HC Deb 31 July 1975 vol 896 cc2051-9
Mrs. Thatcher

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)

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

MONDAY 4th August—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Social Security Pensions Bill, the Child Benefit Bill, and the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill and others that may be received.

TUESDAY 5th August—Completion of remaining stages of the Employment Protection Bill.

Motion on the undertaking with Caledonian Macbrayne Limited.

WEDNESDAY 6th August—Until 7 o'clock a debate on Court Line Limited.

Thereafter, until, say, midnight, a debate on the textile, clothing and footwear industries when EEC Documents S/799/75 and R/1431/75 will be relevant.

THURSDAY 7th August—Subject to agreement, the House will meet at 11 am, take Questions until 12 noon, and adjourn at 5 pm for the summer until Monday, 13th October.

Mrs. Thatcher

As we are reaching the end of an unusually long Session with a lot of uncompleted work—for example, three major Bills have yet to go to the House of Lords and many Bills have to return from there, while many important measures have not yet been debated, in spite of assurances to the contrary—would not the Lord President agree that the legislative programme has been grossly overloaded and that we have not had the time for proper parliamentary scrutiny nor are we likely to have it? Would he not therefore drop one or two Bills from the Government's programme now?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. The programme has been a heavy one but I do not agree that it has been unduly overloaded. There will be an overspill period in the autumn. We certainly hope to complete our legislative programme for this Session.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that last week when my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) asked you whether it was possible for a motion to be moved requiring the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) to come to this House, you said that it was a matter for the House and not the Chair. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will no doubt have seen Early-Day Motion No. 622.

[That the Governor of Her Majesty's Prison at Brixton do bring the Right honourable John Thompson Stonehouse in custody to this House on any one day before the eighth day of August, if the said Right honourable John Thompson Stonehouse shall desire to be so brought up, and that Mr. Speaker do issue his warrants to the said Governor and to the Serjeant at Arms attending this House accordingly.]

This motion, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth and others, and to which I am a signatory, asks that the right hon. Member should come here to give an explanation of himself to the House. Since it is our right to know what has been happening, may I ask the Leader of the House either to move such a motion or to give time for us to move it so that the right hon. Member may be brought here?

Mr. Short

There are obviously a number of views about this. I think it would be sensible to wait until we have a specific request from the right hon. Gentleman. As I understand the position, we have not yet had a specific request. If we receive one, we shall have to consider it. The House will have to decide the matter.

Mr. Tuck

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood that you had already received such a request from the right hon. Member.

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Member will refer to the terms of the letter which I read out to the House he will see that the request is not yet specific.

Mr. Edward Gardner

May I bring to the attention of the Leader of the House Early-Day Motion No. 624?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to take immediate steps to abolish the archaic rule which compels the courts to wait upon the formal consent of Parliament before they can take judicial notice of the public record of proceedings in Parliament and asks that the rule be submitted for examination and report by the Select Committee on Procedure.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this motion has been signed by a number of right hon. and hon. Members on all sides of the House and that it urges the Government to take action to abolish the archaic rule which makes parliamentary consent necessary before Hansard can he read in a court of law? Is he aware that it was the abortive attempts last week by the Law Officers to follow this rule that gave rise to the equally absurd double voting episode in this House? Can the right hon. Gentleman say that there will be an early opportunity to debate this motion? If there is not time to do so, will he give the House an assurance that the Government will take steps to submit this rule to the Select Committee on Procedure as soon as possible?

Mr. Short

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I will certainly consider what he says. The rule would certainly appear to be archaic.

Mr. George Cunningham

Like a number of other things in this House.

Mr. Short

I respect what the hon. and learned Member says about this. Perhaps I could have some discussions through the usual channels to find out how we can deal with the matter.

