HC Deb 20 April 1978 vol 948 cc670-80
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Leader of the House 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 24TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Nuclear Safeguards and Electricity (Finance) Bill.

TUESDAY 25TH APRIL—Completion of the Committee stage of the Wales Bill.

WEDNESDAY 26TH APRIL—Remaining stages of the Inner Urban Areas Bill and of the Home Purchase Assistance and Housing Corporation Guarantee Bill.

THURSDAY 27TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Remaining stages of the Trustee Savings Banks Bill.

Consideration of any Lords Amendments to the Shipbuilding (Redundancy Payments) Bill which may be received.

FRIDAY 28TH APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

After which the House will adjourn until Tuesday 2nd May.

Mrs. Thatcher

The Government have made no provision yet for a debate on Rhodesia. Can the Leader of the House give a firm undertaking that there will be a debate on Rhodesia before the Whitsun Recess? Secondly, when may we expect a statement on forces' pay?

Mr. Foot

As the Prime Minister said a few minutes ago, he expects to be able to make a statement on forces' pay next week. In reply to the right hon. Lady's first question, I hope that next week in my Business Statement I shall be able to make a reference to a debate on Rhodesia.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I have a long list of hon. Members who hope to catch my eye in the debate on the National Health Service. It will help if we can get on to that debate soon.

Mr. John Mendelson

In view of the announcement about the production of the neutron bomb by the Government of the Republic of France, and since the Prime Minister has recently taken part in an important discussion with the President of the United States on this subject, would it not be right to arrange for a debate in the House without delay? The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary could both take part in that debate, as was the case in days gone by. We could then be given some indication of where the Government stand on this matter, without letting the subject go cold by leaving it to a debate on the Adjournment months after the event.

Mr. Foot

I understand the importance of this subject. My hon. Friend should take note of the statement which I understand has been made by the Minister of Defence in France which casts some doubts upon the reports that have been published. I shall certainly look at what my hon. Friend says, but I cannot promise a debate in the immediate future.

Mr. Adley

Is the Leader of the House aware that the purchase by British Airways of new aircraft will involve a political decision by the Government? Does he realise that many people have strong views and are concerned about the propaganda campaign that British Airways is conducting and about which British Aerospace seems to have been strangely silent? Since this is a political matter, may we have a debate about it in the House at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Foot

I must assure the hon. Gentleman that the earliest opportunity will not be next week.

Miss Richardson

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time, next week if possible, for a debate on Press freedom, in view of the restrictions on Press freedom in connection with the case of Colonel Johnstone, otherwise known as Colonel B?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise any debate on that subject in the near future.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

When does the Leader of the House hope to arrange for a debate on the report of the Pearson Commission on civil liability and compensation for personal injury, which is a matter of grave concern to us in Gwynedd in view of the plight of the slate workers and the negative recommendation of the Royal Commission in that respect?

Mr. Foot

I understand the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman and by many other hon. Members about this matter, but I cannot promise an early debate on it. Very wide questions arise from the report and we must examine them carefully. The House will wish to contribute to those discussions.

Mr. Christopher Price

Will my right hon. Friend say when we are to get a White Paper on official secrets and a debate on the subject in view of the crisis that has emerged between the Government and the NUJ over the Colonel Johnstone affair?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give my hon. Friend a promise about the date of the White Paper. I am not sure that the two matters he refers to could be dealt with together. Of course, Questions can be put down in the House on these matters, but I do not think that we should necessarily say that the two subjects should be discussed together.

Mr. Marten

Since the direct elections Bill was guillotined in this House, and since the other place has made almost indecent haste with it, may we have an assurance that its remaining stages will not take place until the question of the salaries of the Assembly Members has been settled? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a lot of opposition in this House to the excessive sums that have been mentioned?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not expect me of all people to follow him in criticism of the other place, particularly when it is suggested that it might be acting with indecent haste, which I would not have thought was necessarily the case. The Government have given their view on that matter in debates in this House, and although there was a timetable motion, there was considerable debate on the subject. We shall have to see the state of the Bill when it leaves the other place.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great disappointment in the country at the Government's failure to implement their manifesto commitment to legislate on official secrets and a freedom of information Bill? Will he give an assurance that the Government will legislate in this Session and that we shall not have a continuation of cases of the sort that have surrounded the publication of Colonel Johnstone's name?

Mr. Foot

I can give no promise that we could legislate in this Session. The House has had indications that we do not believe that it would be possible to legislate in this Session in such a far-reaching matter. I have said—and I believe my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has indicated this to the House—that there will be a White Paper and that it will be debated. We shall have to see then how we should proceed. I am not saying that there is not considerable interest in the subject in many quarters, but I suggest that what I have proposed is the best way to proceed now.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

If the Leader of the House is considering having a debate as suggested by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), will he consider linking it with the debate on Rhodesia to make it a two-day debate on defence and foreign affairs, which would include Southern Africa, in view of the close links between the defence of Europe and the situation in Southern Africa?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure that it would be best for the House to amalgamate those two subjects. Last week hon. Members from many quarters were understandably asking for a special debate on Rhodesia. I said that I would take account of their requests. That I am doing. I have told the House that next week I might be able to indicate when the debate might take place, but a wider debate is a different question.

