HC Deb 26 February 1976 vol 906 cc620-34
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 1ST MARCH—Second Reading of the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill.

Motion on the Housing Corporation Advances (Increase of Limit) Order.

TUESDAY 2ND MARCH—Second Reading of the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Bill and of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 3RD MARCH—Second Reading of the Rating (Caravan Sites) Bill [Lords].

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

THURSDAY 4TH MARCH—Second Reading of the Race Relations Bill.

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

FRISDAY 5TH MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 8TH MARCH—Debate on "Public Expenditure to 1979–80" Command No. 6393.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that Monday 8th March will be the first day of a two-day debate in Government time on the White Paper on Public Expenditure? There is a great demand for a two-day debate, and in the past the Government have given two days where there has been a demand for it from the House.

Secondly, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has tabled no fewer than seven new clauses to the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, now in Standing Committee, which have the effect of introducing a substantially new principle into the Bill. It is quite right that these new clauses should be debated separately in Committee upstairs, but there is no way of debating the principle of those seven new clauses together, as should be done in a Second Reading debate, except by bringing the Bill back to the Floor of the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore provide time on the Floor of the House for a debate on the new principle in that Bill?

Mr. Short

I am afraid that the right hon. Lady is wrong on both points. First, there is not a single example where two days were given for the public expenditure debate, except in 1971, when the Conservative Government borrowed a day from the Opposition. On every other occasion when there has been a two-day debate, the Government and the Opposition have each provided a day. There will be a two-day debate provided that the Opposition are willing to devote a Supply Day to it.

The right hon. Lady is quite wrong on the second point about the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I have read the Second Reading debate very carefully. The principle of family succession was debated then.

Mr. Jopling

That is totally untrue.

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman should re-read the debate. It is no good his sitting there and saying that what I have said is totally untrue. It was at the request of the Opposition that we provided the opportunity to debate these new clauses in Committee. We also agreed to their request to adjourn the Committee for nine days in order to give them time to examine them.

Mrs. Thatcher

The right hon. Gentleman used a curious expression about borrowing a day from the Opposition. That is quite different from taking a day from the Opposition. Which does the right hon. Gentleman mean?

Mr. Short

If the right hon. Lady knew anything about the running of the House of Commons, she would know what I mean.

Mr. Faulds

When are we to have some progress towards a public lending right Bill?

Mr. Short

Very shortly, I hope.

Sir David Renton

The seven new clauses tabled by the Minister are outside the scope of the Long Title to the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. Therefore, to expect them to be discussed from the beginning in Standing Committee has the effect of turning that Committee into a Second Reading Committee in circumstances which the House as a whole would not approve for reference to a Second Reading Committee. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore look at this matter again?

Mr. Short

Yes, Sir. I will look again at anything which the right hon. and learned Gentleman asks me to look at. But I imagine that the new clauses would not be in order if they were not within the Long Title to the Bill. It was at the request of the Opposition that they were put down to be debated in Committee. Again at the request of the Opposition, we have adjourned the Committee for nine days in order to give them time to consider the clauses. They all deal with family succession, and family succession was debated on Second Reading.

Mr. Pavitt

Is my right hon. Friend seized of the importance of Early-Day Motion No. 221, dealing with rail cuts which affect my constituents? [That this House urges British Rail to defer any cuts in services between Watford and Euston and Broad Street until the Government has issued the Report of the Working Party on transport policy; is of the opinion that the present proposals are against the interests of the travelling public and the best interests of railway future prosperity; and believes that instead of reducing services and increasing fares the opposite policy should be pursued to encourage the use of public transport and ease road congestion by private cars.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these cuts take place next Monday? In view of my reluctance to detain the House in seeking leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, and as the time we have left is not sufficient to deal with the matter otherwise, will my right hon. Friend have urgent consultations to see whether something cannot be done to prevent the cuts being made on Monday?

Mr. Short

I know of my hon. Friend's concern, and I shall pass his views to my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport.

