HC Deb 31 March 1977 vol 929 cc575-83
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Lord President 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 4TH APRIL—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Statement.

Motion on EEC Document R/642/76 on social legislation on road transport.

TUESDAY 5TH APRIL—Supply [11th Allotted Day]: there will be a debate on teacher training colleges in Scotland on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

A debate on Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball, which will also arise on a motion for the Adjournment.

At 7 o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed Private Business for consideration.

WEDNESDAY 6TH APRIL—Debate on a motion to take note of the White Paper on Sport and Recreation, Command No. 6200.

THURSDAY 7TH APRIL—It will be proposed that the House should meet at 11 a.m., take Questions till 12 noon and adjourn at 5 p.m. until Tuesday 19th April.

Mr. Christopher Price

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to interrupt Business Question Time now, but I want to raise a point of order about the propriety of putting down the debate on Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball when it is known that it is fully expected that on Monday leave will be sought to go to the House of Lords, and the matter will then become sub judice. If it is proper for me to raise this matter after Business Question Time, I shall do so, but I think that it involves Business Questions.

Mr. Speaker

I shall give the answer now. We shall look at that matter when notice has been given. It is not sub judice until notice has been given.

Mr. Christopher Price

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

If any question of the matter being sub judice arises next week, I shall have to deal with it next week, but not today.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Leader of the House indicate in general terms when we are likely to have a debate on direct elections to the European Parliament? Will it be immediately we return after the recess?

Mr. Foot

Our expectation is that it will be in the week of our return.

Mr. Whitehead

I wish to revert to the proposed debate on Tuesday about Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball. Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are concerned that representations appear to have been made to their legal advisers to the effect that Parliament is anxious to have a debate on the matter? Parliament is anxious to see justice done. We can debate the question of the men's expulsion once the legal proceedings are over. Will my right hon. Friend take that very much into account?

Mr. Foot

I certainly have taken it into account. I wish to say in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) that of course we have taken these questions into account, and if the matter is ruled to be sub judice we shall have to make different arrangements. But we have arranged the debate for next week in response to requests made by my hon. Friends.

Mr. Beith

On which day is it proposed to put the motion to adjourn the House?

Mr. Foot

It will be moved on Wednesday, at the beginning of Public Business.

Mr. Loyden

I ask my right hon. Friend to give serious consideration to a debate on unemployment. In view of the factory closures in the North-West—on Merseyside in particular—and in other regions, does not my right hon. Friend think that a debate on unemployment is essential? If we sat on Friday of next week that would extend the time of the House by at least one day for such a debate.

Mr. Foot

Discussion of these subjects and the whole matter of employment measures will be in order in today's debate. It will be opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who will be discussing these questions. As I have indicated to my hon. Friend and the House before, questions of major employment policy are of course proper subjects for debate durthe Budget debates. That does not exclude the possibility of later debates on special aspects of the extremely important matter my hon. Friend has raised.

Mr. Peter Walker

In view of the alaming facts disclosed by the Select Committee that has just looked into the problems of the West Indian community, will the right hon. Gentleman announce a very quick Government statement of policy or arrange a debate?

Mr. Foot

I shall consider the matter and see whether there should be a statement next week.

Mr. Heffer

When will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment make his statement on assistance to the inner cities? On which day will it be?

Mr. Foot

I cannot tell my hon. Friend when that will be, but I shall try to give notice to him and others who have shown a special interest in the matter.

Mr. Clegg

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the time allowed this week for the debate on three EEC documents on fisheries was totally inadequate? In view of the great concern in the fishing industry, will he arrange for a debate giving more time to consider these urgent matters?

Mr. Foot

I am sorry that I cannot promise further time to debate these matters in the business announced for next week. I am also sorry that there was not more time available this week. But, as the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will be aware, we still do not have sufficient time to discuss all these important matters of proposals from the European Community.

Mr. Greville Janner

In view of the visit of Mr. Vance, the approach of the Belgrade Conference, and the arrest in Moscow of Anatoli Sharanski and his imprisonment in Lefurtova Prison, has not the time come when we should have a debate on human rights, with specific reference to the way in which the Soviet Union is treating its minorities in general and its Jewish minority in particular?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept the importance of the subjects raised by my hon. and learned Friend, but many of these topics were referred to in general terms, and with some specific references, by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary when he spoke in the House a week or two ago.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Early-Day Motion No. 222 in my name has now attracted the support of more than 350 hon. Members in all parts of the House, that they constitute more than half the House, and that I am informed by the Table Office that this is a record for Early-Day Motions? In those circumstances, will the right hon. Gentleman now consider giving the House an opportunity before the Whitsun Recess to debate and vote upon this matter?

[That this House, dissatisfied with the infrequency and nature of debates on Foreign Affairs, urges the Government to set up a Standing Foreign Affairs Select Committee whose Reports should be debated in the House within 30 days of publication.]

Mr. Foot

Not merely am I aware of the considerable number of hon. Members who have signed the hon. Gentleman's motion, but I am equally aware that he has put the matter down for debate on Thursday of next week. I am sure that he would not wish me to anticipate that debate.

Mr. Newens

In view of the fact that my right hon. Friend has announced that other matters will be debated before the case of Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball on Tuesday, and in view of the fact that he stated that the debate should end at 7 p.m., will he indicate how much time will be available for dealing with this important matter? Many of us think that it will be totally unsatisfactory if adequate time is not made available so that all hon. Members who wish to contribute have an opportunity to say something. If there will not be adequate time on Tuesday, will my right hon. Friend consider having the debate on another occasion?

