HC Deb 20 May 1976 vol 911 cc1715-29
Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Leader of the House kindly state the business for next week?

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 24TH MAY—Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

Proceedings on the Seychelles Bill [Lords].

Motions on the Northern Ireland Orders on Road Traffic (Drivers' Ages and Hours of Work) and Sex Discrimination.

Motion on the New Towns (Limit of Borrowing) Order.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has announced opposed Private Business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

TUESDAY 25TH MAY, WEDNESDAY 26TH MAY and THURSDAY 27TH MAY—Remaining stages of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill.

FRIDAY 28TH MAY—It will be proposed that the House should rise for the Whitsun Adjournment until Monday, 7th June.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions? Since we are not to have an economic debate next week, will he say whether a White Paper will be published next week or possibly after next week on the pay restraint agreement?

Secondly, as the situation in Rhodesia is becoming even more urgent and the arrangement for British passport holders is not yet clear, will he arrange some time soon for the House to have a foreign affairs debate with particular reference to Rhodesia?

Mr. Foot

There is to be a debate on foreign affairs. I am not saying that it will take place in the next week or two, but we were thinking of having in the forthcoming pericd a full day's debate on foreign affairs, and Rhodesia would arise as a subject for discussion in that debate, if desired. If a statement is required on that subject, we shall no doubt consider a request beforehand.

As for the right hon. Lady's request for a White Paper, I am afraid that I am not yet in a position to say whether there will be a White Paper on the subject, but I should have thought that there was a probability. We shall give the House full notice of the. situation.

Mr. Ashley

Is it not quite wrong for the chairman of the Royal Commission on the Legal Profession to be selected from an allied profession which works very closely with the legal profession and which shares its general ethos? Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate so that some of us can propose that the members of the Royal Commission should be strong, tough, radical and impartial men, who can examine deeply this well-entrenched and secretive profession?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that my hon. Friend, judging by his supplementary question, would make an admirable member of the Royal Commission. However, I am sure that he did not ask his supplementary question in the form of an application for such a position, and I would inform him that there are methods available by which representations can be made about those who are to compose commissions. I hope that my hon. Friend and others, if they wish, will make such representations to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Sir John Hall

Does the Leader of the House recall that before the beginning of the main business yesterday the House heard three statements and that we then had points of order and an opposed Ten-Minute Bill? That meant that the main debate did not get under way until 5.11 p.m. and that, as a consequence, we lost debating time of one hour and forty minutes? Does he not agree that on a Supply Day it was a little unfortunate that so many hon. Members were shut out of the debate by so many Government statements? Is it not possible in future to ensure that the number of Government statements are severely limited so that time is not taken out of an important debate?

Mr. Foot

I agree that we should do everything in our power to avoid the situation that occurred yesterday whereby so much lime is taken with statements of that character. There were reasons in each case why those statements were made yesterday, although 1 shall not go into the details of each case. I agree that we should try to avoid a situation in which too many statements are made in such circumstances.

Mr. Palmer

Will my right hon. Friend say when time can be provided to debate the important subject of energy conservation, particularly in view of the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, to which after a period of ten months the Government have made no reply?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that my hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that we cannot have such a debate in the very near future. I shall look at the report and see whether there is an opportunity at a later date to have such a debate.

Mr. Hooson

Will the right hon. Gentleman, after the short recess and before the end of the Session, find time to debate Early-Day Motion No. 109 relating to a moratorium on whaling, which has been signed by 156 Members of all parties, since it is clearly an important, even though perhaps a narrow, issue?

[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

I do not think that it is a narrow issue but it is an extremely important one. I do not detract from the importance of the subject. Indeed, if I were free to do so, I would have signed that motion myself. I am not sure whether we can find time to debate the matter, but I shall examine the point.

Mr. Reid

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the growing concern in Scotland over the timing of the Government's devolution proposals? Will he give a firm date on the form to be taken by that announcement? Will he comment on today's Press report that the Prime Minister is to visit Scotland, no doubt in an attempt to pre-empt the SNP conference on the subject?

