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Business Of The House

Volume 984: debated on Thursday 8 May 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 will be as follows:

MONDAY 12 MAY— Consideration of private Members' motions until 7 pm.

Second Reading of the Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill.

TUESDAY 13 MAY —Remaining stages of the Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 14 MAY —Proceedings on the Gas Bill and on the Sea Fish Industry Bill.

Motion on the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order.

THURSDAY 15 MAY—Progress on the Health Services Bill, until about 7 pm, followed by a debate on the appointment of the British Steel Corporation chairman, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Afterwards, motion on the Iron and Steel (Borrowing Powers) Order.

FRIDAY 16 MAY—Debate on a motion to take note of the BL 1980 corporate plan.

MONDAY 19 MAY— Progress on remaining stages of the Housing Bill.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the arrangement for next Thursday, in respect of the debate on the appointment of the chairman of British Steel, which we requested last week. I am grateful to him for acknowledging our request.

We should have preferred to debate the business for Friday on another day. We appreciate the difficulties, and it is possible that the day cannot be changed. I understand the pressures, but will the right hon. Gentleman consider that request?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. As he knows, there were difficulties in finding suitable business for a Government Friday. It is not ideal to have the British Leyland debate on that day, but it was the best of the alternatives that were discussed through the usual channels.

Will my right hon. Friend ask whoever is speaking for the Government on Monday not to take the line that we believe in sanctions for their own sake, or that they are necessarily workable or in Western interests, but that the sole objective is to protect what we believe are the interests of the Western Alliance, and in particular those of the United States?

It is not for me, as Leader of the House, to instruct Ministers on their speeches, although it is an interesting idea, which I shall consider. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office will note the cogent advice advanced to him by my hon. Friend.

Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate whether Monday's debate on the Second Reading of the Iran (Temporary Powers) Bill will finish at 10 pm or later? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on the basis of the feelings of my hon. Friends it is unlikely to finish at 10 pm? If the debate is not concluded by a reasonable time on the following day, what proposals are there for a further day?

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's second point, I am hopeful that by having the half-day on 12 May and a full day in prime time on 13 May the proceedings will be concluded at a reasonable hour. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's first point, it is the Government's intention to table a motion suspending the rule for two hours so that the vote will take place at midnight.

Is it by accident or design that my right hon. Friend has arranged that on 14 May, when the TUC will be speaking in Trafalgar Square, we shall be discussing the Gas Bill? Has my right hon. Friend made special arrangements for staff and others to get to and from Westminster on that day?

We are hopeful that our proceedings will not be affected by whatever else happens on 14 May. With regard to the choice of proceedings on the Gas Bill, my hon. Friend asked whether it was by accident or design that that debate was selected. It was on both those grounds.

In view of the blatant abuse of the law and practice of diplomatic immunity that has been thrown into sharp relief in the past week by the contrast in the handling of the Iranian siege here and the continued holding of American hostages in Iran, combined with the terror on our streets that it is alleged emanates from certain embassies, do the Government propose to consider the problems of diplomatic immunity and make a statement or have an inquiry and debate on the proposed changes?

My right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary is looking closely at the important issues involved. No doubt he will come to a conclusion in due course.

May we have a statement next week from the Foreign Office on the status of the Libyan embassy, and in particular on the question whether it has been made clear to Colonel Gaddafi that we cannot tolerate so-called diplomats, the policy of whose country is to murder its citizens on British soil?

Without attributing the answer to any country, it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to condemn any such attitude. With regard to a statement by the Lord Privy Seal or the Foreign Secretary in another place, that would depend on developments.

Did the Leader of the House have any messages about the instructive debate that we had last night on Southern Rhodesian sanctions? Does he agree that it would be for convenience all round if, at the time that we are discussing Iranian sanctions, we brought in legislation for an Iranian sanctions amnesty order?

I followed with interest the proceedings last night. I must point out that although there are some superficial resemblances in the two situations, a deeper examination shows that they are entirely distinct.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the business planned for next Friday? Would it not be more suitable for the House to have a proper opportunity to debate in advance the total confusion in the trade union movement about the intentions of the planned day of action on 14 May? Would this not give us an opportunity to hear from the leader of the Labour Party his view of the trade unions trying to dragoon their members into a political strike that is not welcomed by nearly all those members?

I would welcome a breach of the Leader of the Opposition's Trappist vow of silence. On the question of changing the business on Friday, however, I believe that this would be moving out of the frying pan into the fire.

In view of General Gaddafi's utterly disgraceful statement and threat to Libyan nationals in other countries, including our own, may I press the demands that have already been made for an early statement by a Foreign Office Minister on this matter?

I shall certainly pass that request to the Lord Privy Seal and the Foreign Secretary.

My right hon. Friend will have heard the question put to the acting Prime Minister today by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) about the textile industry. No doubt he will also have noted that there has been an unsuccessful Standing Order No. 9 application on the state of the industry. Bearing in mind the parlous problems facing the industry, through no fault of its own, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate next week? This is an industry in which, in Lancashire alone, last week there were eight mill closures involving 3,500 people.

We are extremely concerned about the textile industry. There was a debate on 21 April on this industry—

Yes, it was on the North-West, but it involved the textile industry. I cannot promise an early debate in Government time, but there may be other opportunities for this.

When will the Whitsun Adjournment debate take place? Will the Leader of the House also tell us what progress he has made in relation to the Summer Recess, bearing in mind that school holidays are earlier in Scotland than in England and Wales? When does he intend to adjourn the House to enable Scottish Members to have some time with their wives and families during the holiday period?

