HC Deb 11 December 1975 vol 902 cc655-62
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 15TH DECEMBER—Debate on the Rate Support Grant Orders.

TUESDAY 16TH DECEMBER—Supply [3rd Allotted Day], when the House will be asked to pass outstanding Votes.

Debate on the motor vehicle industry.

Motion to approve paragraph 9 of the First Report from the Committee of Privileges (House of Commons Paper No. 22), relating to the exclusion from the precincts of Mr. Knight and Mr. Schreiber.

WEDNESDAY 17TH DECEMBER—Debate on employment and on measures for saving jobs.

Motions on the Hill Livestock (Compensatory Allowances) Regulations, on the Winter Keep (Scotland) (Revocation) Scheme, and on the Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Biscuits and Shortbread) Order.

THURSDAY 18TH DECEMBER—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

FRIDAY 19TH DECEMBER—It will be proposed that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment, until Monday 12th January 1976.

Mrs. Thatcher

If we are to have a debate on the motor vehicle industry on Tuesday, may we expect a statement on the Chrysler position tomorrow and not later than tomorrow? May we also expect publication of the CPRS Report before the debate, the report having being promised by the beginning of November? Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect or has he read that last week his right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury mentioned that there would be a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in good time before the debate on unemployment? May we expect that statement on Monday?

Mr. Short

Negotiations are continuing on the Chrysler position. My right hon. Friend has had a further meeting with Mr. Riccardo and his colleagues this morning. A statement will be made to the House as soon as possible, and, hopefully, early next week. I shall consider the point that the right hon. Lady has made about the CPRS Report. I shall see whether it is possible to publish the report before the debate.

Regarding the measures that I announced for the debate on Wednesday, the Chancellor does not have it in mind to make a statement before the debate. I have considered the precedents during the previous Conservative Government's term of office, and there are many precedents for not doing so. In view of the content of the Chancellor's measures, I do not think it would be appropriate for him to make a statement before the debate.

Mrs. Thatcher

It looks as though we are not to get the Chrysler statement before we are expected to debate the whole motor vehicle industry. Many of us would have expected to have it well before the debate. Further, we would not expect to be denied the information contained in the CPRS Report. We are well aware that a complicated and difficult decision has to be made about Chrysler, but that makes it essential for the House to be informed as well as the Minister.

Mr. Short

I agree with the right hon. Lady, and if it is possible to make a statement tomorrow I shall see that it is made. Clearly we cannot make a statement before we have reached a solution. The statement will be made as soon as possible. As regards the CPRS Report, I shall see whether it is possible to make it available before the debate. I shall do my best about that.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I ask for the help of the House. My efforts to curtail the last item of business were not altogether successful. I must inform the House that nearly 40 right hon. and hon. Members want to speak in the debate on the death penalty. I hope that hon. Members will ask brief questions about the business of the House.

Mr. Burden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will the Leader of the House make a statement as soon as possible about what has happened in Icelandic waters—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I call the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield).

Mr. Les Huckfield

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of my hon. Friends recognise the urgent need for a statement to be made on Chrysler as soon as possible, but take the view that it is far too important a statement to be made on a Friday? Does he recognise that many of us would appreciate a statement on this most important matter as early as possible before the debate on the motor industry?

Mr. Short

I promise that the statement will be made at the earliest possible moment. The House will be sitting tomorrow and it is a working day. I realise that many hon. Members visit their constituencies, but I think that the House is entitled to have this information at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Buck

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that we have a statement during the course of the day about what happened this morning in Icelandic waters? It appears that the Icelandic "Thor" has opened fire, has been holed and is hove to. It seems that assistance has been offered to her by our craft. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is appropriate for the House to have the opportunity to be told precisely what has happened in the short term? In the long term, may we expect an opportunity to debate the whole matter? What Iceland is doing is totally indefensible since we are prepared to negotiate on the whole matter.

Mr. Short

I understand the concern of the House on this matter. I shall pass on urgently to my right hon. Friend what the hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) have said. I cannot offer any time for a debate before Christmas. I think that the only opportunity before Christmas will be the Adjournment debate.

Mr. Richard Wainwright

So that hon. Members may make meaningful contributions to the debate on the motor vehicle industry next week, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange to make available the CPRS Report and also the Government's reply to the Report of the Expenditure Committee on the motor vehicle industry, for which we have already waited many weeks?

Mr. Short

I am afraid that I cannot promise that that document will be available for the debate, but I shall try to see whether it is possible to make the CPRS Report available to the House.

Mr. James Johnson

May I inform my right hon. Friend that I support the plea made by the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) about the serious occurrence off Iceland? I have not heard the details, but, if the hon. and learned Gentleman is correct, it is a terrible business if shots have been fired in Icelandic waters. We should like to have a statement as quickly as possible.

Mr. Short

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I shall start work on that matter as soon as business questions have been concluded to see what can be done.

Mr. Peter Walker

The Leader of the House said that he will try to make available the CPRS Report. Whatever the difficulties, there is no reason why he should not make a copy available in the Library.

Mr. Short

I have said that I shall look at the matter and do the best I can.

Mr. Kilfedder

I know that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates the importance of an early debate on the report relating to the Northern Ireland Convention. Will he ensure that the debate will take place in the first week after the House returns from the Christmas Recess so that we may avoid a political vacuum in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Short

I appreciate the need on that score, and there will be a debate on Northern Ireland very soon after we return. I cannot absolutely guarantee that debate in the first week when we return after Christmas, but I shall do my best to arrange a debate as soon as possible.

