HC Deb 23 December 1976 vol 923 cc911-20
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Business Question, may I say that I have to leave the Chair for a short while, and I doubt whether on my return I shall see everyone who is now here for the Adjournment debates. May I therefore now wish those hon. Members who ask long supplementary questions, as well as those who ask short ones, and those hon. Members who raise points of order, as well as those who remain silent, a very happy Christmas.

Mr. Whitelaw

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

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

The business when the House returns after the Christmas Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 10TH JANUARY—Debate on "Developments in the European Communities May-November 1976", Cmnd. No. 6695.

Motion on EEC Documents R/3592/ 74, R/1820/75, R/2146/75 and S/349/ 76 on banking.

And, if there is time, motion relating to the Bread Prices Order.

TUESDAY 11TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Covent Garden Market (Financial Provisions) Bill, which it is hoped to obtain by about 7 o'clock.

Motion on the Social Security (Contributions, Re-Rating) Order.

WEDNESDAY 12TH JANUARY—Supply [3rd Allotted Day]: the subject for debate to be announced later.

Motions on the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (United States) Orders.

THURSDAY 13TH JANUARY—Progress in Committee on the Scotland and Wales Bill.

FRIDAY 14TH JANUARY—Consideration of Private Members' motions.

Mr. Whitelaw

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions. First, is he aware that the European Parliament will be sitting in plenary session in the week beginning 10th January? Is it not rather extraordinary that the debate on the six-monthly report has been arranged on a day when Members of the European Parliament are unable to take advantage of it without absenting themselves from Luxembourg and missing one day of important business there? Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that this piece of apparent mismanagement will not occur again?

Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the United States double taxation relief order is of much more significance than most double taxation orders, which are usually dealt with in Committee upstairs, and that it merits an earlier start than 10 o'clock at night? We made this request in the summer. As it has been left so long, is it not possible to arrange now for it to be debated on a day when it could start at 7 o'clock?

Mr. Foot

Dealing first with the right hon. Gentleman's question about Wednesday's debate on the double taxation order, I shall look at that point, but I cannot give any guarantee that we shall alter it. I shall have to look at the time when it is required and at other considerations. But, naturally, I shall look at it.

The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the debate on the six-monthly report will be taking place at the same time as discussions are going on in Brussels. I am sorry that this should occur, and I know that there have been one or two occasions in the past when similar difficulties have arisen and when we have promised to avoid it in the future. I renew the undertaking that we shall try to avoid it in the future, but it was extremely difficult to avoid it on this occasion because we had to rearrange the business, and this was the only time when we were able to take the six-monthly report.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Will the Leader of the House make a good resolve for 1977 to have a proper debate on energy, which we have not had for a long time, with special reference to nuclear policy and an even more precise reference to the report of the Central Policy Review Committee on heavy power engineering, which affects a great many jobs?

Mr. Foot

Obviously these are very important questions, and I am sure that opportunities for discussion of them will arise in the not too distant future. I cannot give any indication now about the precise occasion on which that might occur, but obviously we shall take the right hon. Gentleman's request into account.

Mr. Jay

My right hon. Friend read out a whole string of EEC documents. Do they all refer to banking, or is it only the last one which does?

Mr. Foot

I think that only one of them refers to banking.

Mr. Spearing

What are the others?

Mr. Foot

I must apologise to the House. I think that they all refer to banking, although I am not absolutely clear about it. Before committing myself one way or the other, I should like to look at them again in more detail. I think that they all refer to banking. But if I am mistaken about that, I shall communicate the correct information to my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing).

Mr. Grimond

Has the Leader of the House any information about the proposed business for the Monday following our return? Is it intended to go on with the Committee stage of the devolution Bill? It is important for Members from Scotland to know what is to be done on that Monday.

Mr. Foot

I am sorry that I have not indicated what is to happen on that Monday. It is not certain what will be fixed. When there is a decision on what is to be the subject, if we can find some way of communicating it to right hon. and hon. Members, I agree that it would be for the convenience of the House for us to do so. Normally, when the business is read out for the week of our return after a recess, the following Monday's business is not necessarily decided upon and, therefore, it is not usually the custom to indicate it. But I shall try to indicate it to the House as soon as a decision is reached.

