§ 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 3rd March, Tuesday 4th March, Wednesday 5th March and Thursday 6th March, progress on the Report stage of the Finance Bill.
Friday 7th March, Private Members' Motions.
Monday 10th March, remaining stages of the Finance Bill, if it has not been concluded in the previous week.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are in considerable difficulty with the Finance Bill? In Committee the Government gave 20 undertakings to put down amendments and 102 pledges to look at things again. They are not all tabled, and, therefore, the amendments to the amendments and further amendments may be tabled very late indeed; I hope that this will not jeopardise their consideration. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to get the House into that difficult state again, because it is impossible properly to consult in time all the interests which will be affected by this Finance Bill?
Second, while we are considering one Finance Bill, it seems appropriate to ask what will be the date of the next Budget. Third, can the right hon. Gentleman give us some idea when we shall have a debate on the referendum White Paper, and whether we can have two days on it when it comes?
§ Mr. Short
On the first point, I understand that up to Tuesday night some 83 Government amendments and new clauses had been tabled. More were in the possession of the House on Wednesday and others today. A total of 43 have appeared on today's Order Paper. The first day of the Finance Bill Report, as I have said, will be on Monday, when new clauses are expected to be taken, followed on later Report days by amendments to clauses, new schedules and amendments to schedules. But I will see to it that all the amendments are tabled in time for amendments to them to be put down.
I cannot say when the next Finance Bill will be, but the Chancellor does not now intend to introduce his Budget before Easter. The debate on the referendum White Paper will, I hope, be the week after next. I cannot, I am afraid, promise two days. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] There will be an opportunity later, of course, to debate the Bill itself, but certainly, I am not prepared to give two days. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] If it is the wish of the House, I shall certainly see that the rule is suspended for one or two hours.
§ Mr. Sillars
Can my right hon. Friend say when we will get the debate specifically on the unemployment problem 704 facing the working people of this country? Is he aware that there is acute concern in trade union and Labour circles on this subject? We have noticed that the Opposition have taken Supply Days on a whole number of other matters but have significantly ignored the question of unemployment. Will my right hon. Friend demonstrate the concern of the Labour Government in this matter by giving us a debate in Government time?
§ Sir David Renton
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Minister of Agriculture, when he made his far-reaching statement last week, agreed that we should debate his proposals, which are quite new? Is he aware that, if the Government wish to show real concern about the dangers of our present food situation, he should wish to find Government time for debating this matter, instead of forcing the Opposition to find time, as they have had to do on previous occasions recently?
§ Mr. Pardoe
Would the right hon. Gentleman give further thought to the question put by the Leader of the Opposition? She said that the amendments to the Finance Bill have made things very difficult. They have, in fact, made things virtually impossible. Last week, in answer to my question, the right hon. Gentleman said that we had to get the Royal Assent by 14th March. But the capital transfer tax proposals represent a net loss of revenue to the Government, so there is no real necessity to get it through by 14th March at all. Will he therefore think again about Monday? He cannot honour his promise to the right hon. Lady that we shall be able to consider these amendments in time to make amendments to them in time for Monday. The new 705 clauses will be debated on Monday. Three have appeared on the notice of amendments today. If we get the amendments down today, they will just be in time. If we get them down tomorrow they will be starred.
§ Sir G. de Freitas
In view of the importance of our regional policy, when will the House have a chance to discuss last night's decision by the European Comission to support our regional aid policy, as put forward in our renegotiations?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the serious repercussions in Northern Ireland because of the announcement by the Minister for Transport of the cancellation of the Heysham—Belfast ferry? As this is the only British Rail link between England and Northern Ireland and as many people on both sides of the Channel are employed in that link, could he find time for a debate on the subject?
§ Mr. Short
I have looked into this myself. I have been to the constituency of the hon. Lady the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) and have discussed it with the local trades council. I know that the hon. Lady has been very active in this matter as well. Both British Rail and the Minister for Transport have looked at this, and my right hon. Friend made the announcement last week that this could not be held up.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Would my right hon. Friend convey to the Home Secretary, who has recently left the Chamber, that some of us would feel that it would not be good enough just to have a Written Answer today on the findings of Mr. Justice Scarman, which are now available, on the events in Red Lion Square on 15th June? If we cannot have a debate on that report, would my right hon. Friend convey to the Home Secretary our expectation of a verbal reference to it 706 when we can question him further—perhaps next Thursday, when he is due to face Questions, or something like that? May I also point out that I and my Liberation colleagues come out of the whole situation with flying colours?
§ Mr. Kimball
It is the desire of the House to help the right hon. Gentleman over the difficulties in which we shall find ourselves on Monday, and, in view of the problem of the late arrival of the Order Paper with the Government amendments and further amendments to come, may I ask whether we could not debate agriculture on Monday? By so doing we could show the Government the difficulties that this industry is facing in view of the capital transfer tax proposals, and perhaps the Government would then wish to put down further amendments to that tax at a later stage?
