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Business Of The House

Volume 990: debated on Thursday 7 August 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he has any statement to make about business?

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

The business for the first week after the Summer Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 27 OCTOBER—Debate on the structure and management of the National Health Service in England.

TUESDAY 28 OCTOBER—Debate on procedure.

WEDNESDAY 29 OCTOBER—Debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House on a subject of the Opposition's choice.

THURSDAY 30 OCTOBER—Motion on Education (Assisted Places) Regulations, and on other orders to be announced later.

FRIDAY 31 OCTOBER—Resumed debate on the motion on references in court to Official Report of Debates and reports of Committees.

Mr. Speaker, the House will wish to know that preparations are proceeding on the basis of the new Session being opened on Thursday 13 November.

The right hon. Gentleman seems to have announced a mild week for the House when we return. First, I take note that he has not proposed that we should have the amendment Bill that will be required to carry out the Scottish housing arrangements that we discussed this week. We should be quite happy if that amendment Bill were brought forward in the second week rather than in the first. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will include the announcement of that amendment Bill in his next Business Statement.

More important than that, we believe that it is highly probable that the House will have to be recalled long before that date in order to deal with the rising and dangerous unemployment situation in Britain—the most dangerous that we have had to face for 30 to 40 years.

I shall certainly take into account the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion. Of course, it is always open for the Opposition—and indeed, for any hon. Member—to request the Government to recall the House of Commons, should national circumstances, in their opinion, require it.

We shall be getting a statement on civil defence before the House rises, shall we not?

We shall be getting it as soon as business questions are concluded. It will be sandwiched between business questions and a statement on Members' pay.

Have I missed something, or will the Government be announcing the result of the inter-party talks on the future government of Scotland? If the announcement has not yet been made, as it is likely to be the non-event of the year will it be made in the middle of August?

It will not be the non-event of the year. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is the Liberal Party conference."] It is very annoying to have one's better lines taken from one. It will not be the non-event of the year, but it will be made as soon as the necessary arrangements have been completed.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when the Procedure Committee is set up it will not be entirely restricted to examining changes in the Supply procedure, since, while fundamental changes in procedure are not necessary at present, there are, none the less, many relatively minor matters that the House may want the Committee to examine? For example, those of us who sat up during last night may well feel that there is some merit in the argument that the debate on the Third Reading of Private Bills should be restricted to one hour rather than three hours.

The motion that the Government have tabled for consideration by the House would confine the Procedure Committee to the vital question of the consideration of Supply. I believe that that is the most urgent question facing us in the procedural field. I do not want to be delayed in any way. The motion will be before the House, and my hon. Friend will no doubt be able to discuss it then.

I congratulate the Leader of the House on rescheduling the debate on procedure at an early date. Can he confirm that amendments to the motion that the Government have tabled—provided that they are in order—will be accepted on the Monday on which we return? It would be extremely unfortunate if we had to table such amendments today, more than two months before the debate.

The motions have been on the Order Paper for several weeks, but the question whether amendments are accepted is a matter for the Chair; it is not a matter for me.

Perhaps I may give a little guidance. The House knows that I frown on starred amendments where-ever possible, as has every Speaker, except when they are Government starred amendments.

I recognise that, owing to the zoological antics of the Labour Party, my right hon. Friend is left with no choice other than to postpone the debate on procedure, which was arranged for today. Will he nevertheless use his best offices to ensure that the Procedure Committee will be able to report in sufficient time to make sure that the House is not required again to pass on the nod the Spring Supplementary Estimates—including Estimates to reimburse for failure to observe cash limits?

It was a personal disappointment to me that the procedure debate had to be postponed. However, I accept it in the interests of the House of Commons as a whole. It is only postponed. The House will have the opportunity to take decisions when the matter has been debated. I hope that the Procedure Committee will tackle this problem urgently, so that the propositions will be published and the House will have an opportunity to decide on them at the earliest possible opportunity.

Is the Leader of the House aware that the debate on the National Health Service on the first day of our return creates difficulties for hon. Members in all parts of the House, as we shall be discussing the structure of the NHS when 19 area health authorities will be disappearing and when between 160 and 180 districts will be created? In September the regional health authorities will be putting in proposals for the boundaries of these areas, which affect every constituency. The Secretary of State will have no opportunity to make an announcement in the House about such procedures. Will he discuss this issue with the Secretary of State for Social Services, so that before that day hon. Members may be given some information about their constituencies, and about the boundaries that are likely to be drawn?

I shall certainly do that. I add the footnote that this is a prognostication about business that is to take place in three months' time. Many things may happen, some beneficial and some less so, during the interval. There is an element of provisionality in the issue.

