HC Deb 11 May 1978 vol 949 cc1401-15
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Lord President 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 15TH MAY.—Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

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

Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.

TUESDAY 16TH MAY.—Committee stage of the Finance Bill.

WEDNESDAY 17TH MAY.—Remaining stages of the Transport Bill.

THURSDAY 18TH MAY.—Supply [15th Allotted Day]: a debate on industrial relations in the newspaper industry.

Motion on the Bread Prices (Amendment No. 5) Order.

FRIDAY 19TH MAY.—Second Reading of the Homes Insulation Bill and of the Solomon Islands Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Bill and of the Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates' Courts Bill [Lords].

MONDAY 22ND MAY.—Supply [10th Allotted Day]: a debate on the pay of the Armed Forces.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I put two questions to the right hon. Gentleman? First, will he be able to provide a day before we rise for the Whitsun Recess to debate industrial strategy and employment? The question is especially urgent since the news that GEC is being prevented by the row over the pay policy and the attempt to make the company sign a contract about it, which it does not want to do, from setting up a factory which will provide 1,000 jobs? Secondly, with regard to the Supply Day debate on the pay of the Armed Forces, will the Secretary of State for Defence make a statement before the debate on leaks from the Department about pay and premature voluntary release?

Mr. Foot

I shall inquire whether it is desirable or necessary to have a statement before the debate. I should have thought that any comments could be made in the debate itself, but I shall look at the question that the right hon. Lady has raised and, as I say, see whether it is desirable or necessary to have such a preliminary statement.

On the first matter that she raised, I doubt whether we could have a general debate before the Whitsun Recess on the lines that she suggested. But I shall look at the whole question, because, obviously, there are ways in which this matter can be raised in the House even before the recess. But as for a general debate on the subject, before giving any undertaking I shall have to look into that.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend look further at this question of a debate on the very matter raised by the right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher)? I do not agree with the point that she has raised in the sense that obviously she has raised it from a different angle. However, it is of great concern that the creation of 1,000 jobs could be held up in an area such as Merseyside because of an argument in Whitehall about future pay policy which may be introduced in a year or two. May we have a statement from the appropriate Minister on the matter, because it is one of great importance for Merseyside?

Mr. Foot

I was quite sure that my hon. Friend was not raising the matter in precisely the same manner as the Leader of the Opposition. I shall look into whether there should be a statement to the House on the subject in the coming few days.

Mr. Powell

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that at an early stage there should be a debate in this House upon the past and future consequences of Commonwealth immigration? In view of the failure of the Official Opposition, for understandable reasons, to provide time, will the Government consider whether they can make this possible for the House?

Mr. Foot

As the right hon. Member indicated, this would obviously have been and would still be a suitable question for the Opposition to raise if they wished to do so. I do not exclude the possibility of a debate on it at some future stage, but I cannot offer any promise of such a debate before Whitsun.

Mr. Fernyhough

With regard to the business announced for Monday week in connection with the pay of the Armed Forces, in view of the attitude of the Opposition this week, which has resulted in a reduction of the Government's revenue, will my right hon. Friend explain where the additional pay for the Armed Forces is to come from without reducing some of the other commitments which we have accepted?

Mr. Foot

I am sure that the Opposition will seek to try to reply to my right hon. Friend's question when the time comes, although I doubt whether they have a satisfactory answer.

Sir Bernard Braine

Does the Leader of the House recall that the Select Committee on Expenditure's excellent report on preventive health, which was published more than a year ago, the Government's reply, which was published six months ago, and the Blennerhassett Report on drink and driving, which revealed the dreadful toll of death and injury on our roads, all call for urgent debate in this House? Will the right hon. Gentleman take his responsibilities seriously and provide time for a subject touching upon safety and security in this land to be debated here?

Mr. Foot

I am not depreciating the importance of the matters raised by the hon. Member, but I cannot promise a debate on the subject before Whitsun.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), the Leader of the House half-promised a statement on the wages question. If that statement is made, could my right hon. Friend also arrange for an explanation to be given why the Government almost always implement independent reports on questions such as the Armed Forces, the doctors, the police and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, but always refuse to implement independent reports about the salaries and conditions of Members of Parliament?

