HC Deb 15 May 1975 vol 892 cc652-61
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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 19TH MAY—Consideration of Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974 (Continuance) Order 1975.

Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill.

TUESDAY 20TH MAY—Progress in Committee on the Finance (No. 2) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 21ST MAY—Second Reading of the British Leyland Bill.

Motion on financial assistance to the British Leyland Motor Corporation Limited.

THURSDAY 22ND MAY—Supply [17th Allotted Day], when there will be a debate on economic affairs.

Remaining stages of the New Towns Bill.

FRIDAY 23RD MAY—The House will rise for the Spring Adjournment until Monday 9th June.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is the Leader of the House aware that we are grateful to him for facilitating an economic debate on Thursday, but that we take the view that that does not absolve the Government from providing a day for a debate on the public expenditure White Paper?

Secondly, when may we expect to have a debate on the Gardiner Report, because most hon. Members would wish to have a debate before any legislation consequent upon it is introduced?

Mr. Short

I will bear in mind what the right hon. Lady said about the public expenditure White Paper.

We suggested that a debate on the Gardiner Report could be taken in the Northern Ireland Committee, but I understand that the Opposition were not willing to have that. However, I will try to find an opportunity for a debate on the report on the Floor of the House at some time after the recess.

Mr. Torney

In view of the statement in the Press today that once again the Common Market intends to sell surplus beef to Russia at prices subsidised by the British and other Common Market taxpayers, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate in this House on that terrible conduct of the Common Market and the failure of the common agricultural policy to stop that kind of thing?

Mr. Short

Not next week. However, as I pointed out in the recent Adjournment debate, so far in this Session we have spent 10 per cent. of our time debating European matters. After the recess there will be a number of debates on European matters and perhaps there will be an opportunity then to raise this matter.

Mr. Grimond

Before we rise next week, will the Leader of the House indicate the length of the current Session? There are now so many Bills in various stages before Parliament that the resources of the House are over-strained. It is apparent that unless the Session is to be prolonged some will have to be abandoned. Therefore, it would be useful to know what the Government's proposals are.

Mr. Short

This matter has not yet been decided. It will depend entirely on the progress that we make between now and the Summer Recess.

Mr. Spriggs

May I ask my right hon. Friend to arrange a debate on the Finer Report on one-parent families?

Mr. Short

I have answered several questions on this matter on a number of occasions. We had one very short debate on it. However, I agree that this subject merits a debate in the House. I hope that before the Summer Recess I can find time for a debate on this important report.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come to the House next week and announce the implementation within Britain of the oil price subsidy to support our glasshouse industry which he supported only last week in Brussels?

Mr. Short

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern and that of many other hon. Members on this matter. I will convey his remarks to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Noble

Will my right hon. Friend give consideration to a debate on the footwear industry in view of its critical situation, particularly the announcement yesterday of 750 additional redundancies and the fact that over 40 per cent. of the labour force has been working on short time for the whole of this year?

Mr. Short

I made some comments on this subject in the recent Adjournment debate. I will bear in mind what my hon. Friend said. As he knows, the Government are studying the footwear industry together with the textile industry at the moment.

Mr. Donald Stewart

In his winding-up speech on Tuesday the right hon. Gentleman helpfully suggested that he might try to fit in a debate on the fishing industry. Has he given any further thought to that matter? If so, will he indicate on what date it will take place?

Mr. Short

I cannot indicate a date. Certainly it will not be before the recess. I will bear in mind the point made by the hon. Gentleman. This is an important matter about which many hon. Members are concerned.

Mr. Ashton

As legislation is crowded in the pipeline, will my right hon. Friend confirm whether it will be possible for the House not to prorogue in November, but to keep going perhaps until next spring? Will he examine this possibility rather than let complicated Bills fall and have to start again in November?

Mr. Short

There are problems. Naturally my right hon. Friends and I have looked at this kind of possibility. There are problems about Supply, and so on. It is much too early to talk about the length of the Session. I hope before the Summer Recess to give the House some indication of the end of the Session.

Mr. Charles Morrison

May I ask when the Leader of the House will find time for a debate on the recent White Paper on agriculture? Secondly, in view of the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) last week, in which he asked for support from the Opposition, may I ask what he intends to do about Early-Day Motion No. 466 entitled "Co-operation to Defeat Inflation"?

[That this House notes that 491 honourable Members on 7th May combined to defeat a left-wing attempt to denude Great Britain of adequate means of self-defence; and trusts that this large majority will find other occasions to work together in the coming weeks, in the belief that Great Britain's only hope of preserving sanity and democracy depends on the willingness of all moderate politicians to work together to defeat inflation.]

