HC Deb 13 January 1977 vol 923 cc1645-56
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 17TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Water Charges Equalisation Bill.

Motion on the Sixth Report of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) in Session 1975–76 and the First Report in Session 1976–77 on "Printing of Parliamentary Papers".

TUESDAY 18TH JANUARY and WEDNESDAY 19TH JANUARY—Progress in Committee on the Scotland and Wales Bill.

THURSDAY 20TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Transport (Financial Provisions) Bill, until about 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, debate on the Consultation Document on Transport Policy.

FRIDAY 21ST JANUARY—Consideration of Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 24TH JANUARY—Supply [4th Allotted Day]: subject for debate to be announced.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I put three questions to the right hon. Gentleman? First, when are we to have a debate on foreign affairs? We were promised a debate before Christmas. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is a long time since we have had a general debate on foreign affairs and that one is now long overdue?

Secondly, the Bill for direct elections to the European Parliament has not yet appeared and unless it appears soon and is debated it will be impossible to fulfil the undertaking to hold direct elections in 1978. When does the right hon. Gentleman expect that he will be able to let us have that Bill and provide time to debate it?

Thirdly, if the dispute at The Times continues, in view of the fundamental nature of the principles involved, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to arrange for the Secretary of State for Employment to make a full statement to the House tomorrow?

Mr. Foot

I have already undertaken, I think in reply to Questions before Christmas, to arrange a foreign affairs debate as soon as possible. I might add that such debates on Supply are well-precedented and there could be opportunities there. We have had a number of foreign policy debates even though there has not been a general debate on foreign affairs over recent months. I hope that we can look at it in that way. I hope that we shall be able to arrange a debate fairly soon.

As for the Bill for direct elections, I have nothing to add to what I said earlier. I believe that we must bring the Bill forward as was stated in the White Paper, but I cannot give a more detailed timetable. Dealing with the right hon. Lady's third point concerning The Times, the best course is to see what the facts are first before passing judgment upon them. I will certainly consider whether it would be wise for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to make a statement tomorrow as she has requested.

Mr. Greville Janner

In view of what I could almost call the universal disgust in the House over the release of Abu Daoud by the French Government, will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on the suppression of terrorism generally? In the meantime, will he express the Government's condemnation of this craven act on the part of the French?

Mr. Foot

Obviously the question of dealing with terrorism is important, but I cannot promise that we shall have a debate upon it in the near future. As for any question of a Government statement on the matter, that issue should be put to the Foreign Secretary.

Sir Bernard Braine

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that hon. Members of all parties are amazed and concerned that the Government have so far shown no sign of heeding the words of Mr. Justice Megarry in the High Court judgment last month, when he called on them to right the grievous wrong that had been done to the Banaban people, about which his court was powerless to do anything? Since the moral duty, and even the honour, of the Government is involved, will the Leader of the House give us an assurance that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary will make a statement on the subject next week and that arrangements will be made, if necessary, for an early debate?

Mr. Foot

I will see that the subject which the hon. Gentleman has raised is conveyed to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement, and subsequent debate—led by either the Chancellor or the Prime Minister in his new capacity—on the serious matter that was leaked last week in certain newspapers, including the Financial Times, concerning the way in which the General Electric Company had, through various shareholders and directors who own most of the shares, managed to get away with a dividend-busting system which will allow Arnold Weinstock to get something approaching £600,000 clear of tax? In his capacity as a leading Cabinet Minister supposedly wanting the social contract and the incomes policy to work once again in 1977–78, is my right hon. Friend prepared to accept the situation? If not, what does he intend to do about it? Will he arrange for a debate to be held and see to it that the Treasury does not allow this arrangement to continue?

Mr. Foot

That is a matter upon which Questions should be tabled upon the Order Paper. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate upon this issue, important though it may be. Certainly, we wish to do everything we can to sustain the social contract. The way to elicit facts upon this matter is to table Questions.

