HC Deb 03 March 1977 vol 927 cc612-21
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask whether the Leader of the House will state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

Yes, Sir.

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 7th March—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill.

TUESDAY 8th March—Remaining stages of the International Finance, Trade and Aid Bill, of the New Towns (Scotland) Bill and of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

Motion relating to the Agricultural Levy Reliefs (Frozen Beef and Veal) Order.

WEDNESDAY 9th March—Remaining stages of the Job Release Bill.

Motions on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (Continuance) Order and on the Police Regulations.

THURSDAY 10th March—Motions on Northern Ireland Orders on appropriation, rates amendment and transport.

FRIDAY 11th March—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 14th March—Debate on reports from Select Committees.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Since Early-Day Motion No. 168, in my name and the names of many right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, is not down for debate this week, may I take it that that means that the Government are taking seriously the problem contained therein? [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.] Second, may I suggest to the Lord President that since it is obvious that the Government are finding it difficult to get enough business to occupy the House, he might consider having a higher proportion of the Finance Bill in Committee of the whole House this year?

Mr. Foot

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is plenty of business for the House both next week and in the following weeks. Of course I take his Early-Day Motion seriously, as I have told him before. I believe that it is important that the House should have a debate on the subject, and I hope that we shall have one during the week after next.

Mr. John Ellis

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there has been a considerable degree of alarming misinformation about the current situation in the Common Market over the sale of butter? Will he therefore arrange for an early debate, as some of us believe that this House needs to know many more facts and figures? The question of the butter is only incidental to a situation in which such sales are going on at a cost of £1.75 million a day. We could well do with the stuff here to keep prices down.

Mr. Foot

Neither I nor my right hon. Friends in charge of that matter minimise the importance of the subject. It was referred to in the foreign affairs debate on Tuesday, but that does not exclude the possibility of returning to it on an early occasion.

Mr. Watt

When does the right hon. Gentleman propose to bring forward a referendum on the question of devolution for Scotland, so that we can flush out the anti-devolutionists in both the Liberal and Tory parties?

Mr. Foot

I think that they flushed themselves out, did they not? The talks on the matter are proceeding, and I think that that is the next stage to which we should apply ourselves.

Mr. Thorpe

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, he being the best European convert that we have, when the Government will be telling us their thinking on direct elections to the European Parliament? Will it be green or white?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman was present during the foreign affairs debate en Tuesday and listened to all the discussions then.

Mr. Thorpe

I was and I did.

Mr. Foot

In that case, the right hon. Gentleman will have heard what the Government had to say on that matter.

Mr. Skinner

Is it not time that we had an opportunity to tighten up company legislation? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a constant breaking of the law by company directors who fail to make any adequate returns? Is it not outrageous that a Tory Member of Parliament has set up eight companies in the past three or four years and has failed to send in returns? Is it not quite ironic that this law breaker and property speculator is none other than the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), the scrounger himself?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House again that I deprecate personal attacks.

Mr. Skinner

Yes, and I deprecate personal attacks on people who do not have the means to defend themselves.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) does that once again, I shall ask him to withdraw from the Chamber.

Mr. Tapsell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are not the continual interventions of this nature by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) clearly designed to damage the standing of this House in the eyes of the general public Should they not be considered in that light?

Mr. Speaker

People must make up their own minds about that. Mr. Foot.

Mr. Foot

I always listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on matters of big business affairs, and of course I have listened to what he has had to say just now. I have no doubt that other steps will be taken by the hon. Member concerned to state his view of the matter.

Mr. Michael Latham

Is it because of the crushing weight of business next week that we do not have the direct labour Bill before us? Or has it been dropped? If it has been dropped, may we have a debate on the construction industry instead?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman cannot assume that the Bill has been dropped. We are still considering whether we shall proceed with it, and we are still studying certain aspects of it. That is a perfectly normal procedure for any Government to adopt.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

A public lending right Bill has made good progress in another place, and I think that it is almost ready to come to this Chamber. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to provide Government time for the completion of the Bill and do so before introducing any question of direct elections to the European Parliament?

Mr. Foot

I will take account of my hon. Friend's representations about that Bill, in which several of us have an interest, but, as I have said, there is pressure for many other Bills from many other quarters which I must also take into account.

