HC Deb 04 November 1976 vol 918 cc1621-35
Mrs. Thatcher

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

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 8TH NOVEMBER—There will be motions supplementing the Orders of the House of 20th July relating to timetable motions.

Debate on the Paper on a proposed new Highway Code.

TUESDAY 9TH NOVEMBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Education Bill.

WEDNESDAY 10TH NOVEMBER and THURSDAY 11TH NOVEMBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to Bills.

FRIDAY 12TH NOVEMBER—Remaining stages of the Supplementary Benefit Bill (Lords), which is a consolidation measure.

Motions on EEC Documents on lawyers, R/2133/75 and R/646/76 and on road worthiness tests, when R/1795/ 72 and R/1614/74 may be relevant.

Motion on an amendment to Standing Order No. 73A relating to Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments &c.

MONDAY 15TH NOVEMBER—Motion on the Endowments and Glebe Church Measure.

Mrs. Thatcher

We are glad to see the right hon. Gentleman back, but he has come back to announce one of the most oppressive programmes ever announced for one week by any Leader of the House. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is the worst use of the guillotine and the most dictatorial denial of free speech in modern times? He may well be able to adduce the odd example when we have had one day for Lords amendments, but is he aware that, when we had a highly controversial Bill under the Conservative Government to which the Opposition took great exception, we gave five days for the discussion of Lords amendments—the longest time ever given in this House for Lords amendments? Why does he not follow that precedent for this very controversial Bill?

Secondly, can he say what other Bills he hopes to have on Wednesday and Thursday?

Thirdly, when will the Autumn Budget be presented?

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Lady for the kind remarks that she made at the beginning of her questions.

On the latter point—the question of any announcement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I have nothing to add to any reply given to the right hon. Lady on that matter.

The right hon. Lady asked what other Bills may be taken. The reason that we have not named them in my announcement is that the Lords themselves still have to reach further conclusions on these matters, but we expect two Bills, the Dock Work Regulation Bill and the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, to be taken on the Wednesday and the Thursday.

On the general question raised by the right hon. Lady, I think that the language she uses is extremely exaggerated. She used similar language prior to the introduction of the earlier timetable motion, but when we came to debate these things all those accusations were dissipated and the House generally accepted that what we were proposing was reasonable in the circumstances.

Mr. David Steel

On personal grounds, I welcome the right hon. Gentleman back, but it must be unusual for a Leader of the House to announce a guillotine of Lords amendments to Bills which were themselves guillotined in this House—in the case of some of them before the Lords have even made any amendments. While I share his views on the supremacy of this elected House, I would have no hesitation in advising by noble Friends in another place, if parts of the Bill went undebated in this House, that they would be right to maintain their amendments.

Mr. Foot

I do not know how much the hon. Gentleman will be able to proceed with his proposals for inciting the other House to act against this House, but I do not think it an advisable course for him to follow. I think that he should take into account that a Labour Government have very different circumstances to deal with from those with which other Governments have to deal. We have to deal with a situation in which there is a permanent Conservative majority in the other place, and in which some may wish to use that situation to injure the timetables we have in this House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take that into account before he tenders any advice to those in another place as to how they should proceed, because—and I would have thought that hon. Members in all parts of the House would agree—one of the principles we have to sustain and establish is the supremacy of this elected House of Commons.

Mr. Mellish

My right hon. Friend will, I know, accept that the majority of right hon. and hon. Members are delighted that he is back and that he is much fitter than he has been for some time.

It is inevitable that the Opposition will be upset by the guillotine motion, but the simple principle at stake is that the Government must be allowed to govern, and on that principle my right hon. Friend is right to bring in a guillotine to ensure that Government business is obtained.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has not asked a question, and this is Business Question time.

Mr. Mellish

If I am not asking a question, I do not know what that lot over on the other side of the House have been doing. Is my right hon. Friend aware that we on this side of the House will support the principle of the guillotine next week because that is the only way in which the Government can get their business? Is that all right, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Foot

It is all right with me. We are proposing that there should be discussion in the House of amendments received from the other place. As I was pointing out, Labour Governments are faced and confronted by difficulties in parliamentary business which are never faced and confronted by Conservative Governments.

