HC Deb 23 November 1978 vol 958 cc1482-99
Mr. Speaker

Business Statement—the Lord President.

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 27TH NOVEMBER—A debate on oil spillage, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

At seven o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

TUESDAY 28TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill.

Motions on the Employment Protection (Variation of Limit) Order and on the Unfair Dismissal (Increase of Compensation Limit) Order.

WEDNESDAY 29TH NOVEMBER—Debate on the European monetary system, when EEC document R/2790/1/78 will be relevant.

THURSDAY 30TH NOVEMBER—Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill.

Motion on the House of Commons Members' Fund.

Motion relating to the Qualifications of Directors of Social Work (Scotland) Regulations.

FRIDAY 1ST DECEMBER—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 4TH DECEMBER—Supply [2nd Allotted Day]: debate on a motion to take note of the 1st to 10th reports from the Committee of Public Accounts in Session 1977–78, and the related Treasury minute and the Northern Ireland memorandum.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask three questions of the Lord President? My first is on industrial sanctions. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of what passed at Question Time during Treasury Questions and between myself and other hon. Members and the Prime Minister. May we have an urgent debate on the whole issue? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is difficult in the House to get clear and accurate information on the steps that the Government propose to take? It seems that all announcements are made elsewhere than in the House, and it is time that we, too, were able to give our view on these matters in detail. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore urgently provide time for a debate?

Secondly, I believe that there will be large numbers of hon. Members wishing to speak in Wednesday's debate on the European monetary system. For how long does the right hon. Gentleman propose to suspend the rule? Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman last week announced the Second Reading of the Weights and Measures Bill. It has miraculously disappeared. Will he indicate his intentions in regard to that Bill?

Mr. Foot

Taking the right hon. Lady's questions in reverse order, I am not sure that there is any miracle about the Weights and Measures Bill. We thought that it was advisable to have a further period of consultation. That is far from a miracle—it may be a desirable precaution.

As to whether we should have extra time for Wednesday's debate, we shall certainly consider representations on the subject. I do not know whether we should extend the debate for perhaps one or two hours, but we are perfectly prepared to consider it.

On the right hon. Lady's first question, I will consider her representations but I have no announcement to make on the subject now.

Mr. Ward

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he has considered his promise of two weeks ago concerning the possibility of a debate on the export of live animals, and will he make a statement?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to add to what I have said about that matter, but I reiterate to my hon. Friend that I am aware of the very great concern in many parts of the House and I am sure that the time must come when we have a debate on the subject.

Mr. Graham Page

Will the Lord President ensure that a statement is made next week on the Government's intentions about the hundreds of statutory instruments lying at Her Majesty's Stationery Office unissued but which have come into operation since August? They are binding the people who have no knowledge of their content. Is that open government?

Mr. Foot

I respect the right hon. Gentleman on all subjects but especially on that subject. If he wishes, I shall certainly see whether we should have a statement on the position. I am not sure whether we should do that next week, but I shall certainly look at his representations to see what is the best way of treating the House in the matter.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Lord President reflect on whether a statement can be made on a subject which at first sight may appear trivial and of which notice has been given to the Department of Employment and the Prime Minister's office—namely, the decision of the Department of Employment not to allow a work permit to the young Norwegian under-21 international footballer Refuic? Will he take it from me that people in Scotland find it difficult to fathom how Mr. Ardiles and Mr. Villa can be allowed to play for Spurs but when Hibs try to get a Norwegian they are refused any kind of work permit? Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that this raises far more emotive issues than many of the subjects that have taken up 47 days of the time of the House?

In particular, can the statement make clear, since we have been approached by the General and Municipal Workers Union and the Scottish Footballers Association, whether—

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that at least 50 hon. Members wish to put questions to the Leader of the House? Many of them will not be called, especially if we have long questions such as the one that the hon. Gentleman has asked.

Mr. Foot

I shall see whether a statement can be made. I follow these matters so closely that I am well aware that Hibs are in need of direct assistance.

