HC Deb 15 February 1979 vol 962 cc1312-24
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 19 FEBRUARY—Supply [8th Allotted Day]—and TUESDAY 20 FEBRUARY—Debate on the 1st report from the Procedure Committee, Session 1977–78, House of Commons Paper No. 588, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. The 1st to 8th reports from the Sessional Procedure Committee in Session 1976–77 will also be relevant.

WEDNESDAY 21 FEBRUARY—Motions on the Northern Ireland orders on rates amendment and judgments enforcement.

Proceedings on the following seven Lords consolidation measures:

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 22 FEBRUARY—Debate on the White Paper on "The Review of the Mental Health Act 1959", Cmnd. 7320.

FRIDAY 23 FEBRUARY—Consideration of Private Members' Bills.

Mrs. Thatcher

I should like to put three brief points to the Leader of the House. This is the third Thursday in succession that I have asked him for a statement of the effect on British interests of events in Iran. Will he please give an assurance that before the House rises next week we shall have a statement? It is important not only for defence contracts but for oil, trade and other interests. We must have at least one statement, if not two.

Secondly, on the procedure debate on Monday and Tuesday, he will be aware that the Procedure Committee was particularly anxious that we should have two separate days, one for the general views to be taken and the second for decisions. He has decided—and I am sure that a sufficient number of hon. Members wish to speak to warrant that—to have two days for the views of the House on all the reports. Will lie agree that before the end of this Parliament we should have a day to decide the matters that the Procedure Committee has laid before us? It would be quite wrong if that were to be held over to another Parliament. Will he therefore give an undertaking that we shall have a day of decision?

Thirdly, I understand that the Select Committee on the public expenditure White Paper will report next week. Will he give an undertaking that we shall have a debate on that White Paper as soon as we return from the referendum recess? Will he also find it convenient next Thursday, if not today, to give an indication of the date of the Budget?

Mr. Foot

On the third matter, I cannot give an undertaking when there will be a debate on the expenditure report. I have indicated before, and the House agreed, that it is right for us to await the report of the Expenditure Committee before making such a decision. I cannot promise the right hon. Lady that I will give the date of the Budget in the next Business Statement. I shall certainly look at the representations that she has made.

On Iran, I shall take account of the right hon. Lady's representations and see whether a statement should be made. I think that there is a strong case for that happening next week.

On the Procedure Committee, in almost every business statement that I have made there have been representations to have this debate. We have made arrangements for a full debate, which is the right course. There have also been representations that we should at the same time take into account some of the Sessional Procedure Committee reports that are coming forward, and we have made arrangements for that. It would not be right, following the debates next week, for the House to pro- ceed immediately to decisions on these matters. We must first take into account the general view that emerges from these debates.

Mrs. Thatcher

Before the end of this Parliament we must have another day to reach decisions on that report. Will the right hon. Gentleman give that undertaking?

Mr. Foot

I understood what the right hon. Lady said. In any case, we shall have the same Government after the next election and in the next Parliament, so we do not need to worry. We shall certainly debate these matters next week, and hon. Members can put their case. It would be best to decide these matters at the beginning of a new Session of a new Parliament. If hon. Members have a different view they can state it in the debate, although it is a perfectly proper matter for discussion. That is why we have allowed such good time for the debate.

Mr. David Steel

First, will the Leader of the House reconsider his last answer? Hon. Members in all parts of the House have spent much time working on the Committee on Procedure. It is not fair to have a two-day debate and not implement any of the recommendations. We should do so in this Session of Parliament, if not in the debate next week.

Secondly, will the business for next week include the moving of a writ for the by-election at Liverpool, Edge Hill? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are now on the new register? The Labour candidate was selected a long time ago. Given the problems in Liverpool and Merseyside at present, there is no excuse for leaving that constituency unrepresented.

Mr. Foot

On the last subject raised by the right hon. Gentleman, I have nothing to say. It is not customary that it should be a topic for debate in this manner. But I shall look at the question in the way that it has been raised.

I am ready to consider the representations that the right hon. Gentleman and others make on the first subject, but there is a contrary view that I shall seek to put if we have the discussion. The best way for the House to proceed is to decide such questions at the beginning of a new Parliament. There will be ample opportunity to discuss this question among others on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

Mr. Michael Stewart

Will my right hon. Friend find time to debate early-day motion 187 about violence on television, which has been signed by about 120 hon. Members in all parts of the House?

[That this House is strongly of the opinion that films which are categorised as "X" films at cinemas and which it is prohibited to show to persons under the age of 18 years should not be shown on television.]

Mr. Foot

I recognise the great number of hon. Members who have signed the motion put down in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck). I cannot promise an immediate day, but I shall take these representations into account.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Will the Leader of the House find time to debate early-day motion No. 223, on Mr. Justice Ackner—

[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.]

