HC Deb 20 February 1975 vol 886 cc1551-65
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)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 24TH FEBRUARY—Debate on Broadcasting The Proceedings of the House.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill.

TUESDAY 25TH FEBRUARY—Supply [11th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on Energy.

Motion to take note of the Town and Country Planning (Industrial Development Certificates Exemption) (No. 2) Order 1974.

WEDNESDAY 26TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Lotteries Bill, which it is hoped to obtain by about seven o'clock.

Afterwards, motion relating to the Civil List (Increase of Financial Provision) Order, until ten o'clock.

Consideration of any Lords Amendments which may be received to the Offshore Petroleum Development (Scotland) Bill.

THURSDAY 27TH FEBRUARY—Motion on EEC Document on Budget Corrective Mechanism (R/340/75).

At seven o'clock, opposed Private Business has been named by the Chairman of Ways and Means for consideration.

Motion on EEC Document on Regional Development (R/2055/73).

FRIDAY 28TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 3RD MARCH—Progress on the Report stage of the Finance Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

Would the Leader of the House let us know when the other four days on the Finance Bill will be? Secondly, could he help us by giving some indication when the next Budget statement will be, before or after Easter? Thirdly, could he help us by saying when the White Paper on the referendum will be published and when the debate will take place?

Mr. Short

As I said last week, we were planning five days for the Finance Bill. I hope that it will be possible to conclude the Finance Bill in four rather than five days. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I hope so, certainly. I have been more generous than any other Leader of the House in the last 50 years in planning on that basis.

The Chancellor will be announcing the date of the Budget very shortly. In reply to the right hon. Lady's third question, the White Paper on the referendum will be published on 26th February.

Mr. Arnold Shaw

In view of Monday's business, would my right hon. Friend comment on the exhibition of lighting and camera equipment in Room 6, relating to those matters which are to be debated?

Mr. Short

I should not like to comment on it, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing it to the attention of the House. The exhibition is taking place now and will be open until eight o'clock tonight in Room 6 and on Monday from two o'clock until 10 o'clock. I hope all hon. Members will have time to visit it.

Mr. Peter Walker

In view of today's unemployment figures—[HON. MEMBERS: "Including you."]—which show that there are now nearly 1 million people unemployed or on short time, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on unemployment?

Mr. Short

I can understand the right hon. Gentleman's anxiety about the unemployment situation. I am afraid that I cannot allocate any time next week.

Mr. Pardoe

Would the right hon. Gentleman think again about the first day of the Report stage of the Finance Bill on Monday week? This is an immensely complicated measure. Many amendments have been accepted by the Government and, indeed, have been put down by the Government. We shall not, I understand, see the finished Bill as it emerged from the Committee until Monday. It is necessary to have longer than those four days in which to take amendments. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will think again.

Mr. Short

It has been a very protracted Committee stage and I am afraid that I cannot do as the hon. Gentleman asks. The Bill must receive the Royal Assent by 14th March.

Mr. Mackintosh

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early Day Motion No. 236 in my name and in the names of Members of every party, calling for a Select Committee on agriculture? Bearing in mind the difficulties of agriculture and the weight of information coming from Brussels, would my right hon. Friend think it appropriate to make a statement and to do something about this matter, in view of the steady demand for such a Select Committee from every quarter of the House?

[That, in view of the present problems facing the agricultural industry, of the need to study and make suitable proposals to improve the Common Agricultural Policy, and of the need to expand agricultural production, to ease balance of payments problems and to consider the detailed regulations on agricultural matters issuing from Brussels, the Government should now move to appoint a standing Select Committee on Agriculture.]

Mr. Short

I will certainly consider it, but the House is heavily committed in a great many Committees at present.

Sir David Renton

Apart from the very broad implications of what is coming out of Brussels, mentioned just now, may I ask the Leader of the House whether he is aware that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made a most important statement this week suggesting various changes in the support arrangements for agriculture, and that we need to discuss these at an early date? Will he bear this fact in mind when arranging future business?

Mr. Short

I have done some research over the past 20 years and I find that every spring agricultural debate in the last 20 years has taken place in Supply time. I suggest that the Opposition might consider this.

