HC Deb 02 February 1978 vol 943 cc690-702
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 6TH FEBRUARY.—Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock. Afterwards, resumed debate on the motion on House of Commons (Sound Broadcasting).

Motion on the Third Report of the Committee of Privileges in Session 1976–77.

TUESDAY 7TH FEBRUARY.—Supply [6th Allotted Day]: there will be a debate on the Government's industrial strategy, on an Opposition motion.

Remaining stages of the Shipbuilding (Redundancy Payments) Bill.

WEDNESDAY 8TH FEBRUARY.—consideration in Committee of the European Assembly Elections Bill.

THURSDAY 9TH FEBRUARY.—Second Reading of the Inner Urban Areas Bill.

Motion relating to the Medicines (Exemptions from Restrictions on the Retail Sale of Veterinary Drugs) Order.

FRIDAY 10TH FEBRUARY.—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 13TH FEBRUARY.—Supply [7th Allotted Day]: subject for debate to be announced.

Mrs. Thatcher

I wish to put two points to the Lord President. First, we thank him for moving the debate on the Inner Urban Areas Bill from second Order of the Day to first Order of the Day on a different day.

Secondly, the Lord President will have heard the questioning that preceded his statement. Will he arrange for a statement to be made next week by the appropriate Minister about a black list, the authority for it, and what sanctions are being operated against which firms? He should be aware that we simply cannot carry out a pay policy by threat and without reference to this House.

Mr. Foot

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her gratitude for the movement of the debate on the Inner Urban Areas Bill. We sought to accommodate the House on that matter.

On the other matter, I am sure that the House heard the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He suggested to the right hon. Lady that if she put down a Question, that might be the way of proceeding.

Mr. Thorne

Can the Leader of the House assist us in any way in regard to Early-Day Motion No. 220, which raises a very serious matter that some of us feel ought to go to the Committee of Privileges?

[That the matter of the false evidence given to the Select Committee on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill on 7th July 1975 by Michael Litchfield and Susan Kentish relating to alleged transcription of tapes be referred to the Committee of Privileges].

Mr. Foot

I have read the two motions that have been put down by my hon. Friends and signed by a large number of hon. Members. I certainly appreciate the sense of outrage that they express in those motions. I am not sure whether a reference to the Committee of Privileges is the best way of dealing with the matter. But if many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members wish to proceed in that way, I shall consider it. However, I cannot give an answer at present, although I appreciate the very strong feelings that must inevitably arise on this matter.

Mr. Beith

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen any indications from the official Opposition that they propose to use one of their forthcoming Supply Days to discuss immigration? We are all waiting to know how the Opposition propose to cut immigration without going back on their previous pledges.

Mr. Foot

I am as eager to learn the answer to that question as the hon. Gentleman, but I have not received any such request so far from the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Blenkinsop

When shall we have a chance of discussing in the House the very important Court Report on child health and, particularly, the Government's response to that report, which was published only last week?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give my hon. Friend an indication of the time when we may discuss that matter. I shall certainly see whether a statement should be made and what is the timing of the Government's response to the report.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

When will the Report stage of the Scotland Bill be reached? Can the Lord President give the House any indication of how many of his hon. Friends will join him in repairing the damage that was done by the wrecking Tory amendment last Wednesday, on Burns Night?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give the hon. Lady, as yet, a definite indication when we shall be proceeding with the Report stage. However, I am sure that all these matters can be dealt with when we return to the Bill.

Mr. Abse

May I call the attention of the Leader of the House again to Early-Day Motion No. 115? Is he aware that the alarm that is being expressed by the very fact that 155 Members from all sides of the House have now signed this motion will be increased by the fact that the director of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. has written to me today telling me that a quick decision has been promised by the Government, both to BNFL and to its customers, particularly the Japanese? Will the Leader of the House therefore understand that there would be grave disquiet in the House if there should be a suggestion that we may be gagged on the question of this fateful decision while apparently the Japanese have been promised a speedy decision? Will the Leader of the House bring the responsible Minister to the House next week in order that he may explain his dilemma on the quasi-judicial question and will he give an answer to the House on the demand that there should be a debate?

[That this House calls on the Secretary of State for the Environment to publish the inspector's report on the Windscale Inquiry so that the issues may be debated in this House before any Ministerial decision is taken.]

Mr. Foot

As I have said to my hon. Friend previously, and as I say to all hon. Members who have signed the motion, I certainly appreciate that this is a matter of very great concern indeed. No one denies that or seeks to dismiss it in any sense whatsoever. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has had the report for only a week, and I think that he must have time to consider it. How we proceed later is also a matter for consideration, but I take full account of the representations made by my hon. Friend and others.

