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Business Of The House

Volume 983: debated on Thursday 24 April 1980

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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 is as follows

MONDAY 28 APRIL AND TUESDAY 29 APRIL—Debate on the statement on the Defence Estimates 1980, Cmnd. 7826. At the end on Tuesday, motion on the Census Order.

WEDNESDAY 30 APRIL—Completion of remaining stages of the Employment Bill. Consideration of Lords amendments to the British Aerospace Bill.

THURSDAY 1 MAY—Supply [16th Alloted Day]: Debate on a motion to take note of the 1st to 6th reports from the Committee of Public Accounts in Session 1978–79 and the related Treasury minute, and of the First to Seventh and Tenth reports in this Session, and the related Treasury minutes and Northern Ireland Department memorandum.

FRIDAY 2 MAY—A debate on London, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Has the Leader of the House anything to say about a debate on the Brandt report and the prospect of a public expenditure debate before we reach the Finance Bill?

In relation to the debate on the Brandt report, as I indicated last week, we should have a debate in Government time. I have noticed the important motion on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Brockle-bank-Fowler) and Members of other parties.

[ That this House welcomes the publication of the report of the Independent Commission on International Development Issues, under the Chairmanship of Willy Brandt; values its assessment of the growing interdependence of industrialised and developing countries; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to make a serious study of its recommendations and provide time for a debate on this subject at the earliest possible opportunity.]

They want a debate before the summit in June. I shall use my best endeavours to see that the request is fulfilled.

With regard to the question of a public expenditure White Paper debate, my attitude remains what it has always been. As I indicated last week on at least five occasions and a variety of levels, I wish to accommodate the right hon. Gentleman. We need also, for the convenience of the House, to have the report of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee available before the debate. This is not strictly next week's business. I can, however, tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have approached my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), who has indicated that the report will be available in time for a debate, probably in the week after next. I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his help. I hope that this will satisfy everyone in the House for a short time.

Will my right hon. Friend answer the very simple question: why are we not to debate civil defence at the same time as we debate the defence White Paper? It seems a great mistake that we should not have the promised White Paper on civil defence so that it can be debated conjointly with the documents on defence. The defence of this country has to be a seamless robe. To discuss overseas defence without discussion of civil defence seems a mistake. Can we do anything to remedy this situation?

It is customary for the Defence Estimates to be taken in this way. I concede that civil defence is relevant to these debates. Subject to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, perhaps it will be possible for reference to be made to the issues to which my right hon. Friend naturally attaches importance.

Is the Leader of the House aware of the considerable anger of Opposition Members on Standing Committee B, which is dealing with the Social Security (No. 2) Bill, at the attitude of the Secretary of State for Social Services in introducing a Draconian sittings motion? Will he give time for a debate in the House on the constitutional point of having two Bills with interlocking provisions going through both Houses at the same time?

I understand the feelings that are aroused by the Social Security (No. 2) Bill, but I believe that it is in the interests of the members of the Committee to have as many occasions as possible to debate that important Bill. We must remember that it is necessary—for the upratings in child benefit, for example—that it should reach the statute book at the earliest possible opportunity. I cannot promise an early debate on the other point raised by the hon. Lady.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to give serious consideraton to the two related early-day motions 568 and 569, supported by myself and 70 of my right hon. and hon. Friends? When will the House have an opportunity to reach a decision on these two motions?

[ That (1) A Select Committee be appointed, to be called the Select Committee on Non-departmental Public Bodies, to examine the membership, operation, financing of, and appointments to, non-departmental public bodies appointed out of funds by Ministers of the Crown, and related matters; and the Committee shall consist of a maximum of 13 Members, of which the quorum shall be five;

(2) The Committee shall have power

  • (a) to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place, and to report from time to time;
  • (b) to appoint persons with technical knowledge either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the Committee's order of reference:
  • (c) to appoint two sub-committees:
  • (d) to report from time to time the minutes of evidence taken before subcommittees; and the sub-committees appointed under this Order shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to adjournfrom place to place and shall have a quorum of three;
  • (3) Unless the House otherwise orders, all Members nominated to the Committee appointed under this Order shall continue to be members of the Committee for the remainder of this Parliament.]

