Skip to main content

Business Of The House

Volume 984: debated on Thursday 15 May 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.
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 19 MAY and TUESDAY 20 MAY—Progress on the remaining stages of the Housing Bill.

At the end on Monday, motion on the Dental Qualifications (EEC Recognition) Order.

At the end on Tuesday, motion on the Upholstered Furniture (Safety) Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 21 MAY—Remaining stages of the Social Security (No. 2) Bill.

THURSDAY 22 MAY—Completion of remaining stages of the Housing Bill, until 7 pm.

Afterwards, consideration of Lords Amendments to the Social Security Bill.

FRIDAY 23 MAY—The House will rise for the Spring Adjournment until Monday 2 June.

On the question of the Upholstered Furniture (Safety) Regulations, which will be debated on Tuesday night, will the right hon. Gentleman look at the possibility of giving extra time for this discussion in view of the significance of the subject and the desire of many hon. Members to speak on it? Will he recognise that his proposals for next week's business mean a further heavy dose of the indigestible legislation that he offers the House? Will he also recognise that we urgently desire debates on the Brandt Commission's report, which we hope will take place before the meeting on this matter in June; on the Civil Service statement that was made this week—we regard that statement as entirely inadequate in providing information about the proposals—and on prisons? The latter debate was promised, as were a number of others. I hope that when the Leader of the House brings forward the next lot of business he will try to satisfy us on many of these topics.

I cannot promise an early debate on the Civil Service statement, but I hope to have a debate on the Brandt Commission's report and on the May report in the resonably foreseeable future.

On the request for extra time on the Upholstered Furniture (Safety) Regulations, I recognise that there is widespread interest in this important matter. I am sympathetic to that request and I will see that it is pursued through the usual channels, so that extra time can be given for the debate.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. May I urge him afresh for an indication of the time of the Brandt Commission debate in his next business statement?

That pertains to the next business, but I have given a reasonably firm assurance that we will have a debate as soon as I can arrange it in Government time.

Will there be a statement early next week about the meeting of Foreign Ministers this weekend, and will the European budgetary question, which is still unresolved, be debated soon?

It is customary for statements to be made when there are important developments. I shall convey the right hon. Gentleman's request to my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. I have not yet had a request for a statement.

As the Government and the TUC are both set against an incomes policy, and therefore legislation is not required, may we have a debate on the increases in pay during the coming year, which will obviously have a great deal of influence on the levels of unemployment and rising prices? As most employers and trade unionists have now been given the right to influence the future level of unemployment and inflation, will my right hon. Friend arrange for this to be debated in the House?

Clearly, the level of pay settlements has an important bearing on our general economic policy. I do not think that I can promise a special debate on that topic, separated from the debates that take place from time to time on economic matters.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement, preferably by the Prime Minister, early next week to make it quite clear that this Government will not allow the British Petroleum shares that were acquired from Burmah Oil for £178 million of the British taxpayer's money, and which have now accumulated to a worth of £1·1 billion, to be part of a compromise settlement with the action group? Members of that group did not mind playing at being entrepreneurs at the time they invested in Burmah Oil, but as soon as things went wrong they did not want to take any risks. In view of the sensitive nature of this matter and the fact that Burmah Oil was the company in which the Prime Minister's husband was involved, may we be assured that the Government will not give away any of the British taxpayers' money?

I do not intend to rise to that remark, or sink to that level. I shall convey the hon. Member's remarks to the Prime Minister and I am sure that she will give them the attention that they deserve.

Since it has been announced today that, on a vote of the German Olympic Committee, the Federal Republic will not send a team to Moscow, and since the Germans finished the last Olympic Games in fourth place behind the Americans, in terms of medals won, is it not now obvious that if the Olympics go ahead they will be a purely Eastern European festival, celebrating Soviet aggression in Afghanistan? Will my right hon. Friend provide time for the House to have another debate on the Olympic Games, so that we can change our decision?

I do not think that one should tempt providence in these matters. The last debate on the Olympic Games was evidently highly successful, because since then three of the major competitors have indicated that they will not take part. I hope that this will be followed by other countries. I agree very much with my hon. Friend's earlier remarks but I do not think that we need another debate.

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate after the recess on the application of the immigration rules and the very backward and inhuman decisions that presently emanate from the Home Office?

I do not think that I can promise an early debate. On the question of Home Office decisions, my experience with constituency cases has been that they have always been treated with the greatest consideration and justice by the Minister concerned.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he still intends to arrange a debate on the Casson proposals before the House rises for the Summer Recess?

I cannot confirm that. This matter will have to be decided by the Services Committee. The Prime Minister has already indicated that the chances of financing the buildings in the foreseeable future are not very high. In those circumstances I question the value of an early debate.

Will the Leader of the House find time to consider whether it is possible or proper to debate the relationship between the Government and the established and non-established Churches in this country, in the light of the recent attempt to gag Church leaders who involve themselves in the deplorable social conditions that are deteriorating every day?

