HC Deb 09 February 1978 vol 943 cc1668-81
Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Leader of the House 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 13TH FEBRUARY.—Supply [7th Allotted Day]: there will be a debate on public purchasing and the abuse of ministerial power, on an Opposition motion.

Motion on financial assistance to Opposition parties.

TUESDAY 14TH FEBRUARY AND WEDNESDAY 15TH FEBRUARY.—Progress on remaining stages of the Scotland Bill.

At the end on Wednesday, motion relating to the Medicines (Exemptions from Restrictions on the Retail Sale or Supply of Veterinary Drugs) Order.

THURSDAY 16TH FEBRUARY.—Remaining stages of the European Assembly Elections Bill.

FRIDAY 17TH FEBRUARY.—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 20TH FEBRUARY.—Second Reading of the Employment Subsidies Bill and of the Home Purchase Assistance and Housing Corporation Guarantee Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have two questions to ask the right hon. Gentleman. Will he indicate when we are to have a debate on the White Paper on public expenditure? Presumably, it will be well in advance of the Budget. Will that be before or after Easter? Secondly, does he intend to provide a day to debate steel before we embark upon the Wales Bill?

Mr. Foot

It is my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's present intention to open his Budget on Tuesday 11th April. Of course, there would be a normal debate about public expenditure at some time before that. On the second question, I cannot say whether the debate on the steel industry will take place before the Committee stage of the Wales Bill. We need to get the Wales Bill in progress through the House in order that it may reach another place for consideration there. There must, however, in due course, be a proper discussion in this place about the steel industry.

Mr. Walter Johnson

May I call my right hon. Friend's attention to Early-Day Motion No. 197, which calls for an amendment to the Price Code regulations to stop, for example, the brewers from taking advantage of a loophole they have found in the regulations? Is he aware that the motion has been signed by 150 hon. Members? Will he find time for a debate on the subject?

[That this House calls upon the Government to amend the price code regulations so that, when the Price Commission decide to carry out an investigation, the price of the commodity concerned is frozen until the Commission's investigation has been completed.]

Mr. Foot

I acknowledge the importance of the subject and the widespread interest it has aroused in the House, but I cannot promise an early debate. I shall bring the matter, however, to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection and see how the House might give its view about it.

Mr. Beith

Are we to understand that the medicines Prayer will not be moved tonight although it appears on the Order Paper? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Services Committee's report on Members' secretaries will be brought before the House in time for its recommendations to be implemented next year?

Mr. Foot

The medicines Prayer will not be moved tonight for reasons concerning the Minister who was to have dealt with it. On the second matter, I repeat the assurance I have given before that, although I have not announced a proposal to discuss the matter in the forthcoming week's business, I hope to be able to do so next week, and certainly in time for implementation to be made at the time I have previously indicated.

Mr. Heffer

Is it not a fact that the construction industry is still suffering greatly? Since we are obviously going to hear a continuous stream of misrepresentation from the Opposition as to what the Labour Party is proposing for the industry and since the Labour Party is not calling for its all-out nationalisation, will my right hon. Friend at the earliest opportunity arrange for a debate on the subject so that the serious problems can be tackled and future organisation properly discussed in a rational and intelligent way?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept all the considerations that my hon. Friend has advanced, and I am sure that it is right that at some stage the House should have a full discussion about the construction industry. Of course, some aspects of it will no doubt come into the discussions of financial matters over the coming weeks. However, I certainly hope that at some stage we shall have the opportunity for a debate along the lines that my hon. Friend mentioned, but I cannot promise it soon.

Mr. Moate

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the First Special Report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments which contains a number of constructive and important proposals concerning the proper scrutiny and control of secondary legislation? Will the right hon. Gentleman find time in the near future for the House to debate the report?

Mr. Foot

I acknowledge the importance of the report and I pay tribute, in spite of my criticisms of some of the language used in it, to the work that the Chairman of the Committee and its members have done. The best way is for the Government to produce a careful, considered comment on what the Committee said, dealing with some of its criticisms and some of its proposals. I should draw the attention of the House to some parts of the report which indicate that we have already taken into account and acted upon some of the recommendations of the Committee. That fact has been completely ignored in the Press, which has given an entirely distorted account of the whole business.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

May I put particular emphasis on the Lord President's last few words? Does he agree that it is the custom of Ministers to hold a briefing of the Press about next week's business? Will he arrange that whichever Minister meets the Press this week points out that it is essential when journalists report a ruling by Mr. Speaker that they should give the factual ruling and not their interpretation of it? Last week Mr. Speaker rightly, as we know, made a totally impartial statement saying that he would allow hon. Members to put down Questions on the subject of companies, which Questions had been previously banned. Is my right hon. Friend aware that that was reported on the BBC and in the Press as meaning that Mr. Speaker had given the right to Conservative Members to put down Questions? This is not a trivial issue. It is important that Mr. Speaker, whom we know always to be impartial, is properly reported. Will my right hon. Friend emphasise that to the Press?

