HC Deb 24 April 1975 vol 890 cc1762-70
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 28TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Employment Protection Bill

Motion on the Beef Premiums (Protection of Payments) Order.

TUESDAY 29TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Community Land Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government (Scotland) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 30TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-Lines Bill.

Remaining stages of the Lotteries Bill

THURSDAY 1ST MAY—Supply [15TH ALLOTTED DAY]: Debate on a motion to take note of the First Report from the Expenditure Committee Session 1974 on Public Expenditure on Transport, and the Fourth Special Report, Session 1974–75.

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

FRIDAY 2ND MAY—Private Members'Bills.

MONDAY 5TH MAY—Supply [16TH ALLOTTED DAY]: Subject for debate to be announced.

Mr. Peyton

May I put two points to the right hon. Gentleman? First, is it not a bit late in the Session to start embarking on Second Readings of major Bills? We have a rather full week of the things, and it seems a little late in the year for these Bills to have good prospects of completion.

Secondly, we all regret—and I say this sincerely—the fact that the Secretary of State for Employment is to go into hospital. We wish him a speedy recovery, but, at the same time, I have to put it to the right hon. Gentleman that the Opposition will greatly resent having a major Bill such as the Employment Protection Bill put to the House by somebody other than the Minister really responsible for it. That such a measure should be moved by anybody other than a Cabinet Minister is wholy unacceptable, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to recollect what would have been the reaction of his side of the House had we in Government moved a trade union measure without the Minister responsible doing so.

Mr. Short

On the first point, we are at present about six months from the end of the Session. These are very im- portant Bills in the Government's legislative programme and we intend to start them next week and get the Royal Assent before the end of the Session.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I know that the whole House will wish my right hon. Friend a speedy recovery. He goes into hospital on Sunday.

Because time is getting on, it will not be possible to postpone the Second Reading of the Employment Protection Bill until my right hon. Friend comes out of hospital. It is a Government Bill, not my right hon. Friend's Bill, and it will be dealt with quite adequately by the Minister of State.

Sir G. de Freitas

What consideration is my right hon. Friend giving to the representations that he has received from the Labour Party Steel Group, which urgently wants a debate on steel?

Mr. Short

I recognise the importance of this matter. There will be an early opportunity to debate steel on the Statutory Provisions Bill, which will be introduced very shortly.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Government have decided to proceed with and complete this Session the Bill to nationalise aircraft and shipbuilding?

Mr. Short

Certainly. I wrote to the hon. Gentleman about this a few days ago.

Mr. Moonman

There is a Labour Party commitment to deal with new towns. Can my right hon. Friend say why we have not been able to debate the rather important consultative document?

Mr. Short

Because of pressure of business, but I have this very much in mind and will arrange it as soon as possible.

Mr. John Davies

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the large number of European instruments outstanding for debate. Bearing in mind that the work of the Scrutiny Committee has been directed towards trying to secure early discussion of these matters in this House, will the right hon. Gentleman please give a reassurance on the matter, without trying to make a personal segregation between the business chosen, bearing in mind that Opposed Private Business at some stage may seem to be of somewhat less importance than some of these measures?

Mr. Short

I have no control over Private Business: that is a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means. On the other point. I agree that there is a problem at the moment, in that there is intense pressure on parliamentary business. This week we are spending three days on the Referendum Bill. Recently we have had a three-day debate on the renegotiated terms. This has created great problems for the parliamentary timetable. We will make a start on these instruments as soon as possible.

Mr. Joseph Dean

Now that the unhappy events of the last decade are drawing to a final conclusion in that long-suffering country of Vietnam and the last vestiges of the American military machine that played such a large part in that suffering are about to leave, would my right hon. Friend indicate to the House what measures are being taken to protect British subjects who are still involved in that country?

Mr. Short

I am glad that my hon. Friend has asked that question. This morning two RAF planes left Saigon for Singapore with the remaining British citizens on board. The embassy is already in Singapore and the ambassador will be there also.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Will the right hon. Gentleman say when time will be provided for a debate on the Second Reading of the Scottish Development Agency Bill, which is urgently required in Scotland to deal with her industrial problems?

Mr. Short

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the urgency and importance of this measure for Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I had hoped that the Opposition would agree to this Bill being taken in the Scottish Grand Committee, but they are unwilling to agree to that, so there will be some delay in getting a Second Reading for the Bill. I greatly regret this, but the Bill will have its Second Reading as soon as I can find the time for it.

Mr. Greville Janner

In view of the tragic series of deaths of babies due to brutality, and also in view of today's allegation of the terrifying number of babies battered to death, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the consideration of the Justice recommendation that there should be an ombudsman appointed to look after the rights and treatment of children? If that is not possible, will my right hon. Friend undertake to refer this matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services for her most urgent consideration?