Mr. Clemitson

Would my right hon. Friend explain to the House why the Government, with their very heavy and large legislative programme, are now introducing a Lotteries Bill, a measure which is not mentioned, so far as I can make out, in the Queen's Speech or in the party manifesto, and which can hardly be described as meeting an emergency—unless the extraordinary luck in the ballot of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) can be said to constitute an emergency?

Mr. Short

The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was given an undertaking by one of my colleagues that the Bill would be introduced and would have its Second Reading within one month. I am honouring that promise by putting it down next week.

Mr. Reid

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of a motion lodged by my hon. Friends which states: "That it be an Instruction to the Committee of Selection that a Member of the Scottish National Party be added to the Standing Committee on the Industry Bill"? Does he not consider that the Committee as at present constituted does not reflect the vote on the Second Reading of the Bill or the balance of parties in the House?

Mr. Short

The composition of Committees is entirely a matter for the Committee of Selection.

Mr. Lipton

Can my right hon. Friend say what is happening about the Hare Coursing Bill? Many people want to know.

Mr. Short

The Hare Coursing Bill is now ready. It will be introduced shortly and will be enacted during this Session.

Mr. Winterton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his reply to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) is totally unacceptable, bearing in mind that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food urged that this House should debate the agricultural price review at a very early date, and that a Supply Day from the Opposition is not acceptable to this side of the House?

Mr. Short

I am shocked to hear that the Opposition do not regard agriculture as a suitable subject for a Supply Day.

Mrs. Hayman

Can my right hon. Friend give us some idea when we may hope for a debate on the Finer Report? It is now nearly a year since the report was signed, and it was published last July. The future of a million children is involved, and the report has yet to be debated in the House.

Mr. Short

I agree with my hon. Friend that the House should debate the report, but I cannot hold out any hope of a debate before Easter. We have had one very short debate on the report, but I shall certainly arrange another debate before the end of the Session.

Mr. Powell

In connection with the EEC debate on Thursday, can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that the House will have available in the Vote Office by Thursday all relevant documents bearing upon the EEC budget?

Mr. Short

I think that the explanatory memorandum is in the Vote Office. I shall look into the matter, and if any other documents are relevant to the debate I shall see that they are made available.

Mr. Noble

In view of the figures released yesterday by the unions in the cotton textile industry, and the announcement today that 5,500 more workers in that industry are to go on short time, will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the industry? The people working in it have had his sympathy and the sympathy of other Ministers. They would now like some action.

Mr. Short

After last Thursday's exchanges I discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, and I understand that he is in close touch with the unions and employers. I can hold out no hope of a debate in the near future.

Mr. Burden

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been called to Early Day Motion No. 244, an all-party motion signed by about 100 Members?

[That this House, while accepting that vivisection which will assist in prolonging human and animal life and ease suffering, may have to continue until alternatives to the use of live animals for experiment are available, refuses to accept that the experiments now being carried out at the ICI laboratories in Cheshire on behalf of the Imperial Tobacco Company, in which beagle dogs are forced to smoke cigarettes, can be justified on medical or moral grounds; and calls upon the Home Office to impose an immediate ban on these experiments.]

We are concerned that about 5 million animals are subjected to vivisection each year and that about 16,000 people are licensed to carry out such experiments. Is it not time the whole quesion of animal experimentation was looked into in the light of the present circumstances, as the Cruelty to Animals Act, which was passed in order to protect animals from vivisection, is now 100 years old?

Mr. Short

On a personal level, I share the hon. Gentleman's abhorrence at the dreadful pictures of the experiments referred to in the motion. The whole country was shocked by them. I made immediate inquiries of the Home Office, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has assured me that she is looking into the matter urgently.

Mr. Corbett

May I tempt my right hon. Friend to provide time in the near future to debate the consultative document on the new Towns Bill, so that we may have a discussion on the future of the new towns?

Mr. Short

I shall look into that, and write to my hon. Friend about it.

