HC Deb 18 March 1976 vol 907 cc1541-53
Mrs. Thatcher

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

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 22ND MARCH—Supply [13th Allotted Day]: Until about 7 o'clock, debate on a motion on the impact of personal taxation.

Afterwards, a debate on the defence cuts in their application to Northern Ireland, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill.

TUESDAY 23RD MARCH—Second Reading of the New Towns (Amendment) Bill.

Motion on the Property Services Agency Order.

Consideration of any Lords Amendments which may be received to the Water Charges Bill.

WEDNESDAY 24TH MARCH—Supply [14th Allotted Day]: A debate on international trade, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

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

Motion on financial assistance to Industry (BP Chemicals International Limited).

THURSDAY 25TH MARCH—Second Reading of the Weights and Measures &c. Bill, when EEC Document R/3070/75 will also be relevant.

Motions on Orders relating to the coal industry.

FRIDAY 26TH MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 29TH MARCH—Debate on the Green Paper on direct elections to the European Assembly, Command No. 6399.

Mrs. Thatcher

I should be grateful if the Lord President would make it clear that the Supply Day on Monday was made available to the Liberal Party and the Ulster Unionists for them to choose the subject for debate.

Secondly, when does the Lord President intend to arrange a debate on the important Commission documents which are outstanding? I have in mind particularly the debate on skimmed milk, which was abandoned, and the debate on lead pollution, which has been adjourned.

Mr. Short

I have promised debates on both these subjects. We shall arrange debates as soon as possible. Certainly I confirm what the right hon. Lady has said—that Monday is a Supply Day that has been made available by the official Opposition to the Ulster Unionists and the Liberal Party.

Mr. Ashley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time has now come to establish a British Bill of Rights? As we now adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights, will he arrange for a debate on those rights which are guaranteed in Europe by virtue of our adherence?

Mr. Short

I cannot promise any time next week or in the near future for a debate on this matter, but it would be a very suitable subject for a Private Members' day or a Supply Day.

Mr. Lawson

In view of the outstanding success of last week's two-day debate on the public expenditure White Paper, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that this will be repeated next year?

Mr. Short

I am concerned now with next week, not next year.

Mr. Jay

As my right hon. Friend has promised a debate on the skimmed milk powder Order, will he assure the House that these damaging proposals will not be put into operation until this House has reached a decision?

Mr. Short

Perhaps I could make the position on this matter quite clear, because I think that in one small respect I did, perhaps, mislead the House last week. There are two Orders. The first is about skimmed milk. In the case of that Order, the opinion of the European Assembly was not required, and the Regulation has been adopted. In consequence, it is now Community law, as I said, and as such it is applicable in the United Kingdom. It is perfectly straightforward.

The second proposal is rather different. Here consultation with the European Assembly was required. I think that the misleading factor in all this has been a Press notice, which was prepared on the basis that the Assembly was expected to give its opinion in time for the Council to adopt the measure formally and for it to come into operation on 1st April. In the event, the Assembly was unable to reach a conclusion on 10th March, so that that timetable clearly could not be met. For that reason, we have not made any arrangements to implement this particular measure.

It is therefore not true to say that the Council or my right hon. Friend have acted without proper authority. The necessary authority has been obtained on the first proposal, as I have said, in accordance with the proper procedure, and no action whatever has been taken on the second proposal. That is held up pending receipt of the Assembly's opinion and formal adoption by the Council. I hope that that makes clear the slip that I made last week.

Mr. John Page

Will the Lord President say when he expects to be able to arrange a debate on the important matter of the ratification of the European Patent Convention?

Mr. Short

No, Sir, I cannot. The hon. Gentleman has raised this matter with me previously. I shall certainly keep him informed about it and see what I can do about it. However, I think that it will not be for some time to come.

Mr. Spearing

My right hon. Friend has mentioned the debate on Monday week on the Green Paper on direct elections. However, is it not a fact that when the Heads of Government next meet they will have before them a draft convention on direct elections? Would it not, therefore, be appropriate for the House to have that document before it, and will my right hon. Friend now assure us that it will be available on Monday week?

Mr. Short

The document that will be available will be the Government's Green Paper, but as regards the Heads of State discussions, I am afraid that my hon. Friend must put down a Question to the Prime Minister about that.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

When will the right hon. Gentleman honour his promise to deal with the question of public lending right?

Mr. Short

I am very glad to tell the hon. Lady that that Bill is being introduced in another place today.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the European Assembly met and considered the Martens Report, which has a direct relationship to the skimmed milk problem, on Friday last week, and, myself voting against, accepted the Report in its entirety? Am I to take it that the new inclusion in the weights and measures debate of an EEC document is at last a recognition of the fact that this House is not being given sufficient time to discuss EEC Directives before they are accepted—and accepted without our having had the chance to debate them?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Short

I do not know why my hon. Friends are shouting "Hear Hear" to that. With one exception—where there was no time to do so—I have honoured the promise that I made at the beginning of this Parliament, almost two years ago, that we should discuss these matters before they came up for decision in Europe.

