HC Deb 27 April 1978 vol 948 cc1641-50
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:

TUESDAY 2ND MAY—Supply [14th Allotted Day]: motion to refer to the Committee of Privileges the matter of the publication of proceedings of the House; debate on the enlargement of the European Economic Community when Document S/227/76 and the explanatory memorandum of 7th March 1978 will be relevant.

Motion on EEC Document R/3/77 on commercial agents.

WEDNESDAY 3RD MAY—Progress on the Report stage of the Wales Bill.

THURSDAY 4TH MAY—A debate on Rhodesia.

Motion relating to the Milk (Great Britain) (Amendment) Order.

FRIDAY 5TH MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 8TH MAY—Progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have two questions to put to the Lord President. On the first business for Tuesday—the motion to refer to the Committee of Privileges the matter of the publication of the proceedings of the House—will he give a little more detail about the motion? Is it limited to that matter, or will it also refer to what transpired during business questions last week?

Secondly, will he defer until next week some business set down for later tonight—Lords Amendments to the Shipbuilding (Redundancy Payments) Bill? He will be aware that we asked the Government to put down a subsidiary Money Resolution to enable certain amendments, which would otherwise be out of order, to be discussed. Could that business be deferred until that motion has been put down?

Mr. Foot

On the second matter, I doubt whether the right course would be to defer that business. I think that the House should wait to hear the ruling of the Chair on the subject when the matter comes before the House.

On the question of the business for Tuesday—the reference to the Committee of Privileges—perhaps the best way that I can assist the House is to read the motion that we propose to put upon the Order Paper. It reads: That the matter of the publication of the proceedings of the House, other than by Order of the House, in so far as the privileges of this House are concerned and the matter of the application of the sub judice rule during business questions on Thursday 20th April be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will my right hon. Friend tell us when we are likely to have the debate on the Windscale order in view of the considerable number of additional signatures that there are to the Prayer on the Order Paper?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give my hon. Friend the date of the debate, but I fully understand the interest of the House in the subject.

Sir David Renton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Wales Bill, as amended in Committee was not available in the Vote Office until 3 o'clock this afternoon, that Government amendments which will be in his name have not yet been tabled, that, therefore, with the best will in the world, it is not feasible for the Opposition to put their amendments down for Report and have them tabled until Tuesday morning and that, when they appear on the Order Paper on Wednesday, they will be starred? Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that that is fair to Members, to officials or to the Chair? Instead of trying to bludgeon the House in this way, will he postpone the beginning of the Report stage of that Bill, more especially as it seems to be only a one-day Report stage?

Mr. Foot

There is no question of seeking to bludgeon the House in this respect at all. Government amendments on the Bill will be going down on the Paper today. I should have hoped that that would enable the Opposition and all concerned to be able to deal with the matter. I fully accept that there is only a brief interval between the passage of the Committee stage and proceeding to the Report stage next week, but I believe that when the House deals with the Bill it will see that that is satisfactory. The second day will take place somewhat later. I hope that the House will recognise that this is the proper way to proceed.

Mr. John Ellis

May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to some difficulties that Back Benchers are having with regard to financial resolutions to Bills? My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) was in some trouble yesterday. May I ask my right hon. Friend's help in seeking to draft an amendment to the Transport Bill, which I am unable to do, merely to give the Minister power to give grants in respect of toll bridges? May I point out that according to "Erskine May", in page 7.15, in 1937—the Prime Minister might take note as he is here—the then Prime Minister said that he was drawing to the attention of Departments that financial resolutions in respect of Bills should be 'so framed as not to restrict the scope' of amendments. That has been restated since. I think that we can help ourselves and Mr. Speaker in this regard, because the present tendency of drawing up financial resolutions to Bills ever more tightly is making life impossible. I should have thought that the Opposition, if they had been about their business, would crack on to what is going on.

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly look into the general question that my hon. Friend has raised. I fully accept that it is a matter of considerable importance to Back Benchers and to the House as a whole. Whether I can assist on the particular Bill is another matter, but I shall certainly look at the general question that my hon. Friend has raised.

Mr. Carlisle

Referring to the first business on Tuesday, may I have an assurance from the Leader of the House that the motion that he proposes to put down is wide enough to refer also to the Committee of Privileges the conduct of the four Members whose names are set out in Early-Day Motion No. 385?

