HC Deb 17 June 1976 vol 913 cc741-55
Mr. Speaker

Business Statement—the Lord President.

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

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 21ST JUNE—Supply [25th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on employment opportunities for young people, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motions on financial assistance to the Lindsey Oil Refinery Limited and on the Weights and Measures (Sale of Wine) Order.


23RD JUNE—Remaining stages of the Development Land Tax Bill.

THURSDAY 24TH JUNE—Second Reading of the Supplementary Benefit (Amendment) Bill.

Motions on the Supplementary Benefit (Determination of Requirements) Regulations and the Social Security Uprating Order.

Resumed debate on Second Reading of the Public Lending Right Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 25TH JUNE—Remaining stages of the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill.

MONDAY 28TH JUNE—Supply [26th Allotted Day]: subject for debate to be announced.

Mrs. Thatcher

As legislation which once was very urgent no longer appears to be urgent, may I express the hope that some of it has been dropped and that we might go home early in the school holidays for the parliamentary recess? Secondly, shall we be having a White Paper on pay policy, and when does the Leader of the House expect to have a debate on that and on economic policy generally? Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider taking the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill on a Friday?

Mr. Foot

I should have thought that a Friday was an appropriate day when we could discuss that Bill. After all, it is a Bill that has passed through the House on its Second Reading, and I should have thought that for the remaining stages a Friday was satisfactory.

As to the right hon. Lady's second question, I cannot give her the precise date but I hope that the White Paper on pay policy will be published by the end of the month. A White Paper will be published and I trust that it will be by the end of the month, and a debate will follow soon after then.

On the first matter that the right hon. Lady mentioned, I assure her and the House that none of the Bills concerned has been dropped by the Government. I appreciate her concern that we should bring them forward as speedily as we can, and if we can reduce the difference between us to one of comparative degrees of impatience about seeing these Bills I think that we shall make progress.

Mr. Jay

May we be told when the House is to debate the proposals in respect of eviscerated chickens?

Mr. Foot

Not next week, so far as I can see, but one never knows what will happen in regard to eviscerated chickens.

Sir David Renton

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider giving the highest possible priority to legislation to strengthen the law on the prevention of rabies? Will he give an undertaking that such legislation will take priority over controversial nationalisation and other Socialistic Bills?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give the right hon. and learned Gentleman that undertaking, because we have stated to the House the measures which we think are necessary to deal with rabies. We do not underrate the importance of doing everything possible to deal with the situation, but we do not believe that legislation on the lines that the right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to indicate is the best way of going about the matter.

Mr. John Mendelson

Although I do not wish to question the decision to publish a White Paper on pay policy, would it not be advisable and much more to the point for the House to debate the economic situation in general, with perhaps more emphasis on employment policies?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend will see that the White Paper covers the whole range of policies. We shall not seek to exclude any particular item. The publication will cover the whole economic field.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Is the Leader of the House aware of the rather pathetic but nevertheless calculated stand being taken by a constituent of mine, Mr. Robert Relf, who is now languishing in prison on hunger strike because of contempt of court for a race relations offence? Will the right hon. Gentleman agree to provide time for a short emergency debate on the subject next week, which would be very much in the interest of better race relations? If in view of the time factor such a debate cannot be held, will it be possible for him to arrange for the Home Secretary to make a statement on the subject?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate on the subject, but I shall report the hon. Gentleman's comments to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Palmer

What steps are being taken to fill the gaps in Select Committee membership? The present situation is not conducive to the efficient conduct of the proceedings of the House.

Mr. Foot

I shall do what I can to assist in that respect.

Mr. David Price

When do the Government propose to publish their discussion paper on devolution in England?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure whether we will publish it as a paper—[Interruption.] Is it being suggested that we should not publish anything of the sort? We shall have to sort out this discrepancy, but this enters into the general debate about devolution.

Mrs. Hayman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are grateful to him for having found time so quickly for the Supplementary Benefit (Amendment) Bill at a time when many one-parent families are becoming concerned at the party political parlour game being played with their incomes by the Opposition?

Mr. Foot

I, too, am glad that we have been able to provide time for that legislation and that the House will now have an opportunity to discuss it.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

As the Government Chief Whip and a number of Ministers, including Cabinet Ministers, voted yesterday for the abolition of the House of Lords, will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to inform the House of the Government's policy on this vitally important matter at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has other important matters on his mind, and I think we should allow him to get on with them.