Mr. Foot

I am all in favour of Mr. Speaker being properly reported, and I am all in favour of the same treatment for the rest of us, too.

Mr. Peter Walker

Is the Lord President aware that 178 hon. Members, in cluding hon. Members from both sides of the House, have now pressed for a debate on the Windscale inquiry before a decision is made? While perhaps I appreciate the legal difficulties of the Secretary of State for the Environment, I hope that the Leader of the House realises that there will be deep disappointment and very considerable concern in the country if this matter is not debated.

Mr. Foot

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for acknowledging that there are considerable judicial problems—if I may put it in that way—in arranging such a debate. I also acknowledge the widespread concern about this matter led by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and many other hon. Members. I believe that we have to find some way around those judicial difficulties, so I acknowledge what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Lipton

In view of the very widespread suspicion in Opposition circles about the Government's intention as regard the future of nationalisation, will my right hon. Friend give a positive assurance that for Monday's business in connection with financial assistance to Opposition parties he does not have up his sleeve any proposal to nationalise the Opposition?

Mr. Foot

I think that the Opposition are doing much too well from our point of view as things stand.

Mr. Ridley

Further to that question, does the fact that the Lord President has brought forward the motion on financial assistance to Opposition parties to next week mean that we may expect an imminent General Election?

Mr. Foot

The proposal is brought forward because of the discussions that have taken place among various parties. We are seeking to carry out and carry forward the agreements and undertakings made on this matter some two or three years ago and to bring them up to date, so there is no such implication in the proposal at all.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend provide an early opportunity to debate the coal industry, if only to give a chance to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition to move a vote of thanks to the patriotic miners? On the question of financial aid to Opposition parties, will he also consider between now and Monday increasing the amount available to the Tory Party, in view of the Opposition's performance this afternoon and recently in this House?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend can urge that view upon me in the debate on Monday.

As for the coal industry, I am afraid that I do not have a special time to offer it, but if the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition wished to make any gracious remarks about it, I am sure that she could easily find the opportunity to do that.

Sir. T. Kitson

Will the Lord President say when his right hon. Friend intends to make a statement on Forces' pay, as the increases are due to take place from 1st April?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give any date for such a statement but at a fairly early date there will be discussion of these matters in the House on the defence White Paper. I cannot give a definite date, but I shall consult my right hon. Friend to see whether further information and indications can be given.

Mr. Buchan

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider the views of the Government on the time given to the Report stage of the Scotland Bill, as we have never really engaged on the basic matter of the referendum and, even in so far as we have done so, the Government have been defeated? Would it not be better to extend the time on Report so that at least that position can be recified and the proper position on the referendum question can be restored?

Mr. Foot

I appreciate my hon. Friend's feelings on the matter. What happened a week or two ago was that the Government suggested at the meeting of the Business Committee that we should make a rearrangement of the timetable precisely in order to ensure that there would be an opportunity to discuss the amendments that had been put down in my hon. Friend's name and in the names of some others. I also agree that when we discuss these matters next week it is desirable that there should be time to discuss the referendum questions which have been put by hon. Members.

We have made some proposals to the Business Committee, which will be reported to the House in the normal manner, under which time will be allocated for discussion of referendum matters generally. However, I cannot give an absolute guarantee about which parts of the debate and which motions will be called in that time. But under our proposals, if the House accepts them, there will be a guaranteed time for a further discussion on Report of the referendum question.

Sir Bernard Braine

In view of the continuing rise in the toll of death and injury on the roads due to the abuse of alcohol, especially among the young, will the Leader of the House arrange for an early statement to be made, preferably next week, giving some indication of the Government's intentions about the implementation of the sensible recommendations of the Blennerhassett Report?

Mr. Foot

There is considerable interest in this subject in many parts of the House, but I cannot give any guarantee about any statement next week or about early legislation on the matter.

Mr. James Lamond

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the Belgrade Conference is moving to its conclusion and that the United Nations will be meeting in May in special session to discuss disarmament, and that the Government should move ahead with their preparations for that special session? Will he try to arrange some time in the near future for a debate on these important matters?

