HC Deb 25 November 1976 vol 921 cc164-77
Mr. Pym

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

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

Perhaps I may first make a comment on the rest of the business for this week.

The proposed subjects for the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, which will be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 30th November, are as follows:

TODAY—Education and social services.

FRIDAY 26TH NOVEMBER—Environment, housing and construction.

MONDAY 29TH NOVEMBER—Industry and employment.

TUESDAY 30TH NOVEMBER—Economic affairs.

At the end on Monday—motion on EEC Documents on value added tax, R/1746/73 and R/2268/74.

At the end on Tuesday—consideration of a Ways and Means Resolution relating to National Insurance Surcharge.

WEDNESDAY 1ST DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill and related procedural motion.

THURSDAY 2ND DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Motion on EEC Documents on agricultural products, R/2157/76, R/471/76, R/2208/76 and R/238/76.

FRIDAY 3RD DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Fishery Limits Bill, when EEC Documents S/353/76, R/2362/76 and R/2227/76 on fisheries will be relevant.

MONDAY 6TH DECEMBER—Second Reading of the National Insurance Surcharge Bill.

Mr. Pym

May I ask three questions?

First, can the Leader of the House say whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take part in Tuesday's debate on economic affairs? As we on the Opposition Benches understand it, that is not his intention at the moment, which seems to us rather extraordinary. I think that the House would like to know about that.

Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House why he and the Prime Minister and the Government propaganda machine are seeking to represent another place as having insisted on its objections to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill completely, whereas in fact it has insisted on its objection to one part of it only? Ought that not to be made clear by the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends?

The third question relates to the handling in this House of matters relating to the IMF loan and the Letter of Intent. If the Leader of the House cannot answer now, will he please consider the matter very carefully and tell the House next week, as we should like an opportunity to debate the matter, if possible before a conclusion is reached. If, for any reason, that is impossible, I am sure that the House would wish to debate it thoroughly as soon as it is completed. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that on previous occasions, including, I think, last year, a Letter of Intent was published just before the House rose for the Christmas Recess, which was thoroughly unsatisfactory. As this is overwhelmingly the most important issue facing the country and the House at the moment, will the right hon. Gentleman give the fullest consideration to the question how we in this House can be given the right opportunities to handle it in a correct manner?

Mr. Foot

In answer to the right hon. Gentleman's third question, of course we shall give the fullest consideration to the best way in which the House can consider these discussions with the IMF. Of course, some of the economic questions involved are obviously in order in the debate on the Address. The Address obviously covers a whole range of economic questions.

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be speaking on Tuesday, but if I have been misinformed I will let the right hon. Gentleman know at once. Clearly, some of these matters could be discussed then, and how we should proceed later is something to be discussed between the usual channels as well as being presented to the House as a whole.

The question put by the right hon. Gentleman about the conduct of another place enters into a much more controversial aspect, and he must not tempt me too far in that respect. But I think that when the House of Lords rejects a major Bill of this kind, and demands that we should remove from it an essential part, the House of Commons is entitled to judge these matters, which is what it did last week.

Mr. George Cunningham

In planning future business, will the Leader of the House bear in mind that the rate support grant order this year will be particularly important, and that the parts of it relating to London will be extremely complex? Will he, therefore, make arrangements for this year's debate on that order to be considerably longer than the normal period of one hour and half?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly have a look at the representations of my hon. Friend and those that others may make on the subject, but I cannot make any promises now. It is an important question, and I am sure that my hon. Friend is fully aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is a leading expert on the subject, particularly as it refers to London.

Sir David Renton

With regard to the IMF loan, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is of historic importance on this occasion. Will he say whether, before their decision is made, the Government will seek the approval of this House, or will the House merely be asked to endorse a fait accompli?

Mr. Foot

The Government will deal with the matter in the same way as previous Governments have dealt with it. Of course we recognise the full importance of having discussions with Members of the House on the subject, but, in the end, the Government will take the responsibility and present their case to the House.

Mr. Jay

Does my right hon. Friend recall that near the end of the last Session a debate on procedure for handling EEC legislation was postponed by the Government? May we be assured that we shall have a proper debate at an early date?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept that there was a postponement of that debate, and I am most grateful to my right hon. and other of my hon. Friends who understood the reasons for it. We are, of course, committed to a debate on the subject.

Mr. Beith

Is the Leader of the House satisfied that we shall have the necessary papers to transact next week's business, and can he make a statement on the present situation? In particular, is he aware that there are many Bills to be presented this afternoon and that copies of these are not yet available?

