HC Deb 13 May 1976 vol 911 cc669-79
Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Leader of the House tell us the business for next week, please?

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 17th May—Progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

TUESDAY 18th May—Supply [21st Allotted Day]: there will be a debate on the sale of council and new town houses to tenants, which will arise on an Opposition motion.

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

Motion on the Counter-Inflation (Price Code) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order.

WEDNESDAY 19th May—Supply [22nd Allotted Day]: debate on an Opposition motion on nationalisation.

A debate on the procedures for handling EEC documents with particular reference to skimmed milk.

THURSDAY 20th May—Remaining stages of the Police Bill.

Motion on the Family Income Supplements (Computation) Regulations.

FRIDAY 21st May—Bills.

MONDAY 24th May motions until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, it is expected that opposed Private Business will be named for consideration.

The House will wish to know, Mr. Speaker, that, subject to progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Whitsun Adjournment on Friday 28th May until Monday 7th June.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Leader of the House consider the position of Thursday's business when we are to deal with the Police Bill and a motion on family income supplements? The Police Bill has been substantially changed and further changes are in prospect in amendments which have already been tabled. As the Bill is so different from that which went upstairs, may we not have a half-day's debate on the new Bill before proceeding to Report stage on the Floor of the House and take the rest of the day for a longer debate on family income supplements?

May I ask about the form of the motion for the skimmed milk debate and whether the Government will be making their position clear at the beginning of that debate?

Mr. Foot

On the second question, the Government will make a statement at the beginning of the debate. We were proposing that the debate should take place on an Adjournment motion. I think that that would be the most satisfactory way to cover all the different aspects of the problem.

On the suggested rearrangement of the business for Thursday, I doubt whether we could do what the right hon. Lady suggested. If she is concerned about the progress we may make on the family income supplements regulations, she should wait and see how we get on with the Police Bill. I hope that we shall be able to proceed with that Bill in the way I have suggested.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend indicate to the House what is now likely to be the position of the Hare Coursing Bill in view of the decision of the Select Committee in another place against the Government's Bill? It suggests an alternative Bill. What is the Government's position now, and what can this House do about the matter?

Mr. Foot

I appreciate my hon. Friend's special concern on the matter. He has proposed this question on a number of occasions and he played a leading part when the Bill passed through the House of Commons. Although we have had a report from the other place, we have not seen the evidence, and we should look at that. I agree, however, that many of my hon. Friends will wish to see how we can return to this subject, and I am meeting some of them very soon to consider that.

Mr. Lawson

Will there be a White Paper on the second stage of the Government's rigid and inflexible pay policy? Whether there is or not, may we have an opportunity in Government time before the TUC special conference to debate this matter?

Mr. Foot

I do not accept the hon. Member's description of the policy. We have not yet decided whether there will be a White Paper, although that is a probability. As I indicated last week, there will be a number of occasions on which the House will be able to debate the various aspects of this policy.

Mr. Blenkinsop

When are we to get a White, Green or any other Paper on devolution as it affects England, and when are we to have a debate on that?

Mr. Foot

I do not know about the colour of any kind of paper, but the Government will be seeking to make fresh statements on the progress with devolution. We wish that to be as speedy as possible, and I hope that we shall be making a statement on the subject in the fairly near future.

Mrs. Bain

In view of the rising disquiet and disillusionment among newly-qualified teachers from Scottish colleges who are joining the ever-increasing dole queues in Scotland, may we have a full debate on this subject before the recess?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise the hon. Lady a full debate on this subject. I appreciate her anxiety about it and I have no doubt that many other hon. Members will be wishing to raise it in various ways.

Mr. Spearing

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, irrespective of the views of hon. Members about the Community, there is grave dissatisfaction with the procedures adopted last September for scrutiny of EEC documents? Although the motion for next Wednesday's debate may be for the Adjournment, the House might proceed to suggest new Standing Orders related specifically to European legislation. Does my right hon. Friend suggest that this debate should take one and a half hours or three hours? I believe that the House would prefer to have three hours.

Mr. Foot

I suggest one and a half hours for the debate, but there will be an opportunity, as I have mentioned before, for a debate a little later on EEC matters generally. The Select Committee on this subject is issuing a report very soon with suggestions and comments on the way in which the procedure works. I know that there is concern in many parts of the House on this score and that we have to make improvements. The next stage of considering them could advantageously be discussed in the debate next week.

Mr. Sims

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the reply that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about proceedings on the Police Bill? Quite apart from the Opposition amendments, many Government and Labour Back Bench amendments have been tabled. The time allocated to this important Bill will be insufficient.

