HC Deb 12 December 1974 vol 883 cc772-83
Mr. Heath

Will the Leader of the House please state the business for next week?

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

Yes, Sir.

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 16th December—There will be a debate on Defence, on a Motion to take note of the Secretary of State's statement on Tuesday 3rd December.

Motions on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order, and on the Milk (Extension of Period of Control of Maximum Prices) Order.

TUESDAY 17th December—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Debate on ECC Document No. R / 2712 / 74 on Community Loans.

WEDNESDAY 18th December—Supply [5th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on the Economy on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the British Leyland Motor Corporation Limited.

THURSDAY 19th December—Supply [6th Allotted Day]: The Votes on Account and Winter Supplementaries will be before the House.

Debate on Developments in the European Communities, March-October 1974 Command No. 5790.

Debate on EEC Documents R/2829/74, R/2155/74, R/2340/74 and R/2443/74 on Community Finance and on the Draft General Budget.

FRIDAY 20th December—It will be proposed that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment until Monday 13th January 1975.

Mr. Heath

A considerable number of points arise from the Business Statement. The House will have noticed the change of business on Tuesday from what was discussed last week. The whole House will be sorry to lose a second day's debate on defence. However, the Opposition felt that it was necessary to have a debate on the economy before we rose for Christmas. Therefore, we are giving up our Supply Day for that debate. The House will wish to return to defence after we get back in the New Year, when no doubt the Secretary of State for Defence will have carried out his consultations with our friends and allies concerned. In this connection, will the Leader of the House note that a "take note" motion will give the Opposition an opportunity to put down an amendment to the defence debate?

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be making a statement on the result of his Middle East visit?

I understand that the White Paper on Public Expenditure will not be published until some time in the new year. That is very unsatisfactory. Hitherto, we have always had the White Paper before Christmas. Obviously, in debating the economy we should have been given the information about public expenditure cuts which the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised in his last statement. Will the Leader of the House ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give us information on that? Will he also let us know what he is proposing to do about nationalised industry prices, because he also promised us details of that in his Budget Statement?

Can the Leader of the House tell us when we shall have the revised Price Code, which is to come into effect, we understand, before Christmas.

On Wednesday evening there is a motion on the British Leyland Motor Corporation Ltd. How long shall we have to deal with that? I understand that the motion concerns the giving of a guarantee for the first £50 million working capital to British Leyland. If it is proposed to hold only a one and a half-hour debate on an affirmative order, that gives very little time for the House to debate a most important matter. Will the Leader of the House say whether the time can be extended?

Can the Leader of the House then say on which day the Adjournment motion will be taken. If, as he suggests, it is not to be until Thursday, that is very late. When they were in opposition, the Leader of the House and his colleagues always protested if such a suggestion were made, and it will take time out of a very important European debate in which most hon. Members want to take part.

There is also an important matter concerning Northern Ireland. The Leader of the House promised us there would be new developments for dealing with Northern Ireland legislation, including a Grand Committee. Can he tell us when that will be finalised, and when we may expect his views on that matter?

Mr. Short

That is quite a tall order.

I confirmed what the right hon. Gentleman said. Tuesday was an Opposition Supply Day. This is a matter of the priorities of the Opposition. They decided to have a debate on the economy instead of a second day on defence. There will be ample opportunities in the new year for debating defence, both the White Paper and the individual Services.

I shall pass on to my hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer what the right hon. Gentleman has said about statements on his visit to Saudi Arabia, on the White Paper and on nationalised industry prices. The Price Code will be published next week, and we shall provide an opportunity to debate it after the recess.

The Adjournment motion, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, will we hope, be taken on Thursday. I am sorry about that, but all the days next week are extremely important ones. We rearranged the business this week to hold a debate on capital punishment. At the request of the Opposition we have rearranged business twice for next week. There are problems. This follows the precedent created prior to Christmas 1973 when the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister. I am not suggesting that is a good reason for doing so. Nevertheless, there is that precedent.