Mr. English

In connection with the same Early-Day Motion, may I ask my right hon. Friend to study the amendment which I have tabled? It reads, leave out from first 'to' to end and add 'have the two reports of Lord Donovan's Joint Committee of both Houses on Defamation and Privilege considered and decided upon by the two Houses, and meanwhile to take no steps to alter the existing law which prevents other courts taking judicial notice of words spoken in Parliament, since any such change would inhibit Members from discussing criminal or civil offences suspected or committed by any person, or from doing as Mr. Duncan Sandys did and break the law (in his case the Official Secrets Act) in the national interest, if their words could later be used elsewhere as evidence of such crimes or civil offences' Is it not time that the House discussed the report of Lord Donovan's Joint Committee of both Houses on the whole subject of defamation and privilege rather than attempt to deal with one tiny issue by itself? Is my right hon. Friend aware that this procedure prevents our words from being used in evidence in court without the permission of the House? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is something that we should all think about before we endeavour to change it in isolation?

Mr. Short

That is a much wider question. The more immediate and rather restricted question was raised by the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner). I will certainly look at this. I hope that there will be an opportunity to deal with this next Session.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman yet again whether he expects a statement to be made next week about the Maxwell Stamp Report, bearing in mind that as reported in col. 749 of Hansard for 10th July he promised to write to me about this, and unless the Post Office has failed to deliver that letter, it would appear that the letter has not yet been written?

Mr. Short

We will look into this and write to the hon. Gentleman. Certainly there will not be a statement next week.

Mr. Greville Janner

Can my right hon. Friend say when time is likely to be given for discussion of the archaic laws of bankruptcy and liquidation, both of which are sadly topical and on both of which we have been promised legislation in due course?

Mr. Short

Certainly not next week.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

In view of the statement by the Prime Minister that he was seeking a détente of action, not words, and the fact that the main action which seems to have followed that speech is the suppression of the Socialist majority in Portugal, can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that the Prime Minister will make a statement to the House about the whole Helsinki operation?

Mr. Short

I am sure that if the House wishes it, my right hon. Friend will be very happy to make a statement about this most important conference when he returns.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House will be grateful to him for saying earlier this week that he is willing to set up a Select Committee to visit Cyprus? Can my right hon. Friend assure us that the Committee will be set up before the House rises so that it can visit the island and see the refugees, British and Cypriot, who constitute an important problem for which this House ought to take immediate responsibility?

Mr. Short

I hope to table a motion on this subject today.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that we shall have a debate in Government time on foreign affairs during the overspill period? Does he not agree that it is more important to keep our gaze on some of the extremely serious events taking place in the world than to deal with a further rash of Socialist Bills?

Mr. Short

I certainly think that it is time we had a foreign affairs debate and I will try to ensure that we have one in the overspill period.

Mr. Bryan Davies

Would my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of the House for ensuring that the Summer Recess begins in time for the "Glorious twelfth"—the start of grouse shooting? Would he further accept that he would have earned further congratulations from my hon. Friends if he had preserved a sufficient amount of parliamentary time to ensure that essential Government legislation was passed while at the same time reaching a terminal date in the summer which coincided rather more with the school holidays of our children?

Mr. Short

I very much feel that we have to look very seriously next year at the latter point raised by my hon. Friend. I know a great many hon. Members, especially Scottish Members, are being put to great inconvenience because their children return to school in the middle of August. There is a real problem here and I believe that the House must look at the time of the year at which it takes its Summer Recess. Probably it is too late in the year.

Sir A. Meyer

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Early-Day Motion No. 623?

[That this House reminds Her Majesty's Government of the votes which the Labour Party won at two elections in 1974 by holding out hopes of retaining steel making at BSC, Shotton; notes the excellent industrial relations which have prevailed and still prevail there; and urges the Government not to sacrifice the jobs of Shotton workers for the benefit of Port Talbot.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this motion, standing in my name and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends, concerns the possible rundown of steelmaking at BSC Shotton? Is he aware of the gnawing anxiety which now prevails on Deeside? Can he give an undertaking that a statement will be made one way or the other in good time before the House rises? Will there be an opportunity to debate the statement?

