HC Deb 23 February 1978 vol 944 cc1698-708
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 27TH FEBRUARY—Supply [10th Allotted Day]: There will be debate on law and order, which will arise on a motion on the Secretary of State's salary.

Motion on EEC Documents R/2962 and R/2963 of 1976 on Jurisdiction and Judgments convention.

TUESDAY 28TH FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill and of the Civil Aviation Bill.

WEDNESDAY 1ST MARCH, St. David's Day, and THURSDAY 2ND MARCH—Progress in Committee on the Wales Bill.

FRIDAY 3RD MARCH—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 6TH MARCH—Northern Ire-land business.

Mrs. Thatcher

I should like to ask the Lord President two questions. As, since he arranged the business, the report of the Select Committee on steel forecasts has been published, and has come to the clear conclusion that the Government should find time for a two-day debate at the earliest moment, and in any event before the Secretary of State's expected statement in March, will he rearrange the business for next week to make time for that debate, which is of almost equal importance to Wales, if not more so, than the business that he has announced?

Secondly, will he also provide time to debate the report of the Speaker's Conference on the recommendations regarding representation in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Foot

I think that we should look at and study the reports on those two matters before making any proposals for a debate.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Will the Lord President be facilitating the passage of the Wales Bill by bringing forward amendments similar to those which have been carried by the House on the Scotland Bill regarding the referendum?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend must wait and see when we arrive at that stage in the proceedings.

Mr. Peter Walker

In view of the remarks made by the Prime Minister earlier in the week, will the Lord President now confirm that the House will debate the report of the Windscale inquiry before the decision is taken?

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend made a statement and I made a statement in response to a question by the right hon. Gentleman a week or two ago. Certainly we are taking into account the representa- tions that both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) have made. We are seeking the best way for the House to be accommodated with regard to that matter.

Mr. Stoddart

When may we expect the electricity industry reorganisation Bill to be introduced?

Mr. Foot

Not yet. There are still some difficulties with that Bill, and I cannot make a statement to the House about it.

Mr. Michael Morris

Why is the Lord President reluctant to have a debate on the construction industry—a debate which has been sought by both sides of the House—when it would give the Government an opportunity to explain their nationalisation proposals?

Mr. Foot

We are not reluctant to have a debate on that matter. The Opposition could have chosen that subject for debate instead of one of the other subjects that they have chosen over the last few weeks.

Mr. Spearing

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the documents for discussion on Monday evening, R/2962 and R/2963, concerning reciprocal enforcement of judgments, will mean that judgments on domestic, business and insurance matters in EEC courts will be enforceable in British courts without further hearings?

Mr. Foot

That is a matter for discussion when the debate takes place. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will raise the matter and will have a response from the Minister in charge.

Mr. Stokes

Will the Lord President find time to debate Early-Day Motion No. 244, in my name and the names of other hon. Members, regarding the forcible repatriation of unfortunate people to the Soviet Union? Despite what the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that this is a matter of public concern which touches the honour of this country?

[That this House condemns the action of Her Majesty's Government in 1947 in forcibly repatriating 185 Russian men, women and children; deplores the misleading information given to the House at that time by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; and calls for an inquiry into this and many other similar episodes, which are a blot on British history.]

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to add to what was said by the Foreign Secretary on that subject yesterday. Therefore, I cannot promise a debate on the matter.

Mr. Palmer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the difficulty about the introduction of the electricity industry reorganisation Bill is the opposition by the Liberal Party? Does he see any early hope of overcoming that opposition?

Mr. Foot

I am always eager to engage in processes of persuasion with the Liberal Party. I should be grateful for anything that my hon. Friend can do to assist me in that direction. The Government's proposal about the electricity industry as a whole is most important and we certainly wish to see it in operation.

Mr. Montgomery

Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Public Order Act? In view of the ban on Saturday's march, there are now tales that the National Front and the Anti-Nazi League are to have a mass canvass in Ilford on Saturday and there are threats of possible violence which would be very difficult for the police to contain.

Mr. Foot

I understand the importance of the subject and the interest in the House about the operation of the Public Order Act, but I do not believe that a debate at such a time would necessarily assist. It is, of course, a subject which can be selected for debate.

Mr. Faulds

Following the debate the other evening on secretaries' conditions of employment and remuneration, what action does my right hon. Friend intend to take on the specific question of severance pay?

Mr. Foot

I gave undertakings to the House in that debate. I am carrying out the undertakings that I gave at the end of those proceedings.

Mr. Rost

As the electricity industry reorganisation Bill has been circulated to certain privileged parties in the House, is it not about time that it was published? Why the delay?