Mr. Foot

I understand the great difficulty in which the House is placed by any hold-up in the provision of papers. The immediate situation is difficult. We are doing our best to overcome it, and to provide the Bills that it will be necessary for hon. Members to consider. We are also doing our best to overcome the situation that has given rise to this difficulty. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am as eager to secure an end to the dispute as is anyone else.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

On Friday, when the Fishery Limits Bill is discussed, will the right hon. Gentleman see that there is a Minister of the Defence Department present to satisfy us that there is a sufficiency of naval and air forces to patrol this enormous new area, as the EEC, as far as I know, possesses neither an air force nor a navy?

Mr. Foot

I shall pass on to my hon. Friends the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but I am not sure whether we shall always have the full panoply of Defence Ministers present when we have fishery debates.

Mr. Spriggs

With reference to the question about the Government's intentions on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, when timetabling the Bill will my right hon. Friend take into consideration the many long hours already spent in debating it?

Mr. Foot

Yes; I think the whole House will take into account the fact that this Bill has been more lengthily discussed in this House than has almost any other Bill since 1945.

Mr. Thompson

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we can expect a full debate on the recent report of the Royal Commission considering the effects of nuclear energy on the environment?

Mr. Foot

I cannot say when we can have a full debate on the matter. Some of the questions involved would be matters for discussion on the Address. I shall, however, consider whether there is a possibility of a debate at a later stage.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Will my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture be making a statement on the meeting of Agriculture Ministers in Brussels earlier this week? Secondly, when may we expect a statement on the progress of arrangements for sound broadcasting in the House?

Mr. Foot

I expect that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will be making a statement in the House tomorrow, which I hope will assist. On the second question, concerning broadcasting, I am not sure when a further statement will be required, but I shall look at this subject, in view of my hon. Friend's representations, and get in touch with him.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Leader of the House aware that it is almost without precedent for no day to be set aside during the debate on the Gracious Speech for a discussion of foreign affairs? That being so, will he use his best endeavours to see that we have a debate on the subject at the earliest possible moment?

Secondly, while welcoming the announcement that there will be a White Paper on English devolution at the same time as the debate on devolution for Wales and Scotland, may I ask whether it would be possible to have a debate on this matter at roughly the same time, since many people feel that the two are closely interrelated?

Finally, since the right hon. Gentleman not only looked distinguished but appeared greatly at home in another place when he had the privilege of doing his job yesterday, may I ask him whether he is aware that we look forward to hearing what—if any—proposals for the reform of the other place the Government will bring themselves to recommend?

Mr. Foot

I was so carried away by the right hon. Gentleman's third question that I almost forgot his first question.

I am sorry that no time has been provided in the debate on the Address for a debate on foreign affairs but, of course, to some extent we are seeking to accommodate the wishes of hon. Members in all parts of the House—including the official Opposition—on the subjects that they wish to discuss. We shall seek to have a debate on foreign affairs as soon as we can.

As for the right hon. Member's point about proposals for dealing with another place, I am always eager to hear suggestions from any quarter that may help us to solve the problem once and for all. If the right hon. Gentleman will revert to his radical past and assist in that direction I shall be all the more eager to hear what he has to say. I think that there was a third question, which the right hon. Gentleman sandwiched in between those two.

Mr. Thorpe


Mr. Foot

As I said earlier, we intend to publish a statement about the consequences, or the relationship, of devolution proposals for England. That matter will be dealt with in the major Second Reading debate on the devolution Bill. I do not think that we could have a separate debate on the subject but obviously it is related. That is why we are seeking to publish our White Paper in time for it to be considered during the Second Reading debate. I do not exclude the possibility that there may be a demand later for a discussion of the English White Paper, although I would have thought that it would be debated during the Committee stage of the devolution Bill.

Mr. Warren

With reference to the fishing limits business to be transacted on Friday 3rd December, will the Leader of the House tell us what decisions are required of this House that day? Will he give us an assurance that this is not in lieu of the urgently-needed debate on the protection of the interests of inshore fishermen?

Mr. Foot

I said that both matters could be discussed, although there may be further opportunities for discussing the second subject. I am not saying that we would exclude any later discussion. The decision on what will be the ambit of Friday's debate rests not with me but with the Chair.

Mr. Thorne

Will the Leader of the House say when it will be possible for the House to debate the problem of the docks industry and, in particular, the threatened closure of Preston docks?

Mr. Foot

I cannot tell my hon. Friend when we shall have a special debate on that subject. He can raise the subject in the debate on the Address, if he catches the Speaker's eye. No doubt my hon. Friend has other methods by which he could seek to raise the matter in the House. I cannot promise him a special debate on the subject, but I am sure that, with his parliamentary ingenuity, he will find a method of raising this issue in the House.

Mr. McCrindle

For how many days is it expected that the debate on the Second Reading of the devolution Bill will last, and can the Leader of the House indicate when that will be? Further, is it definite that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be introducing an economic package before Christmas? If so, when is that likely to be?

