HC Deb 02 March 1978 vol 945 cc662-74
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 6TH MARCH—There will be a debate on the security situation in Northern Ireland, on a motion for the Adjournment. Motions on Northern Ireland Orders on Appropriation, Industries Development, Property, Rehabilitation of Offenders and Sexual Offences.

Motion relating to the Firearms (Variation and Fees) (Northern Ireland) Order.

TUESDAY 7TH MARCH AND WEDNESDAY 8TH MARCH—Further progress in Committee on the Wales Bill.

THURSDAY 9TH MARCH—Supply [11th Allotted Day]: the Question will be put on all outstanding Votes and Supplementary Estimates.

There will be a debate on the First, Second and Fifth Reports from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries on the British Steel Corporation.

It is expected that opposed Private Business will be named for consideration. With the approval of the Chairman of Ways and Means, and subject to the agreement of the House, it will be taken at 10 o'clock.

FRIDAY 10TH MARCH—Private Members motions.

MONDAY 13TH MARCH—Debate on a motion on the statement on the Defence Estimates, Command No. 7099, which will be concluded on Tuesday, 14th March.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I put one point to the Lord President? He will recall that I have asked him before about a debate on the public expenditure White Paper taking place before Easter, because the Budget is to take place soon after Easter. So far he has not announced such a debate. I assume that we shall still have a full debate on the public expenditure White Paper. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that it will be before Easter and that it will be fairly soon?

Mr. Foot

The expenditure White Paper has not yet been fully published and therefore we have to wait a while. However, I take account of the right hon. Lady's representations, although I cannot give an absolute guarantee.

Mrs. Thatcher

We have had this White Paper before in a typescript form. There is no difficulty about doing that. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that we shall have a debate on the public expenditure White Paper before Easter?

Mr. Foot

I must have a look at the matter. I am not sure whether there might not be complaints in other respects if we did this in the form that the right hon. Lady is suggesting. We are prepared to discuss this matter, as we have discussed it before.

Mr. Stoddart

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are still concerned about his failure to bring forward the electricity reorganisation Bill? Is he also aware that in that way he is causing grave offence to many of his right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as to people working in the electricity supply industry? Is he further aware that he could be accused of political cowardice? Will he now honour the pledge contained in the Queen's Speech and bring this Bill forward?

Mr. Foot

I do not know how my hon. Friend could in any sense accuse me of political cowardice on the matter, and I certainly resent any such suggestion. It is highly desirable that when this matter is brought forward it should go through the House. We want to secure that. It is also necessary in the interests of the electricity industry itself.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will only one Minister make statements on behalf of the Government about compensation for the recent blizzards and floods, or will the Minister of Agriculture make a statement about compensation to agriculture and a Department of Environment Minister make a statement on matters falling within his normal departmental experience?

Mr. Foot

I think that the hon. Gentleman must have missed the statement made to the House on this matter. In any case, it is not a question which arises on next week's business. When my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of the Environment, made statements to the House, they were well received in all quarters.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Will the right hon. Gentleman please hold out some hope of a debate on the progress of events in Rhodesia, if not next week, then before the Easter Recess, since there are some promising developments there? That would be an opportunity for the House to express, on an all-party basis, its support and admiration for those who are trying there to urge a peaceful settlement on a non-racial basis.

Mr. Foot

We are all in favour—and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman may be so—of a peaceful settlement in Rhodesia, but I am not certain that the kind of debate he is suggesting would be the best way to proceed.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Will my right hon. Friend give an indication that we may expect a statement or a Bill on Members' pensions so that we may debate the subject, which is of concern to all hon. Members?

Mr. Foot

I am fully aware of the interest in the matter on all sides and of the representations I have had from all sides of the House about it. The Government have now completed their consideration of the recommendations for parliamentary pensions contained in Report No. 8 of the Top Salaries Review Body, and they are prepared to accept all of those recommendations. It is now the Government's intention to introduce a Bill to give effect to the proposed changes as soon as possible in this current Session.

Mr. Norman Lamont

Will the right hop. Gentleman indicate that the House will have an opportunity to debate the Carter Report on the Post Office? The report was debated as long ago as November in another place. Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it is extremely important, dealing, as it does, with the largest employer in the country?

