HC Deb 27 November 1975 vol 901 cc1043-53
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 1ST DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Motion on the White Fish and Herring Subsidies (United Kingdom) (No. 3) Scheme.

TUESDAY 2ND DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill.

Motion relating to financial Assistance for Herbert Limited.

Remaining stages of the OECD Support Fund Bill and of the Moneylenders (Crown Agents) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 3RD DECEMBER—Supply [1st Allotted Day]: Debate on "Developments in the European Communities April-October 1975", Command No. 6349.

Remaining stages of the Northern Ireland (Loans) Bill.

Motions on the Northern Ireland Orders relating to rates, Bann reservoir, insurance companies, firearms and education.

THURSDAY 4TH DECEMBER—Debate on the Report of the Committee on House of Commons Administration, Paper No. 624, until about 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, Second Reading of the Civil List Bill.

Motion relating to the Arbury Banks Preservation Order.

FRIDAY 5TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Police Bill.

MONDAY 8TH DECEMBER—Supply [2nd Allotted Day.]

Mrs. Thatcher

Many of my colleagues are dismayed that we are to have only one day for the Second Reading of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill. We feel that we should have one day for the aircraft industry and one for shipbuilding, otherwise the debate could get very confused.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friends not to make statements on public expenditure and increased charges in the form of Written Questions, as happened recently with the statement on charges for spectacles and teeth and as happened last year with the increased school meals charges? There should be oral statements in the House.

Mr. Short

On the right hon. Lady's first question, I have looked at this point, and on only five occasions in 12years has more than one day been given for a Second Reading. We did not feel that this Second Reading merited two days and I am afraid there is no other time between now and Christmas to provide a second day. I have noted what the right hon. Lady said in her second question and I will pass it on.

Mr. Thorpe

What time are we to have to debate the disappointing White Paper on devolution—or does the light hon. Gentleman propose to take it away and have another look at it?

Mr. Short

I heard the right hon. Gentleman comment on the White Paper, in a predictable way, on the one o'clock news. We realise that his support in Scotland has fallen to 4 per cent. and that he is trying to claw it back from the nationalists by outdoing them in condemning the White Paper.

Mr. John Mendelson

In view of the further unemployment figures announced a few days ago and the very large lobby of delegates from many industrial centres at the House yesterday, will my right hon. Friend consider giving urgent priority to a special debate on unemployment? Will he set aside a full day for this subject, without mixing it up with any other subject, and change some of the business for next week so that the relevant Ministers can take part in a debate on this most important of all subjects?

Mr. Short

I understand my hon. Friend's concern on this subject—a concern which is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and particularly by the Government. We are faced with an intolerable level of unemployment, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be announcing shortly a number of measures in this connection. I cannot give any time in the near future for a debate. We have just had a five-day debate on the Gracious Speech, the last day of which was devoted to economic affairs, and a good many hon. Members dealt with the problem then.

Mr. Peter Walker

The right hon. Gentleman is unwilling to have a general debate on unemployment. Since unemployment in the West Midlands has trebled over two years and is higher numerically than in the North-East and Wales and is almost as high as in Scotland, may we have a debate at least on the problems of the West Midlands or on the manner in which regional policy discriminates against that area?

Mr. Short

No, I cannot undertake that. I visited the West Midlands a fortnight ago—[Laughter.] This is not very funny for the people in the West Midlands. I have never seen such discourtesy and ill manners as are exhibited by Conservative Members. They are the worst mannered and most discourteous Opposition I have seen in 25 years. The Conservative Party is a disgrace to Parliament and it should be ashamed of itself.

Mr. Peter Walker

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House was so keen to give his headmaster-like admonishments to the Opposition that he failed to answer my question.

Mr. Short

I was complaining, Mr. Speaker, about a party which shouts down the Prime Minister and then complains that he has not answered any Questions. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman, who I know is concerned about this issue even though his hon. Friends are not, is that I cannot provide any time next week for a debate on this subject but that I shall certainly bear the point in mind. If we were to debate the motor industry before Christmas—and we might well do so—that at any rate would partially satisfy his wishes.

Mr. Watt

When are we to have an opportunity to debate that pathetic document "Our Changing Democracy"? How many days will be devoted to that debate? I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall not need more than half a day because his fellow English Members can go soundly to sleep as there is nothing to trouble them in that document.

Mr. Short

I am glad to hear the hon. Member suggest that we should have only a half-day debate on the White Paper. I shall bear that in mind.

Mr. William Hamilton

Has my right hon. Friend got his priorities right on next Thursday's business, for instance? Surely we could have half-a-day's debate on unemployment rather than debate the Civil List Bill. Will he give an assurance that all the provisions in that Bill come within the terms of the Government's incomes policy?

Mr. Short

The Bill honours the promise by the Prime Minister in this House on 12th February and will enable further increases in the Civil List to be made from grants in aid—

Mr. William Hamilton

Will they be within the £6 limit?

