the Secretary of State for Education and Science during the passage of the Education Act 1980 that he would not abolish the school meals service, deplores his lack of intervention in the recent decisions to reduce the nutritional value of meals, and in some cases to curtail and abolish the provision of a meals service; in particular notes the action of Dorset, Bromley, and Lincolnshire local education authorities is in direct violation of the Secretary of State's undertaking, and calls upon him to renew his pledge and to make plain the Government's opposition to the decisions of Conservative controlled authorities in respect of the school meals service; and further, calls upon the Secretary of State to secure additional resources to prevent the collapse of the school meals service in this country.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate so that hon Members on both sides of the House may discuss this important question, which affects the lives and working conditions of many people and many thousands of children?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Of course, it is an important question. Any motion in this House that attracts 100 signatures must obviously be considered seriously. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. However, I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that by the will of this House the administration and provision of school meals are now the responsibility of local education authorities.

Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)

Will my right hon. Friend make time to discuss the massacre that is going on in Afghanistan? He will remember that before the Summer Recess I raised this point with him and reminded him that this Russian offensive would occur. I hope that he will be able to make time for the House to discuss this very serious matter.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is indeed a serious matter. The situation in both Afghanistan and Poland is causing the Government continuing concern. I shall raise the matter as one of urgency with my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal.

Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early ministerial statement on a residual problem that arises from the imposition of the Government's 6 per cent. pay policy in the public sector? May we have a ministerial statement on the future of the Pay Research Unit, the Pay Research Board, the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration and the Boyle Commission, all of which are spending their time establishing pay comparability, which the present Government, manifestly will not honour?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The right hon. Gentleman's questions involve three or four Ministers. I shall draw them to the attention of the appropriate Ministers.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about a pay policy, perhaps he will forgive me if I correct him and say that it is not a 6 per cent. pay policy but a 6 per cent. cash limit.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

On the nationality Bill, will my right hon. Friend consider first having a debate on the July White Paper? Is he aware that the people of Gibraltar, in particular, with their very close links with this country, are extremely concerned about the Bill and hope to have their views raised in the House?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The points that arise under the Bill, which affect many millions of people, can best be raised in this House on Second Reading and subsequently in Committee.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

I raise a modest request, of which notice has been given to the Chancellor's office. Could we have a statement before tomorrow morning's debate on the European budget about the facts in relation to aid in connection with the Italian earthquake disaster, under chapter 59?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am very happy to tell the hon. Gentleman about the situation as far as the British Government are concerned. I am sure that we were all deeply distressed to, learn that Italian casualties continue to rise and that the scale of the disaster far exceeds initial estimates. Her Majesty's Government will continue to send what assistance they can to help the Italian people in this tragedy.

So far, we have sent two plane loads, on Tuesday and again yesterday, containing 496 tents, 100 groundsheets and 5,975 blankets. The second aircraft also carried 3,550 blankets and 1,300 knitted blankets supplied by the British Red Cross Society.

A third Government aircraft, carrying 150 double-skinned tents, 14 six-man tents, 1,100 blankets and 380 groundsheets, will leave Luton later today. The aircraft is expected to reach Naples at about 10 o'clock this evening.

I know that the whole House would like to express once again its deepest sympathy with the Italian people.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

In view of the wholly unprecedented action of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in permitting a television interview with a convicted murderer—who was in flagrant breach of the prison rules in Northern Ireland—so that he could make his case, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State giving his reasons for doing so?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I cannot give a guarantee that my right hon. Friend will make a statement. He was answering questions in the House earlier today. However, I shall certainly pass on my hon. Friend's anxieties to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will the Minister provide time for a debate, as has previously been requested, on the American presence in this country, the manning and operation of over 100 bases, including the largest underwater establishment outside the United States of America, the operation of a spy base at Menwith Hill, near Harrogate, and the authorisation given to these manoeuvres? Parliament is accountable in this matter. It has never been brought before Parliament, and it ought to be brought before it.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am surprised that such a skilled parliamentarian as the hon. Gentleman should not seek to raise this matter during the debate on the Gracious Speech. It would be quite in order so to do. It is not too late. It may be raised this afternoon, if necessary, although there is another subject set down for general debate. Any hon. Member would be in order, I believe, Mr. Speaker, in raising any such subject in the debate.

Mr. Speaker

Yes, but that is not the most helpful reply for me.

