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Business Of The House

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 7 February 1980

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

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

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

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 11 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the British Aerospace Bill.

TUESDAY 12 FEBRUARY and WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Education (No. 2) Bill.

At the end of the debate on Tuesday: Second Reading of the Consular Fees Bill.

THURSDAY 14 FEBRUARY—Debate on a motion on European Community documents on Community fisheries policy. The relevant numbers will appear in the Official Report.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

FRIDAY 15 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 18 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Broadcasting Bill.

( The following are the European Community documents on fisheries:

R/107/78 Commons Fisheries Policy.

R/232/78 Fishing Plans.

S/365/78 Norway Fisheries.

R/3012/78 Supervisory Measures.

R/3044/78 Conservation Measures.

R/3045/78 CFP Development.

5877/79 Fishery Resources: by catches.

6276/79 Fishery Resources: by catches.

7348/79 Fishery Resources: by catches.

8392/79 Fisheries NW Atlantic.

8608/79 Fisheries: salmon protection/Baltic Sea.

9912/79 Swedish Salmon: permits.

10285/79 1st Report Scientific/Technical Committee for Fisheries.

11035/79 Fishery Conservation/Management objectives.

10966/79 ( TAC) Certain Fish Stocks ( 1980).

11104/79 Conservation/Fishery resources.

11292/79 Fishery conservation/Norway/Sweden/Faroe Islands.

4096/80 Total catch information/fishing operations.

4481/80 Total Catch Quotas for 1980.

The relevant reports of the European Legislation Committee are the 12th, 15th and 18th Reports of Session 1977–78, the 6th Report of Session 1978–79, and the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 16th and 18th Reports of Session 1979–80.

HC 29-XII ( 1977–78) , paragraph 1; HC 29-XV ( 1977–78) paragraph 3; HC 29-X VIII ( 1977–78) , paragraph 2; HC 10-VI ( 1978–79) , paragraph 2; HC 159-II ( 1979–80) , paragraph 2; HC 159-III ( 1979–80) , paragraph 15; HC 159-V ( 1979–80) , paragraphs 6 and 7; HC 159-IX ( 1979–80) , paragraph 5; HC 159-XI ( 1979–80) , paragraph 5; HC 59-XIII ( 1979–80) , paragraph 3; HC 159-XV ( 1979–80) , paragraphs 2, 3 and 4; HC 159-XVI ( 1979–80) , paragraphs 1 and 12; HC 158-X VIII, paragraph.

The 18th Report of Session 1979–80 has not yet been published; typescript copies of the relevant paragraph are available in the Vote Office.)

In view of the growing unemployment in Scotland and the industrial distress that is being caused there, will the right hon. Gentleman consider providing a day in Government time to discuss Scottish affairs? Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the proposal that has been brought forward in connection with the remaining stages of the Education (No. 2) Bill to remove the obligation to provide nursery education for the first time since it appeared in the Education Act 1944? The right hon. Gentleman is treating the House in an unworthy manner by bringing forward at this late stage—when the timetable motion has been agreed and the business has been allocated—an important issue of this sort.

My hon. Friends the Members for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) and I have been pressing for a statement for three months. It has come at the very last moment. Instead of trying to sneak it through in this way, will the right hon. Gentleman please consider giving extra time for consideration of this important matter and, if necessary, recall the Business Committee?

New clauses are considered first by the Education Committee. The proposal is not really a great change in practice. When I was at the Department of Education and Science there was a strong body of opinion within the Department that there was not an obligation. This is a clarifying amendment, rather than a basic change of principle.

With regard to the point about Scotland, I am happy to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I hope to accede to his request in the very near future. We have a debate on Welsh affairs, and we should have a debate on Scottish affairs.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that engineering is more important than broadcasting? When will he stage a debate on the Finniston report?

I do not wish to make a judgment of Solomon between those two matters. They are both of very great importance. I shall certainly bear my hon. Friend's point in mind. Perhaps it is a subject that can be fitted in to another general debate.

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed early-day motion 361 on the virginity test case, which is of concern to hon. Members from all parties? [That this House is concerned that an excessive delay has occurred in the consideration of a request for compensation on behalf of Mrs. Kaker, the woman who suffered the humiliation of the so-called 'virginity test' at Heathrow airport a year ago; and urges the Secretary of State for the Home Department to resolve the matter in order to demonstrate sympathy for this distressed woman and her husband.]