§ Mr. Spriggs
Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the reply he gave to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Reverend Ian Paisley), who raised the question about the Heysham-Belfast ferry service? Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us who have interests in the railways and the people in general who work in ports and the seamen who work on our shipping lines have an interest beyond local matters? In view of what has been said by the hon. Member for Antrim, North, will my right hon. Friend take it that hon. Members on both sides of the House want the opportunity of a debate to show that there is good reason for the Government allocating sufficient finance to keep this service in being?
§ Mr. Short
I pointed out to another hon. Member that I myself had gone to Lancaster and discussed it with the local trades council. I reported back my discussions to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport, who reviewed this matter with the Chairman of British Railways. Unfortunately, they came to the conclusion, as so often happens in these cases, that the service had to be closed. I regret that very much. But the decision was taken and announced last week.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Will the Leader of the House make representations to Mr. Speaker that the normal rule concerning starred amendments will be abandoned next Monday because of the shortness of notice? Second, will he allow Government time to discuss the horticulture industry, before we have to import unnecessarily food that we could grow at home and have people unnecessarily unemployed?
§ Mr. Faulds
Does my right hon. Friend realise, despite his bland response to me two or three weeks ago, that the provision of telephone facilities in the House is simply not good enough? It is becoming increasingly difficult to get any response when one rings in, and increasingly difficult to get a call out. Is this a matter of poor equipment or lack of staff? Will he please look at the matter and do something about it?
§ Mr. Short
When my hon. Friend raised this matter a few weeks ago I said that I did not agree with him and that I found the telephone service to be excellent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Indeed, I do. But I told him that if he or anyone else had any specific points they wished to raise, I should be very happy 708 to take them up. Since then, I have not had one specific case put to me.
§ Mr. Thorpe
Reverting to the question put by the hon. Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball), will the right hon. Gentleman consider what might be a helpful suggestion which would meet the feelings of the House? Will he consider putting back the Finance Bill, so that we start on Tuesday, provided that the official Opposition is prepared to give a Supply Day for a debate on agriculture on Monday?
§ Mr. Short
No, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well the law about getting the Finance Bill through. It must be got through, go to the other place, be printed, and so on, and we have to get Royal Assent by 14th March. I am not prepared to allow anything to hold that up.
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most notable achievements of the Leader of the Opposition was the snatching of free school milk away from the over-seven-year-olds? Will my right hon. Friend give some indication of when the Government will introduce legislation to give back free school milk to the over-sevens?
§ Sir John Hall
Does the Leader of the House not agree that the House faces an almost unprecedented situation regarding the Finance Bill and that there must be almost a record number of amendments now on the Order Paper and about to be tabled which turn the Bill into almost a completely new Bill? Does he not agree that it might help the House, which will be under great pressure next week and probably the week after, if we referred the capital transfer tax clauses to a Select Committee and took them out of the present Bill altogether, thereby relieving the House of what will be very great strain indeed throughout the next week or two?
§ Mr. Short
No, Sir. The Government are not prepared to do that. Capital 709 transfer tax will help the majority of taxpayers to a very great extent—[Interruption.] Indeed, it will. There is nothing unprecedented about the Finance Bill except the amount of time I am giving to it. The amount of time I have allocated is the largest amount for 50 years. The Opposition cannot deny that.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Will my right hon. Friend the Lord President say what has happened to the Bill to outlaw discrimination against women, particularly as, in view of the despicable behaviour of the Government Whips yesterday, it might be wise to have a clause written in to outlaw discrimination against women Members of Parliament?
§ Mr. Jasper More
Is it not clear that the Leader of the House, in view of the protests already made, ought to reconsider his reply about the Finance Bill? Is he aware that in regard, for example, to the important subject of forestry, about which assurances were given in Standing Committee three weeks ago, it is only today that anything has appeared on the Order Paper, and as it has appeared in the form of a new clause it will, presumably, need to be debated on the first day of Report? Is it not an abuse of our procedure that we should be unable to have the extensive consultations involved in order to be prepared to debate this on Monday? This matter ought to be postponed at least until Tuesday.
§ Mr. Short
I should have thought that if that new clause had appeared today, the hon.. Gentleman had nothing to complain about. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgrace."] Let me repeat: I have given more time to the Finance Bill than has been given to any Finance Bill since 1909. So the only disgrace is of the hon. Members who are shouting "Disgrace."
§ Mrs. Renée Short
Why is my right hon. Friend so unaccommodating to the Opposition? If the Opposition want a Select Committee in connection with the Finance Bill, why does he not put it to the Select Committee that was set up yesterday, and give it something much more important to deal with?
