HC Deb 09 March 1978 vol 945 cc1608-19
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Lord President to state the business of the House for the period up to Easter?

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

The business for the period up to the Easter Adjournment will be as follows:

MONDAY 13th March and TUESDAY 14th March—Debate on a motion on the Statement on the Defence Estimates, Command No. 7099.

At the end on Monday, proceedings on the Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill [Lords], the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill [Lords], and on the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Bill [Lords], which are consolidation Measures.

Motion relating to the Fiduciary Note Issue (Extension of Period) Order.

At the end on Tuesday, motion on the Industrial Training Levy (Engineering) Order.

WEDNESDAY 15th March—Second Reading of the Trustee Savings Banks Bill.

Remaining stages of the Employment Subsidies Bill and of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill [Lords].

Motion on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976 (Continuance) Order.

THURSDAY 16th March—Debate on the White Paper, "The Government's Expenditure Plans, 1978–79 to 1981–82", Command No. 7049, when the Second Report from the Expenditure Committee will be relevant.

Motion on EEC Documents Com(77) 620, R/2355/77 and R/415/78 on Economic and Monetary Union and National Economic Policies.

FRIDAY 17th March—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 20th March—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

TUESDAY 21st March—Motion on EEC Documents R/3200/77, R/3200 Addendum 1, and R/545/78, on Agriculture Price Proposals, and R/27/78 on Milk. Other relevant EEC documents will be listed in the Official Report.

Motion on EEC Documents R/3197/ 77 and R/3197 Addendum 1, R/ 3270/77 and R/402/78 on Mediterranean Agriculture and Wine.

WEDNESDAY 22nd March—Debate on the Windscale Inquiry Report.

Motion on EEC Document S/2066/77 on Cyprus.

THURSDAY 23rd March—It will be proposed that the House should meet at 11 a.m., take Questions until 12 noon, and rise for the Easter Adjournment at 5 p.m. until Monday 3rd April 1978.

Following are the EEC Documents relevant to the debate on Tuesday 21st March 1978

Mrs. Thatcher

May I put two points to the right hon. Gentleman? First, I see that no provision is made for a foreign affairs debate before Easter. Is he aware that many of us feel that we may at least want a debate on Rhodesia before the House adjourns for the Easter Recess? Therefore, in the light of events, will he examine the prospect of the House being able to debate the subject of Rhodesia before that time arrives?

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that the House will debate the White Paper on defence on Monday and Tuesday on a Government motion. Since in these days such motions tend not to be straightforward, may we know when the motion will be tabled?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate on foreign affairs and Rhodesia. I am happy to have discussions about the matter, but I repeat that I can give no promise. If such a debate were to take place, it would cause great difficulties in the programme of business which I have already announced, but that no doubt will depend on events.

On the second matter relating to motions, I would inform the right hon. Lady that motions are sometimes altered. She will know from her Biblical knowledge that motions can sometimes be in the form of an authorised version or a revised version, but either version would be better than the motion the right hon. Lady has on the Order Paper. I hope that she will be satisfied in that respect, and I also hope that we shall table the motion in good time for the House to be able to take account of it.

Mr. Spearing

May I ask my right hon. Friend about the debate on Wind-scale on Wednesday week? Will my right hon. Friend consider tabling a take-note motion on the subject so that the various forms of opinion can be placed on the Order Paper rather than that the matter should be dealt with on the Adjournment, which will not allow such a right to be given to hon. Members?

Mr. Foot

I believe that a debate on the Adjournment would be more convenient than the method suggested by my hon. Friend, because a take-note motion may not give rise to the same possibilities as will the method we suggest. I think that we should proceed in the way we are recommending.

Mr. Molyneux

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when we may expect to debate the motion on the Easter Adjournment?

Mr. Foot

I think that that will take place on the Monday.

Mr. Heifer

Is there any possibility of a debate on the problems of the North-West, with particular reference to unemployment problems on Merseyside? Could such a debate take place, not as part of an Adjournment motion but as a full-scale debate, so that some positive policies may be advanced to deal with the serious problems which those on Merseyside are now facing?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept everything my hon. Friend says about the seriousness of those problems. He will know that many other Merseyside Labour Members have mentioned this matter on previous occasions. I cannot promise a special debate on the subject. I can only point out that these matters often enter into general economic debates of the type we shall be having. In considering whether we shall consider some of these matters after the Easter Recess, I wish to inform my hon. Friend that I shall examine the position in the light of the comments which he and others have made.