I should like to reciprocate the spirit expressed by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), who sought to end Prime Minister's Question Time with a congratulation. Will my right hon. Friend accept congratulations from, I believe, all hon. Members on the easy week that will face us on our return? The burden of being in this place is obviously too much both for the Leader of the Opposition and for the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who have presumably retired to their estates. Is my right hon. Friend aware that we thank him on their behalf for an easy week on our return, in the knowledge that those right hon. Members will not be here when we return, just as they have not been here at the end?

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for those compliments. Such compliments are something of a rarity this week. I shall reflect on them when I retire to my semidetached.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of early-day motion 748, which stands in my name and those of my colleagues?

[That this House is deeply shocked at the reported increased number of unemployed men and women in the United Kingdom, which, with the decision of a major furniture and upholstery firm tolay off workers and to close a factory in the Manchester area, has reached the proportions of a major economic disaster in the North West Region; and calls upon the Government to take special measures to reduce the hardship caused by Conservative Government economic policy.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman invite the Prime Minister to undertake a special investigation into plans to use local initiative to take school leavers straight into training, under the indexed training programme? If the Prime Minister takes that initiative on behalf of the Government, will she also do something about bringing together those authorities that are prepared to do all in their power to absorb school leavers into permanent employment?

Youth unemployment is the most severe problem facing us. I shall pass on that constructive suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Order. I hope to call those hon. Members who have been rising in their places, as long as they ask brief questions.

Will my right hon. Friend undertake, as soon as possible in the autumn, to lay a long-awaited order that refers to the overwhelmingly popular and pressing demand to give our constitutional comrades from the European Parliament proper access to the House of Commons?

A report of the House of Commons (Services) Committee recommends that members of the European Parliament should have limited access to facilities in the House. I have not rushed the report forward, in the interests of peace and good will. However, the House must have an opportunity to come to a decision on the report, and I hope that that will be possible later in the year.

Given that I have often asked the Leader of the House for a full-scale debate on the high levels of unemployment on Merseyside and on its problems, and as the first week back is to be an easy week, may we have a debate on that subject? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister said that a free society could not solve the problem of unemployment. She did not make that point during the pre-election or election campaigns. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that we shall have an early debate on those problems?

During the first week after the recess there will be a Supply day. This subject might be relevant to that. The Government are deeply concerned about the situation on Merseyside, and it will retain its special development area status. We are making particular efforts to aid the young unemployed on Merseyside.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the House divided 23 times last night, and that 20 of those Divisions occurred without any intervening debate? Is my right hon. Friend aware that hon. Members were shuffling through the Lobbies without any result? Although we all know that Opposition Members are scared stiff of their general management committees and have to demonstrate a little machismo at the end of the Session, would it not be appropriate to devote some of the recess to concentrating on how to avoid such practices?

I have sympathy with the point raised by my hon. Friend. As I shuffled through all those Divisions, it occurred to me that there might be some means of avoiding such procedures. I shall certainly devote some of my time in my bungalow to considering that.

Order. I do not usually intervene, but the Leader of the House has got mixed up. It is my bungalow.

As the Leader of the House refused to find time for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make a statement on the cuts that were announced yesterday by the devious means of a written answer, will he provide time for it in the first week of our return? Some of those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies are not concerned about easy weeks. We want the House to discuss the cuts that have been announced. Will the Leader of the House find time for the Secretary of State to make a statement during the first week of our return, and within this Session?

I cannot give the specific assurance that the hon. Gentleman requested. We should have debates on the situation in Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom Parliament.

Irrespective of the Secretary of State's failure to make a statement directly to the House on public expenditure cuts, one of his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office made an unfair and misleading comparison, which was insulting to the people of Ulster. He compared public expenditure in the different regions of the United Kingdom without stating the special factors that apply to the Province.

May we have a debate in the Northern Ireland Committee, or, better still, in Northern Ireland, during the recess? We should then be able to debate those special features, namely, an unemployment rate that is twice the national average and the fact that, proportionately, there are 50 per cent. more supplementary benefit claimants and 500 per cent. more family income supplement claimants than in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I shall pass on those remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He is doing an excellent job, in extremely difficult circumstances.

In view of the desperate state of the British carpet industry, which has been battered by American imports of cheap carpets as a result of America's cheap fuel policy, will the Leader of the House consider arranging for a debate to deal with the state of the British carpet industry?

If there is an opportunity, I shall consider that. However, the first week clearly will not be an easy week.

