HC Deb 05 December 1974 vol 882 cc1941-50
Mr. Heath

In the absence of any reply from the Minister of Agriculture to the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman), will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

There was nothing to be said in reply to my hon. Friend.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 9TH DECEMBER.—Private Members' motions until 7.0 p.m.

Afterwards, there will be a debate on police, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Fuel and Electricity (Control) Order.

Remaining stages of the Education Bill.

TUESDAY 10TH DECEMBER.—Remaining stages of the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Sheriffdoms Re-organisation Order.

WEDNESDAY 11TH DECEMBER.—Debate on Capital Punishment.

Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Social Security Amendment Bill.

Motion on EEC Document No. R/2976/73 on collective dismissals.

THURSDAY 12TH DECEMBER.—Motions on the Rate Support Grant Orders.

Remaining stages of the General Rate Bill.

Motions on the Northern Ireland Orders on Appropriation (No. 2), Financial Provisions, and Youth Employment Service.

FRIDAY 13TH DECEMBER.—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 16TH DECEMBER.—There will be a defence debate, which will be continued on Tuesday, 17th December.

At the end on Monday, motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order.

The House will wish to know that, subject to progress of business, it is intended to propose that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment on Friday 20th December and resume on Monday 13th January 1975.

Mr. Heath

Will the Leader of the House now give a clear indication of the form he expects the debate on capital punishment to take on Wednesday? Will he also give a clear indication, if possible, that there will be a debate on the O'Brien Report, which we discussed last week, before the House rises for the recess? I must emphasise the importance of that subject.

Will the Leader of the House be much more precise than the Prime Minister was in answer to Questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Lamont) and Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) about the statement of the Secretary of State for Energy on energy conservation? This was promised in November but we have still not had it. May we be told a specific date on which the Secretary of State will make his statement?

Mr. Short

The debate on capital punishment will be on a motion. I hope very much that it will be a back-bench motion. I shall see tomorrow what motions are tabled and decide which one to use.

I said last week that I was very sorry but it was not possible to debate the O'Brien Report before Christmas. However, I undertake to have a debate, if possible, in the first week when we return.

The statement on the conservation of energy will be made on Monday.

Mr. John Davies

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Scrutiny Committee has recommended that document R/2829/74, which deals with the European Economic Community's economic and financial situation, and which is in large degree a response to the Government's request for renegotiation, should be discussed at the same time as the document which the Government have circulated as a White Paper, Cmnd. 5790, reviewing Community developments from March to October? In the former Parliament the right hon. Gentleman gave an assurance that such White Papers would be debated regularly. At what time will it be possible to have a debate on both these important documents?

Mr. Short

I shall look into the right hon. Gentleman's first point. I hope that we shall be able to devote a day to the six-monthly report in the last week before Christmas. I very much regret that the right hon. Gentleman should have felt it necessary to go to the Press yesterday because of a grievance. If he has grievances about the way the machinery is working, I hope he will come to me. I think he will agree that when he has done so in the past we have had fruitful discussions on these matters.

Mr. Jay

As the debate on the EEC energy orders on Tuesday night was curtailed before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could finish his speech, before he could answer questions, and before the House could reach a decision, can my right hon. Friend agree that the debate will be resumed next week or at an early date? Will my right hon. Friend the Minister in any case make a further statement? Can we have a more reasonable time for these important debates in future?

Mr. Short

I am very sorry that it will not be possible to give any more time to this debate. We have given some time to it, and there is no more time available for it. This illustrates the difficulties being caused for the House by our entry into the EEC.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

On Friday a motion was supported by speakers on both sides of the House, and was supported by 25 Members in the Lobby, none voting against, but, the House having been up all night, fewer than 40 Members voted. Therefore, the question stands open. Will the Leader of the House save the time of the House and prevent the need to reintroduce the motion? Does he recognise that the majority of Members would prefer planning inquiries to be held in public, with the sole exception of cases involving defence and national security? If so, will he prevail upon his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement accordingly, and thus reverse matters to the pre-1967 position?

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman is an ex-Whip, and I do not think that he has a complaint about what happened in the House. He should be grateful to my right hon. Friend for intervening to save Friday's business. There is nothing I can do about the matter, but we should express some gratitude to my right hon. Friend for ensuring that there was, at any rate, some opportunity to debate this matter.

