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Business Of The House

Volume 986: debated on Thursday 19 June 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 23 JUNE—Supply [21st Allotted Day]: Debate on the Royal Air Force, on a motion for the Adjournment.

Motion on Community document 8409/79 on industrial accident hazards, and the supplementary explanatory memorandum.

TUESDAY 24 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Broadcasting Bill.

WEDNESDAY 25 JUNE—Supply [22nd Allotted Day]: Debate on an Opposition motion on the urgent need for Government action to reduce the appalling level of unemployment particularly among young people.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Transport Bill.

THURSDAY 26 JUNE—Supply [23rd Allotted Day]: Debate on the Army, on a motion for the Adjournment.

Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order.

Motions on the Financial Assistance (Offshore Supplies Grants) Scheme and on the Petroleum (Production) (Amendment) Regulations.

FRIDAY 27 JUNE—Debate on the disbandment of regional orchestras, and afterwards on the pay and working conditions of employees of British companies in South Africa, on a motion for the Adjournment.

MONDAY 30 JUNE—Remaining stages of the Civil Aviation Bill.

[ Debate on European Community DocumentThe relevant published Report of the European Legislation Committee is 8409/79 (Industrial Accidents Hazards) 12th Report, 5th December 1979 H/C 159-xii 1979–80 para. 2.]

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for providing facilities next Friday for debates on two important subjects, which concern hon. Members. There is no sign of the promised debate on the EEC budget, which we think is important. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has agreed to provide a day for that debate. Can he tell us when it will take place?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening words. It is a question of the convenience of the House to have the EEC budget debate with full documentation, and the matter is being pursued through the usual channels.

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance to those of us who have young children, who are increasingly afraid that they may be back to school before we adjourn for the summer? Can he give us any indication when the House may rise?

I sympathise with the point made by my hon. Friend but the matter is not entirely within my control. I should be happy if the House could rise reasonably early, but it takes two to tango and the decision depends upon the Opposition as well as the Government.

How does the Leader of the House reconcile his weekly announcements on the allocation of time for specialist subjects on Supply days with the charade that took place yesterday, when a half-day debate on the future of the Ferranti company and workers was truncated to two and a half hours because the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made a major statement which could have been made today and which was followed by a spurious application under Standing Order No. 9, which was made only for publicity and prevented Back Benchers on both sides with Ferranti trade union and business interests from putting their points of view in an important debate? When will the Leader of the House look into that situation?

I have some sympathy with that point, but I took it into account and moved a statement that was scheduled for yesterday. As for hon. Members seeking publicity through Standing Order No. 9 applications, it is not uncommon in the House for hon. Members to seek publicity. Doing good deeds by stealth is no good in our business.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether, even at this late stage, hon. Members will have a chance to debate on the Floor of the House the order increasing firearms fees, which has caused a good deal of concern because it increases fees by between 50 per cent. and 70 per cent? There is considerable public interest in the matter.

That order has been sent upstairs and a debate will take place there.

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to early-day motion 717, on the Consett steelworks?

[ That this House notes that management and workers at Consett Steelworks were led by the British Steel Corporation to believe that the future of the works would be assured if they made it profitable ; notes that modernisation, cooperation and the sacrifice of 2,500 jobs made the works profitable and highly productive ; notes British Steel Corporation's failure to justify their proposal, made without consultation, to close the works; and condemns the proposal as a betrayal which could destroy a community.]

Has the right hon. Gentleman noted that 115 right hon. and hon. Members have signed the motion? In view of the support for the motion and the urgency of the subject, will he arrange for it to be debated at an early date?

I cannot give that undertaking, but I appreciate the difficulty of replacing jobs that will be lost at Consett. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will be making an announcement immediately after business questions on remedial measures for steel closure areas.

In any event, it is for the BSC to determine how much steel it can sell and at which plants it can produce it most economically. It is also for the corporation to decide how best to conduct negotiations with the unions on the closure of plants, taking into account any legislative requirements and the general interests of good industrial relations, which are vital.

In view of the increasing importance of the Civil Aviation Bill, in the light of announcements on route applications, can the Leader of the House confirm that there will be a second day, in addition to Monday 30 June, for the consideration of the remaining stages of the Bill?

I agree that it is an important matter. There will be a second day, but we hope to make progress on Monday.

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins)? It is within the recollection of every hon. Member that the Secretary of State for Industry said that if the steel workers could make themselves profitable—as has happened at Consett—their future would be reasonably assured? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that if the steelworks at Consett closes, the employment situation on Derwentside will be catastrophic? Is it not a subject that we should debate in the House?

I appreciate the importance of the subject and I shall pass the hon. Gentleman's remarks on to my right hon. Friend, but I cannot promise a debate next week.

Order. I remind the House that after business questions there is to be a statement by the Secretary of State for Industry in which I know there is considerable interest. I hope that business questions will be as brief as possible, so that we can get on.

