HC Deb 16 November 1978 vol 958 cc602-15
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 20TH NOVEMBER — Second Reading of the Companies Bill.

TUESDAY 21ST NOVEMBER — Second Reading of the Social Security Bill

WEDNESDAY 22ND NOVEMBER— Motions on the referendum orders for Scotland and for Wales.

Motions on the Northern Ireland orders on health and personal social services and on rehabilitation of offenders.

THURSDAY 23RD NOVEMBER —Second Reading of the Banking Bill.

Motion relating to the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 (Transitional Modifications of Part I) Order.

FRIDAY 24TH NOVEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 27TH NOVEMBER — Second Reading of the Weights and Measures Bill.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I put two points to the Lord President? First, a debate on the European monetary system does not appear in next week's business. Can the Lord President tell us when we shall have it? It is important that the debate takes place before the relevant decisions have been taken in Europe.

Secondly, the Lord President will remember that I asked him last week about the report of the Boundary Commission on European constituencies. I understood that it was to be out this week. Is it to appear this week, or has it been delayed again?

Mr. Foot

The Home Office is working for publication of the Boundary Commission report on 23rd November. That is a slight delay from what I had expected last week, but I hope that it will not cause any inconvenience.

With regard to the other matter, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated earlier this week that the Government propose to issue a Green Paper on the subject of the EMS. Clearly, the House will want to debate the issue, and I am sure that some time during the week after next will be convenient.

Mr. Jay

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the debate on the European monetary system will take place before the Government reach any final decision?

Mr. Foot

All those factors are taken into account. I give my right hon. Friend the assurance that we have given on the subject throughout.

Mr. Spearing

That is no answer.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Last week the Leader of the House was good enough to forecast, although he did not promise, that he would be able to make a statement this week about when the Government's response to the Select Committee's report on oil spillage would be available and when thereafter we could expect a debate. This is an entirely non-partisan matter. Is the right hon. Gentleman now in a position to give me the statement that he semi-promised last week?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise when we shall have the debate. I know that the hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members are eager that we should have a debate on the subject separately from the debate on the Bill that will partly deal with those questions, but I cannot give an absolute promise of a debate. However, I shall consider the matter and bear in mind what I said to the hon. Gentleman earlier.

Mr. Kinnock

Will my right hon. Friend encourage his right hon. Friends to abandon for the duration of the referendum campaign the custom of prohibiting civil servants from participating in national political debate? Secondly, shall we have any time off from the House during January and February in order to fight—pro and con—the referendum campaigns? Both are matters of great national importance.

Mr. Foot

I am glad to know that my hon. Friend is coming round to playing an active part in the matter. I am sure he appreciates that what the Government will be backing is Government policy. There will be no doubt about that. It would cause great confusion if, in matters of Government policy, civil servants were to campaign in the way that my hon. Friend suggests. It would be a constitutional principle which on most other occasions he would bitterly oppose.

Mr. Kinnock

What about the time off?

Sir David Renton

As we shall have to consider the rate support grant order before long, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that there will be plenty of time between publication of the Government's intentions and their being debated in the House, so that we may consult our local authorities? Will he also give an undertaking that the order will be taken not late at night but at a reasonable hour?

Mr. Foot

I expect that there will be a debate on the matter before Christmas. I am, of course, aware of the desire of the House that there should be a proper interval during which consultations may take place. We shall do our best to see that that happens.

May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) that I am sorry I did not reply to the most important part of his question. We shall consider whether there can be some arrangement of the timetable to enable participation in the campaigning. Clearly, the House will be able to debate the matter when we move towards the Christmas Recess. We have not quite reached the Christmas Recess yet, although we are moving successfully towards it.

Miss Richardson

The report of the Shackleton inquiry into the Prevention of Terrorism Act has now been out for some months. When are we likely to have a debate on it?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate yet, but I shall certainly look at the representations made by my hon. Friend and others on the subject.