Mr. David Price

May I ask the Lord President whether the appropriate Minister will make a statement early next week on the consequences of the oil tanker drivers' strike on essential services? Is he aware that in my constituency general practitioners are already finding a petrol shortage and will be in grave danger by Monday of being no longer able to fulfil their duties? Will the Minister also tie it in with the problem facing disabled drivers?

Mr. Foot

Certainly these are serious matters. We shall consider whether a statement should be made and what is the best moment for that. I take account of the hon. Gentleman's representations.

Mrs. Castle

Does my right hon. Friend remember that last week he undertook to give the House an opportunity of debating the Seventh Report of the House of Commons Services Committee on the scheme for Members' secretaries, so that it could be brought into operation before the end of the financial year? Is he aware that if this is to be possible, the scheme must be debated this week, I think, or, at the latest, next week? Will he pledge that this will be in next week's business?

Mr. Foot

I fully appreciate the timetable on this matter. I have given undertakings to the House previously, which we are determined to carry out. I fully accept that if we are to carry them out properly, the best time, perhaps, is the beginning of the week after next week. I am certainly hoping that we shall be able to have the debate then.

Sir Bernard Braine

Did the Leader of the House hear earlier today of the anxiety concerning the rising toll of death and injury on the road, especially among the young, due to alcohol abuse? Is he aware that many of us hold that delay in introducing the sensible proposals of the Blennerhassett Committee is actually costing lives? When will he arrange for a statement to be made to the House as to the Government's intentions about legislation?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an early statement about legislation on the whole of these matters. I have no doubt that the best way for the subject to be raised further is by Questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. But I cannot promise that we can have early legislation to cover the whole of these matters, because that would take up a very considerable amount of time.

Mr. Loyden

Has my right hon. Friend given further consideration to my request last week concerning a statement to the House about the position of British Leyland? Has he considered having a discussion on the Floor of the House about the statement on British Leyland which has just been made?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend will have heard the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the House and is no doubt following the discussions which are continuing at British Leyland. I cannot yet say when will be the best time for a statement to be made to the House, but obviously it is a matter on which the House will wish to express its view in some form or other at some time. I cannot go any further at the moment about any definite date.

Mr. Fell

Does the Leader of the House recall his apology to the House last Thursday about the improper and reprehensible behaviour of three of the junior Ministers? Will he realise that since then there has been a motion—Early-Day Motion No. 215—with 121 signatures to it? Will he therefore find time very shortly for a debate of that motion, or persuade the Prime Minister to have a talk with the three Members concerned and ask them to retrieve the honour of the House by apologising to the House?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Ministers and the other Members, mentioned by the Serjeant at Arms in his letter to Mr. Speaker of 26th January, Official Report, c. 1601, and who remained seated in the 'No' Voting Lobby in order to prevent a vote, to apologise to the House.]

Mr. Foot

I believe and certainly hope that the vast majority of Members of the House would think that the matter was properly disposed of last week.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

My right hon. Friend will recall that yesterday a White Paper on airports policy was presented. Will he provide early time for the debate of that White Paper, bearing in mind that a discussion is taking place on the question of a fourth terminal at Heathrow, with a public inquiry in view, and that the Civil Aviation Bill is upstairs in Committee? It is very odd to have a White Paper presented at such a point. Will he not agree that a full debate on the subject would seem to be required?

Mr. Foot

I should have thought that the discussions on the Bill should proceed first. We could then see best how we should discuss later the White Paper. Let us proceed first with the discussions on the Bill.

Mr. Banks

Is the Leader of the House aware that it is nearly a year since we had a full day's debate on foreign affairs? In view of the far-reaching developments in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and other areas, will he give urgent consideration to making time available for a debate on foreign affairs?

Mr. Foot

I think that there have been other opportunities when a full day could have been selected for a debate on foreign affairs, and various aspects of foreign affairs have been debated. I cannot promise an early full day on foreign affairs generally.

Mr. Spearing

Does the Leader of the House recall that a fortnight ago he said that he would make arrangements for the Prayer on the Milk Marketing Board to be taken? Can he tell us when this will be?

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that when a Prayer is taken on the Floor it will have one and a half hours and that he will put down the proper business motion? That was not done last night, because we had only one hour and 10 minutes for the debate.

