HC Deb 24 June 1976 vol 913 cc1821-40
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 28TH JUNE—Supply [26th Allotted Day]: there will be a debate on child benefits, on a motion for the Adjournment.

Motions on the Iron Casting Industry (Scientific Research Levy) (Amendment) Order and on the Horticulture Capital Grant (Variation) Scheme.

TUESDAY 29TH JUNE—Consideration of the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill.

WEDNESDAY 30TH JUNE and THURSDAY 1ST JULY—Remaining stages of the Education Bill.

FRIDAY 2ND JULY—Motions on Northern Ireland Orders relating to various emergency powers and the interim period extension.

MONDAY 5TH JULY—Supply [27th Allotted Day]: subject for debate to be announced later.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman about the debate set down for next Tuesday? I understand that that debate is meant to be a repeat of the debate held on 27th May. Therefore, if it is to be a true and fair repeat, the circumstances under which it is held ought to be identical. What arrangements does he propose to make to ensure that, in the event of a tied vote, the Bill will go to a Select Committee, as would have happened on 27th May?

Mr. Heffer

Stupid woman.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady and representatives of the Opposition indicated to me last night the importance they attach to this subject, and they suggested a motion which would indicate what would happen, if it were passed and approved by the House, in the event of a tie. We were urged by the Opposition to consider this seriously and we gave serious consideration to the proposal.

I would suggest to the House how we might deal with it. We do not consider that the motion that was indicated by the Opposition is the right way to deal with it. I do not think that it is in my power to indicate, publish or state what the proposal was. If the Opposition wish to make that public they will do so. We believe that there are strong grounds of principle why that motion is not accepable. However, if the Opposition wish to press it, although we are prepared to discuss this matter through the usual channels, we would suggest that this motion should be discussed at the same time as the other motion on Tuesday next and that the votes on both matters should be taken at the end of the debate.

Mr. Fairbairn

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made her request to the Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) described her as a "stupid woman".

Mr. Corbett

I second that.

Mr. Fairbairn

Is that parliamentary language, Mr. Speaker, particularly coming from an hon. Member who does not believe in any distinction between the sexes or apparently in distinctions between intelligence?

Mr. Speaker

It has long been indicated, far back in "Erskine May", in early editions, that courteous behaviour is required in the House, and the hurling of titles which one would not like to have thrown at one's self adds nothing to our debates.

Mr. Mellish

On the question of the debate on Tuesday next, in the event of what is called a tie, I believe that it would be proper, Mr. Speaker—although this is a matter for you alone—to decide according to precedent how you cast your vote and therefore to take the decision on that day. It is a known fact that if on the previous occasion the tie had remained on the second vote, you, Mr. Speaker, understandably, would have cast your vote against the Government. I do not see why there should be any difference on the next occasion, and if there is a tie it would be your decision, as Speaker of the House, that would resolve it.

Mr. Speaker

Let me say this to the House: first of all, no one dislikes ties more than I do. Secondly, Mr. Speaker is protected by precedents, and in all ties I follow the precedents as laid down by "Erskine May". I do not wish to be drawn any further into this argument this afternoon.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

First of all, do the Government intend to suspend Standing Order No. 53 on Tuesday next or not? They have not yet said what they are going to do, but are they seized of the fact that unless they do so a debate cannot take place for it would last only 20 minutes before the Question was put?

Secondly, if the Prime Minister were in good faith in the statement he made to the House on Tuesday, it can mean only that the Government are themselves prepared to move a motion so that the vote of the Chair has the same effect on a tie as it would have had on the last occasion. Is the Leader of the House prepared to protect the Prime Minister's good faith by himself moving such a motion on Tuesday before the Order of the Day for recommittal is taken, or is he going to betray his own Prime Minister as well as the House of Commons?

Mr. Foot

On the first question, it is our intention, of course, to suspend the Standing Order so that the debate can take place for the full day, to which we have indicated we would agree if the Opposition desired it. On the hon. Gentleman's second question, I repudiate any suggestion questioning the good faith of the Prime Minister, and what I have said in the House in response to the right hon. Lady's question is in my opinion the best way to deal with the matter.

