HC Deb 01 April 1976 vol 908 cc1580-90
Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Leader of the House please state the business of the House up to the Easter Recess?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

Yes, Sir. The business will be as follows:

MONDAY 5TH APRIL—Supply [16th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on the fishing industry, on a motion for the Adjournment.

Resumed debate on EEC Documents R/3113/73 and R/1150/75 on lead pollution.

TUESDAY 6TH APRIL —My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget Statement.

EEC Documents R/622 and 606 on policy guidelines for 1976 will be relevant.

At 7 o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Motion relating to pension schemes and regulations.

WEDNESDAY 7TH APRIL and THURSDAY 8TH APRIL—Continuation of the Budget debate.

At the end on Wednesday, motion relating to the Medicines (Fees) Regulations.

FRIDAY 9TH APRIL—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 12TH APRIL—Conclusion of Budget debate.

Debate on EEC Documents R/451/76 and R/ 452 /76 on proteins.

TUESDAY 13TH APRIL—Supply [17th Allotted Day]: Debate on the Eleventh Report from the Expenditure Committee in Session 1974–75 on the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, House of Commons Paper No. 534, and any Special Report thereon.

WEDNESDAY 14TH APRIL—Subject to progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should meet at 11 a.m., take Questions until 12 noon and adjourn at 5 p.m. until Monday 26th April.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Leader of the House about the possibility of two statements? If the serious situation at British Leyland persists, may we have a statement tomorrow from the Secretary of State for Employment before things get worse next week? May we also have a statement on Monday on the results of the meeting of the European Council of Ministers?

Mr. Short

I will convey what the right hon. Lady has said about British Leyland to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. On her second question, I will see that a statement is made next week.

Mr. Jay

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the debate on the EEC document on proteins—which means skimmed milk—will take place on the basis of the motions on the Order Paper, including the Opposition amendment, which the Government have said they will accept?

Mr. Short

It might be better to try to find an agreed motion which will take in the amendment as well.

Mr. Pym

We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for arranging the debate on the two documents on Monday. Will he persuade the Minister of Agriculture to make a statement early next week about the confusion that has arisen over the disposal of skimmed milk powder? Since 15th March compounders have been required to make deposits on protein, and they have done so, but they are unable to redeem them because there is no skimmed milk powder for them to use. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no compounders have been licensed yet to denature skimmed milk powder and, as far as I am aware, no inspectors have been appointed? It would be helpful to have a statement from the Minister of Agriculture on Monday or Tuesday.

Mr. Short

I shall tell my right hon. Friend what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The major confusion in the matter was created initially by the right hon. Gentleman. I made the position clear in the House but the right hon. Gentleman did not retract what he said on the BBC. I wish he had done so. That would have cleared up most of the confusion.

Mrs. Renée Short

We welcome the opportunity of a debate on the Expenditure Committee's Report on the Children and Young Persons Act. Is there likely to be a ministerial reply before the debate? My right hon. Friend wrote to me on 11th March and said that the reply would be presented to Ministers shortly and that it was hoped that it would be published in a few days' time. Will it not be difficult to debate this matter unless we know the attitude of the Ministers involved?

Mr. Edward Short

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I shall do my best to see that the reply is made available, but I cannot guarantee it. The subject for debate was selected by the Expenditure Committee.

Mr. Powell

On what day does the Leader of the House expect to move the motion for the Adjournment for the recess?

Mr. Short

I hope to do that on Tuesday week.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will my right hon. Friend consider examining the frequency with which various Departments come up for Questions? It is anomalous that Wales should come up every three weeks whereas Industry and Employment come up every four or five weeks. Does my right hon. Friend remember that on Monday of this week there were only 12 Welsh Questions on the Order Paper?

Mr. Short

We are constantly looking at the matter and trying to improve the position. If my hon. Friend or any other hon. Members wish to make representations about Questions, I shall look at them.

Mr. Baker

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the unemployment rate in certain parts of London is higher than in Clydeside, Tyneside or Teesside? As the recession has hit certain parts of London more seriously than other parts of the country, is it not time for a debate on the Floor of the House on the capital city?

Mr. Short

There is no time for such a debate in the House in the next two weeks. I offered a debate next week in the Regional Committee to allow all hon. Members from London to take part. I understand that they have decided that they do not want that. But I shall try to find time for a London debate in the House before the Summer Recess.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

May I point out to my right hon. Friend that whilst other Departments are as important as Wales none is more important?