Mr. Spearing

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when it is proposed that the House should consider EEC documents, habits have not improved? He gave an undertaking some time ago to read the title of each document on these occasions, and he has been unable to do so this morning. Is he aware that hon. Members have only five hours between now and the rising of the House to put down amendments to documents which are to be considered on our first day back? Is that not skating on rather thin ice procedurally?

Mr. Foot

I acknowledge that there are still considerable difficulties in dealing with EEC business that comes before the House. There are a variety of reasons which are all too well known to my hon. Friend. They arise partly from the fact that we do not always know when the business is coming up in Brussels, and partly because we do not know how long we have to decide and what is the nature of the decisions. I acknowledge fully that we have not solved the problem. We must make fresh efforts to do so. But the Government seek to provide as much notice as possible on all occasions.

Mr. McCrindle

Has the Leader of the House seen Early-Day Motion No. 71, praying against the Social Security (Women's Class 2 Contributions) Order?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Social Security (Women's Class 2 Contributions) Order 1976 (S.1., 1976, No. 1976), dated 24th November 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th December, be annulled.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that that is put in place on Tuesday 11th January so that it can be discussed at the same time as the Social Security (Contributions, Re-Rating) Order?

Mr. Foot

Yes. I give that undertaking. Certainly it will be possible to discuss that order at the same time. We shall make any provision necessary to ensure that that happens.

Mr. William Hamilton

With regard to the Thursday's debate, does my right hon. Friend intend to suspend the rule? In view of the very important education debate which is going on in the country at the present, will he provide time very soon for a debate on the report produced by the Expenditure Committee on decision-making in the Department of Education and Science?

Mr. Foot

I cannot say when we shall be able to debate the second matter that my hon. Friend raised. Obviously it is an important one, and we shall look at the possibilities.

As for suspending the rule on the Thursday, we have not made any decision about that. We shall have discussions between the usual channels and we shall hear any representations that there may be from other parts of the House, but at the moment we are proposing to proceed on the normal basis.

Mr. Moate

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has seen reports that the Government have agreed to accept the European proposals for a 40-ton limit on lorries? If he has, can he confirm that there will be an opportunity for the House to debate this matter and to vote on it before any irrevocable steps are taken?

May I also ask the right hon. Gentleman about the motion on the remaining Orders of the Day relating to the House of Commons Service Committee's First Report which proposes that the size of Hansard be switched to A4 paper? Will he try to arrange a debate on that at a reasonably convenient hour so that most hon. Members can take part in the discussion?

Mr. Foot

On that second matter, I cannot say that it is possible to have a debate on it at an early stage in our proceedings because we have a great deal of other business to transact. But obviously it is a matter on which right hon, and hon. Members will want to give their views. It has been discussed by the Services Committee, and we want to hear what right hon. and hon. Members have to say about it.

As for the hon. Gentleman's first question, I have seen the reports to which he referred. Judging from what I have seen of them, they are nothing more than rumours. But a matter of such major importance would have to be discussed according to the procedures that we accept for delay with EEC business.

Mr. Madden

Does my right hon. Friend plan to give time to debate the Prayer against the import duties which are to be increased on 1st January? May we have time to discuss this important order when we return?

Mr. Foot

I fear that we cannot do it before 1st January. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North has raised this matter on one or two occasions, and we have not been able to satisfy the demand of the House for a debate on the subject. I am not minimising its importance. It is a further illustration of what I said about the House not having yet solved the problem of how to deal with all these proposals for legislative enactments coming from the EEC.

Mr. Tebbit

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the Early-Day Motion in my name and those of 90 or more right hon. and hon. Members about the Laker Skytrain affair?

[That this House welcomes the decisions of both the High Court and the Court of Appeal in favour of Skytrain, calls upon the Government to accept the decision without wasting even more taxpayers' money on further litigation and to stop its campaign against Laker Airways.]

When are we to expect an announcement or a statement about whether the Government intend to appeal further or to desist from what appears to be, according to the courts, the illegal or unlawful use of ministerial powers? Will this suddenly become sub judice before we come back so that we cannot discuss it then, either?

Mr. Foot

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of what the courts may have said in this matter, any more than I could accept his view on almost any other subject. But obviously the Government take time to consider such a judgment, and that is what the Government are doing.

Mr. Lawrence

Will the Lord President please ensure this time—that is, on 10th January—that all the documents relating to the EEC matters which the House is to consider are available in the Vote Office and are the latest editions of those documents?

