HC Deb 09 December 1976 vol 922 cc629-44
Mrs. Thatcher

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

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

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 13TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Scotland and Wales Bill, which will be continued on Tuesday 14th, Wednesday 15th and concluded on Thursday 16th December.

Tuesday 14th December will be the 2nd Allotted Supply Day, when the House will be asked to agree the Civil and Defence Votes on Account and the Winter Supplementary Estimates.

At the end on Wednesday, motion relating to the 50 and 60 miles per hour (Temporary Speed Limits) Order.

At the end on Thursday, motions on EEC Documents Com(71)288 on meat, and R/1146/76 and R/105/76 on pollution of the Mediterranean and dumping of waste at sea.

FRIDAY 17TH DECEMBER—Motions on Northern Ireland Orders on Various Emergency Provisions (No. 2) and Police.

MONDAY 20TH DECEMBER—Until 7 o'clock, consideration of Private Members' motions.

Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

I regret, Mr. Speaker, that I am not yet able to announce the date on which it will be proposed that we should rise for Christmas, though it may help the House to know that it will be suggested that we should resume on Monday 10th January.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Leader of the House confirm that we shall be having a statement on the IMF loan on Wednesday? Shall we have an opportunity to debate that statement before Christmas? When will the Bill for direct elections be published, as it is important that there should be a considerable interval between its publication and debate?

Mr. Foot

On the right hon. Lady's second question, I can give no date for publication but I shall bear in mind what she said. On the first question, it is proposed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should make a statement on Wednesday. Of course there will be discussions through the usual channels about fixing a debate before the House rises for Christmas.

Mr. Ashley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on Tuesday a junior Minister of the Department of Education and Science made a remarkable and inaccurate statement to the House when he said that there was no evidence of a wave of vandalism? Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have already sent overwhelming evidence to the Home Secretary that the current wave of vandalism is costing over £100 million a year? Is he aware of evidence that vandalism is causing grave concern to the old and disabled? May we have a debate on this important issue next week.

Mr. Foot

I cannot accept what my hon. Friend said in criticism of my hon. Friend the Minister until I have had an opportunity of looking at the details of his claim. I cannot promise him a debate next week, but it is a subject which should be debated on some future occasion. It is possible that the Consolidated Fund debate will provide an opportunity to raise the issue.

Mr. Beith

On which days do the Government propose to put forward their spokesmen for Scotland and Wales during the devolution debate? If the House knew that, hon. Members would be able to decide whether they wished to follow the Government in their allocation of days to the different parts of the Bill. I thank the Leader of the House for allowing four days for the debate, which is the time we requested. It will be beneficial because it will enable a wide range of Conservatives to be called to express a wide range of opinion.

Mr. Foot

I thank the hon. Member for his suggestion. It will be of help to indicate to the House the spokesmen whom we intend to speak for the Government, subject to their catching your eye, Mr. Speaker. The Prime Minister will open the debate on Monday. The Secretary of State for Scotland will speak on Tuesday and the Secretary of State for Wales on Wednesday. On the final day of the debate my hon. Friend the Minister of State will begin the debate and I shall wind up the debate. It is not proposed that speakers from the Government Benches will wind up the debate on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. That will leave more time for Back Benchers. We propose to extend the debate on Monday until 12 o'clock and, to make a longer extension, if the House desires it, on Tuesday. I hope that there will be plenty of opportunity for all opinions to be expressed.

Mr. Ogden

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the devolution debate cannot be a strictly Scottish or Welsh matter and that English hon. Members will want to have their say. Is he aware that the Government today published the consultative document "Devolution: the English Dimension"? It states that devolution for Scotland and Wales is good and will not harm the unity of the United Kingdom but that the establishment of an English Assembly would be a threat to the security of the State. How does he reconcile that? When can we discuss this document, which is no less important than the proposals for devolution for Scotland and Wales?

Mr. Foot

The document which has been published today says nothing of the kind. I am sure that when my hon. Friend has had time to study it he will see that it does not make the remarks about devolution for England that he suggests. Subject to Mr. Speaker's ruling, references to the document will be in order during the general Second Reading debate, which will cover the whole question of devolution and its effect on the United Kingdom. Anyone who reads the first clause of the Bill will see that it refers to the unity of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Ogden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I accept being called a liar by a few people, including my right hon. Friend, but I was referring to paragraph 15 which states: The Government firmly believe, however, that establishing such an assembly for England could damage the structure of the United Kingdom". Damage to the structure of the United Kingdom would constitute a threat to the security of the State.

