HC Deb 24 February 1977 vol 926 cc1632-9
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 28TH FEBRUARY—Supply [9th Allotted Day]: there will be a debate on the economy in Wales, on a motion for the Adjournment.

At seven o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed Private Business for consideration.

TUESDAY 1ST MARCH—A debate on foreing affairs, which will arise on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

WEDNESDAY 2ND MARCH—Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill.

Remaining stages of the Returning Officers (Scotland) Bill.

THURSDAY 3RD MARCH—Supply [10th Allotted Day]: the Question will be put on all outstanding Votes.

There will be a debate on the burden of personal taxation.

Motion on EEC Documents SI752/76 and 1/427/76 on export credits.

FRIDAY 4TH MARCH—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 7TH MARCH—Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

As I think that we may be waiting for the Lord President's next statement, may I just put two points to him? First, as it looks as if we shall have just a little more time in the near future, will he arrange for a two-day debate on the Public Expenditure White Paper within the next week or two? Secondly, as it is widely reported that there will be a rather important meeting on direct elections tomorrow, may we expect a statement on Monday?

Mr. Foot

I do not know whether there will be any necessity for any statement on Monday, but I will take the right hon. Lady's representations into account.

On the question of having a two-day debate on public expenditure, I cannot promise a second day yet, but we shall certainly consider the right hon. Lady's representations.

On the first matter the right hon. Lady mentioned, it is the case that I wish to make a statement a little later.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member to put a question, may I point out that there are two major statements to follow? I hope that that fact will be borne in mind. May I give hon. Members a word of advice? Those who manage to catch my eye to ask a question on the Business Statement may not be as lucky on the other matters.

Mr. Dalyell

Would the Lord President find time next week for the Private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin-grove (Mr. Carmichael) and entitled "Presumption of Death (Scotland) Bill"? Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, we could go quite wide on it.

Mr. Foot

I am sure that my hon. Friend could go pretty wide on any Bill.

Mr. Beith

If the Lord President is about to announce to the House good reasons why we should not proceed with the Scotland and Wales Bill next week, would not these reasons apply equally today? Will he say something about that?

Mr. Foot

It is perfectly possible for the House to conclude the proceedings on the debate which was started before today. As for next week and the future position, I ask the hon. Gentleman to await my later statement.

Mr. John Mendelson

I remind my right hon. Friend of the number of questions he was asked on Thursday of last week requesting a debate on unemployment and the economic problems resulting therefrom and his promise that he would seriously consider those requests. Is he now in a position to make an announcement about such a debate?

Mr. Foot

I cannot make any statement about inflation. We shall soon be discussing the Budget and the general economic measures associated therewith. Unemployment will be bound to figure prominently in all those debates.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

In view of what may be changed circumstances, will the Leader of the House try to find time for a debate on the motion which stands in my name and the names of many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides? I believe he agrees that it is important to debate this motion quickly.

[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 fully acknowledge that there must be a debate on the subject. I cannot promise such a debate next week. I should think it would be possible to hold the debate the week after next. I have the matter in mind. I am not seeking to avoid holding a debate.

Sir G. de Freitas

On the matter of a Bill dealing with direct elections to the European Parliament, do the Government realise that the Boundary Commission procedure is likely to take a very long time? Will they consider instead a very short Bill concentrating on the existing regions and counties, which worked very well in the referendum? Would they also consider bringing in a simple system of proportional representation?

Mr. Foot

My experience of the House, which has not been upset by recent experience, is that it is not very often that we have short Bills.

Mrs. Bain

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for an early opportunity to debate the Early-Day Motion in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans), since the question of continuing confidence in the Government is essential to the people of Scotland and Wales?

[That in view of their handling of the Scotland and Wales Bill, and their consequent loss of general credibility, this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government.]

Mr. Foot

I would certainly agree if the hon. Lady were saying that the continuance of this Government is essential for the welfare of the people of Scotland. I do not think that it is necessary to have a debate on such an obvious proposition. No doubt the Leader of her party will be discussing these matters with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when they meet later this evening.

Mr. John Evans

Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of us are very concerned about the future of the shipbuilding industry? When does he intend to bring forward the Bill to bring about the nationalisation of the shipbuilding and aircraft industries? Obviously, something must be done quickly if we are to retain a viable shipbuilding industry in this country.

Mr. Foot

I follow what my hon. Friend says. The Government are fully aware of the necessity to do everything we can to aid the shipbuilding industry. Of course, we greatly deplore the fact that the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill is not already on the statute book.

Mr. Edward Gardner

Has the Lord President seen the motion on the Order Paper in my name and the names of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends urging the Prime Minister to procure a speedy settlement to the present police pay dispute on the principles that were applied to settle the seamen's pay dispute?

[That this House, believing that an efficient and contented police force is indispensable to the maintenance of the Queen's Peace, calls on the Prime Minister to procure a speedy solution to the police pay dispute on the principles applied in the case of the seamen's pay settlement.]

Will the Lord President arrange for a statement to be made by the Home Secretary early next week so that we can hear about, and if necessary debate, this very urgent problem?