Mr. Aitken

Can the right hon. Gentleman find time for a general debate on the current activities of certain trade unions? Do we not have an extraordinary situation today whereby certain trade union leaders have prevented the publication of a great national newspaper and are also now proposing to prevent the delivery of the Royal Mail? Are not these major abuses of power and should not Parliament be debating them?

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry dealt with the second subject very fully at the Dispatch Box a few minutes ago. Turning to the hon. Gentleman's first question, I suggest that the best course for the House is first to discover what the facts are before going further.

Mr. Dalyell

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that in June of last year he rebuked some of his hon. Friends in picturesque and colourful terms because 70 of us had sent a letter to him suggesting that there should be no timetable motion on the Scotland and Wales Bill? Can he confirm, in the light of Press reports, that the thought has not occurred to him that there should be a timeable motion introduced after one or two days' debate on the Bill, as has been stated in the Press?

Mr. Foot

I cannot recall the picturesque language that I might have used on that occasion, or whether it would be appropriate once more on this occasion. I believe that we should proceed with the Bill which is now before the House and see what progress we make before such considerations arise.

Mr. Goodhew

Dealing with the latter part of the business for Monday next, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to confirm that one of the Government's proposals is to increase the size of the Official Report to something like a 1,000-page telephone directory? Or am I misunderstanding the situation?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding the situation. The proposal is one made by not the Government but by the Services Committee. It is a proposal supported by hon. Members of all parties. It will be for the House to decide whether it wishes to proceed along those lines. That is why the matter is to be debated. It is not a party question and therefore the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood it.

Mr. Ron Lewis

Will my right hon. Friend have another look at the business for next Thursday? Is he not relegating transport to a minor role by providing for the debate on the consultative document to take place from 7 p.m. or 7.30 p.m. until 10 p.m.? Surely it warrants a full day's debate.

Mr. Foot

I fully accept what my hon. Friend says about the importance of the debate. There is the debate on the Bill until about 7 p.m. We have been seeking, as my hon. Friend and others who have made representations to me over a considerable period know, an opportunity for the debate on general transport matters which we were not able to have earlier. I hope that it may assist the House next Thursday if we take the debate not just for an hour or two after 7 p.m. but extend it at any rate until 12 midnight.

>Mr. Awdry

In view of the serious muddle which has been revealed in connection with the Rent (Agriculture) Act which is causing great problems to practitioners, will the Leader of the House consider suspending operation of the Act until amending legislation can be brought in? It is a serious matter.

Mr. Foot

I do not believe that it can be done. It would be wrong for any Government to suspend the operation of an Act by such means. We are seeking to discover the speediest way of introducing the amending Bill to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I am sure that is the right way for the House to deal with the matter. We are seeking to deal with it on the lines which I mentioned earlier in the week.

Mr. Gould

Will my right hon. Friend tell us when the Prayer to annul the Import Duties Order will be debated?

Mr. Foot

I cannot offer time to debate it now. I should have liked to be able to do so. I recognise the importance of the subject. I could offer time upstairs and I will consider further the representations which have been made by my hon. Friend, but I cannot promise time for a debate.

Mr. Michael Latham

Will the Lord President find time next week for a debate on the harsh provisions of the pre-entry closed shop in view of the peculiar treatment which is being handed out by the self-appointed people's tribune to Mr. Andy Bevan.

Mr. Foot

That question does not arise for next week in the form of a debate in this House. Therefore, encouraged as I am by the hon. Gentleman's invitation, he will not be surprised if I do not respond to it.

Mr. Abse

No doubt the Leader of the House has observed that there are hundreds of amendments to the Bill on the Order Paper, most of which impinge on Scotland and few upon Wales. Will he look at tomorrow's Order Paper on which he will find an Instruction, signed by myself and my hon. Friends the Members for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) and Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), which proposes to give the Committee power to make provision to divide the Bill into two, one relating to Wales and the other to Scotland? Will he please note that there is a demand in Wales that the Bill has complete consideration in its own context so that, when a referendum comes, Welsh Members will have had the opportunity of clearly expressing their opinions? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to look at this Instruction to see that Wales has what it has a right to have—a Bill of its own to decide its own fate?

