HC Deb 22 January 1976 vol 903 cc1541-53
Mr. Whitelaw

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 26th January—Supply [6th Allotted Day]: until about 7 p.m. a debate on the Provision of Services for the Mentally Ill Within The Hospital Service and In The Local Community, and afterwards, a debate on Municipal Trading and Direct Labour.

Both will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the Financial Assistance for Industry (Increase of Limit) (No. 2) Order.

TUESDAY 27th January—Motions on Suggested Amendments to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill, and Third Reading.

WEDNESDAY 28th January—Remaining stages of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill, and of the National Coal Board (Finance) Bill.

THURSDAY 29th January—There will be a debate on the Employment situation, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

FRIDAY 30th January—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 2nd February—A debate on procedure.

Mr. Whitelaw

Can the right hon. Gentleman give some information about the form of the debate on Monday 2nd February and on the motion on which it will arise? Second, the Leader of the House gave an undertaking some time ago that, whenever possible, he would avoid bringing forward major Bills late in the Session. Can he therefore say now when the Dock Work Regulation Bill will be set down for Second Reading? Apart from the inconvenience to the House, the delay and uncertainty caused by such waiting in an industry like this is very serious.

Mr. Short

On the first question, it is proposed that the debate will arise on a motion for the Adjournment. On the second question, the Dock Work Regulation Bill will be brought forward as soon as time can be found in Parliament for it. The undertaking—an informal undertaking in discussions between the two Houses—was that we would try so far as possible not to bring forward any major Bills for Second Reading after Easter.

Sir G. de Freitas

Shall we have the White Paper or Green Paper on elections to the European Parliament next week or the week after?

Mr. Short

I am not sure of the date of publication, but I imagine that the week after would be more likely. I will try to give more exact information next week.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Have the Government any intention of making statements next week on two matters—first, on the price of petrol and the fact that garages can apparently reduce the price by 7p a gallon despite the Government's decision allowing price increases? Second, is there any possibility of a statement before next Thursday's debate on unemployment on the strategy of the British Steel Corporation?

Mr. Short

I do not know of any Minister who intends to make a statement on the price of petrol, but I will call what the hon. Gentleman has said to the attention of the appropriate Minister. There is no chance of a debate on the steel industry before the debate on unemployment on Thursday, but I said last week that I will try to find time for a debate at some time in the not too distant future. There will be a debate within a few weeks anyhow on the Iron and Steel Bill, which will give an opportunity for the House to debate the industry.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will the debate on procedure on Monday week be only about my right hon. Friend's proposals for reform of Parliament and setting up a Committee to consider that, or will it be also on the basis of motions relating to any of the outstanding Reports from the old Procedure Committtee?

Mr. Short

I hope that it will be a very wide debate. I will open it in a short speech and give some of my own views, and I hope that other hon. Members will do the same. It will be a debate on the Adjournment, so it will be wide enough to enable hon. Members to make any speeches they wish about the procedure and practice of the House.

Mr. Hordern

When can we expect to see the White Paper on Public Expenditure?

Mr. Short

Somewhere about the middle of next month, I think.

Mrs. Jeger

In reappointing the Select Committee on Cyprus, why have the Government, apparently without precedent, deprived the Committee of the right to send for persons and papers, which was in the original terms of reference last Session? Does the Leader of the House recall that the Select Committee was appointed very late last Session, that hon. Members worked hard all through the recess but could not send for all those persons and read all those papers which would have enabled the Committee to present a sensible and balanced report to the House? Will he therefore recommend the acceptance of the amendment on the Order Paper to reappoint the Committee with its original terms of reference?

Mr. Short

I have not deprived anyone of anything because the motion has not been put yet—

Mrs. Jeger

It is on the Paper.

Mr. Short

It may be on the Paper, but it has not been put—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"].—As I said last week, because a number of my hon. Friends have been to see me about it. I agreed not to put it until I had had discussions and tried to find a solution to the problem. When I have done that, I will put the motion down, and I hope that it will be aceptable to hon. Members.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the Select Committee Report on Violence in Marriage and of his promise that this matter would be given time for a debate early in the New Year? What is the position now?

Mr. Short

There is great pressure on parliamentary time. For example, we spent four days on devolution recently. However, as soon as I can find time we shall have a debate on violence in marriage as well.

