HC Deb 03 February 1977 vol 925 cc744-55
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business 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 7TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

Second Reading of the Reduction of Redundancy Rebates Bill.

Motion on EEC Document R/1435/68 on Taxation Systems for Commercial Vehicles.

TUESDAY 8TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Nuclear Industry (Finance) Bill.

Motions on the Lotteries Regulations.

WEDNESDAY 9TH FEBRUARY—Supply [6th Allotted Day]: until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on the Child Benefit Scheme, and afterwards on the issue of 715 certfiicates for self-employed. Both will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Proceedings on the Rent (Agriculture) Amendment Bill [Lords].

THURSDAY 10TH FEBRUARY—Further proceedings on the Scotland and Wales Bill.

FRIDAY 11TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 14TH FEBRUARY—Supply [7th Allotted Day]: Subject for debate to be announced later.

It may help the House if I explain a little further what the Government have in mind for the further proceedings on the Scotland and Wales Bill, which I have announced for next Thursday. There have been widespread requests that the Government should, as early as possible, make known their proposals for the holding of referendums in Scotland and Wales and allow them to be debated at an early point in the Committee stage.

The relevant amendments to the Bill will, I hope, be tabled later today. We shall also be tabling a procedural motion which, if agreed, would allow the relevant clauses and schedules to be considered in advance of their natural order in the Bill, starting next Thursday. I have deliberately decided to put next week's instalment of the Committee stage back to Thursday to give hon. Members time to consider our referendum proposals and to table amendments, if they wish.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what he has just announced, with no notice, will give rise to great alarm on, and great disagreement from, this side of the House? Is he further aware that it is quite wrong to expect clauses not yet tabled on referendums to be discussed next Thursday? The clauses on the referendums are equal to a new Bill. They will need to be very carefully considered, and considered in detail.

I do not quite understand why the right hon. Gentleman is less anxious than he was last week to make progress with the Bill in the usual way, but he will receive the maximum amount of opposition if he seeks to continue with his intention of trying to debate the referendum clauses next Thursday.

Mr. Foot

I am surprised that the right hon. Lady should take that attitude. If she had been in the Committee during these debates she would have seen that there have been requests from all sections of the House that we should have these clauses on the referendums tabled early, and we have been able to do so. We have had such requests not only from several of my hon. Friends but also from several hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) made a request at an early date, while the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) and the right hon. Lady the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) and others have urged that we should table and discuss these matters at an early stage in the Bill. I think that, on consideration, the right hon. Lady and the House will see that what we have proposed is for the convenience of the House, and I hope that it will be accepted in that spirit.

Mrs. Thatcher

I was in the Committee to hear the right hon. Gentleman's disgraceful performance this week. What he is proposing is totally unacceptable. Everyone wants to see the clauses, and everyone wants them tabled. But they should be taken in proper order when we have much more idea of what the Bill will contain by the time it comes to considering the referendum clauses.

Mr. Foot

Not only have there been requests that we should table these clauses early and discuss them early—such requests have come from all parts of the House—but we have also had requests from all parts of the House, at the beginning of our proceedings, that the Government should be prepared to alter the normal order of the Bill so that we should have these clauses brought forward for earlier discussion. I am sure that, when the right hon. Lady studies the matter, she will see that that has been the general wish, and it is in response to such requests that we are putting these provisions down.

Our proposal—and this is one of the reasons why we are not taking the Bill on Tuesday and Wednesday next week—is designed to ensure that, by tabling these clauses today, the House will have the opportunity to put down any amendments it may wish. We have, of course, postponed the discussion of the proceedings of the Committee stage to enable that to happen. I believe that, on consideration, the right hon. Lady will see that what we have done is perfectly reasonable.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is a rather good idea that we shall want to consider? But why only one day's debate? Why is he slowing down his business like this? Is he finding the pace too dizzy for him? Is he aware that, to those of us who want to make progress on the Bill, to cut it back to one day next week instead of the customary two days is an appalling form of delaying tactics on his part?

Mr. Foot

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is so disappointed. He knows how much we seek to do our best to ease these matters for him. If anyone was made dizzy by progress, it could not have been him because he has not been here to witness it. I believe that he will see that this is a reasonable proposal. It would have been feasible to have two days next week, but we thought that as there have been so many requests that we should discuss these major matters at an early stage, it was better to give time for the amendments to be put down. That being the case, we had to choose Thursday rather than an earlier date.

