HC Deb 06 July 1978 vol 953 cc657-68
Mr. Whitelaw

Will the Leader of the House please 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 10TH JULY—Consideration of Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

Afterwards debate on the 1979 preliminary draft Community budget, when EEC documents R/1577, R/1104 and R/519 of 1978 will be relevant.

Proceedings on the Adoption (Scotland) Bill [Lords], the National Health Service (Scotland) Bill [Lords] and on the Interpretation Bill [Lords], which are consolidation measures.

TUESDAY 11TH JULY, WEDNESDAY 12TH JULY, AND THURSDAY 13TH JULY—Completion of remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

FRIDAY 14TH JULY—Consideration of Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 17TH JULY—Further consideration of Lords amendments to the Scotland Bill.

Mr. Whitelaw

First, can the right hon. Gentleman give a firm undertaking that the Government will provide an opportunity for a debate on Rhodesia before the House rises for the Summer Recess?

Secondly, as alleged details of the Edmund-Davies report on police pay have already appeared in the press, and as the Home Secretary was waving the report about in the House of Commons this afternoon, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when a statement will be made on that report? In any case, will he give us an assurance that there will be an opportunity before the House rises to debate the regulations that will have to be laid to increase police pay on 1st September?

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Gentleman asks for two considerable debates. I cannot promise him the time on the basis for which he has asked, but I shall certainly take into account his representations on those subjects.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary dealt with the police pay report fully only a few minutes ago, indicating that the Government would state their view when the report was published, which should be very soon.

I cannot promise a further debate on Rhodesia necessarily before we depart for the Summer Recess, but I shall take into account the Opposition's representations. There is a considerable amount of essential business which the House must get through before we depart for the recess, and there are always other opportunities for hon. Members in different parts of the House to select particular subjects if they wish.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Before I call another hon. Member, I remind the House that the main business of the day will be covered by a timetable motion. I shall not, therefore, be able to allow questions on next week's business to run too long.

Mr. John Ellis

What role has my right hon. Friend played in the current dispute about the low pay of civil servants? It affects many servants of the House, where we have a direct responsibility. There is likely to be a renewal of industrial action which may affect the House by as early as Thursday next week. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that we have a direct responsibility here, though the Civil Service Ministers are involved, in so far as such civil servants are employed in this House? May I ask him to use his good offices—for I understand that negotiations have broken down—to get the parties round the table again? The conditions of those lower-paid civil servants who are our own workers are abysmal, and we ought to do something about the matter.

Mr. Foot

I agree with my hon. Friend that we in this House and those with special responsibility have an obligation to try to ensure that proper conditions are provided for people who work for us in the House. I do not accept what he says about the likelihood of our discussions breaking down. I think that in the discussions that I had yesterday with those concerned we made good, substantial further progress, and I believe that the way in which we are getting the discussions going is the best way for us to proceed.

I am sure that those to whom I was talking understand our good faith in the matter, and I think that we are making real progress along those lines. A further meeting will be taking place next week, as they are fully aware, and the date of that meeting was fixed in accordance with their desires as well as ours.

Mr. Powell

In view of the ingruence of a General Election and the desirability that the electorate should be forewarned against misleading statements and fraudulent claims on the subject of the New Commonwealth ethnic population, is not the right way to deal with this matter to have a full debate in the House before it rises, in accordance with the wishes which the right hon. Gentleman has already expressed?

Mr. Foot

I know that the right hon. Gentleman has raised this matter before, although not with quite the gracious word with which he introduced his comment today. I shall take his representations into account. However, I must say to him, as I have said to others, that the House must appreciate that we have not a great number of days left. Therefore, there must be some selection of subjects by those in other parts of the House who are able to choose subjects for debate when they wish.

Mr. Jay

As we have not many days left, when will my right hon. Friend introduce his long-promised proposals for this Session for better parliamentary control of EEC legislation?

Mr. Foot

I understand what my right hon. Friend has said to me on that subject on many previous occasions, and I fully recall our debate on the subject. I fully understand that I am committed to put a motion on the matter before the House. I cannot give him the exact date, but I hope that I shall be able to give some indication in my statement next week.