Mr. Short

I certainly agree about the importance of this matter, and I agree with all that my hon. and learned Friend said about it. Unfortunately, for the reasons that I gave to the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) and other Members, I cannot find any time for a debate in the near future. I will take up my hon. and learned Friend's suggestion and refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

I regret that the right hon. Gentleman saw fit to brush off my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) so brusquely. May I, too, be allowed to say how sorry I am to hear of the illness of the Secretary of State for Employment and to wish him a very rapid recovery?

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Employment Protection Bill is of very great importance but not of great urgency? It would be far better put forward by the Secretary of State himself. I am certain, as my right hon. Friend said, that had the position been reversed—I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will admit this—the fuss made by the Labour Party in opposition would have been very unedifying. I am trying to keep my language moderate. Will the Leader of the House reconsider having the Bill next Monday in the unfortunate absence of the Secretary of State and see if we cannot have it later? The right hon. Gentleman has—I hope he will agree with this, too—a wider responsibility to the House than simply to push through the Government's business at all costs regardless of the rights of back benchers on both sides of the House.

Mr. Short

The Employment Protection. Bill debate does not in any way affect the rights of back benchers. The Bill is one of the most important items in our legislative programme for this year. If the Bill is to receive the Royal Assent this Session, it is important that it should be started and should get into Committee as quickly as possible. Therefore, we cannot wait until my right hon. Friend is discharged from hospital and has, no doubt, a period of convalescence after that. The Minister of State will deal with the Bill and will speak with the full authority of the Government. He is a very experienced Minister and Member of the House and will deal with the Bill quite competently.

Mr. Aitken

Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that the important Lords amendments to the Trade Union and Labour Relations Eill will not be brought back to the House until the Secretary of State has recovered from his illnes? Although we all sympathise with the Secretary of State, we cannot have Hamlet without the Prince twice.

Mr. Short

I think that that may well be the case—not for the reason the hon. Gentleman gave but because, due to the pressure of busines, it will be some little time before we can take those Lords amendments and it may well be that my right hon. Friend will be back by the time we come to them.

Mr. loan Evans

As the legislation which is to come before the House next week is vital and as there are other measures which were foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech but have not yet had their Second Reading, will my right hon. Friend seriously consider the possibility of extending the Session, to ensure that this legislation gets on the statute book?

In addition, as on the major statement concerning British Leyland we had no indication from the Opposition Front Bench about what their attitude is to this important development, could we through the usual channels ring them up to find out what their attitude is?

Mr. Short

On the main point my hon. Friend raised, it is much too early yet to talk about extending the Session beyond the normal overspill time. There are considerable problems about Supply and other matters involved in extending the Session for any longish period. We can look at the matter later this summer.

Mr. Goodhart

Will the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary to come to the House tomorrow morning and make a statement about the evacuation of British Embassy staff from Saigon and tell the House what assistance he hopes to give the Vietnamese who worked in the British Embassy and who may be at considerable risk in the near future? Will he also ask the Foreign Secretary to say just a word of condemnation about the way in which the peace agreement has been swept aside in recent weeks?

Mr. Short

Ignoring the implications contained in the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—because my right hon. Friend has expressed himself on this matter already—on the first part of the question, I pointed out—I hope that the hon. Gentleman heard it—that this very morning two RAF Hercules planes took the remaining British citizens from Saigon to Singapore, and I think the embassy staff are all there now with the ambassador. I will certainy convey what the hon. Gentleman has said to my right hon. Friend.

Dr. Hampson

The right hon. Gentleman will realise the importance of the Bullock Report and the need to prevent it from being pigeon-holed and forgotten. Will he undertake that the House will have an opportunity to debate the major report?

Mr. Short

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of this report. It is one of the valuable reports which we cannot find time to debate just at the moment. I will bear it in mind, because I think it would be valuable for the House to debate the report at some time. We do not debate education matters in the House nearly sufficiently.

Mr. Burden

Will the Leader of the House be kind enough to make representations to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that he should answer the Questions that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and I have tabled about the intended destinations and categories of animals that are now being exported from Britain for slaughter? The Minister has refused to give this information. I believe that the House is entitled to it, and I believe that the right hon. Gentleman will be sympathetic. I hope that he will make representations to his right hon. Friend that he should give us this information.

Mr. Short

I know the hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest in this matter and I share it. Indeed. we had a few words yesterday about what has been happening recently. I will certainly convey all that the hon. Gentleman has said to my right hon. Friend.

Several hon. Members



Order. I am sorry, but we have a good deal else to do today.