§ Mr. Marten
—I am always objective—will the Leader of the House quite seriously consider a second day for the debate, because it would be a great tragedy if the Bill which was to follow it got it wrong?
§ Mr. Short
The hon. Gentleman knows from his personal experience that I have spent a very large amount of time in the last three or four weeks discussing this White Paper with very many people, including him—he will not mind my saying that—and many organisations and all the parties. There will be opportunity to debate the Bill itself just after Easter. I should have thought that one day plus perhaps two hours would be admirable for debating the White Paper.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
I wonder whether the Leader of the House is aware that I have spoken to the Prime Minister about the Heysham-Belfast ferry today, and that he has promised to reconsider the matter. I would not wish the Leader of the House to be under any misapprehension about this matter.
§ Mr. Faulds
As you seemed to invite points of order a little earlier, Mr. Speaker, I shall be happy to oblige.
§ Mr. Faulds
I shall make up for that.
The Leader of the House may suggest that there have been no complaints about the telephone service, but that is because I have not put them in. I have six postcards full of complaints which I shall be handing later today to the gentleman with the felicitous Shakespearian name of Mr. Pratt.
§ Mr. Cormack
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I, on behalf of the House, seek your guidance? The Leader of the House made a statement this afternoon, with, I am sure, the best of intentions, which he cannot carry out. He said that there would be time for amendments to be tabled to new clauses, and so on, that would be put down tonight. That is not possible in accordance with the existing Standing Orders of the House. If the Government table vital amendments and new clauses tonight it is possible that the Opposition and, indeed, some Government Members might wish to table amendments to them; they will not be able to table amendments which will be unstarred. This is an important matter not only in the context of the Finance Bill but for the whole governing of this country, and I ask for your protection in this regard.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have already indicated my position. When I consider amendments which are starred, and indeed, if it comes to a question of manuscript amendments, I shall look at the position in which the House finds itself and decide the matter then, which is what I said before.
§ Mr. Peyton
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am very much obliged to you, and I am sure the House is, for your guidance in the matter. What we are hoping for is that the Leader of the House will be able to explain what he meant when he gave the undertaking to which my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) referred. It is important for the Leader of the House to match his deeds now to the words that he used a short while ago and give the House of Commons and the public outside an opportunity to understand this stream of amendments which is being put down to a real hotch-potch measure, a nasty affair indeed, at the last moment.
§ Mr. Short
I understand that the Opposition do not like the Finance Bill. I said that there will be four days to discuss it next week on the Floor of the House, and I shall ensure that any amendments and clauses put down by the Government will be tabled in time to be amended if necessary.
§ Mr. Ridley
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I point out that the Financial Secretary has written to me promising amendments to Schedules 1 and 2, which will be taken early in the consideration of the Bill? They will probably come up on Monday next, and as the amendments are not yet on the Order Paper the Financial Secretary's undertaking has already been broken in this instance because I shall wish to put down amendments to the Government amendments when they are tabled. Those amendments are not yet on the Order Paper, and I therefore cannot put down my amendments until tomorrow, which puts the House in an impossible position.
§ Mr. Spriggs
There is a vital matter, and it should be raised while the Lord President is still in the Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) raised a point of order about faulty telephonic equipment. May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? Many of us do not know who is responsible for receiving complaints. Can you advise the House?
§ Sir G. Howe
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. One of the essential services which the House is intended to provide for the country is the consideration and enactment of legislation only after due process and proper care. One of the pre-eminent responsibilities of the Leader of the House is to see that the Government's legislative programme is brought forward in sufficient order and sense for that task to be completed.
Is it not manifest that the Leader of the House is failing in his duty to the House and to the country in allowing the Finance Bill to be brought forward in this helter-skelter fashion in view of the destructive nature of the contents of the Bill and the urgent necessity for it to be considered properly by people inside as well as outside the House?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have an application to hear. I am not going to take any more points of order about this matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the less assistance I get from either side of the House the better. I have offered the co-operation of the Chair in the matter of starred and manuscript amendments. The Lord President has heard the case that has been put, and no doubt he will consider it. No further advantage will be gained by raising points of order. The matter has been raised again and again.
§ Mr. Onslow
On a new point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I suggest that you could help the House very considerably in this matter? In view of the difficulty that there will be for us to obtain the observations of our constituents and frame amendments to something which must be debated on Monday, because it is a new clause, will you consider rearranging the order for considering the new clauses and defer consideration of those which contain substantial amendments until a later stage?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is precisely why I was suggesting that the House should not pursue these matters further today. [Interruption.] Not the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), please. I think the House is in a difficulty about this matter. If it can be considered carefully, and perhaps more temperately, ways may be found of dealing with this. What has been said will be considered, and I shall do the best I can to help. I call Mr. Nigel Lawson to make his application.