Mr. Foot

I had noticed that there were a few amendments on the Order Paper. I take account of every motion put upon the Order Paper by my hon. Friend and by others. However, I do not believe that is the right way to proceed. Some of these matters will be debated in Committee. Division of the Bill would not assist its passage. Indeed, I am doubtful whether that is the reason why that matter has been proposed.

Mr. Adley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State for Social Services has refused to answer Written Questions asking him to give the names of the manufacturers of the whooping cough vaccine which is causing the serious problem of brain damage to a few children? The right hon. Gentleman has refused to indicate whether he has had discussions with the manufacturers about the problem and to state whether the vaccine which has been withdrawn in West Germany is the same as is being administered in this country. In view of the terrifying situation facing some parents and their disgust at the Government's refusal to take a clear stand on the issue, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Social Services to come to the House next week and make a statement on where the Government stand regarding the acceptance of responsibility and compensation?

Mr. Foot

I cannot accept anything said by the hon. Gentleman in criticism of my right hon. Friend on this matter. Of course I will look into the question that he has raised and consider whether it is appropriate to have a statement next week.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Home Secretary as soon as possible to see whether he will come to the House early next week, or perhaps even today, to make a statement on the scandalous treatment of the cases of Agee and Hosenball? Will he ask his right hon. Friend whether, if members of the public, trade unions and the Press are being excluded, he will arrange for Members of Parliament to be present to see that the hearing is being conducted fairly and properly?

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is acting under procedures which were agreed by the House some years ago, has made it clear that he will not take a final decision in these cases until he has considered the reports from the panel of advisers and the other representations that he has received. I have nothing to add to that statement today.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

It is scandalous.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Will the right hon. Gentleman, when at last we have the promised foreign affairs debate, not have it on a day when our Members of the European Parliament and of the Council of Europe are away and unable to be present for the debate as it will be only the second foreign affairs debate in 12 months?

Mr. Foot

I shall do my best to try to avoid a clash. I know that a clash has occurred on previous occasions, and I shall try to avoid it in future, but there are difficulties. When another Assembly is established of which Members of this House have membership, it means that on some occasions there must be a choice between the two places. However, we shall do our best to avoid any such clash.

Mr. Faulds

When may the House have a detailed report on the negotiations at present under way about Southern Rhodesia?

Mr. Foot

It depends, to some extent, on the conclusions which may be reached. Obviously if there are fresh major developments next week, the Foreign Secretary will make a statement to the House.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

If, in the last two years, the Government have managed to read the Bullock Report, when may we have a debate on it?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure to which Bullock Report the hon. Gentleman is referring. [HoN. MEMBERS: "On reading."] If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the report on industrial democracy, I am happy to assure him that we hope that it will be published soon and the Government will make a statement on it as soon as possible.

Mr. Spearing

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) about import duties was very disappointing as these represent an annual increase in food prices contingent on our accession to the EEC? Is he aware that, since joining the EEC, we have had a debate on the Floor of the House every year on these issues? Does not his refusal to allow a debate show that he prefers the time of the House to be spent on giving way what powers it has rather than exercising those powers that remain to it?

Mr. Foot

No, it is not a comparison of that nature. The Government are pressed for the time available in the House to debate all the matters that we want to debate. I fully accept that this is a matter of considerable importance. I have made a suggestion to my hon. Friends on how we could debate the subject. I understand their representations. We shall look afresh to see whether there is any further possibility.