Mr. Maguire

Will my right hon. Friend consider, in view of the importance of Thursday's debate, extending the time for at least an hour and a half?

Mr. Short

It is a whole day's debate, but I will certainly look at that and perhaps discuss it with you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

In connection with the debate on procedure on Monday week, will the right hon. Gentleman take into account the fact that there is now no Procedure Committee, which is unusual? From time to time, when matters are raised, we are told that they can be looked at by the Procedure Committee. In addition to the wide-ranging debate proposed, would he consider putting down a motion to set up a Select Committee on Procedure, as is normal?

Mr. Short

Yes, Sir, I will certainly do that. As for saying that matters can be referred to the Procedure Committee, I do not think that so far I have said that this Session. However, as soon as any individual matters like that do occur, I shall be happy to do that. The purpose of Monday's debate is a much wider review. What I promised the House some time ago was a debate on the Adjournment in which every hon. Member would be free to say what he wished. I will consider the views put in the debate and then bring forward terms of reference for the Committee. This will be a listening exercise so far as we are concerned.

Mr. Madden

Can my right hon. Friend say when the Secretary of State for Trade will make the statement which the Lord President expected some time before the Christmas Recess? Will that statement include much tougher regulations on dumping?

Mr. Short

I shall certainly call the Secretary of State's attention to my hon. Friend's observations.

Mr. Lawson

In view of the special importance of this year's, albeit belated, Public Expenditure White Paper, will the Lord President give an assurance that there will be a two-day debate on that White Paper before the Budget?

Mr. Short

It will depend on when the White Paper is published. It should be published about the middle of next month. We shall then know the date for the Budget and the amount of time available. I hope that we can debate the White Paper before the Budget. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that is desirable.

Mr. Leadbitter

In view of the importance of the oil rig construction industry in this country as a means of exploiting North Sea resources, may I point out to my right hon. Friend that 2.000 men in my constituency, who produced two of the largest oil rigs in the world, are now out of work? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend accept that at this stage we should consider having a debate on the oil rig construction industry and the work of the Offshore Supplies Office so that those who are directly concerned know that the House is sensitive to this urgent matter?

Mr. Short

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern about this matter and the concern in the North-East. The North-East Development Council is doing a great deal of work to increase work in the oil industry. I cannot promise any time for a debate on this subject in the near future, but I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Peyton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his forthcoming answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). It would be highly desirable this year to have a debate on the Public Expenditure White Paper before the Budget.

The whole House will welcome Monday week's debate on procedure. I take note of the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg). Does he have any proposals which he wishes to nut on behalf of the Government? If he has, perhaps a short statement next week to air them might be helpful, so that the House can apply its mind to them.

Mr. Short

When the Committee has been set up I hope that the Government will submit evidence to it. I hope that individual Ministers will feel free to submit evidence as well as all hon. Members. The purpose of the debate on Monday week is to listen to the views of the House about the kind of Committee that we should have and the extent of its terms of reference.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that last year the White Paper was overtaken by the Budget and there was not time for a debate. I hope that this year it will be published in time and that there will be a sufficiently big gap between the two to enable us to debate it.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made or an inquiry to be held into the whole affair of property speculation in which Lord Ryder, the head of the National Enterprise Board, is to some degree, or else, involved? Will he not agree that property speculation is a matter of concern, whichever side is involved, and that we want to be absolutely certain that the judgment of someone who is accountable in the form in which Lord Ryder is accountable is not affected by whatever took place in those land deals? Will he agree that a statement or inquiry is called for? Further, has he seen The Guardian article on this matter today?

Mr. Short

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is "Certainly not".

Mr. Warren

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the proposed statement on defence cuts will be made? Will he give an assurance that after that statement there will be ample time for us to debate, in particular, the unemployment that will arise?

Mr. Short

I do not accept in any way the hon. Gentleman's final proposition. The White Paper on Defence will be published a few weeks after the White Paper on Public Expenditure. We shall then find time to debate it.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the statement that was made last night but reported this morning by Leslie Male—the President and Chairman of the Police Federation—about the views of the overwhelming majority of our people on the increase in both muggings and violence to the person? If he reads the statement, will he bear in mind that every word is true and can be proved, and that the people of this country are getting worried about the situation? Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to be prepared to make a statement or to have discussions with the Police Federation, because in parts of London women, in particular, will not go out at night, go down certain roads or use the public services as they are afraid of being mugged by those who take the law into their own hands? It is a serious problem. Will he do something about it?

