HC Deb 08 February 1979 vol 962 cc573-83
Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Leader of the House 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 12 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Credit Unions Bill.

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Price Commission (Amendment) Bill.

TUESDAY 13 FEBRUARY—Supply [7th allotted day]. There will be a debate on the state of British industry, which will arise on an Opposition motion.

WEDNESDAY 14 FEBRUARY—Remaining stages of the Banking Bill.

Motion on EEC documents R/3185/78, R/3089/78, R/3090/78, R/3146/78, R/3093/78, R/3312/78 and 4102/79 on the Communities' budget.

THURSDAY 15 FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Public Health Laboratory Service Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Vaccine Damage Payments Bill.

FRIDAY 16 FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills.

MONDAY 19 FEBRUARY—Supply [8th allotted day]. There will be a debate on the first report from the Select Committee on Procedure, Session 1977–78, House of Commons Paper No. 588, which will be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 20 February.

Mrs. Thatcher

When will the House be able to debate the White Paper on public expenditure? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that such matters are always important but, because of today's rise in interest rates, they have now become even more relevant.

Secondly, in regard to the debate on procedure, will we at the conclusion of procedure, will we at the conclusion of that debate be given the opportunity to vote on specific recommendations?

Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman will recall that last week I asked him specifically for a statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Defence about defence contracts with Iran. That is a most important matter because, if the contracts are to be suspended or are to go in breach, alternative arrangements for that equipment will have to be made.

Mr. Foot

On the point put to me by the right hon. Lady about the White Paper on public expenditure, no doubt the Expenditure Committee will wish to comment on the position before a debate takes place. We are still awaiting its report. Obviously it is, as the right hon. Lady said, an extremely important matter.

On the second point relating to the debate on procedure, surely we should have the debate first before deciding whether to table motions on the second day. I am sure that that is the best way to proceed. However, we can discuss the matter.

On the third question relating to defence sales to Iran, we have been invited to enter into discussions with the Iranians on the deferment, curtailment or possible cancellation of defence contracts with the United Kingdom. Since these discussions are now beginning, I think that the present moment is not the best time for an immediate statement. No doubt a statement will be made at a fairly early date after those discussions.

Mr. Bidwell

Has my right hon. Friend noticed from examination of questions and motions on the Order Paper that there is still considerable disquiet about the operation of the immigration rules, particularly highlighted by what has become known as the virginity test case? The family concerned in my constituency and the community as a whole are grateful to the Home Secretary for acting with alacrity to bring about the cessation of these abominable tests.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that disquiet continues because the previous Minister who occupied the job said that he gave orders to discontinue such tests? Should we not debate the operation of the immigration rules, particularly as the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition appears to be shy about raising the subject at all?

Mr. Foot

I thank my hon. Friend for what he said in reference to the statement of the Home Secretary on this subject. I fully accept what he has said and what was said last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) on the abhorrence which many must feel about some of these occurrences. I believe that what was said by the Home Secretary so speedily was welcomed by the whole House. Whether we should have a debate on the whole matter more generally is another question, but I take account of my hon. Friend's representations on the subject.

Mr. Beith

Would the right hon. Gentleman look again at the arrangements for the debate on the report of the Procedure Committee? Does he not recognise that if we do not have motions laid before the House on the main recommendations of the Committee we may never, as a House, have the opportunity to vote upon those recommendations, because eventually it will be upon those which the Government select that we have to vote? Will he look again at the proposal made by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker), supported by other members of the Committee, that the Government should table the main recommendations of the Committee and allow the House to vote upon them?

Mr. Foot

I will look at that, but I should not like to give a commitment about it. I believe that the proposals of the Select Committee on procedure are very far-ranging and important, and I feel that the House should have a debate about them before we decide how we are to proceed on them. I have promised the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition that I will look at the question, but I am not altogether optimistic that that is the best way to proceed.

Mr. Powell

Does the right hon. Gentleman consider it satisfactory that the important EEC documents set down for debate on Wednesday should be disposed of in one and a half hours, or does he propose to make arrangements to ensure that there is adequate time?

Mr. Foot

I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think that one and a half hours would be adequate to dispose of all of those documents, but we may be able to embark on the discussion earlier and therefore more time will be available for the discussion—certainly much more than one and a half hours. But if we find that that is not the case, I give the right hon. Gentleman the same undertaking as I gave last week to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition—that if we find there is not sufficient time we must arrange for further time to be provided later.

Mr. Skinner

When we discuss the question of the Common Market budget, will my right hon. Friend take the necessary steps to get the Secretary of State for the Environment to come here and explain why it is that low-paid hospital workers and others are contributing £20—as are every man, woman and child in this country—to supplement the wage packets of the Germans, the French and others, so that he can fully justify, if he can do so, in the anti-Market stance he sometimes adopts, why British low-paid workers have to subsidise highly-paid Germans?

