HC Deb 14 April 1976 vol 909 cc1376-82
Mr. Whitelaw

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for the week after the recess?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

The business for the first week after the Adjournment will be as follows:—

MONDAY 26th April—Second Reading of the Iron and Steel (Amendment) Bill.

Proceedings on the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

Motions relating to the Prevention of Terrorism (Supplemental Temporary Provisions) Orders.

TUESDAY 27th April—Second Reading of the Health Services Bill.

WEDNESDAY 28th April—Supply [18th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on local government.

THURSDAY 29th April—Second Reading of the Industry (Amendment) Bill, and of the Parliamentary and Other Pensions and Salaries Bill.

Friday 30th April—Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Whitelaw

When will the Select Committee on direct elections to the European Assembly be set up? It will have a considerable job to do and there is, therefore, some urgency about it. Can the Leader of the House say when the Order will be made to increase the price of school meals from 15p to 20p, as announced in the Public Expenditure White Paper?

Mr. Foot

I cannot answer the second question at the moment, but I will as soon as I can. I agree that the first matter is one of some urgency and I hope to make an announcement shortly.

Mr. Budgen

Does the Leader of the House have any plans for a debate on the proceedings of the Committee of Selection, particularly on the appointments that the Committee has made since the time when the Government ceased to have a majority on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was present when Questions were put to me yesterday by the Opposition. I replied to the comments made and I thought that my reply was considered satisfactory by those who heard it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not have an opportunity of expressing his views. First of all, it is a matter for the Committee of Selection. We shall see what it recommends. Both the Committee and the House have to take what has occurred into account.

Mr. Prescott

Has my right hon. Friend noticed Early-Day Motion No. 343 on today's Order Paper, signed by over 30 hon. Members, calling for an immediate investigation by the Govern- ment—and time for a debate—into the allegations of payments by BP to Italian political parties?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to provide time at the first possible opportunity to debate the matter of the payments made by Shell and British Petroleum to Italian political parties; and further urges the Government to begin an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding those payments, similar to the investigations now being carried out by the Governments of France, the Netherlands, Germany and the United States of America]

Will the Government make a statement today, as it appears that these payments were not just political payments but covered advertising costs?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend raised this question yesterday and I replied to him. I have nothing further to add to what I said then. I cannot say that a statement will be made today on the subject, but, as I indicated yesterday, I believe that the House of Commons will wish to return to the matter in some form after the recess. I cannot yet say what form that will take. I adhere to the reply that I made yesterday.

Mr. Beith

Is the Leader of the House aware that the composition of the Committee of Selection does not reflect that of the House? The Committee has put a motion before the House on many occasions seeking to add another member to it, but this has been objected to. Will he find time to debate such a motion, or an alternative Government motion, to enable us to discuss the future membership of the Committee to ensure that it and other Committees reflect the new composition of the House?

Mr. Foot

Generally there has been no criticism in the House over the conduct of the Committee, although if hon. Members wanted a debate that might indicate some criticism. Over the years it has done its work without any criticism in the House. The best course is for the House to wait and see what the Committee of Selection says. I am sure that the Committee will behave as responsibly in the future as it has in the past.

Mr. Kinnock

Has my right hon. Friend seen reports of alleged bribery in connection with defence contracts? In view of the recess which is starting today, what procedure can be followed by the House? Will any inquiries into these matters be covered by the sub judice rule and can the House have a statement or a debate as early as possible?

Mr. Foot

I cannot comment on this matter because of conceivable legal proceedings. But when we return the House will be able to see what the situation is then, decide in what form the matter can be raised and see whether the sub judice rule applies. I cannot make a comment on it now.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that when the House does return to the question of BP and other allegations of bribery it will be in a form which includes the activities of other countries, which are our competitors, as well as those of British companies?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has quoted me accurately, and I am not certain that I shall quote myself accurately, but I think that I said yesterday that I believed that the House would wish to return to the subject in some way. I believe that that will be the situation. However, I do not want to say anything further now about the form in which that might occur.