Mr. Foot

I shall try to ensure that my hon. Friend and the House as a whole will have the full one and a half hours, according to the undertakings that we have given. I cannot say for certain when that special order will be put down, but I will have a look at it and try to give an indication to him in advance, although he knows that there are difficulties sometimes about giving that advance notice.

Mr. MacKay

Bearing in mind that the Prime Minister did not feel able to enlighten us about the Government's black list, and that many Opposition Members feel that it is morally wrong to blackmail firms when the Government do not have the guts to have a legally binding incomes policy, will the Leader of the House ask the appropriate Minister to make a statement, even if we do not have a full debate on the subject, in the very near future?

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend has suggested that a Question should be put down, and I think that that is the best course to follow. In the meantime, I think that it is absurd for anyone to use terms such as moral blackmail or any other such wild and exaggerated language.

Mr. John Ellis

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the extraordinary situation that we had in this House late last night and early this morning? We did not even have one and a half hours for debate concerning an order about drivers' hours—an order which even the Statutory Instruments Committee had not had time to consider—directly resulting from yet another Common Market regulation. Hon. Members who spoke in the debate, whatever their point of view, agreed that it was bungling incompetence that brought our proceedings into disrepute. But we had to pass the order, otherwise another more Draconian order would have come into force, and that would have caused a national transport stoppage. Whatever view we may have on the Common Market, it is not good enough that we should do our business in this way on these important matters. The fact that we had only one hour 12 minutes instead of the full one and a half hours added insult to injury.

Mr. Foot

I understand the feelings that my hon. Friend voices on these matters, not only on his own behalf but on behalf of many other hon. Members. We shall seek to overcome the difficulties. It was understood that the debate should take place on the motion yesterday. It was raised by the Opposition and the debate took place, but we shall do our best to try to avoid these difficulties.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

As the Prime Minister is the senior Treasury Minister and the black list has to do with withholding public expenditure, which Minister will answer Questions next week about the black list?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman is familiar with the procedures of the House. He can put down a Question and see the form in which it is accepted on the Order Paper.

Mr. English

Will the debate on broadcasting be on the same motion that is now on the remaining orders, or will it be altered? If it is to be altered, will that be done soon, so that we may have time to consider any altered version?

Mr. Foot

I hope that the motion will go down today. We are hoping to have a motion which will enable my hon. Friend to have his amendment, if he wishes, and for that to be decided by the House. We are seeking to accommodate the House in that respect.

Mr. Adley

Has the Lord President seen Early-Day Motion No. 209? Is he aware that the fears expressed in that motion—about the guillotine on the Scotland Bill preventing any discussion on the future role of the British Tourist Authority—have come to pass?

As the Scotland Bill virtually castrates the British Tourist Authority, does he not think that the Government have a responsibility to find time for this House to debate the matter, which is of very great importance not only in employment terms but in relation to overseas currency earnings in this country?

[That this House regrets that, due to the guillotine procedure, no opportunity has been afforded to honourable Members to debate Clause 67, dealing with the revised role for the British Tourist Authority proposed in the Scotland Bill; fears that the guillotine will also prevent discussion of Amendment No. 402 to Schedule 16, in the names of the honourable Members for Christchurch and Lymington, North Cornwall, Dundee East, Caernarvon, North Angus and Mearns, and West Flint, relating to the numbers of members appointed to the board of the British Tourist Authority; believes that the changes proposed by the Government will result in a significant shift of emphasis in the interface between the British Tourist Authority on the one hand and the English Tourist Board, the Scottish Tourist Board and Wales Tourist Board on the other; recognises that the relations between the three boards on the one hand and the British Tourist Authority on the other have sometimes been both uneasy, and a source of conflict both of personality and interest, not always to the benefit and development of tourism to and in Great Britain; feels that the outcome of the changes to the British Tourist Authority as proposed in the Bill may have the effect of replacing on their board people who owe their current board membership to experience and knowledge of tourism matters with people who will be on the board by virtue of their geographic status; and, in view of the success of the British Tourist Authority in consistently achieving a substantial annual increase in overseas earnings from tourism, feels that political placemen, regardless of party, are unlikely to make the British Tourist Authority either more effective, more efficient or more able to concentrate on its primary task of attracting foreign visitors to Great Britain.]

Mr. Foot

The discussion on the Bill in the House is not yet concluded. The use of the time allocated under a guillotine or timetable motion is partly the responsibility of those hon. Members, apart from Ministers, who take part in the debate. The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members must look for opportunities of raising the matter.

