HC Deb 10 March 1977 vol 927 cc1635-44
Mr. Whitelaw

Will the Leader of the House kindly 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 14TH MARCH—Debate on the Fifth Report from the Expenditure Committee in Session 1974–75 on "Redevelopment of the London Docklands" and on the Eighth Report in Session 1975–76 on "Public Expenditure on Chrysler UK Limited" and the relevant Government observations.

Second Reading of the Representation of the People Bill.

TUESDAY 15TH MARCH—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill.

Afterwards, debate on the First Report in Session 1976–77 of the House of Commons (Services) Committee on "Printing of Hansard".

Motion on EEC Document R/960/76 on safety at work information.

WEDNESDAY 16TH MARCH—Motion on EEC Documents R/360/77, R/2469/76 and R/2673/76 on Community agriculture proposals.

Remaining stages of the Water Charges Equalisation Bill, and of the Nuclear Industry (Finance) Bill.

THURSDAY 17TH MARCH—Debate on the White Paper on "The Government's Expenditure Plans", Cmnd. No. 6721.

Remaining stages of the Representation of the People Bill.

FRIDAY 18TH MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 21ST MARCH—Second Reading of the Redundancy Rebates Bill.

Mr. Whitelaw

Is it not an extraordinary commentary on the right hon. Gentleman's conduct of the business of the House that the only positive proposal that he makes in his announcement is the reintroduction of a Bill for Second Reading that was defeated on a previous occasion? Is that not a unique achievement? May we know what has happened to the direct labour Bill, which was widely heralded and which then did a remarkable and, from our point of view, very satisfactory disappearing act? Has it, as we hope, disappeared for good?

Mr. Foot

I note the right hon. Gentleman's anxieties about the direct labour Bill. I hope very much that we may be able to satisfy him on that and allay his anxieties.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Redundancy Rebates Bill. It is not the same Bill that was defeated on a previous occasion but it is equally necessary for the House to pass it.

Mr. Beith

Will the right hon. Gentleman look again at the business for Wednesday of next week? The right hon. Gentleman has rightly put forward an important debate on agricultural policy, but as that will take, I presume, until 10 o'clock, is it reasonable that it should be followed by two Bills on which a number of issues will be raised—namely, the Water Charges Equalisation Bill and the Nuclear Industry (Finance) Bill? Is it not unreasonable to take both Bills after 10 o'clock? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider this matter again?

Mr. Foot

Let us see how we proceed. We want to get as much of the business through as possible. I do not believe that what is proposed will be inconvenient to the House. I agree that the debate on the Community agricultural proposals is of importance. I should like to see whether we can get through the two Bills as well but we shall consider the hon. Gentleman's representations.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I revert to the matter raised originally by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). Will my right hon. Friend make an arrangement some time next week for the Secretary of State for Energy to make a statement on whether he is to agree to the 10 per cent. increase in gas charges that has been declared contrary to the Government's policy on the Price Code? In that statement, will my right hon. Friend arrange for details to be given why the chairman of the North Thames Gas Board issued hundreds of letters at a cost of thousands of pounds extolling his own virtues and announcing his retirement from office in March while refusing to give details either to the Minister or to Members of Parliament of how much money was wasted on this stupid escapade at the expense of those who will have the price of their gas increased?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend's first point arises from the announcement of Government measures that was made shortly before Christmas. I doubt very much whether a new statement can be made in the coming week, but I shall consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

I shall look into the matters raised by my hon. Friend in his second point. I cannot comment upon those matters without examining them in detail.

Mr. Jasper More

Last week the Lord President was good enough to say that he would try to get a Treasury Minister to make a statement on the recent report of the Inter-departmental Committee on Forestry. As I do not think we had that statement last week, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for it to be made next week?

Mr. Foot

I hope that we shall not have a continuous performance with the hon. Gentleman. However, I shall take up the matter with my right hon. Friend to ascertain what further can be done.

Mr. Jay

Will my right hon. Friend say what motion will be before the House on Wednesday's debate on EEC agricultural proposals? Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of the proposals coming forward are so objectionable that the House may well wish to vote against them?

Mr. Foot

I hope that when my right hon. Friend examines the motion he will accept that it is a fair way to treat the matter. My right hon. Friend and others will be able to raise all the other questions that they wish to put in the debate. I hope that having a debate in this manner will be of assistance to the House generally.

