HC Deb 19 February 1976 vol 905 cc1487-97
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state 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 23RD FEBRUARY—Until about 7 p.m., Second Reading of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Motion on EEC Documents R/2662/75 and R/2663/75 on nuclear safety.

TUESDAY 24TH FEBRUARY—Supply [10th Allotted Day]: a foreign affairs debate on East-West relations, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

WEDNESDAY 25TH FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Post Office (Banking Services) Bill.

THURSDAY 26TH FEBRUARY—Until 7 p.m., motion on the civil aviation policy guidelines, Cmnd. No. 6400.

Afterwards, Second Reading of the Atomic Energy Authority (Special Constables) Bill.

FRIDAY 27TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 1ST MARCH—Second Reading of the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

I know that the Public Expenditure White Paper is due to be published in about an hour's time, and I understand why the Leader of the House has not announced a debate on that subject for next week. Will he say when we shall have that debate and whether the Government will provide two days for it?

Mr. Short

I cannot say at the moment when the debate will take place. The White Paper is a long, complicated document and hon. Members will want time to read it. I should have thought it reasonable that if the Government gave one day the Opposition might consider giving another day.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon

I accept that we need time to discuss the Green Paper on direct elections to the European Parliament, but will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that we shall have a debate on this subject before the European summit in April?

Mr. Short

Yes, Sir, we shall have a debate before the summit meeting.

Mr. du Cann

Will the Leader of the House be good enough in the fullness of time to reconsider the answer he gave to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the amount of time available for the debate on the Public Expenditure White Paper? For many of us on both sides of the House the debate is, or should be, one of the most significant events in the parliamentary calendar. A single day would be inadequate and unacceptable.

Mr. Short

I have suggested—we can discuss this through the usual channels—that the Government and the Opposition each give a day. We shall shortly have a long debate on the Budget.

Mr. Heffer

May I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider his answer? May we have the debate as early as possible so that, having considered the White Paper, all hon. Members can come to the House and make clear their position on the proposals? Once my right hon. Friend has heard the verdict of the House on the White Paper, I ask that the Government should take note of what is said.

Mr. Short

The Government take note of everything said in the House, especially what is said by my hon. Friend. I have answered the first part of that question three times. It is reasonable that the Government and the Opposition should each give a day. Opposition Members do not seem to realise that one-third of the time available in the House is in the hands of the Opposition, so that the Opposition have obligatons as well.

Mr. Henderson

It is several weeks since the debate on devolution. Is the right hon. Gentleman able to tell us when we may expect publication of the draft Bill?

Mr. Short

I cannot say when, but my answer stands. The Bill certainly will be published.

Mr. Peyton

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree to have this important debate on the Public Expenditure White Paper during the week after next. I hope he will make that a firm commitment.

Mr. Short

At this moment I cannot make any firm commitment. I shall bear in mind what the right hon. Gentleman says. I shall try to do what he asks, but I cannot give an assurance that the debate will be in that week.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many of my hon. Friends are not altogether happy at the Government's providing any day to discuss the cutting of expenditure to the extent of £3,000 million, as some would argue, for 1978–79? If we are to have a debate on this subject, the Tories should supply two of their days to debate what is obviously a Tory measure.

Mr. Thorpe

When are we likely to have the White Paper containing the Government's proposals on devolution for England? As the Government have properly said that they will listen to all points of view on the White Paper on Scottish and Welsh devolution, do they intend to propose revised plans, and, if so, when?

Mr. Short

The second part of the question does not need an answer. I have made clear all along that we shall look carefully at all the views expressed in the House and by the 400 organisations to which we have written. We have had well over 100 replies which we are analysing. As I said to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson), we shall eventually publish a draft Bill, bearing in mind all the representations we receive, We shall be publishing the English White Paper next month.

Mr. William Hamilton

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the terms of Motion No. 213 on the abuse of House of Commons franked envelopes?

[That this House deplores the misuse of House of Commons franked envelopes; and urges the Leader of the House to consider what disciplinary action can be taken when such abuses are brought to his attention.]

Has my right hon. Friend seen a copy of the letter sent out by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) congratulating a young lady on her eighteenth birthday? Has he also seen in the Perthshire Advertiser of 31st January copies of similar letters of congratulation to other people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency? Will my right hon. Friend either give time to debate the motion or so tighten up the rules as to prevent this gross abuse of public expenditure by the Scottish National Party?

