HC Deb 29 July 1976 vol 916 cc885-90
Mrs. Thatcher

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

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot): Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 2ND AUGUST—Supply [29th Allotted Day]: The Question will be put on all outstanding Votes.

There will be a debate on public expenditure, on an Opposition motion.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has announced opposed Private Business for consideration.

TUESDAY 3RD AUGUST—Remaining stages of the Bail Bill [Lords] and of the Rating (Charity Shops) Bill [Lords].

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Police Bill and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Motion on financial assistance to British Leyland.

Motion on sound broadcasting the proceedings of the House.

WEDNESDAY 4TH AUGUST—Second Reading of the Drought Bill [Lords], until about 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill.

THURSDAY 5TH AUGUST—Remaining stages of the Drought Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 6TH AUGUST—It will be proposed that the House should rise for the Summer Adjournment until Monday 11th October.

Mrs. Thatcher

Why did the Leader of the House refuse a specific request for a debate on public expenditure cuts in Government time on a Government motion, bearing in mind the fact that the last public expenditure White Paper was not approved by the House, that summer is a difficult time for sterling and that the last time that the Prime Minister referred to the support he expected to get for public expenditure cuts in this House he pointed out on 8th July that it would be on Labour votes that he would depend for any policies that he placed before the House? Why did the Leader of the House refuse to have a Government motion on public expenditure next week?

Mr. Foot

I expected a vote of thanks from the right hon. Lady. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I will explain. I imagined that the right hon. Lady wanted an occasion on which she would be able to put down a motion and to express her views to the House on these matters without any obstruction or intrusion. That is what has been arranged. I am sure that the debate which we shall have on Monday will enable all sides of the House to put their views clearly both in the debate and in the Lobby.

Sir G. de Freitas

Will my right hon. Friend remember that the fact that we are debating the Drought Bill next week in no way absolves the Government and the Opposition from providing time to debate the regular water shortage in Eastern England and proposals for a national water grid and the storage of river water in the Wash?

Mr. Foot

We cannot debate that next week, although I have no doubt that references to the matter will certainly be in order during discussion of the Bill.

Mr. Molyneaux

When does the right hon. Gentleman intend to move the motion for the Adjournment for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Foot

I hope that we shall move that motion on Thursday.

Mr. John Mendelson

As we are now in the last week before the recess, can my right hon. Friend give us a definite date when the Secretary of State for Employment will make his promised statement on jobs for school leavers and alleviating the position of other unemployed people?

Mr. Foot

I hope that it will be on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. I hope that it will be Tuesday.

Mr. David Steel

Will the right hon. Gentleman be making a statement next week on devolution? If so, will it include the Government's plans for the regions of England?

Mr. Foot

A statement will probably be made—in fact, almost certainly—on Tuesday. It will be in the form of a White Paper, but there will be a short statement to the House as well. It will contain a reference to the subject which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but it will cover other matters which were left, to be settled later in the previous White Paper.

Mr. Peyton

May I raise first of all a question about last week's business? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will in future be able to arrange business on Fridays so that it does not go on into the night, with great inconvenience to our long-suffering staff.

Returning to this week's business, the right hon. Gentleman has just told my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that the motion for Monday is her opportunity to have a debate without obstruction or intrusion. I take it that those very clear words mean that the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends will not be putting down an amendment to the Opposition motion on Monday, bearing in mind that there can be no precedent for a Government not to have £2,000 million-worth of measures debated in their own time.

Mr. Foot

On the first question, I certainly appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says about the inconvenience for the House as a whole and especially for the servants of the House, who have had very heavy burdens placed upon them over recent weeks. I certainly appreciate what he says about the high desirability of avoiding late debates on a Friday. We shall do the very best that we can to avoid that. However, it was the case that last Friday, particularly in view of the important Northern Ireland business that had to be discussed, the House had to sit until late.

On the second matter, the right hon. Gentleman says that I have referred to no obstruction or intrusion and he is assuming that we would not put down an amendment to the motion tabled by the Opposition. I should think that very likely that is so, but we must see what the motion is before we decide the matter. It would be very unwise for anyone to say that he would not put down an amendment before he had actually seen the motion. However, certainly if we can accommodate the Opposition on that aspect of the matter as well, we shall do our best to do so.

