HC Deb 19 June 1975 vol 893 cc1672-85
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, the business of the House will be as follows:

MONDAY 23RD JUNE—Supply [20th Allotted Day]: Until about seven o'clock, a debate on Postal Ballots for Trade Union Appointments, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, and afterwards on the Preservation of Good Schools, when the appropriate Vote will be before the House.

Motion on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975.

TUESDAY 24TH JUNE—Supply [21st Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on the Royal Air Force on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motions on the Social Security Benefits Uprating Order 1975 and on the Supplementary Benefit (Determination of Requirements) (No. 2) Regulations 1975.

WEDNESDAY 25TH JUNE—Second Reading of the Scottish Development Agency (No. 2) Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Diseases of Animals Bill [Lords] and on the Industrial and Provident Societies Bill [Lords].

THURSDAY 26TH JUNE—Second Reading of the Welsh Development Agency (No. 2) Bill [Lords].

Motions on the Northern Ireland (Various Emergency Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1975 and on the Northern Ireland Act 1974 (Interim Period Extension) Order 1975.

FRIDAY 27TH JUNE—Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Bill.

MONDAY 30TH JUNE—Progress on the Report stage of the Industry Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

When may we expect the debate on public expenditure and economic affairs to which the Leader of the House referred last week? Shall we have a statement on the railway situation, whatever happens on that issue, some time next week? Thirdly, may we expect a half-day debate on the termination of the Simonstown Agreement?

Mr. Short

On the right hon. Member's first point, all the days for general debates are in the hands of the Opposition. I think they now have seven Supply Days left before the end of July. Perhaps she would consider using one of those for a debate on public expenditure. I will convey the point about the railway situation to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, and if a statement is necessary we shall see that it is made. I cannot promise any time for a debate on Simonstown, but I shall bear the right hon. Lady's request in mind.

Mr. Stallard

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in his statement to the House last Thursday concerning the position of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse), he gave two reasons for deferring the debate? He said, first, that there were possible prejudicial effects on future proceedings, and, second, that the right hon. Gentleman had been admitted to a psychiatric ward for treatment. Has he since heard or seen statements which appear to deny the second part of his statement? May I therefore ask him whether he will inform the House of the source of his information, and will he now reconsider the question of an early debate?

Mr. Short

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question. The basis of my statement was a cable which the Government received the previous evening from the Acting High Commissioner in Australia. I have the cable here. It states that the Australian Attorney General's Department has told us that Mr. Stonehouse is in a psychiatric ward at Pentridge Prison, Melbourne. That evening a number of Press representatives telephoned my office and said that they were informed that this was not the case. I therefore had another cable sent to Australia that evening and got a reply the next day, again from the Acting High Commissioner. He said: It"— that is, the information— originated from the Deputy Crown Solicitor, Melbourne, who told the Attorney General's Department that Mr. Stonehouse was in a psychiatric ward. This was confirmed by Dr. Bodna, head of the Victoria Department of Social Welfare. That seems to be fairly clear.

Mr. Mather

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the Public Service Vehicles (Arrest of Offenders) Bill [Lords], in view of its urgency, should be given precedence over the Hare Coursing Bill in Standing Committee B?

Mr. Short

I think they are both extremely important.

Mr. Dalyell

Could the Leader of the House confirm that we are to have a White Paper on devolution, and, if so, will it have a financial appendix on the costs of public administration of community councils, of district councils, of regional councils, of an Assembly, of Westminster and of Brussels, falling on the Scottish people?

Mr. Short

I can confirm that there will be a White Paper in the autumn of this year, but I cannot promise that it will contain the kind of appendix for which my hon. Friend is asking.

Mr. Henderson

May I ask the Leader of the House if his attention has been drawn to the statements concerning Iceland and Norway in regard to the extension of fishing limits? Is not the time long overdue for a proper debate in this House on fishing limits? Since the Conservative Party is not prepared to give my hon. Friends and myself a Supply Day, will he ensure that time is made available for such a debate?

Mr. Short

I have seen those statements, and this subject is actively concerning the Government. I have just told the right hon. Lady that almost all the days up to the recess now remaining for general debate are in the hands of the Opposition. There will be a spill-over in the autumn. I hope that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) might consider this subject for one of those Supply Days.