Mr. Foot

I leave aside any pejorative contrast in my hon. Friend's question, but of course the matter of the pay of Members of Parliament must be debated—and it will be debated in the House no doubt when we come to the time for the matter to be dealt with. I am sure that when that happens the point that my hon. Friend is raising now will be pressed further and that there will be a full opportunity for a discussion.

Mrs. Bain

In view of the vicious mauling being given to the Scotland Bill in another place whereby a non-elected body is attempting to deprive future elected Members of a Scottish Assembly of a variety of powers, will the right hon. Gentleman issue a warning that these decisions will be reversed when the Bill returns to this House and that, if necessary, a guillotine will be imposed?

Mr. Foot

The Government will give careful consideration to all amendments passed in the other place. Obviously, the Government will have their own views on many of them and will come before the House in the normal way and suggest how they should be considered. I do not accept all the language that the hon. Lady used to describe what the other place has done, but certainly I agree that we must look most carefully at what it has done, and that is what the Government will do before the Bill is brought forward again.

Mr. Abse

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to consider whether he will, as he promised, extend the time for the debate on Windscale until 11 o'clock, in view of the attenuated debate that we shall have on the issue in any event? Secondly, to avoid any consumption by points of order of the time which will be available, will he clarify the procedure which is to be adopted on Monday and explain how he has made the arrangements that he said he was making so that, despite the fact that the time for praying against the order has run out, it would be possible for that Prayer to be effective on that date? Will he note that there is a motion on the Order Paper proposed by the Liberal Party and that undoubtedly by tomorrow, in order to make it abundantly clear that opposition also comes from Government Back-Benchers, many hon. Members will have signed another procedural motion against the Windscale order? I hope that my right hon. Friend will explain before Monday what procedure is to be adopted for the debate.

[That the Town and Country Planning (Windscale and Calder Works) Special Development Order 1978 (S.I., 1978, No. 523) dated 3rd April 1978, a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd April, be withdrawn.]

Mr. Foot

On the first question, of the time available, I promised my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and other hon. Members that I would consider whether we could further extend the extended time that we had already provided. Those representations were made by hon. Members in different parts of the House. I have looked at it, but I still think that the right way for the House to proceed is on the timetable that we suggested. As the House will acknowledge, I am sure, we have carried out exactly what we promised on earlier occasions in providing longer time. Representations have also been made to me about the length of speeches from the Front Benches on that occasion and I certainly hope that those representations will be taken into account.

As for the order of the proceedings—the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse)—there is a motion on the Order Paper, in the name of the Leader of the Liberal Party, for the withdrawal of the order. That is the motion which we believe should be debated on Monday, but that in no way inhibits other hon. Members from joining fully in the debate. It means that we have carried out exactly what we promised—that that motion, which will be debated and can be voted on, will provide the House with the opportunity to make an effective decision on this matter.

Mr. Wigley

When shall we have the so-called "annual" Welsh day debate, which we have not had for two years?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure whether it would give rise to universal acclaim if I announced it for next week. I think that it will have to be a little later than that.

Mr. Ron Thomas

Before we have our next sitting on the Finance Bill, will my right hon. Friend, for the benefit of the House, suggest to the Opposition spokesmen on Treasury affairs that they might have a short course in addition so that they have their figures right next time and so that their blatant class interest in giving out more and more money to the wealthy members of our society does not cloud their ability even to add up a few simple figures?

Mr. Foot

Certainly if their arithmetic were better, their contributions to the debate would be much briefer.

Mr. Luce

Since it was revealed in the other place yesterday that the British Government have known that for 18 months 40 Argentinians have occupied the southern Thule Island, which is British territory attached to the Falkland Islands, is it not a dereliction of duty on the part of the Foreign Secretary that he has not reported this matter to the House or explained what action he has taken about it? Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for a statement to be made?

