§ 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 17TH APRIL—Conclusion of the debate on the Budget Statement.
TUESDAY 18TH APRIL and WEDNESDAY 19TH APRIL—Further progress in Committee on the Wales Bill.
THURSDAY 20TH APRIL—Supply [13th Allotted Day]: There will be a debate on the National Health Service, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Remaining stages of the Medical Bill [Lords].
FRIDAY 21ST APRIL—Private Members' Bills.
MONDAY 24TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Nuclear Safeguards and Electricity (Finance) Bill.
§ Mrs. Thatcher
I should like to put three points to the right hon. Gentleman. First, last week he promised a statement on what the Government propose to do about the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference on Northern Ireland. The statement has not yet been made and we should like to have it fairly soon. When may we have it? Presumably it will be made some time next week.
Secondly, I asked the right hon. Gentleman last week for a debate on Rhodesia. This matter now gets more and more urgent as the negotiations are under way. May I impress upon him that we believe that it is urgent for this House to debate Rhodesia? Everybody else except this House is saying what should be done. May we have a debate very soon?
Thirdly, we have had only a brief statement about parliamentary papers. The supply has not improved. We are going into the Finance Bill period when not only hon. Members but people outside will need to know what is happening, to be able to obtain Hansard and quickly to know the answers to their questions. When may we expect either another statement or a full supply of parliamentary papers?
§ Mr. Foot
It is true that I indicated last week that I hoped that we would soon have a statement on the Speaker's Conference report. I hope that a statement will be made very early next week. I hope that that will meet the point made by the right hon. Lady.
1665 I do not think I have anything to add to what I said to the right hon. Lady last week on the subject of a debate on Rhodesia. The matter was raised just before we adjourned for Easter. I am not saying that there should not be a return at some stage to the matter, but I have no further proposals for a statement now.
I fully appreciate the concern in all parts of the House about parliamentary papers. The talks about which I informed the House on 3rd April 1978 resulted in agreement between the management of Her Majesty's Stationery Office and the National Graphical Association nationally on the basis of a resumption of normal working at St. Stephen's Parliamentary Press. This included provision for an examination of the possibility of introducing a self-financing productivity scheme. This was recommended by the officials of the chapel concerned but has so far proved unacceptable.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has taken the initiative today in approaching both parties, and I think that we must leave the matter there for the moment. I fully appreciate the great importance of the matter and the concern expressed by the right hon. Lady—a concern which is shared by all hon. Members.
§ Mr. Molloy
Will my right hon. Friend give the House an opportunity to have an early debate on the Select Committee's report on the Central Policy Review Staff's review of overseas representation, particularly in the light of the extraordinary biased report on this topic on the BBC one o'clock news? The BBC, in common with the Foreign Office and Diplomatic Corps, thinks that any criticism of these organisations is a form of lèse majesté. Although there was heavy condemnation of the report by members of the Select Committee, that does not necessarily mean that this House agrees with every word of the Select Committee's report. So, in fairness to everybody concerned, will my right hon. Friend consider whether he will give the House a chance to debate the subject?
§ Mr. Foot
I cannot promise an immediate debate. My hon. Friend knows my great enthusiasm for Select Committee reports, and it looks to me at a first glance as though this report may be an improvement on some that have gone 1666 before. However, I do not want to press that point too far. I cannot promise an early debate, but I shall certainly examine the point mentioned by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Powell
Is the Lord President aware of the disappointment not only of my hon. Friends and myself but of those whom we represent that the Government have not been able to realise their expectations of proceeding earlier on the results of a conference over which you, Mr. Speaker, presided? In a Session in which the House has spent so much time on measures in which the tendency is to destroy the United Kingdom, would it not be a good idea to find the little time necessary for a measure that will strengthen it?
§ Mr. Foot
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in recognising the importance of the subject and the desire of the House to have a statement. I have already said that I hope that the statement will be given next week. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will also reflect on the fact that, after all the speeches he has made on constitutional subjects during this Session of Parliament, he is now recommending that we should add a further constitutional measure to the discussions this Session.
§ Mr. Heffer
Does my right hon. Friend recall that before the recess many of my hon. Friends from Merseyside called for a special debate in the House on the subject of Merseyside in particular? Is he aware that since then there have been further closures in the area, with a further increase in unemployment? Bearing in mind that many of us sought to raise the matter before the recess, will he now give an assurance that we shall have a special and proper debate in this House on the problems in the area so that we may know what the Government intend to do to help?
