HC Deb 18 December 1975 vol 902 cc1647-56
Mr. Whitelaw

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the week after the Christmas Adjournment?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

The business for the first week after the Christmas Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 12th January—Debate on the Report of the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention, House of Commons Paper No. 1, followed by

A motion on the Unsolicited Goods and Services (Northern Ireland) Order.

TUESDAY 13th, WEDNESDAY 14th and THURSDAY 15th January, which will be the 4th Supply Day—Debate on "Our Changing Democracy", devolution to Scotland and Wales, Command No. 6348.

FRIDAY 16th January—Private Members' Motions.

MONDAY 19th January—Conclusion of the debate on devolution.

Mr. Whitelaw

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that last week my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) asked why it was that the important debate on the Public Accounts Committee's Report had been postponed? Is it not an affront to this important Committee that not only has the debate scheduled for this week been postponed but it is not listed for the week immediately after the Adjournment?

May I ask on what motion the devolution debate will arise? It is inevitable, and right, that spokesmen from Scotland and Wales should speak from the Front Benches on certain days. Bearing that in mind, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to confirm that, since this is a United Kingdom matter concerning the whole of the United Kingdom, there will be no question of having a separate day for debating Scotland or Wales?

Mr. Short

I will deal first with the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. The speakers from the Government Front Bench will on one day be from Wales and another day from Scotland. I propose that the debate for the first three days, in the first week, should be on a motion for the Adjournment of the House and that on the following Monday it should be on a "take note" motion. I hope that that will be for the convenience of the whole House. Since the debate will arise on a motion for the Adjournment on those three days, any subject will be in order. The subject will be introduced by a Scottish and a Welsh Minister on two of the days.

I am sorry that it has not been possible to debate the Report of the Public Accounts Committee. We shall hold that debate at the earliest possible moment, I hope in the very near future.

Mr. Faulds

Can my right hon. Friend, during the recess, prevail upon the telephone authorities in this House to do something about improving the service, which, in my experience, is now running at a failure rate of about one in three?

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend has raised this with me previously and I have asked him to give me examples and evidence. If he will do so I will have any specific cases which he—or anyone else—raises looked into. As far as I am concerned I get virtually no failures when making telephone calls from this House.

Mr. Thorpe

Reverting to the question of the four-day debate on devolution, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this: if we are to have a Scottish and Welsh spokesman on two respective days opening the debate, may we take it that there will also be representatives from the Scottish and Welsh Offices to reply to the debates on those days? Unless that is done, the debate could be very ragged. Further, many hon. Members may wish to concentrate on one day to the exclusion of others.

Mr. Short

This would take away time which could be used by Back-Bench speakers and I understand that you, Mr. Speaker, are under some pressure from hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate. We should try to give as much time as possible for non-Front-Bench speakers. I will look at the right hon. Gentleman's proposal.

Mr. Powell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is a matter of satisfaction for hon. Members representing Ulster constituencies that the constitutional future of Northern Ireland is to be considered in this House in close association with the constitutional future of the rest of the United Kingdom? Is he further aware that we believe that the Government's decision reflects the rght framework for considering this matter?

Mr. Jay

How soon will my right hon. Friend find time to debate the Prayer in the name of a number of my hon. Friends and myself concerning the Import Duties (General) No. 5 Order, which raises the import duties on a number of foodstuffs and which was debated at considerable length last year and the year before?

Mr. Short

Speaking from memory, I think that this Prayer is still in time and will be in time until 21st January. I will provide time as soon as possible when we come back after the Adjournment.

Mr. du Cann

Reverting to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) concerning the Public Accounts Committee debate, may I ask the Leader of the House to be more particular and to tell us exactly when he thinks we may be able to debate the Reports of this Committee? While I realise that the Government's programme is now in a most unhappy state of congestion—and there are many of us who think that this nation would be happier and wiser if we had much less legislation rather than more of it—does the right hon. Gentleman not think it of importance that priority should be given to a discussion of the single apparatus that this House has for the control of Government expenditure, to say nothing of the exposures of incompetence in such spending?

Mr. Short

I know the right hon. Gentleman's concern about this matter. He discussed it with me yesterday. It is always hazardous to forecast business in this House beyond one week. I can tell the House that I am hoping that this issue will be debated in the third week following our return. I hope that I can keep to that. I will not guarantee it.

