HC Deb 16 January 1975 vol 884 cc684-94
Mr. Heath

Will the Leader of the House please 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 20TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill.

EEC Documents R/1746/73 and R/2268/74 on Value Added Tax.

TUESDAY 21ST JANUARY AND WEDNESDAY 22ND JANUARY—Further progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

THURSDAY 23RD JANUARY—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

FRIDAY 24TH JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 27TH JANUARY—Supply [8th allotted day]: Subject to be announced.

Mr. Heath

Will the Leader of the House consider the possibility of holding two debates? First, although we have had a debate on Europe, a wider debate on foreign affairs has not been held for many months. There is a genuine feeling in the House, particularly in view of the important decisions made at European conferences, that this would be an appropriate time to hold such a debate. I recognise that the Foreign Secretary spoke about this matter during his speech in the debate on the Address and made an appeal to the party faithful to support him in the future. Having heard a few words about foreign affairs, it would now be useful to have a debate on foreign affairs as such.

Secondly, since the Opposition are so strongly opposed to the proposal made by the Secretary of State for Industry yesterday for the nationalisation of the aircraft industry, will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on that matter and on the document published, before we actually get to the legislation? A Government document is involved and the Government should provide time for the debate.

Mr. Short

On the first point, the right hon. Gentleman is being rather unkind to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The Opposition did not choose to debate foreign affairs on the Queen's Speech, and my right hon. Friend asked to speak on foreign affairs.

Secondly, I cannot promise a debate on the aircraft industry in the near future. The Opposition have a Supply Day on Monday week. Perhaps they could use that for the debate.

Mr. John Mendelson

Many people in the country are deeply concerned about what they regard as very harsh sentences being served by two trade unionists who are in gaol. These was a great deal of public evidence last Tuesday that that was so. In view of that fact, is it not desirable that the House should have an opportunity of debating the issue so that both sides of the case can be fully deployed, not merely by shouting and interruptions? At the same time the equally time-honoured tradition of the Home Secretary, which was exercised some years ago by Sir Samuel Hoare, of recommending a pardon in such cases, should be tested against the public opinion expressed in this House—[Interruption.] In spite of the girlish laughter of the enemies of trade unionism, I think that such a debate is most essential.

Mr. Short

I repeat what was said by the Prime Minister a few moments ago. This is a matter of the exercise of the Prerogative. The Home Secretary is the only person who advises the Queen on that. I am afraid that I cannot promise any time for a debate. During the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill any matter involving Government expenditure can be debated.

Mr. Farr

Will the Leader of the House say whether he thinks there is any chance of a fairly early debate on the conclusions and recommendations of the World Food Conference, which took place in Rome last November? Many important decisions were taken at that conference, to which the British Government contributed. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find time in the House for a discussion of the matter.

Mr. Short

I have a great deal of sympathy with that request. I have not been able to find any time for it, but I shall bear it in mind. It would be a very suitable subject for a Supply Day, or half a Supply Day.

Mr. Urwin

In view of the fact that labour-only sub-contracting is one of the root causes of unrest in the construction industry, which is by no means dissociated from the problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) referred, will the Leader of the House endeavour to ensure that as early as possible a Bill is brought before the House for the purpose of eliminating the lump in the construction industry?

Mr. Short

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend will have something to say about that in the very near future.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

In view of the deterioration in world trade and the clear cases now of dumping in this country of goods from Eastern Europe, will the right hon. Gentleman either arrange for a statement to be made on this matter by one of his right hon. Friends, or arrange to hold a short debate on the whole general issue of the anti-dumping machinery available to the Government?

Mr. Short

I know of the concern—as expressed by many hon. Members—about this matter, which exists in the textile and other industries. I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Mr. Molloy

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will consider having an early debate in the House of Commons so that we may discuss the methods of propaganda which are bound to be used in the great forthcoming debate about whether Great Britain should remain in the Common Market? Will he recall that just before the House went into recess he agreed with me that there was a problem involving international civil servants—and, I add, some commissioners—in Brussels who were not adhering to the high standards of senior civil servants in this country but were interfering with the debate and were able to make contributions to the media on serious matters to be the subject of examination by this House.

Mr. Short

The Government will have something to say before very long about how we intend to consult the British people.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we shall have an opportunity of debating devolution to Scotland and Wales?

Mr. Short

Yes, Sir. I hope to be able to say something about that, probably in my next business statement.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Will the Leader of the House say whether he has been awake during the night and, if so, whether he heard the half-hourly announcements made on London Broadcasting last night that the Government would meet in conjunction with the Opposition to establish a Select Committee to go into matters pertaining to the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse)? If there have been any such discussions, will my right hon. Friend point out to whoever gave that report to the London Broadcasting Company that the Government do not establish Select Committees? That is done by the House of Commons. Will he ensure that the House of Commons is given that information, rather than in official Government handouts? The House of Commons likes to be con- sulted and to know what is going on. Will he also investigate from where the LBC obtained this official handout?

