HC Deb 14 November 1974 vol 881 cc590-8
Mr. Heath

May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business 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, 18Th t NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill.

Motions on the Northern Ireland Social Security and Pensions (Increase) Orders.

TUESDAY, 19TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Food Subsidies (Tea) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 20TH NOVEMBER—Supply (1st Allotted Day): There will be a debate on Rates, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Agriculture (Tractor Cabs) Regulations.

THURSDAY, 21ST NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Social Security Benefits Bill, and of the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill.

FRIDAY, 22ND NOVEMBER—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY, 25TH NOVEMBER—Supply (2nd Allotted Day): There will be a debate on Agriculture.

Mr. Heath

Last week the Leader of the House announced that the motion on Norton Villiers Triumph Limited would be taken on Monday of next week, but it does not appear in the business which he has announced today. Will the Leader of the House give the reasons for postponing this debate and say when we are likely to have this order? It would seem desirable, in view of a great deal of speculation, that it should be taken at an early date.

Second, on the question of the Price Code, the impression given by the Leader of the House last week, and by the Secretary of State yesterday, was that there will be no debate on this until the actual orders are put before the House. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) was Secretary of State for Employment, he gave the House a firm undertaking that there would be a separate day's debate on the orders in their provisional form so that the Government and everyone else could take note of various proposals put forward before the final authoritative orders were placed before the House. We feel that it is absolutely essential that there should be a separate day's debate on the orders and that having the matter mixed up with a general three-day Budget debate is quite inadequate. Yesterday the Secretary of State herself emphasised what we all know—the immense complexity of the code as it has now been amended. Will the Leader of the House kindly give attention to that point?

Lastly, as the Leader of the House will be aware and as the Secretary of State for Scotland is certainly aware, the education situation in Scotland is in a critical state. Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend at least to make a statement to the House about this matter on an early occasion next week?

Mr. Short

On the first point, certain difficulties have arisen between the Meriden Co-operative and Norton Villiers Triumph Limited. I felt that it would be much better if these difficulties were resolved before the order was debated in the House. But the order will be put down in due course.

On the second point, about the Price Code, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer described the changes in the code. As the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition himself acknowledge, we allowed a fair time for a debate on the Budget. Nevertheless, he is making a fair point which certainly we can discuss through the usual channels.

On the third point, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be making a statement in the House in the very near future.

Mr. Dalyell

When is "the very near future"? Could it possibly be tomorrow?

Mr. Short

It certainly could possibly be tomorrow. I can inform my hon. Friend and the House that the Secretary of State has assured me that he will be making the statement at the very earliest possible moment.

Mr. Heath

May I express my appreciation to the Leader of the House for what he said about the debate on the price orders? We shall discuss the matter through the usual channels.

Mr. Grimond

Will the Leader of the House consult the Secretary of State for Scotland about providing an opportunity for discussing the awkward situation which has arisen owing to the error of the late Conservative Government in bringing in the reform of local government in Scotland in advance of devolution? This is now causing very great difficulty, as there are arguments on both sides. Will the right hon. Gentleman provide time for this matter to be discussed in the House?

Mr. Short

I certainly recognise the problems involved. I have promised a long debate very early in the new year on devolution. This kind of subject can be discussed then.

Mr. Stallard

In view of the very serious deterioration in the situation in Northern Ireland, will my right hon. Friend consider a very early debate on that matter because of the real threat of a drift into an even worse situation?

Mr. Short

I share my hon. Friend's fears about Northern Ireland. There will, of course, be a short debate next week. We are discussing at present—I have discussed it through the usual channels—the possibility of setting up a number of committees to discuss Northern Ireland matters. But certainly I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Monro

Is the Leader of the House aware that the situation with regard to education in Scotland is so serious that about 300,000 children are missing schooling each day? Will he bear in mind the possibility of having a debate subsequent to the statement by the Secretary of State?

Mr. Short

I cannot promise a debate, but I have promised the House that there will be a very early statement on the situation.

Mr. Stonehouse

As the most serious danger facing the world is a world food shortage, with a dangerous threat of widespread famine, especially in Third World countries, may we not have a debate on the subject to discuss what contribution this country can make towards helping improve the position?

Mr. Short

I am afraid that I cannot promise a debate on that subject this side of Christmas, but I shall certainly bear it in mind.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Will the Leader of the House consider referring the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Grand Committee? The right hon. Gentleman is the Leader of the House, but he is also the Minister in charge of devolution. Is he aware that this is the type of Bill which would have been discussed before a Scottish Assembly? By its being brought before the whole House, Scottish Members may be impeded in their attempts to contribute to the debate.

Mr. Short

I cannot accept the hon. Member's last observation or any of the premises on which his question is based. I feel that a Bill of this significance and urgency should be debated on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Douglas Henderson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you clarify the position on this matter? Would it be possible for the House to refer the Bill to the Scottish Grand Committee if a motion to that effect were tabled and moved before Tuesday?

Mr. Speaker

I would rather take the point of order at the end of business questions.

Mr. Spriggs

Has my right hon. Friend considered that there are conflicting opinions about the compulsory wearing of seat belts in cars? Will he arrange for a free vote to be taken on the Bill?

Mr. Short

My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip has already announced that there will be a free vote on the Bill.

Mr. du Cann

Has the Leader of the House given thought to the timing of a debate on the work of the Public Accounts Committee in the last Parliament? Ordinarily it would be taken before the end of December, but the House is now in a difficulty because few, if any, of the papers—and certainly not the report—have been in the hands of Members, owing to printing difficulties. Will he undertake to arrange for the debate to be held early in the new year?

