HC Deb 19 January 1979 vol 960 cc2107-12
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Business Statement.

The business for next Monday and Tuesday has been rearranged as follows:

MONDAY 22nd JANUARY—Second Reading of the Weights and Measures Bill.

TUESDAY 23rd JANUARY—Until about

7 o'clock, resumed debate on the Second Reading of the Industry Bill.

Afterwards, remaining stages of the Social Security Bill.

The debate on the motion on the Joint Committee on the Special Commission on Oil Sanctions will be postponed until Monday 29th January.

Mr. Peyton

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government intend now to make arrangements for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to have an opportunity to expose to the nation the really grave position that has been reached? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that, so far, many of the statements that have come from Government sources have been anodyne and empty in their reassurance. What is really required is an understanding on the part of the Government that what is happening now is that the pipeline is being emptied and that the refilling of it, whenever that starts, will be a long and very painful operation. I hope that we can look forward to a very early statement from the Minister, perhaps to be followed by a debate.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and others have asked when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will make a statement. I think that Monday will be the appropriate time for my right hon. Friend to do it. As for any allegations that statements from Ministers have been anodyne, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that many of the statements that have come horn him and his hon. Friends have been hysterical and misleading. In this situation, that is greatly to be deplored.

Mr. Peyton

Since the right hon. Gentleman is using such adjectives as "hysterical", I should like to observe that they come very ill from him. Does not he accept that, despite what he said, the statements and suggestions made by Opposition Members have been very moderate and very restrained? What is really important is that the Government should listen to informed sources in the food trade and industry about the true situation and about what the dangers are.

Mr. Foot

The Government have been prepared throughout and will continue to be prepared to listen to informed sources on these matters. However, from what I have seen of it, I do not include the right hon. Member for Yeovil amongst them.

Mr. Spearing

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Weights and Measures Bill which he is bringing in on Monday purports to be United Kingdom legislation but in fact is in pursuit of regulation 2628/73 of the EEC? Is he aware also that it removes the protection of guaranteed net weight from all packaged foodstuffs? Is he aware, further, that when this was debated perfunctorily on 28th and 29th November 1974 there were no Liberal spokesmen in that debate? In pursuit of public information, will not my right hon. Friend make it clear that this legislation is being introduced not by Her Majesty's Government but at the behest of the EEC?

Mr. Foot

All those questions will he debatable on Monday, when the matter is before the House.

Mr. Ridley

Does the Lord President think that it is in tone with the mood of the country that next week we should be debating matters such as weights and measures and the Public Lending Right Bill? Is he not aware that we are in the gravest industrial crisis for many, many years? Would it not be more appropriate to discuss such matters as the water supply in the North-West, the rail strike, the transport strike and all the other matters that were raised yesterday under Standing Order No. 9, and for the Government to provide a couple of days for a proper debate on the chaos that they have caused?

Mr. Foot

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) has just illustrated the kind of hysteria to which I referred earlier. Mr. Speaker indicated yesterday that he would be taking into account the representations that might be made on Monday. That may lead to debates at the beginning of next week. We shall have to see. However, I think that the next course is that there should be a statement from the Treasury Bench today and the statement to which I referred earlier. I think that that is how we should proceed immediately.

Mr. John Ellis

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the increased pressures on business will affect the discussion, next Thursday, of the two motions relating to the steel industry, both of which are of vital concern to my constituents? Will he make it plain that it will be possible for us to debate each motion for one and a half hours rather than take them together?

Mr. Foot

We shall look at this. The statement that I have made today does not alter my Business Statement referring to these motions, which are to be debated next Thursday.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State for Wales is responsible for agriculture in that country? Is he further aware that the food situation in Carmarthen and South-West Wales is extremely critical because of the unsatisfactory way in which dispensations are being dealt with in the Llanelli and Carmarthen areas? Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to make a statement on these matters so that hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies may question him about the position in Wales?

Mr. Foot

I do not know whether there should be a special statement by my right hon. and learned Friend. I shall take into account the representations that have been made by the hon. Gentleman. There are some problems in having a series of statements when the House has other business to deal with. I take into account the fact that we have to see from day to day what the situation is and what statements are to be made to the House. The Government have certainly not been backward in providing every opportunity for Ministers to make statements.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I was about to say that I would call the two hon. Members who had been seeking to catch my eye. There is another statement to come. I will call those hon. Members who have risen.

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the mentality and hypocrisy of those on the Conservative Benches who have continually talked about violence on the picket line yet have not asked for a statement and a public inquiry into the picket who was killed last night? Is my right hon. Friend aware that all that Tory Members are concerned about is backing the Road Haulage Association, the bosses of the industry? Ought we not to be hearing a statement about the death of this picket, announcing a full inquiry? That is what decent people should be demanding instead of continually giving in to the Conservatives.

Mr. Foot

The incident to which my hon. Friend refers was, of course, most serious. It is being inquired into by the police. What my hon. Friend says—

Mr. Skinner

Get on to the attack.

Mr. Foot

Of course it was a serious matter. What the Government have done is to provide Ministers who will answer questions put to them in the House. That is how we should proceed next week.

Mr. Aitken

Since it has been clear from many of the exchanges this week that it is Mr. Moss Evans who is running the country, rather than the Government, would it not be much more profitable and useful for the Lord President to make arrangements for Mr. Evans to come here to make a statement and answer questions?

Mr. Foot

That is a prize example of the type of absurd statement made about this situation. It certainly does not assist in dealing with it. I dare say that the hon. Gentleman does not care about that.

Sir John Langford-Holt

The right hon. Gentleman has said that Monday seems an appropriate time for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a statement. Does he mean that there will be a statement by the Minister on Monday?

Mr. Foot

It is likely that that would be the time when my right hon. Friend would make a statement. There are other aspects that have to be considered in the sense that it might be more advisable or desirable for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is in charge of the contingency arrangements, to make the statement. We would rather decide that on Monday, in the light of the position, instead of making a definite decision about it now. I recognise the good reasons why my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should make this statement. We are taking those into account. We shall decide on Monday, in the light of the situation, and explain our reasons to the House.

Mr. Peyton

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the convenience of the House a little more than he has so far done and give a firm assurance that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will make a statement on Monday?

Mr. Foot

I am certainly considering the representations that have been made in the House, including those made by the right hon. Gentleman. All that I am saying is that it is sensible for the Government to say that they will decide on Monday, in the light of the position then, who would be the most appropriate Minister to make a statement to the House. For the House to say "Sweep all that aside and decide now who it is to be" would be foolish. I believe that there is a strong case for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to make a statement on Monday. We shall take that into account.

Mr. Cormack

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while we arc debating the Weights and Measures Bill on Monday, 50,000 people, we are told, will be lobbying the House of Commons? Can the right hon. Gentleman say something about the arrangements being made to deal with this lobby, which will place an intolerable strain upon the staff of the House, officers and police? Can the right hon. Gentleman also arrange for a statement on Monday informing the House how essential services are being maintained in our constituencies while we are being lobbied here?

Mr. Foot

I made a statement to the House yesterday dealing with the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. I invite him to look at that statement, which was designed to ensure that the lobby on Monday shall be conducted in the most orderly manner possible. A copy of the arrangements made to secure that resulit is available in the Whips' Office, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to read it.

Back to