Mr. Foot

The Bill has not been circulated to privileged persons. The Bill, in the final form in which it may be presented to the House, has not yet been produced.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

As the Lord President has limited the time for debate, will he next week arrange for the appropriate Minister to make a statement on the Government's intentions regarding the statement by the President of the European Commission that between now and 1985 the present 6½ million unemployed in Europe will increase to 15½ million? That is a very serious matter. Surely the Government ought now to come forward and deny it, answer it, or say what they propose to do about it.

Mr. Foot

The general subject of unemployment in the Western world is extremely important. Indeed, in some respects it is the most important industrial question facing the whole of the Western world. There must be continual debates in this House on this matter from different points of view. However, it is a question not only of one statement by a Commission or anybody else but of seeking every possible means of fighting unemployment.

Mr. Luce

The Leader of the House will recall that last week my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked that the Minister of State for Overseas Development should make a statement as soon as possible about the Government's decision to spend an extra £90 million of taxpayers' money on the Crown Agents. In view of the great anxiety about not only the provision of this money but the delay in introducing a motion with regard to establishing a tribunal of inquiry, will he ensure that a statement is made?

Mr. Foot

I thought that my right hon. Friend had been in touch with the hon. Gentleman on this subject. I had hoped that that discussion would have made one part of the matter unnecessary. If not, I shall look at it afresh and consider whether a statement should be made.

I hope that it will be possible to make an announcement about the tribunal of inquiry next week.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Mendelson.

Mr. Mendelson

The question that I intended to ask is not necessary in view of the last reply.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Will my right hon. Friend look at the constructive suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Mordern (Mr. Douglas-Mann)? Would it not make for better discussion of the Wales Bill if we had an indication from the Government about the amendments that they will accept? On Wednesday we shall be on Clause 1, which is similar to the clause which was deleted from the Scotland Bill and which the Government have no intention of putting back. Would it not help the House to use the time on the Wales Bill to better effect?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend and the rest of the House must be aware that it would lead to hopeless confusion in the conduct of any business if I announced at business questions what the Government's attitude was towards various clauses in a Bill. The most satisfactory way of dealing with these matters is to leave it until the Bill is before the House. That is the normal procedure and it is one which we shall follow.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Bearing in mind the considerable concern in the House and outside about the passage of the Protection of Children Bill, has not the House an entitlement to an indication from the Leader of the House about when the Bill is expected to go to Committee?

Mr. Foot

It is not normal for announcements to be made during business questions about the position of Private Members' Bills. I indicated to the sponsor of the Bill that I should be prepared to look at the situation and to have some discussions with him. I have discussed it with him. It is not proper for me to make an announcement from the Dispatch Box about a Private Member's Bill in the way which I have been invited to adopt.

Mr. Loyden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is nothing less than a scandal that 3,000 jobs are in jeopardy on Merseyside because of a decision made by Leyland, particularly when the House has not been given the opportunity to debate the Leyland situation?

Mr. Foot

I fully understand my hon. Friend's strong feelings on this subject. He has raised the matter on a number of occasions. He is bound to press me strongly on this subject, and I fully under stand why. My right hon. Friend hopes soon to receive the report and recommendations from the National Enterprise Board. He will then make a statement which will provide an opportunity for discussion. In the meantime, I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will make his own representations to the Department on behalf of his constituents.

Mr. Michael Marshall

Does the Leader of the House appreciate that the report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries on the steel industry, which is out today, has been produced within one month by an almost superhuman effort in order to allow the House to debate all three reports on the state of the steel industry? Can the Leader of the House therefore commit himself to providing time for a debate before the statement in March?

Mr. Foot

The normal method of dealing with these reports is for them to be studied by the Government and for the Government then to make their comments on the report. That is the right way to proceed. It would be absurd to have a debate in which the Government did not declare their views. I hope that the House will wait to deal with the matter in the proper way.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there will be a statement or a debate on the need to obtain markets for the coal industry, because there are 30 million tons of coal on the ground and more is being turned out? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Northern Ireland it is suggested that the large domestic market for coal there is under consideration with a view to using other fuels? Will he arrange for a statement or a debate?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an immediate debate. I have as great an interest in the welfare of the coal industry as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). This Government have undertaken a series of measures to assist in that direction. I shall discuss the matter with the Secretary of State for Energy to see what next course should be taken.

Mr. du Cann

I do not wish to press the Leader of the House today but will he consider making an early statement about Members' pensions? This is a matter which has exercised hon. Members on both sides. We all hope that he will be able to say something soon about the implementation of the Boyle Report.

Mr. Foot

I shall seek to make a statement soon. I and the Government are doing everything in our power to try to bring forward this matter. It is urgent. We want the co-operation of the House in dealing with it. We are going about it in a manner that will ensure that we have that co-operation.

Mr. Litterick

Can my right hon. Friend indicate whether time will be made available to allow the House to consider the reform of the Official Secrets Act, under which three journalists, Aubrey, Berry and Campbell, are being indicted?

