HC Deb 08 May 1975 vol 891 cc1613-27
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. I welcome the right hon. Lady back.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 12TH MAY.—Second Reading of the New Towns Bill.

Consideration of a timetable motion on the Industry Bill.

Motions on the Northern Ireland Orders on Loans (Increase of Limit) and Administration of Justice 1975.

TUESDAY 13TH MAY—Second Reading of the Child Benefit Bill.

Motion on the Referendum Order.

WEDNESDAY 14TH MAY.—Remaining stages of the Housing Finance (Special Provisions) Bill.

THURSDAY 15TH MAY.—Progress on the Committee stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

Motion on the Family Income Supplements (Computation) Regulations 1975.

FRIDAY 16TH MAY.—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 19TH M AY.—Private Members' motions, until 7 o'clock.

Motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974 (Continuance) Order 1975.

It may be for the convenience of the House if I confirm that, subject to progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise on Friday 23rd May until Monday 9th June.

Mrs. Thatcher

On my return from congratulating Conservative workers on taking so many gains in the local elections, may I ask the Leader of the House, first, when he will find time for a debate on the steel industry upon which agreement does not appear to have been quite so complete as it was in Neddy yesterday? Secondly, why is he imposing a guillotine on the Industry Bill when that Standing Committee has never sat beyond 7.45 in the evening, when on several occasions the Under-Secretary has moved to adjourn on the basis of "the progress" that had been made, the "very good progress" that had been made or the "excellent progress" that had been made? On one ocasion the Government tried not to sit but were forced to do so by the Conservative Opposition who wished properly to discuss the Bill. Why, in the light of these events, are the Government imposing a guillotine? Is it not because the Committee has reached the sensitive clauses in which the Under-Secretary is going back on the promises given to the House by the Prime Minister?

Mr. Short

On the first point, there will be a major opportunity to debate the steel industry on the Statutory Corporations (Financial Provisions) Bill in the very near future. The Bill was published on 2nd May. If the House so wishes after the recess, I can almost certainly find time for a wider debate on the steel industry. I recognise that there is a demand on all sides of the House for an opportunity to discuss this matter.

On the right hon. Lady's second point, this is a major Bill in the Government's programme on which we fought and won two elections. By this evening the Committee will have met 28 times. The timetable motion will be fairly generous and will allow a fair amount of time. In view of some statements appearing in the Press, I think that I should say that it would be quite unreasonable to expect the Committee stage to be concluded before the recess. This should be of great advantage to the Opposition because within the global allocation they can share out the time as they wish.

Mr. Richard Wainwright

Is the Leader of the House aware that the clauses in the Industry Bill to which this timetable motion, if passed, will apply are the very clauses which differ substantially from the White Paper, on which the Government fought the last election? However, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that the timetable motion will be framed with due regard to his duty to minority parties, since the Standing Committee has to reflect the presence of at least five political parties?

Mr. Short

I will certainly look into the last point. As for the hon. Member's first point, of course the White Paper was for discussion and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has always made it clear that he is willing to talk to the CBI before the Report stage of the Bill, and if the Bill needs amending on Report we would be prepared to amend it. The major point is the splitting off of the reserve powers for information from the voluntary planning agreements. This, I believe, is in order to emphasise the voluntary nature of the planning agreements. I should have thought that the Conservatives would welcome that.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that when the steel debate takes place, which I hope will be as soon as possible, he will by then have asked Sir Montague Finniston to publish the three documents that were presented to the BSC Board in 1971 on the effects on the British steel industry of entry into the EEC? These documents have a relevance in relation to the present argument about redundancies in the steel industry and about the whole future of the industry. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that that will be done, or will he at least draw it to the attention of the Prime Minister and ask him to ensure that it is done?

Mr. Short

That is exactly the kind of point that can be deployed when we debate the subject.

Mr. Tapsell

Has the Leader of the House noticed that almost everyone outside this House, both in Britain and abroad, is agreed that the country is faced immediately with a very grave and deteriorating economic situation? In that situation, may we expect before the Whitsun Recess to have a statement either from the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer about further measures to deal with it?

