HC Deb 26 January 1978 vol 942 cc1602-13
Mr. Speaker

Business statement—the Lord President.

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 30TH JANUARY—Supply [5th Allotted Day): a debate on employment on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion on EEC Documents Com (72)225, R/2113/73 and R/1966/77 on excise duty harmonisation.

TUESDAY 31ST JANUARY—Progress in Committee on the Scotland Bill.

WEDNESDAY 1ST FEBRUARY—Completion of consideration in Committee on the Scotland Bill.

Motion relating to the Community Drivers' Hours Rules (Temporary Modifications) Regulations.

THURSDAY 2ND FEBRUARY—Progress in Committee on the European Assembly Elections Bill.

FRIDAY 3RD FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 6TH FEBRUARY—Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock. Afterwards, Second Reading of the Inner Urban Areas Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

I should like to refer to the business for Monday 6th February. It seems very unsatisfactory that a Bill as important as the Inner Urban Areas Bill should come on at 7 o'clock. Could the business not be rearranged so that it comes on as the first Order of the Day on another day?

Mr. Foot

I certainly accept what the right hon. Lady says about the importance of the Bill. I shall see whether there is any possibility of rearranging matters so that it would come on at an earlier time on another day, but I cannot give an absolute promise about that, because it depends on the pressures and the occasions for other business. I shall see whether we can make an adjustment next Thursday, but I cannot make an absolute promise.

Mr. Abse

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the Early-Day motion in my name and those of 120 other hon. Members on both sides of the House urging that the Windscale report be published and that the House should have an opportunity to debate the report before a decision is made? Since the Department has made it abundantly clear that it is considering whether the procedure in existence may debar the Minister from participating in any debate because of his acclaimed quasi-judicial capacity, and since the report has been received by the Minister today, may we have an assurance that the Leader of the House will require the Minister to make a statement next week? Does he not agree that a matter which affects nuclear proliferation, our national security and foreign policy should be decided by the whole House and not be confined to a judge and a Minister?

[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

I accept what my hon. Friend says about the supreme importance of this subject. My right hon. Friend received the report only today. It is therefore rather early to consider whether he will be making a statement next week. I shall take into account all the considerations that my hon. Friend has put to me.

Mr. Cormack

Are we likely to have the Budget Statement before or after Easter?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give a date yet, but I shall do so as soon as I can.

Mr. Sandelson

May we have an assurance that we shall have an early debate on foreign affairs?

Mr. Foot

There is no opportunity for an early debate but some aspects of foreign affairs will be raised on different occasions. I cannot at present give a promise of a debate.

Mr. Crouch

Does the Lord President of the Council recollect that last night I implied some criticism of him which I never completed? I fully accept the com- plete and absolute apology that he has given this afternoon. The reason that I raised the matter last night was that there has been a growing feeling that the Lord President is more detached from this House as a democrat than he used to be. May I hope that he will put in longer appearances in the House than he has done of late when constitutional Bills are being discussed? That would greatly help the House.

Mr. Foot

I thank the hon. Member for his early remarks. As for being detached from the House, I can hardly ever get away from the place. I do not regard his description as a proper description. I seek to attend debates as well as attending to all my other business. The hon. Member and others may criticise my views, but I can assure them that the views that I held on the Back Benches are the same as those that I hold now.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Is my right hon. Friend aware of Early-Day Motion No. 189, which is signed by hon. Members from both sides of the House and which calls for the annulment of the Medicines (Prescription Only) Order 1977, and Early-Day Motion No. 190, which calls attention to Clause 3(1)(d) of that order because it would place restraints on the rights of osteopaths? May we have an assurance that we shall have time for a debate, because the order is subject to the negative procedure? If we do not have time to debate it, the order will come into force on 5th February. Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have already had trouble over a similar order?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Medicines (Prescription Only) Order 1977 (S.I., 1977, No. 2127), dated 20th December 1977, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th January, be annulled.]

[That this House takes note of the Medicines (Prescription Only) Order 1977, but declines to approve the provision contained in Clause 3(1)(d), because it would place an undesirable restraint on the present rights of unorthodox practitioners.]