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 716, which is an all-party motion on the intention to slaughter cattle just outside Belfast by ritual methods, with the carcases to go to Libya?

[ That the House is appalled at the intention to slaughter a large number of cattle at an abattoir in Northern Ireland by cutting their throats to comply with the demands of Libyan buyers of the carcases; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to insist that the animals shall be stunned before having their throat slit and being bled to death.]

One recognises that there must be some ritual slaughter in this country for Jews and Muslims living here, but the export of cattle has been banned to countries in which there is other than humane slaughter, namely, stunning. It is unacceptable for animals in this country to be slaughtered as proposed, that is without stunning, and for the carcases to be exported to Libya. Will my right hon. Friend take action to ensure that that is not done?

Slaughtering in accordance with Islamic practices is permitted by law. It is closely supervised by the veterinary staff of the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that it is competently carried out without the animals suffering. I understand that the Farm Animal Welfare Council in Great Britain will shortly consider these slaughter practices. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will consider carefully any recommendations for Great Britain made by the council.

I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend on the honour that has been conferred on him, not least because of his work for the welfare of animals.

As the country faces one of the most serious industrial declines for 30 or 40 years, the House approaches the Summer Recess, and the Cabinet feels that it is necessary to review the disastrous position, would it not be right for the House to consider, before adjourning, what policies should be undertaken to rescue the country from what threatens to be the most serious recession since the 1930s?

If Opposition Members wish to raise those general matters, Supply days are available.

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that when the House debates the EEC budget a Government spokesman will explain the principles to be applied in reforming the budget, particularly in view of the fact that another £150 million was added to the budget yesterday by the Finance Ministers? It appears that there are many on both sides of the House and in the European Parliamen who would wish to substitute wasteful and expensive expenditure on the regional and social funds for equally wasteful and expensive expenditure on the CAP.

Whatever may be one's views on the European Community, I believe that there is a wide consensus that the CAP needs reform. I am sure that this consideration will be present in the minds of Ministers taking part in the debate.

Is the Leader of the House aware that job losses in the textile industry are now running at four times the rate that prevailed last year? Is he also aware that the synthetic sympathy that the industry was offered at its meeting with the Prime Minister has not been followed, in any sense, by effective action to stem job losses? Why are the Government so reluctant to explain to the House their policy in relation to the industry? When can we expect a debate on the serious crisis now affecting the whole of Lancashire and Cheshire?

We have debates on this subject from time to time. I understand that the meeting at No. 10 Downing Street was very satisfactory and that a valuable exchange of views took place. Furthermore, the Government have made clear their intention of replacing the multi-fibre arrangement by other safeguards when it expires in 1981.

Will the Leader of the House provide an early opportunity to debate the functions of Standing Committees on statutory instruments, especially in the light of what happened when the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) Regulations were debated by a Standing Committee? The Committee voted against the regulations, which, none the less, promptly came into force. What conceivable purpose do these Committees serve?

I have been in correspondence with my hon. Friend on this subject. There are precedents for it. I appreciate that my hon. Friend does not find the situation satisfactory. This is a subject that would be relevant to our forthcoming debate on procedure.

Has the Minister had his attention drawn to early-day motion 526, which has 52 supporters, urging the Government to provide time for the Cruise Missile Sites Bill, particularly in view of the announcement earlier this week?

[ That this House notes that the honourable Member for Keighley on 19 March presented proposals to the House to allow persons living in the areas chosen for the siting of cruise missiles to vote on their acceptability with an 80 per cent. vote in favour being required for their approval; further notes that, though the honourable Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge interjected from a sedentary position during the 10 minute speech, neither he nor any other honourable Member opposed the Bill either by voice or vote; and therefore urges the Government to give time to the Bill and so allow a vote to take place in the relevant areas on the dangerous and provocative decision to install cruise missiles.]

The Bill would give an opportunity to people affected within a diameter of 30 miles of the sites to take part in a vote on the question whether cruise missiles should be installed in their area. In view of the serious nature of this decision, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that time should be given to the Bill? Is he aware that I am willing to accept an amendment that the referendum should be advisory to Parliament?

I have noted the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I shall consider what he said. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said in the debate on 4 March

"Responsibility for the security of the country rests on the Government, and local ballots would be a wholly inappropriate way of deciding national defence issues … The siting of these weapons in no way affects the vulnerability or otherwise of a particular place."—[Official Report, 4 March 1980 ; Vol. 980, col. 125.]
While I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about this matter, I do not think that his remedy is relevant.

When is the Green Paper on devolution for Northern Ireland likely to be published? Will the debate in this House be held on or before 12 July? Will the Government consider sympathetically something that the Ulster Secretary will not consider, namely, the need for the Northern Ireland Committee to meet in Northern Ireland to debate the proposals?