Mr. Guy Barnett

During the long Recess the Department of Education and Science published a White Paper entitled "Educational Disadvantage And The Educational Needs Of Immigrants", Cmnd. 5720. That was a reply to an important report on education produced by the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. In that reply, the Government turned down the two major recommendations of the Select Committee. Can my right hon. Friend at least give us an undertaking that the House will have an opportunity to debate that reply and the Select Committee's report?

Mr. Short

I agree that it is an extremely important matter. I shall bear it in mind, and see what can be done in the new year.

Mr. Jasper More

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider what he said about the O'Brien Report? After the expectations we have had, it will be widely considered to be an absolute disgrace if we do not have the debate before the Christmas Recess.

Mr. Short

The disgrace is that the Conservatives did nothing about the report when they were in office. At the request of the House, some time ago I intervened personally and got the consultations on it concluded. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is now ready to come to the House, but there is no time. One of the reasons is the great complications being made for the people who arrange the business of the House by the great volume of European legislation.

Mr. James Lamond

Will my right hon. Friend ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to make a statement next week about his proposals to protect the textile industry, which faces a serious recession, partly due to our membership of the EEC? An indication of the seriousness of the situation is that Courtaulds Ltd., one of the firms which have invested very much in the industry, found it necessary today to announce the laying off of many hundreds of my constituents in the Old-ham area, employed in the 11 mills which the company has in the North-West, for four days immediately following the Christmas holidays.

Mr. Short

I know of my hon. Friend's concern, and the concern of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, about the situation in the textile industry. There was a short debate recently, I think, instituted by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). However, I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said and pass it on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. But I point out to my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend is, I think, first for Questions on Monday of next week.

Mr. Hooson

In view of the great importance for agriculture of a decision on the ban on the export of live animals, is it possible for the matter to be debated on a Supply Day, if the Opposition supply the day? Is such a day available?

Mr. Short

It would be possible to debate the matter on a Supply Day, but I have said that the Government will provide time for it. I think that we should. There is one Supply Day before Christmas, but I understand that it is the Supply Day which we hope will be devoted to the six-monthly report on the EEC. This is one more example of the complications being caused by the EEC.

Mr. Spriggs

Hon. Members have made efforts through you, Mr. Speaker, to obtain a ruling on, or advice about, the sub judice rule applied in the House and its inhibiting effect upon Members asking questions. Will my right hon. Friend get together with you, Mr. Speaker, and obtain a report on behalf of hon. Members?

Mr. Short

I am sure that this is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker. I talk to you freely, but if you felt that it would be fruitful at any time for me to talk to you specifically about this matter, I should be happy to do so, of course.

Mr. Berry

What has happened to the Bill incorporating the compulsory use of seat belts? If it is to be abandoned after one hour's debate on Second Reading, would it not be a good thing to abandon many other Bills after one hour's debate on Second Reading?

Mr. Short

I tried to oblige the House on this matter, and agreed to adjourn the debate if we had not had much time on the Bill. We adjourned it, and after that a number of emergency matters intervened. There is just no time before Christmas but it will be put down for Second Reading again after Christmas.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

When will the House hear a statement from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the Government's response to the Younger Committee's Report on Privacy? There are reports of widespread use by the Army and the police in Northern Ireland of computers to store personal information, and the possible extension of that practice to use the national police computer and the vehicle licensing computer in the rest of the country. Is it not imperative that we have a statement on the Government's attitude on this most important matter urgently?

Mr. Short

I agree that it is an extremely important matter. The law of privacy, or the lack of a law of privacy, is one of the great blind spots in our law. I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Costain

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that some three or four weeks ago the House decided that the Channel Tunnel Bill should be reintro-duced? Does he appreciate that a number of my constituents' compensation depends on the reintroduction of the Bill? Will he say when the Bill will be brought back? Will it be re-introduced before Christmas? If the Secretary of State is going to kill the scheme on the instructions of the French, will the Leader of the House get his right hon. Fnend to come to the House and say so frankly?

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman must have known that my right hon. Friend made a long statement on this matter and answered a great many questions.

Mr. Luard

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since this Parliament began we have had no debate on foreign affairs? I know that he is pressed for time, but can he give us an undertaking that, even if he cannot arrange such a debate before Christmas, he will arrange for one to take place shortly after the return after Christmas?