Mr. Emery

Further to the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett), may I ask whether the attention of the Leader of the House has been drawn to a motion about coastal oil pollution, signed by 60 right hon. and hon. Members? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider having it debated before the Government's reply to the Select Committee is published, so that hon. Members' views are taken on board by the Government before they reply, because there is much feeling about complacency in Government Departments over this matter? Such a debate would mean that the whole of the debate on the Merchant Shipping Bill would not have to be purely on that subject.

[That this House, recognising the very considerable concern, particularly on environmental grounds, of those who live in coastal areas of Great Britain and noting the major criticisms of existing plans and preparations to deal with oil pollu- tion around the coasts of Great Britain made by the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, urges Her Majesty's Government immediately to take action to: bring up to date, in conjunction with local authorities, the military and other interested organisations, the emergency procedure for use in event of major oil pollution at sea, to ensure that there are established reserves of modern equipment that can be drawn on by local authorities to deal with coastal pollution, to recognise the need for the emergency planning to he revised and up dated at least every two years, and to transfer the responsibility for the co-ordination of all matters concerned with coastal pollution to a Minister in the Department of the Environment in co-operation with the Scottish and Welsh Offices.]

Mr. Foot

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no complacency in the Government about the matter. We regard it as being of great importance. I believe that it would not be advisable for the House to hold up the Merchant Shipping Bill. I am not suggesting that the hon. Gentleman is proposing that. I do not believe that, when the Bill is introduced, the whole of the debate should be directed to these important questions. I am doubtful, however, whether it is advisable for the House to embark upon a course whereby debates take place on these reports before the Government have given their view. If that happened on many occasions it would make the procedures of the House more cumbersome.

Mr. Whitehead

Will it be possible before the Christmas Recess to have a debate on the report of the Procedure Committee?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give an absolute promise that we shall have a debate before the Christmas Recess because, as the House knows, I have already had numerous requests for debates on other subjects. I adhere firmly to what I said before. The House must have a full debate on the report of the Procedure Committee. I think, too, that we must have a separate debate on the Common Market implications of that report, and that will take a little time. I cannot promise either or both of those debates before the Christmas Recess, particularly as we are moving towards the recess so speedily and successfully.

Mr. Evelyn King

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen early-day motion no. 58 seeking to negative the Southern Sea Fisheries District (Variation) Order 1978 in the interests of the fishermen of Weymouth? Will he provide time to debate that motion? If, as I suspect, he gives the answer "No", will he reflect upon the whole system under which Parliament supposedly has the right of a negative resolution but in fact that right is habitually withdrawn from Parliament because the right hon. Gentleman does not give time for a debate?

[That the Southern Sea Fisheries District (Variation) Order 1978 be not made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 20th July 1978 in the last session of Parliament.]

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman has anticipated my original reply. I shall certanly reflect in the manner that he suggested.

Mr. Spearing

Since the Prime Minister has urged some of his hon. Friends to be constructive in matters concerning the EEC, will my right hon. Friend reconsider his remarks about not having a debate on parliamentary procedure relating to the EEC until after Christmas? Does he recall that a year ago he gave undertakings which were not kept? Has he now approached the Scrutiny Committee for its views on the matter? If so, when does he expect a reply?

Mr. Foot

That is a separate question. Obviously, the debate might cover the two matters as they overlap. I should have thought that, instead of rejecting my olive branch, my hon. Friend would have accepted it. In addition to the Procedure Committee's recommendations covering Select Committees and such matters, which obviously the House will want to debate fully, other recommendations about European legislation will also have to be discussed. I cannot make promises about debates before Christmas on all these matters without destroying the undertakings I have given to other hon. Members.

Mr. Pardoe

Will the Lord President tell us when we might expect a statement on the television licence fee, bearing in mind that inflation has increased the ability of Governments to keep the BBC short of the funds that it needs and that this is an extension of the power of the Executive over an essential part of the media? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be good for Parliament to have a chance to express its view on this matter before the decision is announced?

