HC Deb 28 March 1974 vol 871 cc628-38
Mr. Heath

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business of the House for next week?

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 1st April—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Statement.

Motion on the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (Dissolution) Order.

TUESDAY 2nd April—Supply (2nd Allotted Day): There will be a debate on Offshore Oil, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

At seven o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed Private Business for consideration.

WEDNESDAY 3rd April—Second Reading of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Bill.

Motion on the Housing Corporation Advances (Increase of Limit) Order.

THURSDAY 4th April—Debate on Northern Ireland Affairs, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 5th April—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 8th April—Until seven o'clock, consideration of Private Members' motions.

At seven o'clock, opposed Private Business has been named for consideration.

The House will wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, it will be proposed that we should rise for the Easter Adjournment on Thursday 11th April, until Monday 29th April.

Mr. Heath

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement and for the information he has given about the Easter Recess. We can only draw the conclusion that the Government have not a clue as to what to do with the time available to them and therefore see no point in having Parliament sitting in the usual way.

First, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when the Defence White Paper will be published and when the Secretary of State for Defence will make a statement?

Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Secretary of State for the Environment will be making a statement about his negotiations with the building societies on the mortgage rate?

Thirdly, in view of the statement by the British Aircraft Corporation that figures given by the Secretary of State for Industry on the costs of cancelling Concorde are completely misleading, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State to come back to the House and make a real statement about the consequences?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also tell us when either he or the Prime Minister will be making a statement about their undertaking to the Clay Cross councillors?

Lastly, when will the Chancellor of the Exchequer come back to the House and give the real facts about the implications of his Budget on the retail price index?

Mr. Short

I said last week that there would be a Defence White Paper. It is a long and detailed survey. I cannot say when the White Paper will be published.

Secondly, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment issued a short statement this morning after his discussions with the building societies. A study is going on and it is hoped to complete it before Easter. I think that the appropriate time for a statement is at the conclusion of the study, but I will convey to my right hon. Friend what the right hon. Gentleman said.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will be making a statement about Concorde in due course, but not next week.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about Clay Cross. We are considering this matter, but we have a great many matters to consider. When we entered Whitehall three weeks ago we found not just one skeleton in the cupboard but skeletons in every cupboard, left behind by our predecessors. We found skeletons not only in the cupboards but sitting on tables, shelves and the tops of cupboards and hanging from the lamps. When we have found a way through all the skeletons we shall get to Clay Cross.

Mr. Heath

The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands the position. The Clay Cross skeleton is in his own cupboard. What the House would like to know is when he proposes to get rid of it in one way or another.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is forthcoming about the nature of statements but is not precise at any time as to when they will be made? Will he endeavour in future to be rather more precise about when members of the Government will make statements?

Mr. Short

The right hon. Gentleman should stop trying to lecture us.

Sir G. de Freitas

When shall we have the chance to debate the setting up of a European Communities Committee on the lines recommended unanimously by the all-party Foster report?

Mr. Short

As I tried to say in the speech which I was not allowed to make the other night, I hope that we can agree to set up the Committee without debate. I shall be making a statement very shortly about the rest of the Foster report.

Mr. Peyton

Following the election there is a certain amount of uncertainty about the Government's intentions on defence policy, and we are all quite confident that the right hon. Gentleman will want to dispel it as soon as possible. When can we expect the Defence White Paper and a debate upon it?

Mr. Short

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was not listening to the reply I gave to the Leader of the Opposition. I said that there would be a White Paper in due course but that I could not say when. It will not be for some weeks.

Mr. Kerr

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to Early Day Motion No. 26 on the subject of banning arms for Fascist Chile? Is he prepared to give an early opportunity to debate the matter in the House?

[That this House, profoundly opposed to the supply of arms and military equipment to military dictatorship in Chile, urges Her Majesty's Government not to proceed with the proposed delivery of naval vessels.]

Mr. Short

Not next week.

Mr. Emery

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider fully the question of the time scale of a statement on mortgages? It seems from his reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that a statement might not be made until the conclusion of the Government's consideration of the matter. Meetings have been held today and there has been no statement, other than to the Press. I believe that the House would wish to know what action the Government are taking on mortgages and on keeping down mortgage rates, since they are thinking of spending money in so many other ways.

Mr. Short

I never cease to be astounded by hon. Members opposite. The mortgage situation is yet another of our legacies from the previous Government and is one of the most intricate. I said that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment met the building societies this morning. He made a very brief statement afterwards to the Press. But there was nothing very much at that stage that he could say to the Press. However, if it is the general wish of the Opposition that there should be a statement, I will communicate that to my right hon. Friend, but I thought the most sensible thing would be to have a statement when the study referred to this morning is completed.

Mr. Palmer

When will a date be fixed for the promised debate on the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on nuclear reactor choices?

Mr. Short

I cannot give my hon. Friend a date, but there will not be time before Easter.