Mr. Foot

It would not be just a matter of pre-empting that event, but of completely overshadowing it. I am sure that that was a wrong choice of words by the hon. Gentleman. As for giving the House a statement about the date of the devolution proposals, a statement will be made, although I cannot yet give him a date. I am sure that it will be as soon as possible.

Mr. Cryer

May I draw my right lion. Friend's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 389 regarding the doctrinaire attitude of Conservative councillors at Tameside? Does he not agree that it is urgent that the House should debate this matter because the motion has been signed by a number of Conservative Members of Parliament and condemns the attitude of the Conservative majority at Tameside in disrupting comprehensive plans?

[That this House deplores the continuing uncertainty caused by the threat of disruptive and precipitous action by the Conservative Council in the Metropolitan District of Tameside whereby the educational progress of thousands of children is jeopardised, the functioning of schools is endangered by the threat of an immediate return to 11+ examination, the career opportunities of many teachers are damaged and scarce public resources allocated to build a more viable nonselective system of secondary education may be misused, especially when the system due to be implemented from September gives nearly 90 per cent. of parents the first choice of secondary school for their children.]

It is serious that hon. Members opposite have signed the motion, because they are either betraying their own party or they cannot read—in which case there is a crisis of education in the public school system.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I should inform the House that my attention has been drawn to the fact that in the Notice of Motions circulating this morning, the names of more than 50 hon. Members which should have appeared under the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison) to a motion were printed in error under the motion itself. This matter will of course be set right. It is not the fault of the hon. Members concerned.

Mr. Foot

I fully share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Keiehley (Mr. Cryer) and those hon. Members who consciously signed the motion about the Tameside situation, which carries serious risks for the educational opportunities of some 3,000 children and for relations between the local education authority and its teachers. Some hasty and ill-considered things have been said by individuals. It is essential to know what the authority proposes to do, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has asked for such a statement to be supplied to him. I believe that it is on that basis that we should look at the matter further. It is extremely serious for the children involved.

Mr. William Hamilton

When does my right hon. Friend expect to announce the names of the members of the Select Committee on Procedure? Have the Government already fixed up the chairmanship of the Committee?

Mr. Foot

I do not like the words "fixed up". I do not know where my hon. Friend gets this indelicate vocabulary. I very much hope that the names of members of the Committee will be put on the Order Paper today or tomorrow. The chairman has been approached on the same basis as the chairmen of all previous such Committees have been approached.

Mr. Peyton

We are so pleased to hear that children are to be protected from doctrinaire attitudes. I trust that the Leader of the House will communicate that fact to the Secretary of State for Education.

There are many amendments, a great many of which emanate from the Government side of the House, to the Police Bill. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we go rather late in our consideration of the Bill tonight, there is no need to continue and to drive the House into the ground and that further time may have to be provided?

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir J. Hall), it seems wrong that Government statements should be repeatedly taking time out of an Opposition day. I take the point made by the Leader of the House about the circumstances yesterday, but on Tuesday there were two routine statements which could well have been answered by a Written Reply without eating into the time of the House.

Are we making progress on the question of the composition of Select Committees? There may have been discussions. If so, I hope that they will prove fruitful and that before we rise the right hon. Gentleman will be able to make a statement to the House.

Mr. Foot

I very much hope that we shall make further progress on the question of the composition of Select Committees. We are having further discussions, and I, too, hope that they will prove fruitful. If agreement is reached about how we should proceed, I shall make a statement to the House. I fully appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's concern.

However, I do not think that his remarks about Government statements were justified. especially when he said that the statements on Tuesday were of a secondary character and need not have been made on the Floor of the House. One of the statements was about the asbestos inquiry—a matter on which great concern has been expressed in many parts of the House. If we had made that statement in a Written Reply, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, I am sure that he would have been the first to leap to the Dispatch Box to criticise us for making that decision.

I recognise that there are difficulties about the Police Bill, but we believe that they should be overcome in today's proceedings. We want to proceed with the Bill in the way I described last week. I know that there are some problems, but we shall do our best to overcome them.