Sir David Renton

Will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw his threat to muzzle the House of Commons in this undemocratic way until he has a clearer idea of the amendments passed hi another place? In deciding upon that, will he bear in mind that if all the so-called Labour peers had turned up in another place and supported the Government, there might have been fewer Lords amendments?

Mr. Foot

I repudiate any suggestions that on these important Bills we have been seeking to muzzle either this House or the other place. The Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill had 46 hours and 13 minutes Floor time and 141 hours Committee time. That is not muzzling the House of Commons. The Dock Work Regulation Bill had 19 hours 38 minutes Floor time and 87 hours Committee time. That is not muzzling the House of Commons. The Education Bill had 41 hours Floor time and 86 hours Committee time. That is not muzzling the House of Commons. The Health Services Bill had 24 hours Floor time and 74 hours Committee time. That is not muzzling the House of Commons. The same applies to the Rent (Agriculture) Bill.

It is a complete misuse of language to say that we have been pushing some of these Bills without proper time for discussion.

Sir David Renton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Leader of the House irrelevantly to waste the time of the House by relating what has happened during the progress of Bills in the House of Commons when the question put to him concerned Lords amendments?

Mr. Speaker

I am quite sure that we shall hear much more about that—but not this afternoon.

Mr. Faulds

Will my right hon. Friend take the necessary steps to muzzle the unrepresentative voice of the other place?

Mr. Foot

I am not muzzling anyone. What I have anounced is the considerable time that will be afforded next week, quite properly, to discuss the amendments that come from the other place. I hope that we shall deal with them properly in the time allocated.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in following this course he is pretending to pay attention to the supremacy of this House but what he is saying to the country at large is that this involves the passage, totally unaltered, of the Government's programme, regardless of the support for it here and in the country?

Mr. Foot

That, again, is a complete misrepresentation of the situation, because, in fact, as was shown in the discussions that we had on another Bill that came from another place a week or so ago, the Race Relations Bill, the Government have accepted some of the amendments that came from the other place. It may be that that will apply in the case of the other Bills, too, so it is complete misrepresentation to say that the Government have taken no notice of the representations made in another place about amendments. However, what we are not prepared to have happen is that the Bills themselves should be so mangled and mutilated that they are not proper Bills at all.

Mr. Molloy

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the timetable that he has allowed is infinitely more generous and far more proper than the way in which a Tory Government treated the House of Commons when imposing a vicious and cruel timetable on the massive issue of entry into the Common Market? Does he not agree that his timetables on these issues are something that do credit to the Government and to the sensibility of the House of Commons, and that they are not derived from the vicious manner adopted by a Tory Government on the great issue of entry into the Common Market?

Mr. Foot

I agree with my hon. Friend. As to the conduct of the other place on the European Communities Bill—when it had gone through this House unamended and that House did not take any steps whatsoever to invite us to consider that matter afresh—when the House of Lords took that step I think that their Lordships injured their claims of objectivity in these matters.

Mr. Mayhew

As a guillotine motion is being proposed in respect of Bills that the House of Lords has not even finished considering, would it not be far more honest for the Government to say that they do not believe in a revising Chamber at all rather than to perpetuate a disgusting sham?

Mr. Foot

As I have already said, we have recently had evidence in the House how amendments that have come from the other place on other Bills have been considered by the Government and how some of them have been accepted by this House. That is a complete repudiation of the hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion.

Mr. David Watkins

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the two agreed Lords amendments on the Industrial Common Ownership Bill? When will the House come to a decision on those agreed amendments to what is largely, I think, an agreed Bill?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly be ready to consult my hon. Friend about the matter to see whether we can provide time for it. We should like very much to get it through, and as it has been agreed in another place, we should certainly like to do so if we can. I cannot give an absolute promise, but I recognise the significance of my hon. Friend's remarks.

