HC Deb 11 November 1976 vol 919 cc663-9
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Lord President to state the business of the House for next week.

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 15th November—Motion on the Endowments and Glebe Church Measure. Motion on EEC Document on the JET Project, R/2284/76.

TUESDAY 16th November—Remaining stages of the Public Lending Right Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 17th November, THURSDAY 18th November and FRIDAY 19th November—Consideration of Lords amendments.

MONDAY 22nd November—Business to be announced later.

Mrs. Thatcher

The right hon. Gentleman has been less revealing than usual about next week's business. Will he help us a little in respect of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday? If my understanding is correct, the Health Services Bill will be in another place on Thursday for its Third Reading. Therefore, it could not possibly come back here until Friday.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say, too, when he intends to recommend that Parliament be prorogued?

Mr. Foot

I am sorry that I have not been able to be as revealing as usual to the right hon. Lady and the House, but to some extent we are dependent upon the timing of decisions in another place. From all the indications we have, it is probable, as the right hon. Lady said, that Friday will be the only day on which we shall be able to consider the Health Services Bill when it comes back to the House of Commons. I am sorry, too, to have to tell the right hon. Lady that I cannot say for certain when we shall prorogue Parliament. I hope that we shall not have to go on after 22nd November. We shall certainly be meeting on that Monday.

Mr. Grimond

I recall that the Leader of the House said that there would be time to have a debate on Scottish affairs before the end of the Session. Do I understand now that there is to be no debate on Scottish affairs, or is the matter to be sent to the Scottish Grand Committee?

Mr. Foot

If I gave an undertaking that there would be a debate on Scottish affairs before the end of the Session and we have been unable to fulfil that undertaking, I am sorry. I cannot recall giving such an undertaking, but if I did, I shall certainly look at the matter. I do not see any prospect of such a debate before the end of the Session. I dare say that Scottish affairs, in one way and another, will be coming before the House in the next Session.

Several hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

May I make an appeal to the House to bear in mind that we shall punish ourselves later in the day if we take a long time on business questions? I ask hon. Members to make their questions as brief as possible.

Mr. Ogden

Will the Leader of the House advise us whether we should try to make or break any engagements for Saturday and Sunday?

Mr. Foot

I hope that we shall not have to go to that extremity. I hope that we shall be able to conclude our business at a reasonable hour on the days provided. However, I cannot give any absolute guarantee.

Mr. Younger

Will the Leader of the House give us time next week to discuss Early-Day Motion No. 669?

[That this House calls for the resignation of the Minister of State at the Department of Industry, in view of the irresponsibility of his claim that Scottish Aviation is "teetering on the edge of destruction" and that only the Nationalisation Bill can save it, a claim which was immediately denied by the management and which, even if true, would do untold damage to the position of this Scottish firm which relies for over half of its work on export; considers that the Minister's outburst was simply an unsuccessful attempt to secure the support of the SNP, as he did on a previous vote on nationalisation; and deplores the fact that the passage of this Bill which will damage the British and Scottish economies was secured by the vote of an Irish Republican.]

The motion concerns the disgraceful statement by the Minister of State, Department of Industry, suggesting that Scottish Aviation Limited, a firm in my constituency, was teetering on the brink of destruction. Such a statement can only do harm to the important export orders that this company is trying to obtain. The statement has been repudiated by the company.

Mr. Foot

Subject to any ruling from the Chair, such matters could be debated in the House today. But I cannot hold out any prospect of a special debate next week, and certainly I repudiate all the accusations made by the hon. Gentleman against my hon. Friend.

Mr. Dalyell

If we are not to have a debate on Scottish affairs, could not the Lord President persuade Mr. Alan Lord to make a speech on the question of the £ Scot and the £ sterling and the nonsense arising therefrom?

Mr. Foot

I am not too attracted by Mr. Alan Lord's comments on many other matters, and I shall not encourage him to speak on that subject.

Mr. du Cann

Will the Leader of the House be good enough to say what is the earliest whole day he thinks he will be able to allocate for a debate on the six reports of the Public Accounts Committee of this Session? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it would be to the general advantage, at a time of economic stringency, that there should be a debate on obtaining value for taxpayers' money?

Mr. Foot

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, as I have said on previous occasions, and as previous Leaders of the House have said on other occasions, that we should, naturally, wish to have a debate on the reports of Select Committees as often as we can; but it is sometimes difficult to fit them in. That does not mean that I should accept everything that the right hon. Gentleman says in some of his reports.

Mr. Fitt

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the amendment to Motion No. 665, which seeks to give protection to any hon. Member of this House who votes in the interests of his constituency and as he sees fit?