Mr. Foot

I understand the importance of the report. We would be very glad to debate the subject in the House, but it is open to the Opposition to select subjects for debate, and I would have thought that this was a good one.

Mrs. Jeger

Is my right hon. Friend aware that nearly 100 right hon. and hon. Members of all parties have signed the Early-Day Motion about the integrity of Belize? Even if he cannot arrange a debate next week, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that no changes will be made in that part of the world without a full debate in this House?

[That this House demands that Her Majesty's Government stand by the decisions of the United Nations, the Commonwealth Prime Minister's Conference and the wishes of the Government and people of Belize in supporting the territorial integrity of the colony; that the Governments of Guatemala and Mexico should be informed that no carve-up of Belize against the wishes of her people is contemplated; and that President Carter, in pursuance of his policies on human rights, should be asked to end the supply of United States arms and training facilities to Guatemala, which can only add to the threat against the people of Belize.]

Mr. Foot

I understand the significance that my hon. Friend and many others who have signed her motion attach to the matter. The answers that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave previously when he replied to the House fully met the representations that she and others were making. I cannot give an exact promise on the timing of a debate, but I shall take account of her representations.

Sir G. Howe

Will the right hon. Gentleman return to the question raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the need to have a debate on the public expenditure White Paper before Easter? Does he recollect that in previous years we have discussed that White Paper on the strength of a report from the Expenditure Committee, which was certainly important and which was produced only in typescript? Why can we not do that this year? Is he aware that successive Governments have given the undertaking, and fulfilled it, that the public expenditure White Paper would be debated in Government time before the Budget? We attach importance to that.

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that the White Paper makes provision for increases in public expenditure which in all probability exceed any tax cuts that the Chancellor might make in the Budget? Does he realise, therefore, that it is a document of overriding importance which should be debated in this House before the Budget is presented?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that I have anything to add to what I said before about our readiness to discuss this question, but I am very doubtful that with a report of this character, particularly if it has all the significance that the right hon. and learned Gentleman says it has, it would be satisfactory for the House if it were available only in typescript.

Mr. Abse

Will the Leader of the House inform us when it is likely, and certainly whether it will be before Easter, that we shall have the statement relating to Windscale and the date when the report will be published and when a debate could be arranged? In particular, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there are now coming into the Press—for example, The Sunday Times—what appear to be definitive statements claiming to know the method by which the legal difficulties are to be overcome, and this is raising anxieties?

Finally, will my right hon. Friend make certain that as and when the report is published there is ample time for not only this House but the whole nation and the Press to be able to study what will clearly be a long and undoubtedly complex report?

Mr. Foot

I fully understand the feelings on this subject of hon. Members in all parts of the House, and the Government have taken them fully into account. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will make a statement to the House on this subject next week, and it will cover all the aspects of the matter that my hon. Friend has raised.

Mr. Onslow

If the Government do not now intend to introduce the Merchant Shipping Bill this Session, will the Leader of the House find time to say so next week, so that we may then seek some other means of debating the urgent problems facing the shipping industry?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly consider the matter, and whether it would be helpful to the House to make a statement of the character that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. Of course, we would very much have wished to have that Bill introduced this Session, but, as I indicated at the beginning, there was pressure on time and we could not give any guarantee. I shall look at the point.

Mr. Cant

If the Liberals are unwilling to accept a Bill for the reorganisation of the electricity industry, does my right hon. Friend believe that they would approve of a Bill that would permit the payment of compensation to the Central Electricity Generating Board so that the Drax B power station construction can start?

Mr. Foot

I accept what my hon. Friend and others have said. Certainly I am in no position to speak for the Liberal Party, but I am sure that the Liberals would wish to see that part of the Bill going forward. I do not think that there is any dispute about that. The Government would like to see the whole Bill going forward. That is what we are wishing to secure, but that may not be possible.

Mr. Tebbit

Would the Leader of the House like to publish a list at some time, perhaps next week, of the important debates that have been dealt with by this House on typescript documents? Is it that the right hon. Gentleman is afraid of our straining our eyes when reading this typescript document, or is it the fact that he is afraid of getting another defeat on a Government White Paper on expenditure that is restraining him?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Member has been a Member of the House for quite a long time now. It is really time for him to try to let the nicer side of his nature emerge. It is not necessary that every time he rises he should give his famous imitation of a semi-house-trained polecat.