Mr. Crawford

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have had no notice that this allegation was to be made. I wholly refute it. I write to constituents in terms which I consider necessary in carrying out my duties as a Member of Parliament.

Mr. Speaker

I can understand the hon. Gentleman rising on a point of order, but I think we should move on.

Mr. Hamilton

I was simply asking for a debate on a motion.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Leader of the House is about to answer the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Short

I saw the motion. I have a copy of the letter writen by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) to Rhona or Rosie—a very nice letter it is too. I also have a copy of the Perthshire Advertiser for 31st January. May I point out, as I have done in the past, that the Fourth Report of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) for 1974 reiterated the guidelines for the use of official-paid envelopes? It recommended that the matter should be left to the common sense of hon. Members. In the case of these letters, there appears on the face of it to be a breach of the guidelines.

Mr. Crawford

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I emphasise that the letters which I wrote to my constituents referred to no political party. If a Member of Parliament cannot write to his constituents in this way, I shall be grateful for your ruling.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We should soon get into disorder if we began to discuss the affairs of one hon. Member on the Floor of the House.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. In any case, I believe—I am speaking on this more by instinct than anything else—that it is unwise, when one hon. Member is concerned, to embark on a discussion on such matters during business questions.

Mr. Burden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you not consider that if a question such as this is raised with the Leader of the House, he should at least send particulars of it to the person involved and have some negotiation before making a statement in the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Right hon. and hon. Members know the courtesies of the House, and it is not for me to dictate how hon. Members behave to each other. Mr. Scott-Hopkins.

Sir J. Eden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Whatever may be the merits of this particular case, would you not agree that the action of the hon. Gentleman who raised it and the part played by the Leader of the House in his reply represent a grotesque abuse of the procedure of the House? [Interruption].

Mr. Speaker

Order. The sooner we get away from this, the better. Mr. Scott-Hopkins.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

In view of the negotiations now taking place in Brussels, and in which the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has taken part, will the Leader of the House give the House an assurance that when they are concluded we shall have an opportunity to debate them in the House? Will he further give an assurance that when we debate the Green Paper on direct elections it will not coincide with a plenary session of the European Parliament?

Mr. Short

On the second point, I shall try to bear that in mind. The Members involved ought to have an opportunity to be here to debate the negotiations. On the first point, I cannot promise any time for a debate but I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Rose

In view of the sensitive situation prevailing in South Africa, may I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that 11 burglaries have taken place in the London area of opponents of the South African régime, involving their political papers, culminating on Tuesday in a burglary of the SWAPO representative at the Imperial Hotel? Will lie therefore allow the House to have a debate on the activities of the security service of South Africa—BOSS—within a very short time?

Mr. Short

I cannot promise any time for that, but the Opposition are having a debate on foreign affairs in the near future. Perhaps it would be appropriate to raise this matter during that debate.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Can the Leader of the House say when the Select Committee's findings on the broadcasting of the proceedings of this House are to be published? Can he also give us an indication of how soon after the findings are published he expects the Government to be able to take some action on the matter?

Mr. Short

I am very sorry indeed that the proceedings have not been published so far, but they will be published in the very near future. This is purely a matter of the time it has taken to print the evidence. As soon as the findings have been printed and hon. Members have had time to study the Report, I shall arrange a debate.

Mr. Fernyhough

In view of the wide-spread fears in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industries, particularly in the Tyne area, will my right hon. Friend say when he will be able to provide time for a debate on this very important issue?

Mr. Short

I know the concern of my right hon. Friend about this, and I have had representations on it from him and a number of his hon. Friends. I cannot promise any time in the near future but I shall bear it in mind.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Is the right hon. Gentleman able to say what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government concerning the reappointment of the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, more particularly having regard to the statement by his hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor), who indicated that it was intended to reappoint that Select Committee? Is that right?

Mr. Short

Yes, Sir. I hope to put down a motion in the very near future reappointing the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage.

Mrs. Renée Short

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the very great concern of the members of the Select Committee on Expenditure at the delay in receiving replies from Ministers after Reports have been submitted? Is my right hon. Friend aware that we have been awaiting since September the reply from the Department on the working of the Children and Young Persons Act? As that Report deals with matters of the very greatest concern—the numbers of young persons who have been remanded to adult prisons, and this whole area of legislation—will he ensure that we can have a reply and an opportunity to debate this at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Short

I shall check up on the matter that my hon. Friend has mentioned and see whether we can expedite the departmental reply.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Bearing in mind that the Western world, and this country in particular, may soon have to start making arrangements to be without easy and guaranteed access to the minerals of Southern Africa, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on raw materials? In advance of that debate, will he consider preparing a White Paper on the effects on employment and on production if this country, among others, has less easy access to the minerals, including gold, diamonds, chrome and iron ore, of the southern part of the African continent?