I hope that there will be a debate on these proposals next month. They are still being considered. I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but what is much more important is that these proposals should be debated in this House, which, after all, is the Parliament for the United Kingdom.

Can the House have a debate on the education cuts and their effect in cities such as Leicester, where they are decimating the number of ancillary staff and causing enormous reductions in the number of teachers? In Leicester, the cuts are forcing the closure of the reading centre and, on the basis of wrong figures, assessed in an incorrect way, the closing of Westcotes school, in my constituency? How long will a Government who are prepared to intervene on the sale of council houses refuse to intervene while Tory county councils destroy city education?

The hon. and learned Gentleman has made his views plain on the issue. With regard to the situation in Leicestershire, the Leicestershire local educational authority considers that maintaining the present pupil-teacher ratio in its schools is of paramount importance. I would have thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman would agree with that. It is, therefore, effecting savings elsewhere in its education budget in order to maintain the pupil-teacher ratio.

Order, I propose to call hon. Members who have been rising from the beginning. I hope that hon. Members will co-operate, because the House is waiting to hear the statement.

Reverting to the question of how we get back our money from the EEC, what are the documents to which the Leader of the House referred as a necessary precondition for the debate? When are they likely to be ready, in order that the debate can take place?

There are a number of documents. They are coming through now. Some of them will have to be, or are being, considered by the Scrutiny Committee. I am concerned that all the major documents that are relevant to these proceedings should be available so that the debate can take place on the best-informed basis.

Will the Leader of the House, before the recess, announce time for a debate on the problems of Merseyside, in the light of a report published today by the planning officer of Merseyside county council showing that unemployment among active males in Merseyside is now 22 per cent. and that Government policies, in altering the method of giving aid to industry and refusing help to the docks or ship repairing industry in Merseyside, are likely to lead to an increase even beyond that 22 per cent. figure? Will the right hon. Gentleman announce a debate, considering that what happens in Merseyside is likely to happen in the rest of the country if Government economic policy is not altered?

The Government have always accepted that for a period there must be high unemployment, until the Government's economic policies begin to bear fruit. [Interruption.] I am not interested in what Saatchi and Saatchi may have said. I am not responsible for broadcasts. I am responsible for replies in this House. The Government are aware of the unemployment situation in Merseyside. We have taken a number of measures to improve the situation.

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate at the earliest possible moment to consider the disastrous situation in the Northern region? Is he aware that the situation in Consett, mentioned by my hon. Friend, is unfortunately typical of what is happening throughout the region? Is he further aware that the Prime Minister has twice refused to meet northern Labour Members and the northern TUC? If this continues, how are we to make our expressions felt in this place? Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate as a matter of urgency?

As I have already said, the Government are concerned. The Secretary of State for Industry is making an important statement on aid to certain areas this afternoon, and that is relevant.

Does the Leader of the House accept that his best and truest friend, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has some special responsibility for Merseyside, on the north side of the river? Does he accept that it would be helpful to have the opportunity to discuss the problems and opportunities on Mersey-side?

That is an interesting suggestion. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will pursue these matters on his next visit to the Duchy.

In view of the yawning gap in the law of forfeiture and the recovery of the proceeds of crime revealed by the House of Lords judgment in the Operation Julie case, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement in the House next week outlining the Government's plans to remedy the defects in the law?

I cannot promise a statement next week, but I shall certainly examine the situation and communicate with the hon. and learned Member.

Since the Government did not seem to have the courage to oppose my modest attempt to ensure that pensioners living in their own homes are given the benefit of concessionary television licence fees, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate? Why is it that although there is never any difficulty in giving money and assistance to the rich and the prosperous, the Government cannot give even a modest concession to the poorest in the community, including the large number of elderly people?

Government policy has been so to increase the pension that such aid is not necessary. The Government's record in fulfilling their election pledges to pensioners is extremely good. A Ten-Minute Bill is a means by which a subject can be discussed. Whether it is opposed or allowed does not imply any judgment on the merits of the measure.

Is the Leader of the House aware that as well as the brevity of the Ferranti debate last night its weakness was that the Government did not reveal a policy? Will he assure the House that when the Government have a policy it will be presented to the House in such a manner as to enable hon. Members to vote on it, not least Conservative Members, who made eloquent constituency speeches and then trooped loyally into the Government Lobby?

A complex and difficult problem is involved. The Government's approach of principle is clear. The situation is developing and changing. It would be foolish for the Government to approach it in a dogmatic way.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for the proposals emanating from the all-party talks on the government of Scotland to be considered in the same debate as the proposals for Northern Ireland, so that we can compare what is being offered to the Province with what is being offered to the kingdom of Scotland?

The situations in Northern Ireland and Scotland are not entirely parallel. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits to see the proposals from the all-party talks as well as the proposals by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. When they are published the hon. Gentleman will be in a better position to decide whether it is suitable for them to be debated together.