Mr. Donald Stewart

In view of the current talks on the Common Market fisheries policy, can the Lord President promise a debate, before an agreement is signed, on any terms that may be arrived at?

Mr. Foot

I am fully aware of the interest in the House on that subject, as is my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Of course, it will be necessary for the House to pronounce on these matters. We are fully aware of the feeling which has been expressed in the House in many debates and in questions to the Minister.

Mr. Greville Janner

As the Services Committee has approved the plans for the cleaning of the Palace of Westminster, and as with every day that goes by the great buildings deteriorate further and become more expensive to clean, can my right hon. Friend give us an early date when the House can consider the matter and give the approval that is apparently necessary before the work can commence?

Mr. Foot

I shall consider the possibility of a debate and a decision on that subject. It is a matter of considerable interest in many parts of the House, and I shall look at it in the light of what my hon. and learned Friend and other hon. Members have said to me.

Mr. Montgomery

Returning to the question I put to the Leader of the House last week, may I ask whether he can tell us when we are likely to have a debate on the report of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration? After all, it is eight months since the report was presented to the House. What is the point of setting up Select Committees if it is not the intention of the Government to debate their reports?

If the right hon. Gentleman comes out again with his usual argument that the Opposition should use a Supply Day for the debate, can he give me a specific example of an Opposition having to use a Supply Day to debate a Select Committee report?

Mr. Foot

I can certainly reply to the hon. Gentleman's last question. During the last Session, one of the days for the debate on the Select Committee report on the steel industry was an Opposition Supply Day. There are many other examples. On the first matter, I have nothing to add to what I have said to the hon. Gentleman last week and on a number of occasions when other hon. Members have raised the subject.

Mr. Christopher Price

Can my right hon. Friend tell us when there will be time for a debate on the present state of the Official Secrets Act, the recent White Paper and the Government's intention to reform the Act? Is he aware that since the end of the recent case there has been enormous uncertainty, particularly about prosecution policy over charges for receiving information—which the Government have already declared to the House they no longer regard as an offence? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that there will be no opportunity to question the Attorney-General in the House until January and that we must get the matter clarified before then?

Mr. Foot

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is widespread and natural concern on that subject throughout the country. Part of that concern arises directly from the fact, which is fully recognised in the Government's White Paper, that the law as it stands is unsatisfactory. I am in full agreement with my hon. Friend on that aspect of the matter. I am not sure how soon we can have a debate or whether we can debate the matter prior to the introduction of legislation, but I shall consider my hon. Friend's representations.

Sir Timothy Kitson

When does the Lord President intend that the House should debate the excellent Royal Commission report on gambling? Is he aware that the report includes certain recommendations that may attract the Chancellor of the Exchequer's attention?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate on that report, excellent though it undoubtedly is, in the near future.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be a debate before Christmas on the Bingham report, consequent upon our recent two-day debate on Rhodesia? Will he also give an assurance that the debate will be organised in such a way that the House can vote on the composition and terms of reference of the committee of inquiry, in order to ensure that Back Benchers will constitute a majority, so that we do not have the cover-up that is rumoured in the form of Privy Council membership of the committee?

Mr. Foot

I hope that we shall be making a statement to the House on that subject at a fairly early date. The statement will be made in a form that will allow the House to pronounce on it. I hope that it will not be long before we are able to proceed in that direction.

I repudiate any suggestion—I am not saying that my hon. Friend has lent his authority to it—that there is any intention of having a cover-up or anything of the sort. I repudiate any such suggestion or rumour. The Goverenment are doing what they promised and are listening to the representations made in the House and elsewhere. We are taking them all seriously into account in deciding the course to recommend to the House. The House itself will have the chance to decide how we should proceed.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

May we hope to hear next week that the Government have decided to release from Customs property currently impounded which belongs to Sir Humphrey Gibbs? I am sure the Lord President will agree that in the past 13 years no man in Rhodesia has been more loyal to the Crown.

Mr. Foot

I cannot answer a question such as that at this time. I am not sure that asking about business for next week is the best course for the hon. Gentleman to take. He should put down a Question to an individual Minister.