Mr. Farr

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the reasons lying behind the events in Committee Room No. 14 this morning when the Northern Ireland Committee met to consider the reorganisation of the Housing Executive? Members found themselves in a Committee room that was totally devoid of documentation, and they discovered that there was no documentation on the matters at hand within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. In view of the fact that the Committee had to adjourn until documentation was found, will he examine the matter and acknowledge that he is responsible for seeing that Members of Parliament are furnished with such documents in a proper manner?

Mr. Foot

I shall look into the matter, of course. As I understand it, the documents that were available were the normal sort of documents that are available in these circumstances. I shall look into what occurred this morning.

Mr. Cant

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to Early-Day Motion No. 286 on the City "watchdog"? Is he aware that many of his hon. Friends are rather annoyed that the Bank of England has taken 18 months to make a report on this issue, and that it seems as though the Government will make up their mind without reference to Members of Parliament, many of whom are very dissatisfied?

[That this House would have no confidence in a Council for the Securities Industry consisting entirely of representatives of City institutions with no legal powers and no responsibility for other parts of the financial services industry.]

Mr. Foot

I shall take into account the question that my hon. Friend has raised along with those of my hon. Friends who signed the motion on the Order Paper. The Government will take into account these representations along with others.

Mr. Crouch

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman said that there would be a debate on wine on Tuesday week. What is the nature of the wine that we are to debate? I do not think that the matter has yet been debated in the plenary session of the European Parliament. Will the right hon. Gentleman enlighten us on what we are to be asked to decide about the wine that we are to use in this country?

Mr. Foot

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the documents to which I have referred, he will see the reference to wine as well as to agriculture generally.

Mr. Ted Fletcher

Will my right hon. Friend indicate when he intends to introduce the electricity Bill?

Mr. Foot

We should like to introduce the whole Bill, but I cannot indicate to the House when we shall be able to do so. The sooner that we can do it, the better.

Mr. Hodgson

When does the Lord President intend to bring forward legislation based on the Briggs Report on the future of nursing? Is he aware that delay is causing considerable concern to the profession?

Mr. Foot

I acknowledge the importance of the Briggs Report and the desire of hon. Members in many parts of the House that we should proceed with it. I cannot give any indication that we shall be adding to our legislative programme at present.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that earlier this week during Questions to the Secretary of State for Social Services many Opposition Members, notwithstanding the policy of their Leader, made demands on behalf of their constituents and constituencies for great increases in public expenditure on hospital building and all sorts or expenditure that we on this side advocate? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, because of the almost total unanimity of the House of Commons to have an increase in this aspect of public expenditure, with the exception of the Leader of the Opposition, we should have a debate on the subject? That would not only help the National Health Service but would make a contribution to assist the construction industry, as well as making the will of the House of Commons a reality.

Mr. Foot

I suppose that it is conceivable but not probable that the official Opposition's policy on public expenditure might creep into the debate next Thursday.

Mr. Gow

Will the Lord President make a statement on behalf of the Government on their response to the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference for increased representation for Northern Ireland in the House?

Mr. Foot

I agree that a statement should be made to the House at an early date, and we shall see that it is done.

Mr. Canavan

May we have a debate on land policy in view of the report in today's Daily Record that the Tory-controlled Grampian regional council has given the use rent-free of several acres of public land to one of its local wealthy farmers—namely, the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt), who has not declared this gift in the register of interests?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise any debate. I am quite happy to leave the council concerned, and the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt), to the not-so-tender mercies of my hon. Friend.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be extraordinary if the United Nations were to consider the internal settlement in Rhodesia while Britain, which remains legally responsible, has no debate on the subject?

Secondly, when may we expect publication of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill?

Mr. Foot

On the first subject, I have nothing to add to what I said in reply to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. I think that the House should take into account the statement made by the Prime Minister.

