HC Deb 20 March 1975 vol 888 cc1853-61
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 March—Second Reading of the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill.

Remaining stages of the District Courts (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 25th March—debate on foreign affairs.

Motions on the Calf Subsidies (United Kingdom) (Variation) Scheme 1975, and on the Census Order.

Wednesday 26th March—Second Reading of the Sex Discrimination Bill.

Motions on the salaries of the Comptroller and Auditor General and of the Parliamentary Commissioner.

Thursday 27th March—It has been resolved that the House should meet at 11 a.m., take Questions until 12 noon, and adjourn at 5 p.m. until Monday 7th April.

Mrs. Thatcher

First, is there any news yet of the date of the Budget? Secondly, on his present plans for the referendum legislation, does the Leader of the House still expect to hold the referendum in about the third week in June? Thirdly, as the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill is a Bill of constitutional importance, will the right hon. Gentleman consider taking the Committee stage on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Short

I am afraid that I cannot give the date of the Budget, except that it will be after Easter. I hope very much that we can get the referendum legislation through the House in order to have the referendum as early as possible in June.

I do not intend to take the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill on the Floor of the House. I shall recommend to the House that it should be taken in Committee upstairs.

Mr. Whitehead

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will find parliamentary time next week for a debate or a statement on the First Report of the Select Committee considering the case of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse)?

Mr. Short

The report has just been issued; I received my copy before lunch. The House will want time to study it before we talk about debating it.

Mr. Brittan

As those who wish to take an active part in the referendum campaign will wish to plan speaking engagements for that campaign, will the Leader of the House say for how long the House will rise during the referendum campaign?

Mr. Short

I have not said that the House will rise during the campaign. I said that I would consider it, and I am looking at the matter. I realise that there is a problem.

Mr. Kelley

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time to discuss the motion on the Order Paper in my name and that of several of my hon. Friends which has received widespread support throughout the country? It asks for a public inquiry into the purchasing practices of the National Coal Board. We believe that this is an urgent necessity, in view of certain revelations which have been made and which have not been satisfactorily answered by the National Coal Board.

[That this House believes that it would be in the national interest, having regard to statements that have been made by former employees of the National Coal Board, that a public inquiry should be wade into the purchasing practices of the National Coal Board since the date of inception, and that any person should be free to give evidence in that inquiry. without let or hinderance.]

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) raised this subject last week, when I said that I would refer it to my right hon. Friend. I have done so, and no doubt he will contact hon. Members.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Does the Leader of the House recall that on Monday, in response to a Private Notice Question, the Home Secretary gave reasons why he could not administratively prevent Mr. Shelepin coming here? While not necessarily agreeing with them, some of us understood those reasons. Since then it has been drawn to the Home Secretary's notice that his predecessor in 1970, when faced with a difficulty which he regarded as similar, sent for the inviting body and exerted considerable pressure on it to withdraw the invitation. In the light of that, will the Leader of the House do his best to get the Home Secretary to come to the House to make a further statement next week and say whether he is prepared to follow the precedent of his predecessor?

Mr. Short

No, Sir, I am afraid that I cannot do that, but I will see that my right hon. Friend's attention is drawn to what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Lipton

Is it the Government's intention to make the referendum day a bank holiday, because in most Common Market countries polling day for any purpose is a public holiday?

Mr. Short

No, Sir, we have no plans to do that, but in the context of elections generally it is worth considering whether a General Election should be a public holiday.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that hon. and right hon. Members will ask questions about next week's business.

Mr. Henderson

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is great disappointment on both sides of the House that he has not yet announced the date of the debate on the Scottish Development Agency? Is he aware that the latest unemployment figures published today bring home the urgent necessity of arranging for a debate on this subject at an early date?

Mr. Short

The Bill has not yet been produced. When it is produced we shall have a Second Reading debate on its general principles. Our unemployment figures are still the lowest in the Western world.

Mr. Spearing

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Select Committee on Members' Interests (Declaration) reported to the House before Christmas and that before Christmas he indicated that we should debate the EEC budget for 1975? Will my right hon. Friend find time next week or soon after Easter for those important debates?

Mr. Short

I am afraid that they cannot be next week. I will bear the matter in mind and arrange for debates on those subjects at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Tugendhat

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House a firm assurance that before the House rises for Easter the Secretary of State for Social Services will make a statement about the situation at Westminster Hospital? Does he not agree that this is a scandalous, outrageous dispute and that the House cannot rise for Easter with patients in danger, as they are, without knowing where the Government stand on this matter?

Mr. Short

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern and I will certainly tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State what he has said.

Mr. Wellbeloved

May I press my right hon. Friend for a debate next week before the House rises on the Report of Select Committee which has considered the case of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse)? Is the Leader of the House aware of the widespread disquiet because this man continues to draw his pay as a Member of Parliament, that he drew all his allowances up until March this year before he left the country and that he has declared his intention not to come back? We want to debate this report, express an opinion on it and get rid of the man.

Mr. Short

I understand my hon. Friend's concern, and I think that we are all concerned about this matter. It would be useful if we all considered the report during the Easter Recess and discussed it after Easter to see where we go from there.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

How soon can we expect to have the full services of the House properly restored?

Mr. Short

In view of the difficulties we have encountered during the past fortnight, I think we have done remarkably well in spite of the inconveniences. I am most grateful to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for the way in which they have put up with the inconveniences. I hope very much that the strikers will return to work and that when the House reassembles we shall be free of this trouble.