Mr. Short

I listened to those reports and read the Press accounts about this matter with great interest. I know that hon. Members are interested in this matter. I have sent a fairly large number of communications to the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stone-house) over the past few days. I sent him a further telegram yesterday. I think that we had better await the result of that. If necessary, I shall say something to the House about this on Monday.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Does the Leader of the House regard it as satisfactory that so many important Common Market orders are being discussed in the middle of the night? I appreciate his difficulties, but cannot we do something better than that?

Mr. Short

It is not entirely satisfactory, but a great many aspects of our membership are not entirely satisfactory. This is one of the consequences. We are feeling our way in this matter. I think I am right in saying that we have gone much further than any other national parliament in the Community to keep Parliament informed about what is going on in Brussels. This matter is now before the Select Committee on Procedure. I think that we had better await its report.

Mr. Christopher Price

Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the prospective increases in Post Office charges, particularly the overseas charges that threaten to put out of existence the large number of periodicals published in this country, which are unique and which have fixed their subscriptions for posting abroad for the whole year?

Mr. Short

I cannot promise a debate next week. However, I imagine that this would be an appropriate subject to discuss on the Consolidated Fund Bill. The subject is wide enough to cover the whole of Government expenditure.

Mr. Tom King

In view of the gross abuse of parliamentary procedure by a number of Ministers who issued Written Answers on the Friday before Christmas, to avoid publicity, will the Leader of the House protect the position of back benchers and ensure that these Ministers make statements to the House on matters about which they chose not to be questioned? In particular, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Industry to explain the circumstances of the grant made to the Kirkby co-operative, clearly against the advice of all the advisers placed there to advise him on such matters?

Mr. Short

My right hon. Friend has made two announcements about this already. I think the first was made on 2nd November. There is always a problem before a recess. A great many Government announcements are made. It is not a question of avoiding criticism. There were a great many announcements, some of which were made in the course of parliamentary statements, some in Written Answers, and some in Press releases. It would be impossible to make them all on the Floor of the House. We would then never get any business done. I am looking into this matter very carefully. All statements come to me before they are made in the House. I shall certainly bear the point in mind.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend provide time for the House to debate the Sixth Report of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, which demonstrates the urgent need to overhaul our delegated legislative procedures in relation to the EEC, since it involves a statutory instrument which may not be valid and actions by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise which also may not have been valid last year? Will my right hon. Friend also provide time for us to debate the report on top salaries, since some hon. Members would like an opportunity to reject the very large handouts to top people which the Government have made?

Mr. Short

I cannot promise time to debate either of those matters in the near future. With regard to the first matter raised by my hon. Friend, let me remind him that I said just now that the Select Committee on Procedure was considering this whole question and going very wide. It would be better to await the Select Committee's report.

Mr. Peyton

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the item on Monday's business concerning the motion on EEC documents? This takes up the question raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell). These are very complex matters. I understand that many of the documents may require amendment. Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to give this matter careful consideration and see whether we do not have adequate time to consider these important questions.

In an earlier exchange, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the need to accommodate in parliamentary business some discussion of the method of consulting the British people. I have a list of papers which have dropped from the Government's table during this Parliament. If the Leader of the House would care to see it, I will pass it to him. These are the Public Bills now before the House. On this list there are 170 statutory instruments subject to the negative procedure, only one of which has been discussed in the lifetime of this Parliament. All members of the Opposition have a great deal of sympathy with the Leader of the House in the kind of colleagues that he has who insist on deluging the parliamentary programme to such a point that congestion combines with inefficiency and Parliament really is reduced to an absolute laughing stock. The Leader of the House represents everyone in this House, to an extent. I hope that he will take very seriously the extent to which the present Government are making the working of Parliament almost impossible. It will not be the fault of the Opposition if progress with this load is not as quick as the right hon. Gentleman hopes.

Mr. Short

The other deluge is the documents coming from the EEC, and that is not the fault of the present Government. That is one of the main pressures at present. We are considering that and doing all that we can to help in the matter.

If the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) suggests that more time should be devoted to Monday's business, I will look at that. The present intention is for a debate lasting one and a half hours. They are not really very complicated matters. As regards business generally, the number of statutory instruments has not increased over what it was when the right hon. Gentleman's party was in office. There is a big legislative programme; we are proud of it, and we intend to get it all through this Session.

Mr. Greville Janner

Does my right hon. Friend recall that this House was promised long ago that the Law Commission would report last autumn on fraudulent exclusion clauses in car parking and other contracts for the provision of services? Nothing has happened. The Government cannot act, nor can the Director General of Fair Trading, before the Law Commission reports. May we have a debate on the subject in order to push matters along?