Mr. James Johnson

Would the Leader of the House think again about the need for a debate on fishing limits? The industry is in a shabby state, with deckhands and fish dockers idle and losing jobs because ships are not putting to sea. Is he aware that the Icelanders and others are pushing out their fishing limits? Is he also aware that in this House we have to think hard and do something about the common fisheries policy and changes in relation to it? As the whole industry is in the most enormous difficulties, will he do something about it?

Mr. Short

I have just told the hon. Gentleman that we understand this problem and are very actively concerned with it. I know my hon. Friend's concern, and discussed it with him yesterday. Certainly I will bear in mind what he has said.

Mr. Peyton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that surprise has now given place to sorrow at the disappointing replies we get on the question of the public expenditure debate? Repeatedly he has promised one. As recently as last week he said: I said that certainly there will be an opportunity to debate `economic affairs' but let me now say `public expenditure'."—[Official Report, 12th June. 1975 Vol. 893. c. 668.] What could be more emphatic and clear than that? I really think that the right hon. Gentleman should live up to his promises. There is, after all, no obligation on the Government to fill up the parliamentary timetable with some of its rubbishy legislation which we would be much better without.

Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the allegation, contained in one of the later editions of today's Daily Telegraph, about the puzzle of Labour M.P.s' questions for Wilson", as the report is entitled? The suggestion is there made that Questions for the Prime Minister are being pre-empted by those who wish to give the Prime Minister as easy and comfortable a passage as possible. Would he not agree that we have had a very clear illustration today of the reasons for this? Would the right hon. Gentleman look into that report and the circumstances to which it refers, and also remind himself of the report of the Select Committee on Procedure, which said that the placing of Questions for the convenience of the executive was to be deplored?

Mr. Short

On the first point, there are, of course, the remaining stages of the Finance Bill and the remaining time on that. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Yeovil and his hon. Friends have seven days entirely in their hands between now and the end of July excluding the business I have announced for next week. I should have thought that this was eminently suitable for the purpose.

Concerning the second point, fortunately I do not have to answer for what is published in the Daily Telegraph. As to Questions giving the Prime Minister an easy passage, I am afraid I have not noticed it lately.

Mr. Conlan

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity of reading Early-Day Motions Nos. 532 and 533?

[That this House expresses concern that the facilities available for the unrestricted use of all Members at present available in the Members' Lounge in the Library Corridor may be restricted to the exclusive use of a group of Members who at present have the right to share these facilities with others.]

[That this House declares that Members' Lounge facilities in the Library Corridor must not be restricted, and furthermore believes that more, not less facilities of this kind are required by Members.]

Will he take steps to ensure that before there is any further diminution in the facilities available to hon. Members there will be wider discussion than just within the narrow confines of the Services Committee?

Mr. Short

Yes, I have seen the motions and would be delighted to discuss this with my hon. Friend and his hon. Friends who have signed them. This is a very modest proposal. I do not think we can expect to keep the allocation of accommodation in this House in the same pattern for evermore. It has to reflect the changes brought about by the last General Election. The proposal takes only about 4 ft., speaking from memory, from one room. However, I am quite prepared to discuss it—it has been approved by the Services Committee—with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Molyneaux

Whilst appreciating the pressures on Government time, could I ask the Leader of the House for an assurance that he will do his best to avoid choosing Fridays for legislation as important as the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Bill, in which hon. Members in all parts of the House have a deep and sincere interest?

Mr. Short

We thought that this day would be helpful to the hon. Gentleman and his Friends, giving them a whole day for this, and separating the two things, as they requested. I realise that it is not entirely convenient and will bear in mind what he said.

Mr. Palmer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a feeling in all parts of the House that we should discuss fairly soon the general level of industrial production and productivity in the country, the figures for which are now very worrying indeed?