Mr. Cormack

How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile his ostensible belief in parliamentary democracy with his total determination to refuse proper consideration of Lords amendments to these vital pieces of legislation? Does he believe, in all honesty, that the country is behind him in what he is saying?

Mr. Foot

I repudiate any suggestion that we are interfering with proper debate in the House of Commons. When large numbers of controversial matters are going through the House, that limits the amount of time which can be made available for each Bill. However, we have secured the support of the House of Commons for all these measures. I believe that that should be taken into account in another place as well.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend not recognise that the current situation is likely to be repeated at the end of each Session as long as we have that horrible place along the Corridor? Does he not accept, therefore, that the use of the instrument of the guillotine is directed at the wrong target? The target should be the place along the Corridor and not the Bills.

Mr. Foot

We must deal with one thing at a time. We have to deal with the immediate situation. In order to carry out the will of the House of Commons on these Bills, we must proceed with the Bills. What deductions may be drawn for the future depend partly, I suppose, on what another place may do about these matters.

Mr. Peyton

Will the right hon. Gentleman recall the example of the Industrial Relations Bill? The Lords amendments were given no fewer than five days by the Conservative Government for consideration in the House of Commons. [HON. MEMBERS: "A rotten Bill".] This is a rotten lot that we are dealing with.

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions, to which I should be grateful for answers. First, has he formed any estimate at all of the number of Lords amendments to these five Bills to which the Government will, in the event, be proposing disagreement? Secondly, how many of these amendments does he think will go undiscussed altogether in the House of Commons, or has he not yet formed any estimate? If he has not yet formed any estimate, in my view he is being grossly irresponsible.

Mr. Foot

There is a different situation on each Bill, both about the number of amendments which have been put through in another place and about the number of those amendments concerning which the Government might be able to meet what has been proposed. Therefore, I certainly could not give, off the cuff, an answer to the questions that the right hon. Gentleman is asking. However, that is precisely the reason why motions are moved in the House to deal with these matters, and all such questions would be in order when we debate the motions on Monday. That is the normal way in which the House of Commons deals with such questions, on supplemental motions.

The Industrial Relations Act is a very apposite case, because in that matter the House of Lords did not exert its authority in order to bring forward any critical amendments against the Government of that time. Most of the amendments that came from the House of Lords on that occasion were due to the appalling character of the Bill in the first place, and even so, that was not improved sufficiently. But if the House of Lords had been performing on that occasion the function that it claims to be performing now, we should have had several hundred more amendments coming back on that occasion, and perhaps that Bill would never have reached the statute book. That would certainly have been the House of Lords intervening to help the country, but it never did so.

Mr. Peyton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, shamefully, all that he is doing now is to put up a screen of verbiage— —

Mr. Russell Kerr

This is ersatz indignation.

Mr. Peyton

The hon. Gentleman is a specialist in ersatz. All that the right hon. Gentleman is doing is to put up a screen of verbiage to conceal the fact that the Government have only an appetite to get this legislation through and have given not the slightest thought to the points made in the House of Lords.

Mr. Foot

All that I was concerned about was that the country at large should not be misled by what the right hon. Gentleman said. What we propose in order to deal with the Lords amendments is the normal process—that is, that we should have a supplemental motion for enforcing a timetable. That is what we are doing, and it is what our predecessors did in other circumstances.

The question of the effect on particular Bills is primarily one for discussion when the issue is debated. There is nothing wrong in that. There is no abuse of the normal procedures of this House. It is the only proper way in which to proceed.

Mr. English

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are in danger of talking about the bath water and forgetting that there is a baby in it? Will he ask the agreement of the Opposition for the House to discuss next week the British economy, with particular reference to the statements which have just been made in the United States by the person who is in all probability the most powerful economist on the face of the earth, the principal economic adviser to the President-elect of the United States? That is a matter which in my view is slightly more important than a procedural motion in the House of Commons. It would be desirable if this legislature of a small State could express its opinions upon the options he has posed before a decision is made upon them.

Hon. Members

What are they?

Mr. Foot

No doubt there will be full opportunities for discussing these economic questions in the House. What we propose for Monday is the proper procedure to enable us to carry through the legislation.

