§ 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 31ST JANUARY—Second Reading of the International Finance, Trade and Aid Bill.
Motions on EEC Documents R/89/77 and R/70/77 on skimmed milk and skimmed milk products, and on R/1929/76 on immersion chilling of poultry.
TUESDAY 1ST FEBRUARY and WEDNESDAY 2ND FEBRUARY—Further proceedings on the Scotland and Wales Bill.
THURSDAY 3RD FEBRUARY—Supply [5th Allotted Day]: until about 7 o'clock there will be a debate on unemployment in the North-West, and afterwards on the Child Benefit Scheme. Both will arise on a motion for the Adjournment.
Motions relating to Motor Vehicles (Tests) Regulations.
FRIDAY 4TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.
MONDAY 7TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' motions until about 7 o'clock.
Afterwards, Second Reading of the Reduction of Redundancy Rebates Bill.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I should like to put three questions to the Leader of the House. First, will he let the House know the Attorney-General's decision whether to exercise his right to appeal to the House of Lords, so that we may then know, after we have heard the decision and read the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement today, whether to ask for further time for debate?
Secondly, will he assure the House that it, too, will have plenty of time to debate the Bullock Report? He may remember that we have not yet debated the previous Bullock Report.
Thirdly, now that the position with Rhodesia is very serious, can the right hon. Gentleman find time for a general foreign affairs debate or a debate on Rhodesia?
§ Mr. Foot
I shall see about an appropriate way by which my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General may convey to the House his decision whether to make the application. I am doubtful whether that should be done in a statement to the House. Presumably there 1717 would be another period of questions, and I am doubtful whether that is the normal method.
The right hon. Lady is accurate in saying that we have not had a debate on the previous Bullock Report. However, it appears that there is even wider public interest, if I may put it that way, in the second report than in the first. Before we come to the legislative proposals, which the Government made clear yesterday would be introduced, there will, of course, be a period for discussion in the House.
I cannot promise the early prospect of a general debate on foreign affairs, but discussions can no doubt take place about whether a debate on Rhodesia is desired and, if so, how we could find time for it.
§ [That this House objects to the new presentation of Early-Day Motions and requests that there be a reversion to the former practice.]
§ I have found no hon. Member on either side of the House, whether a signatory to the motion or not, who does not object to what has been done. The whole purpose of Early-Day Motions is the presentation and re-presentation of the arguments. If that no longer happens, the whole purpose of Early-Day Motions is lost. I think that I speak for almost every hon. Member when I ask my right hon. Friend to revert to the old practice.
§ Mr. Foot
My hon. Friend will no doubt be aware that the question was debated in the House. [Interruption.] I agree that the debate took place at a late hour. It was debated following the recommendations made by the Services Committee on the subject. As was indicated in the discussion then, there are considerable advantages in the proposal accepted by the House, which is for an experimental period. We shall, of course, take into account the representations made by hon. Members, but they should take into account the arguments which persuaded the House and the Services Committee.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
Is the Leader of the House aware that I am rising for the third week in succession to inquire whether the Foreign and Commonwealth 1718 Secretary will make a statement about the grievous wrong done to the Banaban people, which was drawn to the Government's attention by a High Court judge last month? Will he also note that when public assets are involved statements on the subject in another place are not good enough, and that many hon. Members on both sides of the House expect the Government to ensure that an early statement is made?
§ Mr. Foot
I fully accept that statements in another place are no substitute for statements in this House, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know that a Written Answer appears in today's Hansard. An Oral Answer on the subject is to be given on 2nd February. I believe that that is the right way for the House immediately to deal with the matter, but no doubt the hon. Gentleman can press it when he hears the further reply which is promised.
§ Mr. Foot
I can give no promise that we shall have a Division then, because there are other issues involved. I hope that it will be possible for the House to reach a decision on the Prayer in the light of the Committee's discussion. There would be advantage in delaying that decision until the Committee Hansard was available. That was one of the considerations that had to be taken into account in dealing with the matter. I acknowledge that the method of dealing with it has not been satisfactory for the House, but I cannot give the absolute promise for which my right hon. Friend asks. However, I shall consider afresh his representations.