Mr. Jack Dormand (Easington)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the unemployment figures issued this week include the scandalous figure of 168,000 in the Northern region and that that represents a rate of 12.2 per cent., which is the highest in England? In those circumstances, will be arrange a very early debate on the Northern region to discuss the unique problems of that area?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There will be a number of opportunities to discuss unemployment during this Session, on a variety of occasions. I share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about the rising rate of unemployment. It would be scandalous if unemployment at that rate remained a permanent feature of our life.

Mr. George Grant (Morpeth)

Will the right hon. Gentleman, as a matter of urgency, give consideration to finding time to discuss the ridiculous state of affairs in Northumberland arising from public expenditure cuts? I am talking about life and limb. On snow clearing and preparatory salt spraying, the expenditure figure has been cut from £270,000 to £135,000. The instruction was given that no work on salt spraying or snow clearing was to be done outside normal working hours — nothing at weekends or during the hours of darkness. On the first day of the winter, 25–26 November, there was a spate of accidents, and both roads to Scotland were blocked. Surely the right hon. Gentleman should tell us whether such public expenditure cuts are of paramount importance. Otherwise, he should shut up shop.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important but somewhat detailed point. I shall pass it on directly to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

As well as arranging ample time to discuss the White Paper on nationality well in advance of the presentation of any Bill to the House, will the right hon. Gentleman also. arrange time to discuss the general question of the current practices of the Home Office in regard to immigration matters? Has he noticed that Prince Charles was harassed in India recently, as a result, mainly, of the virginity testing case, which is gravely afflicting a family in my constituency? We want a reconsideration of the lousy £500 offer in compensation that has so far been made.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The present Government, and, indeed, their predecessors, have made clear their views on those tests. There will be an opportunity for a full debate on the nationality Bill when it is brought before the House.

As to the visit of Prince Charles to India, I think that the Prince — I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree—dealt with that situation with his usual skill and diplomacy.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

I thank the Leader of the House for the statement that he has just made about the Government's aid to Italy. As secretary of the Anglo-Italian group, I welcome his statement. I hope that the Government will be receptive to any future requests which may come from the Italian Government and will try to help in this terrible disaster.

Having said that, I turn to a question of more immediate interest to myself and my constituents. I am concerned aout the common fisheries policy. May we have an undertaking that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will make a statement, in addition to any questions that he may answer next week, on whatever arrangements he makes with regard to the fishing interests of the United Kingdom, that he will ensure that the specific interests of Humberside will be protected and enhanced and that compensation will be given for what we have lost in third country waters in addition to what we envisage we shall lose as a result of a sell-out by the Government on the 100-mile limit?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Gentleman is rightly vigilant in the defence of his constituents' interests, but he is somewhat over-pessimistic in prejudging the discussions. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has proved a most skilful defender of British interests, including our fishing interests.

I noted that the hon. Gentleman was the first Member to raise the question of the Italian earthquake with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister earlier this week. I assure him that we shall continue to do all that we can to help the Italian people during this difficult period.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call the two hon. Members who still wish to question the Leader of the House, and then we shall have to move on.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)

Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on the firemen's pay claim, which I fully support? I raise the question as the hon. Member for the inner areas of Liverpool, which include the docks, the warehousing estate, most of the city hospitals, nearly all the tower blocks of corporation flats and the city shopping areas and department stores. We are concerned about the dispute in Liverpool and we do not want any loss of life. It is important that the firemen's claim be debated on the Floor of the House and also that the Home Secretary be condemned in the light of the assurance that he gave during the general election campaign.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

What is important at the moment is not that we should have a debate in the House but that the negotiations, which have been resumed, should continue. It is my hope that they will come to an early and just conclusion.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

When are we to have a debate on the Government's proposals to close three colleges of education in Scotland? As the Minister responsible for Scottish education has reneged on his promise to issue a consultative document before coming to a final decision on the matter, is not the Leader of the House ashamed to be a member of a Government who include a man whom many in Scotland consider to be a liar?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that it is out of order to call any other hon. Member a liar. The House understood what was being said. The hon. Gentleman will withdraw that remark.

Mr. Canavan

In case you misheard me, Mr. Speaker, I merely said that many people in Scotland—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I heard the hon. Gentleman all right. The plain significance of his remarks was that he was calling another hon. Member a liar. If hon. Members can get round our parliamentary standards by implying abuse to someone outside the House, our traditions will fall apart. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw his remark.

Mr. Canavan

If the word "liar" is contrary to parliamentary practice, I am prepared to repeat it outside. Within the House, I shall say that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland responsible for education is a stranger to the truth.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman did that very graciously.


Mr. Canavan

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I have an answer to my question to the Leader of the House about the closure of Scottish colleges of education?

Mr. Speaker

We have passed that.