HC Deb 20 January 1977 vol 924 cc633-45
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 24TH JANUARY—Second Reading of the Water Charges Equalisation Bill.

Motions on the Road Vehicles (Registration and Licensing) (Amendment) Regulations.

TUESDAY 25TH JANUARY AND WEDNES DAY 26TH JANUARY—Further progress in Committee on the Scotland and Wales Bill.

THURSDAY 27TH JANUARY—Supply [4th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on the prevention of crime, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion relating to the Adoption Agencies Regulations.

FRIDAY 28TH JANUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 31ST JANUARY—Second Reading of the International Finance, Trade and Aid Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have two questions for the Leader of the House. Judging from the business, it looks as though it is his general intention to devote Tuesday and Wednesday each week to the Scotland and Wales Bill. Will he tell us whether that is so?

Last week we raised the question of a foreign affairs debate. We did not have a general foreign affairs debate in Government time during the whole of the last Session. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore see that it features in his next Business Statement?

Mr. Foot

It is our general intention to try to hold the debates on the Scotland and Wales Bill on Tuesday and Wednesday as a normal rule, but I should not like to be bound to that absolutely. That is the general proposition.

I know that the right hon. Lady put the question of a foreign affairs debate to me before. It has been the case on previous occasions when Conservative Governments were in power that very often the Labour Opposition had to take their time, for example, on Queen's Speech days, in order to secure a general foreign affairs debate. That was the choice of the Opposition. That did not happen last Session or on similar occasions. I agree that at some stage we shall have to have such a debate. We must look at that, but I can make no promise now.

Mr. Lipton

Will my right hon. Friend note that it has taken three days, including an all-night sitting, to dispose of one clause of the Scotland and Wales Bill? As he knows, the Bill contains 155 clauses and 16 schedules. Will he consider, since some of us are getting a bit fed up with this Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—appointing a Committee consisting only of those hon. Members who wish to speak on the Bill and sending them all upstairs?

Mr. Foot

I note not only the circumstances described by my hon. Friend but the popularity of some of his suggestions. However, I cannot believe that that is the right way to deal with a constitutional Bill of this nature. I am certainly noting the circumstances of the time that we are taking, however.

Sir Bernard Braine

Does the Leader of the House recollect that last week I drew attention to the almost unprecedented action of a High Court Judge in directing the attention of the Attorney-General to the fact that his court was powerless to right a wrong that Her Majesty's Government have done to the Banaban people? I pressed for a Government statement. In view of the widespread interest in the matter and the feeling that the honour and duty of the Government are at stake, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether such a statement will be made at an early date?

Mr. Foot

I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman that I have not secured for him a statement on that subject, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has been fully engaged in the last day or two defending the honour, reputation and rights of the House of Commons.

Mr. Faulds

When may we have a statement about developments in the negotiations towards the liberation of Zimbabwe?

Mr. Foot

Of course that matter is of great importance. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary will report to the House on the subject as soon as he thinks it desirable and helpful that such a report should be made. The fact that a report has not been made to the House does not indicate any withdrawal of interest by the Government in trying to secure progress in the matter.

Mr. John Davies

Will the Leader of the House say when we shall get the Bill on direct elections to the European Parliament? Is he aware that the Government's foot-dragging on this question is a matter of severe concern not only in this country but throughout Europe? Will he live up to his promises and let us have the Bill forthwith?

Mr. Foot

The Government have never promised that the Bill will be available forthwith. Therefore we are not breaking any promise. However, I note what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Greville Janner

In view of my right hon. Friend's commitment to worker participation in industry, can he say when he expects to lay before the House the code dealing with disclosure of information to trade unions? Please may it be soon?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure on which day it is proposed to lay the code, but I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to communicate with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) and to see what communication may be made to the House.

Mr. Scott

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to the terms of Early-Day Motion No. 60, calling attention to the need for a Select Committee on housing? Is he aware that the motion is attracting signatures from all parts of the House? May we expect an early statement on the establishment of such a Committee?

[That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into housing policy:

That the Committee do consist of twelve Members:

That Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann, Mr. Robert Hicks, Mr. Stephen Ross, Mr. Nicholas Scott, and Mr. Tom Urwin be Members of the Committee:

That Five be the quorum of the Committee:

That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House; to adjourn from place to place; to report from time to time; and to report Minutes of Evidence front time to time:

That the Committee have power to appoint persons to carry out such work relating to the Committee's Order of Reference as the Committee may determine:

That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House until the end of this Parliament.]

