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Business Of The House

Volume 974: debated on Thursday 29 November 1979

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

In view of all the information that we have had from the Home Secretary about next week's debates in the House, may I ask whether the Leader of the House has any other business to tell us about for next week?

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

I am very happy to be a footnote to my right hon. Friend.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 3 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the National Heritage Bill.

Debate on motion to approve the first report from the Committee of Privileges 1978–79, on reference to Official Report of Debates in court proceedings.

TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER—Debate On motion to approve the White Paper on proposals for revision of the immigration rules, Cmnd. 7750.

Remaining stages of the Justice of the Peace Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER—Debate on motion to take note of the White Paper on the Government's expenditure plans 1980–81, Cmnd. 7746.

Consideration of Ways and Means resolution relating to petroleum revenue tax.

THURSDAY 6 DECEMBER—Supply [7th Allotted Day]. Until 7 pm, debate on television licences, and afterwards on Cambodia. Both will arise on Opposition motions.

FRIDAY 7 DECEMBER—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 10 DECEMBER—Consideration of Private Member's motions until 7 o'clock. Afterwards, Second Reading of the Petroleum Revenue Tax Bill.

It may be convenient for hon. Members to know somewhat earlier than has been customary in recent years that, subject to progress of business, it is intended to propose that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment on Friday 21 December and resume on Monday 14 January 1980.

There are two questions that I wish to raise on business. First, decisions will shortly be reached in Brussels about the future of theatre nuclear modernisation. In October—over a month ago—the Secretary of State for Defence said that he proposed to ask the Leader of the House for an early debate on defence. Since then, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) has written to the Secretary of State reminding him of this matter and saying that it would be unacceptable that a matter of such importance should be settled without the House being given an opportunity to express its views. Does the Leader of the House intend to fulfil that undertaking, which we think is very important?

Secondly, I turn to a matter that I can hardly believe is true, namely, the report that the Government propose to introduce the local government Bill in the House of Lords. If so, it will be in disregard of all the conventions and understandings between the two Houses. That Bill will clearly affect taxation in the form of rates and alter the powers of the local authorities and the Minister in relation to them. There is no doubt in our mind that, in accordance with the conventions and understandings between the two Houses, the Bill should be introduced into this House. I ask the Leader of the House not to treat the House of Commons with disrespect in this matter, but to give an undertaking that the Bill will be introduced here. I ask him to give that undertaking now.

I have been in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about the debate on defence. I shall raise the matter with him again at the request of the Leader of the Opposition.

On the second point, it is the Government's intention that the local government Bill should be introduced in the House of Lords. We are a bicameral legislature. It is fully in accord with precedent that substantial Bills should be introduced into the other place.

As regards the financial aspects of the Bill, I point out to the Leader of the Opposition that in the 1975–76 Session 13 Bills requiring money resolutions were introduced into the other place. Only two Bills requiring money resolutions have so far been introduced by this Government.

That is not good enough. I do not know to which of the 13 Bills requiring money resolutions the right hon. Gentleman is referring. If he is talking about the rating (Caravan Sites) Bill or the Rating (Charity Shops) Bill in the 1975–76 Session, he may think that he has a scintilla of a case, but we are not ready to accept that. Conservative Members should be just as concerned as we are about this matter. This House is responsible for money and taxation matters. We demand that the right hon. Gentleman ask the Cabinet to reconsider this item and to make a further statement on it, because the Opposition will wish to consider the implications of the Cabinet's decision on future business in the House.

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the undertaking that he requires. His point would be valid if the Bill were primarily a financial measure. It is not. That deals with the constitutional point that Bills that are primarily financial should be introduced into this House. Only a small proportion of the local government Bill, which is important, is concerned with finance.

Is it or is it not the case that the Bill is concerned with the powers of the Secretary of State to introduce measures that will restrict the right of local authorities to increase their rates by a higher amount than he thinks right? Is that a minor matter in the Bill? Will not the Bill give the Secretary of State power to introduce a unitary grant system? Is that a minor matter? The right hon. Gentleman is treating the House with disrespect. I warn him now. He said that the House would adjourn on 21 December. Let us see how much business he gets before that time if he proceeds in this way.

May we have a statement or explanation next week on the question why debates that concluded at 10 o'clock in this House have not been fully reported in Hansard, but have been cut off at about 6 o'clock? Is it not wrong that that should be so? It will mean that Members wishing to send the report of a whole debate to constituents will have to send not one but two Hansards, [Interruption.] Indeed, one hon. Member will have to do just that. It will also mean that the distribution of Hansard to constituents and others, including the press, will be delayed. Surely this is a completely wrong innovation, which must be stopped forthwith.