—and the amendment thereto in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself?

[Line 1, leave out from 'That' to end and add 'this House recognises in Mr. Justice Ackner the qualities of fairness, clarity, patience and courtesy which make him eminently fitted for high judicial office; deprecates ill-considered criticism of him, whether deriving from ignorance or political partisanship; and hopes that he will for many years continue to serve successfully the cause of British justice.'] Is it not eminently undesirable that a motion, however lacking in authority and verisimilitude, reflecting on one of Her Majesty's judges and calling for his removal should stand unresolved on the Order Paper?

Mr. Foot

I understand the point the right hon. and learned Member makes. There are precedents for such motions remaining on the Order Paper for some time. I would hope that the motion would be withdrawn, but I cannot give a promise of an early debate.

Mrs. Bain

In view of the fact that the people of Scotland and Wales will go to the polls a fortnight today to register their views on the devolution proposals, will the Leader of the House tell us whether there will be a statement next week indicating the Government's intentions about the allowance to be made against the dead, double registered and removed voters on the electoral register in these countries? It has been estimated that there is a 300,000-vote disadvantage for the "Yes" campaign before it even starts.

Mr. Foot

Certainly, some indication must be given to the House next week about this matter. We have not yet decided what form that indication will take. I fully appreciate what the hon. Member and others have said. A statement must be made in some form before the referendum day.

Mr. Anderson

Are the Government geared to an immediate parliamentary response to the decision of the electorate in Wales and Scotland on 1 March, whatever the result? If, as is likely in Wales on the evidence of recent polls, the decision is a rejection of the Government's proposals, have the Government any contingency plans such as an enhancement of the role of the Welsh Grand Committee or a new role for the top tier in directly elected local government authorities which might go some way to filling the resultant gap?

Mr. Foot

I have already told the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) that there must be some indication on the matters that she raised and this also covers the matters raised by my hon. Friend. As to any view of the Government on the results of the referendum, we should wait and see, but by far the best way to ensure that we get a decent reform of local government in the future is to elect a Welsh Assembly and let that Assembly recommend ways in which that local government could be properly overhauled.

Mr. John H. Osborn

Will the Leader of the House invite the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement on the failure of local authorities throughout the country, including South Yorkshire and Sheffield, in particular—I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister now has the freedom of the city of Sheffield—to clear snow, carry out salting and gritting of roads and maintain domestic industrial and commercial life because of an industrial dispute which makes a mockery of the concordat?

Mr. Foot

I do not accept most of the comments that the hon. Member made. We shall see whether statements should be made on that and many kindred subjects next week.

Mr. Michael McGuire

Is my right hon. Friend aware that tomorrow I have a small Private Member's Bill going through? Will he have a talk with his colleagues to ensure that no voice on this side of the House is instructed to shout "Object"? My right hon. Friend will remember that when I first raised this matter with him—the Bill is to help old workmen's compensation cases—he was favourably disposed towards it. Is he aware that if the Bill were blocked this would be misunderstood by many people who are Labour supporters?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend has made his representations even more effectively than I could.

Mr. Goodhart

If the Government accept the advice of their road safety advisers, why are they not bringing forward next week the Bill for making compulsory the wearing of seat belts? If the Government do not accept the advice of their advisers, why are they bringing forward the Bill at all?

Mr. Foot

The Government are committed to bringing forward the Bill but, as the hon. Member may have noticed, it is not a measure that commands universal approval in the House.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Now that the House of Lords has run away from its responsibilities and rejected the motion to set up a committee of inquiry following the Bingham report, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that, either with or without the agreement of the Opposition, a Committee of this House will be set up to go into the details? Also, will he ask the Secretary of State to make a statement next week on reports that the Government have authorised BP to sell North Sea oil to South Africa? If that is so, there will be great anger in this House and in the country.

Mr. Foot

I shall look at the second matter. I do not think that my hon. Friend should accept reports appearing in peculiar quarters on that or on any other subject. On the first matter, I indicated last week and earlier this week that a most serious step had been taken by another place on this matter. Obviously the Government must consider that and will come forward in due time with proposals for dealing with the situation which arises.

Sir David Renton

On the matter of procedure, while it is understandable that the Leader of the House should want a general debate first, will he bear in mind that the report of the Select Committee was one on which all party representatives were unanimous on the main recommendations? Would it not clear the air a great deal if he found a reasonably early opportunity to enable the House to state its own views by having substantive motions on which we can vote? Is he aware that having the debate on the Adjournment on Tuesday, which is Government time, prevents that? Will he therefore respond to the reasonable request of the Leader of the Opposition and at least keep an open mind about having a day of decision within the reasonably near future?

