HC Deb 10 February 1977 vol 925 cc1657-71
Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Leader of the House kindly 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 14TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Job Release Bill.

Remaining stages of the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

TUESDAY 15TH FEBRUARY and WEDNESDAY 16TH FEBRUARY—Progress On the Scotland and Wales Bill.

THURSDAY 17TH FEBRUARY—Supply [7th Allotted Day]: until about 7 o'clock, a debate on standards in education, and afterwards a debate on unemployment in the South-West. Both will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on the British Railways Board (Increase of Compensation Limit) Order.

FRIDAY 18TH FEBRUARY—Consideration of Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 21ST FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Covent Garden Market (Financial Provisions) Bill.

Debate on EEC Documents S/1882/76 and S/12/77 on textiles. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, other relevant textile documents are being listed in the Official Report.

Mrs. Thatcher

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. May I put three matters to him?

With regard to the business for Monday 21st February, I notice that the textile orders are the second item of business of the day. Will he say how long he expects the Covent Garden Market Bill to last? It is important to have time for a very long debate on textiles.

Secondly, if the right hon. Gentleman cannot promise that we shall have the Second Reading of a Bill on direct elections soon, will he use his best endeavours to have the Bill published so that we know what it contains?

Thirdly, may we have a debate on foreign affairs before Easter?

Mr. Foot

On the right hon. Lady's first question about the business for Monday 21st February, it was our understanding that the debate on the Covent Garden Market Bill would be a very brief one and, therefore, that there would be an opportunity for an extended debate on textiles. But, if it suits the convenience of the House, we can reverse the order of the proposed arrangements and take the Covent Garden Market Bill at the end. I am quite prepared to discuss that. As for any proposals on direct elections, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on the subject a minute or two ago.

I am afraid that I have nothing to add, either, in response to the right hon. Lady's third question about a debate on foreign affairs.

Mrs. Hart

Has my right hon. Friend seen the Early-Day Motion, signed by a very large number of hon. Members representing several parties, calling for the immediate appointment of a Select Committee to look at those provisions of the 1971 Immigration Act which relate to deportation? [That this House, is seriously concerned about the effect in practice of those provisions in the Immigration Act 1971 which relate to deportation on grounds of national security; concerned that these have involved a denial of natural justice, in that accused persons have not been informed of the charges against them and hive been denied the normal procedures of judicial hearings; is of the opinion that the relevant section of the Act should be referred for consideration to a Select Committee of the House.] In view of the urgency of the matter, will my right hon. Friend take steps to ensure that a Select Committee is set up very quickly?

Mr. Foot

I understand from the numbers who have signed the motion that on this matter there is considerable concern in the House. On the other hand, we have to be very careful about setting up more Select Committees. There are at the moment more than 300 hon. Members sitting on Select Committees. That is a factor which has to be taken into account. If my right hon. Friend wishes to make representations to me on the subject generally, I shall be prepared to receive them.

Mr. Beith

Does not the right hon. Gentleman see the merit in having a debate next week on Early-Day Motion No. 143, concerning the desirability of a North of England Development Agency? [That this House urges Her Majesty's Government immediately to establish a Northern Regional Development Agency.] Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his predecessor in office has written to hon. Members representing northern constituencies expressing the fear that there will be disparity in industrial promotion between Scotland and the North of England after devolution? Does not he think that a debate on the subject might make some of his hon. Friends more sympathetic to devolution?

Mr. Foot

I am not opposed to a debate on this important subject, but I am afraid that we cannot have it next week. In any event, I do not accept any suggestion that what the Government propose in any measure involves a disparity of treatment between the different regions. There is no prejudice against the North-East Region in anything that we are doing.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend consider the urgent need for a debate on unemployment generally, so that we may tackle the real problems facing us? Is he aware, for instance, that the so-called switch from the service industries to manufacturing is not working, even within the Government's own terms of reference? Does he appreciate that pipe-makers and moulders are being thrown out of work because of the Government's moratorium on public utilities such as housing and regional water authorities? Those are the matters that we want to talk about in this House, and not such subjects as devolution and direct elections.

