HC Deb 30 October 1975 vol 898 cc1758-69
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Leader of the House to tell us 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 3RD NOVEMBER—Debate, until about 7.30 p.m., on the First Report of the Select Committee on Procedure, Session 1974–75, on European Secondary Legislation.

Thereafter, until 11.30 p.m. debate on the Report of the Renton Committee on the Preparation of Legislation, Command No. 6053.

TUESDAY 4TH NOVEMBER—Motion on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 (Amendment) Order, until about 7 o'clock.

Motions on the Social Security (Contributions, Re-Rating) Order and on the Social Security (Contributions) (Consequential Amendments) Regulations, which may be taken formally to allow a debate on the position of the self-employed, which will arise on a Motion for the Adjournment.

WEDNESDAY 5TH NOVEMBER—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Bill.

Motions on the Road Vehicles Lighting (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations.

THURSDAY 6TH NOVEMBER—Consideration of any Lords Message on the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill.

Debate on the Community Budget for 1976 when the relevant 1975 EEC Documents will include R/2145, 2158 and 2228.

FRIDAY 7TH NOVEMBER—Debate on Aid Policy, when Command Paper No. 6270 and EEC Documents S/1239/74, 1310, 406/75 and 407 will be relevant.

Motion on the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 2) Order.

MONDAY 10TH NOVEMBER—Debate on Foreign Affairs.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Lord President a question about Thursday's business? He appears to have arranged a debate on the Community Budget after a lengthy day's proceedings, unless the Government propose to accept messages from the other place. If that business does not finish at a reasonable hour, may we have another day for that important debate?

Mr. Short

Certainly I shall watch this point very carefully. Of course we shall not know the position until Monday and until the other place finishes with this matter. I would, in any case, ensure a debate of at least three hours on the Community Budget.

Sir G. de Freitas

Is the Leader of the House aware that many hon. Members, including all members of the Select Committee on Overseas Development, will welcome the general debate on aid policy on Friday? Will he also look to the future and see whether we can have more debates on such general topics as that—more than we have had in the last four or five years?

Mr. Short

I agree very much with that point. I hope that in the coming Session it will be possible to have such debates more often.

Mr. Biffen

Before we are deafened by the chorus of lobbyists from the motor trade on behalf of Chrysler (UK) Limited, may I ask whether an arrangement will be made for an early debate on the Report of the Expenditure Committee on the Government's financing of British Leyland so ably presented by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy)?

Mr. Short

I cannot promise an early debate. As I said last week, the Government are considering this matter and will make their comments on the Report. That will be the time to consider a debate.

Mr. Duffy

Does not my right hon. Friend think that the news about Chrysler is only likely to delay that Government response and, therefore, delay a debate in this House? In view of the anxiety displayed by some hon. Members this afternoon, does he not think that the grounds for such an early debate are a great deal more urgent than they were a fortnight ago? Only he, as Leader of the House, can rescue the House from this "Catch 22" situation.

Mr. Short

I appreciate the concern of my hon. Friend and others about this matter. I have replied to this point before. I do not think that this is the moment to debate Chrysler.

The Government are considering the question of the Report. We shall then consult the chairman of the main Committee, as we always do, about these matters, and if he is agreeable to a debate about the Report, I will arrange it.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Can the right hon. Gentleman indicate how soon the House will again have an opportunity to express its views about broadcasting its proceedings?

Mr. Short

Yes, I hope very soon. There is a sub-committee of the Services Committee considering whether the service should continue. I will present its Report to the House on behalf of the Services Committee at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Christopher Price

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 716 on police interview procedures?

[That this House, regarding with deep concern the implications for police interview procedures of Lord Justice Scarman's recent judgment in the Court of Appeal in which he quashed the verdicts of murder, manslaughter and arson on three youths who were convicted three years ago on the evidence of their confessions alone, urges the Home Secretary to institute an immediate and impartial inquiry into the circumstances, and to bring forward legislation to regulate police interview procedures by law and the admissibility in evidence of statements made during them]

It has now been signed by 124 Members on both sides of the House. May I ask him to urge on his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department that it is very urgent indeed to have a statement on the Floor of the House so that we can have our questions answered by the Home Secretary?