Mr. Foot

I do not minimise the importance of the Bill or the pressure from various parts of the House for amendments. I think, however, that a considerable amount of time will be available, and the House should see how it gets on next Thursday. I hope that we shall make good progress.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

When will the White Paper on the report of the Expenditure Committee on children in prison be published? Can my right hon. Friend find time for a short debate on the Statutory Instrument on prison rules and the amendment of them as they apply to prisoners' mail?

Mr. Foot

I cannot say when the second matter can be debated, although I shall have a look at it. I shall try to let my hon. Friend know when the White Paper on the subject is to be published.

Mr. Aitken

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that a number of consultative documents related to the Police Bill are to be published and that these will need a substantial amount of debate? This whole Bill is so completely altered in character and there have been so many Government amendments that the Leader of the House must understand the concern which exists, before we embark upon this momentous Bill, for much more time to be allocated to it.

Mr. Foot

I understand the concern being expressed in different parts of the House, but I believe that we have allotted a sensible amount of time. We shall have to see how the debate goes and to assess the position then. There has been considerable time in Committee devoted to discussing these matters.

Mr. Spriggs

A large majority of hon. Members have already taken the decision to abolish hare coursing in this country. What steps will my right hon. Friend take, at an early date, to see that the wishes of this House are respected by another place?

Mr. Foot

I understand fully the views expressed on this subject. I have under- taken to look at the report from another place and the evidence on which it was based and to have discussions with some of those especially interested in the Bill to see what response we should make from this House. That is the best I can say at the moment, but I appreciate the concern of many hon. Members who voted for the Bill in this House and their desire to see it translated into action.

Mr. David Steel

When shall we hear more about the Government's plans for devolution to Scotland and Wales? Are we to get a White Paper, a Bill or two Bills and when?

Mr. Foot

I hope to be able to make a statement on this subject at an early date, though I do not want to be tied down to a precise timing. I fully appreciate the desire of the hon. Member and others for a statement at the earliest possible moment. That is also the desire of the Government, and we are seeking to bring it forward in the best way we can.

Mr. Cryer

Following the remarks of my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) and St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs), does my right hon. Friend not agree that it is not just a question of the Hare Coursing Bill? Does he not recall that the House of Lords blocked the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill for a long time? Hon. Members have asked for a debate on the need, or lack of it, for the House of Lords on several occasions and have been told that a long cool look is being taken at the subject. Is it not time to stop looking and have a debate about abolishing the place?

Mr. Foot

I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I am afraid that we shall not be able to abolish the House of Lords next week. We shall have to look at this matter on a somewhat longer time scale.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

As millions of families living in council houses long to own those houses and scarcely any care whether the Police Bill passes into law, will the Leader of the House ensure that a full day is given to the debate on tenants' ownership of council houses at the expense of the Police Bill, which matters nothing to the people of this country?

Mr. Foot

The length of time for discussing the sale of council houses was chosen by the Opposition. I cannot say that we should cut down the amount of time devoted to the Police Bill, particularly when so many of the hon. Member's hon. Friends are urging that I should give more time for it.

Mr. Molloy

This House quite properly has debates on the problems of Wales, Scotland and the regions of England, but, for some reason, debates on Greater London are excluded. Will my right hon. Friend do his best to ensure that the problems of Greater London are given some consideration on the Floor of the House in the same way as the problems of Wales, Scotland and other regions?

Mr. Foot

There are pressures from all sides for various debates, but I do not think that it is the case that there are no debates on Greater London. If that were the case, I have no doubt that my hon. Friend would be taking the lead in rectifying the situation. There are occasions when London matters are discussed as fully as any other subjects.

Mr. Peyton

When does the Leader of the House intend that we should have an opportunity to debate that rather odd and romantic document on transport which the Government have produced? We are all fascinated to discover what will be the next chapter in the Government's thinking on this subject. What are the Government's intentions on the motion in the name of the Liberal Chief Whip about the Committee of Selection? At present, the Government's intentions seem shrouded in mystery.

Mr. Foot

On the right hon. Gentleman's first question, I appreciate his eagerness to discuss Government policies at all times. I hope he will have the opportunity of discussing this policy fairly soon, though I cannot promise a debate immediately.

On his second question, I have had some correspondence with the Liberal Chief Whip and other hon. Members and I was hoping that these consultations would have been completed by now and that we could proceed in the way I had suggested with the matter being referred to the Committee on Procedure for a speedy report. This would deal with the matter in the best way possible. I hope that this course will be agreeable to the House. If so, I am prepared to put down that motion immediately and to ask the Committee on Procedure to report urgently.

Mr. Peyton

Does not the Leader of the House agree that referring the matter to the Committee on Procedure when all the facts are clear might be more expensive in terms of time than revealing in terms of information?