Sir Frederic Bennett

The right hon. Gentleman will not need reminding about the new, appalling fall in the value of sterling, which has now gone below $1.9 for the first time. Does that not emphasise the need for a statement to be made at the earliest possible opportunity and for the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to wait for the weekend to make it? An early statement might arrest the fall, which could get worse over the weekend if nothing is said.

Mr. Short

I am sure my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take that view into account.

Mr. Faulds

Is it not time for a debate on the problems of Southern Rhodesia, which is ultimately a British responsibility?

Mr. Short

I was asked about that last week. I agree on its importance. The Government will keep the House informed. If the need and opportunity for a debate arise, I shall arrange one.

Mr. Eyre

On 22nd March the Secretary of State for Industry promised that he would soon make a statement on the problems of unemployment and the future of industry and commerce in the West Midlands. Can the Leader of the House confirm that a statement will be made next week?

Mr. Short

I shall have to inquire about that. There is to be an Adjournment debate next week on the West Midlands, although I know that that is a limited opportunity.

Mr. Canavan

If there is any ministerial statement next week, will the Leader of the House arrange for advance copies of it to be given to all Back Benchers? Some of us are getting fed up with seeing some hon. Members, even in minority factions, reading advance copies while we have to wait for the words of wisdom to drop from the Minister's mouth.

Mr. Short

It has always been the custom that the Opposition Front Bench receives a copy of any statement a few minutes before it is made. The wider question was raised some time ago, and it is something which the Procedure Committee can examine.

Mr. Charles Morrison

What contingency plans are there for the business next Tuesday? The new Prime Minister, of course, will not see the contents of the Budget until Monday. He may not like it. He may not like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he may even not like the Leader of the House.

Mr. Short

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have taken all those contingencies into account.

Mr. Les Huckfield

Will my right hon. Friend say when the Secretary of State for the Environment intends to introduce his consultative document on transport policy?

Mr. Short

I cannot give my hon. Friend a date, but it will be very, very shortly.

Mr. Hal Miller

Does the Leader of the House recall the Prime Minister's commitment to the House on 21st April last year, in his statement on the Ryder Report on British Leyland, that the company's operating programmes and its progress would be submitted to the House with the comments of the National Enterprise Board, so that the House could take a decision on the matter before the next tranche of money was given to the company? Can the right hon. Gentleman make arrangements for that to be done before the recess?

Mr. Short

I cannot do that. It will be made in due course and will cover the first few months of the operation of the Board.

Mr. Skinner

Is my right hon. Friend prepared to consider the possibility of a statement about the unfortunate position of Alan Grimshaw, sacked by the National Coal Board arising out of his evidence to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries? Especially as two Select Committees seem to be at variance on the matter, is there not a need for a wide-ranging public inquiry into the whole buying practice of the Board, extending particularly over that period when Lord Robens was at its head?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. I do not agree. The House will recall that on my motion Mr. Grimshaw's case was referred to the Select Committee on Privileges.

Mr. Skinner

The Committees are at variance.

Mr. Short

They are not. There is no conflict between the two. The earlier Select Committee recommended that the matter should be considered by the Select Committee on Privileges. It has been considered by that Committee, which has made its Report to the House. There is nothing more I can do about the matter.

Mrs. Bain

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether copies of the dummy devolution Bill will be available to hon. Members before the Easter Recess, in view of his earlier promises that we should have an early debate on devolution after the recess?

Mr. Short

A dummy Bill will not be laid—I say "Bill" again, but let me repeat that we have not decided on the other issues—before the Easter Recess, but I hope that it will not be too long delayed.

Mr. Pavitt

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services had expected that the Bill to phase out pay beds would have its Second Reading before Easter, but that has not proved possible. Will the Bill be published before Easter? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that any arrangement made by Lord Goodman is subject to whatever we in this House decide on that Bill?

Mr. Short

I do not think I need give the assurance for which my hon. Friend asked in his second question. The Bill will be introduced before Easter, but it will not have its Second Reading before Easter.

Mr. Madel

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that after the referendum campaign just over a year ago he said that he hoped that this year of parliamentary work would be a lighter Session? How can the Government get all the proposed legislation through and start the Summer Recess at a reasonable date, as they promised last year in view of the help we gave them on the Referendum Bill and campaign?

Mr. Short

I am sure that if I have the hon. Gentleman's good will and that of all his colleagues and my colleagues we shall rise at a reasonable date for the Summer Recess.

Mr. Frank Allaun

When will the report of the inquiry into the supply by Aviation (Jersey) Limited of Centurion parts to the South African Government be published? There is clearly something very fishy in this business. Will it not heighten suspicion if the report is not issued, or if it is issued during the recess when we cannot debate it in the House?