Mr. Short

I will certainly pass that request on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern about this matter, and I have heard his comments about it on the radio and television.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that in view of gross disquiet, official time should soon be found for a debate on terrorism and that such a debate should include a new test of opinion in this House regarding the restoration of the penalty of death for those who are making war on the State and its inhabitants?

Mr. Short

Quite apart from the last point in the right hon. Gentleman's question, I certainly think that his first point is extremely important and I will bear this in mind in the new Session. I cannot promise any time in the remainder of the spill-over, I am afraid.

Mr. Snape

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 719, signed by about 50 of his hon. Friends, on the subject of cuts in rush hour train services?

[That this House learns with considerable alarm that British Rail intend to cut and restrict their suburban rail services at peak periods, thereby spilling more traffic on to overcrowded roads, causing great inconvenience to thousands of people, increasing the possibility of accidents and further polluting the atmosphere, which seems a terrible way to run a railway; and urges Her Majesty's Government to seek urgent talks with British Rail management with a view to retaining the maximum railway servicesparticularly when most required at peak periods.]

While I would not ask for any time to debate the Government's transport policy, because the Government have no such policy, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees that it is important that this House should have an opportunity of discussing transport while British Railways and the National Bus Company are still in existence?

Mr. Short

Without in any way accepting the premise on which that question was based, because it is completely erroneous, I will certainly bear in mind what my hon. Friend said and I will discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Although the right hon. Gentleman may not think that this is the precise moment to debate Chrysler, it seems very likely that we shall have to debate that matter before very long. Would it not be a good idea if a debate on Chrysler were preceded by a debate on the Report of the Select Committee concerning the motor vehicle industry so that Chrysler could be looked at in the context of the motor vehicle industry as a whole?

Mr. Short

I thought that I dealt with that point when it was raised by one of my hon. Friends. As I said, as soon as the Government are ready to make their comments on the Report, I will consult the chairman of the main Committee and see whether we can arrange a debate. I am aware that there is concern on both sides of the House about this matter.

Mr. Madden

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister indicated that he is to meet other Heads of Government on 15th November, could the Lord President arrange for a statement to be made on this meeting which will, we expect, occur when Parliament is not sitting?

Second, could my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate before the end of this Session on unemployment and industrial issues, which would allow hon. Members to indicate to the Prime Minister their thinking on matters which should surely be discussed at the summit conference?

Mr. Short

There will be a debate on foreign affairs on Monday week. While the House will not be sitting on the date the hon. Member has mentioned, it will be sitting again on 19th November. There will be a prolonged debate on the Gracious Speech which will provide opportunities to debate this matter. I will pass on to the Prime Minister my hon. Friend's wish for a statement on the summit conference. I am sure that he would wish to make one anyway.

Mr. Crouch

Can the right hon. Gentleman say something more about Wednesday's business, when we are to discuss the road vehicle lighting amending regulations? Is he satisfied, having listened to the views of both sides of the House, that he is giving enough time to consider this important change in our road safety regulations? Does he not think that this move should be deferred in view of the inadequate time allowed?

Mr. Short

If the debate were deferred the order would come into operation very soon. I have seen both the prayer and the motion on the Order Paper. Hon. Members will have noticed that I referred to "motions". I propose to put down both the prayer and the Early-Day Motion for debate in that period. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport appreciates the concern which exists about this. He realises that there are many views. He has discussed this with me and my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury and has agreed that there should be a free vote on the Government side of the House on the matter so that the House can arrive at a decision.

