HC Deb 17 April 1975 vol 890 cc668-76
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 fololws:

MONDAY 21ST APRIL—Conclusion of the Budget debate. Consideration of Lords amendments to the Housing Rents and Subsidies (Scotland) Bill. Proceedings on the House of Commons Disqualification Bill [Lords], the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Bill [Lords], the Ministers of the Crown Bill [Lords], and the Ministerial and Other Salaries Bill [Lords], which are consolidation measures.

TUESDAY 22ND APRIL, WEDNESDAY 23RD APRIL and THURSDAY 24TH APRIL—Proceedings on the Referendum Bill.

FRIDAY 25TH APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 28TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Employment Protection Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

If the referendum is to be on 5th June, does the right hon. Gentleman anticipate extending the Whitsun Recess to cover that date? As it is now a month since the White Paper on Defence was published, and as certain announcements were made in the Budget on defence spending which may alter the strategy, when shall we have a day to discuss this urgent problem?

Mr. Short

I said when I announced the referendum date of 5th June that that date depended on getting the Bill through the House next week and getting Royal Assent in time. The order has to be published and it cannot be laid before the House until the Bill has been passed and has received Royal Assent. There must be three weeks between the laying of the order and the referendum. That is the first problem. The second problem concerns the difficulties in Scotland. I am pleased to say that Sir Philip Allen has reported back. The House will recall that I said that he was going to Scotland. Although there are considerable difficulties there they can be overcome. This is really now a matter for the House itself. If we can manage 5th June, the Whitsuntide Recess will be extended for the second week to cover that date.

I understand the concern of the right hon. Lady and the concern of many hon. Members about defence. I will arrange a defence debate as soon as possible.

Sir G. de Freitas

In view of what was said last week, is my right hon. Friend aware that many of my hon. Friends are most anxious for a debate on steel? Will he remember that?

Mr. Short

Yes, I understand the concern that is felt but there are difficulties. I indicated that the timetable was likely to be rather easier in May, but as the Opposition have now refused to agree to the Scottish Development Agency Bill going to the Scottish Grand Committee I have had to find a day for that. That is a day that could have been used for a general debate on steel.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Government intend to give at least a day for a debate on the document published today entitled "Food From our own Resources"? If so, will he give indication of which week the debate is likely to be held?

Mr. Short

No, I cannot do that. I confirm what the hon. Gentleman said—namely, that the document was published today. I think that the House will want time to read it and to digest it. Once it has done that, perhaps we can look at whether we can find time to debate the document.

Mr. Sedgemore

Will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that time will be made available in this Session to enable the aircraft and shipbuilding public ownership measure to become law? If that does not happen the HS146 will be finished.

Mr. Short

That is one of the Bills that appeared in the Queen's Speech. I have very much in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Powell

Will the right hon. Gentleman appoint a day for the meeting of the Northern Ireland Committee which was duly requested by Northern Ireland Members over two months ago?

Mr. Short

Certainly, provided we can reach agreement on a subject. If the right hon. Gentleman will tell me what subject he wants to debate I shall try to arrange a day at the earliest possible moment. The procedure with the Northern Ireland Committee, as with the Welsh and Scottish Grand Committees, is that we try to reach agreement on the subject before we announce the day.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Is my hon. Friend aware that the report by the Select Committee on the House of Commons (Services) relating to experiments in the sound broadcasting of our proceedings was published today? Will he confirm that the report contains a proposal to extend sound broadcasting experiments to television frequencies? Is he further aware that since this proposal was carried by the narrowest majority in the Select Committee the proposal to which I referred is contrary to the spirit and letter of the decision taken on 24th February? Will he find time for a debate before implementation of the Select Committee's report?

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend has made that point on a number of occasions, both in the Select Committee and in the House. The resolution passed by the House did not require another debate in the House—

Mr. Wellbeloved

But it did not mention television frequencies.