I do not believe that there has been any attempt by the Government to gag Church leaders, and it would not be successful if it were tried. The question has no relevance to our discussions.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Northern Ireland business was not reached until nearly 2 o'clock this morning? Is it right that the affairs of a most important part of the United Kingdom should always be the last item on our parliamentary agenda? Will my right hon. Friend look into the matter and give Northern Ireland the share of best parliamentary time that it deserves?

I am aware of the importance of Northern Ireland debates in the House, particularly since the suspension of the legislature at Stormont. However, it is not true that Northern Ireland matters are always raised late. On yesterday's business it was a judgment that one had to make between having a debate at a late hour or postponing it for a considerable time. In those circumstances, we decided that the lesser of the two evils was to go ahead with the debate.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the state of the British popular press, which is so one-sided and biased that it is a danger to democracy? The most recent example of its disgraceful conduct was the treatment meted out to the general secretary of the TUC.

There is a wide range of opinions expressed in the popular press, and if one reads all the popular papers, including The Times and The Guardian, one gets a good picture of what is going on.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made about the bombing of a police station in south-east London, in so far as it might involve terrorist action? Will he also go a little further in respect of a statement on the Foreign Ministers' meeting in Naples? The House passed a Bill on Iran specifically because the Government wanted it by 17 May. Now that the target date has been met, surely it must be right for there to be a report on the consequences of what the House did.

I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary my hon. Friend's remarks about the extremely regrettable incident at the police station, which we all condemn.

It is only courteous for me, while indicating that there might be a statement on the Naples meeting, to wait until my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has returned before committing him or my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal without qualification.

May we have an early statement about the allegations in the press today that senior officials of the Foreign Office employed by General Communications Headquarters in Hong Kong are involved in corruption, the control of prostitution, the leaking of secrets to other countries and the use of surveillance techniques to prevent British journalists finding out what is going on? Since the budget of GCHQ is not subject to the same sort of scrutiny in the House that other public expenditure receives, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that an early statement is necessary, in order to allay the real public concern on the issue?

I do not believe that there is widespread public concern over the allegations.

I am certainly not bothered about them. The allegations have been thoroughly investigated. They are old allegations which have been dragged up again for sensational purposes. It is an attempt by one section of the popular press to exploit a situation that has already been dealt with.

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been trying to catch my eye since the start of business questions, but I hope that they will be brief—otherwise we shall be late again tonight.

Will my right hon. Friend carefully consider the possibility of a general debate on the problems and opportunities facing the construction industry, bearing in mind that it is the greatest industry in this country, whether measured in terms of manpower or output?

I know my hon. Friend's concern with the construction industry. He raised the point in the Whit-sun Adjournment debate yesterday. I cannot promise an early debate, but I repeat my promise that I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Reverting to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), the Prime Minister has overall responsibility for national security and it is not good enough for the Leader of the House to say that the allegations referred to by my hon. Friend have already been deeply probed and proved to be unfounded. We are entitled to have from the person responsible for security a statement to the House and not to a cabal of Tory Cabinet Ministers.

As the hon. Gentleman said, responsibility for the security forces rests with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Therefore, if hon. Members wish to pursue the matter they must pursue it with her. I was giving the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) an early indication of the Government's view and stating factually that these matters have already been investigated and found to be without foundation.

The right hon. Gentleman may be under a misapprehension about the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). Will he look at it afresh? The allegations, together with considerable documentation, are appearing in the New Statesman and, I believe, the Daily Mirror tomorrow. I agree that that is not absolute proof of their validity, but before the right hon. Gentleman jumps in and says that they are old allegations it would be wiser of him to say that he will look at the matter and see whether we should have a statement next week.

The right hon. Gentleman should not base his remarks on an inaccurate knowledge of the facts.

I have not read the New Statesman, but the allegations have already appeared in the Daily Mirror today, and I have read that. The fact that they are in the Daily Mirror does not prove their veracity—as the right hon. Gentleman recognised—or their essential falsehood. The Daily Mirror occasionally lends itsef to a journalistic approach—we have seen it from a distinguished journalist in regard to the catering arrangements in the House—that is not always balanced. I am endeavouring to redress the balance by putting the allegations in their proper context. They are old allegations, and they have been investigated.

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his negative and somewhat disappointing answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), about a debate on the Casson proposals? Is it not a novel doctrine that the House does not debate long-term aspirations simply because of an immediate want of ready cash? Would it not greatly truncate our proceedings if that unorthodox principle were introduced?

It is not so much a matter of principle, although my right hon. and learned Friend is good at drawing principles inductively out of pragmatic situations. It is a question whether it is worth while having an early debate about a new building when it is clear that the funds are not available for it and are unlikely to be available for some time.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 583, which has been signed by nearly 80 hon. Members of all parties and which calls for a European initiative with the object of establishing a national home for the Palestinian people in Palestine?

[ That this House, recognising the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and noting the peaceful and constructive objectives of the Palestine National Council, calls on Her Majesty's Government, and other European governments to take a major diplomatic initiative with the object of securing the withdrawal of all Israeli forces and settlements from the West Bank and Gaza, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in that territory.]

