§ 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:
TUESDAY 22ND FEBRUARY—Consideration of a timetable motion—
§ Mr. Foot
As I was saying, on Tuesday, consideration of a timetable motion on the Scotland and Wales Bill.
Motion on EEC Documents on textiles. In addition to those already announced, Document S/205/77 is also relevant.
WEDNESDAY 23RD FEBRUARY—Supply [8th Allotted Day]: Until about 7 o'clock, a debate on a Liberal Party motion on the reform of government.
Afterwards, a debate on security in Northern Ireland, which will arise on an Ulster Unionists' motion.
Motions on Northern Ireland Orders on local elections and criminal damage.
THURSDAY 24TH FEBRUARY—Proceedings in Committee on the Scotland and Wales Bill.
FRIDAY 25TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills. 703 MONDAY 28TH FEBRUARY—Supply [9th Allotted Day]: subject for debate to be announced.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is the most discreditable and disgraceful use of a guillotine that we have yet seen in this House? Is he aware that the Bill raises constitutional matters which have not been discussed in this House for 50 years? Is he aware that the Bill is really three Bills—a Scotland Bill, a Wales Bill and a referendum Bill—and that he is attempting in one guillotine to suppress discussion of matters of supreme importance to everyone in the United Kingdom? Does he agree that he will be throughly debasing the standard and standing of Parliament when he goes to the people of Scotland and Wales to consult them in a referendum, having prevented their elected representatives from discussing many questions in the Bill? Will he not therefore reconsider this measure, bearing in mind that only one-third of the discussion so far has been taken up by Members of the Opposition, so he is therefore gagging his hon. Friends as well as hon. Members in other parts of the House?
As we are coming up to Budget time, has the right hon. Gentleman any news of the date of the Budget?
§ Mr. Foot
It is the present intention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to open his Budget on Tuesday 29th March. I detected a note of criticism in some of the right hon. Lady's remarks, but I suggest that, in accordance with our normal procedures, the best time to discuss those criticisms is on Tuesday next week.
§ Sir J. Eden
Will the debate on Tuesday last a full day until 10 o'clock, or does the right hon. Gentleman intend to curtail that as well?
§ Mr. Heffer
In the event of the Government not getting their guillotine 704 motion, will they and my right hon. Friend consider that the best way of dealing with that situation would be for the House to decide to go away for about three weeks and for us to have the referendum and allow the people to take a decision on this matter? I accept the Government's view that it would not be a final decision, but if the people show that they want devolution, the passage of the Bill would obviously be much smoother than it has been up to now.
§ Mr. Foot
I do not think that the right course for the House is to discuss these hypothetical possibilities now. The right thing to do is to have the discussions on Tuesday. We have consulted the people of Scotland and Wales on the introduction of this measure. I hope that my hon. Friends will take that into account.
§ Mr. Grimond
Will the Leader of the House consider amending the Standing Orders to allow a longer debate than three hours on the guillotine motion? The situation has one unusual feature. After the Bill came into Committee a new and important constitutional point was raised on the referendum. We have not yet seen the Government proposals for that. We must have full time to discuss the effect of the referendum and this constitutional change.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Leaving aside the synthetic indignation of those hon. Members who brought in a timetable motion on the European Communities Bill, will my right hon. Friend turn his mind to the decision to deport Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball? In view of Mr. Speaker's ruling yesterday, will he turn his mind to giving Government time for this matter to be debated, bearing in mind that we came here on a three-line Whip to debate the Dutschke case?
§ Sir Frederic Bennett
Leaving aside the announcement about the guillotine, 705 has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to the report that today the Irish Republic has announced its own unilateral 50-mile fishing limit? Does he accept that this has an impact on British fishing limits? Will the right hon. Gentleman look at this and see that a statement is made, because the situation is causing considerable outrage among our fishermen who are not satisfied with what the Government are doing for them?
§ Mr. Abse
Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the question of the guillotine? I put it to him in two sentences—his. My right hon. Friend said:No one can say that he has the full-hearted consent of Parliament and at the same time introduce a guillotine. No one can say that unless he emasculates the English language, just as the Government propose to emasculate the British Constitution."—[Official Report, 2nd May, 1972; Vol. 836, c. 235.]Those were the words of the present Leader of the House when the European Communities Bill was before the House. Has he no comment to make to explain to the House this appalling volte face?
