HC Deb 23 May 1974 vol 874 cc603-11
Mr. Heath

May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for the week after the recess?

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

The business for the first week after the recess will be as follows:

MONDAY 10th June—Further progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

TUESDAY 11th June—There will be a debate on Europe, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motions on the Welfare of Livestock Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 12th June—Remaining stages of the Prices Bill.

THURSDAY 13th June—Further progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

FRIDAY 14th June—Consideration of Private Members' Motions.

Mr. Heath

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for acceding to a request which I believe will be of benefit to the whole House, that we should be able to debate the subject of Europe immediately following our return from the Whit-sun Recess, on Tuesday, after the Foreign Secretary has made his statement on 4th June. We very much appreciate what the Leader of the House has done.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman undertook last week to discuss with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services the question of deferment of part of the 1973 Act. When will it be possible to debate that matter?

Mr. Short

I am not yet able to tell the House when that debate will take place, but there will be a debate on this subject and we shall discuss the date through the usual channels.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

As my right hon. Friend knows, yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) obtained leave to bring in a Bill to outlaw hare coursing. This has been done many times and has always foundered on Second Reading "on the nod". It will do so again if the measure has to be read a Second time "on the nod". Therefore, will my right hon. Friend consider giving Government time to this most necessary Bill?

Mr. Short

There are two Fridays left for this sort of matter. We will see how things go and perhaps we can look at the subject again after that time.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Will the right hon. Gentleman say that it is not true— I hardly believe it can be true—that it is intended to do away with the State reserve pension scheme and overrule the expressed will of the House without opportunity for debate? Will he tell the House when there will be opportunity for a debate on this subject?

Mr. Short

The existing rule does not require a debate in this House, as J said in reply to the Leader of the Opposition. I have undertaken to have a debate in the House, although I repeat that a debate is not required.

Mr. Palmer

As my right hon. Friend knows, an important decision will soon be taken on the future of the Concorde project. Will he arrange for a full day's debate before any decision is taken?

Mr. Short

The Government have not yet reached a decision on this matter, nor are we likely to do so in the next few weeks. I will bear in mind my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Farr

Will any conclusion be reached during the recess about our next generation of nuclear reactors? If so, how will that information be communicated to the House and when will the House be told what the decision will be?

Mr. Short

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will be making a statement on this matter in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Harry Ewing

In view of the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday to the effect that the Labour Government do not have the guts to govern, can my right hon. Friend say whether he has had a request from the Opposition for a day after the recess on which to debate any motion of censure on the Government? Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that what is worse than a Government without the guts to govern is an Opposition without the guts to do anything about it?

Mr. Short

No, Sir, there has been no request on those lines, and we should certainly welcome one.

Mr. Donald Stewart

What progress has been made with the intelligent suggestion contained in the Queen's Speech in respect of assistance to minority parties? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the refusal of one Opposition party of such help should not be any ground on which to hold up that assistance?

Mr. Short

The proposal in the Queen's Speech was that we should look at the question of assistance to Opposition parties. We are doing that. I have had discussions with the Scottish National Party and with all parties in the House. We are considering this matter and hope to bring forward a proposal after the Summer Recess.

Mr. David Young

Will my right hon. Friend say what has been done so far about an early debate on the North-West Strategic Plan, which he agreed to consider on 9th May?

Mr. Short

I have this matter in mind, but I am afraid it is not possible to have a debate in the week following the Whitsun Recess.

Mr. Mather

Will the Leader of the House confirm or deny reports in the Daily Mirror this morning that if there is to be a General Election in July or August those on holiday in Wakes Weeks will be allowed a delayed vote?

Mr. Short

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has asked officials to study the problems involved in having a summer election and to look at the precedents.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 133, and, in view of the serious views expressed in that motion, will he find time as soon as Parliament reassembles after the Whitsun Recess for the House to have a full debate on this important topic?

[That this House, whilst wishing to make it absolutely clear it has no intention of conducting a witch hunt against any named or unnamed persons, nevertheless rejects the Report of the Security Commission dated July 1973 (Command Paper No. 5367), and expresses grave concern that the Security Commission failed to interview vital witnesses, including journalists involved in the original expose, all of whom were indispensible to an adequate investigation; moreover, in view of the continuing concern that an early warning by the security service may not have been speedily acted upon by the then Head of the Security Service, calls for an investigation into all the circumstances leading up to the Commission's Report in order that the public may be assured that no attempt at a cover-up occurred in what is accepted as having been a serious potential security-risk.]

Mr. Short

I noticed that motion, and it is the sort of topic which my hon. Friend could raise in the debate which is to follow business questions.

Mr. Tom King

Has the right hon. Gentleman had any request from the Secretary of State for Industry to make a statement about his proposals for a national enterprise board? If not, could the Leader of the House find out why there has not been a request since there has appeared in newspapers a full statement of the Secretary of State's proposals? Does not the Leader of the House appreciate the damaging impact of these proposals on industries' investment plans and, since the Secretary of State for Industry never ceases to emphasise the importance of Parliament, does not his delay in making a statement amount to a contempt of the House?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. This was an internal party document which was discussed at one of the continuing series of meetings between the Labour Party and the TUC. My right hon. Friend will be producing a Green Paper before very long.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Will my right hon. Friend consider an early debate on the report of the Advisory Council on the Penal System concerning young adult offenders, with its novel proposals for care and custody orders?

Mr. Short

I have a great deal of sympathy for this. I cannot consider it for the week after the recess, but I will bear it in mind.

Mr. Fell

Bearing in mind last night's somewhat extraordinary decision to set up a Select Committee on Members' interests, would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to say, first, when he will be able to announce the membership of the Select Committee and, second, when he can give the House some idea how long it will have to report, since there have been various rumours flying around?