Mr. Foot

Whatever may be the view reflected by my hon. Friend's remarks about devolution and about any proposals for direct elections, I am sure that everyone in the House and in the country agrees with the emphasis and importance that he attaches to the very serious unemployment problem throughout the country. Certainly there will be opportunities for varied debates on the subject in the coming weeks. There are certain subjects on which debates are due to take place. A debate is to take place on Thursday on one aspect of the matter. But there will be discussions on this during the whole of the forthcoming debates on the Budget and other matters. I quite agree that we must provide time for a constant discussion of this subject.

Mr. John Davies

Does the Leader of the House realise that his reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about a debate on foreign affairs filled the House with dismay? We have been waiting for this for months. Surely a discussion on Rhodesia, for example, is essential in the near future.

Mr. Foot

I understand that the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) and others in all parts of the House want debates on various aspects of foreign affairs and on foreign affairs generally. But I have nothing fresh to add about the possibility of an immediate debate. There is always the opportunity for the Opposition to select Supply Days for this subject.

Mr. Sillars

When we come to further proceedings on the Scotland and Wales Bill next week, will my right hon. Friend be confirming what he told me a moment or two ago in a letter, that the Government will decisively reject the idea of having a question concerning independence on the referendum ballot paper?

Mr. Foot

No doubt there will be references to that matter in today's debate. There will be further discussions about it then. I would prefer the Government's view to be stated in the context of this debate. But I agree with my hon. Friend that this matter will figure in our debates next week.

Mr. Rippon

Is the Leader of the House aware of Early-Day Motion No. 108, in my name and the names of a majority of right hon. and hon. Members in this House, urging Her Majesty's Government to take the initiative in the Council of Ministers to mark the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome on 25th March by launching a European foundation on the basis suggested in the Tindermans Report?

[That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to take the initiative in the Council of Ministers of the European Community with a view to marking the twentieth anniversary on 25th March of the signing of the Treaty of Rome by launching a European Foundation on the lines recommended in Mr. Tindemans' Report, to be financed partly by grants from the member states and partly from private funds, with the aim of promoting, either directly or by assisting existing bodies, any measures which will help towards greater understanding of European aims but placing the emphasis on human contacts such as youth activities, university exchanges and town twinnings.]

Will the right hon. Gentleman, as Leader of the House, take appropriate steps to see that the wishes of the House are carried out?

Mr. Foot

I will pass on what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. Whether I am the appropriate Minister to lead this fanfare, I am not sure

Mr. Kinnock

Has my right hon. Friend seen the amendment to his motion on the referendum standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), and has he noticed also that my name is attached to it in unholy alliance? May I put again the proposition that the Government should follow my hon. Friend's suggestion and thereby save £3 million of the taxpayers' money by stopping the Assembly in Cardiff now?

Mr. Foot

It never escapes my attention when my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) strays into dubious company. I have noticed the amendment. It is a matter which will arise in the debates which we shall be having later. Whether the amendment is called, I am sure that the matter is obviously one for debate in the general referendum debates that we shall be having.

Mr. Biffen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is wholly unsatisfactory that a decision of such significance as the establishment of National Shipbuilders and Repairers Limited should be vouchsafed to the House by way on an Answer to a Written Question? Can he, therefore, assure us that if the Standing Orders Committee of another place concludes its consideration of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill next week, it will result in an oral statement being made in this House so that we may learn of the Government's intended reaction?

Mr. Foot

I think that we had better first see how various people behave in another place before we start making statements about it here.

Mr. Crawford

In view of the delaying tactics adopted by some hon. Members, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when he intends to bring forward a timetable motion on the Scotland and Wales Bill?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to say to the hon. Gentleman or to anyone else on that subject for the moment, but it occasionally crosses our minds.

Mr. Loyden

In supporting the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), may I urge the Leader of the House to take seriously into account the need for a debate on unemployment? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the telecommunications industry workers are expressing great concern because of the Post Office cutback? I think that it is appreciated in the House generally that unemployment is the most important subject facing the working class, and therefore it is improper that the House does not debate the matter.