Mr. Short

It said that there should be sound broadcasting of our proceedings under conditions to be decided by the Services Committee. That Committee has now decided the conditions. Its report was laid before the House yesterday. I understand that there are 100 cyclostyled copies of the report available today, but I also understand that the printed copies will come along in the near future.

Mr. Winterton

May I press the right hon. Gentleman further on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) on the White Paper on agriculture published today? The implications of that document are tremendously important not only to the farming industry but to the consumer. Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman be a little more forthcoming in giving some assurance that the Government, in consultation with the Opposition, will arrange a debate on this important subject in the near future?

Mr. Short

I realise that this is an important subject, and naturally the Government will want to have a debate on the subject. I shall try to arrange for the matter to be debated, but I would point out that the Opposition have still not debated agriculture in their own time.

Mr. James Johnson

Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore), is my right hon. Friend aware of the article in this morning's Guardian which, if not inspired, certainly caused anxieties among those hon. Members who have aircraft workers in their constituencies? Will he confirm his earlier assurance that the aircraft industry will be nationalised this year?

Mr. Short

I do not think any Leader of the House can give assurances about what measures will or will not receive Royal Assent, but I am certainly aware of the anxieties to which my hon. Friend referred and I will do what I can to assist him. The Queen's Speech said that we would bring forward such a measure; we have brought forward our proposals, and I shall do my best.

Mr. Reid

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in his reply to the devolution debate he said that he would consider ways and means of making known interim decisions? Therefore, may we have some idea of where the first Scottish Assembly will be held, how many members it will have, the services which will be provided, and how it will be elected? I assume that since nothing has been said nothing has yet been decided. When can the House expect some interim announcement?

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman should not make such an assumption. I would remind him that when we came into office just over a year ago we considered the Kilbrandon Report, which is a massive document. We produced a consultative document last summer, on which the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Wales carried out wide-ranging consultations in Scotland and Wales. In September we published a White Paper, and earlier this year we had a three-day debate. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that we have not done too badly. However, I shall examine the possibility of producing a White Paper, perhaps by the late summer or early autumn.

Mr. Buck

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that it was only a matter of a few weeks ago that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence assured the House that the defence White Paper was designed to meet circumstances over the next 10 years? Will the Secretary of State for Defence be seeking an early opportunity to explain why that document has been superseded in so short a time?

Mr. Short

There will be an important and wide-ranging debate on defence in the near future, but I cannot give a date for it at the moment. I have already given a firm assurance on that subject.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

My right hon. Friend will notice Early-Day Motion No. 406 relating to children in prison, which is in my name and is supported by a considerable number of hon. Members.

[That this House expresses its deep concern at the number of children aged 14 to 16 years in prison establishments and is particularly concerned that 174 boys and six girls should be in prison awaiting trial, especially as many of these are likely to be acquitted or given non-custodial sentences; and calls upon the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Secretary of State for Social Services to take action now to ensure that children are not imprisoned as an administrative convenience.] Will he give an assurance that the legislation promised by the Home Secretary on bail procedures will be introduced before the Summer Recess?

Mr. Short

I cannot answer that question because I do not know the answer. I shall make inquiries about when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary intends to publish that legislation and I shall let my hon. Friend know.

Mr. Goodhew

Even if the right hon. Gentleman cannot give an exact date for a debate on the defence White Paper will he give an assurance that we can have a two-day debate since there are so many important implications at stake?

Mr. Short

I realise that a great many people wish to speak on the subject. If the Opposition are prepared to give one of their Supply Days, the Government will give the other day so that there can be a two-day debate.

Mr. Spearing

Does my right hon. Friend recall that last week in the debate on the EEC renegotiation White Paper the Government tabled some motions concerning important EEC documents? I see that some EEC documents have been tabled for discussion tonight, but they are not those which the Government proposed last week. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the EEC documents which we were to debate last week will be tabled for discussion in good time before the end of the referendum campaign?