Mr. du Cann

Is the Leader of the House aware that a week ago today the Fourth Report of the Committee of Public Accounts was published, providing for the assimilation of cash limits with the Estimates on the basis of Treasury recommendations? Is he further aware that it is understood that the Expenditure Committee will be reporting on these matters shortly, just as soon the printing of its report can be arranged?

In view of the importance of these matters—the new system is scheduled to begin in the next financial year—and its implications, not least for the restoration of the power of this House over the Executive by taking proper control of Government expenditure, would not the right lion. Gentleman agree—I know his sympathy for the point in general—that it might be convenient to have a debate on this subject before the House rises for the Summer Recess?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give that promise to the right hon. Gentleman, although I shall take into account his representations, along with the others that come from other hon. Members about how we are to dispose of our time between now and the date when we depart. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would also acknowledge that the Government have a pretty good record in the provision of time for discussing the reports of Select Committees and his own Committee. I believe that we have to take that into account when we are deciding whether we can give further time before we depart for the Summer Recess.

Mr. Faulds

Will not my right hon. Friend accept the urgency of debating the deteriorating situation in Southern Rhodesia? As I foretold many months ago in the House, the internal settlement is in the process of breaking down. Would not such a debate give us a chance of educating the Opposition on the realities of the situation in Southern Rhodesia?

Mr. Foot

I have sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. I am not saying that a debate on the subject might not be of assistance. However, we had a debate on it not so long ago. My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary stated the Government's views very carefully then, and we are standing by those principles. We are doing everything that we can to try to ensure that there shall be a better outcome in Southern Rhodesia.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans

Has the Lord President noticed Early-Day Motion No. 509, standing in the names of my colleagues of Plaid Cymru and myself, which draws attention to the widespread movement through Europe towards decentralism and autonomy for the Stateless nation and the historic regions of Europe, which are the basis of the diversity of European civilisation? Does he not think that so important a subject, about which this House knows so little, would be a good subject for debate in the House?

[That this House commends the declaration made at Bordeaux in February 1978 by representatives of the regions of the 20 democratic countries of the Council of Europe that the region is a community characterised by a historical, cultural, geographical or economic homogeneity, or a combination of all of these, that the regions of Europe are an irreplaceable and incomparable asset of European civilisation, and that they are the guarantors of that diversity which is the pride of the European heritage; notes the statement of the Conference of European Ministers responsible for Local Government held in Lisbon in October 1977 that a broad decentralising tendency in Europe consists both in a strengthening of local units and in the development of the regional entity and that "The development of regional awareness and the reawakening of regional communities are no doubt the features of the regional phenomenon, which typifies the development of political structures in Europe over the past 10 years"; approves the emphasis of the Galway Declaration of the First Convention of the authorities of European Peripheral Regions that there can be no real European community in a system in which the rich regions become richer and the poor regions poorer, and that the regional autonomy which is essential implies election by universal suffrage of a deliberative regional assembly and the existence of a regional executive which is responsible to it, and that the regions must be regarded as political partners of the States; notes that the European Ministers of Regional Planning meeting in Bonn in 1970 had already emphasised that, "European integration may, if unaccompanied by a common conception of regional planning and development policies, aggravate geographical differences still further" and that autonomous regional political institutions constituted a desirable intermediary between the municipalities and the State in which the administration became more human and personal and lent itself better to control by the citizens and their elected representatives; notes that the 1978 Bordeaux Declaration calls for a policy of regional planning on the continental level based on democratic participation of all the regions in order to avoid the continuing process of colonisation of peripheral regions; approves its statement that policy sights must be fixed not solely on the economic aspect of development but also on the cultural and social aspects, and its affirmation that all regions in the Council of member States should enjoy "independence in cultural matters" since the region is the most appropriate framework for preserving and enhancing the regional and cultural heritage and its traditions, and that the promotion of regional cultures is an indispensable element in the construction of a Europe which respects its cultural and linguistic diversity; approves the statement that this regionalism means the mobilisation of a wider range of human and political resources and the achievement of solutions which are not imposed from the centre but negotiated on the basis of equality, and that regionalisation must not be at the expense of local authorities but implies the transfer downwards to a level closer to the governed of powers which have hitherto been exercised at the top; and finally asserts that Wales is more than a region, that she is an ancient nation in which all the rights and duties of nationhood inhere.]