Mr. Wigley

When do the Government hope that their proposals for a development authority for rural Wales will be discussed in the Chamber? By what procedure will the matter be pursued thereafter? I ask the question with the Welsh Grand Committee particularly in mind.

Mr. Foot

I am not sure when the arrangements will be made, and whether further discussion on the subject should be in the Welsh Grand Committee, although it is obviously a subject that could arise there. Whether there is any possibility of having any reference to it on the Floor of the House depends on other problems of which the hon. Gentleman is well aware. I shall certainly consider the matter and see whether there may be a possibility of discussion in the Welsh Grand Committee.

Mr. Michael Latham

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the Government intend to say nothing more today about the serious allegations in the Daily Mail? Surely the matter cannot be simply left there at this stage? There will be widespread public concern about it.

Mr. Foot

I fully understand that reports of such a nature may give rise to great public concern, but in view of the possibility of legal proceedings it is not proper for me to comment on it now. If the House were still sitting next week, the matter would no doubt be raised then. I dare say that as soon as the House returns hon. Members will raise it afresh.

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

I appeal to hon. Members to ask very brief questions because there is a statement to follow and it will be taking the time of the Adjournment debates.

Mr. Madden

My right hon. Friend will appreciate that a number of industries feel considerable concern about the effects of cheap imports and that there is a widespread belief that anti-dumping procedures are inadequate. Will my right hon. Friend give the House any opportunity to discuss these matters in detail, in view of the concern here and in the trade union movement?

Mr. Foot

I know that there is a very wide interest in the subject. The matter was raised during the debate on the Budget, and it is a subject that may be discussed in all the economic debates in the House. It is possible for the matter to be raised in deputations and representations by trade unions and others. But there is no opportunity for a debate on precisely that subject in the week we return.

Mrs. Bain

Will the dummy Bill on devolution to Scotland and Wales be available to hon. Members when they return after the recess? When does the right hon. Gentleman expect the House to debate the Bill?

Mr. Foot

If the hon. Lady is expecting a Bill to be published during the Easter Recess, I must disappoint her. We are not in favour of dummy Bills. We are determined to introduce the real Bill which will carry through devolution.

Sir David Renton

I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in having inherited from his predecessor an excessively heavy legislative load, involving there having to be no fewer than 10 Standing Committees. Some hon. Members are sitting on several Standing Committees. The whole of the legislative machine is under strain. When the House reassembles, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider this situation, because it dos not make for good quality of legislation?

Mr. Foot

I understand that the legislative burden on hon. Members during this Session is very heavy. Nobody can deny that or that it leads to considerable difficulties. But, as a member of a Cabinet who was in favour of all the measures concerned, I cannot very well disown any responsibility for them. It is important to get all those measures on the statute book as swiftly as we can.

Mr. Stonehouse

Will the right hon. Gentleman provide time to debate the very important Early-Day Motion No. 342, in the name of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)?

[That in the opinion of this House the use of Standing Order No. 22 on 13th April 1976 ought not to be cited or drawn into precedent on any future occasion.]

Mr. Foot

The question whether we should have a debate on a motion criticising the Chair is important. I do not for a moment suggest that such motions should remain on the Notice Paper for any length of time without the House having a chance to consider them. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman who put down the motion will wish to withdraw it. That has happened on some previous occasions. We shall have to see when the House meets again whether the motion is still on the Notice Paper. I do not underrate the fact that if a motion criticising the Chair is put on the Notice Paper serious consideration must be given to whether it should be debated.

Mr. Noble

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden)? Is it not a fact that in the next few months negotiations which could fundamentally change the arrangements for international trade will start? In those circumstances, is it not important that the House should have a full day's debate on this very important issue?

Mr. Foot

I do not depreciate the importance of the issue, but, as I said before, the subject was raised by many right hon. and hon. Members during the debate on the Budget and it can be raised in general economic debates. It figures very prominently in the discussions taking place elsewhere. At present, I cannot see that we can have a special debate on the subject, despite its importance.