Mr. Sever

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that it is a long time since the House discussed national provision for sport and physical recreation? Is it not about time that the House turned its attention to this subject? Will he find time for the House to discuss the matter next week?

Mr. Foot

I cannot find time for it next week, but I shall bear my hon. Friend's suggestion in mind as one of the many subjects that we have to consider. As my hon. Friend will realise from the representations made even in this short period, there are several competitors.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

With regard to what was said about decisions being announced away from this House, is the Leader of the House aware that last Tuesday an announcement abolishing the motor vehicle duty was made in a Written Answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Sever) concerning a tax change involving about £900 million, thus preventing any questioning by hon. Members in any part of the House? Does the Leader of the House know also that, to add insult to injury, a press conference was held on the matter that afternoon? In view of the fact that the central function of this House through the centuries has been to control taxation and to grant Supply, will the Leader of the House make sure that this sort of thing does not happen again and that we shall have an early opportunity to debate the subject?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Gentleman is misleading the House by his last words. Not a single penny will be affected without the House deciding on this matter. An announcement to the House, whether by a Written Question or by other means, does not circumvent that situation. The position concerning the proposed abolition of the vehicle duty is that there are still many processes to be gone through. Much consultation and discussion are still to take place. That is why the announcement was made in that way.

It is also a fact, however, that there were several other matters which called for statements to the House, and sometimes a balance has to be drawn concerning extra statements which would eat into the time of other debates. Certainly nothing whatever has happened in this matter which can be said to be in any way a step to circumvent the powers and the rights of the House. All those rights are absolutely preserved.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Is it likely that there will be an announcement shortly about an increase in the television licence fee, which will have to be sanctioned by a negative order in the House? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that that order will be debated—because a great many Labour Members oppose it—within the 40 days? In the past the Government have sometimes been remiss in this respect, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give us this assurance.

Mr. Foot

I understand the public interest in the matter. I also understand what my hon. Friend says about the negative procedure and the need to seek to preserve the rights of the House in that respect.

Mrs. Bain

Will the Lord President indicate whether before the Christmas Recess he expects that the necessary legislation to extend the budget of the Scottish Development Agency will be brought before the House? In the light of the concern following publication of the corporate plan of British Shipbuilders—and, indeed, the threatened redundancies on the lower reaches of the Clyde—will he give us a promise of an early debate on the future of the shipbuilding industry?

Mr. Foot

I acknowledge that there is widespread interest throughout the country, not only in Scotland, on the problems of the shipbuilding industry. I cannot say at the moment in what way we shall be able to debate the matter further in the House, but I will bear the hon. Lady's remarks in mind.

I cannot promise that legislation concerning the Scottish Development Agency will be introduced before Christmas. I must keep the hon. Lady on tenterhooks until after Christmas.

Mr. Corbett

Can I persuade the Leader of the House to add to the reply that he gave to my hon. and injured Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward) concerning the export of live animals for slaughter? Will my right hon. Friend use his best endeavours to see that we have a debate on this matter before Christmas?

Mr. Foot

It is not possible for me to give a promise of a debate on that subject, or on several other topics which have been raised, before Christmas. But the fact that I cannot give that promise is no indication that I do not recognise the strong interest of the House in the matter.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

As the Secretary of State for the Environment is likely to make a statement before next Thursday on the rate support grant formula, will the Leader of the House assure us that he will not seek to penalise those local authorities which decide to serve their ratepayers properly by buying at the lowest possible price and, therefore, probably buying Ford motor cars, in defiance of his Government's foolish attitude towards Ford?

Mr. Foot

The second matter dealt with by the hon. Gentleman is one to which reference has already been made, and I have already dealt with it.

I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment hopes to make an announcement tomorrow on the settlement of the rate support grant. This is partly in reply to the question which was put to me last week. The relevant order and regulations will be laid before the House in the usual way next Wednesday. In arranging the date of the debate, I shall endeavour to allow as big an interval as possible so that right hon. and hon. Members may be able to consider the proposals. We shall be following the usual practice in this matter.