Mr. Cormack

Has the right hon. Gentleman yet seen the Second Report of the Select Committee on Expenditure, published today, dealing with defence? Will he arrange for it to be debated at an early opportunity in view of its all-party damning indictment of the Government?

Mr. Short

The White Paper on Defence will be published in about three weeks' time, and there will then in all be five days of debates on defence. We have a great deal of time to give to defence matters.

Mr. Heffer

As we have recently had debates on the Floor of the House on the problems of Wales and Scotland, notwithstanding that there are Welsh and Scottish Grand Committees and the Regional Committee, is it not time that we had a debate in this Chamber on the problems of the North-West of England, particularly those affecting Merseyside, where unemployment is higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom and where investment over the years has been lower than in any other part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Short

I know the problems of Merseyside are probably more acute than those anywhere else in the country at present, but I cannot offer any time in the House for debating them in the near future. If my hon. Friend would like a debate in the Regional Committee, I can arrange that very quickly indeed.

Mr. Blaker

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Foreign Ministers of the EEC are to discuss next Monday a proposal from COMECON for a comprehensive trade agreement with the EEC? In view of the importance of that proposal in the context of our relations with the Soviet Union generally, will he invite the Foreign Secretary to make a statement next week to the House about the result of those talks?

Mr. Short

I will consult my right hon. Friend about that, which I agree is a matter of some importance.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Can my hon. Friend say anything further about the possibility of a very early debate on the position of the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industries, especially in view of the strong pressure from the North-East about this subject, and possibly including the oil rig situation as well?

Mr. Short

I cannot offer any time in the very near future, but I said last week that I would bear this matter in mind. I know that there are serious problems in the North-East, with even more serious ones coming in the near future. The Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill will be returning to the House in the not too far distant future, I hope, but I think that there is probably a case for a debate in addition to that at some time.

Mr. Wiggin

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during Second Reading of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill the Bill then before the House contained no item whatever about the succession of tenancies? Will he agree that, while it is true that two of his hon. Friends brought up the matter during the debate, that is not the same as debating the matter? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that the Bill now contains as many clauses dealing with landlord and tenant legislation as it does about other matters? Will he agree that it is only right and just that we should have a full debate on the Floor of the House about this substantial change of principle?

Mr. Short

I have replied to this twice very fully and comprehensively. It is a very strange theory that, if matters are raised from this side in a debate, that is not debating them.

Mr. Grocott

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 211 on penal policy and alternatives to prison which already has 108 signatures attached to it?

[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.]

Will my right hon. Friend agree that we should arrange for a debate as soon as possible on this subject, and that probably a great deal of expenditure is being wasted unnecessarily on imprisoning people who really should not be imprisoned?

Mr. Short

I think it is a very important matter. As I have said before, it is one of the subjects that I shall certainly bear in mind. If time becomes available, I shall try to find time to debate it.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

In view of the somewhat confused and somewhat churlish remarks of the right hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the public expenditure debate, are we to take it that his reference to the 1971 precedent means that, if the debate is continued in Opposition time, he will follow that precedent and give the Opposition an extra day later on?

Mr. Short

As to churlish remarks, having listened to some of the remarks made to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the 15 minutes when he was answering Questions, I should have thought that nobody on the Opposition side of the House ought to say anything about churlish remarks.

Concerning the other point, I have made an offer. I have said that we shall give a day if the Opposition give one of the 29 days that they have in a year. If they will give one of their 29 days, there can certainly be a two-day debate.

Mr. Peyton

Is not the right hon. Gentleman being a bit free with the charges he makes against my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? My right hon. Friend has not in any way been uncivil to the Prime Minister.

Concerning the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, does the Leader of the House recall that there was no question before the House in the sense of any such proposals being contained in the Bill? Now that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has almost literally sicked up on to the face of the Bill some wholly new proposals, would not it be right if these were given a Second Reading debate?

