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Business Of The House

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 14 February 1980

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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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 18 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Broadcasting Bill.

Motion on the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (The United States of America) Order 1980.

TUESDAY 19 FEBRUARY—Supply [11th Allotted Day]: Debate on an Opposition motion on the need to continue to pay pensions and other social security benefits weekly through the post offices.

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

Then: motion on European Community documents 6995/79 and 7735/79 on water pollution.

Second Reading of the Reserve Forces Bill [ Lords] and remaining stages of the Residential Homes Bill [ Lords], which are both consolidation measures.

WEDNESDAY 20 FEBRUARY—Debate on the Scottish economy, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motions on the Farm and Horticulture Capital Grant (Variation) Schemes Orders.

THURSDAY 21 FEBRUARY—Debate on airports policy.

FRIDAY 22 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 25 FEBRUARY—Consideration of private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

Second Reading of the Consular Fees Bill.

[ European Community Documents

The relevant reports are as follows:

Water Pollution 6995/79: 8th Report of Session 1979–80 H/C Paper 159-viii para. 1.

Water Pollution 7735/79: 9th Report, Session 1979–80 H/C Paper 159-ix para. 2.]

The Opposition will be tabling an amendment to the Broadcasting Bill because not only will the Bill fail to provide for an open broadcasting authority; it is in flat contradiction—some Conservative Members may not have noticed this, but I am sure that the Secretary of State for Wales has—to the promise in the Queen's Speech that there would be a separate Welsh television channel. We hope that the Government will give reasons why they are asking their supporters to vote against something that they asked them to vote for only nine months ago.

What will be the nature of the debate on the third London airport? Will the Government ask for approval of their plans, or are they running away from them?

With regard to the Broadcasting Bill, there will be consultations between the BBC and the authority about programmes in Welsh. That deals with the right hon. Gentleman's first point. With regard to his second question, on airports policy, the debate will be on a take-note motion.

Does not the Leader of the House know that the Queen's Speech, which was moved and voted upon by the House, said that an early start would be made by the Government with Welsh broadcasting on the fourth television channel in Wales? The Government will be asked to account for the fact that they have reversed themselves on the matter. Not only was this the policy on which they fought the election; it was put into the Queen's Speech. We shall expect an answer on that matter.

It is clear that the Government do not have the courage of their convictions on the third London airport. I recognise that it is a matter of controversy, and the Opposition will have a free vote on the issue. We hope that the Government will permit the same on their side.

We are making an early start on broadcasting matters. With regard to the airports debate, there will be a public inquiry and, therefore, it is suitable and in accordance with our constitution to have a take-note motion.

Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman does not know the facts. The Conservative Party in Wales fought the election on the basis that there would be a separate television channel for Welsh broadcasting. The pledge was repeated in the Queen's Speech. Why is the right hon. Gentleman going back on it now?

I am not going back on a pledge. As I have made plain, there will be consultations between the BBC and the authority about programmes in Welsh. What is important is not the form of the channel, but the substance of the issue.

Order. I remind the House that there are two statements to follow. Therefore, I shall watch whom I call.

In view of the forthcoming debate on airports policy, will my right hon. Friend say how soon we can expect the publication of the defence White Paper?

I hope that it will be published within a reasonable time, but I cannot give my right hon. Friend an exact date.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen a statement that has been put about by some hon. Members who have been here for some time, suggesting a possible solution to the abortion controversy? Does he agree that it would be intolerable for the matter to go on becoming more bitter and that an early solution would be desirable from the point of view of the House? There is wide agreement about the need to limit the time for abortions. Therefore, will the Government, if necessary, do their best to facilitate a compromise by which the House can legislate on that matter and that matter alone?

That is an interesting suggestion. However, the tradition followed by all parties in the House with the issue of abortion is that it is a matter of conscience and it is left to private Members' legislation.

In order to carry on reforming the procedures of the House, will my right hon. Friend tell me when he intends to set up the Procedure Committee?

