HC Deb 21 October 1976 vol 917 cc1663-71
Mr. Speaker

Business statement—Mr. Merlyn Rees.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

In the absence of the Leader of the House I shall, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, make the business statement. The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 25TH OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Retirement of Teachers (Scotland) Bill [Lords] and of the Valuation and Rating (Exempted Classes) Bill [Lords].

Second Reading of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

Motions relating to Safety of Sports Grounds Orders.

TUESDAY 26TH OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Insolvency Bill [Lords].

Motions on the Northern Ireland Orders relating to Housing and Firearms (Amendment).

WEDNESDAY 27TH OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Race Relations Bill.

THURSDAY 28TH OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Industry (Amendment) Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

FRIDAY 29TH OCTOBER—Second Reading of the Land Drainage Bill [Lords], which is a consolidation measure.

Remaining stages of the International Carriage of Perishable Foodstuffs Bill [Lords], the National Health Service (Vocational Training) Bill and of the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Bill [Lords].

MONDAY 1ST NOVEMBER—Remaining stages of the Development of Rural Wales Bill [Lords], to be followed by a debate on Welsh Affairs.

Mrs. Thatcher

I thank the Home Secretary for his maiden business statement. As it takes us right up until Monday 1st November and there is clearly still a lot of business to come before the House, may I ask whether it is still his intention that the new Session should open on 17th November? In the absence of the Leader of the House, may I remind the Home Secretary that we are still owed a Supply Day before the House rises?

Mr. Rees

I take note of the right hon. Lady's last question. On Prorogation, it is still our intention to open the new Session then. There is a lot of business coming from the Lords. They have been sitting late and I am sure that they are doing a good job and that they will get the business to us.

Mrs. Thatcher

I hope that there will be no question of guillotining Lords amendments on subjects that we have not been able to discuss.

Mr. Rees

That is not a matter I have put my mind to yet.

Mr. Whitehead

In the event of terms being agreed in the next few days for the takeover of the Observer newspaper by Mr. Rupert Murdoch, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement to be made in the House by the Secretary of State for Trade? Is he aware that there is grave concern, at least on this side of the House, about the accretion of power to a foreign newspaper magnate who has abused that power in his own country?

Mr. Rees

I shall bring that important matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Cormack

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it would be highly regrettable if the guillotine were applied to Lords amendments? Will he arrange for someone to make a statement on Monday about the Government's intentions?

Mr. Rees

There is no need for that yet. Let us see what happens when the amendments come from the Lords.

Mr. Dalyell

In view of the opposed Private Business in the House tonight, which involves the whole question of refinery capacity in this country, may we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Energy on green-field sites? It is impossible to come to any meaningful conclusion about a refinery at Nigg, at a cost of £400,000 of taxpayers' money per job, unless we have a picture of the overall strategy.

Mr. Rees

I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about this subject, and it is important. I suggest that he makes those points tonight when the Minister concerned will be able to deal with them.

Mr. Lawson

In his speech at Ruskin College on Monday the Prime Minister appealed for a major debate on education in general and the failure of progressive education in particular. When shall we have that debate?

Mr. Rees

The bit of paper I have here says "Not next week", which proves that I can read. The subject which the Prime Minister raised is important, and it is important that it should be discussed. It is not just a question of the failure of progressive methods. It is far more fundamental than that. There must be a chance to debate the issue, but I suggest that all hon. Members read my right hon. Friend's speech and then I shall look at the matter again.

Mr. Stephen Ross

The Endangered Species (Import and Export) Bill [Lords] comes up for discussion fourth on the list on Friday. Will the right hon. Gentle- man ensure that sufficient time is given to it for Report stage and Third Reading?

Mr. Rees

I understand that it is the intention to suspend the rule in order to do that.

Mr. Ward

As 20 deaths are taking place each week in which we do not have a seat belt law in this country, will the right hon. Gentleman find time for the House to get that measure through?

Mr. Rees

I shall look at it and see what I can do.

Mr. Graham Page

Can time be found for a debate on the Select Committee's Report on the Abortion Bill?

Mr. Rees

It is not the intention to debate the matter next week although it is an important matter. The short answer is "No".

Mr. Skinner

While carrying out his temporary duties, will my right hon. Friend ask the Leader of the House whether we can have a debate on corruption and in particular on the activities of John Poulson so that we as a House, as distinct from the Front Benches, can decide what action should be taken? Surely what is needed is a tribunal of inquiry such as that set up in 1947 relating to Sydney Stanley which, contrary to the Prime Minister's view, included Members of Parliament as well.

Mr. Rees

It is not just a question of the usual channels. My right hon. Friend will be prepared to listen to my hon. Friend about the nature of the Committee. It would not be appropriate to have a debate. The important thing is to get the Select Committee going.

Mr. Peyton

The whole House will be interested to hear the Government's views on the post-drought situation. Perhaps the House can be offered an opportunity of hearing the Government's views. Will the right hon. Gentleman also apply his mind to how he will fulfil the commitment to have a debate on foreign affairs before the end of the Session?

I offer him my respectful congratulations on having so far avoided thinking of the guillotine in connection with Lords amendments. I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the cleanliness of his mental processes, and I hope that it will continue.

Mr. Rees

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's congratulations. I shall look at the possibility of a foreign affairs debate. On the drought, I understand that the Minister is considering a report from the National Water Council on the water supply prospects for 1977. I believe that there will be a statement soon, which the House should await before having a debate.

Mr. Blenkinsop

When are we to have the promised debate on the Prayer, signed by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, on the subject of the poultry meat hygiene regulations, which is a matter of very deep concern affecting our whole environmental health service? We were promised a debate, and time is now running out. If we cannot have it next week, when can we have it?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Poultry Meat (Hygiene) Regulations 1976 (S.1., 1976, No. 1209), dated 29th July 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th August, be annulled.]