Will my right hon. Friend make arrangements to enable the Northern Ireland Committee to meet in Northern Ireland whenever that is appropriate?

Is the Leader of the House aware that between now and when the House reconvenes there will be no fewer than eight meetings of the EEC Council of Ministers, about which we have had no oral statement of business? In view of the fact that there can be no oral statement or written answer about the outcome of those meetings will the Leader of the House undertake that there will be official statements on all those meetings, particularly those relating to fisheries and the budgetary contribution?

We shall have a debate on the EEC documents concerned with fisheries later today. That, in part, will meet the hon. Member's point. I shall certainly draw the hon. Member's comments about the other matters to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal.

On the business for Friday 31 October—the conclusion of the debate on references in court to proceeding in this House—is the Leader of the House aware that he would have a much better chance of getting that debate concluded if he were willing to table both of last year's recommendations of the Select Committee on Privileges, including the recommendation that came out of the Colonel B affair that fair reports of proceedings in this House should have absolute privilege, just as Hansard does? May I see the Leader of the House in his bungalow and discuss this matter?

Certainly, I shall be delighted to discuss that matter with the hon. Member. I am prepared to meet him anywhere, even in Bolsover Castle.

Is the Leader of the House aware that Bolsover Casle is falling down as a result of cuts in public expenditure by the Tory Government? The local press reported two or three weeks ago "Castle's cash aid runs out."

Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government intend to raise the question of the reception for the British athletes who did so well in Moscow? How many representations has he received from those Conservative Members who spent nearly the whole fortnight rushing up to the Television Room in the House to watch British athletes performing so well?

I shall pass the hon. Member's comments to my right hon. Friends who are responsible for those matters. I am sorry to hear that Bolsover Castle is falling down; perhaps we could meet on Creswell Crags.

Have the Leader of the House and his colleagues, including the Chief Whip, learnt the most elementary lesson for all Governments—that this House cannot be treated with contempt? The events of the last few days were undoubtedly a victory not just for the Opposition but for the House of Commons itself. Does the Leader of the House agree that many people will find it strange that with a deepening economic crisis, and unemployment rising, the Government are closing down Parliament until the end of October?

We can all draw our own lessons from the events of this week, and one lesson that I draw is that the Housing Bill will reach the statute book on time. That will be remembered long after the shenanigans of last night are forgotten. I have never made any complaints about the Opposition exercising their legitimate rights in this House. As Leader of the House, I recognise my duty to the Opposition as well as to the Government. If I had ever shown any contempt for this House I would not occupy the position that I hold today.

Order. I shall call the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey), and the Opposition Front Bench to finish.

Is the Leader of the House aware that since he began his Business Statement the report of the all-party talks on the government of Scotland has been made available in the Library? It is, in fact, the non-event of the year, as was suggested by the Leader of the Liberal Party. Will the right hon. Gentleman now take notice that there will be a major campaign in Scotland and in this House, throughout the summer and when Parliament resumes, to press the Government to produce a genuine initiative for devolution in Scotland?

I shall take that matter on board. I know of the hon. Member's interest in these matters and I know that he has extensive properties in Scotland. I shall be happy to meet him there if necessary.

When will the House have an opportunity to discuss and perhaps finalise the outstanding matters in the Finniston report? This has been before the House previously. It is an important matter to the engineering industry, and the House should have an opportunity to discuss it as soon as possible.

We have had a discussion on this report, but I shall draw my hone Friend's comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. I agree that the Finniston report is most important for the future of the country.

In view of the deep anxiety that has been expressed on both sides of the House about the Government's intended procurement of computers for the Inland Revenue pay-as-you-earn system, will the Leader of the House have urgent consultations with his colleagues to see whether a statement can be made tomorrow about the Government's intentions? Is he aware that if no statement is made and the matter is allowed to drag on into the recess it will heighten the suspicion of both sides of the House that it is not the Government's intention to give the order to a British firm and follow their own policies of buying British?

As the Prime Minister said, this is a complex and difficult question. It is most important to reach the right decision, rather than an immediate decision. I can assure the hon. Member that this matter is being considered carefully by the Government.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was hoping to catch your eye in order to put a supplementary question to the Leader of the House, but largely because of the minor disturbance that took place in the Public Gallery—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman can address a point of order only to me, and it must be a matter on which I can rule.

I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker. While the exchanges were taking place across the Floor of the House about discussions in bungalows and semi-detached houses, people who live in semi-detached houses were busy making their representations. There are 3,500 people who will lose their jobs before Parliament resumes in October because of the closure of the Consett steelworks, and—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows that he is going beyond the scope of order.