I appreciate the inconvenience caused to hon. Members by the situation described by my right hon. Friend. It is due primarily to shortage of staff in the relevant printers. I shall certainly look into this matter again—I have already done so—to see what I can do to assist.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the House is deeply suspicious of his motives concerning the House of Lords? The fact that an important Bill is to be introduced into that House to keep it busy is no excuse. Will he undertake to reconsider the matter? In the past he has taken account of the feelings of the House. Is he aware that feelings on this matter run very high?

I have considered the flatter very carefully. From the point that was made by the Leader of the Opposition last week it was quite clear that he wanted the housing Bill to be considered in this House. It would be impossible, if we are to make progress, to introduce both these Bills into this House.

Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), will the Leader of the House recognise that the recent agreement concluded with those who produce Hansard is regarded with suspicion by many of us, at least on the Government Benches? We feel that there is now a case for a review of the whole method by which Hansard is printed. Gross inconvenience is caused to right hon. and hon. Members at present.

As I indicated earlier, the root cause of the problem is shortage of staff. I know the interest that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Brown) has taken in these matters, and can assure him that I will look again at the problem.

Does the Leader of the House recognise that the local government Bill, as well as being a Bill with financial implications, is a constitutional Bill, because it changes the balance of power between central and local government? Is it not normal that on any constitutional Bill the decision of the House of Commons must be known before the House of Lords considers the matter?

To describe the local government Bill as a constitutional Bill is a very broad interpretation of it. I would not accept that for one moment. If that were so, of course it should be introduced into this House.

When shall we have a debate on the rate support grant orders—or is the right hon. Gentleman thinking of sending that matter to the House of Lords as well?

I hope that we shall be able to have a debate on the rate support grant within a reasonable time.

How does my right hon. Friend see the position with regard to the Committee stages of Private Members' Bills, particularly in the light of the current position on the very long Committee stage of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill? I make no accusations of filibustering, or anything of that sort, but does not my right hon. Friend think that there will come a time when such a Bill will block progress to such an extent that it would be necessary—there is precedent for it—to open up another Committee?

The time to consider that point is when we have reached it. It is, of course, open to the members of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill Committee to put down a sittings motion and so make more rapid progress.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that even those of us who support a bicameral Parliament feel that he has put another nail in the coffin of the other place? On another matter, when does he expect to make progress on the implementation of the Public Lending Right Act?

On the point -about the other place, it was largely due to an intervention by the Leader of the Opposition, I understand, that the abolition of the House of Lords forms no part of the policy of the Opposition. I also pay tribute to the Opposition Chief Whip. With such a combination it is not surprising that that proposal did not get into the manifesto.

I am making good progress on the Public Lending Right Act. Before Christmas the consultative document will be issued, all the people concerned will be consulted, and their views will be considered. We are on schedule with regard to the implementation of this most important Act.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has been suggested that the Government will make an announcement soon about what is now generally known as the third London airport, but that some of us have grave doubts about the need for such an airport in the South-East of England? Will he ensure that if there is a statement there will be a full debate not just on the question whether site A or site B is relevant but on the wider possible aviation implications of the whole decision?

In view of the serious and growing problems of the United Kingdom carpet manufacturing industry, will the Leader of the House consider finding time for a debate on the problems of that industry?

I am afraid that I cannot give an undertaking to have a debate before Christmas, but I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons).

I wonder whether it would be possible for a Bill to be considered in the other place at the same time as it is being considered in this place. I have a Private Members' Bill coming up for Second Reading tomorrow—a Bill that is being considered concurrently in the other place. It is on hypnotism—something in which the whole House is interested. That Bill of mine does not require a great deal of time to put the House to sleep. I wonder whether I have found a precedent to help my right hon. Friend on the question of making progress on the local government Bill.

I do not think that that would help me in the arrangement of business in this House. As my hon. Friend says, there is a procedure for the concurrent introduction of Bills, but I do not think that it would be suitable to apply it to this particular case.

With reference to the defence debate that the right hon. Gentleman has promised, will he bear in mind that he has now announced the programme up to and including 10 December, that on 12 December a very important decision will be made in Brussels by NATO, and that some of us would like to debate that matter before the decision is made so that we may bring our Government into line with the Danish Government, who have decided not to vote for deploying these new nuclear missiles until proper disarmament talks are under way?

I do not dispute the importance of the points that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) raised, but we have very little time left in this Session. I shall certainly bear in mind what he said, but I cannot give him an undertaking that we can debate this matter before Christmas.

With reference to the point made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks), could my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that we will have a full-day's debate on the rate support grant this year? Does he recollect that last year the Labour Government got themselves into such a mess that we had a very truncated debate on this subject—a debate did not start until 10 o'clock at night? That was very unsatisfactory, because many hon. Members who wanted to speak on this important subject did not get the opportunity to do so.