Mr. Short

I agree that there is a problem here, but I am afraid that I cannot promise a debate on it. The Law Commission is having great difficulties because of the pressure of work. But I will look into the position.

Sir Bernard Braine

I do not want the Leader of the House to take this personally, but it is not good enough, week after week, for sympathetic answers to be given to requests for debates on the world food crisis and upon the British Government's strategy on aid and development and then for the Government not to provide time for such important matters to be debated. Therefore, I again plead with the right hon. Gentleman to see whether arrangements cannot be made for these very important matters, in which the Government are making a contribution, to be debated on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Short

Both sides of the House have to consider debates of this kind. In the parliamentary year the Opposition have 29 days available. The Government have only 60 days for the whole legislative programme. We have problems, and both sides of the House have obligations. I will look at this, and I hope that the Opposition will look at it to see whether they cannot give up a Supply Day for the subject.

Mr. Spriggs

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the Opposition that, as a result of their forcing the United Kingdom into the Common Market, Common Market regulations and statutory instruments coming from the Community are now a fait accompli?

Mr. Short

I am sure that the Opposition have heard that. As I said before, that is one of the great pressures on us, and I hope that we are evolving a method of dealing with them.

Mr. Watt

When shall we have an opportunity to debate the ludicrous situation in the fishing industry, where Scottish boats are tied up to piers when hundreds of foreign boats sweep the seas clean just outside the 12-mile limit?

Mr. Short

Not next week, I am afraid, though I realise that there is a problem.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing


Mr. Ioan Evans

Will my right hon. Friend say when we can expect the legislation to set up the National Enterprise Board and the Welsh Development Agency which will be associated with that board?

Mr. Short

The First Industry (No. 1) Bill, which deals, among other matters, with the NEB, will be published in the near future. The Bills concerning the Welsh Development Agency and the Scottish Development Agency will come rather later.

Sir John Rodgers

In view of the recent statement by the Minister of State, Home Office, during his visit to the Far East, is there any chance of our debating the subject of immigration in the near future?

Mr. Short

I am afraid not in the very near future.

Mr. Spearing

In the last week before the Christmas Recess the Scrutiny Committee suggested that this House should look at the accounts of the EEC and the budget for the forthcoming year, and the Treasury provided a 30-page note on the subject. My right hon. Friend will appreciate that we were not able to give this consideration at the time of our general debate on the EEC immediately before Christmas. Will he add that to the list of the documents that we are to discuss between now and Easter?

Mr. Short

I wrote to my hon. Friend about this a few days ago. Certainly I will look into it. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary is meeting the Scrutiny Committee about it in the near future.

Mr. Tim Renton

Does not the Leader of the House think that his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) about the funds being advanced by the Secretary of State to the Kirkby co-operative a very unsatisfactory one? I understand from a Written Answer to a Question of mine by the Secretary of State for Industry that he is proposing no change in the rôle of the Industrial Development Advisory Board in his forthcoming legislation. In the circumstances, ought he not to explain to us how he can advance so much money to the Kirkby co-operative against the advice of the board—unless it is simply for ideological experiment in management?

Mr. Short

There is no question of doing this for ideological reasons. I do not think that the Government are obliged to take the board's advice on every occasion. In this case, the Government took it into account, but there were other factors. There is a high unemployment figure there. We felt that this was the right kind of workers' co-operative to start, and we have high hopes that it will succeed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman shares those hopes. Incidentally, the first instalment of the grant was paid yesterday.

Mr. Fernyhough

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Government supporters are delighted when we hear of the Secretary of State for Industry standing up to his civil servants, instead of being led by them like a donkey?

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is the Leader of the House proposing to arrange for a debate on the proposals which he announced to the House for the better discussion of Northern Irish matters and, if so, when?

Mr. Short

I was not intending that we should have a debate of the whole thing. It was a very simple little tripartite proposal that I made that motions should be put down to set up the Committee.

Mr. Lipton

May I suggest that we take the EEC before the Local Government (Scotland) Bill on Monday? Let that Bill come on later and let us deal with really important matters first.

Mr. Short

The Local Government (Scotland) Bill is a very important one. Normally it would have gone to the Scottish Grand Committee for Second Reading but we have had approaches from a number of quarters in the House that the Second Reading should be taken on the Floor of the House. That is why it is not going to the Scottish Grand Committee.

Mr. Cormack

The right hon. Gentleman will remember that before Christmas he promised to try to find time for a debate on the Finer report on the one-parent family. Can he now give some indication when that will happen? If we are to get bogged down with European legislation, will he perhaps consider setting up a European Grand Committee?

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman's last suggestion is a very interesting one. Perhaps he will let me look at it; he might like to talk to me about it. There has been a brief debate on the first matter he raised. I will bear in mind what he has said but I cannot promise any time in the near future.