I do not have anything further to say on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. There is some legislation that we should like to get through that we shall have to postpone until the next Session. No doubt we shall have an almost equally full Queen's Speech at the beginning of the next Session as we had this Session.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

As my right hon. Friend will be aware, many of us are a little apprehensive at the recent announcement that the Government propose to have talks with Spain on the future of Gibraltar. Is my right hon. Friend able to give us any indication when we shall be able to discuss this vital issue?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to say on the general subject. No statement has been made by the Government about it.

Mr. George Gardiner

In view of some contradiction between the statements made on Tuesday by the Secretary of State for Social Services and his predecessor on the question of files passing from that Department to the office of the former Prime Minister, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for his right hon. Friend to make a full statement to the House next week to clear up the whole matter?

Mr. Foot

That would be a waste of time for the House. I think that the hon. Gentleman's question was a waste of time, too.

Mr. Spriggs

Will my right hon. Friend consult our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister with the object of his chairing a conference in the Merseyside area to consider the proposed redundancies—they have not taken effect yet—that will aggravate one of the worst unemployment situations in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept what all my hon. Friends from the Merseyside area say about the the extremely serious situation with which they are faced. I am not minimising it in any sense. However, whether the best way to proceed is to take the course recommended by my hon. Friend is another matter.

Mr. Michael Morris

In view of the comments that there has been interference in the National Health Service, will the right hon. Gentleman arrange, if it is not resolved by Monday, for a statement from the Secretary of State for Social Services?

Mr. Foot

What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said today was clear and I hope that the House will take that into account.

Mr. Loyden

Will my right hon. Friend say when we are likely to have a statement on Leyland? Will he give an assurance to the House that a debate will take place on the Floor of the House before any final decision is taken on the corporate plan?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a statement on the subject before Easter. I know of the strong desire of my hon. Friends that there should be a statement made to the House as soon as possible. When we have the statement, that will be the proper time for us to consider how best the House can proceed to consider these matters thereafter.

Mr. Pym

As our proceedings are to he broadcast after Easter, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to set up a Select Committee on broadcasting before Easter?

Mr. Foot

We shall certainly get a move on in that respect.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Leader of the Opposition is anxious to raise the subject of Rhodesia, there is nothing to prevent her from trying to get in a week on Monday on the Consolidated Fund Bill?

Mr. Foot

I always welcome the right hon. Lady here, and I shall be happy to welcome her here on that date, too.

Mr. Higgins

Will the next Queen's Speech include provision for a companies Bill? The Prime Minister went out of his way to say that legislation on insider dealing was important. I was assured only a short time ago that a Bill would be produced. Is that Bill now to be produced?

Mr. Foot

As I mentioned before in another context, there are many legislative measures that we should like to bring forward. However the legislative programme of the Government and of the House is extremely crowded. It is doubt- ful whether we shall be able to proceed with that Bill. Of course, we recognise its importance. If we do have to postpone it from this Session, we shall, of course, introduce it in the next Session.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Given the already intolerably high level of unemployment on Merseyside and the fact that about 6,000 other redundancies are now pending, I reinforce the plea of my hon. Friends for a debate on Merseyside's problems, and more importantly, the setting up of a special development agency for Merseyside so that the problems that are special and peculiar to the area can be dealt with locally.

Mr. Foot

As I have said to my hon. Friends from Merseyside who have put earlier questions, I fully recognise their deep concern on behalf of their constituents about unemployment in their area. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not only their constituents."] I understand that it is not only their constituents; it is the whole country. I recognise their deep concern about the matter. However, I cannot agree that a debate on that subject is necessarily the best way to proceed. I accept that we must take every possible steps to try to deal with the problem Some of these questions that have been posed by my hon. Friends—

Mr. Heifer

It is terrible.

Mr. Foot

—can be raised in other debates. I shall consider whether we may have some other form of debate after the recess.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. If we move as fast on the remaining questions as we have on earlier questions, I hope to call all those who wish to put questions. If not, I shall not be able to call them all.

Mr. Blaker

Apart from the debate on the Rhodesia sanctions order, which was a good many months ago, when did the House last have a debate on foreign affairs in Government time?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman puts that question to me, but I can put it to him, too. The Opposition have many opportunities—[HON. MEMBERS: "Government time."]—for selecting subjects for debate. They have often chosen subjects very different from those which are being raised now.

