HC Deb 08 December 1977 vol 940 cc1660-73
Mrs. Thatcher

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)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 12TH DECEMBER—Supply [2nd Allotted Day] [First Part]: the House will be asked to agree the Civil and Defence Votes on Account and the Winter Supplementary Estimates.

Until 7 o'clock, a debate on the Polish shipbuilding contract.

Afterwards, progress in Committee on the European Assembly Elections Bill.

Motion on the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 6) Order and the related EEC Documents S/799/77 and S/1151/77.

Motion on the Local Loans (Increase of Limit) (No. 2) Order.

TUESDAY 13TH DECEMBER—Further progress in Committee on the European Assembly Elections Bill.

Motion on the EEC Document R/48/77 on Equal Treatment in Social Security.

WEDNESDAY 14TH DECEMBER—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

THURSDAY 15TH DECEMBER—Motions on the rate support grant orders.

Motions on the Social Security (Contributions, Re-Rating) Orders and on the Dioceses (Church of England) Measure.

FRIDAY 16TH DECEMBER—The House will rise for the Christmas Adjournment until Monday 9th January 1978.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Lord President say a little more about the procedure that he proposes to follow during the second half of Monday and on Tuesday? It was our understanding when we agreed to have only a half Supply Day that the Lord President would put down a motion to bring forward the consideration of Clause 3 of the direct elections Bill. It was also our understanding that the Lord President proposes to complete on Monday—as I understand we have to—the debate on the Question, That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill, after which he proposes to debate the motion to bring forward Clause 3, about the system of election, on Monday evening, and to take the debate and the vote on Tuesday. Is that correct?

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady has got it absolutely word perfect. We propose that after we have continued and concluded the debate on Clause 1, a motion be put down which would bring forward the debate on Clause 3, as the right hon. Lady suggested a week or two ago. We hope that that arrangement will enable us to continue the debate on Clause 3 on Tuesday.

Mr. Flannery

Will my right hon. Friend consider a date for a debate on the happenings in Bermuda, especially on the question of the Creech Jones formula, which seems to have tied the Foreign Secretary to a chain of events which resulted in the hangings in Bermuda?

Mr. Foot

I have seen the motion on the Order Paper which has been signed swiftly and understandably by a large number of Members of the House. At some stage the House will have to give attention to it. What my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary suggested—no doubt the House will agree—is that the whole of this question should be considered in its general context and not as it applies to only one place. That is the way in which it should be looked at. On our return after the recess we shall have to look at it in that light.

That this House, viewing with deep concern the racial disorders which has followed the execution of two Bermuda citizens on 2nd December and deeply regretting the limitations imposed upon the Foreign Secretary in cases of this sort by the Creech Jones formula, which does not permit intervention to prevent the use of capital punishment in a dependent territory unless some legal or constitutional irregularity has occurred, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take urgent steps to abrogate this formula in so far as it applies to territories in which the ultimate responsibility for the maintenance of law and order continues to lie with the Crown.

Mr. Molyneaux

When may we expect to debate the motion for the Adjournment for the Christmas Recess?

Mr. Foot

I hope that we shall have that debate on the Wednesday, before we continue with the proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Shall we during this week get the Green Paper on revenues from North Sea oil? If not, shall we have it early after the recess? In view of the support that the Leader of the Opposition has given to workers' control in industry during her discussions with President Tito, will my right hon. Friend look at the proposals for workers' co-operatives that are in the Government's legislation?

Mr. Foot

As regards publication of the Green Paper, we expect a Paper of that nature to be published—I do not know exactly when—after the recess. As for the education of the right hon. Lady, we are all fascinated by it.

Sir Frederic Bennett

The Leader of the House will not need to be reminded that a little earlier one of his hon. Friends made a serious allegation about a secret deal between the former Prime Minister and the USSR affecting trade with China, and there is a motion on the Order Paper relevant to that.