Mr. Moonman

Would my right hon. Friend say when the Government intend to make a statement on the publication of their White Paper dealing with occupational pension schemes?

Mr. Foot

May I tell my hon. Friend, the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) and others in the House who may have been expecting a statement on the subject today that I apologise for any inconvenience caused to the House through the statement not having been made. The reason is time. We were seeking to protect the time of the House.

However, I can tell the House that the Government have today published a White Paper on this subject called "Occupational Pension Schemes: the Role of Members in the Running of Schemes"—Command Paper No. 6514. This White Paper will prepare the way for a public discussion on the issues involved. If the House and the hon. Gentleman wish a further statement to be made on this subject in the House tomorrow we shall be glad to agree to that, although of course the House will understand that there will be publication of many of the details in the newspapers today as a result of the announcement I have made.

Mr. Grimond

If we are to be kept strictly to the position of the last debate on shipbuilding, it will not have escaped the right hon. Gentleman's attention that by next Tuesday there will have been one major alteration, in that there will be a new Member in the House, although we do not know to which party he will belong. I take it that there will be no representations in the House to suggest that he should not vote and I take it that the Leader of the House will expect him to be in the Division Lobby next Tuesday.

Mr. Foot

I am sure that all qualified Members will be able to vote.

Mr. Canavan

In view of the Labour Party manifesto commitment to redistribute wealth in favour of working people and their families, and in view of the thousands of homeless people, among them many young couples, who are on housing waiting-lists, may we have an early debate about the amount of public money that goes to the Royal Family, bearing in mind the privileged housing position of Captain Mark Phillips and his wife?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate on that general subject although there have been statements in the House on the wealth tax by my hon. Friend responsible for that matter.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

In view of the statement we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman on the publication of the White Paper on occupational pension schemes, may I ask whether he recognises that it is very unfortunate that a Department should go ahead and release documents to the Press before the Cabinet has authorised the Secretary of State to make a statement, with the result that should the Cabinet refuse a statement the matter cannot be recalled? That is a very unsatisfactory way of proceeding. Would the right hon. Gentleman equally accept that in all the circumstances it would have been better if a statement had been made in the House tomorrow. This is an extremely controversial White Paper, giving the trade unions 50 per cent. representation on occupational pension schemes, an issue on which very strong views will be held.

Mr. Foot

We think that it is an important matter and would certainly have wished for a statement to be made to the House today. Certainly, we have nothing to hide and everything to boast about. However, we wanted to protect the time of the House and the time of the Opposition, as well as the time of others in the House. But I believe that what I have said can help the House in the circumstances. I apologise for the fact that there has been no statement.

Mr. Jay

Has my right hon. Friend seen the recommendations of the Select Committee on Direct Elections to the European Economic Community—that this subject should be debated in this House before any decisions are taken on 12th July? Will he give the House an assurance on that?

Mr. Foot

I accept fully that this is a very important matter and that it must be debated in the House. I am afraid that I cannot give any indication about when that will be. I have noted carefully my right hon. Friend's representations on the matter.

Mr. Peyton

May I ask the Leader of the House when the Government expect to receive the report of Sir Douglas Allen's inquiry? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to make a statement by Thursday of next week at least about the position reached by that inquiry, since its present very leisurely progress hardly matches the concern which is felt in Parliament and in the country?

Mr. Foot

I cannot accept any comment about the alleged leisurely progress of the inquiry. I am sure that Sir Douglas Allen is making his inquiries with the utmost possible dispatch. Therefore, I do not think that anyone should reflect upon that. I cannot give an absolute guarantee that we shall be able to make a statement by next Thursday, although the right hon. Gentleman framed his question in a very helpful manner in the sense that he asked merely for a statement by next Thursday indicating the possibilities of a statement in the future if we have not reached the possibility of a statement by then.