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend has a very much more consistent and longstanding attitude on this subject than my hon. Friend, who I think would be well advised to listen carefully to what my right hon. Friend says on all these matters.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that shortly a trade delegation is to leave for the People's Republic of China, under the leadership of a Government Minister? Would he arrange for a representative of the appropriate Government Department to make a statement at the Dispatch Box, so that the concern of the textile industry over the ultimate implications of this trade visit may be expressed to the Government before that delegation goes on this visit? Is the Lord President aware that the industry has written to the Government expressing concern on this subject?

Mr. Foot

I will look at the question raised by the hon. Gentleman. Whether it should be dealt with by a statement in the House is another matter.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House with which Iranians discussions have taken place as far as outstanding arms contracts are concerned?

Mr. Foot

Discussions are taking place with authorities in Iran.


With which ones?

Mr. Foot

There are various authorities in Iran, and it is partly because of the amorphous state of affairs in that country that I do not think it would be sensible for the House to have a major discussion on it at present. Of course, at some stage the Government must make a full report to the House about it.

Sir Bernard Braine

Does the Leader of the House recall that just before Christmas, when I drew his attention to the strong feeling in all parties in the House that justice should be done to the small Banaban community in the Pacific, he gave an assurance that a Bill would be brought before the House very shortly? Now, almost two months later, can he confirm or deny that the Government, knowing the strength of the opposition that exists in this House, have chosen to send the Bill to the other place?

Mr. Foot

The Bill was introduced in another place yesterday, but it was not to avoid any criticism or discussion of the matter in this House. As the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, the matter will come to this House for discussion and he will have the fullest possible opportunity on it. He must not spread any suggestion that his views, or those of any other hon. Member who wishes to raise questions, will be suppressed

Mr. Hoyle

Does my right hon. Friend recall that I have asked him before about a debate on microprocessors and he said that he would give consideration to an early debate? So far this has not occurred. I must remind him that this is a very important subject with far-reaching consequences for industry and for employment prospects and it would be a tragedy if everybody else except this House of Commons were debating the subject.

Mr. Foot

I quite agree that the subject should be debated, but, as I have said many times before in the House, hon. Members should always look at the business for next week. I am sure my hon. Friend can make a contribution to the debate next Tuesday, on the state of British industry. That does not exclude the possibility of having a further debate at a later stage, but I always tell my hon. Friends that it is worth looking every Thursday to see whether one can make a speech in the following week.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

With rubbish piling up in the streets, sometimes to a point where rats and stray dogs are beginning to feed on putrefactive matter, will the Lord President next week make a statement on two matters? First, will he say that there are central Government arrangements—not just local government arrangements—for monitoring this problem in case a public health hazard arises; secondly, that there are contingency plans within the Department of the Environment to take action, if need be with troops, to clear rubbish which becomes a public health hazard?

Mr. Foot

The Government always consider these matters and have considered them in this context. If it is necessary to make a statement to the House, the Government will be most willing to do so.

Mrs. Hayman

Has the Leader of the House noted the support for early-day motion 153 on infant health and the maternity grant? Is he aware that, in the year of the child, a statement by the Secretary of State for Social Services on the Government's intentions and actions to improve the pre-natal mortality rate would be greatly welcomed by many hon. Members?

[That this House, recognising the importance of proper nutrition and care for the unborn child during pregnancy, deplores the erosion of the value of the maternity grant by inflation; is gravely disturbed by the high correlation between social deprivation and infant death; sees no justification for excluding many of those mothers whose babies are at most risk from automatic right to maternity benefit; and urges Her Majesty's Government to raise the maternity grant to£100 and pay it at intervals during pregnancy to all pregnant women.]


I will certainly convey my hon. Friend's comment to my right hon. Friend and see whether an early statement can be made to the House about it.

Mr.Dudley Smith

Would the Lord President consider urgently having a debate on rates in view of the current situation and the ultimate likelihood of a fairly high settlement for local government workers? Is he aware that the likely consequences of this are causing fear among ratepayers in the county areas who are on fixed or low incomes, many of them getting less than the strikers?

Mr. Foot

The Government have all these considerations in mind, which is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke as he did a few minutes ago. But, on the question of a debate, I feel we should await the outcome of the negotiations. I do not think that it would be intelligent to have a debate right in the middle of the negotiations.

Mr. Cryer

Would my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of a debate on the Peachey report? He may recall that I asked him this last week, and I should be grateful if he would give some indication, when arranging the programmes for each Thursday's announcement, that he has this in his thoughts.

With regard to the Iranian contracts, does he not think that, in view of the serious repercussions of the possible cancellation of this programme, it is important that we should have a debate on the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards' imaginative plan for the conversion from war production to production for peaceful purposes, and that instead of allowing that plan to be strangled in the Department of Industry we should have a debate upon it on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Foot

Those are two very good eligible subjects for debate, but, as I have said to my hon. Friend and others on a number of occasions, there are plenty of opportunities for private Members also to initiate debates.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

Is there a Minister for employment, or has he gone on leave? In all the turmoil of the last few weeks, the Minister who is supposed to be concerned principally with industrial relations has not said anything from the Dispatch Box. We have not heard from him. Are the Government stopping him from making a statement?

