HC Deb 17 November 1977 vol 939 cc763-74
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 21st November—Supply [1st Allotted Day]: there will be a debate until about 7 o'clock on industrial tribunals, on a motion for the Adjournment, and afterwards on transport policy on an Opposition motion.

Motion on the Counter-Inflation (Price Code) Order.

TUESDAY 22nd November and WEDNESDAY 23rd November-Progress in Committee on the Scotland Bill.

At the end on Wednesday, motions relating to the Artificial Insemination of Cattle Regulations.

THURSDAY 24th November-Second Reading of the European Assembly Elections Bill.

Motion to approve the new Highway Code.

FRIDAY 25th November-Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 28th November-Consideration of Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, motion on EEC Documents R/77 Nos. 2147, 2428 and 2429, 2434, 2521 and 2642 on fisheries.

Mrs. Thatcher

As the situation in the steel industry is becoming serious, will the Leader of the House say when he will be in a position to provide a whole day to debate the matter?

Mr. Foot

I cannot say that there will be an opportunity for a full day's debate in the near future, and certainly not next week on the business that I have announced. I agree with the right hon. Lady about the seriousness of the situation in the industry. Discussions are still proceeding. We shall see whether there should be a debate at a later stage, but I cannot give her any promise on that subject now.

Mr. Skinner

Would my right hon. Friend urge upon the Select Committee dealing with public accounts to look into a matter which has never been brought before Parliament in any way but nevertheless is a matter of great public importance, namely, the operation of the lifeboat scheme to rescue the sleazy secondary banks and property companies that were on the verge of collapse or in a state of collapse, starting in 1973? Will he ensure that the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee—the right hon. Member who is Chairman of the Back-Bench 1922 Committee on the Tory side, the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) does not take part in these proceedings, because Keyser Ullmann—in which he played a fairly prominent part —was one of these banks? Will he bear in mind that it has already cost the Bank of England—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Would the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to relate it to the business for next week.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it has already cost the Bank of England—in other words, the taxpayer—£120 million?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue the case now. It is a question of business for next week.

Mr. Hordern

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask whether the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) gave my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) any notice of what he was going to say about him, and should it not be his duty to do so?

Mr. Speaker

I cannot answer that.

Mr. Peter Mills

Does the Leader of the House realise the very real concern felt by the European Legislation Committee on the persistent imbalance between the Guarantee and Guidance Fund in the Community and, indeed, the Regional Development Fund? Will he bring it to the attention of the Ministers who are meeting in Brussels next week that they should deal with this subject as a matter of urgency, and will he also inform those Ministers that the Committee feels strongly that there can never be an improvement in the problems of surpluses until this imbalance is dealt with?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly bring the hon. Gentleman's question to the notice of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Greville Janner

Will not my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on this morning's incredible travesty, when an SS officer who was under an order for deportation made by the Home Secretary was allowed out of his cell in order to attend a Press conference to propagate the criminal views of his organisation? Does he not think that holding such a debate is even more important because of the allegation, first, that there is one of these officers still in this country who can presumably do the same and, secondly, that a representative of the Daily Express was allowed into the cell so as to buy this man's evil story from him?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly ask my right hon. Friend to look into all the points that my hon. and learned Friend has raised. Although I am not criticising his statement in any sense, some of those statements have been, I believe, made in some sections of the Press but are not necessarily true. But I shall certainly ask my right hon. Friend to look into the matter. I think that the action that he has already taken indicates the view that the Government take of this matter.

Mr. Marten

As we are now in a new Session of Parliament, could the Leader of the House get hold of his Front-Bench colleagues and ask them to come here after meetings in Europe and make statements in the House of Commons? Some Ministers are getting away with ducking the rather nasty things that they have to talk about—[HON. MEMBERS. "Such as what?"[—the Common Market. Could we have an assurance that the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will come here on Wednesday after a two-day meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and make a statement about the matter which he has been discussing?