Mr. Foot

I repudiate any suggestion of any dereliction of duty by my right hon. Friend in this respect. Of course the Foreign Secretary has made clear the Government's attitude and the Government's opposition to any suggestion of any alteration of the sovereignty position in the Falkland Islands. I think that my right hon. Friend made that clear before. It is unwise of the hon. Member to cast any aspersions on what my right hon. Friend said.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend use his influence to ensure that there is an inquiry into the disgraceful conduct exhibited by the owners of Windsor Safari Park? First of all, they maltreated their animals disgracefully, as shown on a BBC television programme recently. When the workers complained about that treatment and about their conditions and pay they were sacked. Now they have been made homeless as a result of eviction notices. Is it not even—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Member should be asking for a debate on the matter next week.

Mr. Skinner

I am getting around to that.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member had better get it right.

Mr. Skinner

Is it not even more appalling that Yorkshire Television which claimed earlier this week to wine and dine MPs, is part-owner of Windsor Safari Park?

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Skinner

Is it not time—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat when I get up. He knows that this is the time for questions on the business for next week.

Mr. Burden

Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted the Minister of Agriculture? He promised to discuss with his right hon. Friend the desirability of holding an early debate on the report on the export of live animals for slaughter. What is the result of those deliberations?

Mr. Foot

I am sorry to say that I have nothing further to say about that matter now, but we shall continue to consider whether there could be a debate on the matter. As I told the hon. Member before, this subject is obviously eminently suitable for Private Members to raise.

Mr. Pavitt

Will the House have the opportunity to discuss the proposed new contract for hospital consultants? If it is not possible next week, will my right hon. Friend undertake that, before that contract is endorsed, to the detriment of whole-time consultants, the House will be able to discuss it?

Mr. Foot

I certainly note what my hon. Friend says and I shall discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Reverting to the topic of the Falkland Islands, and without attempting to cast any aspersions at this stage upon the Foreign Secretary, may I ask whether it is not reasonable for the House to expect a factual statement on the situation in the Falkland Islands dependencies and on the Government's policy in regard to it, rather than having to rely on newspaper reports? That is not an unreasonable suggestion. I suggest that the Leader of the House does not try to draw red herrings across the matter about aspersions on the Foreign Secretary but gives the pledge for which we are asking, which is that a factual statement will be made.

Mr. Foot

I do not complain at all of what the hon. Gentleman has said and the way in which he has put his question. I was complaining about what the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) had raised. He put his question in quite a different way and cast some aspersions on what was said by the Foreign Secretary. I do not think that it is advisable in such a situation that hon. Members should cast doubt on what my right hon. Friend said. I take note of what the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) has said. If it is felt desirable to have a further statement to the House on the subject, of course we shall consider it.

Mr. Lee

Would my right hon. Friend address himself to the matter that I raised with him obliquely yesterday—the conflict between demands on hon. Members in this House and the duties of the so-called European Assembly? Will he reflect on the situation which arose on Monday, when an adverse vote took place in the Agriculture Committee of the European so-called Assembly because hon. Members were required for duties here? Have there been any discussions behind the scenes with those who run that organisation to avoid that kind of situation arising again?

Mr. Foot

I am afraid that that situation is bound to arise from time to time. It arises from the fact that this House decided some years ago that this country should join the EEC, which had an institution of this character. If that institution were to be sustained, a clash was bound to occur. We seek to overcome it as much as we can and to devise methods by which the double burden which is bound to be imposed on Members is dealt with. As long as that situation continues, I am afraid that there is bound to be some divergence of call of duty in this respect.

Mr. Adley

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that this is the third time that I have asked him when we may have a debate—and soon—on the immediate question of the purchase by British Airways of new aircraft and the directly related question of future policy concerning the British aerospace manufacturing industry? In view of the high-powered teams from Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas which are traipsing from Government Department to Government Department, and since this is obviously a matter of concern not only to Her Majesty's Government but to thousands of people working in the industry, will the right hon. Gentleman take on board the fact that we should have a chance to debate this important issue in the House before the Government come to any conclusion on both related issues?