Mr. Short

I cannot undertake to do that. We have never underestimated or understated the gravity of the situation. If the hon. Member will reread the Chancellor's Budget speech—it will take him a little while to do so—perhaps over the Whitsun Recess, I am sure that he will agree that it contained no understatement of the situation. What we would like occasionally is a little support from the Conservative side of the House in dealing with this.

Mr. John Mendelson

May I urge my right hon. Friend to reconsider the not unreasonable reply which he gave to the Leader of the Opposition on the question of a steel debate? Since there is to be a meeting on 19th May, many steel area Members of Parliament have been urged by constituents working in the industry to raise the matter as early as possible in the House of Commons. Will my right hon. Friend therefore agree to have the debate before the recess so that, while the discussions proceed between the trade union representatives, the steel committee of the TUC and the Corporation, the House may also reflect the opinion of the people who work in the industry?

Mr. Short

I will certainly bear in mind that useful point. My hon. Friend refers to the meeting on the 19th. This is between the BSC and the steel committee of the TUC. With regard to the Statutory Corporations (Financial Provisions), I believe that that Bill will be put down for Second Reading immediately after the Whitsun Recess.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is exactly two years ago today that a committee was set up under my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) to inquire into the preparation of legislation and that that was the first time that consideration had been given to the matter since the setting up of a Select Committee in 1875? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that this is an important report, containing more than 120 conclusions and recommendations? Does he agree that we are all wasting our time here if legislation is incomprehensible? Is he aware that the House will need time to digest this report but that there must be time to debate it later?

Mr. Short

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has called attention to this report. I pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) for the painstaking work he and his colleagues have done. This is one of the most competent, expert, well-drawn-up reports I have seen for a long time. The House will need time to study it. I will find time for a debate upon it before the Summer Recess.

Sir G. de Freitas

In view of the interest of the Leader of the Opposition in a steel debate, will my right hon. Friend ask the Opposition to provide an opportunity for such a debate?

Mr. Short

I suggested last week that this would be a suitable subject. I point out once more that the time for general debate is shared between the Government and the Opposition.

Mr. Powell

Will the right hon. Gentleman find an opportunity next week to make a statement on the Second Report of the Select Committee dealing with the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse), in view of the remarkable proposal that the suggested motion should not be taken by the House for a month on grounds which presume that the House would approve that motion when it was presented to it?

Mr. Short

I will consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I have thought a good deal about this report, as I am sure have other hon. Members. I will certainly consider whether I should make a statement before the recess. I would not like to commit myself to making one, but there is some substance in what the right hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Crawford

While I recognise that the Conservative Party appears not to want a Scottish Development Agency, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say when he will stop dragging his feet and bring forward the Scottish Development Agency Bill?

Mr. Short

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have introduced a Scottish Development Agency (No. 2) Bill in the Lords. That is identical to that which was blocked in this House by the Opposition. The second Bill will start in the Lords but it will come to this House eventually and, I hope, reach the statute book before the end of the Session.

Mr. McNamara

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Secretary of State for Trade will be publishing next week the report of the IPU delegation on conditions of tea workers in British-owned estates in Sri Lanka? Can he further say whether any individual or persons who may be criticised in the report have had the opportunity of presenting their case to the Secretary of State for Trade and whether that will be published at the same time as the report?

Mr. Short

I do not know the answer to the last part of my hon. Friend's question. I understand that the IPU Report is to be available to us—I have not yet seen a copy—on Wednesday of next week.

Mr. Crouch

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the detestation which all Conservative Members have for the Government's decision to introduce a timetable motion on the Industry sill now being considered in Committee? Is he aware that he has helped us somewhat by saying that he intends to be generous in the allocation of time? May I ask him to consider the precedents for a voluntary arrangement, adopted in this House on three occasions in the past 40 years? Is he aware that such an arangement was operated in 1935 for the India Bill, in 1943 for the Education Bill and in 1953 for the Iron and Steel Bill? On those occasions there was an arrangement between the parties for a proper amount of time—not a limited amount of time—to be given to the Committee stage? Could not this be done for what is an important and contentious Bill?