§ Mr. Foot
I fully recognise what my hon. Friend says about the seriousness of the situation on Merseyside. Nobody could minimise the importance of the subject. It is also true, as he has said, that some aspects of the matter were raised before Easter, but I agree that that does not exclude the desirability of another debate on the subject as soon as we can approach it. I cannot give my hon. Friend an immediate promise but 1667 I recognise that this is one of the subjects that the House wishes to debate.
§ Mr. du Cann
Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm the assurances that he has been good enough to give me in correspondence—for which I thank him—on the matter in regard to which the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) and I, on behalf of a very great number of hon. Members, have consistently expressed anxiety to him, namely, that there should be no avoidable delay in the introduction of legislation to implement the Boyle recommendations in regard to hon. Members' pensions?
§ Mr. Foot
I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says. He and my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) have made representations. Indeed, hon. Members from all parts of the House have also made representations on this subject. I hope that when the legislation is brought forward, it will command general assent [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] It will be brought forward fairly soon. The legislation is quite complicated, but the issues are not complicated. We shall be seeking to carry out the Boyle recommendations in this respect. I cannot give a date, but I hope that the measure will be produced fairly soon.
§ Mr. Hoyle
Will my right hon. Friend consider providing an early debate on unemployment in the consumer electronics industry, particularly in the light of an Early-Day Motion signed by 69 hon. Members drawing attention not only to redundancies at Thorn, but to the critical situation facing the industry generally?
§ [That this House deplores the 2,200 redundancies caused by the closure of the Thorn television factories in Bradford and the grave crisis in the British consumer electronic industry caused by foreign imports, particularly Japanese, and a depressed home market and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to take urgent action to restrict foreign imports and to reflate the economy in order to prevent further factory closures in this important sector of industry.]
§ Mr. Foot
I fully accept that there is a very serious situation facing the industry and that hon. Members from many parts of the country have representations 1668 to make. I am sure that they are making them to the Departments concerned. But we shall have to consider the situation when we have a little more time later in the Session for these more general debates. However, the representations do not have to await the debate.
§ Mr. Beith
Will the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to the difficulties faced by hon. Members who wish to pursue amendments in the Committee considering the Co-operative Development Agency Bill and to discuss them with outside organisations? The Bill had its Second Reading only last Thursday and there are all the attendant difficulties with parliamentary papers. Hon. Members who have been appointed to sit on the Committee were informed of that fact only today, yet they face having to start in Committee next Tuesday.
§ Mr. Foot
I am sorry if we are moving too fast for the House. We have to take these matters into account. I shall look at the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. Of course, there will be a Report stage for the Bill and we can look at these matters then. I had hoped, from the reception given to the Bill in the House, that we were proceeding in the way that the whole House wished.
§ Mr. Urwin
Will my right hon. Friend take note of the declining employment situation in the Northern Region and seriously consider allocating a day in the near future, if not next week, for a full debate on regional policy? Will he bear in mind the disadvantages of the English regions in these matters? Scotland and Wales have special days on which to discuss their problems. Many of us, who are constantly concerned and are receiving deputations from the region about unemployment, would welcome the opportunity to participate in a debate on general regional policy.
§ Sir David Renton
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that since Rhodesia was discussed in the House before Easter, 1669 there have been many further important and serious developments and that there is a growing anxiety in this country at the Government's failure to make the best use of the internal settlement? Will he therefore reconsider the matter and provide a debate in Government time at the earliest opportunity?
§ Mr. Foot
As I said earlier, I cannot promise an early debate on Rhodesia. I understand the representations that are being made, although the Government's attitude towards the internal settlement has been indicated to the House and comments have been made upon it. I shall take account of the representations made in the House, but I cannot make any promises here and now.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr
In view of my right hon. Friend's kind and generous references to the work of Select Committees, will he be good enough to let us have an early debate on the most recent report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, dealing with the British Waterways Board?
§ Sir T. Kitson
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many Service men are faced with difficult financial problems? When may we expect a statement on Service pay?
§ Mr. Spearing
Does my right hon. Friend recall that just after Christmas he gave an undertaking that he would arrange for a debate in Committee on the milk order which removes the guaranteed price for milk? Is he aware that the Milk Marketing Board is under threat and that these matters are to be discussed in Brussels later this month? Would it not be appropriate if such a debate could be arranged and held before the next Council of Agricultural Ministers?
§ Mr. Foot
I shall look at my hon. Friend's request. As he knows, we do everything we can, partly because of his representations, to ensure that the House has debates before substantive discussions on these matters take place in 1670 Brussels. I shall look at this case in the light of my hon. Friend's fresh representations.