Mr. Dalyell

In view of the fact that the cost of adapting the Royal High School in Edinburgh to an Assembly seems to have trebled in a period of three months, in view of the fact that the school hall which is to be the main debating chamber has also to be used as a corridor from one part of the building to another for officials, in view of the fact that the proposed tunnel to St. Andrew's House looks like not being able to function because of difficulties in rock formation, and in view of the fact that there are grave problems in adapting the boys' toilets, should we not have a statement as to whether it is acceptable to use the Royal High School as a proposed Assembly?

Mr. Foot

Since I understand that my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for devolution and the use of this building falls somewhat short of being ecstatic, I feel that his prejudices may have entered into the account which he has given to the House as to the way in which the building is being prepared. I think that work on the building should go ahead. We want it to be ready soon so that it will be available for the time when the devolution measure has gone through the House.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether next week's business is an indication of the priorities set by the Government in their legislative programme? If that is the case, how far down the list has he now dropped the shipbuilding and aircraft industries nationalisation measure?

Mr. Foot

I have already said to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition that all anxieties should be removed from people's minds on that subject. We are determined to proceed with all those Bills. We do not intend to drop any of them. I hope that the House and the country will fully understand this.

Mr. Donald Stewart

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 439 concerning the imminent closing of the Remploy showroom in Glasgow? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Employment to intervene urgently, because there is some Government financial backing for that organisation and the closing of that establishment will affect the work prospects of 600 disabled people in Scotland?

[That this House notes with regret that Remploy Ltd. is to close its Scottish showroom and sales office in Glasgow; notes that the Church of Scotland and many Scottish firms use this office to view Remploy goods; that one representative estimates a loss of up to £50,000 worth of business through closure of the showroom; that goods will now have to be ordered from London; and hereby requests the Secretary of State for Employment, whose department partly finances Remploy Ltd., to help the firm keep the Scottish showroom open.]

Mr. Foot

I understand the hon. Gentleman's feelings about the importance of the work of the Remploy organisation. Of course, it is a matter of concern if any closures take place. It is a matter for the directors to decide on commercial grounds. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment appoints the board of directors of Remploy and exercises general financial control, but he does not interfere in the running of the company as a business.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend consider as a matter of urgency initiating a debate on the commitment to open government, because some of us believe that the ballyhoo about Cabinet secrets is to be welcomed? Surely we want more, rather than less, information to be given in order to get rid of the dead hand of the Civil Service. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the idea of industrial democracy is being seriously pursued and that a Bill will be brought forward at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Foot

I wish to discount any rumour to the effect that we have altered the arrangements for the introduction of a Bill relating to industrial democracy. We are committed to introducing a Bill of that nature in the next Session and we wish to proceed in that direction. The Bullock Committee is now reporting on that subject, and we must await that report before we can proceed with legislation. However, we have made no alteration in the commitment to introduce that measure in the next Session.

I do not accept my hon. Friend's comments about the ballyhoo in regard to Cabinet secrets. Furthermore, I do not accept that that issue is concerned with open government. It is a matter, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said earlier, concerned with a betrayal of trust, and such a matter must be dealt with.

Mr. Mayhew

May we have an early debate on the curious circumstances in which the Secretary of State for Wales confirmed the Blaenau-Gwent District (Rassau North Industrial Estate) Compulsory Purchase Order of 1974 relating to land in his constituency, and the even more curious circumstances in which the Government dealt with the motion relating to petitions arising out of that Order last Monday?

Mr. Foot

We had a full debate on that subject and the House pronounced its view by a very creditable majority.

Mr. Sandelson

When may we debate the Devlin Report on identification in criminal cases, which the general public regard as an urgent matter for consideration?

Mr. Foot

I do not think there is any possibility of an early debate on that matter, but I have no doubt that discussion will proceed on it and that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will take account of that discussion in preparing the legislation which we hope to have next Session.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the child benefit legislation and the Early-Day Motion dealing with its non-implementation and ask whether we may have an early debate on that subject, so that we can make a judgment as to whether the question of betrayal of trust or breach of voluntary undertakings applies equally to the Labour Party's manifesto pledge on child benefits?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to honour its com- mitment to implement the Child Benefit Scheme in full from April 1977.]