Mr. Short

That is a question which my hon. Friend must address to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

On what day before Easter will the right hon. Gentleman announce the setting up of the sessional Select Committee on Procedure, bearing in mind that a few replies earlier he said that a matter should go to that Committee, which does not yet exist?

Mr. Short

We have collected three items, not very substantial, to go to a sessional Select Committee. I hope to set it up at the same time as the Select Committee on the reform of Parliament, in the very near future—I hope this week. But many hon. Members, almost all, are heavily involved in Committees. [An HON. MEMBER: "Too many."] Not as many as in 1972. But I hope that the work will be lighter after the Easter Recess.

Mr. Terry Walker

Will my right hon. Friend give some consideration to a debate on the future of the Concorde aircraft, as discussions have taken place between our Government and the French Government and there are rumours that we are trying to draw another foreign Power into the deal? May that be considered as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Short

I cannot offer any time for a debate on Concorde. My hon. Friend will have seen the statement issued by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry after his recent discussions. I have nothing to add to that. In view of the pressure to rise at a reasonable date in the summer, I can offer no time for a debate on a subject of this kind.

Mr. Cope

Will the right hon. Gentleman or his successor arrange a debate on the Steering Committee on Marine Pilotage, which does not have the unanimous support of all the bodies responsible for setting it up?

Mr. Short

Not next week.

Mr. English

Will my right hon. Friend correct an ambiguity in his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short)? The Expenditure Committee chose the subject for the debate on Tuesday week, but not the date. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the debate should be on a motion by the Committee to approve its Report, rather than on a weak, one-line-Whip "take note" motion? It is probably my omission, but I do not recall my right hon. Friend stating the date of the debate on the motion that the House should adjourn a week on Wednesday.

Mr. Short

There is a great deal to be said for a weak, one-line-Whip type of debate in the week in question.

Mr. English

On a Tuesday?

Mr. Short

The week before Easter, yes. I replied to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on the question of the debate on the motion that the House should adjourn for the Easter Recess. I said that it would be on the Tuesday.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Does the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) mean that both right hon. Gentlemen who are still in the ballot for the premiership have seen the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget Statement and have both approved it?

Mr. Short

There is complete unanimity in the Government on everything.

Mr. Spearing

Does my right hon. Friend recall that, in rejecting the recommendation of the previous Select Committee on the procedure for dealing with EEC documents on 3rd November last, the Government spokesman agreed that in the near future the Government would lay another amendment which would give effect to the wishes of the House? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that amendment has not been laid? As there is concern throughout the House on the subject of how we handle this vital matter, why have we had to wait five months?

Mr. Short

I do not think that there is great concern throughout the House about the matter. I think that there is great appreciation throughout the House that in the past two years we have built up from scratch the machinery that we now have. When this Government came into office there was no machinery for scrutinising documents from the EEC. The outstanding point concerns something which is very difficult and costly. I am having research done on the matter, and I hope to make an announcement about it very shortly.

Mr. Tim Renton

In view of the Lord President's witty remark that there is complete unanimity in his Government, will he ask the new Prime Minister to make a statement to the House at the earliest opportunity, first, on whether import controls are or are not the policy of the Government and, secondly, on whether he will dismiss Cabinet Ministers who publicly dissent from Government policy?

Mr. Short

I think that the hon. Gentleman or another hon. Member has a Question on the Order Paper on that matter, and the answer will appear in Hansard.

Mr. Hooley

May I press my right hon. Friend on the importance of a considered reply to the very important Report on the Children and Young Persons Act, which we are to debate a week on Tuesday? Is it not somewhat discourteous to the House that we should have the debate in the absence of any considered statement by the Minister concerned?

Mr. Short

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) that it would be a much more useful debate if we had the Government's reply. I shall do my best to see that we have it before the debate. I think that the House should have it before then.

Mr. Michael Latham

Can the Secretary of State for the Environment make a statement next week on what the Government will do to restore the improvement grant programme, which has collapsed and is now running at under half the level it achieved under the Conservative Government?

Mr. Short

Without accepting the premise on which the hon. Gentleman's question is based, I advise him to put it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Accepting my right hon. Friend's reluctance to have a debate at present on the Concorde situation, may I ask him nevertheless to take into account the fact that a number of redundancies are threatened in the aircraft industry and that it is most important that we have an early debate on civil aviation?

Mr. Short

I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said. We have a number of subjects lined up for general debates. We shall have to see how much time we have. I have already said this afternoon that it is very important that we should try to rise at a reasonable date for the Summer Recess.