Mr. Christopher Price

May I refer my right hon. Friend to the matter of the Select Committee on Cyprus? Is be aware that this Committee was doing a most important job and was about halfway through its business when it was disbanded? Assurances have been given that it would be set up again. May I have an assurance that it will be set up immediately after the Christmas Recess?

Mr. Short

Yes. I propose to put down a motion dealing with this Committee. I have discussed this with my hon. Friend and members of the Committee. I intend to table a motion after the recess.

Mr. Peyton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that such a motion will not necessarily secure unanimous support from all sides of the House? Is he further aware that I believe it undesirable that Select Committees and other Committees should proliferate? It is important that the Reports of our principal Committees, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) has said, should receive proper attention. Will the right hon. Gentleman polish up the assurance he gave just now and say absolutely definitely that in the near future—after our return from the recess—the Reports of the Public Accounts Committee will receive the attention they have long earned?

Mr. Short

I cannot make it a fully copper-bottomed guarantee. I have said that I will try to arrange the debate in the third week following our return from the Adjournment. What the right hon. Gentleman has said about the Select Committee on Cyprus illustrates the difficulty that there is about this Committee. The House should have the opportunity to decide whether it wishes to have this Committee.

Mr. Bates

In the past my right hon. Friend has promised that we would have a debate on the motor car industry following the Government's reaction to the Report of the Public Expenditure Committee. Can he confirm that it is still the Government's intention that there will be a reaction to that Report, followed by a debate when we may discuss the motor car industry as a whole rather than just Chrysler?

Mr. Short

We have just had a debate on the motor car industry—I agree, on a rather restricted area of it. When the Government have submitted their reply to this Report, and if the Chairman of the Expenditure Committee agrees this subject, certainly there will be a debate on it.

Mrs. Bain

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any possibility of an early debate on the future of the steel industry since threatened redundancies and closures are a matter of great concern to many of us?

Mr. Short

I cannot offer any prospect of such a debate in the near future. I was asked this question last week. I will certainly bear it in mind. I understand the concern of a number of Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Greville Janner

Does my right hon. Friend recall that he assured the House that he hoped to introduce in this Session a Bill to implement the recommendations of the Law Commission on exclusion clauses in contracts for the provision of services? Does he still intend to do so, and, if so, when?

Mr. Short

I am afraid that the answer must be, "Not next week".

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

May I revert to the three-day debate on devolution in the week when we return? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the debate on the motion for the Adjournment will allow those who wish to discuss future legislation, or to object to other people's proposals for future legislation, to remain in order?

Mr. Short

This is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker. I would, however, point out that there is no legislation on this subject before the House.

Mr. Grimond

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy when he proposes to make a further statement on the progress of the National Oil Corporation and appointments to it? Will he represent to him that if the right hon. Gentleman is intending to appoint another full-time public servant to the Corporation, this is a matter which should be announced in the House so that we may discuss the implications of such a move?

Mr. Short

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

Mrs. Millie Miller

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since he was last asked about the fate of the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage I have received a satisfactory reply from the Department of Health and Social Security offering to start off some of the proposals made by the Select Committee? If he is unable to find time to debate the Select Committee's Report, will he be good enough to set up a new Committee to deal with the problem of violence against children, which is a most urgent and important matter?

Mr. Short

I shall consider my hon. Friend's request. This is a very urgent and important matter and I shall keep it in mind. I am well aware of my hon. Friend's concern.

Mr. Gow

When does the right hon. Gentleman envisage that we shall have a debate on the Report of the Select Committee on a Wealth Tax? Are we to interpret his failure to announce a debate on this subject as meaning that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not proposing to introduce legislation in the next Budget?

Mr. Short

The answers to the hon. Member's questions are, first, "Not next week" and, secondly, "No".

Mr. Raphael Tuck

In view of the alarming reports that British Rail is to reduce investment by 35 per cent. and cut down the amount of track in England from 11,000 miles to 3,800 miles, and bearing in mind the immense lobby last Tuesday, will my right hon. Friend promise a debate early in the new year on British Rail or transport generally?

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend will have seen the reply of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment yesterday. [HON. MEMBERS: "Codswallop!"] That is the one. Parliamentary language is deteriorating. I hope that my right hon. Friend's statement will reassure my hon. Friend and the public. If any decisions are taken, they will be taken by Ministers.