§ Mr. Thorpe
In support of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins), may I ask the Leader of the House to consider getting his Department to write to hon. Members asking for their view on the reprinting of Early-Day Motions? The present procedure is very inconvenient.
Secondly, is there any significance in the fact that last week we were to make further progress in Committee on the Scotland and Wales Bill and this week we are to have further proceedings on 1719 the Bill? Is there any significance in the change of wording?
Thirdly, will there be a statement next week on the Government's plans for the referendum? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there may be a case for having a referendum before legislation is introduced and for having one after legislation has gone through both Houses, but that it would be extremely unwise to have one in the middle of legislation between the two Houses, as it is rumoured the Government are considering?
§ Mr. Foot
On the third question, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman should attach any significance to such rumours. I agree that the proper time to have such a referendum would be when Parliament had made its decision on the Act. That is the attitude the Government have taken.
I do not think that the question concerning Early-Day Motions can be settled by asking hon. Members to write. I think that it is a matter to be settled by the House in the way in which we settle recommendations from the Services Committee. If there are representations from many hon. Members, we shall, of course, take them into account, but there is a case for what is proposed, and that is why it was done.
As for the difference between progress on the Scotland and Wales Bill and proceedings on the Bill, I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to attach any high constitutional importance to the distinction. It is merely that variety is the spice of life. I thought that the change might be helpful and encouraging to everyone.
§ Sir Anthony Royle
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is grave concern because the Government have not yet produced their legislation for direct elections to the European Parliament? When will the legislation be produced?
§ Mr. Spearing
My right hon. Friend is right to attach importance to Committee Hansards, but does he not think that deciding within time overrides that consideration?
1720 While we are on the subject of Hansard, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend intends to put down for debate next week the Services Committee motion recommending a change in the size of Hansard, for which no proper report has been made available to the House? The minutes of the Sub-Committee concerned are not available either. Will my right hon. Friend tell the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), who has just left the Chamber, whether we shall debate this matter, because it is deciding on the Floor that counts?
§ Mr. Foot
I agree that deciding on the size of Hansard is a matter on which the House wishes to give an opinion. The matter is not down for discussion next week, but it must be discussed and settled by the House before a change can be made. As with the other matters, the House must take into account the general considerations which are intertwined with the convenience of the House and which make that recommendation a good one.
I fully accept what my hon. Friend says about the difficulties concerning time on the Import Duties (General) (No. 10) Order, which I suspect is the one to which he is referring. I acknowledge that the way in which the House has been able to deal with the matter is not satisfactory, but, as I think my non. Friend appreciates, we are seeking to overcome the difficulties which arose.
§ [That this House notes that the Maidstone Division Conservative Association has refused to re-adopt one of its members as a candidate for the County Council elections on the ground that as Chairman of the Borough Planning Committee and Vice-Chairman of the County Planning Powers Committee he had not given enough planning permissions to Conservatives; considers this action to be the unacceptable face of conservatism and a threat to democracy; and calls upon the Leader of the House to set aside time to debate the report of the Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life (Command Paper No. 6524) at an early date.]
§ [That this House urges hon. Members to acquaint themselves with fact rather than giving immediate and unthinking credence to tittle-tattle before signing Early-Day Motions.]
§ Will the right hon. Gentleman take note that this is naturally a matter within the purview of my constituency association and is entirely untrue?
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is absolutely disgraceful that the Leader of the House should describe the affairs of the Maid-stone Conservative Association as "murky". I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to tell him to withdraw that remark.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
The Chair rules that there was nothing unparliamentary in that comment.