§ Mr. Brooke
May I reinforce what was said by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) concerning the Select Committee on the CPRS report? It is eight months since the report was issued and it inevitably occasioned considerable uncertainty among the 4,000 employees of the British Council, many of whom work in my constituency. As a relief to that uncertainty, it would be a great help to have an early debate.
§ Mr. Foot
I am not sure whether a debate is the proper way to deal with this matter, but I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about those who work for the British Council. Their position has been criticised and they have every right to expect a statement from the Government. We shall see how soon it can be managed.
§ Mr. James Lamond
Is my right hon. Friend bearing in mind that the date of the special session of the United Nations on disarmament is drawing ever closer? Since it is important enough to be attended by the Prime Minister and since the question of the neutron bomb is closely linked with this meeting, would it not be a good idea for us to debate the matter before the Prime Minister sets off for New York?
§ Mr. Foot
I shall look at that possibility, without giving any promises. The Government, through the Prime Minister, will be making a statement of major importance to the United Nations at the June meeting, and the House and the country will wish to have some discussion of the matter as we approach that date.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett
The right hon. Gentleman has three times referred to the fact that we had an Adjournment debate on Rhodesia before Easter as a reason for not having such a debate with expedition at present. Is he being fair about this? He knows that, apart from the fact that many developments have taken place since then, that debate gave no opportunity for a vote and it is the right of the House to express or deny confidence in the Government in their handling of this matter.
§ Mr. Foot
If it is a question of the Opposition wanting a vote on the matter, there are facilities open to them to try 1671 to secure that, though I have not heard any hint that this is what they want. In my references to the debate which took place on the Consolidated Fund Bill I was not seeking to depreciate it. Such debates are very important and are arranged so that hon. Members, including the Opposition Front Bench, may select subjects according to their sense of what is important. That is what happened on that occasion and the importance of that debate should not be depreciated.
§ Mr. Hooley
Can my right hon. Friend say when the Prayer against the special development order for Windscale will be debated and how much time the House will be allowed for that debate?
§ Mr. Carlisle
I have just returned from Rhodesia, and I support the request made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and others for a debate. Things are happening very quickly in Rhodesia. The situation has changed even within the past three weeks. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is important that the House should have an opportunity to express an opinion?
§ Mr. Foot
I fully understand the desire of the House to have a debate on the subject, as has been expressed in questions put by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. However, the Opposition also have the chance to choose subjects. It is not the case that all these debates must be selected by the Government. They can also be selected by the Opposition.
§ Mr. Loyden
I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to unemployment in the regions. Is he aware that the Government have given a lead in so far as they have cut back on capacity, thereby creating unemployment in areas of already high unemployment? We should not merely discuss unemployment in the regions. We should discuss Government policies to tackle unemployment and to assist industry in the regions.
§ Mr. Luce
Will the Leader of the House acknowledge the strong weight of opinion in the House on the need for a full-scale debate on Rhodesia in Government time? Does he accept that a short debate on the Consolidated Fund is no substitute for a full-ranging debate in Government time to discuss what are extremely significant developments in Rhodesia?
§ Mr. Foot
I am not saying that the debate that took place on the Consolidated Fund is a substitute necessarily for all subsequent debates on the matter. All that I was saying in response to Opposition hon. Members was that I do not believe that the debate that took place on the Consolidated Fund should be dismissed as one of no importance. That is quite the wrong approach. Time allocated by the organisation of Commons business provided for that debate. The Government may have a view whether we should have a debate on Rhodesia and whether that is immediately desirable, as the Opposition may have their views. The Opposition have the right to raise and press these matters.
§ Mr. Faulds
Doubtless my right hon. Friend knows that Ham House was given to the National Trust by the Tollemache family in 1948. However, is he aware that the stables, which remained in private hands, have now come on the marget and that if the Government do not purchase them, they will be privately developed and lost permanently as part of the complex of a marvellous seventeenth century building?
§ Mr. Forman
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I, as one of those who were lucky enough to be called to speak in the debate on Rhodesia on the Consolidated Fund before Easter and who, therefore, have no chance of being called in any debate on the subject in the near future, wish to support my right hon. and hon. Friends in calling for an early debate in Government time on this important and fast-moving issue?
§ Mr. Flannery
In view of the lack of clarity about the internal settlement in Rhodesia that exists on the Opposition Benches, I ask my right hon. Friend whether we may have a debate on Rhodesia, whether it comes from arrangements made by the Government or from arrangements by the Opposition, so that we may explain to Opposition Members just how undemocratic the internal settlement is.