With regard to the Northern Ireland Committee, I am sorry I have not yet reached agreement with everyone concerned. I hope to be able to discuss this through the usual channels and make an announcement before very long.

Mr. Heath

May I remind the Leader of the House of the point about British Leyland and the amount of time available for debate?

With regard to Europe, may I suggest that we have a suspension to take account of the time taken up on the Adjournment motion?

Mr. Short

I shall be very happy to discuss the subject of British Leyland through the usual channels. There will be a debate on the economy. I imagine that British Leyland will feature in the debate as well as during the period after 10 o'clock.

We will allow time at the end of the day for the European debate, if that is the general wish, to make up for "injury" time lost during the Adjournment debate.

Mr. Spriggs

May I press my right hon. Friend to give an undertaking today that we shall have a report on hon. Members' interests next week before the Christmas Recess?

Mr. Short

We have not yet received the report of the Select Committee, but as soon as we do so I shall see that it is made available.

Mr. Pardoe

I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has no say over the choice of subject for a Supply Day, but is he yet in a position to confirm whether the debate on Wednesday will be concerned with general matters of the economy or more particularly with the situation of sterling? If the latter, while of course the House would want to express its views on any matter under the sun, does he not accept that to discuss the British economy might not be showing a very good sense of timing? Would he care to comment on that?

Mr. Short

The debate will be held on a motion for the Adjournment. It will be a fairly wide debate. Therefore, any matter concerning the economy can be raised.

Mr. Wood

I assume that some of the matters will be discussed in that debate, but can the Lord President say when we shall have a specific debate on the very important statements made by the Secretary of State for Energy and the Minister for Transport last Monday?

Mr. Short

I am afraid I cannot promise any time before Christmas, but certainly I shall bear that in mind.

The Secretary of State said that this was an interim statement. I imagine that he will have something else to say in the new year.

Mr. Jay

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of my hon. Friends and I have put down a Prayer against the Import Duties General (No. 5) Order, which would raise still further a number of import duties on food from 1st January 1975? Can we be assured that the House will have the opportunity to discuss and decide this matter before these far-reaching proposals come into operation?

Mr. Short

I will look at that and, although I cannot give any undertaking about it, I shall certainly consider it.

Mr. Carlisle

May I ask the Leader of the House what has happened to the Road Traffic (Seat Belts), Bill? He may remember that, despite objections from the Opposition, the Government's business managers insisted that we start the debate at about 9 'clock in the evening three or four weeks ago. If it is now to be adjourned until after Christmas, would it not be fairer to take the Bill away, reintroduce it, and start the debate again?

Mr. Short

No, I do not think so. As I explained, I tried to help the House on this matter. I promised that if we came to the Second Reading debate rather late in the day we would be prepared to adjourn the debate and come back to it later. A number of matters have come up in the last week or so. These have rather disorganised the timetable. The Second Reading of the Bill will be reinstated on the Order Paper after the Christmas Recess.

Mr. Faulds

Since the Opposition seem sadly short of steam, would my right hon. Friend suggest through the usual channels that they might provide a Supply Day when the House could examine the damaging effects of the Government's financial policies on the arts— indeed, when the House could pursue and prosecute the general lack of any Government policy on the arts whatsoever?

Mr. Short

A great deal of steam is coming from a number of quarters. My hon. Friend will have seen the statement made by the Under-Secretary this week. I think that the arts are being extremely well treaded in the present difficult economic circumstances.

Mr. Cormack

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider altering next week's business in view of the enormous complexity of the Finance Bill? Would it not be better to leave that until after Christmas and to debate the O'Brien Report in its place? Will he also pay a little attention to the early-day motion, signed by more than 70 of my hon. Friends, on the Shrewsbury pickets, and arrange for a statement to be made at the Prime Minister's meeting next week when he is better?

[That this House views with grave concern the possible constitutional implications of the Prime Minister's agreement to discuss with the TUC the case of the lawfully convicted Shrewsbury pickets.]