Mr. Short

The Bill deals with the machinery, not the finance, and it fulfils my right hon. Friend's promise.

Mrs. Chalker

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider having an urgent debate on the Butler Committee's Report and the general problems of mental health, which are most serious at present?

Mr. Short

I can understand the hon. Lady's concern about this point. She has always expressed that concern. In the period up to Christmas I shall bear in mind what she has said.

Mr. Stonehouse

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to Early-Day Motion No. 7 concerning the freedom of travel for Dr. Zakharov and the need to implement the Helsinki Declaration—

Mr. William Hamilton

Has he got a passport?

Mr. Stonehouse

—and as the motion has been signed by representatives of every political party in this House, will my right hon. Friend ensure that an early opportunity is made available to consider this subject?

[That this House regrets the refusal of the Soviet Government to allow Dr. Andrei Sakharov to travel to Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to make representations to the Soviet authorities to honour the Helsinki declaration, which they so recently signed and which, inter alia, called for the free movement of individuals and ideas.]

Mr. William Hamilton

Make sure he has a passport.

Hon. Members

Or two passports.

Mr. Short

I cannot offer any time next week, but that would be an appropriate subject for our debate on the Adjournment for the Christmas Recess, whenever that occurs.

Mr. Baker

Is the Leader of the House aware that it is now impossible to hold by-elections for Greater London Council vacancies when they fall due—as they have in my constituency—because the Government have forgotten to table an order postponing the GLC elections from April 1976 to April 1977? Do the Government intend to table this order next week so as to postpone the elections for a year, or will Londoners be given the opportunity next spring to express their opinions on the most costly and inefficient authority in Britain?

Mr. Short

I do not accept in any way the latter part of the hon. Member's question. I shall certainly look into this matter to see whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment can say something about it next week.

Mr. Heffer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great desire in this House, particularly among my colleagues, to have an early debate on unemployment? Is he aware that yesterday 20,000 workers who marched through the streets of London were led not by extremist groups, as was suggested by the General Secretary of the TUC, but by the North-West Region of the Trades Union Congress, supported by trades councils from all over the North-West and by trade unionists nationwide? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that 20,000 workers demonstrate about unemployment does not mean that they are against the Government, only that they want something positive done about unemployment? May I urge my right hon. Friend to reconsider his answers on this subject and to provide time for an early debate?

Mr. Short

I cannot add anything to my earlier reply. I share my hon. Friend's concern. I noted the demonstration yesterday. I also went to see the police who were laid out in Westminster Hall after being injured in the demonstration.

Mr. Amery

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State for Defence told us some time ago that the defence White Paper which he produced represented the most far-reaching review of defence since Haldane? Does he realise that the right hon. Gentleman admitted at Question Time on Monday that a further review of this most far-reaching review since Haldane's time was now in progress? Is he aware of the disquiet caused among the Armed Forces at home and among our NATO and other allies abroad? Will he give time for a defence debate before any decisions are taken or any concrete proposals put before the House?

Mr. Short

I shall pass the right hon. Gentleman's views on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am sure that the review has not had the effect described by the right hon. Gentleman in the Armed Forces.

Mr. Ward

It is a year since the adjourned Second Reading debate on the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill. My right hon. Friend gave repeated assurances to the House that he would use his best endeavours to bring the Bill before the House again before the Summer Recess. Can we have an assurance that it will be brought before the House before Christmas and before the dark nights and the high accident period?

Mr. Short

I cannot give such an assurance for the period up to Christmas. We fought the General Election on a very big programme and we are trying to get that programme through. I am sure that my hon. Friend will support the Government on that.

Mr. Fairbairn

I congratulate the Leader of the House on producing today a White Paper on devolution which bears the unique imprint of his electric mind. May I ask when we may have the opportunity to debate the concept of electoral reform since that document, apart from disregarding every proposal by the Kilbrandon Commission, proposes that the Scottish Labour-held seats should have a weighting in their favour in terms of representation?

Mr. Short

The hon. and learned Gentleman's scintillating adjectives pall a bit. He used that one in a letter to The Times recently.

Mr. Fairbairn

It was the Daily Telegraph.

Mr. Short

I might have known it would be the Daily Telegraph. The answer to the second part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question is "No".

Mr. Flannery

Is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday I met a powerful delegation from the working people of Sheffield who asked me to convey to my right hon. Friend a request for a full-scale debate on unemployment? Will he therefore reconsider his previous replies, regard unemployment as the most important problem confronting this House and, removing something else from the agenda for between now and Christmas, provide time for a full-scale debate on unemployment?

Mr. Short

I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend and others of my hon. Friends have said, but my information is that my hon. Friend was shouted down by the people he tried to address yesterday.

Sir David Renton

With regard to the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that there should be two days for the Second Reading debate on the Bill to nationalise the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, why did the Leader of the House go back only 12 years for his precedents? Would he care to consider the precedents for the five years before he came into the House? Is he aware that if he does so he will not find a precedent for any Bill to nationalise more than one industry being given only one day for its Second Reading debate? Indeed, he will find at least one precedent for two days being given for a Bill dealing with one industry.