Sir Nigel Fisher

Following what was for many of us the welcome collapse of the Scotland and Wales Bill, it appears that the right hon. Gentleman has nothing important to bring before the House of Commons. In view of that, will he suggest a date upon which the White Paper on direct elections to the European Parliament will be brought forward and sub- sequently the Bill, which has been so long and reprehensibly delayed?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the dates for which he asks for the direct elections Bill. It is most unwise for the hon. Gentleman to give the impression that what we are discussing next week is in any way unimportant business. The discussion on the Community agricultural proposals is not unimportant business. The discussion on the Government's expenditure plans, which obviously have to be provided for in any Government's timetable, is not unimportant business. The discussion on the amendments to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill cannot be entirely dismissed as a subject on which the House has shown no interest in the past. If the hon. Gentleman studies the business more carefully, he will find that there is plenty to keep him busy.

Mr. Mellish

Is my right hon. Friend in a position to say anything more about the debate to take place on the development of London dockland? I put it on record that we are grateful that he has found Government time for the debate. but is the Minister to make a statement or are we to have another of those discussions when we all say what we think we want to say and nothing happens? Will anything be said?

Mr. Foot

Something usually happens if my right hon. Friend makes a speech. I dare say that he will catch the eye of the Chair when the debate takes place. It would be a most deplorable debate on dockland if that were not the case. As I have said, the relevant Government observations on these matters which have already been made will be part of the discussions. I have no doubt that there will be a Government statement on the matter, too. As my right hon. Friend is fully aware, there are members of the Government who have a special interest in what is happening in dockland.

Mr. Raison

Will the House of Commons have any say in the formulation of the next stage of the incomes policy or will it once again be the subject of a private deal between the Government and the TUC?

Mr. Foot

It will be a matter in which the House can take a continuous interest. I have no doubt that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will contribute to the debate on the Budget. I believe that it is a complete misconception to suggest that the House of Commons has been unable to influence these matters in the past. Certainly it will be able to influence these matters in the forthcoming weeks and months.

Mr. Torney

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 201, in my name and the names of over 100 right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, drawing attention to the scandal of the sale of EEC butter at heavily subsidised rates to Russia?

[That, in view of the heavily subsidised European countries, whilst the price in Great Britain remains very high, this House declares its complete lack of confidence in the Common Agricultural Policy as a means of regulating Great Britain's food supplies, and calls upon the Government to take immediate steps to transform the present Common Agricultural Policy.]

Mr. Arthur Lewis

And to the Arabs.

Mr. Torney

Will my right hon. Friend arrange a debate on the general scandal of the common agricultural policy next week?

Mr. Foot

Some of these matters will obviously be relevant in the debate next Wednesday. Obviously these questions will enter into the debate. The House and country are showing an ever greater interest in these matters. I think that many of us who have been interested in these questions welcome that interest, even though we do not welcome the decisions which have been taken.

Mr. Stokes

In view of the welcome dearth of Government legislation, will the right hon. Gentleman announce that the Easter Recess will be of a proper duration?

Mr. Foot

I give the hon. Gentleman the absolute undertaking that the Easter Recess will be of a proper duration, but I ask him to await the exact details.

Mr. George Cunningham

With regard to the public expenditure blue books, should we not be having a two-day debate on that important subject? Since Supply Days are given to the Opposition for the scrutiny of public expenditure, will the Lord President prevail upon them to make one of their days available so that we can have a full debate on the matter?

Mr. Foot

I should be willing to have a two-day debate on that subject on the conditions postulated by my hon. Friend. However, he might have even greater influence with the Opposition Front Bench than I have.

Mr. Burden

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to Early-Day Motion No. 217, which has been signed by over 100 of my right hon. and hon. Friends?

[That this House believes that any attempt by Her Majesty's Government to disclaim the obligations to pay the gratuities promised on retirement to Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm air crew who were enlisted on short-service commissions, would be a flagrant breach of contract and grossly dishonest; and calls upon the Minister of Defence either to confirm immediately that the Government has every intention of honouring the undertakings given to these men, or failing this to resign his office forthwith.]

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not consider that I am being rude or objectionable about his reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) on the subject of gratuities for men serving in the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm, when they finish their terms of service, which is very much in question. Will he ensure that the Secretary of State for Defence comes to the House and makes it clear that the Government have no intention whatsoever of abrogating their obligation to pay those men gratuities that were laid down?

Mr. Foot

I fully understand from the representations that have been made that there is great public concern about that matter. No final decision has yet been taken. The matter is still under review in the light of pensions legislation.

Subject to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, this issue could he raised in the forthcoming defence debate, to which I expect to refer in the Business Statement next week. There are other ways in which hon. Members can raise this issue. As I indicated, no final decision has yet been taken.

Mr. Canavan

May we have a debate on Early-Day Motion No. 212?