Mr. William Hamilton

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will seek to ensure that the House has more time in future to debate Reports of Select Committees? I have particularly in mind the Select Committee which dealt with battered wives and violence in marriage. Since that Committee made a unanimous recommendation that the divorce laws in Scotland should be brought into line with those in England and that that step should be undertaken by the Government, may I ask my right hon. Friend to make representations in the appropriate quarters to ensure that this is contained in the forthcoming Gracious Speech?

Mr. Short

I will pass that suggestion on to the Secretary of State for Scotland. There is a wish, not only on my hon. Friend's part but on the part of many hon. Members, to deal with this issue of divorce law reform in Scotland. As for the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I understand that some of the evidence to the Committee he mentioned has not yet been published. When it is and when the Government have considered their reply to the Report—as I said in the case of an earlier question relating to the Report on the motor car industry—the Government will publish their report and we shall discuss with the chairman of the Committee the question of a debate. I believe that there is a case for a debate on this matter.

Mr. Sims

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that more than 12 months have elapsed since the publication of the Younger Report on the treatment of young adult offenders? Is he further aware of the considerable interest in this Report. particularly among probation and after-care officers who would like some indication of Government reaction? Can he undertake that early in the new Session we shall have a debate on this Report?

Mr. Short

I will certainly bear that in mind and do what I can.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the answer which he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden), since unemployment is now the most serious problem facing us? Is he aware that in areas such as Mersey-side there is 10.7 per cent. unemployment, which means 80,000 people unemployed in a concentrated industrial area? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that if we cannot debate unemployment before the end of this Session he will set aside one day during the debate on the Gracious Speech to discuss unemployment and nothing else, so that we may get to grips with the problem?

Mr. Short

I appreciate the concern about this. I agree that the level of unemployment is quite intolerable. The question of my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) was in the context of the summit meeting. I pointed out that there is a debate on foreign affairs when this can be dealt with and that no doubt the Prime Minister will wish to make a statement after the conference. I will certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's suggestion about a day's debate during the debate on the Address.

Mr. Stokes

When will the Leader of the House find time for the important subject of immigration to be debated since this is a matter which has not been discussed in the House for a long time?

Mr. Short

Not next week.

Mr. Spearing

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the debate on Monday next on the EEC legislation report will be a debate in principle and that motions relating to the change of standing orders will not be laid on that day?

Mr. Short

I cannot give that undertaking. I made it clear last week that this debate will be based on a number of motions to amend the standing orders in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee of which the hon. Member is a member. I feel that this meets the desires of by far the greater number of hon. Members.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that because of mismanagement and delay in the Government's Scottish legislative programme, the Scottish Grand Committee has been deprived of four Estimates debates on general Scottish subjects which we have always had in the past? In view of this, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he can make any time available for these debates before the end of the Session and, if not, whether we shall get an extra four days early next Session to discuss vital Scottish issues such as rates and jobs?

Mr. Short

The hon. Member bears some responsibility for the debate situation in the Scottish Grand Committee. If he wishes to have further debates in that Committee, I shall be prepared to discuss this with him and his hon. Friends.

Mr. Cryer

May I thank the Leader of the House for giving time to debate the instrument relating to dipped headlights, thus yielding to the pressure of back benchers who tabled a prayer to ensure that this issue was debated? May I point out that one of the threads running through Question time is the issue of import controls, either across the board or of a selective nature? Does he not think that time should be allocated to this important question, linked with the question of unemployment? Could this not also be linked with the position of the motor car industry? Is it not a matter of some urgency that this sort of economic question should be debated soon?

Mr. Short

I agree about the importance of this subject. I said last week that as soon as the Government are ready to make an announcement on this they will do so. The debate on the Gracious Speech is coming up shortly. It will be a long debate and I have no doubt that part will be devoted to economic matters. Perhaps my hon. Friend will discuss this with me and we will see what we can do.