Mr. Speaker

What was the hon. Member's point of order?

Mr. Ogden

My point of order was that only from my right hon. Friend will I accept being called a liar.

Mr. Foot

In no circumstances would I call my hon. Friend a liar. I was not suggesting that, and I was not calling him a liar. I did not use the word. If my hon. Friend studies the document further he will see that his original remarks are not justified. He will find references to an English Assembly—an Assembly which we believe will have the consequences there described. When he examines the whole document he will see that that is the case.

Mr. David Price

Reverting to the Second Reading debate on the Scotland and Wales Bill, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has seen Early-Day Motion No. 36?

[That this House believes that during the Second Reading of the Scotland and Wales Bill all Front Bench speeches should be limited to 30 minutes and all Back-Bench speeches limited to 10 minutes; that Back-Bench Privy Councillors should be accorded no priority and that the alternation of speakers to be called in the debate should be on the basis of support for, or opposition to, the Bill rather than on the normal basis of party allegiance.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in that motion my hon. Friends and I suggest that Front Bench speeches be limited to half an hour and Back Bench speeches to 10 minutes? Is it not quite clear that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members will wish to take part in the debate and that the occupant of the Chair will have a difficult job if speeches are longer than I propose?

Mr. Foot

The question of who is called in the debate is a matter for Mr. Speaker. It would not be possible for the Government to introduce proposals for limiting the length of speeches. That is obviously a matter which only the whole House should decide. Speaking as one who has spent most of his time on the Back Benches, I believe that a limitation on the length of speeches can be a greater infringement of the rights of Back Benchers than any other proposal. Certainly many distinguished Back Benchers of the past would never have been able to put their case against Administrations—for instance, Sir Winston Churchill in the 1930s—if they had been limited to 10 minutes. I hope that the House will not press that proposal.

Mr. Mellish

Does my right hon. Friend realise that some of us, humble Englishmen, are pretty sick at the thought of four days next week being spent debating Scotland and Wales? Since we are to have a massive spate of this legislation next year, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he can devise a way in which nothing else will be said about Scotland and Wales except in some obscure Committee away from the Floor of the House? Is he aware that I am sick to death of doing nothing else but talking about that lot?

Mr. Foot

The Bill will be before the House next week and it will be discussed when we return after Christmas. It is not only a Bill about Scotland and Wales it is also a Bill about sustaining the unity and the economic strength of the United Kingdom. It is a Bill which can greatly contribute to the welfare of this country in the years to come. It is unwise, even of my right hon. Friend, to try to pour scorn upon it.

Mr. Tebbit

Would the right hon. Gentleman like to explain to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that it is due to the co-operation of the Opposition, in allowing the use of a Supply Day, that there are to be four days for the debate next week rather than three? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is due to some sort of shambles in the Government's legislative programme that he does not know when we shall rise for Christmas or is it because of some other act of God, like all the others which have afflicted this Government?

Mr. Foot

One extra day is provided, as the hon. Member has said, by the Opposition. We have supplied some extra time for the debate and I believe that the proposals we have made for limiting the number of Front Bench speeches can help to ensure that many more Back Benchers will be able to contribute. The reason we have not announced today when the House will rise next week is that we are committed to have discussions, as I said, with the Opposition about the debate which may take place next week on the statement to be made by the Chancellor.

Mr. Jay

As the Government are now laying an Import Duties Order which would raise still further—on 1st January—a number of taxes on food and thereby the cost of living, can my right hon. Friend assure us that this order will be debated before it comes into effect, so that Back Benchers can express an opinion on it?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give my right hon. Friend a guarantee that we can have a debate beforehand. As I said last week, however, this is a subject that can be raised in general debates.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

The Lord President has said that we shall return after the Christmas Recess on 10th January and implied that we shall break up not before 23rd December. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this will be the shortest Christmas Recess in the history of this House? Is he further aware that this creates tremendous difficulties for hon. Members with families? Does he realise that it causes further problems in that it is difficult for hon. Members to undertake constituency engagements? Finally, does he realise that this House and the country are sick of legislation? Can we have a break from that?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House would, for perfectly legitimate reasons, like to have longer recesses. It is also the fact that this House has very important business to transact and that we have to get on with it.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Reverting to the devolution debate, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether, next week, we shall have a statement on the Government's intentions about holding a referendum?

