HC Deb 05 May 1977 vol 931 cc653-60
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he 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 9TH MAY and TUESDAY 10TH MAY—Progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY 11TH MAY—Supply [17th Allotted Day]: a debate on agriculture.

Afterwards, a debate on EEC 1976 Document R/1668 and 2578 on animal health, R/2109, 2021 and 2614 on beef and veal, and on R/863/77 on CAP prices.

THURSDAY 12TH MAY—Further progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

Motion on the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order.

FRIDAY 13TH MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 16TH MAY—Until 7 o'clock, consideration of Private Members' motions.

Afterwards, Second Reading of the Post Office Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I raise two points with the right hon. Gentleman? He will observe that we have used our Supply Day for one of the urgent matters raised last week, namely, agriculture. Is it the Lord President's intention to provide a foreign affairs debate in Government time before the Belgrade Conference, and has he any news about whether we are likely to have a debate on the Bill relating to direct elections before the recess?

Mr. Foot

On the second matter, I cannot yet tell the right hon. Lady the date of the introduction of the Bill relating to direct elections. On the first question, I know that she has previously made representations about a debate on foreign affairs prior to the Belgrade Conference and I suggested that it might possibly be a Supply Day subject, but I shall consider the representations she has made for it to take place in Government time, without making any commitment here and now.

Mr. Powell

As the three EEC subjects proposed for Wednesday are all substantial and are largely distinct from one another, is it proposed that there should be more than the usual hour and a half allotted to the importan debates on these matters?

Mr. Foot

The proposition at the moment is that we should have only the hour and a half, although I realise that they cover different topics. On the other hand, some of the matters will have been touched upon—perhaps not exhaustively—in the debate which take place that afternoon on the Supply Day. Some of the subjects would certainly be in order then, and might be discussed. I fear that I cannot promise any further time to discuss these subjects.

Mr. George Cunningham

Can the Lord President provide time in the near future to discuss the situation of highly specialised hospitals which find their budgets constricted by entirely local considerations? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that it is more than a fortnight since he told me that I should be hearing from DHSS Ministers about the situation at St. Mark's Hospital? I have not so heard.

If my right hon. Friend cannot provide time for discussion of this on the Floor of the House, could he use his influence to obtain a clear, concise account of the case for and against the closing of a ward of St. Mark's Hospital? I am confident that when that is done, the case against closing it will be seen to be overwhelming.

Mr. Foot

Of course I am fully aware of my hon. Friend's concern about this matter. He raised it in the Easter Adjournment debate and I promised him then that I should make some inquiries which I did. When the House resumed I informed him about some of the discussions. I will certainly make fresh representations to see whether we can deliver to my hon. Friend as speedy an answer as possible.

Mr. Channon

As the Lord President is unable to give an undertaking that there will be a debate before Whitsun on the direct elections Bill, is it the Government's intention at least to produce the Bill before Whitsun? If not, can it seriously be suggested that the Government are using their best endeavours to get the Bill through in a reasonable time?

Mr. Foot

I certainly understand the interest in the House about the Bill. Furthermore, I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I cannot, however, add anything to that which I told the right hon. Lady earlier.

Mr. Spearing

Reverting to the EEC documents for next Wednesday—I believe there are seven—can my hon. Friend be a little more explicit about the timing? We could surely have a debate lasting an hour and a half on each document allocated in the Orders of the Day if we chose. Will the Lord President confirm that the document on CAP prices is the substantive regulation which puts into force the prices recently agreed by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Brussels?

Mr. Foot

I should like to look at the actual resolution on the CAP prices before I answer my hon. Friend, who is certainly an expert on these subjects. If the full time were to be taken on all the EEC propositions and measures that come here, the time of this House would be inordinately consumed. I have always accepted in discussions with my hon. Friend and others who are especially concerned about the matter that we have not solved the problem of providing proper time for these matters to be debated. However, I must say that next Wednesday we are not proposing to extend the time beyond that by which it would normally be extended—namely, an hour and a half after the vote, if there is a vote, on the Supply Day motion.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will the Leader of the House keep in mind that it is a long time since we had a debate on immigration and that there is a strong feeling, both inside and outside this House, that we ought to have one fairly soon, preferably before the Whitsun Recess?

Mr. Foot

I know there is a request for debates on immigration and on some of the immigration regulations that have come forward. I am afraid that I cannot add anything to what I have indicated generally. I recognise that there is a desire in various parts of the House for these debates.

Mr. John Mendelson

In view of the widespread concern about the unemployment of young people, which was again highlighted on a very important and useful television programme last Sunday morning to which the Secretary of State for Employment made a significant contribution, will my right hon. Friend now give priority for a debate in this House in which the Secretary of State could again discuss some of these points and give Members an opportunity to make their contributions?

Mr. Foot

Of course, we recognise the importance of the subject. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has made clear, discussions have been taking place between the Manpower Services Commission and his Department and the Department of Education and Science to produce proposals, especially on the question of unemployment amongst young people. I cannot yet indicate the exact timetable on which those measures will be brought forward. Obviously, these are matters which will have to be debated in this House when they come forward, and it may be that some of the debates on the Finance Bill can also touch on these questions.