Mr. Ashton

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great controversy concerning the financial state of the BBC, which will literally be bankrupt by February? Will he give an assurance that if the television licence fee is increased the House will not have merely 20 minutes for questions about it and that if £90 million is to be taken from the public we shall have the opportunity for a full debate?

Mr. Foot

I understand the public interest in the matter but, as I have already pointed out, the number of debates that we can manage before Christmas is another question.

Mr. Marten

Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that early next week the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will come to the House and, as he usually does, make a statement about the fisheries and agriculture meeting? Will a Treasury Minister come to the House at the same time and give his apologies, explaining to the House why the Treasury always funks giving statements after important Council of Ministers meetings? The Treasury always tries to get away with it by giving Written Answers in Hansard. Is not this a disgraceful practice on the part of the Treasury?

Mr. Foot

I repudiate any suggestion that the Treasury always funks giving statements or answers on this subject. Many charges could be made against my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I might be able to think up a few of my own—but the idea that he in any sense funks any issue is not one that would appeal to hon. Members in any part of the House.

It is true, of course, that the fisheries question is of major interest and importance to the whole House. I cannot promise that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will come to the House and make a statement on the subject at the beginning of next week, but we are fully aware of the rights of the House in this matter and we are determined to preserve them.

Mr. Madden

Will my right hon. Friend confirm or deny reports that the television licence fee is to be increased within a few days? In view of the intense interest in this matter, will he give a clear assurance that he will arrange for a parliamentary debate, as many of us believe that this discredited and outdated poll tax should be abolished at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Foot

I will not confirm or deny reports which may have appeared in the newspapers on this and many other subjects. If I attempted to do that, I should be doing nothing else. I understand what has been said by my hon. Friend on the subject but there are not many debating days left before Christmas, and to some extent they have to be allocated.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Reverting to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. JohnStevas), is the Leader of the House aware that many Members on each side of the House took a very poor view of the vehicle excise duty changes being announced in a Written Answer? Now that we are to have the enormously important rate support grant settlement announced tomorrow, on a Friday, and not on a Government business day, does it not appear that the House is being bypassed?

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer two quite precise questions? What is the status of the document issued by the Minister of Transport on the edict? Is it a White Paper, a Green Paper or merely a statement of some long-term vague intention? Secondly, as there is grave concern in the motor industry and in the rural areas about what is proposed, will the right hon. Gentleman guarantee that we can have a debate on this matter before Christmas?

Mr. Foot

The suggestion that the House is being bypassed in this matter is absolutely false and there is no basis for it whatever. What has happened is that the House has been given an early indication of the Government's view on the matter, and there will be ample time for general consultation on it. There will be Questions in the House to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport next week, but that is only the beginning of the process. Thereafter there will be lengthy opportunities for debate, and the proposal will not be carried into effect for some years. The House of Commons will have all its full rights protected throughout the whole of that period. For hon. Members to suggest that the House is thereby being bypassed is a gross abuse of the English language.

Mr. Spearing

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there may not be the same time for the decision about the European monetary system? On what motion is the debate next Wednesday likely to arise? As the Green Paper tomorrow is a Green Paper, when will the Government's conclusions be announced? Will it be in the debate or shall we hear beforehand?

Mr. Foot

The purpose of a Green Paper is to give the House and country an indication of a matter on which the Government present their tentative views. That is the meaning of a Green Paper. There will be consultation with the House in the debate next Wednesday. Our proposal is that the debate should take place on the Adjournment. As I said in response to the Leader of the Opposition, I think that there should be some extension of the time to enable many hon. Members to take part in the debate. That will not be the conclusion of the matter. In view of the elaborate efforts which have been made to ensure that the House has these matters brought before it, far from being bypassed—my hon. Friend did not use that expression—the House will be given full opportunities to debate and decide these matters.

Mr. Emery

As the right hon. Gentleman has kindly arranged a debate on oil spillage, at the request of a number of hon. Members this time last week, and as he normally has to bear the slings and arrows of the House, I should like to thank him for meeting our wishes. But how will that debate arise? Will it be wide enough to cover the matters set out in early-day motion no. 53 on coastal oil pollution, which has now been signed by 132 hon. Members, so that they may be raised in the debate?