Mr. Foot

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friends who go to Brussels are certainly not seeking to duck coming back to the House of Commons and reporting. Neither my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture—

Mr. Marten

He is good.

Mr. Foot

I agree, he is very good indeed. Nor the Foreign Secretary, and I think he is pretty good, too. I will certainly give him the suggestion that he should make his report on Wednesday. I am sure that is what he himself would like to do, and that is the practice we are seeking to follow as regularly as we can.

Mr. John Garrett

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is now a pressing need for debates on the machinery and management of Government, principally the report of the Central Policy Review Staff on the Diplomatic Service and the Expenditure Committee's report on the Civil Service?

Mr. Foot

I quite agree that these are subjects which we should like to debate. I cannot promise the House that we shall have much time before Christmas for extended debates on many of the subjects that will be raised, but I hope that we shall have more opportunity later. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that those are two strong candidates.

Sir Bernard Braine

Bearing in mind the widespread anxieties over the increase in alcohol abuse, especially among the young, which has been underlined by the Expenditure Committee's Report on preventive health, the Government's Advisory Committee on Alcohol and my own working party report on industry and alcohol, will the Leader of the House not recognise that this grave and growing social problem is a fitting subject for urgent debate in the House, and will he not provide time for it before Christmas?

Mr. Foot

I must reply to the hon. Gentleman in very much the terms that I used to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett), although I am not relating the different subjects. I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's great interest in this subject, which I am sure is widely shared. However, for the reason that I have already indicated, the chances for a debate on it in the next few weeks are not very high.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many right hon. And hon. Members, on all sides of the House, I think, were disappointed that, following the Bottomley Report, there were no proposals to introduce legislation? Can the Leader of the House tell us what proposals he has for introducing legislation to reform the administration of the House, and will he find an opportunity to make a statement on what steps are being made to implement some of the recommendations that do not require legislation?

Mr. Foot

I believe that as many as possible of the recommendations that do not require legislation are already receiving attention and that some of them have been put into operation.

Certainly, I am eager that the House should carry into effect the legislation on the subject that has been proposed, but it will take up a little parliamentary time and, of course, the House, Back-Bench Members especially, will want to discuss it. I cannot promise to introduce legislation in the immediate future, but we are hoping to introduce it this Session.

Mr. Pattie

Has the Lord President seen the latest report from the European Legislation Committee, in particular the second item in the report calling for an urgent debate by this House on the subject of an action programme for aeronautical research throughout Europe? Can he promise an urgent debate on this matter, relating, as it does, to an Instrument which has to do with an industry employing more than 200,000 people?

Mr. Foot

I shall look at the dates of the particular Instrument and see what the Scrutiny Committee recommends on the subject. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a special date now for debate, but I shall look into the matter that he has raised.

Mr. Faulds

As my right hon. Friend suggested last Session that there would be progress on the Public Lending Right Bill this Session, what is afoot?

Mr. Foot

I think that it would have been much more satisfactory if that Bill had been carried through the House of Commons. Certainly that was the Government's view. They remain firmly convinced that the principle of the Public Lending Right Bill is the right principle, and we should like to see legislation car- ried into effect. Unfortunately, we were not able to get it through the House, and it is not included in the legislative programme at the moment. However, we are looking for some other way legitimately to approach the matter and to make proposals on the subject, and I am eager to have the assistance of all hon. Members—I am sure that it would be the majority in the House—in seeing whether we can make such proposals effective.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Since the last day on which the House can entertain a Prayer against the dismissal of Sheriff Peter Thompson is 6th December, will the Leader of the House now tell us whether, in the coming week, he will make time for that Prayer and, beforehand, move above the line on the Order Paper the motion to admit Sheriff Peter Thompson to the Bar of the House, so that hon. Members can hear what he has to say for himself before using the vestigial powers of the old High Court of Parliament to decide whether he should be dismissed from his office?