Mr. Short

With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the names will be put down today and the House will be asked to approve them tomorrow so that the Select Committee may start work immediately after the recess.

There was no specified time in the resolution, but it asked the Committee to report as early as possible on matters relating to Members' interests. As I said in the debate, I hope very much that the Committee will report in time for the House to be able to reach a final decision on this matter before the Summer Recess.

Mr. Wigley

Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Floor of the House on the provisions of the Porthmadog Harbour Revision Order, as laid down in Early-Day Motion No. 139, since it provides for a scandalous trampling over the rights of the ordinary citizen by the wealthy and vested interests of the country? [That the Porthmadog Harbour Revision Order 1974, dated 8th February 1974, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th March, be annulled.]

Mr. Short

This is a complicated matter, but I will look at it to see whether time can be found to debate it.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Can my right hon. Friend say whether we are likely to have an early debate on the steel industry, bearing in mind especially all the uncertainty that exists in that vital industry at the moment following the investment and closure programme announcements of the previous administration?

Mr. Short

I cannot find time for a debate in the week after the recess, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will be making a statement today or tomorrow.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Although the Leader of the House has been courteous enough to answer my letter about the delayed Privilege matter raised by the Secretary of State for Industry, I have not heard from the Secretary of State himself. Can the right hon. Gentleman say how we can straighten out this position where an outside body is precluded from following its legal rights because of a quirk in the procedures of this House?

Mr. Short

The way to resolve the difficulty would be for my right hon. Friend to put down a motion to refer the matter back to the Committee of Privileges, and I hope that this will be done in the near future.

Mr. Torney

Is my right hon. Friend aware that an irresponsible programme was put out by BBC Television on Tuesday evening linking the cause of heart disease with the consumption of natural foods like butter, cheese, eggs, etc., and that yesterday morning, immediately following that programme, most of our national newspapers carried a full-page spread—it happened to be a Unilever advertisement—linking that programme with it? I refer my right hon. Friend to yesterday's edition of The Times for example. I feel that there is some collusion between Unilever and the BBC. In view of the fact that it is necessary for Members of this House to declare their interests, does not my right hon. Friend feel that BBC producers and other executives should declare their interests? Will he investigate this matter and make a statement immediately after the recess?

Mr. Short

It will give me great pleasure to refer my hon. Friend's words to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Adley

Is the Leader of the House aware that his remark just now to the effect that there will be no statement about Concorde for a few weeks lies ill on the minds of many thousands of Concorde workers whose shop stewards are demonstrating in London today? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Industry to come to the House immediately after the recess to let us know exactly what is going on?

Mr. Short

The House will understand that this matter has been greatly delayed by the elections in France and the necessity to appoint a new Government there. I was trying to help the House when I said that the Government had not reached a decision and were not likely to in the next few weeks.

Mr. Tomlinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the general concern on both sides of the House which is reflected in Early-Day Motions Nos. 94, 95, 119 and 134, about the inadequacies of the rating system and the effect that it is having on constituents such as mine? Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate so that we may advise the Secretary of State for the Environment of our views on rating reform before he begins negotiations with the local authority associations later this year?

[That this House calls upon the Secretary of State for the Environment to clarify the existing law so that householders who are not connected to a public sewage disposal system are not compelled to pay rates for that service from which they arc excluded.]

[That this House believes that, following the reorganisation of local government, there is an urgent need for Her Majesty's Government to set up a working party to examine methods of completely reshaping local government finance, including the abolition of the rating system.]

[That this House calls upon the Government to examine urgently the present rating system with a view to replacing rates with a local income tax, or reducing the rate burden by making education a national exchequer responsibility.]

[That this House, recognising that the rates demands issued to domestic ratepayers for 1974 imposes upon such ratepayers an intolerable burden, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take immediate steps to introduce a supplementary estimate for this year specifically related to the domestic element in the rates support grant; to inform the local authorities of the extent of the subvention so that such ratepayers can be immediately granted relief from that part of the rates demand so represented by the supplementary estimate; furthermore asks that persons whose domestic premises are not linked to a main sewerage scheme shall not be called upon to pay any sewerage charges whatsoever; moreover calls for the abolition of the present "Notional Rent" basis of rating and the substitution of the present system by one of either a direct local income tax or by an addition to and an apportionment of the present income tax payments for the financing of local government services; and, in accepting that some delay might occur in the introduction of such a system, calls upon the Government to bear the full cost of education and welfare services in the meantime.]

Mr. Short

I have a great deal of sympathy with that. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is looking at this matter very actively at present.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will the right hon. Gentleman accord a higher priority to a debate on the Strategic Study on the North-West than appeared from his original answer? Is he aware that many hon. Members representing North-West constituencies regard this strategy as a disaster, concentrating as it does on the Manchester-Merseyside axle to the exclusion of other worthy parts of the North-West, and that we should like a chance to express our opinions?

Mr. Short

I have said on a number of occasions that this is an extremely important report. I have now read it, and I agree that it is very valuable. I have not promised a debate on it. It is a regional matter. But I said that I would see what I could do later this summer.

Mr. George Lawson

Unless lam mistaken, my right hon. Friend did not say that there was to be a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs on land use. Nor did he say that he intended in the first week after the House re-assembles to announce the setting up of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Can my right hon. Friend explain the delay on both these matters and assure us that we shall see action on both of them as soon as we come back after the recess?

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend is not mistaken. I did not mention either of those matters. I will bear in mind what he says.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am afraid that we must move on. A great many hon. Members wish to speak on the Adjournment motion, and before we come to that we are to have a statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.