HC Deb 10 April 1975 vol 889 cc1409-17
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Leader of the House to state 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 14TH APRIL—Supply [14th allotted day]: Until seven o'clock there will be a debate on docks, on an Opposition motion, and afterwards on railways, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Remaining stages of the Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill.

TUESDAY 15TH APRIL—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget Statement.

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

WEDNESDAY 16TH APRIL AND THURSDAY 17TH APRIL—Continuation of the Budget debate.

At the end on Wednesday, motion relating to the Eggs Authority (Rates of Levy) Order, 1975.

At the end on Thursday, debate on EEC Documents R/2195/74 and R/162/75 on energy and research development.

FRIDAY 18TH APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 21ST APRIL—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

Mrs. Thatcher

I understand that discussion of the Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill is likely to take several hours. Is it possible to take it at a more reasonable time of day at a later stage? I hope that the Referendum Bill is not causing the rest of the Government's programme to be chaotic. Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman give some indication when we are likely to have a defence debate, because it is getting urgent? Thirdly, because we are apt to hear about dates for Budgets and referenda outside the House, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is the date for the referendum?

Mr. Short

I know that the Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill will cause some inconvenience to the House, but the Bill is extremely urgent because it makes provision for the payment of compensation to holiday-makers. I hope, therefore, that the House will be able to pass it on Monday evening. However, we shall have to see how we get on. I shall shortly be discussing the date of the referendum in my speech. A defence debate will be arranged in the near future.

Mr. Roy Hughes

There has been no debate on the steel industry for more than 12 months. Meanwhile, there have been closure announcements and speculation about a complete reorganisation of the British Steel Corporation. There is a serious recession in the industry with the likelihood of serious cut-backs. Will the Leader of the House tell us when we may have a debate on this vital industry, or have the Government established a society for the protection of Sir Monty Finniston?

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend will hardly accuse me of that. I cannot promise any time next week, nor, I am afraid, in the very near future for a debate on the steel industry.

Mr. Pardoe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the House is being asked, uniquely, next week to vote funds for the Government without having debated the public expenditure White Paper? Is he aware of the terms of the First Report of the Select Committee on Procedure in the Session 1968–69 whose recommendations were accepted by both sides of the House? When shall we have a debate on the Government's expenditure programme?

Mr. Short

We had better suspend judgment on that until after the Budget debate.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend give time to debating the motion on the Order Paper concerning the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs? The motion has been on the Order Paper for some time. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give an assurance that he is not seeking to allow it to go through on the nod. Although this development is welcome, many hon. Members on the Government benches feel that such an important move away from the Floor of the House should not be undertaken without debate.

Mr. Short

I understand that there is urgent need for regional debates. I promised the House that I would put down some device for enabling such debates to take place. I put down the motion again today, with an amendment put down yesterday which I accepted. The motion is on the Order Paper for tonight. If the House wishes to debate it I will find a small amount of time for it, but it will be a little while before I can do that. This is an urgent matter and I had hoped that it could be approved by the House tonight.

Mr. Paul Dean In view of the insecurity felt by doctors and dentists, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Prime Minister to make a statement next week on the Government's conclusions on the report of the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration?

Mr. Short

I will convey what the hon. Gentleman says to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Hastings

Has the right hon. Gentleman studied the report of the important debate in another place introduced by Lord Chalfont on the subject of subversion? In the light of what was said, does not the right right hon. Gentleman think the time has come for a debate on the subject in this House in Government time?

Mr. Short

No, Sir, but it would be an appropriate subject for a Conservative Supply Day.

Mr. Greville Janner

In view of the recent report of Justice showing the chaotic and unfair state of the law on bankruptcy, and in view of the equally scandalous state of the law on insolvency which allows a director to fold up a company on one day as insolvent and to reopen another company in the same line of business the next day, will my right hon. Friend give time for a debate as soon as possible on these kindred subjects?