Mr. Peyton

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's acknowledgment that my request was a modest one. But I must press him. The Opposition also have rights in this matter. I do not think that the Government can afford to be as dilatory as they are being. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give the undertaking for which I asked, otherwise the House will be obliged to seek other remedies.

Mr. Foot

I cannot accept that the Government are being dilatory. Nor am I prepared to accept any reflection from the right hon. Gentleman on the way in which this high civil servant is conducting his inquiries. I cannot accept any of the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions. His original question asked me whether I would consider making a statement by next Thursday about the stage which matters had then reached. I will consider that, but I cannot give any guarantee that we shall be able to make a statement by next Thursday about the conclusion of the inquiry.

Mr. Peyton


Mr. Flannery

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that many hon. Members are waiting to raise matters with the Leader of the House, must this dialogue go on endlessly?

Mr. Speaker

Again, it is a long-established custom, if a matter is about to be cleared up between the two Front Benches, to allow it to be cleared up, and then we can get back on to the other business.

Mr. Peyton

I asked the Leader of the House not "to consider" but "to give an undertaking". In the circumstances, I feel that it would be right at the proper moment today that I should seek the leave of the House to move the Adjournment under Standing Order No. 9.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

My right hon. Friend will recall that it is nearly four weeks since we started on the Second Reading of the Public Lending Right Bill and that there has been an interval of two weeks since we last discussed it. We have still not completed the Second Reading, and my right hon. Friend has taken it off tonight, when it was to have taken place. I did not hear it included in next week's business. Is there any precedent for a measure which is not opposed by the Opposition being treated in this churlish fashion? Has it anything to do with the fact that at present we have no Minister in this House who is responsible for the Bill, since he is elsewhere?

Mr. Foot

It has nothing to do with that last matter adduced by my hon. Friend. I am sure that there are precedents for the situation which he suggests. I am extremely sorry that the matter had to be taken off the business for tonight. But I am sure that when the House sees the business that we wish to get through today it will understand the reasons for that. There is no intention on the Government's part to abandon the Bill. We intend to proceed with it, I promise.

Mr. Molyneaux

With regard to the Northern Ireland business next Friday, will the Leader of the House consider taking the two items in reverse order, and will he indicate whether he is prepared to recommend the suspension of the rule on that day?

Mr. Foot

Certainly I will consider what the hon. Gentleman has put to me. If it is for the convenience of right hon. and hon. Members generally, and those from Northern Ireland particularly, to reverse the order, I shall be happy to do that. I will consider suspending the rule. I should not like to give an absolute promise now. But we gave such an undertaking when it was requested on an earlier occasion and it assisted the House considerably. We shall consider it in that sense.

Mr. Greville Janner

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 433 in my own name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins), which has been signed by 75 other Government supporters, calling for the retirement age for men to be reduced to 60? Can we look forward to an early debate on this subject, which is seen to be one of great importance in the House and in the country?

[That this House calls for the voluntary retirement age of men to be reduced to 60 years.]

Mr. Foot

This is a matter of general interest to the country at large, of course. Certainly I do not wish to discourage the general debate about it, but I am afraid that I cannot promise an early debate on the subject.

Mr. du Cann

Is the Leader of the House aware that there has also been published today, in addition to the occupational pensions White Paper, the Third Report from the Select Committee on Public Accounts? In view of the widespread interest on both sides of the House in the matter of public expenditure, which goes not only to the volume but also to the quality of expenditure, will he promise a day for an early debate, bearing in mind that that would enable some of the rumours which are circulating about the Government's intentions in this regard, and which are causing much anxiety, to be dispelled? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that, as the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) indicated, there is much virtue, when this House sets up Select Committees, in arranging prompt debates on their reports?

Mr. Foot

Of course, I agree with the general principle that it is very desirable that, when Select Committees and other Committees report to the House, we should have debates as soon as we can. But I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is fully aware of all the difficulties, especially at this season of the year, in satisfying all these demands. I cannot give him the promise of an early debate, although I have no doubt that these matters will figure prominently in some of the other debates which will be taking place in the next few weeks on the Finance Bill and so forth.