Mr. Ted Fletcher

Is my right hon Friend in a position to report to the House on the prospects of getting time to go through the remaining stages of the Employment Protection Bill?

Mr. Foot

I am in no position to make a fresh statement on that subject. There are still some days left for Private Members' time, and we must see how we proceed further in that direction. I fully understand my lion. Friend's concern to proceed with his Bill, but there are opportunities left according to the normal rules of the House.

Mr. Stokes

When will the right hon. Gentleman bring forward the Bill on Members' pensions? When will he make an announcement about Members' salaries?

Mr. Foot

Members' salaries is a matter which will come up later in the year. I think the date is some time in June when, under the 12-months rule, a fresh decision by the House on the subject would be required.

I fully accept, as I have said before, the desire that exists in all parts of the House that we should deal with parliamentary pensions. I have given a firm undertaking that we shall act on the subject in this Session. This is a complicated matter, but it can be brought forward, and when the House sees some of the complications that we have to deal with, it will understand the delay. The Government, however, are certainly eager and determined that we should deal with the matter in this Session.

Mr. Abse

Has further consideration been given to the allocation of time for the Windscale debate? Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that there will be an enormous sense of frustration if, in spite of the last debate that took place, it was believed outside the House that the subject would be debated for a mere one and a half hours?

Mr. Foot

What is believed outside the House on the matter depends on what is said inside the House about it by some hon. Members. I believe that all hon. Members who have followed what we have done should be able to tell the country that we have sought to give Parliament a full opportunity of discussing this matter. I have also said that I agree that when we come to the fresh debate we have to consider carefully how we go about it, but I shall take into account my hon. Friend's representations. In the meantime. I hope that he will tell the country that the Government made a special arrangement whereby the House was able to give its view on the matter.

Mr. Burden

Will the Leader of the House draw to the attention of his Ministers the growing tendency for statements to be made outside this House on matters that are of grave concern to it, statements that are made by way of leaks to newspapers and other means, a procedure that denies hon. Members the opportunity of questioning Ministers in the House on matters that often cause concern and involve considerable expense?

Mr. Foot

I do not know whether the hon. Member has a particular point of criticism in mind. If he has, I shall look into it. We seek to make arrangements whereby statements are made to the House as frequently as possible, but we have to bear in mind, in considering the interests of the Opposition and hon. Members generally, that if a lot of time is taken up with statements in the House, that leaves less time for debate.

Mr. Flannery

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the tactics of the Conservative Party in blocking our attempts to set right the Employment Protection Act are strangely at variance with its passion for law and order, and that they are bound to produce more Grunwicks throughout the country which will produce the sort of disorder the Conservatives say they do not like? Will he therefore seriously consider changing his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) and say that the Government will be taking over that Bill so that it can be whipped, so that we may set this Act right? In that way the people who support George Ward—in other words, the entire Tory Party—will not be able to do such things as produce scenes of the sort that we have seen in the streets.

Mr. Foot

I do not propose to alter the reply that I gave a few minutes ago. I certainly agree that both the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) and the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) are extremely important Bills, which are greatly needed in the interests of industrial peace and conciliation in this country. I fully accept all that. I think that we should see a little further how we can proceed with them.

Mr. Michael Latham

Regarding Wednesday's business on the Home Purchase Assistance and Housing Corporation Guarantee Bill, could the Minister for Housing and Construction take the opportunity then to make a statement to the House on the working of the Government- imposed mortgage cut-backs, because all the signs are that this is causing grave difficulties for building societies and grave hardship for prospective house purchasers?

Mr. Foot

I shall see that what the hon. Gentleman says is passed on to my right hon. Friend, and no doubt he will judge the matter.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Would my right hon. Friend be kind enough to ensure that the date and duration of every parliamentary recess is given to the House at the earliest possible moment, because if it is to be delayed until the last moment, many people, particularly those with children, will be inconvenienced, because either they have to make arrangements which are nullified later when the date is given or they wait until it is too late to make any arrangements at all?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept what my hon. Friend says. I am sure that he will have noted that last summer we succeeded in carrying out what we had sought to achieve—that is, the House rising for the Summer Recess at a time which was convenient for Members. I assure my hon. Friend that I take this into account. However, if we settled in advance, and everyone knew in advance, on exactly which date at every recess Parliament was to be adjourned, perhaps we might not be able to proceed with some of the necessary business in the meantime.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will the Lord President arrange for his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to make a statement to the House on her powers and functions under the Education Act 1976, in that her irresponsible interference in the reorganisation plans for Cheshire has meant that inadequate suitable secondary school places exist within the areas of Congleton and Macclesfield? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that parents and pupils should know to which school pupils are to be allocated and which schools pupils will be attending in September?

Mr. Foot

I repudiate every criticism of my right hon. Friend that the hon. Gentleman makes. A great temptation to have a debate on the matter would be that I am sure that if there were a debate, she would knock him all round the ring. But I am not quite sure whether that field day should be staged in the House of Commons or somewhere else.

