HC Deb 26 May 1977 vol 932 cc1547-54
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business for the first week after the recess?

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

Yes, Sir. The business for the first week after the Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 13TH JUNE—Supply [21st Allotted Day]: a debate on the Second Report from the Select Committee on Overseas Development in Session 1975–76, and the Second Report in Session 1976–77 on relations with developing countries, and the related Government observations.

The following EEC documents will be relevant—S/327/77, S/76 Nos. 438, 968, 1218 and 1553, R/76 Nos. 534, 1676 and 2542, together with the Report on the Community food aid programme for cereals and dairy products.

Motion on EEC document R/752/77 on European Social Fund.

TUESDAY 14TH JUNE—Remaining stages of the Coal Industry Bill and of the Transport (Financial Provisions) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 15TH JUNE—Until about 7 o'clock, Second Reading of the New Towns Bill.

Afterwards, progress on the remaining stages of the Price Commission Bill.

THURSDAY 16TH JUNE—Supply [22nd Allotted Day]: subject for debate to be announced.

Motion on EEC document R/1435/68 on taxation systems for commercial vehicles.

FRIDAY 17TH JUNE—Private Members' motions.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I press the Leader of the House about the Bill for direct elections? When does he expect that it will be published, particularly bearing in mind that there is a European Summit shortly after we return? Will he give an undertaking that the Bill will be published before then? Will he say what is holding up his best endeavours?

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady has put that question on one or two other occasions. A communication on that subject will be made during the first week after we return from the recess.

Mr. Mellish

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the Abortion (Amendment) Bill is one which creates a great deal of argument in this House and that no one would deny its importance? Will the Government do anything to facilitate its coming before the House so that the House, on a free vote, can make its own decision?

Mr. Foot

What the Government have done in relation to this Bill is exactly the same as they have done in relation to other Private Members' Bills. I do not think that my right hon. Friend is asking for that to be altered. The Bill will go into a Standing Committee and we shall see how it continues from there. The Government are adopting the same position as other Governments have adopted in the past.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Can the Leader of the House—knowing how fair-minded he is about the matters that we debate—arrange a debate so that we can discuss the extraordinary statements and speeches that he has made recently?

Mr. Foot

I thought that everything that I had said had met with universal approval. Therefore, there is no need for a debate.

Mr. Palmer

When are we likely to have the general debate on energy policy that the Lord President has promised?

Mr. Foot

I fully acknowledge that I have indicated that we should have a debate on this matter. I cannot say when it will be, but it will not take place during the first week after the recess. I shall bear in mind the representations that have been made to me on this subject.

Mr. Budgen

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we may have a debate on immigration? I should remind him that the last time we had a full debate on this subject was in July 1976. We had a short debate on Tuesday, but that lasted for only one-and-a-quarter hours. May I remind him that for many people in this country this is one of the most important issues of the day? If the House does not debate the matter, it is doing no more than suppressing genuine public fears.

Mr. Foot

There is no question of suppression, either by myself or by the House. I fully acknowledge the importance of and widespread interest in the question. However, this is an appropriate subject for debate in the House. It is an appropriate subject for a Supply Day.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I remind hon. Members that there are two major statements to follow. If hon. Members are fortunate enough to catch my eye now, they may not be so lucky later.

Mr. Urwin

While appreciating the comments of the Prime Minister a few minutes ago, may I ask the Leader of the House to take note of Early-Day Motion No. 353:

[That this House, pursuant to the Prime Minister's assurances on 12th May that the Drax B power station will be ordered 'with the minimum of delay' and 'whatever the result of consultations on restructuring the power plant industry, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to place the order without further delay to save the tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland and on Tyneside that depend on it.]

Is he aware of the importance of taking a fairly early decision on this matter, as it is in the best interests of employment, both in the Northern Region and in Scotland? Is it possible that we shall have an early debate after Whitsun on this vital matter?

Mr. Foot

We cannot have a debate in the week that we return. I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister said on this subject a few moments ago. There are, on the Order Paper, representations from different points of view.

Mr. Marten

Has the Leader of the House noticed Early-Day Motion No. 346:

[That this House, recognising the importance to most British citizens of the existing British passport, believes that there should be no final commitment by Her Majesty's Government to introduce a Euro-passport until there has been an affirmative decision of the House of Commons to approve it.]

Is he aware that we believe that there should be no final commitment to a European passport until Parliament has so decided? This motion has been supported by some senior Back Benchers on this side of the House and shortly there will be support from the other side of the House [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members should sign up. What we want is not decision by Royal Prerogative but for this House to debate the matter and reach a decision. That is what democracy is all about.