Mr. Short

I hope, in my business statement next week, to announce the date of the debate on the O'Brien Report. I am afraid we cannot alter the Finance Bill arrangements. It is the Second Reading, and there is a timetable for the Finance Bill. It is essential to get the Second Reading before Christmas.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that "British Ley-land" means not only the manufacture of cars, trucks and buses but also hundreds of thousands of jobs? Since it is now the only major British-owned motor manufacturer, does he not think it is worth more than one and a half hours—

Mr. Short

This is the affirmative resolution required under the Industry Act for the guarantee to the banks. There will be a debate on the Adjournment on the economy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry would be able, if he caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, to make a speech on this during the general debate.

Sir Bernard Braine

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the promise the Prime Minister made to me a fortnight ago, that he would consider sympathetically the making of an early ministerial statement before Christmas on the subject of the world food crisis? If there are difficulties in that regard, perhaps the Government would consider the publication of a White Paper, since it is surely essential that Parliament and the nation should know what sort of response the Government are making to this very serious situation.

Mr. Short

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about this. I know that for many years he has been extremely active in these matters and concerned about them. I shall remind my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about his promise to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Peyton

Will the Leader of the House look into the position concerning when Written Answers should be published? I understand that on Monday this week Written Answers to defence Question were made available for publication but that for some reason publication was delayed.

I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Christmas Adjournment motion. Whatever precedents he may wish to quote, I hope that he will still agree that the motion should be taken earlier rather than later.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood), that we shall require an early opportunity to discuss energy policy generally? Many hon. Members feel that the Secretary of State for Energy the other day put off more questions than he answered.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman about the O'Brien Report? We had hoped for a debate on this matter, because it is a very urgent one for the agriculture industry. It has been put off again. But I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find time for this in the first week after the Christmas Recess.

Mr. Short

Dealing first with the O'Brien Report, I have said each week for some weeks now that I could not find time for a debate before Christmas. However, it will appear in my next Business Statement. I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about energy, and I will convey it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's question about Written Answers, I am afraid that I do not know the answer, but I shall look into it and see that the matter is put right.

Mr. Gow

Is it still the intention of the Leader of the House to table an amendment to the Servants of the Crown Order 1960? If so, when does he intend us to debate the subject?

Mr. Short

I have undertaken not to have this order put before the Privy Council until the House has had an opportunity to debate it.

Mr. David Mitchell

Is the Leader of the House aware that last Friday the Government accepted a motion calling urgently for measures to encourage enterprise and initiative? Can we have some indication of when we may expect a statement on these urgent matters?

Mr. Short

The sentiments inthat motion motivate everything that the Government do.

Mr. John Davies

In announcing Thursday's business, the Leader of the House said that there would be a debate first on the six-monthly report of the Community and that that would be followed by a debate on two instruments. Would it not be more convenient to take, at the same time as the six-monthly report, the instrument dealing with the Commission's report on Community finance, which relates to our renegotiation aspirations? They are associated subjects, and it seems a pity to divide them.

Mr. Short

If that is agreeable to the Opposition, I shall be happy to discuss the possibility.

Mr. Jasper More

May we have a clear answer about the Shrewsbury pickets? In view of the Prime Minister's illness, has the proposed meeting with the TUC taken place? Will the Leader of the House guarantee in any event that before we adjourn for Christmas we shall have a statement on how this important matter stands?

Mr. Short

I cannot answer the first part of that question, I am afraid. I am not sure on which day the Prime Minister was seeing the TUC. I know that he has gone to bed today, and that he has been instructed to stay there until Monday at the earliest. If the meeting has not already taken place, clearly it will not take place this week. The purpose of that meeting was to discuss the issues arising out of this case. I shall pass on to the Prime Minister what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I am not sure that this is an appropriate matter for a statement. In any event, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is the Minister responsible, is to answer Questions in the House next week about it.