Mr. Foot

I have certainly read the Early-Day Motion tabled by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. It is quite a lengthy motion. I took it away for the weekend, and I commend it to the House on that basis. I cannot promise that we shall debate it, important though the subject is, although I dare say that in our discussions on the Wales Bill—which we intend to conclude before we depart for the recess—many of these matters can be raised. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity on that occasion.

Mr. Stoddart

Has my right hon. Friend noticed Early-Day Motion No. 500 concerned with New Zealand mutton and lamb? Is he aware that it has been signed by hon. Members in all parts of the House and illustrates the widespread concern about this matter, which will affect not only our housewives but our New Zealand kith and kin? May we have an assurance that we shall have an early debate on the subject? In any event, can he assure me that nothing will be agreed by the Council of Ministers until this House has thoroughly discussed the matter?

[That this House urges the Government to reject any proposal which would adversely affect imports of mutton and lamb from New Zealand and jeopardise the Fatstock Guarantee (Deficiency Payments) Scheme, which has served British lamb producers well over the last 20 years.]

Mr. Foot

If it proves necessary to introduce a Community organisation for mutton and lamb, Her Majesty's Government will not accept one which does not ensure proper and fair returns for our producers. Nor will the Government accept such a proposal if it does not provide for continuing imports of New Zealand lamb with no new restrictions. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made this view clear to the country on previous occasions. Again, I am not sure whether we can have a debate on the matter, but I believe that in the questions that have been put to my right hon. Friend he has made his view perfectly clear.

Mr. Wells

Will the right hon. Gentleman look most seriously at Early-Day Motion No. 449 concerning homoeopathic medicine?

Is he aware that it has been signed by over one-third of hon. Members in all parts of the House who are free to sign Early-Day Motions? Does he realise that this issue is a matter of extreme concern, and a debate even very late at night would be better than no debate at all?

[That this House, and in particular those honourable Members who themselves have benefited from homoeopathic medicine, being aware of its present great value and its long history of success in the therapeutic treatment of the sick, has read with dismay that the deans of the post-graduate medical faculties have accepted the view of the Council for Postgraduate Medical Education that "training in homoeopathy is not of sufficient relevance to modern medical practice to warrant financial support for courses for general practitioners", Official Report, 26th April 1978, column 602; draws the attention of the Government to the fact that during the past two years over 35,000 members of the general public from all parts of the United Kingdom who are unable to receive homoeopathic treatment have inquired from the British Homoeopathic Association and the Faculty of Homoeopathy where such treatment may he obtained within the National Health Service; insists that the Government has a responsibility to ensure that medical education provides adequately for all recognised forms of medicine and not solely for that practised by the majority of doctors and must not therefore shelter behind pronouncements from the Council for Postgraduate Medical Education; and therefore urges the Government to take urgent steps to provide sufficient grants for general practitioners to take post-graduate courses in homoeopathy, in order to ensure that there is a sufficient number of doctors fully qualified in this branch of medicine to provide homoeopathic treatment under the National Health Service for all those patients who so desire it.]

Mr. Foot

I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman and with those who signed the motion. I think that it is legitimate to remind the House that there are other opportunities for hon. Members to select times for debate. I think that must be taken into account, especially as we approach the Summer Recess.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I propose to call three hon. Members from each side of the House.

Mr. Loyden

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware of the statement made by the Plessey Company regarding the redundancies in Edge Lane? Will he ask the Prime Minister to reactivate the recommendations in the report of the NEB on the telecommunications industry since my right hon. Friend will be aware that this further burden of unemployment on Merseyside is completely unacceptable?

Mr. Foot

I fully appreciate that the unemployment on the Merseyside is severe. I shall discuss that latest report with my right hon. Friend during the beginning of next week after he returns from the Bremen meeting.

Mr. Crouch

May I tell the right hon. Gentleman how glad I am that he has at last arranged for Oliver Cromwell to be seen outside the House? Does this indicate a final act of penitence by the Lord President before he leaves office in a few months' time?