Mr. Foot

I fully accept what the hon. Member says. I refer him to my statement of 4th May. I thought that that statement commanded general enthusiasm from him and other hon. Members.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us have given up hope of the Public Lending Right Bill returning to this House, although it has been waiting at the door for some weeks? Will he give some assurance about the Government's intentions in the next Session of Parliament?

Mr. Foot

This was a Bill which the Government backed and wanted to see on the statute book. That is still the Government's view. I do not think that it would be possible, if the Government brought the matter forward now, for it to be passed this Session, but I believe that it is a Bill to be properly considered in the next Session.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

May I return to the subject mentioned by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish)—namely, the Abortion (Amendment) Bill? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a lobby of Parliament took place last week when 15,000 people from all parts of the country, and representing all sections of the community, came to this House to lobby their Members on this subject? Following the way in which the Labour Government in 1967 gave a fair wind to the Abortion Bill—to which so many people now object—will he give an assurance to the House that he will find time for this Bill to pass through its stages in this House and for a decision to be made on a free vote?

Mr. Foot

The subject covered by this measure has been decided, settled and voted upon by a free vote whenever it has come before the House. That remains the situation. I fully acknowledge that there is widespread concern in the House and in the country on this subject. But there is not only one point of view to be considered; there are different points of view to be heard. On that basis we have to consider the attitude towards Private Members' Bills going through the House. The Government take the view that they should abide by the normal rules applying to those Bills.

Mr. Bidwell

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider whether he should put before the House a Bill on direct elections to the European Assembly since, apparently, there does not appear to be any burning desire for such legislation in the country, least of all in the Labour Party? Since it will merely engender commotion and buttress the decision of last year's conference, which went against such legislation, why is there now so much hurry for the measure?

Mr. Foot

This matter was referred to in the Queen's Speech at the beginning of the Session. I have already told the Leader of the Opposition that the Government would make a communication to the House on this subject in the week when the House returns.

Mr. F. P. Crowder

Will the right hon. Genteman consider allowing the House to debate at an early date the situation affecting the police and their pay? I believe that the Leader of the House has a vast knowledge of the law, through his distinguished brother, who is one of Her Majesty's counsel.

Mr. Foot

I do not know whether I would rely on my brother on all those matters—that is another question altogether. The House has debated this matter, the Government's attitude has been made plain by the Home Secretary on a number of occasions, and he has given his reasons for that attitude. The hon. and learned Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) and others would serve the country best by making known to others the reasons for those decisions.

Sir A. Royle

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I request your guidance on a matter of procedure? The Leader of the House on two occasions—first, in answer to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and, secondly, in reply to a Labour Member—said that he intended to make a communication to the House on direct elections to the European Parliament when the House returns after the recess. Did the right hon. Gentleman mean that he would make a statement to the House or that a Bill would be tabled? Will you explain what the Leader of the House intended to tell us?

Mr. Speaker

I am in the same state of blissful ignorance.

Mr. Foot

Further to the point of order that was not a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The word "communication" was intended to cover all eventualities, and I am sure that it does so. The word was well chosen, and I was gratified to see how well received it was by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition.

Mrs. Thatcher

Could we have a little more detail on this new species? The Lord President must know whether he means a statement or the tabling of a Bill. If it means anything, it can mean nothing. Surely it must mean something.

Mr. Foot

It is not that it means nothing and it is not that it means anything. It means exactly what I have said—and I am sure that the right hon. Lady was wiser in her first thoughts than in her second thoughts.

Mr. John Garrett

Will my right hon. Friend allow time for the House to debate the important report published this week on the footwear industry—a report produced by a group including hon. Members from both sides of the House? The footwear industry is as large as the shipbuilding industry, but it is the industry in the country which is declining fastest, which is a matter of great concern to a great many of us.

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate on the subject, but I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to see what representations can be made on the subject. I shall see whether the matter can be discussed.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I shall call one hon. Member from either side of the House and then move on to the statement. Mr. Spriggs.

Mr. Spriggs

Can my right hon. Friend give a date for the commencement of the Committee stage of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give a date because, under the normal procedures of the House, there is still another Bill in that Committee, but it is very likely that that Bill will proceed through Committee fairly speedily, and that the other Bill will follow according to the normal procedures of the House.

Mr. William Shelton

Am I not right in thinking that the Leader of the House gave Government backing to the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, a Private Members' Bill? Therefore, is it not possible to give the Abortion (Amendment) Bill a similar fair wind because it, too, is a Private Members' Bill?

Mr. Foot

The Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill is a Private Members' Bill which is going through Committee, and soon after we return from the recess it will return to the Committee. It has been moved from one Committee to another. In some respects that will ease the situation in respect of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. However, in both cases I believe that it is right for the House to abide by the normal procedures of the House.