Mr. Foot

I note that the motion has the support of hon. Members from various parts of the House. The proposal is certainly interesting, and we must consider it. I commend their concern and their willingness to serve on the Committee, but I suggest that for the present we await the result of the review of housing policy which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is proposing to publish. That is not prejudging in any way the proposal that the hon. Gentleman makes in his motion.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

May I press my right hon. Friend on the question asked by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine)? Last week I was informed by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Overseas Development that the matter of the Banabans and Ocean Island was not for the Attorney-General but for the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Who will take responsibility for it?

Mr. Foot

As I said, I shall see what is the appropriate way in which communication should be made to the House about this matter.

Mr. Beith

As the Attorney-General is elsewhere laying great stress on his answerability to the House, may we have an opportunity next week to question him by means of a statement in the House on what he has been saying in the courts, so that matters can be clarified for our benefit?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I should have pulled up the Leader of the House. It is a long-standing convention that when a matter is before the courts the House withholds comment on it until the proceedings are over, when our normal procedure is restored.

Mr. Beith

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for being drawn into that channel.

Will the Leader of the House comment on the suggestion that the Bill to deal with direct elections to the European Parliament might be introduced in another place so that some progress may be made with it?

Mr. Foot

I prefer the hon. Gentleman's first question. I apologise, Mr. Speaker, if I offended in any way in the previous reply I gave. I do not think it would cause offence if I said that the Attorney-General is eager to make a statement to the House on the matter. On the hon. Gentleman's second question about direct elections, I have nothing to add to the comprehensive answer I gave to the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies).

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

The Lord President claims to be concerned about unemployment. As there are problems in the paper and board industry, may I direct his attention to Early-Day Motion No. 74 referring to a Statutory Instrument dealing with import duties on paper, paper board and printed products? Will he give an assurance to the House that time will be found to debate that Statutory Instrument on an early date?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Import Duties (Quota Relief) (Paper, Paperboard and Printed Products), Order 1976 (S.1., 1976, No. 2116), dated 10th December 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th December, be annulled.]

Mr. Foot

I cannot give an assurance that it will be debated in the House. My understanding is that it is to be debated upstairs.

Mr. Spearing

Reverting to the rights and privileges of the House, is the Leader of the House aware that because of unforeseen delay it will not be possible to debate upstairs the Import Duties Order concerned with the raising of food tax until it is out of time? Will my right hon. Friend review his undertaking and make sure that we debate the order on the Floor of the House before 2nd February?

Mr. Foot

I acknowledge to my hon. Friend—and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) who approached me on the subject—that there has been a misfortune here. There is still no prospect of a debate on the Floor of the House within the praying time and, unfortunately, the committal upstairs was unduly delayed. For that I must take responsibility. We had hoped to be able to make other arrangements to enable a debate to take place. I shall consult my hon. Friend and others who are interested to see how best we can repair the damage.

Mr. Mayhew

Is not the House entitled to know when it can expect a Bill dealing with direct elections? If the Leader of the House is thinking of answering "In due course", when will the course be due?

Mr. Foot

If I could give the hon. and learned Gentleman the first date, I might be able to give him the second. I have nothing further to add on that subject.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 113, dealing with the power plant industry, which is in my name and the names of the Chairman of the Northern Group of Labour Members of Parliament and several of my hon. Friends? I do not wish to ask my right hon. Friend to allocate time for debate next week, but if he could find a few moments for one of his right hon. Friends to make an announcement to the House about the Drax B power station, which offers more than 15,000 jobs in the North, that would be welcomed. That matter cannot wait. May we have an announcement soon?

[That this House welcomes the recommendations of the CPRS Report on the power plant industry, and calls for the implementation of the short-term proposal relating to the completion of the Drax power station without further delay.]

Mr. Foot

I fully recognise the anxiety of my hon. Friend and those who work in the power plant manufacturing industry about the need for early decisions on the measures proposed in the report. However, we are bound to honour the commitments made to all the interested parties who asked for consultations with the Government before decisions on the proposals in the report were taken. These consultations are proceeding as quickly as can be arranged. I will convey to the Minister what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Carlisle

What is the position about broadcasting the proceedings of the House? Am I right in saying that one further debate in the House is required before the BBC can proceed? If so, when is it intended to have that debate?