Mr. Pym

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) regarding the Bullock Report which has not yet been published, the right hon. Gentlemen indicated only that the Government would make a statement. Obviously they will make a statement. I hope that he does not think that a debate on that subject of less than one day will be adequate. We believe that subject to be of such importance that more than one day should be taken at an early stage to debate it.

Mr. Foot

I have not said anything about a debate on the subject. I was suggesting that the Government would wish to make a statement at or very near the time of publication of the report. We regard that report as being of major importance. Obviously the House will wish to discuss it at some stage. I am not making any suggestion at this moment as to what immediate time should be allocated for that debate.

Mr. Hooley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the future of the Banaban people and the status of Ocean Island could sour relations between this country and another friendly Commonwealth country—namely, Fiji? Will he therefore pursue the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and ask the Foreign Secretary to make an early statement on the issue?

Mr. Foot

I take account of what my hon. Friend has said. I shall raise the matter with the Foreign Secretary to see whether a statement should be made next week.

Mr. Blaker

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not want to mislead the House about the reply that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition regarding the foreign affairs debate. Were we not promised a foreign affairs debate in Government time during the last Session, a promise which has not been kept?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly look at the exact terms in which the statement was made, as the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter. I was saying—I do not think that this can be disputed—that, although there may not have been a general debate on foreign affairs, there was a whole series of debates on different aspects of foreign affairs during that period. I shall look at exactly what undertaking I gave. I take account of what the Leader of the Opposition said about a general debate on foreign affairs. I have said that I shall try to provide time for one at a fairly early date. I am unable to give the date now.

Mr. McNamar

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the problems of the fishing industry and the threat to employment? Is he also aware that major redundancies—nearly 2,000—are threatened on North Humberside, in the Haltemprice constituency and in my own constituency? When shall we have an opportunity to reconsider the Government's criteria for regional policy, in order to get some help for North Humberside, which has been sadly neglected by the Labour Government?

Mr. Foot

I do not accept the last sentence of my hon. Friend's question although I fully accept that he is an expert on the subject. We have had some debates on fishery matters recently, and I cannot promise another one soon. There is to be a debate on some aspects of regional policy in one of the motions which is to be discussed in Private Member's time, and possibly some of the subjects my hon. Friend has mentioned could be raised then.

Mr. McCrindle

Reverting to earlier points concerning the refusal of a Civil Service trade union to produce unemployment statistics for political reasons, with the failure of a great national newspaper to appear for political reasons, and with interference with the delivery of the Royal Mail by industrial action, is not the time approaching for this House to debate the use of industrial power for political purposes?

Mr. Foot

Those are three separate subjects and it would be foolish to place them all in the same category. If solutions are being sought, this is not the best way to go about it. These are matters which the Opposition may wish to raise on one of their Supply Days.

Mr. Craigen

When shall we have an opportunity to debate the employment and training difficulties facing young people in this country?

Mr. Foot

These matters are raised at various times in economic debates. I accept the importance of this aspect of the matter, but it figured in the economic policy debates just before Christmas, and no doubt it will figure in other debates in the coming weeks and months.

Mr. Gow

When shall we have a statement about the meeting yesterday between the Minister of State at the Foreign Office and a senior officer of Barclays Bank reparding investment in South Africa? May we have a statement about the duality of standards in regard to investment in some countries of whose internal policies we disapprove?

Mr. Foot

These matters were raised at Question Time today and I cannot say that a further statement will be made next week. This is something which could be raised in debate.

Mr. Madel

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in 1975–76 there was a serious legislative log jam because the Government introduced so much business? May we have an assurance that no controversial Bills will be introduced after 1st March?

Mr. Foot

There was never any undertaking given by this Government or any previous Government that they would never introduce controversial matters after 31st March. There was some indica tion given about when measures should be sent to another place, but I do not believe that any Government could give the sort of undertaking which the hon. Member requires. There is no precedent for such an undertaking in recent times and it seems to me that for a Government to state that all requirements for controversial legislation come to an end at a certain point in the year would be very foolish.