Mr. Foot

I cannot say that there will be a Government statement on the matter. Obviously this will be subject to debate.

Mr. Forman

In view of the long-term significance of a decision on the future of nuclear power, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is prepared to see that time is made available for a full debate on the subject in the near future?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an immediate debate on the subject but I do recognise its importance. We shall see whether we can arrange a debate at some stage or whether there is some other opportunity for this issue to be raised. There will be some opportunities—I am not saying that this fulfils all that the hon. Gentleman would wish—for debate during the proceedings on the Consolidated Fund next week.

Mr. Greville Janner

In view of the rare and treasured agreement between the TUC and the CBI on the vital necessity of implementing the proposed health and safety regulations concerning safety committees and safety representatives, which could save so many lives, and in view of my right hon. Friend's efforts over the years in this direction, may I ask him at least to promise that the regulations will be laid before Parliament before the House rises and that we shall have a debate on the matter as soon as possible thereafter?

Mr. Foot

I cannot say when the regulations will be laid or when we shall have the debate. I recognise the importance of these regulations and I will convey what my hon. and learned Friend has said to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Dr. Hampson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this month sees the second anniversary of the Bullock Report? Since the Prime Minister has belatedly recognised the country's concern over standards of literacy, may I ask him how he justifies the Government's failure to provide time to debate this important report?

Mr. Foot

I fully recognise that this is an important subject. There are several reports which the House would wish to debate, the Bullock Report among them. We have a very crowded agenda. As I have had to say to other hon. Members, we have had to abbreviate the length of the Recess so that we can debate these matters. I would add that this is a subject which individual Members can raise at other times.

Mr. Watt

Will the Leader of the House recognise that the statement made by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) contained a great deal of truth? Is he aware that the sooner there is devolution of power to Scotland the sooner will there be more time available in this House for the sort of business which the right hon. Member wishes to be discussed here?

Mr. Foot

That is one of the most eloquent appeals the hon. Gentleman has ever made.

Mr. Buchan

May I refer to the answer my right hon. Friend gave earlier on the issue of the devolution referendum? Is it not imperative that this issue is dealt with before we have the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill? Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that the approach of several Members will be different if we are told that there is to be a referendum, at the end of the debate, on the two issues of devolution and separation of power to Scotland?

Does my right hon. Friend recall that during business questions last week I asked him to consider making a statement about the Shetlands in view of its forthright declaration that oil revenues gained from the oil in Shetland waters belonged as of right to the people of the United Kingdom? Is he aware that this will clearly alter the complexion of some of the contributions that may be made from one of the Opposition parties?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend will have heard the answer given by the Prime Minister a few minutes ago on the Shetland issue, saying that he will be sending a reply to the Shetland Council on this subject very soon. I fully accept what my hon. Friend has said about the importance of the referendum. No one in the House has pressed me more strongly than my hon. Friend on this point. I cannot say any more now. Obviously the matter will enter into debate and the Government will have to comment on the debate.

Sir David Renton

Since the right hon. Gentleman's consultative document on the English dimension makes it clear that the devolution proposals for Scotland and Wales and any proposals for England necessarily impinge upon each other, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to heed the plea already made for a debate on his consultative document as soon as possible after we return from the Christmas Recess, perhaps before we settle down to the Committee stage on the Scotland and Wales Bill? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that in the course of that debate the Government will announce their provisional conclusions for England so that there may be credibility about the points of view they express in relation to Scotland and Wales?

Mr. Foot

I repeat that, subject to any ruling by you, Mr. Speaker, references—extensive, I would have thought —to the consultative document about England are bound to be in order in the four-day debate because Clause 1 of the Bill refers to the unity of the United Kingdom, and that obviously embraces many of the matters covered in the consultative document. The very purpose of the Government's issuing a consultative document is to invite a response from those throughout the country who will be receiving it and will be able to make their views known. I do not think that it would be wise or intelligent for the Government to prejudice that in advance, and that is precisely the reasoning behind the way in which we have issued the document, as I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman will see when he reads it.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will my right hon. Friend give careful consideration to ending the present Session on 10th or 11th January, thereby enabling the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill to be brought into force? If the Government did that, would it not result in only a small delay in other Government business, a small price to pay, and would not a new Session from January to 6th December be logical?