Does he agree that, important as is the principle of the right of the Press to publish matters spoken to in this House, the conduct of Members is equally important and that it would be intolerable to refer one without referring the other?

[That the conduct of the honourable Member for Barking, the honourable Member for Ormskirk, the honourable Member for Bristol, North-West and the honourable Member for Lewisham, West in supplementary questions to the business question on Thursday 20th April be referred to the Committee of Privileges.]

Mr. Foot

We have not made any reference in our motion to the conduct of Members one way or another, but it is my belief that the motion that we have put upon the Order Paper is wide enough to have a general discussion in the Committee of Privileges of all the associated matters. I think that is the right way to proceed. We have drawn the motion in the widest possible manner to make that certain.

Mr. Spearing

In view of the unknown date or time of finish of the Agriculture Ministers' meeting in Luxembourg today, will the Leader of the House tell us whether the statement arising from that meeting will be tomorrow or next Tuesday or Wednesday? In that connection, will he tell us whether the milk order, which he announced for next Thursday, has any connection with the Milk Marketing Board and the discussions now going on?

Mr. Foot

On the second question, the milk order has nothing whatsoever to do with that subject. As for when the discussions in Luxembourg may terminate and a statement may be made in the House, I should not like to say anything here to injure or impair in any sense whatsoever my right hon. Friend's negotiating position.

Mr. Norman Lamont

Reverting to the Shipbuilding (Redundancy Payments) Bill, to which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred, is the Lord President aware that a Minister in another place admitted that that legislation discriminated against the private sector—which is why we are anxious to discuss it tonight? Whatever Mr. Speaker may rule about the Government refusing to amend the Money Resolution, have not Governments on many occasions in the past amended Money Resolutions subsequent to amendments in another place?

Mr. Foot

The House should wait and hear the ruling of the Chair. In another place measures which go beyond the Money Resolution to the Bill have been passed. The House must therefore wait to hear Mr. Speaker's ruling. I am sure that the House will abide by it.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does my right hon. Friend recall that he, I and every other Member on this side of the House were elected on a specific commitment to repeal Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act and to introduce a freedom of information Bill? Does he agree that the Government's failure to do this is deplorable and greatly resented by many people who believe this party to have a radical and reforming reputation? Would he now exert considerable pressure on his Cabinet colleagues to ensure that this important commitment is fulfilled?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept the importance of the subject, but I do not accept my hon. Friend's strictures. On a number of occasions I have indicated how the House will proceed on this question in the rest of the Session. We cannot introduce legislation to deal with this during this Session but we shall be presenting to the House a White Paper on the subject. This White Paper will refer to all these issues. I can go no further than that now.

Mr. Jopling

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made next week on the way in which the Government intend to react to the recommendations of Mr. Justice Parker on the safety aspects of the Windscale development so that the House can consider the Government's reactions before we debate the special development order shortly?

Mr. Foot

I shall raise that aspect of the matter with the Secretary of State for the Environment. I am not sure whether it is desirable or necessary to have a further statement before the debate.

Mr. Christopher Price

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the terms of the motion for first business on Tuesday will enable the Committee of Privileges to consider the whole sub judice issue and the whole relationship between the courts of justice and the House in that context and that it will not be limited?

Mr. Foot

We have tabled a motion in wide terms to embrace the many different motions that have been put on the Order Paper on this subject. I believe that they will all be eligible for discussion by the Committee of Privileges. If anyone has any doubt about that I refer him to the so-called Pickthorn resolution which was passed by the House in October 1947. This indicates how wide the Committee might go in discussing these matters. My hon. Friend can be assured that all these matters will be open for discussion.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have risen to their feet so far.

Mr. Michael Marshall

In view of the uncertainty about the Government's quarterly Budget, would the Lord President find time, either now or next week, to announce that the date of the next Budget will be Thursday 27th July in time for the Summer Recess and in time for a General Election on Thursday 5th October?

Mr. Foot

In view of certainty of the premise in the hon. Member's remark, there is no need for me to comment on his conclusions.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are perturbed at the news that Japan, far from keeping her word to curb the export of cars to the United Kingdom, has increased them? Is is possible to have a debate on this subject? In default of that, would my right hon. Friend try to persuade the Minister to come to the House and tell us what he proposes to do about it?

