HC Deb 23 October 1975 vol 898 cc717-26
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 27TH OCTOBER—Debate on an Opposition motion on the National Health Service.

Motion relating to the Direct Grant Grammar Schools (Cessation Grant) Regulations.

TUESDAY 28TH OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Children Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 29TH OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Employment Protection Bill.

THURSDAY 30TH OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Policyholders Protection Bill [Lords] and of the Local Land Charges Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 31ST OCTOBER—Motion on the Southern Rhodesia Act 1965 (Continuation) Order 1975.

MONDAY 3RD NOVEMBER—Debate, until about 7 o'clock, on the First Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, Session 1974–75, on European Secondary Legislation.

Thereafter, debate on the Report of the Renton Committee on the Preparation of Legislation, Command No. 6053.

Mrs. Thatcher

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that on Thursday of last week, as reported at col. 1587 of Hansard, the Prime Minister said that the Chancellor would make a statement on the public borrowing requirement? When may we expect that statement?

Mr. Short

I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend what the right hon. Lady has said. I have no knowledge of any statement which is intended to be made in the near future on this matter.

Mr. Spearing

Will my right hon. Friend clarify the position on 3rd November concerning the debate on EEC legislation? Is it his intention to put down a substantive motion for action or is it to be a "take note" debate on the report?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. What I intend to do is bring the report before the House and put down two motions to give effect to the report of the Select Committee—two motions which, in effect, amend Standing Orders.

Mr. Hurd

What progress has the right hon. Gentleman made recently in arranging a scheme for submission to the House for the radio broadcasting of our proceedings?

Mr. Short

A Sub-Committee of the Services Committee is working very hard, and we hope to bring a recommendation to the House before very long on whether or not the scheme should continue.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

As many train services, especially around Watford, have been cut and bus services are practically non-existent in some areas near Watford, may I ask when we shall have a debate on transport?

Mr. Short

I seem to have heard that question before. As I have replied before, that is an appropriate subject for an Adjournment debate.

Mr. John Davies

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that in many parts of the House his announcement of only half a day's debate on the Procedure Committee's report will meet with grave dissatisfaction? This is a matter of infinite importance to the House's future conduct of its work, and to allow only that short time for debate seems manifestly inadequate. Will he please accept from me that those who have considered this report carefully believe that it would have been in the interests of the House previously to have considered it on a "take note" motion and only subsequently to have come forward with any amendments or motions?

Mr. Short

That would have been a much more leisurely way of doing it, and had we had unlimited time it would have been done in that way. I realise that this is compressing it rather, but there is one very urgent proposal in this report which the right hon. Gentleman, I understand, wants put into effect immediately. If we do it this way, the Committee can of course be set up at the beginning of the new Session. Therefore, while this is compressing it, there is great advantage to the House in getting it over in this way.

Mr. Fernyhough

In view of the widespread fears and anxieties among shipbuilding workers, especially on the Tyne, may I ask whether the Secretary of State for Industry will be making a statement on that industry in the coming week?

Mr. Short

I know of no statement, but I shall certainly pass on to the Secretary of State what my right hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Marten

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the question of the debate on European legislation? Would it not be far better, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) said, to have a full day's debate on a "take note" general discussion, so that the right hon. Gentleman could listen to what Parliament as a whole wanted and then draw up his resolutions to be placed before the House later? What he proposes is not the way to treat Parliament. I hope that he will not hurry this matter simply for the sake of getting it done by a given date.

Mr. Short

I do not know why the hon. Gentleman says that this is not the way to treat Parliament. This is the way that it is always done, so far as I am aware. All I am doing is giving the House the opportunity to decide and vote on recommendations of the Committee. I should have thought that that was very sensible.

Mr. Jim Marshall

May I again draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 670, signed by myself and 71 other hon. Members, which seeks to draw to the attention of the House the problems and worsening situation in the textile industry?

[That this House, mindful of the continuing deterioration in the textile, clothing and footwear industries, urges Her Majesty's Government to take immediate and direct steps to reduce the flow of imports of these goods, as recommended by the TUC and agreed at the Labour Party conference.]

May I also ask my right hon. Friend to arrange a debate on international trade, so that we may discuss our obligations under GATT to low-cost supplier countries and express our concern for the need for some political commitment by low-cost supplier Governments to ensure that workers in those countries share in the benefits which accrue from this trade?