Mr. Foot

We have arranged this debate in response to requests from a number of my hon. Friends, and we propose that there should be two hours for the debate on Tuesday. I hope that it will be possible for my hon. Friends to put their points of view in that debate. When the matter was to have been debated on a previous occasion the amount of time allocated was slightly less than two hours. I hope that it will be a satisfactory debate.

Mr. Watt

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we shall next have an opportunity to debate devolution to Scotland? Will he give us an indication of his thinking in this matter and of the form in which the Bill will reappear?

Mr. Foot

We are still continuing with the talks that I promised after the defeat of the timetable motion. The hon. Member may rest assured that we shall proceed with the devolution measure. It is to this Government that hon. Members should look if they want to see the pledges on devolution carried into effect.

Mr. Gow

Is the Leader of the House aware that he is the Chairman of the Joint Consultative Committee announced by the Prime Minister on Wednesday of last week? All hon. Members would very much welcome—not least the Liberals—an early debate on the proceedings and powers of this Committee.

Mr. Foot

While I am always eager to accept invitations to address the House on all occasions, I do not know whether I can leap in to reply to that as I have nothing to add to the comprehensive reply given by the Prime Minister on Tuesday.

Mr. Ward

Can my right hon. Friend say whether we shall have a statement on the third generation of new towns—Peterborough, Milton Keynes and Northampton—before the House rises?

Mr. Foot

I shall look at this and be in touch with my hon. Friend. I visited Peterborough last week and the feelings of my hon. Friend's constituents were made very clear to me.

Mr. Jasper More

Does the Leader of the House recollect that a fortnight ago I was given a written undertaking that a statement would be made as soon as practicable about the interdepartmental committee on forestry? This morning there was a long Written Answer in reply to what was obviously a planted Question from a Labour Member. Is this an adequate implementation of the right hon. Gentleman's undertaking, and if he thinks that it is not, will he give an assurance that we shall have a statement next week?

Mr. Foot

I hoped that the reply would be helpful to the hon. Gentleman and all those who are interested in the subject. If he wishes to pursue the matter I shall see whether it can be raised again another time. There are quite a lot of opportunities available when this matter can be raised.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I intend to call only three more hon. Members from either side because there is another statement and there are two applications under Standing Order No. 9 to come.

Mr. English

When shall we have an opportunity to discuss the more ludicrous aspects of the Annan Report, such as the objections to duopoly in national radio and the desire for monopoly in local radio?

Mr. Foot

I hope that we shall have a fairly early opportunity to discuss all aspects of that report. It would be invidious for me to say at this stage which parts of the report I regard as either wise or unwise.

Mr. Thorpe

In replying to the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler), the Leader of the House quite correctly said that the hon. Member had been successful in the Ballot, but the form his debate would take would not enable us to vote on that matter. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues should listen to the debate very carefully, and if there is a great deal of support in the House they should not rule out the possibility of giving Government time so that we can have a positive vote.

Mr. Foot

I am not ruling out the possibility, but the establishment of new Select Committees requires considerable debate in this House. The establishment of a foreign affairs Select Committee might result in many foreign affairs matters being transferred from the House on a very big scale, and this is a question which must be taken into account. I shall listen to the debate without prejudice and then I shall see whether a further debate is necessary at a later stage.

Mr. Spearing

The motion on tomorrow's Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) is a comprehensive motion to deal with EEC business off the Floor of the House. As it is wholly in line with the recommendations of the Procedure Committee 1974–75—a Committee that had a pro-Market majority—why has my right hon. Friend put down an amendment that falls far short of that Committee's recommendations?

Mr. Foot

That matter is for debate tomorrow as it has been for debate on previous occasions. Although this will be elaborated then, I believe that it is wrong that a Standing Committee of this kind should have the power to decide matters in the manner proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee). The responsibility of individual Committees to this House raises more important questions than either my hon. Friend or the Committee appreciated.

Mr. Marten

Did the Leader of the House observe Foreign Office Questions yesterday? When I raised the extraordinary proposition of British people having to have a Euro-passport, the Foreign Office refused to give any assurance that this would be debated before a decision was made. Ministers said that this was a matter for the Leader of the House. I am now giving the Leader of the House the opportunity to give us an assurance that we shall debate the question before any decision is taken outside this House.

Mr. Foot

I shall have to see what was said by the Foreign Office and by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) before I pass any judgment. I always look with enthusiasm at what the hon. Member says on these matters.

Mr. Biffen

In respect of Monday's business, can the Leader of the House confirm that the Budget Resolutions are central to the Government's total economic strategy? Can he say whether the Government intend to regard the Budget Resolutions as a matter of confidence?

Mr. Foot

The Government regard the Budget Resolutions as being of the highest importance. That is why they are included in the Budget.

Mr. Christopher Price

Reverting to the debate about Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball, will my right hon. Friend agree that it would be most undesirable if Parliament even appeared to be putting pressure on the courts to dispose of the matter with undue haste? Will he assure me that the announcement of this debate is not intended to put pressure on either of the parties involved to go or not to go to the House of Lords?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend has given me the opportunity to assure him that of course the arrangements for the debate are not intended in any sense whatever to bring any pressure on those involved in the case. If we had not put the matter down for debate next week, I would have been criticised by some of my hon. Friends who had asked for a debate and to whom I had given a pledge. If the case is sub judice, the debate will have to be arranged for a later time. I promised that we would have a debate before Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball were required to leave the country, and that still stands.