HC Deb 19 December 1974 vol 883 cc1814-21
Mr. Heath

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will kindly state the business for the first week after the Adjournment.

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

Yes, Sir. The business for the first week after the Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 13TH JANUARY—Supply [7th allotted day]: Debate on a motion to take note of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Reports from the Committee of Public Accounts in Session 1974, and the related Departmental Minutes.

Motion relating to the Butter Prices Order 1974.

TUESDAY 14TH JANUARY—Remaining stages of the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Bill and of the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill.

Motion on EEC Documents COM(69)127 and R/2610/74 on Doctors and Dentists.

WEDNESDAY 15TH JANUARY—Progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

THURSDAY 16TH JANUARY—Debate on the Report of the O'Brien Committee on the Export of Live Animals, Command No. 5566.

Motions on EEC Documents R/3358/74 on Agricultural Prices, and R/1270/74 on Consumer Rights and Protection.

FRIDAY 17TH JANUARY—Debate on the Report of the Nugent Committee on Defence Lands, and on the Sandford Report of the National Park Policies Review Committee.

Mr. Heath

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that statement. Can he tell us the form in which the debate will take place on the O'Brien Report? I think the House would like to know. We are grateful that at long last we are to have a debate on this matter.

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that there will be a debate on the National Consumer Agency before it is set up?

The Leader of the House will know that this morning an important amendment to the Social Security Benefits Bill, affecting many thousands of disabled housewives, was carried against the Government, with the support of both parties. Will he give a happy Christmas message to those affected by telling them that the Government will accept the amendment?

Mr. Short

The debate on the O'Brien Report will be on a substantive motion and, as far as we are concerned—and I am sure this applies to the Opposition, too—there will be a free vote at the end of the day.

I shall pass the right hon. Gentleman's comments on the Natonal Consumer Agency and on the vote in Committee this morning to my right hon. Friends, and no doubt they will consider what he said.

Mr. Jay

Is it not regrettable that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has not found time for a debate this week on the Prayer against the import duties order which raises a number of food taxes on 1st January? Do I understand that he has not even found time for that debate during the first week after the recess? When will he find time for it?

Mr. Short

I give my right hon. Friend the undertaking that I shall find time for a debate before the Prayer is out of time.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to move Item 4 on page 2386 of the Orders of the Day relating to the Elections (Welsh Forms) Regulations 1974, as such a decision will give time for the hon. Lady the Undersecretary of State for the Home Department to carry out the assurances that she gave the Standing Committee yesterday?

Mr. Short

I can certainly meet the hon. Member on that. If that is his wish, I can ensure that the order is not put today. Of course, there could be no debate in the House, when it has already been discussed in Committee; it simply comes here for a vote, if necessary. But if he feels strongly about this, I will certainly ensure that that motion is not moved today.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the great public debate on whether this country should remain in the Common Market has, in the minds of many people, been unfairly presented because of what appears to many of us to be the constitutional impropriety of commissioners in Brussels, who hold the same status as civil servants in this country, having free access to the media to propound their biased views without anyone having an opportunity to rebut them? Is this not a vital issue that the House should discuss when we return?

Mr. Short

I think that there is a problem about the activities and pronouncements of international civil servants. There was a statement by the Secretary-General of NATO last week. Certainly that is a point that the Government should consider.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

What has happened to the adjourned debate on the Bill relating to seat belts?

Mr. Short

I gave an assurance last week that that is still adjourned. I shall be reinstating that debate in the near future.

Mr. Spearing

Can my right hon. Friend tell us on what motion the three EEC orders will arise in the first week after the recess? Will he accept the request of the Scrutiny Committee that such motions should be amendable?

Mr. Short

We are considering the whole question of how we deal with these motions. As my hon. Friend knows, only today I have offered to have a long discussion with the Opposition on this question. We are feeling our way in this procedure and are coming up against difficulties the whole time, but I am happy to talk to the Opposition spokesman or any other hon. Member who has views on these matters.

Mr. Churchill

Since the Prime Minister has just said that he will make a statement on the doctrine of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, can we expect that statement in the first week after the recess?

Mr. Wigley

When do the Government intend that we should debate the Kilbrandon proposals and the White Paper issued in September? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that that debate will be a two-day debate?

Mr. Short

There will be a debate some time in the last week in January. I should like to sound out opinion on both sides of the House about whether we need a two-day debate, but if that is the general wish of the House, I will certainly arrange for it.

Mr. Body

One appreciates that the right hon. Gentleman has undertaken that we shall be able to debate the new import duties order. Can he go on to say that we shall have ample time to debate it, since it increases a large number of food taxes and is of considerable public importance?

Mr. Short

My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has put down a Prayer on this subject. I take it that that is what the hon. Gentleman has in mind. The time for that debate, of course, will be one-and-a-half hours.

Mr. Spriggs

Has the report on Members' interests been sent to the printers? If so, when may we expect it to be laid before the House?

Mr. Short

I am afraid that I do not know. I was led to understand that it would be coming before Christmas, and I still hope that it does. However, I certainly have not got it or seen it yet.

Mr. Winterton

Although the farming industry and many hon. Members will welcome the debate on the O'Brien Report, would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that a crisis still exists in agriculture? Will he seriously consider setting up a Select Committee on agriculture, as has been urged upon him by many hon. Members?

Mr. Short

Without accepting the premise of that question, I will certainly look at the hon. Member's suggestion.