§ Mr. Reid
Will the Leader of the House accept the congratulations of the Scottish National Party—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Will he accept our congratulations on getting on with the guillotine? In preparation for Tuesday's vote will be bring to the attention of his colleagues on the Labour Benches the full-page advertisement which appeared in the Scots Press before the October 1974 election? The advertisement read:Powerhouse Scotland! Labour is pledged to an Assembly elected exclusively by Scottish voters An Assembly with the power to take action and plan for the future. Plus, of course, the money to carry out the ideas."—and finally, in the terms of the guillotine, it went on: 706The next Labour Government promises a Scottish Assembly, and we only make promises that we can keep.
§ Mr. Speaker
I made a mistake in allowing the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) to give a quotation. I thought it fair to make the same mistake a second time. I hope that hon. Members will realise that this subject is to be debated next week and that we are now having business questions.
§ Mr. Palmer
On another topic, will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate fairly soon on the last report of the Select Committee on Members' interests because the failure to implement that report means that soon there will be no effective register of Members' interests?
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
Is the Leader of the House aware that many hon. Members in all parts of the House, particularly after his announcement, now feel that he should have included in this week's business a debate on Early-Day Motion No. 168 on the ruling of the Chairman of Ways and Means, which stands in the name of myself and a wide range of hon. Members from a wide political spectrum? Does the Leader of the House accept that this is a technical criticism of the Chair and that it must be debated as soon as possible? Has he any idea when it will be debated? Will he accept the first six names on this motion as evidence that the House should alter its rules to give more time to debate the guillotine motion itself?
§ [That, in the opinion of this House, the ruling given by the Chairman of Ways and Means on Thursday 10th February 1977, in selecting for debate in Committee of the whole House on the Scotland and Wales Bill the Procedure Motion, new Clause 40 and Amendment 679, all in the name of the Leader of the House, ought not to be cited or drawn into precedent on any future occasion.]
§ Mr. Foot
I do not believe that this motion affects the motion on the guillotine. But I say to the right hon. Gentle- 707 man that I entirely agree that the matter that he raised in his motion should and must be discussed in the House. It should be done at a fairly early date. I cannot say that we shall debate it next week but I promise the House that we shall debate it at an early stage. I recognise the importance of the issue, but it is separate from the guillotine question.
§ Mr. Ogden
Will my right hon. Friend not worry too much about the differing points of view about whose heads will roll when the guillotine falls? Will he accept that those who want to criticise part of the Bill and to vote for amendments accept that the Bill has a large majority in the House and that its future should be decided by votes as well as by voices?
§ Mr. John Page
In view of the recent tragic events in Uganda, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made to the House about what steps the Government are proposing to take to safeguard the lives of members of the British Christian community in Uganda? Will he inform the House whether an invitation is being given to President Amin to attend the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in June?
§ Mr. Greville Janner
Will my right hon. Friend give a positive assurance that President Amin will not be invited to this country or be allowed into the country, whether for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, the Silver Jubilee or anything else? May we have a debate on the subject?
§ Mr. Pym
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is entirely within the Government's discretion whether they 708 give a whole day for the timetable motion—and, of course, there are precedents for that—and, in all the circumstances, would it not be appropriate to give a whole day on Tuesday if he must bring forward this motion, with which, as he knows, I passionately disagree? Second, will he put on the Order Paper as part of the motion all the details of the timetable that he has in mind, so that in the course of the debate hon. Members can see precisely what the House will be faced with, clause by clause? This is very necessary if the House is to come to a fair and reasonable decision on what is a parliamentary monstrosity of a proposal.
§ Mr. Foot
The right hon. Gentleman is returning to some of the questions for debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] He refers to what we are proposing being a monstrosity. That is a question for debate. He does not expect me to agree with any such absurd proposition—if I may return in the same tone that he employed. As for extending the period of debate, I think that what we are proposing is in full accordance with what has happened previously and is the best way in which we can proceed. We can perfectly well determine the matter in the three-hour debate.
A motion will be going down on the Order Paper today. I believe that it will be quite full enough for the House to be able to judge what is the time that is being made available, and I believe that the House will be in possession of the facts that will enable it to come to a proper judgment.
§ Mr. Kinnock
Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that there have been, let us say, marginal departures from the well-established traditions in the way in which the Government have shown great innovation and originality of thought in changing their general disposition on the Bill? Taking confidence from that, will he not reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and not dismiss the possibility of an immediate or early referendum as a hypothetical possibility, because at present there is no possibility more hypothetical than that of my right hon. Friend getting his guillotine motion next Tuesday night?