Mr. Foot

I have certainly taken note of what the hon. Gentleman said before on this subject. I acknowledge what he and others have said about the importance of the matter, but I have nothing further to add today.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the answer that he gave our hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) about Monday's debate on Windscale? Is he aware that the proposed arrangements for Monday are likely to result in barely an hour for the Back Benchers unless the Front-Bench speeches are of unaccustomed brevity? Is he aware that the Lords amendments to the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, which we are to consider after the Windscale debate, are non-controversial and fulfil Government undertakings? In the light of those considerations, is there any reason why the House should not continue the Windscale debate until 11 o'clock?

Mr. Foot

I note all the points that my hon. Friend has made. I have emphasised from this Box, chiefly in response to his representations to me earlier, that I believe that the Front Benches on both sides should take note of the position and should seek to ensure that there is a full opportunity for others to take part. However, I believe that there would also be inconvenience for other hon. Members if we were to follow my hon. Friend's advice.

We indicated some weeks ago that when we had the order before us we would seek to extend the hour and a half that would be normal under such an order. We have carried out and fulfilled that undertaking. I believe that the House will have a perfectly reasonable debate and will have a full chance to consider the matter before it reaches a decision. I am sorry to say to my hon. Friend that I do not think we can change our decision now.

Mr. Tebbit

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that when the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is in complete agreement with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that there should be a statement or a debate upon the way in which the Government's arbitrary pay policy, which does not have any force under the law of the land, is being used to destroy jobs on Merseyside, it makes an especially compelling reason to have a statement or debate? If the Lord President sat anywhere except where he does, would he not be the first to be speaking alongside his hon. Friend and asking for a statement or debate?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) stated or indicated that he agreed in every particular with the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. Indeed, he did the opposite. My hon. Friend went out of his way to nod his assent when I mentioned the gulf between them. He approaches the matter in a very different way from the right hon. Lady. Nor do I accept the hon. Gentleman's description of the results of the pay policy. If it had not been for the operation of a pay policy, I think that the amount of unemployment would have been much more serious. These are matters that the House has debated continually and no doubt will continue to debate continually. Over a considerable period my hon. Friend has asked for a special debate on the problems of unemployment on Merseyside. Some of the matters that have been raised relate to that, too, and we are taking that into account.

Mr. Loyden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is of great importance? At recent meetings Ministers indicated that they were prepared to do all that they could to smooth the way for industry in areas of high unemployment. It appears to be rather contradictory for Government Departments to be nitpicking about employment moving into the Merseyside area when the opportunity arises. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the situation calls for a full-scale debate to review the Government's policies towards employment in the regions?

Mr. Foot

I know that my hon. Friend has put questions in that form before. I have given him my answer. I am sure that we must have an approach to a general debate on matters of unemployment at a reasonable time. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Walton raised another specific matter when he asked for a statement to be made in the House next week. That is what I promised to consider. I think that that was a reasonable response.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call those hon Members who have been rising to ask a question.

Sir John Rodgers

I revert to the question asked earlier by the hon. Members for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) about the absence last Monday of delegates to the European parliamentary Assembly. Could not the whole problem be solved if there were automatic pairing for the delegation to the European parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe parliamentary Assembly?

Mr. Foot

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will make his usual representations to the Opposition Chief Whip and that he will get his usual thick ear.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers). As my right hon. Friend knows, I was unsuccessful in raising the matter yesterday under a Standing Order No. 9 application. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it seems extraordinary that six delegates were not paired when there are 12 members of the delegation and six of them were obviously paired? Will he make some arrangement for the reorganisation of the pairing system so that that will not happen again? If not, can we have a debate?

Mr. Skinner

No, make them come here.

Mr. Foot

I am not sure that a debate on the pairing system in the House would necessarily be the most fruitful way of proceeding with these matters. There are discussions between the usual channels. If Opposition hon. Members or any of my hon. Friends wish to raise the matter through the usual channels, we shall be prepared to consider it. We would have to ensure that we took into account the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). It is clear even during my short response that there is not unanimity in the House on the; subject.