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot arrange an early debate, will he put pressure on his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to look seriously at this case and to reach a conclusion, and not cause lawyers to have to drag this woman into the courts?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has had consultations on the matter with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. There seem to have been various changes of mind on the question whether proceedings should be brought or not, and the position of Mrs. Kakar in relation to those exchanges is unclear. It is because of that that the matter has become unavoidably protracted. I shall certainly discuss it with my right hon. Friend.

However much the right hon. Gentleman may wish to allow his Tory friends in Oxfordshire to abolish nursery education, he must give the House an opportunity to debate such a major issue at some length. Does he realise that if he does not do that it will be debated at considerable length in another place? Does he plan to introduce a timetable there also?

The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating the point beyond all recognition. There is no question of abolishing nursery education. This is a clarifying amendment.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the arbitrary action of the printers in cutting off the printing of Hansardhalf-way through the afternoon has ceased to become an unfortunate lapse, and is now a very nasty habit—so much so that we did not get last Monday's questions and answers until Wednesday? The report of the debate was issued in two separate parts. Will my right hon. Friend take steps—since it has never happened previously, until recent weeks—to stop that happening?

I have every sympathy with my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members on that point. We are faced with a shortage of staff. [HON. MEMBERS: "Do something about it."] It is all very well to say "Do something about it." If I were to set the type myself it would result in chaos. The newly proposed Hansard Press, under the auspices of the Stationery Office, will shortly be in operation, and I hope that the situation will then improve. I understand that more people are being recruited.

The answer given to the Liberal spokesman is totally unsatisfactory. In our view, and in the view of most people, the Education (No. 2) Bill removes an obligation that has existed since 1944, and that has been understood to exist since 1944, on local education authorities to provide nursery education. There is a difference of view about that, but no one can deny that it has stood for 36 years and that it is regarded as being fundamentally important. Why is the proposal being introduced at this late stage, when the timetable motion and the clauses to be considered have been fixed? I must press the right hon. Gentleman to give time for the House to consider this important principle. If he does not do so, I fear that there will be trouble. He cannot sneak it through in this way and expect co-operation on other matters.

I believe that the right hon Gentleman is exaggerating the issue. Although the provision may have been in the Education Act, there is no example of any effort being made to enforce that principle against an education authority. As I understand it, it is a clarifying amendment.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no proposals will be brought forward at present to alter the composition of the House of Lords?

I can give my hon. Friend an undertaking that that is not the first priority of the Government.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he is Leader of the whole House? If the shift contained in the Secretary of State for Education's new clause is so marginal from the 1944 position, why was it necessary to take the advice of the Attorney-General a month ago? Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the matter is being introduced at this late stage in the Bill because there is need to grant immunity to the county of Oxfordshire, which is bent on virtually abolishing education for the rising-fives in defiance of what has been understood to be the law throughout the entire country since 1944?

It really has nothing to do with the situation in Oxfordshire. The fact that the Attorney-General was called in to advise supports the point that I am making. As the Leader of the Opposition suggested, there were two points of view, but there is no example of the principle having been enforced on a local education authority.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman a simple question. Will he accept that there is great feeling about the matter? He may be right. We think that he is wrong. Will he give adequate time now for that principle to be discussed on the Floor of the House? When the timetable motion was arranged, there was clearly no intention of that taking place. The Secretary of State for Education has introduced a new and important issue. Will the right hon. Gentleman give extra time to discuss that? It is a simple request and he should concede it.

I shall certainly consider it. I cannot give an undertaking to the right hon. Gentleman in those terms. However, as he has raised the issue I shall discuss it with my right hon. Friend.

Has my right hon. Friend re-read the terms of early-day motion 345 on the impact of micro-computers and silicon chips?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to provide time for an early debate on the progress and widening application of micro-computer technology in view of its likely impact on industry and society and the investment being made from all sources in the production of silicon chips.]

Bearing in mind the hysterical observations outside the House that these devices might bring about mass unemployment or mass leisure, neither of which is true, will my right hon. Friend give the House an opportunity to debate their political, social and economic impact?

I am aware that the Department of Industry is proceeding with a comprehensive programme to encourage the application and development of microelectronics through the microprocessor application product and the microelectronics industry support programme. It is an important issue, but I am afraid that I cannot hold out promise of an early debate.

Does the Leader of the House recognise that an element in parliamentary democracy rests on the single-Member constituency? If so, will he give time to debate the conduct of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) in not only challenging the decisions of Sandwell local authority, which is quite outside her area, but also in referring those decisions to what the hon. Lady calls "the highest possible level?" Will the right hon. Gentleman give time for a debate on the fundamentals of the democratic process, so that the hon. Lady may be informed of how to uphold and not abuse that process?