Has the Leader of the House seen the reports stating that the chairman of the Post Office Board proposes to bring to a peremptory end a most unique and imaginative experiment in industrial democracy in the Post Office by removing seven trade union members who were nominated for the board? In so far as this experiment has been the subject of an evaluation under the heading of the Batstone report, can the Leader of the House assure us that we shall have a full statement or a debate on that report before this massacre of the innocents is allowed to proceed?

That is not a matter for me, but I shall pass it on to my right hon. Friend.

As the right hon. Gentleman always claims to defend the reputation of this House, as Leader of the House, why is he associating himself with the intention to start the local government Bill in another place? Is not the truth of the matter that this Government are treating the House of Commons with utter contempt?

One does not enhance the reputation of this House by denying a legitimate place to the House of Lords. We are a bicameral legislature.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's courtesy in advising the House, at an early stage, of the proposed rising of Parliament on 21 December, but will he think again about the need for a debate on the NATO decision in respect of theatre nuclear missiles? Is he aware that once that decision is taken, as I hope it will be, there will be widespread anxiety in this country, and that the only way to allay that anxiety is to enable the Secretary of State to have a full debate in the House on the matter, if possible before Christmas?

If I see an opportunity for such a debate I shall certainly take it, but I cannot hold out any guarantee.

When the right hon. Gentleman arranges the debate on the rate support grant for England and Wales will he ensure that there is also a debate on the rate support grant for Scotland? In view of the very serious consequences that that rate support grant will have on Scottish local authorities, will he ensure that there is a full day's debate, and not the normal 1½ hours?

I propose to call all those hon. Members who have been rising since the beginning of supplementary questions, but I hope that they will be brief.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the question of the local government Bill? Does he not agree that this question touches on the very heart of the relationship between the two tiers of elected government in this country? Does he realise that the decision to introduce the Bill in another place will be bitterly resented by the local authorities of this country?

The hon. Member is making the same point that has already been made. If I could accommodate the hon. Member I would, but I am afraid that I cannot in this case.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider making the debate on the expenditure White Paper exempted business? He has already indicated on previous occasions that matters such as the British Council and a whole range of other issues can be debated only on that White Paper. Therefore, will he consider extending the time available?

I am afraid that we have already announced other business on the Ways and Means resolution on that day. In fact, we are having the debate on the White Paper much earlier than has been customary in previous years, and that is an advance.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that many rank-and-file Members of the Conservative Party have been brought up with the slogan "Whitehall does not know best"? Does he also agree that the decision to introduce the local government Bill in the House of Lords apparently means that that slogan has been substituted by "The House of Lords knows best". Surely many Conservatives should oppose it on that principle.

That is not an accurate statement of the position. There is something to be said for having a complex Bill of this nature considered first in the House of Lords, because they are under less pressure than we are.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that there is nothing complex about the purpose of the Bill, which is to destroy and undermine local democracy? Is it not typical of this Government's approach that they should introduce such a Bill in the totally undemocratic second Chamber? How can the right hon. Gentleman claim that this is not a constitutional measure when it vitally affects the powers and duties of the elected local councils of this country?

It is a very long and complex Bill dealing with a wide variety of subjects, but by no stretch of the imagination can it be called primarily a constitutional Bill.

Can we have a debate soon on the White Paper proposal to deprive unemployed young school leavers of the right to claim supplementary benefit until, possibly, several months after they have left school? Are the Government trying to turn the clock back to the 1930s with their policies that will deprive these youngsters of the right to work and then deprive them of the right to benefit?

The Government are seeking to make the best use of limited resources. I cannot promise an early debate.

I wish to return to the question of the local government Bill. The plain truth is that the right hon. Gentleman has put forward phoney arguments for introducing the Bill into the House of Lords because he has got himself into a muddle through overloading the programme down here. That is not a sufficiently good excuse for not bringing the Bill before the House of Commons first. The right hon. Gentleman has been dismissive of everything that has been said this afternoon, yet he knows better than most that progress in this House depends upon co-operation. I hope that he does not underestimate the strength of feeling that exists on these benches about this matter. Will he reconsider this matter and see whether there is any prospect of bringing the Bill into this House at an appropriate time, so that it can be given proper consideration? I urge the right hon. Gentleman, in the interests of Government business in this House, to think again about what he is doing if he wants to ensure co-operation.

The Leader of the Opposition knows very well that if I can accommodate any right hon. or hon. Member I will do so. But this matter has been fully considered by the Cabinet and it is the Government's decision. I would like to help the right hon. Gentleman, but the Government have reached a considered decision on this matter and they will stick by it.