§ The Lord President of the Council and Lord of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
The business for next week will be as follows:
MONDAY 5th DECEMBER—Supply [2nd Allotted Day]: debate on a motion to take note of the First to Tenth Reports from the Select Committee on Public Accounts in Session 1976–77 and the related Treasury Minute and Northern Ireland Memorandum.
Motion relating to the Sheriff (Removal from Office) Order.
TUESDAY 6th DECEMBER and WEDNESDAY 7th DECEMBER—Further progress in Committee on the Scotland Bill.
At the end of Tuesday, motion on the Amendment of Units of Measurement (Hydrocarbon Oil etc.) Order.
At the end of Wednesday, motion on EEC Documents on Energy Policy, R/77 Nos. 1955, 1959, 2347, 2348 and 2594, and a motion on EEC Documents on Nuclear Policy, R/77 Nos. 1901, 1956 and 1958.
THURSDAY 8th DECEMBER—Motions on Northern Ireland Orders on Emergency Provisions and Criminal Law, and on Appropriation, Electricity Service (Finance), Rates, Agricultural Wages, Supplementary Benefits and Road Races.
FRIDAY 9th DECEMBER—Private Members' motions.
MONDAY 12th DECEMBER—Supply [3rd Allotted Day]: the House will be asked to agree the Civil and Defence Votes on Account and the Winter Supplementary Estimates.
There will be a debate on a subject to to be announced later.
718 Perhaps I may add, Mr. Speaker, that, subject to progress of business, it will be proposed that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment on Friday 16th December until Monday 9th January 1978.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Is it not a most extraordinary situation that when the Prime Minister goes next week to speak to the other Heads of Governments in the EEC he will protest that he is using his best endeavours to get the European Assembly Elections Bill through the House? Has not the Leader of the House triumphed, because apparently there will be no endeavours at all next week to advance that Bill? How on earth can the Leader of the House justify the Prime Minister's position? Of course, the Leader of the House can justify his own position, but I do not see how that can apply to the Prime Minister, who is supposed to be using his best endeavours.
§ Mr. Foot
If the right hon. Gentleman is not excited after all, we have restored the status quo. If he is a little patient, he will see that we are proposing to make fresh progress with the Bill before Christmas. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which Christmas?"] This Christmas. We are making some progress today. We shall see what happens to the Bill, but we hope that we shall be able to make good progress before Christmas, and no doubt we shall be able to discuss next week the important question that was raised by the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The Government keep pretending that they intend to use their best endeavours, but that is not true. Nothing is happening at all. One cannot have a best endeavour, or even an endeavour, when one does not seek to make progress on a Bill but goes ahead with other matters. Let me put this to the right hon. Gentleman without any question of my becoming excited: if the right hon. Gentleman proceeds in this way, the blame for not meeting the target date on direct elections will lie entirely on the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House.
§ Mr. Foot
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's sensitivity, if not excitement, on this subject. No doubt that will be one of the aspects that will crop up in the debates we shall be holding on Tuesday of the following week. I hope that if we proceed then, I shall have the right hon. Gentleman's congratulations on the success of my best endeavours.
§ Mr. Terry Walker
Will my right hon. Friend consider holding before Christmas a debate on the proposed plan by British Airways to buy foreign aircraft to replace the present fleet? If he cannot arrange a debate, will he ask the Secretary of State for Trade to make a statement in the House?
§ Mr. Foot
I understand the interest of the House and of my hon. Friend in this matter. I cannot promise a debate unless there is an opportunity through some of the various ways that are open to hon. Members before Christmas. No doubt there will be a statement, if that is thought desirable by the House. I emphasise that there are other opportunities for discussing these matters before we depart for Christmas.
§ Mr. David Steel
Since the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that the Opposition are keen to use every means possible to help to obtain direct elections—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Opposition were displaying their best endeavours. Since this enthusiasm is being displayed, will the Leader of the House undertake, if possible, to try to obtain before Christmas the decision of the House on the system of election for the European Assembly?
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
In view of the great anxiety felt in all parts of the House, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange an early debate on the steel industry?