Mr. Heffer

In view of the sympathetic response that my right hon. Friend gave to a question from myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) last week, calling for a debate in the House about the problems of unemployment in the North-West, with particular reference to Merseyside, can he indicate when such a debate will take place, particularly in view of the fact that the workers on Merseyside are now reacting most strongly to the closures and we can expect action on their part? It is absolutely essential that we have an early debate.

Mr. Foot

As I said to my hon. Friend last week, I fully understand the pressure of demand from Merseyside for a debate on unemployment. There are other areas in the country which are also very severely affected, and they also would naturally press for a debate. There are arrangements whereby there can be debates upstairs in Committees on individual areas. But I am not saying that that would be fully satisfactory for dealing with the situation, so I would be happy to have discussions with my hon. Friends from some of the areas affected, particularly the regions especially affected, to see how best we should approach such a debate in the House when the time is available.

Mr. Durant

Will the Lord President arrange as soon as possible a debate on the future of the water industry, bearing in mind that it is some time since the White Paper was produced, that we have subsequently had the Select Committee report on the British Waterways Board and that there is widespread uncertainty about the future of this industry?

Mr. Foot

I do not know about "widespread uncertainty". We shall have to await, I am sure, the comments of the Department on the Select Committee's report. But until then I do not have any suggestion for an earlier debate, although I shall look at what the hon. Gentleman has proposed.

Mr. Loyden

Will my right hon. Friend consider very seriously the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer)? I agree with my right hon. Friend that the question is not one only of Merseyside but of, in fact, the regions of the whole of the United Kingdom—probably, in particular, the English regions. Does not my right hon. Friend think that now is the time to make some assessment of regional policy and that, indeed, the best way of doing this would be to have a debate on the Floor of the House on regional policy, industry and employment?

Mr. Foot

I think that that is a real possibility. It may be that that approach is the best one. That is why I was suggesting that I might have some conversations with my hon. Friends, and with other hon. Members who wish to put any case to me about it, as to how we might approach the matter. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that what would be difficult, if we have a special debate about one area, is that there are other areas to be considered as well. My hon. Friend has put the matter in a different framework, and I am certainly prepared to look at it along those lines.

Mr. Hastings

Did not the Foreign Secretary lay stress in his statement this week on the heavy responsibility which this House bears for the outcome in Rhodesia? Is this not added reason why there should be an early debate? Indeed, would not our principal allies expect, by this time, that we in this House should be given the opportunity to give our views, particularly in the light of what the Foreign Secretary said to the House after his recent visit to Africa?

Mr. Foot

I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary indicated at the time that he was perfectly ready to have a debate in the House. What I indicated to the House a few minutes ago, in response to the representations that were made to me by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and others last week, is that we have considered it, and I hope that next week we shall be able to indicate to the House the day when that debate will take place.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

If they will be brief, I shall call the four hon. Members who have risen.

Mr. Ron Thomas

If it is not possible to have a debate on Press freedom, could the House at least have a statement on what to all intents and purposes looks like interference by the Attorney-General in the democratic proceedings of the National Union of Journalists annual conference in regard to the activities of Colonel B, who the whole world knows is Colonel Johnstone?

Mr. Foot

I would not accept my hon. Friend's description of what has occurred. In view of the legal position, I doubt very much whether a debate in the House is the best way in which to proceed. I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friend's who wish to make representations will make their representations to the Government on this matter.

Mr. Edward Lyons

Following the savage and contemptuous disregard of the Government's regional policy by Thorn Consumer Electronics Limited in deciding to close the huge Bradford factory and concentrate in the South-East, and the announcement that the Minister of State, Department of Industry, is to take the chair at a meeting of both staff and the board next Tuesday, will the Lord President arrange for the Minister of State to make a statement to the House on the decisions reached at that meeting and the Government's proposals for changing the mind of Thorn Consumer Electronics?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly convey what my hon. and learned Friend has said on this important matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. I cannot promise a statement immediately next week, but I shall certainly consult him on the question that my hon. and learned Friend has raised.

Mr. Fitt

Being in order, I hope, Mr. Speaker, or, as some of my hon. Friends have already concluded, having a second bite at the cherry, may I ask the Leader of the House whether, in view of the fact that the present Government are the first United Kingdom Government who have considered granting extra seats to Northern Ireland, and in view of the very important constitutional position which then arises, he would give an indication that before such decisions are taken there will be a White Paper and a major political debate in the House?

Mr. Foot

I think that what we have to do is to proceed on the basis that the Prime Minister stated yesterday. I cannot promise that there will be a debate on a White Paper in that sense. I think that the Prime Minister indicated the way in which we should proceed.

As regards the documents to which my hon. Friend refers, he and I have had some discussion about those documents ranging over many years. I am perfectly happy to see whether all those documents are in the Library and whether there are omissions from them, and we can have a consultative investigation of that matter.

Mr. Rooker

When can the House expect to debate the report of the Royal Commission on standards of conduct in public life, published two years ago, the contents of which carried out part of a Labour Party manifesto commitment, along with the reform of the Official Secrets Act, to make the processes of government more open?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an early debate on it, but I have no doubt that some matters that are associated with it will be discussed when the White Paper on the Official Secrets Act is published.

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