Mr. Foot

A further debate in the House is required. The report from the Committee concerned will be available soon and that will give the possibility of a debate in the House. We are looking at this matter, and I hope soon to be able to communicate with hon. Members who are specially interested in it.

Mr. Ogden

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the rate of progress of the Scotland and Wales Bill? Is he aware that even some of us who are not particularly enamoured of the Bill would rather see a timetable motion than face the dire prospect of an endless series of Second Reading debates on every possible minor or major amendment?

Mr. Foot

I fully agree with my hon. Friend that we have not made breakneck progress on the Bill. We shall certainly look at the matter, and the considerations which my hon. Friend presents to the House are among those we have to take into account.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Does not the Lord President agree that at this time, when the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary is Chairman of the Council of Ministers, the Lord President and his colleagues on the Front Bench have an added responsibility to introduce the legislation on direct elections?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to add to the answers I have already given on that subject.

Mr. Radice

May we expect a statement next week on the Bullock Committee's Report?

Mr. Foot

Yes, the report will be published next week and there will be a statement by the Government at the same time.

Mr. Blaker

Does the Leader of the House recall that eight months ago exactly, on 20th May last year, he said explicitly that there would be a debate on foreign affairs in the "coming period"? What did he mean by that?

Mr. Foot

I have studied in Hansard the Question put to me by the hon. Gentleman. The answer lists the dates on which debates took place touching foreign affairs. The general position is as I stated in response to the question asked by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. In previous Sessions and previous Parliaments some of the major debates on foreign affairs have taken place because of the selection of particular subjects by the Opposition, for example, during the debate on the Queen's Speech. One reason why there was no general debate during last Session was that no such choice was made by the Opposition.

Mr. Jay

If, unfortunately, we cannot debate the Statutory Instrument on import duties before 1st February, may we at least be assured that the House will have a chance to come to a decision on it before then? It would be profoundly unsatisfactory if there were no discussion of such an important matter.

Mr. Foot

I acknowledge that my right hon. Friend and the House have a grievance. It arises because the House as a whole has not been able to solve the question how to deal with Common Market proposals, legislation and commitments. We must try to seek some escape from the difficulty about the Statutory Instrument referred to by my right hon. Friend. I have undertaken to discuss this with my hon. Friends, but I cannot say exactly what will be the solution.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

When will the Lord President publish the promised referendum clause in the Scotland and Wales Bill? is he aware that some hon. Members who put their faith in the Government's promise are beginning to get embarrassed by his dilatoriness? Will the Lord President at least give a guarantee that the referendum clause will be published before the timetable motion?

Mr. Foot

There is no question of dilatoriness, and there is no reason for the hon. Gentleman or anyone else either in the House or outside to attempt to put any qualification on the Government's undertaking. It was an explicit undertaking. We said that we would put down a new clause dealing with the promise of a referendum. The House will have full opportunity to discuss it. During the course of the debates I said that we were considering whether we could interfere with the arrangements already made for the timetable of the debate so that discussion on the clause might come on earlier. We shall seek to give the House full opportunities to consider and discuss the Government's proposal.

Mr. Mendelson

With reference to the misleading description given by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) of the course of the debates so far in Committee on the Scotland and Wales Bill, which he called Second Reading debates, having sat through most of those debates may I point out to my right hon. Friend that they have been strictly to the point, and that the speeches were not Second Reading speeches but took place strictly on Clause 1, though it was inevitable that they should sometimes have been a little general because the clause was so drafted by the Government as to be declaratory of general principles? I ask my right hon. Friend not to be misled into rushing into a timetable, because those of us who have defended his record against attacks for having abandoned his principles of the defence of free speech will have to change sides if he does so.

Mr. Foot

Not merely do I not expect to be misled by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), but I do not expect to be misled by anyone.

Mr. Tebbit

May I revert to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) about the Banaban people? Will the right hon. Gentleman at least come to the House next Thursday armed with a better excuse than that the Attorney-General is busy for the fact that a Foreign Office Minister has not made a statement? Will he understand that in this matter the Government have the honour of the country in their hands and that it is time that they handled it properly?