Mr. Short

Yes, Sir, this is one of a number of subjects on which it would be desirable to have general debates, but we have reached the stage in the Session where, as I have said twice already, virtually all the days left for general discussion are in the hands of the Conservative Party.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Would the Leader of the House say when we might have the statement on industrial democracy, promised about four weeks ago, which appeared on the annunciator and was then taken off? Is he aware that hon. Members have for the last four or five weeks been wasting every Wednesday morning sitting in a Committee discussing the Industrial Democracy Bill, which everyone knows will not reach the Floor of this House but which the sponsors quite properly refuse to withdraw pending the Government statement on their intention on the matter of industrial democracy? Would he please arrange for a railway train which will get the Minister of State here in time, so that we can have the promised statement?

Mr. Short

I will certainly ensure that there is a statement on industrial democracy within the next two or three weeks. I do not think that hon. Gentlemen sitting on my hon. Friend's Private Bill are wasting their time. I think the whole House owes a great debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street for ventilating this subject and having it discussed in the way that it has been.

Mr. Rose

Would my right hon. Friend tell the House when we may expect the Second Reading of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, which is much needed for practical, not doctrinaire, reasons, and not least so that we may discuss the HS146 project?

Mr. Short

There is a need to do this as soon as possible, and I will try to ensure that the Second Reading debate takes place at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Godber

Could I press the right hon. Gentleman a little further on the matter of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse)? No one would wish to criticise the Leader of the House in regard to any information he has sought to give the House on the condition of the right hon. Gentleman, but would he not agree that it is surely wrong—as I think both sides of the House have indicated—that a motion of this kind by a Select Committee of this House should remain indefinitely on the Order Paper? Would not he agree that it is damaging to the reputation of the House?

Mr. Short

I made a statement on this last week and, as far as I recollect, the right hon. Gentleman did not raise this point then. I have read his letter in the Press, which he wrote to me, and I have replied to it, but I took the view, advised by the Law Officers, that this would be prejudicial to the right hon. Gentleman's chances of a fair trial. In addition, there is the very large question-mark raised about his mental condition.

Mrs. Hayman

Can my right hon. Friend gave us an assurance that we shall have the long-promised debate on the Finer Committee's Report before the first anniversary of the publication of the report in July of this year? Secondly, will he further address himself to the possibility of getting the Bill to nationalise the aircraft industry on to the statute book as soon as possible in view of the damage being done to the industry by the delay?

Mr. Short

With regard to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I have answered that in respect of the Second Reading, which I hope to arrange very soon.

On the first part of her question, I sympathise with her. There has been a short debate on this. But I hope to arrange a debate on this very important report in the present Session.

Mr. Awdry

Can the Leader of the House say when we are likely to be able to proceed with the Bill making the wearing of seat belts compulsory?

Mr. Short

I cannot give a date at the moment, but certainly the Government intend to proceed with it.

Mr. Leadbitter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in recent days decisions have been made in the British steel industry adversely affecting production and manpower levels in that industry and adding to the many problems affecting thousands of men in connection with the closure proposals? In circumstances in which the steel industry is not tendering for steel, in which substantial contracts are involved, and when we are importing steel from Italy, Germany and Japan, is it not now time that we had a debate in this House on the steel industry?

Mr. Short

We had a debate recently which was virtually almost entirely on this subject. But I promised the Leader of the Scottish National Party last week that if there was a general desire for this I would try to find another opportunity for a debate before the recess.

Mr. Madel

May I return to the subject of the Industrial Democracy Bill? The Leader of the House said that we might get a statement in three weeks. If that is the case, there will be another three sittings of the Committee considering that Bill. In that Committee, Ministers keep saying that the Bill is not satisfactory. However, there are no Government amendments to it. Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that it is satisfactory for a group of hon. Members to be considering a major Bill with the Government sitting on the touch-line saying that they do not like this and that, and yet there are no Government amendments?

Mr. Short

I did not say that there might be a statement. I said that I would ensure that there was a statement in the next two or three weeks. However, this is a Private Member's Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice) is entitled to push ahead and try to get it through.

Mr. Spriggs

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us will leave the House this weekend for parliamentary duties in our constituencies and will not be aware of the travel problems commencing on Monday of next week? Since my right hon. Friend has not made a statement about this, let me declare an interest and assure him that, as a loyal member of the NUR, I shall not cross the picket line. In the event of the strike becoming a fait accompli, will my right hon. Friend assure the Chief Whip and his department that many Government supporters will be unable to get here next Monday?