    [ That no Motion shall be made for the nomination of Members to serve on the Select Committee on Non-departmental Public Bodies, or for their discharge, unless:

  • (a) notice of the Motion has been given at least two sitting days previously, and
  • (b) the Motion is made on behalf of the Committee of Selection by the Chairman or by another member of that Committee]
  • Clearly the subject is important, but the view that I have consistently taken on the issue of further Committees and Sub-Committees is that we must have an opportunity to digest the extremely important changes which have been made with 12 departmentally related Committees and Sub-Committees. When those have settled down, then would be the time to look at the question again.

    Bearing in mind the worsening world situation and reports that are today coming out of America that the Administration are worried about a slide towards war, would it not be as well to have a very early debate on our attitude so that hon. Members can put their points of view?

    That is certainly true. I should have liked to have an early debate on foreign affairs if there were not so many other competing subjects. If, in this very grave situation, there should be a need for the House to be informed of developments, my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal will be freely available to make statements from the Dispatch Box.

    Will my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that the evidence submitted to the Select Committee on defence by the Secretary of State for Defence and other representatives of the MoD will be available, albeit in draft form, prior to the defence debate on Monday and Tuesday?

    I shall certainly look into that matter to see whether it is possible to make it available.

    First, I call for an early debate on world affairs. Secondly, if we are not to get a decision or any recommendations from the Home Secretary on the May report on the conditions in our prisons, which are in a crisis situation, with nearly 45,000 people incarcerated in them, may we at least debate the situation, as it is soon likely to boil over?

    I think that I have already answered the foreign affairs point raised by the hon. Gentleman.

    My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be making a statement next week on his conclusions on the May report.

    Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Select Committee on defence has produced a report, which will be published tomorrow, on the defence White Paper, which will be debated on Monday and Tuesday? Will he ensure that the report of the Select Committee, which was produced after intensive effort, is drawn to the attention of the House by a tag on the Order Paper on both days?

    I was aware that the report was due to be published. On the public expenditure White Paper debate, I took the view that we should first have the report of the relevant Committees. Therefore, I have delayed this debate so that the report should be available. The previous question related to evidence, as I understood it. As we are having some trouble in the printing world, I did not want to give an undertaking that that evidence would be published.

    The suggestion of a tag is reasonable in view of the increased importance of these Committees. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion and write to him.

    Order. In the interests of the House, I shall call four hon. Members from either side. I hope that they will be brief, because the Supply day debate will be brief.

    Bearing in mind the17 May deadline for European Community and, therefore, British sanctions against Iran, will my right hon. Friend say what plans the Govenment have for bringing legislation before the House? It is no use going to 17 May and then saying that we have to start legislation. When is the House to see it?

    My right hon. Friend may feel that he answered the question about a foreign affairs debate, but, if he did, he did not do it very well. It is essential that there be a debate on this serious matter before the 17 May deadline.

    With regard to the point about legislation, if we will the end we must will the means. The Government have committed themselves to the declaration of a joint policy that legislation will be available, if necessary. We are looking into that matter at this moment. Of course, it would greatly facilitate matters if any legislation could be jointly agreed. No doubt conversations will be taking place through the usual channels. I was greatly encouraged to hear the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), in his usual statesmanlike and responsible way—that may be the kiss of death, but I cannot help it—laying down the Opposition's policy on this matter and lending their general support to a policy that is designed to avoid military action.

    As many EEC legislative proposals recommended by the Scrutiny Committee for debate are not being debated, are the Government honouring their undertaking that these documents will be debated before decisions are reached in Brussels?

    I have just seen the report, published today, of the Scrutiny Committee. I am looking into the important matters that have been raised. The vast majority of documents are debated, but the Committee instances a number of documents. I am looking into the question.