Mr. Short

I shall convey my hon. Friend's point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. He intervened in the debate on the Gracious Speech, so time was available then. I hope very much that in the last week before Christmas there will be at least a full day's debate on EEC matters.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the farmers will be deeply shocked and further disillusioned by the Government if there is no debate on the O'Brien Report before Christmas? If there should not be time for such a debate, will he ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to consider making a statement and at least raising the ban on the export of store cattle rather than the export of cattle for slaughter?

Mr. Short

I shall pass on that point to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Buchan

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 91? I welcome the commitment to have a debate on EEC matters before Christmas. Does he agree that this is the first going-back on a major success that we have achieved in the negotiations? Does he not agree that the motion should be debated and accepted, so that the House can make its judgment on what many of us regard as an immoral method of financing agriculture—namely, intervention buying?

[That this House considers that intervention buying of meat should not be implemented in this country unless and until this proposal has been debated and approved by the House of Commons.]

Mr. Short

Intervention buying is only a small part of the matter. I agree that this matter is urgent because the present arrangment expires at the end of January. I think that my right hon. Friend will wish to listen to the views of the House before he concludes his final agreement.

Mr. Peyton

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the question of discussing the O'Brien Report that has been raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) and Ludlow (Mr. More)? The right hon. Gentleman produced an uncharacteristic riposte when he said that the previous administration had not given the House an opportunity to discuss the report. My recollection—I may be wrong—is that the report was published in February 1974. That hardly offered an opportunity for the previous administration to arrange a debate in the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider this matter. It is a matter of great importance in agricultural constituencies. I need not remind him how depressed and unhappy many people feel in such constituencies.

Secondly, I refer to the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Bill. It is proposed to take the remaining stages on Tuesday next. Many amendments are being tabled from both sides of the House. I understand that my right hon. and hon. Friends have some 60 amendments in mind. I also understand that there are Government amendments and amendments from other sources as well. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to consider the matter again and be prepared to take a reasonable view if adequate progress is not made on Tuesday.

Mr. Short

I have said clearly for the past two weeks that there is no time to debate the O'Brien Report before Christmas. I regret this as much as anyone in the House. There just is not time to debate it. Arranging the business of the House, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is a matter of priorities. There are other matters to be debated before the O'Brien Report. I have undertaken to do all that I can to ensure that the O'Brien Report is debated.

Mr. Wiggin

What priorities?

Mr. Short

I should have thought that our membership of the EEC was of some importance to the British people. That has to be debated, as has the Finance Bill. If the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) has anything to say, perhaps he will stand up and say it and not say it whilst remaining seated. I will undertake, if at all possible, to have a debate on the O'Brien Report in the first week when we come back.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Bill. I have checked the matter carefully. Ten Government amendments have been tabled and there are approximately seven issues to be debated. So far there is only one non-Government amendment. That guided us in our arrangements, but we shall see how we get on next Tuesday.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the statement of the Secretary of State for Energy on Monday on energy conservation he will deal with the question of nationalised industries' tariffs? If not, will he give us an assurance that Early-Day Motion No. 98, which has been signed by nearly 100 of my hon. Friends, will be debated in the near future?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government in the course of its current review of nationalised industries' prices to take steps to ensure that the regressive nature of the tariffs in the electricity, gas and telecommunications services, whereby the smallest and poorest consumers—particularly old age pensioners—pay the highest prices, be brought to an end.]

Mr. Short

I cannot anticipate my right hon. Friend's statement on Monday, nor can I promise at this moment any debate on Motion No. 98.

Mr. Percival

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the many back benchers who have signed one or more of the motions relating to the death penalty will appreciate the fact that he has responded to their wishes and made time available next week instead of the week after? Is he aware that we are also glad to have heard the answer that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition as to the form which the debate may take? Will he go a little further? He referred initially in his Business statement to a debate on capital punishment. Will he give us an indication of when the motion is likely to be available? When will it be tabled? If it is in general terms, such as suggested in the right hon. Gentleman's original statement, will he assure the House that it will be in such form as to permit of amendment to raise the narrower and separate issue of the death penalty for terrorism?

Mr. Short

Almost any motion would be amendable in that way by deleting certain words and substituting other words. The hon. and learned Gentleman need have no fear on that point. With regard to the tabling of the motion, I said earlier that I thought that the best thing would be for me to wait until tomorrow to see what back-bench motions have been tabled. If at all possible, the Government will take a back-bench motion and make that the motion for the debate. That is the traditional way of debating this subject in the House.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Many hon. Members wish to speak in the next debate. It is an important debate.