Mr. Foot

I shall not add anything to what has already been said about an economic package or about any package that the Chancellor may wish to propose. No doubt my right hon. Friend can refer to the matter—he is of age and can speak for himself—when he speaks in Tuesday's debate.

As for the Second Reading debate on devolution, I should think that a three-day debate is a reasonable proposal to make to the House. If hon. Members wish to make representations on that subject, we shall take them into account. However, I believe a three-day debate to be the best middle course for us to take.

Mr. Skinner

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we all enjoy his huffing and puffing about the House of Lords and the dire threats that he makes against it on occasions but that there is no substitute for the action that is needed? Will he give a guarantee that, amongst the many other measures included in the Queen's Speech, a short, sharp Bill will be introduced to get rid of the House of Lords once and for all in accordance with the views that he represented many years ago when he spoke from these Benches?

On the IMF loan, will my right hon. Friend take on board not only the need for a debate in this House prior to the conditions being accepted by the Government but, more important, since he will want to carry Government supporters with him in relation to the terms and conditions of that loan, that what is really needed—and he must use his best efforts and endeavours to achieve it—is a debate inside the Parliamentary Labour Party before the loan, not after it, so that Back Benchers can have a voice on whether the Labour Party accepts it?

Mr. Foot

I do not think, eager as I always am to reply to the questions of my hon. Friend, that I can answer him here about the debates that may take place in the Parliamentary Labour Party. That is a matter to be raised by him and others at our party meetings. I am sure that my hon. Friend will raise that matter. As I have said before, there will be opportunities in the Monday and Tuesday debates next week for the House to discuss the whole of the economic situation that faces the country.

As for a short, sharp Bill to deal with the House of Lords, if a short, sharp Bill could deal with the whole question that would, indeed, be tempting. But a short, sharp Bill would have to go through the other place too, and that might take a long time. I ask my hon. Friend to consider whether his proposal is necessarily the best way to deal with the problem. I certainly have not altered my views about the desirability of change in that respect, and I am eager to hear from my hon. Friend and others how they think we can best translate that idea into practice.

Mr. Goodhart

Can the Leader of the House say whether the Government intend soon to introduce a Bill on the compulsory wearing of seat belts, since they allowed that important piece of legislation to collapse in the last Session?

Mr. Foot

What the Government did on that subject was what we had been asked to do by Members in many quarters of the House. We allowed a free vote on the subject. The House took its decision. I cannot offer an early prospect that we shall be able to return to that matter, although I know that there are Members in many parts of the House who hold strong views on different aspects of it.

Mr. Lipton

My right hon. Friend has already announced that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is to make a statement in the House tomorrow. In order to encourage better attendances in the House on Fridays, will my right hon. Friend arrange for all ministerial statements to be made on Fridays and not take up valuable time in the week?

Mr. Foot

That is a very tempting offer by my hon. Friend, and I will see how the suggestion is received in other quarters. I cannot promise that we shall do that at once.

Mr. Ronald Bell

The Leader of the House announced certain matters as the subject for debate today and tomorrow and regretted that he could find no time for a debate on foreign affairs. Will he confirm—or perhaps this is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker—that, until an amendment is moved, every subject is in order in a debate on the Gracious Speech? Will the Leader of the House perhaps go further and agree that the attempt to control the debate on the Gracious Speech is going a little too far when the Front Benches have agreed between them that there should be no general debate?

Mr. Foot

The hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely correct in that there is no power for the Front Bench, and there is no power for Mr. Speaker, to forbid particular subjects in the debate on the Address, and it is open to any hon. Member to try to raise any subject that is in order during the debate on the Address. It is generally convenient for the House to try to concentrate on particular subjects on particular days, but that does not involve any infringements of the rights of Members.

Mr. Heffer

In addition to considering a short, sharp Bill for the abolition of the House of Lords, will my right hon. Friend also consider a very small Bill, which has been discussed in this House many times? It passed its Second Reading and Committee stages but was held up by the Lords, who sent it to a select Committee. I refer, of course, to the abolition of live hare coursing.

Mr. Foot

I understand the special part that my hon. Friend has played in trying to get this Bill through the House. The Bill was, of course, another of those that passed the House of Commons but was mutilated and eventually destroyed in another place. I quite agree with my hon. Friend; I should like to see that Bill go through, although we have many other important Bills to get through. I think it will have the best chance of getting through if a private Member takes it up again. Certainly if a private Member does so, the Government, as before, will seek to give as much backing as they can.

Mr. Biffen

In respect of next Wednesday's business, can the Leader of the House indicate what will be the purport of the procedural motions to which he referred?

Mr. Foot

If the hon. Gentleman consults the precedent we had on the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill—another Bill sent back to us by another place—he will see that there was a procedural motion which dealt with some aspects of that Bill, and he will see that that is one of the matters that we shall have to take into account. We must also take into account the general discussions on this Bill that took place in the House in the last Session, and I hope that we shall be able to deal with all those matters satisfactorily in the procedural motion that we put down.