§ Mr. Foot
I fully accept that there is a desire in many parts of the House for a debate on the subject. All that I was saying—I hope that it was not provocative—is that the Opposition, as well as the Government, have the power to select debates. That is the way in which we organise our debates in the House, and I think that it is a good way of arranging them.
§ Mr. Pym
Although the House is grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman said in reply to a question from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about parliamentary papers, does he think that there is a risk of the House of Commons beginning to treat altogether too lightly the absence of papers and the continuing inconvenience to a great many people? What is the prospect of an early reinstitution of the provision of parliamentary papers? What consideration is he giving to possible alternatives and new methods that could be introduced for producing parliamentary papers in a way that will not bring about recurring interruption from time to time in the supply of these papers? The interruptions are becoming far too frequent. This is an immensely serious matter. It is an affront to the House, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be more forthcoming in his response to questions about the thinking that he is giving to the matter as regards a long-term solution as well as the short-term problem.
§ Mr. Foot
Nothing that I have said on the subject, either in my statement today or on any previous occasion, has ever minimised its importance. I regard it as being a matter of primary importance for the House. We should not have this sort of interruption in the supply of papers for the conduct of our business. 1674 It is not merely a matter of the convenience of the House but one concerned with the proper conduct of our affairs in the House. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in that sense, and I do not believe that he can find any reference that I have ever made to suggest that this is a matter that I seek to dismiss.
I cannot promise the House—I wish that I could—that we are in the presence of a likely settlement in the near future. In the beginning of the week I hoped that that is where we were moving, but we have not moved there as I had hoped. I have said that the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, which has considerable experience in these matters, is taking action today to ascertain whether it can assist. I wish to do everything possible to encourage that move.
In common with the rest of the House I want to see a permanent solution to the problem. I am not quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman's recommendations about how we should secure a permanent settlement are wise, but I shall take into account any suggestion from any quarter for solving the issue. As much as anybody else in the House, I want to solve it.
§ Mr. Pym
I fully accept that the right hon. Gentleman shares everyone's concern about the non-production of papers. As he said that a settlement does not seem particularly likely in the near future and he does not want to raise our hopes about a settlement, I press him to consider the desirability of introducing completely different, alternative arrangements for the future so that we shall not continue to be subjected intermittently to the interruption of the supply of papers that we now experience, which is so damaging to the House and the nation.
§ Mr. Foot
I said that I did not think that that was necessarily the best approach. Nothing that I am saying is depreciating the importance of the matter. I want to secure an early settlement of the dispute and a situation in which we can solve disputes of the kind that have led to these constant interruptions. Before the dispute occurred there was undertaken a longer-term investigation by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. I believe that it is that longer-term investigation that offers us the best opportunity of a proper settlement. I do 1675 not want to injure that possibility by adopting some quite different approach.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have a long list of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to speak in the major debate that is to take place later. I shall let business questions run until five minutes past four. That means that if hon. Members are brief I shall be able to call all those who wish to take part in business questions, but if they are not, I shall not be able to do so.
§ Mr. Tebbit
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he said that one of his primary responsibilities is to ensure the supply of papers to the House? Does he agree that he is failing in one of his primary responsibilities? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]. Of course, the work could be done by a girl with a typesetting machine. Will the right hon. Gentleman say what he intends to do if the dispute is not solved by the time that the Budget Resolutions are to be discussed in Committee, when others outside the House must have the papers?
§ Mr. Welsh
As there is no separate identifiable oil revenue fund, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a debate on the use to which the fund will be put so that the Scottish people may judge for themselves the extent to which this national asset will be hived off from Scotland for use elsewhere?
§ Mr. Montgomery
As the Leader of the House is supposed to look after the interests of the House, and as it has been made abundantly clear that many hon. Members are anxious to have a debate on Rhodesia, will he explain why the Government are not prepared to give time to debate the internal settlement?
Secondly, will he tell us when we are likely to have a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Immigration and Race Relations? When that subject is discussed, may we have a two-day debate 1676 so that all hon. Members who want to speak will get a chance to speak?
§ Mr. Foot
On the second question, again, if I were to be so bold as to suggest that the question of immigration might be raised by the Opposition, no doubt there would be wild protests that that was not possible.
I remind the House that the arrangement of the business of the House of Commons is such that large allocations of time are available both to Back Benchers and to the official Opposition. I think that it is absolutely right to protect that in every degree, but the Opposition have the right to choose how they use their time.
