HC Deb 31 October 1974 vol 880 cc386-94
Mr. Heath

May I ask the Leader of the House if 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 debate on the Address in reply to the Queen's Speech will be continued tomorrow and on Monday, and be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 5th November.

At the end on Monday, motion on the Local Loans (Increase of Limit) (No. 2) Order.

WEDNESDAY, 6th November—Proceedings on the Pensioners' Payments Bill.

Second Reading of the Social Security Amendment Bill.

THURSDAY, 7th November—Second Reading of the General Rate Bill, and of the National Theatre Bill.

FRIDAY, 8th November—Motion on the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965 (Continuation) Order 1974.

MONDAY, 11 th November—Motion on the Channel Tunnel Bill.

Second Reading of the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill.

Mr. Heath

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Opposition are grateful to him and his colleagues for acceding to our representations that the two measures for Wednesday should be dealt with in two separate Bills? The first is concerned very largely with the £10 Christmas bonus for pensioners. We shall, of course, give a favourable wind to that, as we ourselves introduced the £10 bonus. We shall not regard the Second Bill favourably, because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it imposes a particular burden on the self-employed. However, we are grateful to him for separating the two matters into two different Bills.

There is one other matter that I should like to put to the Leader of the House. It would seem to be unusual to take the Rhodesia Act (Continuation) Order on a Friday. Is there any precedent for doing so?

Mr. Short

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for promising to expedite all stages of the Pensioners' Payments Bill. No doubt a longer time will be spent on the second Bill, but the rule will be suspended for that.

The right hon. Gentleman was right in what he said about the Rhodesia order. Since 1966 the order has not been debated on a Friday, but on this occasion we have a special problem. We are to have a Budget very shortly and the order must be made by the Privy Council, I understand, by 16th November. Before then it has to be approved by resolution in both Houses. There is thus a rather tight timetable this time. I am sorry for this. However, I have looked up the times taken with this matter and the average has been three to three and a half hours throughout all the years that we have debated these orders.

Mr. John Mendelson

Would my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on Early-Day Motion No. 2, which concerns military co-operation with South Africa and is supported by 82 Members, so that hon. Members may bring to bear their opinions on this issue while the Government are considering it, as was announced by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his speech yesterday? Would my right hon. Friend also accept that it is most important in the absence of a day specifically allocated to foreign affairs during the debate on the Address for such a debate to take place at the earliest date?

[That this House is profoundly opposed to military co-operation in any form with the oppressive and racialist regime governing South Africa; and fully supports the policy of the Labour Party. namely, that the Labour Government will withdraw from all relationships resulting from the Simonstown Agreement and that all military exchange visits and technical arrangements will be terminated.]

Mr. Short

As the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said a moment ago, any hon. Members who catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, may raise any subject he wishes during the debate on the Queen's Speech, but certainly I will bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

In the absence of a day of this debate devoted to housing, and in advance of Supply Days, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Government intend to take an early opportunity to deploy to the House with more precision their proposals for the housing sector with regard to mortgage interest matters and the construction industry, about which the Secretary of State has had interesting things to say outside the House?

Mr. Short

The Government will have some interesting legislation to introduce in the near future. A measure on housing will shortly be put before the House, so there will then be an opportunity to debate these matters.

Mr. Lipton

May we have an early statement from the Government about whether it is proposed to extend the rent freeze beyond 31st December?

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend had better await the legislation that will shortly be introduced.

Mr. Hooson

The Leader of the House will bear in mind that there is a total ban on the export of live animals from this country, following a free vote in the House. Since that time we have had the O'Brien Report, which has proved that much of the propaganda to which hon. Members were subjected was unfounded. Would the right hon. Gentleman afford the House an early opportunity for a debate on that report, so that the House may again have a free vote about whether the ban is to continue, in view of its devastating effects on British agriculture?

Mr. Short

I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman feels strongly about this subject and I know that a lot of other hon. Members feel equally strongly the other way. I can assure the House that the ban will remain until the House has had an opportunity to debate it, but I will bear in mind the request for a debate.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that in the Channel Tunnel motion he is asking the House to give a First and Second Reading to that Bill and to deal with its Committee stage all in less than half a day? If he maintains that intention, could we not have at least one day, if not even more?

Mr. Short

In the previous Parliament, only a short time ago, the House got as far as completing the Committee stage of the Channel Tunnel Bill. It seems sensible if the Bill is to be proceeded with that we should reinstate it to the point it had reached. The Government's case for doing so will be set out in the debate that I have just announced.

Mr. Powell

Has the attention of the right hon. Gentleman been drawn to the Third Report of the Committee on European Secondary Legislation? Will he provide early time to enable the House to debate and decide, as it has indicated it was determined to do, the matters brought to its attention by the Committee?

Mr. Short

The right hon. Gentleman has raised a major problem facing us, and I have to be frank with the House. It really is a major problem. I am sure that we have to get some new device for debating at least some of these orders. I have looked at the list and we are to make a start on it very shortly. At the same time I shall be bringing proposals, at any rate to the Procedure Committee which we hope to set up, which I hope will expedite the matter. Clearly, if the House were to debate all the orders being selected by the Committee we should have no time for anything else.

Mr. Skinner

That is what we said.

Mr. Short

I have told the right hon. Gentleman that this presents the House with a major problem.

Mr. William Hamilton

Can my right hon. Friend indicate when the White Paper on Public Expenditure will be produced and how soon we can expect the setting up of the Select Committee on Public Expenditure?

Mr. Short

The Committee will be set up very quickly, and I hope that the White Paper will be produced towards the end of the year.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Would the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to make a statement early next week on the crisis in Scottish education, which has led to our schools being closed today, and the threat that other militant action could disrupt the education and career prospects of the children? In particular, will he ask his right hon. Friend to see whether the Houghton Committee's Report can be expedited?