Mr. Sydney Irving

As the Bill to deal with the construction industry "lump "is not to be before the House next week, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that it will be laid before the House in the first week after Easter?

Mr. Short

I cannot do that, but it will be put before the House and I hope it will receive Royal Assent during this Session of Parliament.

Mr. Burden

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come to the House next week to make a statement about the working of the licensing system for the export of live animals for slaughter, because there is grave concern about what is happening overseas and an urgent statement is required?

Mr. Short

I know that the hon. Gentleman has shown concern about this subject for many years. I will discuss what he said with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.

Mr. Molloy

Will my right hon. Friend consider making a statement in the House next week on the position of international civil servants who comment on the referendum? Those international civil servants have already had easy access to publicly-owned institutions such as the BBC. Shall we be able to discuss the rôle of international civil servants in the referendum campaign, because many people believe that their status behoves them to be silent?

Mr. Short

I know that there are feelings in the House about this. It would be an appropriate subject to raise during the Second Reading debate on the Referendum Bill, which will be held shortly after the House reassembles after Easter.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider next week asking his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to produce a White Paper on the Government's intentions with regard to the Maxwell Stamp Report on the cab trade, which is long overdue thanks to the lethargy, I fear, of the Home Office under the last Government and this one?

Mr. Short

I will certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Cryer

Would my right hon. Friend care to extend the debate on Wednesday dealing with the salaries of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Parliamentary Commissioner so as to include the recent pay awards to top civil servants and judges? Would he also, by way of an interesting contrast, extend the debate so as to include wage awards to industrial civil servants like the strikers whose dispute is affecting the services of the House at the moment?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. I cannot do that. This is an affirmative motion which is required before these two salaries can he brought into line with what has previously been decided about the salaries of top civil servants.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Noting that there is to be no debate on the Gardiner Report next week, may I ask the Leader of the House whether it will be the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, or both, who will next week make a statement about the transfer of the Price sisters from Durham to Armagh Gaol, which, from my own observations, I know to be an insecure prison?

Mr. Short

I will certainly tell the Home Secretary what the hon. Gentleman has said. As for the point about Gardiner I would have thought that the Northern Ireland Committee would be an appropriate place for such a debate. If it were agreeable there could be an early debate.

Mr. Hooley

May I thank my right hon. Friend for providing time next week for a foreign affairs debate? May I ask him to look at Early-Day Motion No. 250?

[That this House is dismayed to see that central government expenditure in each year from 1974 to 1979 on motorways and trunk roads will exceed the combined central government subsidies to all forms of public transport by rail bus and waterway (Cmnd. 5897 table 2.6 pp. 68-59) and calls for a Select Committee of the House to investigate as a matter of urgency the economic and environmental consequences of this policy.]

Is he aware that this suggests that a Select Committee be appointed to look at the balance of public expenditure as between motorways and public transport? Will he take action to set up such a Select Committee?

Mr. Short

I cannot promise to set up a Select Committee but I will certainly bear in mind the important point which my hon. Friend has made. This is a major preoccupation of the Government at present.

Mr. Peyton

May I express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Opposition have done nothing to dislodge or in any way weaken the determination of the Government not to let the House of Commons be stopped by the current industrial dispute? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that it would be welcome if he would make a statement on the position next week, because this is a serious matter and not one to be taken lightly?

Reverting to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Tugendhat), may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make sure that a statement is made next week on the unhappy dispute at Westminster Hospital?

Thirdly, may we have a debate on the rather sombre defence White Paper as early as possible after Easter?

Mr. Short

There will certainly be a debate on the defence White Paper, somewhere about the beginning of May. I have already replied to a question about the Westminster Hospital. I shall be happy to make a statement next week on the industrial dispute affecting the House if the strike is still continuing. My right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal is meeting the Joint Consultative Council tomorrow. We shall see what emerges from that.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the British aviation industry, particularly the civil side, is facing a likely collapse during 1976? Will he talk to the responsible Ministers to see whether something can be done to save Hawker Siddeley Aviation, where many thousands of jobs are involved?

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend knows that we have some important proposals dealing with the aviation industry to bring forward very shortly.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to alter next week's business so as to include a debate on social justice, which would enable the House to debate the pay and allowances paid to the troops during the Government's dirty business in Glasgow?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. I am afraid that it is not possible to alter the business for next week. We have a day of Adjournment debates. I promised a debate on foreign affairs. The remaining two days are occupied with important legislative proposals from the Government's programme.

Mr. Ward

While accepting the difficulties of my right hon. Friend in fitting in the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill before Easter, may I ask whether he will agree that it is most unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) that he should have to remain in suspended animation, as he has done since January? Will my right hon. Friend use his best endeavours to provide a debate on this Bill at least before the end of April?

Mr. Short

There will be a debate on this as soon as I can arange it. Once more I apologise for leaving my hon. Friend suspended in this way.

Mr. Tebbit

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think again about the request of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to the effect that the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill, one of major constitutional importance, to take the Clay Cross criminals off the hook at public expense should be debated in Committee on the Floor of the House instead of being taken away and hidden like the obscenity it is upstairs?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. There will be a whole day to debate the general principle of the Bill —

Mr. Tebbit

Or lack of it.

Mr. Short

—next week. The Secretary of State for the Environment will open the debate and the Attorney-General will reply. I have rearranged the debate at the request of the Opposition so that my right hon. and learned Friend could be back from Strasbourg to take part. After the Second Reading the Bill will go into Committee, on which both sides of the House will be represented.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on. Many Opposition Members wish to speak in the following debates. The more time we take now the less time there will be for those debates.

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