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Business Of The House

Volume 972: debated on Thursday 25 October 1979

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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 29 OCTOBER—Debate on a motion to take note of the report of the Royal Commission on gambling. Cmnd. 7200, under the chairmanship of Lord Rothschild.

Motion on EEC documents 7577/79, and the updated memorandum of 23 October on oil purchases: 5666/79, 7662/79, 7721/79 and 7722/79 on energy; and 7855/79 on coal.

TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER—Second Reading of the European Communities (Greek Accession) Bill.

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

Motion on the Ministry of Overseas Development (Dissolution) Order.

WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER—Debate on procedure.

Motion on the Family Income Supplements (Computation) (No. 2) Regulations.

THURSDAY 1 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Shipbuilding Bill.

Motion on the EEC (Definition of Treaties) (International Wheat Agreement) Order.

FRIDAY 2 NOVEMBER—Debate on London, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 5 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Education (No. 2) Bill.

I gather that the Education (No. 2) Bill has not yet been published. The right hon. Gentleman will run it very fine unless the Bill is published very soon, because it is a big and important measure. Will it be published in time to allow us proper consideration of it before Second Reading?

Secondly, I understand that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is going to Brussels next week to discuss the question of fisheries. Will the Leader of the House convey to him that he will have our support if there is no weakening of the present stand in relation to the 12-mile limit, and that we expect him to maintain that stand? Will the Leader of the House also ask the Minister to report to the House on his consultations as soon as he returns?

Thirdly, while the debate on procedure on Wednesday is a matter for the House as a whole, there is certainly one controversial issue—there may be more, but this one has been put to me by hon. Members. If the right hon. Gentleman is producing a series of proposals, will he indicate that they will not include a proposal to change the nature of the Adjournment debate? I understand that that would cause considerable upset. Can he indicate that he does not intend to do that?

The Education (No. 2) Bill will be published tomorrow, thus giving the customary two weekends for consideration by hon. Members of a major Bill. I am fully aware of the need for hon. Members to have Bills in good time.

Secondly, I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the messages of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and I am sure that he will be extremely grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support. I am sure that the report will be a positive one in view of the support that is being given.

Thirdly, on Wednesday it is my intention to have a general debate on procedure and then table motions on a number of matters concerning Sessions and sittings. One of those motions will probably include proposals on the Adjournment arrangements as recommended by the Select Committee on Procedure, but of course it will be up to the House to decide whether to accept them, amend them or reject them.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that before the recess he gave a hopeful response to a request for a debate on the tenth report of the Expenditure Committee—made as long ago as 1975—on the Charity Commissioners and their responsibilities, and the related Goodman report of a year later? Is it not quite wrong that the House should have had to wait all this time for an opportunity to debate the law on charities, which most certainly causes widespread concern both inside and outside the House? Can my right hon. Friend arrange a debate, if not next week at least before Christmas?

I sympathise With my right hon. Friend over the delay in debating these reports, but for the vast majority of that period I held no responsibility. I remain hopeful that the House will have an opportunity within a reasonable time to debate those two important reports.

By what machinery does the right hon. Gentleman propose the renewal of sanctions against Rhodesia? During the procedure debate on Wednesday, will the right hon. Gentleman give some indication of his views on the appointment of the Scottish Select Committee and whether we shall have full time to debate that matter very soon?

With regard to the sanctions against Rhodesia, I cannot add to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal to the House earlier this week.

Secondly, I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that a motion will be tabled later today on the terms of reference for the Scottish Select Committee.

May we be assured that during the visit to Brussels of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food there will not be any horse trading of fish for lamb? Equally, will the statement to be made make clear the position on the French attitude towards apple imports into this country?

Without following my hon. Friend into that mixed metaphor, I am sure that all the interests that he has mentioned will be well represented by my right hon. Friend.

In view of the considerable public disquiet about the question of jury vetting, which is also causing tremendous concern not only in the press but, I believe, among all Members of the House in terms of the infringement of the liberties of individual jurors who might be asked to serve—it might even cause such confusion that they might not want to serve—does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that we should have a debate on the matter?

I agree with the hon. Lady. It is a very important and serious matter. I do not know that I can promise an early debate, but I will raise the matter with my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor.