    As there is widespread and conflicting speculation about the Government's intentions for the future of Northern Ireland, a situation of drift that acts as an impetus to the Provisional IRA in its campaign of terror, will the Government provide time to debate Northern Ireland, so that they can outline their proposals for the Province and a devolved Parliament or Assembly?

    I am afraid that I do not have time for an early debate, but I hardly think it is necessary on the ground put forward by the hon. Gentleman, because it is absolutely clear that the Government's policy is that there will be no change made in the status of Northern Ireland and its link with the United Kingdom unless it is at the freely expressed wish of the majority of the population of Northern Ireland.

    Will the right hon. Gentleman take note that the Secretary of State for Defence has before him a report from the steering committee on the future of the Royal naval dockyards, and that many hon. Members who have dockyards in their constituency will be inhibited if the report is not available for the defence debate on Monday and Tuesday?

    I will certainly take up the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to see whether something can be done on an interim basis to assist the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members in a similar position.

    Will my right hon. Friend find time at an early date to make a statement on the matter of Sub-Committees for certain Select Committees of the House? In particular, is he aware that the Select Committee on Scottish affairs, with 13 members, has to cover five Departments and numerous agencies, and is finding its work impeded?

    Yes, I am aware that there are certain problems arising from the Select Committees——

    I shall certainly not get rid of them. It is the wish of the House that they should exist. I can tell the hon. Gentleman—who, incidentally, I welcome back—that the problems of the Select Committees are the problems of success. It is because they have so much work to do and are so effective and so many hon. Members wish to serve on them that there is a demand for further Sub-Committees, but I do not think that we can go further at the moment.

    May I return to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) about the serious situation that prevails in Standing Committee B? I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider his decision and to find time for an immediate debate. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has so arranged matters that the Official Report of the previous sitting and necessary regulations will not be made available to Opposition Members? Does he not consider this to be a disgraceful state of affairs in an important Committee whose deliberations affect millions of people?

    May we have an early debate?

    I would consider it a serious matter if reports were not available. We are having printing difficulties. Late last night I was in touch with the Stationery Office, the printers, to ensure that, although printed copies of the reports might not be available, reproduced copies would be available, and those copies were produced for the Committee today. We are doing our best.

    Will my right hon. Friend use his considerable charm and influence to secure an early debate on the possible British or European initiative to solve the Palestinian problem in the Middle East, the effects on that initiative of the showing of "Death of a Princess", and the question whether there is any possible Zionist connection between the two events?

    I am appreciative of my hon. Friend's gracious remarks. I cannot, I am afraid, respond sufficiently because I simply do not have time for an early debate. I will draw the remarks of my hon. Friend to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal.

    Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that some weeks ago he promised the House that he would give an opportunity to discuss the Finniston report? As he has not included that debate in next week's business, when will the report be debated?

    As the hon. Lady knows, the Finniston report raises a number of complicated issues on the future of the engineering industry, and the discussions are still going on. As soon as I am in a position to do so, I will make an opportunity for a debate. Meanwhile, I shall keep the hon. Lady apprised of developments.

    May I return to the issue of the Social Security (No. 2) Bill? Is the Leader of the House aware that he has a duty to protect and represent all hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that the motion that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services forced through the Committee this morning means that the Committee will sit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons every week? It will therefore be impossible for Committee members to see the Official Report of the previous day's proceedings, and the drafting of amendments will be affected. There is no need for this haste.

    Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend to ensure that the sittings motion protects the Opposition in their deliberations on an extremely controversial Bill? The right hon. Gentleman has a duty to see that we have fair representation and the necessary documentation, and I ask him to secure the withdrawal of this Draconian motion.

    I accept the definition of my role which the right hon. Gentleman has given. I am in close touch with developments in the Committee. I have already said that I shall look into the question of printing. We will do all we can to see that the documents are available. I appreciate the intensity of feeling of the right hon. Gentleman, but it is important for various reasons that the Bill should get on to the statute book as soon as possible so that benefits can be paid.

    Meanwhile, it is important that there should be the fullest possible discussion.