Mr. Tebbit rose

Mr. Noble

In view of the excessive amount of time spent during this Session and last Session debating the affairs of Scotland and Wales, and in view of the industrial problems in the North-West, will my right hon. Friend find time for an early debate on the Floor of the House about the problems in the North-West?

Mr. Foot

I fully understand the desire of my hon. Friends who represent different parts of the country to discuss employment and industrial problems in their own parts of the country. We had several debates at an earlier stage. After Easter we shall have to see whether we can make a similar approach, but in the immediate time ahead I cannot promise such a debate, although I shall take account of the representations that my hon. Friend and others have made on this matter.

Mr. Tapsell

As the report on public expenditure is to be published on 10th March, will the Leader of the House give a definite undertaking that it will be debated in the week beginning 13th March?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give such an undertaking. I repeat what I said at the beginning. We are certainly prepared to have discussions about the matter through the usual channels, but I cannot give a promise about it.

Mr. James Lamond

As the Prime Minister regards the forthcoming special session of the United Nations on disarmament as of sufficient importance that he will attend and speak there, and as the decision of NATO on the deployment of the neutron bomb is to be made immediately before that conference, may I ask whether there will be any time for a debate on this matter so that we can make sure that the Government adopt a very positive policy towards the disarmament conference?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate on the subject before Easter, but of course, the fact of the Prime Minister's visit to the United Nations attaches a special significance to this matter. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend and others in the House will find means of making representations on the matter to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call those hon. Members who have risen so far, because the rest of the business is covered by a timetable motion.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

As the Prime Minister indicated in quite unequivocal terms a few minutes ago his apparently unbridled contempt for the work of Select Committees, to the dismay of hon. Members in all parts of the House who labour diligently on these Committees in what they believe to be the public interest, will the Leader of the House table a motion indicating what is the Government's attitude towards Select Committees, so that this may be debated and the House may indicate its views of the Government's view?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that the Prime Minister displayed any such alleged unbridled contempt. I thought that he made a very measured statement.

Mr. Kinnock

Is it true that the debates on the reports of the Select Com- mittee on Nationalised Industries will take place on motions in the name of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition? If it is true, does my right hon. Friend agree that this is the most incompetent and stupid abuse of the purpose of Select Committees and that it is the most insensitive and contemptible disregard of the real needs of the steel industry to use it for stupid and superficial party-political purposes?

Mr. Foot

I am gratified by my hon. Friend's question, and I shall be very happy to sing "Auld Lang Syne" with him when going through the Division Lobby—assuming that my hon. Friend does not regard that as too nationalistic an expression of our fervour.

Mr. Welsh

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect an announcement to be made on the moving of the Writ for the impending by-election in Glasgow, Garscadden? Is he aware that the Scottish National Party is ready for this challenge and is ready to face the opinions of local people in respect of Labour's past record of neglect in the West-Central belt and on devolution?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that the hon. Member knows that that is not a business question that is directly for my concern.

Mr. Loyden

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) about a debate on the problems of the North-West? My right hon. Friend will be aware that I have been pressing for a statement and a debate on the subject of British Leyland's action and the loss of 3,000 jobs. In the North-West we have an additional problem in regard to the temporary employment subsidy in the textile industry. I am sure that my right hon. Friend must feel that these problems are sufficient justification for a debate on the Floor of the House or in Committee.

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend has certainly pressed me on every possible occasion, and very naturally so, in relation to the unemployment situation in his own constituency. There will be a statement on British Leyland before Easter. No doubt we can see then how we shall proceed after that. However, I repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble). After Easter no doubt we can also see what further opportunities there may be for debates on the employment situation in various parts of the country.

Mr. Lawson

Why cannot the Leader of the House promise a debate on the public expenditure White Paper before Easter? Does he not appreciate that what my right hon. Friends have been calling for is not a debate on the Select Committee's report, valuable though that may be, but a debate on the White Paper itself, which was published at the end of January? Does the Leader of the House not accept, further, that successive Governments have accepted an obligation to provide time for such a debate and have honoured that obligation?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to add to what I said earlier on this matter.