Mr. Foot

The merits of the child benefit arrangements and the announcement which the Prime Minister made about the declaration are two quite separate questions. I cannot promise an early debate upon the child benefit position, although there may be opportunities over the next month or so for the matter to be raised in other debates.

Mr. Fernyhough

Has my right hon. Friend seen Press reports of a paper which the bureaucrats in Brussels have prepared in relation to European shipbuilding which would, if put into effect, substantially reduce the number of jobs in the shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry in Britain? This is causing grave dissquiet in the North-East. Can my right hon. Friend say when that paper will be available and when we shall be able to discuss it?

Mr. Foot

I am sorry, but I cannot tell my right hon. Friend what the position is about any such document which has come from Brussels. In view of the fact that he has raised the matter, I shall make inquiries and discuss it with the Secretary of State for Industry and get in touch with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Bowden

Is the Leader of the House aware that throughout many organisations in the National Health Service debates are taking place about fluoridation? Many people feel that it is wrong that this House has not debated fluoridation, particularly as fluoride can now be forced upon us by people who are not directly-elected representatives. As the right hon. Gentleman is looking for things to fill up the parliamentary timetable, will he be good enough to initiate a debate on this subject?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension if he thinks that I am simply looking for matters which I can use to fill out the parliamentary timetable. There will be great pressure on business up to the end of July, and I am sorry that it will not be possible to have a debate on this subject or on many other subjects. The House must not be under any misunderstanding. Far from there being a lack of subjects, there is a plethora.

Mr. Ron Thomas

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he said about the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill. Those of us who represent aircraft factory constituencies have received shoals of letters from Tory trade unionists as well as trade unionists who support the Labour Party condemning the actions of the Opposition in their delaying tactics. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that, irrespective of when the grouse shooting begins, it is his intention to get this Bill on the statute book this Session?

Mr. Foot

I made an earlier statement to the House and I stand by it. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is very strong feeling on this subject in the shipbuilding and aircraft industry areas. I myself have received numerous representations on the subject, as I believe all hon. Members from those constituencies have done.

Mr. Marten

Is the Leader of the House aware that in respect of the third item on today's business—employees' rights and company law—there are 12 documents which amount to 780 pages? Is it not wrong to put this business on after 10 o'clock on a Thursday? Will he consider whether those documents ought to go before a specialised Committee—not the Scrutiny Committee—so that it can look at these important things, after which we could have a debate?

Mr. Foot

I think we must proceed with the debate today as we have announced. I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says about the difficulty of the House being able to give proper time to discuss these matters. I fully appreciate that a huge number of matters are listed for discussion and that not all of them will be covered in the debate. We shall have to see what the situation is following that and whether we can provide some further time. As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is a perpetual problem which we have to face, and yet we have not yet discovered the best solution.

Mr. Skinner

Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether we could have a debate in order to discuss the subject of leaks? The Prime Minister today answered questions about a matter relating to the Child Benefit Bill which has been leaked in New Society, yet only a few weeks ago an important leak was reported in this House by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about a civil servant who had leaked a report to him presumably, and there was no fuss or bother about it. Is it not time we looked at all these matters and perhaps came to the conclusion that it does not matter a toss how many of these things are leaked and that open government is the best way of all?

Mr. Foot

As I have already said, I do not believe that this is a question of open government or non-open government. I believe that it is a question of whether, where an agreement is made on the basis of trust that matters will not he revealed, such agreement is adhered to. That is a principle of great importance. However, I do not think it is right for me to comment on the details of the matter any further.

Mr. Gow

How does the Lord President reconcile the statement he made three weeks ago that the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill was desperately urgent with his failure today to announce a date for further debate? Would we be right in considering that his failure is, to use his own words, because the Government are less than ecstatic about the Bill?

Mr. Foot

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government's view about getting the Bill on to the statute book has not altered. I have nothing further to add on the subject to what I said to the Leader of the Opposition earlier and to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas).

Dr. Phipps

Would my right hon. Friend consider having an early debate on the consultative document which has been placed in the Library by the Secretary of State for Energy concerning the fifth round of licensing in the North Sea? Is my right hon. Friend aware that this document has gone to the CBI, the companies and the trade unions and that the only group which has not been consulted or had the opportunity of discussing it is the House of Commons?