Mr. Grylls

When will the Leader of the House allow time for a debate on the National Enterprise Board guidelines, bearing in mind that the Secretary of State for Industry has promised such a debate and that this is a very urgent matter that the House wants to talk about?

Mr. Short

I did not know that my right hon. Friend had promised a debate in terms, but certainly if there is a general desire for a debate on this matter, it could be arranged through the usual channels.

Mr. Loyden

In view of last week's events in relation to the public expenditure White Paper, what is the constitutional situation regarding that White Paper?

Mr. Short

I am answering questions on next week's business. However important this matter may be, it does not arise out of my statement on next week's business.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Should the business of the House next week again come to depend on the production of Xerox copies of the Order Paper, will the Leader of the House assure hon. Members on both sides that the practice, which has taken place, of an obsolete number of Order Papers being printed and then pulped by the Stationery Office—a grotesque waste of public money—will not be continued?

Mr. Short

I will look into that matter. I think that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the people who provided us with essential parliamentary papers last week. I should like to express our gratitude to them. I hope that all hon. Members will put up with some inconvenience. As I have said on many occasions, I am not prepared to have Parliament brought to a standstill by any kind of industrial action.

Mr. Spriggs

May I ask my right hon. Friend——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Those hon. Members who remain on their feet as a reminder to me are only delaying the time when they will be called.

Mr. Spriggs

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he has the information available for the rising of the House for the Easter Recess? Can he yet give the date for the Easter Recess and the return of Members afterwards?

Mr. Short

I cannot give the date today. It depends on the progress of business. I hope that we shall be able to rise for the Easter Recess. I will let the House know the date as soon as possible.

Mr. Peyton

I should like to echo the thanks expressed by the Leader of the House to those who gave us at least some kind of Order Papers last week. I also applaud his repeated determination to see that Parliament continues its work, despite these hiccupping interruptions. I hope that at some time we might have a reasonably calm discussion on what should be done to ensure that we do not have these undignified interruptions of parliamentary procedure.

Mr. Short

We can talk about this matter. These things do occur from time to time. I should point out that what occurred last week was an unofficial dispute.

Mr. Cryer

Does my right hon. Friend accept that, after repeated requests by Back Benchers on this side of the House, the fact that the Yorkshire and Humber-side Region was debated in the Regional Affairs Committee was welcomed? However, does he further accept that it is no substitute for a debate on the Floor of the House? For example, the time in Committee was not adequate to deal with the textile industry and with imports, which are severely damaging. Will my right hon. Friend promise an early debate on the Floor of the House on the Yorkshire and Humberside Region?

Mr. Short

I cannot promise an early debate on the Floor of the House, Representations were made to me by a number of hon. Members about the debate in Committee. I understand that so many hon. Members wished to speak that the time was inadequate. I shall be happy to arrange another session for that debate in the week after next if that commends itself to hon. Members from that area.

Dr. Hampson

Have the Government lost interest in the Bullock Report? Last year the Lord President on three occasions promised to consider the prospects of a debate on that important Report. When are we to have it?

Mr. Short

The Government have not lost interest in the Bullock Report on Literacy. If an occasion arises, we shall debate it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, who is the Shadow spokesman on education, could persuade the Opposition to give some of their time to debate this important Report.

Mr. Gould

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 279, signed by well over 100 Members on this side of the House, with the total rising each day, which calls on the Government not to proceed further in committing this country to direct elections to the European Assembly until a Select Committee has had a chance to consider and to report to the House on all the constitutional and practical implications? Does he agree that a one-day debate on a Green Paper, which does not raise the question of principle, is an inadequate basis for committing this country to direct elections at the Heads of Government meeting?

[That this House resolves to establish a Select Committee to consider the constitutional and practical implications of Article 138 of the Treaty of Rome, including any recommendation for direct elections to the European Assembly made by the Council of Ministers, and calls upon the Government not to proceed further in committing this country to proposals for representation in the Assembly until the House has considered the Committee's report.]

Mr. Short

The Green Paper does not commit this country to direct elections. That would require legislation approved by the House, ultimately, if it were so decided. I have announced a debate on Monday week on this matter. If it is desired, I could arrange for an extension of the time. If a further day is required, perhaps the Opposition would be prepared to consider the matter. Certainly the point made by my hon. Friend will be relevant in the debate on Monday week.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, not for the first time, when he expects to tell the House of the setting up of the Speaker's Conference on electoral reform?

Mr. Short

That is a question for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Buchan

On the earlier question relating to EEC Regulations, we received the grave answer that these had become law in this country without discussion. Surely the proper course is to have an early debate both on those Regulations and on the entire food price package which was negotiated in Brussels, again without discussion and debate in this House. Has this not now become an urgent matter?

Mr. Short

Certainly. I have promised further time to debate the matter if that is the wish of the House. I have tried to point out the significance of the two Orders. I have looked up the spring debates on Farm Price Reviews over the past 20 years and found that there have been five such debates in that time, all in Supply time. Perhaps the Opposition will bear that in mind for one of their days as well.