Mr. Short

I shall look at the problems involved in this without making any promises and will do what I can to meet the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Stott

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving time for the House to discuss the report of the North West Strategic Study. Some 50 hon. Members were returned from the North West and wish to discuss this important document which, with its far-reaching proposals, fundamentally affects our region.

Mr. Short

I have a great deal of sympathy on this matter, as I have told the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) when she has asked me the same question on a number of occasions over a long period——

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Since May.

Mr. Short

The hon. Lady is quite right. The difficulty is that we have had a Summer Recess and a General Election in between.

Mr. David Price

Has the Leader of the House seen Early Day Motion No. 12 standing in my name and those of 26 other hon. Members seeking to refer the future of the HS146 short-haul civil airliner project to a Select Committee? Will the Leader of the House be tabling an appropriate motion?

[That this House requests the Leader of the House, as a matter of urgency, to move to refer the future of the HS146 short-haul civil airliner project to an appropriate Select Committee for study and advice, and that this project be maintained until the report of the said Select Committee has been published, replied to by the Government and debated by this House.]

Mr. Short

We are very anxious about this project and the Government are considering what action to take on it.

Mr. Hooley

May I refer to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse)? Millions of people are on the edge, and some over the edge, of starvation. Is this not a matter for attention by the House, and could we not before Christmas have a debate on overseas aid and the world food situation?

Mr. Short

I cannot promise that. We have a heavy programme and we must get our legislation well on the way before Christmas. I realise the importance of the subject, and we referred to it in the Queen's Speech. When there is an opportunity, I shall try to arrange a suitable debate.

Mr. Rifkind

Is the Leader of the House aware that a statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland on the Scottish teaching crisis will be of no constructive value since that right hon. Gentleman's views are already well known? Is he aware that the vast majority of Scottish back benchers, including Labour Members are critical of the Secretary of State's handling of the matter? Is that why the Leader of the House has refused to permit a debate on the subject?

Mr. Short

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State holds all kinds of views about which the hon. Gentleman knows nothing. The House had better wait for the statement. I do not think it will be disappointed when it hears it.

Mr. Roper

When will my right hon. Friend set up a Select Committee on European secondary legislation, which many of us think should be set up immediately notwithstanding the motion on the Order Paper to set up a Select Committee to consider procedure?

Mr. Short

There is a problem. I do not think I should pre-empt the work of the procedure committee. We should let it consider the matter, which I hope it will do very quickly, and make its recommendations to the House. I do not think I should set up a merits committee on secondary legislation until the procedure committee has had the opportunity of considering it.

Mr. Fletcher-Cook

On the question of the debate on seat belts next Thurs- day, does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) that there is very deep feeling on both sides of the House on this issue? Will he give an undertaking that if the Bill is not proceded with by at least 7 o'clock, we should have another complete day for it?

Mr. Short

I very much hope that the business which precedes the Bill will be concluded fairly quickly, but I give an undertaking that if we find that a large number of Members still wish to speak on the second business when we approach 10 o'clock, I am prepared to see that the debate is adjourned.

Mr. McNamara

May I press my right hon. Friend on the question of a debate about the deteriorating situation in Northern Ireland? The occasion which the Leader of the House is suggesting as an opportunity for a debate is the discussion of a number of orders on Monday evening. It will be difficult to stretch the patience of the Chair sufficiently to allow us to discuss on those orders the myriad aspects of the complex situation in Northern Ireland. May I urge my right hon. Friend, in view of the number of deaths involved, particularly of British soldiers, that we should have an opportunity to discuss this matter?

Mr. Short

I agree, but the volume of Northern Ireland matters and the volume of EEC matters which need to be discussed will change the whole character of the House unless we make new arrangements. That is why we are discussing the possibility of establishing a number of Northern Ireland committees, including a Northern Ireland Grand Committee, where Northern Ireland matters can be discussed much more frequently than we could find time for in the House.

Mr. Spicer

What further step does the Leader of the House propose to enable us to have a debate on the report of the O'Brien Commission? This matter has been raised several times and many of us would be extremely grateful if a debate were permitted.

Mr. Short

I have answered questions on this almost every week and I am sorry to say that I keep giving the same reply. I give an assurance that the matter will not be changed until the House has debated it. I am pressing the matter very hard, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture tells me that international discussions are in progress and that he will conclude these as quickly as possible. When he does so we shall come to the House to debate the matter.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend institute an inquiry into the failure of the Home Office to provide information on prosecutions relating to causing an affray and conspiracy in relation to trade union affairs? Will he accept that this information is designed to show that the two Shrewsbury building workers, Dennis Warren and Eric Tomlinson, have been subject to a gross injustice? Will he accept that it is important that back benchers should be given the fullest information, especially when one other Department can lavish money and information on the European movement?

Mr. Short

I will certainly refer what my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) said to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but my right hon. Friend tells me that he has already agreed to meet a number of hon. Members to discuss this matter.

Mr. Prior

May we have an early statement from the Secretary of State for Employment on the important questions about the Press which have been raised by NUJ action on certain newspapers? This is an important matter which the Leader of the House will appreciate, particularly in view of the amendment made to the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill.

Mr. Short

I will refer this matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but of course it can be discussed in the context of the forthcoming Bill.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I said last week that I could not allow 35 minutes every week for business questions. Many of the questions today have not been related to next week's business at ail. We must now move on.

Mr. Douglas Henderson

May I raise the point of order to which I referred earlier, Mr. Speaker? It was to ask you: guidance on whether, if a motion were lodged before Tuesday and if there were time to discuss it, it would be possible to refer the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish Grand Committee?

Mr. Speaker

I am told that this is entirely a matter for the Government which can be done only on a motion by the Government.

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