HC Deb 22 February 1979 vol 963 cc631-41
Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Lord President to state the business for next week, please?

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

The business for the week after the Adjournment will be as follows:

Monday 5 MARCH—Supply [9th Allotted day]: Debate on housing.

Motion on the Hovercraft (Civil Liability) Order.

Tuesday 6 MARCH—Second Reading of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Bill.

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

Wednesday 7 MARCH—Second Reading of the Leasehold Reform Bill.

Motions on the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order and on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries (Northern Ireland) Order.

Thursday 8 MARCH—Supply [10th Allotted day]: The Questions will be put on all outstanding Estimates and Votes.

Debate on a subject to be announced.

Friday 9 MARCH—Private Members' motions.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I put three points to the Lord President? The first concerns the business on Monday 5 March. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that we have chosen to have a debate provisionally on housing. He will also be aware that it may be necessary to change it as events develop, in which case we shall give him notice as soon as possible. It is not our choice to have a Supply day the first day we are back. We regret the inconvenience of not being certain about the subject, but I am afraid that that arises from the right hon. Gentleman's decision to have a Supply day the first day after the recess.

Secondly, the Lord President has not arranged for a debate on the public expenditure White Paper. That is urgent. Why has he made no provision for that during the first week after the recess?

Thirdly, is the right hon. Gentleman yet in a position to announce the date of the Budget?

Mr. Foot

I take the questions put by the right hon. Lady in reverse order. It is the intention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to present his Budget on Tuesday 3 April, to be followed by a Finance Bill in the normal course of affairs.

Secondly, it is customary for the debate on public expenditure to be held after the publication of the Expenditure Committee's report on the White Paper. Clearly, it will then be necessary to give hon. Members sufficient time to study the report before holding a debate.

On the first matter raised by the right hon. Lady, I am sorry that I am not able always to satisfy her. Sometimes she complains that she does not have a Supply day. Now, when we come along with a nice, early Supply day, she seems to be more dissatisfied than ever.

Mrs. Bain

Will the Leader of the House say why, in the light of earlier requests from many parts of the House, the debate on the aircraft and shipbuilding industries has been restricted to Northern Ireland, especially as an early decision on the various options within the corporate plan are of interest to many hon. Members representing shipbuilding areas throughout the United Kingdom?

Secondly, may I ask the Lord President why no reference is made to the Government's laying the appropriate Orders in Council following the decisions taken within the referendums in Scotland and Wales on 1 March? Is he aware that the decisions taken by this House are equally important, or perhaps more important, in the light of these decisions? Will he give us an idea when these orders will be laid?

Mr. Foot

On the first matter put by the hon. Lady, I do not withdraw anything from what I said in answer to previous questions when she raised this matter. The question is most important. At some point there must be a discussion upon it in the House. The fact that this order is tabled does not mean that there is any difference from the statement that I made on earlier occasions.

On the second matter raised by the hon. Lady, I am sure that the proper course for the House is to hold the referendums first and decide the course to be followed afterwards.

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas

Has my right hon. Friend studied early-day motion No. 191 on steel manufacturing in Corby, Northants?

[That this House, knowing that Corby, Northants, was deliberately developed by successive Governments as a steel town and that successive Governments have refused to support the diversification of industry in the town, calls upon the Government to reassure the people of Corby by making an immediate and definite statement on its commitment to future employment in the steel industry in Corby.]

Does he realise that we should have a debate on this subject as soon as possible as both parties—successive Governments—are directly responsible for what may be happening in Corby today?

Mr. Foot

I recognise the great concern in Corby on the matters raised by my right hon. Friend. We all recognise the considerable concern and distress that is felt in his town. I cannot promise an immediate debate when we return. No doubt my right hon. Friend will be making representations to the Minister concerned. Then we may see how to proceed from there.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Last week I asked the Lord President whether he would arrange at an early date for a debate on the new White Paper issued by the Government "Farming and the Nation", which is a sequel to "Food from Our Own Resources." The Lord President indicated that that was a proper subject for a full debate. Will he announce when he intends to allow us to hold this useful debate?

Mr. Foot

As I made such a good reply to the hon. Gentleman last week, I do not need to repeat it now.

Mr. Heffer

As most hon. Members representing English constituencies will not be involved in the devolution campaigns in Scotland or Wales, will not my right hon. Friend, even at this late stage, be prepared to consider a debate next week in this Chamber, or in Committee, by hon. Members from Merseyside and the North-West to discuss items such as KME and the future of employment on Merseyside? Rather than wasting our time, we could be doing a parliamentary job in the House.

Mr. Foot

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern about the matters to which he referred. However, the House decided that we should suspend our proceedings next week. That does not mean to say that there will not be an opportunity to return to those other subjects later.

Mr. Pardoe

Does the Lord President recognise that he did not make a very good reply last week to my right hon. Friend about the Liverpool, Edge Hill by-election? Will the Government be moving the writ in the recess, or will they return after the recess and move the writ in the first week of business? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that it is now way beyond the average lapse of time of 78 days for this to be moved? There is no reason for further delay. Why are the Government not abiding by the conventions of the House?