Mr. Foot

This is an important subject. A conference is taking place organised by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, which will provide an opportunity for the matter to be discussed. In addition, the Energy Bill [Lords] was introduced in the House this week and some of the matters were debated then. I cannot promise a further, fresh debate, but that does not mean that we do not accept the great importance of the subject.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Since the right hon. Gentleman has said, in reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew), that the constitutional and statutory rights of petitioners can be extinguished by the vote of a whipped majority of one House of Parliament late at night, should we not have an early debate, preferably next week, on the growth of arbitrary powers at the expense of the liberty of the subject under the present Socialist Administration?

Mr. Foot

This mater was fully and properly debated in the House on Monday evening. What was proposed, and what the House did on that occasion, was in accordance with precedents.

Mr. Bryan Davies

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance, as far as it lies within his power, that there will be no changes at short notice to the business before the House next week, because on the evidence of the past week, even when changes were desired by the Opposition, they rarely managed to have more than 35 Members present?

Mr. Foot

We shall do our best to stick to the programme so that everyone will know what is happening.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Further to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) in respect of tonight's business, is the position that, after a reasonable time has been spent on consideration of these esoteric and important subjects, the Minister will move to adjourn the debate so that further and more adequate time can be given to their consideration on another and more suitable occasion?

Mr. Foot

As I said last week when announcing business, there are a considerable number of matters to be discussed at the same time. This is part of the undertaking given to the House to have six debates on general EEC matters throughout the Session; but some of the individual matters are also covered in the general report. I understand that there may be difficulties in covering so many subjects, and after we have carried through the business on the basis on which it appears on the Order Paper we shall have to consider whether some further time would have to be provided at a later date. I would not specify on any particular items whether that should occur.

Mr. Ovenden

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, whatever the Cabinet is reported to have been told about the opinions of Labour Back Benchers, the majority of Labour Back Benchers have shown by their support for Early-Day Motion No. 408 that they wish the Government to proceed with their commitment on child benefit?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to honour its commitment to implement the Child Benefit Scheme in full from April 1977.]

Will any right hon. Friend reconsider his decision about a debate on this matter? If the abandonment of a major election commitment is not important enough to justify a debate in the House, when can we discuss the Government's half-baked scheme to replace child benefits?

Mr. Foot

There were discussions at the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on this subject and I have, of course, seen the Early-Day Motion signed by large numbers of my hon. Friends. Of course, the Government must take into account the representations which are made through that motion, but I am sorry to have to say that I cannot see the possibility of an early debate exclusively on that subject. However, I have no doubt that there will be opportunities in the next few weeks to debate these matters.

Mr. Prior

May I support what has been said by my right hon. and hon. Friends about the third item on today's Order Paper, particularly in view of what the Leader of the House used to say about Community legislation when he was on this side of the House? Will he give an undertaking either that the debate will be given plenty of time or that it can be adjourned and resumed on a fresh day?

As for the industrial democracy Bill, the right hon. Gentleman has made the important statement today that the Government will introduce legislation next Session. Will he bear in mind the fact that the Bullock Committee is not due to report until Christmas, that there will then have to be a White Paper and then discussions with all sections of industry, as well as with the House of Commons, before the Bill can be introduced, and that his statement today can only give rise to a further loss of confidence in industry because of the belief that Parliament will not have time properly to consider the wishes of industry? Would it not be better for the right hon. Gentleman to say straight out today that the Government will not introduce such a Bill next Session?

Mr. Foot

On the first question, if the right hon. Gentleman had been present—I am not complaining because he was not—at our discussions on EEC procedure on two occasions over the past couple of months, he would not subscribe to the view that I am treating this matter in a fashion not designed to accommodate the House. I am seeking to see how far we can carry into operation the same kind of views as I expressed in Opposition about the need for the House to discuss these matters, but I cannot on that account say that a particular item should be removed from the Order Paper today. I repeat, as I have said, that we recognise that at the end of the debate some subjects may not have been covered and that we may have to return to them.