Mr. Rees

I have looked carefully into this matter and I find that it is possible for the House to discuss it tomorrow, although it is not one of the Prayers on the Order Paper for tomorrow.

Mr. Blenkinsop


Mr. Rees

I understand that it is possible for the subject to be discussed tomorrow by nature of the terms of reference of the debate, but I will look again at the matter carefully and will read what has been said.

Mr. Blenkinsop

But does not my right hon. Friend recognise that the situation is wholly unacceptable? Is he not aware that there has to be a proper debate with the right to vote on this matter of deep urgency?

Mr. Rees

I see the point about the right to vote, and I know the nature of the problem, but I shall read the report or listen carefully if anyone mentions it tomorrow. I understand the urgency of the matter, and I am studying the situation.

Mr. Adley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some 50 members of the staff of British Airways were forced to come to this House this week to express their deep concern and despair because they find themselves in the position of being about to have a closed shop imposed on them without their having had the opportunity for a ballot or of representing their views to the management? Will he take into account that many of these people are concerned about the loss of individual liberty? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Employment to make a statement to the House about the effect of closed shops on the staffs of the nationalised industries?

Mr. Rees

I understand that the overwhelming majority of the employees of British Airways want it this way, but I will have a word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. There is a general responsibility here towards the employment of the staff.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great concern about the way in which Welsh affairs are being handled in the House? A week on Monday the so-called Welsh day is to be superimposed on the Development of Rural Wales Bill [Lords]. This shabby way of treating Welsh affairs is one of the reasons for the demand for devolution.

Mr. Rees

I have looked at this matter and—if I may use a football term—I understand that on that Monday injury time will be granted at the end of the debate to ensure that there is enough time for all Welsh Members who wish to speak.

Mr. Hastings

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the increasing concern throughout the country about the mounting scale of vandalism? When may we expect a debate?

Mr. Rees

My departmental responsibility includes dealing with vandalism, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I shall be talking to the chief constables of the country very shortly about it. I should be interested in a debate, but it cannot come yet. I agree that this is a matter to which we should put our minds, but it is detailed and complicated. I found a booklet on the subject when I went to the Home Office, and I will send the hon. Gentleman a copy.

Mr. Jay

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, on the question of the poultry meat hygiene regulations, the Leader of the House gave a virtual undertaking before the recess that there would be a proper debate on the Prayer? Is he further aware that this is quite a different subject from the EEC regulations which we are to discuss tomorrow? It is essential that before 2nd November we have a proper opportunity to debate and vote on the Prayer.

Mr. Rees

I have seen the letter which my right hon. Friend has written to the Leader of the House. This is an important matter and I will see what I can do.

Mr. Marten

I wish to reinforce the point made by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). The last day on which a debate can take place on this subject is 2nd November. What we are after is the ability of the House to take a decision by means of a vote. The Home Secretary is right in saying that we can discuss the subject tomorrow, but we can take no decision then because the Government are holding the debate on the motion for the Adjournment. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is a totally wrong way to proceed?

Mr. Rees

I understand the problem, and I repeat that I will see what I can do.

Mr. Hooky

Will my right hon. Friend find an early date for a debate on the Sixth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution concerning nuclear hazards, which raises enormously important issues of public policy?

Mr. Rees

With the problems of the next two or three weeks, it will not be possible to have a debate, but it is an important matter and I will discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Michael Morris

May I press the right hon. Gentleman to move forward from a hoped-for statement on the drought to a commitment that there will be one?

Mr. Rees

There will be a statement. I will check carefully as to when it will be.

Mr. Lee

On the question of the Select Committee, arising from the Prime Minister's statement, I do not think that it is clear whether the matter is to be de- bated. Will the motion to set up the Committee be tabled very soon indeed? One important aspect of the urgency is that I understand that the hon. Member who was named in the Observer article has taken out writs for libel, and there may be questions of conflict of jurisdiction.

Mr. Rees

I understand that point, having played a part in the discussions. The best way is to take up the offer made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and as acting Leader of the House I will take these matters into account. The possible conflict to which my hon. Friend has referred was discussed. With his legal knowledge, the more my hon. Friend can add to the knowledge we have of the situation, the better.

Mr. Aitken

The right hon. Gentleman said that he would look into the need for a debate on foreign affairs. When he does so, he will find that it was a firm commitment. Will he ensure that it takes place before the Prorogation?

Mr. Rees

I will look into the matter. There was a debate on Rhodesian affairs yesterday.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Regarding the Leader of the Opposition's suggestion that we should guillotine Lords amendments, would my right hon. Friend think in terms of guillotining the House of Lords itself, or at least its hereditary members?

In view of the representations made by the TUC and the CBI on selective import controls, can we have a Government statement next week?

Mr. Rees

I cannot make a promise on that latter point. As for my hon. Friend's question about the House of Lords, I think the best thing I can do at the moment is to say "Let us wait and see." The Government are determined to get their business and will find a means of getting it through.

Mr. Michael Latham

Can we have a debate soon on housing policy? At the beginning of August, the Government changed their policy by cutting the council-house building programme and local authority mortgages and no one knows what the new policy is.

Mr. Rees

I will have a word on that aspect with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, but in view of the time factor it will not be easy to have a debate. However, there may be other ways of clearing up the hon. Gentleman's mind.

Mr. Townsend

When shall we be able to debate the report of the Select Committee on Cyprus? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the report, apart from dealing with the Cyprus affair, had important comments on the making of British foreign policy?

Mr. Rees

Having studied last week's business statement and the discussion on it, I am sure that there are real problems about the reports of Select Committees, and I am seized of the importance of the matter. But I see no prospect of debating the report on Cyprus in the near future.