Mr. Tebbit

Can I persuade the right hon. Gentleman to provide time for a debate on the criteria used in the formation of Standing Committees on Bills? As the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) said, it is monstrous that the Standing Committee on the Industry Bill should be totally removed from the will of the House, and in particular that the Scottish Nationalists should not be represented on it, though the Welsh Nationalists are.

Mr. Short

As I said in reply to the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid), the composition of commitees is decided entirely by the Selection Committee, which meets weekly. It is bound by the Standing Orders of the House.

Mr. Spearing

With regard to the debate on the EEC budget and other EEC business on Thursday, as there are many documents concerning the budget, can my right hon. Friend give us their reference numbers, so that they may be looked at? As the debate is on the mechanism for changing the budget structure, would it not be more appropriate first to have a debate on the budget itself?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. The debate is on the corrective mechanism for the budget, the proposal which will come before the Council of Ministers next week. If there are any other relevant documents, I shall see that they are made available. I cannot answer a question about reference numbers off the cuff, but I shall find out whether there are such documents.

Mr. Robert Taylor

Has the Leader of the House noticed Early Day Motion No. 192, signed by more than 100 Members?

[That this House believes that the uncertainty of the Government's intentions and proposals for the insurance industry is positively harmful to the prospects of Nation Life policy holders due to the unlikelihood of any remedial action by the British Insurance Association during the period of uncertainty; and calls on the Government to announce its intention to back date its proposals for the statutory fund to which it is committed so as to include Nation Life.]

As later today we are to debate a Bill which has the effect of repaying the financial losses of people affected by Court Line, does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that it is now time for similar consideration to be given to those affected by the failure of Nation Life?

Mr. Short

There is a debate on this, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to put his point then.

Mr. Taylor


Mr. Loyden

Will my right hon. Friend discuss with other Ministers the crisis developing in the building industry, particularly bearing in mind that Bills concerning housing have been passed by the House recently? Will he look into the high unemployment among building workers in the North-West, so that my right hon. Friends can gear their housing demands and policies to that situation?

Mr. Short

I answered a question last week about the possibility of regional debates. I have been considering the matter, and hope soon to have a proposal. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a national problem."] My hon. Friend asked about the North-West. I hope soon to have a proposal to put to the House about regional debates.

Mr. John Davies

In view of the debates about energy on the Supply Day next Tuesday, will the Leader of the House consider asking his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to make a statement on energy issues up to date, particularly in relation to the important meetings on energy which took place in Brussels last week? We should be much better equipped to debate energy issues if we had an up-to-date statement on energy matters related to international agencies and the Community.

Mr. Short

I shall call my right hon. Friend's attention to the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the fall in the housing figures in both the private and the public sector, despite the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on public housing, reflect the situation in the whole country and not merely in the North-West? Therefore, a debate on the building industry should not be confined to that area but should concern the problem facing the whole industry, which is now used as an economic indicator in the way that the motor industry used to be.

Mr. Short

We inherited an appalling housing situation from the last Government, but I cannot promise any time for a debate next week.

Mr. Clegg

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the grave difficulties facing many fishing ports, due particularly to the extreme rises in the price of fuel? Will he ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a statement next week?

Mr. McNamara

What about last year's profits?

Mr. Short

I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend what the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) said.

Mr. Jay

As the Government have published a public expenditure White Paper, and as we are presumably to have another Budget in April, are we not to have before the Budget a general economic debate, which could well cover the textile industry, the building industry and other industries?

Mr. Short

Certainly. I am trying to arrange that debate, as I promised previously.

Sir Frederic Bennett

At the end of Question Time yesterday the Prime Minister, not by statement but in answering questions, made far-reaching claims about the economic results of his visit to the Soviet Union, which some of us find hard to reconcile with the documentation of the facts as published. Shall we have an opportunity to discuss the matter a little further? A matter of this apparent importance merits more than the answering of questions. If we are not to have a specific opportunity to debate it, shall we be able to discuss it in a debate on foreign affairs generally? If so, may we be given an indication when there will be a foreign affairs debate, and in particular whether it will be before we rise for Easter?