Mr. Kinnock

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is growing concern about the apparently increasing amount of racial intolerance and racial activity in the country following the malevolent reporting of the Malawi Asians' hotel stay, the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), and the leaking of the Hawley report, which has not had the same coverage as last week's business, and that consequently many hon. Members feel that it is time for a debate on the subject so that the House can bring to bear its well-known tolerance and skill at lowering temperatures?

Mr. Foot

I appreciate my right hon. Friend's views on the subject, and I am sure that the House is concerned about them. Whether it is best to do it in a debate solely on that subject is another matter, and, as I have said already, we have these difficulties about time. But there is a Bill passing through Parliament which is designed to assist in this matter. That will be coming back to the House. When it does, there will be an opportunity for some debate.

Mr. Montgomery

Why did it take almost a month to get the report on the vote of 27th May which was disputed? Is there any significance in the fact that the Prime Minister made his statement on Tuesday, that we have the Rotherham by-election today, and that we are to take the disputed vote again next Tuesday? If we are to have a replay under exactly the same conditions, how can that possibly be achieved if there will be an additional Member present when the disputed vote is taken again?

Referring to the remarks of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), may I add a plea from the opposite direction? When shall we have a debate on the Hawley report on immigration, because I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and the Home Secretary display a complacency which is not shared by the overwhelming majority of the people, who are deeply disturbed by the rate of immigration?

Mr. Foot

I think that I have already dealt with the first matter raised by the hon. Gentleman in answer to questions from the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond).

In reply to the hon. Gentleman's second point, I can assure him that there is no complacency by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the subject. We wish to see the legislation that we have on the subject passed through this House as effectively as possible, and that will also provide an opportunity for the House to comment on these matters.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

If possible, I want to include all those hon. Members who still wish to raise matters with the Leader of the House. Will hon. Members please try to help me by keeping their questions right to the point?

Mr. James Johnson

Can the leader of the House tell us when we are likely to get the long-awaited statement about fisheries policy and would he take note that all the Labour Members who represent fishing ports hope that there will be some statement about decasualisation of the work force?

Mr. Foot

I note the representations of my hon. Friend on the latter subject but I do not imagine that we can solve that before the end of July. As for a general statement on fisheries policy, I will make representations to my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to see whether a statement can be made.

Mr. Wigley

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to Early-Day Motion No. 465 concerning the need for an economic plan for Wales?

[That this House notes with dismay the fact that the Welsh Office neither have an economic plan for Wales at present nor have any intention of developing such a plan; believes that there will be no solution to the problems of unemployment, depopulation and limited job opportunity until such a plan is drawn up and acted upon; fears that the Welsh Development Agency is doomed to work in a vacuum in the absence of such a strategy; and condemns the Secretary of State for Wales for his appalling complacency in regard to the economic development of Wales.]

In view of the serious economic situation in Wales, could he arrange for a debate possibly by means of the annual Welsh day which is due before the end of the Session?

Mr. Foot

I am fully aware that there is an annual Welsh day debate. I have participated in it on some occasions, although I recall that it does not always take place before the end of the Summer Recess. However, I recognise the importance of the matter.

Mr. Flannery

In view of the recent terrible events in South Africa, and the fact that the South African Government are now shooting down large numbers of people, and that this could deepen, and in view of the circumstances of South Africa generally, would my right hon. Friend seriously consider allowing time for a debate on the subject? If he cannot manage that, would he seriously consider asking the Prime Minister to make a full-scale statement on events in South Africa?