[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 pollution 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 be reviewed 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 suggested that the debate on Monday should be on the Adjournment. We have arranged the debate precisely in this way to meet the representations which were made last week and earlier. We thought it a further advantage because it would alleviate a situation which might otherwise arise on Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill and injure proper debate. Therefore, what we have proposed kills two birds with one stone. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for recognising how thoughtful our advice to the House has been.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. If hon. Members are brief, I shall be able to call all those who have already been standing.

Mr. Litterick

Speaking of oil spillage, as the Leader of the House has been unable to accede to the requests by my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) and for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) respectively on the subjects of the Official Secrets Act and the Bingham report, may I ask him to undertake to lean a little—or a lot—on the Attorney-General so that he might be as assiduous in his pursuit of those who treacherously and persistently violated the sanctions policy on Rhodesia as he was in his pursuit of the journalists Campbell and Aubrey, who were merely doing honest journalists' jobs?

Mr. Foot

I make no comparison between those cases. I should have thought that my hon. Friends, so far from thinking that what I said about the Bingham report was unsatisfactory, would recognise that we have taken full account of the debates, as the statement that we shall be making will indicate.

Mr. Michael Morris

Will the Lord President kindly spell out exactly how the rate support grant order is to be announced tomorrow? Is he suggesting that he has listened to the representations which I made last week that the Secretary of State should come to the Dispatch Box and make a statement here, or is he merely wrapping it up in what is traditionally the Written Answer?

Mr. Foot

The statement will be made in the normal way. My right hon. Friend is not coming to make a statement here. We have to take account of the rights of other hon. Members. I should have thought that what I have proposed fully met the representations which were made by many hon. Members on this subject. I repudiate the idea that anything secretive or out of the ordinary has been done in this respect. We are giving the House a full opportunity to hear what is proposed, to enable hon. Members to consult their local authorities and to come to the proper decision in the debate at the proper time.

Mr. Hoyle

Knowing the great store that my right hon. Friend sets on debates in the House, may I ask him to ensure that the Treasury papers on the EMS are published so that we may have a fully informed debate on the subject?

Mr. Foot

I think that my hon. Friend had better wait and see the Green Paper which is to be published. He will see the issues which it discusses. I believe that my hon. Friend and others will then find themselves fully qualified to engage in the debate. I am sure that there will not be much backwardness on his part or on the part of many of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will the Lord President find time in the near future for a general debate on roads and planning? My local authority, the Macclesfield borough council, is endeavouring to give a joint presentation to the public in the area but it is unable to do so because of lack of co-operation and decision by the regional office of transportation. Roads are important. Will the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate at a relatively early date?

Mr. Foot

Of course this is an important matter, but I cannot promise an early debate. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will be putting questions to my right hon. Friend next week. I am aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is also eager to have such a debate.

Mr. Loyden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the latest improvement in employment is most welcome—in other words, the fall in unemployment—this remains the most serious problem facing the country and the Government? Is he aware that in my area there are two major factories where closures or redundancies are threatened and that they will add to the already unacceptable level of unemployment on Merseyside? Will he now consider my constant appeal for a full-scale debate on unemployment to consider ways and means of dealing with it?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend has rightly and naturally been most persistent on this subject. I agree that this is the major domestic question facing the country. Naturally, therefore, there is pressure for debates on the subject, because it affects the country in general. I am sure that those opportunities will arise. There will be an opportunity for debate tomorrow. I know that the debate tomorrow refers particularly to the situation in the North-East, but the motion is a general motion and there will be a full opportunity for raising this matter.

Mr. Adley

Is it true that the Prime Minister has received a letter from Mr. Brezhnev suggesting that if Her Majesty's Government agree to the sale of Harriers to China the Soviet Union will not only regard it as damaging to British-Soviet relations but will consider it as entitling it to take up an even more hostile stance against the Chinese Government? In view of the implications not only for Britain but for the world, will the Lord President say whether it is true that the Prime Minister has received this letter and, if so, ensure that we have an urgent and early debate on the whole subject?