Mr. Short

I read the statement and I know hon. Members' concern about this matter. The problem is not peculiar to this country. It is even worse in some countries, for example America, and has been for some time. I quite agree that that does not make the situation any better. It is serious. I agree with my hon. Friend and I shall pass his comments on to the Home Secretary.

Mr. Cormack

Will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to re-establish the Select Committee on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill?

Mr. Short

There will be a half-day debate in the week after next on the motion which is on the Order Paper to re-establish that Select Committee. There will be a completely free vote on this matter on this side of the House.

Mr. Faulds

When will the House have an opportunity of discussing the many problems of Southern Africa, for some of which we are responsible, wherein, among the many pressing issues, the need for release from detention of Garfield Todd could be raised?

Mr. Skinner

And Des Warren.

Mr. Short

Certainly not next week or in the near future. However, this would be an appropriate subject to raise in a debate on foreign affairs, which we shall, I hope, have some time in the future.

Mr. Costain

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the fact that yesterday morning the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs had insufficient time for the Minister to sum up because a number of hon. Members wanted to speak? Has he received my letter and will he make a statement on the situation?

Mr. Short

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for letting me know about this and I intend to table a motion to enable that Committee to sit again. However, I can do that only by referring the matter to the Committee of Selection again. I hope that that Committee will select identical Members and then it can have a second sitting. That is the only way of doing it, but it can be done.

Mr. Greville Janner

In view of the sad plight of so many firms in the radio, television and audio-manufacturing indusry, can we have a debate on this subject in due course, and in the meantime an appropriate statement from a Minister?

Mr. Short

Not next week.

Mr. Michael Latham

Has the Lord President not noticed that the Secretary of State for the Environment has published two circulars on the Government's views on the Dobry Report on Town and Country Planning? Is it not time that we debated the Government's decisions on this matter, because many people consider them entirely unsatisfactory?

Mr. Short

One of the problems in the House and, I hope, one of the problems that will be discussed next week is the increasing difficulty of finding time for general debates. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this matter is worthy of debate, but there is simply not time to debate such a matter, at present anyhow.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House when the Government will be able to place before the House legislation to amend and clear up the conspiracy and picketing laws on which the trade union movement is pressing for a decision?

Can he arrange for a statement to be made on the activities of the Potato Marketing Board, because many housewives and small businesses believe that the large potato processors are being dealt with favourably? The price of potatoes has shot up so high that Parliament should now be seen to be tackling this question, or at least discussing the statement.

Mr. Short

It is the Government's intention to invite the House to amend the laws of conspiracy, which I hope will be before long. I shall certainly pass my hon. Friend's second question on to the appropriate Minister. There is an Adjournment debate next week on the price of potatoes.

Mr. Watt

Has the Leader of the House seen Early-Day Motion No. 111, and is he aware that there is considerable disquiet throughout Scotland about the fact that this House has seen fit to exclude all SNP Members from examining in Committee a question which is vital to most of their constituents?

[That this House, noting that the Committee of Selection has consistently given over-representation to the Conservative Party on Scottish Standing Committees beyond the entitlement of that Party in terms of Scottish votes and Members, observes with disbelief that no member of the Scottish National Party has been appointed to serve on the Scottish Standing Committee considering the Freshwater and Salmon Fisheries [Scotland] Bill and declares that it has no confidence in the Committee of Selection.]

Mr. Short

I must confess that I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends on this matter. I propose to have discussions with the other parties on this subject—I have not done so yet, but I shall do so—because I think that, in view of the number of parties that there are on the Opposition side of the House now, there is an injustice in this matter. However, the present Committee of Selection is bound to apply the present Standing Orders. Until they are changed, it cannot do otherwise. The Committee must reflect the whole United Kingdom strength, whether or not a Scottish Bill is involved. However, I shall have talks with all the other parties on this matter to see whether we can reach any proposition to put before the House.

Mr. George Rodgers

When will the House be given an opportunity to debate world trade?

Mr. Short

As far as I am aware, there is no opportunity for a general debate in the immediate future, but I know that this is a matter that concerns us all and I hope that there will be an opportunity before long.