Mr. Foot

I am prepared to keep an open mind on this subject. Had the Government made proposals for seeking to settle these matters without even listening to the debate in the House, we would have been legitimately criticised from an opposite direction. Select Committees of this House, although very important, are not as important as the House. The House is much more important, and the House must have the right to give its views generally. Of course the House will decide on these matters, but it has the right to give its views. Those Members who are not members of the Procedure Committee have just as much right as those who are to give their views. Had the Government come forward with proposals before listening to the House as a whole, we would be much more open to censure.

Mr. Jay

On procedure, does my right hon. Friend adhere to his previous view that we need a special and separate debate on the treatment of EEC legislation? This is long overdue.

Mr. Foot

All those matters are covered in the procedure report. I have no doubt that if my right hon. Friend participates in that debate he will refer to those matters. There are many outstanding matters to be settled. Since the procedure report dealt with some of those matters, it was not for the Government to decide that we should separate the debates.

Mr. Luce

Is the Leader of the House aware that in answer to a written question of mine this week the Minister for Overseas Development announced that £7½ million of taxpayers' money would be used out of the aid budget to assist Vietnam to buy cargo ships and gas turbines? Since Vietnam is pursuing policies that are totally against Britain's interests, how can this possibly be the right thing to do? Will he ask the Minister for Overseas Development to make a statement to the House?

Mr. Foot

I do not think that that arises on the business for next week. The hon. Member should put down a question in the normal manner.

Mr. Spriggs

In view of the high rate of unemployment in the North-West, will my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Cabinet consider the setting up of a North-West agency, similar to those set up in Wales and Scotland?

Mr. Foot

I know that that is one of the propositions on this matter that have been put forward by some of my hon. Friends. I fully acknowledge the seriousness of the unemployment problem in the North-West. However, the National Enterprise Board covers the whole of England and it has some separate developments that have been devised to assist in the regions. I do not think that it could be done by setting up a new kind of agency, but that does not mean to say that we must not do everything to encourage the NEB to assist in the North-West as much as it possibly can.

Mr. Rathbone

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all hon. Members feel the need, as he does, to debate things of import in the House as a whole? Will he therefore indicate when it will be pos- sible for the Government to provide time to debate the new concordat between the Government and the TUC? is he aware that many people have reservations that that concordat will not achieve what the Prime Minister says it will achieve in stopping secondary picketing, secondary blacking and the operation of closed shops?

Mr. Foot

I think that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what was in the document. Perhaps he has been led astray by his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. But, of course, all the matters in that document are obviously very proper matters for debate in the House. When the House reassembles on 5 March I have no doubt that that will be one of the topics that the House will with to debate.

Mr. Faulds

When will the House be given an opportunity to give a general and very warm welcome to the very nearly excellent White Paper on the national land fund?

Mr. Foot

That is the kind of thing that I like to hear.

Mr. Faulds


Mr. Tebbit

Will the Leader of the House undertake to arrange as soon as possible a statement from the Secretary of State for Industry on his return from China? Does the Leader of the House agree that it would surely be very interesting to hear whether what the Prime Minister would no doubt call the other half or the Left half of the Cabinet's outright opposition to the sale of Harriers to China has indeed affected the prospects of gaining that order?

Mr. Foot

My right hon. Friend has not gone yet, so it would be very peculiar to make arrangements for him to make a statement when he returns. However, we shall take account of the hon. Gentleman's representations and give him the same courtesy as we always extend.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be widespread support across the House for his resistance to the precipitate attempts to have the matters mentioned in the Procedure Committee report debated in the unseemly fashion suggested by certain Opposition Members?

Mr. Foot

It is getting better and better. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his assistance in the matter.

Mr. Wiggin

Is the Leader of the House aware that his excuse for not bringing forward the seat belts Bill—that the matter is controversial—is surely the weakest of all? The Government's delay in not bringing forward this legislation has already cost many hundreds of lives and much unnecessary injury. Will the right hon. Gentleman find time to have the matter resolved?

Mr. Foot

I did not say that the Government are not bringing forward the Bill because it is controversial. I merely remarked on the fact that there was not unanimous support for the Bill. That was a statement of fact. The Government are committed to bringing in the Bill. I understand that as well as anyone else.

Mr. Loyden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the point that he made in regard to the NEB is the very question that concerns many of us in the North-West? Is he aware that, in terms of decision making, the NEB was responsible for the closure of the Speke No. 2 plant and was responsible for rejecting the approach made by myself and some of my hon. Friends on the question of Seel House Press, and that as far as we are concerned it has not contributed anything towards job creation in Merseyside or that part of the North-West? It is time that this House debated the NEB's role and its role in job creation in areas of high unemployment.