Concerning his reply to my right hon. Friend on the time for the debate on the Public Expenditure White Paper, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that he expressly used the word "borrow"? If the Government wish to borrow a day of the Opposition's time, they are welcome to do so in order that we can have a two-day debate, but will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, unless he is wholly altering the meaning of language, "borrow" involves subsequent repayment involves subsequent repayment?

Mr. Short

If the right hon. Gentleman would like us to go into that, I draw his attention to the fact that he owes us three and a half days from the period before the last Conservative Government went out of office and which have never been repaid.

The facts are these. During the time of the last Government, a two-day debate was held in December 1971. In December 1972 there was a one-day debate. In 1973–74 there was a one-day debate. Last year there was no debate at all. I am proposing that we give a day and that the Opposition give one of their 29 days.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk.

Mr. Peyton

I have just asked a question—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call the right hon. Gentleman in a moment. Mr. Kilroy-Silk.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Will my right hon. Friend accept that, given that the population of the North-West is larger than that of both Scotland and Wales, that the unemployment rate in the North-West is considerably higher and that the industrial problems are far more severe, it would be desirable, in order to protect our interests, to have a Question Time for Questions on the North-West? Will he seriously consider this proposal?

Mr. Short

If we had Questions for the North-West we should have to have them for every region in the country, and that is not possible at all.

Mr. Montgomery

Has it been drawn to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman that on Tuesday morning in Standing Committee E, discussing the Education Bill, there was no Minister present on behalf of the Department of Education and Science?

Mr. Speaker

It is not customary to ask questions relating to what has happened upstairs in Committee while the Committee is still sitting.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the House of Lords has recently yet again rejected a section of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill and that Lord Goodman yet again seems to have been involved in this? Is it not time that this House had a debate about abolishing that totally undemocratic assembly, because yet again it is breaching the elected will of the Commons? Secondly, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that in the very near future he will put down a motion for sound broadcasting of the proceedings of this House?

Mr. Short

On the second question, the answer is "Yes". As to the first question, I said in the last Session that, once this Bill reaches the statute book, we can take a long, cool look at the whole passage of the Bill and see what conclusions we can draw from that.

Mr. Peyton

I very much regret that it should be necessary to remind the right hon. Gentleman that I have just asked him a question about providing time for debating a wholly new principle which has now been introduced into the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman please answer that?

Mr. Short

I thought I had answered this question three times already. If the clauses, which all deal with the same topic, come within the Long Title, it is not a new principle. If they come within the Long Title it is perfectly in order. I should have thought that it would be perfectly fair. We have arranged for the clauses to be debated in the Committee at the request of the Conservative Opposition, and we also adjourned the Committee for nine days at their request. If they would like a rather longer adjournment, I am prepared to look at that.

Mr. John Davies

Will the Lord President tell us when we are to debate the question of European union and the Tindemans Report, bearing in mind that there is a meeting of the European Council in the early days of April and that the House should debate the matter before then?

Mr. Short

I cannot say at the moment when there will be a debate.

Mr. Michael McGuire

May I reinforce the plea made to my right hon. Friend by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and ask the Lord President to give consideration to a day's debate at least on the problems of the North-West? Does he realise that we shall no longer be fobbed off with a meeting in one of the Committee Rooms to discuss a matter that requires urgent attention? Concerning Question Time itself, am I right in understanding that I have my right hon. Friend's tacit aproval to the point I put to him on Monday, namely, that the time is long overdue for us to have our own Question Time and possibly a Minister for the North-West?

Mr. Short

I answered the second question when it was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). As to the first question, I am afraid that I cannot offer any time in the near future, but I do not agree that my suggestion of a debate in the Regional Committee is fobbing off my hon. Friends. Any hon. Member can attend that Committee, and some very important and very good debates have taken place there. All I said was that we could arrange a debate very quickly, in the very near future, if my hon. Friends would be agreeable to having one in the Regional Committee. But I cannot provide any time in the House for a debate on the North-West in the near future.

