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Business Of The House

Volume 981: debated on Thursday 27 March 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 31 MARCH—Continuation of the debate on the Budget Statement.

TUESDAY 1 APRIL—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Statement.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Competition Bill.

WEDNESDAY 2 APRIL—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Education (No. 2) Bill.

Remaining stages of the Limitation Amendment Bill (Lords).

THURSDAY 3 APRIL—It will be proposed that the House meets at 9.30 am, takes questions until 10.30 am and adjourns at 3.30 pm until Monday 14 April.

Is the Leader of the House aware of the dissatisfaction about the public expenditure White Paper and the way in which it was presented? We have not had time to consider it before the debates. A number of issues are emerging. For example, it appears that council house building is likely to stop completely during the next year or so. In view of that and other matters that could be raised, will the Leader of the House undertake that we shall have a debate on the White Paper in the week following the Easter Recess?

Many hon. Members have found it convienient that the public expenditure White Paper and the Budget proposals should be considered together. After all, one is dependent on the other. I cannot at this point give the right hon. Gentleman an undertaking. I shall consider the matter, but I believe that it is more likely that the debate will be later than the first week after the recess.

In view of the importance of the engineering profession to the future of this country, will my right hon. Friend undertake that shortly after the Easter Recess we shall have the long-awaited debate on the Finniston report?

An inter-departmental committee is considering the recommendations of that extremely important report. After it has made its recommendations the Secretary of State for Industry will make a statement.

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to early-day motion No. 529, standing in the name of a right hon. Member, with regard to the future leave of absence for the Chair?

[That this House will hereafter give its indulgence and leave of absence to Mr. Speaker by resolution and not otherwise; and the Clerk, in announcing such absence to the House in the customary manner shall hereafter refer to Mr. Speaker's absence as by leave of the House' and not as 'unavoidable'.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements for the matter to be considered through the usual channels and in any other appropriate way?

I have seen the right hon. Gentleman's motion. The first part proposes a departure from a longstanding practice, and one would wish to consider the implications of that important suggestion. I have sympathy with the second part. I shall see what can be done to meet the suggestion. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman knows that it would involve an amendment to paragraph 2 of Standing Order No. 105.

I do not believe that my right hon. Friend mentioned a recess motion. We normally have a recess motion before this House goes into recess. Will my right hon. Friend indicate when the Adjournment motion will take place? It is a good opportunity for Back Benchers to raise matters of importance to their constituencies. The Government have failed to provide time to debate the textile industry, and I wish to raise the continuing problems of that important industry.

My hon. Friend is right in saying that a recess motion is normal. It will take place from about 3.30 pm on Wednesday 2 April. It is equally well established, as my hon. Friend will know, for that announcement not to be contained in the Business Statement.

The BBC cuts in local radio, television orchestras, and so forth will be decided on 17 April. Will the House have an opportunity in the first three days after the recess to express a view, say, in a three-hour debate?

I cannot answer questions on the business for succeeding weeks during this week's business questions. That is, technically, what the hon. Gentleman's question amounts to. The BBC is responsible for the cuts that it makes. I share the hope that the hon. Gentleman latently expressed in what he was saying, that there will be no discrimination against the arts.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said this afternoon that he would be putting forward the Government's proposals on the recommendations in the May report after the recess. May we have a debate before those proposals arc put before the House?

We must await my right hon. Friend's statement before deciding that.

Order. I shall call the right hon. and hon. Members who have risen. I say to hon. Gentlemen who have tried to catch my eye that I know that the House is anxious to get on to the main business of the day.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury withheld a relevant document from the House during the debate on the EEC budget on Monday. May we have an assurance from the Leader of the House that there will be adequate time soon to discuss that important document?

I understood that there was some difficulty about that during my absence at the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman is entirely fair to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. My hon. Friend did not quote from the document; he referred to it. It was made available to hon. Members on Tuesday. The matter will be examined by the Scrutiny Committee. If the Committee recommends a debate, we shall certainly have one.

Will my right hon Friend confirm that in the previous Parliament it was the practice for the Government to have a debate on the defence White Paper and for there to be three separate debates on the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force on Supply days? Is it the intention of the Opposition to follow the same practice, and will time be found for separate debates on each of the three Armed Forces?

The defence White Paper will he published on 2 April. After an interval to consider it, there will be a full debate in this House. The arrangements have not been finalised, but we shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's suggestion.

I propose to call only those hon. Gentlemen who had risen before I made my statement earlier.

As the BBC Governors appear to be accepting the Government's insistence on cuts that some of us believe will do irreparable damage to a great public service, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that there will be a debate in the House before the cuts are implemented?