Mr. Molloy

Following the improvements in the economic situation, ought we not to have a general debate on the need for increased public expenditure, bearing in mind that at almost any Question Time, in putting questions to a variety of Ministers, Conservative Members make very pressing claims for increased public expenditure for all their constituencies, thus showing their complete distrust of and distaste for the policies submitted to the House by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Foot

All those matters, including many of the questions raised by others of my hon. Friends, will be in order in the debates on the Budget.

Mr. Pym

In order that the Lord President can dispel any ambiguity that there might be about the possible debate on public expenditure, will he confirm the undertaking he gave the House on 9th February, when he said: Of course, there would be a normal debate about public expenditure at some time before that."—[Official Report, 9th February; Vol. 943, c. 1669.] "That" was the date of the Budget, 11th April. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he will arrange a debate in the manner that he then described?

Mr. Foot

As I said at the beginning, I am very ready to have discussions through the usual channels on how we may most conveniently approach a debate. There are some difficulties about the publication of the document, but let us have discussions about them and see how we can solve them. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we manage to solve these problems through the usual channels. That is what I suggest we should do.

Mr. Ashley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the provision of hospices for the terminally ill is becoming a subject for debate outside the House? As those hospices are so inadequate, can my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on the subject in the near future?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an early debate, but I shall see what other opportunities there are for discussion between Ministers on the matter.

Mr. Ridley

Is the Leader of the House aware that the Picketing (Registration and Control) Bill, which the House gave me leave to introduce, is about to be published, and that the Bill enacts the Prime Minister's views about control of picketing, which the Prime Minister, expressed with his usual spurious gentility in June? Will the Leader of the House ensure that adequate time is provided for the Bill's passage through the House?

Mr. Foot

I thought that most charitable hon. Members thought when the hon. Gentleman introduced his Bill that it was a joke, and I think that it should be treated as such.

Mr. Gould

When does my right hon. Friend intend to fulfil the undertaking he gave the House last year concerning parliamentary control over EEC business? What is it that is taking so much time?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept the obligation that I accepted in the debate to which my hon. Friend refers. I promised that we would bring forward our proposals on the matter this Session, and I am still well within time on that promise. I have not lost sight of the undertaking I gave or of a general debate on the matter.

Mr. Michael Latham

With regard to next Tuesday's and Wednesday's business, the Wales Bill, would it not be greatly for the convenience of the House if the right hon. Gentleman could post in the Lobby next week a list of the clauses the Government do not intend to support because they do not have a majority for them?

Mr. Foot

What the Government did yesterday, for the general convenience of the Committee, was to indicate at the beginning of the debate their attitude to the first clause. But, instead of taking the hint, Opposition Members managed to filibuster for the rest of the afternoon.

Mr. Pym

Will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw that remark? He was here for the opening of the debate. It was not only Opposition Members but Members in all parts of the House, representing all points of view, who wished to draw to the Government's attention fundamental issues raised by the first clause and to ask the Government for some replies.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)

Second Reading speeches.

Mr. Pym

Three months have passed since Second Reading, and the clause was about the unity of the United Kingdom. To say that there was a filibuster and to direct that accusation at the Opposition Benches is a misstatement of the truth and the reality. The right hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well. He is a great expert at mythology and trying to extend myths into history. The truth is that hon. Members wished to express in the Committee of the whole House their profound anxiety about the implications of the Bill.

Mr. Foot

I heard the beginning of the debate—I am sorry that I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman's peroration; I apologise for that—and the latter part of the debate. But I have read the Official Report of a considerable part of the intervening sections, although not every word. On previous occasions no one has been more forward than I have been in saying that there has not been filibustering on a Bill, but I believe that for the Committee to spend six hours or so at the beginning of the Committee stage discussing a clause that the Government were not pressing was a misuse of time. It could have been much better used, as is confirmed by the fact that some of those who wished to repeat their Second Reading speeches did so in Committee.

Mr. Tebbit

After the right hon. Gentleman has had a moment or two to reconsider, will not he accept that his earlier reply to me did him little credit and in fact robbed him of some of the small remaining credit that he has in the House? Would he now like to put a bridle on his foul-mouthed tongue and give a civil and honest reply to the question that was put to him?

Mr. Foot

If the hon. Gentleman will look at what he said he will see that my reply was perfectly apposite and that one insult deserved another.

Mr. Kinnock

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you prevail upon my right hon. Friend to tell the House what he has against polecats, as he unfavourably compared them with the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has made a mistake. Yesterday was St. David's Day.