§ Mr. Foot
I am second to none in this House in my interest in the steel industry, 720 and I know that that interest is shared by many hon. Members. I cannot promise a debate before Christmas on the matter generally, but it is a matter that at some stage will have to be debated thoroughly in the House.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Will my right hon. Friend say how soon the House will debate the Town and Country Planning General Development (Amendment) Order 1977, on which there are already motions tabled by hon. Members on both sides of the House—motions pointing to the serious effects on conditions in our towns and, potentially, in the countryside?
§ Mr. Molyneaux
With regard to a matter that is far more important than legislation on European elections, namely the Northern Ireland business on Thursday, will the Leader of the House use his best endeavours to ensure that a business motion is tabled to permit the House to extend the time for such debate up to three-and-half hours on the Appropriation Order?
§ Mr. Foot
I shall do my best to ensure that we have adequate time for that debate. We have reached agreement on these matters on previous occasions in the interests of hon. Members from Northern Ireland, and indeed of hon. Members in all parts of the House. I hope that we shall be able to take a similar course next Thursday.
§ Mr. McNamara
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I share his enthusiasm for the direct elections Bill but that it is strongly rumoured that there is a possibility of a Merchant Shipping Bill being introduced if we get the direct elections Bill through quickly? Can he give an assurance that if that legislation comes forward, it will be introduced in this House and will contain no penal clauses to which trade union hon. Members might find objection and which would spoil an otherwise perfectly acceptable Bill?
§ Mr. Foot
I shall not comment on what my hon. Friend said about penal 721 clauses. I understand the representations that he, other hon. Members and trade unionists have made on this subject and proper account will be taken of them. The Merchant Shipping Bill figured in the Queen's Speech. We could not give an absolute guarantee that we would get it through this Session, but it is very high on the list of measures that we should like to get through and the speedier the House can be in dealing with some other matters, the better will be the chances of proceeding with the Merchant Shipping Bill.
§ Mr. Crouch
Will the right hon. Gentleman have second thoughts about the business for next week? On the face of it, the business looks not just stupid but utterly ridiculous. Here we are, in the Government's expression, looking inwards to our island problems of Scotland and Ireland—but not daring to look overseas to Europe. Are the Government so half-hearted in this matter?
§ Mr. Foot
If there is any absurdity here, it is in the hon. Gentleman's comments. We are debating today the Bill to which he referred. We shall be debating it again before Christmas. So it is absurd to suggest that the House is not getting plenty of time to proceed with the Bill. We may have to have further time later. It is much shorter than some other Bills. It is absurd, when we are discussing the Bill today, to suggest that we are not giving attention to it.
§ Mr. Whitehead
My right hon. Friend seems to have promised all but two and a half days of the available time before Christmas, but could he find one day in the last week before the Christmas Recess or in the first week after our return for a debate on the Services Committee's report on secretarial and research services, bearing in mind the constraints of the financial year which may necessarily delay any scheme that is approved?
§ Mr. Foot
I cannot promise that debate before Christmas, but I promise that we shall have it at a fairly early stage after we return. We are committed to it and it would be wrong for the House to delay the matter. I believe that the House should have the chance to approve or disapprove the report—I trust that we shall approve it—before the 722 new financial year starts so that we can operate in the way suggested in the report.
§ Mr. Rhodes James
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that when the House debates the rate support grant order we shall have a full day's debate and not a half day as we had last year?
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
In view of my right hon. Friend's answer to the Leader of the Liberal Party, can he undertake that if progress in Committee on the direct elections Bill is not very fast during the two days already promised, he will consider assigning a third day before Christmas?
§ Mr. Foot
I do not know about assigning a third day if we are to carry out our obligations on other subjects, including, for example, a debate on the rate support grant order. However, there is another method by which my hon. Friend's request might be met, namely the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition last week. That could be considered. It is much better for the House to proceed with the debate today and see how that progresses and then make up our minds about how we approach the matter the week after next.
§ Mr. Rossi
Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a full one and a half hours is given to the Prayer against the Town and Country Planning (General Development) Order in which there is considerable interest inside and outside the House? Will he also ensure that the debate is held on the Floor of the House and not in Committee?