§ Mr. Rost
When are we to debate the White Paper outlining the Government's plans to squander the British people's North Sea oil bonus? Is the Leader of the House aware that, if we do not do it soon, there will not be much left, because the British National Oil Corporation will have squandered it all?
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
The Leader of the House will be aware that he has had a lot of pressure from hon. Members on both sides of the House arising from the high unemployment in the North-West and other parts of the country. May I suggest that he proposes to the House that, instead of celebrating May Day by having a holiday, the House should celebrate it by having a debate on unemployment?
§ Mr. Foot
I think that it is very good that, for the first time in its history, this country is to have a proper holiday on 1st May. That proposal was put forward when I was at the Department of Employment. I am glad that it has been carried fully into effect. I hope that all will enjoy themselves on that day. I am sure that the House of Commons will return on 2nd May even better equipped to transact its business.
§ Mr. Rifkind
Does the Lord President realise that when his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) joins the Conservative Front Bench in calling for a debate on 1677 Rhodesia in Government time, he is on a hiding to nothing? Does he appreciate that both sides of the House want an early debate on that matter and that for him to go on ad nauseam saying that he understands the feelings of the House but refusing to respond to them is a national disgrace?
§ Mr. Foot
"Well done" says the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw). I am glad that he has recovered his voice at last. As for saying that it is a national disgrace that I have not provided Government time to debate a matter about which the Opposition asked only last week, such an absurdity cannot possibly be sustained. If the Opposition thought that it was such a national disgrace that we have not yet had a debate on Rhodesia, they could choose to have it next Thursday. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I have the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) on my side. I am sorry. I see it was not the hon. Member for Canterbury. At any rate, I have two Opposition Members on my side. The Government will consider the representations that have been made to them and I hope that the official Opposition will consider the representations that I have made to them.
§ Mr. MacKay
Is the Lord President aware that for many weeks, especially before the Easter Recess, we have been asking for a debate on Rhodesia? Secondly, is he aware that both inside and outside the House there will be astonishment, at this crucial time for Rhodesia, that the Government are acting irresponsibly by not giving us a debate on this very important subject?
§ Mr. Foot
I repudiate any suggestion that the Government are not acting responsibly in the matter. The hon. Gentleman said that many hon. Members were asking for a debate before Easter. They had a debate before Easter. He must take that into account as well. I know that the Opposition Chief Whip is always eager that all debates should take place in Government time. He has a vested interest in the matter. All I am saying is that the House of Commons has made arrangements whereby hon. Members in different parts of the House may select 1678 debates. I want to preserve that great tradition.
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd
I endorse the feeling on both sides of the House for an early debate on Rhodesia, which by now should be the beneficiary of aid rather than the victim of sanctions. In that context, may I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the alarming disclosure in a recent Written Answer that public funds are now or have recently been going to Cambodia, South Yemen and Uganda? In that context, many of us would like an opportunity of debating the whole question of overseas aid.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton rose—
§ Mr. Stanbrook rose—
§ Mr. Winterton
Will the Lord President answer three simple questions? Does he agree that Rhodesia, although an independent de facto Government and country in its own right for 12 years, is still a British Government responsibility; that the Labour Party is at present in charge of the affairs of this country; and that he I presume as the custodian of the wishes and the interests of the House, has a duty to enable the House to vote on the internal settlement at a very early date?
§ Mr. Foot
Of course this House and country have special responsibilities for Rhodesia. I do not deny that. The Government have special responsibilities for it, too. If the third question is that the House, or the Opposition, is asking for a vote on the so-called internal settlement in Rhodesia, that is a very different matter. I do not know whether it is wise for the House to vote on such a matter. But if the official Opposition thought it wise that we should have a vote on that matter, no doubt they would make representations on the subject. No such suggestion has been made by them.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the source of the 1679 trouble at the parliamentary printers is the dissatisfaction felt by the members of the machine room at the prospect of their earnings declining because of a new overtime schedule? Is it not monstrous that the business of the House should be disrupted because of a comparatively minor industrial dispute, however important it may be to the individuals concerned? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore answer my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) and propose an entirely new system which will take this important essential business of the House completely away from the area in which it now is?
§ Mr. Foot
As I said in my reply to the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, I think that the long-term investigation being made by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service is the best way of securing a long-term solution. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion would assist that purpose.
§ Mr. Rost
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the sake of accuracy, will you give the Leader of the House an opportunity to correct the inaccurate answer that he gave to me regarding the White Paper published by the Government just before Easter on North Sea oil revenues, which he said apparently did not exist?