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Business Of The House

Volume 973: debated on Thursday 8 November 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 12 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Protection of Trading Interests Bill.

Proceedings on the Isle of Man Bill.

TUESDAY 13 NOVEMBER—Supply [5th Allotted Day]. Debate entitled "The failure of the Government to support the woollen and textile industries," until about 7 o'clock.

Motion on cuts in the British Broadcasting Corporation's external services.

WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER—Remaining stages of the European Communities (Greek Accession) Bill and of the Shipbuilding Bill.

THURSDAY 15 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill (Lords) and of the Papua New Guinea, Western Samoa and Nauru (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

FRIDAY 16 NOVEMBER—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 19 NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the British Aerospace Bill.

In view of the exchanges that have just taken place I know that the Leader of the House will be considering the prospect of an amendment to Monday's business and I will urge him further on that, so that the "usual channels" can have their usual discussions. However, we hope that he will be able to come to the House very early in the course of the debate today so as to facilitate progress and also give us an answer on this matter.

Secondly, referring to the business for next week, the Opposition will put down a motion on the failure of the Government to support the woollen and textile industries. As for cuts in the external services of the British Broadcasting Corporation, we shall have no difficulty accepting, and tabling as a motion, the motion that already stands on the Order Paper.

I take it that that is a provisional announcement. With regard to the very reasonable offer made to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as she made clear it will be discussed through the usual channels. In the interests of the whole House, I hope that it will be possible to make a statement later today.

Is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House aware of a view expressed by a number of Members during the last two weeks? During next week, will he consider acting on a reference to the Procedure Committee so that we can take steps to try to limit the length of supplementary questions at Question Time? Might we not revert to the practice of only one question being allowed to each Member, instead of two or three questions? Will my right hon. Friend refer that to the Procedure Committee?

In answer to my hon. Friend's supplementary questions, I think that that is a matter for Mr. Speaker.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is great interest throughout the House in the report of the Royal Commission on the National Health Service? Can he give an undertaking that the House will have an opportunity to debate that matter before the Christmas Recess?

I cannot give the hon. Lady an undertaking in categoric terms. I am certainly aware of the importance of that report, and I will consider the matter.

Will the Leader of the House provide an early opportunity to discuss the findings of the committee of inquiry into the death of Darryn Clarke, published one hour ago? In view of the serious implication that starving social services departments of funds can lead to the death of young children such as Darryn Clarke, it is a matter of vital importance that the House should have the earliest opportunity to discuss the findings of that committee. Can the Leader of the House give us that undertaking?

In these controversial matters it is always wise not to jump to conclusions, as the hon. Member has done. I have not read the report. It has only just been published. I shall look at it and consider what the hon. Gentleman said.

Has the Leader of the House yet been persuaded by his right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Defence that we should have a debate on the SALT treaty before it is ratified by the Senate? There are many who think that the contents of that agreement are a very eloquent testimony to Russian skill and determination in negotiations.

I shall certainly consider the important representations made by my right hon. Friend.

Does the Leader of the House recall that he made a commitment to me two weeks ago that he would consult the Lord Chancellor and the Law Officers about making a statement on the iniquitous practice of invading the privacy of jurors by vetting them before they are empanelled? Can he say when that statement will be made?

I said that I would consult the Lord Chancellor. In fact, my right hon, and learned Friend the Attorney-General and my hon, and learned Friend the Solicitor-General are considering the matter and I will let the hon. Gentleman know the result of those deliberations in due course.

May we have a prompt debate on the Government's public expenditure White Paper?

There will certainly be a debate on the public expenditure White Paper before Christmas.

When may we expect a debate on the affairs of the North-West? If time cannot be found for a debate in the Chamber, do arrangements still exist for debates in the Regional Affairs Committee? If they do, we have only then to agree on the team to take part. Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that the last time we debated the North-West in the Regional Affairs Committee we had an omnibus agenda? I would prefer in our next debate to restrict it to one simple subject, such as the consequences of the Government's expenditure cuts for the North-West.

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a categorical assurance. These matters have been raised in Adjournment debates, I shall certainly look at the matter.

Order. I appeal to hon. Members to make their questions as brief as possible. If they do I hope to be able to call everyone rising to speak.

Will my right hon. Friend consider saving the time of the House by indicating that the Government will accept the motion on the BBC's external services, which the Leader of the Opposition has said he will put up for debate? That motion will certainly receive a great deal of support from the Conservative Benches.

