HC Deb 07 December 1978 vol 959 cc1627-36
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 11TH DECEMBER—PRIVATE Members' motions until seven o'clock.

Afterwards, motions on the Appropriation (No. 4) (Northern Ireland) Order and on the Shops (Northern Ireland) Order.

Tuesday 12TH DECEMBER—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Wednesday 13TH DECEMBER—Motions on the rate support grant orders, on the Social Security (Contributions) (Mariners) Amendment Regulations and on the St. Lucia Termination of Association Order.

Thursday. 14TH DECEMBER—Remaining stages of the Public Lending Right Bill.

Motions on EEC document R/2790/1/78 on the European monetary system and R/3126/78 on its implications for the common agricultural policy.

Friday 15TH DECEMBER—It will be proposed that the House should rise for the Christmas Adjournment until Tuesday 16th January 1979.

Mrs. Thatcher

What has happened to the regulations for the conduct of the European Assembly elections? Draft regulations were laid in August and were expected to be passed by the end of the year. We have not yet had a debate on them. When shall we have it?

Secondly, the Leader of the House will be aware that he is constantly bombarded with requests to debate important matters such as the Procedure Committee report, the report on the preparation of legislation and the Government's White Paper on broadcasting. Why, then, is he trying to get the House to rise so early as 15th December? This is unusually early after a long recess, when all these matters and others are waiting to be considered.

Mr. Foot

On the first matter, following the approval on 30th November of the European Assembly constitutional orders, there will now be a further regulation setting up the arrangements for 7th June. This will be the subject of the affirmative procedure and will be laid before Christmas.

The length of the recess is a matter for debate. If the right hon. Lady wishes to vote on this matter, she may do so when we come to it. Of course there are many important matters that the House wishes to discuss, but the length of the recess is not out of the ordinary. It is perhaps slightly longer than most recesses under a Labour Government and slightly shorter than recesses under a Conservative Government.

Mr. Strauss

My right hon. Friend will remember that earlier in the year the House considered the report from the Privileges Committee suggesting certain important and overdue changes in its working and administration. Those changes were agreed to by the House, but most of them require legislative confirmation. Does my right hon. Friend hold out any hope that in the less busy months to come we may have the necessary legislation to implement the House's decisions?

Mr. Foot

I cannot say that the House will not be busy when it returns from the Christmas Recess; I am sure that it will be. There is much important legislation to carry through. But I certainly acknowledge that on one of these questions particularly—a question that has arisen from a case in which my right hon. Friend participated many years ago—there is a very strong case for the matter being dealt with by legislation. We are still trying to see how we can do that. On the question of fines, I am doubtful whether we should proceed on that. But that is a different question, and I hope that consideration of that matter will not obviate proceedings on the other.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Does the Leader of the House expect the appropriate Minister to make a statement on the mission to Central Africa of the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes)? Does he think that the right hon. Member will be back in time to make a statement to the House before we rise? I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that in view of the situation it would be wrong if no statement with ministerial authority were made between now and the end of January.

Mr. Foot

I shall look at both those questions but I cannot give the hon. Member any guarantee, because I do not know whether my right hon. Friend will have returned by then. I shall look at the other question, of course. That might be a matter that could be raised in the debate on the recess.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that the television licence order will be debated before the 40 days expire, towards the end of January?

Mr. Foot

I agree that that is a perfectly proper subject for debate, and there will be time for such a discussion when we return.

Sir David Renton

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Procedure Committee report is uniquely important? It was generally supported by all members of the Committee. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Government appear to be dragging their feet about allowing this matter to be discussed?

Mr. Foot

I do not propse that the House should drag its feet. On occasions when this matter has been raised I have agreed that there must be a proper debate in the House. I hope that we shall be able to debate it very soon after we return. I have indicated that it is better for the House to have a general debate before the Government provide their views on the subject.

Mr. William Ross

Are we taking the rate support grant order for Scotland as well as that for England and Wales on Wednesday? If so, will the Leader of the House ensure, Just for a change that the Scottish order is taken first?

Mr. Foot

I do not know whether I can give such a guarantee. I shall took at the normal practice and see whether we must follow it or not.

Mr. St. john-Stevas

May I press the Leader of the House a little further on the important point raised by\ my right hon. Friend on the Procedure Committee? Surely the Leader of the House must be aware that not only is there that most important report to be debated, but there are at least eight other reports from the Procedure Committee with important recommendations, including that on Opposition motions on Supply Days. I appreciate that the Leader of the House is in need of a rest, but could we not have this debate in the week before Christmas, instead of adjourning early?