Mr. Pym

It is quite true that on the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill we asked for the new clauses, as we thought they would be about hereditary tenancies, to be taken upstairs in the Committee and for a nine-day adjournment of the Committee to enable us to consider them. Had it not been for that, the first knowledge that the House would have had of them would have been on Report.

What we are now asking is that, in view of the fact that the Bill has seven new clauses—eight pages of closely-printed paper, about half the length of the original Bill, and never in the original Bill—it would be right in House of Commons terms to have a procedure whereby the whole seven clauses could be debated together.

As regards the Second Reading of a new Bill before it is loked at clause by clause in Committee, we think that there ought to be a separate Bill but we accepted that the proposals should go into this Bill in Committee. However, as it will be substantially a new Bill, surely the correct procedure is to debate the whole package in principle first and then in detail in Committee.

Mr. Short

The right hon. Gentleman has confirmed that what I said was exactly correct on both points and that he asked for this. I shall consider what he has said, as I always do, because he understands the House. The procedure being followed is absolutely correct. The clauses would not be in order if they fell outside the Long Title. I imagine that the Table would not have allowed them to be tabled if they fell outside the Long Title. There was an opportunity in the Second Reading debate to discuss them. I agree that setting them out in legislative form has involved more clauses than anyone expected. It is certainly longer. But I shall look at the right hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. William Hamilton

When does my right hon. Friend intend to introduce a motion setting up a Select Committee on the procedures of this House? Will he assure us that the terms of reference will be such as to ensure that the Committee is able to send for any person, including any Minister, that it thinks fit and relevant to its investigation, without any veto by the Prime Minister or anyone else?

Mr. Short

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is "In the very near future". The answer to the second part is that the terms of reference with regard to sending for persons will be exactly as they are for any other Committee.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

While I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), may I ask the Leader of the House whether he does not agree that no clause in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which formed the basis of the Second Reading debate even remotely mentioned the inheritance of tenancies? Therefore, will not the right hon. Gentleman give very serious consideration to honouring this House and allowing it to have a Second Reading debate on these clauses, which are a big departure from the original Bill?

Hon. Members


Mr. Skinner

Despite my right hon. Friend's stout resistance on this Agriculture Bill, is he aware that there will be continued opposition to it when the hatchet men belonging to the Tory Party take care of it in the House of Lords? Is not that another good reason why we should debate some legislation to abolish the House of Lords, bearing in mind especially that 240 life peers have been created by the present Prime Minister—a record throughout history—and yet we cannot get 100 people in that other place to vote Labour?

Mr. Wells

I am sure the Leader of the House is aware that horticultural tenancies have always had very much greater security than ordinary agricultural tenancies. Can there be a special examination of the position of horticultural tenancies when these new clauses in the Bill are examined in Committee, because the point made by my right hon. and hon. Friends about the need for something like a Second Reading of these clauses dealing with the inheritance of tenancies may apply particularly in the case of horticulture?

Mr. Short

I have now replied to the second part of the question five or six times. As for the hon. Gentleman's other point, I imagine that those hon. Members who are on the Committee will have heard what he said and no doubt they can be relied upon to debate the matter when the clauses come up for discussion.

Mr. Marten

Coming down to the ordinary, everyday life of the people, may I ask whether the Leader of the House has noticed Early-Day Motion No. 218, the implication of which is that the British people want to eat their poultry in the way they like it and not in a way that some plastic-minded person in Brussels wishes them to do?

[That this House believes that the EEC Directives about the production and sale of fresh poultry should be deferred ad infinitum.]

In view of the general mounting public feeling on this matter, can we have a half-day debate on the subject before too long? I do not say next week.

Mr. Short

I seem to remember speaking at great length and quite learnedly on this subject during the Adjournment debate before the Christmas Recess. I have no doubt that, with his usual ingenuity, the hon. Gentleman will find an opportunity for a debate. I shall pass on what he said to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. I may say that I dislike plastic minds and plastic poultry.