As the Camp David timetable will run out on 26 May—

will the Leader of the House provide time for an urgent debate on the Middle East?

The Government are ready to help to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement. With our partners in the Nine we are discussing ways in which we might be able to make a constructive contribution. We must not undermine the current peace efforts, which we shall continue to support. We hope that they will succeed in producing further progress towards a settlement. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has outlined that policy.

My right hon. Friend has promised a debate on the Brandt Commission's report. Is he aware that the House will be greatly dismayed if he offers less than a full day's debate?

I note what my hon. Friend said. I attach great importance to the Brandt Commission's report. It deals with one of the world's greatest problems, and much depends on that problem's successful solution. In those circumstances, I am hardly likely to offer a half-day's debate.

Will the Leader of the House find an early opportunity to debate the report of the Royal Commission on legal services?

I cannot promise an early debate on that subject. However, I shall certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's representation.

Will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on Scottish school teachers? They have been absent from schools, particularly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear the Government's attitude towards those teachers who go on strike. I have nothing to add to what she said. A further debate on the subject would not add anything to what she said.

Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that we shall have an early opportunity to debate the Expenditure Committee's report on reducing the numbers of those in prison, the May report, and the Home Secretary's statement? We could then have a full and adequate debate on the impending crisis in our prison service.

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes an interest in prisons and prison reform. I hope that we shall be able to have an early debate on this very important subject.

Is the Leader of the House aware that many taxpayers do not like to find that their money is being used to purchase nuclear weapons? Will he find time to debate this issue and to discuss whether taxes could be used for other purposes—such as helping the Third world—than for contributing towards nuclear warfare?

I do not think that any Government have ever accepted the principle of the hypothecation of taxation to particular objectives. If people paid taxes only for those things that they approved of there would be an immeasurable loss to the Inland Revenue.

Will the Leader of the House at least undertake to read the article that will appear in the New Statesman—distasteful as that may be—before deciding whether there is any truth in the allegations? If he feels that there is some truth in the allegations, will he arrange for the Prime Minister to make a statement about their validity. The right hon. Gentleman should not try to rub off this issue so lightly.

The allegations appear in today's Daily Mirror. I was referring to those allegations. I accept that they will also appear in the NewStatesman. We all know that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) has some connection with the New Statesman. As an act of supererogation, I shall read this week's New Statesman. It will not do me much good, nor do I imagine that it will do anyone else much good. I have no ministerial responsibility for such issues. If hon. Members wish to pursue the issue further, they must raise it with the Prime Minister.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that earlier this afternoon the rules of the House prevented my raising with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the question of dogs worrying sheep? I am not optimistic—

Order. All that prevented the hon. Member from asking that question was the fact that he had not tabled a question on the Order Paper.

I am most obliged, Mr. Speaker. I am not optimistic that it would be in order for me to ask the Home Secretary about dogs worrying sheep.

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 553?

[ That this House believes that early action is needed to reduce the large number of stray dogs and the nuisance they cause, namely, traffic accidents, fouling and livestock worrying; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to encourage a more responsible attitude to dog ownership and to introduce legislation to reduce these problems by setting up a self-financing dog warden service on a national basis, run by local authorities, which would be paid for by an increase in the dog licence fee, and which would provide an information and education service to dog owners.]

It involves the important issue of stray dogs and their effect not only on the farming community but on urban areas. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will find an occasion to arrange for a debate on this subject, which affects the lives of many people and requires urgent consideration.

I agree that stray dogs can be a nuisance. The problem goes far wider than worrying sheep. Stray dogs also affect urban communities. However, we have had an Adjournment debate on the subject. I shall take the subject up as a matter of urgency with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—who has general responsibility—in order to see how this intolerable nuisance can be substantially reduced.

I realise that the Government are making a policy shift towards those seaports under the control of the British Transport Docks Board, but is it not time that we had a full day's debate on the future of our seaports, and on their financing?

Our seaports are of vital importance to us, because we are a trading nation. However, I cannot promise a debate on the subject next week.

[ That this House urges the Government to take immediate action to restore confidence in the British textile industry by stating its support for a strengthened Multi-Fibre Arrangement to be renegotiated in 1981 and urges Her Majesty's Ministers to take the initiative within the Common Market in order that the Community view can be made clear to the next General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade textiles committee meeting in October.]

It stands in the name of hon. Members from all parties and concerns the restoration of confidence in the British textile industry. Will he confer with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and find time for an early debate on the serious pressures faced by the textile industry?

Several hon. Members have expressed concern, and I am well aware of the importance that is attached to the problems that face the textile industry. The Government are determined to see that there are further effective restraints when the multi-fibre arrangement comes to an end at the end of 1981. The Community will be working out its position towards the GATT. The meeting in October represents only one stage. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are extremely concerned about the future of the textile industry. We shall do all that we can to ensure that it gets a fair deal.

I remind hon. Members that up to eight hon. Members may raise subjects of their own choice with Ministers on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Friday 23 May. Applications should reach my office by 10 pm next Monday. A ballot will be held on Tuesday morning and the result will be made known as soon as possible.