We shall set up the Procedure Committee when it is necessary. At the moment, we are making good progress with the main Procedure report and a great deal of work remains to be done on that. It is much better to dispose of that before embarking on other matters.

During next week, will the Leader of the House have a word with the Chairman of the Catering Sub-Committee to point out that if he wishes to attract publicity on the radio and in the press about his St. Valentine's Day steak and kidney pudding for the Prime Minister he should not use the House of Commons kitchen and chef and the taxpayers' money? By all meanslet him make a nice steak and kidney pudding for the Prime Minister, but he should not use the staff of the House of Commons.

I treat all remarks by the hon. Gentleman on dietary matters with the greatest respect. I am afraid that my right hon. Friend has not yet received that present.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us were opposed to the Maplin proposal? We are not much less enamoured of the present proposal. There has never been a proper debate on the fundamental question of whether we need more airports and where they should be. What will the position be if Thursday's motion is defeated?

That is a hypothetical question. The House has a great opportunity to debate the full implications of our airports policy. I am sure that if my hon. Friend catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will make his usual trenchant contribution.

The school summer holiday period in Scotland differs from that in England and Wales. As a Scottish Member with a young family at school, may I have an assurance that the month of August will be free from parliamentary duties? Holidays can then be arranged without interfering in our children's education.

I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. I know that Scottish Members have a particular problem. However, the question when the House rises is not entirely within my control. It depends on the progress of business.

Can my right hon. Friend tell us what is happening about the proposal that foreign affairs questions should last longer than 25 minutes every two weeks?

I have recently made a statement giving substantially greater time to questions on foreign affairs. That statement met the strong representations of hon. Members. Let us see how that new departure works before reviewing the matter further.

Will the Leader of the House take note of early-day motions 185 and 325?

[That this House calls for an urgent review of the vaccine damagepayments scheme, noting that a mere 366 claims have been accepted out of 2,525 applicants; urges that the benefit of any doubt should be given to the claimant rather than the present requirement which states the opposite; and urges the Government to amend the provisions which exclude those children who are less than 80 per cent. disabled by the vaccines, those disabled before 1948 and the families of those children who have died.]

[That this House deplores the Government's refusal to establish a compensation scheme for vaccine-damaged children; endorses the view of the Pearson Royal Commission that there is a special case for paying compensation for vaccine damage where vaccination is recommended by public authority and is undertaken to protect the community; recognises that the Vaccine Damage Payment Act does not purport to provide a compensation scheme; and calls upon the Government to introduce a compensation scheme as favourable to vaccine-damaged children as the industrial injuries and war pension schemes are to the industrially injured and war disabled.]

Can we have an early debate on vaccine-damaged children and compensation?

I have noticed the motions to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I hope that we shall be able to tackle this question when we have more resources for our social services. In the meantime, I shall draw the hon. Gentletleman's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

In view of the exceptional importance and significance of the publication of the Brandt commission's report, can we have an early debate on that subject?

The report is extremely important and concerns one of our greatest problems. I cannot promise an early debate, but I shall consider the important request that my hon. Friend has made.

Does the Leader of the House agree that in view of the cascade of pronouncements by the Prime Minister and others about the Olympic Games, it would have been good manners if a Minister had consulted the British Olympic Committee? As that committee has not been consulted since the Prime Minister wrote her letter, should we not have a statement on such a complex issue?

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has corresponded with the British Olympic Association.

As the difficulties surrounding our contribution to the EEC budget are fundamental to the Government's economic policy, will my right hon. Friend ensure that we have an early debate on European issues so that our colleagues in Europe realise the strength of feeling felt by hon. Members of all parties about the present iniquities?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary and the Lord Privy Seal have left our friends in the Community in no doubt about the strength of feelings in Britain. However, we cannot have an early debate on foreign affairs.