Mr. Foot

We believe that what we propose will be helpful to the House as a whole, but of course we can judge that when we have the debate. In the next Business Statement that I make I hope to indicate the debate on the eleventh and twelfth reports of the Expenditure Committee on the Civil Service and I hope also to be able to give some indication of the debate on the procedure matter.

Mr. Ashley

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion no. 87 asking for an independent public inquiry into the effects of hormone pregnancy test drugs on unborn children?

[That this House notes that children have been born with serious deformities due to hormone pregnancy test drubs; that no official warnings were issued about these drugs until eight years after the first reports indicating the possible dangers; that some doctors continued to prescribe the drugs for pregnant women after official warnings of the Committee on Safety of Medicines; that the Department of Health and Social Security have continuously rejected requests for an inquiry into these matters; and now culls upon the Secretary of State to set up an independent public inquiry.]

Does my right hon. Friend know that parents of such handicapped children are considering taking legal action and, if they do, there can be no debate in the House? May we have a debate as soon as possible?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an early debate, but in the light of my hon. Friend's question I shall study the other parliamentary questions that have been put and see what the situation is.

Mr. Rees-Davies

May we have a debate in the early part of next year on the report of the Royal Commission on gambling, bearing in mind the undertaking given in the Adjournment debate last week on behalf of the Home Office that this was a matter uppermost in its mind and that several measures need to be implemented to reform the law in various aspects, as reported by Lord Rothschild? It is time that an opportunity was given for a debate in the House.

Mr. Foot

I fully accept what the hon. and learned Gentleman says about the desirability of having a debate on this matter when can find the time.

Miss Richardson

A few days ago we had an important report from the Data Protection Committee on the question of record-keeping on individual citizens. May I ask for an assurance from my right hon. Friend that soon after the recess we shall have a debate on this subject?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give an absolute assurance. I shall look closely at what my hon. Friend said and see what are the possibilities of a debate on the subject.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Is the Leader of the House aware that I have a complaint that my speeches in the House are not reported in the provincial press? The only consolation I have is that the right hon. Gentleman's speeches are also not being reported in the provincial press. Does this not prove without doubt that it would be a mistake to have a closed shop affecting the House or the press generally in reporting proceedings. and that a closed shop is unacceptable?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that affects the issue. I certainly hope that the dispute will be resolved as soon as possible. Irrespective of whose speeches are reported, I am very much in favour of a full, varied provincial press, even if the leader columns of many newspapers seem to express much the same opinion. In that respect I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Palmer

As there are difficulties about the introduction of the proposed electricity Bill, will my right hon. Friend arrange a day's debate soon on the excellent report by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries on this subject?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly consider that. As my hon. Friend knows better than anyone, there has been considerable examination of the Bill. The Government would like to get the Bill on the statute book, but we cannot always have our way.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

In view of the belated, wholly justifiable and currently fashionable preoccupation of the Government in microelectronics and other technological matters, how soon ma,, we have a debate on the many reports by the Select Committee on Science and Technology?

Mr. Foot

Not next week, but we will see what we can do soon afterwards.

Mr. Faulds

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House, without pleasantries or persiflage, when we may expect a statement to the House on the legislative intentions of the Secretary of State for the Environment on archaeological matters?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept the importance of this Bill. The finishing touches are being put to the legislative aspects and I hope it will be before the House very soon.

Mr. Tapsell

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that exactly a year ago, during business questions, I asked him whether he was aware that our obligation under the EEC necessitated our announcing an easement of exchange control regulations before the end of that year, and that he categorically stated then that no such easement would be announced; and then the Government announced it the day after the House rose for the Christmas Recess? As those obligations require a further easement of exchange control regulations at the end of this year, will the Leader of the House say whether the Government intend again to announce it immediately after the House rises or whether it will be announced next week?

Mr. Foot

The preface of the hon. Gentleman's question makes it all the more necessary that I should be careful about the reply to it. I would not like to make a reply off the cuff without examining the matter in detail.

Mr. Grocott

In view of the events taking place in Namibia, which are amusingly described by the South African Government as elections, and the important effect that these have on British foreign policy, will my right hon. Friend undertake to have a debate on foreign affairs to discuss these matters as soon as possible?

Mr. Foot

I fully acknowledge everything that my hon. Friend says about the great importance of the subject and of some discussion in the House on what has happened in Namibia. The British Government played a leading part in trying to secure genuine elections in that country. We hold to that policy; that is what we want to secure. I shall discuss with the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary the question how we may have a discussion in the House.