Mr. Short

I will bear those two points in mind, and if we can find any time to debate the White Paper, I will arrange that. It is a suitable subject for a Supply Day, of course. The Tory Party, the party representing agricultural interests, still will not have a debate in Supply time on agriculture. As I have said almost every week, the time for general debates is divided pretty evenly between the two sides of the House. It is time that they used one of their Supply Days to debate agriculture.

Mr. Wigley

Will the right hon. Gentleman give some indication whether we shall be allowed time for a debate on the steel industry, since many areas, par- ticularly in Wales, which are threatened with job losses are worried whether the policy comes direct from the head of the British Steel Corporation or whether it reflects Government policy?

Mr. Short

I said the other day that, in the first week that we come back after the recess, there will be a debate on the Statutory Corporations (Financial Provisions) Bill, which will provide an opportunity to debate steel questions. However, I am sure that we are all grateful to the Opposition for offering to debate steel in Supply time. There will be a Supply Day shortly after the recess, so perhaps they will make that available for a steel debate.

Mr. Terry Walker

Could I impress on my right hon. Friend the need to discuss footwear next week, since yesterday 200 of my constituents were given redundancy notices and these same people have been on short-time working for about nine months? We must discuss this matter to see whether quotas can be arranged to stop the imports at present flooding the market.

Mr. Short

The question of imports is the most complex problem for a great trading nation like Britain—one of the greatest in the world. It is not to our advantage to restrict the flow of world trade, but I certainly recognise the problem here. I am afraid that the only opportunities next week will be Adjournment debates, the subjects for which are entirely a matter for Mr. Speaker.

Mr. John Page

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that none of his right hon. Friends—particularly not the Secretary of State for Industry—will come to the House on the Friday we rise to make statements—a practice which has become habit-forming—since it would be impossible on that day to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9?

Mr. Short

I realise that the last day before the recess is an inconvenient date for statements, but it is a sitting day and any urgent statement would have to be made then if it could not be made earlier. But I will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said about avoiding statements on that day as far as possible.

Mr. Lee

May we be assured that we shall have a debate on employment prospects in the West Midlands, bearing in mind the deteriorating situation there, the fact that it is not confined to Leyland and also the fact that next week's economic debate, although wide ranging, will not give scope to do justice to this grave problem, which concerns many of my hon. Friends and me?

Mr. Short

I hope to put down a motion on a suggestion I made for regional debates the week that we return after the recess. This will enable the House, sitting as a Committee, to debate these matters in an early part of the day.

Mr. Kilfedder

With the frightening increase in redundancies in Northern Ireland and the consequent hardship for the unemployed and their families, would the right hon. Gentleman urgently convene a meeting of the Northern Ireland Committee so that the economic crisis facing the people and industry there may be debated, even though he may not get unanimous consent for the calling of such a meeting?

Mr. Short

Really, this is a bit much. We set up the Committee, and, as I said in the debate on the Whitsun Adjournment last week, the Secretary of State wrote to the hon. Gentleman suggesting a number of positive subjects—to which the one that he has mentioned could be added, I am sure—but so far he has had no reply. We want to follow the practice in the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees of agreeing the subjects for debate with Northern Ireland Members. If the hon. Gentleman would consult his friends, agree on a subject and contact the Secretary of State, I am sure that there could be a debate on unemployment in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Cant

Are the Government fully seized of the critical position in the steel industry? Is my right hon. Friend aware that meetings have been taking place this week in Wales, England and Scotland, which will be concluded in Cardiff on Friday? If the outcome of the meeting next Monday between the British Steel Corporation and the TUC steel committee is not favourable, on Tuesday steel production in this country will come to a halt.

Mr. Short

I have said a number of times that I think that this matter should be debated in the House. There will be an opportunity soon after we come back, but if that is not adequate, I will try to find more time for it.

Mrs. Knight

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when the Children Bill will come before this House? He will be aware, I trust, that it came down from the other place some time ago.

Mr. Short

That is an important Bill—which I mixed up with another one last week when I was asked a question. It has finished its passage through another place and is awaiting a Second Reading here. The hon. Lady may be assured that this important Bill will be brought forward for Second Reading as soon as possible after the recess.

Mr. Skinner

Can my right hon. Friend give a guarantee that the legislation on Members' interests will be introduced shortly whether or not the Session goes on for a long time? Would he also give a guarantee that, whatever delay there is, it will be introduced before Members' salaries are increased?