I am aware that we have had a statement by the former Prime Minister, and I hope that he will not think me unduly critical if I say that, on balance, we should prefer a statement on this matter by one of Her Majesty's present Ministers during the course of next week.

[That this House calls on the Prime Minister immediately to inquire into the allegations by the hon. Members for Belper and Farnworth, that the right hon. Member for Huyton, when Prime Minister, promised the Russian Government, secretly, that Her Majesty's Government would not sell Harriers to China.]

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) has already issued a statement on that subject, and I should have thought the House would accept that statement. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman notified my right hon. Friend before he raised the matter now.

Mrs. Joyce Butler

Now that the appropriate Government Department has indicated that it will present its views on the Select Committee Report on Violence in the Family and make them available in the new year, will my right hon. Friend try to find a day as soon as possible after Christmas when we can debate the whole subject, including both non-accidental injury to children and battered wives?

Mr. Foot

The House knows my hon. Friend's special interest in that matter. I am grateful that she has reserved the question until the time when we are awaiting the comments of the Government Department. I am not quite sure when we shall receive them, but as soon as we do we shall consider what form or possibilities there may be for a debate. That is not an absolute guarantee, but we shall certainly look at it.

Mr. Montgomery

Is there any prospect of having a debate on immigration before Christmas? There is on the Order Paper Early-Day Motion No. 37 which draws attention to the fact that the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration took no evidence at all on its recent visit to the Indian subcontinent.

[That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration that they do report to the House the minutes of the evidence taken before them during the visits to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in the last session of Parliament.]

May I also draw to the right hon. Gentleman's attention the anger that was felt by the statement made by his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary giving an amnesty to illegal immigrants in this country, which was given by way of a Written Answer to a Question and gave the House no chance to discuss the matter? In fairness, are we not entitled to discuss it in the House of Commons?

Mr. Foot

I repudiate all the criticisms of my right hon. Friend that the hon. Gentleman has made. There are plenty of facilities, including facilities during the next three or four days, when all those matters can be raised in the House.

Mr. Stoddart

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 104 dealing with early retirement?

Will he draw it to the particular attention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services? This matter is now urgent and cannot wait long for a debate, since we shall not be able to deal with unemployment from an industrial point of view only but shall have to deal with it socially and this is one of the best ways of dealing with the present unacceptable level of unemployment.

[That this House, as a contribution towards reducing unemployment and progress towards a common retirement age for men and women, urges Her Majesty's Government immediately to reduce the age at which men become entitled to state retirement pension to 64 years.]

Mr. Foot

This extremely important question has been referred to in the debates we have had and has been referred to especially by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. In future debates on the subject it will figure prominently.

Mr. Cormack

Has the Lord President seen the motions on the Order Paper which oppose the Town and Country Planning General Development (Amendment) Order? Does he realise that there is considerable disquiet in all parts of the House, and will he assure us that there will be a debate in the very near future?

[That this House calls upon the Government to withdraw the Town and Country Planning General Development (Amendment) Order 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 1781), laid before Parliament on 15th November 1977, in view of the serious detrimental effects that it could have by allowing the conversion of small single family dwellings into even smaller housing units without the local planning authority having the right to control size, design, planning, appearance and materials used, and endangering adequate protection of buildings in conservation areas and similar areas of special architectural and amenity concern.]

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Town and Country Planning General Development (Amendment) Order 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 1781), dated 2nd November 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th November, be annulled.]

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties about giving guarantees of immediate debates, especially when the House is going into recess at the end of next week. I shall take into account the feeling that there is in the House on this subject.

Mr. Crawford

As the Lord President is aware of the serious concern felt for the steel industry in Scotland, when will there be a debate on steel?

Mr. Foot

There will not be a debate on steel next week although, of course, no one underrates the importance of the subject. When the House returns there will no doubt be a statement on the matter, and an opportunity for discussion.

