HC Deb 25 May 1978 vol 950 cc1749-58
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Lord President of the Council to state the business of the House for the week after the Spring Recess, please?

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

The business for the week after the Spring holiday will be as follows:

TUESDAY 6th June—Remaining stages of the Nuclear Safeguards and Electricity (Finance) Bill.

Second Reading of the Employment (Continental Shelf) Bill and of the Theft Bill [Lords].

WEDNESDAY 7th June—Debate on Foreign Affairs, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, which will be concluded on Thursday 8th June—the 18th Supply Day.

FRIDAY 9th June—Remaining stages of the Suppression of Terrorism Bill [Lords] and of the Judicature (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords].

Motion on EEC Document R/3245/77 and R/829/78 on liner conferences.

Motion on the Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure.

Mr. Powell

Has the Lord President yet succeeded in solving the mystery of the official Opposition and the debate on the consequences of New Commonwealth immigration, which they were so anxious to have a few weeks ago but for which they are apparently not now to make any arrangements?

Mr. Foot

I am always eager to solve any mysteries that I can, but this one still remains as blurred and difficult as it was a week or two ago.

Mr. Jay

When will my right hon. Friend bring forward the proposals for better control of the EEC legislation, which he promised us as long ago as last November?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept that I gave the undertaking to which my right hon. Friend refers. It may be that it will be best to bring forward separately the proposals to which I then referred. We were looking whether we could bring forward some more general proposals. There is the report of the Procedure Committee which we have to take into account at some stage. I fully appreciate the undertaking which I gave, and to which my right hon. Friend refers.

Mr. Crouch

May we have an early debate on the problems facing the rail commuters in the South-East, following British Rail's decision on 8th May to bring in a time table which is virtually a regional go-slow?

Mr. Foot

Without looking into it, I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's description of the proposals from British Rail. Similar questions on this matter were raised by the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and other hon. Members in the discussion that we had yesterday. I cannot promise a debate at the moment. There are other ways in which hon. Members can raise these questions.

Mr. Greville Janner

Is my right hon. Friend aware how appreciative some of us are of the setting aside of two days for a debate on foreign affairs? Meanwhile, as Mr. Kirillin is still in this country with his party from the Soviet Union, will my right hon. Friend confirm that Mr. Kirillin has been seen by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and that the Press statements are correct in saying that human rights issues were raised? We are all grateful to the Prime Minister. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that these people from the Soviet Union will be told of the strength of feeling in this country about the way in which Mr. Orlov and others are being treated?

Mr. Foot

In this free country all persons have a means of expresing their views on this matter. Some people may have seen the statement made yesterday by the national executive committee of the Labour Party. There will no doubt be references to these matters also when the debate on foreign affairs takes place. I think that it is by the free expression of opinion in this country that we shall have the most effect.

Mr. Durant

When will the Government produce their statement in answer to the report of the Select Committee on the British Waterways Board? Will there be a statement in the near future?

Mr. Foot

I cannot say when the reply will come, but I think it will be fairly soon.

Mr. Strauss

A little while ago the right hon. Gentleman brought forward certain principles suggested by the Privileges Committee for improving its procedure and making it more active, successful and useful. Those were agreed to in principle, and we were told that legislation was likely to be brought forward as soon as possible to implement those principles. Will the right hon. Gentleman now tell us whether he has any idea when that legislation will come before the House?

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend has given an accurate account of the debate that we had, but I think that anyone who refers back to it will see that there was only one special matter on which I thought we might seek to legislate in the fairly near future. That was the question of the definition of the proceedings of the House. I agree that that is a very important question, and that was the matter on which I hoped we would have special legislation. There are some other matters which I believe we could leave for a later date. I cannot promise that we can have that legislation in this Session, but I think that that is the particular matter to which the House should turn, and on which I believe legislation is most necessary.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

In view of the fact that there is a statement to follow, I shall call those hon. Members who have already been standing up.

Mr. Michael McNair Wilson

Has the Leader of the House seen the report in The Guardian that the Secretary of State for Defence is likely to make a statement today about the air base which is to be chosen to meet the American request for tanker aircraft? As that statement is now not to be made today, will the Leader of the House say when the Secretary of State for Defence will make such a statement? My constituents in Newbury are extremely concerned about this matter. Will the Leader of the House therefore ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether something can be said about the matter in tomorrow's Adjournment debate?

