HC Deb 04 May 1978 vol 949 cc447-54
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 8TH MAY—Progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

TUESDAY 9TH MAY—Third Reading of the Wales Bill.

WEDNESDAY 10TH MAY—Further progress in Committee on the Finance Bill.

THURSDAY 11TH MAY—Second Reading of the Iron and Steel (Amendment) Bill. Command Paper No. 7188 on the British Steel Corporation and EEC Document R/540/78 will be relevant.

Remaining stages of the Co-operative Development Agency Bill.

FRIDAY 12TH MAY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 15TH MAY—Consideration of Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

Afterwards, motion relating to the Town and Country Planning (Windscale and Calder Works) Special Development Order.

The House may wish to know that, subject to progress of business, it is hoped to propose that the Spring Adjournment will be from Friday 26th May until Tuesday 6th June.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is it the Lord President's intention before we rise for Whitsun to provide a day's debate on the Armed Forces' pay award?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly look at the representation made by the right hon. Lady, but I cannot give any guarantee at the moment.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Leader of the House aware that very large numbers of children have been very seriously damaged by hormone pregnancy test drugs and that the committee on the safety of medicines has been negligent, after warnings of the dangers were given publicly, and that the Department of Health and Social Security is covering up vital information which is of very great importance to this House?

In view of these allegations, which are very serious, and in view of the fact that the Secretary of State has rejected four demands for a public inquiry into these serious allegations, is it not possible to have a debate on the issue next week?

Mr. Foot

I shall look at what my hon. Friend has said, without, of course, accepting any of his allegations.

Mr. Pym

Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate to the House how he will help the House in the matter of parliamentary papers, in particular the printing of Hansard for the last four days of the Budget debate?

The right hon. Gentleman has announced that there is to be progress on the Finance Bill in Committee next week. It is extremely difficult to conduct that exercise as it should be conducted on the basis of heavily amended copies of Hansard. All hon. Member would wish to have properly printed and fully prepared copies of Hansard before the weekend so that they can attend to their business on Monday in the proper manner.

Mr. Foot

I fully acknowledge to the right hon. Gentleman the inconvenience to the House which arises from this situation. As I told the House on 13th April, the industrial difficulties at the St. Stephen's Parliamentary Press are currently the subject of a conciliation exercise conducted by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

The House authorities will continue to do everything in their power to ensure that hon. Members have those papers necessary for the conduct of the business of the House. I understand that these will include the material relating to the Budget contained in the outstanding issues of Hansard for 12th, 13th and 17th April, which will be available by Monday and to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Mellish

First, on a non-party point, will my right hon. Friend say when it is likely that we shall have the legislation required to deal with Members' pensions? Will it come before Whitsun?

Secondly, recognising that we as Members of Parliament are always the very last in any pay queue, will my right hon. Friend say when we are likely to get an increase in salary?

Mr. Foot

Under the 12-month rule, the date for the increase in the salary of Members of Parliament would be in the middle of June, and we shall, of course, bring forth proposals to the House to deal with that aspect of the matter. As I have indicated to other hon. Members who have raised the matter with me previously, the question of the Bill to deal with parliamentary pensions is another matter. Of course, we must bring it forward. I am committed to bringing it forward in this Session of Parliament. I cannot say that we shall necessarily be able to present it before the Whitsun Recess, but we are committed to bringing it forward in this Session.

Mr. Jopling

As the Leader of the House has now told us when the debate on Windscale will be, will he give us an assurance that we shall know what the Goverment intend to do about Mr. Justice Parker's recommendations before that debate takes place?

Mr. Foot

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. Perhaps I may underline to the House that the debate will take place on Monday 15th May. It is the case that the order will have run out by that time, but we are making arrangements that those who have sponsored the Early-Day Motion will be able to make the latter motion effective on that date. There will be a longer time, therefore, for the debate than there would have been if it had been solely on the order, under the one and a half hours procedure. I hope that that arrangement will meet the undertakings that we have given to the House in order that we should have the full possibility for the House to debate the matter.

[That an humble address he presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Town and Country Planning (Windscale and Calder Works) Special Development Order 1978 (S.1. 1978, No. 523), dated 3rd April 1978, a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd April, be annulled.]

Mr. Terry Walker

Will my right hon. Friend give urgent consideration to having a debate before the Spring Bank Holiday Recess on the future production programme of British Aerospace? This is an urgent matter which needs looking at because of the fact that British Airways is pressing to buy foreign aircraft, and we must know which aircraft are to be produced by our own State-run industry.

Mr. Foot

I cannot give a promise of a debate, although I fully recognise the importance of the matter raised by my hon. Friend. Representations are made on the subject to the Minister who is responsible. I cannot give a promise of an early debate, but I will certainly look at the matter raised by my hon. Friend.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall call those hon. Members who have been standing up. I have a very long list of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to take part in the main debate. It includes six Privy Councillors. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will be as brief as possible.