Mr. Hurd

Can the right hon. Gentleman be more forthcoming about the point originally raised by the Leader of the Opposition concerning the Community Budget? Is he aware that this is a disturbing situation and that now is the time for the House to debate the issue if we are to have any influence on the outcome? Is not a debate of three hours late at night an inadequate way of tackling this important subject?

Mr. Short

It may not be late at night. What I said was that we shall not know until Monday, until the Lords have finished their consideration of the previous business. I shall review the matter after Monday. I gave an interim undertaking to the right hon. Lady that in any case I would guarantee a debate of three hours. We shall look at this after Monday and perhaps discuss it.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the pressure for debates on important matters which simply cannot wait, such as issues on which Select Committees have spent days and nights, is incompatible with the sort of legislative programme we have had this Session? Does he agree that if he wants to do more than make nice noises and intends to grant the House the right to debate important issues, we cannot have the same sort of volume of legislation next Session? Will the right hon. Gentleman please arrange for either the Secretary of State for Industry or a Treasury Minister to clarify the position following the speech of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, reported during the last recess, in which he implied that there was no money left in the till to rescue further industries under Sections 7 and 8 of the Industry Act? Is he aware that this relates to the Chrysler situation, among others?

Mr. Short

The last question was dealt with by the Prime Minister today. As for the Select Committee point, the practice being followed by the Government is precisely the same as that followed by previous Governments. There is no change. The Government consider a Report, make their reply and discuss with the chairman of the main Committee what subjects should be discussed in the House.

Mr. Michael Latham

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the growing concern of our constituents over the level of public sector manpower? Is he aware that the Civil Service under his Government has increased by 11,000 and that between March and June of this year there has been an increase of 26,000 in local government staff? Should not this be debated in the House next week?

Mr. Short

That is the kind of subject which could be raised in the debates on the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Peyton

May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the affair of the "Eagle"? He will remember that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment remarked during the currency of the dispute that we should get the dispute settled and then discuss the principles. When shall we get down to the discussion of those principles, which are important matters touching on the rights and liberties of the subject?

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) and others the right hon. Gentleman said that the debate on the British Leyland financial report would have to await the readiness of the Government to answer that report. Will the Leader of the House do all he can to accelerate the readiness of the Government? This can be rather a costive process.

Mr. Short

I will do all I can to expedite the Government's consideration of the British Leyland financial report. The right hon. Gentleman knows how many days are devoted to debating Reports of Select Committees, and the procedure for choosing subjects. We adopt exactly the same procedure as was followed by our predecessors. I certainly recognise the great importance of the subject.

I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will pay attention to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the "Eagle" dispute. I shall certainly remind him of his promise.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Is the Leader of the House aware of the large number of amendments made in the other House to the Community Land Bill? May we have his assurance that there will be adequate time to discuss those amendments when the Bill returns to this House, presumably in the week after next?

Mr. Short

Yes, Sir, there will be adequate time.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

In Prime Minister's Question Time the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) raised the subject of unemployment in the textile industry. Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that there will be a further debate on the textile industry early in the next Session, and before the end of this Session will he ensure that the Secretary of State for Trade makes a statement in the House on what he intends to do about the problems in the industry, as the Government have advanced large sums of money to Bangladesh to build a textile mill which will compete with the United Kingdom in a sector where there is already over-capacity?

Mr. Short

I shall bear in mind the two questions raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dykes

When will the Government arrange for an early general debate on direct elections to the European Parliament, a matter which has gigantic implications?

Mr. Short

That must await the summit meeting and the statement which I hope the Prime Minister will make to the House. The subject will probably come up at the summit meeting. I understand that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday made a statement.

Mr. Boscawen

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Trade to explain to the House his inactivity over many months which has resulted in the shoe manufacturing industry steadily deteriorating so that it is now in a very serious position?

Mr. Short

No, Sir, I shall not ask him to do that. I repeat, when the Government are ready to make a statement on this industry and on the textile industry my right hon. Friend will make a statement to the House.