Mr. Foot

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), as, I am sure, do all my right hon. and hon. Friends, that this is the No. 1 question facing the country. There is a whole variety of ways in which it can be and will be debated in the House over the coming weeks.

Mr. Thorpe

Whilst accepting that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to maintain a Trappist silence on the question of the guillotine, will he not have the same modesty on the question of Early-Day Motion No. 108? We do not require him to shelter behind the Foreign Secretary, as we regard him as being as good a European as anyone sitting on the Government Front Bench because we know that he would have resigned from the Government long ago if he had been in disagreement with their European policy. As he is the servant of the House, and since the motion has the names of more than half the membership of the House behind it, surely it must follow automatically that he is bound to find time for a debate on it. Can the right hon. Gentleman just tell us when?

Mr. Foot

There is not always that amount of time available for debates. I have already answered the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) on the subject, and I will convey what the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) has said as accurately as I can to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, leaving out, of course, the preliminary terms of flattery which the right hon. Gentleman addressed to me.

Mr. Heffer

In looking at the timetable, will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us could be forgiven for thinking that the Government are not making unemployment the highest priority? Therefore, will he reconsider his answers, particularly as there are 80,000 unemployed on Merseyside alone, 25,000 of whom have been unemployed for well over a year? Is it not time that we made this question of unemployment the real priority and began to tackle it?

Mr. Foot

I assure my hon. Friend that there is no difference between us on the subject of the seriousness of the unemployment problem. He has a very serious unemployment problem on Merseyside, and I have serious unemployment in my constituency. I assure the House that the Government persistently give their attention to the subject and to the measures we propose over a whole range of matters designed to assist in overcoming the problem. The fact that other matters are discussed in the House, and must necessarily be discussed in the House, does not mean that members of the Government do not understand as well as my hon. Friend—if I may put it that way—the seriousness and inhumanity involved in the present unemployment figures.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the proposal to close teacher-training colleges in Scotland has created turmoil among teachers and others involved in education, yet only one day has been put aside for the Scottish Grand Committtee to discuss this very serious matter next week? Will he take immediate steps to try to extend that debate to two days so that we can discuss the matter thoroughly?

Mr. Foot

I will convey that message to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I cannot promise that he can supply extra days for the debate.

Mr. Jay

As, on Monday, the Government withdrew the EEC directive relating to lorry taxation, can my right hon. Friend assure us that they will not agree to any decision on it in Brussels until the House has had a further opportunity of debating it?

Mr. Foot

I agree, particularly in view of what was said by Ministers on Monday, that the matter must be brought before the House again. I give my right hon. Friend the undertaking for which he asks. I think that there was a misunderstanding in the House to some extent because there is a misunderstanding about the nature of the documents which are available to the House from the Council of Ministers. The Government were not suppressing any documents. But that does not detract from what I have said about the necessity for a further debate on that subject.

Mr. Tebbit

Again I ask the right hon. Gentleman when we may expect a statement of the Government's intentions in consequence of the fact that their aviation policy, on which they are renegotiating the Bermuda Agreement, was declared unlawful twice last year. When will the Attorney-General have time to decide what the Government should do?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman not accept the suggestion that, if the Government are using their best endeavours in the matter of producing a Bill for direct elections to the European Parliament, presumably they at least have the Bill drafted, and would it not be a good idea to put it on the Table for discussion outside the House, or introduce it in another place? After all, the other place might be busy later this year on devolution.

Mr. Foot

A statement will be made on the question of the Laker decision at a fairly early date. I have nothing to add on the question of direct elections to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said a few minutes ago.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does my right hon. Friend realise that, because of the genuine and widespread concern about unemployment, and because the House has not yet had much time to debate this very grave social issue, many of us would find it an indecent affront if he were to find time to discuss direct elections to Europe before we had dealt with the great social problem of unemployment?