Mr. Kershaw

On Monday's business, will there by a statement about the European summit meeting? If there is one, no doubt we shall wish to spend time on it, which will take further time from the defence debate. In those circumstances, will it be possible to extend the time for the discipline Acts after 10 o'clock so that the same subject may be pursued?

Mr. Short

It would be so, and I shall look at that. I am not sure what the position is or how long the statement will take.

Mr. Onslow

In view of the statement by the Secretary of State last night, that our present difficulties are much greater than many people understand, and in view of his reference to the possibility that most people may face a period of real austerity, will the Leader of the House undertake that whoever opens the debate on the economy next week on behalf of the Government will be able to spell out what is meant by "real austerity ", will be able to explain the Government's understanding of the difficulties, and will tell us that the effect of them on such matters as the National Health Service will be taken into account?

Mr. Short

The Government have never disguised the seriousness of the situation. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) would like a list of speeches by the Prime Minister in which he has pointed out the seriousness of the situation, I shall be happy to send it to him. Certainly there will be a Government speaker in the debate on the economy who will deal with the matter objectively, clearly and in no uncertain terms.

Mr. Lawson

Can the Leader of the House say when the employment protection Bill will be brought forward, and assure us that, before it is, the consultative document will be debated fully, because it is causing grave concern throughout large sectors of British industry, especially to many smaller firms?

Mr. Short

I cannot give an exact date for the Bill. It will not be very long delayed. I hope that it will be early in the new year, probably the end of January or the beginning of February.

Mr. Blaker

Is the Leader of the House aware of the very serious situation which will arise from the end of this month in the glasshouse sector of the horticulture industry? Has he seen an early-day motion calling attention to the problems resulting from the high cost of fuel oil, and will he ask the Minister of Agriculture to make a statement about what he proposes to do from the beginning of the year?

[That this House deplores the Government's refusal to assist the glasshouse sector of the horticulture industry with its oil costs after the end of 1974, bearing in mind the importance of the glass-house sector to the economy and the enormous investment in it in the last 10 years; and calls on the Government to negotiate an extension of the present subsidy until the end of June 1975 and to work out in consultation with our partners in the EEC a scheme for a subsidy on a diminishing basis over the next six years as recommended by the farming organisations of the EEC member countries.]

Mr. Short

My right hon. Friend is aware of the importance of this. I shall refer the hon. Gentleman's remarks to him.

Mr. Charles Morrison

When, as I hope he does, the Minister of Agriculture responds next week to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker), will he also make a statement about the export of live store animals, which was the matter which I raised last week with the Leader of the House, and in that respect has the right hon. Gentleman had any response from the Minister of Agriculture?

Mr. Short

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend will be able to make a statement next week, but I will pass on to him what the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) has said.

Mr. Marten

In the debate next Thursday on the Common Market, shall we have any indication of the Government's view on whether we are to have a referendum and, if so, what form it will take? Before such a statement is made, may I advise the Government to study what the Conservative Government did about the referendum on the legislation for Northern Ireland?

Mr. Short

There will not be any statement next week about a referendum. Certainly our firm undertaking stands. This matter will be put to the people when the renegotiation has ended—

Mr. Arthur Lewis

In a ballot.

Mr. Short

—in a ballot, and the people will make a decision themselves. But I am afraid that there will be no statement next week on a referendum.

Mr. Pym

When does the Leader of the House propose to set up a Select Committee on agriculture? Is he aware that the Minister of Agriculture is in favour of this and that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will favour its early establishment?

Mr. Short

I have never promised to do this, but I shall be happy to discuss it through the usual channels.

Mr. Michael Latham

When are we likely to have the long-promised and now urgent detailed statement on the development land tax?

Mr. Short

This will be a while coming forward. If the hon. Gentleman shows a little patience, it will come in due course.

Mr. Michael Shaw

In view of the comment by the Leader of the House about the Price Code not being debated until after the recess, shall we be able to debate the document prior to the code being implemented?

Mr. Short

It will be published next week and debated some time after recess.