Mr. Short

No, Sir, I cannot promise any time in the near future for a debate on those subjects, but the parliamentary timetable will be much easier from about the beginning of May onwards.

Mr. Banks

In view of the serious need for a debate on defence, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that "near future" means within the next three weeks?

Mr. Short

I should not like to be specific, but I certainly intend to have this debate as early as it is possible to arrange it, and it will be in the near future.

Mrs. Renée Short

May I draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the reply which I received yesterday from the Attorney-General? Most hon. Members are grossly overburdened with necessary work. Is it not time, therefore, to disband the Select Committee which is examining the Abortion (Amendment) Bill as it has been demonstrated to be based on a book that is a fraud and is being investigated by the Director of Public Prosecutions? Will my right hon. Friend make a statement on this at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. It is not based on a book at all. It is a very appropriate way in which to examine this matter.

Mrs. Renée Short

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. What I said is correct.

Mr. Speaker

Whether or not what the hon. Lady said is correct is not a matter of order.

Mrs. Renée Short

On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a point of order. Will my right hon. Friend give a reply to my question?

Mr. Short

The reply to the question was "No, Sir".

Mr. Clegg

I ask the Leader of the House for a little guidance on the Prime Minister's statement about EEC matters, and, in particular, whether Questions will be switched from one Department to the other. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Secretary of State for Industry will not be answering Questions put to the Secretary of State for Trade?

Mr. Short

If the hon. Gentleman wants further enlightenment on the guidelines, I am afraid that he must ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Molloy

In view of the expressions of apprehension that have been made from both sides of the House this afternoon during Home Office Questions on the vulgar experiments on dogs and other animals, will my right hon. Friend ask one of the Home Office Ministers to make a statement next week on these vulgarities?

Mr. Short

I shall consider this matter and pass it on to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

As the Leader of the House has announced that the Budget will be introduced next Tuesday, will he make arrangements for those Members who are out of the country on Select Committee business to be supplied with the necessary Budget documents at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Short

I do not know whether that is feasible but I shall consider it.

Mr. Whitehead

I pressed my hon. Friend before Easter for parliamentary time for a debate on the report of the Select Committee on the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse). Is my right hon. Friend aware that because the legal proceedings under way may go on for many months there is a real possibility that the electors of Walsall, North may be effectively disfranchised for more than a year?

Mr. Short

I have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend says but I am sure that the next initiative on this matter is for the Select Committee itself. I hope that it will take note of what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Wigley

Will the right hon. Gentleman give some indication of when the House will be made aware of, and given an opportunity to discuss, the Govern- ment's proposals on the Scottish Development Agency and the Welsh Development Agency? The lack of information is causing considerable difficulty in the Industry Bill Standing Committee.

Mr. Short

The Bills will be publised in the near future. There will be Second Reading debates on them shortly.

Mr. Cormack

Once again I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the Finer Report. It is now almost a year since it was produced. It affects over a million families. Will the Government give a categorical assurance that it will at least be debated before the hare coursing legislation?

Mr. Short

I cannot give a categorical assurance but I have a lot of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. I know that he has raised this matter with me on a number of occasions. As I pointed out in reply to another question, the parliamentary timetable will become easier from May onwards. I hope that it will be possible to debate urgent matters of this kind.

Mr. Hooley

In view of the threat by the European Commission to impose production quotas on the British steel industry, will my right hon. Friend consider again the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) that we should have an early debate on this very important industry?

Mr. Short

No, Sir, I cannot promise any time in the near future, but I shall certainly bear in mind what my hon. Friends have said.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Industry Bill Standing Committee is sitting this afternoon? Will he tell the House why this morning it was proposed by a Minister that it should not sit this afternoon? Have the Government lost another vote?

Mr. Short

I understand that this morning the Committee agreed a motion to sit this afternoon. I understand that it is to sit this afternoon.

Mrs. Colquhoun

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the sponsor of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill has publicly stated that the basis of his research was based on the book "Babies for Burning"? Is it not wrong that a Select Committee of Members of this House should now be publicly examining such a discreditable situation?