Mr. Short

There is a limit to the amount of research I can do to answer questions. I thought that if I went back 12 years that was reasonable enough. Perhaps I should have gone back further. I imagine that my answer would then have been still more convincing. I considered the matter, but in view of the need to have a Second Reading for the Bill to start it on its course, and as there was no more time before Christmas without sitting during Christmas week, I thought that we could not do better than to have one day.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

In view of the increase in accidents involving three-wheeled vehicles since our debate on the Sharp Report, and in view of the intransigence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services on the question, will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House consider giving at least half a day for a debate on this important subject in the near future?

Mr. Short

As I have said, there is no more time for general debates before Christmas. The matter would doubtless be a suitable subject to raise in the debate on the Adjournment for the Christmas Recess. I hope that my hon. Friend will try to catch your eye in that debate, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Welsh language version of the White Paper on devolution, which, incidentally, is blue, was not available at the Vote Office this morning? The right hon. Gentleman may have noticed that those who were loudest in their demand for devolution are now loudest in their condemnation of the Government's proposals.

Mr. Short

Without accepting what the hon. Gentleman said, I must reply that I do not know the answer to the first part of the question, but I shall look into it and let him know.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Leader of the House aware that the slap in the face to the Welsh TUC in the devolution White Paper this morning, and the fact that the Government have gone back on the commitment in their manifesto for the last General Election to give economic planning and control of the Welsh Development Agency to the proposed Assembly, will be regarded by many people in Wales as an affront? In view of that, will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question asked for the fourth time now, whether we can have a debate on the White Paper before Christmas?

Mr. Short

The Government have not gone back on any promise. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the Welsh TUC welcomes the White Paper. This is not the time to discuss the merits. The reaction from the nationalist Bench was entirely predictable. I could have written the comments of all the hon. Members on it before today. The illiterate comments of the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) were also entirely predictable. He has to get that 4 per cent. of votes back again. He is trying to claw them back.

The reply to the hon. Gentleman's question is that there will be an extended debate—not the half-day's debate for which the Scottish National Party has just asked—in the first week after the Christmas Recess.

Mr. Cope

Is there any chance of the House debating the Sandilands recom- mendations, which are highly important and which have many ramifications in all sorts of areas? The right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Dr. Bray) asked yesterday for such a debate, and I think that the request would even have the support of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who also realises the important ramifications of the Report. At present it seems that the Report will not be debated at all.

Mr. Short

I agree that it is a very important Report. There was an extensive exchange of views about it yesterday, in which my hon. Friends took part. I believe that there would be merit in trying to find time for a debate on the Report in the new year. I do not promise a debate, but I shall bear it in mind and see what I can do.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the pleas that we should have a debate on unemployment? Next week we are to consider a number of matters, one of which is a further debate on the Crown Agents, I believe. We could well do without that, because it is only to let somebody off the hook. One of the reasons why a debate on unemployment could assist is that we could perhaps question my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment not merely on matters appertaining to unemployment but also about those who are managing to obtain large wage increases during a period when we are supposed to be subjected to a £6-a-week limit. Does my right hon. Friend know that, for instance, another Tory supporter, Mr. Eric Sosnow, head of United City Merchants, has just awarded himself a £200-a-week pay rise? We should have something to say about that in a debate attended by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Mr. Short

I understand the feelings about the question, but I cannot find time for a debate before Christmas. The debate to which my hon. Friend referred will take place after 10 o'clock on the day on which we shall, I hope, give a Second Reading to the Bill to nationalise the shipbuilding and aircraft industries. That is a late-night debate, so there is no possibility there. I cannot give a day before Christmas, but I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend and my other hon. Friends have said.

Mr. Peyton

Is the Leader of the House aware that there will be general regret and some apprehension that he should have found it necessary so early in the Session to put down after 10 o'clock such substantial items of business as are down for debate next Tuesday and Wednesday? Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman yet say when we may expect to receive the Government's answer to the Expenditure Committee's Report on British Leyland? Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman make it quite clear that the debate on the devolution White Paper will be extended?

Mr. Short

The White Paper debate will be extended. Perhaps we need to talk about the length of the debate. I shall be glad to talk to the right hon. Gentleman as well as to the two nationalist parties to find out whether they are still sticking to the half-day for which one of them asked or whether they would like a longer debate.

I agree that there is rather a lot of Northern Ireland business on one night. Some of it is not very substantial. We tried hard to obtain the agreement of the Ulster Unionists to sending some of that business to the Committee, but they refused to agree, although I understand that the usual channels agreed. We must deal with that business, and there is nothing for it but to put it on that one night.

I agree that it is time the Government's reply was made to the Expenditure Committee's Report on British Leyland. I share the right hon. Gentleman's view on that, and I shall do everything I can to expedite the reply.