Mr. Powell

With reference to the business on the Thursday night of the week after the recess, on the EEC documents, I understood the right hon. Gentleman to refer to "a motion", in the singular. If so, would he reconsider that statement, since the two documents appear to refer to very different subjects?

Mr. Short

I think that I referred to a motion on agricultural prices, that is, Document R/3358/ 74, and to a motion on consumer rights and protection, Document R/1270/74. There are two different documents.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Would the right hon. Gentleman try to arrange for a debate as early as possible in the new year on the strategic plan for the North-West, so that all hon. Members may express their view? I have been asking for this since 6th May last year.

Mr. Short

I know, and I pay tribute to the hon. Lady's persistence. I have suggested to her before that she might try to influence her own Front Bench to use one of their Supply Days for this matter. That was the practice followed by the Labour Party when in opposition, and very successfully.

Mr. Adley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all hon. Members are concerned that what they say in the House is considered to be accurate? Is he aware that the Foreign Secretary accused me yesterday of inaccuracy, when I told him that the Australian Prime Minister had said that the present Government were shilly-shallying? Would he try to persuade his right hon. Friend to make a statement in the House or to find some other way of apologising to me?

Mr. Short

I will certainly refer to my right hon. Friend what the hon. Gentleman has said, but of course all hon. Members are responsible for what they say.

Mr. Rost

Why have the Government not yet allocated time for a debate on the energy conservation programme, in view of the widespread criticism that they have done too little too late?

Mr. Short

The Secretary of State for Energy made an important statement recently, which he said was an interim statement. However, I passed on this point to him last week, and he will bear it in mind. If he thinks it advisable to debate the matter, I will certainly try to arrange a debate on it.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

When will legislation come forward to introduce public lending rights?

Mr. Short

I know that the Undersecretary of State for Education is very active in this matter and he hopes to make an announcement of some kind before Christmas. However, the Bill will not be introduced, I am afraid, until after the recess.

Mr. Michael Marshall

When may we expect a debate on the problems of the steel industry, particularly bearing in mind the desperate shortage of steel in the country, the urgent need for an announcement on the closure review and the intemperate attacks on the Chairman of the Steel Corporation by many Labour Members?

Mr. Short

Not next week, Sir.

Mr. Lamond

Does my right hon. Friend recall that I asked him whether he could ask our right hon. Friend to make a statement about the import of cotton yarn from Mediterranean associates in the EEC? May I remind him that this is a matter of great urgency and ask that he try to get something done about it by tomorrow at the latest?

Mr. Short

I agree that this is an extremely important point, which has been concerning the Government very much. I will refer to my right hon. Friend what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Dykes

In view of the need for regular monitoring of the economic situation and the fact that the Secretary of State for Employment woefully failed to deal with the essential basis of the current economic crisis last night, when, also, the Prime Minister was not here, would the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early debate on the economy again in January?

Mr. Short

When there is another debate on the economy and one of my right hon. Friends is trying to put the case, I hope that the Conservative Party will allow him to do so.

Mr. Hannam

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the point of order that I raised on Tuesday concerning the lack of time available for important arts Questions? Would he seriously consider the suggestion, suported by hon. Members in all parts of the House, that time be given at 3.5 p.m. on those days when Education and Science Questions are tabled, for arts Questions to be answered?

Mr. Short

I realise that there is a problem, and my right hon. Friend the Government Chief Whip will discuss it through the usual channels. There is only a limited amount of time, and any time given to the arts will have to come from something else. However, we shall consider this.

Mr. Cryer

Can my right hon. Friend give any indication of when the legislation will be introduced to empower us to hold a binding referendum on the question of membership of the EEC?

Mr. Short

Not yet, Sir, not next week —not before Christmas. However, I hope that we can announce something shortly afterwards.

Mr. Michael Latham

When will there be a debate on the Prayer in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) on the important regulations entitled the Building (Second Amendment) Regulations, which deal with the thermal insulation of houses?

Mr. Short

Off the cuff, I cannot say how that order stands in time, but I will certainly look at it. However, I cannot guarantee to give any time—at least, not before the Prayer runs out.

Mr. Peyton

May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the very important question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) about a debate on energy? There is a widespread feeling that the Government, having wasted a great deal of time before taking any conservation measures, then did something halfhearted, which amounted to only a frivolous skirmish with the problem. We shall want a debate at an early date.

Mr. Short

If the right hon. Gentleman cares to call a statement which will save about £100 million a year a frivolous skirmish, I can only say that I do not. I think that that is a lot of money. However, it was an interim statement. I will certainly see what we can do and whether my right hon. Friend is able to say something else.

Mr. Faulds

What are the Government's intentions as to public lending rights? We had understood that a Bill was promised for before Christmas.

Mr. Short

I answered that question three minutes ago.

Mr. Tom King

When shall we hear a statement about the situation in the British motor-cycle industry, and particularly NVT?

Mr. Short

The problem there, to which I have referred on a number of occasions, still persists. As soon as it has been resolved, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will come to the House with a motion.

Mr. Lawson

In the light of the extraordinary performance of the Secretary of State for Employment last night in being determined to say nothing from the beginning to the end of his winding-up speech, may we have a White Paper clearly setting out the precise terms of the social contract?

Mr. Short

The extraordinary performance last night was by the Conservative Party, which quite deliberately tried to prevent my right hon. Friend from putting the Government's point of view.