Mr. Short

I am very much in favour of a voluntary timetable but I understand that it was not possible to get one on this Bill. The Tory Party tried to barter time for content and we were not willing to do that. There is no alternative to the timetable motion. I hope that the hon. Gentleman expressed his detestation when the previous Tory Government introduced a timetable motion on the European Communities Bill, the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Bill, the Housing Finance Bill, the Industrial Relations Bill and a great many others. Since the Second World War, Labour Governments have introduced eight timetable motions while Conservative Governments have introduced 17 such motions.

Mr. Michael McGuire

Can my right hon. Friend assure us that the long-awaited Government statement on the importation of textiles will be made next week or, if not then, before the House goes into recess? Is he aware that the need for such a statement is more urgent now than when the request was last made, following our debate of a few weeks ago? Is he aware that several mills have since closed down and many more are under threat of closure, and that if we do not get a positive statement the industry will collapse completely?

Mr. Short

I agree with my hon. Friend about the seriousness of this matter. I know of the concern of hon. Members from textile constituencies and indeed of all hon. Members about this subject. It is an extremely complex matter in which we risk retaliation. The Government have to do this most carefully. I will certainly convey what my hon. Friend has said to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and emphasise the need for a statement before the recess.

Mr. Biffen

Arising out of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell), may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to acknowledge that the continued depreciation of the pound has been on such a scale that all parts of the House would welcome an early statement by the Chancellor on the Government's sterling exchange policy? Can he say whether that statement is to be part of the Chancellor's Second Reading speech this afternoon or will it be the subject of a separate statement early next week?

Mr. Short

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have heard what has been said. I would point out that the Chancellor made a statement on this in reply to a Question last Tuesday.

Mr. Bidwell

Has the attention of my right hon. Friend been drawn to Early Day Motion No. 308? Is he aware that this Motion has 150 signatories from all parts of the House indicating good will towards solving the problem of the turbanned Sikh on his motor cycle? Is my right hon. Friend aware that a devout Sikh cannot now ride a motor cycle and thereby economise on fuel? In view of this indication of widespread support, can my right hon. Friend say whether facilities will be given for a Second Reading debate on this Bill during this Parliament?

[That this House is of the opinion that time should be allowed for debate to proceed on the Motor-Cycle Crash-Helmets (Religious Exemption) Bill, awaiting a Second Reading.]

Mr. Short

I know of my hon. Friend's concern about this matter, but I am afraid that I cannot promise any time for a Second Reading debate before the Summer Recess.

Mr. Peyton

Can I ask the right hon. Gentleman what arrangements he is making for a debate on the Whitsun Recess? In view of what he has said earlier about a Supply Day, may I say that if the right hon. Gentleman will arrange for an Opposition Supply Day before Whitsun, we will certainly make it available for a discussion of the steel industry.

Mr. Short

I hope to put down the motion for the Adjournment for the recess on Tuesday of next week. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said about the Supply Day. He knows quite well there are no such days available before the recess.

Mr. Faulds

Did I hear my right hon. Friend aright—I hope I did not—when he said that he could not find time before the Summer Recess for the legislation dealing with the turbanned Sikh? Is he aware that that would be absolutely unacceptable to many of us?

Mr. Short

I said that I saw no prospect of providing Government time for a debate on this Bill during this Session. Many hon. Members have Private Bills. They could all come along and ask for Government support. If we gave all of them such help it would take up all of the Government's time.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Has the Leader of the House seen Early Day Motion No. 461 dealing with the plight of refugees from Vietnam, with particular reference to those for whom we have responsibility and who have been landed in Hong Kong without having been consulted? How much longer are we to wait for a statement on this matter? Will the right hon. Gentleman compare the silence on this matter with the almost indecent haste with which Marxist refugees from Chile were welcomed here?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to declare its readiness to welcome here at least as many South Vietnamese refugees from Soviet inspired and supported Communist aggression from the north as have been allowed to enter the United Kingdom from Chile after the military coup there that toppled Allende's brutal Marxist regime, and thus show that Socialist political double standards so widely prevalent in Great Britain today at least stop short of application when considerations of humanity are at stake.]

Mr. Short

Without commenting on the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I understand that the Home Secretary has replied to a Question on this matter today.

Mr. Cyril Smith

May I ask the Leader of the House if it is a fact that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been appointed by the Cabinet to conduct an inquiry into the textile industry? If this is so, what are his terms of reference, when is he expected to report and when will the House be informed of his appointment?