I would be the last person to interfere in a quarrel between ladies.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that any intervention that I may have made in matters that cut across another hon. Member's constituency occurred because those matters have a direct bearing on my constituency? Will he further accept that the matter to which the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) refers concerns to some degree a community school in my constituency? I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that I am well aware of the rules of the House, and that there is no need whatsoever for a debate.

I thank my hon. Friend for throwing new light on the question and for having stated her case so cogently. I can add nothing whatsoever to it.

Will the Leader of the House find time for at least a short debate on the facilities available for members of the public when they come here on a mass lobby or on an individual basis? Will he accept that the two large lobbies in the past two weeks have demonstrated the inadequacy of the facilities available for people who come to the House to consult their Members of Parliament? Many hon. Members have had to resort to meeting constituents in the park. May we have a debate in the near future?

I do not believe that we can have a debate on the matter, although I appreciate the difficulties that some constituents may have. I ask the hon. Gentleman to also consider the great strain placed on the staff of this House by mass lobbies. May I also tell him that my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Stradling Thomas) and the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Harrison) have devoted a great deal of time to trying to make the problems more manageable? This week they have been working particularly hard.

In view of the disappointing outcome of this week's Common Market discussions on the yarn processing industry, will my right hon. Friend find time for a statement by the Secretary of State for Trade?

I shall pass my hon. Friend's request for a statement to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Will the Leader of the House go further than that? Is he aware that there was a clear impression that the Secretary of State may be making a statement in the House this week, follow- ing those negotiations? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the failure of the Secretary of State to reach agreement on action against cheap American imports is viewed with great dismay in textile areas, especially in West Yorkshire, where the carpet industry is under disastrous pressure? May I urge the Leader of the House to find time for the Secretary of State to make a statement to the House?

I agree that it is an extremely important commercial matter. It is of concern to all parts of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. As I have said, I shall pass the request to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and tell him of the anxiety in the House.

Has the right hon. Gentleman given further consideration to the problem of Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Overseas Development Agency questions, which was discussed with him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) and myself?

Yes, I have. I am pleased to tell the right hon. Lady that agreement has been reached between all the interested parties on a scheme that will increase the time spent on general Foreign Office questions by 25 per cent. and, at the same time, free hon. Members to ask questions on general Foreign Office matters and overseas development in close proximity.

Under that plan, general Foreign Office questions will go on on the usual day until 3.10 pm. European Community questions will proceed until 3.30 pm. Overseas development questions will be taken for the same 10 minutes as now, but I have transferred them to Monday, when Trade questions are first on the Order Paper. I stress that that in no way reflects on the integral position of ODA within the Foreign Office, which will continue. Church Commission questions will be taken on the appropriate Monday at 3.10 pm, before arts questions.

A revised question roster will be issued lo take effect from the beginning of March. I hope that the right hon. Lady will agree that I have tried in a difficult matter to reach a more satisfactory arrangement.

May I, on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself, welcome the efforts that the right hon. Gentleman has made, without in the least sharing his definition of the differential role of FCO and ODA? We hope that those arrangements will prove more satisfactory.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no doubt that the split printing of Hansard is causing a great deal of difficulty, as is the occasional shortage of other Government papers? Therefore, following true Tory principle, if the Government themselves, through Her Majesty's Stationery Office, cannot get the printing right, can my right hon. Friend put it out to public tender, so that we can have some competition?

I am reluctant to do that. However, if these troubles continue we shall have to explore a number of other possibilities. The difficulty is the shortage of staff in the typesetting area. I have inquired into these matters and have been informed that that is now being remedied. I am distressed about this, but it is a difficult situation, Tory or any other principles notwithstanding.

I welcome the Minister's decision on overseas aid, but does he accept that his decision to transfer those questions to the Monday when trade questions are considered is wholly unacceptable, since he has already cut down the amount of time available for questioning the Government on prices by incorporating the responsibility for prices and consumer protection within the Department of Trade? This is an abuse that will not protect the Government from continuing attack on the prices front.

I was not considering prices here. I was trying to meet the representations that have been made to me by the right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart), the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) and hon. Members on the Government Benches who are all very interested in foreign affairs.