Mr. Jay

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Leader of the Opposition is talking total nonsense today and that it is a thoroughly sensible plan to discuss these clauses now, because they are a most important part of the Bill?

Mr. Foot

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I think that it is a perfectly reasonable way to proceed and that it will not injure the rights of other hon. Members with regard to the Bill. It will give the House an opportunity to discuss this matter in relation to the whole Bill.

Mr. Tebbit

May I ask the Leader of the House two questions? [Hon. MEMBERS: "One".] I suggest that Mr. Speaker should answer that. First, does the Leader of the House think that he will get away with one day's debate on these clauses? If not, can he make that plain? Secondly, has he had a chance yet to ask the Attorney-General whether he has sorted out the little problem of the Laker Skytrain appeal? When are we likely to hear whether the Government have decided to go to the House of Lords?

Mr. Foot

On the hon. Gentleman's first question, I do not think it would be reasonable for the Government to suppose that we could get through the whole of the discussions on the new clause and schedule on the referendums in one day. Probably the occasion when we would continue to discuss them is the Monday of the week following. Obviously there has to be proper time for the discussion of such matters.

As for the hon. Gentleman's second question, I have nothing to add. But, as the House and the country will have seen, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is perfectly capable of looking after himself.

Mr. Heffer

Can my right hon. Friend give the House some specific details? Will there be two, three or four clauses, and how many schedules will there be on this question of the referendums? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not just a question of our needing one or two days? We shall probably need many more days to exhaust a proper discussion of the referendums.

Mr. Foot

Exhaustion is not my aim, whatever the aim of my hon. Friend may be. We have a new clause, a schedule and an appendix under these proposals. I agree that there has to be proper time. When right hon. and hon. Members see the new clause, I think they will come to the conclusion that we shall be able to deal with the matter in the time that I have suggested.

Mr. Adley

Does the Leader of the House recall that three weeks ago I asked him whether the Secretary of State for Social Services would make a statement on the problems of whooping-cough vaccination and children who had suffered brain damage therefrom? On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman said that he would bring this to the attention of his right hon. Friend, who on 18th January announced in a Written Answer to me that he was having a meeting with the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and that shortly thereafter he would make a full statement to the House on vaccination. However, the Secretary of State has gone back on his promise of a full statement. This is causing grave concern to many people who consider it an affront that the Secretary of State has now said that he will merely answer an Oral Question next Tuesday, if it is reached. Will the Leader of the House take up this matter again with his right hon. Friend?

Mr. Foot

I passed on to my right hon. Friend the representations made by the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) and other hon. Members. My right hon. Friend hopes to say something to the House next week. I think that that is the best way to proceed.

Mr. Spriggs

Has my right hon. Friend considered Early-Day Motion No. 76, calling upon the Government to set up a Royal Commission to consider the police pay claim and to report back to this House within six weeks? [That this House, noting that the Police Federation claims that police officers are entitled to the £6 per week increase under the Government's incomes policy, but that the Government deny that this is possible under the policy, calls upon the Government to set up a Royal Commission to report on the facts of the matter, and to make a recommendation, the report to be in the Government's hands within six weeks.]

Mr. Foot

I have seen the motion, but I do not think that a Royal Commission is the proper way to deal with pay claims of this nature, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has made a number of statements on the subject.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

May I remind the House that the debate on unemployment in the North-West will take place after the emergency debate and that any time that we take now is really coming out of the time for that debate? I hope that the House will bear that in mind.

Mr. Michael Latham

Is not the simple and unadorned truth about the Government's desire to proceed with the referendum debate straight away that they know that they cannot carry a guillotine motion until they do? What makes them think that they can carry one after that?

Mr. Foot

The simple and unadorned truth is that the Government have responded to requests from all parts of the House. We are holding the discussions in the way that we thought would be convenient to the whole House.

Mr. Kinnock

May I remind my right hon. Friend of another unadorned truth with which he is doubtless familiar? It is that the undertaking to provide referendums prompted the attitude of many Government supporters to give a certain kind of support to the Bill. Is my right hon. Friend aware that those hon. Members welcome his announcement today and understand fully why it has been made at this time? May I also ask my right hon. Friend, in view of the fact that the Government's amendments are to be tabled today, whether it is proposed to ask one, two or more questions in the referendums, since obviously his answer will have a major effect on decisions about supporting the clause?