Mr. Grylls

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that pursuing these nationalisation proposals in the House next week will make the pound go up or down?

Mr. Foot

What we propose is to enable the House to carry forward the measures it has already supported. Such arguments have gone back and forth during the whole of the debates on this matter. I know that the Opposition do not like the Bills. That has been evident. But we say that the majority will of this House must be carried out, and I believe that that is good for the pound and good for democracy.

Mr. Skinner

Because of the heavy pressure of business next week and, we assume, in the weeks after that, will my right hon. Friend see to it that there is an inquiry, as distinct from a debate, into the buying practices of the National Coal Board, especially in view of the recent allegations and condemnation of the accountants, Thomson McLintock, who were involved in the Hilton Transport Services investigation and were in the main responsible for making the decisions about the Board's arguments on its buying practices? In view of this new development and the sacking of Alan Grimshaw, will my right hon. Friend see that there is an investigation?

Mr. Speaker

Will hon. Members please try to relate their question to the business for next week?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an investigation. My hon. Friend and some of my other hon. Friends have already approached me saying that they wished to make representations to me on that subject. I shall be interested to hear what they have to say.

Mr. Pym

In view of the strong views expressed, will the right hon. Gentleman have another think about the five-bladed guillotine he is proposing to bring down on Monday? Will he consult not only the Patronage Secretary but also the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish)? Is he aware that if he consults the latter right hon. Gentleman he will find that, although an Opposition always want more time than they are allowed, the time we allowed as a Conservative Government for the measures guillotined then was a great deal more generous than anything timetabled by himself? In the interests of the House of Commons as a whole and of fair trading between the two sides of the House, that is a reasonable request to meet. Will the right hon. Gentleman have that discussion and think again?

Mr. Foot

We have put down on the Order Paper the motions for Monday, which we think are reasonable. We propose that the House should debate them, and if the Opposition put down amendments to them we shall consider those amendments. That is what the debate will be for. But our belief is that what we propose is a proper way in which to proceed.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend ignore much of the synthetic indignation from the Opposition Benches over the question of the guillotine? Will he apply his mind to the question I put to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last week, when I asked for a discussion in the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs on the whole question of unemployment on Merseyside and in the North-West? It is a vital matter, particularly in view of the Courtaulds Ltd. developments, which could affect the North-West and Merseyside in particular.

Mr. Foot

I accept the importance of the subject to which my hon. Friend refers, and I confirm what my right hon. Friend said about the matter last week. I am prepared to refer the matter upstairs for debate. That does not preclude the possibilities of further debate in the House as well later.

Mr. Graham Page

Are not the Government, in order to stifle proper debate on important legislation, using the excuse of the rule that Bills die with a Prorogation? Why does not the Leader of the House put down on the Order Paper, instead of the guillotine motion, a motion to extend the life of Bills beyond Prorogation?

Mr. Russell Kerr

My right hon. Friend has better things to do.

Mr. Foot

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is fully aware that this matter has frequently been discussed. Although it sometimes appears to be a solution to some of the pressing prob- lems of parliamentary time, it is often found on examination to be not as good a solution as people have suggested. It may eat up the time in the next Session. Therefore, I do not think that we can solve the problem in that way, although it is obviously a matter that can be discussed by the main Procedure Committee, which is looking at the whole question of the affairs of the House and the way in which it conducts its business. In my view it should look at that subject along with others.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Rather than finding time for Lords amendments, will my right hon. Friend find time to discuss the future of the Lords? If it is not possible to do it in this Session, will he ensure that in the Queen's Speech there is a reference to the matter, because there is great resentment in the country over the fact that the House of Lords comes to life only when the Conservatives are in Opposition?

Mr. Foot

We are operating under the rules of Parliament which exist now. If we are to secure our measures, if they are to be placed on the statute book, according to the present provisions we must get these measures through this House and another place. The future position of another place is a much larger question, and I do not think that we should complicate next week's business by trying to settle it then.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the resentment in the country is over the way in which the Government are playing it? There may very well be a case for abolishing the Lords, but there is no case for the Government's going along with them when they are rubber-stamping Government legislation and then taking offence when they put down amendments, or for using the Lords as a dumping ground for unwanted passengers.