Mr. Channon

Reverting to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), if the Government are to put forward specific points for the House to consider in the procedure debate, would it not be much more satisfactory if we had some notice of them, so that hon. Members in all parts of the House could consider what the Government have in mind, rather than come cold to it in the middle of a Minister's speech at the beginning of the debate?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. This is purely an open debate. I shall be putting forward some of the problems as I see them, and I hope that all hon. Members who have views on the matter will put them forward during this exercise if they wish to do so. When the Committee is set up, I shall certainly give evidence to it, but at this stage the debate is a listening exercise for me. When I have listened to the debate and considered it, I shall bring forward terms of reference for a Committee to the House.

Mr. Lipton

Has my right hon. Friend yet had an opportunity of deciding what action he should take to reduce the volume of printed material circulated by the Vote Office to hon. Members, to which reference was made last week?

Mr. Short

There is some scope here, I am sure. I heard this week, for example, of a taxi taking a copy of Hansard to an hon. Member's house very early in the morning, and very often the Member himself was not there, and I just wonder whether that is necessary. I also mentioned last week the point about the orders of hon. Members having gone on for years. I must certainly get down to this matter and see what sensible economies can be made without impairing the efficiency of the House.

Mr. Wells

May I revert to the question about the price of potatoes and the promise or indication of a debate on the Adjournment next week? We are suffering at present from a series of short specialist debates on horticulture, which makes it very difficult to discuss horticulture in the round. Can the Leader of the House offer us a half-day debate on horticulture in which any horticultural topic would be in order?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. I cannot do that. However, there are the regular Private Member's motions, and this would be a very appropriate subject for them. The Opposition have a Supply Day almost every week, and they could be invited to take one of those days to debate the price of potatoes or the horticulture industry.

Mr. Molloy

From time to time, and quite properly, we have debates on economic problems in Scotland, Wales and English regions. Is my right hon. Friend prepared to consider making time available for the House to debate the economic problems of Greater London, wherein one-fifth of the entire population of this nation lives, and which is now facing a serious problem of unemployment among its young people?

Mr. Short

I cannot promise a debate in the House, but I should be happy to arrange a debate in the very near future in the Regional Affairs Committee if that would help my hon. Friend and other hon. Members.

Mr. David Steel

Reverting to, and welcoming, what the Leader of the House said about his proposal to have talks about the composition of Scottish Committees, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider looking urgently at the composition of the Committee on the Crofting Bill, which is due to start next week? That Bill applies to only six parliamentary constituencies, two of which happen to be represented by my right hon. and hon. Friends, and neither of them is a member of the Committee. That makes the House of Commons look quite ridiculous.

Mr. Short

As I said in reply to a previous question, the problem is that the Committee of Selection must apply the present Standing Orders and must reflect the strength of the House as a whole. I personally think that this is unjust in the present situation. However, I shall have talks about this matter and see what we can put before the House on this subject, although I do not think that this would affect the Crofting Bill.

Mr. Marten

Is the Leader of the House aware that there is growing anxiety in the agricultural community about what is going on in Brussels in the price review, and that we ought to have a statement from the Minister of Agriculture next week on the discussions that he has held this week to keen us un to date about what is going on? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the Minister of Agriculture will make a statement next week?

Mr. Short

I cannot give an assurance about that, but I shall pass on what the hon. Gentleman has said to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and ask him whether he is able to do that.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Does the Leader of the House realise what he said in response to his hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) just now? He said that the question of Mr. Garfield Todd's detention was a matter of foreign affairs. Does he really regard Southern Rhodesia as a question of foreign affairs?

Mr. Short

I always realise what I have said. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had listened to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, he would have heard that my hon. Friend asked about South Africa. That is certainly a matter of foreign affairs—very foreign affairs. I said that this would be a very appropriate subject, the question of South Africa, to raise in a debate on foreign affairs. [An Hon. Member: "Southern Africa."] I thought that my hon. Friend said "South Africa." If he said "Southern Africa" that still applies.

Mr. Faulds

May I enlighten the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke)? If he had been listening to my question, he would have heard me refer to "Southern Africa".

Mr. Speaker

No, the hon. Gentleman can try to enlighten me or ask a question of the Lord President, but he cannot enlighten the hon. and learned Member.