I thank my right hon. Friend for finding time to debate procedure. Following his answer to the Leader of the Opposition, I understand that the debate will mainly be concerned with Sessions and sittings, matters that are important in themselves, as we all recognise. If we do not get round to discussing two important matters that the Select Committee on Procedure dealt with, namely, the scrutiny of European legislation by the House—which many people think to be imperfect and on which there are considerable recommendations by the Select Committee—and a Public Bill procedure which would allow Standing Committees to take evidence for up to three sittings, will my right hon. Friend find time in the new year to discuss these issues?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his encouraging remarks. I am anxious to make progress on all the proposals of the Select Committee on Procedure. As for the Public Bill procedure and the changes proposed, and the proposals on scrutiny, I need to consult widely among hon. Members to ascertain the view of the House. We now have many new hon. Members, and there was not the clear view in favour of the Public Bill procedure changes that there was on Select Committees. I want to have full discussions on Public Bill procedure and on the proposals for European legislation. At the same time, I am anxious to maintain the momentum of progress. It is right that there will be motions on Sessions and sittings. I hope to dispose of the eight reports of the Sessional Select Committee on Procedure, which have been hanging around for years. In that way we shall make a major step forward in rendering the procedures of the House more effective.

Did the right hon. Gentleman hear the Prime Minister at Question Time, when the right hon. Lady said that those who got the Government into a mess last night had to get them out of it? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that because of the decision taken last night hundreds of small corner shop retailers who are selling paraffin at 75p a gallon instead of 53p face a fine of £400? What will he do to clear up the chaos?

I heard what the Prime Minister said, as I was sitting next to her. My right hon. Friend was speaking quite distinctly. I took it that her remarks were addressed to the Patronage Secretary. I agree that the hon. Gentleman has raised a serious matter. There is confusion about the exact state of law. We intend to put it right at the earliest opportunity. That will occur when there is a Privy Council next week, when there will be a new order. That will be signed by the Secretary of State and laid before the House.

Will my right hon. Friend advise me when the Government propose to bring forward changes in the law on industrial relations? As our chief shop steward in the House, will he impress upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment the fact that many of us consider this to be an urgent matter?

I am grateful for the trade union encomium from my hon. Friend. We hope to produce a Bill on trade union matters before Christmas.

Is it the intention that the Education (No. 2) Bill should cover the whole of the United Kingdom, or is it the intention to introduce a separate Scottish Bill? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take account of the fact that it is only in the past two weeks that the circular asking for consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has been issued. If it is the intention to include Scotland in the Bill that is to be published tomorrow, the Bill must have been drafted before the consultations were held.

The Bill's main provisions will cover England and Wales but it will include some provisions concerning Scotland. I shall raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

My right hon. Friend said that there will be a debate on London a week tomorrow. I ask that a Minister make a statement on the future of the third London airport. There are six sites in the South-East that are on the short list. That is causing not only planning blight but immense distress to those who live near the sites. May we have an early statement? Bedfordshire is affected and so, I gather, is Chelmsford.

I share a constituency interest with my hon. Friend. It would be desirable for a statement to be made soon, but it is important that all interests are consulted and the controversial issues examined thoroughly before any definitive statement is made by the Government.

May I revert to the question raised by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker)? The House will understand the right hon. Gentleman's reluctance to move on Public Bill procedure at this stage in the Session, but will he enlarge on his discussions about EEC scrutiny? Is he aware that there has been widespread dissatisfaction with the procedures for many years and that the Select Committee on Procedure drafted model new Standing Orders? Will he tell the House whom he is consulting and when his consultations will be finished? Is he aware that there will continue to be 20 or more Labour Members rising to speak on various orders until the procedure of the Scrutiny Committee is improved?

I am anxious to make reasonably fast progress on these matters. However, I want to see how the procedure debate proceeds next Wednesday. Immediately after that I shall begin consultations on the other matters through the usual channels. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in view of his interest in European affairs and his constructive efforts to improve matters he will be one of the first to be consulted.

There is some uncertainty. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House how he proposes to conduct next Wednesday's debate. Will he put forward a series of propositions for decision next Wednesday? Will there be a series of debates, or one general debate without decision? What is the proposition?