As 150 men from South Wales are trying to stop people working at Sheerness, in Kent, 100 people from South Yorkshire and Corby are trying to close the pressed steel factory in Birmingham, and police officers have been injured in both cases, will my right hon. Friend consider, with the Home Secretary, the need for a statement being made by the Minister in this House next week about the implications for public order?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is keeping in daily touch with the situation over picketing but I shall certainly convey to him what my hon. Friend said.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which shows that as consumers we pay £2,200 million a year to the European Economic Community? Has he seen the statements today that say that the price of butter is to increase by 13p and the New Zealand imports to this country are to be reduced to 90,000 tons a year if the EEC has its way? Is it not about time that the House reconsidered its position in relation to the EEC, and that we had a full-scale debate about it?

In view of the expression of will by the nation in the referendum supporting our membership of the EEC, I do not think it right that we should revise the whole matter.

I have read the report of the Institute of Fiscal Studies. I understand that the figure of £2,200 million has been challenged and is not accepted. Of course, if we are buying food in a world with high market prices we would expect to pay a certain premium on that food for a guaranteed supply. A steady supply of food is more important than the actual price.

What is the reason for the delay in laying the new immigration rules before the House?

There is no delay. It is an important matter, and my right hon. Friend is going into it with his customary thoroughness.

Has the Leader of the House seen the various early-day motions from all parts of the House about the possible closure of sub-post offices as a result of possible changes in payment of benefits?

[ That this House calls on the Government to consider the threat to the viability of small sub-post offices which would result from implementing the Rayner proposals on the payment of social security benefits and to recognise that any further decline in the number of village post offices would be a disaster for country dwellers in general and the elderly in particular.]

[ That this House calls on the Government to reject the proposals for social security payments and pensions to be made at longer intervals than one week, believing that it would cause hardship to many who are already under stress and result in the closure of many sub-post offices which are a valuable asset to old people and young families, in particular, both in rural and heavily trafficked urban areas.]

[ That this House takes careful note of the proposals made by Sir Derek Rayner on the payment of welfare benefits and rejects any changes which would undermine the network of sub-post offices which are essential to community life in town and country.]

[ That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to support the concept of the rural sub-post office as the most logical and economic way to make benefit payments to those who have neither transport, bank account nor any understanding of credit transfer systems.]

[ That this House, concerned about the threat to rural post offices from the recent Rayner proposals, is grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security for her undertaking to consider carefully the social and other consequences of such a change and very much hopes that after such consideration, she will regard any possible cost savings as being outweighed by their detrimental effects upon pensioners, upon recipients of other social benefits and upon rural life in general.]

Will the leader of the House make time for a debate on sub-post offices, if not next week, say, on 20 February?

I am aware of the concern about the future of sub-post offices in relation to the payment of social security benefits, and I shall raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Will my right hon. Friend give fresh consideration during the coming weeks to the problems that have been caused for a long time now in trying to secure debates in the House on important Royal Commission and other reports? Very often there are delays and often these debates do not take place at all. Specifically, will my right hon. Friend direct his attention to the import Lindop report on data protection which this House has still not debated?

Yes, I will. But I am afraid that there is a limited amount of time for debate. All these matters are important to individual Members but we cannot debate them all at once.

I am sure that the Leader of the House is well aware of the fact that many hon. Members are worried about the future of the common agricultural policy. Unless it is reformed in the next two years it will disintegrate within five years. In view of the seriousness of the tone of the Prime Minister's answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) this afternoon, will the right hon. Gentleman give us time to make suggestions on and debate the CAP on the Floor of the House? I believe that it would be beneficial to our Minister in Brussels if he were able to express the opinion of hon. Members in future deliberations.

I am afraid that I cannot promise an early debate, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is championing British interests in this regard with skill and determination.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of a serious development, which has gone largely unremarked this week, in that the Secretary of State for the Environment has announced and clearly confirmed that he proposes to monitor the speeches of local government representatives before he decides upon the disbursement of central support for local government? Does the right hon. Gentleman, with his record, not regard that as a serious matter, was he aware of it, and does he not agree that it is such an important development that it should be discussed by the House as a matter of urgency?

I shall certainly raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I am sure that if he is going to monitor these speeches there must be an important reason for doing so.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that unemployment in Scotland is such that we cannot accept his answer that there will be a debate soon? Will he give us a guarantee that there will be a debate, if not next week, the week after? Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to make a statement in the House next week on the serious allegations being made about widespread bugging of embassies, trade union offices and the delegation to the recent conference at Lancaster House, as he must be alarmed at what appears to be the growing lack of control of the security services, which brings us far nearer the police State than we care to imagine?