Mr. Foot

That is a very silly slur on my right hon. Friend He has worked consistently throughout, day and night. He has been to the Dispatch Box to answer questions. I do not know what the hon. Member was doing then, but he should think again before he makes such unjustified slurs.


Will my right hon. Friend find time for an urgent debate on the economy, particularly about today's decision to raise the minimum lending rate? If he cannot arrange that, will he ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come to the House soon to make a statement?

Is he aware that, although we do not adopt the bogus alternatives advocated by the Opposition, many of us on this side of the House are worried about the Government's acceptance of a policy of high interest rates which has been advocated by the Conservative Party and thrust down the Government's throat by the Bank of England? Does he accept that many of us believe that, far from helping the fight against inflation, that policy puts such burdens on working people as to make wage restraint impossible?

Mr. Foot

I know that there is a deep concern among my hon. Friends about this subject. That deep concern was expressed by the Prime Minister when he replied to questions a few minutes ago. I do not think that a special debate on the subject is likely next week. But the subject can be referred to during Tuesday's debate.

Mr. Eyre

This afternoon the Leader of the House will have heard the Secretary of State for the Environment refer to the threat by unions to impose restrictions of particular severity on major urban centres, including Birmingham. Manchester and Liverpool. In view of the unprecedented nature of that threat and the great distress that would be caused to vulnerable groups in those cities, will the Leader of the House undertake that a ministerial statement will be made next week setting out the measures by which the Government will encourage volunteers and use troops to reduce the severe harm that could be caused by such action?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend said about that matter.

Mr. Faulds

The non-publication of the full Order Paper and Hansard—what is the reason this time, Sir? Is my right hon. Friend aware that every time I make a particularly effective speech in the House there is non-publication of Hansard the following day? Does he think that these matters are connected?

Mr. Foot

My good nature forbids me to answer that question directly. I did not know that my friends in the National Graphical Association were as quick on the draw as that.

There are serious consequences when the papers of the House are interrupted. An alternative arrangement is made to meet the situation immediately. Discussions are taking place, and I hope that they will have an early effect in overcoming the difficulty.

Mr. Gow

The House indicated on Tuesday by a decisive majority that it wished to give further consideration to the Picketing Bill. The House indicated yesterday by a scarcely less decisive majority that it wished to give further consideration to the Workers' Freedom Bill. As the guardian of the rights of Back Benchers, will the Leader of the House provide time to debate those two measures?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Member knows that if I were to facilitate the immediate procedure on Bills that are passed in that way, I would clutter up the business of the House. Indeed, I would be setting a precedent. The hon. Member must not tempt me to depart from the rules of the House.

Mr. Stoddart

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the ruling by the European Court on the tachograph has caused much consternation? Is he aware that it will put up the cost to industry and perhaps lead to a new confrontation with the lorry drivers? Is he aware that it might also lead to confrontation between Parliament and the European Court? Is the matter to be debated in the House?

Mr. Foot

I agree that the decision raises many important questions. The Government will consider the matter carefully. I am sure that at some stage the matter will be discussed in the House.

Mr. Raison

Will the Leader of the House think again about the question of picketing? Is it not extraordinary that the consultation document issued before Christmas by the Department of Employment has not been debated in the House? Will he now arrange for a debate because, apart from anything else, it would give the Secretary of State for Employment a chance to make a comeback?

Mr. Foot

The Secretary of State for Employment has been discussing this matter with many of those who are concerned with the subject. I trust that next week we shall produce a document which will have been agreed by the Government and the Trades Union Congress on this important question. Of course, it will include references to these matters. That is much the most intelligent way to go about this. I am sure that when the House sees the work that has been done it will be eager to pass a unanimous vote of thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Mr. Stanbrook

Is the Leader of the House aware of the early-day motion which seeks the dismissal of a High Court judge? Is it not the practice of the House that such a motion should be debated without delay, or withdrawn?

[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that she will be pleased to remove the Honourable Sir Desmond Ackner from the office which he holds as Justice of the High Court.]

Mr. Foot

Not necessarily. I agree that such motions should not be left upon the Order Paper for a long time. I shall examine all the precedents before making a further judgment.


On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not pay too much attention to what Ministers say to me in reply to my questions since I know that they are not likely to share anything like my point of view. But it has been suggested that my right hon. Friend—or, more appropriately in this case, the Lord President of the Council—said in answer to my question about the Common Market that the Secretary of State for the Environment had been more consistent than I, that is, the Member for Bolsover, about the Common Market.

I do not know whether that was a slip of the tongue. It might well have been But Hansard is there for everybody to check. I have never voted in favour of the Common Market. What is more, unlike my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and, for that matter, the Lord President of the Council, I have continued my opposition when others such as they have fallen by the wayside.

I want the Lord President of the Council to put the record straight. If he fails to do so, it does not really matter because I have had a chance to put my statement on the record and in Hansard—when it is printed.

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend is good at dishing it out. He must learn to take it, too. It is high time that he learned to take it. If he thinks that he can insult everybody in the House without anybody making the most tentative reply, he had better learn what the place is about.