Mr. Short

I have sufficient faith in Members of this House to believe that the Select Committee will examine this difficult and evocative subject objectively. I am sure that it will do so.

Mr. Burden

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been called to Early-day Motion No. 334 headed "Skytrain"?

[That this House deplores the failure of the United States Civil Aviation Authority to confirm the Skytrain licence granted to Laker Airways by the British Civil Aviation Authority in defiance of the solemn treaty obligations between our two countries; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to press the United States Government to take the necessary action to ensure that the undertakings contained in the Bermuda Agreement are fulfilled without further delay.]

If he has had it brought to his attention, will he quickly bring it to the attention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs? I ask him to do so because Lord Boyd-Carpenter has, without success, made representations to the American Civil Aviation Authority to try to get it to carry out its obligation under the Bermuda Treaty. Obviously the only way that this matter can now be tackled is by direct approach to the American Government.

Mr. Short

I shall pass on what the hon. Gentleman has said to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Skinner

Is my right hon. Friend prepared to reconsider the answer that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) regarding the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse)? Will he ensure that the House has a chance to debate the report of the Select Committee that is dealing with the affair? Does he not realise that many hon. Members, and certainly many of my lion. Friends, are more than a little concerned about the way in which the Select Committee has reported? is he aware that they would like to give the Committee, if at all possible, some fresh instructions without the matter going back to the Select Committee undebated? Does my right hon. Friend realise that the longer this process continues the more the pockets of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North will be lined with cheque-book journalist fees from the Rupert Murdoch stable and other sources?

Mr. Short

What I do realise is that this matter has become a great deal more difficult in the past few weeks. However, I am sure that the next initiative must come from the Select Committee. I hope that it will take note of the comments that have been made in the House today.

Mr. Fairbairn

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that if, during next week's business, the Tribune Group asks the Government to suspend the business of the House so that it can attend a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, as happened this morning, the request will be resisted?

Hon. Members


Mr. Peyton

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his obviously well-intentioned advice to my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg)—namely, to ask the Prime Minister a question? The one ability that the Prime Minister retains is an ability not to answer questions. Secondly, I revert to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn). Apparently this morning there was a state of near-mutiny amongst Government supporters on the Industry Bill Standing Committee about the further constitution of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt wish to bear in mind that the Committee has been well packed from the beginning with Lett-wing supporters of the Government—

Mr. Arthur Lewis

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not out of order to report what has happened in a Committee before the Committee has reported?

Mr. Speaker

I am advised that the Committee met in public.

Mr. Short

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, although I should have thought that he needed no reassurance, that the Prime Minister retains all his abilities and capabilities, particularly when answering questions. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman was asking whether the Committee was meeting this afternoon. I understand that it decided this morning to meet this afternoon.

Mr. Speaker

Further to the point of order made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis), I should like to make clear that I very much deprecate references to what has been going on in Standing Committees. In view of the fact that the Committee is meeting in public, I do not think I can rule anything out of order.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You are correct to say that the Committee is meeting in public. Indeed many other Committees of the House meet in public, and things happen in public. However, officially the House does not take cognisance of what happens in a public meeting, but takes cognisance only of what is reported to it officially by a Committee. Would you not be in order, Mr. Speaker, to say to any hon. Member that you cannot take note of what has happened, or of what has been reported in the Press or anywhere else, because the Committee has not yet reported?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is on a serious point, and I should like to consider it. I should like to go into exactly what has happened, where it happened and how. If necessary, I shall rule upon this matter.

Mrs. Wise

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you give consideration to these matters, will you bear in mind that the report which the House has received from the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) was not an accurate or a truthful report?

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I deprecate that kind of remark, but I have said that I shall go into the matter, and that is the end of the matter for the moment.

A total of 25 hon. and right hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House wish to take part in the debate on the referendum. I think that we had better get on with that debate.