Mr. Foot

On the form of the new clause, I suggest that my hon. Friend looks and sees when the motion is put down. He and others will have an opportunity to table amendments, if they wish to do so. But it would be a fruitless attempt for the Government to suppress any discussion of the matter. As my hon. Friend acknowledged, we are responding to the general mood of the House on the subject which prevailed a few days ago.

Mr. MacCormick

Is the Leader of the House aware that a recent newspaper opinion poll showed that two out of every three people in Scotland supported devolution and that for these people in Scotland it is much more important to have a timetable motion and get the Bill passed than to fiddle-faddle around with referendums?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman should have learned by now that, whatever may be the views of others, I do not give a fig for opinion polls.

Mr. Skinner

May I take it that my right hon. Friend is still resisting any attempt to bring in a Bill providing for direct elections to the European Parliament?

Mr. Foot

I do not know where my hon. Friend got the idea that I was resisting this. But I do not have any fresh announcement to make upon it. The House will debate this matter on a Private Member's motion on Monday, and I dare say that my hon. Friend will make his usual important and constructive contribution to that debate.

Mr. Grylls

Why is the Leader of the House stubbornly refusing to produce the Bill for direct elections to the European Parliament? We understand that he is sitting on it. Can he produce it and ensure that it goes through as quickly as possible?

Mr. Foot

Whatever I may have been sitting on in the last few days, it is not that Bill. The Bill is not yet produced. There are problems about it which have been explained from this Dispatch Box. But there will be an opportunity on Mon- day for a discussion of the matter. I think that that is the next best step.

Mr. Ovenden

Has my right hon. Friend seen the Prayer against the Government's proposals on import restrictions in respect of paper products, Early-Day Motion No. 74, now signed by 42 hon. Members from all parties, all of whom have important paper interests in their constituencies?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Import Duties (Quota Relief) (Paper, Paperboard and Printed Products), Order 1976, (S.I., 1976, No. 2116), dated 10th December 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th December, be annulled.]

Why has not my right hon. Friend found time for a debate on it before the 40 days' praying time runs out next week?

Mr. Foot

I am sorry that we have not been able to find time for such a debate. I will look at the matter to see what we can do about the possibilities of some discussion elsewhere. I will look into the possibility of having some discussions about it.

Mr. Marten

Has the Leader of the House seen the Early-Day Motion concerning Euro-passports?

[That this House, recognising the importance to most United Kingdom citizens of the existing British passport, believes that the Government should not agree to the proposal for a compulsory European passport until there has been a full debate.]

To have mauve plastic passports stamped "EEC" forced upon people who want passports will be deeply offensive to many millions of people in this country. May we have an assurance that, before any decision is taken about this, it will be debated in this House? That must be so, surely.

Mr. Foot

Of course, this is a matter which the House will wish to debate.

Mr. Ashley

May I revert to the question asked by the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) about vaccine-damaged children? I have been pressing the Government for about three years to arrange compensation for children who are appallingly damaged. I have also asked for a specific inquiry into the problems of these children. As the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington said just now, successive announcements have been deferred. What is even more serious now, however, is that there are Press reports, perhaps leaked from the Department, that the Secretary of State intends to turn down this further request for a compensation scheme. Will my right hon. Friend agree to arrange a special debate on the problems of vaccine-damaged children in view of the public anxiety that has been aroused?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate. I do not think that it would be right to anticipate the statement that my right hon. Friend will make next week. When he has made that statement no doubt we can have consultations about further opportunities for the House to express an opinion.

Mr. Cormack

Can the Lord President give the House a categorical assurance that he has no present intention of introducing a guillotine motion on the Scotland and Wales Bill?

Mr. Foot

That is the kind of foolish question that does not deserve any answer at all.

Mr. John Ellis

Is my right hon. Friend aware of Early-Day Motion No. 147, which is supported by nearly 100 of my right hon. and hon. Friends, on the complete impracticability of direct elections by 1978?