§ Mr. Kinnock
May I press my right hon. Friend further on the point raised by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe)? Would he be a little more specific about when we will get the precise proposals for the referendum question? Has my right hon. Friend taken note of the proceedings so far on the Scotland and Wales Bill and discovered, as I have, that the Bill has few friends on either side of the House? Bearing that in mind, should not the Government slow up the building of the Assembly in Cardiff, or even stop it straight away, since if money is to be wasted it would be better that it was £500,000 than £2.8 million?
§ Mr. Foot
I know that my hon. Friend has taken part in these debates. No doubt he will have noted that we have had in the main even bigger majorities than we had on Second Reading. Whether that was due to the force of my hon. Friend's eloquence I am not sure, but that is what seems to have happened. Nothing which has happened, however, 1722 should persuade us to hold up the proposals for going ahead with the buildings in Cardiff or Edinburgh. I cannot give an absolute date when we shall be tabling the new clauses about the referendum, but I understand the interest in the House that it should be done in time to allow consultations. We are prepared to see whether we can discuss those clauses before we reach the new clauses in Committee. Government intervention would be required to ensure that.
§ Mr. Montgomery
Will the right hon. Gentleman promise us a day's debate on education in the near future so that we may discuss the first Bullock Report, which is long overdue for discussion, and, in much greater detail, the Secretary of State's statement about teacher training cuts, which has caused consternation in the education world?
§ Mr. Pavitt
Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 133 concerning possible dental charges and the basic principles of the National Health Service?
§ [That this House reaffirms its belief in the basic principle of the National Health Service that treatment should be free at the time of use and paid for according to means rather than needs through the general taxation system; urges Her Majesty's Government to phase out all health service charges as soon as economic and financial conditions permit; is concerned with the possibility of an increase in dental charges which would move in the opposite direction to the basic principle; and, whilst being willing to accept an increase in the luxury end of dental provision like bridges and gold work, is nevertheless totally opposed to any increase in the basic charge of £3.50 which would have the effect of taking the majority of dental care out of the National Health Service into private practice.]
§ Does my right hon. Friend recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) and the late Aneurin Bevan resigned from the Government on this kind of issue and that in 1723 the last Government we had many problems over this matter in the party? If we cannot have a debate next week, will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the Cabinet that there are ways of raising precisely the same amount of money by means other than one which would split this party from the Front Bench to the Back Benches?
§ Mr. Wigley
Reverting to the question of a statement next week about the referendum, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the widespread Press reports of statements that he is alleged to have made to a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party giving definite information about the number of questions and the type of constituency in which the count will take place? In those circumstances, does he not feel it appropriate to make a statement to the House?
§ Mr. Foot
I did not say that I would make a statement on the subject next week; I said that we would certainly take into account the representations from hon. Members in many parts of the House and that we would put down the new clauses as soon as we could so that the matter might be settled as early as possible. At the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party this week we had discussions on these matters, but I gave no firm indication of any Government decisions.
§ Mr. Anderson
My right hon. Friend will no doubt have seen the persistent Press reports that, as part of a deal concerning a guillotine, the Government propose to reduce the representation of Wales and Scotland at Westminster. Is he aware that many of his hon. Friends reject those reports because we know that, as a House of Commons man, he would not have in mind a guillotine on a constitutional issue? However, perhaps for that very reason my right hon. Friend will seek to deny that there has ever been such a deal, or at least allow an early debate on that subject.
§ Mr. Foot
There has been no deal by me or any other member of the Government. No bargain has been entered into, nor have we attempted to enter into one. What appeared in The Times today was a speculative report, and anyone who reads it can see that the author of the article was careful to frame what he said in speculative terms. It is natural that journalists should speculate on these matters, because some of them were among the main topics raised in debate in the House itself, and the Government have given an undertaking to listen to what is said in the House.
§ Mr. Crouch
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the concern among many hon. Members that, in this week of the tabloid, Hansard might be going the same way? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not drawing on his experience with the Beaverbrook Group and following the example set by the Daily Express this week, because I do not want to read Hansard at the same time and in the same way as I read the Daily Express.