Mr. Lane

Reverting to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), is the Leader of the House aware that there has already been too much delay and buck-passing about the Speaker's Conference? Will he undertake to speak to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary with a view to some Government initiative being taken before Easter?

Mr. Short

I will discuss this matter with my right hon. Friend. I do not know about any buck-passing or delays. The normal practice for the Speaker's Conference is for the parties to try to reach agreement on the agenda. I imagine that that process is going on. If not, I will look into it.

Mr. Skinner

Regarding Common Market surpluses, would it not be more sensible to have a general debate on the Common Market mountains stretching from skimmed milk, on the one hand, to the mountains of coal in this country, on the other? Why is it that, for instance, we are constantly being urged to get rid of Continental surpluses, and yet, when it comes to getting rid of 35 million tons of coal in this country, most Continental countries buy their coal elsewhere?

Mr. Short

The second part of my hon. Friend's question does not arise out of the Business Statement. On the first part of his question, if he looked at the time that we have spent discussing European matters so far this Session, I think that he would be very surprised.

Mr. Marten

I support the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) in his request for a second day on the direct elections Green Paper. Knowing the enthusiasm of so many Federalists on this side of the House for direct elections, I am sure that any approach through the usual channels on this side would be met with one day, if not two days.

Mr. Short

I realise the importance of this matter and how deeply the hon. Gentleman feels about it. No doubt he will use his considerable influence with his Front Bench to see whether it will provide a day as well.

Mr. Canavan

Is there any truth in the report that a dummy Bill on devolution has already been drafted and printed? Bearing in mind the different climate of opinion in Scotland and Wales on the issue, will the Government consider introducing separate Bills for Scotland and Wales?

Mr. Short

On the first point, it is true that we have received a first print, but a number of prints are needed before a Bill is got right. Therefore, it will not see the light of day for some time.

On the second point, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) raised this matter with me in the debate and I promised to consider it.

Mr. Tim Renton

Is the Lord President aware that the Secretary of State for Energy has issued an election manifesto in which, among other things, he calls for import controls? In view of that, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to speak in the debate on international trade next Wednesday in order that the House may hear how he holds views so divergent from the Government's and yet stays within the Cabinet?

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman asked, first, whether I was aware. The answer to that is "Yes, Sir". The answer to the second question is "No, Sir".

Mr. William Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider that answer and ask all the candidates to speak on Wednesday? On a more serious matter, will he indicate why there is a singular lack of progress in setting up the Select Committee on Procedure?

Mr. Short

I regret that. As my hon. Friend knows—or perhaps he does not know, because he is away a good deal now—I have been discussing this matter with many hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have now agreed on the terms of reference, and I hope that the Committee will be set up in the very near future.

Mr. Michael Latham

Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed the gloomy fact that on Tuesday Standing Committee J is due to sit? Is there nothing he can do to stem the overwhelming flood of legislation?

Mr. Short

The legislation is slightly less than it was in one of the years of Conservative Government. But I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the situation on that score is pretty gloomy.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the serious situation which may result following the notification of intending industrial action—if not a strike—by chairmen of nationalised boards? Will he have a word with the Ministers responsible for those appointments to see whether they will discuss the matter with the TUC———

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are dealing with next week's business.

Mr. Lewis

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I am well aware of that. I have been here just as long as you have—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I realise how long the hon. Member has been here, and I hope that he will come to the point.

Mr. Lewis

Will the Leader of the House consult with the Ministers responsible and ask them, in turn, to consult the TUC to lay down recommendations in regard to conditions, hours and wages which are adequate for the job of a chairman of a nationalised industry?

Mr. Short

We already have a salary review body dealing with the salaries of all chairmen of nationalised industries. No doubt the Government will consider this matter in due course.

Mr. Fairbairn

When will the House have an opportunity to debate the housing loan finance agency promised in the Labour Party manifesto?

Mr. Short

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will contain himself, he will find that eventually we shall work our way through all our manifesto promises. Out of 67 such matters, I think that we have already reached a total of 59. That is not a bad record.

Mr. Molloy

Will my right hon. Friend take full note of the growing concern felt by hon. Members in all parts of the House about the way in which EEC legislation seems to be slipping through the House in an unacceptable manner, and also about the important fact that debates on the great regions of our nation—with particular reference to Greater London, which is my own concern—cannot be debated on the Floor of the House? Will he fully appreciate that those two matters are causing genuine concern? Therefore, will he examine the situation and make a statement some time next week?

Mr. Short

My hon. Friend is right to talk about the difficulties caused, and I dealt with this matter in my speech during the recent debate on procedure. One factor that makes the situation so difficult in arranging regional or indeed general debates is the large amount of time which we must devote to European matters. This is a new matter for the House of Commons. I hope that the Committee dealing with the reform of Parliament will give a good deal of time to that point. My hon. Friend is right to express concern.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will the right hon. Gentleman seek authority by bringing a Supplementary Estimate to Parliament before giving public money to a foreign Government for the harassment of British people in Africa?

Mr. Short

I recently heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister answer a Question on this matter. I confirm that if any loan or aid is given to Mozambique, it will be done in the correct parliamentary way and the proper procedures will be followed.