Mr. Foot

I have noted that motion. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last saw representatives of the Police Federation on 15th February, when he discussed the pay question. Another meeting will be held shortly, and I hope that a satisfactory conclusion will be reached. I do not accept the analogies with the seamen's position to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred.

Mr. McNamara

Before my right hon. Friend or any of his colleagues makes a statement in the House following tomorrow morning's discussions, will he bear in mind that some of his hon. Friends would like to be considered in those discussions and that no irrevocable decision should be taken tomorrow without consultation with his party supporters, so that they may continue to support him in the past as they have in the future—[Laughter.]—I mean, so that they may continue to support him in the future as they have in the past?

Mr. Foot

I am very eager to accept this exceptional display of support. I assure my hon. Friend that I am well aware of the views of many of my hon. Friends on this important subject, and I give him the assurance that such matters will not be neglected.

Mr. Michael Latham

In view of recent gross scandals and the need to contain public expenditure, why on earth has the Lord President put down for First Reading today and Second Reading soon a Bill to expand direct labour departments?

Mr. Foot

It is not on the Order Paper in the form which the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I hope very much that the Bill will be brought forward at a fairly early date because we believe that it can be of great benefit to the community as a whole.

Mr. Ward

If my right hon. Friend is facing the prospect of some slots in the Government's legislative timetable, will he look again at the place of the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill, which, if enacted, could save us 19 lives a week?

Mr. Foot

I know that my hon. Friend has strong views on that matter, as have many other hon. Members on both sides. I cannot give any undertaking that the Bill will be brought forward again, but it will be one of the Bills that we shall consider.

Mr. Higgins

Will the Lord President save parliamentary time by dropping the Water Charges Equalisation Bill. since the Government have now been forced to admit that it cannot come into operation this coming year, and it is likely to be overtaken by other legislation?

Mr. Foot

We have no intention of dropping that legislation. We believe that it is high time that it should be introduced in order to provide fairness for people in all parts of the country.

Mr. Spriggs

Since the Prime Minister stated today that it is the Government's intention to carry on with the Scotland and Wales Bill, why should we go on with the debate and hold up the referendum which has been promised?

Mr. Foot

If my hon. Friend awaits the statement which I shall make in a minute or two, he will have the answer to the first part of his question, and if he waits for the rest of the debate he will have the answer to the second.

Mr. Adley

In view of the continuing disgraceful campaign against Concorde being waged by certain people in New York, will the Lord President do his best to prevent Anglo-American relations deteriorating on this issue and accordingly invite his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade to come to the House early next week and make the statement which he said he would give?

Mr. Foot

I shall look up the observation to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr. Loyden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, since unemployment is now becoming the most important factor facing the House and the country, it is absolutely astonishing and shameful that we are not now discussing this vital question? Does my right hon. Friend realise that the future fate of the Labour Government will rest upon solving the problem of unemployment?

Mr. Foot

I do not dissent from my hon. Friend's view about the seriousness and importance of the unemployment situation and the necessity for the House to discuss it in all its aspects. But it is not the case that the House has not been discussing and will not discuss it. We shall be discussing it, for example, on Monday this coming week, and there will be a whole series of occasions in coming weeks and months when the matter can, quite properly and rightly, be discussed in the House.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I shall call the three hon. Members now on their feet, and then take the statement.

Mr. Lomas

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he would come back to the Back Benches, where we enjoyed his presence so much and where he did not try, as he is now doing, to push through the devolution Bill, which has been defeated, damned and finished? Will he make a statement to the effect that the devolution Bill is now dead, and will he concentrate his future activities on our unemployment problem?

Mr. Foot

We shall come to some parts of my hon. Friend's question in a moment. Despite his most generous invitation to return to the Back Benches, I must tell my hon. Friend that I have even more pressing invitations to stay on the Front Bench.

Mr. Skinner

Does my right hon. Friend agree that integrity is one of the most important values for a politician to hold, and, on that basis, will he resist with every breath left in his body the attempt to bring in a Bill for direct elections to Europe—a device to assist those who want to put thousands of pounds more in their pockets in order to gallivant around Europe and be missing from this place at the same time?

Mr. Foot

I am fully aware of my hon. Friend's view on that Bill and, indeed, on many others, although I cannot accept the imputation which he makes against some hon. Members in that connection.

Mr. Lipton

May I help my right hon. Friend with the statement on devolution which he is about to make? Has he noted Early-Day Motion No. 190, which suggests that a convention should be held?

[That this House recalls that, at the last General Election, the Conservative, Labour, Liberal and Scottish National Parties all included within their manifestos a commitment to an elected Scottish Assembly; regrets the intransigence of the Government, in refusing to consider all-party opinion on training appropriate enabling legislation; and now calls on Her Majesty's Government, in the light of the widespread reservations on the Scotland and Wales Bill, to accept the proposals of the Right honourable Member for Cambridgeshire for the immediate establishment of a constitutional Convention, on an all-Party basis, to implement the manifesto commitments referred to in this Motion.]

May I suggest that it might be worth while adopting that suggestion, provided that the convention met seven days a week and for 12 hours a day it made up its mind what it wanted?

Mr. Foot

As my hon. friend may detect in a few minutes, it was that consideration among others which induced me to prepare the statement which I an about to make.

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