HC Deb 26 March 1975 vol 889 cc481-9
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the first week after the Easter Adjournment?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

Yes, Sir. The business for the first week after the Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 7th April, TUESDAY 8th April and WEDNESDAY 9th April—Debate on a motion to approve the White Paper on the Membership of the European Community, Command No. 5999, and the Recommendation of Her Majesty's Government to continue Britain's membership of the Community. EEC documents R/650/75 and R/1372/73 on regional aid will be relevant.

At the end on Monday,

Remaining stages of the Reservoirs Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

Tuesday 8th April will be the 13th Allotted Supply Day.

THURSDAY 10th April—Second Reading of the Referendum Bill.

Remaining stages of the Coal Industry Bill.

FRIDAY 11th April—Private Members' motions.

Mrs. Thatcher

First, may I ask the Leader of the House to confirm the date for the Budget which I understand is on the tape?

Secondly, we are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for agreeing with our suggestion that there should be three days on the European motion. We think that it is extremely important.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Prime Minister will be making a statement about the guidelines, in respect of dissenting Ministers, for the conduct of business? There was some concern about that matter at Question Time earlier this week when the Secretary of State for Trade was answering Questions.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us some idea of the date in his mind for the referendum? My right hon. and hon. Friends and I find that we are being asked questions about this matter, and it would be helpful if we could give a reply.

Finally, we understand why it has not been possible to arrange for a debate on defence the week immediately after Easter, but, as the White Paper is extremely important, may we know when we shall be having that debate?

Mr. Short

I confirm what I understand is on the tape, namely, that the Budget will be on 15th April.

I note what the right hon. Lady said about the three days for the debate on the European motion. The guidelines are part of the guidance that the Prime Minister gives to his Ministers. All Prime Ministers give guidance to their Ministers from time to time, and sometimes parts of the guidance are made public. The content of the guidance and whether it is made public are matters entirely for the Prime Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I wish that for once in a while the Opposition would listen.

I am afraid that I cannot yet give the date for the referendum, but I will make the date public as soon as possible. A number of factors are involved, including the progress of the Bill in Committee. I hope to be able to make the date public by the time that we come to Second Reading in the week after Easter.

I note what the right hon. Lady said about the defence debate. This will be held as soon as possible. I understand the general desire for a debate on the White Paper.

Mr. Dalyell

Turning to that other White Paper on devolution, if we are at all clear about what is to go in a Devolution Bill, why should there be that much extra work involved in producing a White Paper?

Mr. Short

We have not yet completed the briefings for the Bill, let alone the Bill. We did not promise the Bill before the end of this year. We said that we hoped to achieve a Bill by the end of this year. I have told my hon. Friend before—I will bear in mind what he said —that if the production of a White Paper will not greatly detract from the work being done on the Bill, I will certainly consider it later this year.

Mr. Henderson

Is the Leader of the House aware that many hon. Members would like an urgent debate on the fishing industry? Is he aware that, for example, last night in Peterhead over 300 skippers signed a declaration stating that they would take strong action unless they got a satisfactory reply from the Government? If any such action were to take place during the recess, would the right hon. Gentleman consider recalling this House to enable us to debate the matter?

Mr. Short

I understand the feelings about this matter. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food met the fishermen's representatives yesterday. I will certainly pass on to him what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Spearing

The Lord President mentioned some EEC documents on regional aid in his statement on the White Paper debate. Will he clarify that statement? Will he tell the House whether these regional documents and regulations from the EEC have been debated in the House, whether they will be debated on a separate day, and why he has bracketed these documents with the White Paper debate when there are many aspects of our relations with the European Economic Community other than regional development?

Mr. Short

I understand that these two documents are directly relevant to part of the renegotiated terms. Therefore, I thought that it would be for the convenience of the House to take note of these two documents at the same time.

Mr. Powell

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to what was said from the Treasury Bench last night, in the debate on the census order, about the desirability of more time being found for the discussion of that order, which came under severe criticism? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear that in mind?

Mr. Short

I understand that that debate was completed last night, but I will certainly look at what the right hon. Gentleman said and what was said in the debate last night.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

Would it be possible for English regional business to be discussed, other than on the Floor of the House, in some way similar to the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees?

Mr. Short

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that question. As he knows, on a number of occasions recently I have said that I have been looking at this matter. I hope later today to table a motion for the setting up, for an experimental period, of a Standing Committee to discuss regional matters. We shall look at that matter after Easter, but I hope to table a motion today.

Mr. Cormack

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether Ministers will be free to take part on both sides of the issue in the debate on the White Paper? Will he also tell us when we are to debate the Finer Report?

Mr. Short

On the last point, I cannot yet give a reply to the hon. Gentleman. However, I know of his interest in this matter and I will arrange a debate some time this Session.

On the first point, I told the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition that the guidance that the Prime Minister gives to his Ministers is a matter for him regarding both content and whether it will be made public.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday this House, by a majority of nearly four to one, gave a First Reading to my Liquor Licensing Bill? Is he also aware that there is now a clear demand in the House for implementation of the Erroll recommendations? Will he either give time for my Bill to proceed or persuade his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to bring in a Bill of his own as fast as possible?

Mr. Short

I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will note what my hon. Friend has said. I am afraid that my hon. Friend must use what opportunities there are for Private Members in the same way as other Private Members do.

Mr. David Steel

The Leader of the House has been less than candid about the rôle of dissenting Ministers during the three-day debate. This is a matter of constitutional importance. Are they free to participate in the debate? If so, from where will they speak—the Government Dispatch Box, the back benches, or the Opposition Front Bench?

