HC Deb 23 March 1976 vol 908 cc204-6
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about Thursday's business.

Following my announcement of the Second Reading of the Weights and Measures &c., Bill, it has been represented that more time should be allowed for consultation. I am agreeable to this.

As a result, the business will be, until seven o'clock, a debate on Northern Ireland affairs, followed by the five coal industry Orders. Thereafter, the business will be proceedings on the Statute Law Revision (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure, and the Orders on Docks and Harbours and Legal Aid (Scotland).

Mr. Whitelaw

Is the Leader of the House aware that the lovely phrase more time should be allowed for consultation will not fool me, with all my experience in these matters, nor indeed the right hon. Gentleman or his right hon. Friend the Chief Whip? Is he aware that what his statement means is that the Government cannot rustle up enough support for their measure and that the measure they tabled for discussion last Thursday is not to be taken this Thursday? If that is the case, is not the answer to have a full debate on the issue in Government time when these consultations can proceed on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Short

The right hon. Gentleman is the last person I would try to fool, but this Government try to govern by consent and agreement, not by confrontation, as in the case of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a distinguished member. We have representations from both sides of the House that more time is required. I emphasise that that plea came from both sides of the House. That is a fair request because it is an intricate subject and it is clear that more time should be allowed.

Mr. Whitelaw

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my main point. We on this side did not ask for more time. We made our position clear in our amendment. But now that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that there should be more time on this matter, will he go further and give Government time for a full debate on this issue in the House?

Mr. Short

No, Sir, I cannot promise that. We have a very full programme between now and the Summer Recess, and I am sure that all hon. Members wish to rise at a reasonable date this year for the Summer Recess.

Mr. Beith

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the newly-announced debate on Northern Irish affairs will take place on a Government motion and to what matters it will relate?

Mr. Short

The matter will be dealt with on an Adjournment motion. I take it that the debate will be on economic and defence matters in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Common Market metrication measure will not be put back on the Order Paper until Labour's new Leader and the nation's Prime Minister has been elected so that a fresh mind will be able to examine the matter—in respect not merely of metrica- tion but of the whole attitude towards the Common Market generally?

Mr. Short

It is not a Common Market measure. Secondly, it will not be put "above the line" until a new Prime Minister is appointed.

Sir David Renton

Does not difficulty experienced by the Government over the weights and measures legislation show that there is enormous advantage in having a debate on the Green Paper or White Paper before controversial legislation, which may cut across the parties, is introduced? Would not such a debate avoid the difficulty in which the Government now find themselves?

Mr. Short

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We are taking that course on a number of issues in this Parliament. I discussed this matter in the debate on procedure. I hope that it is one of the issues which the Committee dealing with the reform of Parliament will examine.

Mr. English

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us on the Government side of the House appreciate what he has done, and that we also find it a piece of intolerable arrogance when hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench say that the business should be changed when they request it but not when Back Benchers request it?

Mr. Short

It is nice—but rare—to be appreciated by anyone in this job.

Mr. Marten

Is not this a classic case of the will and power of Parliament—not necessarily on the Floor of the House—dominating the Government of the day? In that case, should not the Bill be dropped and should not we follow my right hon. Friend's proposal that perhaps the matter could be dealt with again on a Green Paper basis?

Mr. Short

I think that it is a case of the will and power of Parliament influencing the Government. I am making no apology for that. That is an excellent thing to happen. We have had representations from many quarters about it. I thought it right and appropriate—so did my right hon. Friend—to take the matter off the Order Paper this week and to allow much more time for it to be discussed.