Mr. Short

I sympathise, of course, with my hon. Friend in this matter, but we are shortly to have an extended debate on the Queen's Speech. I should have thought that that was an appropriate subject for that debate. However, I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Peter Walker

As the right hon. Gentleman kindly said last week that, if the British Government vetoed the European Commission's proposals on pollution, he would urge that a statement should be made, and as the British Government stopped agreement being reached, will he see that a statement is made before the Council of Ministers discusses the matter again in December?

Mr. Short

I believe that the Council of Environment Ministers is meeting on 6th December. We have not vetoed the proposal yet. I think that we should await that meeting to see what happens.

Mr. Willey

In view of our current difficulties, not only in shipbuilding, in the Northern Region, will my right hon. Friend assure me that there will be an early debate on the affairs of the region?

Mr. Short

Certainly, Sir. I hope that the Regional Committee will be able to meet before the end of the spillover Session and I believe that it is the turn of the Northern Region. I shall be happy to discuss with my right hon. Friend and any other hon. Members from the region the terms of the motion.

Mr. Biffen

Referring to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that there is a growing belief that our national finances are now so arranged that they can be resolved only by further recourse to foreign borrowing? Should that happen within the next week or two, will he give an undertaking that the Chancellor will make a statement?

Mr. Short

That is entirely a matter for the Chancellor. I am sure that if anything like that occurred, the Chancellor would make a statement. In saying this, however, I am not suggesting that anything like that will occur in the next week or two.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

What consideration has my right hon. Friend now given to the urgent need for a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage? If it is not possible to have it in the next couple of weeks, will he ensure that it will be debated early in the new Session?

Mr. Short

I cannot give an assurance that it will be debated in the near future, but I have taken on board the point that my hon. Friend has made previously and will certainly bear it in mind.

Sir David Renton

On what motion will the report of the Committee on the preparation of legislation be debated? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in view of the chaotic state of our statute book, there will be surprise and some concern, both inside the House and outside, that that report is to be debated for only half a day? Would it not be better to meet the wishes of my right hon. and hon. Friends with regard to the first part of the day's business on 3rd November and so allow the debate on the report on legislation to have a whole day at some other time?

Mr. Short

I cannot see any prospect of finding more time. I gave an undertaking to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I would find some time to debate his excellent report before the end of this Session. That is why I have done it this way. I would be prepared to consider more time on that day, and perhaps I could talk to him about it.

Mr. Molloy

Will my right hon. Friend consider arranging for statements to be made or for us to have a debate on the disturbing reports of possible deals with Japan and other countries under which lethal nuclear waste could be shipped to Britain for reprocessing and the possibility of this island becoming a nuclear waste dustbin? Since there is apprehension in the country, will he consider either a statement or a debate?

Mr. Short

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy very much shares the concern about this matter and he is considering whether the terms on which it is proposed that processing for other countries should take place in this country fully protect the safety and environmental interests of the United Kingdom. When he has completed that study, I think that we can then look at the matter.

Mr. Tugendhat

In view of the importance of the matters discussed with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the enormous amount of Press publicity which has been attached to the agreements apparently reached with him and his delegation, can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the Foreign Secretary, or, indeed, the Prime Minister, will make a statement on this early next week?

Mr. Short

There is no intention at the moment of making a statement, but there was a long communiqué yesterday which I hope the hon. Member read carefully.

Mr. Torney

Will my right hon. Friend take steps to ensure that we have a debate on the Early-Day Motion dealing with restrictive practices legislation in the agricultural industry which affects that industry adversely? The motion has been signed by many hon. Members on both sides.

[That this House is concerned that existing legislation on restrictive trade practices is operating in agriculture in a way that Parliament never intended, that it inhibits particularly the development of agricultural co-operation and in so doing operates against the interests both of consumers and producers, that it deters collective action which is neither against the national interest nor of economic significance, that it places unfair constraints upon small producers, and that the application to agriculture of such legislation should be thoroughly and urgently re-examined.]

Mr. Short

I have seen the motion. I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend and the many hon. Members who have signed the motion, but I am sorry that I cannot find time for a debate on it in the near future. I will bear it in mind.

Mr. Pattie

Does the right hon. Gentleman propose that we should have an early debate on the White Paper on Better Services for the Mentally Ill?

Mr. Short

No, I cannot see any prospect of a debate in the near future. This is one of a number of subjects which I will keep in mind. If the opportunity occurs, we can perhaps talk about it.

Mr. Lee

How many extra working days have been added to the workload of this House as a result of adverse decisions made in another place? How much longer are we going to have to tolerate the situation? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are two Early-Day Motions on this matter, one calling for the abolition of the other place and the other calling for the abolition of its powers?