Mr. Foot

I cannot gratify my hon. Friend by promising an early debate on the matter, though I fully acknowledge the importance of the subject that he raises. This question, like the questions of many others, illustrates the great pressure on time in the House that exists at present. I cannot, therefore, make promises about debates on all these various subjects. But no doubt there are other ways in which the matters can be raised. There is a considerable amount of time available in the House to private Members and to the Opposition, and the Opposition can also choose subjects.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Reverting to the earlier reply that the right hon. Gentleman gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson), may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is able to say when the defence White Paper will be available for the House to debate it?

Mr. Foot

I cannot say now, but I shall see whether an indication can be given to the House at an early date.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

In regard to Monday night's business on financial aid to Opposition parties, will my right hon. Friend be prepared, on behalf of the Government, to accept either an amendment or an addendum to his motion which could then include the Government party in the financial assistance, as it now costs £41,000 for the Labour Party to service its Parliamentary Labour Party and both the Prime Ministerial functions in the House and some other Government aides are also provided for by the Labour Party? Will my right hon. Friend consider giving some assistance to the Government party in order that we can have an offset to these enormous costs?

Mr. Foot

I am certainly strongly in favour of the general proposals included in the so-called Houghton Report. I should be very glad if there were a chance of producing and presenting them to the House and of carrying them through, but the indications so far have not been altogether favourable for those proposals. However, I do not believe that it will be possible to deal with that matter in Monday's debate. All that we are doing in Monday's debate is to propose that we carry forward the principle that the House has already accepted in this matter.

Mr. Tebbit

May we have time for a debate, and a statement perhaps, on the severe threat to employment that will be caused in the Cardiff area, notably in the Prime Minister's constituency, if the Government require the Ford Motor Company to sign a statement that it is adhering to the Government's incomes policy before it makes any further Government sales? I am sure that the Lord President would want to do that and to make plain that the Ford Motor Company will be treated no better and no worse than anyone else, despite building a new factory at Cardiff.

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is perfectly capable of looking after both his constituency and the country without any assistance from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will my right hon. Friend indicate when the House will see the Merchant Shipping Bill, about which a conditional promise was given in the Queen's Speech, because of its very big effect upon seamen and upon shipping companies in regard to safety and to disciplinary matters at sea?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept what my hon. Friend had said about the high desirability of proceeding with the Merchant Shipping Bill. This is one of a number of measures for which we have not yet got time, though it is very high on the list. This is an illusctration of the fact that, far from there being a great lack of legislation that we wish to bring forward, there is a whole series of measures that we want to bring forward. We shall bring forward the Merchant Shipping Bill when we have a chance. I cannot give a guarantee that we shall do it in this Session. Perhaps it will be done in the next Session.

Mr. Michael Morris

May we expect an early debate on the CPRS report on overseas representation?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an early debate, but, again, this is a subject that could be chosen by the Opposition for debate.

Mr. Loyden

Will my right hon. Friend consider with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry the possibility of a statement about the recent reorganisation of British Leyland? Will he give an early opportunity to debate the matter on the Floor?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to add to what I said last week, although I fully accept the importance of the subject, and there will, of course, have to be a full statement to the House. When we have had the statement, we might consider how best to proceed. But I withdraw nothing from what I have already said to my hon. Friend about the great significance of the subject, for his area and the whole country.

Mr. Michael Latham

Will the right hon. Gentleman respond more favourably to the request by his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) for a full debate on the Labour Party's proposals for the construction industry? Even if the Labour Party does not think that it wants to nationalise the industry, the industry thinks that the threat exists and the building material producers are certain of it.

Mr. Foot

I fully accept that it would be highly desirable to have such a debate, but, as the House can tell from the quesions put to me this afternoon, there is a whole crowd of subjects that we wish to debate. One of the ways in which matters can be raised is to have some of them raised by the Opposition.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall call the hon. Members who have been rising so far.

Mr. Ioan Evans

As the United Nations has dedicated the next year, starting in March, as a year against apartheid, may we expect a statement by the Government of their intentions, in view of the news from South Africa today that it intends to introduce a Bill that will make black South Africans foreigners in their own country?

Mr. Foot

I agree that the news from South Africa in the past few days has been horrifying, and I believe that it will produce in this country the reaction at which my hon. Friends hints. I do not know whether it is necessary for us to have a debate on the subject. I hope that the whole House would express its horror in the same terms.

Mr. Gow

As the publicly owned steel industry is losing nearly£1½ million a day, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the answer he gave my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? Will not the country think it extraordinary if an industry that it owns, according to Socialist mythology, is losing money at that rate without a debate on the subject taking place in the House?