In any case, it will be put down in good time, so that, if hon. Members in any part of the House wish to put down an amendment, they will be able to do so.

Sir Bernard Braine

Will the Leader of the House correct the impression that he may have given unwittingly that the rate support grant is a matter of major interest only to London Members? Is he aware that there is grave anxiety in every constituency in the land, particularly in the county of Essex, about what may lie ahead? Will he consider the possibility of a two-day debate on it?

Mr. Foot

If I gave the impression that only London Members would be interested in the rate support grant, I should be very eager to withdraw any such impression, because I know that to be false. I know that this matter interests hon. Members and other people in all parts of the country. It is, of course, a very important question. It involves the Government's attempt to control public expenditure, and it will be interesting to see whether we have the support of the House in so doing.

All that I said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) was that I was sure that he was aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment was fully conscious of the special problems that London had to face in this respect.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

My right hon. Friend will have noted that—doubtless inadvertently—a couple of measures which were no doubt to have appeared in the Gracious Speech were not included—namely, the proposal to introduce a wealth tax and the proposal to introduce a public lending right. Both these measures were in previous Gracious Speeches. Will my right hon. Friend say what steps are being taken to correct these inadvertent omissions?

Mr. Foot

The wealth tax is a subject that can be discussed in the debate on the Address, and we can see what representations are made on it. It does not necessarily mean a separate Bill.

On the other matter raised by my hon. Friend—the Public Lending Right Bill—I know my hon. Friend's special concern about it. It was said that that Bill fell in the last Session. I believe that it would be advantageous if we could get it through the House in the coming Session. I suggest that the best way for that to be done would be either by a Private Member's Bill with some Government backing or by a Bill introduced in another place with some Government backing.

I do not think that the Government have to apologise for the fact that at various times they have given support to Private Members' Bills. That is how some of the most important Private Members' Bills have reached the statute book. We do not make any apology for having given such support.

Mr. Eyre

The Leader of the House will remember that a number of requests have been made for the many problems of the West Midlands to be referred to the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs. Is the right hon. Gentleman able to confirm that that reference will be made soon?

Mr. Foot

Some of my hon. Friends have already made representations on the subject. We shall certainly look at this to see how soon it can be done.

Mr. Marten

May I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) on the need to have a Defence Minister in the Chamber during the fisheries debate? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that an agreement without the forces to impose it would be only a paper agreement?

Turning to the business for Monday night concerning the VAT draft regulation, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to assure the House that there have been no alterations or agreements outside the actual written documents which are to come before us? If there have been, will the Leader of the House postpone the debate, because we must debate documents as they are and not as they have been verbally amended behind the scenes by people in the Community?

Mr. Foot

I should not like to give that assurance to the hon. Gentleman unless I had checked on the matter. I shall take immediate steps to find out whether I can give that assurance. As I understand it, the documents that we have presented are in order for debate and I think that many of them have been available for a considerable time. However, I shall examine the position to see whether any deficiency exists in the way that the documents have been presented. We consider that the debate should go ahead on Monday.

Dealing with the hon. Gentleman's first question, I shall communicate with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the representations that have been made regarding the presence of a defence Minister on the Front Bench.

Mr. Goodhew

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the reply he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) about the extent to which another place wished to object to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not wish to mislead the House or the country on the matter. Perhaps he will now give a reconsidered reply on the subject.

Mr. Foot

I have not misrepresented anything that has occurred. When it took the decision—after we had voted on numerous occasions in this House—the other place knew perfectly well what it was doing. Members of the other place knew what had been said in the House of Commons. They knew that they were removing an essential part of the Bill and they knew what damage that could do to the situation. Therefore, Members of the other place should have thought about the matter earlier. It is not much good hon. Members saying that other people must finally obey the decision of this House when the other place sets such a bad example in that respect.

Mr. Pym

In view of what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) has said, will the Leader of the House confirm that the debate on the Address is a day shorter than usual? My question is relevant to the point raised by my hon. and learned Friend and to what the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) said about a foreign affairs debate. As I understand the matter, the Government undertook to give a day for debate on foreign affairs at the end of the last Session, which was an undertaking they could not fulfil. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that as soon as possible, and in any case before Christmas, he will find a day for a foreign affairs debate?

Mr. Foot

I should prefer to say "as soon as possible" rather than undertake to have such a debate without fail before Christmas. We shall look at this to see whether it can be done. The right hon. Gentleman is right. It is true that in some respects the debate on the Address will be a day shorter than on other occasions. On the other hand, it is also true that there have been debates on the Address on other occasions which have been a day shorter than usual. However, I take the right hon. Gentleman's point.