Mr. Lipton

My right hon. Friend said that at the end of business next Tuesday the House will debate the Report of the Committee of Privileges. May we have an assurance that adequate time will be afforded and that the rule will be suspended if necessary?

Mr. Short

The rule will be suspended, and the House will note that I tabled only one point for debate. I felt that it would be unfair that the matter should hang over the heads of the two journalists concerned during the Christmas Recess. The other point involving Privilege raises much wider issues. I am sure that the Government and the whole House will wish to have more time to think about the matter.

Mr. du Cann

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the previous arrangements for business were cancelled and why there will not now be a debate before Christmas on the five Reports of the Public Accounts Committee? Does he not agree that it is unsatisfactory that discussion of Reports made by the senior Select Committee of the House should be delayed in this way, particularly when they constitute the only audit available to the House on Government expenditure and perhaps its only potential check? Will he further agree that it is the Government's duty to support the work of Members in this House in this regard if the Government believe that the work is as valuable to the House as it used to be when the Prime Minister was its distinguished Chairman?

Mr. Short

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the importance of the Public Accounts Committee. As he knows, it was intended to debate those Reports next week, but in view of the Chrysler debate, the debate on unemployment and the Chancellor of the Exchequer's package it has not been possible to find time for a debate. I shall find time for a debate as soon as possible after the recess.

Mr. Stonehouse

When does my right hon. Friend intend to table a motion for the Christmas adjournment?

Mr. Short

I think the best day for such a debate would be the day on which the House deals with the Consolidated Fund Bill—namely, Thursday of next week.

Mr. Peyton

On the subject of the debate on the motor industry, it will surely be difficult to hold that debate without the answer to the Expenditure Committee's Report and the CPRS Report. I believe I am right in saying that the Minister of State, Department of Industry is on record as saying that these documents would be available before any debate on the motor industry in this House. If the Government's view is that they cannot give the House an answer to the Expenditure Committee's Report before the Chrysler situation has been settled, is not this tantamount to saying that more money for Chrysler will mean less money for Leyland? Is that not the unfortunate result?

Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman remember his promise given a fortnight ago that the Government would make a statement on the National Enterprise Board? The Patronage Secretary appeared last week to go a little beyond that statement.

Mr. Short

If I may deal with the second point first, I undertook to make a statement. I shall do so next week. I am looking carefully into the matter. I am examining our practice in regard to the nationalised industries and about setting up the Board. It has taken a rather long time and I apologise, but I hope I shall make a statement to the House before the House rises.

In regard to the right hon. Gentleman's first point about the CPRS Report, I shall do my best to see that it is made available if that is at all possible. I can give no undertaking about any Government reply to the Report. There will be the usual opportunities, subject to the agreement of the chairman, to debate this matter in due course. However, I shall examine the whole question in response to what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Hoyle

Will my right hon. Friend make a statement about import controls—a matter that is of great concern to many hon. Members—before the House debates the employment situation?

Mr. Short

Yes, Sir. There will be a statement on import controls next week either before the statement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer or, much more likely, in his speech in the debate.

Mr. Biffen

In view of the importance of Tuesday's debate, is it not imperative that the Report of the Central Policy Review Staff should be made available to this House? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it will be the final mockery if we have to turn to the Sunday Times to find the information?

Mr. Buchan

On the subject of the Chrysler situation, we recognise that Friday is a working day in two senses since almost every hon. Member has to be in his constituency. Therefore, if a statement on Chrysler is made tomorrow, no doubt it will be made in the morning. Therefore, hon. Members would like to know whether that statement is to be made tomorrow. I hope that I shall have a reply on this point. If not, may I continue my question?

The problem we are facing is that presumably a decision either has or has not been made. If a decision has been made, will my right hon. Friend please guarantee to assure hon. Members, who are gravely concerned about the Chrysler situation and who may be visiting Chrysler factories tomorrow, that if a statement is to be made it will be made tomorrow? If the decision has not been made but the decision is reached tomorrow, will he consider informing us at that point? May I please have a reply on that matter? Am I to receive a reply?

Mr. Short

I cannot answer my hon. Friend until he sits down. I am quite willing to answer. He put some very sensible points, and indeed human issues, concerning the way in which we carry out our business. I shall see whether it is possible to find some satisfactory way this evening of informing hon. Members whether there will be a statement tomorrow. I hope that the House will appreciate the difficulties. Negotiations are now taking place. They may go on until late tonight. A solution may be reached tonight or it may not. It may be reached tomorrow morning. If a settlement were reached early tomorrow morning, it would be wrong for the Government to withhold that information. It is a difficult situation, but I shall do my best to inform hon. Members tonight before they go away whether there will be a statement tomorrow.

Mr. Buchan

I thank my right hon. Friend.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether early in the Session in 1976 we may debate the Report of the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage?

Mr. Short

Many hon. Members are interested in that Report. I shall bear in mind the possibility of a general debate on that topic when time becomes available.

Mr. Roy Hughes

May the House have an early debate on the steel industry? To put the matter modestly and mildly, I must remind my right hon. Friend that the industry is in a truly deplorable state. In view of the fact that the British Steel Corporation is a publicly-owned concern with ultimate responsibility to this House, does the Leader of the House agree that there is some merit in meeting this suggestion?

Mr. Short

I recognise that the world recession is having a considerable effect on the steel industry. There will not be a debate next week, but sometime in the new year we shall have to debate the steel industry.