Mr. Foot

I thought that we had disposed of the trouble over the previous order.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

We have, but now there is trouble over this order.

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate before 5th February but there are other ways of raising the issue. I shall look into the matter.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Can the Leader of the House give any indication of his plans to repair the damage done last night to the Scotland Bill? Will he take note that the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) concerning a 40 per cent. majority was supported by only 27 per cent. of hon. Members?

Mr. Foot

I certainly recognise that the amendments that were carried in the Committee yesterday were serious amendments and that they make serious infringements in parts of the Bill. The Government are taking stock of the situation in the light of these amendments and we shall come forward on Report with our own proposals to deal with the matter.

Miss Joan Lestor

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that following the executions in Bermuda the House was promised a statement about the application of capital punishment in dependent territories, associated States and colonies? In view of the fact that a man is under sentence of death in the Virgin Islands, can the Leader of the House promise a statement on this matter?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give a date for a statement, but in the light of what my hon. Friend has said I shall inquire into the matter and see what can be arranged. The general question would require a general statement, but I shall inquire into the specific case.

Mr. Percival

Does the Leader of the House recall that on Wednesday last week, one and a half hours were allocated for the discussion of some important EEC documents on the harmonisation of the grounds of jurisdiction and that, because of bungling, the Government's motion was out of order? Does he recall that the debate was stopped when this was called to the attention of the Chair and we did not even get the one and a half hours that we should have had? Does the right hon. Gentleman recog- nise the importance of these documents being properly debated in the House? May we have an assurance that they will be debated and can he tell us when that will be?

Mr. Foot

I certainly accept what the hon. and learned Member says about the importance of getting these debates in proper order. In the case of the documents mentioned, I have already indicated that there will be a debate to make up for that which was lost on that occasion.

There was another debate, in which the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) took part, when the motion was not in a form which enabled all the documents to be debated. There are to be further arrangements for a debate to take place on the documents which could not be debated because of the form of the motion.

I accept that there have been some difficulties in arranging these debates. But the House is dealing with a new situation in this respect. All these debates are attended by those who are specially interested in them. The Scrutiny Committee has paid a tribute to the growing and better attention which the Government have paid to these matters. I acknowledge that we still have a long way to go before the system is improved to the point that mistakes are prevented. We are seeking to overcome the problem and, with the co-operation of the House, we shall succeed.

Mr. Loyden

Since the corporate plan for British Leyland will shortly be submitted to the National Enterprise Board and then to the Minister, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an urgent statement and a debate on the matter?

Mr. Foot

This is a matter of major industrial consequence for the areas concerned and the whole country. Therefore, there will be a statement in the House. We shall have to see what is the best form for a debate. I accept the importance of a statement.

Mr. Graham Page

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the memoranda at the end of the Order Paper which informs us that certain Statutory Instruments will be going to Standing Committees next week? Is the Leader of the House aware that two of them have not been considered by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, which is awaiting evidence from the Department? Is he aware that on several occasions recently orders have had to be withdrawn and redrafted when this has happened? Will he see that these Statutory Instruments do not go before the Standing Committees until the Select Committee reports have been received?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly look into the matter that the right hon. Gentleman has raised and see whether we can correct it along the lines that he has suggested, although until I have looked at it I cannot be sure of the reply.

Mr. Spearing

Will my right hon. Friend give the House the opportunity to debate the report of the Select Committee on Overseas Development on coordination in Whitehall immediately the Government's response is made? Will he note that many Members of the Committee who heard my right hon. Friend the Minister yesterday do not agree with the headline in The Times which says that she snubbed the Committee but that she was as helpful as she could have been in the circumstances?

Mr. Foot

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. The exact time at which such a debate should take place is not for me to say now. I may be able to say that at some period hence. I am glad to hear that the one thing that everyone associated with that Committee was unanimous about was that the report in The Times was incorrect.