[That this House notes the statement of the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on Direct Elections to the European Assembly in 1978; notes that such matters as size of electorates, methods of election, administrative arrangements and number of seats for the various areas of the United Kingdom have still to be discussed in Parliament; further believes that whatever the basic view on the desirability of Direct Elections that wide and careful debate on such fundamental issues is necessary; and that, therefore, it is impracticable to hold such elections in 1978 and will oppose any attempts to rush such matters through the House's procedures or to guillotine debate.]

Is my right hon. Friend also aware of the report of the Select Committee, made up of a majority of zealots in this matter, which said that it was impossible to achieve that date?

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Gentleman relate his question to business for next week?

Mr. John Ellis

Will my right hon. Friend put the House out of its misery by stating now that it is not possible to achieve that date?

Mr. Foot

As well as my hon. Friend and others who have signed the motion, there are a large number of hon. Members who have put their names to it because it is a matter which deserves the fullest consideration and debate.

Miss Harvie Anderson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while all hon. Members wish to see the terms of the new clauses with regard to a referendum, at no time did I or any of my hon. Friends suggest that this should be discussed, as the Lord President has proposed, by a gerrymandering of parliamentary procedure in an inexcusable way?

Mr. Foot

I would invite the right hon. Lady to consider the remarks that she herself contributed to the debate on this subject which, in my opinion, urged the Government to give the House an early opportunity to discuss the matter. It was the right hon. Lady's speech, along with several others, that we took into account when we came to this conclusion.

Mr. Flannery

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that according to the media a great debate on education is in progress? Would he allow this House to take part in that great debate by devoting one, two, or three days to education?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend puts the case very winningly but, unfortunately, devolution or no devolution, I do not have one, two, or three days easily at my disposal. I shall consider at some appropriate time whether we shall have a debate. If there is such a burning demand, the Opposition have plenty of time at their disposal and might select this subject if they wish.

Mr. Pym

While the House is grateful that the new clauses are now to be tabled, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that very few hon. Members asked for any discussion to take place upon them out of time? Would it not be wiser to complete the Committee stage on the clauses before it is reasonable or sensible to consider what the referendum ought to contain? By announcing business in the way that he has, is not the right hon. Gentleman admitting that he cannot make any further sensible progress on the Bill unless and until the House has discussed the referendum new clauses? There can be no other reason for not making progress with the Bill.

Mr. Foot

I genuinely thought that I was taking account of the representations that we have had from all quarters of the House. If any hon. Member questions that, he might perhaps look up what I said in reply to many of those requests. I indicated at an earlier stage that we should be prepared to put down a procedural motion that would make this possible.

I perfectly understand that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have different views and judgments about the timing of such debates. But I am surprised at what the right hon. Gentleman said, because I had indicated that we were likely to take this course in order to enable the debate to take place at a reasonably early stage. I do not think it will interfere with, disrupt or distort any other discussions that may take place on the Bill. It is a perfectly reasonable proposition that the matter be discussed at an early stage.

Mr. Michael Morris

Can the Lord President say whether his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will make a statement on the future of the new towns, in view of the reports that we shall ditch the third generation of new towns?

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend has made speeches, not in the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has suggested, but on the future of the inner cities and these matters. I am sure that at the proper time my right hon. Friend will engage in a debate in this House. But if he were to make a statement, he would not choose the terms and language of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Sims

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that two and a half years ago the Advisory Council on the Penal System produced a report on young offenders? This week the Home Secretary, by way of Written Answer, has indicated his rather disappointing reactions to some of those proposals. Will the Lord President now honour the undertaking, which he gave to me in the last Session and which his predecessor gave to me in the previous Session, that this House will have the opportunity to debate this important report?

Mr. Foot

I shall look at the matter and see what we can propose.

Mr. Adley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Lord President has not been able to give an assurance about a statement next Tuesday and, therefore, we have to rely on the hope that the Question in the name of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) is reached. We have to rely on just how much time you, Mr. Speaker, in your wisdom, will allocate to supplementary questions. It is wholly unsatisfactory that the Secretary of State is going back on his word. I would ask you to use your good offices to see whether the answer to that Question can come at 3.30 p.m. at the end of Question Time.

Mr. Speaker

I should be embarking on dangerous ground if I started suggesting that Ministers should answer Questions at the end of Question Time. But, of course, the hon. Gentleman's point will have been duly noted by the Lord President and others.