Mr. Foot

It is not a question of taking offence—nothing of the sort. It is a question of ensuring, while giving time to consider amendments from another place, that the Government's legislation, which has been supported by this House, shall reach the statute book. That is what we are concerned about, and why we say that we have the right to ask the backing of all hon. Members who wish to see the democratic will prevail. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will assist us on many of these Bills. I am sure that the vast majority of the people of Scotland want to see them on the statute book.

Several Hon. Members rose— —

Mr. Speaker

I propose to take a total of four more questions, because there is a Standing Order No. 9 application to be made before we come to the first debate.

Mr. Newens

Will my right hon. Friend not agree that the whole furore worked up by the Opposition about this particular matter of the guillotine is utterly spurious, not merely because the basis of the House of Lords itself is completely undemocratic but because the Conservative Opposition in this House have no desire whatsoever to consider amendments seriously? Their only aim is to thwart the opinion of the majority of this House.

Mr. Foot

I hope that my hon. Friend will not tempt me to go too far in using too many adjectives. I do not say that the opposition to the measures is spurious. Of course, the Opposition have a right to criticise what we propose, to put down amendments and to discuss them. What I am contesting is the suggestion that we have not the right to ensure that proper time shall be made available so that these measures shall reach the Statute Book.

Mr. Marten

If some of the Lords amendments are not properly debated here because of the guillotine, and this fact is then reported back to their Lordships, will not the Leader of the House have been inciting them to put those amendments back to this House once again? At the end of the day will not this take rather longer than if the Leader of the House had given a more generous allocation of time?

Mr. Foot

I am not doing any inciting, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not inciting others to alter again the Bills which we may send them from this House. There have, of course, been occasions on which matters have been reconsidered in another place and returned to this House. We have to take that into account as well. I believe that the Bills as they leave this House will be in a satisfactory form, and I hope that the other place will accept that.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the Leader of the House tell us how this House or its representatives will agree on the grounds we shall give to the House of Lords for rejecting its amendments if this House has not been able to discuss the amendments?

Secondly, will the Leader of the House tell me whether it was on his authorisation that somebody briefed the Press on Tuesday night about the precise details of next Monday's business, or whether it was done—[Interruption.] The Press was briefed on Tuesday night and the publication was on Wednesday. Will the Leader of the House say whether it was on his authority that a member probably of his staff briefed the Press on Tuesday night with the precise details of Monday's guillotine motion?

Mr. Foot

As to the hon. Gentleman's first question, I believe that the debates we have in this House next week on these Bills will give opportunity for the House to express its views on the amendments which come from another place from both the Government and the Opposition.

Concerning the second question, it was certainly not on my authorisation, or authorisation from any member of my office or staff, that any leakage came to the Press upon that subject. Certainly we did not authorise it in any way. It may be that, on the contrary, some leakage came not from the Government but from another place. It may be that there was some anticipation in some quarters as to what it was thought might happen. But certainly there was no leakage to the Press and no Press conference given by me or by any member of my staff.

Mr. Michael Latham

What makes the Lord President think that on Monday, after the thrashing that his party will get in today's by-elections, he will have a majority in this House for the guillotine?

Mr. Foot

We must wait and see what happens. When the House looks at these matters next week, and looks at all the circumstances, I believe that it will come to the same kind of conclusion as it reached when we had the general debate on the guillotine motions. At that time, the House upheld the view taken by the Government. We not only won the vote but overwhelmingly won the argument as well.

Mr. Adley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely there must come a time in this House when you, Mr. Speaker, must assert your authority over a Government who are deliberately seeking [Interruption.]—to stifle debate on crucial issues. Can you advise when, if ever, that time will come? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House vests a great deal of authority in the Speaker. Most of it is undefined. But it has not yet given me authority to tell either the Opposition or the Government what they shall do, and the Order Paper of the House is not in my control.