Mr. Foot

I recognise how strong the feeling is among many of my hon. Friends who have come on deputations to me on the subject during the week, and a statement is being made in response to a Question put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) today. I am sure that the House will be aware that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a statement on 17th June dealing with events in South Africa. The House will also be aware that we supported the United Nations Security Council resolution on 19th June which deplored the unacceptable racial policies of the South African Government and condemned the massive violence used against inhabitants of African townships. Our representative at the United Nations made a statement to the Council, and I recommend my hon. Friends to read it. I fully accept what my hon. Friend says about the importance of this subject even though, I am afraid, I cannot promise a debate.

Mr. Marten

On the question of eviscerated chickens, will the Leader of the House tell us when the regulations or orders, or whatever, will be laid and will he promise to give the House an opportunity to reject them them?

Mr. Foot

I cannot say when, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, when the occasion does arise, will take every opportunity available to him.

Mr. Loyden

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 467 on the Oakes Report?

[That this House expresses its concern that during the coming winter months there will be further disconnections of electricity and gas supplies to the aged and low income families; and therefore calls upon the Government to give time for the House to debate the Fuel Payments Review (Oakes Report) before the Summer Recess.]

May I remind my right hon. Friend that if this matter is not discussed before the Summer Recess, it will be at least October or November before any consideration is given to the report? In view of the urgency of this—it will mean that there is no decision on disconnections before the coming winter months—will my right hon. Friend promise a debate on this subject before the Summer Recess?

Mr. Foot

It is difficult to promise a debate on the matter, but I recognise its importance and I will ensure that my hon. Friends responsible will see whether a statement can be made to the House. In any case, I am sure that the importance of it has been represented to them by the motion on the Order Paper

Mr. Michael Morris

May we have a debate on the water industry, particularly in view of the very worrying water shortage?

Mr. Foot

I agree that, in many respects, it is extremely worrying and I will make representations to my hon. Friend to see whether a statement can be made next week on the matter.

Sir G. de Freitas

Will my right hon. Friend note that my motion on the water shortage has been signed by Members from both sides of the House? Will he also note the unusual wording of the motion in that it calls upon the Government and the Opposition to get together to provide time for a debate on this serious national problem?

[That this House, being aware that the shortage of water in the East Midlands presents serious problems, both long term and short term, requests Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Opposition to provide an opportunity for debating the Government's Green Paper of March 1976.]

Mr. Foot

I recognise the importance of the whole subject and I would never stand between both sides of the House getting together to provide more time for us to discuss this question. However, even if we did get together, we could not provide more time than is available.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he has seen Early-Day Motion No. 454 on the subject which my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) raised this afternoon from the Front Bench?

[That this House, noting the statement of the Minister chiefly responsible for information that Her Majesty's Government is now characterised by "the conscious and premeditated leaking of high level decisions", views with concern the prospect that private individuals, companies and allied governments no longer can be sure that private information provided to Ministers and civil servants will remain confidential; requests the Prime Minister forthwith to endorse or repudiate his colleague's statement; and calls on him to establish a Tribunal of Inquiry with terms of reference that include the general charges made by the hon. Member for Rugby, the operations of the Official Secrets Act and the relevant activities of Special Advisers to Ministers.]

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take more seriously, and with a greater degree of urgency, the fact that the Minister primarily responsible for information in the Government has told all those citizens from whom confidential information is abstracted, and many of the companies which are required by law to provide confidential information to the Government, and those allied Governments who share their secrets with us, that the leaks of his Government are conscious and premeditated. Until this matter is cleared up there can be no confidence among allied Government, or private companies, or individuals, that they should share their information with the Government. It is, therefore, a matter of most urgent national interest and should be dealt with expeditiously.

Mr. Foot

I cannot offer any time for discussing the hon. Gentleman's motion. Indeed, I thought that the questions from the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) dealt with a different matter. I do not think that the two matters should be muddled up together.

Mr. Spearing

Does my right hon. Friend recall that on the evening of 10th June the House did not reach decisions on either of the two educational motions before it? Will he re-table the one about the directive on migrant children, on which there is no disagreement? Has my right hon. Friend noted that the one concerning the resolution passed by the Council of Ministers, according to the Secretary of State for Education as reported in column 1850 on 10th June, has no status under the treaty? Will he confirm that he will not re-table that matter?