Mr. Foot

It has nothing to do with an act of penitence. I was not responsible for boxing up Oliver Cromwell. I do not see that I should take any responsibility for this.

I am in favour of the proper Oliver Cromwell ceremony taking place on 3rd September this year, as on previous years. I hope we shall celebrate not only Oliver Cromwell but all his great associates— the Levellers, the Diggers, and all those who are in his great assembled company. I hope that it will be the biggest ceremony that we have ever had on 3rd September.

Mr. Madden

If substantial pay increases can be justified for top civil servants on grounds of equity and good administration, do not the same grounds present an overwhelming case for justice being given to low-paid civil servants? Will the Lord President accept that the talks between the appropriate trade unions and the Civil Service Department have broken down, and will he arrange for a statement to be made so that we can deploy arguments calling attention to the plight of low-paid industrial civil servants?

Mr. Foot

Another of my hon. Friends raised that subject earlier. I understand that there has been a breakdown in the negotiations, and we must certainly look at them to see what further can be done. There is no doubt that there is very strong feeling among industrial civil servants, and we have to take that into account too.

Sir Bernard Braine

Will the Leader of the House reflect on the somewhat unsatisfactory replies he gave earlier this afternoon to the effect that time for such important subjects as Southern Africa, immigration and, for that matter, the safety of my constituents on Canvey Island, cannot be found because the Session is coming to an end? Is it not all the more important, as we are moving into a General Election atmosphere, to extend the Session so that these important matters may be properly discussed here in Parliament?

Mr. Foot

There is no decision yet as to when the House of Commons will rise for the recess. When we come to that point, the House will have the chance of deciding the matter. Even in the House of Commons, where we do not have a thumping majority, we have managed to carry that motion on previous occasions. I dare say that we may on this occasion, too, such are our persuasive powers. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is perfectly legitimate to indicate to the House that in the next three weeks there will be opportunities for private Members to select what may be debated.

Mr. Dalyell

Would not even Oliver Cromwell have revealed by now which Lords amendments to the Scotland Bill he was prepared to accept? In particular, has the Lord President come to any decision on the matter of the devolution of betting and gaming, which, according to Lord Allen, the chairman of the Gaming Board, is highly dangerous?

Mr. Foot

On the second matter—the clause carried in the other place—the Government will reveal their attitude when we come to that debate. On the general matter of the Government indicating their attitude on each amendment, if we were to do that in the way my hon. Friend suggests, whatever Oliver Cromwell may have thought about it, we should be departing from the normal precedent in these matters. However, as I told the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) when he put a question to me last week on the subject, we should certainly indicate to the House that we are prepared to accept a considerable number of amendments. I think that we have already indicated that, and I am sure that it will become more apparent as we proceed with the debate this afternoon. The House will be able to see for itself that we are approaching the whole matter in the reasonable spirit that I described in response to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Biffen

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that on successive Business Question days recently he has been asked to state the Government's policy on dividend control? Are we now to understand from his exchange earlier this afternoon with my right hon Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) that this is a matter which will be discussed with the CBI? If that is so, would it not be a courtesy to inform the House formally?

Mr. Foot

The matter would have to be decided by the House one way or another: there is no question of its being decided by the CBI. All I said in response to the question from the right hon. Gentleman was that, since discussions are likely to take place between the Government and the CBI and the Government and the TUC over the coming weeks, this was obviously a topic that might arise in those discussions. That does not seem to me to be any denigration of Parliament's rights.


Mr. Emery

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have waited until this moment—because I thought it would be most convenient for the House—to raise a small point, but one of some relevance. It has always been the practice, during questions after the statement on next week's business by the Leader of the House, for hon. Members to be able to question the Leader of the House about next week's business. On a number of occasions, however, not all those hon. Members wishing to question the Leader of the House have been able to catch your eye. May I ask you to consider reminding the House that it has always been the practice that an hon. Member should ask only one question of the Leader of the House and not a multitude of questions? If hon. Members limited themselves to the practice of putting only one question, we might find that more hon. Members were able to catch your eye during that period.

Mr. Speaker

I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. That has been one of the best speeches I have heard today.