We shall have the Whitsun Adjournment debate on Wednesday 14 May. While I am sympathetic to the needs of Scottish Members, I cannot give any guarantees about the date on which the House will rise for the Summer Recess. That depends on a number of factors that are not in my control. I hope that we shall rise at a reasonable time, but we have not reached the Whitsun Recess yet. Let us get over that before we start considering the Summer Recess.

As the debate on Iranian sanctions is clearly a charade to placate the ruffled feelings of the Americans, will my right hon. Friend ensure that appropriate invitations are extended to the United States ambassador and his acolytes to attend that debate?

The Distinguished Strangers' Gallery is always open to the ambassadors of countries that are represented at the Court of St. James. My hon. Friend is going too far when he refers to this matter as a charade. I draw his attention to the fact that it is vital in foreign policy that when the leader of the Western Alliance is facing difficulties, this country should be seen to support the United States.

However deplorable the holding of American hostages may be, is the Leader of the House aware that it is extremely unwise to bring in a sanctions order next week, since it will obviously serve no purpose whatsoever, and will not secure the release of a single American hostage?

That is a matter for debate, not when the order is introduced—because we do not intend to introduce an order—but when the Bill is introduced next week. I suggest that the hon. Member should reserve his comments until he sees the contents of the Bill, which has not yet been published.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed early-day motion 548, on pharmacists' remuneration?

[That this House calls for the implementation of the Franks Report and, in particular, the establishment of some form of permanent review machinery for settling the remuneraton of pharmacists]

In view of the widespread support for that motion, and the fact that the matter has not been debated since the middle of 1978, will my right hon. Friend allow time for discussing this forgotton profession?

This is an extremely important question, referring to the Franks report and the establishment of a permanent review machinery for settling the remuneration of pharmacists. My right hon. Friend hopes to be able to announce a decision on this matter shortly.

Do the Government intend to make a response to the Finniston report on the engineering industry? If so, when can we debate the matter?

Discussions are still continuing, and I hope, that the Government will soon be in a position to make a statement on this most important report within a reasonable time.

When considering the scheduling of the Iran Bill next week, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many Members on the Government Benches believe that the United States' perception of and interests in the Middle East are quite different from those of the United Kingdom? Does he agree that there is at least a possibility that the introduction of the Bill will be damaging to our interests in the Middle East, and therefore damaging to the Western Alliance as a whole?

This is an agreement of the nine member countries of the EEC to act in concert in this regard. We have entered into this agreement, and the introduction of the Bill next week and its publication today are in fulfilment of that obligation, freely entered into.

Before the House debates the appointment of the British Steel Corporation chairman next week, will it be possible for the Government to place in the Library and the Vote Office the details of the appointment, so that we can see the details of the Government's payment of £2 million to Lazard's? Some of us have difficulty in explaining to steel workers why the Government did not have any money to pay them more than 2 per cent.

That point would be more properly raised in the debate itself, and discussed with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

Given that a considerable amount of shoe leather will be used up on the rather pointless marches of 14 May, would it not be more appropriate if we had a debate on that day on the serious state of the British footwear industry? Perhaps out of that day of action some good may come to at least one section of British industry.

I only regret that that helpful suggestion was not made earlier, when we might have discussed it through the usual channels.

Can the Leader of the House give an indication when he expects to report progress on the all-party talks on the government of Scotland?

Those talks are proceeding. They have made reasonable advances in the area of improving procedures in this House. I hope that within a reasonably short time we shall reach a constructive conclusion.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us remember a certain stage of the last war when this country would have undoubtedly soon gone under, because we were bankrupt and we could not provide ourselves with weapons or food, and the Americans came to our aid? Is it not right that we should support America now over Iran?

I agree entirely. Underlying my hon. Friend's remarks is the important principle that the whole security of the Western world depends on maintenance of the alliance with the United States.

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been rising throughout.

Will the Leader of the House consider withdrawing the Iranian sanctions Bill, particularly after the debacle of the amnesty order last night? Does he not think that there should be a general debate on foreign affairs rather than the Bill, so that we can discuss our whole foreign policy, which seems at the moment to be totally subordinated and servilely subjugated to American foreign policy over a wide range of issues, such as cruise missiles and Iran, which can pull us towards a third world war without any sort of independent view being expressed by the House or the country?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the world situation is fraught with danger. I would like to see a debate, in due course, on foreign affairs in general. Subject to Mr. Speaker's ruling, there will be an opportunity to consider the world situation as a background to the introduction of this Bill. As to withdrawing the Bill, this is a somewhat metaphysical point. One cannot withdraw a Bill before it has been introduced.

With regard to the Iranian sanctions debate, do the Government intend to have a free vote on their side of the House?

I understand that there is to be a free vote on the Opposition side of the House. I fully understand the reasons. Those reasons are not operative on the Government side of the House. A mild form of Whip will be imposed.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Register of Members' Interests, on the Table in front of him, is the 1976 edition? When will he find time for a proper debate on the register, to consider whether we can officially use the 1980 edition?

I have held discussions on this point with the Chairman of the relevant Committee. I understand that the current register is available for consultation in the Library.

In view of the major defeats suffered by the Conservative Party in the recent local elections and the consequential good effects on comprehensive education that changes of councils towards Labour will bring about, will there be an early debate on education?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's disappointment over the result of the local elections. I am afraid that I cannot assuage that by promising an early debate on education.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the textile industry requires not vacuous expressions of concern and sympathy but positive Government action to repair the damage done to the industry by Government policies? When do the Government intend to ensure that the Secretary of State for Trade will present to the House a package to save the industry? When will the Government arrange for a debate on the industry? During this Session there has been no debate on the plight of the Lancashire textile industry.

The Government have made clear their concern for the industry and have also taken practical steps in supporting the multi-fibre arrangement and in the preparations that are being made to ensure a reasonable degree of protection in the future. That is the immediate answer to the hon. Gentleman.