Mr. Wigley

May we have an early debate after the recess on the Layfield Committee Report? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the Government will publish a White Paper as quickly as possible in view of the uncertainty created by the report, particularly in the farming community?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an early debate. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made clear, there are a number of formidable documents associated with the report and the House and the country should have an opportunity to discuss the whole background, including these documents, before we have a debate. Of course, the report must be debated at some stage.

Mr. James Johnson

An important meeting is taking place in Oslo at this moment between NATO Ministers. Will my right hon. Friend guarantee that a statement will be made to the House on Monday, particularly as the Foreign Secretary has been talking to the Icelandic Foreign Minister, Einarr Augusstson, and possibly other Ministers, about the cod war?

Mr. Foot

I know my hon. Friend's special interest in this matter. I cannot guarantee a statement on Monday, but I shall convey his question to the Foreign Secretary.

Sir David Renton

As I was one of the many hon. Members on this side of the House whose names were erroneously added to Early-Day Motion No. 389, may I ask whether, in order to ease the burden on the Table Office, our names will be withdrawn from that motion and added to the amendment without all of us having to go along to the Vote Office to ask that this should be done?

Mr. Foot

We shall try to ensure bulk redemption for hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Molyneaux

On what day does the Leader of the House expect to move the motion for the Adjournment for the recess?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure. It will be moved on Tuesday or Wednesday. I am sorry that I have not been able to make an announcement today.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend give consideration to debating EEC regulations and orders at a more reasonable hour, as there is growing suspicion —with both the Front Benches being in favour of Britain's entry—that these debates are coming on late so that the number of hon. Members in the House will dwindle and these matters can go through without proper parliamentary scrutiny? Would he consider this matter and, if necessary, bring forward a number of orders on one day, or make some other arrangement through the usual channels, so that hon. Members may discuss and, if necessary, vote on these vital questions?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend is one of the most diligent attenders in the House, but I think that he was not here for last night's debate. I am not blaming him. But if he had been here, I am sure that he would have agreed that we are not seeking to treat this matter lightly. We are seeking better solutions for these problems.

We had what all hon. Members who were present would agree was a good and constructive debate last night. A solution is not easy, but we made some advance last night, and the Government will bring forward proposals to help the situation.

The question of the timing of debates was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and others. If EEC debates are to be taken at another time, other matters will be pushed out. That is one of the difficulties, but I shall certainly take into account the representations of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer).

Mr. Tapsell

Will there be a ministerial statement next week on devolution announcing that the Government are retreating from their previous undertaking to produce a dummy Bill for discussion by the House in the present Session?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman and the House would be better advised to wait and see what happens next week. I hope that we shall carry the hon. Gentleman and many others along with us when the announcement is made.

Mr. Christopher Price

In view of the substantial public interest which the balanced report of the Select Committee on Cyprus has produced, will my right hon. Friend give an indication when this important and unique report will be debated in the House?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure that the phrase "balanced report" is the description that would jump to everyone's lips. We shall have to see whether the House wishes to have a debate or whether the report could be discussed within the general foreign affairs debate. I shall wait to see what representations are made to me.

Mr. Burden

The right hon. Gentleman showed some sympathy when I asked him last week whether he would consult the Home Secretary about the possibility of making available to the House the figures for the number of animals bred in establishments in this country for vivisection and exported, the number of animals that were so exported and the species of the animals in question.

Mr. Foot

I am sorry that no announcement has been made about it. I am not able to make an announcement now, but I shall communicate with the hon. Gentleman on the subject.

Mr. Lee

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) asked about the conservation of energy resources. Does not my right hon. Friend think that there should be a debate in the resonably near future on the conservation of water resources, in view of the abnormal drought? We have had debates on statutory matters appertaining to water, but a general stocktaking debate is called for.

Mr. Foot

Every question that is put to me illustrates the difficulty of providing time. I agree that it would be highly desirable to have debates on all these subjects, but the time is just not available. We have to deal with them in statements and by other means.

Mr. Whitelaw

I revert to the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) about the Police Bill. I am the first to understand that Leaders of the House normally reply that they will have to see how they get on. Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that the Bill has been largely rewritten since it was introduced and that there are a substantial number of amendments, many of which are tabled by the Government and by Labour Members? Does the Leader of the House further understand that we in no way wish unnecessarily to delay the proceedings? I genuinely believe that there will be too much business for the House to complete at a reasonable and sensible hour. Will the Leader of the House undertake that if that proves to be the case, we shall not be asked to sit through the night?

