HC Deb 28 November 1974 vol 882 cc623-32
Mr. Heath

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will kindly 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 2ND DECEMBER—Supply [3rd Allotted Day]: Until about seven o'oclock a debate on a motion to take note of the Review of the Price Code, Command No. 5779, followed by a debate on the Condition of the National Health Service, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. The House will also be asked to agree the Civil Supplementary Estimates. Motions on the Post Office Compensation for Limitation of Prices Order and on the (Borrowing Powers) Order.

TUESDAY 3RD DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill. Motion on EEC Documents Numbers R/1472/74 and R/127/74 on Energy Policy.

WEDNESDAY 4TH DECEMBER—Motion on the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) measure. Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill.

THURSDAY 5TH DECEMBER—Supply [4th Allotted Day]: Debate on Northern Ireland, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. Remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund Bill. Motion on the Northern Ireland (Various Emergency Provisions) (Continuance) Order.

FRIDAY 6TH DECEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 9TH DECEMBER—Private Members' motions until seven o'clock. The business thereafter to be announced.

Mr. Heath

I thank the Leader of the House. There are two procedural matters which I should first like to mention. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that for the first half of Monday's debate the Opposition are giving half a Supply Day so that the House may debate the Price Code in time to influence the Government before their final decision, and that the debate on Thursday on Northern Ireland is also on a Supply Day? The Monday half-day will be repaid on the second half of the following Monday, as the Leader of the House has said, and the debate will be on a subject to be chosen later. The Thursday Supply Day will be repaid after Christmas. That will be an agreeable arrangement to both sides of the House.

The whole House feels that it is becoming urgent to debate the O'Brien Report before Christmas. That has repeatedly been mentioned when statements have been made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and it was mentioned again in our last debate. Will the Leader of the House take note of that and give us a day before Christmas?

The Leader of the House will recognise that, whatever the views of individual hon. and right hon. Members, the whole House will wish to debate the question of capital punishment for terrorism. It is not appropriate, because of the urgency of the Bill, to debate that subject today. Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that a debate on capital punishment will be held and will he name a specific date for it? If I may offer an opinion, that would greatly facilitate the business today.

Mr. Short

First, may I thank the right hon. Gentleman for lending us a day and a half-day. I confirm that we shall repay the half-day on the second half of Monday next week and that the Opposition will choose the subject for the debate. We shall repay the other day after Christmas.

I said last week that the way is now clear for a debate on the O'Brien Report, but I am sorry to say that it will not be possible to have it before Christmas. I regret that very much. There simply is not time, especially with the complications that we have. The right hon. Gentleman raised one of the complications. I fully agree that the time has come when the House must have an opportunity again to debate capital punishment. We propose to make a day available for that, certainly before Christmas—I hope in the week after next.

Mr. Heath

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to keep an open mind on the O'Brien Report? It is urgent that it should be considered before Christmas, if possible, from the point of view of the agricultural industry. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to keep an open mind on that for the time being, so that if it is possible to fit in a debate he will do so.

Mr. Short

Certainly I shall keep an open mind on it. But I should be deceiving the House if I led it to believe that it will be possible to have a debate before Christmas. I do not think that it will. But I will look again at the matter. I give the undertaking which I have given many times—that the position on the export of animals will not be changed before we have debated the O'Brien Report.

Mr. Prescott

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the publication today of the report of the Starritt inquiry—promised by the Home Secretary on 2nd May—into the death of Mr. Lennon? It raises serious issues involving the Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the position of the police as agents provocateurs. These are important matters which should be discussed in the House.

Mr. Short

I agree that the report which has been published today is important. The Attorney-General has already said something about it. He has concluded from the evidence in the report that there is no cause to carry out any further investigation of the police officers. I have nothing to add to that.

Mr. Cormack

May I draw to the attention of the Leader of the House Motion No. 123 on the Finer Report, which has been signed by 30 hon. Members on both sides of the House. Will he find time for an early debate on the subject?

[That this House recognises the importance of the Finer Report on One Parent Families for one in 10 families, including over a million of our children; and urges Her Majesty's Government to provide an early opportunity to debate its many recommendations.]

Mr. Short

The one-parent families with which the Finer Report deals form one of the deprived groups in our society with whom I have a good deal of sympathy. I shall do my best to arrange a debate as soon as possible, but it cannot be before Christmas.

Mr. Whitchead

My right hon. Friend said that he is considering a debate on capital punishment during the week after next. Does he think that tempers will have cooled by that time sufficiently to allow the matter to be considered dispassionately?