Mr. Foot

The Government abide by the conventions of the House in this matter. I have nothing to add to what I said last week. But I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's point. It is not usual to have discussions in the House about the moving of a writ, as the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will recall, but I will take into account what he says.

Mr. William Hamilton

When do the Government intend to produce the appropriate orders to the House following the referendums in Scotland and Wales?

Mr. Foot

As I said in reply to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain), the best course is to wait until the referendums have been held and decide afterwards as to the time schedule.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is the Lord President aware that the House is appreciative of his decision to subordinate his own personal prejudices to the wishes of the House on the matter of holding a vote in this Parliament on the proposals of the Procedure Committee? Is he in a position now to tell us when that vote will be taken, and to give us a date? In view of what he said in the debate on the report of the Procedure Committee, we should like the proceedings to take place while he is still holding his present office.

Mr. Foot

I gave the hon. Gentleman and the House a clear reply on this matter at the end of the debate. The first stage of the proceedings will be to have discussions through the usual channels, and I shall be happy to proceed along those lines.

Mr. Faulds

May I have an answer this week to the question that I put to my right hon. Friend last week, as to when the House may have an opportunity to discuss the excellent White Paper on the national heritage fund?

Mr. Foot

No doubt my hon. Friend will put that question to me again when we return after the recess. I hope that I shall then have a satisfactory reply to give him, because I fully acknowledge the importance of the matter to which he refers.

Mr. Amery

Has the right hon. Gentleman had his attention drawn to early-day motion No. 278, calling on the Government to send official observers to monitor the general election in Rhodesia?

[That, in view of the forthcoming election for the establisment of a majority government in Rhodesia, an act which will finally satisfy the six principles, this House urges Her Majesty's Government to send observers to the general election to be held in Rhodesia in April 1979.]

Will he find time for us to debate this matter when we come back, or at the very least for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on it?

Mr. Foot

I have nothing further to add at the moment to what has been said on this matter from the Dispatch Box. Let us see what the situation is after next week and whether there should be a fresh statement made upon it.

Mr. James Lamond

Will my right hon. Friend keep in mind the threat to world peace posed by the Chinese invasion of Vietnam, and the fact that the position there appears to be deteriorating? Will he also keep in mind the fact that we cannot rely on the BBC for accurate information? This was revealed yesterday by the Director-General of the BBC, when he said that important persons in this country had prevented the BBC from giving us the truth, for example, about the position in Iran. Bearing these points in mind, are these not fitting matters for a major debate in this House rather than some of the subjects listed by my right hon. Friend for the week after next?

Mr. Foot

It might be that they would need to be debated in some form in the House. I am not denying that for one moment. The Government and the House are fully aware of the tremendous significance of these events. Whether it is best to deal with them by way of a debate is another question. I hope that my hon. Friend will wait to see what is the position when we return after the recess. We may then be able to discuss how best to deal with these matters, or debate them, if we wish to do so.

Mr. Speaker

I propose to call those hon. Members who have already risen—I hope that they will be brief—and not those hon. Members who will be rising.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall his observation of last week, concerning early-day motion No. 223 in respect of the Hon. Sir Desmond 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

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.'.] He said that the motion might be withdrawn and implied that if it were not he would find time to debate it. Has he any further information, and how long does he propose that the motion, if not withdrawn, should stand on the Order Paper before the House is given an opportunity to negative it?

Mr. Foot

I did not imply that if the motion were not withdrawn we would have a debate. I do not think that that was the implication of what I said, but I still hope that the motion will be withdrawn.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that after the recess there will be a statement on KME, which is an important symbol for the Labour movement? We want to know more about the decision which apparently has been made.

Will my right hon. Friend provide time for a debate on the wool textile industry? Many people are anxious about the application of the multi-fibre arrangement by the EEC, which seems to be lacking in certain aspects. This is an important industry and the matter ought to be debated.

Mr. Foot

I agree about the importance of the industry. As my hon. Friend is well aware, the Government have taken many strenuous actions over several years to assist the industry, in regard to the multi-fibre agreement and in other respects. Whether there should be a statement or a further debate is a question that I will consider in view of my hon. Friend's representations.

I shall not commit myself one way or the other on the question whether there should be a statement on KME when we return after next week. I will discuss it with my hon. Friend and with other hon. Members who might wish to discuss it.

Sir David Renton

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that when he wound up the debate on Tuesday night he said that he would consult not only the usual channels but unusual channels before tabling motions? We greatly welcomed that statement. I remind him that members of the Select Committee, who are not part of the usual channels, would gladly offer any help that he requires in this matter.

Mr. Foot

I do not want to go over the debate, and I am sure that no one else wishes to do so, but I indicated in my reply that the subject could be a good deal more elaborate than some hon. Members realised. I shall be quite happy to have discussions with those who were on the Committee, although I do not think that I should have the right to select them. They have the right to ask to see me. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and others interested in the subject, that if they wish to have discussions with me before the Government bring forward any proposals on how we should next proceed, I shall be happy to take part in them.