Mr. Short

I have twice said that the extent to which the Prime Minister makes public the guidance that he gives to his Ministers is entirely a matter for him.

Mr. Marten

On the referendum, I recognise that the Government have their own problems of timing, but will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that it also creates problems of indecision for the two campaigning sides? Would it not be better if the Government went nap on a slightly later date—for example, 19th June—to allow for any obstruction in the other place, so that we all know where we stand? Will he look at that point?

Mr. Short

We certainly intend to go nap on a date as soon as we can, but a number of factors are involved in deciding the date. Therefore, it is not possible today to give the date. However, I will announce the date at the earliest possible moment. I understand the difficulties of the hon. Gentleman and the two campaigning organisations.

Mr. Bryan Davies

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the acute public distress, which is reflected in every part of the House, at the recent reports of the conditions of workers on the British-owned estates in Sri Lanka. Will he consider in the first week after the recess tabling a motion to set up a Select Committee to inquire into that problem?

Mr. Short

No. I cannot undertake to do that. However, I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what my hon. Friend has said. I know of his concern and that of many hon. Members on this matter.

Mr. Lane

As a matter of priority, and for the safety of die public, will the Lord President undertake to bring forward the long-overdue Safety of Sports Grounds Bill well in advance of the Hare Coursing Bill?

Mr. Short

I cannot say which will come first. Certainly they will both be taken in this Session.

Mr. Kershaw

Is the Lord President aware that I put down a Question about the Common Market to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for answer at the next sitting week? It has been transferred to the Secretary of State for Trade. I know that usually the Lord President would say that that was no concern of his, but in the present circumstances would he persuade both his colleagues to answer? I could then pick which answer I preferred.

Mr. Rost

Have not the answers of the Leader of the House on dissenting Ministers been typically arrogant and complacent? Is it not time that hon. Members received some clarification, because when Ministers reply from the Front Bench on European matters we have a right to know whether they are speaking on behalf of the Government or of themselves?

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman is an expert on arrogance, so I shall not comment on that.

With regard to the substance of the question, I said that all Prime Ministers from time to time give guidance to their Ministers, but whether or not it is made public is entirely a matter for the Prime Minister. I have no doubt that he will read what was said today in the House.

Mr. Whitelaw

Leaving questions of arrogance aside—which is rather surprising for the right hon. Gentleman—is it not a fact that the Prime Minister promised my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd) that he would make public the guidelines w Ministers? If he made that promise to my hon. Friend, will not that be honoured?

Mr. Short

Of course, if my right hon. Friend made a promise it will be honoured. May I say that the right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks were completely out of character for him.

Mr. Whitelaw

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that if the Prime Minister niade a promise to my hon. Friend it will be honoured. because in that case the right hon. Gallic-man will know that the Prime Minister will make the guidelines public. since that is what he promised.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the reply which he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) with regard to the establishment of a Select Committee to look into the Sri Lanka tea estates and the British interests there will be noted with regret? We look to the Leader of the House for the establishment of Select Committees—not to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Will the Leader of the House please look again at this matter?

Mr. Short

There is a limit to the number of Select Committee which we can set up. We could set up Select Committees to inquire into everything under the sun. However, I shall consider what my hon. Friend has said. I have no intention to set up a Select Committee on that matter the week after Easter. That was the question which I was asked.

Sir David Renton

Is the Leader of the House aware that when Ministers speak in this House they are expected to explain the policies of their Departments? Will the right hon. Gentleman say what will happen when the policy of a Department conflicts with a Minister's views on the Common Market?

Mr. Short

I have answered that question already. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am now answered questions on the business to be taken during the week after Easter. I cannot see how the question arises out of that matter. This is entirely a matter for the Prime Minister, who I am sure will bear in mind all that was said today. If my right hon. Friend made a promise he will, of course, honour it.

Mr. Skinner

Regarding the business to be taken when the House resumes after the Easter Recess, and those Ministers who will speak with different voices on the question of the Common Market, will the Leader of the House take into account the fact that a large number of Government supporters are not terribly concerned about the show of Departmental differences between Cabinet and other Ministers, and that we regard it as part of our manifesto campaign to have open government? [Interruption] Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall be only one minute more.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

I am deeply pleased to hear that, but the hon. Gentleman should address his question to the business for the next week.

Mr. Skinner

Does the Leader of the House appreciate that in the course of the debates in the week following Easter and hon. Member, perhaps even of ministerial standing, will have to represent not only those in the Labour Party outside the House who are against the Common Market but also the views of perhaps 25 per cent. of the Tory voters and half of the Liberal voters who are against the Common Market? That is nothing to be concerned about.

Mr. Short

During the three-day debate which I have just announced I am sure that all points of view on the Common Market will be put with vigour in the House.

The Prime Minister took the view, in my opinion rightly, that on this unique issue, which divides parties and the country, where Ministers have deep conscientiously-held feelings, they should be allowed to dissent from the collective view of the Government.

Mr. Farr

Is there to be a debate soon on the Gardiner Report relating to security and other matters in Northern Ireland, which is important now in view of the fact that the Price sisters have been transferred to Northern Ireland, and because there is a possibility that other Irish bombers may be transferred to gaols in that Province in the near future?

Mr. Short

I was asked about this matter last week. I said that I could not arrange a debate in the near future, but that I thought this was an appropriate subject for a debate in the new Irish Committee. I shall be happy to arrange that if that is the general wish.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We must move on as there are two statements to be made.

Mr. Hurd

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you help us over the matter with which the Lord President attempted to deal? This is a matter for the Chair. Every day hon. Members receive letters. We have no means of assessing whether answers to questions represent Government policy.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair. A three-day debate on the matter will take place after the recess.