On the subject of the industrial democracy Bill, so far from thinking that it would assist confidence I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion could have the opposite effect. The Government have made it clear that we wish in the next Session of Parliament to introduce a Bill on the subject of industrial democracy. That is still the Government's intention. Of course, we know that we must take fully into account what the Bullock Committee reports. We know that we shall have to work very hard to get it through and forward in time, but we attach the highest importance to getting such a Bill before the House as soon as we can manage.

Mr. Flannery

In view of the flagrantly racialist statements recently made by members of the so-called National Front, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time that this House forthrightly condemned racialism? Will he, therefore, seriously consider organising a method in the near future by which the House has an opportunity in debate to do so?

Mr. Foot

At the earliest opportunity in the light of some of these appalling recent events, the Prime Minister made a declaration to the House on this subject.

Mr. Flannery

With no support from the Opposition.

Mr. Foot

It was fully accepted by all my right hon. and hon. Friends that that was the right way to deal with the matter. That is the way in which I think all hon. Members should deal with the matter.

Mr. John Davies

Irrespective of whatever view the Government may take about the adequacy of the debate tonight, does not the Leader of the House agree that the Scrutiny Committee would not have fulfilled its task unless it too had considered the adequacy of that debate and consequently made such report as it felt was appropriate about what is due to transpire tonight?

Mr. Foot

I assure the right hon. Gentleman, as I think he will confirm, that I take the fullest account of what the Scrutiny Committee says to us on these matters. Following our debate on the subject, we are preparing proposals which I hope will go far to meet many of the individual proposals which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have made on the subject. No doubt these matters will arise again in the debate today.

Mr. Edward Lyons

In view of the grave effect of suspect and ruthless Japanese trade practices on the ravaged and devastated British consumer electronics industry, and particularly since in monochrome television sets the Japanese share of our market has jumped from 25 per cent. to 67 per cent. in the first four months of this year, will my right hon. Friend consider arranging an early debate on the consumer electronics industry?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate, for the reason that I have given so many times before on other matters, but shall discuss this matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade to see what response he would wish to make to my hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Grylls

Will the right hon. Gentleman be frank about the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill and tell us the truth? If, as he claimed three weeks ago, it is very urgent, either something miraculous has happened in the industries in the intervening three weeks to make it not so urgent or else the right hon. Gentleman was not telling the truth three weeks ago.

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman is trying to raise again a subject on which I have already replied. I repeat that the Government are determined to proceed with this Bill and to put it on the statute book this Session.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although I agree with him and the Prime Minister that it is right to have an inquiry into the leakage of Cabinet documents, this Government have a reputation for being a leaky sieve indeed? Is he aware that this is the kind of situation which arises when a Secretary of State for Energy, for example, is openly on the record as having said that he disagrees—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman relate his question to next week's business? It is getting late.

Mr. Lewis

I am asking the Leader of the House to say—perhaps this could be discussed next week with the Prime Minister—whether it is not on record that the Secretary of State for Energy has more than once said that he has differed from his colleagues in the Cabinet. What is the difference between the kind of leak which is verbal and that which is written?

Mr. Foot

I am not answering further questions on the subject of the leakage, but I repudiate entirely the hon. Gentleman's intepretation of the views of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Christopher Price

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the desire on this side of the House for a debate on the sort of racialist episodes that we have seen recently is not so much so that the Government can make their position clear as that the Leader of the Opposition and Conservative Members can also make clear their position on a matter on which they were equivocal earlier this week?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that that point will have sunk in.

Mr. Whitelaw

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, in view of what his hon. Friend has just said, that both my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I have consistently stated the firm fundamental principle of our Conservative Party that all British citizens are equal before the law and that, therefore, we utterly condemn all acts of racial intimidation and incitement?

Mr. Kinnock

We want the organ grinder, not the monkey.

Mr. Foot

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that statement.

Mr. Costain

In relation to next week's business, when does the right hon. Gentleman propose that the House should discuss the Horticulture Capital Grant (Variation) Scheme 1976, which is twenty-sixth on the Order Paper?

Mr. Foot

I am afraid that I cannot give the answer to the hon. Gentleman, but I shall examine the matter and get in touch with him.

Mr. Forman

Will the Leader of the House assure us that time will be found to debate the consultative document on transport before we rise for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure when the discussion will take place, but obviously it is a matter of paramount importance which will have to be debated at some stage.