Mr. Foot

The Government have promised to produce a White Paper on the subject. That White Paper will be published in the reasonably near future. No doubt comments will be made about how we should proceed after that.

Mr. Kershaw

Is it the intention of the Leader of the House to introduce a Bill to deal with Members' pensions? If so, will it be introduced in this Session?

Mr. Foot

The matter will be dealt with in a Bill. It is our desire to deal with it this Session. We are seeking to command general support throughout the House.

Mrs. Renée Short

Does my right hon. Friend recall Early-Day Motion No. 218, an all-party motion signed by over 100 Members from all parts of the House? Does he recall that it drew attention to the libel case brought by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, against the authors of "Babies for Burning", Litchfield and Kentish? It also drew attention to the attempts to persuade the General Medical Council to investigate doctors whom the authors accused of illegal practices. Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the motion was tabled it has been brought to my attention that Litchfield has denied that he lied when he gave evidence to the Select Committee—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady must ask a question about future business. It sounds as if she should raise this issue on another occasion.

Mrs. Short

I am coming to the question. I also understand—[Interruption.] Hon. Members should have patience. This is a serious matter.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know that this is a serious matter, but the hon. Lady must relate it to the business of the House in the near future.

Mrs. Short

Since it is clear that the House has been misled and that a Select Committee was misled by these two who gave evidence to it, can my right hon. Friend consider a means of dealing with it? The key to the matter is the tapes which were presented to the Select Committee but which were never transcribed. This should be done.

[That this House welcomes the unreserved retraction and apology for all 'their accusations against the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, by Michael Litchfield and Susan Kentish known as Litchfield in their book 'Babies for Burning', which was circulated to all Members of Parliament before the Second Reading of the honourable Member for Glasgow, Pollok's, Bill to amend the Abortion Act 1967; also notes that there have now been two apologies and one finding of libel following actions in the High Court against these two; further notes that two doctors falsely accused in the book and reported by the authors to the General Medical Council as being guilty of serious professional misconduct were fully investigated by the General Medical Council who decided there was no case to answer; also notes that all the allegations contained in the book of criminal activities by doctors and others and investigated by the Director of Public Prosecutions were found to con-win no evidence on which he could prosecute; therefore notes that most of the book 'Babies for Burning' and the claims of its authors has been completely discredited and repudiated and can never again be used in evidence against the Abortion Act 1967; and notes, however, that the same persons repeated and added to these untrue statements when giving evidence before the Select Committee considering the honourable Member's Abortion Amendment Bill.]

Mr. Foot

I certainly understand the sense of outrage expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) in the motion. I do not believe that a reference of this matter to the Committee of Privileges would be a proper way of dealing with it, nor do I believe that we can deal with it by question and answer in the House. I am sure that full account will be taken of the motion, but I do not believe that such matters can be tried in the House.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall call the four hon. Members who have been attempting to catch my eye since the beginning of busines questions. Now five hon. Members appear to be standing, seeking to catch my eye.

Mr. Adley

Is the Leader of the House aware that ever since the publication of the book "The Pencourt File" there remain unrefuted serious allegations about the Secretary of State for Social Services, particularly about a visit to the BBC to try to prevent it from proceeding with a programme? This is a serious matter. Will the right hon. Gentleman invite his right hon. Friend to come to the House to tell us that what is in the book is wrong, if it is wrong?

Mr. Foot

If Ministers had to come to the House and refute everything wrong that was published about them in newspapers and books, they would have a full-time job. I have not read the book, but I have read several reviews of it. Most of them do not encourage me to read the book.

Mr. Michael Latham

May we have an early debate on the operation of the Community Land Act, which is fast becoming a totally bureaucratic shambles? In particular, the amount of circulars coming from the Government is three times the amount of land coming from the Act.

Mr. Foot

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's information or his arithmetic.

Mr. MacKay

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will be disappointed by his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes)? Bearing that in mind, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Foreign Secretary to come to the House next week and make a statement about the very serious events that happened in 1947 and the very considerable blot on our history when 158 or more Russians where forcibly repatriated to the Soviet Union, where they met a tragic end?

Mr. Foot

I shall not comment on those events in my reply. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary replied to this question earlier in the week, and I have nothing further to add.

Mr. Gow

Since the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, to which the Lord President himself gave evidence, were predictable and predicted, and since those recommendations are simple and straightforward, when may we expect a statement from the Government about their view on the recommendations and a statement about a Bill to give effect to them?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give any timetable to the hon. Gentleman now. Of course, the Government will consider the report that we have received this week from the Speaker's Conference. That is the next stage.

Mr. Stanbrook

When are we to have the debate on immigration which so many Labour Members claim they wish to have?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is so eager that he must have pressed this matter on his own Front Bench, but so far it does not seem that that has had much result.