§ Mr. Foot
All these are questions for debate. I do not believe that the pro- 709 posal which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller), and which has been supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), is a proper proposal that solves the situation. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty has been opposed to the proposal for devolution to Wales, but in every chamber in Wales in which he has debated it, he has lost. He may lose again.
§ Mr. Tom King
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, in the convolutions over the guillotine motion, it has been necessary to change the business for Monday? Is he aware that it is quite intolerable, when the business has already been announced, suddenly to have a major measure, the Coal Industry Bill, shoved in without any warning on the first day of next week? Would it not be more sensible to restore the originally announced business for Monday and to have a whole day for the debate on the guillotine on Tuesday, and to let the Coal Industry Bill come forward at the normal time?
§ Mr. Foot
I am sorry if this has caused inconvenience to the hon. Gentleman and others in the House. There was a question whether we should make a rearrangement again and have the Supply Day then, but that would have caused inconvenience for some others. I do not believe that it is impossible for the House to proceed to proper debate on the Coal Industry Bill on Monday.
§ Mr. Henderson
In the event of the guillotine motion being defeated, will the Government treat the matter as an issue of confidence and resign, so that Scottish people can pass judgment on them?
§ Mr. Moonman
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that he is protecting the interests of Bank Benchers—the fundamental rôle that he performs in the House—when he introduces this guillotine motion next week with only the relatively short time allocated taken up? Would he not give further consideration to some of the options that will follow should this motion fail next week?
§ Mr. Foot
What we propose is perfectly proper. We are giving an opportunity for the House to decide upon our proposals as to how we should proceed 710 with the Bill. Many of my hon. Friends who have been present in the House over the past few weeks will think that we are protecting the rights of many Back Benchers in our proposal, as well as protecting the rights of others who want to oppose.
§ Sir David Renton
With regard to the time to be taken up on the timetable motion, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the quite exceptional importance of it, its tremendous implications, the conflicting views held about it on both sides of the House, and the need for adequate time to be given during the debate for considering the alternatives to this guillotine? Will he bear in mind especially the very large numbers of Members who are likely to want to catch Mr. Speaker's eye? In view of all these factors, does the right hon. Gentleman consider that it is fair to the House to allow only three hours for the debate? Will he please think about it again?
§ Mr. Foot
There have been many timetable motions that have dealt with Bills of great importance in a period of three hours. Several such timetable motions were introduced by the Conservative Party—and timetable motions that dealt with important questions. Therefore, I believe that it is perfectly possible for the House to come to a reasonable decision after a three-hour debate.
§ Mr. MacFarquhar
On the welcome assumption that my right hon. Friend is right and that the guillotine is passed in favour of the Government next Tuesday, will he give the House an assurance that he will immediately thereafter introduce a Bill for the holding of direct elections to the European Parliament? Will he also assure the House that he will, in due course, be prepared to introduce a guillotine for that Bill? Will he also refute rumours that he will be postponing that Bill until the next Session?
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made next week so that the House 711 and the general public may know that the iniquitous Water Charges Equalisation Bill will not now become law this year?
§ Mr. George Cunningham
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in a three-hour period there will not be time for more than eight or nine Back Bench speeches, at best, and that only if all of them keep to about 10 or 12 minutes each? What is his reason, other than precedents—bad precedents, committed by Conservative Governments as well—for denying a second half of a day for this terribly important motion?
§ Mr. Foot
There are plenty of precedents for what I am proposing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I am just underlining one part of my hon. Friend's question. Another of the reasons why we wish to proceed to the other business is that we have very important business to transact. There is a motion on EEC documents on textiles. One of the problems that the House faces is that we have to provide further time to discuss the measures, proposals and regulations that come from Brussels. We wish to have time for discussing those, too. They are matters on which I have been pressed from many parts of the House to provide time.
§ Mr. Rifkind
Why is the right hon. Gentleman stubbornly refusing demands from both sides of the House for extending the debate on the guillotine beyond three hours? Does he not realise that he is guaranteeing that he will get no support for his motion from the Conservative Benches?
§ Mr. Buchan
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there will be a widespread welcome throughout Scotland for the proposal to have a timetable and that if we fail to get the Bill through the House and submit it to the people of Scotland, there will be only one group 712 of people who will be pleased, despite their support for the timetable motion, if the Bill goes into the sands, and that is the Scottish National Party? The Members of this House must realise that on the two issues of the second question in the referendum and the timetable motion getting through depends the survival of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
In view of the findings this morning about the hybrid nature of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, do the Government intend to make a statement this week or next week?