Mr. Michael Latham

What has happened to the Report stage of the Home Purchase Assistance and Housing Corporation Guarantee Bill since the Government withdrew it at the last moment about three weeks ago? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Bill is extremely important as it would allow us to discuss the present mortgage situation?

Mr. Foot

It will be coming along very soon. I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's pledge of support on that occasion.

Mr. Skinner

What about certain shareholdings in Julian Hodge?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) try to control himself? His running commentary while others are speaking is intolerable and unworthy of the House.

Mr. Skinner

I was just saying, Mr. Speaker, that we might have a debate about shareholdings in Julian Hodge.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman treats his constituents with the same courtesy as he treats me, it is a miracle that he is here.

Mr. McCrindle

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen Early-Day Motion No. 24, which suggests that the Leader of the House might introduce forthcoming business for 14 days forward and not seven days? On the assumption that the Leader of the House is in some degree of control over the parliamentary timetable, what possible objection can there be to that contribution to the proper ordering of our lives?

[That this House requests that the weekly statement of Business by the Leader of the House should in future Include the Business for two weeks.]

Mr. Foot

There are some objections from all Governments to the suggestion that the announcement of business should be on a fortnightly basis. As it happens, it is done on occasions, but in the main I think that it would make the arrangement of business less flexible rather than more satisfactory. I believe that if the matter is considered rather more carefully it will be found that the advantages would not be all on one side and would not be all on the side of Back Benchers. As recently as the 1920s, the Leader of the House used to an- nounce the business for the following period only on the day before. That would be carrying flexibility a bit far, despite the temptation. I believe that what we do now is roughly the right balance in the interests both of the Government and of Back Benchers.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is remarkable when the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) and I find ourselves on the same side? However, may I join the hon. Gentleman in asking my right hon. Friend, and through him his Cabinet colleagues, carefully to consider the question of the procurement of aircraft for the British civil aviation industry? May we have a debate very soon on this urgent matter?

Mr. Foot

I shall consider carefully all the representations that my hon. Friend makes on the subject raised by the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley). When my hon. Friend said that he and the hon. Gentleman had come together on a subject, I felt for a moment that they must have been sitting on the same Select Committee.

Mr. Farr

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House some encouraging sign that he is aware of the importance of proceeding apace with a Bill to implement Mr. Speaker's Conference recommendations on Northern Ireland? If he cannot proceed with a Bill in the foreseeable future, will he arrange to have a Bill published at an early date?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister said when he made the announcement. I think that my right hon. Friend made the position generally clear on that occasion.

Mr. Forman

I revert to next Monday's debate on the Windscale development order. Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether the arrangements mean that there will be six Front-Bench speeches on the Liberal motion, if the Liberals start and the Government and the Opposition are involved as well? Does that not strengthen the case for extending the debate until 11 o'clock?

Mr. Foot

I never regard spokesmen from the Liberal Bench as making Front-Bench speeches. That would be a most extraordinary development, which nobody foresees in future. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has given the wrong nomenclature to the whole matter. Of course, if the Liberal Party tables the motion, it has a right to move it, and there can be no objection to that. However, that is not the same thing as the Liberal Party spokesman making a Front-Bench speech.

I agree with the representations that have been made that we should try to ensure that the speeches from the two Front Benches are kept within reasonable limits. If not, the consequences described by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh. Central (Mr. Cook) will follow. I hope that account will be taken of that.

Mr. Gow

As the Foreign Secretary has known for the past 18 months that British territory in the Falkland Islands has been occupied by a foreign and, in this context, not very friendly Power, is it not a dereliction of duty on the Foreign Secretary's part not to have made a statement to the House? Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking now that the Foreign Secretary will make a statement on this subject at 11 o'clock tomorrow morning?

Mr. Foot

I certainly will not give the undertaking in the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has asked for it for tomorrow. I repudiate any suggestion of there being any question of dereliction of duty by the Foreign Secretary. I shall consider and consult the Foreign Secretary whether a general statement on the subject should be made next week. But I assure the hon. Gentleman and all Opposition Members that the Foreign Secretary and the Government are in a position to look after all British interests in every part of the world.