Mr. Foot

There is to be a debate on unemployment in one part of the country next Thursday, and there was a debate on unemployment in the North-West last week. Other opportunities will arise. I repeat that the Government are as concerned as anyone else in the House to do all in their power to deal with the unemployment problem and to see that opportunities shall be provided for it to be debated properly.

Mr. Montgomery

Next week we are to have a half-day debate on standards in education, taken in Opposition time. Would the Government be prepared to add some of their own time so that we could discuss at greater length the statement by the Secretary of State for Education and Science announcing the drastic cutback in teacher training in England and Wales?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise any further time to add to what has been announced already. The fact that the Opposition provide time for many of these debates is part of the arrangements for the proper debating of matters in the House to which both parties have contributed in Opposition. Because we have a debate in Opposition time does not necessarily mean that we have to add some further Government time.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Should not the House have an opportunity to discuss the matter dealt with by the Secretary of State for the Environment in a Written Answer this week—namely, loans by building societies to councils—as some of us feel that the sum being offered is inadequate, being only one-fortieth of their total advances, to help the poorer half of the population? As that information was given in a Written Answer we have no opportunity to debate the matter, and I ask my right hon. Friend to find a time for us to debate it in the House.

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise time next week, but there are various opportunities when important matters such as that can be raised in the House.

Mr. Grylls

Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his cavalier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) about a State holding company for the shipbuilding industry? As this is a major change of policy by the Government in the method of organising the shipbuilding industry, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a statement is made? Will he give a proper answer now and say that a statement will he made?

Mr. Foot

If I gave a cavalier answer to the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), I shall try to give a Roundhead answer instead. I did not intend to dismiss what was said by the hon. Member for Oswestry. I thought that he was asking especially about what might be a decision in the House of Lords about the Examiners' Report on the shipbuilding Bill. I think that what I said before was sensible, namely, that we should wait to see what befalls before making a general statement about it. If, at a later stage, a further statement is required on shipbuilding policy generally, I shall make representations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

Mr. Spearing

Does my right hon. Friend recall that on 3rd November 1975 the Government gave an undertaking to lay amendments to Standing Order No. 73A? Those were laid in November of last year but are still heading the remaining Orders of the Day. When my right hon. Friend continually says that we are finding our way in Committee over EEC legislation, does not that cast some doubt on the speed at which the Government wish to proceed? Will he now find time to debate these matters?

Mr. Foot

The date of 3rd November is imprinted on my heart because my hon. Friend has reminded me of it so frequently. We should be able to conclude the matter with a debate but, as my hon. Friend knows better than anybody, there are still some differences between us as to how we might settle the matter, and we can consider that only in a debate. We have to find a time to do that. To digest the large number of proposals, directives, legislation and other items that come from the European Community involves a great deal of the time of the House. We shall not solve all that by what my hon. Friend has so far proposed.

Mr. Biffen

The point which I raised earlier, and which was followed up by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls), is one of substance and it turns on this: should the Standing Orders Committee of another place find that the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill is hybrid, surely it will be reasonable for a statement to be made in this House by the Secretary of State. It is a question not of being cavalier or Roundhead but of the Leader of the House not treating it as Cromwell did.

Mr. Foot

Cromwell had various different views. He was very good in his earlier days on this matter, but not so good in his later ones—[Horn. MEMBERS: "So were you."] It is for that very reason that I have always taken not Oliver Cromwell but John Lilburne as my hero. He had much better ideas about it altogether. I hope that that puts the hon. Gentleman back on the right side.

It is a sensible idea for the House of Commons to wait before it decides to pronounce on the matter. I think that we should wait to hear what is said. I hope that the other place will accept the decision of the House of Commons and let that Bill go forward. I am sure that all those who supported Oliver Cromwell in his youth or old age will agree with that proposition.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

I appeal to hon. Members, in the few minutes that we have left for business questions, to make their questions as brief as possible.