Mr. Bidwell

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to Early-Day Motion No. 119 concerning a possible free pardon for Mrs. Lystra Downs, which is headed by a distinguished gathering? It has collected 101 signatures so far from both sides of the House. Can my right hon. Friend help me in any way to reunite this woman with her husband and children in the United States for Christmas?

[That this House requests the Secretary of State for the Home Department to recommend to Her Majesty the Queen the granting of a free pardon in the case of Mrs. Lystra Downs.]

Mr. Foot

I appreciate the strength of feeling in the House on the matter, and it no doubt accounts for the large number of Members who have signed my hon. Friend's motion. The Home Secretary will hope to answer a Question on the subject in the House next week.

Mr. Channon

May I ask the Lord President to give us a little more information about the European Assembly Elections Bill? When will he table the procedural motion to which he has been referring in order to bring forward Clause 3, and can he confirm that it will be his intention, if the House should agree to the motion, that we should then rise so that the debate on the system of elections will be the first business on the Tuesday?

Mr. Foot

The motion will be put on the Order Paper today. It will be published tomorrow, and the House will be able to see it. It will take the normal form of such motions. It will be debated after we have concluded the debate on the Question, That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill, and if the motion is carried the discussion on Clause 3 on the different systems of election will become the first business on Tuesday and will, we hope, be completed on that day.

Mr. Powell

What are the reasons that have led the Government to conclude that it is convenient to take Clauses 2 and 3 of the European Assembly Elections Bill in the reverse order? Is it not logical to decide, first, upon the size of the Assembly and then on how it is to be elected?

Mr. Foot

I think that the right hon. Gentleman, along with many others, will appreciate the reasons why there is a good case for bringing that debate forward. It is partly because of representations. I see the right hon. Gentleman pointing to the Opposition Front Bench. That is one reason, because we certainly take account of representations from the Opposition.

There is also the fact that there has been a lot of discussion in the House and in the country about whether the Bill can be carried through in time for the system of elections to be brought into operation by the required date. I think that it is for the convenience of the House generally that we should decide this matter and that it should not hang on for a long time. The House can decide it next week, and I believe that whichever view people take they will see that that is a sensible approach.

Mr. Jay

Does my right hon. Friend think that that is a justification for the Government's sudden decision to monkey about with normal legislative procedure in this way in pursuit, apparently, of some shadowy, if not shady, political deal?

Mr. Foot

I must ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) to reconsider his language. I am sure that, on reflection, he would like to use more delicate phrases than "shady" and "monkeying about" with procedures. There have been many occasions in the history of the House when a motion has been moved to bring forward a particular clause of a Bill for discussion and there have been a number of occasions in the history of the House when the Government have taken into account the representations that they have received on these matters. That is what we have done. There is nothing abnormal in that, and I believe that we can proceed to our debate perfectly well next week.

Mr. Budgen

May I remind the Lord President that the last time we had a general debate on the subject of immigration was in July 1976? Is not this very long delay a disgraceful attempt to prevent public discussion of a most important subject?

Mr. Foot

I think that it is most unwise and inapposite for the hon. Gentleman to use language of that nature. There are plenty of opportunities in the House when this question can be raised.

Mr. Budgen


Mr. Foot

There are Supply Days. There are plenty of opportunities when different sections of the House can raise these matters. Indeed, some aspects of the matter can be raised in the coming week's business. It is monstrous that the hon. Gentleman should try to spread the story throughout the country that we are seeking to evade or suppress debate on the subject. There is no suppression whatsoever.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before we go any further, I should warn the House that I shall be making a statement about the Consolidated Fund Bill. I am only anxious in case Members were to leave, and it would then be too late for them to put their names in. They had better wait for the statement.

Mr. David Young

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to Early-Day Motion No. 127 on textiles and the Multi-Fibre Arrangement? In view of the importance of the matter to certain sections of the United Kingdom, can he promise us an early debate?