Mr. Short

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the composition of Cabinet committees is never made known.

Mr. Noble

Would my right hon. Friend note that his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) will be disappointing to workers in the textile industry, especially his comment on retaliation? Would he note that the textile workers are beginning to retaliate and that workers in Accrington came out on strike yesterday in opposition to the importation of foreign yarn? Will he also note that the situation in other industries, such as footware, is rapidly growing worse, and that there is evidence, which is accumulating, of dumping day by day? Will he give us a debate on international trade?

Mr. Short

I hope that my hon. Friend did not feel that I was treating this matter lightly. I agree that it is an extremely serious matter. All I am saying is that it is a very complex question for the Government. We are studying it actively and I hope to be able to say something on it before very long.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House and this country are being choked with legislation and that the country is in a mess? In the interests of getting things right, will he withdraw some of the Bills that make no contribution towards this situation?

Mr. Short

All our Bills are completely relevant to the problems of this country.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Does the Leader of the House appreciate that the failure of both the Government and the Opposition to provide time for a steel debate is bringing this House into disrepute? Thousands of redundancies are taking place, and outrageous statements are being made by Sir Monty Finniston. In addition, there is the information released today by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) about the effect of Common Market membership on the steel industry. Does he not agree that this matter is now urgent?

Mr. Short

I agree that it is urgent. I told the hon. Member—but he cannot have been listening—that there will be an opportunity immediately after the recess—

Mr. Hughes

That will be too late.

Mr. Short

—for a debate on this subject. I said that if the House felt that a further opportunity was required, I would try to find time for a debate devoted exclusively to steel.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Would the Leader of the House say when we may have an opportunity to debate the motion on the Standing Committee on Regoinal Affairs? Is he aware that many hon. Members of all parties would welcome this opportunity to take from the Floor of the House some business of a more local nature and would welcome this as a first step, perhaps, towards an English Parliament?

Mr. Short

Without commenting on the last few words, I agree with the rest of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I hope to find time in the near future for a debate on this motion.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite the publication of the Ryder Report by the Government, there are still grave uncertainties throughout the motor industry in this country about its future, particularly in the Coventry area? Can my right hon. Friend give an undertaking to the House that we shall have an opportunity to debate the Government's proposed assistance to the motor industry before the Whitsun Recess?

Mr. Short

Yes, there will certainly be a debate before the recess on the affirmative resolution that is required, and I hope also, as I said last week, that there will be a debate on the Second Reading of the necessary legislation.

Mr. Charles Morrison

In the reply given to the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) the Leader of the House accepted that the country was facing a national crisis, as a result of which he called for support from Conservative Members. Can the right hon. Gentleman say precisely, and not inadequately, what action he has taken to obtain that support and what action he will take?

Mr. Short

The Conservative Party has said that it is not in favour of a statutory incomes policy. We are trying to make a voluntary incomes policy work. The Conservative Party has denigrated this policy since February last year. Had we had its support, we might have achieved more success.

Mr. Cryer

Would my right hon. Friend accept that I very much endorse the need for a statement on the textile industry as soon as possible and certainly before the recess, because in the West Riding we are suffering a great deal? Could he assure the House that he will bring forward this statement irrespective of the fact that the EEC Commissioners are currently considering the question of import controls and that this is why, at least in part, the Government have not taken action so far? Can he assure the House that, if necessary. and if it is vital to the textile industry, we shall act independently and not be subjugated by the EEC? Can he assure the House that he will endeavour to publish the two reports on the proposed reorganisation of the Factory Inspectorate, in spite of the fact that that reorganisation is wholly opposed by the inspectorate, so that hon. Members can receive the information, hopefully, for the debate in the future?

Mr. Short

I shall look into the last point and perhaps write to my right hon. Friend about it. On his first point, I know that his constituency is very much affected by short-time working and unemployment in the textile industry. Certainly our membership of the Community will not inhibit us, but the Community is involved, for example, in the burden-sharing agreement, and so on. However, that will not inhibit us in our review of this difficult and complex problem.