§ Mr. Foot
I believe that it is appropriate for the House to debate this matter. That is what will happen. There is much misapprehension about what is being proposed, and I do not believe that all the issues involved have been fully considered by those who condemn the proposal. But as for trying to recall my murky past—to use the word I used earlier, although I did not think it bore any relation to the appalling events which must have gone on in Maidstone—as far as I know I never worked for a tabloid. So I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman on that matter.
§ Mr. Canavan
When will we have the guillotine motion for the Scotland and Wales Bill, so as to ensure its speedy progress and put an end to all the tedious repetition and filibustering that we have to suffer until the early hours of the morning, especially from the Tories?
§ Mr. Foot
I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that it is only on the rarest occasions that such an indelicate word as "filibuster" passes my lips. I must therefore be careful about the use of language. The Government have made it clear that we want to get the Bill on to the statute book. We wish to have full discussion before that. We are seeking to satisfy both those requirements, and we shall continue to do so.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
Will the right hon. Gentleman try to ensure that a statement is made about the progress of the Government's discussions with the Council on Tribunals about the conduct of motorway inquiries?
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
Will my right hon. Friend end the speculation about the number of Welsh and Scottish Members of this House being reduced? Is he aware that, if that is to have a bearing on the passing of the Bill, it will affect the attitude of hon. Members to the Bill? On the earlier question about the Attorney-General's decision, in view of the action taken internationally by the trade union movement against South Africa, may we have an early opportunity to debate apartheid so that the feeling of the House on the issue may be understood?
§ Mr. Foot
On the first question, that matter is bound to occur at various stages during discussion of the Bill. It was discussed on Second Reading and in our debates on the first batch of amendments. Therefore, if the discussion arises on the selection of amendments, the Government will give their view at the proper time. I was saying that there was no basis for any suggestion that we had entered into any deal or bargain. I accept what my hon. Friend says about the importance of the subject of apartheid, but the House as a whole, certainly on this side, has many times made clear its absolute abhorrence of the system, and we are not surprised that people have wished to express their opinions in a similar way.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. While I appreciate the viewpoint of the Leader of the House on this matter, may I ask you whether it is appropriate for him to make a biased statement or to explain his individual view on this subject when he is speaking as Leader of the House, representing all Back Benchers rather than speaking for the Government?
§ Mr. Foot
If I have said anything which caused offence to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I apologise. I was not seeking to do so. I was seeking to 1726 tell him—it may have been apparent in any case—that I did not fully comprehend what was the correct answer to his question. I assure him that he will receive a correct answer.
§ Mr. Foot
It is no reflection on the Government's attitude towards foreign relations that there has not been such a debate. Indeed, if I wished to enter into a partisan argument I might say that it was much more a reflection of the fact that the Opposition had not selected this subject for debate, as is normal, in our discussions on the Debate on the Address. I made no adverse reflection on the Opposition. Before the hon. Gentleman seeks to draw such conclusions, he should study the practice of the House in these matters.
§ Dr. Phipps
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable disquiet on both sides of the House over the rumours that a guillotine motion will be introduced at an early stage and that it might be brought before us before the House has had an opportunity to see the new clauses dealing with the referendum and before the House has had time to know and to contemplate what proposals the Government might be bringing forward for a reduction in the number of Members representing Welsh and Scottish constituencies? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that no such guillotine motion will be brought before us until the House has had the time to study the Government's proposals dealing with these matters?
§ Mr. Stephen Ross
May I remind the Leader of the House that he said before Christmas that he would give sympathetic consideration to a debate on imported 1727 whale products? Is he aware that there are two Early-Day Motions on the Order Paper dealing with this subject which have already attracted a large number of signatures? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that there has been a further development recently concerning the lack of information about the amount of imports coming through Dover? Will he give consideration to that point?
§ Mr. Foot
It is difficult for me to offer any Government time for such a debate. I have told the hon. Gentleman that I agree that this is a subject on which there is obviously considerable legitimate public interest. The House provides that a considerable part of the time available is at the disposal of private Members. It is partly that time which must be chosen to debate some of these topics.