[That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to reaffirm its unequivocal support for the mandate initially accepted by the EEC on the Multi-Fibre Arrangement renegotiations; reminds Her Majesty's Government of its declaration to take unilateral action should renegotiation be unsuccessful; and calls on the Secretary of State for Trade to make an early statement on progress made in the current round of negotiations.]

Mr. Foot

I know the interest that my hon. Friend and many of my other hon. Friends have expressed on this subject. There will be, of course, opportunities to raise this question, too, in our debates next week. I cannot promise a more general debate at the moment but I know that my hon. Friends and others have made representations to the Minister concerned.

Mr. Sims

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack)? Is he aware that there are Early-Day Motions on the Order Paper from both sides of the House concerning the Town and Country Plannitng General Development (Amendment) Order, which expresses a deep concern amongst local authorities, amenity societies and residents' associations throughout the country? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that the order becomes effective on 1st January? If it is quite impossible to reorganise the business to arrange for a debate on the topic next week, could he arrange to defer the implementation of the order until the House has had an opportunity to debate it?

Mr. Foot

I acknowledge to the hon. Gentleman that there is considerable interest in the matter in the House, but I cannot undertake that we can deal with it in the way that he has suggested. I will see whether there are any possibilities next week, and although I cannot give him a guarantee, I acknowledge the concern that he and others have expressed.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend recollect the debate on wages that took place in the Parliamentary Labour Party last Tuesday morning? Would he link that with the statement made today by the Home Secretary about the firemen, together with other statements being made by members of the Cabinet—particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer? It would now seem that within the Labour Party there is a sympathetic drift towards the introduction of a statutory incomes policy on a permanent basis, or, alternatively, some form of compulsory wage arbitration. Does not my right hon. Friend think it of sufficient importance not to be left to the Consolidated Fund debate but to be the subject, on the basis of a Government statement, of a serious debate in the House as to where this drift towards this sort of new wages policy is taking us?

Mr. Foot

There is no proposal by the Government for introducing or proposing statutory wages policy. If there were, of course it would be a matter to be brought forward and amply discussed in the House before there was any movement in that direction. I think that my hon. Friend has completely misunderstood what was said at the meeting to which he referred. There is no suggestion on the part of the Government to bring forward any such proposal.

Mr. Ronald Bell

In addition to the two Early-Day Motions about the Town and Country Planning General Development (Amendment) Order, is there not a Prayer to annul on the Order Paper, and is it not, therefore, a duty upon the Leader of the House to find time for a debate on that Prayer before the Instrument comes into force?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly have a look at that, as I promised to previous questioners who put the matter to me. One reason why I must look into it is to consider the aspect raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I cannot give a guarantee that we shall have the Prayer next week, but I will consider the possibilities.

Mr. Spearing

Will the motion to be taken on Monday be in the House or in Committee? Does not the fact of this motion being announced, in effect, by the Leader of the Opposition fully confirm the adjectives used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay)—that it is a shady matter?

Mr. Foot

I repudiate entirely any such suggestion. The proposal for having such a motion has been discussed openly in the House, and representations have been made upon it. When it was made on the first occasion, I made a response to it which indicated that we were considering it seriously. I therefore repudiate entirely any suggestion that there has been a deal of any sort, and even more so that there has been any shady deal. I have merely indicated to the House how I think that we can proceed next week.

Mr. Kershaw

Did the Lord President hear the Home Secretary say just now that the reason the Government have not been able to keep their obligations to the Armed Forces in regard to pay—whereas they have now given a guarantee to the firemen—is that the circumstances are different? In view of the misgivings which those last words may arouse, may we have an early opportunity for debate?

Mr. Foot

There is to be a debate on this subject on Friday this week. But, in the meantime, I certainly would not accept the hon. Gentleman's reflections on the subject. I believe that the matter cannot be dealt with by question and answer but has to be dealt with in a full discussion.