Mr. Flannery

May I support the plea of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) for an early debate on steel, with special reference to steel closures? Does my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House know that the recent NEDC report pointed out that the great specialist steel industry of Sheffield is in danger of imminent collapse, due to dumping from the Common Market? Many of us are worried and want to know what is happening in the steel industry generally and what are the dangers that could presage what my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering talked about.

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend does not need to tell me that there are great problems in the steel industry. I am well aware of them from my experience in my own constituency. It is certainly a fitting subject for debate in this House at some stage. Whether it would be a good idea, prior to any such debate, to have a meeting between some of my hon. Friends and the Secretary of State for Industry, I am not sure. That might be another way in which to proceed initially. But let us see what happens.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Will the right hon. Gentleman have another look at early-day motion No. 4, which has been signed by over 130 Members of the House, and which talks about the way in which the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital fiasco is being handled?

[That this House urges the continuation of the specialised work of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital on its present site; believes that women patients should have the right to be treated by women doctors if they so wish; while welcoming the setting up by the Secretary of State of a Working Party to consider the future of the hospital would have preferred an independent public inquiry; but insists that meanwhile essential maintenance, especially to the lifts, should be carried out immediately so that the hospital can function to full capacity.]

Will my right hon. Friend also take into account the back-door methods now being used to close the terminal hospital, St. Columba's, in Camden, and see whether it is possible to have a debate on that subject after the recess?

Mr. Foot

I do not necessarily accept what the hon. Gentleman says about what is proceeding, but I shall consider what he said. I have seen the early-day motion to which he referred and I shall look at his further representations.

Mr. James Johnson

Will the Leader of the House confirm that he and I have been in correspondence together about a short debate to celebrate Commonwealth Day? Has he given any further thought to this matter? Will he consider having a statement by the Prime Minister on that day, in view of the importance of the Commonwealth and the work that is done? It might be appropriate also to have a few very short speeches following a statement by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Foot

I apologise to my hon. Friend for the fact that I have no statement to make on the subject today, but I will look afresh at the correspondence that I have had with him and see whether it is possible for a statement to be made when we return after the recess or to have an indication on the subject given to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who have shown a special interest in the occasion.

Mr. William Clark

Following the reply given to my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), may I press on the Lord President the urgency of dealing with the subject of observers at the Rhodesian elections? Is the Leader of the House aware that we are now only weeks away from that election, and that in all probability the United States of America will be sending observers to watch it? It would be deplorable if Her Majesty's Government did not also send observers to see that the election is carried out fairly and without any victimisation.

Mr. Foot

I shall not enter into a debate with the hon. Gentleman on the subject here and now, because there are other factors involved as well as those he seemed to indicate in his remarks. At present, I have nothing to add to what was said from the Dispatch Box on the subject a week or so ago. I shall take account of what the hon. Gentleman and others have said about it, but I am not necessarily making a promise of an early debate on the subject.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Lord President agree to a debate on the question of Civil Service pay when the House returns, especially taking into account the fact that the Prime Minister was implying today that some hon. Members did not know too much about the subject? It might then be possible to place upon the record in that debate the fact that whilst the Prime Minister was sunning in Guadeloupe, the hon. Member for Bolsover—myself—and one of the Prime Minister's Ministers in the Ministry of Agriculture were meeting officials of the Department of Health and Social Security, my constituents and his constituents, in Mansfield, and that perhaps in that debate we should be able more fully to explain precisely what we all know about the subject. Perhaps then the Prime Minister would have the good grace to withdraw the untrue statement that he made about me.

Mr. Foot

If my hon. Friend would await the possibilities of a debate with all the full facts before the House, I am sure that that would be most welcome. If he would add his voice to the voices of others in urging that no industrial action should be taken until we have that opportunity, that would make it pretty well unanimous.

Mr. Goodhart

If the Government accept the view of their road safety advisers, why are they still making no attempt to bring forward the Bill on the compulsory wearing of seat belts? If they do not accept their advisers' advice, why did they bother to publish the Bill at all?

Mr. Foot

I have answered the hon. Gentleman and some others who raised this matter last week. I have nothing further to add to the replies that I gave then.

Mr. Jessel

Further to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), may I remind the Leader of the House that next Thursday three years will have passed since the House, on a free vote, gave a majority of 100 to the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill, and that every week's delay costs 20 lives, about 200 serious injuries and the waste of over £1 million in National Health Service resources? Why are the Government being so complacent and ignoring the wishes of the great majority of the House?

Mr. Foot

The Government are not being complacent. The Government have brought forward the Bill on the matter. I have nothing to add to what I said in reply to similar questions last week.

Mr. Hastings


Mr. Kilroy-Silk


Mr. Speaker

Order. I believe that both hon. Gentlemen rose to their feet only after I had said that I proposed to call those who had already been standing. That statement makes no sense if I continually alter the ruling.