Mr. Foot

I saw the suggestion in the Daily Mail that something of the sort is being considered by the Government. I have to say that nothing of the sort is being considered by the Government. If we did proceed in that way, we would lose the advantage of a great deal of the business that we have already transacted, and it would not be right to treat the House in that manner. I cannot accept that proposal. The Government have never considered that way of dealing with the situation.

Mr. Baker

If, during next week, the Bullock Committee on Industrial Democracy reports, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to set up a Select Committee of this House to consider it, since the Government have said that they wish all representations to be made, and there would be no more appropriate body than a Select Committee to receive those representations on an issue on which both sides of industry are divided between themselves?

Mr. Foot

I think that we should see what the Bullock Committee reports before we pass judgment on it. In any case, it would be a peculiar method for the Government and the House to proceed to appoint a Select Committee to examine another committee's report which had just been brought forward.

I believe, however, that there is some urgency about the question of proceeding with proposals for industrial democracy. There was a Private Members' Bill on the subject which was discussed extensively, and one of the pleas made to the Government then, certainly by many of my hon. Friends who have great knowledge of industrial democracy, was that we should go ahead as fast as possible with these ideas. We want to proceed with as much speed as we reasonably can. Therefore, I cannot suggest a Select Committee to deal with it. I think that the House must give its views on the matter, but we should consider first what the Bullock Committee proposes and see how fast we can work towards that.

Mr. Kinnock

Coyness is not a characteristic that we associate generally with my right hon. Friend, but he is being uncharacteristically coy in response to requests for a referendum so that the real feelings of the people of Scotland and Wales can be known on this irreversible constitutional issue. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, unless there is something more than a vague and reluctant half-promise about considering a referendum, a large number of us on this side of the House will have great difficulty in assisting the Government in the passage of the Bill?

Mr. Foot

Certainly no one has ever accused my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) of coyness on this or any other topic, and I do not think that that day is likely to come. I think that he should wait and see what is said in the debate.

I acknowledge that there is a strong case for a referendum, and the motion on the Notice Paper standing in the names of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends underlines that fact. Of course the Government must treat seriously what is proposed in that motion. But I ask my hon. Friend to await what is said in the debate, and since he asked me not to be coy on the subject of devolution, I hope that he will not get into such a situation that he ends up with the CBI in making its representations, because I am sure that that would be an inhibiting position for him.

Mr. Kinnock

Are you with the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath)?

Mr. Foot

I hope that there is a sharp gulf between them on the matter.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us believe that the issue of direct elections to the European Parliament is more important and is more likely to command a much larger all-party majority in this House than the devolution issue? Will he bring forward the Second Reading of the Bill for direct elections as quickly as possible after the House returns from the recess?

Secondly, devolution is a matter of the future of the United Kingdom, including England, and it is quite intolerable that we should have received only today a complicated document on the subject of England, only a matter of days before there is to be a debate not just on Scotland and Wales but on the future of the whole of the United Kingdom, including the English.

Mr. Foot

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's order of priorities in relation to direct elections and the devolution Bill, but I replied to the Leader of the Opposition on the matter earlier.

I think that if the hon. Gentleman gets the consultative document on England, starts reading it now and works hard over the weekend, he will be qualified to understand it by Monday or Tuesday, at any rate by Thursday. We have done what we promised to do—to produce this document in time for hon. Members to have a chance of studying it first. I do not believe that it is so complicated that the hon. Gentleman will not be able to comprehend it.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was provided early this morning by a member of the Press with the document on England. When I came to the House, I asked for the document and was told that I could not receive it as a Member of Parliament until this afternoon. I think that that is an unacceptable position, and the right hon. Gentleman should recognise it.

Mr. Foot

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have issued this document in the normal fashion. If the hon. Gentleman has been given a copy by the Press in the circumstances he has described—and I am sure that he is telling the truth—that is a breach of the normal arrangements.

Mr. William Hamilton

The debate next week would be much more interesting and much more fascinating if we had a completely free vote on both sides of the House. Will my right hon. Friend not set an example to the Opposition by announcing that we on this side at any rate will have a free vote? In view of his well-known opposition to the imposition of guillotines on constitutional Bills, will he give an assurance at this stage that in no circumstances will he seek to impose a guillotine on the Scotland and Wales Bill?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend has put the question to me about a free vote on earlier occasions, but he knows that the proposals included in the Scotland and Wales Bill have figured in all the Labour Party declarations that we have presented to the country, both at election time and at our conferences. He also knows very well what are the ways in which the Government give backing to a measure of this character. We could not accept his suggestion for dealing with it next week.