[That this House calls upon the Right honourable Lady the Leader of the Opposition to dismiss the honourable Member for Glasgow, Cathcart from his position as Opposition spokesman for Scotland, because a person who is a Parliamentary adviser to Globtik Tankers Ltd., a company which exploits underpaid Filipino seamen and resorts to piracy and threats of violence is not qualified to speak for the interests of Scotland.]

As the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland is a paid lackey of Globtik Tankers Ltd., of which the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales is a director, would it not be appropriate for the Leader of the Opposition to dismiss from her Shadow Cabinet such shady characters who are making a living out of exploitation?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he is not permitted to call hon. Members of this House shady characters. [HON. MEMBERS: "He said ' Shadow' ".] In that case, I withdraw.

Mr. Canavan

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. What I meant to say was that they appear to have shadowy connections with a company which exploits workers and indulges in thuggery and violence.

Mr. Gow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) to call the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland a paid lackey of an outside interest?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have said before that I strongly deprecate personal attacks and terms of abuse. It depends what the hon. Gentleman means by "paid lackey" but I do not take it as a complimentary term. I hope that hon. Members will try to avoid being pulled up on the ground of being abusive.

Mr. Foot

I certainly deprecate the use of the term paid "or" "unpaid lackeys". I am sure that all of us would deprecate that. I think that the best and most fruitful way for this matter to be discussed would be for the Opposition to devote part of a Supply Day to discuss that motion. After all, the Opposition have a double interest in the matter. Not only the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cath- cart (Mr. Taylor) but also the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) have a special interest in the matter. Perhaps those two hon. Gentlemen could persuade the Opposition to have a partial Supply Day to discuss the motion.

Mr. Peter Mills

In view of the apparent vacuum in which we find ourselves and the difficulty of the Government in finding subjects for debate in this House, will the Leader of the House try to clear the backlog of Statutory Instruments from the Scrutiny Committee on European Secondary Legislation, because they are stacking up very high? They would provide most interesting debates in this House.

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman knows that we have got important business to deal with next week. Of course there is important business, but we shall also seek to deal with other business. We are so pressed for business that there has not been time available for Supply Days on the scale that the Opposition would have wished. I am not suggesting that a debate on the "Globtik Venus" should take place next week, but it could perhaps be taken a little later.

Mr. Greville Janner

When does my right hon. Friend consider that the Government are likely to be in a position to make a statement about the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference and who may or may not be attending? Is it likely to be before or after the conference is held?

Mr. Foot

My right hon Friend the Prime Minister has dealt with this question previously and he will deal with it again when he returns from Washington before the Commonwealth Conference takes place.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. There is an important statement to follow. I shall allow two more questions from each side of the House.

Mr. Lipton

Will my right hon. Friend take note of the fact that the other day I had a Question down to the Secretary of State for Defence about tax-free gratuities for short-service commissions and that, in reply, my right hon. Friend said that the matter was under review. In order to give him an opportunity of saying what he wants to do about it, I have put down another Question for Tuesday 22nd March, by which time I hope that my right hon. Friend will have come to a satisfactory conclusion without necessarily being subjected to pressure from the Opposition.

Mr. Foot

I hope that all my right hon. Friends take full note of Questions put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Lipton) whether or not he gives them oral indications about them, as he has today, because it is wise for every Minister to understand what my hon. Friend is up to.

Mr. Tebbit

As the direct labour Bill seems unlikely to receive Royal Assent before 1st April, does the Leader of the House intend to introduce the necessary orders to extend the powers of certain local authorities before that time as they expire on 1st April?

Mr. Foot

There are such problems. It is a great pleasure and delight, for the first time in our common membership of this House, for me to be able to say that I think the hon. Gentleman is probably right that the Bill will not receive Royal Assent before 1st April.

Mr. John Ellis

In regard to the debate on Tuesday on the Services Committee Report and the arrangements for printing of Hansard, can my right hon. Friend give us any further information now or let us have it before the debate, so that we can go into the debate better prepared?

Mr. Foot

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. We are having the debate next week and I know that many hon. Members have asked questions on the matter. I hope that before the debate next week they will be able to read Hansard of yesterday, which includes an extensive Written Answer from my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, on the matter, which I think will help the House and give the reasons for this recommendation by the Services Committee. Hon Members will find the Answer at columns 549to 551.

Mr. Goodhart

Now that the Government appear to have more time available, would the right hon. Gentleman consider introducing the seat belt legislation— [Hon. Members: "No."]—which made considerable progress in the last Session and which the Secretary of State for Transport estimated would save 50 lives a week?

Mr. Foot

I do not dismiss the importance of the Bill because I have listened to many of the debates on it. However, as the hon. Gentleman will have heard just now, there are some difficulties in getting the Bill through which do not arise exclusively from the actions of hon. Members on this side.