Adjournment (Spring)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd May 1979.

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Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford 12:00 am, 23rd May 1979

I must thank the right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) for his generous personal remarks. I always appreciate these courtesies. They are part of our life in the House of Commons, and they get us through difficult moments.

We have had nearly 20 hon. Members raising very important matters in the debate, and I do not pretend that I can answer them all in detail. We should be here for a very long time were I to attempt to do that. However, all the matters which have been raised will be noted in my office and they will be drawn to the attention of the Ministers concerned.

I begin by dealing with the matter raised by the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman), who castigated us for rising too soon. The same point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) and by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who said that he would not trust the Government out of his sight. I give him a tu quoque reply and suggest that perhaps both of us should hang around the precincts of Westminster during the recess, to use the hon. Gentleman's words, sniffing each other and keeping an eye on each other.

I rather deprecate the use of the word "holiday" to describe the recess, because it is not a holiday. We merely mislead people outside this House if we pretend that it is. We need these periods to catch up on certain aspects of our work. We need this period to spend a special amount of time with our constituents. In the circumstances of the election, moreover, hon. Members are entitled to just a few days off. I also remind the House of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) that because of the election the House of Commons did not have a normal Easter break. As life is so intense here, it is important that there should be periods away from the House as well as periods here. So I tend to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Working (Mr. Onslow), who was kind enough to congratulate me on the length of the recess. I do not think that it is unreasonable. Two weeks makes sense. It is quite normal to have a two-week Whitsun Recess. In the circumstances of the election, it makes even more sense, and we have the European elections as well which will occupy many hon. Members.

This is the first time that a European Parliament will be elected. It is the first time in history that a Parliament will be elected across national boundaries. It is a very important step to democracy; it is an important step for representative government, and it carries with it important implications for the future peace and tranquility of nations. So I think that it is not unreasonable to devote a few days to seeing that there is the highest possible vote in these elections.

This debate is taking place against the background of a six-day debate on Government policy, and I suppose that we could have another six-day debate on the general issues of principle which are involved. I shall try to leave those general issues on one side and answer the specific matters that hon. Members have raised during the debate.

Earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy spoke about the fuel problems that we face. To refer to a "fuel crisis" would be putting it far too high. We have some problems, and I can assure the House that although I do not feel that it is necessary to have constant statements from the Secretary of State for Energy, if the position deteriorates in any way I shall be in touch with him to make sure that the House is fully informed.

The right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North referred to two specific matters on which he wanted me to comment because they fell within the sphere of my own responsibilities. The first concerned the establishment of Select Committees in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he had detected rumblings of disputes on this matter in the Cabinet. I can tell him that that is not so. The Cabinet has been very fully occupied with the preparation of the Gracious Speech and other matters, as one would expect when a new Government come to power, and proposals as important and as complicated as those put forward by the Procedure Committee, which involve every Department in government, cannot be rushed through Cabinet in a matter of days. The right hon. Gentleman must know that since he was a distinguished member of a Cabinet. We need a bit more time. I am pressing ahead with energy to get the various problems straightened out, and it is my hope and expectation that before the House rises for the Summer Recess we shall have positive proposals to put before the House, when the House will have the opportunity to decide on these issues, as is its prerogative.