I cannot give that assurance. However, I believe that whatever cuts the BBC has to make because of the financial limitations within which it moves should be evenly and fairly distributed and that there should not be discrimination against orchestras. I echo what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about how welcome it is that £250,000 has been raised from private industry for the Scottish National Orchestra.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the reply that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) about the document on the European budget and convergence? Does he recognise that his responsibilities are to the whole House, and that he should ensure that documents that are in the possession of the press are in the possession of hon. Members?

I agree with that. I discussed in detail the events surrounding those documents and I was satisfied that no action was taken that infringed the rights of hon. Members.

Has the Leader of House seen early-day motion No. 502, which deals with the new building regulations and fees?

[That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Building (Prescribed Fees) Regulations 1980 (S.I., 1980, No. 286), dated 3rd March 1980, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th March, be annulled.]

Is he prepared to accept the plea from Members of the three major parties for a debate before those fees and building regulations are implemented? Does he consider it right that they should be implemented before a debate on the subject?

I have seen the motion on the Order Paper. It is an important matter, but I cannot see my way to providing time for a debate before the recess.

With regard to the Budget debate and the information provided to the House, why does the Red Book not contain any prediction of the growth or otherwise in manufacturing output for the next 12 months? Is it because the Government expect a decline and are not prepared to tell the House?

Secondly, why is the energy section in the public expenditure White Paper wholly based on the situation that prevailed several months ago in respect of the nuclear power programme? When will the Government tell the House the truth about that?

I am flattered that those questions should be directed to me. They are not remotely connected with next week's business. They are important and I am willing to do what I can to answer them. However, I am not the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the moment. I am the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—a rather more important post.

The contents of the Red Book are the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, He indicated that he expected a rate of growth of 1 per cent. over the next few years. He wisely put it at a low level instead of inflating it to an artificial level as previous Chancellors have done.

The point made by the hon. Gentleman about nuclear policy is important. That policy is under review and there will be a statement in due course.

May I wish the right hon. Gentleman success in his ambition to become Chancellor of the Exchequer?

More seriously, has he noticed the growing support of many hon. Members for the motion that expresses concerti about the future of the Westminster hospital and Westminster medical school?

[That this House, conscious of the great service provided by the Westminster Hospital to the citizens of Westminster, its great medical achievements with a worldwide reputation in teaching and research and the quality of sevice provided for many years to Members of both Houses of Parliament, expresses its deep concern at the proposals published by the London Health Planning Consortium which propose the closure of 410 of the 510 beds at the Westminster Hospital, thus reducing it to a small support hospital without facilities for teaching or research; and calls upon the Secetary of State for Social Services to give an early assurance that Westminster Hospital will continue.]

May I press him to provide time as soon as possible for a debate on the Flowers report on medical education in London, and the London health planning consortium's report on hospital beds in London?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that those matters are important. We are still awaiting the report of the University of London and the reflections of the health authority on the matter. We can consider the matter when we have that knowledge.

The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill is receiving its Third Reading in the other place today. Will the right hon. Gentleman announce when the Bill will be read a Second time in this House, or will he make an announcement today that, in view of the savage attack on civil liberties contained in the Bill, he will now withdraw it?

We must separate the two parts of the question. Logically, I shall reverse the order. It is not the intention of the Government to withdraw the Bill. That paves the way for answering the first part of the question. In response to the hon. Member's soliciting. I shall try to bring the Bill before the House at an early opportunity.

When will the Leader of the House be in a position to bring forward proposals on the changes decided by the House on Members' secretaries' pensions and allowances?

I have given an instruction to the Fees Office that it should pay those new rates of allowance for secretarial and research assistants to any hon. Member applying for them, backdated to 14 February. I have today answered a question on the subject tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), and I hope that that will help hon. Members. There are some difficult questions with regard to pensions, and we are investigating the technicalities, with a view to making rapid progress. Meanwhile, I hope that hon. Members will be pleased to know the first part of my answer.

The Leader of the House will have read the further accounts about the situation in Cambodia, to which reference was made under Standing Order No. 9 yesterday. Will he arrange for an early statement to be made by one of his colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

The situation in Cambodia is serious, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. I am pleased to say that, with the support of the House, the Government have made £7 million available for the relief of famine there. The position has grown grave again. My noble Friend the Foreign Secretary is reviewing the position, and if he has a further development in policy to announce, it will be made in the other place and the Lord Privy Seal will make a similar announcement here.

I remind hon. Members that on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Thursday 3 April up to six hon. Members may raise with Ministers subjects of their choice. Applications should reach my office by 10 p.m. on Monday next. A ballot will be held on Tuesday morning and the result will be made known as soon as possible thereafter.