My hon. Friend also asked for an assurance that in no circumstances will there be a guillotine. I could not give the undertaking for which he asks. I think that we shall see how we must consider what is the proposition. We shall see how we proceed. It is the Government's intention that there shall be plenty of time to discuss the Bill but also that we shall get it on to the statute book.

Mr. Speaker

There are three hon. Members—

Several hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

I thought that there were only three hon. Members remaining. We obviously cannot go on with Business question all day. I proposed to call another four questions.

Mr. Johnson Smith

I revert to the Lord President's reply to the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) for a debate on nuclear energy. Is the Lord President aware that the Flowers Report on Nuclear Energy is one of the most disturbing and important documents to be published since the war? Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that to suggest that a debate might be raised in Consolidated Fund Bill time does not do justice to the significance of that report? Would he kindly reconsider the possibility of holding at least a one-day debate on this subject early in the new year?

Mr. Foot

I would agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the importance of the subject, but during my time in this House I have heard many important subjects discussed on Consolidated Fund Bill days. I do not think that my suggestion should be ruled out on that account. However. I am not saying that there is no possibility of providing some further time. I am merely suggesting that this is one of the ways in which the matter could be raised.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend consider taking the Bill for devolution in Scotland and Wales off the agenda in view of the fact that it says that it will provide for changes in the government of Scotland and Wales"? Is the Lord President aware that in certain places the Bill involves itself in English government? For example, it says that three Members shall be appointed from the Welsh Assembly to the Severn-Trent Water Authority, which very much involves England. On that basis it seems that the Long Title is wrong because it is not purely concerned with "Scotland and Wales". Under those circumstances, would my right hon. Friend not reconsider the Bill and take it back until it is put right?

Mr. Foot

All these are debating questions. I feel sure that my hon. Friend may seek to intervene over the coming weeks on this subject.

Mr. Heffer

I certainly shall.

Mr. Foot

I had a feeling that that might occur and that nothing I may say would dissuade my hon. Friend. These are matters for debate. As I said earlier, this is certainly not a Bill solely concerned with the interests of Scotland and Wales. It is concerned with the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Since provision of the facilities which the Committee has discussed may well have far-reaching effects on the work of the House as a whole, and apart from that a benign effect on the balance which the House spends in Session and recess, will the Leader of the House give us an early opportunity of discussing the joint report of both Houses on the provision of computer facilities?

Mr. Foot

I do not know whether we can discuss it today but we have had some consideration on the subject by the Services Committee. I have no doubt that the Services Committee will consider how best its report can be made to the House.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. If they are brief, I shall call the three remaining hon. Members.

Mr. Rost

Does the Leader of the House recognise that his answer with regard to the Flowers Royal Commission Report on Nuclear Power and the Environment is unsatisfactory? Would he not accept that this matter carries far more long-term important implications for the future of this country than anything else which has been discussed in the House this afternoon—certainly more so than devolution? It is quite unsatisfactory for the Leader of the House to attempt to relegate this important Royal Commission Report to some Adjournment debate in the middle of the night. The Government have a responsibility to respond to this report and should provide a debate in this House.

Mr. Foot

I am in no way depreciating the importance of the subject nor am I seeking to relegate it. It is often possible for hon. Members who feel strongly on particular subjects to raise them on the Consolidated Fund Bill. Often debates of this nature can lead to further debates later. There are many opportunities for Back Benchers and others to raise matters in this House. It would not be wise to say that matters raised on the Consolidated Fund Bill should be confined to those which are regarded as secondary.

Mr. Cormack

In view of the crucial importance of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say next Wednesday, would it not be a good idea, and also give us a slightly less gloomy Christmas, if we debated the economy next Wednesday and Thursday and waited until after Christmas to debate devolution?

Mr. Foot

No. What we have suggested is the best way of proceeding. I have had no notice of opposition from the official Opposition on the subject and we have to take account of their views as well as those of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Luce

Is the House so choked with legislation that the Leader of the House cannot find time to debate foreign affairs?

Mr. Foot

No doubt there will be opportunities to discuss foreign affairs. Many aspects of foreign affairs are discussed by the House and some will be discussed on the Consolidated Fund Bill. There are many opportunities for the matter to be raised. They can be raised elsewhere in various other debates, but we shall see what the chances are later.