Mr. Short

I can understand the Conservatives being reluctant to acknowledge the solid achievements mentioned in the communiqué. They are solid commercial achievements. As I have said previously, there will be a debate on foreign affairs certainly before Easter, and I imagine that it will be in order to debate this subject.

Mr. Peyton

Taking up the matter raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), I remind the Leader of the House that the Minister of Agriculture, in announcing an important change in the common agricultural policy, himself said, presumably speaking for the Government, that there should be a debate on agriculture. Will the right hon. Gentleman endorse what the Minister said and make early provision in Government time for a debate on this very important subject?

My second question relates to the Finance Bill. Although the Opposition appreciate the pressures upon Government time and also appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's being forthcoming enough to provide five days for the Report stage, may I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that we wish to make as rapid progress as possible but that that will depend on his Treasury colleagues being in a position to satisfy our very reasonable demands?

Mr. Short

I have already answered the right hon. Gentleman's question about the Finance Bill. I said that we were planning on five days but that I hoped that it would be possible to complete the Bill before the five days ended.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's first question, I endorse what my right hon. Friend said. I think that there should be a debate on agriculture. However, let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of the history of spring debates on agriculture. There were spring debates in 1955, 1956, 1960, 1965 and 1969, and every one was on a Supply Day. There has been no spring debate on agriculture which was not on a Supply Day. The Opposition have a lot of Supply Days in hand. Why do they not use one for a debate on agriculture?

Mr. Pym


Mr. Speaker

Order. There have been two interventions already from the Opposition Front Bench. They should be fairer to back benchers.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the Lord President assure us that in future hon. Members who are appointed to Committees get more than a day's notice of their appointment? Can he explain why on a recent occasion Ulster Unionist Members got a day's notice whereas other hon. Members got four or five days' notice of their appointment to a Committee?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also find time for a debate on textiles? Is he aware that the dumping of cheap cloth in this country is having an adverse effect on the textile industry?

Mr. Short

I have already answered a question dealing with the hon. Gentleman's second point. Dealing with the first one, I shall look into this and see what happened. The hon. Gentleman should have had more than one day's notice.

Mr. Wells

When the right hon. Gentleman gives us this day on agriculture, will he ensure that horticulture is specifically included, because we have had two disgraceful answers today, and British horticulture is in such a state of jeopardy that British tomatoes and other products will be outside the purse of the average housewife this summer?

Mr. Short

The Conservative Party is refusing to use one of its Supply Days for a debate on agriculture. If the hon. Gentleman can persuade his Front Bench to use a Supply Day for such a debate, he will no doubt be able to make his point.

Mr. Crouch

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Employment to come to the House next week and make a statement about his reluctance to take any action to solve the continuing disruption to commuters, throughout the British Rail system now, due to unofficial strike action by the signalmen?

Mr. Short

My right hon. Friend appealed last week to these men to call off their unofficial action and to go back to work, and so has the General Secretary of the NUR. I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend what the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) has said, and perhaps I might associate myself with what the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) said in expressing sympathy to the travelling public for the inconvenience that they are encountering.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Earlier this afternoon, the Minister of Agriculture made a very important announcement about the cost of fuel oil to horticulturists. As I belong to a party which has used its Supply Days for the next 20 years, may I plead that horticulture be included if there is to be an agricultural debate? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that glasshouse growers face immediate ruin because of fierce competition from the EEC?

Mr. Tom King

The Leader of the House said just now that the Committee of Selection is bound by Standing Orders in selecting hon. Members to serve on Committees. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, however, that as a result of this most recent incident there is real concern whether the Committee of Selection has obeyed Standing Order No. 62—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot allow any further questions on this matter. The point has been raised. It is apparent that a reflection is being made upon the Committee of Selection. That may be discussed only on a substantive motion. If it is considered that the Committee of Selection has not carried out its duty to have regard to the qualifications of those hon. Members nominated and to the composition of the House, that is a matter for debate on a substantive motion and not by means of question and answer.

Mr. Tom King

Without challenging your ruling, Mr. Speaker, which I accept entirely, may I point out that there is a motion on the Order Paper on this matter? The Leader of the House said that this was a matter entirely for the Committee of Selection. There is a motion on the Order Paper, and therefore it is a question whether the Committee of Selection can reconsider the matter. There is real concern about it.