Will the right hon. Gentleman further note that there are over 100 signatures to Early-Day Motion No. 67, dealing with the Skytrain? When the Attorney-General does have a few minutes to spare, could he make up his mind whether the Government are to legislate their way out of this trouble or to appeal to another court to try to get themselves out-of the mess?

[That this House welcomes the decisions of both the High Court and the Court of Appeal in favour of Skytrain, calls upon the Government to accept the decision without wasting even more taxpayers' money on further litigation and to stop its campaign against Laker Airways.]

Mr. Foot

We shall make a statement on the Skytrain situation when we have considered what is the best course for dealing with it.

I gave a sympathetic and clear answer to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) when he raised the question of the Banaban people and I thought he seemed satisfied with my reply.

Sir Bernard Braine indicated dissent.

Mr. Foot

The Government do not intend to be instructed by the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) about the honour of this country.

Mr. Lee

Will my right hon. Friend get over his surprise when I say that, on the question of the Ocean islanders and Banabans, I find myself in total agreement with the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), for the first and probably the last time in my life? Is my right hon. Friend aware that this matter is giving grave concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House and that there is a feeling of great injustice to humble people who have behaved with remarkable dignity and forbearance in the face of three-quarters of a century of cumulative injustice?

Mr. Foot

Nothing I have said is intended to disparage the proposition of those hon. Members who have risen to defend the interests of those concerned. Nothing that I have said qualifies that in any way.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the majority of hon. Members are totally unaware that major changes are planned in the size and format of Hansard? In view of the shambles which took place early yesterday morning when the matter was debated, when does the right hon. Gentleman propose to bring this measure back to us? When he does, will he provide far more information about the financing of this operation?

Mr. Foot

Of course this is an important matter. It is a House of Commons matter. What is proposed is on the recommendation of the Services Committee, on which all parties have been represented. I doubt whether we shall be able to have a debate again next week, but I expect that we shall have it in the following week, and we shall seek to give as much information to the House as we can.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it would be better to get the Scotland and Wales Bill, including, if necessary, a timetable motion and the provision for referenda, out of the way, together with full consideration of English regional government, before we give time to the question of the European Assembly and direct elections to it?

Mr. Foot

I note my hon. Friend's sense of priorities. We shall weigh it along with the other representations which have been made.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall call two more hon. Members from each side of the House.

Mr. Channon

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that his answers on the subject of direct elections to the European Parliament are uncharacteristically vague? Can he at least assure us that he stands by all the pledges in this matter given by the Government in the past, and that there is no change in the policy that he intends to introduce a Bill to enable direct elections to take place at the time agreed by the Government?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman is aware of the undertakings that the Government have given in references in the Queen's Speech and at other times. When I was asked today whether I had anything to add to those references, I gave the answer that I had nothing to add. There is nothing vague about that. It is perfectly clear.

Mr. Canavan

In view of the public concern about this week's Scottish Office document suggesting the possible closure and merger of certain colleges of education in Scotland, can we have a debate about possible alternative solutions to those contained in that document, including the possibility of a radical reappraisal of the whole of tertiary education in Scotland in order to extend the principles of comprehensive education into the whole field of adult education?

Mr. Foot

There cannot be such a debate next week, for reasons which my hon. Friend will understand, but I am sure that he or other hon. Members will take steps to represent their case to the Minister concerned through one of the courses open to them in Parliament. I am sorry that we cannot find time for a debate, but one of the eventual advantages of devolution will be that many of these subjects will have a better opportunity of debate, and the sooner we can get the Scotland and Wales Bill on to the statute book the better, for those reasons as for many others.

Mr. David Steel


Mr. Speaker

I shall call the Leader of the Liberal Party, the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). I had not seen him jumping up.

Mr. Steel

I was not jumping up, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

In that case, this is unfair in view of what I said earlier.

Mr. Steel

The reason I jump up now, Mr. Speaker, is that I want the Leader of the House to respond more positively about the Banabans. He has not even promised a statement from the Foreign Secretary, which is the least we could expect. Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is a matter of great public concern that this minority has been badly treated?

Mr. Foot

Of course there is great public concern about the matter. I acknowledged that earlier. I will see whether it is advantageous and appropriate to have a statement in the House about it. I cannot give a promise that there will be a statement, but we shall consider the best way of discussion about it.