Mr. Adley

Does the Lord President recall that on a number of occasions recently the Minister of State, Department of Industry has refused to answer questions on Post Office matters on the basis that he has no ministerial responsibility? On the radio this morning, however, he was happily making a statement as the Minister responsible for the Post Office and telling us all what a marvellous thing it was that our telephone bills were to be reduced. Would it not be a good idea if the Lord President invited his hon. Friend to come to this House and make a statement, so that those of us who feel that those who can afford telephones are unfairly having a rebate, while those who cannot afford to send a letter are not able to get a reduction of postal charges, will have an opportunity to question him?

Mr. Foot

That is a very churlish reception of the announcement that has been made. I do not believe that many people up and down the country would think that that was a very good contribution to the discussion. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there are certain divisions of responsibility as to what may be said in the House and the responsibilities of Ministers for these matters as compared with those of the people who are operating the industries concerned. I do not believe that my hon. Friend has broken or merged that responsibility in any sense.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call only the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who are on their feet. There is an important statement to follow.

Mr. Mellish

Perhaps I can be helpful to my right hon. Friend. There are a number of experts in this House—not too many—who want to discuss the EEC documents and all that pertains to them. I think that we all appreciate that it is a great heartache to the Members of the House generally when important matters of this kind almost go by default because they are not taken until after 10 o'clock at night. We all understand that. But what has just been illustrated—seven orders, I think, have been mentioned—in reality represents 10½hours' debate, which anyone with any common sense will know that is quite impossible to contemplate from 10 o'clock at night onwards.

Morning sittings have been sneered at and jeered at in the past, but it seems to me that, through the usual channels and discussions with those interested in these matters, morning sittings could be used. There could then be debates for those who are concerned and any votes on the matter could take place at the appropriate time in the later part of the day. Is not that helpful, or is that a waste of time as well?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is seeking to be helpful, although he knows that the experiment of morning sittings which was tried some years ago was not a 100 per cent. success. Therefore, I am not sure that we should repeat it now. However, I am not saying that we exclude the possibility.

Two Committees are considering these matters now. One is the Committee on European Legislation &c., and it is reporting to the House. It will suggest any improvements that it may have for dealing with this kind of EEC legislation. The Procedure Committee, too, can take the matter into account.

Mr. Gow

Since, last month, the Price Commission recommendations in regard to the publicly owned British Gas Corporation were rejected by the Government, and since, this month, the recommendations about the prices charged by the publicly owned Post Office Corporation have been accepted, will the Lord President agree that there is a need for a debate about the rôle of the Price Com mission pending its abolition?

Mr. Foot

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware—if he is not, his question is remarkably inapposite—a Bill on the Price Commission and price controls is going through the House at the moment. I do not know where he got such an extraordinary idea as the abolition of the whole Price Commission.

Mr. Canavan

May we have a debate, either on the Floor of the House or in Committee, on my Early-Day Motion No. 302, praying against the Statutory Instrument which would give the Secretary of State for Scotland power to discontinue courses at Scottish colleges of education? Would it not be reducing parliamentary democracy to an absolute farce if the Secretary of State were to take these powers without parliamentary approval, when the proposed college closures and mergers have been opposed, not only by Parliament but by the whole Labour and trade union movement in Scotland?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Teachers (Colleges of Education) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1977 (S.1., 1977, No. 634), dated 29th March 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th April, be annulled.]

Mr. Foot

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will take into account all the representations from my hon. Friends on the subject and the views which were expressed in the House about it. But those consultations are not yet complete. It was a question of consultations when the House debated the matter.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is the Lord President aware that there is growing concern in this country about the inadequate sentences available to the courts in dealing with crimes of violence, rape and wilful damage against property and the person? While I appreciate that we have had debates on law and order in the not-too-distant past, will the right hon. Gentleman allow time for a debate on this very important subject, which is of growing concern to the majority of people in this country who are law-abiding and who see that the law does not provide them with the protection which is required?

Mr. Foot

I make no comment on the merits or demerits of that matter. I cannot promise an early debate on the question, although measures are going through the House on which some of the hon. Gentleman's points can be raised.

Mr. Tebbit

So that hon. Members may draw their own conclusions about when we might see the direct elections Bill, will the Lord President at least arrange next week for a statement by the Government on what conclusion the Government drew, and the Cabinet agreed, as to what the House wanted, following the two days of debate, by way of an electoral system in that Bill?

Mr. Foot

I gather that the hon. Gentleman is asking for a Government statement on that question. I cannot add anything to what I said to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition on that subject. We said that we should consider the debate. We were asked to provide a period for a debate, which we did, and the Government are still considering that debate.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Is the Leader of the House aware that I was told last week in a Written Answer that the report of the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration had been sent to the Prime Minister as long ago as 4th April, though the right hon. Gentleman seems to have been unaware of that fact? Is it not time that we had a statement on that report? Is the Leader of the House aware that it is widely rumoured that there is some uncomfortable criticism in that report of the Secretary of State for Social Services on his handling of the junior doctors' pay settlement last year? Does he not think that it would be as well to get that matter cleared up as quickly as possible?

Mr. Foot

I have not read the report. Therefore, I cannot accept any secondhand or third-rate criticisms of my right hon. Friend which might be contained in the report and relayed to the House by the right hon. Gentleman. The Prime Minister replied to him a few minutes ago, saying that he would look at the matter if he put down a Question, and that is what we shall do.