[That this House recognises and will clef end the right of every elected representative to vote for the interests of his constituents in accordance with his own conscience and judgment, in any division of the legislature to which he has been elected, and deplores the activities and disruptive actions of the non-elected Members of the House of Lords, bearing in mind that the Conservatives have never rejected support from minorities, from any part of the United Kingdom.]

Will the Leader of the House provide time so that the House may have an opportunity to refute the slanders and the scurrilous and heated attacks that have been mounted by the Opposition and their friends of the Press because an hon. Member sought to do his duty by his constituents?

Mr. Foot

It is a very good thing fox the House of Commons that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) put down that amendment which won the immediate support of so many Members of the House. The original motion was certainly not one that did any credit to the Order Paper of this House.

[That this House, noting that the Government is dependent upon the support of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone for its passage of measures for which it has never had popular support and which the electorates of two constituencies have recently emphatically rejected, deeply deplores the Prime Minister's castigation of reasonable and constructive criticism as conspiracy and considers that it would be more in keeping with the traditions of British democracy for him to listen to the voices of those who believe in the constitution of the United Kingdom, rather than to rely on the passive support of one whose aim is to change it.]

It was therefore right that the proper liberal doctrine of the House should be expressed in the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend, and I should have thought that it would receive overwhelming support in the House.

Mr. Hastings

My hon. Friends are concerned about the curious course which the negotiations on Rhodesia in Geneva appear to be taking. The only information that we receive is from the newspapers. When may we expect an authoritative statement from the Foreign Secretary about them?

Mr. Foot

The Foreign Secretary will make a statement as soon as he thinks it advisable and helpful. I do not think that hon. Members in any part of the House should rely solely on what the newspapers have to say on these subjects.

Mr. Jay

As some important issues are raised by the motion due for discussion tomorrow relating to procedure on EEC legislation, can my right hon. Friend assure us that if there is not time for proper discussion tomorrow, time will be found later?

Mr. Foot

I gave an undertaking in a Written Answer on 4th August that there would be a further debate. It may, how- ever, be difficult to find a suitable opportunity for debate in the near future, and as the changes that we propose are entirely to the advantage of the House—although I realise they may not go as far as some hon. Members may wish—tomorrow's debate will give the House an opportunity to accept the changes themselves at the earliest opportunity. If they are opposed, of course, they fall and can be brought forward again in the next Session. Certainly I renew the undertaking that there must be a debate on the subject, and we can decide how to settle that aspect of the matter tomorrow.

Mr. Kilfedder

May we have time to debate the grave economic situation in Northern Ireland and the unprecedented unemployment in the Province as soon as possible because consultations on the Quigley document will not resolve the situation more immediately?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise such a debate next week, for reasons which I am sure the hon. Member will appreciate, but I do not underestimate the seriousness of the unemployment situation and the associated problems he raises. Obviously, the House will have to discuss them at the beginning of the next Session in some form or other.

Mr. David Watkins

When will the House have an opportunity to come to a decision on the Lords amendments on industrial common ownership?

Mr. Foot

I hope very much that we shall be able to fit in the Bill next week and that we shall be able to get it on to the statute book.

Mr. Noble

In view of the many hon. Members from the North-West who wish to speak in the debate on regional affairs in Committee upstairs next week, will my right hon. Friend place on the Order Paper an appropriate motion to extend the time allowed for that debate?

Mr. Foot

Several hon. Members have approached me on this subject, and I shall be glad to put down a motion to extend the period of debate.

Mr. George Rodgers

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the policy of taking regional discussion away from the Chamber of this House? Does he not think that it loses considerable significance by not being debated in the Chamber?

Mr. Foot

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point of view. Debates on these subjects in Committee upstairs can be of great value, but I fully accept his view that that cannot be accepted as a substitute for debate in the House. Regional policy is of such paramount importance to so many parts of the country that we must look for opportunities to debate it here, and some of these questions will obviously be debatable when we come to the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Molloy

I thank my right hon, Friend for the assistance that he has given in the past on Greater London affairs. Notwithstanding other procedures which we can adopt to have Greater London affairs examined, does my right hon. Friend not think that Greater London ought to be promoted to the status of, say, Scotland or Wales? There are many millions more people in Greater London than in those areas, and I hope that he will consider it right to have the affairs of Greater London discussed more often on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Foot

Many of my hon. Friends also do succeed in discussing the matter frequently. It must not be assumed that the subject is not often discussed in the House. My hon. Friend knows the difficulties in securing more debates on these subjects.

Mr. Loyden

Could I ask my right hon. Friend to give some attention to the Electricity Supply Bill and to say whether he could during the week consider the possibility of a Second Reading?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that there is any prospect of that next week but I shall look up the point raised by my hon. Friend.