I am concerned—as I think all hon. Members are—about bugging. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that he will make a statement in the House within a reasonable time. As to the debate on Scotland, I have gone as far as I can in indicating my determination to have an early debate on this matter. It would be foolish for me to commit myself to a precise date when I have just made a statement about next week's business.

Is there not a need to debate in the near future the disturbing and repeated allegations about telephone tapping—many of which seen to be unauthorised—and similar operations by the security services? Is it not important for the House of Commons to have a debate to make sure that there is effective political control over the security services?

Yes, I agree that the responsibility for the security services must ultimately rest with the political authority. But on the subject of telephone tapping, I remind the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that he will make a statement on this important matter reasonably soon.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Secretary of State for Trade receives the full, clear and strong message from the House that there was an understanding that, following the EEC discussions about American manmade fibre imports, he would make a statement in the House? Does he realise that every week mills are closing in the textile industry in the West Riding of Yorkshire and that a mill closure was announced in my constituency only this week? To give the industry confidence it is urgent and important that the Secretary of State makes a statement as soon as possible.

Lastly, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Secretary of State for the Environment will not be using electronic surveillance equipment to monitor local councillors' speeches?

With regard to the question of a statement, the hon. Gentleman's argument reinforces the plea that has been made already on that point.

With regard to surveillance of the speeches of local government dignitaries, I should have thought that it might be better to do it through electronic equipment rather than personally.

Order. I shall call the the hon. Gentlemen who have been rising if they will co-operate with me and be brief.

As the Leader of the House recognises that the textile question is so important, does he not think it quite wrong that hon. Members have been fobbed off today with a written statement by the Secretary of State, rather than having the advantage of an oral statement? Will he undertake, because of the mill closures not only in West Yorkshire, which are very serious, but also in Lancashire, to ask the Secretary of State to make a statement on the question in the House tomorrow, given the breakdown in negotiations it appears to have occurred this week in Brussels?

I have seen the written answer that is being given today. It will be published this afternoon. But as I have said, I shall indicate the concern felt in the House about this matter.

I welcome the decision to hold a debate on fisheries. However, will the Leader of the House accept, first, that there is a very large number of documents involved in this debate and, secondly, given the present difficulties associated with the fishing industry, about 40 or 50 hon. Members will wish to be involved, and restricting the debate to the period between 4 o'clock and 7 o'clock next. Thursday will place an intolerable burden on Mr. Speaker? Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate whether he could extend the debate?

I was most anxious to have an early debate because of the matters that were raised in the House last week. With regard to the duration of the debate, I am aware of the number of hon. Members who wish to speak and the number of documents concerned. The debate can be resumed after 10 o'clock; it can be extended until 11.30.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his agreement to have further discussions through the usual channels about further time for the Report stage of the Education (No. 2) Bill. On reflection, does he not think that to discuss before 10 o'clock on the first guillotine day 17 clauses, including a whole new assisted places scheme and a whole new school allocation scheme, and, on top of that, a completely new change, which allows local authorities to abolish nursery education, is an abuse of the procedures of this House, even under the guillotine procedure? When he has his discussions will he bear all those matters in mind and try to find some more time?

When are we likely to get a debate on the Boyle report on research assistants' and secretaries' salaries, especially as the Leader of the House has had the report on his desk since December? When are we to expect a statement on this matter from the Government? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the delay in making such a statement? Could it be that the Cabinet are divided on this crucial question?

I have been proceeding very quickly on this matter. The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I did not have the document on my desk before Christmas. The Prime Minister received it on 15 January. I received it from her on 16 January. Since then I have been proceeding very swiftly in these matters, and I hope that it will be possible to make a statement next week.

Will the Leader of the House go a little further than just reconsidering the amout of time for the Report stage of the Education (No. 2) Bill? Will he also reconsider taking it next week? Does he not realise that with five pages of new amendments on the Amendment Paper today, particularly the amendments on nursery education, it is grossly unfair to all the interested groups outside the House, who have virtually no time to read them, to consider their implication and to make representations to hon. Members? If the Government proceed in this way, it means that interested groups will have to make their representations to their Lordships, and that will prolong debate in the other place. Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the decision to start next Tuesday, as well as giving us more time?

It is a matter for the Business Committee rather than myself. I regret any curtailment of discussion, but I do not think that I could have a guillotine debate all over again.