Mr. Foot

Of course Parliament will have an opportunity of discussing this matter. I cannot give any date when any decision will be made. In the meantime, I advise the hon. Gentleman not to accept all BBC propaganda that may be offered to him.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is the Leader of the House aware that there has been an 8 per cent. fall in employment in the weaving, spinning and finishing sectors of the textile industry in the North-West? Will he try to find time in the near future for a debate on this very important industry? Will he also deal with the point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and give an indication of how he intends to deal with the rate support grant order to ensure that there is sufficient time between publication of the Government's intentions and the debate on the order so that we may discuss the matter with our local authorities?

Mr. Foot

On the second matter, I have already promised that I shall take into account the representations made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I know that we have had some difficulties occasionally in the past on these matters. All Governments have had some difficulties in this respect. We shall seek to overcome them, but I cannot give any absolute promise about the times.

On the first matter raised by the hon. Gentleman, of course it is a matter of considerable concern. There are other ways in which debates can be raised, but I am not in any way minimising the importance of the subject he mentioned.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the British Leyland—AEC plant in the London borough of Ealing has been threatened with closure, which would mean the loss of some 3,000 jobs with other ramifications for that part of London? A pattern now seems to be developing whereby London seems to be losing more and more industry. Will my right hon. Friend please arrange for a full-scale debate on the Floor of the House on the industrial future of London?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend and several other hon. Members on this side of the House representing London constituencies have pressed this subject and have pressed in particular for such a debate. I cannot promise it in the immediate future, but certainly I am prepared to have discussions with my hon. Friend to see how we can proceed.

Mr. Jasper More

With regard to the question of the rate support grant raised by my right hon. and hon. Friends, will the Leader of the House make clear whether, in addition to the debate which he has promised, there will be a statement from the Government regarding the rate support grant and, if so, on which day it will be made?

Mr. Foot

I have no date to give in response to the hon. Gentleman's question. I am taking into account, however, the representations that he and others have made about the way in which they wish the House to have an opportunity of considering these matters.

Mr. Torney

Is my right hon. Friend aware of a very important speech made this week by the Prime Minister, when he outlined clearly the inadequacies of the Common Market for the United Kingdom? Will he therefore give urgent consideration to arranging an early debate so that the House can consider ways and means of implementing the Prime Minister's ideas of improving our lot in the Common Market, even if it means withdrawing from the Common Market?

Mr. Foot

Leaving aside any point arising from the last part of my hon. Friend's question, I accept fully what he said as his premise about my right hon. Friend's speech. There have been some occasions this week when the matter could have been discussed in the House and there are likely to be a number of occasions arising over the weeks and months ahead. Therefore, I do not believe that the House will be denied the opportunity of discussing these matters in full and at length.

Mr. Fry

Does the Leader of the House remember that there was a clear commitment last Session to have a debate on the Government's road programme and on the associated question of the future of public inquiries on new road projects? Can he give us any indication when the Government will redeem that pledge?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise any date, but I shall certainly look up the undertakings that were given and see that they are translated into actuality.

Mr. Palmer

When my right hon. Friend is considering possible subjects for debate, will he look at the claims of energy? A number of very important decisions need to be taken, and it would be valuable if the opinion of the House could be expressed first.

Mr. Foot

I shall certainly look at the proposition.

Mr. Montgomery

Will the Leader of the House tell us when we are likely to debate the Select Committee report on race relations and immigration? It is eight months since this report was presented to the House. Does he not feel that it is time that the House had a chance to debate this very important issue? If he intends to trot out the stock reply which he kept giving before the Summer Recess—that the Opposition should give a Supply Day to discuss this matter—can he give me an instance of when the Opposition have had to give a Supply Day in the past to debate a Select Committee report? Surely such a debate should be taken in Government time.