I will certainly consider what my right hon, and learned Friend said. The whole problem may be solved when the facts are fully known. This year the provision for the BBC external services is £40·3 million—

Order. I have no doubt that the information is interesting, but it had better await a later time.

I am only trying, Mr. Speaker, to help the House. I certainly bow to your ruling, but when the facts are fully known the demand for the debate from both sides of the House will die away.

Will the Leader of the House ensure that for the debate on Tuesday, which will take place in Opposition time—which perhaps is a measure of the Government's lack of concern for the textile industry—representatives are here from both the Department of Industry and the Department of Trade? If they are, one cannot be played off against the other. In addition, attitudes that are of vital concern to the woollen textile industry about both the industry and the multi-fibre arrangement can be brought into the debate, and Ministers will be able to answer to the fullest extent possible.

I believe that it is ordinary constitutional practice for a Supply day to be used in order to raise these matters. The arrangement has nothing to do with the Government's concern for our future. I shall certainly consider the hon. Member's request about speakers.

Can my right hon. Friend comment on the working and possible impact of the new Select Committees on the work of this House? For example, if the Select Committee on social services should choose as one of its first subjects to examine the Merrison report on the National Health Service, may we be assured that that would not preclude a debate on the subject on the Floor of the House?

I am glad that, as the Order Paper shows, the Committee of Selection has proposed names for all the Select Committees. I shall be tabling a motion to this effect next week. I think that we should wait until the Committees are in existence before deciding on the sort of points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

In his reflections on the reasonable proposition advanced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for changing Monday's business, will the right hon. Gentleman, as well as taking account of the needs and wishes of the House, bear in mind that by transferring the remaining stages to Monday an atmosphere may well be created that will help the Foreign Secretary at Lancaster House?

I am very well aware of the important considerations that have been raised. Of course, I always react reasonably when reasonable statements are made—for instance, by the Leader of the Opposition. I feel a great deal of sympathy for him. He must be the only leader of the Labour Party to be in limbo and purgatory at the same time.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is ample support from the Government side of the House for both the points made by the Leader of the Opposition?

My right hon. Friend referred to the British Aerospace Bill. May I refer him to early-day motion No. 164 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon) and myself and 80 of our hon. Friends which seeks to enshrine the principle of allowing private enterprise to purchase parts of State corporations, particularly where those corporations are unwilling or unable to maintain the manufacture of certain parts?

[That this House welcomes any private sector investment in British motor car manufacturing; and trusts that Her Majesty's Government will not permit, under the guise of non intervention in management, the Board of British Leyland to close M.G. Abingdon by preventing the sale of M.G. to private-sector competitors of the state-subsidised Triumph T. R. sports cars.]

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is possible to arrange a debate on this matter as soon as possible?

I shall certainly consider that. I have seen the motion on the Order Paper. British Leyland is prepared to consider any sensible proposal about the future of MG. Of course, it is up to BL to decide which course of action is in its best commercial interest, unhampered by Government intervention.

Since General Suharto will be visiting this country next week, and since discussions will be taking place on many important issues—no doubt including the invasion of East Timor by Indonesian forces, which has led to tremendous suffering and many deaths among the indigenous population—may we expect a statement on the talks? That would enable hon. Members who are deeply concerned about these issues to discover exactly what is happening.

I shall pass the hon. Gentleman's concern to my right hon, and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Order. If the five hon. Members who have been rising will put brief questions I shall be able to call them all.

When will the Leader of the House give instructions for the restoration and repair of the Palace of Westminster to begin and for the so-called temporary railings in Westminster Hall to be removed? If it is not to be soon, may we have a debate about it?

Does the Leader of the House realise that there is greater unity behind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the Rhodesian question than exists on the Government Benches? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of us believe that the enabling Bill has been brought forward to patch up the differences on the Conservative side? In view of my right hon. Friend's constructive suggestion, will the right hon. Gentleman consider an application to Mr. Speaker for a brief adjournment of the House during which discussions could be held through the usual channels before we reach the Second Reading? We should then know what the situation was, and that would have a bearing on the debate.

I appreciate the hon. Member's desire to help, but I think that discussions through the usual channels are now taking place. I hope that they will have a constructive result without the need for an adjournment.