Mr. Bowden

I should like to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the Children Bill. This very important Bill, which all hon. Members would like to see debated here, has been through all its stages in the House of Lords. It is concerned with the life, future security, and wellbeing of children. Could we please have the Second Reading as quickly as possible, and get this Bill into Committee?

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman cannot have been here when I announced the Second Reading of the Child Benefit Bill for next Tuesday.

Mr. Bowden

That is not the Children Bill. It is the wrong Bill.

Mr. Short

The Children Bill?—I shall do this as soon as possible.

Mr. Spearing

Has my right hon. Friend seen the 18th Report of the Scrutiny Committee on EEC legislation which now contains 30 regulations to be debated by this House, and in particular Regulation No. 1746 of 1973 concerning the harmonisation of turnover taxes, a common system of value added tax and a uniform basis of assessment? Could we not discuss this before the recess in order to have a good basis of judgment for the referendum?

Mr. Short

I know that my hon. Friend keeps his eye on all these things. Certainly a backlog is building up in this respect, but I have been checking and I have discovered that we have spent 10 per cent. of our parliamentary time this session on European matters. That is a big part of our parliamentary time. Certainly when the referendum is over I hope that we can start to work on the backlog.

Mr. Heseltine

When the Leader of the House says that we were offered a voluntary timetable which we rejected, is he aware that the Opposition offered Ministers a voluntary timetable, and that a timetable was offered that would have got the Industry Bill out of Committee before Whitsun providing that the word of the Prime Minister, the Bill and the White Paper coincided? Is he further aware that the Under-Secretary in charge of the Bill told the Standing Committee that the word of the Prime Minister could not be allowed to supersede the policy which the Under-Secretary was at that time advocating?

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman has had some correspondence with the Prime Minister on these matters. He usually gets them wrong. There is no conflict whatever on this matter between what the Prime Minister said and what is in the Bill. The Prime Minister said that the policy in the White Paper would be followed in the Bill, and the policy in the White Paper is being followed in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman has confirmed exactly what I said. He is willing to barter time for content, and we are not.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is all a matter for argument on Monday.

Sir Frederic Bennett

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that a few minutes ago, in answer to my question, the Leader of the House said that a statement had been made by the Home Secretary today. I have looked through the Questions carefully and I have been listening, but I can find no trace of such a statement having been made or of any relevant Question. Could I receive clarification?

An hon. Member

It was a Written Answer.

Mr. Short

I will read it out to the hon. Gentleman. It is in answer to a Question put by one of my hon. Friends. The Home Secretary said: I am prepared to admit a number of refugees from Vietnam who have some previous connection or tie with the United Kingdom.


Mr. Speaker

Order. The Leader of the House has kindly given that answer to the hon. Gentleman. I make no complaint on this occasion, but hon. Gentlemen must not expect me to start allowing Written Answers to be read out in this way, as a matter of custom—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman who interjected must not say that.

Mr. Crouch

On a point of order. Can you help me, Mr. Speaker, towards understanding how we shall debate on Monday the invocation of Standing Order No. 44 and the allocation of time for the Industry Bill Committee stage, in view of your ruling in the House on 16th April, when you said that it was not correct to refer to proceedings in Standing Committee? I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that when we come to the debate on Monday we shall have to raise some part of the proceedings on that Bill in Standing Committee. Your guidance, Mr. Speaker, would be very helpful.

Mr. Speaker

I do not have the text of what I said in April with me. However, any matter relevant to the guillotine motion, such as the number of times the Committee has sat, suggestions made for adjourning it, and that sort of matter, is germane. What is not germane is the content or the arguments on particular clauses, but anything relevant to the guillotine motion is allowed. I thought that I had said so, and that clearly is in the ruling of Mr. Speaker Clifton-Brown, to which I referred when I answered.

Mr. Bowden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask whether the Leader of the House will make it very clear what the business of the House will be next week, because of the confusion in relation to the question which I asked? As I understand it, we shall not be discussing the Children Bill next Tuesday but another Bill. When shall we have the opportunity of discussing the Children Bill?

Mr. Short

I apologise for misunderstanding the hon. Gentleman and for talking of the Child Benefit Bill. I cannot tell him yet when it will come to the House, but I shall answer in due course.

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