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
With reference to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us who have no particular axe to grind for Mr. Agee or Mr. Hosenball are none the less gravely concerned about the matter, because we think that it reflects discredit upon my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, for whom we have great respect, and thus reflects discredit upon the Government as a whole? In view of this, as the Government are discredited in the matter, does not my right hon. Friend consider that it is a matter for Government time? Will he find Government time to discuss it?
§ Mr. Crouch
I am not quite sure how the right hon. Gentleman reaches his decisions these days. Does he consider that he has become a prisoner of the procedures of the House, that he has no opportunity to draw on his reserves, 713 usually strong reserves, of generosity with regard to extra time for debate? The right hon. Gentleman was a great debater in his time. Can he not recognise that there is strong feeling in the House that we want longer to debate his decision today?
§ Mr. Foot
My recollections of many such motions—and I think that most people have agreed—is that timetable motions, even on very important Bills, can be properly considered within the three-hour period. Indeed, the Standing Orders were altered not so many years ago to deal with that matter. I am always prepared to see whether our procedures should be altered at some stage to accommodate any proposals, but I do not think that there is a strong case for that in this instance.
§ Mr. Noble
Does my right hon. Friend recall the letter to him written by myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) about the time allotted for the debate on textiles? Does he accept that now that the debate has been moved to Tuesday there will be less time than there would have been on Monday? Therefore, will he reconsider the decision to have a debate on textiles on Tuesday? Will he allot more time, as he himself said a moment ago that it is a vital industry and a vital debate?
§ Mr. Foot
I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said, but I am sure that if we were further to postpone that debate there would be criticisms of that as well. I shall be prepared to consider whether we should suspend the rule for the debate on Tuesday, so that we do not have to finish it at 10 o'clock. I think that that is a logical proposal given that we originally proposed that the debate should take place after another debate. I shall consider whether we can have extended time.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall
Will the Leader of the House accept the thanks of the whole House for the way in which he has muddled and fumbled his way through the devolution Bill thus far, thus allowing both sides of the House to express their opposition to it? Will he think again about his guillotine motion, because it is obvious that he will not get it and that he will be muddling and fumbling once again?
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
Will my right hon. Friend indicate before the debate on Tuesday whether he is considering making any major concessions with regard to the Liberal proposals, such as the granting of taxation powers to the Assemblies?
§ Mr. Foot
On Second Reading and on a number of other occasions the Government have indicated that they are prepared to consider fresh proposals about a marginal tax arrangement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There is no need to say "Oh' or anything like that. If my hon. Friends had followed closely what has been said, they would know that we have said in public on a number of occasions, and have said from this Dispatch Box, that we would be prepared to look for other arrangements. But we believe that it is very difficult to find them. There is nothing new in that proposal. As for other proposals from the Liberal Party, some of them have been fully discussed in the House and the House has passed judgment upon them.
§ Mr. Heath
Is the Leader of the House aware—as of course he is—that he is absolutely entitled to ask the House for a timetable motion on a constitutional measure, that he is quite right in saying that Standing Orders allow three hours to debate it, and that he is absolutely right in saying that there are many precedents for his statement? This is widely recognised throughout the House. But three questions arise over the whole matter. One is that the House should feel that it has had perhaps more time than it is entitled to for discussing the Bill. Secondly, the timetable motion itself should give full time—again, perhaps even more than the right hon. Gentleman had originally envisaged. The third and very important matter is that there should be orderly discussion of what remains of the Bill within that period. If my knowledge of the Standing Orders is correct, that is a matter for discussion after the motion is passed.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman three things. First, will he consider again whether the House should not have the opportunity to feel that it has been able fully to discuss the timetable motion, even though that may make it difficult to discuss the European issues? Obviously, I do not ask for an answer now. Secondly, will he reassure the House that there is ample time for the rest of the Bill, and, 715 thirdly, in particular, that it will be carried through in an orderly way, so that it will not go to the other place with Members here or there feeling that they have not dealt with at least the major issues in it?
§ Mr. Foot
Of course, we shall seek to ensure that the Bill is discussed in the most orderly manner and that at the end of the proceedings we do not send to the other place a whole batch of matters which have not been discussed. Certainly, in the Government's approach in the Business Committee we shall seek to ensure that that happens.
As for the time available, I believe that anyone who sees what we place on the Order Paper will agree that we are offering considerable time, just as we have done right from the beginning of the passage of the Bill.