Mr. Loyden

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the position of the sugar industry? Is he aware of the growing concern being expressed by workers in the sugar industry, and does he not think it is about time that this House debated the industry and the implications that the Sugar Corporation may have for employment in Merseyside, Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Short

I am aware that there are problems in the sugar industry at present. There may be an opportunity to debate them in a general debate on economic matters. But I share my hon. Friend's concern about the industry.

Mr. Clegg

Can the Leader of the House say whether on Monday, when we deal with the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill, we shall have available the draft Regulations which the Minister intends to make, since we cannot have an intelligent debate without them?

Mr. Short

I do not know about that. I am afraid that this is one I cannot answer. I shall consult my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport about it.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

May I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) said about Early-Day Motion No. 221? In view of the fact that a cruel blow is to be dealt on Monday by British Railways to the service from Watford to Euston, will my right hon. Friend try to do something about it before it is too late?

Mr. Short

I said that I would refer this matter immediately to my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport, although I doubt very much whether he can intervene at this late stage.

Mr. Churchill

Bearing in mind that since this Government came to office unemployment in the North-West of England has more than doubled as a direct result of Government policies, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his reply to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) about an immediate debate on the problems of the North-West Region?

Mr. Short

I said that we could have an immediate debate in the Regional Committee but that there was no prospect of a debate on the Floor of the House in the near future. As for the hon. Gentleman's comment on the cause of unemployment, it is due to the appalling mess that we inherited from the Conservatives. It was the most appalling situation inherited by any Government in this country in peace time.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Industry or the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement about the problems of the mineral extractive industries, which are meeting increasing problems in terms of planning consents and priorities with regard to the environment? There is a terrible muddle, and the sooner that it is straightened out the better for all concerned.

Mr. Short

I know that there are many problems here. Perhaps I might discuss them with my right hon. Friends and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. McCrindle

Will the Leader of the House ask either the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary to make a statement next week about what appears to be the new policy of the Government with regard to the right of a British citizen to hold a passport? Is he aware that certain mercenaries are having their passports retained and conditions applied to their return which, in the view of some of us, run the risk of infringing civil liberties?

Mr. Short

There is a very important and high-powered Committee looking into this very matter.

Mr. Gow

Will the Lord President reconsider his decision about having only a one-day debate on the Public Expenditure White Paper? Does he not think that that matter is of sufficient importance to warrant a two-day debate? As the right hon. Gentleman has looked into the precedents, will he tell us what precedent there is for treating the Leader of Opposition with that discourtesy and insolence which he showed to my right hon. Friend this afternoon?

Mr. Short

I seem to recollect some discourtesy and insolence from the hon. Gentleman directed at myself and many other Labour Members. The hon. Gentleman is the last person to talk about discourtesy and insolence. He has displayed very bad parliamentary manners since he came to this House.

Mr. Peyton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you would mind reminding the right hon. Gentleman, who is the Leader of the House, that as an arbiter of parliamentary manners and conduct you have precedence over him?

Mr. Speaker

And that is no easy job in this place.

Before we turn to the next business and that short debate begins, I have a brief statement to make. Apart from Front Bench spokesmen, who will, I hope, bear in mind that Back Benchers are entitled to a fair share of the brief time available, 15 hon. Members have indicated to me their wish to speak in this next short debate. In my judgment it is selfish for long speeches to be made under those circumstances. It is not my responsibility to control the length of speeches, neither do I want it to be. However, it is necessary for me to remind the House that we have only—[Interruption.] Order. It is very wrong for the Front Bench to interrupt when Mr. Speaker addresses the House. I remind the House that there is only a brief time available. The only other thing I wish to say is that I have a very long memory in these matters.

Mr. Ridley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House has just accused my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) of insolence and lack of parliamentary manners. If that is to become a way by which the Leader of the House can censure hon. Members, can we have further guidance as to what constitutes insolence and lack of parliamentary manners?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am no authority on such matters.

Mr. Ridley rose

Mr. Speaker

I am not taking any more points of order on that question.