Does the Leader of the House agree that more than just the convenience of the House and of Members is at stake in the discussions that are taking place about how we deal with the Rhodesia legislation? Does he accept that the situation is such that we could risk civil war in Rhodesia? Is he aware that if the legislation is passed precipitately and the Government implement a settlement that does not have the support of the Patriotic Front, they will be culpable, in bringing about the possibility of civil war?

I do not want to follow the hon. Gentleman into the more controversial parts of that question. However, it would be in the best interests of everyone in Rhodesia if the strong views that are held in the House can be expressed within a reasonable compass of time, and if the ordinary procedures of the House can be followed.

Will the Leader of the House undertake to provide time before Christmas for a debate on the effects of Government expenditure cuts on the British Council?

The British Council and the expenditure on it can be discussed within the general debate on the White Paper.

Order. It appears that my arithmetic a little earlier was wrong. It was my mistake. I realise that three other hon. Members have been seeking to catch my eye, and I will call them.

Does the Leader of the House appreciate that it is important that the House should know what the Government intend to do, in response to my right hon. Friend's request, before we begin to discuss the business motion that is likely to be moved in the next 10 to 15 minutes?

I appreciate that that would be an ideal course of action, but there are complex issues that have to be discussed and the details have to be worked out through the usual channels. I do not think that it is likely that we can meet that deadline, but as soon as possible I hope to be able to tell the House if there is anything constructive to say.

Could the Leader of the House find an early opportunity to provide time for a debate on the report of the Royal Commission on legal services?

I shall consider that request for a debate, together with the request that I had earlier from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short). There is another Commission report that we have to consider. I shall try to find time for them, but it cannot all be done in a hurry.

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the disastrous situation in Cambodia and the implications of our continued recognition of the obnoxious Pol Pot regime?

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early day motion No. 144, signed by a large number of Members of all parties in the House, calling for that question to be reconsidered, so that the House may have the opportunity of expressing its view on this issue.

[That this House, deeply concerned at the effects of famine in Cambodia, welcomes the aid programme of Her Majesty's Government; calls for it to be continued throughout the present crisis; and urges the reconsideration of the recognition of the Pol Pot régime.]

I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's request. What is taking place in Cambodia is an affront to the conscience of mankind. The recognition of the Pol Pot regime is a question that is being considered by the Government and a statement will be made on that in the near future. Meanwhile, I shall give full consideration to the hon. Gentleman's request.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It will be within the memory of the whole House that when I inquired whether he would refer to the Procedure Committee for consideration the matter of raising several different questions under one supplementary question, my right hon. Friend replied that this was a matter for Mr. Speaker. Is it not the case that the Leader of the House is quite within order to refer a matter of this nature to the Procedure Committee? I appreciate that it is not appointed until a matter is referred to it.

Is it not correct that only a few days ago, Mr. Speaker, you indicated to the House that the position of the Chair would be strengthened if the views of the House could be ascertained on this matter and if the Procedure Committee considered the point?

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. The House knows that from time to time I appeal to hon. Members to ask but one supplementary question when they are called. As I explained to the House only a few weeks ago, it was indeed the custom until about 15 years ago that if an hon, Member asked two supplementary questions he was chopped down and not called again for a long time. The invisible disciplines were exerted.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right in what he says. Any hon. Member can propose that the Procedure Committee should look at the matter. I do not wish to push the burden on to the Leader of the House. I realise that if I have the good will of the House—but only if I have the good will of the House—I can stop hon. Members who, when I call them to ask a supplementary question, ask two or more questions. But I expect to have the full support of the House when I do so.

Perhaps I may intervene in order to assist my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery). I do not think that I had fully understood his point. I thought that he was referring to the practice, but he was referring to the theory. That is where I come in, and I will consider it, but I do not wish in any way, Mr. Speaker, to encroach on your prerogatives.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I be quite clear that you are not proposing, now, to undertake the practice of curtailing supplementary questions, and that you are saying that you would do this only when the will of the House was clear, presumably after a debate by the House, otherwise the will of the House could not easily be expressed—

Order. I believe that I know the will of the House. It is only when hon. Members are on their feet that they forget the will of the House. I would not accuse the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) of ever asking more than one supplementary question, but it is quite conceivable that I am wrong on that issue.

Now that a considerable number of hon. Members are present, I will state that on Monday at Question Time I shall intervene when an hon. Member has asked one supplementary question and ask him to resume his seat so that the Minister may answer that question. I look to the House for its support.