As for the last question, all the proposals that have been put forward by the Government will be subject to the normal parliamentary processes at the normal parliamentary times. What the House will have an opportunity of doing on Monday is to debate the matter on a motion, which I should have thought suitable for the Opposition even if it turns out badly for them in the end.

Mr. Mellish

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the genuine distress on both sides of the house about the problem of sick Members coming in. Without getting involved in the argument, is my right hon. Friend prepared to consider putting down a motion, perhaps next week, for a free vote, when the House would be asked to allow those who are sick to vote by proxy? [Interruption.] I said a motion on the Floor of the House on a free vote, so that all hon. Members will have the opportunity to say what they want to say, so that on the basis of producing a medical certificate, adequately signed, Members can vote when they are sick. Does my right hon. Friend not know that such a motion would receive the overwhelming support of the majority of the House?

Mr. Foot

I certainly listened to the views expressed earlier. What my right hon. Friend has suggested is one approach to the problem. If we could discover another solution to it, we should be very glad to do that. I certainly think that there ought to be some proper system for pairing Members who are sick. We would certainly be in favour of it. However, if the House would like to have a motion on the subject, we would consider that, too.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

My right hon. Friend will recall that the Public Lending Right Bill passed all its stages in the House of Lords in the early part of this year, that it began its Second Reading in this House in May, that it is supported by both Front Benches and that there have been three bites at the Second Reading cherry. As this is not therefore entirely unrepresentative, what assurance can he give us on the subject? Will he approach the Opposition officially with a view to ensuring—as I know that he personally wishes—that the Bill is secured and is on the statute book by the end of the Session?

Mr. Foot

It is not a question of the views of the official Opposition on the subject. I think that the Oppositon support the Bill. Certainly it is the Government's desire that the Bill should proceed. Some hon. Members in other parts of the House take a different view. It is our wish that the Bill should proceed to the statute book. It has passed through another place, and we hope that when the House meets after the recess we shall be able to carry the Bill through and put it on the statute book.

Sir Bernard Braine

The Leader of the House will recall that a little earlier the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs told us of a very welcome approach to the Chinese authorities in response to my right hon. Friend's question. He will know that the essence of help in these situations is speed. Can he give us an undertaking that the Foreign Secretary will report to the House next week the result of any approaches to Peking?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure about a report to the House, but I shall convey to my right hon. Friend what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am sure that, in saying what he has said, he was speaking for everyone in the House, and that we would want the maximum assistance to be given with the maximum speed. I am sure that that is the desire in all parts of the House, following the question that has been raised.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Will the right hon. Gentleman give his undivided attention to the fact that during the recess inshore fishermen will continue to go to sea in a state of total uncertainty about the future of their industry? Is he ready to advise the Foreign Office that it must if necessary declare unilaterally a 200-mile limit and within that be ready to be firm with the EEC that we need a 50-mile exclusive limit, because nothing else will satisfy inshore fishermen?

Mr. Foot

I am always eager to advise the Foreign Office, and very often that is of the highest assistance to it. However, I cannot assure the hon. Lady that I shall give my undivided attention to this matter. Other matters may crop up. However, I shall certainly bear in mind what she has said.

Mr. Lawson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the measures that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 22nd July amounted to a mini-Budget, with substantial increases in taxation as well as expenditure cuts? In the light of this, is the right hon. Gentleman proud of the precedent that is being set by refusing to allow the House the opportunity of discussing a mini-Budget in Government time?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman is misinformed on every aspect of the question. We are not refusing the House time to discuss the matter.

Mr. Lawson

Government time.

Mr. Foot

We are not refusing the House the opportunity to discuss these matters in Government time. None of these measures will be put into operation until it has been discussed in the House and until the House has had an opportunity to vote upon it.

Mr. Jay

Do the Government intend to lay before the House next week the proposed Order on poultry meat?

Mr. Foot

I think that the regulations are now complete and I believe that my hon. Friend will be presenting them to the House next week, but there will still be plenty of time when we return after the recess for discussion of the matter in the House.