§ Mr. Bowden
Has the right hon. Gentleman had the chance to study Early-Day Motion No. 105 in my name on the urgent need for a settlement of the firemen's pay dispute? Will he concede that this is a constructive motion, and will he find time for the House to debate the dispute, because I believe that some useful ideas will be forthcoming from all parts of the House?
[That this House, fully aware of the desperate need for the settlement of the firemen's pay dispute, urges Her Majesty's Government to call an immediate joint meeting composed of employers' representatives from the local authorities, Government Ministers and officials of the Fire Brigades Union to discuss the ending of the dispute based on a formula comprising: (a) immediate payment of 10 per cent., (b) reduction of the standard working week from 48 to 42 hours per week, (c) payment of substantial compensation for personal injury or loss of life, and (d) during the three years 1978 to 1980 to increase the basic pay of a qualified fireman to not less than the average male industrial wage plus 10 per cent. and this level to be maintained from 1981 onwards.]
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on the misuse by the Government of discretionary powers granted under the Industry Act and other measures which were specifically designed to sustain and maintain employment, but which are now being used to threaten workers who have negotiated agreements above 10 per cent?
§ Mr. Peter Walker
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the Early-Day Motion in my name and the names of 70 right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House concerning legal aid to 724 handicapped persons against whom Government Departments have made appeals? In view of the statement of the Attorney-General that the Government are unwilling to extend legal aid to t these people, will he arrange an urgent debate on this topic?
[That this House deplores the fact that when the Secretary of State appeals against an award to a handicapped person, an award that has been confirmed by the Medical Appeal Tribunal, the legal costs of the Secretary of State are met out of public funds whilst the handicapped person, no matter how impoverished, is not entitled to any form of legal aid, and urges the Government to take immediate action to remove this intolerable burden upon handicapped persons.]
§ Mr. Foot
I certainly appreciate the importance of this matter. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is raising one aspect of it in an Adjournment debate during the week. What he has proposed is a more elaborate proposition than the matter that he may be raising directly. There are opportunities before the recess for hon. Members to raise exactly this sort of matter. Some hon. Members—I do not include the right hon. Gentleman in this category —sometimes underrate the possibilities that exist for them to raise some questions.
§ Mr. Henderson
Is the Leader of the House aware that there will be considerable disappointment inside and outside the House that he has not seen fit to give us the right to make a decision whether Sheriff Thomson should have the right to come to the Bar of the House and that the right hon. Gentleman has put the debate on at an hour that is not appropriate to its constitutional importance and has given no indication that he is prepared to extend the time to allow more hon. Members to discuss this matter thoroughly? Should not Sheriff Thomson at least have as fair a trial as he has given others in the Sheriff Court?
§ Mr. Foot
I suggest that the debate should be extended until midnight. That is some extension. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman and all others concerned with this matter that Parliament has laid down the statute under which the dismissal of a sheriff in Scotland can take place. That was incorporated in an Act passed through the House in 1971. The 725 Secretary of State has abided exactly by the procedures laid down in that Act. The debate will be taking place in exactly the form laid down in the 1971 measure.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There is a statement and a Standing Order No. 9 application to follow. I shall call one more hon. Member from each side of the House.
§ Mr. Molloy
Is my right hon. Friend prepared to find time to discuss the behaviour of publicly-owned industries which provide services to the general public and which seem to be neglecting the social aspect of their responsibilities? One example is the proposal of the Post Office to abolish the 2p call in public call-boxes and to substitute a 5p call, which would make life very difficult for many pensioners and others on low incomes.
§ Mr. Foot
I appreciate the general importance of the matter raised by my hon. Friend, particularly in the preamble to his question. It is undoubtedly a matter that could be raised during one of the various times allotted by the House for such matters. It could be raised before the Christmas Recess.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
If the level of pay settlements is to reflect the level of unemployment and inflation in this country in the next nine months and if, as the Prime Minister says, 80 per cent. of working people support a level of pay increases not above 10 per cent., can the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made on how the Government intend to get over the problem that most trade union leaders feel bound to ask for substantially more than 10 per cent. in a way that will be detrimental to their members?