Mr. Foot

We shall certainly do our best to comply with both those requirements. I know that there have been difficulties in the past, which have arisen partly because of the relationship between this House and the institutions in Brussels and partly, perhaps, from printing difficulties in this place. But both difficulties must be overcome.

Mr. Townsend

In the light of the Report of the Select Committee on Cyprus, which not only deals with that urgent international matter but also comments on the making of British foreign policy, when is the House to have a chance to debate the report? Would it not be wiser to deal with reports of Select Committees rather more promptly than appears customary?

Mr. Foot

It is, of course, normally advantageous if the House can have debates on most reports which conic from Select Committees. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber yesterday when that specific matter was raised by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davis). I gave a reply then, although I do not say that it would have fully satisfied the hon. Gentleman or others.

Mr. Dykes

Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that his display a little earlier, showing that he did not even know what the EEC documents were about, was very revealing, and will he accept that there is growing concern on both sides of the House that his attitude to scrutiny of EEC matters is careless, insouciant and "could not care less"? Will he undertake to improve his attitude and that of the Government to the proper scrutiny of these documents in the new year—in which I include doing it properly both in Committee as well as on the Floor—and will he also reassure those who go even to the length of fearing that he could not care less about the direct elections Bill?

Mr. Foot

Before replying to the hon. Gentleman, I must apologise that I was unsure about which of the instruments referred to banking matters. Documents Nos. 3592 and 1820 refer to banking legislation, No. 2146 refers to credit institutions and No. 349 refers to the EEC Export Bank. I am sorry that I did not make that clear in the form in which I stated it to the House. In reply to the hon. Gentleman, I must say that we certainly do not treat in a slipshod manner what comes from the Scrutiny Committee. If he had attended some of the debates which we have had on these matters, the hon. Gentleman would have seen that on every occasion I have gone out of my way to pay a special tribute to the Scrutiny Committee and to the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), who presided over it, as well as to the way in which its reports were presented to the House. The Government have always given most detailed care to any of the recommendations which have come forward, and within the difficulties and constraints imposed upon the House in this matter we have always sought to proceed in the proper way.

I therefore repudiate entirely any suggestion that the Government do not treat properly the recommendations and advice we receive from the Scrutiny Committee. We do not treat these matters in a careless manner. But I repeat—anyone who has studied the matter will come to the same view—that Parliament as a whole has not yet settled the proper relationship between proposals, suggestions and legislation coming from Brussels and our powers and position in the House. Some of us thought that these matters should have been much better resolved before we ever went into the Community.

Mr. John Davies

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Scrutiny Committee, but may I point out to him nevertheless that the motions that he himself has tabled for changes in the Standing Committee procedure have been on the Order Paper for literally weeks now and no opportunity has been afforded for debate on these matters? Therefore, those—if I may say so—already imperfect amendments to the debating procedures of the House have been forestalled by the Government from debate and being carried into effect.

Mr. Foot

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, far from wishing the contrary, the Government were perfectly prepared that those proposals should have been put into effect, but some of my hon. Friends, perfectly legitimately—the interest came from this side of the House —wished to put down amendments to the proposals. Therefore, quite rightly, those matters have to be debated. We promised that there would be a debate, and we shall carry out the promise. I know that they have been on the Order Paper for some time, but the House has had a great deal of other business to transact, and I feel that the right hon. Gentleman should not associate himself in any way with what was said by his hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), because nobody knows better than the right hon. Gentleman does that we have treated with scrupulous care all the recommendations which have come from his Committee.

Mr. Emery

The Leader of the House will know of the major crisis in the building industry. Does he realise that after meetings between Ministers and leaders of that industry since the Chancellor's mini-Budget Statement, many people believe that the crisis has in fact worsened? In these circumstances, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he will arrange that as soon as possible there can be a full debate, with a proper ministerial statement at the beginning of any such debate, on this problem which affects the whole of the country and is not merely sectional?

Mr. Foot

I do not underrate the seriousness of the problem, which has been raised now by the hon. Gentleman and was raised by other hon. Members yesterday in the debate on the motion for the recess. There is an extremely serious situation in many parts of the country, and when we meet again the House will, of course, wish to have reports from the Government about it. Whether that should be done in the form of a debate is another question, but, clearly, there must be discussions about it and there must be statements to the House. I do not wish in any sense to depreciate the importance of the matter.