Mr. Short

I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's remarks. We put those documents on the Order Paper and those matters were referred to in the three-day debate. Therefore, I thought that it would be convenient if the House were to be reminded of those documents. They appeared on the Order Paper each day. I repeat that I shall take into account what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Mawby

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to Early-Day Motion No. 386 which relates to a Prayer against a statutory instrument which seeks to charge those who are not on main sewers for a service which they do not enjoy? Will he provide an early opportunity for that Prayer to be debated?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Water Authorities (Collection of Charges) Order 1975 (S.I., 1975, No. 396), dated 13th March 1975, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25th March, be annulled.]

Mr. Short

I cannot provide an early opportunity, but I understand people's feelings on this subject. I imagine that there will be other opportunities for this matter to be debated this Season.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend find time to introduce legislation relating to the powers of district auditors, especially in view of the devastating announcement made this morning that the Clay Cross Council has been surcharged a further £52,000 for employing wardens, at the miserly rate of £25 a week, to look after old-age pensioners? Does he—like me—regard the action of the district auditor as an infringement of his properly-designated duties—namely, to see to it that the books of local authorities are in balance—and believe that he should not transgress by entering into areas of political judgment, which are questions for the local elected representatives?

Mr. Short

In regard to one of the points made in the middle of my hon. Friend's supplementary question—yes, I do like my hon. Friend very much. I shall refer his very important point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Gow

Is it the right hon. Gentleman's intention that the Referendum Bill will complete all stages in this place next week? If that is his intention, will he please reconsider his decision bearing in mind that there are 112 amendments and 15 new clauses already on the Notice Paper? Will he give hon. Members one more day for the Committee stage since the Bill, he has admitted, is far-reaching and of crucial constitutional importance?

Mr. Short

It is a very important Bill for this country, and I believe that the uncertainty about Britain's position one way or the other in the Community should be removed. I hope everybody in the House will co-operate in getting the Bill through all its stages next week. It is in the country's interests that that should be done. I should have thought three days should be ample for that to be done.

Mr. Hurd

Can the Lord President help us in the task he has just described and assist us to prepare for these debates by telling us what conclusion the Cabinet came to this morning on the question of voting rights for British citizens working overseas?

Mr. Short

I assured the House on Monday that I would look into this question and I have spent a great deal of time doing so. There are enormous problems and inequities involved in any scheme which might be worked out, but I am keeping my promise to look into it.

Mr. Cryer

Would my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will give time to debate the proposed Committee for Regional Affairs? This is an important new departure which needs to be debated.

Secondly, can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will consider giving time as a matter of urgency to debate the question of Members' interests, because the Select Committee's report has never been brought before this House and the longer it is delayed the more it will look to people outside like a cover-up. I do not believe this is true, but members of the public and the trade union movement should be shown that this is not so by your allocating time in which to debate this issue.

Mr. Short

The report has been before the House for a very long time, much longer than any of us would have wished. My hon. Friend will know the problems about the timetable in this Session, especially with the complication of the referendum, but certainly I will find time for it at the earliest possible moment. I am very disappointed that we have not been able to do it before.

Mr. Peyton

Going back to the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), I really do not think that he ought to suggest that the Referendum Bill itself is in any way identified with the national interest. It is nothing of the kind. It is a ghastly dodge, as he very well knows, designed to get the Prime Minister out of a nasty mess.

Mr. Short

The referendum is to enable all the people of this country to make their choice. The people will have an opportunity of registering their full-hearted consent, or otherwise, to British membership. What I said, and I think the right hon. Gentleman heard me quite clearly, is that the sooner the uncertainty is removed, the better for this country, for the Community and for everybody else. Provided we can get the Bill through the House next week, we can have the referendum on 5th June. If we cannot get it through the House next week, we cannot have it on 5th June.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have more than 20 hon. and right hon. Members who want to catch my eye during the Budget debate, so we must move on.