Mr. Scott

Since the Government's published review of the Rent Acts and their much-leaked review of housing finance are being widely discussed, will the right hon. Gentleman bring forward a motion to establish a Select Committee of the House to look at housing policy and the Government's policy in this disaster area?

Mr. Foot

I refuse to accept what the hon. Gentleman said in the last part of his question. I am doubtful whether a Select Committee would be the best way to proceed on this matter, partly because about 300 right hon. and hon. Members are already serving on Select Committees. I do not think that it is necessarily the best way to discuss matters of great importance and policies of the utmost significance.

Mr. Buchan

Did my right hon. Friend hear the exchanges in the House yesterday, and has he read my Early-Day Motion No. 202, referring to the activities of Bristol Channel Ship Repairers? When will he be in a position to announce a date for a debate on the establishment of such a Select Committee or state that he intends to form one? There is a great deal of disquiet about the activities of this company. [That this House, in view of the disquiet that exists regarding the activities of the Bristol Ship-Repairing Company in relation to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, calls for a Select Committee to be established to investigate these activities.]

Mr. Foot

I understand the reasons for the disquiet, but again I am not sure that the establishment of a Select Committee would be the best way to deal with all these matters. In this instance, I think that we should proceed with the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill first, but I will take account of my hon. Friend's representations and of the Early-Day Motion.

Sir John Rodgers

Is the right hon. Gentleman likely to be able to provide time in the near future for a debate on the British Press? If restrictive practices, overmanning and stoppages continue in the industry, the British people will soon be deprived of this medium for news of what is happening. May we have a debate on this very important subject?

Mr. Foot

I will consider it amongst other applications.

Mr. George Cunningham

Although we are rather short of business in the House at the moment, could my right hon. Friend assure us that he will not table a motion to invite the House to give approval to the Second Report of the Select Committee on Procedure which deals with the obligation of a Member to wear a comic top hat when raising a point of order during a Division, in view of the fact that the Committee's solution to this mighty trifle is that instead of there being one comic opera hat in the Chamber for these occasions there should be two?

Mr. Foot

I cannot say that that is a subject which has weighed most heavily on my mind in the last few days, but we have to consider when time is available for debates on reports from Select Committees. We are trying to get through some of them, but we cannot get through them all.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that in the next 48 hours we shall almost be past the point of no return in the Government's negotiations with the police? Will he invite the Home Secretary to make a statement one day next week? In urging the right hon. Gentleman to arrange for a statement, may I remind him that we could be at the beginning of a very dangerous situation, bearing in mind that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is, of course, involved with the police of England and Wales in these negotiations?

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary dealt with this matter at Question Time today, and I cannot add to what he said then.

Mr. Louden

In view of the decision taken by the Government in relation to the ship-repairing industry and of the vagueness of the present situation, will my right hon. Friend made available time for a debate on the industry?

Mr. Foot

There will be time to debate the Bill when it comes back shortly, but I will see whether there is a possibility of having time available for debating the ship-repair aspect.

Mr. Wiggin

It is a year ago this week that the House, on a free vote, gave a Second Reading, by a majority of 110, to the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill. That Bill completed its Committee stage in this House and was not allowed to go to the other place because of the intransigence of the Government. Does the right hon. Gentleman not have on his conscience the death of hundreds of people and the serious injuries of thousands of others? Will he now find time for this important piece of legislation?

Mr. Foot

If the hon. Gentleman followed the matter he would know well that that was not the reason for the failure of the Bill to pass. The hon. Gentleman should not fling around such foolish accusations.

Mr. Dalyell

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the answer that he gave on the issue of butter? Will he accept that some of his colleagues, who are members of the European Parliament, have had the complexities of the issue explained to them at great length? Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that various Select Committees on Procedure have emphasised the need for topicality in the debates? This matter raises such issues that there ought to be a debate in this House.

Mr. Foot

There are many matters which arise in the European Parliament on which topical debates are required and the Government do their best to provide time for such debates, particularly on the recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee. Although the debates we have are not perfect, no one can say that the Government have not done their best to provide opportunities for such debates.

Mr. Monro

Does the Leader of the House remember saying just before Christmas that he would look at the possibility of having a debate on the Government's White Paper of August 1975 on sport and recreation? Now that we are not under such pressure, may we have a debate soon?