Mr. Tebbit

On the subject raised by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), will the Lord President say whether he believes that the passage of the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill would enable a case to be made for a productivity rise in hon. Members' salaries this year?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that the people of the whole of the United Kingdom are very glad to see the excellent progress made with those Bills, and I am very glad to accept the hon. Gentleman's congratulations.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Will the Leader of the House accept the gratitude of those who have signed the Prayer against the Windscale order for having made arrangements for the order to be debated, and to be debated outside the normal framework for an order? Is he aware that over 50 hon. Members have now signed that Prayer and that many of them are anxious to speak in the debate? Will he consider exempting the debate on the order for one hour after 10 p.m.?

Mr. Foot

We have provided a longer time than usual and I thought that it was meeting the general representations that we had from the House before. Under the proposals that we are now making, there would be a three-hour debate. I do not think that it would be helpful for the House as a whole to alter that arrangement, but if representations were made from different parts of the House, I would take them into account and we would take some time to consider it. But, on the whole, I believe that the best way to proceed is along the lines that I have indicated, and to have the debate and the vote at 10 o'clock on the Monday.

Mr. Hastings

Has the Leader of the House noted Early-Day Motion No. 322 in my name and the names of some 100 right hon. and hon. Members, which was put down just before Easter, on the subject of the need to preserve good agricultural land and the alarming rate of its loss at the present time? Will he do his best to arrange a debate on the subject?

[That this House, gravely concerned at the continuing annual loss of between 40,000 and 50,000 acres of agricultural land in Great Britain to urban development or mineral extraction, and noting that a very large acreage of derelict or unused land is available for development in urban areas, much of it already owned by public authorities, and welcoming the increased emphasis placed on the revitalisation of inner cities, believes that the preservation of agricultural land should be regarded as one of the highest priorities in deciding upon planning applications submitted by public or private sector developers; and that the Ministry of Agriculture should take a much more active role in preventing further land loss.]

Mr. Foot

There have been some debates on agriculture in fairly recent days. I cannot give an immediate promise of a debate on agriculture generally, but I shall look at the possibilities. No doubt, there will be occasions when the matter will arise. However, I repeat, there was a debate on general agricultural matters only a few weeks ago.

Mr. Ted Fletcher

Has the attention of my right hon. Friend been drawn to Early-Day Motion No. 400, now signed by about 150 of my right hon. and hon. Friends, asking for time to be given to complete the remaining stages of the two Bills relating to employment protection? Is he now in a position to make a statement to the House on this matter?

[That this House considers that it is urgent and important to remedy some defects which have appeared in the operation of the Employment Protection Act 1975 and which have handicapped the work of the Advisory, Conciliation and Advisory Service and have limited the protection which the Act is designed to give to workers; and therefore urges Her Majesty's Government to provide time for the remaining stages of the Employment Protection Bill and the Employment Protection(Amendment) Bill.]

Mr. Foot

I am not in a position to make a statement on the matter, but I have certainly noted the motion in the name of my hon. Friend and the very strong backing that he has received for that motion. We have still some days of Private Members' time before the House and I think that we should await those before making any further decision. I have no doubt that other representations will also be made.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Is the Leader of the House aware that after fairly long experience in the House I believe that the people of this country do much better when Members of Parliament, and Parliament itself, have a long Recess? Under the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends, government has got worse as holidays have got shorter. Will he give us three weeks' holiday at Whitsun, instead of one week, because that will benefit the country greatly?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly view the hon. Gentleman's suggestion more sympathetically than I have viewed pretty well any other proposal that I have heard him make in the House. Even so, I doubt whether I shall be able to meet it.

Mr. Greville Janner

As a General Election is likely, at least within the next 17 months, has not the time come when we ought to have a debate on General Election arrangements, including permitted expenses and deposits? Can my right hon. Friend say when it is proposed to reconvene Mr. Speaker's Conference?

Mr. Foot

There is no proposal to reconvene Mr. Speaker's Conference at present. But certainly the other matter raised by my hon. Friend is a matter to which the House will have to direct its attention in the fairly near future. I do not say that it can cover all the subjects that he has raised, but it should cover some of them.

Mr. Farr

In view of the shortened recess, can the Leader of the House assure us that he will introduce immediately after the recess a Bill to give effect to the recommendation of Mr. Speaker's Conference relating to the electoral position in Northern Ireland? This is a much-needed Bill. It is urgently required and it need be only a short one.

Mr. Foot

I do not think that I have anything to add to what the Prime Minister said on this subject a week or so ago. The premise made by the hon. Gentleman—that this is an especially short recess—is not the case. There have been a number of occasions when the Whitsun Recess has been even shorter—if I may put it that way—than that which we are now proposing.

Mr. Canavan

Can we have a debate, or at least a statement, about the proposed Lonrho takeover of SUITS, which should not be allowed to go ahead, especially when the Director of Public Prosecutions is still considering the Department of Trade report about the activities of Lonrho in Africa and the vice-chairman of SUITS is still to face criminal charges in the Scottish courts?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate, but I shall look at the whole question that my hon. Friend has raised to see whether I should discuss it with the Minister responsible.

Mr. Fairbairn

Now that Afghanistan is the latest portion of the earth—and the people of Afghanistan are the latest people—to be overwhelmed by a bloody tryanny in the name of international Socialism, can we have an urgent debate on the implications for the West of this latest advance of Russian tyranny?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an early debate on this subject. I have no doubt that hon. Members who wish to raise the matter in the House can do so.