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall), will the Leader of the House consider a disciplined operation of the Summer Recess? We could rise on the last Friday in July. The whole of August would then be available so that hon. Members could take holidays with their wives and families. We could possibly return in September. We might rise again at the end of September so that party conferences could be arranged in October. If the Leader of the House made such an arrangement we could at least book our holidays in advance. Many of us are unable to do so because we do not know when the recess will be.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am sympathetic to this problem. However, perhaps the hon. Gentleman is a little premature. I have the Easter and Whitsun Recesses to cope with before considering the Summer Recess. No one will be happier than I if we rise by the end of July.

Will the Leader of the House allow us time to debate the Select Committee's report on the interests of hon. Members? A small number of hon. Members have refused to register their interests. Until the report is printed the House cannot deal with the five hon. Members concerned. Until the House debates the report, they cannot be dealt with. If the report is printed, those outside will know what motivates certain hon. Members and the reasons lying behind various attacks, such as the attack on British Leyland cars.

This is a difficult problem. Prime responsibility rests with the Committee. I shall have further consultations with the Chairman, in order to ascertain the present position.

I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising. I know that the House is anxious to proceed with other statements, and I hope that hon. Members will co-operate.

Is the Leader of the House aware that we have not debated the choice of nuclear reactor systems in the United Kingdom since June 1974? In view of widespread public concern, is it not time to discuss the subject again?

It it an important subject. I have noticed some alarming reports in the newspapers this morning. However, I cannot promise an early debate.

Would the Government transfer some of their enthusiasm for routing out abuses in the social security system to routing out abuse in a public body, namely, the Tote? Hundreds of punters have been swindled. Will the Leader of the House promise to arrange a debate on the Horserace Totalisator Board?

I shall look into the question, but I cannot promise an early debate.

The House has not been insensitive to the problems of the steel industry. However, in view of today's developments at Hadfield's, will the Leader of the House consider an early debate on the subject? Today's news of the mass arrest of pickets, injured policemen and workers set against workers betokens a rapidly deteriorating situation. Whatever may divide the workers at Hadfield's, they are agreed that relief will come not from a tightening up of the law on picketing but from a change in the policies with which the Prime Minister is identified.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that we have discussed the subject. We had a general steel debate and we also had a debate on Wales in which steel was discussed. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry is prepared to make a statement to the House as soon as he has something positive to announce. Meanwhile, we all desire a peaceful settlement of the dispute. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will do all that he can in his constituency to ensure that the law is observed.

As the steel strike is now in its seventh week, and as it has far-reaching repercussions throughout the industry, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Industry to make a positive statement that will bring the strike to an end?

We are all most anxious to put an end to this damaging industrial dispute. As soon as the Secretary of State has something positive to report, he will inform the House.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day Motion 401, which has been signed by 150 hon. Members?

[That this House is deeply concerned at the evidence now documented and published by Amnesty International of the existence of secret detention camps in the Argentine; notes the evidence regarding torture and death of large numbers of prisoners within these camps; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government both to express its horror at this situation and to ask the Argentine Government to provide detailed information about the present whereabouts of prisoners named and identified in the report.]

It refers to the horrifying report that has been produced, identified and confirmed by Amnesty International about deaths in torture camps in the Argentine. It asks for an early debate. If that is impossible, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Foreign Secretary to make the strongest representations? Above all, will he ask the Foreign Secretary to ask about the whereabouts of those named and identified in that terrifying report?

The hon. Gentleman knows the Government's general view on any abuse of human rights. I am well aware of the serious issues raised in the motion. I do not know whether we can have an early debate, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are using their influence both with our European partners and through the United Nations to see if the situation can be amelionated.

Is it correct that the immigration rules will be published next Wednesday? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Select Committee report on the European convention will be published at about the same time? Will he therefore undertake that we shall have a full day's debate on the rules and the report?

The rules will be published soon, and eventually there will have to be a debate. I cannot commit myself to specific dates on either topic.