Mr. Short

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. I shall look at this to see whether Standing Order No. 62 has been complied with, and, if there is any problem, perhaps I might discuss it with you, Mr. Speaker.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that we must move on.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise to you and to the House, but there is a matter of urgency about this question of the Standing Committee which is to consider the Industry Bill. That Committee is about to meet. If the House were to show itself to be dissatisfied with the way in which the Committee of Selection had chosen hon. Members to serve on that Standing Committee, and if it were to be the view of the House, as I believe it would be, that the selection was not representative of the vote in the House on Second Reading, we should have to take a decision very shortly so that the composition of the Standing Committee could be changed.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order. Such decisions can be taken only on a motion.

Mr. David Steel

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It was my understanding that an hon. Member intended to raise this matter with you as a point of order after the statement that we are to have from the Secretary of State for Trade. However, since it is being raised now, may I ask whether you are saying that it is impossible for the Chair to rule that the Standing Order has not been complied with? That is the submission which some of us would like to make to you.

Mr. Speaker

I shall consider that point. In view of the urgency of the matter, I shall consider it quickly. However, I doubt very much whether it is for me to say whether the Committee of Selection has complied with a Standing Order of the House.

I have an application for a debate on this matter under Standing Order No. 9. I shall hear what is said, but I think that the chances are slim.

Mr. Tebbit

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a motion on the Order Paper, and therefore the matter can properly be discussed by the House. The Table Office would not have accepted it if it had not been a proper motion. I hope that the Leader of the House will be willing to provide time to debate it. There is no reason why we should not debate it, and swiftly, perhaps forthwith.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me.

Mr. Onslow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Does not the Lord President think it unsatisfactory that a state of affairs should be allowed to continue where the composition of a Standing Committee is under criticism? Should not this matter be disposed of before the Committee meets? If so, will not the right hon. Gentleman make some gesture now, or otherwise agree that the meeting of the Standing Committee should be postponed?

Mr. Short

I do not agree that anything is wrong. But I have said that I shall look into it to see whether in my opinion the Standing Order has been complied with. I do not accept at the moment that it has not been complied with, but I shall look into it to see whether it has.

Mr. David Steel

Since this matter is being pursued now, Mr. Speaker, may I ask when you intend to give a ruling on it, because I have not made a submission to you on it. I should wish to do so if you were listening to representations on the matter now.

Mr. Speaker

It is not for me to say when the Standing Committee meets. That is for the Chairman of the Committee. I understand that it is to meet on Tuesday.

Mr. David Steel

The point which worries me arises under the Standing Order. It is my submission, which no one has yet made to you, that the Committee of Selection has not carried out the terms of Standing Order No. 62. My reason for saying that is that the Bill on Second Reading had a majority of 14 on the Floor of the House and that by no stretch of the imagination can a Standing Committee of 19 to 16 in favour of the Bill be said to reflect the majority. There is a real difficulty here. This is the first time that a Committee of this size, with the agreement of all the parties and on the advice of the Clerks, has contained two hon. Members representing the minority parties, one representing the Liberal Party and one other. On this occasion the Committee of Selection, on which incidentally none of the minority parties is represented, has selected one of the three members of the minority parties who happened to vote for the Bill. That has upset the balance of the Standing Committee completely.

Mr. Speaker

I shall consider this matter. It is Thursday today and perhaps it will be convenient if I make a statement tomorrow morning. That would be in time. Meanwhile, I shall look into the matter and consider what powers I have. I shall also discuss the matter with the Leader of the House.

Mr. Short

That is not the criterion on which the selection is done. I understand that the criterion is the strength of the parties in the House. I shall consider the matter and consider whether the Committee has complied with the Standing Order.

Mr. Cormack

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

We must get on. I think I know the nature of the hon. Gentleman's point. As I have said, I will consider the matter.

Mr. Cormack

On a new point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not be most satisfactory in these rather strange circumstances for the Committee to be disbanded and the Bill to be referred to a Committee of the whole House?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Shore.

Forward to