Mr. Heffer

As my right hon. Friend says that he takes note of representations made in the House on the matter of bringing forward Clause 3, would he take note of the representation being made to him now by hon. Members on this side of the House who do not want Clause 3 brought forward in this way? Can we not go through the Bill according to the normal procedure? In any case, is my right hon. Friend aware that if he does this it will not help the Bill in any way?

Mr. Foot

I perhaps overrate my hon. Friend's eagerness to ensure that the Bill shall proceed. But the decision will rest not with me but with the House of Commons. The Government will make the proposal. The House of Commons will then be able to decide whether it wishes to proceed in this manner. Far from being abnormal, that has happened on a number of occasions. If the House does not think that the proposal is convenient, it can defeat it and we can then proceed with the Bill in the other way. That is up to the House of Commons.

Mr. Rifkind

The Leader of the House has not been present at most of the debates on the Scotland Bill, but is he aware that 25 of the 41 clauses so far considered have been forced through without any opportunity whatsoever for either discussion or amendment? As Leader of the House, does not the right hon. Gentleman believe that this makes a mockery of the whole idea of parliamentary scrutiny of this legislation?

Mr. Foot

I repudiate entirely what the hon. Gentleman says. A large part of the time was occupied because, for their own reasons, the Opposition, who are entitled to choose what they wish to debate at greater length, discussed some matters so that discussion on other matters was prevented. It seemed that Conservative Members were so eager to rush into the Lobby with the Scottish nationalists that they hardly had any great national constitutional issues in their minds. They must sort out in their minds what they want to do on this Bill.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall call the three hon. Members who have been getting up. I hope that they will be brief.

Mr. Noble

May I refer my right hon. Friend back to the reply he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Young) about the Multi-Fibre Arrangement? In view of the fact that the Government have made repeated statements to the effect that if the negotiations were not successful they would take unilateral action, is it not important that the House should have a proper debate on this matter before the recess as the MFA is to be ratified, or otherwise, on 19th or 20th December, and those with textile interests should express a view?

Mr. Foot

I acknowledge the importance of the subject, as I have done on previous occasions, but I cannot agree with the proposition that debates on, for example, the Consolidated Fund are not proper debates. The House of Commons makes special provision to ensure that a large part of its time should be available to Back Benchers. It is no good Back Benchers saying that it is not proper time.

Mr. Neubert

On reflection, will not the Leader of the House agree that, this close to the Christmas Recess, his answers in relation to the Town and Country Planning General Development (Amendment) Order are less than satisfactory? Would not many people outside this House regard it as scandalous if an order which seeks to give greater freedom of action to individuals—very often at the expense of a lowering of their neighbours' standard of amenities—should come into effect at the beginning of next year even though this House has had no chance to debate the issue? Are there any recent examples of orders being rescinded after they have come into effect?

Mr. Foot

I have already given an answer to many hon. Members on the matter and I have nothing to add to what I have already said.

Mr. Kinnock

There is a time in the history of man, Mr. Speaker—usually about 20 minutes past four—when one keeps on getting up even though you cannot remember what you were going to ask.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must speak for himself.

Mr. Kinnock

You were not thinking about getting up in any case, Mr. Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend, with his elephantine and well-known memory of things parliamentary, recall that by a great mistake this House gave a Second Reading to the Wales Bill? Consequently, can he give any indication whether and when that Bill is likely to be debated? Will he also give an undertaking that even though the Wales Bill will be some considerable time behind the Scotland Bill there will be no dislocation of the date on which referendums are held?

Mr. Foot

I am not quite sure whether that is the question my hon. Friend had forgotten or the one he remembered. Assuming that he put that one on purpose, we shall try to gratify him as much as we can by getting the Wales Bill as close as possible after the passage of the Scotland Bill. We shall have plenty of time during the passage of the Bill to discuss the referendum in all its aspects.

Mr. Kinnock

I knew I would not get an answer.