Mr. Short

I realise the importance of this matter but I cannot promise any time for a debate. One of my right hon. Friends concerned is present and will have noted what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Molloy

In view of the statements recently made by both British Rail and the London Transport Executive, and the grievous results on the lives of 5 million Londoners that will follow if the proposals are carried into effect, will my right hon. Friend find time for us to debate them?

Mr. Short

I am afraid that I cannot offer any time in the near future, important as I realise the subject is for London.

Mr. Lawson

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that it would be regarded as a considerable affront to this House if a document as important as the Public Expenditure White Paper could not be debated by at least the week after next? As a fair-minded man, will he not agree that two days of the Government's time is only just, since we did not have a day at all last year?

Mr. Short

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I realise the desire of the House to debate this as soon as possible, and he is making a valid point. I have suggested that we have two days, one day given by the Government and one by the Opposition. I should have thought that that was fair, especially in view of the fact that the long debate on the Budget will be coming very shortly afterwards.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I draw attention to Early-Day Motion No. 211 in my name, supported by over 100 hon. Members.

[That this House, concerned by the increase in the prison population and with the overcrowding in prisons, calls for an early debate on penal policy and alternatives to imprisonment.]

Given the tremendous increase in the prison population and the increasing costs of imprisonment, is it possible to have an early debate on penal policy and alternatives to imprisonment?

Mr. Short

I cannot see any prospect in the near future, but I shall certainly discuss with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Farr

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider, through the usual channels, whether it is possible, in view of the importance of Tuesday's debate on foreign affairs and the situation in Southern Africa, to extend the time of the debate from the normal time of 10 o'clock to a later hour?

Mr. Short

If there were a general desire for that, it could be done. Perhaps we can discuss this through the usual channels.

Mr. Leadbitter

Will the Leader of the House indicate whether it is possible for him or his right hon. Friend to make an early statement in the House or to have an early debate on the employment situation in the oil rig construction industry in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. I know the importance of this subject but I cannot offer any time in the near future. We might look at this in the same context as shipbuilding and try to find time to debate the two together.

Mr. Percival

Is the Leader of the House aware of the very great importance of early action concerning the European patents convention? Can he tell the House when the necessary legislation will be laid before the House?

Mr. Short

I am afraid that I cannot give a date at the moment, but I shall look at this and communicate with the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. John Davies

Although the House will certainly appreciate the assurance from the Leader of the House that we shall have a debate on the subject of direct elections before the next European Council, shall we have time as well before that date to debate the reports made by the various Ministers on European union, and particularly the Tindemans Report?

Mr. Short

Certainly, I shall agree to a debate on the Green Paper. I shall look at the wider point but I cannot give any undertaking at the moment.

Mr. Tebbit

Reverting to next week's business, may I ask whether the Leader of the House has read the White Paper on Civil Aviation Policy? Does he realise that it affects not only the narrow point of the division of routes between British Caledonian and British Airways but also such matters as the financing of the Scottish Highlands and Islands air services? Does he believe that three hours is sufficient for a debate on that White Paper, which covers such a wide area?

Mr. Short

If it is desired to have more time on it, this can be discussed through the usual channels. Certainly, if that was the general wish of the House, we might rearrange the business on that day.

Mr. Stokes

Will the Leader of the House allow time for a debate on the subject of immigration, which has not been raised in this House for a very long time, before the Second Reading of the new Race Relations Bill?

Mr. Short

No, Sir, I cannot give any time before that. But there will be an opportunity to discuss this matter on the Second Reading of that Bill.

Mr. Clegg

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, whatever one's feelings may be about the principle of the seat belts Bill, the form that it takes is highly objectionable in that it merely gives the Minister power to make regulations which Back Benchers in this House will not be able to amend when they are introduced by means of an Order? This is quite disgraceful, and it is taking away powers from Back Benchers.

Mr. Short

We started the Second Reading of this Bill in the last Session. I felt it right to give time to complete the Second Reading. We are giving a full day's debate for this. I should have thought that that was a point which the hon. Gentleman could make in the debate on Monday week. I may say that there are strong views on both sides about this matter.