HC Deb 30 October 1980 vol 991 cc698-706
Mr. Foot

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 is as follows: MONDAY 3 NOVEMBER—Motion on Community document 9280/80 on aids for milk and pig production.

Motion on the National Dock Labour Board (Increase of Loans Limit) Order.

Motions relating to Consumer Credit (Advertisements) and (Quotations) (Amendment) Regulations.

TUESDAY 4 NOVEMBER—Motion on a draft directive on product liability, document No. R/2237/76 and R/611/77 and 9427/79.

Motion on a proposal for a Community driving licence, document No. 3075/75 and supplementary memoranda of 17 July and 28 October 1980.

WEDNESDAY 5 NOVEMBER—Lords amendments to the Civil Aviation Bill.

Proceedings on the Tenants' Rights etc. (Scotland) (Amendment) Bill [Lords].

Consideration of Lords message on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

THURSDAY 6 NOVEMBER—Debate on the report of the Burgoyne committee on offshore safety, Cmnd. 7866.

Remaining stages of the Overseas Development and Co-operation Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Regulated Tenancies (Procedure) Regulations.

FRIDAY 7 NOVEMBER—Motions on the Common Agricultural Policy (Agricultural Produce) (Protection of Community Arrangements) (Amendment) Order and on the Sheep Variable Premium (Protection of Payments) Order. The relevant Community document numbers will appear in the Official Report.

Motion relating to food consumer protection proposals, documents Nos. 4101/80, 5561/80, 4709/80 and R/1444/78 and corrigendum and the Ministry of Agriculture's memorandum of 24 October 1980.

MONDAY 10 NOVEMBER—Lords amendments to the Broadcasting Bill.

[The following reports of the Select Committee on European Legislation &c. are relevant to debates on Community documents:

Investment Aids for Milk and Pig Production: 42nd Report 1979–80, HC 159-xlii, para. 1 (Proof copies available in Vote Office).

Product Liability: 5th Report 1977–78, HC 29-v, para. 4 22nd Report 1979–80, HC 159-xxii, para. 1.

Community driving licence: 6th Report 1975–76, HC 8-vi, para. 3; 39th Report 1979–80, HC 159-xxxix, para. 1.

Food Consumer Protection Proposals

Plastics in contact with foodstuffs: 2nd Report 1978–79, HC 10-ii, para. 1; 43rd Report 1979–80 (typescript available in Vote Office).

Marketing standards for eggs: 32nd Report 1979–80, HC 159-xxxii, para. 2.

Pesticide Residues: 26th Report 1979–80, HC 159-xxvi, para. 1.

Fruit juices: 29th Report 1979–80, HC 159-xxix, para. 2. The Community documents relevant to the debate on the Sheep Variable Premium (Protection of Payments) Order 1980 and the Common Aricultural Policy (Agricultural Produce) (Protection of Community Arrangements) (Amendment) Order 1980 are Nos. 9370/80, 9521/80, 10439/80 and 10440/80 and an unnumbered explanatory memorandum dated 27 October concerning a proposal for a Council Decision on the conclusion of voluntary restraint agreements with non-member countries concerning sheepmeat and goatmeat. The relevant report of the European Legislation Committee is the 43rd report of 1979–80 (not yet printed, but typescript copies available in Vote Office).]

Mr. Foot

Since considerable chunks of the business announced by the right hon. Gentleman for next week do not seem to bear much relation to the problems of the British people, will he take special note of the proposal that I made to him yesterday that in future Business Statements he should consider the proposition that in view of the rapidly deepening unemployment crisis we should have a debate in this House every month after the unemployment figures have been announced?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly take note of that suggestion, but I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, of all people, should think that these draft directives of the European Community are not of great importance to this country. After all, it is extremely important that any proposals there should be fully scrutinised in this House, and the coming week will constitute a record in that respect.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I said "considerable chunks", and I refer to the scrag ends of his miserable legislative programme.