Mr. Foot

As I told the House last week, I am sympathetic to having a debate on these subjects. I am doubtful whether we could have a debate on the aspect of the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman, although I understand the reasons why he has proposed it. I understand also the reasons why the Prayer was put down in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). In a reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) several months ago I said that I thought that the matter should be debated. We shall try to see whether some time can be provided for a debate before the date suggested by the hon. Gentleman, but not necessarily in the form that he has suggested.

Mr. Strauss

Does my right hon. Friend remember that in the summer the Select Committee of Privileges brought forward proposals for bringing up to date its procedure and the principles on which it operates, that these proposals require parliamentary endorsement, and that it was hoped to have them before the House before the Summer Recess? Can my right hon. Friend give any indication when these proposals will come before the House for consideration?

Mr. Foot

Because of the pressure of time on the House, I am sorry that I cannot give my right hon. Friend a firm indication of a date when we could discuss the recommendations. However, I accept what my right hon. Friend has said about the high desirability of the House looking at these matters and passing its judgment upon them. The recommendations were made unanimously by the Privileges Committee that looked into the question. Hon. Members from all parts of the House said that they would be a great improvement in the procedures of the House. I shall certainly see in the new year whether we can have a debate and get some final action on the matter.

Mr. Boscawen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the disappointment of the shoe manufacturing industry that it is now over five months since his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry received the report of the sector working party and that he has not yet published his recommendations?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly see whether my right hon. Friend can make a statement at an early date on the matter.

Mr. Corbett

Can my right hon. Friend arrange for an early statement to be made in the House on the outcome of the rate support grant negotiations? Will he accept from me that it would be wholly improper if the first announcement of the outcome were made outside the House, where we do not have the facility to question my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment?

Mr. Foot

I understand the importance of the subject raised by my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is not eager to escape any questions. I shall discuss the matter with him and see how we should proceed best, in the interests of the House and the country generally, on what is a matter of great importance.

Mr. Baker

May I press the Leader of the House to have a debate before Christmas on the Expenditure Committee's Report on the Civil Service? This matter involves not only the efficiency of central Government but the powers as between the Treasury, the Civil Service Department and the Cabinet Office. As the appointment of the head of the Civil Service is pending, it would be useful to have the views of the House on all these matters before such an appointment is made.

Mr. Foot

I understand the special point about the appointment, and I shall have a look at it. But, for the reasons I have put forward previously, I cannot promise a debate on that report in the next few weeks. That will take us near to Christmas, if not actually into Christmas. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should set his sights on the New Year and not on the old one.

Mr. Molloy

Bearing in the mind the grave apprehension spreading throughout the Greater London area because of the failure of the emergency warning systems relating to all sorts of matters which endanger life, will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on this very serious issue, which is causing extreme anxiety among millions of Londoners?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important question, but it underlines again the many strong candidates competing for time in the House.

Mr. Clegg

Will the Lord President ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement in the course of next week on Government help for those areas of the Lancashire coast that have been badly damaged by floods and gales?

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister commented on this matter earlier this week in the House. I am not sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can make a statement on the subject next week, but I am sure that he will seek the earliest possible opportunity of communicating with the House when he has been able to look at it all.

Mr. Mark Hughes

In view of the complexity of the proposals from the Commission on fishing matters and their great interest and importance, will my right hon. Friend consider giving an additional hour for the debate on fishing on Monday week, extending it to, say, 11 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.?

Mr. Foot

Under the arrangement we have made, I think there is already an additional amount of time to that which would have been available had the debate started after 10 p.m., but I shall certainly consider what has been suggested by my hon. Friend to see whether we can give further time for debate then. I cannot give a promise now.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

Does the Leader of the House believe that the majority of right hon. and hon. Members wish mass lobbies of Parliament to continue?

Mr. Foot

Yes, Sir. I think it would be a great infringement of the rights of the people if we were to say that mass lobbies should be forbidden.