Mr. Douglas Henderson

I have a question which, unlike some others, may relate to the business of next week. It concerns the motion on today's Order Paper to establish a Select Committee on Services, It may be that we shall find it necessary to object to this motion tonight since there has been no consultation with our party on the composition and terms of reference of the Committee and, according to the terms of the motion, we are not to be represented on it. If, therefore, we object to the motion tonight, will time be made available for discussion of this very important matter in next week's business?

Mr. Short

I promised during business questions last week that there would be a statement about this on the Order Paper today and I believe that there is. If the hon. Gentleman would like to come and discuss this with me afterwards, I should be pleased to talk to him about it.

Mr. Tuck

Now that the eagerly awaited Sharp Report has been published, with its recomendations relating to disabled drivers, can my right hon. Friend promise us that after Easter there will be an early debate upon the report so that we may go ahead in implementing its recommendations?

Mr. Short

This is a very thorough report. There will be no debate before Easter but I will pass on my hon. Friend's comments to my right hon. Friend responsible for this matter.

Mr. William Clark

In view of the minority position of the Government, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Finance Bill will be taken on the Floor of the House? Does he agree that it would be regrettable if a measure of this magnitude, which does so much harm to so many people, were to be tucked away in a Committee with a minority Government trying to get it through?

Mr. Short

The country has to be governed. The practice in the past has been that part of the Finance Bill is taken on the Floor of the House and part of it in Committee. We shall be discussing this through the usual channels.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

In the course of his discussions through the usual channels about the business for next week, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend has been informed officially or unofficially that the Opposition are to run away from the vote on the Budget on Monday?

Mr. Short

I have no knowledge of that at all. All I know is that I have announced the business for next week.

Mr. Farr

While I recognise that the House and country may be in for a period of prolonged non-government or hesitant government, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is fully aware of how important it is to get an early decision on our next programme of nuclear reactors, bearing in mind the report of the Committee referred to by the hon Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer)? Is he also aware how important it is for British technology and British industry that we should use the reactors which we have developed?

Mr. Short

I have already answered a question dealing with the latter point and I have nothing further to add. To take up the hon. Member's first comment, what the country needs is firm and decisive Government. We hope to have the co-operation of the parties opposite in giving the country just that.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will my right hon. Friend answer a question dealing with the roster for answering Questions? Is he aware that I want to put a Question or two to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, who continues to be kept off the roster by the machinations of the two Front Benches of a year ago? Can he assure me that the Second Church Estates Commissioner will go back on the roster so that I may draw attention to the fact that the Anglican clergy are up to their dog collars in property speculation?

Mr. Short

I am sure that there have been no machinations between the two Front Benches, either now or during the time of the previous Government, designed to take the Second Church Estates Commissioner off the roster. I will try in some way to satisfy my hon. Friend's burning desire to question the Second Church Estates Commissioner.

Mr. Kershaw

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it will be extremely unsatisfactory if the House does not have a proper opportunity to debate the Concorde issue before decisions are taken? Will he bear in mind that in Bristol and Gloucestershire these matters are of great importance and that some people in those areas remember what the previous Labour Government did to TSR2—and how they subsequently regretted it?

Mr. Short

This is yet another part of the intricate and tragic legacy left to us by the previous Government. We shall be making a statement in due course.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Leader of the House aware of the deep concern felt throughout the BBC about the proposed cuts in expenditure on the overseas services? Is he further aware that if these cuts are carried through they will be gravely damaging to one of Britain's most priceless assets? Will he arrange for a debate on this issue next week?

Mr. Short

I cannot arrange for a debate on this issue next week or even before Easter. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will read my hon. Friend's question and bear it in mind.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Will the right hon. Gentleman be setting down a motion next week to establish a new delegation from this House to the European Parliament? Does he not agree, as some of his hon. Friends clearly agreed in the Foreign Affairs debate last week, that as the so-called renegotiation is clearly taking place within the rules, framework and institutions of the present Cornmunity, the interests of the British people could best be served by having full representation in Strasbourg from all parties in the House?

Mr. Short

They are certainly not "so-called renegotiations", as the hon. Gentleman will see when he reads the White Paper following the statement of the Foreign Secretary to the Council of Ministers next week. I have answered a question on this. My view is that, while these renegotiations are going on, we should take no further action.

Mr. Skinner

When my right hon. Friend—

Mr. Adley

Too long.

Mr. Skinner

—gets round to discussing the Clay Cross situation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Declare an interest."]—with his colleagues—[An HON. MEMBER: "And brothers."]—will he bear in mind that the auditor who conducted this inquiry said in his official report that, although money was lost, over the six-week period the Clay Cross Council saved the taxpayer and ratepayer combined the sum of £2,015, which is a total of more than £25,000 at present? Will he also bear in mind that, far from being a skeleton in anyone's cupboard, this is a lusty infant that was conceived out of the confrontation provoked by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Prime Minister? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the then Government had sent in a housing commissioner at the time they sent them in Wales to Merthyr Tydfil and Bedwas this situation would not have arisen?