Mr. Foot

I do not believe that the motion is the best way of dealing with the matter. It would involve some difficult problems. If we accepted the motion, the Government would be in a minority in Committees.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

They are in the House.

Mr. Foot

But that is not the proposition put by the Opposition in this matter. That may be the hon. Member's view on how we should proceed, but it is certainly not our view. There are some problems involved, and I think that it is better that the Committee on Procedure should prepare a report. I am not suggesting this as a delaying procedure but as the most satisfactory way of getting the swiftest answer for the House.

Mr. Beith

While I recognise the good will implicit in what the Leader of the House has said, does he not feel that the objections are so small that they could be dealt with in a short time in a debate in the House? Has he recognised that five minority parties are signatories to the motion?

Mr. Foot

I recognise the strength of feeling of minority parties on the subject, but I would like to get agreement in all quarters, and I believe that my suggestion offers the swiftest way of securing that. I am not excluding other ways, but I think that we shall get a speedy answer if we follow my suggestion.

Mr. Edward Lyons

In view of the current widespread unease about the reliability of identification in certain recent cases, would my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the Devlin Report on identification evidence in criminal cases?

Mr. Foot

I appreciate the feelings expressed on this subject. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has answered questions on a previous occasion. I am not saying that we can have a separate debate on the subject, but my right hon. Friend is giving the fullest consideration to the report.

Mr. Stokes

Will the House have an early opportunity to discuss the immigration of Indians from East Africa into this country, which is causing increasing anxiety?

Mr. Foot

I cannot offer the prospect of an early debate on this subject, but there are methods by which the matter can be raised in the House.

Mr. Sandelson

Will my right hon. Friend provide an early opportunity for a debate on the Blennerhassett Report on drinking and driving?

Mr. Foot

I cannot make an immediate offer. We shall be rising for the Whitsun Recess at a fairly early stage and I cannot promise time for any major debates before the recess, beyond those that I have already indicated.

Mr. Burden

Will the right hon. Gentleman discuss with the Home Secretary the possibility of making available to the House information on the number of animals sent abroad for vivisection and the countries to which they go? That information is not currently available, and I understand that this is a growing trade. Hon. Members and the public should know what is happening.

Mr. Foot

The information is certainly not available to me at the moment. However, I shall see whether it can be made available and the best way in which a report on the subject can be made to the House.

Mr. Kershaw

Will the Leader of the House say whether we shall have a debate on the Royal Air Force before the recess?

Mr. Foot

I hope to be able to arrange the debate on the Royal Air Force soon after the Whitsun Recess. I am afraid that I cannot promise it before.

Mr. Luce

In the light of the recent UNCTAD conference in Nairobi, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for an early debate on relations between the developed and the underdeveloped world?

Mr. Foot

This is an extremely important subject. Once again, however, I am afraid that I cannot promise a debate in the period immediately ahead of us.

Mr. Wiggin

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has decided on the Whitsun Recess, presumably he will be considering the Government's programme for the summer. Will he bear in mind that not only hon. Members but peers, staff, civil servants and others have children whose school holidays no longer coincide with the Summer Recess and that, if the House rose in early July, many of us would be very glad to come back in September to make up the lost time and thus unite many families which now are unnecessarily divided?

Mr. Foot

There is a case along the lines that the hon. Gentleman suggests. and it will he taken into account by the Government in trying to fix the programme. How far we can succeed depends not only on what the Government decide but on others and on how we proceed with our business. But it is a factor which the Government will take into account.

Dr. Glyn

Will the Leader of the House consider arranging for a debate on the Council of Europe and WEU, as distinct from a general debate on foreign affairs?

Mr. Foot.

Again I cannot promise that in the near future, although associated subjects will arise on one of the EEC debates. But it is very difficult to arrange debates on all these subjects, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates.

Mr. Marten

Will the Leader of the House yield to the increasing demand from both sides of the House for a short debate and a vote so that we can eliminate this eviscerated chicken nonsense—and in Government time?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure that we could eviscerate the subject by a simple vote. That is one of the troubles. Part of the evisceration of this House took place earlier and, therefore, it is not an easy matter to deal with just by a vote. But I shall see whether an opportunity can be provided for a discussion, although I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman that we can rectify the position solely by a vote.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider allowing time for a debate on the subject of the many millions of pounds going to Mozambique?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that that is a subject for which time can be found in the near future. The Government were carrying out an obligation of which the House had been already made fully aware. We have discussed on many occasions the action taken about Rhodesia, and what the Government did was to carry out faithfully the policy which we had described to the House on numerous occasions.

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