§ Mr. Dykes
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for interrupting, Mr. Speaker, and I do not want to question your decision to limit questions on the business to 10 minutes to 4 o'clock. However, the Leader of the House has 726 totally surprised the House by announcing that the House will not sit in Committee on the European Assembly Elections Bill next week. In those circumstances, would it not be reasonable to have a few more comments on this subject to register the disapproval of the House?
§ Mr. Marten
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I raise the same point, but from a different point of view. I see that there is a motion on the Order Paper that we should go on until any hour tonight. As I shall be one of those who will go on until any hour tonight, would it not be appropriate to get in a few more questions now, as it is we who will suffer? I think that this is an issue of fairly big importance as a general principle. Questions should be allowed to go on for a little longer if the House is subsequently going on for a long time.
§ Mr. Speaker
I must be fair to the House and let the hon. Gentleman get to his subject of direct elections.
§ Mr. Pym
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on the Opposition Benches appreciate his forthcoming response to the Leader of the Liberal Party, when he indicated that he thought it would be useful and a good idea if the House decided the method of election to the European Assembly before Christmas? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the only way in which that can be done is by tabling a motion to take Clause 3 out of time. Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate when he intends to put such a motion on the Order Paper?
§ Mr. Foot
If I may be permitted to reply to the right hon. Gentleman—I do not know whether he was raising a point of order—the only way in which the matter can be dealt with before Christmas is not as the right hon. Gentleman describes. After we have seen how the debate proceeds today, it may be evident when we come to the matter the week after next that we shall be able to have a debate without any special motion being tabled.
§ Mr. Foot
It could perfectly well happen. I do not know whether the Opposition Chief Whip has issued a threat. I do not like to hear such words emanating from the right hon. Gentleman. He has almost threatened that it will not happen. The way in which debates develop does not depend solely on propositions made by the Government. If it becomes evident that there is no chance of settling the matter before Christmas, I shall consider seriously the proposition that the Leader of the Opposition put forward last week. However, I think that it is much better for the House to proceed in the way that I have described. I shall consider the other proposition if we are not to settle the matter in the way I have outlined. Whatever view may be taken by the House, whether it is against the proposition of the regional list or for it for example, I believe that there would be considerable advantage for the House as a whole if a decision could be reached before Christmas.
§ Mr. Marten
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench keep on pressing for speed on this issue—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Will the hon. Gentleman address his point of order to me? His Front Bench colleagues are not my responsibility.
§ Mr. Marten
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. My Front Bench colleagues keep on presing for speed on the European Assembly Elections Bill. Do you think, Mr. Speaker, that you can somehow bring your pressure, which is considerable, to bear upon the Europeans to cause them to make up their minds about the pay of these Members? I ask that question—[Interruption.]—because the Minister has said—this is not a silly point—that we must decide that issue before the Bill goes through.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here a long time and he knows that he has got away with two sentences more than he should have been allowed to utter.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If I may, I wish to refer back to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). Of course, I do not wish to question your ruling, Mr. Speaker, that business ques- 728 tions should come to an end when you said. However, I am sure that you must now be aware, Mr. Speaker, that there is a growing dissatisfaction on both sides of the House about the way in which the business of the House is conducted. To allow no more than 20 minutes of effective questioning of the Leader of the House on the way in which the business is to be arranged for the coming week, and for weeks ahead, is. I suggest, to prevent expression of the deep dissatisfaction on the part of many hon. Members, with the result that the real views of hon. Members are not being heard on the Floor of the House. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider whether it should not be normal practice to allow, as long as there are hon. Members willing to ask question, at least an hour and a half for business questions on Thursday.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said, Mr. Speaker, that you would allow one more question from each side of the House. After that you allowed my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) to ask a question urging that another day should be wasted on a Bill that no one really wants—in spite of all the fuss and noise that is made about that Bill. As you allowed your own ruling to be broken by one, Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether you would allow a counter-balance by another question being put from an hon. Member who does not want to see the time of the House wasted.
§ Mr. Speaker
On a previous occasion I indicated that when I say I shall take one more question, or two more, from either side of the House, that is not counting the Front Benches if they wish to intervene again. As for the length of time given for questions, I fear that if we allowed an hour and a half under the conditions that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) suggested, the time would be filled—and the questions would not all be about the business for the following week, which is technically what we are discussing.