Mr. Short

As far as anyone can guarantee anything in this world, I give a promise that that order—it is not legislation—will be introduced shortly after the recess. It is only because of the pressure on parliamentary time, largely because of the referendum and the renegotiation, that we have not been able to find time for it. I regret that very much, but it will be introduced as soon as possible.

Mr. Adley

May I repeat the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) that the right hon. Gentleman should arrange a debate on Early-Day Motion No. 466, aimed at defeating inflation? Is he aware that the Prime Minister's performance just now was disgraceful? Will he tell him so? Will he tell him that we expect Mike Yarwood to play it for laughs but not the Prime Minister, and that the right hon. Gentleman might occassionally treat the House and the nation with the seriousness that our situation deserves?

Mr. Short

I have already announced that there will be a full day's debate on economic affairs next week. That will be an appropriate opportunity to debate these matters.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the statements attributed to the EEC Commission and mentioned just now by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) fly in the face of assurances that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has given this House? Therefore, either my right hon. Friend is open to the charge that he has misled the House or the Commission in Brussels has lied to him. In consequence of these reports of the beef mountain and the sale of food to the Russians, which will affect every family in this country, and in the light of the possible charges which could be laid against my right hon. Friend or the Commission, is it not high time that we debated this issue?

Mr. Short

I am sure that neither of those things is correct. I am sure that my right hon. Friend has not misled the House, nor do I think that the Commission in Brussels has lied on this matter. However, I realise that some of my hon. Friends are concerned about it, and I will draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what has been said.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

As the right hon. Gentleman himself has suggested, is not the situation regarding the Northern Ireland Committee extremely unsatisfactory? Is this not a Committee which concerns the whole House? Would he, therefore, consider publishing all the exchanges next week so that we may judge what has been happening?

Mr. Short

These have been private letters, but I have told the House that we wrote to the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) some weeks ago—about the middle of April, so far as I can remember—suggesting four or five subjects and inviting hon. Members to discuss a subject for the first meeting. But so far there has been no reply. I hope that Northern Ireland Members will get together and decide on the subject that they want to debate, and reach agreement with the Secretary of State. Obviously, he has to agree to the subject as well. I am sure that this can be done, and I hope that it will be done. I very much regret, after the House took the trouble to set up the Committee that it has not even met yet.

Mr. Kinnock

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his answer to the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), when he expressed the hope that the Opposition would devote a Supply Day to a debate on steel? Is he aware that the Tories are hardly likely to do so, since in the Welsh Grand Committee last week the official spokesman said that he accepted 9,000 redundancies in Wales, which presumably means that the Opposition accept the prospect of 20,000 jobless in steel in the near future?

Mr. Short

I understood that last week the Shadow Leader of the House offered a day. I know that the offer was made if we could make a Supply Day available before the recess, but as he was willing to debate steel on a Supply Day my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and I were willing to make a Supply Day available after the recess. Perhaps the Opposition will consider having a debate on steel then. There is the debate on the Statutory Corporations (Financial Provisions) Bill. If that is not sufficient, I shall somehow or other find another opportunity very quickly.

Mr. Peyton

May I remind the Leader of the House that what I offered was that if he would make a Supply Day available before the recess we would use it to debate steel, because we wanted to give the Government an opportunity to explain away some of their embarrassments on steel? Since then, in our generosity, we have still made available that Supply Day, but we have considered it desirable that the Government should have an opportunity to explain their even greater embarrassments on the economy. The offer does not by any means stand.

Mr. Short

I am very sorry that it does not stand, because the problems of the steel industry stand. All that we had, then, was a little gimmick, a little manoeuvre, not a genuine offer of a debate on steel. The problems of the steel industry still exist. If the Opposition were willing to make available a Supply day before the recess, surely they are willing to make one available after the recess.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does my right hon. Friend recall that we have been promised a Bill to ban the barbaric activity of hare-coursing, much of which unfortunately takes place in my constituency, and a Bill to abolish the tied cottage, which will affect hundreds of my constituents? Will he give an assurance that the Bill to abolish tied cottages will take priority over the hare-coursing Bill, desirable as the latter is?

Mr. Short

I cannot give an assurance that the Bill to abolish the tied cottages will take priority over the Bill to ban hare-coursing. The Bill to ban hare-coursing has been introduced, and it will be down for Second Reading shortly after the recess.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the long delay over the relevant legislation indicates that the Government have abandoned their proposals for the nationalisation of the aerospace and shipbuilding industries, or just that they are too embarrassed to put them forward at present?

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman has not been reading his papers. We have already put them forward. The Bill has been introduced.

Mr. Tebbit

Yes, but Second Reading has not been announced.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am afraid that I cannot accommodate the late-comers.