Mr. Short

We have always had dispassionate, objective and very good debates on this subject. I hope that the debate to be arranged will be conducted in that spirit.

Mrs. Knight

Is not the Leader of the House able to give us a definite date for the debate on capital punishment? Will he take note that outside the House there is an overwhelming body of opinion that there should be a debate and a vote not on the subject of capital punishment as a whole but on capita! punishment for terrorism and treason?

Mr. Short

I have seen the motions on the Order Paper, and no Leader of the House can ignore motions containing so many names. I am prepared to arrange a debate on this subject and I have given the House an undertaking that it will be before Christmas. I hope very much that it will be in the week after next. I shall certainly do my best to arrange it for then.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will my right hon. Friend do his best to find time to debate the strategic plan for the North-West? I am aware that he has been pestered about this during the last few months, but many hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about a large number of recommendations contained in the plan. Given the unemployment level in the area, should not the House have a full debate on the recommendations?

Mr. Short

I know that my hon. Friends, and many hon. Members on both sides of the House, are concerned not only about the strategic plan for the North-West but about similar economic planning reports for other regions. I have a great deal of sympathy with them. When the Labour Party was in opposition it used several of its Supply Days for half-day debates on regional matters. Perhaps the Conservative Party will consider that.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the Leader of the House say whether it will be possible to bring before the House for renewal before Christmas the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act which, I understand, expires on 24th January?

Mr. Short

I have announced that subject for Thursday of next week, after the full-day debate on Northern Ireland.

Mr. Russell Kerr

In view of the threat to industrial relations over the HS 146, is my right hon. Friend prepared to allow, even if not next week, an early debate so that we can protect the interests of thousands of aircraft workers?

Mr. Short

I am afraid that I cannot add to what I have said previously on this matter, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will make an announcement as soon as he has concluded his discussions.

Mr. Monro

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the increasing crisis in Scottish education, including the disruption of examinations? Will he ensure that the Secretary of State for Scotland comes to the House next week and makes a statement on the interim award expected to be announced by the Houghton Committee on Monday or Tuesday?

Mr. Short

I understand that the Houghton Committee is likely to report within the next two or three days. That report will then go to the Scottish committee and the way will be open for an interim payment, which I hope will be paid to the teachers in their December pay packet.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there were questions in the House yesterday concerning the forthcoming review of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Has he noted the suggestion that, in view of the great importance of this matter, there should be a statement by the Government to the House or, even better still, an opportunity for the House to debate the subject in the near future?

Mr. Short

I noted what was said yesterday and I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the subject. I cannot promise a debate, but I shall refer what he said to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to see whether it is possible for him to say anything in the House about that matter.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

By what strange priority does the right hon. Gentleman think it more pressing to have a debate next Wednesday on the Church measure than on the O'Brien Report?

Mr. Short

The Church of England measure is an extremely important matter for a great many people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Indeed it is, and in many respects it changes the whole relationship between Church and State. A great many people throughout the country are very concerned about it. Among other things, it repeals almost the whole of the Act of Uniformity. I hope the House will feel that it is a provision of some importance. It has been before us for a long time, and it is high time we debated it.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Leader of the House consider exchanging the proposed debate on capital punishment for a debate on the O'Brien Report, since the Opposition appear, from the noises from those benches, to be concerned about a debate on the O'Brien Report on animal welfare, for more names appear on the motion on the O'Brien Report than on the motion on Capital Punishment—and especially bearing in mind the way in which some unscrupulous elements on the Opposition benches have been exploiting the subject of capital punishment?

Mr. Short

There is great concern about both matters, and it is the job of the Leader of the House to try to assess the concern and to provide parliamentary time for it to be expressed. But I notice that there are a great many signatures on a number of motions referring directly or indirectly to capital punishment, and I feel that the House should have an opportunity to debate the matter once more.

Mr. Prior

May I try to help the right hon. Gentleman over the timing of business by suggesting that, in view of the fact that the Prime Minister this afternoon announced that the Royal Commission on the Press will be allowed to make an interim report, the Government should put off the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill until such time as editors and others have been able to give evidence to the Royal Commission and that commission has been able to say what it thinks about the closed shop? In the long run this might save the Leader of the House, and indeed the House, a great deal of time.

Mr. Short

The purpose of the Bill to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is to sweep away the last vestiges of the grossly unjust Act passed by the Conservative Government.