Mr. Robert Hughes

May I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) about fishing? The second half of Monday's debate is to be on fisheries, including, I understand, some EEC documents. Since the future of the fishing industry is in such disarray and there are such important issues to be discussed, could not the Ten o'clock Rule simply be suspended to allow hon. Members to make their points of view fully and give full opportunity for Ministers to reply?

Mr. Foot

I accept what my hon. Friend says about the importance of looking at the matter, but I cannot give a promise until I have considered some of the consequences. I recognise my hon. Friend's strong interest in the matter and the strong desire of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House to contribute to that debate.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call only those hon. Members who have been rising all the time, seeking to catch my eye.

Mr. Rees-Davies

As the lifts in the Palace of Westminster have been out of order for 10 days or more, and clearly some of those lifts were deliberately put out of order by industrial action, including two up to the Upper Corridor, North floors, what action is the Lord President taking to ensure that they are now put back into use, bearing in mind that there are some hon. Members in this House who need to be able to go to the upper Floors and whose health can be severely affected by the industrial action of only four men? When does he propose, if they do not return to work, that they should be dismissed and replaced by some others? Are they receiving pay at the present time in respect of the lack of work they are doing?

Mr. Foot

I greatly deplore the invenience for all hon. Members caused by the absence of the lift service. I do not think that the best way to solve the problem would be to do what the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested. Meetings are continuing to see whether a settlement can be reached. This is another dispute in which it has to be accepted that the pay policy of the Government should also be upheld.

On the subject of any deliberate damage, I have no evidence of any malicious damage by the men concerned.

Mr. Michael Latham

Will the Lord President ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement next week about his conclusions on the Housing Policy Review following the period of consultation which has taken place? It is getting quite urgent.

Mr. Foot

Yes. I understand that the House uses the opportunity today to press for many statements from Ministers on a variety of different subjects. But sometimes the House itself does not wish to have too many statements made throughout the week because that can interfere with the time allotted to other debates. Given all those limitations, however, I shall certainly talk to my right hon. Friend on the matter.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

If not next week, when will the Lord President find time for a Welsh day debate, as we have not had one on the Floor of the House for a very long time and as the condition of the Welsh economy is now deplorable?

Mr. Foot

The precious word "Wales" has cropped up a time or two during the past few days. I am not, however, quite sure what subject the hon. Gentleman had in mind when he asked the question. References to the economy were also made in the past few days.

I agree that we should have the normal arrangements for debates about Wales. Towards the end of the last Session, discussions took place about whether we should have the day's debate then, although it was not considered convenient by all that we should have it then. I shall look at the possibilities of a future debate on Wales. I cannot promise it within the next few weeks, for the reasons I have already given.

Mr. Dykes

With the new Session now under way, will the Leader of the House turn over a new leaf in respect of European scrutiny and the scrutiny of EEC legislation by promising a much more rational and sensible regime for the scrutiny of all those Instruments coming before the House, including using the Committtee upstairs which was used before but which may well necessitate the possibility of proper substantive motions—which would certainly be acceptable, and indeed overdue—and more full-day debates on the Floor of the House on the commanding heights of EEC policies?

Mr. Foot

We have made some improvements in the way in which the House deals with EEC business. However, I fully acknowledge that the way in which it is dealt with is far from satisfactory to the House and to the country. There is to be a debate on this subject on Monday week on a motion presented to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), and that will be a convenient time to discuss some of these issues.

The questions were also referred to in a letter from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the Secretary of the Labour Party recently, which received prominent publication, and I believe that the views expressed there will also enter into that debate. It may take some time to improve further the way in which we debate these matters, but it certainly is an issue of first-class importance for the House of Commons.

Mr. Sainsbury

In view of the disturbing reports in the Press about the National Theatre, will the Leader of the House provide an opportunity for the House to discuss the theatre's financial situation, and also the general situation regarding assistance to the arts?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise such a debate, for the reasons that I have indicated, although I certainly accept that that, too, is an important subject. The House has a multitude of opportunities, apart from the time that is provided for Government business, to raise these important questions, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find them.