Mr. Short

As I said, this is one of the long queue of creaking skeletons left behind by the Tory Government—namely, defence, Concorde, nationalised industries and so on. We shall certainly get round to it and we shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend said as well as the other relevant considerations.

Mr. Prior

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to say whether he regards his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) as a legacy or a skeleton?

Mr. Short

I regard my hon. Friend as an extremely valuable Member of this House who has certainly enlivened our proceedings—and they need it.

Mr. Kershaw

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it to be the practice during business question time in future that the merits of questions may be argued in the way the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has done, or is it your intention to confine our questions to the business for next week?

Mr. Speaker

I said last week that I would cut business questions very short because of other business which was to follow but that I would allow rather more latitude this week. Certainly I do not want the merits of questions to be argued during Business Question Time.

Mr. Faulds

Since I, too, wish to put questions to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, whether he is on or off the roster, and since the Table Office last night thought that the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir M. Worsley) still had the job, may I ask when we may expect an announcement about the appointment of the Second Church Estates Commissioner?

Mr. Shore

Not next week.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Will the right hon. Gentleman examine the position of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on the Question roster? Does he recall that in the previous Tory and Labour administrations the Chancellor was a member of another substantive Department and answered Questions with that Department? Is he aware that now, although the Chancellor of the Duchy has responsibilities covering such things as overseas fund-raising and keeping a sceptical eye on the activities of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the only Questions we can put to him are those dealing with constables in Lancaster?

Mr. Short

Constables in Lancaster are very important. The hon. Gentleman knows that the initiative in respect of the roster is largely in the hands of the Opposition. We are discussing, through the usual channels, the roster after Easter.

Mr. McNamara

Will my right hon. Friend say what Church he is talking about—those who believe or those who do not believe? But on more important maters, in talking of "skeletons in cupboards", among them are the 8 per cent. to 11 per cent. rise in mortgage interest rate inherited from the Conservative Government, the provisions of the Housing Finance Act, and the tremendous increase in rates. When may we expect a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment on his discussions with the building societies and on positive steps to help the owner-occupier, since help is drastically needed?

Mr. Short

I do not think I can add anything to what I have already said on this matter. If it is the general wish of the House, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be willing to make an interim statement, but I believe that it would be more useful to the House if we delayed this until the end of the study, which I understand will be before Easter.

Mr. Speaker

I have already indicated that I shall not allow as much latitude on future occasions in regard to questions on business. I must point out that it makes my task more difficult when hon. Members repeat questions which have already been asked and answered.

Mr. Heath

Perhaps I should say to the Leader of the House that, as he said that the initiative in respect of the roster is with the Opposition, we shall take full advantage of the situation.

Mr. Cormack

Bearing in mind the views of the Leader of the House expressed on an earlier occasion, would it not be appropriate for him personally to make a statement on Clay Cross—and would not Monday 1st April be the appropriate day on which to make it?

Hon. Members


Mr. Goodhart

Since it was made plain during yesterday's Question Time that our overseas aid will be administered in a more politically-contentious manner than has been customary in the recent past, may we have an early debate on the size and distribution of our overseas aid programme?

Mr. Short

Without accepting the hon. Gentleman's premise, I can only answer by saying, "Not next week".

Mr. Lawson

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the repeated assurances given by the Conservative Government that they would set up a Select Committee on Scottish affairs? Since that Select Committee has not yet been set up, will my right hon. Friend now undertake to set it up very quickly?

Mr. Short

I am prepared to look at that matter and to discuss it with my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Lawson) if he cares to come to talk to me about it.

Mr. Peter Rees

Since the country's concern about defence skeletons in the right hon. Gentleman's cupboard will not be allayed by answers given earlier today, will the right hon. Gentleman be more precise about the Defence White Paper? Will it be produced before the Summer Recess?

Mr. Short

I have already answered that question three times today. I said that there will be a White Paper, and that is quite specific. A major review is taking place. I cannot say when it will be published, but it will not be for some weeks.

Mr. Marten

On which day next week will the Foreign Secretary make a statement on the meetings of the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Short

I do not know on which day it will be, but my right hon. Friend's speech will be published as a White Paper.

Mr. Hastings

Following what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) about Concorde, and in view of the fact that the figures advanced by the Government are seen to be debatable, to say the least, and will be increasingly challenged, why is it that the Leader of the House cannot give an absolute assurance that there will be a debate before any decision is taken?

Mr. Short

I do not in any way accept what the hon. Gentleman said. What I have said is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will eventually make a statement on Concorde when he has concluded his discussions.

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since some of the matters I wish to raise with the Second Church Estates Commissioner are in my view fairly urgent, will you give me some guidance pending his appointment? To whom shall I pose my Questions? Will it be in order to place them on the Prime Minister's list of Questions?

Mr. Speaker

I shall consider the point put to me by the hon. Gentleman. I will communicate with him.