On the first matter that the right hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members in various parts of the House have pressed, it would be absurd for me not to acknowledge that there have been demands from many quarters that we should look afresh at the question of time to debate the motion. I give no undertaking about providing a whole day, but I shall see whether there is some other arrangement that we can make. I must take into account the position of other hon. Members who are interested in other business of the House, such as those interested in textiles. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) said, we have already given an undertaking to them and other Members who are specially interested in the wideranging matter of textiles that we shall provide considerable time for that discussion. We must take all that into account. I make no promise to the House, but I shall consider the representations from many quarters on the subject.
§ Mr. Pym
I do not think that the argument about providing time for textiles on Tuesday is in proportion or perspective compared with the importance of the timetable motion. I very much support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said, and I want to add to it. In reply to my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the House referred to the Business Committee, which is covered by the Standing Orders. What 716 I was seeking to obtain from the right hon. Gentleman in an earlier question was an undertaking that all the details of the timetable motion for the rest of the Committee stage of the Scotland and Wales Bill should be on the Order Paper. There are precedents for that. In the absence of those details in the motion on the Order Paper, I do not see how the right hon. Gentleman can give a satisfactory answer to my right hon. Friend, who pressed him for an orderly debate. I think that both those matters are very important—a whole day's debate on the motion and full details on the Order Paper of what is proposed.
§ Mr. Foot
The right hon. Gentleman has more experience than I have of these questions, but I believe that the way in which they are dealt with to make them orderly depends on what happens in the Business Committee. It is best to organise these debates in the Business Committee. Attempting to settle such matters in advance is not the best way. When hon. Members see the motion on the Order Paper I think that they will see that we are seeking to deal with the matter intelligently. I know that hon. Members always want more time for everything.
As I promised, I shall consider the matter in the light of the representations, but it is not easy to carry out pledges to all the different sections of the House. Naturally concerned as they are with ensuring that we have a proper debate on the subject, hon. Members must understand that we must also take into account the great demands for debates on textiles and matters of what is to become the law of the land as a result of decisions taken in Brussels.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
May I remind the House that there are two very important debates to take place later today and that a large number of hon. Members wish to speak. There is also other business. It is always difficult for me to decide a timetable of my own on this matter, but I propose to take two more questions from either side of the House.
§ Mr. Newens
I wish to revert to the issue raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and Putney (Mr. Jenkins). Is my right 717 hon. Friend aware of the deep sense of outrage produced by the decision to deport Messrs Agee and Hosenball? If no other means is found to debate the matter, does not my right hon. Friend regard it as being of sufficient importance —particularly bearing in mind his own background and interest in the case of Rudi Dutschke—for it to be given Government time?
§ Mr. Nott
May I revert to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King)? The House is not yet ready to take the Coal Industry Bill. It could not go into Committee anyway because the Nuclear Industry (Finance) Bill has not gone into Committee yet. It is therefore inconvenient to the House to have the Coal Industry Bill's Second Reading on Monday. For 10 days the House has been expecting a debate on textiles to take place on Monday, and that would suit the House well. Why not have the textiles debate on Monday, as originally proposed—we are ready for it—have a full day on the guillotine motion on Tuesday, and take the Coal Industry Bill, which the House is not yet ready to discuss and deal with, the week after?
§ Mr. Foot
The only fallacy in that argument is that we would lose a day, or part of a day, for discussion of the Coal Industry Bill. The hon. Gentleman must take that into account as well.
§ Mr. Spriggs
Will my right hon. Friend give further consideration to his reply concerning Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball? As it has been stated in the House that both are a danger to the State, is it not wrong to free them to make available the information for which the Home Secretary is deporting them? Will my right hon. Friend not consider the question of putting the two men on trial, with the object of enabling them to defend themselves against a charge which none of us knows anything about?
§ Mr. Raison
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the proposal for a guillotine motion has a new factor compared with earlier precedents—the arrival on the scene of no fewer than five minority parties? By the time they have had their legitimate say, both Front Benches have had their say, and Privy Counsellors have had their say, the chances of a Conservative Back Bencher being called are virtually nil. The right hon. Gentleman might welcome that, but it is a bad thing for Parliament.
§ Mr. Moonman
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your advice and a comment from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the answer he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins)? Did not my right hon. Friend indicate that, in attempting to get the guillotine for the Scotland and Wales Bill, he was having talks with the Liberals about certain concessions? Could we have a refutation of that? Does it not raise—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. That is not a point of order. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to pursue business questions. I have no doubt that he can get together with the Leader of the House, but we had finished with business questions.