Mr. Foot

I am quite prepared to pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence what has been said by the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot give a guarantee that a statement will be made in the debate tomorrow. I will, however, certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. Whitehead

In view of the fact that the Services Committee's report on severance pay for secretaries has now been completed, and bearing in mind the sudden deaths of two of our colleagues in the last month in precisely the circumstances envisaged, will my right hon. Friend now give an undertaking that he will bring this matter back for a speedy conclusion by the House?

Mr. Foot

I agree that it should be brought back to the House speedily. I believe that the House will welcome the report. I am especially grateful to my hon. Friend for his work on the matter. I hope that when it is brought forward we shall get a unanimous view in the House on bringing this system into operation.

Mr. Adley

Can the Lord President recall whether this is the fourth or fifth time that I have asked him for an urgent debate on the aerospace industry generally and in particular about the need for a public debate in this House with regard to the purchase of aircraft by British Airways? Is he aware that this week many hundreds—in fact, thousands—of British aerospace employees marched in London? They did so not in a violent or unpleasant demonstration, but because they wanted to express their concern, and let the public know, about the possibility that exists that the technical skills within the industry could disappear unless the Government make the right decisions. As the Prime Minister is sitting next to the Leader of the House, will they confer to see whether we can have a debate before the Government come to any conclusions on this matter?

Mr. Foot

I fully acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's persistence on this matter. I also acknowledge the importance of the subject. However, I have nothing further to add to the several answers that I have already given to his numerous requests. That does not mean that the Government are not giving the greatest consideration to the matter.

Mr. Faulds

Does my right hon. Friend realise that many of us would welcome an opportunity to discuss the consequences of immigration, because our coloured Britons make a considerable contribution to the economy and well-being of our country? Has he any influence that he could bring to bear—with his considerable powers of oratory—on the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition, who used to appear so keen to pronounce on these matters, to provide the time for us to debate this issue?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend also has considerable powers of persuasion. I believe it would be of great help to the House if we had a debate on this subject at a reasonably early date.

Mr. Baker

Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that in the second week in which we return he will introduce the Bill which implements the Boyle recommendations on Members' pensions? It is now generally agreed between the two parties that these should be introduced. These proposals have been hanging fire for three years, which means that the dependants of all colleagues who have died in the last three years will suffer permanently. That is surely unfair. The Government should bring forward the Bill.

Mr. Foot

I have already given the House an undertaking on this matter. I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the necessity of bringing forward this legislation. We have every determination to bring it forward in this Session and to get it on the statute book this Session.

Mr. Sever

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in the light of the publication of the report of the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth it would be useful for this House as soon as possible to debate the conditions of the lower-paid and those worse off in our society, with particular reference to what is generally regarded as the poverty trap?

Mr. Foot

I fully accept the importance of the report to which my hon. Friend refers, especially because when I was at the Department of Employment I made the reference to the body which has made the report. It is an extremely valuable report. I am sure that the House will wish to study it. I believe that it will help to contribute to the several debates that I believe we must have on all these questions. I cannot promise a special debate on the subject in the immediate future, but I am sure that the report will colour many of our debates on pay policy generally.

Mr. Brooke

In view of the negotiations going on between the Post Office and the Post Office Engineering Union on the union's demand for a 35-hour week and the consequent go-slow which is adversely affecting international trade in the City of London, can the Leader of the House prevail upon his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to make a statement on the negotiations immediately the House returns?

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly consider whether it is desirable to have a statement immediately after the recess. The matter was raised in yesterday's Adjournment debate. I made a brief reply then. I shall certainly consider whether we should have a statement soon after the recess.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Can my right hon. Friend indicate who the Front-Bench spokesmen will be in the foreign affairs debate? Will he encourage the Prime Minister to participate in this debate, because we could then have a response from the Leader of the Opposition in order to explain why she believes that Russia is the common enemy and also why there have been so many anti-American speeches made by leading Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen in recent weeks?

Mr. Foot

It would be a very good thing if in the foreign affairs debate we could have a repudiation by the Opposition Front Bench of these violent anti-American speeches that have been made by so many Conservative Members. As for announcing the names of speakers in future debates, I am not sure whether the idea of "forthcoming attractions" would improve attendance in the House or have the opposite effect.