Mr. Forman

Many Conservative Members share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) about the decision which the Secretary of State for the Environment will have to make as a result of the Windscale inquiry. Will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee to look at this matter with a view to providing time for a full debate before the Secretary of State takes his decision?

Mr. Foot

I will give no guarantees about a debate. I will guarantee, however, to consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on the matter. It was he who set up the inquiry and he is well aware of the great significance of the subject. I undertake to make representations along the lines of those put to me by my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman).

Mr. Hooley

Does my right hon. Friend not agree, in view of the vital importance of this inquiry and its wide ramifications, that the House is entitled to an absolute assurance that it will be able to debate this matter before the Government come to any decision?

Mr. Foot

The time at which debates take place involves other matters, but I accept what my hon. Friend said. However, if we were always to agree that there should be debates before Governments made responses to particular reports, that could lead to further difficulties. I acknowledge to my hon. Friend, as I have acknowledged before, the great importance of this subject. I shall look at it to see the best way in which the House can deal with the matter.

Mr. Ridley

Will the Leader of the House find time next week to get the Prime Minister to make a statement about what happens, under the Government's standard of conduct in public life, after one senior Minister has issued a blistering reprimand to another in public?

Mr. Norman Atkinson

My right hon. Friend's answers on Windscale are not good enough. My right hon. Friend has a tremendous reputation of being a radical in these matters. Will he revert to his former self and apply some radicalism to them? It is not good enough to say that we are to have a statement next week. Will he give an assurance—or indicate the rules that prevent him from giving an assurance—that before any statement is made by the Government the House will have an opportunity of debating in detail the issues which have been concluded at the inquiry?

Mr. Foot

I did not say that there would necessarily be a statement on the subject next week. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment received the report only today, and, given the great significance of the subject, it is obviously right that he should have proper time to consider it. I am not making any other undertaking whether and when a debate would best take place.

I promise my hon. Friend—and this is in full accord with my views on the rights of Back Benchers—that I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the representations that have been made to me. We will have discussions about how best we may proceed to debate the matter in the House and have proper consideration of this subject of supreme importance.

Mr. Kilfedder

Will the right hon. Gentleman provide an urgent debate to discuss the attacks by terrorists operating from the border areas of the Irish Republic upon Northern Ireland which have resulted in grave injury and death for members of the Security Forces and civilians there, and a recent statement by the police that the IRA has imported new powerful machine guns from the United States via the Irish Republic?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate on the subject. That is no doubt a matter on which the hon. Member could put down a Question if he wished.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us are most encouraged that he is seized of the full importance and significance of the report on Windscale? In his representations to the Secretary of State for the Environment will he convey the fact that many of us who are well aware of how hard our right hon. Friend fought to get a public inquiry on this issue will be very sorry if the final decisions on the inquiry are taken without the House of Commons having the opportunity to make its voice heard? Nothing brings this House into greater disrespect than a situation in which we are seen to be unable to influence a matter of great concern and great anxiety to a large number of people outside this House.

Mr. Foot

I agree that if that occurs it can bring the House into disrespect, but in many cases there is much more influence on the House, and on the Government and on Ministers, than people understand—[HON. MEMBERS: "Like last night?"] Last night is not the best example, but when some of my hon. Friends write books about Cabinet dictation I wonder where they get their facts from. My hon. Friend is right when he says that no citizen of this country and no Member of the Government or of the House has shown a greater awareness of the significance of the issues of Windscale than has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who set up the inquiry. I believe that the House can have full confidence that he will deal with the matter in the best way possible. However, the House wishes to participate in that decision, and I shall see that he understands that, although I think that he may well understand it already.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

In view of the critical stage of fisheries negotiations in Europe and the fact that any final settlement or otherwise will have to be endorsed by this House, will the Leader of the House provide in Government time an opportunity for hon. Members to express their views on this serious matter before a conclusion is reached?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Member should await the statement which is to be made very soon by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. I fully understand the desire of the House to express its view on these matters. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is also fully aware of the rights and feelings of the House on the subject.