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct in saying that the operation of the NEB is a perpetually proper topic for debate in this House. A Bill is going through the House now which offers opportunities for discussion on those matters. I have no doubt that, when we return after the short referendum campaign, at a very early date there will be a further opportunity for discussing the operations of the NEB, and my hon. Friend, like others, will be able to join in those debates.

Mr. Michael Morris

Will the Lord President arrange for a statement to be made next week on the allocation of broadcasting time for the Scottish referendum campaign? It seems to English Members that there has been a change of principle here, which needs clarifying.

Mr. Foot

I do not think that there has been any change of principle. I am doubtful whether it is the right course to have a general debate upon the matter. All that has happened is that we are abiding by the normal arrangements for party political broadcasts.

Mr. English

Does my very conservative right hon. Friend realise that he made one statement earlier which I think would be challenged on both sides of the House? He said that the best time to decide changes in procedure was in a new Parliament, when—he did not say this—in other words, many hon. Members of the House are totally inexperienced about its procedure.

I am not concerned with the question whether we have decisions made on Monday or Tuesday—like my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr)—but I think that they should be made shortly after we have had the general discussion that my right hon. Friend wants. As the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party and others have said, we should then have an opportunity to make a decision. Could we not make a decision at least on some small points, such as permitting Sub-Committees to publish their proceedings? I do not see any great political objection to that.

Mr. Foot

There might be some of those lesser matters which, I agree, could easily be dealt with in that manner. On the other hand, there might be some dispute between hon. Members as to which were the major matters and which were the lesser matters.

Moreover, it is the case, of course, as my hon. Friend argues, that we should take into account the views of hon. Members who have been Members of this House for some time. On the other hand, the decisions made on the matter will affect the people who are Members of the next Parliament. Many of us will be here in much the same position as we are now. The way in which these provisions will operate will affect the lives of the Members of that future Parliament, and I should have thought that those who will be here for the next Parliament have as much right to determine these questions as those who are Members of this older Parliament.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call four hon. Members who have been rising to their feet continually.

Mr. Bendall

Is the Leader of the House aware of the concern that the reorganisation of the police force in the London area is causing? The closure of police stations at night is causing great concern. Will the right hon. Gentleman allow time for this matter to be debated? It is an important issue, affecting the metropolis.

Mr. Foot

I cannot promise a debate next week. Hon. Members know that individual Back Benchers have plenty of opportunities to raise matters in the House.

Mr. Stokes

Will the Lord President allow time for this House to debate the state of national morale, which is probably lower now than at any time in our long and glorious history?

Mr. Foot

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's gloomy conclusions. Certainly I hope that we shall have many future debates in the House which will enable him to change that approach.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion no. 246, entitled "Massacre in Rhodesia", which stands in my name and the names of a substantial number of my hon. Friends?

[That this House deplores the barbaric destruction of a second civilian airliner at Kariba; expresses its profound sympathy to all those who have been bereaved by this latest example of the unmitigated savagery of so-called liberation forces in Rhodesia; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to express its total condemnation of such action in terms far less equivocal than those used by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on the last occasion a Rhodesian airliner was shot down; asks the Secretary of State for Defence for immediate and convincing proof that no British missiles have been used on this occasion; and warns the leaders and representatives of the organisation known as ZIPRA, including Joshua Nkomo, that if they set foot in the United Kingdom they are likely to face prosecution on a charge of murder.]

Although we do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to share it, may I ask whether he is aware of the great intensity of feeling and the concern which underlies it? May we have an early opportunity of debating what we feel to be the destabilising effects of the Anglo-American policy towards the Patriotic Front?

Mr. Foot

The matter has been debated on many past occasions. I have no doubt that it will have to be debated on a number of future occasions. I certainly would not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said about the alleged destabilising effects of the Anglo-American proposals. Indeed, I think that the adoption of those proposals still offers the best way forward for trying to overcome some of the difficulties. I am sorry to say that the destabilisation in Rhodesia originates from those who backed the original rebellion by Smith and his friends.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will the Lord President arrange for the Minister of Agriculture to come to the House to make a statement on the recently published White Paper "Farming and the Nation" —Cmnd 7456? The farming industry is one of the most important industries in this country. I believe that the Government owe it to the House to allow time for a debate on this vital issue. This is a sequel to "Food from Our Own Resources", which was published some years ago by the present Government. Will time be found for a debate in the very near future?

Mr. Foot

Time will be found, but it will not be found next week. The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that this is a proper subject for debate in the House. We have a very good White Paper on agriculture and an even better Minister of Agriculture. We shall be happy to bring both together in an early debate to suit the hon. Gentleman.