Mr. David Steel

On the same topic, will the Leader of the House have a word with the Secretary of State for Scotland and try to arrange for a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee during the spill-over, so that we may have a debate on the particular problems of job loss and unemployment in Scotland?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall consider that suggestion and pass it on to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

In view of the suggestion that has been made over and over again from both sides of the House that Foreign Affairs questions should last for one hour and incorporate the questions on overseas matters and overseas aid, will my right hon. Friend now implement such proposals?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have already made one alteration in Foreign Office questions and I am willing, if it is for the general convenience of the House and can be arranged, to look at the matter again in the new Session.

Mr. Abse

In view of the deteriorating unemployment position in Wales, including the lamentable announcement today of the closure of GKN in Cwmbran, will the Leader of the House now arrange for a debate on the Select Committee report on Welsh affairs, particularly since the Government have not as yet, after three months, given any formal response to that report?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall look into the matter of the response with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, because there should be a reply to that report. That is the first thing to do, and we can consider a debate afterwards.

Mr. Cormack

In view of the gripping importance of the business next week, will my right hon. Friend consider adjusting it so that we can debate a topic about which many hon. Members are concerned, namely, defence, so that we may also have a chance of listening to the views of the triumvirate in the Opposition Benches?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There does not seem to be a great demand for a debate on defence from either side of the House at the moment.

Mr. Heffer

In view of the fact that the Government have announced a moratorium on council house building, and that if the Government's policy is continued there will soon be no construction industry, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that there will be a debate in the House at the earliest opportunity—next week, if possible—on the future of the construction industry, the effect of Government policy on it and the high levels of employment in the industry at present?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall bear that in mind, but the moratorium imposed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is essentially temporary.

Sir Anthony Meyer

First, is my right hon. Friend aware that the Conservative Members of the Welsh Select Committee will be anxious to debate the report as soon as possible?

Secondly, will he say whether any progress has been made in providing for easier access for Members of the European Parliament who wish to enter this building in order to have discussions with Members of this Parliament and who do not wish to go through the usual scrutiny procedure at the entrance gates?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have noted what my hon. Friend said about the Conservative Members of the Welsh Select Committee, and they are subsumed into my response to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse).

With regard to the access of Members of the European Parliament to the Palace of Westminster, there is an outstanding report of the Services Committee on the subject, and I hope that the House will have an opportunity to debate it before too long.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

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

Mr. Cryer

May I assure the Leader of the House that there is great anxiety on the Opposition Benches to debate defence, particularly in view of the splendid demonstration last Sunday, which was a reflection of the wave of concern throughout the country at the warmongering attitude of the Government? [Interruption.] This is not a laughing matter. It could be a matter of life and death. May we have an urgent debate on the mad decision to spend £5 billion on Trident when we are short of money for vital public services in this country? Last Sunday's demonstration was an expression of opposition to the presence of Trident and cruise missiles in this country—a subject that has never been debated.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have noted the hon. Gentleman's desire for a debate but I have not received representations on the matter from the official Opposition. I shall certainly consider any representations along those lines. As to unilateral disarmament, the hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but he should respect the opinion of others, including that of the Government, that the way to peace is much better served by a policy of multilateral disarmament than unilateral disarmament.

Mr. Fitt

Does the Leader of the House recall that on 7 August he gave an undertaking to me that he would seriously consider allowing a debate on Northern Ireland immediately after Parliament resumed following the recess? In view of the deepening economic crisis that now exists in Northern Ireland—with thousands of people unemployed and the social deprivation that is worsening daily—and because of the danger to security as a result of the hunger strike, will he allow a debate at the earliest possible opportunity, next week if possible?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly consider that matter and discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. David Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the most significant international events to have taken place during the Summer Recess was the Polish workers' revolution? Will he arrange for a debate at the earliest opportunity on East-West relations before tragedy strikes in the country, and particularly in view of the forthcoming Helsinki review conference in Madrid?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's request, but the Government's attitude is quite clear—as is the attitude of the Opposition—which is that we have the greatest admiration for the Polish people in their struggle for fundamental democratic rights.