Dr. Hampson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has so far shown a marked reductance to come before the House with oral statements on major policy changes? Is he aware that a Written Answer yesterday, which was deliberately put down so that it was lost in the Chrysler and unemployment debates, announced another major change in higher education policy? Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with his right hon. Friend and also seek to implement the recommendations of the 1971 Select Committee on Procedure—recommendations that were supported by the then Leader of the House—and institute a written ministerial answer system?

Mr. Short

Without accepting the premise on which the hon. Member's question is based, I shall consider what he said. This is a recurring problem. I shall reconsider it and write to the hon. Member.

Mr. Anderson

Does my right hon. Friend recall that we were told that there would be a statement on the future of the steel industry in Wales, probably before the end of this year? Many thousands of steelworkers in the Principality are involved, so will he give some indication when this long-awaited announcement will be made?

Mr. Short

It will not be made before Christmas. I am very sorry about that. I know of the concern in Wales. I have visited two of the major steelworks and talked to workers there. I shall try to ensure that a statement is made as soon as possible.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Reverting to the question of the four-day debate on devolution, will the right hon. Gentleman take into account that about five-sixths of the hon. Members of this House are from English constituencies, and will he understand that some of us are fed up with being pushed around by the Scots and take the view that it is time the Government spoke for England?

Mr. Short

Good luck to the Scots it they can do that. We are giving four days for this debate which is a very long time. When the draft Bill is published, there will be a further debate and when the firm Bill is published in the autumn there will be the normal parliamentary procedures. A great deal of time will be devoted to devolution next year.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many sectors of the textile industry are totally dissatisfied with the package announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday? Will he be able to find time for an early debate after the recess, particularly on th plight of the shirt industry, which is in a terribly difficult position and is facing very unfair competition, so that we can air its problems in the House? Will the right hon. Gentleman also ensure that his right hon. Friends use the mechanics of the EEC to guarantee a viable future for the textile industry in this country?

Mr. Short

What the hon. Gentleman said is very different from what many of his hon. Friends said in the debate yesterday.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I am speaking for myself.

Mr. Short

I know that the hon. Gentleman is speaking independently and that his view is not the view of his party. I know of his concern in this matter, but we had a full day's debate yesterday and I cannot offer any more time in the two or three weeks after Christmas.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend assure us that he will give urgent consideration to a debate after the recess on the annual report of the Factory Inspector? Is he aware that even Opposition hon. Members, who constantly prate on about strikes causing disruption in industry, would welcome such a debate, because days lost through industrial injury far outnumber those lost through strikes? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the report will need to be debated because it will contain urgent matters that the House should consider? Will he also give urgent consideration to introducing legislation to abolish the House of Lords, as we may well be having trouble with peers in the near future over the amending Bill to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill?

Mr. Short

On the first part of that Siamese twin of a question, my hon. Friend will know that the number of days lost through industrial disputes this year has been the lowest for seven years. There has been a quite dramatic drop. I think this would be a very suitable subject for a Supply Day or a private Member's debate. I shall bear it in mind, and when there is time for a general debate perhaps I may speak to my hon. Friend again. On his second point, this is a matter about which we must all think carefully and coolly for some time before we take any action.

Mr. Jessel

As each week's delay in reintroducing the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill costs about 20 lives and 200 serious injuries on the roads, and as the Government have already said they will introduce the Bill as soon as practicable in this Session, will the right hon. Gentleman treat this as a matter of urgency and see that the Bill is introduced some time in January?

Mr. Short

I have already talked to the hon. Member about this matter. Certainly, when it is possible to find time I shall reintroduce the Bill. The House started on the Second Reading and I think that many hon. Members would like the opportunity to take a decision on the Bill. As soon as there is time, I shall reintroduce it.

Mr. Madden

In case my right hon. Friend thinks that criticism of the measures announced for the textile industry by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday comes exclusively from the Liberal and Conservative Benches, may I inform him that hon. Members on the Government side who represent textile constituencies are highly critical of the inadequacy of those measures? Will he ensure that his right hon. Friend makes an early statement on the negotiations announced yesterday, with particular reference to the dumping arrangements, which are a matter of continuing concern to the industry?

Mr. Short

I had no doubt that my hon. Friend would be dissatisfied with something the Government had done. I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend makes a statement on this matter as soon as possible.

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