Mr. John Davies

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that yesterday his hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was unable to give an assurance that the House would have before it proposals which the agriculture Ministers are to discuss on the subject of the new beef régime in the Common Market? Will he bear in mind that the Minister of State gave assurances that before matters are finalised in the Community they will be subject to a debate in the House? Will he give an assurance that those discussions will not result in a decision on the new beef régime which could have a crucial effect on British farming?

Mr. Short

I shall look at the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. I have looked at all the dates on the orders concerned and I will try to ensure that no decision is taken in Brussels before the House has had an opportunity to discuss the matters dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman's Committee.

Mr. Faulds

When may we expect a happy announcement about the Second Church Estates Commissioner?

Mr. Short

I hope next week.

Sir Frederick Bennett

The Leader of the Opposition in his question about a debate on capital punishment was very careful in his use of the phrase a debate on "capital punishment for terrorism". However, the Leader of the House in his reply did not mention that aspect, but left the matter open. As a long-standing abolitionist in general, and as one who does not want to confuse this general issue, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to make it clear that the proposed debate will not be an overall discussion of capital punishment but will deal with the issue of capital punishment for crimes of terrorism to which, as some of us think, it is already applicable as treason?

Mr. Short

I carefully did not say anything about the form of the debate, but I am willing to talk through the usual channels about the matter. Since the topic to some extent cuts across the party structure, I should be happy to talk to any hon. Gentlemen or hon. Ladies to get their views about the form of the debate.

Mr. Peter Mills

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this winter there could be considerable suffering by animals through the shortage of feed? Therefore, is it not essential to have an early debate on the O'Brien Report? Will he reconsider this matter as the report could be of great benefit to British agriculture?

Mr. Short

I agree that the subject which the hon. Gentleman raises is extremely urgent and that is why I have pushed the matter on in the last few weeks. We are ready to debate it and will arrange a debate as soon as possible. But I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that the fact of holding a debate will not mean any more fodder.

Mr. Rifkind

Referring back to the question put to the right hon. Gentleman by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), which has not been answered, will he say whether the Secretary of State for Scotland will come to the House to make a statement on the interim award to teachers?

Mr. Short

I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to see whether he wishes to make a statement. The important consideration is that the interim payment should be paid to the teachers before Christmas. Provided that the Houghton Committee reports, as it will, in the next two or three days, there is no reason why that payment should not be made. I have tried to ensure that it will be.

Mr. Tom King

Will the right hon. Gentleman recall that there was an order in regard to Norton Villiers Triumph which was removed from the Order Paper? Will there be any statement on whether that order will reappear?

Mr. Short

I said that there were difficulties between the NVT and the Meriden Co-operative. Those difficulties still exist. When and if they are resolved, the Secretary of State will table the order again.

Mr. McNamara

In regard to the business on Thursday in relation to the renewal of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, will my right hon. Friend inform the House whether the House will have before it the advice of Lord Gardiner and his Committee and any proposals for the retention of detention in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Short

No, I am afraid the House will not have that advice before it.

Mr. George Gardiner

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be most regrettable if the great public issue of terrorism and the appropriate penalties were confused or fudged by a general debate on the old issue of hanging? Will he say whether there will be an opportunity provided for a debate so that the House may reach a collective view on the important point of principle involved?

Mr. Short

That is what I meant when I spoke of the form of the debate. I am willing, through the usual channels, to talk about the form of the debate, whether it should be on a motion and, if so, what kind of motion, and the source of the motion. I am certainly willing to discuss the whole question of the form of the debate, and I have an open mind on the matter. I am willing to talk to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), or to anybody else about the matter. I am certainly ready to talk to the Leader of the Opposition to see how we can decide among ourselves the form which the debate should take.

Mr. Peyton

I am obliged to the Leader of the House for his forthcoming attitude on the very difficult topic of capital punishment. I believe that it would be in the general interest of the House if such a debate took place on a motion which was subject to amend- ment and which would allow any particular views to be expressed. Will the right hon. Gentleman take particular note of the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) in asking for a debate on beef before any final decisions are made? This is a very important matter. Secondly, will he please tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland about the anxieties expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) that the right hon. Gentleman should make a statement next week on what he is doing about Scottish education?

Mr. Short

If it is the wish of the House, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will make a statement. However, the important point is to get the money into the pay packets in December, and my right hon. Friend is determined to do that. If, as I believe it will, the Houghton Committee reports in a day or two, there is no reason why this should not be done. However, my right hon. Friend is in the Chamber, and I am certain that the has listened to what has been said. If it is the general wish of the House that he should make a statement, I am sure that he will do so.

As for the very important matter raised by the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), I shall try to ensure that that is done. Perhaps I might talk to the right hon. Gentleman about it.