Mr. Skinner

In the event of the payroll vote entering the Chamber at 7 o'clock tonight or thereabouts—as it entered the party meeting at 7 o'clock on Tuesday night—and, aided and abetted by the European party on the Opposition Benches, led by the Leader of the Opposition—although she may not be there, since she has a heavy cold; and that is what comes of kissing people in Petticoat Lane—carrying the day for the Government on the guillotine, what legistion does my right hon. Friend have ready to put in place of the guillotined Bill?

Mr. Foot

It is not a question of putting something in place of the guillotined Bill. There are a large number of other measures with which the Government wish to proceed in addition to those already going through the House. I have referred to some of them in my statement today—such as the Bill on the inner cities. There are other important measures coming forward. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated today that a measure was being prepared by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment dealing with some aspects of the very matters that are very often raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). There is also the question of the steel industry where important matters may have to be dealt with in this way. There are very important measures to be brought before the House in the interests of citizens throughout the country.

After that short homily, I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to vote with us tonight.

Mr. Michael Latham

May I ask the Leader of the House about business next Tuesday and Wednesday? Is it not increasingly obvious that very few hon. Members believe that the Scotland Bill will pass into law? Why does the right hon. Gentleman not save two days by dropping it now?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Member should study the facts about the passage of this Bill both on Second Reading and subsequently. The Government believe that it should be placed on the statute book. We are determined to proceed with it. We believe that if amendments cause serious injury to the real purpose of the Bill, they will have to be looked at afresh. But those issues must be brought back to the House on Report.

Mr. MacFarquhar

Is my right hon. Friend aware of mounting dissatisfaction among hon. Members' secretaries about their pay and conditions, and will he undertake that we shall be able to debate that in the near future?

Mr. Foot

I have already given an undertaking, but I give it again. It is that before the beginning of the financial year it will be necessary to have this in proper form in order for the scheme to start. I will bring it before the House so that we can vote on it and get it into operation before the end of the financial year.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall call the three hon. Gentlemen who rose, but I hope that they will be brief.

Sir Bernard Braine

I agree that the headline in The Times concerning the evidence given yesterday by the Minister of State for Overseas Development to the Select Committee was quite misleading. The Minister is always courteous and forthcoming to the Select Committee. Nevertheless, does the Leader of the House agree that it is a serious matter when a Select Committee is told that it cannot be given information that is vital to its inquiries because of a convention in Whitehall drawn up by civil servants, particularly when that is confirmed by Ministers? As this is a matter that strikes at the root of parliamentary control over the Executive, may we expect an early statement from the Government?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman has illustrated the argument that I have put forward on previous occasions. If there is to be a change in the procedures that now govern the relationship between the Executive and the Select Committee and Members of Parliament and the Select Committee—that is an important aspect—it should be done generally. That is why the matter is being looked at by the Select Committee on Procedure. I am sure that is the proper way to proceed. In the meantime, it is incorrect to say that the rules governing this matter are drawn up by civil servants. That is not so. Ministers have to accept responsibility.

Mr. Marten

As a result of last night's goings on and now that the Opposition have been forewarned of what the Government can try to get up to under a guillotine—as a result, it is unlikely that many Opposition Members will support the guillotine motion tonight—if today's motion is defeated, shall we nevertheless go on with the Bill next Thursday?

Mr. Foot

We shall have to wait and see.

Mr. Freud

Will the Leader of the House instigate a debate on the flood damage of 11th January. It is now 14 days since that flood, and 34 Members of Parliament whose constituencies were involved are awaiting a declaration of intent from the Government, but none has come. In the meantime, local authorities, industry and private individuals, who are not beneficiaries of supplementary benefit, have been shuttled from the Department of Trade to the Department of Industry and, under Section 138 of the Local Government Act 1972, to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate on that subject, although I fully accept the importance of the matter. If there is any way in which I can help to sort out some of the difficulties specified by the hon. Gentleman, I shall be glad to try to assist. However, I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman and others have made representations to the Ministers concerned. I shall consult the Ministers primarily concerned to ascertain the specific difficulties that the hon. Gentleman and others have raised to see whether they can be overcome.