Mr. Banks

Does the Leader of the House agree with my estimation that we have not had a full day's debate on foreign affairs for over a year? Does he understand that it is intolerable that we should be denied a proper opportunity to debate the Rhodesia settlement before the Easter Recess? Therefore, will he reconsider his earlier statement?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to add to what I said to the Leader of the Opposition at the beginning of the exchanges on that subject. Often long periods pass without the House having a full debate on foreign affairs. One of the reasons why there has not been such a debate for a whole year is that the Opposition did not select that subject for debate on the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Bowden

When the Leader of the House next reviews his list of Questions and the order for Question Time, will he consider having Social Services Questions on a different day of the week, because the present arrangement means that that important subject gets only three-quarters of an hour every time?

Mr. Foot

I shall look at the matter, although it is not exactly a question concerning the business for next week.

Mr. Marten

I recognise that we are to debate a number of EEC documents in the agriculture debate. But is the Lord President aware that, by stacking up so many other EEC documents after 10.30 at night, he is in danger of being thought to be treating the Common Market with the contempt that it is perhaps increasingly deserving? Nevertheless, will he consider whether we might have a whole day devoted to debating three or four different Common Market matters so that we may have a sensible vote on them?

Mr. Foot

I hope that the House will have that opportunity on Tuesday 21st March when there is to be a general debate on the agriculture price proposals.

On the general matter of discussing other EEC orders and measures, I do not deny that it is sometimes inconvenient for the House. But we have to take account of the fact that, for the first time in our history, there is the combination of a considerable amount of business from Northern Ireland, which adds to the pressure on the time of the House, and the whole weight of Common Market legislation and debates on it. It is a tremendous extra burden on the House and we have not yet properly solved the problem. We are seeking to carry out the pledges that we gave to the House on these matters. I think that most of those who study these matters would agree that we are faithfully carrying out those pledges.

Mr. Onslow

Will the Leader of the House honour the undertaking that he gave last week by telling us whether the Government intend to introduce the Merchant Shipping Bill in this Session?

Mr. Foot

I have already indicated that it is doubtful whether we shall be able to proceed with that Bill. Indeed, we gave no assurance in the Queen's Speech that we should be able to introduce it in this Session. We are eager to introduce such a Bill. That is further proof of what I have been saying—that we have a whole list of important measures that we would like to bring forward when we have the proper time to do so.

Mr. MacKay

Does the Leader of the House realise that many hon. Members feel that a minor disruption of Government business is not sufficient reason for not having a debate on the vital question of the internal settlement in Rhodesia?

Mr. Foot

It is not a question of a minor interruption of Government business or the business of Parliament. There is also the question whether the most appropriate time for a debate on that subject has been reached. That question can be discussed generally between the usual channels if desired.

Mr. Jasper More

Will the Leader of the House reconsider his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) regarding the Secretary of State for Social Services and these missing files? Does he accept that public concern is unlikely to be alleviated by a last-minute statement in reply to a planted Question followed by inconsistent statements from two successive Secretaries of State?

Mr. Foot

From the way that the hon. Gentleman has put the matter, I believe that it would be a waste of the time of the House of Commons to pursue it further.

Hon. Members

Cover up.

Mr. Kilfedder

Will the Leader of the House provide time to debate my Early-Day Motion No. 279 which seeks powers to enable the Northern Ireland Committee to meet in Northern Ireland urgently to debate security problems and the protection of lives in the Province?

Secondly, will he provide time urgently to debate the proposed contract between RAPIDATA and the Northern Ireland Office for the production of new driving licences, which many believe are a security risk and which others believe were approved in America when the Secretary of State went there last year?

[That this House considers that power should be given to the Northern Ireland Committee to meet in Northern Ireland urgently to discuss security in the Province, the protection of the lives of Ulster people, and the destruction of terrorism.]

Mr. Foot

I cannot find time for a debate on the second matter.

I cannot propose that we should have the kind of debate suggested by the hon. Gentleman on the first matter. There was a debate on security in Northern Ireland in the House earlier this week. The Government did everything possible to ensure that there should be assistance in having that debate. I believe that it took place at a time which was desired by most—not all—hon. Members representing Northern Ireland. I hope that the House will be satisfied with that.

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