Mr. Spriggs

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the chief causes of the present state of the British economy is unemployment? As many of us would prefer to debate unemployment on a general basis rather than the Scotland and Wales Bill, will my right hon. Friend change the business for next week and let us have a full debate on unemployment?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to add to what I said before. I understand the feelings of my hon. Friend and others of my hon. Friends about the seriousness of the unemployment situation, but I cannot promise a general debate next week. I have no doubt that opportunities for debates on all the various aspects of economic policy will arise during the coming weeks.

Sir David Renton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Oliver Cromwell put the Levellers and Republicans in their place? Will he endeavour to do the same next week and always.

Mr. Foot

I do not think that anybody should be encouraged to follow the example of Oliver Cromwell at Burford or Ireland. We should see how, in this matter, we can sustain the supremacy of the House of Commons, and that arises on the point raised by the hon. Member for Oswestry.

Mr. Canavan

May we have the Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill as soon as possible, to bring about much-needed investment in the industry and to improve the employment prospects of the workers in it, including the 600 miners at Polmaise Colliery in my constituency which the NCB is threatening to close despite the fact that there is work for at least 15 to 20 years because of the coal reserves there?

Mr. Foot

I shall consider the details of that case, but no Government in this century have done more than this Labour Government to sustain this industry.

Mr. Monro

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the strength of feeling among Scottish Members over the handling of business in the Scottish Grand Committee next week by the Secretary of State for Scotland? Many Members want to express their view about the closing of colleges of education, and one day in the Scottish Grand Committee is not enough. As the Committee is not meeting on Thursday, can the right hon. Gentleman give any reason why it cannot do so?

Mr. Foot

I promised before that I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Lee

Does my right hon. Friend agree that apart from a general debate on foreign affairs there is a need for one before long on Rhodesia?

Has my right hon. Friend any indication when the Select Committee's Report on Members who were involved in the Poulson affair is likely to be available to the House, because we should like that matter to be settled?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give a date for that report being available to the House.

On my hon. Friend's first point, I acknowledge that events in Rhodesia are a proper matter for debate in this House, but we shall have to see what the possibilities are.

Mr. Costain

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the fear of unemployment is not confined to the North-West? We in the South-East have the highest unemployment since the war. Surely the right hon. Gentleman can find time to debate this matter next week, instead of all the nonsense that he is putting through the House.

Mr. Foot

I repeat what I have said on many occasions. The Government fully understand the seriousness of the unemployment situation throughout the country. We have had many debates on this matter, and no doubt in the coming weeks there will be further debates on it.

Mr. Hooley

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the best way of sustaining the supremacy of this House is to give it time to debate the most serious social and economic problem today, which is unemployment? I accept that the Government are concerned about this matter. They should display before the House their proposals to solve the problem and listen to the advice of the House on the subject.

Mr. Foot

I do not dissent from my hon. Friend's general proposition. I add only that if the whole devolution Bill were placed on the statute book more time would be liberated for many other debates in this House.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall call three more hon. Members. We have been on business questions for 25 minutes.

Mr. Younger

When the right hon. Gentleman speaks to the Secretary of State for Scotland about next Tuesday's debate in the Scottish Grand Committee, will he impress upon him that it would be scandalous if those hon. Members with constituency interests could not take part in the debate? It is physically impossible for them all to speak if the debate is confined to Tuesday morning.

Mr. Foot

The number of questions put to me on that subject are further instances of the case for devolution.

Mr. Fairbairn

In view of recent revelations, some of which hon. Gentlemen opposite regard as trivial, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange a debate on the proper method of preparing the Honours List and the conduct of central Government at the highest level?

Mr. Foot

We shall not have a debate on that next week and not even write a poem about it.

Mr. Crouch

All this talk about Oliver Cromwell prompts me to ask the Leader of the House whether he can give an assurance that he is still a member of the Cromwell Association and that the building outside this place which is barricaded in blue does not contain a statute of John Lilburne.

Mr. Foot

I have written to the hon. this House has agreed that Northern Member on this subject, and I am very Ireland affairs do not get enough time, happy that he should publish the correspondence to enlighten the world generally.

Following are the EEC documents:

Reference Number and Subject