Mr. Gow

In view of the involvement of the Crown Agents in the Government's black list with regard to the placing of contracts in the public sector, can the Lord President tell us whether we shall have a statement on this subject either tomorrow or on Tuesday week? There is very great and growing public disquiet about what many of us believe to be a breach of the rule of law and improper use of Government authority.

Mr. Foot

I shall, of course, consider what the hon. Gentleman has said. In the debates on this subject a few months ago, the House itself repudiated the suggestions that were made then. It is up to hon. Members in all parts of the House to decide whether it would be best to have a statement on this matter when we return or whether Questions should be put down. It is up to them to decide which course they want to take.

Mr. English

I return to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House feel free, in the legislation on broadcasting, to protect the broadcasting authorities from themselves? Recently they seem to have developed the idea that they can rebroadcast, without a time delay, anything said in this House without legal penalties. Will he also try to ensure that they broadcast important Committees? For example, yesterday morning the Northern Ireland Committee discussed rents in Northern Ireland. I would have thought that that would be of interest to many people in Northern Ireland. That could not be broadcast merely because another Committee was being recorded at the same time. The facilities for dealing with Committees are totally inadequate. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that a proper impression of the work of this House is conveyed to the public at large?

Mr. Foot

These are all interesting questions, but they are not questions about business in the week after the recess. They are questions about the operation of broadcasting generally. The House has set up a Committee to look into these matters. Some of the representations which my hon. Friend and other hon. Members might wish to make should be sent to the Committee which was set up by the House for that purpose.

Mr. Nelson

Does the Lord President ever reflect on the fact that, partly because political horizons at the most tend to be about three to five years, we hardly ever seem to debate matters which relate to the longer term, particularly into the next century, perhaps with the exception of energy? Will he give consideration at some stage to having a debate on the impact of scientific and technological development on the lives that people will have to lead in the next century?

Mr. Foot

Those are very important subjects to be debated. But it is not the case that the Government decide all the debates that are to take place. This House of Commons probably provides more time for others in the House, apart from the Government, to choose and select the subjects for debate than almost any other legislative assembly in the world. If hon. Members examine the facts they will see that that is the case.

Mr. Loyden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the drop in unemployment is welcome, the Government ought not to adopt a complacent attitude? Does he agree that as soon as possible after the recess there ought to be a debate on unemployment, particularly in view of the fact that regional unemployment remains at too high a level and the fact that Government action is needed?

Mr. Foot

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that there are no grounds for complacency on this subject. The Government do not approach the matter in any complacent spirit whatever. In many parts of the country, including Merseyside, the problem remains extremely severe. I believe that at some date we must have a further debate on the regional aspects of these problems. I have indicated that to my right hon. Friend in previous replies. I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I have taken into account the answers that I have given in the past to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members from Merseyside as well as other hon. Members from other regions.

Mr. Fairbairn

Although I welcome the announcement by the Leader of the House that we shall be having a foreign affairs debate for two days, that is two weeks away. Will the Leader of the House assure us, in view of the speed of recent events in Afghanistan, Africa generally and Zaire in particular, that if any further threat to Western ideals, interests and lives occurs during that period, Parliament will be recalled immediately?

Mr. Foot

If it is necessary for Parliament to be recalled, the Government will make the representations required for the purpose. I should have thought that that would go without saying, even for the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn).

Mr. Stoddart

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 261 dealing with religious freedom and the Charity Commissioners, which has been signed by no fewer than 292 hon. Members of this House, including myself? Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members of this House have had considerable correspondence and representations about this matter and that we are very concerned about it? Is it possible for my right hon. Friend to arrange a debate in the House, or can he advise us how we should now proceed?

[That this House, being aware of the serious and damaging effect which the removal of charitable status from a Christian or other religious body must have on its normal activities, organisation and worship, and of the considerable time and expense involved in seeking the restoration of such charitable status through the courts, takes the view that the powers of the Charity Commission should be altered so that the charitable status of religious bodies and Churches cannot be removed by the Commission, or be treated by the Commission as if it had been removed, unless or until the said religious bodies or Churches have been found to have objectives or practices inconsistent with charitable status by a court of law.]

Mr. Foot

I have seen the motion put down by my hon. Friend and signed by several others. I am not sure whether the general terms in which the motion is drafted reflect accurately the facts of the cases which I understand its sponsors have in mind. However, general questions on the law of charities are matters for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I shall draw his attention to the terms of the motion. But I have no doubt that those of my hon. Friends who have signed the motion can also make their representations on the subject to the Home Secretary.

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