Mr. Foot

There are several applications that I have to consider either for debates or for Bills to be brought forward. The House should not be under any misapprehension. There is plenty of legislative and other business to be brought before the House. It is not a fact that we have plenty of time on our hands. We shall take into account what the hon. Gentleman has said and I shall look up the words of wisdom that I used before Christmas to see whether they are still apposite.

Mr. Thorne

In view of the continually deteriorating situation with regard to industry and employment, and in view of the Labour Government's manifesto commitments, will my right hon. Friend propose an urgent debate during the next week?

Mr. Foot

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend and many other of my hon. Friends, who have made representations to me both last week and on other occasions, that we should have an early debate on the very serious unemployment situation on which questions were put to the Prime Minister a few minutes ago. We shall be seeking opportunities of doing that properly. Of course, there will be opportunities during the Budget debates, but we are looking at other opportunities as well. I am not proposing that we should alter next week's business but we shall certainly take into account the representations that have been made.

Mr. Jasper More

Will the Lord President arrange for a Statement to be made next week by a Treasury Minister on the inter-departmental committee on forestry which, I understand, has now reported? If the right hon. Gentleman cannot do this, will he undertake to have a debate on forestry instead of some of the rubbish that he is proposing to put down on the Order Paper?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman should not say that about the discussions that we are proposing on Northern Ireland, for example, as well as on other matters and other Bills, that are coming forward next week. The hon. Gentleman should not characterise them in that way. It is not the best way of inviting me to have a debate on something else. But I shall look with an unprejudiced mind at the hon. Gentleman's suggestion to see whether there is a possibility of having a statement on the matter at some later stage.

Several Hon. Membersrose—

Mr. Speaker

I would remind the House that it is Supply Day—

Mr. Farr

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am making a statement. Not only is it a Supply Day but there is also a statement to follow and two applications under Standing Order No. 9. I propose to take two more questions on the Business Statement from either side of the House.

Mr. Adley

Does the right hon. Gentlemen recall that last week I asked him about a statement from the Secretary of State on Concorde's landing rights in New York? Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he received from me a copy of a letter from the Secretary of State promising that he would make a statement—and that was dated at least two weeks ago? As we are now approaching the date, next week, when the Port of New York Authority will make its decision, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that whatever the outcome of that decision a statement will be made on it by the Secretary of State as soon as possible after 10th March.

Mr. Foot

I shall look at the question of any further statement, but it is not the case that we did not carry out the undertaking made earlier, because the Under-Secretary of State replied to the debate on an Adjournment motion on 24th February.

Mr. Greville Janner

While not accepting for a moment the accusation that the Government are responsible for the deaths caused through the failure of the seat belts legislation, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he accepts that we all share the responsibility? As we now have time to deal with it, will my right hon. Friend undertake to introduce the Bill into the House as a Government measure as soon as possible?

Mr. Foot

I shall look at the possibilities with regard to this Bill along with any other applications that have been made. But we must also take into account the way in which the House of Commons itself dealt with the Bill before. That is one of the considerations which the Government must have in their mind.

Mr. Farr

Looking ahead to the Finance Bill, which is imminent, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he recalls the days when he objected most strongly to any part of the Bill going upstairs to a remote Committee Room? May I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman, when planning the timetable for the next few weeks, to bear in mind the objections that he himself strongly held at one time? Does the Leader of the House realise that this restricts the rights of Back Benchers to raise particular points? Will he therefore try to have as much as possible of the Committee stage on the Floor of this House?

Mr. Foot

I know that I have protested to many Governments about the way in which they have conducted their business but I cannot recall criticising the way in which Finance Bills were divided. It may be that I would have preferred certain aspects of particular Finance Bills to be debated in the House. However, I cannot say to the hon. Gentleman or the House that we shall revert to the previous procedure. We have to take into account how we shall get through the business of the House generally. Over the past few years there have been great additions to the business of the House in respect of the EEC and Northern Ireland and in several other respects as well. I do not think we shall be able to return to the days when all the debates on Finance Bills were taken on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Lee

May we have an assurance that the habit which has grown up in recent years of having any opposed private business debated at 7 o'clock on Budget day will not be continued this year, because the first day of the Budget is the most free-ranging of all the debates?

Mr. Foot

If it is as free-ranging as that it must be very free-ranging indeed. I shall have to look at what was done on previous occasions and see what force there is in my hon. Friend's suggestion.