Mr. Dykes

The Commission of the Communities is preparing a proposal for a European trade-mark office to be set up by 1980. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider holding a short debate on this subject in the new year, so that we may all press the good case for the office to be situated in London?

Mr. Foot

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Mr. Madden

In view of the growing support for the abolition of television licensing, will my right hon. Friend give a clear assurance that he will provide an opportunity for this matter to be debated within the 40-day limit on the prayer that has been tabled?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept, as I told my my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), the strong feeling on the Government's side of the House about this matter. I certainly think that we should have a debate.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

When the House returns after the recess, will the Government introduce legislation to implement the policy proposed in Labour's programme for 1976 which the Lord President will recall was backed by an overwhelming number at the Labour Party conference? If the answer is"No," does it mean that the Government have completely fallen out with Labour Party conference policy?

Mr. Foot

Of the policy that we put before the electorate at the previous election, we still have a few items to carry into effect. We shall carry into effect as many as we can.

Mr. English

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his soft words about the Civil Service report. Does he realise that slightly less than one-third of the House of Commons seeks a debate on this report, which was published more than 15 months ago, and that he has not yet promised it? Incidentally, I note his order of priority for next Thursday—authors come before the European monetary system. Is that right?

Mr. Foot

Both are important, and I hope that many authors will be read long after the European monetary system has sunk into history. That reveals a proper sense of priorities. I hope that I have a better vote of thanks than that from my hon. Friend, because we have gone out of our way to meet his legitimate request on several occasions for a debate on this report.

Mr. Moate

Further to the point made about next Thursday's business, will the Leader of the House tell us how he expects the debates to proceed? How much time does he expect to be provided for the debate on the European monetary system and the debate on the EEC documents? At what time does he expect those debates to start?

Mr. Foot

It depends how co-operative everyone is.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend consider as a matter of urgency a debate on the Co-operative Housing Development Agency following the story in today's Guardian and the questions asked about the unilateral decision to close it down? It is a matter of great concern to Labour Members of Parliament. Would my right hon. Friend consider having a debate on this subject, so that we, could well go on to other topics such as the lamentable decision to sell out Kirkby to private enterprise?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend refers to the reply made by the Prime Minister on the subject. I do not think that I can add anything to it.

Mr. Litterick

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the document reviewing the supplementary benefits scheme, entitled"Social Action ", has been widely misrepresented as showing the views of Her Majesty's Government, particularly the Department of Health and Social Security, on the future of the supplementary benefits system? Will my right hon. Friend therefore give an undertaking that there will be an early debate, so that the DHSS in particular and hon. Members in general can express their views on that document?

Mr. Foot

There will be a debate when the matter comes forward, but I cannot promise one next week or that I shall be able to announce it in next week's Business Statement.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion No. 114 on the NEB micro-processing industry and the need to locate all employment related to that project in areas of high unemployment?

[That this House would strongly resist any attempt to locate the headquarters and laboratories of the NEB-created Inmos in Bristol; and insists that all employment related to that important project be located in assisted areas.]

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the employment will be situated in such areas and a further assurance that, if there is to be an adverse decision, it will not be announced during the recess?

Mr. Foot

I understand fully the great importance attached to this matter by my hon. Friend and by many of my other hon. Friends from different parts of the country. My hon. Friend may rest assured that representations have been made in the strongest possible terms. I cannot make any further statement about when a decision will be announced.

Mr. Lee

Can my right hon. Friend give us further information about the Gilbert Islands independence Bill? I appreciate that the conference that is to resolve the matter has not yet finished its deliberations, but the House would appreciate an indication about the likely timetable of the Bill before we rise, so that we know where we shall stand when the House returns in January. Some of us will have quite a bit to do with that Bill.

Mr. Foot

I have no doubt that this is a matter that could be raised after my Business Statement next Thursday. I shall certainly come well equipped to answer my hon. Friend then.

Mr. Speaker

With regard to the business for next week and the debate on Tuesday 12th December on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, hon. Members may hand in to my office by noon on Monday 11th December their names and the topics that they wish to raise. The ballot will be carried out as on the last occasion. An hon. Member may hand in only his own name and one topic.

The Consolidated Fund Bill includes the Defence and Civil Votes on Account for 1979–80, presented in House of Commons Papers Nos. 54, 55 and 59, and the Supplementary Estimates for 1978–79, presented in House of Commons Papers Nos. 52 and 53. It will be in order on the Second Reading of the Bill to raise topics falling within the ambit of the expenditure proposed in those papers. I shall put out the results of the ballot later on 11th December.