Mr. Foot

What happened on the night of 10th June is seldom absent from my thoughts. I will consider again what occurred and see how best we can sort out the resolutions which my hon. Friend wishes to discuss again from those which he is determined not to discuss.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

If we cannot have a debate on Government expenditure next week, may we have a statement from the Chancellor telling us how he proposes to persuade Socialist councils to keep their expenditure under control when we have the Chairman of the GLC, Mr. Tony Banks, stating that there should be a subsidy to Chelsea Football Club? In view of that kind of situation, how will the Government keep their expenditure down?

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

On a point of accuracy, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Banks is not Chairman of the GLC and spoke entirely on his own behalf.

Mr. Speaker

I do not care what he is. I wish hon. Gentlemen would put their questions succinctly.

Mr. Foot

From what I saw of Chelsea last season, particularly when they were performing against Plymouth Argyle, it will take more than a subsidy from the GLC to put matters right. These are matters which will figure prominently in the debates we shall have both on the White Paper on inflation and on the Finance Bill.

Mr. Molloy

In view of the increasing amount of EEC legislation and its effect on the people of this country, and in view of the fact that on all sides of the House we are unhappy at the present manner in which we discuss it, will my right hon. Friend consider, in the not-too-distant future, giving the House an opportunity to debate the issue so that we can indicate in which way we think we ought to deal with these propositions and decisions of the EEC?

Mr. Foot

We discussed this matter a few weeks ago and I promised then that I would prepare and present to the House in some form, I would hope before the recess, an indication of how the Government think we should deal with this business in future. I do not say that our solutions will be perfect but they will take into account representations made in that debate. I recognise that this matter is of the first importance for the future of the House.

Mr. Tom King

Since Mr. Speaker is clearly bound by precedent and it would be wrong for either side to seek to involve him in this argument, is it not clear that the only way in which the matter of the vote on Tuesday will be resolved is if the Government are prepared to move their own motion? If not, we have the situation described by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery), that the Government will add one further vote to their side and will also now have the possibility of the casting vote in their favour. Since the Leader of the House appeared to imply that his proposal improved the situation, will he confirm that in both situations that he has described it is his intention that the casting vote will be with the Government?

Mr. Foot

I do not make decisions about the casting votes. Mr. Speaker makes those decisions. I agree that neither side of the House nor any section of it should seek to involve Mr. Speaker. These matters are of course perfectly fitting for discussion on Tuesday. That is a better way of proceeding than by way of answer now.

Mr. Madden

My right hon. Friend will remember that two statements have been made to the House about the establishment of an inquiry into the dangers of asbestos and that 150 hon. Members called for any such inquiry to be conducted wholly in public. As the inquiry has announced today that its proceedings are to be held almost entirely in private, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement so that the House can reaffirm its views? Will he agree that unless this inquiry is persuaded to change its view and to hold its proceedings in public, it will stand condemned in the eyes of most members of the public as a cover-up of the dangers of asbestos?

Mr. Foot

I certainly would not agree to condemn the inquiry in advance and I would not accept that it was intended in any way as a cover-up. However, I will discuss with the Secretary of State for Employment whether a further statement on the subject should be made next week.

Mr. Beith

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered whether we could proceed next week to deal with the unanimous recommendation of the Committee of Selection that one of its vacancies should be filled from among the minority parties?

In view of the conference which is taking place this week, may I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 109, in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), which has over 230 signatures from Members of all parties about the conservation of whales, which could be the subject of a short debate in the near future?

[That this House is of opinion that the Government should impose a ban on the import of sperm whale products into this country and take all other practical steps to impose a moratorium on whaling for a period of 10 years as an essential conservation measure of great importance to mankind in general.]

Mr. Foot

It is true that the Committee of Selection has reported, I think very fairly, agreed recommendations to the House. I should like to know the views of the Opposition on this matter. If they concur in those recommendations we should be very eager to recommend to the House that they should be accepted.

