HC Deb 14 December 1978 vol 960 cc909-13
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business that he is, at present, proposing for the week after the Christmas Recess?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

The business after the Christmas Adjournment will be, conclusively, as follows:

Monday 15th January—Supply [4th Allotted Day]: motion to take note of the 11th report from the Expenditure Committee, Session 1976–77, the 12th report, Session 1977–78 on the Civil Service, and the related Government observations, Command No. 7117.

Tuesday 16th January—Remaining stages of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill.

Wednesday 17th January—Second Reading of the Industry Bill.

Motion on the Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order.

Thursday 18th January—Supply [5th Allotted Day]: debate on a subject to be announced.

Friday 19th January—Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Kilfedder

Will the Leader of die House find time after the recess for a debate on the circumstances in which the Governments at Stormont and Westminster approved in 1971 what seems to be a tax avoidance contract of employment for Mr. Hoppe, the former managing director of the Belfast shipyard, under which a salary of £78,000 a year and now compensation of £200,000 has been paid into a Swiss bank account, thus avoiding British taxation?

Mr. Foot

I shall look at what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I cannot promise a debate.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I propose to give much less time for business questions today because there is a great deal of very important business to be transacted.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Can my right hon. Friend say what has happened to the resumption of the Report stage of the Public Lending Right Bill? The Gov- ernment showed commendable urgency in this matter. I hope that it is not running down.

Mr. Foot

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government's desire to get the Bill on to the statute book is not diminished. I hope to say something about it in my next Business Statement.

Mr. Michael Marshall

If the Government manage to hang on into the new year, we should have an urgent debate on the micro-chip industry in this country. Is the Leader of the House aware that there have been Government announcements about expenditure on research and briefing seminars and that this is a crucial subject, which should be debated urgently?

Mr. Foot

That is one of the many important subjects that we shall be debating throughout the new year.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Will the Lord President have a word with whoever is responsible to ascertain why, in view of the great success that the Government have had in attacking inflation, hon. Members have to pay £2.96p per pound for the cheese supplied in the self-service Tea Room?

Mr. Foot

I shall look into that matter.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Robert Adley.

Mr. St. John-Stevas rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I called Mr. Adley, and I propose to call afterwards one more hon. Member from each side before calling the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) from the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Adley

Is the Lord President aware that a statement appears to have been made in another place defining Government policy on the question of ballots before strikes, which tells a great deal more than has been told to this House? Will the right hon. Gentleman advise the House whether Lord Wallace's statement, the day before yesterday, that the Government will consider such a move only at the specific request of the TUC is Government policy? If so, will he, at the earliest opportunity, make a statement to the House, or ask one of his right hon. Friends to do so, so that hon. Members may question him?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman can table a Question if he wishes. The matter has been debated in the House on numerous occasions.

Mr. Whitehead

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is still some disappointment that we have not had a debate on the report of the Procedure Committee, particularly since we now have not only the report but proposals from the Opposition and the Labour Party about parliamentary reform? May we have an assurance that there will be an early debate?

Mr. Foot

I have already indicated that I think that we should have an early debate, and I am sure that soon after we return the House will want that debate and the Government will be eager to provide it.

Sir Bernard Braine

Bearing in mind the keen interest in all parties to see that justice is done to the small Banaban community in the Pacific, can the Leader of the House say whether a statement will be made about the Gilbert Islands constitutional conference and the safeguards that we hope the Government will provide for the Banabans? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we want a statement soon, and certainly very soon after we return?

Mr. Foot

The Government expect to introduce the Gilbert Islands independence Bill as soon as possible after the recess.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. In order to maintain a balance, I shall call one more hon. Member from the Government Benches.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Will my right hon. Friend be tabling a motion today containing the names of the House of Commons Commission? If not, what is to happen to the administration of this place after 31st December, as the House of Commons (Administration) Act should come into effect from 1st January?

Mr. Foot

I fully appreciate the importance of that matter and the concern of the servants of the House. I hope very much that we shall be able to table a motion today to deal with that question. I cannot make an absolute promise, but I hope that that will be done. If, by any mischance, we are not able to do that, we shall, of course, take every precaution to safeguard the interests of the staff. The best solution would be for us to put down a motion today, and that is what I want to do.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Did I hear the Leader of the House aright when he referred to the fourth and fifth allotted Supply Days in his Business Statement? What has happened to the third allotted Supply Day, which vanished so strangely last week? I know that, like myself, the Leader of the House is more literate than numerate, but was his statement a slip of the tongue, a slip of the mind, or sleight of hand? May we have a statement that when we return on 15th January we shall have what is our right. namely, the third allotted Supply Day'.

Mr. Foot

There was no slip of the tongue or sleight of hand on my part. What I said was a deliberate statement of the facts. If the Opposition wish to discuss the matter, I am prepared to meet them, but I must also take into account what you said, Mr. Speaker, from the Chair. You said that the day in question was a Supply Day—and so it was. We dealt with the matter in exactly the normal fashion, but if the Opposition wish to discuss the matter further, I am prepared to do so.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I regret that I cannot accept that contribution from the Leader of the House. I must ask for your ruling on this important matter. which concerns the rights of the Opposition. I refer you particularly to Standing Order No. 17(2)(b) and (5)(f), among others.

May I ask, Mr. Speaker, for your ruling on whether we are entitled to a third Supply Day when we return after the recess?

Mr. Foot

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I told the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) when he first raised the matter that I was prepared to discuss it with him. I hope that before you make a judgment on the matter, Mr. Speaker, you will also be prepared to listen to our submissions.

Mr. Speaker

Obviously, I cannot give a ruling on this matter today. I shall be in touch with both sides of the House. I shall give a ruling when we return after the recess.