[That this House views with alarm the continued threat presented by the House of Lords to the democratic will of the Commons, considers that a second Chamber dominated by the hereditary principle is unacceptable in a democracy, notes the success of those Western democracies which have now established a single Chamber system, recognises the need to curtail unnecessary public expenditure, and therefore calls on the Government during the lifetime of the present Parliament to introduce legislation to abolish the House of Lords.]

[That this House mindful of the recent treatment of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill and the Industry Bill calls upon the Government to abolish the remaining legislative powers of the House of Lords.]

As we waste time discussing the decisions of the other place, can we not have another debate discussing its abolition?

Mr. Short

Off the cuff, I cannot say how many extra days we have now. Certainly at the end of this Session we shall have to sit down and take stock of the changing way in which the other place is behaving.

Mr. Peyton

In view of what has been said, I hope that the Leader of the House will consider splitting the two debates for Monday week on European legislation and on the general untidiness of modern legislation and give more time for both debates. I am grateful for his reply. I hope that he will discuss this through the usual channels.

Secondly, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at the Official Report for 16th October—column 1587—which reports a clear undertaking given by the Prime Minister that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would make a statement on public expenditure and on the borrowing requirement? In view of that undertaking, which was quite explicit, I hope that arrangements will be made for the Chancellor to make a statement.

May I also ask the right hon. Gentleman if he intends to give time at an early date for a debate on the Report by the Select Committee on House of Commons Administration, which Committee was very ably chaired by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley)?

Lastly, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman of what was said by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, with rather uncharacteristic cynicism, last week about the "Eagle" incident: Let us get the dispute settled and then we can discuss principles."—[Official Report, 20th October 1975; Vol. 898, c. 34.] It would be wise if we were now to discuss the principles.

Mr. Short

It is always nice to discuss principles when we can find the time to do so. I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

As for the debates next Monday, I will certainly look at this. We are certainly prepared to discuss the matter through the usual channels. All that I am saying is that, if we want a debate on the report prepared by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), I can see no prospect of it if we take the whole day to discuss the procedure report. The two issues arising on the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure are relatively simple ones which I should have thought would have commended themselves to the whole House. However, we will look at the matter again.

I have nothing to add to what I said to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition about the point made about the Prime Minister.

I hope to find time for a short debate—perhaps half a day—before Christmas on the report on the administration of the House of Commons.

Mr. Noble

Will my right hon. Friend note the mounting anxiety in certain industries in Britain about increasing unemployment caused by the flood of imports and increasing penetration? Will he note that this anxiety has been reflected by the Trades Union Congress and by a three or four to one majority at the Labour Party conference and that many hon. Members have signed a motion to this effect?

[That this House, mindful of the continuing deterioration in the textile, clothing and footwear industries, urges Her Majesty's Government to take immediate and direct steps to reduce the flow of imports of these goods, as recommended by the TUC and agreed at the Labour Party conference.]

In view of that, and as we are shortly to have a very important international conference on finance and trade, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the answer he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) and arrange a debate on trade policy and not have it wrapped up in the debate on the Queen's Speech?

Mr. Short

I will bear that in mind. The Government share the anxiety which my hon. Friend has expressed. However, the danger is of taking action which will make the position worse. The matter is under constant review. When the Government have anything further to say about it, there will certainly be a statement in the House.

Mr. Amery

May I follow up the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and West-minister, South (Mr. Tugendhat)? Is it not usual when conversations so important as those which have just taken place with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia have concluded, either at home or abroad, for the Government to make a statement? We all realise that there has been a communiqué. However, is it not usual in matters of this importance for the Government to submit themselves to the House for cross-examination on the communiqué?

Mr. Short

No, I do not think so. We have a very distinguished visitor from Brazil here at the moment and very important discussions have taken place with him. There is a succession of visitors to this country from other countries. If a statement were made in the House about all of them we would have a succession of statements. I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary what the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Tugendhat) have said. I again point out that a communiqué was issued yesterday which was much fuller and longer than the normal communiqué after a visit of this kind.

Sir G. Howe

I apologise for returning to the matter, but it is of some importance. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has today told me that he never had it in mind to make any statement to the House about the borrowing requirement? How does it come about that last Thursday the Prime Minister told the House quite unequivocally that the Chancellor would be making a statement on that very subject? Does not the Leader of the House appreciate that it is wholly unsatisfactory for the Prime Minister to give a pledge of that kind and for him to try to brush it aside in this way?

Mr. Short

I am not brushing the matter aside. I wish that the right hon and learned Gentleman had listened to what I said. When the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition asked me this question I said that I would pass on what she said to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. This I will do.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a great deal to do today.