Mr. Foot

I understand that the representations made by the right hon. Gentleman are genuine and that the number of amendments put down gives rise to these anxieties. On the other hand, the Bill was given an unopposed Second Reading, and it has been considered at 21 sittings in Committee. It was announced last week that we hoped to conclude proceedings on the Bill in a single day, a single half-night or a single night [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It was put down for business today and everyone understands that. Some questions were put to me about it last week. I hope that we shall be able to get the Bill through in today's parliamentary business. We shall have to take into account representations that may be made at some time during the evening, but we want to get the Bill through and we have strong reasons for doing so. We wish to get it to the Lords as speedily as possible.

Mr. Michael Spicer

Will the Leader of the House elaborate his reply on the question of a Cyprus debate? He seemed to be slightly lukewarm in his approach. Does he understand that this is a very serious matter, and there may be repercussions on the NATO Alliance if the report is left on the table for too long? Will the Leader of the House give it much higher priority?

Mr. Foot

I made no statement about priority in my reply. I said that I would wait to see what representations were made on the subject, and I have heard what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. David Price

Has the Leader of the House had time to consider Early-Day Motion No. 382 calling for a Select Committee on rabies? He will recall that he answered my question last week favourably. In view of the exchanges earlier this week and today at Question Time, will he please state that the Government are prepared to set up a Select Committee on rabies? This is as much for the benefit of the Government as for anyone else.

[That, in view of the advance of rabies across continental Europe, with the increasing danger of this dreadful disease getting into Great Britain, this House invites the Government to establish as a matter of urgency a Select Committee to assess this danger, to study all appropriate measures, both to prevent rabies getting into Great Britain and to eradicate the disease, should preventive measures be unsuccessful, and to make recommendations.]

Mr. Foot

The Government are eager to do everything possible. Whether a Select Committee is the best way of dealing with the subject is another question, on which I have nothing to say now. I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the subject of rabies comes within the remit of the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee and that members of that Sub-Committee have asked me as their Chairman to indicate that they are considering the possibility of taking it as their next topic of investigation?

Mr. Foot

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the information he has given.

Mr. Jessel

As the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill this morning completed its Committee stage, and as each week's delay in its implementation results in the loss of about 20 lives and 100 serious injuries, will the Leader of the House say when time is likely to be found for the remaining stages of the Bill?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give the exact date. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's arguments.

Mr. Crouch

Will the Lord President take it from me that the country's concern over rabies is no longer whether it will cross the Channel but when? The people in East Kent are anxious about the state of medical knowledge in this country and the world. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Social Services about existing medical knowledge of the treatment of this terrible disease?

Mr. Foot

I shall see whether a statement about that can be made to the House next week. if a statement is made I hope that I shall not be accused of taking up the time of the House. I appreciate that it is a serious subject, but whether a Select Committee is the best way of dealing with it is another matter.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Has the Leader of the House seen Early-Day Motion No. 390 drawing attention to the failure of the promoters of the British Transport Docks (Felixstowe) Bill to make available to hon. Members a transcript of the Committee stage to enable them more effectively to deal with the Report stage? Will the Leader of the House consider referring the matter to the Select Committee on Procedure, so that in future when we consider contentious Private Bills we shall have available to us transcripts of the proceedings of the Committee to enable us to form a better judgment during the remaining stages?

[That this House records its displeasure at the failure of the promoters of the British Transport Docks (Felixstowe) Bill to ensure that there was available in the Private Bill Office a supply of transcripts of the proceedings of the Committee sufficient for the needs of honourable Members during their further consideration of this measure; censures the Agents for the promoters, Messrs. Sherwood & Co., for this discourtesy to Parliament; and requests Mr. Speaker to consider whether the said Agents should be suspended from the Register of Parliamentary Agents.]