Mr. Short

As an ex-Chief Whip, I would not dream of commenting on the problems of the two Chief Whips on Monday. In not knowing what travel arrangements will be on Monday, my hon. Friend shares the plight of every member of the community. A meeting is being held this afternoon. We hope that the outcome will be satisfactory. However, if there is a statement to be made, I shall ensure that it is made at the earliest possible opportunity.

Sir David Renton

May I refer to the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who asked for time to debate public expenditure? Will the Leader of the House explain how he reaches the conclusion that the Report stage of the Finance Bill would be a suitable substitute for such a debate, bearing in mind that on that Report stage we should almost certainly be out of order in trying to debate public expenditure and that the Report stage will, as I understand it, be confined exclusively to methods of raising new taxation?

Mr. Short

I agree that it is a very limited opportunity. But the more substantial point which I made was that, leaving aside the two Supply Days which I have announced today, the Opposition will still have seven Supply Days before the last week in July.

Mr. William Hamilton

Reverting to the question asked initially by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) about the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse), can my right hon. Friend give us no assurance that this matter might be debated in the House some time within the next few months? If not, in view of the imminence of the publication of the Report of the Boyle Committee on Members' salaries, can my right hon. Friend say whether that same right hon. Member now resident somewhere in Melbourne will be entitled to such increases as the Boyle Committee recommends and the Government accept?

Mr. Short

On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, certainly this situation changes very rapidly—almost from day to day. I keep it constantly under review. If I have anything that I should like to say to the House, I shall come to the House and say it.

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has received the Boyle Report. The Government have not yet been able to consider it. But certainly, as matters stand, my right hon. Friend in Melbourne would be able to claim the increase if any increase were given. That is the position at present.

Mr. Cormack

Reverting to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman), may I press the Leader of the House to give a date for the debate on the Finer Report? He has many times in the past said that he would bring it before the House. It is now almost a year since the publication of the report. It is scandalous that it has not yet been debated.

Mr. Short

I would not call it "scandalous". I know that the hon. Gentleman is extremely concerned and has asked me on many occasions about this. There has been one short debate, and two parts of the report have been implemented by the Government. But I repeat what I said just now. I shall try to find an opportunity in the present Session for a debate.

Mr. Greville Janner

Can my right hon. Friend spare the time for a brief debate on the conditions of the police in the Palace of Westminster, or is he satisfied by his welcome visit, which was much appreciated, to the police mess that urgent steps need to be taken and will be taken to put those conditions right?

Mr. Short

I visited the police mess this week. I have to say to my hon. and learned Friend that I regard it as far from satisfactory. Certainly I shall have urgent consultations with the House authorities about it to see what we can do to improve conditions for the police, who serve us so well in this House.

Mr. Tugendhat

May I ask the Lord President to reconsider his answer to the question about Simonstown? Whatever his views may be, the Government have taken a most important decision with implications for our defence and foreign policy. As a matter of principle, the Government ought to be prepared to debate these matters rather than announceing them in a hole-and-corner fashion by means of an answer to a Written Question.

Mr. Short

I do not agree that it was done in a hole-and-corner fashion. There was a statement in the House—

Mr. Tugendhat

It was a Private Notice Question.

Mr. Short

And a statement. A great many supplementary questions were asked and answered. But I am afraid that there is not time before the Recess, unless the hon. Gentleman is prepared to sit into August, to debate all these matters. I realise that he has a point, however, and I shall bear it in mind.

Mr. Strauss

Following the questions which have been asked about the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) and in view of the confusion which there seems to be about the matter, does my right hon. Friend agree that the grounds on which the Select Committee advocated that the right hon. Gentleman should be expelled from this House were constitutional and parliamentary and had nothing to do with the charges being made against him? In any debate on the Report of the Select Committee, any reference to those criminal charges would be completely out of order.