Mr. Foot

As the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, it is not a question of no debate taking place in this House. It is a question of the debate taking place at the most advantageous time for the proper discussion of the subject. The hon. Gentleman seeks to import some prejudice into the matter. The steel industry all over the world faces great difficulties. That is part of the problem facing the Government and the country.

Mr. Canavan

Will my right hon. Friend support my amendment to the Scotland Bill to throw out the 40 per cent. referendum provision, which is democratically unjustifiable and arithmetically unworkable?

Mr. Foot

I naturally look with favour on my hon. Friend's amendment, not only because of his individual characteristics but because he is seeking to restore the position of principle that the Government sought to maintain in the Bill originally. Therefore, when we come to the debate we shall naturally look with favour on my hon. Friend's amendment. I trust that there will be time for a discussion of all the aspects of the matter in the debate next week.

Mr. Onslow

I should like to revert to the matter of the First Report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I concede that it is necessary for the Government to give careful consideration to it, and I leave aside the further damage that would be done to the Government's tarnished reputation if there were any suggestion that they were trying to stifle debate on the matter, but does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it is very important that it should be fully debated in Parliament as soon as possible, and in Government time?

Mr. Foot

It is a matter which of course concerns the whole House. When a report of that nature is produced, the proper course is for the Government to take it seriously, as we do. We shall produce a statement about it. We can then consider what is the best next step. We have had a number of debates on many aspects raised in the report, but not all hon. Members were present when we discussed them. Part of the problem arises from our membership of the EEC, as those who attend the debates will discover.

We have discussed all the matters referring to Northern Ireland. We have had a general discussion and have improved the approach to the debates on such subjects. Therefore, it can be seen that it is not the case that the Government have not already given attention to these matters, but I have already indicated that we shall produce a comment on the whole report, and then the House can see what is the best next step.

Mr. Madden

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have seen Early-Day Motion No. 229, signed by 74 Labour Members urging a debate on the subject of immigration. Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that he will give early and full time to any report or reports from the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration? Does he share with me the belief that as each week goes by without the Tory Opposition using its time to discuss the matter the Leader of the Opposition will be seen more and more as a most cynical politician seeking to exploit fears and uncertainty and without the courage to explain or defend her policies in this House?

[That this House urges that time be given for a debate on immigration to enable the Leader of the Tory Opposition to explain how the Tory Party would reduce immigration without going back on agreements made by previous Tory Governments; to enable the right honourable and honourable Members for Chesham and Amersham, Chelmsford, Henley and St. Ives, and other members of the Shadow Cabinet, to make clear whether they support or oppose separating families and forced repatriation, and Government Ministers the opportunity to restate the facts, namely, that immigration controls are most stringent, the number of people entering the country is falling, and that channelling resources into improving housing, education and employment, especially in urban areas, is a snore civilised and constructive policy for a multi-racial society to adopt and one which is supported by the great majority of this House and the white and black citizens of Great Britain.]

Mr. Foot

I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend said. The sooner the Opposition clarify their attitude on this matter, the better for common decency and the country as a whole. If they wished, they could use time to debate the matter. The responsibility rests on them. We on the Labour Benches are clear on this subject. The lack of clarity comes from the Conservatives.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Will my right hon. Friend consider providing an opportunity for a debate on the way in which the City financial institutions are supervised? Is he aware that many of us on the Labour Benches are disturbed by reports that the Government will agree a voluntary scheme for the supervision of the City institutions? Does he not think that it would be a slight to the House if an opportunity were not provided for a debate on such an important issue before agreement was reached?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept the importance of the subject, but I do not accept the indication that my hon. Friend may have given that any Government conclusions have been reached on the matter. However, it is a subject that can be raised in general discussion. I cannot offer time in the next few weeks for debating this matter especially.

Mr. Flannery

In view of the developing problems in education—the closing of colleges, teacher unemployment and so on—will my right hon. Friend consider allowing time for a debate on education?

Mr. Foot

I must reply to my hon. Friend in the same terms as I have had to use in replying to many other hon. Members. There is great pressure for a large number of debates on very important subjects. I am not minimising the importance of any of them, but the House must make a selection. We must proceed with the legislation before the House as well as having general debates. There are opportunities for these matters to be raised. A large part of the time of the House is available for private Members and the Opposition to choose the subjects for debate.

Mr. Molloy

Will my right hon. Friend seriously consider the suggestion that an opportunity should be given for an appropriate Minister to express appreciation of the highly important decision by the miners? That would give the Leader of the Opposition a chance to join my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in what he has said. In addition, because of the importance of the decision, the right hon. Lady might wish to make similar exhortations to the private sector to follow that example in the national interest.

Mr. Foot

Hon. Members will have an opportunity on Monday to express their views on the matter.

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