Mr. Short

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is present in the Chamber, will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. I do not think that the Houghton Committee's Report can be expedited. It is going on very quickly, and the Government have given an assurance that they will implement the report and back-date any pay award under the report to the date of the setting up of the committee.

Mr. Henderson

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that it had been intended to have a debate on Scottish affairs in the first week of the Session? Events have prevented this from taking place. Is he in a position to tell us when this debate will take place? Further, will he indicate when we are to have a full debate on the Government's White Paper on devolution, since many of us find the reasons advanced in the White Paper somewhat extraordinary?

Mr. Short

The White Paper on devolution was simply a discussion document. It really summarised the—

Mr. Henderson

What! The second one?

Mr. Short

I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. The second one set out a number of major decisions by the Government. I would like to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. I feel that it will be worth while perhaps waiting until shortly after Christmas.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Oh, no! We have waited for years.

Mr. Short

Then we could have a longer debate, when the Government would be in a position to announce a great many more decisions. However, I am ready to discuss this with the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will examine the order of Questions, which at the moment places the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster behind Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, including European Economic Community Questions? We all know that the EEC Questions effectively fill out Question Time. Does it not make a farce of Question Time if a Minister with important responsibilities and some strange ideas about investment banks is, in effect, ruled out of Question Time? Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that he will use his best endeavours to make sure that the Chancellor of the Duchy is answerable to back benchers of this House at Question Time?

Mr. Short

I will certainly look at the point my hon. Friend raises. We have carried the old roster forward with one exception. We have not included the Second Church Commissioner because we have not yet got one.

Mr. Burden

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us some idea of when the defence White Paper can be expected since its absence is causing concern among some of our allies who are curious about its contents? Is he aware that it is also causing concern among members of the forces and also those who are engaged in the armaments industry?

Mr. Short

I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety. The General Election has delayed this matter to some extent, and the White Paper will not now be published until early next year. But the Government will make a statement in the House before the end of November.

Mr. Lee

Further to the point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), may I ask whether we can have an assurance that all the orders that have not yet been debated will be given time? Can my right hon. Friend tell us how many orders are in the pipeline?

Mr. Short

There are a number, a very large number, to be debated, and we intend to make a start on them with short debates. I am afraid that they have to be short debates. If we gave them a lot of time they would swamp the business of the House. These are matters of very great importance, and the House must devise some kind of machinery for dealing with the orders, at any rate the ones of less importance, and must be prepared to debate the major ones.

Mr. Costain

In view of the unusual nature of the debate on the Channel Tunnel motion, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he agrees with his hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) that the Second Reading procedure should be followed? Can we have some indication that those who have constituency questions can deal with them?

Mr. Short

We had better wait for the debate and see how it goes. The effect of the motion would be to reinstate the Bill at the point at which we left it before the General Election.

Mr. Peyton


Hon. Members

Hear hear.

Mr. Peyton

The right hon. Member will not be altogether surprised if I say that his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) was not received with any enthusiasm. Is he aware that an early statement dealing with defence is essential? Further, may I ask whether he will make an early and clear statement to the House about the availability of the Acts of Parliament which we churned through in the last Parliament? While I would not like anything I say to be taken as an indication that those measures contain any merit, it is desirable that the public should know what it is up against.

Mr. Short

I must first of all congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his devolution from the back benches to the Front Bench. I understand his anxiety and that of his hon. Friends to read some of the amendments which they wrote into our legislation in the last Parliament. I will certainly look into that point and discuss it with the right hon. Gentleman and, if necessary, make a statement to the House. As to defence, I gave a specific promise that there will be a statement in the House, I think in the third week of November, dealing with this subject.

Mr. Wellbeloved

In view of the pressure for proper time to debate European legislation and the possibility that if such time is given it might clash with available parliamentary time for the introduction of Socialist legislation, may I ask the Lord President of the Council to consider drastically shortening the recesses that Parliament might otherwise have so that those who wish to debate European secondary legislation will have the opportunity?

Mr. Short

I will not comment on that suggestion but I repeat that these orders change the law of the land and there ought to be some device by which this House can debate them or at any rate be made aware of them.

Sir David Renton

When will the Government introduce proposals for us to examine the electoral system?

Mr. Short

The Government have no intention of introducing such proposals. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to discuss this with me, I shall be happy to talk to him about it.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the serious situation facing the textile industry of Lancashire as a consequence of increased imports of yarn from Greece and Turkey? Is he further aware that countries like Japan, Singapore and France have already taken measures to ensure that their own domestic consumption of textiles is protected against this? Can the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early debate on this matter since thousands of textile workers in Lancashire are now on short-time working?

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman raised this with the Prime Minister on Tuesday and, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he can make a speech on it in this debate. I will pass on his remarks to the Secretary of State for Trade.

Mr. Marten

As the right hon. Gentleman appears to be giving the impression that there will be a cut in the time given to European secondary legislation debates, will he take no decision on that matter until the whole question of secondary legislation debating has been discussed in the House? Secondly, when shall we have statements by Ministers who have been to Brussels on the negotiations which have taken place at the Common Market ministerial meetings?

Mr. Short

We do not intend to cut the time. The time which we thought would be adequate is proving to be quite inadequate, and we must find some other way of debating the large mass of material issuing from Brussels.

Mr. Michael Latham

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to make an early and detailed statement on the Government's proposals for land nationalisation, the absence of which statement is having a very bad effect on the confidence of the housebuilding industry?

Mr. Short

The Government's legislative proposals on that matter were announced in the Gracious Speech. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman must await the legislation. We have published a White Paper which sets out the principles, but the legislation will be published towards the end of the year