Mr. Short

I understand the seriousness of this matter for Shotton. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) has been to see me to discuss this matter. I can give an assurance that there will be a statement before the recess.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Would my right hon. Friend accept that having ruined many domestic arrangements, there is very little point in his making pious remarks at this time of the year about the need to look at the procedure of the House, if he does not spend a little time during the recess investigating the shortage of parliamentry draftsmen and the inability of Departments to get their Bills in early enough to be considered? Would my hon. Friend not accept that this situation leads to bad legislation and a total waste of Parliament's time?

Mr. Short

I do not agree at all with my hon. Friend. I believe that in this Session we have been able to introduce some excellent Socialist legislation. My right hon. and hon. Friends fought and won the last General Election on that basis. I am delighted that we have managed to get so much important legislation on the statute book.

Mr. Tebbit

May I revert to the business for next week? Will the Lord President say in precisely what way the House will debate what he referred to as the affairs of Court Line Limited? I understood, and my hon. Friends understood, that we were to have a debate on the scandalous manner in which the Government have contemptuously rejected the two independent reports upon the role of the Secretary of State for Energy in that affair.

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman greatly overstates the matter. We have not contemptuously rejected anything. We disagree with a conclusion, that is all. Certainly my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade said yesterday that we would try to find time to debate the matter. We felt that the House would wish to debate it and therefore, I found half a day for the purpose. I propose that we debate the matter on the Adjournment. I am willing to discuss the matter if that is the general wish.

Mr. Peyton

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will clear up the question whether his right hon. Friend the Secre- tary of State for Energy is to take part in the debate on Wednesday? There is some uncertainty about that. The hon. Gentleman is so eloquent in a sendentary position, but will the Lord President clear up that matter? To have a debate on this subject without the right hon. Gentleman taking part would be rather like Hamlet without the grave-digger.

Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when we return after the recess we shall want to have a debate on the whole question of the volume of business coining before Parliament, how it is handled and the provision of the necessary papers at the right time? I have considerable sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman, but does he realise that we are very concerned that he, as Leader of the House, should defend the House of Commons against the heedless and crude ambitions of some of his colleagues?

Mr. Short

I am not quite sure what the right hon. Gentleman's last sentence means. As regards printing, I expressed my concern yesterday. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department and I, and the Lord Privy Seal, are considering what form of inquiry we should have into the difficulties that we are facing. I think that the time has come when we must carefully consider these problems.

On the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, the prince will be present and taking part in the debate on Court Line. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Trade and Energy will both be taking part in the debate.

Mr. Hurd

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when and in what form we shall be asked to take a decision about the future broadcasting of our proceedings?

Mr. Short

The present position is that the Services Committee has re-established the sub-committee on broadcasting and asked it to evaluate the experiment. When that has been done we propose to put the proposal to the House. Following that we would set up a joint committee of the Lords and Commons to work out the details. I appreciate that that sounds a long process, but I hope that we can carry it out reasonably quickly.

Mr. Norman Lamont

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that certain Written Answers to Questions submitted to the right hon. Gentleman have recently been received by the Press 24 hours before being received by the hon. Members concerned? Will the right hon. Gentleman at least do hon. Members the courtesy of letting them see the replies to their Questions before they are seen by the Press?

Mr. Short

I am quite sure that that does not happen in my office.

Mr. Lamont

It does.

Mr. Short

If the hon. Gentleman says that it does, perhaps he will discuss the matter with me and let me have his evidence. I shall look into this matter immediately.

Mr. Frank Allaun

The date 13th October has been mentioned as the date on which we are likely to return, but so far it has not been mentioned by my right hon. Friend in the House. Is it possible for him to do so now?

Mr. Short

I am sure that I mentioned it in my statement.

Mr. Gow

As regards next Wednesday's business, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether there is any precedent for the Government rejecting the independent report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration?

Mr. Short

I am answering questions on business, and I have announced a debate on that matter. That is the sort of point that the hon. Gentleman can make in the debate.