Mr. Ioan Evans

In view of the fact that the Cabinet has been discussing yet further public expenditure cuts, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that there is a statement next week? Is it true that there is likely to be a Budget early in the new Session? If not, will the Leader of the House arrange an economic debate, because it now appears that even Milton Friedman is disowning the Government's policies?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am not familiar with the works of Mr. Milton Friedman. As to the possibility of a Budget, no news of that has come to me. Had the Chancellor had that in mind I am sure that he would have let another Chancellor know. In due course we shall have an economic debate, but I do not think that I can make a specific promise at this stage.

Mr. Marlow

As the EEC draft directive on product liability, which we shall discuss next week, is causing a great amount of concern and worry in commerce and industry, as it will massively increase costs and bureaucracy, can my right hon. Friend tell the House what action can be taken on Tuesday to prevent the thing from ever seeing the light of day? When he replies I would be grateful if he did not say something about harmonisation being important to our industry, at a time when European food and the budget effectively cost every industrial worker in this country £2 a week.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We cannot have Tuesday's debate today, although my hon. Friend has defined his position very clearly. There will be a full opportunity—I point that out to the Shadow Leader of the House—to discuss it on Tuesday.

Mr. Silverman

I understand from the Business Statement that on Friday we shall discuss four directives—one on egg marketing, one on pesticide reserves, one on fruit juice and one on the effect of plastics on food. They are entirely separate matters. Can the right hon. Gentleman say how these matters can be debated together without proceedings becoming a shambles?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

There will, of course, be a full day's debate on these various orders. I shall look into the question of how we might be able to arrange the discussions on that day in the most logical and convenient manner for the House.

Mr. Greville Janner

In view of the anger and anguish over the decision of the Secretary of State for the Environment to place a moratorium on council house starts, surely there should be an immediate debate on the subject. We should not be fobbed off with a statement that the moratorium is only temporary. If that is to be the answer, at the very least will the right hon. Gentleman inform us how temporary "temporary" is?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My right hon. Friend has made it quite clear that this is intended to be an interim measure, pending a review.

Mr. Janner

How long?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That question must be addressed to my right hon. Friend, but I would have thought that it would be a matter of weeks rather than months before it disappeared. I cannot promise a full debate on the subject, but there are opportunities by which the matter can be raised. I absolutely agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that it is an important matter.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Can we have an assurance that the report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee on benefits for non-contributory disabled housewives will be debated before any changes are made to the regulations regarding the duties that can reasonably be performed by a disabled housewife?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall certainly look into that matter and see whether we can find room for a debate, but I am afraid that I cannot make a definite promise.

Mr. Rowlands

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the industrial and political patience of the Welsh people is wearing extremely thin in view of the tens of thousands of jobs that have been lost even during the Summer Recess since the Select Committee's report? As that Select Committee reported that there was a danger of social unrest as a consequence of growing unemployment, will not the right hon. Gentleman at least arrange for an early debate on that report so that the House can approve its recommendations, which were unanimously supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern about the position in his own constituency and in Wales as a whole. I have said that I shall look into this matter, but the first thing is to ensure that the Government's reply to this important report is published.

Mr. Maxton

In view of the manner in which the Secretary of State for Scotland introduced an important document on the future of the colleges of education in Scotland, and in view of the almost unanimous rejection of those proposals by all education sectors in Scotland, will the Leader of the House ensure that there is an early debate, either in the House or in the Scottish Grand Committee?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

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

Mr. George

Can the Leader of the House tell us when we will be dealing with the patriation of the Canadian constitution? In the light of the minefield that exists in terms of the constitutional, political and timetable aspects that Parliament, the Government and the Crown will face, will he consider referring the problem either to a Joint Select Committee of this House and the House of Lords or to any other Select Committee or Committee that may be appropriate for dealing with this googly that has been bowled to us by Prime Minister Trudeau?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I understand the hon. Gentleman's cricketing metaphor, and I am beginning to recognise a minefield when I see one. Practice makes perfect. I cannot give any undertaking about referring it to a Select Committee because, I am glad to say, the Government have received no request about the repatriation of the Canadian constitution. However, if and when such a request does arrive I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's most interesting suggestion.