Mr. Foot

There have been a number of instances in the history of Parliament when Oppositions who were eager enough to have debates on Select Committee reports have chosen their own time in which to have them. If she had wished, the Leader of the Opposition could perfectly well have done so. If there had been any effective pressure from her Back Benches, I have no doubt that she would have taken it into proper account. I should have thought that that slate was wiped clean now: we have started a new Session.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

Has my right hon. Friend taken note of early-day motion no. 20 in my name on educational maintenance allowances? Will he note that when he is arranging the time for discussion of the Education Bill, granted the guaranteed hostility of the Opposition and granted that 150 names stand on my motion, he may run into some difficulty?

[That this House considers that the introduction of a universal system of means-tested allowances for the support of I6–18-year-olds continuing their full-time education is one of the cheapest and most effective means of improving the educational and career opportunities of those from poorer homes; and greatly regrets the slow progress made by Her Majesty's Government in giving effect to the promise made by the Secretary of State for Education and Science in the last Session, that such a scheme would operate from September 1979.]

Mr. Foot

I have seen my hon. Friend's motion, signed by a large number of hon. Members, and I am sure that all these matters will be open to debate when the Bill is introduced.

Mr. Moate

May I ask the Leader of the House about the promised seat belts legislation and remind him that last time it was lost largely due to his own less than wholehearted support for the measure? On this occasion, will he undertake to bring it in early and pursue It with resolve and determination?

Mr. Foot

I repudiate the suggestion that it was due to my responsibility that the Bill was lost. It was, I think, agreed in all parts of the House that the matter should be settled by a free vote. I believe that that is the right course for the House in future and that that is the view of hon. Members in all parts of the House, whatever opinion they may have on the subject. The Government will therefore proceed on that basis again and give the House of Commons the power to decide the matter.

Mr. Burden

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will remember the motion which was put down as a result of a report by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food last March about the export of live animals for slaughter. He will not be surprised to learn that another motion is being tabled, in exactly the same terms, asking for a debate on this issue. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that an early debate will take place on this issue?

Mr. Foot

I have to acknowledge the considerable interest in this subject throughout the whole House. As the hon. Gentleman knows, certain developments are taking place in the European Community on this subject. It may be desirable that they should be discussed at the same time. There is also an excellent document on this subject, published by the national executive of the Labour Party. I recommend that to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Crouch

Will the Leader of the House make a statement next week on the trouble in Her Majesty's Stationery Office, which is making it so difficult not only for hon. Members to get papers but particularly for persons outside the House? For example, people in the Health Service are not able to get copies of the White Paper on the revisions to the Mental Health Act 1959, and, therefore, there can be no study outside the House of this very important issue.

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that we are getting a sight these days of what Hansard might look like if ever it were printed in the A4 size? It is to my dismay and to the dismay of the majority of hon. Members, that it might some day be printed like that.

Mr. Spearing

As it will.

Mr. Foot

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman must at last accept the decision of the House of Commons on the size of Hansard. The House of Commons came to a clear decision and a wise one.

I fully acknowledge the great inconvenience to many members of the public which has arisen from the continuance of the Stationery Office dispute. Some discussions took place this morning and I hope that they will lead towards a settlement. I acknowledge, however, that if by any mischance that does not occur, we must bend all our efforts to try to overcome the difficulties.

Mr. Marten

I apologise if I have got it wrong, but will the Leader of the House clarify the question of the debate on the European monetary system? The Prime Minister, in his speech at the Guildhall, said: In due course we shall reach a decision in time for the House of Commons to discuss the issue before I meet the other Heads of Government. In other words, the Government will decide and then we shall debate. That is clearly what the Prime Minister said. Is that what is to happen, or is it not?

Secondly, does not this sudden and blinding flash of the Prime Minister about the cost of the Common Market illustrate the point that I put to him the other day —that we should now, after five years, have a Select Committee to look into the whole question of the Common Market so that we really know what the position is?