I cannot promise a debate on the second subject, but I certainly accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the great public interest in this matter and the importance of our contributing to a debate which may have some effect on it. Therefore, I do not rule out all possibility of it. I should like to find time for such an important matter, but the time just is not available.

Mr. Ashley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that two important reports require urgent Government consideration? The first is the Heilbron Report, of which he may have heard, on the law relating to rape. There is a Bill before the House which has been filibustered almost out of existence in a most irresponsible fashion. May we have an assurance that my right hon. Friend will find time for that Bill? The second report is the Phillimore Report, which deals with contempt of court and, significantly, furthers the freedom of the Press. Could he find time for that to be debated as soon as possible?

Mr. Foot

On the second matter, once again, despite the importance of the subject, I cannot promise any debate on it. However, I hope that, when the House meets again later in the year, we shall be able to consider it. Eventually, of course, we may have legislation on this subject. That is what would be required if parts of the report were to be made effective.

On the first matter, again I recognise how many of my hon. Friends are concerned about the Bill and about the treatment that it has had in the House when it has returned here. There is still another day for Private Members' time. Let us see how we proceed then. However, I recognise the strength of the representations which are being made to me on the subject.

Mr. Fairbairn

When shall we be able to debate the report, which I think was issued yesterday, which recommends that we should build a little box in the corner of the Chamber for broadcasting at a cost of £38,000 and another in the House of Lords at a cost of £30,000 and that this should be done during the recess? At such a time of public expenditure restriction I should be obliged to know when we can debate this matter.

Mr. Foot

I, too, should like to debate that subject, and I think that the House should debate it if we are to get the work done during the recess. I am strongly in favour of that happening. Indeed, it was the express will of the House that we should proceed as swiftly as possible to do this. However, to get precise instructions we should have to have another debate.

Mr. Prescott

May I impress on my right hon. Friend the urgency of a statement next week of a commitment to the ending of decasualisation in the fishing industry and denying benefit to shipowners who are already laying down ships before the terms are announced? Secondly, would my right hon. Friend give attention to the deplorable fact that there is no appointed doctor or State registered nurse for the 4,000 staff and Members of this House, especially in view of the fact that 10 Members required medical attention this week?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a statement on fisheries policy next week, but I know how strong are the feelings of my hon. Friend and others on this matter. I will make representations to my right hon. Friends to see whether we can have a statement next week, but I cannot promise that. I know that there must be a statement on general fisheries policy fairly early.

On the second question, my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) approached me yesterday, particularly in view of the events yesterday, and made representations to see whether something could be done on the lines that my right hon. Friend has now suggested. I think that most hon. Members would recognise the common sense and the common humanity of what he said. We are therefore looking at the matter urgently.

Mr. Tim Renton

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on the second edition of the highly inflationary social contract before it becomes the law of the land?

Mr. Foot

All these matters can be debated in the financial and economic debates that I have announced. I do not, of course, accept any of the pejorative phrases that the hon. Gentleman has used.

Mr. Madel

Would the right hon. Gentleman look again at next week's business in relation to the likely length of this Session? Instead of grinding on into August and threatening to bring us back in September, would it not be better to extend the Session until Christmas so that we can have more time to consider the legislation and then if necessary have an 18-month Session starting in January 1977? Why is there always such a rush at this time of year? Surely it is time to change these things.

Mr. Foot

All such reasonable possibilities are always considered by Leaders of the House. They do not always reach the same conclusions, but such possibilities have not escaped our attention. However, no decisions have been made as to when this part of our discussions will end or when the Session will end or how we are to proceed. What we are determined to do is ensure that the essential legislation will reach the statute book.

Mr. Heffer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While the Leader of the Opposition was speaking earlier, at the end of her remarks I made what I now regard—without pressure from the Whips or anyone else—as an offensive remark. I regret it and I unreservedly withdraw it.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker

I am very much obliged to the hon. Member. What he has said helps the rest of the tone of the House.