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise an early debate on the subject and I cannot undertake to enter into a discussion of the Prime Minister's correspondence now. This matter should be raised in other ways.

Mr. Ron Thomas

My right hon. Friend indicated that it was critically important that the House should have all available information on the European monetary system. He then said that we should have a Green Paper. How are we to know how much of the Treasury document is in that Green Paper? I urge my right hon. Friend, in the interests of the open government that he has always pursued, to lean on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to get that document published, otherwise, as the Chancellor said this afternoon, all we can do is to read distorted versions in the press.

Mr. Foot

I heard what my right hon. Friend said in his reply this afternoon. I do not believe that the House will be inhibited in the debate on Wednesday. My hon. Friends should first see the Green Paper. They will then be able to form their own conclusions upon it. I repudiate the idea that it is impossible to debate the subject because every document applying to the matter has not been published.

Mr. Lawrence

In view of last week's ruling by an American court upholding the evidence of American scientists to the effect that the fluoridation of water supplies in America might be causing 10,000 excess cancer deaths a year in America and rejecting the evidence given by the doctor and statistician upon whom this Government place a great deal of reliance in the matter, and in view of the fact that the whole question of fluoridation being imposed by non-elected authorities raises substantial questions involving the liberty of the subject, will the Lord President consider having an early debate upon the whole subject so that the country may know where Parliament stands on the matter?

Mr. Foot

I must reply on this matter as I have replied on many others. I fully recognise the importance of the subject, but I cannot promise an early debate if we are to be able to proceed with the other debates that we are to have, all of which are pressing, up to the time when the House departs for Christmas.

Mr. Crouch

Is the Leader of the House aware that many hon. Members, many people outside, and The Guardian are becoming increasingly worried at the activities of the Department of Transport and the Secretary of State over the way they are treating Parliament, the House of Commons and the public in general with a somewhat arbitrary approach to decision making? There has been reference this afternoon to the decision already taken by the Secretary of State without the consultation of Parliament concerning road fund licensing and petrol tax.

I am concerned at the presence this afternoon of the Secretary of State for Transport in Brussels, where he and his counterparts are considering a document which has been prepared for his Department on the size and length of juggernauts. Will the Leader of the House assure me that there will be no decision to permit heavier or longer juggernauts until the House has decided upon the issue?

Mr. Foot

Hon. Members will have the opportunity of putting questions to my right hon. Friend next week. He will be answering Questions in the normal way. In response to the hon. Gentleman's first question, let me underline afresh that it is nonsense to suggest that by making a statement in the form of a Written Answer we were bypassing the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that. My right hon. Friend was giving the House an early indication of the Government's view on the matter, and there will be ample opportunity inside and outside the House for discussion before it is put into effect. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will not use language which seems to imply a derogation from the powers of the House when we are abiding exactly by the rules that have always prevailed.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Surely the Leader of the House is not correct on this. A firm decision is contained in the White Paper. We are saying that that decision should be announced in the House so that hon. Members may have a chance of questioning it. Otherwise, if the right hon. Gentleman's argument is valid, we might just as well have the Budget Statement made by way of a Written Answer.

Mr. Foot

A more ridiculous proposition was never advanced, even by the hon. Gentleman. It is not the case.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

That is the right hon. Gentleman's argument.

Mr. Foot

No, it is not my argument. I do not know whether the Opposition Chief Whip wants to enter into this debate. If he wishes to do so, we shall be very happy to listen to his maiden speech, and we look forward to hearing from him on future occasions.

I say to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) that it is perfectly normal practice for the House to be given an indication of the Government's view on a question. Opportunities are then given for consultation, discussion, debate and decision. All those opportunities will be available in this case, and, therefore, there is no comparison whatever, as the hon. Member for Chelmsford seemed to suggest, between what has happened here and putting the Budget in a Written Answer. I think that when the hon. Gentleman has had time to consider, he will want to withdraw those ridiculous words.

Back to