Mr. Foot

I am not sure whether a Select Committee is the best way to proceed with these matters. There is a Scrutiny Committee which examines the legislation as it comes forward, the relationship of the House and the Commission, and the operations of the Council. On the whole, that Committee works fairly successfully. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting an entirely different examination of the matter, I am not at all sure that a Select Committee is necessarily the wisest way of proceeding. That, however, is a matter for debate and a matter that can be debated, for example, when we come in due course to the procedure questions.

I do not believe that we need get into a tangle about the discussion of the EMS. The Government will produce a Green Paper. We have promised that there will be a full debate in the House. There will be debates in other places also, and the House will see that the Government have dealt with the matter in a way which can best enable the House of Commons to bring its influence to bear.

Mr. English

My right hon. Friend talks about the Procedure Committee's report. It quotes verbatim from the Civil Service report of the Expenditure Committee. I assume that they will both be debated—and in order—otherwise we shall be in slight difficulties. When is the Civil Service report of 15 months ago to be debated?

Mr. Foot

One of the problems that arises is in saying that they should all be debated in order. If it were to be insisted upon by hon. Members in all parts of the House that the reports should be debated in order, the whole procedures of Committees would be greatly entangled.

By saying that, I do not mean that the Committee over which my hon. Friend presided is not very important; of course it is. I agree that there must be a debate on it in the House at some time. On the other hand, I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that another matter in which he has had some interest is a more urgent topic for debate, and we must take that into account as well as the representations from different parts of the House in that light.

Mr. Whitelaw

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that last week, in all parts of the House, there was a widespread feeling that the inquiry into the prison service should be instituted at the earliest possible moment. Since then some time had lapsed; one understands that. Can the Lord President now give the House an assurance, however, that the inquiry will be instituted next week and that we shall know next week from the Home Secretary the names of the chairman and members of the inquiry and its terms of reference?

Mr. Foot

I cannot give an absolute promise to the right hon. Gentleman, but in the light of what he has said I shall discuss it with the Home Secretary and see what can be done.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I will call hon. Members if they are brief. If they are not brief, their colleagues will have to be cut out.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Bearing in mind that during the debate on the Bingham report considerable concern was expressed in all parts of the House about the actions and behaviour of certain members of the Government in office in the period concerned, and bearing in mind that the Prime Minister said earlier this afternoon that there was to be some report to the House next week, can the Lord President give the House an indication of when the parliamentary committee of inquiry is to be set up?

Mr. Foot

The Prime Minister made it quite clear that a further statement would be made to the House on the matter. We had expected that it might be made this week, but it will probably be made next week. We shall fulfil the promise that we made to the House during the debate to take into account the representations made by the House. That is what the Government are doing.

Mr. Rost

As the Prime Minister has just added to the nation's confusion by so rudely refusing to answer questions from the Leader of the Opposition about what the Government's pay policy is—5 per cent. in nationalised industries and how it is to be enforced—will the Leader of the House explain why there is not to be a statement and a debate next week?

Mr. Foot

As I do not in any sense accept the hon. Gentleman's premise, there is no need for me to comment on what he said later.

Mr. Michael Morris

Will the Leader of the House take very seriously the criticism of the method of announcing the rate support grant? Will he also give the House an undertaking that we shall have the announcement some time between Monday and Thursday, and not slipped in on a Friday, as has happened on the last two occasions?

Mr. Foot

I shall carry out what I have promised to the two hon. Members who have already raised this subject.

Mr. Raison

Since we are increasingly seeing examples of selective industrial action without loss of pay, particularly in the public sector, will the Leader of the House provide time for debate on this matter so that the Government may make clear whether they consider this an acceptable form of industrial action?

Mr. Foot

I do not think it is sensible to discuss industrial questions by question and answer in the manner that the hon. Gentleman has introduced.

Mr. Michael Latham

Will the Government's response to the National Land Fund report be available before the Private Members' motion tomorrow week? Is this not increasingly urgent if such things as the looting of Warwick Castle are to be avoided in future?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise that it will be available then, but we shall certainly look into it. I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter before.