Mr. Foot

I cannot add to what Mr. Speaker said yesterday on this subject. In the light of what you said, Mr. Speaker, I hope that hon. Members who have put down a motion on the subject will see fit to withdraw it. They are not acting fairly towards the parliamentary agents by putting down the motion.

I shall consider whether it is advisable to refer the matter to the Sessional Procedure Committee. That is not a promise to do so. I shall consider it. In normal circumstances a Private Bill is not a matter for the Leader of the House, but I shall consider it. Whether or not we propose to send it to the Committee on Procedure, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will withdraw the motion from the Order Paper.

Mr. Lawrence

In view of the number of recent miscarriages of justice which have come to light, and the need to maintain public confidence in the system of criminal justice, will the Leader of the House give urgent consideration to bringing forward a debate on the Devlin proposals?

Mr. Foot

The Home Secretary referred to this subject last week. I cannot promise an early debate. The question whether there should be legislation is being urgently considered.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

I understand that the Leader of the House will shortly have before him a report about the. House catering facilities. When will he lay it before the House? Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange matters so that, when we come back after the short break, the Terrace Cafeteria downstairs is no longer closed at 7.30 p.m? Those of us who do not want high tea or dinner on a given night have to discuss business with our colleagues in the public cafeteria after 7.30 p.m.

Mr. Foot

These decisions were made by a previous Committee of which I was not a member. Whether they should be altered involves a whole series of other factors which the Committee, no doubt, took into account. I cannot yet give a date for when I shall put down a motion on the subject but I will try to let the hon. Gentleman know as soon as possible.

Mr. Michael Latham

Will the Lord President discuss with the Prime Minister whether an early opportunity could be taken to clear up the appalling allegations which have come to light regarding South Africa? Whatever the truth, or otherwise, of this matter, it surely cannot be left where it is.

Mr. Foot

I do not think there is any purpose in my adding to what the Prime Minister said at Question Time about the matter.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will the Leader of the House ensure that we do not debate the Layfield Report until at least three clear weeks after the publication of the evidence? Does he agree that it is quite unreasonable for the House to debate a matter of this complexity when it has not had adequate time to read the evidence submitted because it has not been printed and will not be available to hon. Members for some considerable time? If he cannot get it printed in a reasonable time through the usual channels, could he have it printed privately, rather than at the Stationery Office, so that hon. Members have it available as soon as possible, which must be highly desirable?

Mr. Foot

I certainly have some sympathy with hon. Members who urge me not to have urgent debates. I take that into account at once.

Sir Bernard Braine

Will the Leader of the House reflect on the answer which he gave to the request from this side of the House for more time to be given for consideration of the Police Bill? He seemed to give the impression that because the Standing Committee had had 21 sittings, this was sufficient. Will he bear in mind—and I speak as a member of the Committee—that in 25 years I cannot recollect another Bill which has left a Committee with so many alterations? If, on this important Bill, there is to be adequate consideration of even Government proposals, more time must he given; otherwise, I am afraid, a great deal of the argument will go through the night, tomorrow's business will be lost and no purpose will be served.

Mr. Foot

I was not suggesting that the fact that there were 21 sittings in Committee was the sole factor to be taken into account, but I think it is one of the factors which it is legitimate to take into account when considering the amount of time devoted to a Bill. I am sure that, if the research students got to work, many examples would be discovered of Bills which had been altered more extensively than this Bill. I repeat that we very much want to get the Bill through at today's proceedings, if we can, but I have heard the representations which have been made. We shall have to see what happens, although this should not be taken as any undertaking by me. We shall have to see what occurs.

Mr. Beith

Since progress has not been made in the discussions on the composition of the Committee of Selection. and since the Leader of the House cannot, for good reasons, carry the discussion further until the day before the Committee next meets, will he make time available for the motion on the Order Paper to be discussed?

Mr. Foot

I should like to have further discussions with the hon. Gentleman and others who represent some of the other parties in the House. I think we could have some discussion at the beginning of next week. Let us see how we proceed then. I do not believe that any vital decisions will be taken before we have had another opportunity to discuss it. What we are trying to do is see whether there is a convenient way in which the matter can be settled with general agreement throughout the House. I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman has a case, and we have to see how best we can accommodate it.