Mr. Ovenden

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 16, which has now been signed by 180 hon. Members, expressing concern about the continued decline of pharmaceutical services? Many of us fear that the Government's latest offer will do very little to halt the decline. Will he make time available either for a debate on this motion or on the pharmaceutical services in general, including the Government's pay offer, or at least have a debate on the National Health Service, when these issues can be raised?

[That this House, recognising the importance to the community of retail chemists, remains deeply concerned about the rate of closure of such shops and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to make available sufficient funds to ensure a comprehensive pharmaceutical service to the whole community and in particular to those most in need—the elderly, the very sick and mothers with young children.]

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise that there will be an early debate on the matter. There are, as my hon. Friend knows, other opportunities of raising some of these questions, and also other ways in which he and others can make representations to the Ministers concerned.

Mr. Raison

Does not the Leader of the House understand that the existence of the blackmail list—which apparently has no statutory foundation—raises deep constitutional issues and that it is wholly inappropriate to think that they can be dealt with by Question and Answer?

Mr. Foot

The usual method in the House is that Questions are put down and Answers given. Then, if the answers are not found to be satisfactory in some part of the House, and particularly if they are not found satisfactory by the official Opposition, the official Opposition have their methods for raising debates. That is the usual way in which to proceed. I do not think that anyone should find that procedure extraordinary.

Mr. Skinner

On the subject of loitering in the Division Lobbies and reverting to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Lowestoft—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yarmouth."] Is it Yarmouth? Is that the kippers place?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Bloaters."] Without condoning such practices by Whips or by anyone else for that matter, may I ask my right hon. Friend to find time next week to check the records of the period when the Industrial Relations Bill was going through the House and when there was a lot of loitering and lolling in the Lobbies by many Tory Members who, in their way, were trying to frustrate the Bill's progress and who included at least one who is very near and dear to you, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Foot

I reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) as I did to the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). I think that this matter was disposed of last week.

Mr. Gow

Will the Lord President reconsider his answer to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the so-called black list? He knows perfectly well that no hon. Member can put down a Question which will be answered within 14 days, and he may also know that there has been an attempt to table a Private Notice Question today and that it has not been accepted. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that he must arrange for a Minister to make a statement to the House about this matter very early next week?

Mr. Foot

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement on the subject which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made earlier this afternoon. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman and the official Opposition, if they wish, should consider my right hon. Friend's replies and decide which course they wish to take.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I propose to call those hon. Members who have been seeking to catch my eye throughout business questions.

Mr. Moate

Will the Leader of the House try to find time to debate the way in which central and local government react to emergencies and natural disasters such as the recent heavy flooding on the East Coast? Is he aware that a large number of constituencies suffered severe damage, that a month later there is still total uncertainty about the extent and scale of central Government assistance, if any, and that we should have an opportunity to debate that and our preparedness for future disasters which could be on an even greater scale?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman will probably be aware of the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on 27th January in which he indicated to local authorities the course which they could take if they wished to do so. I think that that is the proper way to proceed in dealing with the matter.

Mr. Brotherton

May I emphasise what my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said? We need a statement from the Secretary of State for the Environment about the flooding on the East Coast. Section 138 of the Local Government Act is no good at all to people such as the local government officers of Cleethorpes who need the product of a 6p rate to account for what they have spent already. We need a declaration of intent from central Government that taxpayers will help people who have suffered during the recent floods.

Mr. Foot

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman and to other right hon. and hon. Members concerned that they should urge their local authorities to proceed along the lines suggested by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. We can then see what happens following those representations.

Mr. Thompson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the intense indignation felt in South-West Scotland about the proposal of the Atomic Energy Authority to conduct test borings in our hills with a view to establishing a nuclear dump there, as evidenced by the result of a public opinion poll published in the Ayrshire Post last week which showed 81 per cent. of those interviewed as being against it? Will the right hon. Gentleman bear that in mind when deciding when the House should debate the Windscale report?

Mr. Foot

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), I appreciate the significance of the Wind-scale report and the great interest in the matter throughout the country, particularly in some parts of the country. I shall take that into account in deciding the way in which we should proceed.

Mr. Baker

Will the Leader of the House find time next week to allow the Foreign Secretary to explain the reasons which led him to deny an earlier statement by the Foreign Office on the executions in Saudi Arabia, since many right hon. and hon. Members find recent events there totally repugnant and the Foreign Secretary's attitude craven?

Mr. Foot

I repudiate any suggestion that the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary or any statement made by him on the subject was craven. If the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) studies the matter, I am sure that he will wish to withdraw such a suggestion.