I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify the method of proceeding. The method that we used last time was quite satisfactory. There will be a general debate in which hon. Members may range widely over the subject matter. That will be followed at 10 o'clock by Government motions on a number of positive proposals. That will mean that the debate will not evaporate and that something will come at the end of it. It is my intention to lay tonight a number of proposals concerning the sessional reports and the recommendations of the Procedure Committee on Sessions and sittings so that hon. Members will have an opportunity to study them. Those matters will be voted on at 10 o'clock and onwards. Hon. Members will be free to table amendments to the motions.

In view of the acute crisis of confidence facing the hill farming sector of the farming industry, especially in the North-East of Scotland, will my right hon. Friend please arrange for an early debate in the House on its anxious and pressing problems?

May we have an assurance that the Scottish Select Committee will have far more than 11 members properly to scrutinise the diversity of Scottish Office functions? As the Labour Party had 44 of the 71 Scottish constituencies and a majority of the 86 seats on the Scottish Grand Committee, is not entitled by election and by precedent to a majority of the seats on the Scottish Select Committee?

The hon. Gentleman raises matters that will be discussed through the usual channels. I imagine that the size of the Committee will follow the pattern of the other Select Committees. I shall never make the mistake of judging the contribution of Scottish Members by their quantity rather than by their quality.

Order. I propose to call four of the hon. Members who are rising to ask questions of the Leader of the House. As I did yesterday for the Government side of the House, I shall call them from the Labour Benches.

In view of the widespread concern about factory farming methods, will the right hon. Gentleman make time available for an early debate on the subject?

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern personally on the issue that he raises. I do not think that I can guarantee an early separate debate, but the issue may form part of the debate on agriculture.

May I press the Leader of the House on the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson)? Will he give an undertaking that he will report back to the House on the consultations that he has promised he will have with the Lord Chancellor on the procedure for selecting juries? The House is maintaining a silence on the issue and there is doubt among citizens about the procedures of the jury service and what jurors are required to do. It will bring the law into disrepute if citizens start objecting to serving on juries.

I do not know whet her I have the means of reporting back to the House as such, but I shall consult the Lord Chancellor. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to table a question to me following my consultation, I shall be happy to answer it.

Will the debate on Wednesday embrace the Select Committee on Members' interests and its composition? The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have taken a specific and sustained interest. If not, is he arranging for the matter to be debated in the near future?

As the right hon. Gentleman has already brought forward a debate on London, will he consider bringing forward in the early future a debate on West Yorkshire, especially a debate on the wool and textile industry, which has lost 6,000 jobs since January and is a matter of grave and serious urgency?

There is a limit to the amount of time that can be set aside for these matters, but I shall certainly consider both the region mentioned by the hon. Gentleman and the industry. We have not had a general debate on London for some time, and it is due.

I do not know that the Committee on Members' interests will be specifically included within the terms of reference of the debate, but I am anxious to make progress on it. I have tabled a motion for the appointment of the Committee. If the hon. Gentleman could moderate the keen interest he takes in the matter perhaps we could make some progress.

If we cannot have the early debate called for by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), can we not at least have an early Government statement on the deplorable practice of jury vetting, which the right hon. Gentleman accepted as a serious subject, especially in view of the fact that it would not be surprising—it would be quite reasonable—if potential jurors, subject to the threat of being snooped upon by the police or private detectives, refused to serve on juries? That would be a serious situation and have calamitous consequences for our jury and judicial systems. Can we not have an early statement from the Government showing clearly and unequivocally that there will be an end to jury vetting?

I am afraid that I cannot do that, as I do not have the departmental responsibility to go as far as the hon. Gentleman wishes. However, I shall pursue these conversations urgently with the Lord Chancellor. Indeed, other Law Officers will be consulted.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House said that he would pursue the issue with the Lord Chancellor. You will recollect, Mr. Speaker, that the Lord Chancellor somewhat misused his position in Cabinet to have his own subject—unlike that of any other Minister—excluded from the jurisdiction of the Select Committees of the House. He does not want matters relating to the civil law to be discussed in Committee. Could it also be made plain that as matters relating to the criminal law are the responsibility of the Home Secretary, and within the jurisdiction of our home affairs Committee the Leader of the House will do two things: he will consult the Home Secretary and he will tell the Lord Chancellor to keep quiet?