Mr. Short

That is true. That is what the Select Committee reported. But, as I said earlier, I took the best legal advice that I could get on this. I was assured by all those whom I consulted that it would be virtually impossible for this House to expel the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) without that having some bearing on any subsequent trial which might follow in this country. It was felt that this would prejudice the right hon. Gentleman's chances of a fair trial. I hope that in this country we still do not regard anyone as guilty until he has been found guilty.

Mr. Moate

May I press the right hon. Gentleman further about the compulsory wearing of seat belts? Is not it grossly unsatisfactory that week after week he gives the same casual and offhand answers about this legislation? It is now seven months since the Second Reading debate commenced. During that period, the right hon. Gentleman has found time for debates about the coursing of hares. Can he assure the House that he intends to provide adequate time in this Session to get the measure on the statute book this year?

Mr. Short

I have said that we certainly intend to proceed with this Bill, and we shall do so at the earliest possible opportunity. I am very sorry that it has not been possible to find time before now.

Mr. English

The Government are pondering the Boyle Report in secret. Since this is a free country, could not they publish it so that we can all discuss whether or not to implement it?

Mr. Short

Of course the Government will publish the report eventually, but when that is done is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. As the hon. Gentleman knows, all top salary review board reports go direct to the Prime Minister.

Sir M. Havers

Going back to the question of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse), the question of prejudice increases day by day. I do not personally accept that there would be risk of prejudice in a debate in which one knows Mr. Speaker would not allow discussion to range beyond the matters on which the Select Committee reported, but does the Leader of the House realise that in these circumstances it could be as long as two years before the House would be able to debate this if the matter were left?

Mr. Short

If things took their normal course, if "normal" is the right word, that would certainly be so, but this case is so abnormal and the situation changes so rapidly that one does not know what to expect from one day to another. I will keep the House informed of any changes. On the point that was put to me, the advice of the Government's legal advisers was that the fact of expulsion itself probably would prejudice the mind of anybody who could be involved in a trial later this year. That is the point, not the fact that any debate might wander into the criminality or otherwise of the right hon. Gentleman concerned. It is expulsion which possibly could prejudice his chance of a fair trial.

Mr. Cryer

Would my right hon. Friend recall that it is now four or five weeks since the Prime Minister came to the House at the request of many Northern Members and made a statement about textiles, a statement which to many of us was singularly vague? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to clarify that statement and say what he meant by it and whether there is to be stockpiling and import control—because meanwhile, week by week, the West Riding textile industry and the Lancashire cotton textile industry are bleeding to death?

Mr. Short

I agree about the urgency of the matter, and I explained last week that I would press my right hon. Friend for a quick resolution of the problem. The Prime Minister has announced that the Government are giving further attention to this, but considerable discussions have to take place on the exact method. Certainly, I will see that the House is informed on this as soon as possible.

Mr. Michael Latham

Would it not be for the convenience of the House and also of the country if either the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to make a statement next week about the Government's intentions over inflation?

Mr. Short

I have been sitting here listening to the Prime Minister being questioned throughout his Question period this afternoon on that very subject.

Mr. Noble

Would my right hon. Friend accept an endorsement of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), and would he take note of Early-Day Motion No. 523, now signed by 59 hon. Members, on the textile and footwear industries?

[That this House, concerned with the serious crisis facing the UK textile and footwear industries which has led to widespread redundancies and short-time working, urges Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer to stimulate demand for UK textile and footwear goods by zero-rating for VAT purposes all UK produced knitted goods, clothing, all household textiles and all UK produced footwear.]

Will he recall that the Prime Minister on 23 rd May accepted that the situation was urgent and said he would probably issue a statement before the end of that recess? Would he accept that there has been no statement and no action, and that this is causing greater concern now than there was before that statement by the Prime Minister?

Mr. Short

This is taking some time but I have replied saying that I will ensure that the House is informed as quickly as possible on how the Government scheme is to be put into operation.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Is the Leader of the House aware that some hon. Members would regard as unsatisfactory a debate on the case of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) if their comments were limited to the factors which figure in the Report of the Select Committee and they were not free to refer to other matters which, directly or indirectly, might bear upon the criminal charges being made?

Mr. Short

What the hon. and learned Gentleman has said illustrates the difficulty in this matter. There are two points of view on this, and I took the best advice I could get on it.