Mr. Foot

There have been statements to the House and replies to Questions by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on this subject. I shall discuss with my right hon. Friend whether there should be a further and fresh statement.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Does the Leader of the House accept that since the days for praying against the nuclear reprocessing plant at Windscale expire on 12th May the matter is extremely urgent and that a statement should be made next week?

Mr. Foot

I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend, but I am not sure whether a different and further statement should be made before the debate. I have given an undertaking to discuss the matter with the Secretary of State and I shall do so.

Mr. Flanery

In my view of the many problems in Northern Ireland, would my right hon. Friend consider allowing us to have a debate on Northern Ireland in the next few weeks?

Mr. Foot

I shall consider this, but I can make no promises.

Mr. Adley

Does the Lord President recall that last week I asked him to give the House an opportunity to debate the purchase by British Airways of its new aircraft? Is he aware that since then there has been a reported disagreement in the Cabinet between the Secretary of State for Trade and the Secretary of State for Industry? It is also fair to say that there are different views on this side of the House. In view of the wide implications for the future of the British aerospace industry, would it not be helpful and fair if we were given time to discuss this matter at an early date?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate at an early date. I cannot accept the early part of the hon. Member's question, but I recognise that the subject is important.

Mr. Farr

When does the Leader of the House intend to proceed with the short Bill to implement the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference on Northern Ireland? Is he aware that this need not be a long Bill and that it is welcomed by both sides of the House? It is regarded as an urgent matter. Can he tell the House the timetable for this Bill?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister said when he made the declaration of the Government's view on this subject.

Mr. Burden

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has issued a report on the export of live animals for slaughter? The Leader of the House will know of the great interest of hon. Members and the public in this subject. He will also know that such reports often take many years to come before the House. Since in that report the Minister states that matters will be taken into account which will come into effect in the European Community in August, will the Leader of the House undertake to provide an opportunity to debate the report in the near future?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give an undertaking in the exact terms for which the hon. Member asks, but I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend when he returns.

Mr. Michael Latham

Will the Secretary of State for the Environment make a statement next week about whether it is the Government's policy that local authorities should require builders to sign the new counter-inflation conditions? Is he aware that from this morning's The Times it appears that some local authorities think that they are already under a directive to do so, although they are not?

Mr. Foot

The Prime Minister has already indicated today that we must be careful about reports in The Times. I am sure that the hon. Member's warning will be taken seriously by all concerned.

Mr. Pym

Will the Leader of the House reconsider taking the Report stage of the Wales Bill next Wednesday? As he knows, normally there is a full and clear week between Committee and Report stages. The reprinted Bill has only just arrived at the Vote Office and there are only tomorrow, which is Friday, and next Tuesday before we take the Report stage. Is the Leader of the House aware that this will make it exceptionally difficult for us to examine the amendments and work them out, since we do not have the staff and facilities that the Government have? Would he please reconsider that matter?

I turn to the business which is to be taken on Tuesday. The Leader of the House will recall that in response to his hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) he said that all the circumstances and issues surrounding what was said in the House at business questions last Thurday would be open for debate in the Committee of Privileges. Can he confirm that, in view of the terms of the motion, it will be obligatory for the Committee to consider the conduct of Members on that occasion? I think that he sought to give that confirmation in reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle).

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to add about the Wales Bill. Most of the Government amendments will be put upon the Order Paper today. I hope that the House will be able to deal with the matter next week. We wish to proceed with the Bill. I believe that when the House comes to it, it will find that it is possible to deal with it properly next Wednesday.

Turning to the subject of the motion on Tuesday, I would have thought that what I said would satisfy all hon. Members that we have tabled a motion which enables all of these issues to be discussed in the widest context. I have looked at all of the Early-Day Motions which had been placed on the Order Paper. We came to the conclusion that the method I have proposed was the best way to proceed. We thought that it was better to table a motion which did not have any pejorative overtones or undertones. I would have thought that what we have done would command the assent of the whole House in that when the Committee of Privileges looks at the issue there will be no inhibitions upon anything that it wishes to discuss.